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Friday, October 16, 2009

To Outline or Not to Outline?

Hello Fellow Writers!

Last night Kimberly Lang, the author of the Harlequin Presents book I just finished reading ("The Millionaire's Misbehaving Mistress") stopped by The Writer's Challenge to chat! That's her picture to the left. Her book is really enjoyable - such a fun read. With her permission I am putting our conversation her for you, dear reader.

Kimberly Lang said...
So glad you're enjoying Will and Gwen's story. I had a lot of fun writing it. (And you might be happy to hear that Evie will be getting her own story in 2010!) Good luck with NaNoWriMo and your submissions to Harlequin. Kimberly Lang www.booksbykimberly.com

Shana Brodsky said...
Wow! Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and comment! I just finished your novel and it's wonderful - I can't wait to read Evie's story in 2010! -Shana Kimberly Lang said...
I don't normally offer unsolicited advice -- in fact, I rarely offer solicited advice -- because I believe every writer has her own process and that it should be respected. However, I've been scrolling through your blog, and I notice you're actively reading books about writing, so here's my .02. I'm not JK Rowling, Stephenie Meyer or Stephen King, but I have sold five books to Harlequin (and that's who you're targeting) in the last 18mos. A 40-page synopsis!?! That's two chapters. 10k words. On a 50k book, that's a fifth of your novel. Are you writing it because *you* need to walk yourself through your novel or because someone told you that you should? If you need to do that, go ahead. There are lots of people who do detailed outlines. (I'm not one of them, and frankly the thought of investing that much time and that many words on my synopsis would kill my soul. But that's me. I'm a pantser.) If you're 26 pages in and you know enough about your characters to know you're going to go way over 40 pages, why not go ahead and just write? (That's kind of the purpose of NaNo -- to let yourself write.) You never know; you might get started and find that you could take the book in a whole different direction. And you might like that direction better than what you planned. :-) I made the mistake of marrying myself to a plot point in book #4. I wanted X to happen and I knew it would be great when it did. I closed myself off to all other possibilities, and that book ended up going through two rounds of hellish revisions before I got it straightened out. Looking back, I wonder if I hadn't been so committed to that one plot point happening at that particular moment... Your teacher is right -- writers write. But pre-writing isn't exactly writing. Pre-writing is important (and it feels like writing!), but it can also be a trap. At some point, you gotta get those words on the page and tell the story to the reader. I offer this simply as an alternative viewpoint. Your mileage may vary, of course. Don't let me or anyone else tell you the process of how books *should* be written, because everyone's process is unique. Good luck with this book. I hope the words fly off your fingers and that you love the result!

Shana Brodsky said...
I love advice - especially from an author who is doing exactly what I want to be doing (writing for Harlequin)! Thank you for taking the time! I'm curious as to how you came across my blog (I'm so glad you did) :) The reason I'm plotting this next book out so much (I've actually got 36 pages so far) is because I am queen of writing the first three chapters of a book, getting stuck, and giving up. I must have twenty starts of novels in my desk drawer! So this time, going into NaNoWriMo, I want to make sure that I don't get stuck halfway through. I figure I can use my plot outline to keep me going - but I will definitely take your advice and if it feels too contrived or if my characters want to move in a different direction, then I will let them take the story where it needs to go. I have a technical question that maybe you can answer for me and my readers (all 6 of them, lol). Does Harlequin go by computer word count or 250 x page #? Silly I know but it's been bugging me because I can't find a definitive answer online! Also, do you think for series romance it's a good idea to get a literary agent first, or to submit straight to Harlequin? Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts! I checked out your website and it's lovely :) -Shana

Kimberly Lang said...
I found your blog because I have Google alerts on my titles. I get an email with a link from Google whenever it finds a mention. It's always nice to find someone saying something nice about my book. It makes facing the current WIP much easier! :-) And I'm procrastinating tonight -- probably not a good idea since I have a deadline looming! I'm doing my own mini-NaNo right now to get the book done on time. Feel free to ignore my advice -- in fact, ignore any advice from anyone unless it really resonates with you. Getting words on a page is a mystery; no one thing will work for everyone. (Except BICHOK -- Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. That works.) Do what feels right for *you* and don't let anyone tell you "that's not how to write a book." (But, yes, you must finish the book. :-)) Technical questions: To the best of my knowledge, all Harlequin lines are now using computer word count. Yes, I know. It's very tough on those of us who write lots of dialog. You don't need an agent to submit to Harlequin, and I'm not sure an agent will get you read any faster or do much good with your contracts this early in the game. My .02. I don't have an agent, and, in fact, an agent from the Bookends Agency just blogged about not needing an agent to sell to Harlequin. I don't have the URL handy, but google Bookends blog and take a peek. It's a recent entry and will probably be better than anything I can offer. And, wow, writing with an infant at home? I'm impressed! Mine's eight and I don't get anything done unless she's at school or asleep. Good for you!

Shana Brodsky said...
BICHOK - I love it! May I use your post in my blog tomorrow? I'd love to share your insight with my readers (I'm not sure people read these comments as much as the daily blog). Coincidentally, I was just perusing the BookEnds blog since I was thinking of querying them. I found the blog entry you mentioned: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/10/category-romance-authors-and-agents.html It's cool that you've sold 5 books without an agent! Maybe it's a sign I should just try and go straight to Harlequin. It's a bit terrifying because then if it's rejected... Did you sell to HQ the first time you queried them, or did it take a while? It's midnight here in New York, way past my bedtime :) so I'm gonna hit the sack (one benefit of having an infant is I'm becoming accustomed to sleep deprivation). Thank you so much for taking the time to respond - I'm really glad that you found my blog and I hope you keep in touch! -Shana

Kimberly Lang said...
Sure you can use my comments. I don't claim to be an expert on anything, but if you think it's helpful, go ahead. And I have a large stack of rejections from Harlequin. ~shrugs~ But it only takes one "yes"...

Shana Brodsky said...
Wow - so you just kept writing romance novels and submitting them until one got accepted? That's awesome. And anyone who has sold five novels to Harlequin is definitely an expert! Thanks again and stop by The Writer's Challenge anytime! -Shana

So there ya have it! I think the key points here are:

  • Don't let an outline keep your story from going where it needs to go.
  • Don't even write an outline if you don't think you need one - it's okay to make it up as you go
  • BICHOK - Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. That's how it gets done.
  • You don't need an agent to submit to Harlequin.
  • Harlequin uses computer word count (Darn! I need to add some scenes to "The Movie Star's Very Personal Assistant" then).
  • The BookEnds blog is filled with interesting tidbits of information.

Today I am going to work on my plot for "Snowed in with a Millionaire" before I add the entire chapter I need to add to "The Movie Star's Very Personal Assistant" to make it 50k words by computer word count. I know if I start writing on "Movie Star" I'll never get to my plot for "Snowed In" - because as Kimberly Lang said, it's prewriting, not really writing, and that's just not as fun so it's easier to procrastinate on it.

However, since I'm officially signed up for NaNoWriMo, I have to wait until November 1st before I start actual writing on "Snowed In With a Millionaire". That's okay, it gives me time to work out any plot holes before I dive in.

Wish me luck and good luck to you too!

Yours Truly,
Shoshanna Evers


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