thricedenied asked:

What program do you use to make outlines?

I will use pretty much anything. So far I find different projects demand different kinds of things from me, and I’m always trying new methods and different kinds of software. I’ve been working on this story in a large moleskine notebook for a few weeks, trying to resolve some issues. But it’s hard to get a whole story on one page. To be honest what I wanted this evening more than anything was a whiteboard wall. But until I’ve got one, software will have to do.

The image I just uploaded was from scapple, from the guy who brought us scrivener. It’s the least linear tool I own, and yet I went and made stacks of ideas and events with it. But I find that happens as I get more organized. Each of the little bubbles are independent, and I can create them and then move the around, which I like.

In the past I have used scrivener’s terrific outlining function, spreadsheets (google docs ones in particular), and word processing documents (again, google docs, good for sharing). I’ve also used Aeon Timeline for outlining in a chronologically-driven way. 

Until I get a story down somehow, I feel like I don’t have a story at all, so I will genuinely use whatever’s at hand. I got scapple because I find it hard to put things in a definite order sometimes. This was one of those times.

This is how I spent my evening. It’s a preliminary outline. I make things like this so that I can lay out a story and get a look at it, so I (and my patient friends) can judge whether it’s worth writing or not. I have to do this because I pretty much suck at building a plot, and I’m trying to learn to be better at it.
I feel very accomplished now. This one has been haunting me for weeks.

This is how I spent my evening. It’s a preliminary outline. I make things like this so that I can lay out a story and get a look at it, so I (and my patient friends) can judge whether it’s worth writing or not. I have to do this because I pretty much suck at building a plot, and I’m trying to learn to be better at it.

I feel very accomplished now. This one has been haunting me for weeks.

Breaking the Unbreakable Rule

There’s this trick they teach you about character-building: give your character a core, defining characteristic. Then, against all logic, create a single exception to that unbreakable rule. That one exception will underscore the trait by showing that it has limits, and it won’t feel like an inconsistency. Instead it will reveal something even more critically important about the character: what turns their universe upside down. What’s most important to them.

Sherlock’s defining characteristic is his carefully-constructed brilliance, which comes at the cost of his emotional life. He never lets his emotions get ahead of him. His decisions are always based on cold, rational thought, not affection for another human being. He barely ever demonstrates that he even has any emotions, except when he very nearly bursts into tears for love of John Watson. Except when he irrationally sacrifices his own life to give John a chance at happiness. The exception to Sherlock’s core characteristic that proves the rule is John. 

John’s defining characteristic is his exceptional bravery and pathological desire for danger. He loves being on the edge, and there’s nothing that rattles him. Nerves of steel, you might say. The only risk John won’t take is to  admit that he is in love with Sherlock. His life would be easier if he would just admit it. He’ll shoot a man to protect Sherlock, he’ll gladly sacrifice his life to give Sherlock a chance to escape, but he won’t be honest about what he wants. The man who is afraid of nothing is too skittish about that. He’ll dance around it, he’ll go halfway towards admitting it, but he won’t say it. And he’ll shut doors in Sherlock’s face to make it clear that he won’t go there.

If tension is the fuel that propels a story forward, these are the tensions that keep these characters in motion.

ccovino asked:

Hi Ivy Blossom! I read in one of your posts a while ago that you sometimes outline stories in a spreadsheet. How exactly does that work? How does it help you? I always struggle with outlining and am curious about how you'd organize everything. Thanks!

Well, every project is different, to say nothing of every writer being different! But yes, I do find a spreadsheet useful for outlining. Especially so when I have a project with a lot of different strands in it that I want to sort of braid together through the story. [[MORE]]

Normally spreadsheets are for numbers, obviously, but you can stretch out columns and stick words in them, so they work for stories, too.


Spreadsheets are good for anything very linear, and if you’re thinking about your story in a linear way (getting from point A to point B) then a spreadsheet is a good way to visualize all the steps between those known bits. One way to think about a story is as a series of scenes, like a film. They go one after another, so you can catalogue them and stack them up pretty easily in a spreadsheet.


This is generally how I construct long stories, though not always.

