My Writing Process-Part 2: Outlining

My writing Process--Part 2: outliningLast month I started a series on my writing process! I started this series largely because a lot of you asked for it! The first post was all about brainstorming. If you’ve read that post, you know most of my brainstorming happens in the form of freewriting. Once I’ve freewritten the story to death and I have a good idea about the characters, the world, and the general plot and storylines, it’s time to make it start to look like a book. For me, this means outlining!

Of course, not every writer is outliner. You may have heard that there are generally two schools of thought for prewriting. The planners who outline and try to work out their story first, and the pantsers, who fly by the seat of the paints and figure the story out as they go. I am definitively a planner. What I’ve come to realize is that when I write, I don’t do well when I try to do two things at once. I can’t think about the story and write the story at the same time. Outlining gives me the space to think first and write second. I’ve also learned that if I don’t know what to write next, I’m more likely to let my characters wander aimlessly, and I have a hard time staying motivated and showing up on a regular basis.

I’ve also found that I get the most out of my story if I have a series out outlines that get progressively more detailed and specific. This gives me and my story room to grow and evolve. Here’s how I approach my outlines:

1) Outline the Plot

I already have an idea of what I want the plot to look like from my freewriting stage. Now it’s time to give that plot an actual plot-like structure. My outlining starts with my favorite plot structure is this three-act structure. I like this plot structure because it focuses on consistently raising the tension in the story, which helps create a steady build to the climax. I also like it because it has more crisis points/rising actions than most plot structures I’ve come across. Thinking of my story like this helps me create a more balanced and consistent story. Here’s an example of an early plot outline from Enemy Exposure:

Plot Outline
Click to enlarge

Each important plot point gets its own color in the chart, then I briefly expand on each point around the structure. I don’t plot every storyline like this–just the main plot. That’s what ultimately drives the story, so that’s my main concern. But I do tend to have a bullet point outline for each storyline I use so I know what needs to happen and can plan accordingly when the time comes.

2) Outline the Character Arc

Once I have the plot outlined, I go back and make a second chart just like the first, only this time, it’s for my character. I look at each of the plot points I worked out in the previous outline and I figure out how they tie into my character’s development. Typically in my brainstorming, I’ve come up with one big developmental lesson I want my main character to learn. In order to maximize my plot, I try to make sure that each plot point pushes my character closer to learning this lesson.

For example, in my first book, I wanted my main character to learn to trust people, so I made sure each plot point somehow challenged her to trust the other characters more than she was generally comfortable with. I try to keep the same pacing as the plot here. So, in the beginning, the developmental challenges for my character will be relatively small and grow as the story progresses. This outline typically looks the same as the one above. For more on how I use plot and character together, check out this post!

3) Pacing Outline

Once I have the plot and character outlines done, I start to think about how these points will fit into the overall book. I want to make sure I have the crisis points evenly distributed so there’s a consistent build throughout the book. To help with that, I make a pacing outline. I typically shoot for thirty chapters in a first draft. (There’s no real reason for this–I just found that’s a good marker for me.) I take a page in my notebook and write the chapter numbers down the left side of the page. Then I go through and estimate roughly where I should hit each point of crisis. I put a small dot next to those chapter numbers. Sometimes I have to move them a chapter or two, but I try to keep it close to my original estimate.

Next, I go to each chapter and write one or two key events that happen in that chapter with a focus on building to the next plot point. I’ll also touch on key moments in my subplots, but they’re still not my primary goal. I try to keep it short, but as you’ll see, I typically have a hard time with this and end up squeezing as much as I can onto each line. Sometimes as I’m outlining, I’ll add post-its with key scenes I want to make sure I include in the final detailed outline. Here’s one of Enemy Exposure‘s pacing outlines:

Pacing Outline
Click to Enlarge

4) Detailed Outline

Now that I’ve got my story paced, it’s time to really dig in and figure out what’s going to happen in each chapter. For this outline, I get three sheets of computer paper and position them so they’re landscape. Then I fold them so I end up with six squares. Each square is a chapter. I fill the page front a back, so each piece of paper has twelve chapters. Then I go through and figure out exactly what will happen in each chapter. This is also where I start to really consider each storyline–there’s typically around five or six. I use a different colored pen for each plotline. This makes outlining more fun for me, and it also makes it easy to see if a plotline appearing consistently enough. I’ll use post-its if I want to add to a chapter or make a change based on something I work out later in the outline. Here’s some of an Enemy Exposure outline:

Detailed Outline
Click to Enlarge

A lot of times, if there’s going to be a problem in my story, I find it in the outline. It shows me if a storyline is too flat or if there’s an aspect of my characters or world I need to develop more before I write. However, there’s no substitute for actually writing the story and discovering what it is and isn’t supposed to be. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I still do a fair amount of revision. The biggest way these outlines help me is to give me a direction and a goal. They make it so every day, when I sit down to write, I know exactly what I need to do, which makes it easier to keep moving my story forward.

