Tag Archive: screenwriting

We’re Back! + Writer Career Brainstorming

Happy New Year! Hope you had a wonderful holiday season. We certainly did. We really, really, really needed that break! Heather was all like, “Wake me up when 2016 is over…”

And Robin was like, “Yeah, 2016 beat me up pretty bad… but I’m still standing!”

Politics aside, 2016 was for me (Heather) a year of constantly questioning my career path and exploring my options. I began on a high note, with a new freelance gig writing an educational game, a part-time job as a freshly certified gymnastics coach, and a hopeful grant application (for tips on applying to grants, check out this post). But a few months in things were looking bad — the educational game didn’t pan out, coaching gymnastics was hella stressful and required a lot of out-of-gym work I’m not paid for, and I didn’t get the grant. But just as I was resigned to wallow in a pit of despair, an old TV friend asked me to write some episodes for his new show, Opie’s Home, and I returned to work on LongStory, but this time promoted to Story Editor! Alas, it’s inevitable in the freelance world that all good gigs come to an end (that is the nature of contract work), and by fall I was again wondering how I’d to pay the bills while also having time to work on my novel.

Enter CAREER BRAINSTORMING. What was my next move? Get back into TV writing? Start a copywriting business? Or go back to school?

What was I going to do in 2017?!

I met with friends and colleagues to discuss those options. The first two are doable, but don’t leave time for me to work on the novel right now. The third option (school) is the opposite of making money, but the best idea for finally getting a darn book finished! And the novel is still my priority.

So while WriteOnSisters was on a blogging break, I decided on my path for 2017… I’m going back to school! I’m applying for a post-grad Creative Writing program with a good track record of successful published authors. As for money, this month I start a part-time job writing another awesome video game.

I’m looking forward to learning a lot this year, from school and from writing video games, and I’ll be sure to pass the knowledge on to you guys now that the WriteOnSisters are back to blogging every week. With that…
And if there’s anything you want to know or want us to blog about, tell us in the Comments!

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/career-brainstorming/

How To Handle Feedback: 6 Do’s & Don’ts

It’s another Archive Revive because I just got a new writing gig and am super busy! Currently, I’m sifting through feedback from the clients, so this re-post is appropriate…

How To Handle Feedback

Originally posted on Jan. 20, 2014. Updated Nov. 30, 2015

Script RevisionsIt’s been so long since I was in school that I can’t even remember if the professors taught us anything about handling feedback. Perhaps they just marked up our scripts in red and waited to see who would cry/quit and who would persevere/rewrite. Luckily, I was in the latter category. And over the last 15 years, I’ve had lots of opportunities to learn how to deal with script notes, whether from friends, teachers, screenwriters, broadcasters, producers or directors. In TV, it often feels like everyone, even the office dog, critiques your script.

So, without further ado, here are 6 tips on handling feedback…

#1 Don’t Take It Personally. If your story needs improvement, that doesn’t mean you suck. Notes are not an attack on your character or proof that you’re a bad writer. No story is perfect, and every writer has room to improve. In TV, everyone gets notes on their scripts, from the most junior writer to the top dog showrunner. Knowing that sure helped me deal with feedback at the beginning of my career; it’s easier not to take it personally when you know everyone gets critiqued.

#2 Do Respect the Note Giver. Giving feedback is sometimes as hard as getting it. If you’ve chosen your critique partners wisely, they’re not petty backstabbers out to sabotage your writing career, they’re people who genuinely want to help you. Same with editors, publishers, producers or broadcasters. You may not agree with their notes, but do respect them. They’ve put a lot of time and thought into their feedback.

#3 Don’t Be Defensive. When receiving feedback, don’t argue with the critique giver or defend your writing. Just listen and think about it. Why? Because there’s merit in every note, even the ones that seem way off base.

#4 Do Ask Questions. If you don’t understand a note, just ask for clarification. Heck, even if you understand but don’t agree, ask for clarification because it will help you see where the note is coming from, and once you know that, it might not seem so stupid.

