Tag Archives: life of writer

Writing Update: Tales of Kaiatan

My next planned book (not counting an omnibus with bonus material) is a collection of short stories set “contemporary” to the Unexpected Heroes series. The earliest one is 60 years before the first book, and the latest one is a couple of years after the last book. (The NEXT planned book will be “legends” from much earlier in “history.” Think “fairy tales not placed on Earth.”) You can read a few of these contemporary stories already, in Unexpected Tales.

In a way, short stories are easier to write, because the plotting is much simpler. On the other hand, description and character have to be squished into a smaller space, and there’s no time to meander.

Anyway, all of the stories have ended up being connected to the series rather than merely set in the same world, though some are tightly connected and some are merely side stories of characters or expansions of casual mentions. Three of my four main characters have parents-meeting stories (the fourth was an arranged marriage). I’ve got survival treks and new jobs and races and pirates and weddings… It’s an interesting mix. A few of the stories have sequels in the collection (or in the series).

Some of the stories were easy to choose, for one reason or another. The last handful were harder, because I was looking for holes to fill. (Like needing a story from a female Nokai POV that took place between books 2 & 3. Yes, really.) In fact, I just figured out the last tagline in January, because it ended up being the prequel to another story I decided on the week before. And by “figured out,” I mean very generally. I actually finished writing that story before I finished one of the earliest planned stories, which gave me fits. It was supposed to be a short, one-chapter story but expanded to four chapters and almost 10,000 words. Some of the older stories in the collection had to to be rewritten to have complete arcs instead of just being bonus scenes.

I discovered a few entirely new characters for this collection, and they still ended up tying into the series. I can never read chapter 2 of Wind of Choice the same way again because the new backstory explains so much. I cried writing the last scene, literally. My mom cried when she read the sequel, then she backed up to read and cry again. Um, okay.

For my short stories, I use an abbreviated version of my usual outlining process, and sometimes I wing it (now that I’ve written almost half a million words). Except for that ornery romance… I had to research romance beats, alas. I still always start with a character and a situation and an ending and/or premise, and then I connect the dots from there. Sometimes I use more than one POV, sometimes only one. I’ve balanced stories from each country as well as male and female POVs. I tried to sprinkle the stories between the novels, but they still ended up heavily pre- and post-series with only a few between the books. Most of the stories have happy endings, because I like that, but a few ended up being sad or dark. I can’t help it! Some stories are sad!

One of the stories that’s already in Unexpected Tales has gotten so many questions about what happens next that I’m pondering turning into a complete novel. I’ll let you know…

Mmm… what else do you want to know? Toss me a comment, and I’ll either comment back (for a short answer) or write a post (if it needs a long answer).

Another time, I’ll try to remember to tell you about the “legends,” which I frequently describe as “loosely based on Earth fairy tales, as they would be if they came from Kaiatan.” For instance, Japan has a story about a stonecutter who kept wishing to be more powerful. What would that story look like if the main character was a shapeshifter??

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

Writing Process, Book 4

Sigh. Yet again, I’ve gone too long without giving you an update on my writing. That’s probably a good thing for me (indicating fewer frustrations), but maybe not as good for you (assuming your interested in the topic).

So, book 4 has actually come out already. *cough* Writing it was easier than the first three in some ways and harder in others. Each of my books has had different problems.

How was it easier, you ask? My plotting system is working better now that I’ve had some practice and fine-tuned my process, so I didn’t struggle as much with the beats. I write a little faster than I used to. I’m very familiar with the characters by now. 😉 I got to wrap up all the little strings I left in the other books.

How was it harder? I had to wrap up all the little strings I left in the other books. Several characters wrote themselves into the story with quite a bit of determination, and they insisted on being important instead of walk-on characters. I wrote myself a pretty little dilemma (how does an entire world lose the key to a city, and how would one person find it?) and had to figure out how to solve it.

I have become much more of a plotter than I used to be, but I still make up a lot of things as I go. In this book, that involved both character and plot elements. For instance, I found out (and yes, it really feels more like “found out” than “made up”) that Ahjin has a cousin I didn’t know about. She used to be a priest and left when Ahjin told Irajahan he couldn’t force recruits anymore. Now she’s a diplomat from Ioj to Iskra. I thought that was the extent of her involvement, but no, she wiggled her way into the climax of the story, too.

