KM Weiland on Reverse Outlining + GIVEAWAY

I am THRILLED to feature writing guru K.M. Weiland on the blog today to discuss Outlining. As a reformed panser, I have seen my writing evolve by embracing outlining techniques. And while I'm not a full outliner yet, it is a tool that helps me at certain stages during the writing process to form stronger story structure and character development.

Katie's book, Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success guides writers with a step-by-step approach to developing and writing a novel. One of the story mapping techniques is Reverse Outlining, a creative approach to help writers build a strong, cohesive timeline in their novels. Read on for an excerpt straight from the book!

Reverse Outlining

When you think of outlines, you generally think about organization, right? The whole point of outlining, versus the seat-of-the-pants method, is to give the writer a road map, a set of guidelines, a plan. An outline should be simple, streamlined, and linear. An outline should put things in order. So you’re probably going to think I’m crazy when I tell you one of the most effective ways to make certain every scene matters is to outline backwards.

During the outlining process, we have to create a plausible series of events, a chain reaction that will cause each scene to domino into the one following. But linking scenes isn’t always easy to do if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be linking to. As any mystery writer can tell you, you can’t set the clues up perfectly until you know whodunit. Often, it’s easier and more productive to start with the last scene in a series and work your way backwards.

For example, in my outline of a historical story, I knew one of my POV characters was going to be injured so badly he would be unable to communicate with another character for almost a month. However, I didn’t yet know how or why he was injured. I could work my way toward this point in a logical, linear fashion, starting at the last known scene (a dinner party), and building one scene upon another, until I reached my next known point (the injury). But because my chain of events was based on what was already behind me (the dinner party), more than what was away off in the future (the injury), my attempts to bridge the two were less than cohesive.

Had I outlined these scenes in a linear fashion, squeezing in the injury might have become a gymnastic effort instead of a natural flowing of plot. Plus, the fact that I had no idea what was supposed to happen between the dinner party and the injury meant I was likely to invent random and inconsequential events to fill the space.

My solution?

You got it: work backwards.

Starting at the end of the plot progression—the injury—I began asking questions that would help me discover the plot development immediately preceding. How was the character hurt? Where was he hurt? Why did the bad guys choose to do this to him? Why was he only injured, instead of killed? How is he going to escape?

Once I knew these things, I knew how I needed to set up the scene, and once I knew how to set up the scene, I knew what to put in the previous slot in the outline. Eventually, I was able to work myself all the way back to the dinner party. Voilà! I now had a complete sequence of events, all of which were cohesive, linear, and logical enough to make my story tight and intense.

Facing the wide unknown of a story is scary, and putting one foot in front of the other, when you’re unsure of the terrain, can be overwhelming. But when you can work your way backwards from a known point, finding your way becomes as simple as filling in the blanks. The result is a story that falls into order like a row of expertly placed dominoes.

Would you like to own your own copy of Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success? Simply leave us a comment with some contact info, and if you like, share what you struggle with when it comes to developing a story. Whatever issues are throwing up roadblocks, this book will offer you creative solutions to get your book back on track! Contest winner announced Wednesday, Feb 1st!

CONTEST NOW CLOSED

K.M. Weiland is the author of the historical western A Man Called Outlaw and the medieval epic Behold the Dawn. She enjoys mentoring other authors through her writing tips, her book Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, and her instructional CD Conquering Writer’s Block and Summoning Inspiration.

Character Trait Entry: Disorganized

Definition: lacking coherence or orderliness; a lack of systematic structure

Causes: Poor parental modelling or an unstructured environment growing up (clutter, lack of planning, hoarding tendencies, etc); living moment to moment without a sense of schedule; irresponsibility; being unable to prioritize; contempt for rules and structure; laziness; interests that shift with great frequency; suffering an emotional blow or loss that is difficult to overcome; mental instability

Characters in Literature & Film:  The 7 Dwarves (Snow White); Charlie (the Perks of Being a Wallflower); Clark Griswold (National Lampoon Vacation)

Positives: Disorganized characters find joy in small pleasures and simple interests. They are not as concerned with the big picture as they are with what's happening right now. They enjoy the moment, and don't take themselves or the world too seriously. The Disorganized character doesn't stress about keeping up appearances or conforming to the expectations of others. They are experts in closing out negative thoughts and distracting themselves with other things. No matter what happens, they are able to let certain negatives go and refocus on what makes them content.