#5 Don’t Ignore Notes. Not even the ones that seem wrong. In TV, we writers receive notes from many people who are not writers, so sometimes those notes are off base, meaning the note giver’s suggestion isn’t something the main character would do, or doesn’t make sense for the world of the show, or could even derail the whole story! BUT, as a wise showrunner I worked for once said, something about the story “bumped” the note giver, which means something isn’t working, so even if the note seems wrong, there’s a reason for that note, and as writers it’s our job to figure out what the problem is and fix it.

#6 Do Embrace Change. The whole point of getting feedback is to change your script/manuscript for the better. So don’t resist it, do it!

That’s what I’ve learned about feedback over the years. If anyone has other tips, please share!

Click here for most posts from Heather.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/screenwriter-tips-for-novelists-how-to-handle-feedback/

Outlining – Method 2: Active Beats (aka “Show Don’t Tell”)

Happy Archive Revive Day! It’s always helpful to refresh what we know about writing by digging up past posts and updating the information a bit, so here we go…


Originally posted on Oct. 7, 2013. Updated Sept. 21, 2015

I learned this method of outlining at Ryerson University. My screenwriting professor called it a Step Outline. He instructed us to write a scene-by-scene outline and ONLY describe actions, i.e. what the characters physically do. No dialogue. No narration. Like turning the sound off a movie. The test: could the audience get the gist of the story just from the characters’ actions?

The class reacted with a mix of confusion and frustration. Students insisted they needed dialogue to explain. The professor insisted they did not. Dialogue enhances a story, but it doesn’t make it. Action begets story. Characters must DO things, not just sit around and talk. He told us if a scene uses only dialogue to move the story forward, we needed to change it and use action as well. A simple example would be a character who wants to tell her roommate she’s mad at him for making their apartment an episode of Hoarders. Instead of using just words, she should throw his collection of deflated party balloons in the trash. That would get the point across nicely.

It’s the classic rule: SHOW don’t TELL. SHOW don't TELL

Not that you won’t use dialogue or narration in your story, but it’s important to realize that these only support the story. A story needs action.

Why is it stronger if the characters DO rather than just SAY? Because, generally, people don’t like to be told what to think. They like to discover, figure stuff out, and come to conclusions themselves. Therefore it’s more intriguing if your characters show their emotions/desires instead of simply telling the reader what they feel/want. At the most basic level, showing is simply more interesting. I mean, would you rather have someone tell you the ocean is beautiful, or take you scuba diving so you can see for yourself?

Still not convinced? I’ll give you 5 Reasons to Write an Active Beats Outline:

  1. To make sure you have an actual story. A story needs more than pages of clever character chatter; it needs characters who take action.

  2. To see if beats are missing. If you write down your active beats and find out the story doesn’t track, you need to add that missing action.

  3. To cut beats which don’t serve the story. Does you character do something that doesn’t move the story forward? Probably. Can it be cut? Most likely. When you distil everything down to actions, it’s easier to spot what can be edited out.

  4. To ensure the protagonist is active not passive. Is all the action done by supporting characters? Is your protagonist merely an observer? If so, maybe you need to reevaluate whose story this is or make your protagonist more active.

  5. To avoid being boring. Because no matter how clever or observant your character, he is boring if he doesn’t do something.

Just like the Basic Story Beats, the Active Beats can be used to outline your story before writing or to story edit after writing. The important thing is to use this tool to make your story as strong as possible!

More posts about Outlining/Story Editing:

Outlining – Method 1: Basic Story Beats

Basic Story Beats of The Hunger Games

How to Story Edit Using the “Save the Cat” Basic Beats

Outlining – Method 3: The Wall of Sticky Notes (aka “The Board”)

Outlining – Method 3 cont.: From Sticky Notes to Proper Scenes

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/outlining-method-2-active-beats-aka-show-dont-tell/

Who Do You Write For?

