Favorite Education & Homeschool Books

I was homeschooled for a long time (and wish it had been longer). I homeschooled my children until they said they wanted to go to public school. So, with that experience behind me, here are my favorite education & homeschool books (that aren’t textbooks). It’s a short list, but that’s okay

ADHD: What Every Parent Needs to Know, by the American Academy of Pediatrics

Teenagers with ADD & ADHD, by Chris A. Zeigler Dendy

You Can Teach Your Child Successfully, by Ruth Beechick

Cleaning House, by Kay Wills Wyma

Life Skills for Kids, by Christine M. Field

Homeschooling: The Middle Years, by Shari Henry

The Well-Trained Mind, by Susan Wise Bauer

The New School, by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Homeschooler’s College Admissions Handbook, by Cafi Cohen

Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (fiction)

Schooled, by Gordan Korman (fiction)

If anybody out there wants to write some good homeschooling fiction, there’s obviously a hole waiting to be filled. I’m tired of reading about the odd homeschooler down the block that doesn’t fit in until he goes to public school. Boo! Most homeschoolers are well-educated, well-adjusted, and well-socialized. And that’s generally BECAUSE of homeschool, not DESPITE it. And yes, homeschoolers go to college just fine. Even if they stay at home through high school.

Just as a thought, if you or someone you know is dealing with remote school because of… you know, Covid… wouldn’t it be easier to take charge of school yourself and do it your way instead of trying to meet public school expectations at home? It’s just a thought, so don’t throw tomatoes at me. 🙂

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

 

Conflict and Earned Endings

You’re going to look at the title and the first few paragraphs and be confused, but stay with me. It will all make sense… in the end. 😉

Authors frequently say “write what you know,” but it doesn’t always mean what you think it does. You don’t have to be a spy to write a spy thriller, and you don’t have to know how to ride a horse to write about them (although you should ask an expert if you got everything right enough to not look stupid). What you should “know” is emotions and conflict and human behavior and all that good stuff. Fortunately, life usually gives you lots of material, as long as you pay attention.

Can’t you make it all up?

You can try, but your readers will probably notice. However, you can cheat a little. You don’t need to lose a boyfriend to write about losing a boyfriend. If you lose a friend, you ought to understand the loss of a relationship well enough to make your readers believe the emotions. You don’t have to understand wanting a bike more than anything in the world, you just have to understand wanting SOMETHING that badly.

What about the conflict in your story? Do you have to have an archenemy to write about one?

Nope. Remember, you’re allowed to cheat. What about that neighbor that always puts up fancier Christmas decorations, or the student across the aisle who got ONE measly point better than you on the final? Or what about the serial killer you read about, even though you never met him? (Whew!) You know, the one who reminded you of that weird relative who is certainly not a serial killer but has a really peculiar collection of something?

Even better, think about the conflict in your own life and find a way to apply it to your story. You can tweak it. You can bend it completely out of shape! But keep the emotion so your readers will feel it when they read.

Trust me, life will provide you with plenty of opportunities to collect conflict.

Can’t you have a story (or a life) without conflict?

Let me sit down for a minute. When I can stop laughing enough to catch my breath, we can talk about this.

No. Neither stories nor life are worth much without conflict. Think about it. If you’re reading a book and everything falls in the hero/heroine’s lap without any effort or opposition, is it an interesting story? Even more important, when you get to the end of the book and the happily-ever-after, do you think the character has earned it? Do you put it down and say, “that was great,” or do you slam the book shut because “nothing happened!” Why should the girl win the prince without even a bad date in the process? Why should the guy get his dream job without struggling through a degree (and the interview)?

In order for the happy ending to be believable and satisfying, it needs to come after a struggle to achieve. And the character at the end of the book is stronger and bigger and better because he/she has overcome challenges and grown to conquer.

And since we’re writing what we know, and because we want to earn our own satisfying happy ending, we need to remember that our lives will also be full of struggles. (Don’t go looking for trouble; trouble will find you just fine.) While frustrating, that’s not entirely a bad thing. (But take note of the sad feelings so you can write them later. If you aren’t a writer, take note anyway, so you’ll be ready to comfort your friend when he/she feels sad.)

So I have a challenge for you. This Thanksgiving, while you’re giving thanks for your blessings, take a moment to give thanks for the challenges that have—and will—shape you into a better person. It will all be worth it. In the end.

