Tag Archives: world building

A real look at how I outline

I’ve described my outlining process before on the blog, but this time I’m going to show you guys real pictures of my notes. I can not stress strongly enough that these are my actual notes from the book I Wish. If you haven’t read it yet and want to, there WILL be spoilers. Avoid this post at all costs if that will ruin the experience for you.

The program I use is Onenote by Microsoft. I swear by it. It’s about the most amazing notetaking software ever invented. Do yourself a huge favor and get a copy.

The first thing I do is a brain dump on paper. These are some actual crappy cell phone pictures of my actual crappy written notes. Seriously. Nobody can read my handwriting. It’s like a blind gorilla wrote them with his stupid foot. But it’s just an example anyway.

paper notes 1

paper notes 2

I love bullet points. Some of the notes made it to the final version, some were changed until they didn’t resemble the original note at all, and some I just scrapped completely. I can’t stress enough how important it is to just let yourself go during this part. Sometimes if I piece of information or dialog occurs to me, I’ll write right up the margin or further down the page. I use a lot of arrows and underlines or boxes to link ideas together or emphasize some. It doesn’t have to be pretty. It’s just what makes sense to you later on when you’re reading over it. I’ve also been known to go over sections with a highlighter.

paper notes 3

A lot of times I’ll use Xmind for mind mapping (ooh, I’ll take a picture of that too!), but sometimes it’s just faster to grab a sheet of paper and make a quick diagram. This is one I made when I was brainstorming some new scenes to add length to the book. I think really well in this manner. That whole chart took me about 10 minutes to come up with and I had ideas for an extra 6 scenes.

It’s totally unrelated to anything, but don’t my fingertips look fat in that picture? I just got sized for our wedding bands and my ring finger is a size 4, which is pretty small. I had no ideas that fingertips could even look fat, but there we are. Ahem. Done now.

mind map 

mind map 2

So here are a couple of samples of different mind maps I made to get some ideas onto paper. Again, some were used in the stories, some weren’t. The process of brainstorming this way really unlocks a ton of potential ideas in my mind and inspires lines of thinking that I personally feel enrich my writing.

At this point I start plugging the ideas into Onenote.


This is an example of the summary I write before I start breaking my ideas into individual scenes. I write the summary as if I were telling it to a 3rd party. This is where I find out if I’m missing important information. It breaks down roughly to each paragraph = a scene. I leave myself notes on the side to remind myself to add more information to a a section when it becomes a scene or to make sure I don’t forget something that’s coming up. Also if you’re actually reading my notes, you’ll see that this was before I determined that Katie is an overused name and changed her to Krista.


The last thing I do is write out a scene description. For I Wish… I used yWriter. It made formatting a bitch when I added new scenes though so I don’t think I’ll be using it this time around. But you get the idea. I wrote a couple of paragraphs of what was supposed to happen in that scene and then turned it into a 3000 word passage. Not a bad conversion, right?

I filled out each scene in the book before I wrote a word of it. Some descriptions are a lot more detailed than this one is. I included any ideas for dialogue or other phrases I liked and wanted to include. You can’t do yourself any disservice by being really wordy on this part. When I was ready to write every day, I knew exactly what I was planning to work on. I never had to spend any time trying to think of what came next because I already knew before I started writing what happened in what order.

There was one pitfall to the whole thing. My outline was TIGHT. I had every day accounted for, even if it wasn’t specified in the story exactly what day it was. It doesn’t matter if the reader knows as long as I do so that I don’t have my character in two places at one time. So when it came time to add more scenes it was like crap, where the hell can I fit that in? It took a lot of wiggling and a few serious rewrites at the beginning or end of the scene to fight them all in.

But that’s a minor problem and if I had a better handle on how long my average scene length was it wouldn’t have happened. The nice part about yWriter is that it tracks how long each scene is for you so it’s easy to do the math. Now I know that my average scene length is almost exactly 1500 words and I can plan enough scenes in advance to come out to where I need to be by the end.

Hopefully, this clarifies my process for anyone who was confused. Xmind and yWriter are both free programs and a lot of people have Onenote on their computers and don’t even realize it. If you have any questions you can leave it in the comments or hit me up on twitter @wrenem. I’ll be happy to help you out as much as I can.