This weekend I spoke on a panel at TAAFI (Toronto Animation Arts Festival International) about Writing for Animation, and it got me thinking about who writers write for. For example, as a screenwriter I write for the people who hire me (story editors, producers, broadcasters) and through them there’s a lot of focus on writing for the target audience. When I began writing novels, people assumed the reason was because I wanted to write “for myself” instead of “for someone else.”

RETRO PHOTO: young Heather writing for herself in her journal.

Retro pic: young Heather writes for herself in journal.

It’s true that I was itching to write characters and worlds that I created, rather than ones created by others. And when I started coming up with book premises, I was drunk on the freedom. I had so many ideas! And for so many genres: fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, horror, comedy, historical, etc. What did I want to write? The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to write YA, but what genre of YA was undecided, so I threw everything at the board, combined genres, turned realistic fiction into fantasy and back again, just experimenting over and over…

Until I was completely overwhelmed and longed for the days when I had a story editor to tell me, “That one! That’s the best idea.”

Yet if I was writing for myself, why did it matter which idea was “the best”? Just write something! For fun. For me. I remember what that’s like – it’s how I wrote in high school. I never gave my stories to anyone else to read. I simply wrote because I liked to create. But later my reason for writing changed: instead of a cathartic hobby, it became about connecting with others.

I wanted to write stories that would challenge how people saw themselves and the world. I also wanted to make people laugh, cry, cringe and scream. I wanted to entertain them while moving them.

So I’m never truly writing just for myself. I always think about my target audience: Who will read my book? What do I have to say to them? How will this story impact their lives? I write because I want to connect, the way my favorite books connect with me.

In conclusion, I’m not writing novels because I’m tired of writing for other people. I always write for other people. The real reason I want to write books is because the teen market for TV is very small, making the likelihood of getting my stories to my audience very slim. Whereas YA lit is a huge market – many genres, many readers – so I have a better chance of sharing my stories. And if I’m lucky, maybe my novels will be turned into a TV series or film one day.

Who do you write for? Yourself? Others? The market? Your kids?


Up next from Heather… I read a disappointing book this past weekend, so it’s time for another Reading For Writers 101 lesson: Character Change Can’t Come Out Of Nowhere!

For more posts from Heather, click here.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writers-life/who-do-you-write-for/

Screenwriter Tips for Novelists: Writing Dialogue

CL script pageAs a screenwriter, I had no choice but to learn a thing or fifty about writing dialogue. Scripts are 50% dialogue. The other half is physical action. That’s it. There are no other ways to express the story in a screenplay – no inner monologues, no poetic descriptions, and no narrated explanations. Only dialogue and action.

But just because novelists have more tools at their disposal doesn’t mean they can slack off in the dialogue department. It still has to be good. I’m not the only person on the planet who can’t stand reading a novel with stilted, unrealistic, on-the-nose dialogue. But these problems are easy to fix…


Tip #1 – Read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound fake? Is your tongue tripping over the words? Are you running out of breath? Change it so none of those things happen, especially the last one. Be careful not make your characters say ridiculously long sentences no one would ever utter in real life.

Tip #2 – Get someone else to read your dialogue. Sometimes if it’s your voice, you can convince yourself a person would actually say that. Plus, you know the words. Someone who doesn’t is more likely to stumble over awkward wording. This is also the best test for identifying dialogue that sounds fake.

That takes care of stilted and unrealistic dialogue. The next is on-the-nose dialogue, which essentially means that the characters always say exactly what they mean. Not only is this unlikely, but it’s boring. Readers love looking for the subtext.

Tip #3 – Write what your character is really thinking, then write what your character would actually say out loud. This is a great way to force you to think of the subtext in the scene. And if this is one of those rare instances where a character says exactly what they’re thinking, you can make light of that too.

Now we’re going to move on to a more challenging dialogue problem: all your characters sound the same. This is a criticism a lot of writers receive. How do you know if this is happening in your novel?