Negatives:The disorganized frequently suffer the negativity, judgement and exasperation of others when they fail to meet expectations. A lack of order forces them into tight situations when forgotten deadlines, lost materials or skipped appointments carry consequences. These characters often let those around them down, and make poor leaders. They often need help to remain on task and do not inspire confidence that important details will be seen to. Inevitably, something will fall through the cracks, inspiring lectures, disappointment and disapproval.

Common Portrayals:
Writers, artists and other creative types; hoarders; the elderly; geniuses; the mentally ill; characters in slapstick comedy roles; red necks; messy teenagers

Cliches to Avoid: 
The 'mad' scientist; the eclectic wizard, the harried mother/aunt/grandmother/teacher with too many kids to keep track of; using a disorganized antagonist or gang of thugs as a plot device so the hero may easily defeat them

Twists on the Traditional Disorganized:  

  • Disorganized protagonists are never portrayed at their bleakest, or they have positive traits which negate their irresponsibility, leading to an 'all is forgiven' scenario. Challenge yourself to write a character who is extremely disorganized and excels at consistently disappointing others. How will you balance such a character to still make them likable to the reader?
  • This character type is used to disappointing others and then shrugging it off as, 'Sorry, but that's how I am. Forgive me?' What happens when someone they count on in turn lets them down in a huge way--an unforgivable way?
  • Show us a character who views her own disorganization with contempt, and pair it with the drive to change. As initial failures mount, this will give the reader a view of ironic self-disappointment.

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Spring


WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:


Sight: sun showers, longer days, trees and grasses greening up, flowers blooming, buttercups, daffodils, tulips, lilies, dormant plants pushing back up through the earth, buds and blossoms on trees, increased animal activity, baby animal sightings, effects from breezes, warm weather clothes, rivers rise and run swiftly from snowmelt, more butterflies/bees/other insects (because of increased blossoms), people working in their yards, birds flying north, nest-building, the emergence of hibernating animals, plants pushing up through snow or ice, increased pollen in the air, umbrellas and rain boots, kids playing baseball, rainbows, cherry blossoms

Smell: the clean damp smell after it rains, newly turned dirt for gardens, floral scents

Taste: rain, Easter candy

Touch: the sun's warmth on your skin, the fresh touch of the breeze as opposed to the frigid one you've felt all winter long, spongy or grainy feel of dirt in the garden, dirt clods falling on your feet as you pull weeds, the clean feel of the air on your legs and arms after so much time wearing long sleeves and pants, allergy symptoms

Sound: rushing water, rain falling, bare feet slapping the pavement, puddle-splashing, birds chirping, insects buzzing, kids-playing-outside sounds, the honk of geese as they return home, the crack of balls hitting bats

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: After so many months of cold weather and brown landscapes, spring brings a renewed sense of optimism. Spirits lift, people are more friendly and kind. Spring evokes hope and renewed vigor.

Symbolism: renewal, rebirth, beginnings, second chances, cleansing

Possible Cliches: spring chickens, April showers bring May flowers, robin's egg blue

OTHER: As always, weather and seasons vary by region. Spring in Canada looks very different from spring in southern California. Temperate areas may have a very short spring, if any at all. 

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come. 

Do You Need a Social Media Intervention?

It’s drilled into us by the Publishing Powers That Be: platform, platform, platform.

Embrace Social Media. Blog. Get on twitter. Engage. Network. Connect. Start early, think ahead, get a platform in place before the deal.

And because we want to give ourselves the best chance of being noticed, we do it. Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr and more. We participate in blog hops, help promo new books, run contests, join writing list-serves and organizations, post on forums, interact through writing support circles and groups. We host giveaways, we retweet, we #FF & #MM, we review books and we critique. We learn about SEO and back-linking and stress about Klout scores. We Follow. We Like. We+1. After all, this is what we were told to do, right?

For writers, putting time and energy into an online presence is the new norm. Time, hard work and luck all factor in on how successful a platform becomes. And some writers are very successful at building their platform. That's good...right? Yes, absolutely. Well, you know, except for the but.

Hold it...there's a  BUT in this scenario? Yes, and here it is:
  
Sometimes instead driving your platform, your platform drives you.

A great platform is every writer’s end game...but the cold, hard fact is that it comes at a price: TIME. It takes a lot of time to manage a successful online presence.

When it starts to chew up too much, we get hit with a fish-slap of reality: there's no time to read. The research we need to do for our WIP is always on the back burner. Our family rarely sees us without a laptop or wireless device in our hand. And, the death blow? We're spending all our time blogging and networking instead of writing.