Edit: Wow guys, totally didn’t expect this to go viral like this. It’s awesome, thanks for stopping by my fine little piece of web real estate. I’d love to have you visit again in the future. If you are interested to see what this outline and 2 weeks of 1st draft writing will net you, please consider buying a copy of I Wish… for only $.99. I’d sure appreciate it. Smile


Filed under I wish, technology, writing

OneNote, the Sequel

In our last exciting episode, I talked about my favorite software program in the entire universe and touched on how to add web information into your notes. I may have also implied that OneNote can save kittens from trees and hug lonely pandas. It can’t. It doesn’t have arms. But if it did, these are the kinds of things that it would do because it’s just that kind of program.

Since this is supposed to be a blog about my writing journey and not one about the non-writing related uses for ON, I thought that I might actually get around to talking about writing at some point in this post. It’s pretty much a certainty if you use this software for any length of time you’ll be able to come up with your own uses for it and undoubtedly they will be more clever and well planned than anything I’ve come up for it so let’s get to the point, shall we?

My preferred genre is urban fantasy. This means that in my writing universe there are more races than human. A lot of these are things that I’ll never see outside of my imagination, which is what makes my note taking so important. Even the more common place (in urban fantasy, anyway) creatures such as vampires and werewolves have “rules” unique to my universe and those rules must be obeyed.

A slight tangent here… I think that there is a huge myth amongst newbie writers. They assume that writers are gods of their creations. This much is true. But like our own Creator, writers are bound by the weaknesses and flaws of their creations. A human being isn’t likely to fly away from danger because we don’t have wings. If you make something implausible happen in your own fiction your readers WILL notice and will not be amused. /end lecture
Ahem. So yes, the rules must be created and they must be obeyed. I love using OneNote for this. The tabs, pages, and subpages allow a lot of organization to take place.

Using my own work as an example, I keep a notebook labeled “DW Universe”. This will be my main reference for all works that take place in this universe. Each separate WIP will merit it’s own notebook where I will keep track of characters, settings, plot lines and the related information, but each WIP will be included in the DW Universe notebook, which will continue to grow and evolve as long as I continue to work in that world.

The DW Universe notebook has become a wiki of sorts. Thanks to a feature in ON that allows you to link to other pages and paragraphs within the document, I am able to easily relate characters to their races. Let’s say that I have a character named Melvin the Merman. Let’s further speculate that in my world mermen are rare and thus highly sought after by the mermaids. They all also have sparkly blue tails and bright green eyes. Creating a link from Melvin’s page to the page on merfolk is like shorthand. It’s easy to see at a glance what his appearance is and that if he were to date a human it would not be a widely accepted choice amongst his peers.

These links have proven to be invaluable because I have made probably 100 pages of entries. Some are things I’ve written myself, some of it comes from research, and there are lots of images. Being able to find a key picture or the article I wrote about the racial traits of dryads in my world is important. Being able to find those things quickly, is even more precious.

Besides the links, you can add tags to help you quickly find information. And everything you add is searchable, even photos of text you’ve taken. You can make audio recordings and ON will automatically run voice recognition software to make a sort of transcript that can also be searched. I haven’t played with this feature yet, but it does seem pretty promising.

And, of course, you should consider the biggest selling point that Microsoft markets: the ability for more than one person to share notebooks. If you’ve ever wanted to do a collaborative project with someone, ON would be ideal for that. No media is off limits to this software. Voice recording, pictures, handwriting (scanned or written on a tablet PC), emails, internet documents… probably more that I can’t think of off the top of my head… They can all be integrated and Outlook especially works wonderfully with the program. I don’t use that feature as much as I should. I’d be a much more organized person if I did.

I hope I’ve done this software the justice it deserves. It really is the most important tool I have access to besides Word. It has taken my notes to another level of usability. Putting the ideas on paper is important, but so is being able to find what you’ve written weeks later.

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If OneNote and Jesus got in a fight, I think we all know who would win

***I found a neglected Blogger account that I started in 2009 and wrote exactly 2 entries and an unpublished draft.  Since the information in it is still relevant, I decided to repost it here.  The OneNote version I’m writing about is 2007.  I’m not yet familiar with what all the 2010 version offers.***

First let that I am not part of the targeted demographic for OneNote. I am in no way a professional woman in any sense of the word. I don’t even write freelance non-fiction articles to pay the bills. I am a stay at home mom, full time student, and and a fiction writer still learning her craft. So no, the marketing that Microsoft has all over the software page has officially gone straight over my head.

