Saturday, October 18, 2014

Outlining for NaNoWriMo

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

Hey, everyone! Catsi here, back (finally!) from the hiatus. So excited to get into posting again!

I'm also pretty excited for the event coming up in a few weeks, to be specific, on November 1. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll give you a hint: It's the time of year that most writers either love or hate, or a combination of the two.

Give up?

(Come on, this should be easy. The answer is also in the title of this blog post.)

NaNoWriMo is the abbreviation for National Novel Writing Month. It's an organization that challenges you to write 50,000 words (a novel) in one month (November). Sound insane? Yeah, that's pretty much how we writers are.

This will be my first year doing it, so as always, I've been researching a ton. What I've found is that since I'm such a structured, planning writer, I should definitely spend as much of October as I can spare outlining. If you want to do NaNo the traditional way, you don't outline a speck and just start writing on November first. Knowing me, I'd be excited for the first few days and then burn out by the end of the week and trash the novel. So I'm outlining.

Now, I don't want to outline too extensively. That's also a recipe for burn-out. I'll spend all of my enthusiasm sketching chapters and developing motives, and then won't ever start writing. (Not a great way to get a book published, trust me. No one wants to read an outline.)

So I have to do it somewhere in the middle. Where exactly in the middle varies from novel to novel, writer to writer. I still haven't pinned down exactly what works for me. Everyone outlines differently, so I do my best to try several different outlining methods, and then keep what works and toss what doesn't.

With my last novel, I wrote out the "boring facts," and then wrote a step-outline--a list of scenes in the order I thought they would go in the novel. (They weren't all at the right place, but the good thing about using Microsoft Word is that you can just move things around to adjust your outline. Or you can just ignore your outline completely while writing. I think I have a little bit of OCD, so I have to keep my outline accurate the whole way through the rough draft.)

This is what I've found works best for me, and what I'm doing to outline my fourth novel. It isn't going to work for everyone--chances are, it'll only work for me--but maybe it will give you some ideas to try out.

Step one: Find a piece of paper and sharpened pencil. (Harder than you would think.)

The Boring Facts


If you've ever taken a literature class, chances are you've heard these five words before. They're the "Elements of a Story," and my literature textbook loved to make sure I knew them. (And here I am, three years later, and I still know them by heart.) Dry and uninspiring as they may be, they're still important, and they can be useful during the outlining process.

Characters are one of the most important parts of every story. The reason should be pretty obvious--A story has to be about someone. If it's just a bunch of events, we won't feel any sort of emotional connection. There won't be someone for us to care about, to root, cheer, and cry for.

Take the time to develop your characters. Give them all a goal, a reason to be in the story. Something they want, something they want to stop, someone they care about. A backstory, some family and friends, and a good antagonist. (Spend plenty of time on the antagonist--he's important.)

Here's the second most important story element. (Or, at least, for a character-driven writer it's second important. If you write plot-first, you probably think differently.) Your characters need to do something besides sit around and look pretty.

One of my favorite ways to figure out the plot of a story is to ask "What does my main character want?" and then follow that up with "What can stop them from getting that?" Explore any plot threads that come up until you have a main goal, a villain, and maybe some subplots too.

Where and when is your story set? It can't be floating out in nothingness. (Or can it?)

I read somewhere that if you can pick up your whole novel and drop it somewhere else without affecting the story, you haven't found the right setting yet. Make the location an important part of the story, and maybe it can tie into the characters too. If your character is terrified of water, maybe it's on a ship. Or if they're claustrophobic, caves would be an interesting place to put it.

The exact definition of this is a little different than how I use it when I'm outlining. (Creative license, okay?) By this, I mean the obvious details: Past or present tense, first, third, or even second person, the genre, target audience, and whatever else you feel like writing down.

The actual writing style, or your voice, isn't something that can be easily noted down. Some people have a very informal, laid-back writing style. Some have a wordy, where-is-my-dictionary-because-I-have-no-idea-what-this-word-means style. It all depends on the author.

What is the moral of your story? What does it mean?

I don't recommend spending a ton of time on this, especially if you're a beginning writer. Preaching a moral through a story is very difficult to avoid when you have a specific theme in mind. I've always found it best for me to just write the story, being true to the characters, and see what theme comes out. Then during rewrites I work it in more. (Although during this story, I have a far more specific idea for a theme than I've ever had for one before... We'll see how it goes.)

Once I've gotten everything figured out, I write a quick synopsis for the story, like one that you'd find on the back cover. It tends to get me excited about the project, because I can picture it as a published book.

The Outline

Now I start figuring out exactly how the story will go. Usually, I have a few ideas for scenes in my head already at this point, but I still need to brainstorm more and put them all in order.