Eventually, a writer in this situation will become fed up, especially if they aren't seeing dividends as a result of platform building (an agent's attention, the editor's interest, the deal to celebrate). They begin to resent their blogs, or twitter, or whatever else is murdering their writing time. They also may resent those who preach that writers ‘must have’ a platform. Social Media Fatigue sets in, and as the pressure to keep everything going builds, a writer flirts with the idea of just...walking...away.

Running yourself ragged is not the solution. Quitting a platform you worked so hard to build is not the solution. Change is. So if you are finding all your time is spent trying to gain online visibility instead of writing, you need a SOCIAL MEDIA INTERVENTION.

Consider this your therapy session.

Experiencing Social Media Fatigue? Look at what you’re doing for platform and what is draining your passion and time. What avenues can you cut back on? What can you do more efficiently? Here are some common TIME EATERS and POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

SYMPTOM: Blogging Burn Out
Blogging can be a big chore if you aren't into it. Do you struggle to come up with topics? Are you always writing posts? Do you like blogging but it takes up too much of your time?

CURE:
--Blog less. Cut back on your blogging schedule.
--Join forces. Bring someone else into the blog or approach others to Guest Post.
--Broaden your subject matter. Think about what you like, what you're passionate about. Incorporate this into your blog. If you're sharing something you enjoy, it doesn't feel  like work. Blogs don't have to have only one topic or focus.
--You don't have to blog. There is no Blogger Mafia. There will be no horse's head lying on your pillow. If blogging isn't your thing, put your energy into what is. :) 

SYMPTOM: Google Reader Meltdown
Do you look at your Google reader and swell up into a hive-induced balloon? Does the sheer number of blogs you feel you should visit doom you to cutting hours from your writing time? Are you afraid people will hate you if you don't stay on top of their blogs?

CURE: 
 Repeat these words: I can't visit everyone and that's okay. Give yourself permission to only visit a few posts from your reader, not all of them. If you have regulars, make it your goal to visit them once a week (or two if necessary), not every post they put up. Bloggers who are truly supportive will understand if you pop in a little less often--they are likely in the same boat. Writing needs to be your priority.

SYMPTOM: Email Freeze
Do you dread opening your email box each morning? Do you have dozens of newsletters, blog subscriptions, pings from Goodreads to join book tours and contests? Do you find yourself stopping writing to view mail as it comes in? Does that quick check turn into an hour of responding to messages?

CURE:
--If you don't read it, unsubscribe. We often subscribe to things--newsletters, alerts, blogs. If you don't have time to read it and just end up hitting delete, get rid of it.
--Put email on a time limit. Give yourself a set time for email, stick to it, then shut your mail off so you can write. If you don't get pings with each email, you won't feel tempted to click over every five minutes. Email watching is self-sabotage. Allow yourself an email break as a reward for a set amount of words written or time spent on task.

SYMPTOM: Comment Mania
Do you spend hours commenting on blogs? Or do you barely skim posts and then dash out something generic just to show that you were there? Are you spending too much time responding personally to each comment on your own blog?

CURE:
--Realize it is okay of you cut back on commenting. At some point in time, everyone will need to do this. Bloggers worry if they don't comment as much, readers won't visit their blog. The truth is, if the content is strong, readers will come. Focus your energy on content that meets your readers' needs--this is why they visit.
--Show your support of blog friends in other ways. Sharing posts by tweeting, FB, Google+ etc helps to spread awareness of their blog. Trust me, they will appreciate the shout out!
--Be respectful. If you don't have time to write a genuine comment, move on. Don't just post a 'thanks for the post' comment just for the sake of it--always mean what you say.
--Think group over individual. If responding to every one's blog comments on your post is stealing too much time, comment once on the post, addressing everyone as a group. The personal touch is nice, but only if you have time. Again, it's my experience that people are understanding that you won't always be able to respond individually all the time. 

SYMPTOM: Twitter Overload
Are you overwhelmed by the sheer amount of twitter posts flying through your stream? Do you find it hard to interact with everyone who interacts with you? Are you worried some one's feelings will be hurt of you don't #FF them? Do you obsess over followers and lists?

CURE:
--Stop worrying. Twitter is supposed to be fun and interactive. Interact as much as you like, with the people  you like. If someone @'s your name with something specific, respond (unless it's spam). Remember it's up to you how much to get involved and with whom.
--Install Tweetdeck. If you have too many people to keep track of and you don't want to cut down on your following, start making lists of the people you want to keep tabs of. Assign columns to these folks and scroll through them from time to time to see their latest tweets.
--Only #FF if you want to. It isn't a must to do all the mentions and shout outs if you don't want to. Do it once in a while, or not at all. It's up to you!
--Let your twitter following grow organically. I know there are all kinds of strategies to get a bazillion followers...but do you really NEED a bazillion followers? And if you don't have the time to interact with them or provide useful content in your tweets, do you think they'll stick around?
--For a place to start, find the #MyWANA hashtag. If you find Twitter overwhelming and don't quite know who to connect with, #MyWANA is full of great people.
--Limit Twitter. With constant links and conversations streaming in the viewer, it's easy to stay on Twitter far to long. Decide how much time to spend before clicking on your account. Stick to it.

