Tag Archives: Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery

3 Wildly Creative Outlines for Writers

 Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

But I hate outlines!

No, we’re not talking an outline with numbers and letters and 13 levels of indention.  That’s linear stuff.  It’s so old school.

We’re talking about how to harness the power of our nonlinear brains, our creativity, our sparks of inspiration and our leaps of understanding.  How do you make sense of that on paper?

By using wildly creative outlines, of course.

Mind Maps

Most of you already know about mind maps.  It’s a way of taking notes and learning, but also a way of organizing a tsunami of thought (the brainstorm) that’s visual, colorful, and full of POW.

mind map

Tony Buzan camp up with Mind Mapping in the late 1960’s, and his resources are still the best around.   How to Draw a Mind Map.  A sampling of available tools.


A timeline is an invaluable thing for novelists as we often need to know exactly who is doing what in every, single scene, over the entire length of story-time.


In some genres, this is an incredibly complex task, as you’re juggling dozens of characters, each acting independently, over days or even years.

But even more important to the logic of a novel is to capture who KNOWS exactly what at each critical moment in time.  And often what a character thinks he or she knows isn’t even true.  So, based on events so far, what does he or she they know?

Now do that for each character in every scene AND for all the scenes that actually happen off stage.  Often characters are buy plotting against each other and the reader doesn’t see what’s happening, only the effects on down the line.

Well, the writer has to see what’s happening!  We’re not the god of our universe for nothing!

So, for this type of complexity, you need a timeline that allow you to capture overlapping data.

What makes this a creative way of outlining is the way you can visually see how things overlap while factoring in time.

  • Take a look at MIT’s open-source SIMILE widgets, specifically Timeline.
  • Documentation here.  “There is no package to download. These widgets are hosted on simile-widgets.org. All you need to do is link to them in your web page. That’s it.”

IDEA:  You probably have a website (even if you call it a blog).  Create a page that is either hidden or secured by password (very easy to do in WordPress).  Insert the Simile Timeline widget on this page.  Then go to town!

BONUS:  You can use Timelines to try out ideas and see if things work!  It’s a clever way of inserting a new idea, and then tracking the ripple effect that it generates.

The Critical Path

Are all events equally important?  Does every character and every scene hinge on each event or only some… or one?

Welcome to the concept of the Critical Path.

critical path eggs

There are thousands of events in a novel, and yet they don’t all have the same importance (weight), and that’s important to novelists.

Related to the issue of importance is “what must happen in order of this event to occur?” and “what can happen now that this event is complete?”  This is the essence of cause an effect, action and reaction.

It’s these questions that lead you to PLOT.  Plus, in novels these events also intersect with character goals, motivations, conflict, backstory, and so on.

You need to know all this.  But more importantly, you need to play with all this.

Most software that is aimed at finding the Critical Path falls under the topic of Project Management, and uses Gantt charts to visual show tasks.

excel-gantt-chart-MF_large Nothing sucks the fun out of writing more than a Gantt Chart.  And I don’t necessarily recommend this type of project software because of the learning curve.  However, if charts and columns are your thing, go for it.  (A good place to start is to grab an Excel temple.)

Instead, I recommend using your non-technical set of markers, a sense of humor, and a piece of paper.

Here are some examples for inspiration:

The Plot of The Princess Bride via MyLiteraryQuest

(see large here):


J. K. Rowling’s Plot Notes via Jacqui Murray’s WorldDreams:

handwritten plot notes

Finding your plot and critical path using a rug (with horizontal lines) and post-it notes via Jason Webster’s Blog.

postit note plotting

Free Project Management Critical Path software.

More Resources for Creative Outlines:

Mother Of All Visual and Creative Mapping Sources.

Periodic Table of Visual Organization and Maps

clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

5 Outrageous Ways Writers Change The World

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

Just for today, let’s be outrageous.


Let’s find everything within us that is wild and improbable, that is fantastic beyond imagination, and let’s use it to elevate our writing.  To seize the moment.  To be the writers we were meant to be.

Let’s realize, just for today, that we have the ability to use words so that no reader walks away unchanged.