Tip #4 – Remove dialogue tags. Then give the scene to a friend to read. Can they tell who is saying what? And not just because the characters take turns speaking. The reader should be able to tell the difference between the voices. Even harder, take one line of dialogue and ask, “Which character would say this?” If it could be any of your characters, they all sound the same.

I’ve been guilty of this too. When a writing professor pointed out that all my characters’ voices were the same, I replied that of course they were because they all grew up in the same small town and had kindred lives. It’s normal that they’d use similar sentence structure, dialects, expressions and slang. That may be true, but I was missing the point – everyone is different somehow. Here are some tips to make even characters with similar backgrounds have different voices:

Tip #5 – Figure out your character’s POV. Everyone sees the world differently. A pessimist will not respond the same way as an optimist. For example, if one character says, “Have a good day!” the optimist may reply, “Thank you, I will!” But the pessimist will scoff, “Unlikely.”

Tip #6 – Use personality to vary language. Nerdy characters probably use proper grammar. Thoughtful characters pause and consider their words carefully. Shy characters won’t divulge personal information. Impatient characters speak in short, clipped sentences. This way you can reveal character and keep the dialogue varied!

And lastly…

Tip #7 – Do not phonetically spell accents. Not only is this annoying to read, it’s a lazy way to try to make your characters sound different. In screenwriting, we let the actor add the accent. In novel writing, let the readers add the accent in their minds.

So there are the 7 Screenwriter Tips to Make Sure Your Dialogue Doesn’t Suck. Now go forth and write fabulous dialogue!


Next Up from Heather… I confess why I haven’t finished my novel and what I plan to do about that.


Click here to read more posts by Heather.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/screenwriter-tips-for-novelists-writing-dialogue/

Is TV the New Novel?

bookLast week I read the New York Times Bookends column “Are the New ‘Golden Age’ TV Shows the New Novels?” and got riled up about Adam Kirsch’s opinion, which basically boils down to “how dare TV shows think they are as great as novels!” Well, I feel the need to counter with “how dare you dismiss TV as inferior!” Here we go…

Since I am a screenwriter and aspiring novelist, I’ve examined the similarities and differences between and the strengths and weaknesses of these two storytelling mediums, and have concluded that there should be no pissing match. One is not better than the other, and I’m going to explain why.

But first, in case you haven’t heard, serialized television is the trend everyone is calling “The Golden Age of TV.” In the olden days (you know, the 20th century), most television shows were episodic, which means that each episode is a self-contained story and the characters are the same throughout the season. You could miss an episode and it wouldn’t matter, because the world and characters of the show never changed. Whereas serialized television weaves many plots throughout many episodes and the characters change greatly over the course of the season. Miss one episode and you’ll miss important plot and character developments, much like skipping a chapter in a novel.

So you can see how the comparison between serialized TV shows and novels is natural. For a more in-depth explanation, check out this article.

In the Times piece, Kirsch is full of disdain for television, yet the only example he uses to illustrate how TV is inferior is his opinion that television’s “evil” characters are always “melodramatic” (i.e. mobsters, meth dealers or terrorists) and that this has nothing to do with how we “encounter evil in real life.” First, so what? What’s wrong with that? Do all evil characters have to be covert? Second, he’s clearly never watched Mad Men or The Walking Dead or numerous other shows that display people being evil without them being overtly bad.

After that weak attempt at dismantling TV’s legitimacy, Kirsch concludes with: “Spectacle and melodrama remain at the heart of TV, as they do with all arts that must reach a large audience in order to be economically viable. But it is voice, tone, the sense of the author’s mind at work, that are the essence of literature, and they exist in language, not in images.” I don’t know how Kirsch doesn’t gag on his own snobbery. This conclusion is laughably subjective. Voice, tone and the “author’s mind” are not limited to novels. These qualities are present in ALL forms of storytelling, from television to stage plays to stand-up comedy. Every writer, no matter what medium they choose, has a voice. Just because Kirsch can’t recognize it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

So what are the similarities/differences and strengths/weaknesses of television shows versus novels?

