Free Content Outline/Revision Worksheet!

Free ContentRevisionWorksheetThere are a lot of revision checklists and guides out there. Just typing the words into a search engine will yield plenty of people with opinions about what you should and shouldn’t cut–and there are a ton of variables. Genre conventions, audience expectations, and use of voice are just a few items that can alter how you revise a story. Therefore, I don’t generally adhere to a certain revision checklist.

What I do adhere to is a content check. Out of everything you do for a manuscript, getting content locked down is the one area where your unique ability to tell a story shines through. A good proofreader can catch your typos. A good line editor can shred your grammar and sentence structure. A good content editor can pinpoint story issues.

But ultimately, you are the one who can best tell your own story. Your mind, your ideas, and your vision all matter and being able to sort out and fix content issues yourself (with the input of a crit group or beta readers) is a great way to ensure that your own voice comes through in the revision process.

Now, if you’re a plotter, you might have an intricate plotting chart that tells you exactly where you need to go. After you write, you’ll need to go back and see if that plotting actually did the job.

If you’re a pantser and have just free-formed a story, then doing a content check to make sure you have all the parts in working order is a smart move. What those parts constitute is again a bit fluid (since there are different story structure methods), but as part of the process, you need to find something that works for you and stick to it.

Naturally, as a writer, editor, and author coach, I do have my own methods of organization that I modify to suit the needs of a client or a story. And since I enjoy sharing and giving away freebies, I’ve attached one of my basic outlining worksheets at the bottom of this blog post and added it to my resources page. It’s in Word form, so feel free to use it, change it up, copy and paste it, or otherwise alter it to suit your needs. I certainly do!

And if you’re looking for someone to provide feedback, thoughts, or a solid sounding board on your work, whether it be motivation, drafting, world-building, or marketing, feel free to sign up for one of my author coaching consultations! They come with notes, customized content, lots of enthusiasm, and the first one is free with absolutely no strings attached.

Content Structure and Purpose Worksheet

Why Self-Editing Helps You Market Your Book

Why Self-Editing Helps You Market Your Book (1)

Writing is a delicate balance of writing your unique vision and communicating that vision to your desired audience (and hopefully to individuals who realize they’re in your audience). After the trials and joys of drafting comes revising and editing, when you have to look at every aspect of your story and rip it to shreds in order to make it better.

Or so every quote would have you believe.


While it’s true that editing is a matter of making your message clear for others, sometimes the whole prospect can be intimidating. I know it is for me! As much as I crave improving and fixing things, I feel dread whenever I turn a work over to an editor (yes, I’m aware of the irony considering I am one).

The reason is simple: yes, my work is a product to sell, and my left-brained marketing side is eager to get it ship-shape and off to see how it sails.

But my work is also a part of me and always will be. So is yours.

And that isn’t a bad thing. In fact, that’s something that you, as a writer, need to own with everything you have. Because no matter if you sign with an agent, contract with a publishing house, or indie publish, in today’s market it falls on the author to sell their books. There have been debates about the fairness of this, but arguing theoretical fairness doesn’t change the facts.

One fact: this market that demands author involvement and promotion is a great opportunity for you to discover and hold onto the passion that makes you write your stories. Hold onto that passion with everything you have. Remember it when you have to face selling your story. Learn how to hone and shape it and use it in marketing schemes.

This is your Push: the reason that you keep putting blood, sweat, tears, and sleepless nights into a field that really doesn’t offer any guarantees of monetary success or lasting fame.

Self-edits are the first step of this journey of ownership, because in analyzing your story after a period of time (a day, a week, a month, whatever you need), you have the opportunity to truly see what parts of you are within each page of your work. Use the self-editing time not only to reflect on what needs to change about the story, but also on what needs to stay the same. Know what elements are part of your essential branding and theme. What common threads weave through your stories? There are always common threads. What are the aspects of your worldview, your life experiences, your personality, your dreams that shine through?