“What?  Are we in the business of changing people?”

Only if you think writing something worth remembering is your calling.

Only if you care about your reader.

Only if you believe it’s possible for humans to change and grow and that this means you, too.

Because, really, how do you think they do that, that change and grow thing? Is it by thinking the same thoughts over and over?  By taking the same actions?  By seeing the world in the same way?  By feeling only what they’ve felt before?

No, no, a thousand times no.

In the world of change, writers burn bright.

We are among the few who are allowed inside the mind and hearts of complete strangers. We change the world one page at a time, one reader at a time.

We go in there and use their own imaginations to create a reality (guided by our words) they have never experienced until they read what we have written.  They “see” what we write, entire worlds not just words.  Their bodies respond with real chemical changes.  We can even change how they breathe.

That’s some heady stuff.

But I think most writers waste this opportunity to change the world.  They retell stories we’ve heard before, with only slight variation.  They write what we already know.  They forget that the first person to change is themselves.

Imagine writing something that expands you?  You are your first audience, right?

So back to being outrageous.  The point is that writing is powerful stuff, and it’s easy to slip into meeting writing deadlines, getting the story told, and getting a check mark.

A good way to kick yourself in the butt is to be outrageous.  On purpose.  Outrageously amazing writing will get you a little bit closer to that heady stuff.

5 Outrageous Ways To Focus Your Writing and Change the World

#1 Write Outrageous Moments

You know the ones.  It’s what you’ll forever remember after you’re done reading and why you clip the article, save the book, and underline the passage.

It’s that one scene that will forever be frozen in your memory..

The moment you see the hidden web of connection.

The illuminated conclusion.

The conversation that changed the trajectory of all action to come.

The moment that your breathing changed.

#2  Write Outrageous Characters

Give us a new myth, a new version of who we are or could become.

Show us that part of ourselves that we wouldn’t look at if we had a choice.

Make us realize we are more complex than we thought possible. Scare us, heal us, amaze us, or leave us shocked.  But above all, mesmerize us through the lens of character.

#3  Uncover Outrageous Truths

Don’t stop writing until you do.  Until you have told a truth, you have only flung words onto the page.  Nice words. Well behaved. Pseudo-deep and full of empty spaces held together with twine and half-hearted glue.

#4  Take Outrageous Risks

As a writer, you need to feel the brisk and ice-cold wind of near death.  Safe prose, workable scenes, they don’t change anything or anyone.

Take a risk and let your brave face take the onslaught of cutting ice and jagged, wild expression, that razor-sharp prose with teeth.  You’ll feel alive and so will your reader.

#5  Find the Outrageous Ending that is Greater than the Sum of the Words.

Go somewhere important.  Blow our doors off.  Realize what your subconscious was telling you as your wrote everything that came before, and then write it with everything you’ve got.

The reverberation will be something to behold.

And today, you’ll have been outrageous.

clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

5 Reasons You Need Another Writer’s Brain

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

It’s a mindset.

One of my long-time writing friends flew in for a long weekend of Being a Writer.  It’s not just an event, it’s a mindset.

writinggroup - nadar

You know what I mean?  It’s special when you’re with other writers, brainstorming and talking over the juicy aspects of craft for the sheer pleasure of geeking out on Being A Writer.

Some spouses can do this for us.  Writer stand-ins.  But not many. 

I mean, how many hours can they stay enthralled with the many nuances of point-of-view or the thesis topic “storytelling is essential to human existence”?

Not that many.

Us?  As long as we breathe.

And we’re better for it.  Better in our work, and better in our head, too, which is the source of everything.

Let’s face it; we think for a living. The end result is words on the page (web or print), but the method is all in our heads.

Simply speaking, we are brilliant.

Being brilliant is our stock and trade.

And yet most of us work alone, and it’s darn hard to be brilliant (or feel brilliant) without another writer-brain to ignite the fire.