Then there’s Tarakh. He’s a nice boy who likes Zefra. (Zefra isn’t sure how she feels about that, especially when he says outrageous things to her…) I thought he was going to be a minor character for a few chapters, but no, he really wanted to be part of the adventure. Also, if you’ve read any of my books, you’ve seen my cute chapter headings with cultural info or book excerpts or “world” proverbs. It takes me a long time sometimes to choose those sayings, even when I’m borrowing proverbs. (“Which one fits this chapter?”) Then Tarakh comes along, and he’s spouting proverbs like crazy, and I don’t even have to make them up, because he’s supplying them. (I promise I’m not insane. Writer-brain is just weird sometimes.)

Let’s not forget the lost city. I hadn’t planned on it being lost or a maze, honestly, but I hit a spot in my beat planning where I needed something, and I had nothing. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I outlined 2/3 of book 4 and then discovered some major problems and had to start over. It was pondering what kind of song I’d write for this book that gave me the clue out of my mess. 😉 After I had the first missing part figured out, I reread the prior books for inspiration, and lo and behold, I’d accidentally left a trail of clues for myself without realizing it.

Book 1 had the newly rediscovered starting point for finding the lost city and a casual mention of Zefra’s grandparents’ occupation which I threw in just because it was convenient but now it was important. Book 2 mentioned the collection of “legend” maps AND the fact that some of them came with songs. Book 3 and a short story that hasn’t been published yet had some villain characters I needed, as well as the beginnings (continuation) of the conspiracy. Nia’s language talents became important again, and this time, her singing was important to the plot instead of just everyone’s mood. I managed to tie in the romance from book 3 in an important way, and Ludik’s children became plot-essential. Ahjin’s political shenanigans in book 1 made a difference to book 4. Everything started tying together in ways I hadn’t anticipated. Yeah, the first three books can be read as standalones if you really want (though *I* think they’re better in order), but book 4 is much more dependent on the others.

One of my biggest headaches came when I needed to write the “key” to the maze. I already had the design for the maze, but I needed two pathways through it (“right” and “wrong”) and a poem that would lead BOTH ways depending which way it was interpreted. If you aren’t groaning already, then I haven’t adequately explained how awful this was… To make it worse, I had to wrote music for the poem that would have clues in it, which meant I had to write the music THEN instead of waiting until I finished everything else, as usual. And even though I’ve written four songs for the books, music and all, I am not actually a musician. As if that weren’t enough, then I had to figure out how Zefra unraveled the mystery in the story, and she’s no musician, either!

Whew! Writing the book ended up being almost as tangled as the conspiracy IN the book, but at least I got to write some really cool scenes, like shapeshifting spies and a midnight duel and a race through the desert. And Tarakh flirting with Zefra. 😉

Happy reading,
Marty C. Lee

2021 Foresight

2020 hindsight is supposed to be perfect (but usually isn’t). I’m sure my plans for 2021 won’t be perfect, either, but I’ll give it a shot. I want to change my methods a bit next year, and I know some of it, but thought I’d also give you a chance to vote on what you see in the coming year.

First, I’ll be shifting my blog to every three weeks instead of every two, so that I can spend more time writing. I still plan to alternate book posts and writing posts.

Second, unless you have another category for which you want a list of recommended books, I think I’ve run out of ideas for lists. I thought maybe I’d go back through my lists and start writing more detailed reviews for some of them. Please feel free to leave a comment requesting a new list that would help you, or your opinion on leaving reviews and which category you’d like me to start with.

Third, I wondered what topics would be most helpful to you in the “writing” posts. Are you interested in personality stuff? I could tell you about the personality tests I took for my main characters. Do you like the “how to be an author” posts? Do you like posts about outlining? Plot? Characters? Something else? Do you like hearing about my progress in the books I write? Would you like to hear more? Less? About the same but some kind of different? Do you want to hear about writing groups or critique partners? Do you want to hear my lecture on why an editor is not a replacement for learning grammar and punctuation? 😉 Do you have questions you’d like me to try to answer? Go ahead and put all your ideas in the comments, and I’ll see how many I can tackle during the next year (or two, if you give me lots of ideas!).

