"Four Myths about Outlining Your Novel:" Craft Article by Yours Truly :)

Published today (12/12/17) at Women on Writing's awesome blog! Enjoy. 

"Four Myths about Outlining Your Novel"

By Melanie Faith

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phone by: Danielle MacInnes

Here comes a new year, and with it goals you'd like to accomplish in your writing. What better time than now to write your novel? One of the best ways to begin a novel is to prepare an outline or series of outlines first.

 

Let's smash some commonly-held myths about beginning with planning:

 

Myth 1: Following an outline will kill my creativity and take the fun out of writing.

 

"There's an outline for each of the books that I adhere to pretty closely, but I'm not averse to taking it in a new direction, as long as I can get it back to where I need it to go." ~ Justin Cronin

 

Some of the most creative, amusing excerpts my students have written were outlines of their characters and their proposed plots. Outlining uses many of the same muse-muscles as drafting and is part of a fluid writing process: tapping into the subconscious and making connections between settings, conflicts and characters, while compressing those elements for ease of exploration.

 

I've been the writer who delved in--and ended up writing 45 pages of a book to figure out what my conflict was--only to have to scrap the first 44 pages and begin rewriting from that point. Had I paused to craft outlines, I could have pinpointed my characters' motivations and the main conflict much, much sooner. I also could have enjoyed exploring relevant details about my characters' lives first, rather than cluttering up my draft with interesting but inessential information that appeared in my first drafts.

 

The other great, creative facet of outlines is that they are not written in stone. They are meant to be seen at a glance yet developed over time. You can easily pull up the file and edit. Go ahead: add, change, move, or omit details as you learn more about your characters and plot, without scrolling through numerous pages and extraneous details.

 

Myth 2: Outlines are so boring! All of those Roman numerals and indentations--no, thanks.

 

These ain't your high-school English teacher's outlines. There are numerous ways of outlining your novel--mapping, using images from online to create a picture map of a setting or a character, using a White Board to create giant lists, making a photo roll on your mobile device, you name it. I've had students submit Pinterest pages relating to their characters as a weekly outline, which was an ingenious way to visually collate ideas about their protagonist. Others created a brief Power Point presentation of four or five slides about their plots. Use whatever organizing principle you find most compelling, whether that's a traditional, numbered outline or fill-in-the-blank workbook exercise or a more modern approach.

 

Myth 3: Outlines should describe the entire plot, setting, and conflicts and detail every character, yet I don't know all of this information yet.

 

Guess what: you'll get glimpses of your characters' lives, motivations, fears, and joys as you go. Most of the students in my outlining course begin with one or two characters and a setting and, through the process of outlining, other elements pop up and surprise them as the story develops and they chase new threads of narrative. Students are welcome to return to amend their outlines at any time.

 

Myth 4: Outlining is a waste of time. Wouldn't it be better just to dive in and see where it goes?

 

"The more work you put in on your outline and getting the skeleton of your story right, the easier the process is later." ~ Drew Goddard

 

Actually, pre-planning actually saves you time, especially in the long run. Remember those 44 pages I mentioned earlier? Had I done pre-writing with my characters and plot, I could have saved at least 10 hours of writing time--and gotten to the same place with more focus and energy: the opening scene.

My outlining course that begins on January 12th. Consider signing up or sharing with writer friends: Outlining Your Novel with Ease 

"The Impact" Published at Lost River :)

I'm thrilled to announce that my short story, "The Impact," was published in the Fall 2017 issue of Lost River. Check out page 46 to read, like, and share the entire work. Here's a teaser to enjoy:

 

“Put down your phone. It’s Listen Time, Dad.” Her green eyes twinkle.

 

You have to chuckle when your kid parrots you back to you. Molly’s a good kid. Gets good grades—better than I ever did, does the drama club thing, has a part-time job at Fancy Feet. The eyebrow ring I’m not so fond of, but I got a Hammer Time tattoo at sixteen, so it could be worse. Far worse. Like that dude who drops by and sits on the porch, waiting like a puppy for her return. Even if I’m sitting there.

 

I chuck my phone into the cup holder. “Ok, Molls. What’s up?” I grin, “Let me guess: you broke up with Kadence.”

 

Molly rolls her eyes. Pretty and green, like Sarah’s always were. Still are. Still are, I think with a sigh.

 

“No, I am not breaking up with Kadence.”

 

Read the rest of "The Impact"

Photo by: Andrew Worley

 

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Moments Series Photography Published :)

More great news! Two of my photos from my "Moments Series" have been featured at the current issue of Sediments Literary-Arts Journal.