Happy writing, and good luck with your struggles,
Marty C. Lee

Favorite Action-Adventure Books

Before I start, I’ll warn you that I have a wide variety of books listed as “action-adventure” on my list. I won’t bother you with the ones I didn’t really like, and I’ll sort the ones I did, but as you’re looking through and see the mishmash that made the cut, just remember that I warned you. 😉

Adult

Bad Penny, by John D. Brown. Mystery.

This Just In, by Kelly Blair. Mystery

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes–and Why, by Amanda Ripley. Nonfiction.

Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World, by Jennifer Armstrong. Biography.

I sense a theme in my adult adventure books… mystery or nonfiction…

Young Adult

Code Orange, by Caroline B. Cooney. Contemporary. Sort of a medical thriller, sort of a spy thriller. Mostly a boy trying to avoid the consequences of his bad ideas.

Pigboy, by Vicki Grant. Contemporary. School field trip gone very, very wrong.

Gallagher Girls series, by Ally Carter. Contemporary. Teen spy school.

Brotherband Chronicles series, by John Flanagan. Fantasy.

Reckoners series, by Brandon Sanderson. Science fiction. Superheroes gone bad.

Holes, by Louis Sachar. Contemporary. Juvenile detention gone bad.

Abhorsen series, by Garth Nix. Fantasy. Content warning for zombies (of a sort) and occasional grossness.

Black Stallion, by Walter Farley. Contemporary. The rest of the series isn’t bad, but the first one is best.

The Gideon trilogy, by Linda Buckley-Archer. Historical.

Percy Jackson series, by Rick Riordan. Contemporary fantasy.

Middle Grade

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl. Contemporary fantasy.

Brave Margaret, by Robert D. San Souci. Historical.

Ascendance series, by Jennifer A. Nielsen. Fantasy.

The Mysterious Benedict Society series, by Trenton Lee Stewart. Mystery.

Cat Royal series, by Julia Golding. Historical.

Adventurer’s Wanted series, by M.L. Forman. Portal fantasy.

Alcatraz series, by Brandon Sanderson. Portal fantasy.

Letters from Wolfie, by Patti Sherlock. Historical.

Larklight series, by Phillip Reeve. Fantasy.

Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull. Portal/contemporary fantasy. Yeah, it’s a bit tricky to classify exactly.

The Adventures of Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren. Oldie but goodie.

 

And that’s all, folks. Considering that a lot of these are series, they should keep you busy for at least a FEW days. 🙂

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

What is NaNoWriMo?!?

Every year, tens of thousands of people participate in something called NaNoWriMo. (There’s a whole debate about pronunciation, Wree vs Wry. I’m on the side of Wry.) It stands for National Novel Writing Month, and the idea is to write a book of at least 50,000 words, all in the month of November. That’s right, an entire book.

It’s not as bad as it sounds. You need an average of 1667 words each day. Let’s pretend you type 30 wpm (which isn’t very fast, but that’s okay). Let’s assume you can compose sentences as quickly as you can type (which is actually more of an assumption). 1667 words divided by 30 wpm=56 minutes. That’s less than an hour a day.

So in an hour a day for a month, you can write an entire novel. Wow, that’s pretty impressive!

You can track your progress for free on the official site (and indeed, you must to qualify for the prizes), and it’s rather fun to see your progress creep up the graph. You can add writing buddies and projects and more! At the end of the month, if you met the goal, you get a winner’s certificate and a bunch of prizes (mostly discounts on various writing programs).

Wait, you say. There must be a catch.

Well, yes and no. It really is free. The prizes are real. It sounds pretty easy.

Oh, wait. That’s the catch. It’s not always easy…

Remember me saying that composing as fast as you type might be an assumption? Some people have no problem coming up with words, spewing them out as fast as their fingers can move. Some people, and we don’t have to name names, struggle with the perfect sentence or even the perfect next word. Or they get a scene done and then don’t know what comes next.

Folks, this is normal. Repeat after me. It’s normal. You’re normal. Really, it’s fine.

It took me two years (or was it three?) before I passed NaNoWriMo. I got close, but 40K doesn’t count, alas. Now I’m faster, but I still struggle. I’m normal, too. 😛 I try to hard for the perfect sentences and need to practice just letting it spill out. Edit it later, I tell myself, but sometimes myself doesn’t listen…

So, if you’d like a challenge this November, or if you’ve always wanted to write a book but didn’t get around to it, here’s the perfect excuse. Come join us in NaNoWriMo!