Fourth, did I miss something you’d like to vote for? Consider this a blank essay space where you may right anything (legal, moral, and polite) that you’d like. Go ahead, give me a comment about anything… 🙂

I promise to read all the comments. 🙂

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in January,
M. C. Lee

Creativity

I had an interesting conversation with someone recently. I was answering a survey about a writing tool I use, and it was much less technical than I expected. One of the last questions wasn’t about the tool at all, but about what my writing means to me. To my surprise, and probably to the surveyor’s, too, I found myself talking about God.

(Spoiler warning: If you don’t want to hear about God, you should change to another page now.)

This is more or less what I told him.

I believe we are children of our Heavenly Father. As his children, we share some of his attributes and powers (in a lesser portion, of course). One of these is the power of creativity. Yes, I believe that the ability to create comes from God, even though it can be misused for ungodly purposes.

Since it is a gift from God, I believe I should use my creativity and practice my talents. Doing so honors Him and helps me become a little more like Him.

Now, creative talents come in all sorts of varieties. We hear a lot about music and sports, art and writing, and other “performance” talents, but I don’t think those are the only ones that exist. Some people create friendships easily. Some people create a tidy, happy home. Some people create fresh bread or delicious meals that are always on time. Some people create happy children. Some people create beautiful gardens. Some people create sewing masterpieces or amazing crafts. This is not an all-inclusive list. If I didn’t name something you can create, then go ahead and add your personal talents to this list. 🙂

I do a few of those, though not necessarily the ones I most want. But for the survey, I was talking about my writing. I do believe that I write because of a gift from God. (No, I’m not saying my writing is a gift from God; I’m saying my ability to write is a gift from Him. What I do with it after that is up to me.) Of course I have to work to improve my talents, especially since I’m not one of those amazing writers who seems to know everything already. But it doesn’t matter how much talent I start with it, or end with, only how much I improve and use it.

So when I write, I hope my stories find readers who like them. I look forward to the day they touch someone who needs it. But even if that never happens, I believe I’m honoring my Heavenly Father by using a gift from Him, and I will continue practicing to be more like Him.

This Christmas season, I hope you reflect on all the gifts your loving Father has given you, both the tangible and intangible. And then I hope you look for a way to share your gifts with those who need help or hope or a loving hand.

Merry Christmas,
M. 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

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

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

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

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

Writing Conference 2020–Business

I hope you will forgive me for postponing this post while I talked about other things. 🙂 I didn’t drop it entirely, and here it is!

From my writing conference notes, there were way too many classes to include all of them in one post, so I separated out the business ones. If you’re not interested in the business side of being an author, I recommend you skip this one. For the rest of you, here you go, in rough notes. Disclaimer: NOT LEGAL ADVICE. If you need legal advice, get a lawyer! Or maybe an accountant, if more applicable.

How to self-publish
Read contracts carefully.
Don’t spend more than you expect to make.
First-free doesn’t work. (If you query this, you’ll see a huge controversy.)

Amazon SEO
Cover images might be searchable in the future.
Covers will be more important.
To profit on Amazon ads, must have 1000 keywords.

Covers
Check best-selling in category
Keep cover promises
Make sure element that defines your book the best is visible on thumbnail
Use a release for copyright / contract
Pay artists to have legal standing to their work
If you can’t judge book by cover, time is wasted
Covers need to intrigue readers
Purpose of book cover is to attract matching reader
Amazon is changing rules: must be able to read title in thumbnail
Covers are identifiers.
Pay for a professional
Need to have contrast, boldness to draw eyes
Put tropes on cover to convey story
What gives zing factor?
Update every 5-10 years to stay current
To see what people are buying, go to www.yasiv.com (Visual map, compare to comp titles)
Does your cover convey tone, etc of story?
Sometimes cover doesn’t convey scene, but something else.
Cover should change for foreign countries
Pay attention to composition
Give 6 examples of covers you like to designer

