Week 11 Report: Prepare for Beta Readers (And write write write)

writers-blockBy Ani Johnson

We have left the stages of lectures and discussions and hit the home stretch. The realization that we need a lot of pages, and possibly not enough words to fit those pages.

With all the partials getting turned in soon, we discovered just what we need to work on this week, which I think ended up being different for every person in the fishbowl. And will probably be different for those of you outside it.


Have you been writing? Did you find the place you need to write? I sure hope so. Sometimes you need to realize that your writing time is the most important part of your novel. This week we start Beta Groups, and I’m the second story we’ll be critiquing. While most, if not all but me, in our class are handing off the start of a novel, I’ve continued one that I have been working on for a while. I started “Part 2” of it this semester, and it’s all coming together today.

This is the moment where I think you need to learn to appreciate having a beta reader who will know your work from start to finish. I discovered that there was a lot of exposition in Part 1 of my novel, and I don’t know if I got it all in a synopsis.

I would highly suggest taking the time to write your own synopsis for your story. It makes you look at the really important parts of a novel – I had to pick and choose what was important, so that I didn’t overwhelm my beta group with pages. I needed 20 to 40 pages of Part 2 – the synopsis of Part 1 couldn’t count for any of them!


If you find a beta reader who is also a writer, give them the courtesy of being their beta reader too. There were two more stories I read that will be sharing critique time with me, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. They aren’t polished – but neither is mine. However, reading someone else’s work has given me a chance to think “Oh yeah, this needs work… And I do that too, I should remember to work on that.”

I think reading rough drafts of other authors probably help me in my writing as much as reading published books.

Learning Activity

Take a look at the genre you like to write. Personally, I love creating Fantasy. I’m a world builder – I think in big pictures. Working with my beta group – all of us creating fantastical and not of this world stories – has been an interesting experience, because it is really rare that you find a classroom that actually has that happen. For the most part, you get paired up with whoever.

When searching for beta readers, and fellow writers, find those who have a similar genre to yours. They understand the tropes, the clichés, and the problems of your writing more than someone who writes a different genre.

No offense to my writer friends who don’t write fantasy, but sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to dump world building into a story when you don’t have to do it very often.


  • Find a beta group
  • If possible, those beta readers should be on a similar genre to your writing.
  • Remember to return the favor and be willing to be a Beta Reader for someone else.
  • Try writing a synopsis for your story to see where the important information is.
  • Let your beta readers start from the beginning – not Part 2.

What I learned

  1. I think, once my story is complete, I need to find friends who would be willing to be beta readers. I am dubious of how well of a critique I can receive when I’m missing major character developments from part 1.
  2. Having a novel being critiqued is a lot more nerve wracking than any critique I’ve been through yet.
  3. Beta Readers who are also writers is great, because I can share the really bad writing days with them.

Week Eight Report: Storyboarding

Lindsay Gregg reports on Week 8 from *her own blog* 123writewithme. Thanks Lindsay!

1, 2, 3 ... Write With Me.

Okay everyone, we’re done with Week Eight.

That means we have eight weeks to go and have logged countless hours of writing amounting to at least 12,000 words.  Everything we’ve done so far is starting to turn into something.  At this point, for most of us, that something is messy and in need of an organizational override.

This is also the point where many, especially myself, get discouraged and feel overwhelmed by the plethora of words and possibilities and the fact that all of these words and possibilities no longer fit into the hopeful little box you had imagined for them.

The best advice we’ve heard so far is to go on.  Muddle through.  Do whatever it takes to get words on a page, but at this point words on a page just won’t cut it.  As my professor, Cathy Day, put it last week—being a writer is like having…

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Week 5 Report: Plot and Structure

plotBy: David Connors

Let’s talk about plot and structure. We all have to deal with them sooner or later. They’re the engine to our story, the way we put our ideas into motion and thread them all together.  It’s different for every writer. Just like music you have the melody and lyrics, writers have plot and dialogue. Some go dialogue first, some go plot.

Also, remember that a lot of this advice comes from Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook.