These photos were my experimentation with meaningful double-exposure work.

Special thanks to my talented, knitting sister for the fun trip to the yarn store that led to the yarn purchase and this combinatory idea. Am I the only one who could read the names of yarn hues all day? ;) Enjoy! 

 

Sediments

 

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"The Project"

I'm pleased to announce a flash fiction of mine was published this week at Typishly, a stylish and innovative literary venue. 

Care for a teaser? Here you go:

"The photo shows a man, neither tall nor short, neither stout nor thin, in a pale blue button-up shirt. He is somewhat younger than middle-aged, but based on the receding hair line and gray at his temples and in his goatee, not that much younger. His tie is perfectly straight, but his eyes are half-closed. The silver top of a small belt buckle on his trousers glints. Because of the sun, there’s a reflection of the man’s face in the glass, like he’s staring at his doppelganger, or looking into his future self with a serious expression. A cleaned-off mahogany table beside him. On the walls behind him, some kind of wooden, built-in cupboard, doors closed. In his hands: a pink-and-blue vase."

Read the rest at:  Typishly  

 

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In a Flash--Cover Reveal Time!

Super excited to share the cover of my forthcoming book, In a Flash.

Many thanks to my multi-talented designer and publisher, Jessica Bell. She took a photograph of mine and made it into a gasp-worthy cover. I couldn't be happier with this gorgeous cover!

Can't you just picture it on your desk or coffee table or in your classroom? 

 

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Give the Gift of Zora

For most of us writers, literature has made a huge difference in our lives. Let's share the joy!

A wonderful friend of mine from grad school teaches at a high school in Baltimore and wants to give this experience to her students. She's currently running a Go Fund Me page so that she can purchase new Zora Neale Hurston books so that each 11th-grade student can have his/her own brand-new book and a highlighter. Right now, they only have enough copies so that multiple students will have to share and not take the books from the classroom. 

Please consider stopping by her page to read more about her fantastic work and her awesome students and consider a donation if you feel so led.

Many thanks for your consideration and kindness. These new books will make a huge impact in the lives of her students and will be much appreciated. Let's not stop until there are 50 new books and smiling students aplenty! :)

Best,
Melanie

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The Power of the Prompt: A Craft Article

My article about prompts was just published this week at Women on Writing (WOW!). Hope it inspires. Enjoy! 

 

The Power of the Prompt

By Melanie Faith

 

Marathoners have running shoes and dancers have footwear of the tap or ballet variety. Cyclists have bikes, equestriennes have horses, racers have zoomy cars. What do writers have that motivates and facilitates our writing practice? I introduce, my friends, the prompt. Or perhaps you're already well-acquainted.

 

What is a writing prompt? What is the purpose of it? 

 

A writing prompt is a short statement or series of pithy statements meant to trigger words on a page or screen. Prompts may be as simple as a famous quotation that you reply to, either directly or indirectly. Sometimes they ask a question directly, such as whether you agree or disagree with an idea. They may be themed. They may have a tone in mind--humor or seriousness or sappy love--or they may be general enough that a writer could give the resulting writing many possible tones. They may be focused on one genre, say poetry or fiction, or meant for multi-genres of writing (or even other forms of art). 

 

Most writers first encounter prompts in middle or high school English classes and university creative writing classes. Other authors get hooked on prompts in workshops and writing seminars, where they often either open or cap the day's discussion of writing skills the group is practicing. Speaking of which, that's another benefit of prompts--you can use them alone, in pairs (literary lunch, anyone?), or in groups however small or large. Prompts can be shared or kept private. Often, authors employ them like pianists and vocalists practice scales--to warm up for the writing of another, unrelated project. I've also had many students who were uninspired to write or unsure of what to write next take a prompt for a spin and then continue to develop that prompt long after, which is another excellent use of prompts. However one chooses to use prompts, their aim is creation, pure and simple.

 

Where can I find prompts to use in my writing practice? How do I choose a prompt? 

 

Great question! Classes, seminars, and workshops abound with them, but you can also seek out your own prompts. There are prompt collections for genre writers and themed prompts. You might do a search online for prompts that relate to a specific type of writing you'd like to practice by entering key phrases, such as "seasonal poetry prompts" or "mystery and horror writing prompts." There are whole books of prompts written by genre, such as journaling, as well as wonderful websites that list prompt resources, such as Create Write Now with Mari. If you're interested in a series of inspiring prompts you can use again and again, I've designed a deck just for writers.