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee

Horror Recommendations

This list will be shorter than usual, because I read little horror and like even less of it. Nonetheless, for Halloween, here are my recommendations. I am not responsible for any nightmares!

Fairly Safe for Teens (mileage may vary)

Oddly Enough series, by Bruce Coville

Alfred Hitchcock

Ghosts, Gales and Gold, by Edgar Rowe Snow

Monsters, Ghoulies, and Creepy Creatures, by Lee Bennett Hopkins

50 Great Horror Stories, by John Canning

13 Goblins, & 13 Ghosts, by Dorothy Gladys Spicer

The Scariest Stories You’ve Ever Heard, by Katherine Burt

Companions of the Night, by Vivian Vande Velde

The Thing at the Foot of the Bed, by Maria Leach

More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, by Alvin Schwartz

Ghosts, Ghouls, & Other Horrors, by Berhardt J. Hurwood

Tales of Mystery and Terror, by Marjorie P. Katz

Serafina series, by Robert Beatty

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor

Warning: Adult Content (of various types)

Diana Tregarde series, Obsidian Mountain series, by Mercedes Lackey

World of Prime series, by M. C. Planck

The Others series, by Anne Bishop

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

October Daye series, by Seanan McGuire

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

 

Hmm, that was a longer list than I expected. Anyway, there you go!

Shuddering,
Marty C. Lee

A Day in the Life of a Writer

Disclaimer: I can’t speak for ALL writers, so this is really just a day in MY life as a writer.

I don’t write or do business on Sunday, and Saturday tends to be erratic, so this is for weekdays.

I wake up early enough to make me wish I was still asleep, but not really that early. (Sometimes it’s before the sun in winter, but the sun beats me in summer.) I shower, dress, eat breakfast, and read my scriptures. Ideally, by 8 am, I’ll be at my desk.

For those of you who are interested in office spaces, I use the family computer and my desk is currently in the living room, though I hope to get an office one of these years. When I get my own office, I’ll add white boards and bulletin boards and a filing cabinet and a bookcase and a cheap timer and a door to keep people out… Right now, I get a water bottle, a pair of headphones, and an assortment of pens and pencils.

I try to write new stuff until noon, though sometimes “write” means “outline” or “brainstorm” or “research” or “pick names” or “world build” or any of the other author-y tasks that sometimes have to come before actual writing. I also resort to side tasks when writer’s block is being stubborn. I’m not particularly fast, but I try to get 2000 words in that time. My goal is to one day get 1000 words an hour and be able to purposefully leave time for outlining/brainstorming.

I’m sure you’ve heard of writers who can write 10,000 words/day (good for them!), but I used to get about 5000 per MONTH, tops, so I’m still faster than I used to be. (By the way, don’t compare yourself to others. Nothing good comes of it.)

On my critique-group day, my group takes the place of my morning writing. I also have a Friday obligation that cuts my writing time in half.

After lunch, I take a break and do more-brainless activities, like house cleaning, reading, errands, or social media. Sometimes I give up and take a nap.

Around 1:30 or 2 pm, I get back to work. After a quick spin through my email, I spend some time editing my own work and/or beta reading/critiquing other people’s stuff. I also use this time to go over my own beta feedback. I love my beta readers. 🙂 I love finding out what’s working in my stories and what needs to be fixed. (If you’d like to be a beta reader, let me know…)

Most of the time, beta reading for others is also fun, since I tend not to accept beta reads that bore me to death. Reading other writers’ works-in-progress is actually a good way to learn more about your own writing, by the way.

In a couple of hours, I switch to business things like marketing, budgeting, or formatting. This is not the funnest part of my day, but it needs to be done. Always keep track of the business stuff, guys, or you’ll be sorry later.

If the weather is nice, I take a break to walk and meet my sweetie on the way home from work. In winter, I just keep working until supper.

I try to reserve the evening for my family, but occasionally I either NEED to catch up on something or WANT to avoid what they are doing (zombie movies, for instance…) In that case, I’ll work on whatever is farthest behind my goals.