SYMPTOM: Facebook or Google+ Addiction
Are you on FB or Google+ all the time, liking and commenting and +1 ing, or playing Scrabble and Zombie vs Plants and Castleville and Words with Friends, etc etc?

CURE: 
--Visit less often. These places can be great fun, but they are also a huge black hole to get lost in. If you need to start your day with a coffee, make this your FB & G+ time. When the coffee is gone, shut it down and get to work. Only come back on when you're done writing for the day.

SYMPTOM: The Social Networking Death Spiral
Are you currently dividing your time between all major Social Networking platforms because that's what 'everyone says' writers should do? Do you find that because you divvy up your time between a blog, twitter, FB, Google+ Tumblr and others, none of them are getting enough attention to really be useful?

CURE: 
--You are the boss. Do the Social Networking Medium(s) that appeal to you, not everyone else. To quote your mother, if your peers told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that too?
--Less is MORE. It's better to choose one medium and excel at it than try to juggle several and only do a so-so job. Again, it comes down to passion! If you enjoy something, it isn't work. Don't waste time trying to be everywhere...concentrate on the place or places you feel comfortable with and have time for.
--Drop the Hot Potato. You remember the kids' game right? Well this time, instead of trying to juggle that spud, let it go. If you are involved in a type of social networking but find it isn't really you, ditch it. Focus on creating your platform in areas that play to your strengths and interests.

Platform is a good thing, but only if you can use it. If you spend all your time building it but have no product that will benefit from it...what's the point? Always, always put your writing first. 

Those of you who know me, know I juggle a lot. I am on many SN platforms, using these to bring great writing content to the community when I find it, and to connect with the people who make this industry great--you! I have been faced with overload at different stages, and I am still doing my best to maintain a balance. I have had to do many of the things listed here and continually keep tabs on when to slow down. This blog especially takes a lot of time and energy and without Becca, I wouldn't be able to do it. But I love learning new things and sharing what I know, so I have a huge passion for The Bookshelf Muse, and this keeps me going. Find your balance and the platform will come. :)

Do you need to scale back, or have you already? What strategies worked best for you to achieve a better balance between Platform Building and Writing? 

Contest Winners!

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the contest celebrating The Bookshelf Muse's fourth birthday, and for those who left such happy and encouraging comments. We love all of you, but the Random Number Generator loves some of you more, namely...

First-Page Critique Winners:
1. Kitty
2. Alyianna
3. Gayle C Krause
4. Heather Marsten


Indelibles Book Winners:
5. Renee (hrhanson) wins a copy of THE VEIL by Cory Putman Oakes
6. SStokes wins a copy of ON THE BRIGHT SIDE by S.R. Johannes
7. TomiEvans wins a copy of DESTINED by Jessie Harrell
8. Renee (rrbcpa) wins a copy of GLIMPSE by Zellie Wells (EDIT: Ack! Zellie Wells is the character in this series. The author is Stacey Wallace Benefiel)

And the Grand Prize winner, who will be named after a character in Marilee Brothers' upcoming book MIDNIGHT MOON: Grace Peterson!

Winners, we'll be contacting you shortly with the details on how prizes will be distributed. Congrats, and thanks again to everyone who entered. Here's hoping that if you didn't win today, you'll get lucky next January 17th, and the one after that, and the one after that...

Contest Closed


Thanks so much to everyone who entered our Fourth Anniversary giveaway. Winners will be announced tomorrow. Good luck! And thanks again for continuing to hang out with us at The Bookshelf Muse.

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Avalanche

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: 

Avalanches occur in mountainous terrain where a natural pockets of snowpack build up, made from either fresh snow or layers of older, compacted snow.  Often a shift in temperature (thaw), rainfall or windstorm can trigger an avalanche. If too much snow accumulates too quickly, or rain compacts fresh snow creating an unstable heavy slab, an avalanche is an event waiting to happen. Wind is a dangerous factor, as it erodes snow from the upwind side and deposits it on the downwind, creating an uneven build up. When a sluff (loose snow) or a slab (compacted snow) fractures, nothing can stand in its way. Traveling at 60-80 miles per hour, a dry avalanche takes down anything in its path. Trees are uprooted and splintered, rock, ice, man-made structures and debris is swept up and carried away. A wet avalanche is slower, traveling at only twenty miles per hour.