 

Yet, what if you don't have a certain project or even genre in mind? You just want to write, dang it! No worries--there are whole collections of general prompts for just this purpose, such as 1,000 Awesome Writing Prompts by Ryan Andrew Kinder at online book retailers. In a general collection of prompts, you can either do a quick perusal of the table of contents (they are often organized by theme, genre, or style of writing) or, as I often do, let serendipity reign--thumb through the book and let the pages open where they may.

Whichever prompt you choose, the content isn't as important as the way of thinking it encourages. Prompts have a marvelous way of freeing ideas like soap bubbles from the depths of our memories, coaxing sentence after sentence to the surface where you'll be off and running.

Try this prompt!
You (or your protagonist) have been asked to showcase a little-known, unusual talent at a community fair's talent contest. Begin on stage and show not only the performer but also the crowd's reaction to this talent unveiling. Go!

 

I will be teaching a prompt-based course that is sure to be lots of fun, beginning November 1st. Here's the scoop and skinny: Prompted 

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76 Rabbits out of a Top Hat

"76 Rabbits out of a Top Hat, or: The Quirky Tale of How One Poem became a Whole Book"

 

 

Ever notice how some things just multiply. From one to many, seemingly of their own accord. Take weeds in a garden. Ants in the cupboard. Emails in an inbox. Pounds on a despicable scale.

 

Or poems in a collection.

 

Yesterday was release day for my poetry book. This Passing Fever is a collection set in 1918, the last year of WWI. It was also the year of the horrendous influenza epidemic that took myriad lives the world over and tore some families apart while it brought others in communities closer.

 

I say poems—plural—now, but it didn’t start out that way. Originally, I wrote a single poem that I divided into three sections during the second draft. The poem was two-pages long and included three characters that, at that time, didn’t have names.

image by: Gary Bendig, Unsplash.com

image by: Gary Bendig, Unsplash.com

 

So, what happened that I expanded the poem into a whole series of historical poems? Here was my thought process and creative arc:

 

 

·        Stay open to surprises. While fact-checking a detail in my initial poem before submitting it to a journal, I stumbled upon a jump-rope rhyme that kids used to sing on the playground in 1918. It was such an authentic detail that I immediately took it for a spin, exploring a question that jumped into my head and out through my pen: What would be the life story of a girl singing this rhyme?

 

That new poem launched not only my main character, Alma Donovan-Smith, but a whole new impetus: If Alma had a story to tell, what about other children in her school? What about the teacher? What about the students’ parents? What about other people in the town, like the shopkeeper, the clergy, neighbors and friends?   

 

·        Just because the work starts in one format or genre and length, no need to stay locked into place. I ended up taking apart the initial poem and writing more poems about the villagers in a two-week period. It felt like they were individually introducing themselves to me. Of course, once I knew Alma, I wanted to learn more of her story, and she didn’t disappoint. Four or five poems in, the idea hit me to flash forward and have Alma herself tell some of her own story, as part of an oral-history interview project with her grandson in 1958.

 

If I had remained stubbornly determined that what I’d written was just one poem, what a loss it would have been to the narrative and to me. I learned a lot about handling multiple POVs and story strands while dividing the pieces and omitting some that didn’t work.

 

Ultimately, feel free to take apart your draft, even after the very last edit (as Walt Whitman did with numerous editions of his literary masterpiece Leaves of Grass). Add new details. Explore details you stumble across either while researching or that seem to find you as a gentle thought.

 

·        Go organic. Let the work inform your writing and editing decisions. When I wrote the initial poem, I didn’t move back and forth through time from 1918. Yet, as I wrote more and more individual pieces and delved into both personal and cultural details of the town, I began to feel that a more compelling way to present the narrative in verse was to fast forward through several time periods.

 

Sometimes when we start a project, we have just the outermost glimmer of what the piece will become, and that’s not only fine but magical. Each piece will have its own innate format and logic. Stay aware and curious about the material as you write and edit. Respond as you go to how the piece moves and (re)shapes itself.

 

So, instead of one poem, I have 76-pages worth…and a richer, more evocative exploration of my initial subject than if I’d stopped with the first poem.

 

Try this prompt!  Poems and flash pieces are short by nature, but linked works have the potential to be greatly expanded in details, characters, settings, and more. Pull up a piece you thought was a one-off and examine it with new eyes. Ask yourself: Where are there possibilities to expand this narrative? What might another character say or do about the initial piece? Try flashing forward or backward in time period or setting. Take 20 minutes to write a companion piece, without stopping.

 

You might just find, like rabbits out of a hat or chips from a bag, one leads to another and another and…

 

Image by Victor Larracuente, unsplash.com

Image by Victor Larracuente, unsplash.com