Yes, you need to write in a way that reaches the market. Yes, you should absolutely clean up that manuscript with at least three editing passes (bare minimum). Yes, you need to make your vision accessible.


But there are a lot of books getting published every single day. Not even being part of a major traditional house will do anything to ensure your success. Solid cover art, good formatting, top-notch editing, and money thrown at the right marketing ventures can all play a part.

There is one selling point of your story that no one else can duplicate.

You. The deepest inside part of you that seeps into everything you write whether you want it to or not. Your themes.

Your Push.

Know it.
-When self-editing and working with beta-readers, don’t just note what you need to fix. Make a list of things that you really want to/have to keep and why. You may have to negotiate on how you show those aspects, but it gives you a solid footing with an editor (and they’ll appreciate your self-awareness and foresight, as long as it comes with humility).

Own it.
-Understand these key aspects of yourself. One reason you might get stuck or having writers block is that something you’ve written or a plot line you’re using is in violation of an aspect of your Push. Knowing what are your deal-breakers goes a long way to solving your writing issues!

Use it.
-When you know your Push, it is a powerful way of marketing because you can authentically connect with others who have the same values, passions, experiences, and/or favorite things that you do! Plus, it helps build authenticity in your brand, and that is a potent, natural way of selling. Relationships are the way to build trust, and it is a lot easier to form natural, unselfish relationships with others as your genuine yourself.

What’s your push, #plothoppers? What makes you get out of bed in the morning and write? Feel free to share in the comments! And if you’re unsure about what any of that is and/or you want to know more, sign up for a free thirty-minute coaching session with me. Getting awesome books on their way to publication is one of my main missions (besides eating a fried tarantula), and I’d love to help!

Drafting 101 – There’s No One Right Way to Write


As I considered the next stage in the Fundamentals of Writing: Inside Out series, I got a little hung up on drafting, because drafting ultimately is up to you. The writer.

You can read all the writing craft books you want, but ultimately, your writing process is unique to you. And that is 100% okay (Tweet This).

There are plenty of books to teach you the “winning way.” Trust me, I’ve read through a ton of them. I’m a massive improvement junkie who is always eager to learn new ways of doing things.

Crank out 5,000 words an hour! No, wait! Five pages a day. How about the “write something every day” method? Surely that works? But what about on days when there’s a death in the family, or you’re revisiting your lunch in the bathroom, or you just can’t find the words? Do you just force it? Maybe not. Maybe you should just slow down. Maybe you should outline more. Maybe you should–


This is where I ended up going to Twitter or Facebook or getting chocolate or potato chips. Or exercising (irony there, I know). Or doing anything other than facing that blank screen with all those well-meaning voices in my head, trying to sincerely to help me, the same way I try to help you.

Here’s the best piece of drafting advice I can give you: have fun. Life’s too short for anything else (Tweet This).

Center yourself. Do whatever you need to do. Pray.  Write and try and fail and make mistakes and start all over again. Throw things if you need to. Eat chocolate. Give someone a hug. Watch TV. Be alone. Be around people. Mix things up. Try again.

Never forget to enjoy your writing, your research, your art. Whatever you want to call it. Find reasons to fall in love with your worlds all over again (Tweet This).

And never give up.

A Quick-Start Guide to Story Structure Methods


I have a confession: I used to write stories without any structure. At all. Granted, I was a teenager writing for play-by-post RPGs, so the structure was mostly a free-form (and sometimes free-for-all) game of “what crazy thing can happen next?” This made for fun times and fantastic characters, but not for lasting stories. Since that time over a decade ago, I’ve sought to rectify this shortage of plotting knowledge, and in doing so, the student has become a wiser master-student who wants to pass along all of the information she’s learned!

Problem & Solution

This is the absolute basic minimum you need to craft a story or any kind of narrative thread for stage or screen. When I’m just looking to “pants” a new idea, I frame out the problem and solution so I have something to shoot for. The problem and solution may shift or change, but they still work.