So, here are 5 reasons you need another writer’s brain

1. The Stillness of Logic

.We can convince ourselves, “sure that works,” when, in fact, it does not.  We have stretched, pulled, and ripped the fabric of credulity, yet we’re clinging to our personal need for ‘it’ (the writing equivalent of ‘x’) to work.

Another writer can throw out the life preserver (‘cause we’re in our own ocean of thought, far, far from shore), and reel us back in.

2. Outrageously Better

There is a point where we have come up with our best.  Our good-as-we-can.  But when placed in the room with another writer, we discuss it like it’s a real thing, except now it’s illuminated by two brains, not just one.  And it’s that simple. 

As we hash it over, we own the entire universe of two brains.  We explore the best thing ever:  new terrain.

You see, it’s not just what’s written.  It’s pretty much everything that has now or ever will exist.  And then… suddenly there’s a doorway to a parallel universe, too. Suddenly, things are Seuss-i-fied.  Oh, the place we’ll go.

It take a fellow traveler to hold the door open for us to see what is hidden and beyond.  Hint, It’s hidden from us.  How can we see it?

And that is how we make things outrageously better.  Normal is our world.  Better is the universe.  Outrageous is what is beyond that.

(I think I’m implying that writers may be time-travel portals, but that’s the subject of another article.)

3. Shoved Off-Balance

Being shoved off-center, losing our balance, is the most creative thing another writer can do for us.

Without realizing it, we fight to keep our sense of level, to keep our writing world plumb.  We seem to automatically make our thoughts “exactly vertical” to fit the narrow parameters of the assignment.

But the best ideas, the ones that captivate readers, are often askew, unexpected, or what we call ‘fresh.’

Another writer can hip-check your thoughts, knock you into new thoughts.  Together, you create writing magic.. (And magic, as we all know, is a juxtaposition to order and reality… or else it wouldn’t be magic.)

4.  Sanity Check

Sometimes you just can’t get a “goodness read” on your writing.  It’s easy to edit and edit and edit, without making anything better.

You need a sanity check, before you destroy your own prose.

And you need a writer for this, because she or he can tell you why, which is often where the sanity is involved.

Does it work or not?  No matter what “you” say, why should I believe you?  It’s in the why.  And we need a why that speaks writer.

It’s one thing to hear, “Yes, this works.” 

It’s another to hear,

“Yes, this works, because it brings a beautiful parallel construction to your opening and ending scenes, and it illuminates the small heartbreaks that accompany survival.  When I read that, I knew your character would survive and had learned that she wasn’t a victim.”

Now, I believe it works.

5. Fun

Okay, you might think I’m a little simplistic here, but the reason we writers write is because we like it.  It’s satisfying and meaningful and challenging, and above all… FUN.

Yes, it’s full of angst.  Yes, it’s the hardest, most grueling thing we’ll ever do, but ultimately, it has to be fun.


Because no one is asking us to do it.  No one said, “You must go to college and become a writer.  The world can not function without electricians, doctors, police officers, and writers.”

Now we might feel that way.  For many of us it is a calling.  We do hope to make the world better.  But honestly, it’s us driving the career choice, not society and employers.

Frankly, I’ve never heard of a shortage of writers.  Or that we must outsource writing, because there’s so much demand.

* Okay, all you tech writers.  You probably are the exception. 😉

For almost every writer, it is our dream.  Our passion.  Our quest to be a writer.

So, for Pete’s sake, have fun. Cause I’ve got news for you.  Your angst, dreams, hopes, and fears will only sustain you for so long. 

Fun is eternal.

But, it’s hard to generate lasting fun all alone.  Lasting writing fun.  For that, you need another writer. Seriously, who’s going to laugh at that semicolon joke with you?  Or think 10-minute-writing-bursts are a “good time?”  Or believe critiquing and brainstorming = Par-TAY?‘

Yup, you need another writer or 12.  You just do.

And you can quote me on that.

clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

Best Writer Advice Ever: Push to Add Drama (video)

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

This hilarious, 1 minute and 46 second video explains the concept of story.  You don’t have one unless you have zee drama.


