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45: Don't Call It an Outline
Episode 4524th August 2022 • Writing Pursuits • Kathrese McKee
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The puzzler approach takes a fair amount of prewriting and preparation before the real work begins, but don't call it an outline.

Check out The Heroine's Journey: For Writers, Readers, and Fans of Pop Culture by Gail Carriger for a great addition to your author library.

Read the accompanying post at WritingPursuits.com: "Don't Call It an Outline".

The question of the week is: How do you map out your stories? What methods work best for you?

Get your free copy of the First Chapter Rubric.

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Transcripts

Kathrese McKee:

How can you avoid deleting or rewriting big

Kathrese McKee:

portions of your story? Before you reach the end? How can you

Kathrese McKee:

avoid abandoning a story halfway through because it simply isn't

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working? Can you have the freedom of being a pantser? And

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enjoy the benefits of being a plotter? Is it possible to be a

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plotter without overthinking your story? Answers to these

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questions and more in this episode are frightening

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pursuits. Welcome to the writing pursuits podcast where authors

Kathrese McKee:

like you discuss writing craft, author, life and book marketing

Kathrese McKee:

strategies. I'm your host Kathrese. McKee. I own writing

Kathrese McKee:

pursuits and write and produce the weekly newsletter writing

Kathrese McKee:

pursuits tips for authors. In addition, I am a speculative

Kathrese McKee:

fiction author, writing procedures for authors who drink

Kathrese McKee:

too much coffee, endure judgemental looks from their

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furry writing, convenience and struggle for words. If you are a

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writer seeking encouragement, information and inspiration,

Kathrese McKee:

this podcast is for you. Let's get to it. Hey, writing

Kathrese McKee:

pursuits, authors. Welcome

Kathrese McKee:

back to the podcast. To those of you who are new, I want to

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extend a special welcome. My name is Kathrese. McKee. And I'm

Kathrese McKee:

glad you're here. Please leave a comment a star rating and follow

Kathrese McKee:

the show to help others find writing pursuits. Back when I

Kathrese McKee:

first played around with the idea of writing a book, I opened

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up a spiral and started writing a story I thought my kids would

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enjoy every spare moment at games, and doctor visits. And

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during lunch, I would invent problems for my characters to

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solve and things for them to say, I was a pantser. And I

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didn't care about how to map out a novel. Eventually, a plot

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formed, the first novel grew into two than three, I had an

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entire shelf of spirals, and three ring binders, all written

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in longhand. By then I knew I could write a book because I had

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already written one if that makes sense. Along the way I

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read every craft book I could find, and I learned about things

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like story structure, characterization and point of

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view. Finally, I decided to get serious and write a book for

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publication. I didn't want to get halfway through my novel and

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falter, so I took a few days to plot it out. I became a plotter.

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I think many authors who write by the seat of their pants

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resist plotting because they fear it will stifle their

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creativity. They live for the spontaneity, the bursts of

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inspiration. Painters often have a folder full of unfinished

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novels. And that's frustrating. plotters don't have all the

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answers either. If you are a plotter, you may be stifling

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your creativity by plotting every moment of your story

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before you start writing. How many times have you made it to

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the end of your work in progress without going off script? As

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every military commander can attest, no plan survives first

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contact with the enemy. Stuff happens. Things go wrong.

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adjustments must be made. Honestly. These days I call

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myself a puzzler, because I take the middle road between plotting

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and pantsing. The puzzler approach takes a fair amount of

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prewriting and preparation before the real work begins, but

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don't call it an outline. Outlines give me the hives. I

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have flashbacks to high school history, science and language

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arts, where the teachers expected the class to pull

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outline notes out of the errors. They lectured with Roman

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numerals and everything, and then created your notes on how

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well you can outline. Yeah, plotting isn't about creating an

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outline. I know you've heard experts tell you that you ought

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to outline your book, you've read how to write books that

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instruct you to plot out your story, but I'm here to tell you

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that an outline for fiction isn't what you think it is.

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Dismiss that picture of the indented structure that you

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learned in school Roman numerals, capitalized letters,

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Arabic numerals and lowercase letters Dobby is a free elf. Yes

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Dobby you are free, free to create notes in any form you

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choose. Sorry, nonfiction writers. Even if you start out

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in freeform, you must eventually Marshal your thoughts into a

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proper outline, you will probably need to create an index

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to sorry back to Dobby the free l fiction author who can take

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notes anyway chooses doodles diagrams, mind maps or copious

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notes. Dobby can use notebooks, scrolls, butcher paper,

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notecards Scrivener or Evernote as long as Dobby captures his

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ideas before they get away. A premise is highly recommended.

