Writer’s Digest | Creating a Flexible #Novel Outline #NaNoWriMo2016

I love Writer’s Digest, and I really, really like the guest columns that Brian Klems will often feature in his corner of the WD world: The Writer’s Dig. He’s thoughtful, funny, and always seems to show up just when I need him. Would that make him a superhero? In my world, I guess, but you’d have to determine that for yourself…

Just like whether or not you’d like to outline your novel. You don’t have to, of course, but it is one way to get the proverbial ducks to align without worrying about missing one or two details . . . er . . . ducks? along the way. Now, this is coming from a dyed-in-the-wool, to-the-letter Virgo who makes to-do lists for her to-do lists. I write down the money I owe for my monthly bills in three different places to make sure I don’t miss any due dates, but I almost never outline a novel once I start writing it. I have a line, a scene, or even just a character with a loose idea of the plot and start. It’s the only place in my mostly structured life that I can actually kinda let loose and fly by the seat of my pants, which might explain why I put my money-making efforts into reading books for a living and not publishing them.

Having said all of that, here is the article from the brilliant K.M. Weiland hosted by Brian Klems and Writer’s Digest.


Mention the word outline in a room full of writers, and you’re sure to ignite a firestorm of passionate debate. Writers either love outlines, or they hate them. We either find them liberating, or we can’t stand how confining they are.

My experience has been that more often than not, those who swear they dislike outlines are thinking of them in the wrong ways. Outlines are not meant to trap you into preset ideas or sap your creativity before you start the first draft. Outlines are also definitely not meant to be lifeless Roman-numeral lists.

Read more here: 7 Steps to Creating a Flexible Outline for Any Story | Writer’s Digest


#AskTheEditor | What is a #QueryLetter?

One of my favorite aspects of being an editor is conducting research and answering the questions new and established writers often have about the stories they’re writing. I’ve always thought I would be rather good as a reference librarian, if only because I so enjoy answering questions. To the point where I annoy the people who get trapped in the same room with me during any episode of Jeopardy!

For the last couple days (more like decades, really, I’ve known this woman since high school), my friend SuEllen (over at Sunshine Graphics on Facebook) has been exploring taking the plunge and publishing her writing. She’s been following my blog and my post yesterday about IngramSpark got her to point-blank and quite articulately ask me about query letters:

I know this is probably a long way off, but what the fuck is a query letter and would I really need one?

I have mad respect for folks who don’t waste time beating around the proverbial bushes.

My response was something along the lines of

A query letter tells a publisher who you are and about the manuscript you’ve sent or want to send. Put it this way, would you shake the hand of a potential employer?

Her response? (And this is just part of the reason why we’ve been friends since high school . . .)

I’m sure you probably want me to say, “Yes.” But all I really want to know is if he washed his hands first.

But her inquiry and curiosity about the idea and overall worth of a query letter got my brain working on building an advice column of sorts that could help any inquiring, newbie writers out there. So, for this first post I’ll define and link to examples of the perfect Query Letter.

According to Wikipedia, a query letter, “is a formal letter sent to magazine editors, literary agents and sometimes publishing houses or companies. Writers write query letters to propose writing ideas.”

Which is just slightly different from what I told SuEllen originally. I was thinking more along the lines of a cover letter, which is something one usually sends along with a writing submission in order to introduce themselves to the managing or department editor of the journal/anthology/magazine of their choice. However, the query letter can take the same format and tone.

Think of it as a professional introduction,  an opportunity to stand out from the rest of the people submitting stories or story ideas, and a platform for selling your writing idea–from essay to novel. I told SuEllen that I’ve seen stories get tossed without even being read because of an issue on the cover letter. Be sure to do your research and know who you’re sending the letter and manuscript to. Catch an editor on a bad day, and your story might not get read just for spelling the name wrong or having the wrong name in the greeting. Paying close attention to submission guidelines will prevent errors like that, especially when it comes to whom or which department you’re sending your query letter.