The similarities are numerous: complex plots, long character arcs, multiple story lines, various genres, etc. Basically, most stories told in novel form can be told on television, albeit using different tools. It’s these tools that are the significant difference between the two mediums. Television must get the story across with dialogue and visuals only, whereas novels can use inner monologues. Well, to be fair, television can use voice over to get inside a character’s head, but that’s generally frowned upon. Perhaps because it’s a bit of a cop-out. One of the great challenges of screenwriting is to tell the story through the characters’ actions, without having the characters explain it.

BookCover-HungerGamesBut when that inner monologue is crucial, the story is best told via a novel. A prime example of this is THE HUNGER GAMES. In book one of the trilogy, Katniss doesn’t trust anyone and therefore does not voice her fears and concerns, let alone her strategy to win the Games. The reader knows this information because the first person narration of the novel allows us to get inside Katniss’s head. In the film*, no voice over was used and that inner monologue was lost. So for those who didn’t read the book and only saw the movie, the severe mind f*ck that is the Hunger Games doesn’t resonate.

I realized this when talking to a friend about the film. He hadn’t read the book and didn’t understand why we had to watch the tributes train. He thought they should have just thrown them in the Games immediately. Of course, that section is a little dull when you’re not privy to the turmoil inside Katniss, who is hiding that turmoil from everyone around, which means the movie audience can’t see it either.

The second movie, CATCHING FIRE, didn’t have this problem because Katniss now has a couple allies whom she trusts with the odd opinion. At the very least, she’s not hiding how she feels as much.

So the novel’s ability to get inside a character’s head is one advantage it has over television. However, this tool isn’t necessary in all stories. Often character emotions can be displayed through action.

What about TV? What can it do that novels cannot? Television’s strength is the same as its weakness – visuals. Telling a story visually can sometimes feel limited, but when a writer knows how to use visuals effectively, they can pack a powerful punch. A two-second shot can deliver as much information as a whole page in a book. Of course, enjoying this is a matter of taste – some like the slow build, some like the dropped bomb. But is there ever a time when, regardless of taste, visuals work best?

orphan-black-posterI present to you ORPHAN BLACK. This is a television show about clones. It’s awesome, and it wouldn’t be nearly as awesome as a novel. It is so much fun to see the clones interact, and when a new clone shows up, the audience knows immediately because they see it. In a book, the writer would have to use words to spell it out – “this woman who just showed up looks exactly like Sarah!” That’s not nearly as powerful as a visual. This is the ultimate “show don’t tell” and television does it best.

There are other differences between storytelling in books and on television, but in my opinion, the tools above are the only ones that help or hinder the storytelling. Everything else is a matter of taste. Some people enjoy reading. Some people enjoy watching television. Lots of people enjoy both. Each medium can be equally brilliant or equally crappy. The story is what matters, not the delivery method.

In conclusion, television is not the new novel; it’s an excellent form of storytelling in its own right. So to the literary critiques of the world who are as offended as Adam Kirsch by the comparison of television to novels, chill out – television is not replacing the novel. But please, show some respect for other writers. It’s no small feat to entertain millions of people each week. Screenwriting, just like writing a novel, takes talent and dedication. Both are art forms that require years, even decades, to hone. One is not superior to the other.


*Yes THE HUNGER GAMES was made into a film not a television show, but film uses the same visual tools as television. I used this example because the book and movie are so well-known.


Next Up from Heather… Does your story have real stakes? Take my Stakes Test to find out.

For More Blog Posts from Heather, click here!