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In the center of your blank piece of paper. It's a good idea

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to capture the kernel of your story idea, also known as the

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premise. Try to state your premise in 10 words or less. I'm

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going to give a few examples and let's see if you can recognize

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the books and movies referenced Okay. And I'll come back around

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to that and I'll answer at the end. And I'll give you a word

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count on each one of these. Okay, number one, the parents of

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five down powerless daughters must attract rich husbands 10

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words, a powerless orphan is chosen to defeat an evil wizard.

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10 words. A private investigator addicted to cocaine solves

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difficult cases. Nine, a federation crew keeps a madman

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from deploying regeneration bomb 10 conscientious objector

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becomes highly decorated war hero eight words. The premise

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helps you focus anytime you get lost while you're writing.

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Return to your story, Colonel. This one piece of information

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can get you back on track. It's worth taking the time the very

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beginning to really hone that premise, so that it helps you

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stay the course now think about your characters. Each of the

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story kernels in the examples begins with a character or a

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group of characters, the more likely the character, a

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powerless orphan, or conscientious objector the

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better. readers love to root for the underdog. Once you have

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identified your characters flesh them out a bit. What are their

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strengths than weaknesses, wants and needs? What motivates them

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what do they fear the most? Then identify the stakes. The

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doubtless the hunters face poverty, the Federation crew

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faces death itself, the investigator may lose his

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credibility or fall victim to a dangerous villain, each hero or

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heroine will lose big time if they fail. A premise hints at

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the conflict and what is at stake story structure is the

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secret sauce. Writing pursuits is run by Kathrese. McKee who

Kathrese McKee:

has been trusted by fiction authors since 2014. To take

Kathrese McKee:

their writing to a new level of excellence. Guthrie's is a three

Kathrese McKee:

story methods certified editor who specializes in story

Kathrese McKee:

diagnostics, coaching, and line editing to help you prepare your

Kathrese McKee:

story for the journey ahead. For more information, go to writing

Kathrese McKee:

pursuits.com. The link is in the show notes. And now back to the

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podcast. Now that you have your premise and you have a main

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character, and the conflict and stakes, now you can think about

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structure. There you go again, imagining the worst forget about

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Roman numerals and indentation story structure is a secret

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sauce to your plot. Think seven columns, five columns are only

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three. Remember in elementary school and they taught you

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beginning, middle and end. Start there or middle school. When you

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learned about exposition, rising action climax, falling action

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and denouement. Or maybe your teacher called it resolution. In

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other words, think of your story in big blocks of time. And then

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subdivide those blocks according to the goals for each block.

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Call it a map, a timeline or a synopsis, but don't call it an

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outline. If nothing else, figure out what your showdown might

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look like and work forward and backward. From there. Ask

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yourself questions like what happens after that? How did that

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happen? Why did it happen? And what happened before that before

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that before that? How did this story begin? Try thinking about

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the darkest moment before the dawn, when all seems lost for

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your main character. My stories benefit most. When I pay

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attention to the hero's journey, or the heroines journey journey

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you have probably heard of the hero's journey, made famous by

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Joseph Campbell, but the heroines journey is every bit as

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strong. Neither of these structures has anything to do

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with gender by the way anyway, you need to become acquainted

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with both structures because story structure is tried and

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true and time tested. Ignore story structure at your peril.

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If you pay attention to it, you will find a Shining Path to

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Follow whether you are a plotter, pancer or puzzler.

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After I wrote my first two books, I discovered I was

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writing a heroines journey, many aspects of my series suddenly

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made more sense to me. So I am going to encourage you to find

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Gil characters book the heroines journey for writers, readers,

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and fans of pop culture. It's a great addition to your author

Kathrese McKee:

library, and I will include a link in the show notes, now's

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the time to tell yourself the story in shorthand, do they

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actually teach shorthand in school anymore? Back on my

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mother's day she took shorthand in high school. The beauty of

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using shorthand was how you could take notes in a way that

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didn't require every letter of every word, but later, you could

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decipher your notes without forgetting important details. So

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the concept of shorthand, not the crazy little squiggles is

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still viable for writers today. Tell yourself the story you want

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to write using a More hand approach. use present tense. If

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you don't know the names, use code names like a and b, etc.