It’s very helpful and practical to lay out your scenes when you know how you want your story to end, or what you’re building up to in general (say, in a romance, your characters getting together), but you aren’t sure if the end will be believable. That’s always how I feel about romance. I’m never convinced that it will be believable, and it’s believability is core to the whole enterprise. So I use an outline to make sure I’m taking one tiny, believable step at a time to lead toward my romantic conclusion, so that by the time you get there it feels completely inevitable and natural. Like tightening braces to shift your teeth.

Of course that also makes very some long, long stories. Serious outlines, in my experience, makes your stories much longer. I think it’s just easier to sustain a very long story when you let yourself see the bird’s eye view as you go.

What’s nice about working in a spreadsheet is that it’s so flexible. You can lay out all the steps to get you from point A to point B, and then look at it and decide if it’s all necessary, or if bits are in the wrong order, or if you’re repeating yourself or dragging, or if some bit is jarringly faster then the rest of it. It’s very easy to pick rows up and move them around as you see fit.

You can also colour code your columns and/or rows, which can be helpful. I used a lighter version of a background colour when I haven’t written the scene yet, and then a darker one once it’s done.

I read through outlines a lot before I start writing, and as I’m writing, to make sure it feels natural and smooth, and to account for the things I learn and think about while I’m writing. People often think that if you work with an outline, you don’t organically shift things as you write, but I don’t find that to be true. I let the writing inform the outline for sure. Usually it informs what will happen in a story at a distance of a few thousand words, so I have time to adjust things as I go. An outline is definitely a living document. Much like a bird’s eye view, it shifts as you fly!

I like the endless columns of a spreadsheet to help me keep track of other elements in a story as well. I like to write romance-driven fanfiction, so I want to keep track of my protagonist’s emotional state or, as is more often the case, level of awareness of their emotions/level of attraction so that I can increase it in small steps. Keeping a column for that lets me see that progression separately and modify as required, while still keeping an eye on the plot (or the what’s happening in the real world) in another column. So I generally keep a column for each of those things, and a few more for whatever else I want to keep track of. 

It also leaves a column available for your beta reader. Once you have a well-built outline, a beta reader can read through it and see if you have any major plot problems or believability issues. Helpful to know before you start crafting beautiful sentences, eh?

Spreadsheets are flexible, but they are quite rigid in terms of scenes being definite and bounded things. I like that rigidity because my brain isn’t very good at staying on task like that. I veer off the rails really easily, so the discipline of the cells and columns keeping me in the real world of the story is helpful.

Writing it out this way reminds me that this character is in the here and now and I need to give him things to do. I wrote a story where a character is living entirely inside his own head for tens of thousands of words, so having a column for where in the world he is and what he’s actually trying to accomplish was helpful to me. If I hadn’t had that, he wouldn’t have physically been anywhere at all. I would have forgotten to put him anywhere! Being aware that that’s an issue for me, I’m drawn to tools that help me avoid it! I construct those columns based on my own known failings as well as my goals for the story.

Not all stories benefit from this level of pre-work. I wrote a simpler story more recently that didn’t need multiple columns. For that story, I did a similar thing (writing out what happens in order) but I did it in a regular doc, with paragraphs. That works too!


I’m happy to do something like this when I’m more confident in getting all the pieces out all mixed together, when a story is a bit more…I was going to say one dimensional, but that’s not the right phrase. When the story action is what influences and drives the characters. When it’s more on the nose, if you know what I mean. When you don’t have hidden tracks to take care of, like complicated denial-romance or psychological winding roads alongside other things going on that you don’t want to loose track of.

I’ve written some very complicated outlines in my time. The one pictured just above was my first real outline, and looking at it now I just shake my head. It doesn’t have enough detail for me now. Here’s an early text version of the outline for The Quiet Man, which is the same story outlined above in the spreadsheet:


Looks more like a story, really, but this is just “what happens” without any pretty words. At this point I separate out the idea from the execution of that idea pretty cleanly, though never entirely cleanly. What I prefer about the spreadsheet version is that it’s easier for me to scan and see how many scenes I’m anticipating and makes it easier to jump around inside the plan.

Spreadsheet outlines also make it possible to estimate a) the number of scenes (or chapters) until the end, and b) the total word count. If you put the scene word counts in, it will average them out for you and tell you what your final word total will be way before you get there.