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/is-tv-the-new-novel/

Screenwriter Tip for Novelists – Pitch Before You Write

If you’ve read my first post, you’ll know I’m a screenwriter who took 2013 off from a career penning cartoons to write a novel. Now it’s 2014 and I’m back in the TV biz writing on a super fun animation show. Not that I’m shelving the novel, no way! I’ll still work on it in between the many stages of writing scripts. However, this television gig is reminding me of all the useful (and sometimes nerve-wracking) things screenwriters go through before they get to that final draft, and I’m going to share that info with you in a little blog series called Screenwriter Tips for Novelists. First tip? Pitch before you write!

So what is a pitch? A pitch is a paragraph or two that tells the whole story from beginning to end, touching on just the important beats: protagonist’s problem and goal, rising action, midpoint, crisis and finale. (Check out this post for a refresher on story elements.) You can either let someone read a pitch and give feedback, or pitch it verbally and gauge your audience’s reaction in real time.

Often novelists don’t even think of how to pitch their novel until they start querying agents or publishers. Why would they? You can’t sell a novel until it’s written! But freelance screenwriters have to pitch before they write even one episode. That’s how we get the job. We must prove to the story editors, producers and broadcasters that we’ve thought up a great story worthy of the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will take to create the episode. If not, they won’t agree to produce it and you don’t get the job to write it.

Sounds harsh? Maybe. But producers and broadcasters don’t want to invest in a crummy story. Neither do agents or publishers.

So think of pitching as a way to save time, money and heartache. You want your novel to be published, right? Pitching could mean the difference between a pile of rejections and a publishing contract. Here’s how to do it…

4 Tips To Pitch Like A Screenwriter

  1. Create lots of story pitches! This way you’ll force yourself to pick the absolute best one, and have more ideas waiting in the wings for later.
  2. Pitch out loud to friends and strangers. Watch for their honest reaction. They may say they love it, but did you see their eyes glaze over? Better to learn now that your idea isn’t so great before you spend years writing it.
  3. When your pitch doesn’t pass muster, edit it or write another. Then repeat step 2 until the reaction is, “Oh my gosh, I so want to read that!”
  4. Don’t take it personally. Seriously, if there’s any wisdom us screenwriters can impart, it’s this. Not every idea is gold.

Whether you’re coming up with a brand new novel idea, developing a story, or editing a manuscript, pitching will help hone your story and make it better. I know it’s tough and daunting and scary, because feedback can be harsh, but fear not – next post will help with that.

Next Up from Heather… How to handle feedback.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/screenwriter-tip-for-novelists-pitch-before-you-write/

How to Write a Logline

‘Tis the holiday season, which means you will probably find yourself at lots of social functions making small talk. This will inevitably lead to someone asking what your book is about. And you’ll hesitate, wondering how to sum up the intricate plot, the fantastical world, and the character’s monumental journey in less than an hour, because you know that curious stranger doesn’t want the whole story. They just want a logline, one sentence that describes your novel, like if they were skimming the movie listings. This is a daunting request. After all, a novel is hundreds of pages long. How can that be condensed down to one line? Well, lucky for you guys, I’ve got the answer!

Logline post

This is a simple equation to get all the pertinent story information into one sentence.

  1. PROTAGONIST. Describe the hero in a couple words, not using his/her name, unless the name is descriptive. One word should describe who the protagonist is, and the other word should define the protagonist’s flaw. Why? Because flawed characters are inherently more interesting, and if your character doesn’t have a flaw, they have nowhere to grow. Examples: uptight executive, repressed nerd, rebellious angel.

  2. GOAL. What is the protagonist’s goal? This seems like an easy thing to define, after all, every character wants something, but it’s a common mistake for writers to confuse “goal” with “desire”. Desire is feeling; goal is action. So it’s not just what the protagonist wants, but what they are doing to get what they want. Also note, sometimes the protagonist’s goal comes before the problem; sometimes the problem creates the goal. So the order of the equation can be changed.

  3. PROBLEM. This is what is preventing the protagonist from achieving their goal. Sometimes the problem is a person (ANTAGONIST); sometimes it’s a situation.