“Begin every story in the middle. The reader doesn’t care how it begins, he wants to get on with it.”
Louis l’Amour


The plot creates the pace of the novel by building to external turning points, inner turning points and high moments. A good novel plot is multi-layered, meanings lots and lots of the external and internal turning points. External turning points are things that change within the story, internal turning points are things that changes inside your character or characters. Within these turning points there needs to be conflict that they connect and build to the plot and the characters. The conflict needs to be

  • Meaningful
  • Immediate
  • Large scale
  • Surprising
  • Not easy to resolve
  • Must happen to people for who we (the readers) feel sympathy

If you want and feel it make the central conflict as deep and as bad as it can possibly be.

Learning Activity

Look through your story and at the end of each chapter identify the external and internal turning points and connect them to the main structure of the plot. Then either draw it out, write it out with bullet points, or color code the events and how they are connected. By doing this you will be able to identify and mark your plot in a simple skeleton sketch of the story.

See if your plot is similar to any of the story types or plot structure types.

Four Story Types

Four Plot Structures

Another way to look at a plot structure is:

The Balance. The Unbalance.

Quest for Resolution.

The Climax. The New Balance.

Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories (Watch This!)


So when you’re having trouble with the plot, where to go, what to do or just where to start when you find yourself at a dead end try these tricks to freshen up the writing process while also developing the plot more. They’re from Ben Winters, author of The Last Policeman. We talked about them here, too.

  • What are the conflicts of my book?
  • Are there any unexpected consequences?
  • Complicate the needs and wants of your characters.
  • Create consequences that branch of their needs and wants.
  • Switch Point of View at the high points.
  • Stretch the tension.
  • Flashback into your characters background.
  • Skip time forward.
  • Boomerang the plot. Return to things that you threw out earlier.
  • Tell the story of the story to your bestfriend.
  • Work on parts of the story that seem exciting and interesting to you at the moment.

Also, don’t be scared to make these particular things happen within your plot. They are cheesy and you see them everywhere but when reading a story these are some things that make the novel real and help connect the reader to the plot and story.

Cheesy High Moments!

  • Forgive someone!
  • Sacrifice something!
  • Sacrifice herself/himself!
  • Change direction in life!
  • Face moral choice!
  • Die!

And like I said above connect the readers to the characters and make them want to read more.

Think Primal

  • Deny to the characters- Food, Shelter, sex, protection of loved ones.
  • Keep the outcome in doubt by making failure seem likely.
  • Plot often feels like plodding. This then this then this happens. So when the weaving the plot feels old don’t be scared to throw something new and to freshen up the plot and you’re mind.

What I Learned/Figured Out This Week

1. Get into your plot or the action of the story early. Readers do care about what happens before the action starts but they care more about the plot and action of right now more.

2. Give your story as many external and internal turning points as you want. Build and stretch the tension. It doesn’t hurt to complicate the journey through the novel. Keep the reader on their toes with external turning points.

3. If you need to write or draw out the plot and all the turning points within your story to help visualize what’s going on and keep it clean, tidy and concise so not even the writer gets confused.

Week 1 Assignments: Type of Novel I Want to Write

Here’s an example of how you could use your weekly novel-writing journey to get your blog off the ground or perhaps give it a kick start. It’s not about sharing the actual words you write. It’s about sharing the experience with others. Gail is one of the 71 people “following” this blog from outside the fishbowl. She works at BSU, she’s an awesome photographer (she took my author head shots), and as far as I know, she’s never tried to write a novel before.

Gail is Writing

Okay, I’ve really struggled with this. The notion of coming up with characters I want to live with and follow for the next few months (or longer). And then, the notion that anything I possibly come up with is….well, kind of lame.

I’m thankful I have my photography career—and the resulting blog(s) that have charted that journey from the early days to where I am now—to remind me that, like anything, this is going to be a process. A process that is going to involve a lot of failures and overall sh-t before it gets better and/or easier.

So I’m just going to jump in. This story may end up being weak. The characters may suck. The plot may fall apart, but at least I’ll have made the attempt to create something in long-form. That’s more than I’ve ever done before.