How to avoid rookie mistakes
Get an editor
Learn from your mistakes
Go 3 days without responding to flames
Don’t mortgage your house
Remember your family
Backup your work
Ask dumb questions
You have never “arrived”
Marketing can’t copy word of mouth
Keep improving craft
You are your agent’s boss
Fight for your work /dream /etc
Take ownership of your business
Don’t say yes to the first opportunity unless it is right for you
Take advice with a grain of salt
Accept that you are a creative being and will be better when you are creating

Taxes for Authors
Writers will be audited by 2 types of auditors: those who want to be writers, and those who want to catch you red-handed.
Several gray areas: income from books is passive income, so some auditors want you to account for it as rent/royalties up to $65K (no SE tax).
Hire an accountant.
Be aware of state taxes & regulations.
Book advance is same as rent/royalties.
You will receive 1099s for each short story published and from each distributor.
PayPal is not rent/royalty. It’s regular royalty on schedule C, including teaching/presenting.
Offset income with expenses.
Tax deductions: Conference fees, mileage, meals at certain percentages, hotel, computer & software (if you replace regularly, takes 3 years to deduct), office space outside home or part of home used exclusively for work (percentage), phone (get separate phone/plan), internet, research (books, movies, travel, Netflix).
You are a professional writer if you can show you’re actively writing & working toward pro.
Use one credit card for business only. Keep receipts (or make own).
Itemize expenses & income.
Make sure to overpay taxes by few hundred dollars to prevent audit of prior years.
If auditor says you can only have loss for 3 years, ask them to show you the law (no federal law).
Take trip to do research but be careful it’s applicable.
Get an LLC to protect copyrights.
LLC can hire spouse in business (give 1099).
If you get income from other countries, you might have to pay tax there.
Quarterly taxes: don’t worry about <$10K? (Disagreement–some say worry about anything.) Always estimate your best.

Embracing imperfections
Be flawsome
Write it first, fix it later.
Like reality
Be consistent

Business Writing
Treat it like a job, not a hobby
Trad pub: 99.9% rejection rate
Indie: you vs 100K authors. How do you get audience?
Use your business background in your business.
Be prolific: the more you do, the better you get; the better you get, the more people will like you.
Always create more products.
You make money off your backlist. Longer is better. New books remind people to look up other books & keep you on the lists. Need 10 books for backlist to be productive.
Agents take 15% of what you make. Don’t need one.
Always review contracts with contract attorney, $2-300.
Contracts: read & understand! A lot of publishers are predators. What rights are they getting, for how long, non-compete clauses & right of first refusal.
Sublets: to publish in other languages (do not sell UNLESS they specialize in other language)
Dramatic rights: movies, tv, etc. (do not sell without good reason)
Audio: don’t sell rights unless publisher does it well (research on Audible)
How long will they hold rights? Maker sure rights will revert. If publisher goes out of business, you lose the right to publish.
Ebooks: rights might never revert.
Taxes: pay! Talk to attorney re: S-corp or LLC. In Utah, most writers are S-corps.
Deduct reasonable business item.
Pay quarterly taxes once you start making good amounts of money. Work with CPA.
Work out schedule for new books. Schedule your time appropriately for you.
When you lose money by going to work instead of writing, it’s time to quit your day job.
Branding: create one for yourself so fans will follow you. Be yourself.
Marketing: What’s your product for? Success breeds success.
Advances: come from future royalties, paid in thirds.
1 book out is okay, 5 is good, 10+ is really good.
Should family member be employee? Probably not.
Quarterly reporting: min $600 income
Backlist sales: series vs stand alone: make sure 1st book has solid happy ending
Series is where the money is. Give 1st book satisfying conclusion.
Epic fantasy series: people won’t start until it’s finished. Do in timely manner for next book.
Business taxes change all the time.
Indie cover sells the book. Spend $300-500.
Go to bookstores to promote yourself. Be positive! Promote other writers books, too
Ancillary products: related to business & brand: games, comic books, kickstarters

If you ever get the chance to attend a writing conference yourself, I recommend you do. 🙂

Happy writing,
M. C. Lee