Put these elements together and you get loglines like these (examples from http://thescriptlab.com/screenwriting-101/screenwriting/logline-library):

  • Charlotte’s Web is about a kindly spider who helps a lone pig (PROTAGONIST) from being sent to the slaughter (PROBLEM) by turning him into a celebrity (GOAL).

  • Erin Brockovich is about a single mom from the wrong-side-of-the-tracks (PROTAGONIST) who stumbles upon an environmental cover-up by a public utility (PROBLEM) and sets out to hold them accountable (GOAL).

  • Frost/Nixon is about an intrepid British talk-show host (PROTAGONIST) who struggles to get a tell-all interview (GOAL) with recently disgraced American President Richard M. Nixon (PROBLEM/ANTAGONIST).

  • Laws of Attraction is about two competing divorce attorneys (PROTAGONISTS) who make their big case (GOAL) more difficult by falling in love with each other (PROBLEM).

  • Memento is about an insurance investigator (PROTAGONIST) suffering from a disorder that erases all short-term memory (PROBLEM) while trying to find his wife’s killer (GOAL).

If you check out the other loglines on the Script Lab website you’ll notice not all state the problem and goal, but most of them do. This equation is simply a guideline to help you construct a logline. If the snappy sentence you create to hook people into your story doesn’t follow it to the letter, that’s okay, but using this equation is still a good exercise to clarify the basics of your story.

I put myself through this exercise just this week, and realized the story I’d been working on wasn’t clicking because my character’s goal and problem didn’t connect (in other words, the main problem did not directly affect my hero’s goal). And I noticed that because I tried to write a logline using the equation. Good thing I figured this out before all the parties!

For more information about loglines, especially the difference between a logline and a tagline, read this.

Now that you have a handy little logline, go mingle! Happy Holidays!

Next Up from Heather… what book jackets can teach about a story’s “hook”.


Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/how-to-write-a-logline/

Outlining – Method 3: The Wall of Sticky Notes (aka “The Board”)

If you’re a visual person, Outlining Method #3 is for you! I call it The Wall of Sticky Notes, because that’s how I build it. Others create a Corkboard of Cards. In the business of screenwriting, it’s simply called “The Board.”


The beginnings of my Board. I’m still filling in the holes.

As you can see, it has four lines: Act I, Act II part one, Act II part two, and Act III. This is based on Blake Snyder’s Save The Cat method, which some people say is really a four-act structure. Whatever you call it, the point is the lines should have an even amount of scenes in them.

Each sticky note or index card represents a scene. More on what a scene is in the next post; for now, we’re just going to get “stuff that happens” up on The Board.

If you did Outlining Method #1 or Outlining Method #2, you will already have stuff to put up on the board. These are likely not proper scenes yet, but that’s okay. For instance, if we use the Hunger Games Basic Beats as an example, the Catalyst is: “At the reaping, Katniss’s sister Prim’s name is picked.” Write that on a note/card and stick it on the Board. It’s not a full scene, but for now just get the main story points up there.

Also put any ideas you have about the story on The Board. If you know at some point that your protagonist needs to discover their best friend is a liar, write “Hero discovers BFF is a liar” on a note/card and put it roughly where you think that needs to happen.

Once you have all your story beats and ideas on The Board, start thinking in scenes. For example, where/when/how does your protagonist discover her BFF is a liar? Flush out the details a bit, but keep each scene on one note/card.

When you’re done, you should have around 40 cards (i.e 40 scenes), 10 in each row, give or take a card. In a screenplay, this structure is pretty strictly followed given that films need to be a certain length, but there’s more room to play in a novel. Still, you want to keep each line roughly the same length. I’ll explain why below.

The Board is a visual person’s dream and an excellent tool for any writer. It makes it easier to see the whole story (especially if you color code your plots), and in turn reveals problems you may need to fix.

5 Story Problems The Board Reveals:

1)   Holes – Are you missing stuff? Do you have two side-by-side scenes that don’t connect? For example, does your character abruptly go from being in love to breaking up with her boyfriend? You have a story hole! You’re missing the scene that shows your character falling out of love.

