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

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: janeenippolito.com (fiction and book reviews) and writeinsideout.com (nonfiction writing help).

writeinsideout.com 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

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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! 😀

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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!

Writing Better … by Not Writing

In case you haven’t realized, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) started yesterday! Wo0t!

NaNoWriMo has a special place in my fiction writing career, because winning it in 2009 was what restarted my creative writing brain.

I had just graduated college, just gotten married, and just gotten my first post-college job at a Kmart for the holiday season. Not super-impressive for a Summa Cum Laude graduate, but it helped pay the bills on our tiny apartment with an overabundance of mice tenants from the nearby dumpsters.

I had taken a hiatus from creative writing due to a mild addiction to daydreaming, and the demands of my senior year of college. But in November 2009, stretched out on a secondhand couch, I prayed and decided that if God wanted me to write fiction, then I’d manage to hack out 50,000 words.

The rest, as they say, is history. Since then I’ve pursued quite a few creative endeavors, endured more than a few failures, and made many friends along the way. I’ve never seriously attempted NaNoWriMo again, because I’ve really never stopped writing.

As my husband mentioned last week, “how is NaNoWriMo going to be any different?” and also, the entirely legitimate, “how are you going to make this commitment when you’re teaching?”

Here’s my secret: I’m not writing all the time.

I’ve set aside a certain word count for every day and a certain amount of time to complete it. And once I’ve achieved the word count? Done. Stop mid sentence. No matter if I could write more, or want to write more. Hands off the plate, just like in cooking competitions, and I’m onto grading or lesson planning or even washing dishes. Things that need to be done, because they are part of Life and Responsibilities and Joys. While I’m working on these other tasks, my brain is percolating and turning the ideas over in my head, so that when I sit down the next time? I’m ready to go.

Sometimes the secret to writing better is not writing. (Click to Tweet)

Live your life. Even though it’s fun to joke, please don’t neglect important stuff just to hit your word count. But do be sensitive to every moment for ideas. Think things and feel things and let your every experience sink deep into your soul. And then put your fingers to keyboard, your pen to paper, or your spoken words to your preferred voice recorder.

And go for it. If you don’t finish? You tried your best and were faithful to all parts of your life. Besides, there’s always December. 😉

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  • Consider whatever you’re doing. Whether it’s making supper, running an errand, reading a book, cleaning up after the dog, etc, try to imagine how your characters would each approach the same task. Would they do it slower? Quicker? Use a superpower or magic? Make their servant do it?
  • Keep sharp for ordinary humor. As I mentioned in my humor-writing article, sometimes the best inspiration can come from awkward, odd, or downright disastrous moments in your life. After you deal with the embarrassment, shame, or emotional turmoil, think how you can mine that sucker for plot interest.
  • Test out dialogue by talking to yourself. Now, I only do this when I’m alone, because my students think I’m crazy enough as it is. 😉 However, if you want to go around muttering to yourself in public? I’m not there. I won’t stop you.
  • Get ideas from unlikely sources. TV commercials. Billboard ads. Children’s books–yes, even the ones you’ve read a hundred times over. The reasons those commercials are being aired and those books are well-read are that they are apparently reaching some kind of audience. Think about who they are reaching, and how they do it.

How about you? Any other tips out there?

Are Your Characters Too Nice?

I want nicer character faults. Y’know, the kind that actually help people? Solid, pretty faults that sound great at job interviews.

Like “I can’t help but tip the waitress 30%.” 

Or maybe “I really love grading. I just can’t help going over every test three times.”

Or how about, “I am so excited about cleaning the narsty scum beneath cabinets. It’s a terrible fault, I know…”

Are you feeling it? Me either. Unfortunately, my faults fall along the lines of impatient. Unfeeling Closed off. Things that definitely slant negative, and definitely don’t flatter me.

It’s easy to want to make ourselves look good. We like to keep our pride intact. It’s even part of some marketing advice: get personal, but never too personal. Never ugly. Because then things get real, and when things get real, they get messy. And to be honest? There are plenty of tell-alls out there already. The abbreviation TMI exists for a reason.

Messy isn’t always great for real life. But messy is fantastic for characters. (Tweet This)

It’s easy to fall into the trap of making characters too likable. Call it the Cinderella Complex.

She’s too docile. She’s too kind. She cleans too much and saves too many animals. These flaws make it hard to relate to a character and also make them less realistic. No matter how kind or gentle, we all go through bad days and it’s important to show that by making the character really lose it once in a while. These character flaws  are also passive; they make a character less likely to act. And protagonists need to act to push the story forward.

What about the opposite? The Hercules Complex.

Yes, the Disney Hercules. He is too brave. Too heroic. He just can’t stop himself from saving the day and protecting everyone. This is also unrealistic. No matter how self-sacrificing, no one can keep up with that. Eventually, like Mr. Incredible says, the hero is just going to want the world to stay saved.  Also, like a Cinderella, a Hercules is too impossibly good for us ordinary humans to click with. The good news is a Hercules will push the plot forward; the bad news is that, unless they fail, they won’t learn anything along the way, and this makes for a flat character arc. Flat character arcs can work, but showing struggle can’t hurt. Even Jesus cried blood in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Solutions? Well, you could just rethink the whole character. However, that’s not always convenient and takes time away from writing. For a too-perfect character, try to flip their strengths into flaws. (Tweet This)

Docile and kind? Becomes a pushover who won’t stand up for herself or others when bad things happen.

Brave and self-sacrificing? Turns into a mountain of pride and a secret ambition to never need saving and never let anyone rescue him.

Sometimes, there is too much of a good thing. Sometimes, you really can’t afford to tip the waitress 30% (although as a former waitress, I still promote 20% if the service was decent). Sometimes looking over those tests three times or cleaning that scum takes away from time with your family or doing other tasks. Or sleeping.

Are there any other too-perfect character stereotypes? Please feel free to share!

Creating Dynamic Characters With Contrasts – Guest Post!

Today I’m honored to be featured on Author Culture with some helpful insight into character creation: Creating Dynamic Characters with Contrasts! It’s a sneak peek into my next reference eBook, Character-Building From the Inside Out.

Please click on the picture to hop on over!