Here’s where I’m thinking about going (with ALL of…

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Artist vs. Editor: The Battle of Outlining

by Chase Stanley

Throughout the span of my creative writing experience, I’ve fallen under the impression that my writing style has reflected that of a pantser, a “no outline” person. Upon reading a segment written by James Scott Bell about plotting systems, I’ve learned that this is indeed true, though there is a certain grey area that has been opened for analysis.
            As detailed in his chapter on plotting systems, Bell discusses both techniques, that of developing an outline pre-writing, and that of winging it. As he describes it, “no outline” people “love to frolic in the daisies of their imaginations as they write. With nary a care, they let the characters and images that sprout in their minds do all the leading. They follow along, happily recording the adventures.” He describes the joyous act of writing by the edge of your seat with the metaphor of falling in love every day, an emotion I often feel when typing up a storm. I type quickly, randomly, nonchalantly and without a care. He then addresses the other side of said approach, the insecurity that results without a steady roadmap and a potential danger of never hashing out a sturdy plot.
            I’ve yet to ever give this threat proper thought, choosing instead to rely on instinct and freshness rather than appropriate structure. This quickly grew into concern, but Bell reassured me that neither the organized, outline style nor the winging it style are wrong. It merely depends on the individual and the varying degrees of comfort therein.
He describes different approaches that every writer can benefit from, yet encourages everyone to try out different styles for the sake of their work. By reviewing these techniques, I’ve found that I am more a mix of the two, leaning more so on the winging it side though able to construct my own system that will benefit my individual needs as an aspiring author.
Similar to the system he outlines for “outline people,” I do prefer reviewing material in hard, paper copy instead of giving myself a headache spending countless hours on the computer where, after awhile, the words begin to blend and appear the same. I enjoy physically going through my work, pen in hand, and editing the old-fashioned way before returning to the computer and making the changes. Bell also notes in the same section that flexibility is key and you must always be ready for “bursts of genius.” I often prepare ahead of time for said “bursts,” making a habit of carrying a mini-notebook in my back pocket, allowing myself to be flexible wherever I may be.
With that said, attempting to stay completely organized, at least in my experience, is feat not worth the headache. Before long, the storyboard will have proven itself too confusing and another hassle to hurdle. I’m fueled by the guarantied randomness of chaos. For the “no outline” people (aka my kind of people), Bell recommends setting a daily quota and not allowing yourself to do anything else until you meet said quota. A challenging request for us spontaneous, spur of the moment types, but a necessity for the sake of accomplishment.
My prior method has always been a bloody battle between my inner artist and inner editor. They constantly engage in combat though the artist, a stubborn warlord, usually wins out. I need to better establish a sense of control, allowing the artist to run wild then shutting him down, thus allowing the editor to approach the battlefield and clean up with no interference. It has always proven to be a difficult transition, though it may be possible by incorporating the best of both styles.

To Outline or Not to Outline? That is the Question.

Rianne Hall

There are three rules in writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
W. Somerset Maugham

There are outline people and no-outline people in the world of writing. Planners and pantsers. And the truth is, both have been successful. But which one are you? How do you figure this out? Is there a right and wrong, here?

Upon reading a few chapters from James Scott Bell’s book, Plot and Structure, I have discovered a few things about outline and not outline people. Not outline people enjoy the act of writing. They enjoy the whimsy of letting their writing take them wherever it feels they need to go. They love not knowing where they are going, and can’t wait to see what happens. Outline people are different. They need a structure and to be in charge of where their writing takes them.

Here is the man without the plan,
Ray Bradbury.
R.I.P 😦

Since the beginning of my writing experience, I have been a pantser. I have always gotten a thrill from beginning with an idea, developing a character, and letting my imagination go wild. The outcome of this story is a surprise, even to me, and I love that part of being a pantser. I’m discovering, for me, this technique only works for stories that are shorter than ten pages.

As I begin to think of myself as a novelist, this is not the case. I need to have an idea of where my characters have come from, where they are going, and where they will end up. I need a method to change my characters or move them from one place to the other. I have to develop some sort of outline to get myself started.

But this does not make me a planner.

I still need that thrill of mystery when my characters take me somewhere I did not expect. I still need a surprise in my stories. If this does not happen, I lose my love for writing. I lose interest in my story and hate myself for letting that happen. At the same time, I need a general plot. A plot that will keep me writing, intrigued, and, most importantly, keep me focused on where I want my characters to end up. So where is the balance? I’ve come to discover that planning does not need to take away the thrill of mystery and surprise with writing, but rather give order to those surprises.