I hope this gives you a good idea of how I use outlining and how it may help your process!

You can find Part Three: Drafting here!

Now it’s your turn: Are you an outliner? How much outlining do you do? Tell me about it in the comments!

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My Writing Process-Part 1: Brainstorming

My Writing Process: Part 1--BrainstormingLast month I sent out a survey to my newsletter subscribers (you can sign up in the sidebar or at the end of this post) asking what types of posts they’d like to see more of. A lot of people asked for more process posts and for more about my own writing process. So with that in mind, I’m kicking off a series that’s going to be all about my writing process! First up, brainstorming!

There are some writers out there who, when asked about their favorite part of the writing process, say something to the extent of “whatever part I’m not doing.” I am not one of those writers. While I genuinely enjoy each stage of the process for different reasons, the earlier in the process my book is, the happier I am. So, brainstorming is unquestionably my favorite.

I think this is partly because I’m more of a big picture person, so the less I have to sift through the details and explain the science or reason behind some small-but-essential plot point, the better. And partly because I love writing because I love the characters and their MOMENTS. At this stage, all I have are the characters and their moments and no problems. I don’t have to worry about why a part of the plot can’t happen or doesn’t make sense. The story isn’t developed enough to be difficult yet, which makes it so much fun!!

When I start brainstorming, I do a lot of freewriting in both a notebook or on my whiteboard wall (more about my wall here). Here’s how I break down my brainstorming:

The Idea

The idea for book starts with a spark (perhaps you know the feeling?) that usually comes after watching a tv show or movie with a concept that intrigues me. I got the idea for Crossing the Line when I was watching The Avengers. Once I realized that main character Black Widow wasn’t always one of the good guys, I became fascinated with what the transition from bad to good must have looked like and I needed to explore that more. The idea for a book I’m finishing up came after watching a Netflix series (but I’ll share more about that down the line). Nearly all of my ideas have come to me after watching something.

Typically I let the idea cook in my brain for a month or two. From time to time, I may jot down some notes, but letting the story develop a little on its own has always been good for me. I can’t tell you why, but if I try to write things down too soon, I find I run out of steam quickly. I tend to have a very loose idea of my main character, the immediate supporting characters, the world, and the story before I put anything on paper.

Then, when I feel like I need to write it down, I take my brainstorming to paper and start freewriting. This is the most scattered and undeveloped my story will ever be. Usually, by this point, all of my thinking has given me a handful of key moments for my characters to experience. I write those moments down. They’re messy, out of order, and I go off on tangents, but it’s awesome because it’s too soon for any of those things to be a problem.

The Characters

Once I have all of these rough ideas out of the way, it’s time to dig into the characters. I write commercial fiction, which means my books are more plot-driven. However, I’ve always liked to think that it’s my job to write an engaging plot so my characters have the opportunity to grow and overcome. So the plot may drive my story, but I write my plot for my characters first and foremost. I’ll do a dedicated freewrite for each of my main characters that focuses on these three big character questions. I’ll typically spend 2-3 notebook pages per character on the first question, 1-2 pages on the second, and 3-5 (or more, if I need it) on the last.

All three questions are important to the character, but to me, the last one is the most important for the book. I’ll do a complete freewrite on the entire arc for each major character as I see it at this stage. This freewrite typically focuses on key moments in the character’s story. There will be massive holes, but again, those things don’t matter right now. By the end, I have a big picture understanding of who my character is as a person and what their journey will be in the book. Sometimes these arcs change later. Sometimes they don’t.

The World

World building is probably one of my biggest weakness, especially at this stage. This is most likely because out of everything, it needs the most details ASAP to function. But at this point, I try not to go too crazy. I figure out the bare minimum I need to understand about my world for my characters to live in it. Typically, these essential locations and systems have shown themselves to me in that early idea freewrite. I’ll also develop any relevant history to the world.