A person caught in the avalanche is carried with it, tumbling without control like a giant ball of snow down a hill. Most often they are pulled under by heavy gear (skis, ski boots, etc) and they must 'swim' furiously against the pull. This happens quickly and trying to retain any sort of control against such a force is almost impossible. From a distance, clouds of snow billow and form at the site of the avalanche. If you are writing an avalanche scene and need to see a first person account of a skier caught in an avalanche, buried alive and then rescued, here's a video. It's not for the faint of heart however, so watch at your own risk.

Smell: 

The tang of ozone would be the most noticeable, along with pine or spruce needles, cedar wood (if trees are uprooted/splintered)

Taste:

Cold, metallic snow, ice crystals, one's own sour breath from fear

Touch: 


Chunks of snow pummeling the body, branches whipping against the face, clawing for handholds, the drag of snow pulling you under, arms and fist slamming into the snow in an attempt to stay at the surface, the squeeze of snow debris against the body and chest as it sets into place in the aftermath, unbearable cold and tingling against exposed skin, snow clogging mouth and nose or pressing against the face

Sound: 

The precursor sound to an avalanche is a whomp noise.  This is the sound of instability in the ice pack and if close enough a person would hear the crack as a layer of snowpack breaks. If an avalanche is in motion, trees crack and snap on the way down, there is a hiss as fresh slow slips and tumbles, and from afar it is a slow rumble that builds. It can almost sound like thunder during a summer storm. In the aftermath, the area seems almost unnaturally quiet. Want to hear one for yourself? Follow this link!

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Avalanches can infuse a sense of terror into a scene. Wild, uncontrolled and deadly, those who witness one, live through one or by chance alone, narrowly miss being caught in one are brought face to face with their own mortality. A somberness follows in its wake as horror sets in: being caught in such a force would most likely be the end. A brush with such an event may cause people to rethink their paths and bring about the need to be with people they care about. Avalanches can make good foreshadowing tools of a similar, life-altering event about to occur in a POV character's personal life that make them feel a loss of control and leave a hard, emotional impact.

Symbolism: A lack of control, volatility, an unstable lifestyle, the fury of Mother Nature, an impossible foe, risk

Possible Cliches: Outpacing an avalanche in an action scene

OTHER: Most avalanches are triggered by people placing their weight on unstable surfaces (skiers, snowboarders, hikers & snowmobiles). It is a myth that noise can trigger avalanches--the sound would have to be intensely loud (such as explosions going off nearby). Outrunning an avalanche is nearly impossible without a vehicle that can travel at high speeds and has strong maneuverability. Stats show that 93% of avalanche victims survive if dug out within the first fifteen minutes. Odds drop to 30% or lower after forty five minutes and after two hours, there are no survivors. The cause of death in most cases is carbon monoxide poisoning.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come. 

Give Us a Kiss...It's Birthday Time! (& Giveaway!)

It's our 
BLOGOVERSARY!!!

Four years ago, Angela and I started this blog out of a desire to improve our writing and help other writers. The journey for us has not only strengthened our own craft, but has been incredibly rewarding. Who knew the writing community was so generous, encouraging, and fun? Well, we know it now, thanks to all of you who have joined us at various points along the way.

As we all know, it's not a blogoversary until someone breaks out the presents. So we have a couple to offer up. We're thrilled to give away 4 first page critiques to 4 lucky followers. Also, as a shout-out to our talented friends at The Indelibles, 4 more followers will be receiving an ebook by any of the authors at that blog. (Make sure to check them out--25 amazing authors, one amazing hangout!)

And, you know us...we always leave the best for last.

Tell me, what would you give to be IMMORTALIZED FOREVER in a young adult novel full of magic, mystery, danger and romance? Because that's our incredible grand prize...1 lucky winner will have a character named after them in YA Author Marilee Brothers' final book of her Unbidden Magic series!

Holy zombies--did I actually say that? Yes I did! Not only that, but the winner gets to pick whether to go down in literary history as a goodie...or a villain. (You may remember that over a year ago, Angela won this very same honor, and allowed Musers to decide her character's fate. I'm proud to say Angela Ackerman is a villain in Book four: Shadow Moon!)

Marilee's Urban Fantasy is "Fun With A Touch of Magic" and the final book, Midnight Moon, is being written as we speak. You can find out more about the series here, so check it out!