Five Important Scenes:
The Inciting Incident (The day everything changed)
The Choice (Accepting the call of the story goal)
Plot Twist (A surprise halfway through the story)
The Black Moment (Everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong.)
Climax (The final clash between hero and villain)

After I've figured out those scenes, I'll start filling in between them as best as I can. This gives me a list of "scene summaries," each scene summarized in one or two sentences. I can move scenes around, add more, and take some out at will. This also helps me see where any plot holes may arise, and do my best to fix them before they become a problem.

Once I'm happy with the way the story goes, I'm ready to write!

 How do you outline? Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year? Let me know in the comments!

To learn more about Catsi, visit our "About Us" page.

We have a contest open for art, poetry, and prose, all together! Come see details here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Guest Post: Negative Shading

Guest post by Alexandra S. Grey (P. H. Alexandra)

     Have you ever done a drawing where you felt that you needed to fill in all the space with shading of some sort?

     It might surprise you when I tell you that you don’t have to do that. In fact, it’s sometimes good if you don’t. Leaving white places can illustrate the spots that the light is hitting most, which in turn gives your drawing more shape.

      I call this negative shading. Your piece of paper is all negative space. Leaving some of the ‘negative space’ with nothing in it and shading the rest helps the shading to look shadier! Think of it as white next to black vs. grey next to black. Black looks much darker next to white, even if the same shade of black is placed next to grey.

Posted Image

      Have a look at this pumpkin I drew. (Really gets you into autumn mood, doesn’t it?) See how I left a little bit towards the top only very lightly colored? And that’s the most 3D part of the drawing. To leave those spots clear and decide where the shadow should be, you have to decide where to put the imaginary light source. I chose the top left area for the light source.

Posted Image

     Here’s a girl I drew, focusing mostly on the hair. I wanted to give the hair a glossy effect, and to accomplish that I left a few areas blank. These lighter areas are darker than what is around them, giving the impression that they are bright spots on something dark, rather than simply undrawn space.

     Have you ever taken a picture and seen that some of the spots were washed out because they were in such intense light? Look at something shiny, or almost anything near you. Which places are lightest? Probably the ones being hit most directly by the light. That’s the sort of thing you want to be aware of while drawing. Think about whatever you’re drawing and where the light source is, the shape of your object, and where it would be logical for the light to hit. Hold back from shading certain places. Experiment. Pencils have erasers because everyone messes up, so do not be afraid to erase or make mistakes.
      Next time you sit down and pick up your pencil to draw, remember these steps for (not)shading:
1. Decide where the light source is.
2. Figure out how the light is landing on your object.
3. Leave the places in the most direct light either white or extremely lightly shaded.

      Now go draw something! I’m sure Catsi and Elisabeth would LOVE it if you posted your work using this technique! :D

~Alexandra S. Grey (P. H. Alexandra)

We have a poetry, prose, and art contest with the theme "autumn" currently open. See details here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Autumn Contest

This contest is closed.

     First of all, welcome back to the Window to the Soul contest blog! The hiatus is over, and we're happy to be back to our contests and articles. If you're wondering why some of the changes we promised aren't here, I'll have to admit that the new image I simply didn't have time to make, and I don't have a Paypal account, so no ads, and thus not cash prizes yet. (To be clear, we wouldn't have had any immediately after getting ads anyway.) So, I apologize for that, and it's purely my fault, not's Catsi's.
     Anyway, we decided to begin again with a contest for everyone! The theme is "autumn". Write a story or poem with fall as a central theme, or maybe give us a drawing or painting. Anything works, and we will take a winner from each category. And don't worry if you want to draw something but also write a poem, you can submit any number of things to any number of categories! (Though I have to warn you, if you submit zero things, your chances of winning aren't very good.) The prize is as much publicity as we can give you. (Unless you would rather we didn't, that's fine too.)
     Include "autumn contest" in the subject line

     Submit to

     Stories and poetry must be in doc., docx., or txt. format and images must be in PNG, GIF, JPEG, or PSD

     3-D art is welcome, though please submit it in one of the above formats, not a blend file or something

     Photography also works

     You may include a short (200 word) bio if you wish

     Links (website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) may also be included, either in the bio or separately

     Submissions must be PG-13 or cleaner

     All rights remain with you, though we ask that we be allowed to display your submission on the blog and in the newsletter. If you would rather that we didn't, let us know, it won't affect your chances.

     You submission should not contain any identifying information. You may sign your art, but please use the Blur tool or something to make it illegible, and have an alternate one with a legible one for if you win. (Optional)

     You must own all rights to the material, or have permission for the other creators, and must be an important part of its creation

     Previous and simultaneous submissions are welcome

     The deadline is November 20th

     Any questions? Comments? Either way, I can't wait to see your submissions! Fall is most certainly my favorite season.