If my only introduction to this program was the official marketing I would never have tried this program. Luckily for me, I ran into a discussion about the merits of OneNote versus those of Evernote. Evernote is a great program and if costs or other factors prevent you from using ON, then I’d highly recommend Evernote as a viable option.

As it happens, I actually had a copy of ON 2007 included in my Microsoft Office Suite bundle that was installed onto my computer when it was built a few months ago. I’m sure I’ve seen it countless times without making the connection that I had nearly the most important software of my life (second only to MS Word) right there, begging for use.

So at this point, you might be thinking, “Ok, Wannabe, you’ve convinced me that you love this software. Care to elaborate on why you think it’s so amazing?”

Why yes, Hypothetical Reader, I would love to introduce you to the cult of OneNote. I’m not even kidding. This program has its own fansite.

I’ll readily admit that I am the opposite of an organized person. I am the type of woman who writes myself notes on the back of a handy scrap of paper, only to throw it away 20 minutes later. Or use it to spit my gum into. Or spill a half full can of Mountain Dew on it. Or whatever. The point is that my precious thoughts are often lost nearly as soon as they leave the nebulous confines of my mind.

Things got slightly better with the introduction of my iPod Touch. I have some great apps on it for brainstorming writing ideas and keeping track of those former “scrap of paper” ideas. I’ll write more about how I use my iPod as a writing tool at some point in the future. For now though, know that it’s really helped me keep track of things. The area where it really excels is making lists. This is where I keep track of authors, books, and songs that I want to purchase. Helpful, but not life altering.

Enter OneNote. The interface is pretty intuitive. I was able to start using the basic functions within minutes of opening the program. And if that’s all I ever learned how to do, it would still be an extremely useful tool. But it does so much more than just let you write notes to yourself in different notebooks. I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface.

Let’s talk about using ON for prewriting. My first step for any research is always the internet. I’m lucky enough to have access to a lot of scholarly sources thanks to my continuing education. And even without that, you can’t beat a quick Google search for turning up a dozen different aspects of any topic. The real downside to this approach is that you might end up with numerous links to relevant articles.

I know I’m not the only person who’s ended up killing a forest worth of trees in order to print out piles of useful information. Some people will always feel better having a hard copy of their notes, but I’m fine with just having a handy place to store digital information. OneNote has several options for storing information found on the internet. You can send the page directly to OneNote using a widget in the tools drop down menu (or at least that’s where mine lives). The disadvantage to this is that the formatting is almost always guaranteed to be so wonky that it’s nearly impossible to distinguish what the heck you found so useful about the page in the first place. I was going to add an awesome little screenshot at this point, but Blogger has defeated my will to live and so you’ll just have to explore a little on your own to find this widget.

Another option, and the one I use the most, is the copy and paste method. You can copy anything and paste it into ON and it automatically generates a link to the page where the information came from and tags it with the date and time. This has come in handy on more than one research paper I’ve had to write for school. My sources cited list isn’t half the pain in the butt it used to be.

The last way for getting internet information into ON is to capture a screen shot. There might be easier ways to do this out there, but until I started using ON I used to have to hit the “Prt Scr” button, open an image editing program, Ctrl-V to paste and then crop it into something usable. At the very least we are talking about a process that took a couple of minutes and if I were trying to capture a lot of screen shots then it might take hours. Not fun.

OneNote has a built in feature for capturing screen shots. Windows key-S and the entire screen goes semi opaque and you use your mouse to draw a rectangle around the part you are planning to keep. It then automatically saves the image (with dated link) in the “Unfiled Notes” tab. You can then move it to whichever notebook you’d like to keep it in. And as an added bonus, you can save the screenshot image to your hard drive as a usable image in it’s own right. It was how I took the screen shot I nearly included with this post.

I have hobbies outside of writing. I’m actually something of a (really really) amateur artist. I do some scrapbooking and mixed media collage. In addition to piles of books and magazines that I buy for inspiration, I follow web sites and blogs dedicated to the art I enjoy creating. OneNote is the perfect way to organize the images that really speak to me. A quick screen cap and I not only have the image I want, but also a handy link and date so that I can find the original context again. Please remember when doing this not to violate any copyright laws. Using images for inspiration is ok, using them in your own work and claiming them as your own is not, whether you make a profit or not.

Since this is starting to get really wordy, I’m going to wrap this post up and make another post about how I actually use ON for prewriting.


Filed under writing