Writer’s Digest is always a solid go-to tool and outlet for any kind of writing advice from craft to business-end guidance. And, they won’t steer you wrong here, either. The following articles come from Brian A. Klems‘ “The Writer’s Dig“:

“How to Write the Perfect Query Letter” breaks down a successful query letter one paragraph at a time with an agent’s response to each, explaining the strengths and weaknesses of each–from the greeting to incorporating effective summaries of your work as selling points.

“The 10 Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Query Letter” for those authors among us who require something closer to a checklist. Klems offers six dos and four don’ts that will give your query letter a leg-up over the competition by being thoughtful and aware of the information you’re sending the agent or editor. He even includes a link to examples of successful query letters.

Did this answer help you? Have any other questions you’d like to ask this editor, use the Submissions page or my email to submit!

Writer’s Digest | 50 Articles to Help Your #Writing in 2015

Whoa! That’s right, fifty, 5-0, articles that will boost your writing mojo for the new year. Who needs to lose weight, get mindful, or eat healthy? Psh, not me. Not when I can increase my word might and flex those writing muscles.

As if I needed another reason . . . as if you did, am I right?

And that’s what I’m hoping for. Anything to keep your cursors flying across the great white expanse of digital-page landscape. Just when I thought I couldn’t find a decent collection of writing articles to share with my readers *gasp* I thought my brain might just give out.

But, Brian A. Klems, this guy, is always on point for me–even if I don’t get to his sage advice (or wise friends) as soon as he posts them. He waits, patiently, smiling from his “Writer’s Dig” and hopes I’ll just ask the right question.

Sift through the collection with the link and enjoy an introductory excerpt from the article below.

50 Articles on Writing to Help You in 2015 | WritersDigest.com.

Over the past year I posted articles on this blog that covered everything—from grammar to writing better characters to getting published and more. Here’s a cheat sheet linking to what I consider the 50 best articles that can help you reach your writing goals. My goal is to help you move your writing career forward, and, by making this easy-to-reference guide, you’ll have a chance to bookmark it and have a one-stop place to help you have a successful year of writing.

Here’s to your best year of writing! ~Brian

Writer’s Digest | Qualities of #HighConcept Stories

The criterion some publishers call for is a “high-concept” story idea or plot line. Well, Brian A. Klems and “The Writer’s Dig” bring in story editor and story structure consultant Jeff Lyons to discuss the 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories.

I’ve often wondered myself just what high-concept means, and I think Jeff does a fine job of outlining how an author can reach that concept. Especially since most publishers won’t tell you what high-concept means, just that they want it.

Read the entire article by clicking the link below, and enjoy an introductory excerpt about the panic you might be feeling now that you know your wishlist publishers only want one kind of story…

Write Better: The 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories | WritersDigest.com.

Stumped by submission guidelines calling for “high-concept” romance, suspense, young adult or other popular fiction? These 7 qualifiers will help you gauge how (and where) your work fits in.

You’re ready to begin the process of pitching your book to prospective literary agents or publishers. You begin combing through market listings, thinking it will be a simple matter of finding those who accept work in your genre—but time and again, you discover submission guidelines expressing a preference for “high-concept” stories. Your brow furrows. High concept? What the heck does that mean? Your confusion turns to frustration, and maybe even panic, because no one on your wish list defines this popular term d’art. They simply declare that it is what they want a story to be, it is what they prefer, indeed, it is the Holy Grail for submission success. But how are you to succeed when you don’t even understand what they’re asking for?

Writer’s Digest | How to Approach the First Chapter of Your #Novel

NaNoWriMo Banner 11.1.14As we are swiftly approaching the end of National Novel Writing Month, I know that for some authors their next step is going back to the beginning. After giving your manuscript some time and space, you’ll want to go back to the beginning and start your editing process.

Jeff Gerke, writing a guest post for Brian A. Klems at “The Writer’s Dig”, sums up quite nicely 4 approaches to beginning your novel. Though, he’s speaking to the art as starting from scratch, I think these points could be spun, without much effort, as a guide to beginning your editing process with the first chapter–it is your foundation, after all!

Read the entire article by clicking the link below, and enjoy an introductory excerpt from the article.

4 Approaches for the First Chapter of Your Novel | WritersDigest.com.

There are four primary approaches for beginning a successful novel. Probably more, including some highly experimental ones, but these are the classic main four. Run your story idea through the filter of each of these and see if one of them feels right for your book.