Enter to win by leaving a comment with contact info and which book you'd like to receive if your number is (randomly) drawn. The contest ends Friday at noon and winners will be announced on Saturday. If you wish to be excluded from any of the above prizes, please note this in your comment.

That's it--no hoops to jump through, just our sincere appreciation for your generous spirits! We love your visits and thank you for spending time here. :)

Oh, and since we're discussing our roots...We have some EXCITING NEWS! The Emotion Thesaurus was our first series, developed out of a sincere disgust at the number of times our characters sighed, rolled their eyes, and frowned. We figured that if we were struggling in this area, then other writers probably were too, and if the popularity of that thesaurus is any indication, our guess was right. So it only seems appropriate that we release an updated and fortified book version (ebook & print) of the Emotion Thesaurus. Squeeeee!! Look for this release sometime in April, and more details over the next few weeks.

Thanks so much, Musers. You're the best!

Character Trait Entry: Modest

Definitionneither bold or self-assertive; a tendency toward diffidence

Causes: An introverted nature; low self-esteem or confidence; feeling discomfort at being thrust into the spotlight; preferring a background role or supporting position; growing up with talented parents or siblings and standing on the sidelines of their acclaim; shyness; a sense of self-preservation

Characters in Literature: Aibileen (The Help); Nevile Longbottom (Harry Potter, especially the early books)

Positives:

Modest characters defer to others, allowing them to take the limelight. The knowledge of being involved in the process and events that led to something better is satisfying on its own without the need to also share the same level of acclaim. Those with the modest trait often prefer supportive roles, seeing themselves as a cog in the machine, and do no seek out to place themselves above others. Generosity naturally goes hand in hand with modesty, and so these characters are usually highly thought of by peers. Modest characters usually deflect when addressed directly, singing the praises of those around them as 'the real heroes' rather than take credit for the accomplishment. This kindness is appreciated by others and creates a strong reciprocal feeling of loyalty and friendship.

Negatives:  

Modest characters can cause discomfort in others if they refuse to take less credit than is due. If another is well aware of their huge contribution yet is forced to be the 'face' of success alone because of modesty, it can lead to a feeling of unworthiness.  It can also be very difficult to thank or give a boon of appreciation to someone who is overly modest, as they will see themselves as unworthy of such attention. Trying to repay a favor, show a special kindness or  do a good turn for a modest person can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction if the modest person insists they need nothing, and there is no need for reciprocation.

Common Portrayals: 

Staff at charitable organizations, loyal campaign supporters of high profile politicians, janitorial staff, caregivers, supportive grandparents doting on their grandchildren, many artists and creative types, women in societies where the male is held in higher regard, employees of a lower station whose livelihood depends on not drawing attention to themselves

Cliches to Avoid:   

The modest-and-chaste girl meets a bad boy and he 'ruins' her; false modesty as a device to generate more attention on self; girls dressing modestly to characterize them as 'good' girls

Twists on the Traditional Modest:  
  •  Modest characters are often portrayed as having lower self-esteem. It is common as a plot device for another character to feel it is their duty to make them 'see their own value'. Show us a hero or heroine who is very comfortable with who they are, yet is a born supporter of others.
  • By nature, modesty is a often a background trait. Shove it to the front of the conflict line by thrusting a truly modest character into the limelight out of need. Do they take on this foreign leading role to serve the greater good, or crumble of stage fright?
  • What happens when you pair modesty with extreme intelligence and drive? A masterful tactical character who runs the show from behind the curtain because he understands that so much more can be accomplished behind it than in front!
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Modest unique or more interesting: Charismatic; Witty; Eccentric; Impulsive; Dishonest; Bossy; Manipulative

Weather/Earthly Phenomena Thesaurus Entry: Sky

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight: 
Sunrise and Sunset: When the sun rises, the horizon gets brighter, gradually turning pinkish, red, or orange until the sun is fully up and the sky's color becomes more uniform. The opposite is true of a sunset; the sky gradually dims from bright to dark with the horizon turning red and orange as the sun sets. 