Something I have discovered works wonders for me is to skip around, and plan different plot points with whimsy. Do not pay attention to how this is all going to come together and the end, but develop each main plot aspect you want to include with zeal. Then, I understand where each plot point is going, and when all is said and done, I really do not know how these plots will interact, or even if they will make sense. To me, that is why we edit our pieces.

Am I a pantser? Sort of. Am I a planner? Maybe.

Here is my point. Do not define yourself as either an planner or a pantser. Do both! Have methods, not labels. Have experiences and learn from them. If you do this, I promise you will be happy with your writing style.

The Labyrinth and the Key

By Adam Gulla

For some, plotting is a labyrinth.
                Plot. A simple word cherished by some and hated by others. One writer’s heaven, another writer’s expressway to hell.
                For some, plotting is a labyrinth–a confusing and complicated web that brings about the death of a story like victims of the Minotaur, as the Greek myth goes. For others, plotting is the key that unlocks the story from the shackles of aimlessness. Plotter vs. pantser.  
                I have to say, I’ve been a bit of both, with a strong preference for plotting.
                When I was a kid and first started weaving stories that burned and blossomed in my mind like supernovas, I had no care or concern for plotting. I knew how the story started, I had an idea of how I wanted it to end, and everything else would come to me as I went along. Nothing was ever set in stone, a very liberal process. Anything could change at any point; it made no difference to me, so long as I found the story entertaining. In light of this, my tales went anywhere and everywhere. Aliens, monsters, robots, pirates, knights, alternate dimensions, time travel—anything. My creations entertained me, but it’s safe to say those free form products of my wild imagination would get a laugh and smirk if scrutinized today.
                As I got older, I added a slight touch of plotting to my process. I’d sketch a few key components of a story or a poem. I scrawled an outline or two. But that was the extent of my “story architecture” at that time. From there I let the words fly across the expanse of pages. They took my writing to many great places, and many terrible ones.      
                About two years ago I started my first “big” writing project—a spec script entitled “Cross Bronx Expressway.” As it was my first real experience writing anything of large proportions, I didn’t know where to begin. So I just started writing. After a few weeks I’d accumulated around thirty pages of scratches and scrawls and sketches and realized: this clutter needs structured. That was my first true initiative to plot. Over the next few months I had filled a binder with over 130 pages of notes and character backgrounds and scenes.
                Satisfied I had done my preparations, I wrote my first draft of my spec script. It came out to 185 pages (the average spec script running 120). Obviously, mine was too long, so I went back through and revised. After scanning my notes I figured out that I had not really plotted at all. What I’d done was slap a bunch scenes together, scenes which I’d written on the fly, with no sense of direction or structure, just a rambling story. 
                  It was then that I bought the book “Save the Cat!” It completely redefined my understanding of story structure and plot. Even though it is a book on screenwriting, I highly suggest writers look into it, as it offers sound advice that can be used in all writing forms.
“The Board,” a very useful tool in structuring my biggest projects.
                I had other screenwriting books as well (“The Screenwriter’s Bible” being one of them), but “Save the Cat!” really helped me understand the idea of a 3 act story, major plot points, and story structure. It also gave me the idea of “The Board”—a cork board I use with note cards to structure my biggest projects.
                After reading the book, I went back to work on my script, with strong attention to plotting. I nailed in an inciting incident, a mid point, etc. I laid out all the scenes, the basic idea of each one etched on a note card. I rearranged them on the board and was able to visually identify how each affected the other, what points were lacking, what segments needed polished. 
                After doing this, I sat back down to write my second draft. It came out at 115 pages. Not only was the 2nd draft crisper, the whole process was smoother and faster. Plotting helped me to achieve that.
                I have since outlined and plotted most of my projects. It helps me save time. It helps me get most of the scenes and structure right on the first attempt. I still let things go wherever they want to now and then, as it keeps the scenes and stories fresh. I never hold to the idea that everything in my stories are etched in stone, that way I’m not attached and won’t feel guilt when I have to polish or remove the faulty parts.
                There are many writers who don’t plot. Stephen King is one of them. He expresses his views in this article.
                This blog offers great insight into the advantages and disadvantages of plotting.
                Ultimately, there is no “right way.” Plotter or pantser, it’s whatever fits your writing style best. As for me, I’m a plotting convert, but I think each project can be tackled in a different way. I like to keep an open mind, and I’m sure I’ll use a combination of both throughout my writing.