Writer’s Digest | Prepare to Write Your #Nonfiction Book in a Month

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Want to take part in NaNoWriMo, but fiction just isn’t your bag? Never fear (not that you delightful pragmatists would), you, too, can take part in the month-end deadline of writing a full-length non-fiction work. From Brian A. Klems“The Writer’s Dig”, published author Nina Amir gives us an 8-point list on the best ways to prepare for writing your entire non-fiction work in just one month!

Read the entire article by clicking the link below, and enjoy an excerpt about how it doesn’t have to be a book that you write, but any length of non-fiction work would do in the “Write Non-fiction in November Challenge (WNFIN).” [Especially considering the amount of research you’d likely need! It’s time consuming to do all that reading.]

8 Ways to Prepare to Write Your Nonfiction Book in a Month | WritersDigest.com.

During National Nonfiction Writing Month (NaNonFiWriMo) you can start and finish the draft of your nonfiction book in a month. Just take the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge (WNFIN). No need to even restrict your self to a full-length book; you can finish the final draft of a short book, an article, an essay, a series of blog posts, or your manifesto. As long as you embrace the goal of completing a work of nonfiction, this event is for you.

Writer’s Digest | 3 Things Your #Novel’s Narrator Needs to Accomplish

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John Mauk, writing for “The Writer’s Dig”, gives some great advice, letting us in on how our narrator can work for us. Imbuing him or her with the power of persuasion in order to convince the reader that he or she has all the information, and will provide it, goes a long way toward reassuring your reader that your story is “real.” And when the reader feels like they are a part of your story, they can fall in love with your story and your characters.

Read the full article below, and enjoy an excerpt on how the power of persuasion (the effort of rhetoric) has a major role in fiction, regardless of genre, regardless of age.

3 Things Your Novel’s Narrator Needs to Accomplish | WritersDigest.com.

So what particular elements convince us? How does a story compete with the real world and all of its lures: air, cell phones, family crises, food, and drink? For me, it all comes down to the narrator, to the storytelling voice. Narrators don’t simply say what happened. They create a reality, a world that readers believe, keep on believing, and want to keep believing. Whether first, second, or third-person, good narrators make fictive worlds real, which takes a lot of persuasive power—more than all the politicians in Congress. And while the list of persuasive elements is long, here are three small but crucial moves, things that narrators do when they most successfully convince us…

Writer’s Digest | 5 Moral Dilemmas That Make Characters Better

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Steven James offers advice via “The Writer’s Dig” on Writer’s Digest toward making a character’s journey and, thus, your story, more compelling. Moral dilemmas hang up even the most mundane of blokes; however, giving your very dynamic, three-dimensional characters a moral dilemma can force them to make a choice, take an action, or propel your story in some other creative way.

Read the entire article with the link below, and enjoy an excerpt about how intriguing the moral dilemma is for your readers!

5 Moral Dilemmas That Make Characters (& Stories) Better | WritersDigest.com.

Readers can’t resist turning pages when characters are facing tough choices. Use these 5 keys to weave moral dilemmas into your stories—and watch your fiction climb to new heights.

Writer’s Digest | 4 Ways to Motivate Characters and #Plot

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Nancy Kress does a fine job here at Brian Klems’ blog, “The Writer’s Dig”, in explaining the four different types of characters and character motivations there are in fiction. Deciding if your character is static or changing, or if the motivations do, will go a long way toward mapping/outlining your story and its plot.

Read the entire article by clicking the link, and enjoy this excerpt on how understanding the nature of your characters is a step toward understanding the nature of your story.

4 Ways to Motivate Characters and Plot | WritersDigest.com.

Some of your characters will change during the course of your story—let’s call them changers. Others—stayers—will not change significantly in personality or outlook, but their motivations may nonetheless change as the story progresses from situation to situation. Both changers and stayers can have progressive motivations….

When you know the key motivation(s) behind your character and plot, you can write scenes that not only make sense to you and your readers, but also add depth to your story. Because character and plot are intertwined, we’ll refer to the above four as character/plot patterns. Let’s further explore each one.