Freytag’s Pyramid


Remember this charmer? You might have learned it in grade school–I know I teach it every year! It’s a great little method for analyzing stories at their most basic level, although it lacks the nuances of the midpoint and other things that many other structure methods employ. Still, you can’t beat Freytag’s pyramid to confirm you at least have the basics of a plot going on. I find it especially helpful for nailing down short pieces, like short stories and flash fiction, just to make sure I’m not missing any essentials. It’s also one of the first things I’ll send over to clients to have them fill out. If you can’t pass the basics of the Freytag, then you need to go back to square one.

Three Act Structure


Welcome to Freytag’s complicated big sister. Actually, the Three-Act Structure is considered a standard for screenwriting that has hopped over into fiction writing and become quite popular. It’s very helpful for making sure your plot moves along briskly, and it is great for avoiding a sagging middle. How could your middle sag with all those disasters and obstacles? The big trick is to make sure to weave solid character arcs into all of that plotting. K. M. Weiland’s and James Scott Bell’s books below both make use of the Three Act Structure.

Bullet Point Method

This isn’t anything fancy. You just sit down and figure out your own plot in quick bullet points that go scene by scene, chapter by chapter, or plot point by plot point. While I’ll structure whole stories using a combination of the Three Act Structure and some of the methods below, when it comes down to actually writing I make a checklist of chapters or scenes to hit and go through them methodically, tweaking as necessary. When it comes to novellas and short stories, I sometimes even bypass writing out the structure in favor of a basic summary paragraph. I wouldn’t recommend this method if you’re just starting out and new to structure, but once you have a few drafts under your belt, it can be a nice way to switch up the routine.

Character Arc Method


This method charts an entire story around the protagonist’s character arc. For some writers, this is the way to go. Allowing the growth of the main character, and perhaps a supporting character or two, is certainly a way to make sure your story has emotional resonance and potency. That being said, it is always important to make the growth external through the plot. The best way to make this method win is to combine it with some kind of plot structure, just to make sure your action/events and character growth tightly intertwine.

K.M. Weiland’s Methods

These two books come highly acclaimed and promoted. While I haven’t read either of them, I have read through her free eBook 5 Secrets of Story Structure and found it very helpful. She also has a great series on her blog Helping Writers Become Authors, that offers a streamlined process of How to Outline Your Novel for NaNoWriMo. Basically, she’s got great stuff, so check it out!

Write Your Novel From the Middle


This was one of my newest writing craft reads, and it was well worth it for the golden chapters in the middle on writing towards the midpoint of your novel. I already found myself doing this after a few drafts taught me I needed to put SOMETHING awesome in the middle to keep myself interested, but James Scott Bell’s book turned my rough muddling into a refined technique. Also has some useful tips at the end for beginning writers.

Snowflake Method

Randy Ingermanson’s methodical, step-by-step method really strips the mystique of novel writing down to a defined process. While it has a few too many steps for my easily-distracted brain, it’s great for pushing yourself to get moving on any story. Plus, he also sells software!

Take Off Your Pants


I haven’t tried this outlining book personally, but I know of other authors who swear in changed their lives–so maybe it could change yours! It’s on my To Be Read pile of craft books, since I’m always up for new ideas!

In this instructional ebook, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write. She’ll show you how to develop a foolproof character arc and plot, how to pace any book for a can’t-put-down reading experience, and how to ensure that your stories are complete and satisfying without wasting time or words.

Hawker’s outlining technique works no matter what genre you write, and no matter the age of your audience. If you want to improve your writing speed, increase your backlist, and ensure a quality book before you even write the first word, this is the how-to book for you.

Take off your pants! It’s time to start outlining.

The Story Template


I had the pleasure of attending one of Amy Deardon’s sessions at my very first writer’s conference, and I have to say, this book did a great job of introducing me to plot break-downs and story structure. Definitely a solid addition to your writing repertoire.