After I turn off my computer, I spend some time reading and relaxing before bed. If I’m smart, I don’t let myself get so carried away with the reading that I don’t get to bed at a decent time. *clears throat*

It’s pretty boring, actually. A lot more goes on INSIDE my head than outside. My family assures me that I am not at all interesting to watch when I’m writing. 🙂 That’s okay. I’m happy if my books are interesting, instead.

Happy writing,
Marty C. Lee

Steampunk Recommendations

Here we go with another list of “books I like.” This one is Steampunk and Gaslamp (think: alternate history with magic or advanced tech). When I first decided to do a post in this category, I thought I wouldn’t have much to offer you that I liked. Then I finished classifying books as steampunk and discovered I have 144 rated! Here are my favorites.

As ever, my suggestions for age groups are loose. Within age groups, they are listed in random order.

Middle Grade

The League of Seven series, by Alan Gratz

Larklight, by Phillip Reeve

City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau (there’s a series, but the first one is by far the best and better than the movie)

Mysteries of Cove series, by J. Scott Savage

Young Adult

The Cecilia & Kate series, by Patricia C. Wrede

Frontier Magic series, by Patricia C. Wrede

The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, by Theodora Goss

The Iron Fey series (plural), by Julie Kagawa

The Mortal Instruments series, by Cassandra Clare (Fair warning: I got tired of the world after the first series or two. Please don’t throw tomatoes.)

Incarceron series, by Catherine Fisher

Storm Thief, by Chris Wooding

Finishing School series, by Gail Carriger (warning: some of her other series are adult, and I do mean adult)

Monster Blood Tattoo series, by D.M. Cornish

Rebel Mechanics series, by Shanna Swendson

Leviathan series, by Scott Westerfield

Howl’s Moving Castle, by Dianna Wynne Jones

The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson (Hey, Brandon, where’s the next one??)

Stoker and Holmes series, by Colleen Gleason

The Elemental Trilogy, by Sherry Thomas

Adult

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison (honestly, I didn’t think of this one as steampunk, but I guess it is). I recommend you flip to the back and find the explanation of names BEFORE you start the book.

Steampunk Proper Romance series, by Nancy Allen Campbell

The Silvered, by Tanya Huff

Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett (the rest of his aren’t really steampunk, but they’re generally hilarious)

Mistborn series (plural, sort of), by Brandon Sanderson

The Fall of Ile-Rien series, by Martha Wells

Glamourist Histories series, by Mary Robinette Kowal (Regency romance with magic)

 

Since most of those are series, you should have enough to read for at least a few days. 🙂

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Writer’s Block

If you write, whether for entertainment or school/work, you probably hate writer’s block as much as I do. So, what do we do about it?

I’ve discovered it depends on the cause. Yes, as if writer’s block isn’t bad enough, it can come from a bunch of different sources. Here’s what I do, both for short- and long-term solutions.

Physical Reasons

I’m tired, cold, hot, hungry, in pain, restless, thirsty, whatever.

Short term: Fix the problem! Sleep, eat, drink, move, etc.

Medium term: Try to anticipate the problem and be prepared for it. If possible, stop it before it begins. (Hello, water bottle on my desk!)

Long term: Set up good health habits. Go to sleep on time, eat well, exercise regularly, treat health problems. Get an ergonomic chair/desk.

Mental Reasons

I’m worried, stressed, preoccupied, lonely, depressed…

Short term: Write down what is distracting me and promise to deal with it later. (This does not work for depression…) Play music. Talk briefly to a friend. Write in my journal. Don’t distract myself with things that can be done later. (Email, I’m looking at you!)

Medium term: Schedule time to deal with things, even before deadlines. Plan ahead so I’m not running against the wire all the time. Improve my physical habits. Figure out what time of day I usually write better and try to take advantage of that time.

Long term: Try different stress-busting techniques so I know what works best for me. Get serious problems solved/treated (this includes depression). Improve my valuable social relationships and eliminate things that don’t matter. (Don’t eliminate valuable relationships!)

I don’t know what I’m doing

I don’t know where the story is going. I don’t know what to do with the characters. The story (or scene) is broken, and I know it.

Short term: Work on something else. Pick a different project or a different section. Do a brainless physical task while I ponder (perfect time to wash dishes or fold laundry).