For example, with my spy series, I knew I needed two spy agencies (the good guys and the bad guys). My character was staying with the good guys, so she needed a place to sleep, train, learn, and work. So I developed those place and some minor characters to go with them, which was enough to get my story off the ground. I also came up with the history of the agency on its own, and with my enemy agency. I approach the world building in all of my books very similar to this, though each story has slightly different needs.

The Main Plot

Once I have the characters and the world down, I start to freewrite the main plot. This stage of brainstorming often starts on my whiteboard wall to get some rough connections and ideas down, then when I’m out of room, I’ll transition back to my notebook. Typically in the idea freewrite, I’ve figured out what the main plot is and how the book ends. The character freewrites help me understand what I need out of the plot to serve my characters and the world gives me the vehicle to make it happen. This is where I bring it all together.

I do a freewrite of what the complete book would be at this stage. It’s essentially one big long summary that can run anywhere from 10-15 pages. It often leads me to uncover aspects of the story I hadn’t thought of and I go off on tangents to explore those ideas as I need to. Again, there’s still a lot of the story missing here, but it’s the first time it has any kind of book-like shape.

The Subplots and Weaknesses

I like to have a handful of subplots running through my books. Some of them I know from the start, but others surface in the main plot freewrite. At this point, I have a good idea of what those plots are, so I do a free write of each one independently. This helps me see how big the subplot it, how it connects to the main plot, and how it serves my characters. I tend to have anywhere from three to five subplots at this stage and each freewrite is around 3-5 pages long.

I do my best to only figure out what I need to know. That way I don’t get too locked into minor details while the book is so young. The main plot and subplot freewrites often expose some big holes and problems I overlooked earlier. If they’re problems I need to solve so I can write my story, I solve them now before I move on to the next step.

I hope this helps you build your own brainstorming process!

Check out part two of this series where I talk all about how I outline!  And if you want to see more about why I love freewriting so much and how it helps, check out this post.

Now it’s your turn: What approach do you take to brainstorming? Are you a freewriter like me or do you have another favorite approach? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Writing Tools: Whiteboard Paint (Uses and Review)

Whiteboard wall: uses and product reviewFor about ten years now, I’ve been using a semi-unconventional brainstorming technique. I write directly on my wall. I can’t tell you why it helps so much with my brainstorming process, but it does. This all started when I learned that chalkboard paint existed. At the time, I had two whiteboards that I used for brainstorming, but they always filled up too quickly. I was planning on using the chalkboard paint until I got to the store and saw the whiteboard paint sitting on the shelf. As you can probably guess, I have always been more of a whiteboard girl, so when I saw that this was an option, it was a no-brainer.

I wanted to take this post to share a little bit about how I use my whiteboard wall for writing and give you some product pros, cons, and application tips in case you want to give it a try yourself!

Side note: This page does contain affiliate links, which means if you purchase something using the product links on this page, I may get a small commission. This comes at no extra cost to you and helps keep this site running. Thank you!

The Product:

Rust-Oleum Dry-Erase Paint

How I use it

Typically when I have a story idea, I play around with it in my head for a month or two before I ever start writing anything down. (I like to think of it as letting my story “cook.”) Then when I’m finally ready to get some ideas out, I go to my whiteboard wall. I’ll use it as a mind map, or sometimes a freewrite. I can’t tell you why it’s more helpful to freewrite on a wall than it is in a notebook, but it is! I also feel like it makes me a more active participant in my story. It gets me up and moving and I feel like it makes the whole process more hands on.

And because I’m completely engaged, it can be especially helpful when I’m having a hard time focusing or when I’m struggling with a project. Being able to slow down and see my project off the page and computer screen stimulates my creatively in a way I never expected when I first decided to invest in this paint. It’s also just a lot of fun to write on the wall, which I think helps the process–especially when I’m hating my project with a passion.

Product Pros

  • If you follow (all most all of) the directions, it’s a simple application. Once the paint is cured, you’ll have an entire wall of space to map out and brainstorm your stories.
  • This paint has been on my wall for nearly ten years and I have yet to have an issue writing or erasing. (I did repaint it once, but only because I was painting the rest of the room. The wall itself still worked great.)
  • I use standard Expo Markers, so once the painting is done, you don’t need anything fancy to write on it.
  • If you’re a whiteboard brainstormer, this is a one day project that your creativity will thank you for every time you use it.