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Give yourself the green light to get as crazy as you like. This

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is like brainstorming, just Greenlight it all the way. Don't

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Don't keep pulling back. It's like, oh, by all work, just

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Greenlight it, write down anything you that comes to mind.

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If you think of a snippet of conversation, or a witty line,

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jot it down. Can you see a picture of the action in your

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mind's eye, put it where it fits best Beginning, middle or in

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rising action, climax or resolution? Another thing you

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might try is writing. Writing the synopsis first, when I

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decided to write a prequel to my series, I didn't want to waste a

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lot of time going down dead in streets to create a good story.

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So I wrote a synopsis for my prequel before I ever wrote it.

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Synopsis is a scary word that means summary. Okay, summary

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sounds scary, too. But all I did was tell myself the story at a

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very high level. Here is part of the synopsis I wrote before I

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started work on pirates wager my prequel novelette to Martin

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smart, Sam Zohr 13 is brought aboard his clothes though faded

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in dirty bespeak a more privileged life. Scar comes

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aboard to as a new first mate. The first night in charge, Scar

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banish is all done in Linus to the hold, because they are,

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quote, too little to be of use, and foreign to boot scar

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figures. He can turn Sanders oriented back can because he's a

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big strong boy. So I put sim czar with the crew, people to

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remember frats biscuits, rows are in scar. Granted, this is

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more detailed than it had to be because I already knew the

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characters from the full length novel, I could have written it

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like this sims or becomes a slave on a pirate ship. The same

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day a first name made a is hired. A is a terrible bigot and

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a very cruel man. He hates foreigners. There are two other

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slaves C and D. Or I could have started in the middle because of

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something Sam Azhar does the cruel first mate decides to

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punish C, and C is in danger of dying from the middle. It's a

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matter of going forward and backward on the timeline until

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you reach the end and the beginning. So it isn't an

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outline. It's a map. When you write your story beats as some

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people call them, they serve as a map to take you from beginning

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to end. But you don't need to know immediately where all the

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details belong. It is okay to write a jumble of ideas,

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moments, action beats, setting notes and crazy thoughts in no

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particular order. Then do a preliminary sort and get

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started. You don't need to know everything that's going to

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happen. The unknown factor should make Pantsers happy

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because the door is wide open for sudden inspiration. Those

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golden transcendent moments authors long for and

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transcendent moments should also please even the most devoted

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plotters. Now you have a map to use during those days when

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writing is more labor than love. When you're feeling a little bit

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lost. Let your map get you back on track. Give yourself

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permission to be messy. Learn about story structure. Write the

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beats. Create a synopsis if you like or draw a diagram, but

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don't call it an outline. If you are in the middle of a story and

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feel lost, take a few hours to map out where you want it to go.

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If you haven't begun to write, identify your premise and figure

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out whether you are writing a hero hero's journey or heroines

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journey. If you've already finished your book, that's a

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great time to write a synopsis and that will help you test your

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story from plot holes. The question of the week is how do

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you map out your stories? What methods work best for you? Put

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your answers in the comments at writing proceeds.com forward

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slash podcast forward slash 45. I can't believe we're already on

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episode 45. Oh, and the answers for the examples. The parents of

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five Dallas daughters must attract rich husbands. That's

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Pride and Prejudice. A powerless orphan has chosen to defeat an

Kathrese McKee:

evil wizard. Of course that's a Harry Potter series. A private

Kathrese McKee:

investigator addicted to cocaine solves difficult cases. Sherlock

Kathrese McKee:

Holmes. A Federation crew keeps a madman from deploying

Kathrese McKee:

regeneration bomb. That would be the Wrath of Khan, a

Kathrese McKee:

conscientious objector becomes highly decorated war hero is

Kathrese McKee:

Sergeant York. And that's all I have for today. Until next time,

Kathrese McKee:

keep writing.

Kathrese McKee:

Thank you for joining us today. If you enjoyed this episode,

Kathrese McKee:

please leave a comment and follow the podcast. If you're

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new around here. I hope you will sign up for the weekly

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newsletter writing pursuits tips for authors that link and all

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the the links mentioned in today's episode are in the show

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notes at writing pursuits.com Please join us on Wednesdays for

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new episodes and keep writing my friends keep writing

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