A good “how to” book for writers by K.M. Weiland

Due to having shingles in my right eye, I read very little in May and the first half of June; therefore, I decided to wait until July to blog about what I read in May and June. It’s a short list. In fact, I only read one complete book during that time. I will write about it today and save the three novels I’m reading until my “What I read in July” blog in August.

The first week in May I read Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland. The book surprised me in that it went into all aspects of writing a novel all woven together as they pertain to the outline.

In the book’s introduction, Ms. Weiland states, “Craft is all about organization, and that’s where the outline — the map — becomes so important.” She points out that outlines can help a writer determine point of view. She says that each writer must discern what methods of outlining or organization work best for him or her. An outline can take various forms from the formal outline we were taught in school, to notes, to a bunch of Post-It Notes. I found this reassuring, since the very word “outline” has struck fear in my heart since the third grade.

Ms. Weiland’s book goes well beyond the outline. She devotes one chapter to “Crafting Your Premise.” She defines premise as “a single sentence that conveys the plot and the theme.” Once the premise is established, you can start putting ideas and scenes on paper. As the outline takes shape, she says a writer should keep in mind things such as “motive, desire, goal, conflict, and theme.”

She addresses character backstory in Chapter Six. She gives a wonderful example. If you give a character a scar, you must know how he got the scar and why. Although most backstory will not make it onto the pages of your novel, you — the author — must know the backstory because it influences the character’s personality and how she or he reacts to conflict. She writes in some detail how an author should write backstory, keeping in mind that the reader is not very interested in what happened before the book but is generally much more interested in what’s going to happen next. A good writer knows how to strike a balance.

Ms. Weiland says that about a fourth of the way into the story, there must be an inciting event that changes the protagonist forever. She writes, “This event shapes your character’s existence throughout your book.” This statement made me immediately look at my manuscript for The Spanish Coin. The inciting event in my manuscript occurs about 15% into the story, so that might be something I will need to adjust.

Chapter Seven of Ms. Weiland’s book is devoted to the recommendation that you interview each character. By asking your characters probing questions you will discover secrets they hold, their beliefs, and what they are passionate about. Having this information will help you write multidimensional characters. Sample questions are included. I found the sample questions helpful.  Many of them, such as, “Does he like his name?” I wouldn’t have thought to ask.

Ms. Weiland also goes into detail about the importance of setting and how to make the setting come alive for the reader. In fact, she writes, “If you can bring the setting to life as a character in its own right, you’ll be that much closer to creating a story your readers will never forget.”

I don’t want to steal Ms. Weiland’s thunder or run the risk of quoting too much of the book here. Suffice it to say that I highly recommend Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success. I have only hit some of the highlights of this nuts and bolts book about how to write a novel.

Since this blog post turned into a book review of sorts, I will state that I was not asked to review the book and I am in no way being compensated for giving it a positive review. I wish I had read it before I started writing the manuscript for my hope-to-be-published historical novel, The Spanish Coin!

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