Medium term: Do some plotting or talk to a rubber ducky. Look at my goals for the story/scene. Brainstorm. Figure out the last time I knew what I was doing and work from there. Fix a story question in my brain right before bed and hope to wake up with an answer.

Long term: Study story/scene structure. Develop a plotting method that works for me. (This is a very personal and varied thing. Don’t assume your method will look like someone else’s. This is mine.)

I don’t know–I’m just stuck!

I have a plot (of whatever sort works for me). I’ve been writing, but it just fizzled out. I shouldn’t be stuck, and it’s very annoying!

Short term: Eliminate other causes. Mark it [insert argument/fight/discussion/whatever] and work on something else for now.

Medium term: I’ve been learning that when I’m just mysteriously stuck, it’s sometimes my subconscious objecting to a story problem my conscious brain hasn’t noticed yet. If I suspect that might be the case, I’ll try talking to a rubber ducky, reverse-plotting my story, or skipping to another spot. If I keep working on other projects or other sections or hacking away at the stuck spot one sentence at a time, sooner or later, my brain will admit what the problem is, and then I can work on fixing it.

Long term: Write every day (or almost). Study story structure. Read a lot. Learn to meditate or ponder.

What did I miss? What else causes writer’s block for you, and how do you fix it?

Wishing you smooth writing,
M. C. Lee

Favorite Historical Books, #3

I’ve been dividing my favorite history books into three sections for you: 1) ancient history, 2) medieval and renaissance history, and 3) 1700-and-later. More or less. 😉 You know I’m not always very precise…

So here’s the 1700+ History Favorites randomly within each category:

Young Adult Mysteries

The Case of the Baskerville Irregulars series, by Robert Newman

Enola Holmes series, by Nancy Springer

The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series, by Theodora Goss

The Agency series, by Y.S. Lee

Cat Royal series, by Julia Golding

Young Adult Romance (more or less)

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott

Anne of Green Gables series, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Quaker trilogy, by Ann Turnbull

Red Moon at Sharpsburg, by Rosemary Wells

The Bracelet series, by Jennie Hansen

Dark Mirror series, by M. J. Putney

The Raging Quiet, by Sherryl Jordan

Boston Jane series, by Jennifer L. Holm

Watch for a Tall White Sail, by Margaret E. Bell

A Death-Struck Year, by Makiia Lucier (also a fine example of what a YA romance ought to be)

Water Song, by Suzanne Weyn

Other Young Adult

Gideon the Cut-Purse trilogy, by Linda Buckley-Archer

A True and Faithful Narrative, by Katherine Sturtevant

The Secret Garden, and A Little Princess, by Frances Hodson Burnett

Peter Raven Under Fire, by Michael Molloy

Montmorency series, by Eleanor Updale

Blossom Culp series, by Richard Peck

Stealing Freedom, by Elisa Carbone (biography)

Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St. John

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Stranje House series, by Kathleen Baldwin

The Little House series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Under a Painted Sky, by Lee Stacey

Charlotte’s Rose, by Ann Edwards Cannon

The Great Brain series, by John D. Fitzgerald

I Am David, by Anne Holm

The Silent Bells, by William MacKellar

The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A Long Way from Chicago, by Richard Peck

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge

The House of Sixty Fathers, by Meindert DeJong

King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry

Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls (it took three of us to finish it, because we cried too hard to talk)

A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park (biography)

Mabel Riley, by Marthe Jocelyn

Her Own Song, by Ellen Howard

Charlie Bucket series, by Roald Dahl (yes, it’s a series!)

The Gawgon and the Boy, by Lloyd Alexander

Shanghai Shadows, by Lois Ruby

Adult (I’m skipping romances, since they have their own post)

Seven Miracles that Saved America, by Chris Stewart (non-fiction)

The 5000 Year Leap, by Cleon W. Skousen (non-fiction)

The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Emmuska Orczy

Daughters in my Kingdom, by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (non-fiction)

The Work and the Glory series, by Gerald N. Lund

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World, by Steven Johnson

Throstleford, by Susan Evans McCloud

Mary Russell series, by Laurie R. King (Sherlock Holmes when older)

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Sherlock Holmes series, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Night of Blacker Darkness, by Dan Wells

The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why, by Amanda Ripley (non-fiction)

Lost Off the Grand-Banks, by Arthur Catherall

The Boys in the Boat, by Gregory Mone (biography)

Charlie’s Monument, by Blaine M. Yorgason

The Diddakoi, by Rumer Godden

Lady Astronaut series, by Mary Robinette Kowal

White Fang, by Jack London

 

Whew! And if that doesn’t keep you busy for a few days, you must read faster than I do!