Daytime: The sky can be cloudless, looking uniform from every direction as far as can be seen. It is generally a pale blue, though it also can appear gray due to heavy cloud cover, or even white when the sun is at its hottest. Clouds may occupy the sky in many forms: wispy layers, poofy formations, in feathery strokes that look painted on. Clouds themselves are usually white; storm clouds are gray. If clouds are in the sky, the sun's position illuminates them accordingly, shining through one side while the other is in shadow. Rays may also shine through rifts and holes in clouds. Things seen in the daytime sky: planes and helicopters, hot-air balloons, flying birds, lines of jet exhaust, skywriting


The Stormy Sky: Storm clouds can pile up slowly throughout the day or in a very short period of time. They may seemingly appear all at once or move toward you in a visible line, with clouds piled up behind. Storm clouds are generally gray, though they vary in shade depending on the severity of the storm. Serious storm clouds, such as those that produce tornadoes and hail, may appear green- or purple-tinged. The sky can be generally overcast, with the clouds forming a kind of ceiling, or the clouds can bunch up into thunderheads that loom above. It's also possible to experience a light rain shower where the sky above is dark and overcast while the sun shines in the distance, behind the storm front. If the storm produces lightning, it will shoot out quickly, white hot and blindingly bright, dispersing shadows for the split second it lasts.


Evening: At night, the sky is black, pinpricked with white stars and the moon in its various stages. If there is cloud cover, depending on its thickness, the stars and moon may be partially or completely blotted out. Other things that can be seen in the night sky are the blinking lights of low-flying planes as they pass overhead and falling stars.

Smell, Taste, Touch, Sound: n/a

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood: Because the sky is always above us wherever we are, it has a strong impact on our mood. An overcast sky can bring on gloominess or a feeling of oppression. A sunny sky might make a person more light-hearted. A clear sky after a rain lifts the spirits, encouraging optimism and hopefulness. Approaching storm clouds can bring on foreboding, anxiety, or even fear.

Symbolism: A stormy sky often symbolizes approaching doom or danger. A clear, starry sky is often used to represent the universe and the endless potential it holds. The dismal, overcast sky can symbolize oppression or depression. Sunrises work well as new beginnings and sunsets represent relief or rest from the day's labors.

Possible Cliches: red-sky-in-morning-sailor-take-warning-etc., the sky's the limit, pie in the sky, Chicken Little references, the sky as a dome over the Earth

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come. 

Series vs The Stand-Alone

So, I'm finishing revisions on my latest WIP. Naturally, it's brilliant, as are all of my unpublished manuscripts. But I'm seriously thinking this might be the one. And as I'm getting ready to send it to my beta readers and start investigating publication options, one nagging question keeps pestering me. Is it completely stupid not to write a sequel?

As is, the story stands alone. It all concludes nicely. But so many successful YA books these days come in a trilogy or set of some kind, which has made me consider altering the ending and opening it up for another book or two. Then my inner artist, Mademoiselle Crabbypants, gets her knickers in a twist because the story really is very good the way it is. And she reminds me that there are plenty of popular stand-alones on the YA shelf.

Just, you know, not nearly as many.

I am, as you can see, conflicted.

So I'd like to open this up for discussion. For a first-time YA author, is it easier to get published traditionally with a series vs. a stand-alone? Alternatively, if going the independent route, do you have a better chance at success with a series or a single?

Really. Please. Tell me what you think.

Character Trait Thesaurus Entry: Wounded

Definition injured, hurt, or suffering from a wound (physical, mental, or emotional)

Causes: being hurt (purposefully or unintentionally, repeatedly or one time only) by a person or event in the past

Characters in Literature and Pop Culture: Melinda (Speak), Severus Snape, Dally (The Outsiders), Will Hunting (Good Will Hunting)

Positives: Woundeds, when well-written, are relatable. Characters who have been abused or misused are easier for the reader to sympathize with. Even the coldest villain can tweak a reader's heartstrings if his behavior is the result of him being mistreated. Woundeds are often conflicted, acting one way but wanting to act another, or being one person but wanting to be a different kind of person. We all face this same dilemma at different times throughout our lives; seeing someone go through it makes us feel for them, root for them.

Negatives Because they've been so deeply hurt, Woundeds often act out in ways that others find disturbing or unforgivable. Woundeds have trust issues and difficulty relating deeply to others and often live in isolation. Despite their desire to avoid being hurt again, many Woundeds subconsciously enter into unhealthy relationships that repeat the cycle of past abuse. Though they may not want to hurt others, many Woundeds become the wounders, abusing others in the same way they were mistreated.

Common Portrayals: psychopaths and sociopaths, serial killers, criminals, gang bangers, bullies, the homeless, villains, victims of violent crimes, suicides

Cliches to Avoid: the Wounded who struggles to change but ends up taking his or her own life to escape the pain, the tough-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside Wounded, the hooker with the heart of gold

Twists on the traditional Wounded:  

  • More often than not, a character's wounds are inflicted by others. What about a person becoming who they are solely through their own actions, whether accidental or intentional?
  • Instead of the angry, vengeful walking wounded, how about one who is hopeful and optimistic? Make the results of their wounds somehow attractive, instead of repulsive to others. This could lead to a slew of new conflicts between your hero and the people around him.
Conflicting Characteristics to make your Wounded unique or more interesting: trusting, confident, gentle, contented, happy

Weather Thesaurus Entry: Winter

WEATHER is an important element in any setting, providing sensory texture and contributing to the mood the writer wishes to create in a scene. With a deft touch, weather can enhance the character's emotional response to a specific location, it can add conflict, and it can also (lightly) foreshadow coming events.