Product Cons

  •  Like any whiteboard, it can get a little discolored over time. However, I honestly didn’t notice this until I was repainting the room and decided to repaint the whiteboard wall too. When I had an “after” to compare the “before” color to, it was clear that it was discolored. But had I not decided to give it a fresh coat, I never would have noticed.
  • You’re sacrificing a wall of your house. (I consider it to be a worthwhile sacrifice, but it’s something to consider.)
  • If you don’t choose your wall carefully, everyone who comes over will be able to see your ideas/what you’re working on.
  • If you aren’t careful in the application, it won’t work like it’s supposed to.

Applications Tips

I have done this process twice and never had a problem. But if you read the Amazon reviews, you’ll see that it can be hit or miss. Here are three things I did that I think made it work:

  1. Follow the directions. Use the specific type of roller and other tools they suggest. Give enough drying time between coats. Don’t write on the wall until they say it’s safe to. It will be torture to wait, but try to be patient.
  2. Don’t mix the paints like they recommend. This is the one direction you shouldn’t follow. The paint kit comes with two cans. A larger can of what appears to be regular white paint and a smaller can that “activates” the whiteboard quality. The directions say one of the first steps is pouring the small can into the large can and mixing before you start. I didn’t do this. Both times, the directions said I needed three coats of paint, each of which had to dry for 20 minutes. It also said that once the paint is mixed together, it will only be good for an hour. It knew it would take about 15-20 minutes to do a coat. This meant once I considered the time to dry, I would need the paint to last more than an hour. Because of that, I poured about a third of each can in a paint tray and mixed it there before each coat.
  3. Check the expiration date. Each kit has an expiration date. If the paint is expired, it won’t work like it’s supposed to, and you may have a problem erasing. The image above in the “Product” section is an Amazon link, but because of the expiration date, I would strongly recommend going to your local hardware store if you can. If you can’t (or they don’t carry it), make sure you check the date before you open the product and be prepared to exchange it if it’s out of code.

The process may have changed since I last did this. So if you have any questions about the application, you might want to think about calling the company for clarification before you start.

Photos!

Freshly Painted Whiteboard Wall

Freshly painted!

Full Whiteboard

Full and happy whiteboard wall (blurred to protect ideas).

I hope this gives you a good idea of how a whiteboard wall can work for you!

Now it’s your turn: Do you use a whiteboard to brainstorm? Have you used whiteboard paint before? If you have, what’s been your experience? Tell me about it in the comments!

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How to Create a Writing Process That Works: Brainstorming

How to Create a writing process that works: brainstorming

I’m kicking off a writing process series with tips for developing a writing process that works best for you! Today we’re going to talk about Brainstorming. If you want to skip ahead, here is Part Two: Drafting, and Part Three: Revision and Editing.

At this point, I have a pretty finely honed writing process. Does it work 100% of the time? No. Nothing in writing works 100% of the time. But I’m able to be consistently productive, which is obviously essential in completing a project. I created this process largely through trial and error. Odds are, you’ll probably have to do the same, but there’s a lot to think about at each stage of the writing process.

Keep in mind, the goal here shouldn’t be to do what other people say “works” or to do do what other people say is “right.” The goal is to find a process that makes you productive. You need to figure out what is the best approach for your personality and your life. Don’t be afraid to try something new and ditch it if it doesn’t help. And don’t be afraid to take these ideas and modify them to better serve your needs.

Now, on to the post! Here are some tips to help you figure out how to brainstorm (and if you even should).

Plotter or Pantser?

There tend to be two schools of thought for brainstorming: pantsing and plotting. If you’re a pantser, then you probably don’t do too much brainstorming, plotting, or outlining–you fly by the seat of your pants. If you’re a plotter, you do brainstorm, outline, and/or plot. Panters like to experience and uncover the story as they write while plotters like to know where their story is going before they dive in. So, how do you figure out where you land?

How I learned about myself

I can’t speak for everyone, but here’s how I learned. I used to be a panter. The idea of brainstorming was overwhelming to me and when I had an idea, I wanted to get it out as fast as possible. Pausing to brainstorm seemed like a waste of time.

