Plot Outline and Synopsis

Writers are said to be either plotters or pantsers. Meaning either that they plan out the chapters in their stories ahead of writing, or they write by the seat of their pants—with little or no advance planning.

If you are a plotter, knowing about using a plot outline is essential. A plot outline is a thorough summary including the basic plot twists in each chapter. It is written before you write your book and is used to guide your writing to completion. It is much longer than your synopsis will be.

Both plotters and pantsers will need to write a synopsis which summarizes without giving away all of the details of the plot. It is written after you finish writing your manuscript. In it, be sure to include what is unique about your story and/or characters. 

Remember, the synopsis will be used to pitch your story to agents and publishers. Use your plot outline to get you to a satisfying end.


Only One Rule?

I have just returned home from an amazing Christian Writing Conference in Tempe, Arizona.

If you’re a conference goer, you know they schedule guest speakers who inform and motivate. Everyone needs a “shot in the arm” now and then!

Writers are constantly barraged with rules and they can be tough to learn. And the rules keep changing.

That’s part of the appeal of writing conferences—to learn new techniques and make connections with other authors. Helping each other muddle through is key.

At the end of conferences, there is usually time to wrap things up, evaluate, and do pre-planning for the following year.

In today’s wrap up, J. Tronstad said something memorable—something everyone is likely to remember for a long time. I truly do not know if this statement is “original” to her or if she was quoting someone else. But I do know it got a lot of laughter and head nodding. 

So, here you go. Something to brighten your day: ”There’s only one rule to writing. Unfortunately, no one knows what it is.”

Confessions of a Hybrid

A “pantser” is a person who writes by the seat of their pants. He writes with little to no advance planning of plot, characters, and so on. A “planner” does just the opposite. He/she plans out the plot, the scenes, the character arc—all of it—in advance. 

I suppose you could call me  a “hybrid.” I have a definite beginning and ending in mind for my books. I even have a rough idea of how I am going to get there. However, as my characters develop, I really do listen to them. If they can argue a good case for any given action, I can be swayed.

I am always willing to use the delete key any time they bring a better idea forward.

Case in point: In Runaways: The Long Journey Home, Charlie and Claire convinced me to allow them to remain at the “Summer House” longer than I had anticipated. They had valid reasons why this would be essential to the plot.

I caved. They stayed.

In Will’s Last Testament, I allowed Will to remain healthy longer than I originally had written because he defended his reasoning so well. The resulting timeline is much more satisfying.

I also listen to my critique partner and writing group. If they say they are confused by a scene or they don’t understand a character’s motivation, for instance, I reread my submission to myself and usually decide they are absolutely right. They are my “voices of reason” when I get so caught up in the story and so close to the characters that I cannot be impartial.

I’m a self-professed hybrid: a “plantser.” How about you?

A Bouquet of Ideas




I have a long list of book titles on my computer—ones I have created and dream of writing. I have a folder chocked full of appealing pictures… ideas for future book covers. I have—well, you get the picture.

I have alphabetized them, categorized them—even ranked them. I have also written a beginning paragraph to go with many of them so I won’t forget the meaning behind each title/and or cover.

It may be just another useless exercise, or they may end up serving a future purpose. It’s something I enjoy doing and, it might turn out to be of even more value to me than watching old sitcoms. 

Whether you are looking online for cover ideas, intriguing fonts, or interesting trivia, do some planning up front. Find a few jewels—pearls, my mother would say—and store them away for future reference.

That’s why I made several folders for just this purpose. I keep them on my desk top where I have easy access. Then, when something fascinating pops up, I simply have to drag and drop it into the appropriate folder. There it is, preserved for just that perfect occasion when I need it.

No more scrambling around at the last minute. No more anxiousness when things aren’t coming together as I’d hoped.

I have lists of ideas from as long as ten years ago. I keep all of them because there just may be a few that I find useful someday in the future. They are little seeds. Some of them may never poke their heads above the soil. Others may grow into beautiful flowers.

I think a bouquet would be lovely.


Flash Fiction Tips



Some reminders before you put pen to paper:

1. Flash fiction shouldn’t be more than 1,000 words.

2.  It is NOT easy to get a whole short story into so few words. It requires a lot of PLANNING and EDITING.

3.  Writing Flash Fiction often takes MORE time than longer works.

4.  Focus on the small moments that shape bigger ideas, rather than on the big ideas.

5.  A good idea is to base Flash Fiction stories on things readers already know, such as myths and fairy tales, for example.

6.  To get your word count down, leave out dialogue attributions and in-depth descriptions.

7.  Focus on one central idea.  

Next week, we’ll finish off the series on Flash Fiction by sharing where you can go to read some good examples of Flash Fiction.

Fashionably Late

And there’s more…

Repetitious words.  Overuse of exclamation points.

Now another problem needed to be solved—and here is why time spent in planning before writing can be invaluable:

I found that the last line of one of my chapters said something to the effect that “Snow began to fall.” However, it was raining in the next chapter. Big trouble. I had to do a lot of rewriting to those two chapters to make sure the weather was identical.

This will be the same for your writing. If it is snowing in chapter four, then it had better be snowing in the following chapter (that is, of course, if your next chapter follows the first one, consecutively).

If your character is wearing a T-shirt and shorts, then the next paragraph cannot have him shrugging off his coat.

You can save yourself a lot of work if you will plan these things out– down to the minutest detail before you write because it’s not as easy to fix as you might think.

It won’t be just a matter of substituting one word (rain) for the other (snow). No, what about the characters’ physical and emotional reactions to the weather (He shivered…) or the fact that they probably wouldn’t be playing tennis in the snow?

I found it to be, quite literally, a house of cards. Maybe Dominoes resting on each other would be a more accurate description. Just one tiny push—one small mistake—and it all comes tumbling down…

While we are ever-so-briefly touching on planning, I suggest that you keep a chart of some kind with the character’s name, followed by their physical description, age, eye color, etc. Nothing is more disconcerting to a reader than to find the character’s eye and hair color are constantly changing.

I guess what I am saying is that, as writers, we need to be at the top of our game. It is embarrassing to look at a proof and see gigantic mistakes staring right back at you. (I literally hit my forehead with the heel of my hand and said, “Duh!)

If you have to slow down and miss a deadline, then so be it. Better to be late than produce a book riddled with mistakes.

You may think, “I’ll just leave these things to my editor to sort out and clean up for me.”

That would be a big—and foolish mistake. I had my book edited twice and I still found mistakes on the twelfth read through!

That’s right. I had competent editors, about eight months apart, go through my manuscript. Still, content mistakes were found as I read through them later.  Part of the reason, I think, is that they don’t—and will never—know the story like I do. Or, maybe they just get caught up in the story. I’m really not sure.

But, the point is this: Ultimately, it is your book. The buck stops with you.

So, be diligent. Be a perfectionist. Make it the best it can be.

Even if, like me, you end up being fashionably late.