However, caution must accompany this entry: the weather should not be used as a window into a character's soul. The weather can add invisible pressure for the character, it can layer the SCENE with symbolism, it can carefully hint at the internal landscape, but it must never OVERTLY TELL emotion. Such a heavy-handed approach results in weather cliches and melodrama (a storm raging above a bloody battle, a broken-hearted girl crying in the rain).

SENSORY DESCRIPTORS:

Sight:

Frost crystals coating branches and exposed metal, breath fogging the air, snow shimmering, skeletal trees, pine boughs weighed down with snow, shoveled driveways, footprints (animal & human) in the snow, snow drifts, houses, cars and buildings covered with white, snowflakes falling from the sky, icicles hanging from the eves,  frost swirls coating the windows, clouds of warm air curling out of chimneys and roof vents, people bundled in thick, puffy coats, colorful scarves and warm mitts, snowmen, kids sliding down white hills, cross country ski tracks, skating rinks, red-cheeked children having a snow ball fight, Christmas lights strung up on houses, wreaths decorating doors, lawn decorations (Santa- themed, lighted deer, candy canes, etc)

Smell:

Crisp, clean air, hot chocolate, ozone, fresh baked cookies and treats, cinnamon, woodsmoke, pine needles, vanilla, road salt

Taste:

Candy canes, chocolate, frosted cookies, molasses, baked pumpkin pie, turkey, soups, chili

Touch:

Cold air against exposed skin, zipping up a coat, tugging on boots and gloves, winding on a scarf, pushing a snow shovel, scraping a car windshield as quickly as possible, mittens growing wet, numb fingers and toes, lips drying, stamping feet for warmth, feeling light snowflakes land in one's hair, blowing on hands for warmth, rubbing hands together, the shock of cold when snow gets in the collar or up a sleeve, tugging down a hat to cover cold ears, the sudden wet and cold of a snowflake melting against the skin, turning the face away from a bitter wind or blowing snow, slipping on ice, struggling to keep balanced or save oneself from a bad fall

Sound:

Winter brings almost an absence of sound--most birds have flown south, leaving only the occasional call of a goose or duck flying overhead, or the roar of a passing car. Wind must be strong to be heard as there are no leaves to resist it. Small creeks freeze over, leaving ice to obscure the burbling water. As such, the remaining sounds seem clearer and crisper--boots crunching through the snow, the sound of one's raspy breath, the rustle of fabric from a slippery outer coat, holiday music, carolers. 

EMOTIONAL TRIGGERS:

Mood:

Using Winter as the time period in a novel provides the opportunity for characters to do some mental housekeeping. As the cold weather forces many outdoor activities to a halt and hampers travel, the mind often slows down and turns inward for reflection. Winter also provides a time when families and friends generally turn to one another for fellowship. However as people keep to the indoors, it can also lead to feelings of isolation and being trapped or confined. If you have characters who create friction, good or bad, Winter is the ideal time to force them to confront one another.

Symbolism:

Winter commonly symbolizes death, hibernation, a period of rest, a time for reflection, endings, purity

Possible Cliches:

Comparing a person's cold demeanor to winter, linking a false winter to an evil force, using winter as a term for the elderly years of one's life

OTHER:

Winter and snow are not mutually exclusive. There are many warmer climates where snowfall does not occur or it happens infrequently. Winter may simply mean a lack of blooming flowers and colder temperatures than normal. Always do research when world building to make sure you understand how the seasons present themselves when writing any contemporary setting. Winter does indicate shorter days, so the hours of daylight are lessened in most locations.

Don't be afraid to use the weather to add contrast. Unusual pairings, especially when drawing attention to the Character's emotions, is a powerful trigger for tension. Consider how the bleak mood of a character is even more noticeable as morning sunlight dances across the crystals of fresh snow on the walk to work. Or how the feeling of betrayal is so much more poignant on a hot summer day. Likewise, success or joy can be hampered by a cutting wind or drizzling sleet, foreshadowing conflict to come. 

Happy NEW YEAR!



Wishing our Musers Happiness and Success in 2012! We hope this year is the best one yet!


 

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