I was working on a writing project early in high school when I started to see how brainstorming could help me. I hadn’t done any brainstorming on this project, and I had made it twenty-five chapters pretty easily. However, what I came to realize was that in those twenty-five chapters, only about five days had passed. And most of the time, my characters had been wandering around trying to figure out what they should do next. And on top of that, I had absolutely no idea what direction I should send my characters in for chapter 26. So I started brainstorming–not to too much though. Just pausing for fifteen minutes to think of a few plot points I could cover in the next chapter. When I did this, it made writing so much easier for me.

What I came to realize is that I don’t multitask well when it comes to writing. I can’t think about what I want to say and how I want to say it at the same time. Now my outlines are pretty detailed because I learned that the more I think about my story before I write, the easier it is to write. I increased my brainstorming slowly. Once I got used to working with just plot points, I started planning key scenes. When I saw the benefits of that, I started to add more and more detail to my outlines, so now I practically have every scene planned before I write. This may not be right for you, but it works really well for me.

Some tips to help you find what works for you

Check out how other writers brainstorm. Everyone has a different approach and something another writer shares might resonate with you. I always say you should, at some point, try nearly every technique you come across because you never know what might be helpful. I also suggest you go with what’s working until you’re having a problem. Then work to alter your process and add something new based on the problem you’re trying to solve.

In the case of brainstorming, it’s probably easier to start with pantsing (at least, if you can get into your story from the start). If pantsing becomes a struggle, you consistently find yourself frustrated because you don’t know what happens next, or you really HATE the direction your story is going in, then take a stop writing and map it out. Start with only thinking a chapter ahead. If that’s helpful, then pause your draft and plan out the rest of the book. I would suggest you start with only a couple of plot points and add detail as you find it helpful.

As much as plotting and pantsing are the two main schools of thought, they’re also, essentially, anchors on a scale. It’s okay if you fall somewhere in between. If diving in with absolutely no direction has left you struggling to write but a full-blown scene-by-scene outline feels too limiting, try simply coming up with a few guiding plot points to hit at different points throughout the book. And again, don’t be afraid to alter any techniques you come across to meet your own personality and needs.

Somethings to consider

If you follow me on Instagram, you know my process is pretty detailed, but that doesn’t mean your brainstorming has to be. If you’re new to brainstorming, start small. Consider these five basic brainstorming tips and these three basic questions when developing your characters. Know that if you chose to brainstorm, you don’t have to do a lot of it. It might be enough for you to jot down five key moments for your book, fill out a plot structure like this one, or come up with one key scene/idea per chapter. Or you might want to simply take a day and do a free write of your book before you start drafting. All of that counts as brainstorming.

And if you discover pantsing works best for you, try not to completely rule brainstorming out altogether. I have some friends who are solid panters for their first draft but turn to brainstorming and outlining for their second draft. This way, they’ve discovered their story enough by drafting that they can step back and plan how to make it better. If you truly are a hardcore panters, that fine! But don’t feel like you can’t be a brainstormer just because you don’t brainstorm before you write. Brainstorming is supposed to serve your story in any way you need it, even if it’s not until after you’ve written a draft.

I hope this helps you find how you approach brainstorming best!

You can find part two: drafting here!

Now it’s your turn: Are you a plotter or a panster? Have you tried both approaches? How did you learn what works best for you? Tell me about it in the comments!

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4 Great Sources of Inspiration for Writers: Writing Tips

Four Sources of Inspiration for WritersThere are plenty of sayings about writing and inspiration. Most center around the idea that if you want to be productive, you can’t always wait for inspiration to strike. And while I think that’s mostly true, I also think you need inspiration to spark a story and get you started. Every story is inspired by something or someone. Inspiration for writers is everywhere, but it can also be fickle. It may not always come to you; sometimes you need to go to it.

With that in mind, here are four places to look for your next story idea:

1) Untold stories

If there has ever been an idea or character from a book/movie/TV show that you’ve wanted to know more about, create your own version of that character and world to explore. This source of inspiration is one of my favorites! It’s actually how I got the idea for Crossing the Line. After seeing The Avengers, I found myself really interested in the character of Black Widow. I hadn’t known much about the character coming in, but one thing that’s made pretty clear in the movie is that Black Widow wasn’t always one of the “good guys.” In fact, at one point, she worked for the enemy. I became fascinated with what the transition from enemy to ally would have been like. The movie didn’t dig into this idea at all, so I created my own spy and spy world to explore this concept.

You can do this with any story that you love or are intrigued by.

2) What ifs

What if there was life on Mars? What if time travel was possible? What if pigs could fly? Pick a fact that is most definitely false and explore a world where it’s true. Or vice-versa, pick a fact that is most definitely true and explore a world where it’s false.