Not that it really matters, but it’s kind of interesting and motivating along the way, somehow.

But, as I said, every story has it’s own needs, and every writer has their own issues to watch out for. The first thing is just to work out what your story needs, and what you need to make it easier for you to write it.

I use a spreadsheet to make a complicated story easy to write, and to keep it from overwhelming me. And to help keep it fun. If it’s not fun, there’s no point, I say.

Anonymous asked:

Do you have non fanfiction works? I absolutely love your fanfics and I am curious to read some fiction you possibly may have written

I am extremely tempted to list some things I possibly may have written, with no guarantee that I actually wrote them. I could just list things I wish I’d written, right? 

But I take your meaning, and thank you, but while I do write non-fanfiction works, none of them are published (mainstream, self, or even wattpad), so I can’t link you to anything. Maybe one day. I’m working on it.

In fact, I got my first rejection from an agent this morning! I’m quite excited. It makes me feel legit and stuff.

Anonymous asked:

How can you approve of a man (Mr. Moffat) who has an insistent tendency to get Sherlock hurt severely by women (he has done it in 2 out of 3.3 episodes he has written) and then compensate their deleterious actions ostensibly by writing ill affection from them toward him and specially after he divested us from any short simple interaction of SH and JW after SH being shot till Christmas time for no reason? (I understand he is a skilled writer but only this doesn't make me like his stories.)


2) In an old story filled with male heroes, I’m more than happy to see women in a reboot filling all kinds of roles, from saintly (Molly) to quirky (Mrs Hudson) to morally ambiguous (Irene Adler) to downright bad (Mary Morstan). I like complicated stories where people do bad things and bad things happen to them. In other words, I like fiction. 

Just because I love Sherlock and John’s fraught and intimate relationship and I want them to bond and be happy together doesn’t mean Steven Moffat (or Mark Gatiss, or Stephen Thompson) are morally bound to give it to me. In fact, as a person who writes fiction, I know they’re kind of morally bound not to give it to me. Withholding the happy ending, and making the happy ending seem almost impossible, is what happens in the middle of a story. Tension is necessary: if a story has no tension, you wouldn’t even bother to hate it.

I like Steven Moffat’s work, I think it’s terrific. You don’t have to. I like it because it’s meaty and complicated, and because all the characters feel three dimensional to me, even the ladies, and even the bad ladies. You don’t have to agree.


Bucket List of subjects I hope to write stories about someday:

  • time travel;
  • neanderthals;
  • nuns;
  • oblates;
  • main character death in a first person story;
  • the plague;
  • a mass extinction event;
  • trains;
  • the fact that you could conceivably get an audio track off of anything made on a pottery wheel;
  • hallucinations;
  • Moses;
  • Sodom and Gomorrah;
  • telegraph operators;
  • virtual world/physical world merging;
  • a clone of Teresa of Avila;
  • assassins with doctorates in philosophy and/or literature.

Also, I’d like to write an epistolary novel.

What would be truly impressive would be story containing all of these. That would be a tale for the ages.

jayez-fanfiction asked:

Hi :) I have to admit I never finished any of your Sherlock stories since I have never felt comfortable with first person POV, neither writing nor reading it (I love your blog, though!). I was wondering why you prefer writing in first person? Do you have any thoughts on the reasons behind this? Best wishes from Berlin!

My blog is also written in first person. Eek!

I do indeed have thoughts about why I write stories in first person. I have written many many words on the subject in the past. The choice of narrative perspective has to do with what kind of story you’re aiming to tell, and it just so happens that I have chosen to write the kinds of stories that benefit from a first person perspective. It resonates with me personally, as my interest in stories revolves mostly around people and their subjective views and interpretations. I am very much interested in voice and how you can use it to shape a story. Since I have no visual imagination, I prefer to use a strong voice to colour a story rather than visual descriptions.

My German is very rusty, so I’m not sure what the state of German literature is at the moment, but if you dislike first person narratives, there is a very large swath of English literature from which you are barring yourself. Including Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, notably. But hey, none of us have to read everything. We’ve all got to filter somehow.

