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Talking Outlining and Structuring in Arizona

I just returned from a great weekend of talking outlining and story structure to the RWA chapter in Tucson, Arizona. It was a pleasure to get to share my tremendous passion for both these subjects with these wonderful writers—and to get to experience their lovely state for the first time. Every winter, I’m always swearing I’m going to move to Arizona—so it was probably a good thing I got to experience what the state is like at the height of summer first!

It’s always a joy to get to meet others who are equally passionate about telling stories and becoming better writers. The visit to all historic ghost towns may or may not have prompted some new story ideas too!

Recommended New Writing Schedule

Ever since the first of the year, I’ve been playing around with my schedule quite a bit, trying to perfect a way to keep my fiction writing front and center. For years now—pretty much as long as I’ve been writing—my designated writing time has been from 4-6 in the afternoon. But of late, I’ve found myself really struggling to focus at that hour.

So what did I do? I did what all the experts have been telling us all along: I moved my writing time to first thing in the day. Instead of later afternoon, I’ve spent the last few weeks writing from 10-12 in the morning. And I’m loving it! It’s great to hit the writing first thing, while I’m still fresh and before my brain is cluttered by email and other concerns. I highly recommend it!

Want to Read My Finished Outline?

One of the sideline projects I’ve been working on lately is a transcript of my complete outline for my upcoming historical/kinda-sorta dieselpunk story Storming—about a bi-plane pilot in the 1920s. Ever since Outlining Your Novel came out four years ago, I’ve gotten scads of requests for examples of my own outlines. I included excerpts in the book itself, but you all wanted to see the whole enchilada!

I’ve been working on getting all my handwritten notes transcribed, so I can share the full outline—all 150 pages of it—as a freebie once Storming comes out this winter. Hopefully, it will help you figure out how to create exactly the right outlining style for yourself!

Happy writing!


Featured E-Book: One More Ride in the Rain

In the waning days of the American Civil War, three Confederate cavalrymen and their wounded sergeant are forced to take refuge in a widow's shack. One more battle looms on the horizon―one more battle none of them wants to fight―and they must each make a decision that will influence the rest of their lives: to run or to fight? (A short story: 7,000 words.)


July Drawing Winners

Every month, I randomly draw four names from among e-letter subscribers. The winners receive their choice of digital media from among my books. This month's winners are Jenna Comfort, Anthony Rose, Diana Cohn, and Donna. I will contact the winners directly. Congrats to all―and good luck to everyone else in the coming drawings!


Something to Ponder

What one bit of advice would you give your younger writing self?


“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

—Steven Pressfield


Your Questions Answered: How Many POVs?

Q. I’ve finally decided to drop my initial manuscript because it has too many POVs and focus on just the protagonist and his antagonist. Now it makes me wonder if I should have it be just one POV?—Dawn Dix

A. I know the feeling. With every manuscript I write, I seem to pare away another point of view (POV). I’m down to just two in my WIP, and can see myself going almost exclusively single POV in future stories.

Ultimately, the choice of how many and which POVs is always a personal one, based on the needs of the story. I will say, however, that I find antagonist POVs extraneous more often than not.

Unless the antagonist is a compelling and interesting character in his own right, readers will probably have a more enjoyable experience learning about his exploits only as they affect the protagonist.

Contact Me

Have a writing question you’d like answered? I respond to all emails and will publish one question a month in this e-letter.

Email Me


June Article Roundup

Why Authors Can’t Afford to Dupe Their Readers (or Why Hawkeye Ruined Age of Ultron)

3 Ways Doctor Who Can Help You Become a Fantastic Writer

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 41: Inferring Non-POV Characters’ Thoughts

The Only Thing You Need to Know About Writing Strong Female Characters

Scared of Plot? How One Author Embraced Story Structure Without Sacrificing Creativity

Never Confuse the Key Event and the First Plot Point in Your Book Again!

Deadly Story Openers: How to Fix a Boring Characteristic Moment

What Every Writer Ought to Know About the Omniscient POV

Revealed: The Secret to Creating Unexpectedly Awesome Supporting Characters

3 Ways to Make Writing Your Novel Easier



Helpful Links & Resources

Will Readers Find Your Protagonist Worthy?: Angela Ackerman talks making sure protagonists are worthy of readers' approval. 

4 Revision Goals: Conflict, Emotion, Surprise, Enrich Darcy Pattison shares ideas on systematically editing your book into something great.


Why Your Characters Should Never Tell the Truth—Until This One Important Scene

On-the-nose dialogue is the death of any good dialogue scene. Why? Because on-the-nose dialogue leaves no room for subtext. It leaves no room for the evolution of a conversation because it spells everything out right from the start, as I talked about in some depth in this post.

One of my favorite illustrations of the value of avoiding on-the-nose dialogue comes from behind the scenes of the classic sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, which featured the all-time great screen romance between main characters Rob and Laura Petrie. Show creator Carl Reiner famously refused to have these two obviously in-love characters ever say the words, “I love you.” Instead, he let their actions speak for them. And the results are timeless!

But does that mean you should never let your characters say it exactly how it is?

Not at all. Aside from the fact that doing so will have you filling your book with one convoluted conversation after another, doing so will also rob you of a powerful tool.

The beauty of avoiding on-the-nose dialogue for the majority of your scenes is that you then get to actually use spot-on dialogue to hammer home important points. Matt Bird of the Cockeyed Caravan calls this “gutpunch” dialogue. This kind of dialogue offers up the truth that’s been hovering under the surface of your character’s dialogue all through the scene (or even all through the story). It’s what everybody knows, but nobody is saying—until it matters.

Then they say it, and the entire story world gets rocked around them.

A great example of this comes at the end of the Justified pilot. By this point, Deputy Marshall Raylan Givens has shot two people (killed one), beat up another, and threatened multiple others. He does all this quietly, politely, even kindly, and while other characters may comment on his judgment, no one comments on his motives.

Then the final scene arrives and he notes to his ex-wife that he never thought of himself as an angry man. The on-the-nose truth of her response gut punches both the audience and Raylan himself: “Raylan, you do a good job of hiding it. And I suppose most folks don’t see it, but honestly, you’re the angriest man I have ever known.”

That kind of great gut punch will never work if the majority of the dialogue leading up to it doesn’t offer a wealth of subtext. Save your on-the-nose dialogue for when it matters, and it just may end up offering some of the most powerful words in your entire story.


“You can only write by putting words on a paper one at a time.”

—Sandra Brown