For this idea, start by making a running list of “what ifs.” No idea is too absurd or ridiculous. When you find one that’s really interesting to you, do an exploratory freewrite and see if it’s an idea you can turn into a story.

3) Flip a Cliche

Make a practiced story idea new again by doing the opposite of what readers have come to expect. For example, the cliche: two people for different worlds desperately want to be together but can’t. Instead: Two people from different worlds want nothing to do with each other but are stuck together. Or, cliche: The chosen one rises to the occasion to fight the big bad and save the world. Instead: The chose one wants no part of being the hero, never gets their act together, and your characters have to find some other way to not die. The possibilities are endless! This is another favorite of mine. The idea for a current project came from this source of inspiration, not to mention a handful of ideas in the past.

For this idea, brainstorm your favorite stories and see if you can pick out some of their more cliche storylines, or take note of any storyline you’ve seen repeatedly. Then flip each of those cliches and choose your favorite to write about.

4) Find something in real life and explore it deeply

Go to a public place. Find someone who captures your attention. What draws you to them? Turn this person into a character by creating a story backstory for them, then develop a world for them to live in. Or! Take a walk or a drive and find a location that either grabs your interest or a location you’ve overlooked in the past. Develop a story about that place and the people who frequent it. There is plenty of inspiration for writers all around us every day, so be on the lookout!

I hope you find these sources of inspiration for writers helpful!

All of these ideas are just points to jump of off. Don’t be afraid to let your stories take on a life of their own, even if they deviate from the original source of inspiration.

Now it’s your turn: Where do you get your inspiration from? Is there a source of inspiration for writers that I missed? Is there a source that’s inspired you in the past you found surprising? Tell me about it in the comments! Feel free to add to my list!

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3 Overlooked Sources for Novel Research: Writing Tips

Overlooked sources for Novel researchNovel research has gotten so much easier since the invention of the internet. A quick Google search can either answer your questions or point you in the direction of someone who can. But there are a few areas of both the internet and the real world that I’ve seen underutilized lately.

Here are three overlooked sources for novel research. These are resources that either I have personally used and benefited from, or they’ve been used by someone I personally know. I hope some of these can help you!

1) Netflix, Hulu, HBO, or other streaming services

Specifically, the documentaries section. Plenty of filmmakers have done research and documented experiences of people or situations that may be unfamiliar to you. This can be particularly helpful if you have a character in your book who is experiencing something you personally have not. Even if you don’t learn anything new from a documentary, there’s a power in seeing an experience or situation that you may need to write about on screen. In my book series, my main character was kidnapped as a kid and raised to be a North Korean spy. One way I learned more about North Korea was through Netflix documentaries. I can’t tell you how much it helped. I didn’t use any fact specifically, but watching them gave me a feel and understanding that I believe enhanced my books.

Additionally, don’t write off TV and movies as a form of craft research. If you’re struggling with the pace of your book, you may find a show or movie that’s incredibly well paced, or has a pace you’d like your book to have. I have an author friend who broke a movie down scene by scene to understand its structure. She then made a revision plan so her book’s structure would match. Or if you just can’t nail your character’s movement, find a character from tv/movies who reminds you of your character. Study their movements. Describe what you see. Then transfer your observations into your story.

And of course, you should also do some research on any documentary or video resource you use. Some are more respected and accurate than others.

2) Coursera

This is one of the best-kept secrets in education and online learning. Coursera.org allows you to enroll in online courses from top colleges and universities all over the world. And as long as you don’t want a certificate, specialization, or degree, they are absolutely free. Classes tend to run around six weeks, but it can vary from class to class. Courses are primarily comprised of video lectures, short readings, and forum discussions. The time commitment is fairly minimal, and since you’re not getting a grade, you can do as much or as little of the work as you want. (I tend to only watch the videos…)

So, if you have a character who’s into biology or who’s a lawyer, but you don’t have a strong understanding of those areas, you can take a class on the topic! They also have great psychology classes that can help you understand your characters and their development better.

But be warned. If you like learning just for the sake of learning, this can be addictive. Every time I log on I sign up for more classes than I have time for.