What favorite of yours isn’t on this list?

Happy reading,
M. C. Lee

Turning a Beat Sheet into an Outline

(This post originally appeared as a guest spot on Jami Gold’s site. For her introduction or her many plotting resources, please visit her website.)

I’ll start with a brief history of my plotting evolution, so you can understand why I do what I do.

When I started writing, I thought I was a plotter.

I mean, I had a one-to-three sentence note for all six chapters of the short story I had in mind. Isn’t that an outline? (Those of you who actually outline can stop laughing now.)

But as I wrote and the middle of the story expanded, I had to keep bumping plot notes from one chapter to the next. By the time I finished my “short story,” I had a novel of 104,000 words that included all my original notes, plus a lot, lot more.

Does Our Story Have Structure?

Then I heard about plot beats and story structure. No worries. A story is structured however it is made, isn’t it? And I had beats. I could prove it…

I took several different story-structuring methods that mostly made sense to my warped brain and smooshed them together into my own little chart (which I will discuss later). Then I reverse-outlined every chapter of my book and marked every plot beat.

That proved something all right, but not that I had proper beats. So I revised the entire book.

Are Goals Pulling Our Story Forward?

Then I learned about chapter goals for characters and chapter page-turners. Did I even have those? So I created a second chart for my little reverse-outline.

It became very obvious why my story slowed down in the middle. I had four chapters that had the same (boring!) chapter goal.

Oh, sure, there was important stuff in the chapters. There was funny stuff. There was… too much stuff without something happening to make the reader care. After deleting half of those chapters and rewriting the rest, I had to redo my reverse-outline.

By the time I revised that book enough to be good (and 15,000 words shorter), I had outlined it so many times. Outlining up front—once—was becoming a more attractive option.

Next time, I could do better, right?

We Learn What Doesn’t Work

For my second book, I planned the beats in the handy chart I invented for reverse-outlining the first book. Then I got the book half-written (in random chunks), realized I was trying to stretch too little story over too much book, and had to redo half the organization.

What had been the midpoint moved to the first quarter, and a whole new event landed in the middle. And, thankfully, my plotting chart let me realize I had problems before I wrote the entire book wrong. Yay!

Discovering the best writing process for us often means figuring out what *doesn’t* work. I also noticed that one of the things that made me write more slowly for the first two books was trying to figure out the “steps” of a chapter as I was writing. Sure, I knew where I was going, but how do I get there?

So for book three, after completing my charts, I also tried outlining a little more detail for each chapter. After a little experimentation, I aimed for about 10% of the anticipated finished words for each chapter. (Your mileage may vary.)

Now it’s time to discuss my actual method…

How to Turn a Beat Sheet into a Chapter-by-Chapter Outline

As I describe it, I want you to keep one thing in mind: You can stop after any step that makes you feel ready to write.

Maybe you’ll make it all the way to the end. Maybe you won’t. You won’t hurt my feelings. *smile* Use what works for you.

Step #1: Define the Story Concept and Beats

First, I write down my concept. What’s the one or two sentences that tell me what my story is about? That goes below my Beat Sheet chart for reference.

Screen Shot of Marty C. Lee's Beat Sheet Chart

Next, who are my point-of-view (POV) characters? I write with four POVs in my YA fantasy series, but this still works with only one POV. Each POV character gets a vertical column (and I add a column for anything special, like a romance subplot), while each beat point gets a horizontal row. (Stay with me, I’ll get to the beats.)

Now, looking at my concept sentence(s), how does each character end in the book? That goes in the last beat slot for “resolution.”

What is their opposite starting point (in some way)? That goes next to their name in the top row. The differences between the two rows are the character arcs.

Between the beginning and the resolution, I have seven beats. I have to hit:

  • the Hook (10%)
  • the Point of No Return (25%)
  • the Midpoint (50%)
  • the Crisis (75%)
  • the Climax (90%)

Optionally, I can add Pinch Points at 37 and 62%. When I’m writing, those percentages are just estimates, and I might hit the beats early or late depending on the needs of the exact story.