2)   Long Sections – Is your first line way longer than your other lines? This is quite common and is a sign that you have way too many scenes in the Set Up. Spend too much time setting up (Act I) and your readers will get impatient to start the journey (Act II).

3)   Short Sections – This is most commonly seen in the fourth line (Act III), where a writer wraps up the story too quickly without addressing all the things that were set up in Act I.

4)   Forgotten B Plots – Did you totally forget about your B Plot for ten scenes? This is easy to see if you color code your plots. Rearrange your notes/cards so your plots are more evenly spaced.

5)   Weak Turning Points – In The Board, the end of each line* is a Turning Point (i.e. a plot point that spins the story in a new direction). So make sure that these scenes are pivotal. In TV they’re often called the cliffhangers before the commercials.

  • End of line 1: Break Into 2 scene – this is the moment the hero decides to go on the journey. Make it a big deal! End of line 2: MidPoint – this is the scene where the hero thinks he’s achieved his goal but hasn’t, and stakes are raised. Make the stakes huge! End of line 3: Break Into 3 – this is the scene where the hero figures out what he needs to do to win and heads into the final battle.

So that’s the benefit of The Board – you can see these story problems more easily than scrolling through a linear document on your computer. For visual people, this way of outlining is super helpful.

Next Up from Heather… How To Turn Sticky Notes into Proper Scenes.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/outlining-method-3-the-wall-of-sticky-notes-aka-the-board/

5 Reasons to Outline Your Novel

There are writers who come up with an idea and just start writing and see where the story takes them. There are writers who mull over a story in their minds for months or years before they start writing. There are writers who write short stories and use those to create a novel.

Then there are writers who outline.

In film and TV, everybody outlines. It’s how we’re trained to write. Heck, it’s part of the paycheck! Before you are paid for that 1st draft, before you even write that script, you are paid to write an outline. Why? So everyone involved (producers, story editors, broadcasters) can read the story and make changes before the writer has labored over a script.

Now that I’m writing a novel, I don’t have to consult anyone about my story. So why do I still outline? I’ll give you 5 reasons…

#5 – Outlines encourage experimentation. In just a few paragraphs, instead of dozens of pages, I can try out different crisis moments, climaxes and endings. I admit I just wouldn’t do this if I immediately started writing prose (it would take too long), and I might miss out on some awesome ideas.

#4 – Outlines allow me to “kill my darlings.” For a conference this year I needed five pages of my novel to show fellow writers, but I had just scrapped an old idea and come up with a new one, so I hadn’t even written an outline, let alone any prose! But I whipped up a sample Chapter 1 for everyone to read. It was a hit, but I quickly realized it didn’t fit the story. However, I loved the chapter, it was my “darling” and I spent weeks trying to make it work within the story. Eventually I had to axe it. If that chapter had simply been a paragraph in an outline, I would have cut it in seconds, not weeks.

#3 – Outlines are easier to edit. Tracking character arcs, inserting backstory, identifying plot holes… it’s all easier to see, and therefore to edit, in outline format.

#2 – Outlines save me time. I can write an outline in mere weeks and tell if the story works. Much more efficient than spending months or years writing a novel only to find the story doesn’t work and I must start over.

#1 – Outlines let me focus on the writing. I write better when I don’t have to think about what needs to happen next. With an outline finished, I can concentrate on writing each scene or chapter in the most engaging, exciting, suspenseful way possible. That’s not to say I won’t deviate from the outline, things can change, but my prose flows best when I know where the story is going.

So that is why I outline. Of course, everybody has their own process – what works for me might not work for others. But who knows, if you’re not an “outliner” maybe you’ll decide to try it after reading my list.

Next Up from Heather… So you want to outline? Great! But what’s an outline? I’ll explain in my next post.

Permanent link to this article: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/5-reasons-to-outline-your-novel/

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