3) The Library

I know what you’re thinking! The library is totally not an overlooked resource for novel research. And for books, the internet, and general information, you’d be correct. However, it’s easy to forget that magnitude of the library system. Libraries give us access to so much more than just books. According to the Syracuse University iSchool blog, you may also have access to museum passes,  artwork, and even bones (from some medical libraries). So, if there’s a local museum that would help with your research, but is a little too expensive, your library might be able to help you out! And if you have a character who’s really into art, you could check out a piece of artwork so you can describe it accurately. Or if you’re writing a crime novel, having access to actual bones might be beneficial.

Also, keep in mind, you aren’t necessarily limited to the items in your library. I have a friend who got some very specific ink blots from a library out of state through an interlibrary loan program. If you want to know more about what your library has access to, you should definitely pay them a visit!

I hope this helps with your novel research!

Now it’s your turn: What’s your go-to source for novel research? Do you have an uncommon or overlooked source you can share? Tell me about it in the comments!

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Brainstorming a Novel: 5 Basic Writing Tips

5 Basic Brainstorming Tips for BeginnersBrainstorming a novel may not be for everyone, but it’s a part of the writing process that I love and swear by. In fact, playing around with an idea before I start writing is one of my favorite things to do. Nothing is wrong with my idea while I’m brainstorming; it’s shiny and new and I’m just having fun with it.

But I think the prospect of brainstorming a novel can be a little daunting if you’ve never attempted it before–at least it was for me. So if you’re new to brainstorming, I put together a few of my top tips for basic brainstorming to give you a place to start.

1) Break your brainstorming down into steps or stages

The more bite-sized the better. Take it one character at a time, one setting at a time, one plot point at a time. I think brainstorming gets big and overwhelming if you focus on all the parts of your book you have to consider, which is exactly why you should never do that. Put your focus on one aspect of your book at a time and trust that if you keep that up, your book will come together.

2) Start with three characters and a goal

If you’re not sure where to begin when you’re brainstorming a novel, this is a good place. I recommend three characters because it creates interesting dynamics and plenty of opportunities for tension. Figure out how your characters are connected, how they conflict with each other, and how they will help or hinder each other. Then figure out what their goal is. Are they working together to achieve the same goal? Or against each other to achieve that goal before one of the other characters?

Using these elements as a baseline can kickstart your story. It’ll help you establish your character dynamics and the purpose of your plot before you start writing.

3) Figure out your ending as early as possible

In my experience, it’s a lot easier to plan and/or write a book if you know what you’re building towards. If you can figure out your end point, then you essentially know your story’s purpose. It gives you and your story a direction, which is ridiculously helpful if you’re planning your book. It’s also a huge help to know where you’re going when it comes time to write.

4) Pick a few rough plot points

Once you have your end point, pick out a few key plot points you’ll need to hit to get yourself and your characters to that climactic moment. Just like your end point gives your entire book direction, your plot points can serve as stepping stones and provide you with some short-term checkpoints to keep on track.

You can plot these points out a few different ways. I tend to start at the beginning of the book and add a few points along the way that build to my climactic moment. Another option is to start at the climax and work backward. So, if you know what your climax is, what has to happen right before that point? And what about the point before that? Play around with it to see what’s best for you.

I tend to plan four plot points before I hit the climax, but that’s what works for me. You may want more, or less, or none at all.

5) Free write, free write, free write

Seriously, if you do nothing else, I’d encourage you to give this a try–even if you’re not that into brainstorming. It doesn’t have to be long or detailed. It can jump around or move sequentially. I’ve found that free writing tends to open windows into my story that I would not have otherwise considered. It gives me the freedom to think about my story in a way that isn’t at all structured or final and helps me develop my half-formed thoughts and ideas.

I would especially recommend freewriting if you think you’re not much of brainstormer, but kind of want to give it a try. It’ll allow you to give brainstorming a shot, but if free writing turns into drafting you’ll be able to drop your words right into your project. The Writing Cooperative talks about the benefits of freewriting here, including that it drives inspiration. Naturally, this is great for the brainstorming phase! Hopefully, that inspiration will lead to more ideas! For more on how freewriting can help your book, check out this post!

I hope this post you with brainstorming a novel!

These are the basic components, but your brainstorming can be as light or as detailed as you find helpful. You can use these tips as the starting point, or it can serve as your entire brainstorm. For more brainstorming posts, be sure to hit the tag below!

Now it’s your turn: Have you tried brainstorming a novel before? If you have, what approach do you take? If you haven’t, what do you like about diving into drafting? Tell me all about it in the comments!

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