My presumption, given the way you’ve framed this question, is that you want to know why I would choose to write something in such a hateful way that loses the attention of good readers like yourself. So let me be clear: I don’t write anything with the hope of attracting the maximum number of readers. I don’t write based on statistical probability of mass popularity. I write what I want to write. I write what I love. I write what I am driven to write, in the way I am driven to write it. I write in first person because I absolutely fucking love it. Obviously you have a different perspective.

Hey, if you hate first person present tense, wait till you see what I’m working on now! It’s in second person future tense. You’re going to loathe it!

The advantage of the gift economy fandom world, as opposed to the pro writing commercial world, is that I don’t have to care what the majority wants. I get to just write what I want. This is the greatest blessing ever to me, because I don’t want to be constrained by other people’s quirks and desires, or what most people want to read. I am not most people, I am me! I want to write my stories my way!

You know, “I hate first person, why do you write in first person?” is not unlike saying, “I hate your girlfriend, why are you dating your girlfriend?” Obviously we have a difference of opinion. That’s the easy answer. Because I like it (her), even though you don’t. We have different tastes, that’s what. Art (and taste in girlfriends) is obviously subjective. The human community is filled with diversity, and that’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

Anonymous asked:

Do you have any advice for people who over think each step, are incredibly insecure and perfectionist when writing?

I could try. I’m not sure my advice will be very helpful, though.

I’m very loath to use the term “overthink” ever, under any circumstances. I struggle to think of a circumstance when lots of thought isn’t a good thing. But it’s got to result in something. Thought should lead to decisions; maybe frame your thinking in terms of making decisions. Thought is a good way to generate possibilities. That’s always good.

I certainly understand insecurity. I think the only way to really address it is to face it head on. What are you insecure about, specifically? I have a list of things I think I’m not very good at, and I am progressively working through the list trying to improve my abilities in those things. If you fear you might not be good at something, get better at it, that’s what I figure. Humans are learning animals. We evolved to get better at doing things. Practice goes a long way. There’s basically nothing you can’t learn. That may not be useful advice, I dunno. 

I am not a perfectionist, so I’m probably not the best person to give advice to perfectionists. I part ways with the concept of “perfect” very early on. I’m not sure what it means, to be honest. Especially when it comes to art. “Perfect” suggests there is one way to do something, and that’s not true. Good art is quirky and subjective, and can only be done the way you do it by you. I understand “the best I can do,” but I don’t understand “perfect.” How do you know when you’ve got there? Who’s qualified to judge? 

burnt-oranges replied to your post: salviag replied to your post: “Writ…

question: how do you know if that raw material is bad and whether to feel confident in it or not? that’s something i struggle with

Yeah, me too. That’s why I started exploring ways to pin the story down as a whole, before I wrote it, to get a good look at it. That’s why I’m so big on outlining. I need to get the idea in a form where I can stand back and get a look at the whole thing so I can evaluate it.

Sometimes people talk as if the only way to see and feel a story is to write it all out. I’ve been looking for other ways to do it, and while reading and writing it is probably the closest to it you ever come, I can experience it in other ways as well. At least enough to know whether I’m going down the wrong path.

I write long stories, it’s just my rhythm, but I can’t keep a long story in my head all at once, so I can’t just pore over it inside my head. I need to pin it up to see all of it.

There are many ways to do this, and I keep experimenting with new ones. Post it notes, a long list of events, drawing a graph of rising and falling emotional heft and action, a big, sprawling mind map…whatever fits the project.

I need to pin the story up. Then I look at it and walk myself through it with this bird’s eye view. Then I need to evaluate it the way I would evaluate any story, I guess. Is it just like something else, am I just copying something I like? Is it a series of cliches? Am I repeating the same event over and over? Have I done this before? Does it make sense? Are there plot holes? What are the alternatives? What else could logically happen?

It helps to take someone else through it too, which is another advantage to pinning it up. Someone else can see into your head that way. You can pin a story up and get a beta on that, too, before you’ve agonized over word choices.

That’s the direction I’ve been going, anyway. I don’t know if it’s the best one, but I’ve found it helpful. It certainly makes me more confident in my story by the time I sit down to turn it into words. I find it also makes the writing stage really fast.


salviag replied to your post: "Writing is a two-stage Process."