You may know these beats by other names or use other percentages. That’s okay. I have seen beat sheets with many more beats. (Jami has some great examples.) They tend to make my brain explode, so I stick with this list.

Step #2: Get Creative with Brainstorming

Now is crazy brainstorming time. What are some things that could happen in this story to my characters?

I make a list of as many ideas as I can think up, without discarding anything yet. Once I have a long list, I go through and mark events that could force my characters through their arcs, or that could turn the story in interesting ways, or that will just plain be exciting.

Next to the ideas I want to include, I write the name of the character most affected by that event. Then I play around with the events to see how they would work in different beats.

  • The Climax should be the most exciting, physically and/or emotionally. (Emotionally is harder to write, but I prefer it.)
  • The next most exciting beats should be the Hook and the Midpoint.
  • Sometimes I just go with Pixar’s strategy: Everything gets worse until the end.
  • Whether or not I include Pinch Points depends on how many great ideas make the cut.

By this point, the story is starting to come alive in my mind.

Step #3: Adjust If Multi-POV (Skip Step for Single POV)

Because I write multi-POV, I have another step that I started with book three.

  • First, I highlight each character’s column in a different color and number the beats in order.
  • Then I cut the chart into little pieces (one box per piece).
  • I place the colored boxes in a rough sort of order, making characters take turns somehow.

I keep early beats before later beats for each character, but one character’s Midpoint might come before another’s Pinch Point, for instance. Whoever is the main POV for the book gets roughly half the chapters, and the rest are more or less evenly divided among the other three. (That is just my style for this particular series and might change in the future.)

I make sure the major beats are POV-centric, but some of the minor beats for one character might be seen through the eyes of another character if space requires. This part of my process tends to take a while as I arrange and rearrange. If you have a headache right about now, I unfortunately empathize.

Step #4: Add More Definition to Story Ideas

Once I have the order of events and POV settled, I start my Summary Sheet chart. (Remember, you can stop anywhere in the process you like.) The second chart contains a horizontal row for every chapter, and several vertical columns.

Marty C. Lee's Summary Chart

  • Section Goal gets one entry per book quarter.
  • The plot/character beats go in the Summary column, though sometimes they copy to the Question/Surprise column later.
  • The Summary and POV columns are the ones I always fill out before I write, based on my first chart.
  • Other than the chapter number, the Chapter/Timeline column stays blank for now.
  • The other columns might not get filled out until I write, for story analysis as needed.
  • Chapter Goal is for character goals, not author goals. What are the characters trying to accomplish in that chapter?
  • Success means “did they get what they want?” and answers might include “yes” (rarely until the end), “yes, but (made it worse),” “no” (semi-rarely), and “no, and (made it worse).”
  • The Question/Surprise column is where I look if my chapter endings are boring, and frequently derives from either the Summary or Success columns.

Step 4: Outline

Now I start my actual in-text outline. For each chapter in my new book file, I type whose POV it is in and the Summary/Beat info from the second chart.

Then I go back and brainstorm each chapter. “If this is the beat/chapter goal for the chapter, where does the chapter start? What are the characters trying to accomplish? What’s the setting? What happens first? Next? After that? What clues need to be in the chapter? Etc.”

I work in random order, with lots of bouncing around, until I have about 10% of my finished words in rough summary. (I’ve been known to write things like “they argue,” or “add emotion,” or “drama llama, struggle and smash” for a fight scene.)

What If This Isn’t For You?

Some of you pantsers might be cringing about now. That’s okay, you keep pantsing. I admire your crazy brain. I started doing this because wandering was too time-consuming for me. You might have a better sense of direction than I do.

Even with this outline, I still have enough wiggle room to make my pantsing brain happy. Sometimes my 10% outline ends up wrong and I wing the chapter anyway, but I know the most important parts to include. Sometimes a little planned part expands unexpectedly. (“Oh, one of the diplomats is his cousin? He has a cousin? And she’s going to show up in the story again? Cool!”)

Some of you plotters might also be cringing. “My outline is half the length of my book,” you cry. “I hit twenty-five beats!” That’s okay. You keep plotting like a maniac. I admire your crazy brain, too. I wish I were as organized as you. As for me, my crazy brain finds this mishmash of a method to be just about right.. *smile*

Whether you plot or pants, I wish you happy writing and a perfect amount of “outline.”
Marty C. Lee