Layering Your Story Using Braiding

Monday, April 22, 2013

I've recently made it to the middle of a story I'm writing and it didn't take long for me to realize that I didn't know how to handle keeping the story going. So I looked to one fo my favorite authors on writing for guidance.

Heather Sellers writer two of my favorite books on writing, "Page After Page" and "Chapter After Chapter." But what I am going to refer to today is from a chapter she wrote in Writer's Digest's, "Crafting Novels and Short Stories," where she says, "To get across the middle you must involve some element of discovery...something you have to figure out as you write. Otherwise you're writing will feel canned, pre-planned, flat. Like stale popcorn. This is where braiding comes in."

Introducing Layers In Your Story Through Braiding

Ms. Sellers explains braiding like this:

Braided books (or articles or stories) are made up of three or four strands. (Like in hairstyling). Instead of slogging through one story line and then flattening somewhere in the middle, braids help you mix it up. You work in small, manageable sections, folding in new material. Things stay fresh and lively.

Happy Accidents

She goes on to say: 

You need more than one thing going on at a time. You don't need to know how everything will work out. When you braid, happy accidents will occur.

This is really good for me to hear because I don't really know how my story is going to end. I have an idea, and I have outlined some of the major scenes I need to tell the story I want to tell, but I don't know exactly how they are going to lead to the ending I have in mind. I'm trying to work that out in my writing journal.

The Best Way To Write A Book

Ms. Sellers says:

The book teaches me what it is about as I write it. That's the best way to write a book: to follow a structure that allows you to discover wise insights, images, and a natural organization as you go along.

If you are concerned about organization, try dividing your book into three sub-stories, or three sub-themes. You can write each one straight through. Or you can divide and conquer, working on each strand a little at a time.Good writing has layers. It does more than one thing. It leaves room for the reader to go, Aha!

What do you think about braiding? Let me know in the comments!

I hope everyone has a wonderful day!


For more information: Crafting Novels & Short Stories: Everything You Need to Know to Write Great Fiction By Writer's Digest

Page After Page and Chapter After Chapter by Heather Sellers

Saving Acorns: Preparing For What Comes

Monday, April 8, 2013

Hello, everyone! Time goes so fast doesn't it? I've been meaning to get a post out for weeks now but I just keep getting overwhelmed by schoolwork. That also means I haven't been writing though. (Aside from class papers, that is.) But even when I am not writing, I still have ideas and inspired moments about the project I have going. And I always have ideas about future projects that I know I won't be able to get to anytime soon.

Sage Cohen, author of The Productive Writer, tells us that even though we can't be seated at our desk with a notebook open and pen poised every time an idea hits us, it is realistic to have fast, efficient systems for "capturing the seed of an idea and storing it for later." She calls these little vessels of future writing, "acorns."

In her book, she gives us some possible systems and strategies for being prepared for what comes and getting it down quickly. You may only need one of these or maybe a mix of them, depending on when inspiration hits you.

From The Productive Writer, Ms. Cohen suggests:

Index Cards: This old school tool is one of my favorites because it's easy to use and I am comforted by seeing my own handwriting. I stash index cards where I sleep, where I work, eat, and travel. So any time I have an idea, there's a fast and easy way to write it down.

Voice Recorder: Voice recorders are faster than writing and being rapidly more accessible. Your cell phone is even likely to have one. Just keep in mind that there's a subscription step that involves committing your spoken notes to pages.

Notebook: For years I did my own freewriting in plain, cheap notebooks so I wouldn't feel pressured to write "important" stuff. These days I prefer prettier, more substantial journals, but I keep the same idea with myself. Don't be too precious with them. Just let 'er rip. The important thing is to make sure you're comfortable with it and likely to write in any style you choose.

Digital Notes: Your cell phone, PDA, and/or computer are all great places to type up a fleeting thought, depending on where you are.

Sticky Notes: Sticky notes are a useful way to capture something fast and stick it somewhere prominent. Some people enjoy digital sticky notes but I feel they get buried behind what I am working on.

Whiteboard: If positioned proximate to your moments of genius, whiteboads ca be a great temporary home for a fleeting idea.

Computer document: I have a single computer document titled "Acorn," were I type all ideas that need to land somewhere. I always type my most recent at the top of the document.

What do you think of Ms. Cohan's suggestions? Do you have a particular place you keep track of your ideas? Let me know in the comments.


For more info: The Productive Writer by Sage Cohen.


Map Your Story With An Outline

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

When it comes to plotting my stories, I definitely prefer to outline ahead of time. I like to know from the beginning which direction my story is going in. Of course, I am always open to change as well. Sometimes the characters take things in a whole new direction than I'd originally planned. In that case, I simply adjust my outline to include those changes. Having an outline doesn't mean it's set in stone.

P. Bradley Robb, of gives us five good reasons to outline our work:

  • Establish clear motives
  • Separate major plot from minor plot
  • Spot plot inconsistencies before they show up.
  • Enhance foreshadowing
  • Keep your story on track
You need to create the basic framework for your story to grow on, but not so much that it takes energy away from your work.

There are many different ways to do it.

  • A traditional outline (with roman numerals)
  • Index cards
  • Spreadsheets
  • Special novel writing software
It can be as simple as a list of the story's major plot points, if that's what works for you. There really is no wrong way to do it. 

The outline is about what happens in the novel. It is about finding your story's structure and sticking to it. It allows you to focus on what's important in the story and keeps you from wandering off. Put in as much or as little as you need. 

Author N. M. Kelby points us to the table of contents of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix as a good example of the bones of an outline. It begins: One: Dudley Demented; Two: A Peck of Owls; Three: The Advance Guard.

She says, "If you were J.K. Rowling, and this was your first outline, all you would have to do is write a short summary paragraph after the title of each chapter. In the first chapter you would tell us why Dudley is demented and make sure there are bits in your description that set the action of the book in play. Then move on to the next chapter."

It can be as simple as that.

What do you think about using an outline? Are you a planner or do you prefer to fly by the seat of your pants? 



From Idea To Page In Four Simple Steps

Monday, January 7, 2013

Every writer has a million ideas bouncing around in thier head. The problem is getting those ideas down on paper. Those of us who are just starting out need to figure out just what we need to make those ideas work.

Critically acclaimed novelist, N.M. Kelby gives us some fantastic advice on how exactly to do that in her article, "Taming the Beast". Here she tells us that we need to realistically outline and throw away what bogs readers down the most. And that we need to set up a game plan to hook the readers and keep them reading.

She gives us four simple steps to help us build the frame we hang our stories on.

1. Always begin with your protagonist. The readers need to discover who the hero is and why they should root for them. Introduce your protagonist, either directly or indirectly, within the first 3000 words.

2. Establish time and place. Your readers should know exactly where they are. If they are wondering, they lose focus and may stop reading. They have to trust that you are in control of the story. Nobody likes to be left alone in the dark.

3. Announce the stakes. Great prose will go a long way...about 2500 words or less. After that, even the most literary readers want to know why they are reading. Just a simple sentence can do the trick. The author needs to let them know what is really on his mind and at the heart of the story.

4. Organize. Once you have your story structured around the beginning you've set in place, look at all the bits of writing you've done and ask yourself one simple question: "Where the heck was I going with this?" If you don't know or if where you're going now doesn't match where you were going when you set out, focus on better defining those areas before you go any further.

I hope Ms. Kelby's advice was as helpful to you as it was to me.

Until Wednesday...

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