I may not have read the entire thread, but the part about ‘creative imagination’ and ‘technical imagination’? It’s more of a mindset/approach than a step in the writing process. My guess is that your creative steps are 1 & 4, and the rest technical

I wasn’t referring to this creative/technical split, I was referring to “writing is a two-stage process,” not that.

However, I disagree with your assessment of which parts of my process are creative and which are technical. But then, I might disagree generally with the division of creative and technical in the first place. 

Read More

"Writing is a two-stage Process."

I just read that line as part of this thread, and did that screech-to-a-halt thing they do in cartoons. Two stage process? TWO?

Wow. Writing is a six-stage process for me at the moment.

  1. Brainstorming;
  2. Outlining;
  3. Revising my outline;
  4. Writing;
  5. Editing;
  6. Revising based on feedback.

Having worked this way, I have no idea how I could possibly condense it down to only two stages!

Though some years ago, writing was a one stage process for me. 

  1. Write.

How times have changed.


On overthinking.


Rambling about the writing process, beneath the cut.

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Last night I came across a single fic I’d written just after my first fandom (HP), before the many years of writer’s block I had before Sherlock. It remains unpublished for many reasons, mostly because at the time I wrote it, I didn’t want to throw my hat into another fandom ring — and I still don’t. Anyway, I ended up re-reading it. 

It’s 22k (which I didn’t know, because I didn’t count words at the time I wrote it). Unbeta’ed, because I never had betas until Sherlock. It was written with no outline or planning at all. It’s juvenile, full of cliches, incredibly cringeworthy, and yet? It has a flow to it. A certain effortless sense of fun. Clearly I didn’t care about the cliches or even how good it was, I just told a story. I don’t even remember much about writing it, I must have plugged away somehow, but that fic wasn’t painful. And I’m looking at it thinking, why? I’ve worked SO much harder on my writing since I wrote it, and I’d like to hope I’m getting better. So why did this fic just… happen, and why did it accidentally achieve some of the things I’m working so hard to achieve on purpose?

What an amazing experience, Mars! I’m sorry to hear you sound so troubled, but I think I can see the silver lining here. 

For the last few years I’ve been dissecting my own process, and realizing that the language really gets in the way, because there are all kinds of different parts of the work of “writing” that all need to be understood separately (as well as collectively). For the same reasons you’re remembering, the one part of the whole thing I haven’t tinkered with too much is that sheer act of sitting down and putting words on a page.

But then, I’ve always gone at this for two reasons: 1) I wanted to get better, and 2) I want to enjoy the hell out of every part of the experience, because this is my free time and I’m doing this for fun. 

I didn’t tinker with the “putting words on the page” part of writing because I find it hella fun as it is. I’ve come to see any feeling of unpleasantness as a sign that there’s a problem with my process, because if I’m not having fun, it’s not going to happen, let alone result in anything good.

If your process is not letting you just write in that free flowing way that’s fun and uncomplicated, then let’s have a look at that process. If it’s tripping you up, something’s wrong.

What I’ve done for myself is separate out the planning and major plot construction from the act of putting words on a page, but what I give myself are small goals (usually scenes, but sometimes not) that I can just let go and have at when it comes to just free-wheeling writing. I build stories out of these smaller goals, and each is basically defined by what I can comfortably write in a single sitting.

So when I sit down to write, I look at my plan and say, oh, okay, today I’m in X place, and I need to get from point a to point b. Sometimes there’s lots of detail, often there isn’t. This is where I get to just go to town. My plans generally don’t go down this deep, so when I sit down to write I get to really dig into the feelings and details, and what’s around, and what’s everyone thinking and saying, so I still feel like it’s a brand new world and I can do whatever I want. I give myself such small goals from day to day that it mostly feels like what I used to do with a seed of an idea for a fic. Just sit down and explore it. 

That’s what’s worked for me, but of course no one process works for everyone. I would love to chat with you about your process and where it’s hurting. No process should ever hurt. If it hurts, lose it. There are plenty more processes out there.

If there’s no joy in writing a story, I’m not sure how there’s meant to be any joy in reading it!

Call me, Mars. I find your case interesting. It’s at least an 8.