World-Building Method

A method I’m developing specifically for speculative fiction that capitalizes on the story’s world-building to create irresistible, fantastical treats. Every aspect of world-building is woven into the plot so that your story becomes something more than just another piece of escapism. It becomes a compelling voyage into another realm that your readers can’t wait to dive into! Also useful for authors writing stories that strongly rely on setting, such as historical/period books. This is a work-in-progress, but if you hang around Write Inside Out and sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get exclusives!

What you, plothoppers? What’s your favorite story structure method? Please share in the comments!

Why Obsessing About the Opening Can Kill Your Story


I have the attention span of a small, sugar-crazed squirrel–at least when it comes to books. While I’ll try anything, my TBR pile is huge and my time is small.

When I worked at a bookstore and business was slow, I’d pause in organizing the shelves and pull random books out to flip open to their first pages. My only test was to see if it would keep my attention enough to get past page one.

Of course, if I got to page five or ten, then I’d have two other problems: a need to buy the book and a scolding from my boss. Then it was back to dusting!

This taught me one important thing: the opening pages are vital to catching audience attention. After all, that first scene, those first few paragraphs, are what agents, editors, and publishers ask for queries. They’re what potential customers seen when they open your book for the sneak peek on Kindle. It would stand to reason that, above all, those opening scenes are critical.

Then, I ran into a problem, one that got me kicked out of consideration at appointments, and made me throw out draft after draft. And it’s a problem I’ve seen since seen in the work of clients.

Tweet: Beware of crafting a great opening scene for a story that fundamentally doesn’t work. – Janeen Ippolito

Last week’s blog post mentioned the framing block for all stories:

Problem & Solution

One reason I came up with this formula was due to drafting out story after story with all kinds of shiny world-building, unique characters, and clever dialogue, with scenes that worked–and with a plot that was fundamentally flawed because it had no focus and no meaningful purpose for existence.

I didn’t realize this was my issue until about 3-4 years ago, when a writing colleague whom I hadn’t spoken with a while read pages of my latest baby/short story and gave me a mercifully cutting comment – “what’s the point of this? Where is it going?”

Tweet: Never let good writing craft and fancy tricks distract you from the fundamentals of story. – Janeen Ippolito

Now, when I look at the work of potential submissions or of clients, I’m duly impressed by a shiny opening scene with all the bells and whistles and hooks. But the first question I ask them for is spoilers about the ending to make sure it lines up.

Don’t worry about your opening scene at first. Get your story in line, and then edit your opening scene to invite readers into that story world.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when organizing your story and opening scene: 

  • What’s the story problem? Do you meaningfully hint at the story problem in the opening scene/chapter, or does your story problem inexplicably change later on? (Thanks to plot bunnies!)
  • How is your problem solved? Is the solution to your story’s problem at all hinted at in the opening scene/chapter? If not, try to do that. It can be really satisfying for readers.
  • Is the protagonist you’re introducing in that opening scene the person who solves the problem? If not, they aren’t your protagonist. They’re just a fill-in who is getting a lot of page time.

It is important to make those opening pages shine. But it’s equally important to make sure you have a solid story so that when you get a request for the full manuscript (or a customer clicks to buy your whole book), they realize that those pages were only a taste of the true awesome your work has to offer.

Edgar the Plot Bunny searching for awesome plots!


What about you, Plothoppers? Any further advice for opening scenes? Any opening scene snippets from WIPs that you want to share? Feel free to comment! 🙂 OR tweet online at #plothop or #edgartheplotbunny!

One Easy Trick to Frame Any Plot


Brainstorming is one of the coolest parts of writing. It’s the dreaming of all kinds of possibilities, whether or not you are writing speculative fiction. It looks at the world around you and says “what if?”

At the same time, brainstorming can be a wonderfully deep and limitless bottomless pit. Edgar the Plot Bunny bears witness to my own overly-ambitious brainstorming. Every single time I write a story or plan a story, I tend to imagine all possibilities–and one story multiplies into two–or ten!

And not all of them actually make usable plots.

Naturally, as storytellers, our ability to brainstorm and dream is truly a gift. I have a couple of stories on the back-burner that might never see the light of day, yet I enjoy knowing they exist in a corner of my head.

At the same time, brainstorming should also be useful. After all, you want to tell stories and share them with the world! So here’s a simple formula to transform a brainstorm into a story that you might write in the future:


This philosophy follows the simple concept of completion. It’s the same reason public speakers and teachers will often use questions. There’s something in the human brain that automatically answers to complete the thought. We like answers. We like completion.

Tweet: Readers like being invited into a conversation and a journey.

In a story everything is going well, until there is a Problem. Don’t think of Problem as a bad thing. It’s a Change. Something different from the reader’s normal life that they have to deal with. It can just as easily be winning the lottery as the death of a loved one. The key to the Problem is that it has to profoundly bother the protagonist, enough to set off a journey. Like sticking a grain of sand in an oyster, this Problem will force the protagonist to move ahead, to react, to do things.

Of course, they want a solution. It’s right there in the word resolution. Now, this solution doesn’t have to fix all of the problems. In fact, it can make some of them worse, especially if you’re writing a trilogy or a series. It can make the protagonist better, or it can make them far more terrible. But something has changed. Whether good or bad, there is a solution to the problem.

What this formula does is give your gem of an idea a very basic framework to play with. It can get intimidating to try and pin your beautiful butterfly of a story idea to the hard board of Plotting and Rational Thought. So don’t. Figure out a possible problem & solution and then go back to having fun with world-building and character creation.

That’s all there is to it.

Later on, you can add Freytag’s pyramid, follow the 3-Act StructureTake Off Your Pants, or check out 5 Secrets of Story Structure to figure out all of the nuts and bolts of your story. But for now, as long as you have a problem and a solution, you’re good to go.

Edgar wants to know your problem and solution! #edgartheplotbunny

Whether you choose to use the brainstormed idea now, or stick it in an idea box or folder for a later date, is up to you. Maybe you’ll pull it out in the future and go in an entirely different direction. But you’ll always have that problem & solution frame that gives you a foundation for a great story.

What’s your latest problem and solution, Plothoppers? What’s a great plot you have stored away–or what’s the basic problem and solution for your current WIP? Please share in the comments!

Also, feel free to follow plot and writing help on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at #writeinsideout, #inspirethewrite, and #plothop!

FOCUS Your Writing in 2017

My word of the year: FOCUS.

Focusing is a funny thing for me. As someone who has sensory processing issues and who was once diagnosed with A.D.D., I’ve found that I actually focus better when I’m working on more than one project. The high pressure and constant stimulation of different activities keep me from losing interest.

At the end of last year, I decided to turn my multi-focused brain in my favor by splitting off into two brands: (fiction and book reviews) and (nonfiction writing help). is now exclusively a place of writing and world-building help (and sometimes guest features) from someone who was extensively educated in ALL THE WRITING RULES and through years of experience as a writer and a teacher, knows which ones to break (which is most of them if you do it at the right time and in the right place).

As a part of that, my first series is


In other news, apparently voters are a fan of both bunnies AND camels, because “put a bunny or camel in every blog post” came in second place on my reader poll. I am a woman of my word, and so here folks, is your first Bunny of the New Year! 😀


Meet Edgar the Plot Bunny! This wise lagomorph was rescued from a friend’s basement and he is eager to see the world and share all of the exciting plots he’s come up with over his years of solitude! Follow the exploits of Edgar at #EdgarthePlotBunny and #plothop for plot prompts, thoughts, ideas, and random!

What about you? Do you have a word for the year? What’s your current writing project? Please share in the comments!