So, to sum up:

1. Push the button (inciting incident).

2. The characters shouldn’t see this coming.

3. Without ordinary people to be shocked by what happens… everyone’s in on it.  You need ordinary people.

4. Make it worse and worse.

5.  Emotional reactions are key.  Tempers should flare.

6. Marry shirtless men and lingerie-wearing women with action.  Why?  Action is drama.  Clothes and lack of clothes are just interesting.

7.Bad people doing bad things have the upper hand.

8.  You need allies.  It’s good to have someone (or a team of someones) do the right thing.

9. When it’s over, you should leave the reader in a state of WOW.

10. Drama is messy.  It’s not linear and well behaved.  It doesn’t care if you’re ready or not.   Each character has his own goals, and these goals overlap and explode against the goals of others. 

BONUS: Story, drama, life….  It’s theater.  Well-staged theater.  If you  do it right, you’ll leave your audience breathless, shocked, and thoroughly delighted.  You’ll leave them wanting more.

clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

5 Ways to Wield the Black Art of Reader Temptation (Bored Readers Rejoice!)

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

#1  Tempt your readers by paying attention to what they yearn to know next.

It’s never about what you’re trying to do as an author.  It’s not even about your story and what your characters want to do next.

Nope, it’s about creating an effect for the reader, a mental reality, and then caring enough about their reading experience to give them the story they’re hoping you’ll tell.

snake apple

If your reader grows bored, you can’t combat that by explaining what you, the author, need to “have happen in this scene.”  You can’t un-bore the reader by pointing out that your characters have to “be true to themselves.’

But you can solve boredom by  the one big truth:  it’s your job to give readers what they’re interested in.

The good news, of course, is that as a master of writing craft, you build the story in such a way as to shape their thoughts.  Their interests come from the smoke-and-mirrors you control.

#2 Tempt the reader with emotion.

If your characters don’t care, neither will your readers.

But the emotion has to be full of truth, not just a collection of clichéd expressions, not just obvious, one-note reactions.  The world is not easy.  Life takes on weight.  And no one knows themselves in simple terms. 

Readers know this, even if authors don’t.

#3 Tempt the reader with great unknowns. 

Nothing sells a story like the knowledge that there are secrets, lies, mysteries, and  really worthwhile “unknowns” that’ll be powerfully revealed.

Readers read to find out what happens next.  That in itself is a mystery.  The unknown next moment.

Every book is a mystery for the reader.  Or should be.  Otherwise, the reader isn’t even “needed” to help put the pieces together or bear witness to events.

It’s a very subtle, unconscious understanding between reader and author:  the story events require someone—the reader—to make sense of them. 

#4  Tempt the reader with the unexpected.

Readers love story.  But they need authors because they can not imagine the unexpected.  For that, they need you.

Give them the unexpected.  It’s the biggest gift you have as an author.

#5  Tempt the reader with the exceptionally well-observed detail.

The present moment is so fleeting.  It is one of the deepest realizations of being human. 

And try as we might, we can only freeze an instant for observation,  hold it still to capture its power and meaning like a photo forever blurred by motion.  And then it’s gone.

In story, we capture the immortality of human experience with the perfect, well-observed detail, with description that is so authentic it captures emotion and experience as much as facts.

That transcendent ability is the story of being human. It’s our story.  And it’s worth telling.

clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.

5 Secret Passages for Creating Amazing Characters

Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery by Diane Holmes, Chief Alchemist of Pitch University

I’m so tired of reading barely-average characters thrust into the role of protagonist and flung out on the page as someone to bond with and root for.

I'm bored

I’m done bonding with so-so characters.  And I’m starting to root for their demise.

Yeah, yeah.  They’re relatively nice.  They do the action.  They have details that fill in the blanks of their lives.  But honestly, take away the plot or the goal or the fact that they can turn into vampires or gangsters, and they are barely average at best.

Ordinary to the point of generic Good Guys.

Just faux-actors auditioning for the parts.

Author: “Oh, no, she’s wonderful!  So daring and complicated.  He’s brave and flawed and heroic.”

Ah, no.  You’ve fallen in love with your own imagination.  I assure you, what’s on the page is pretty anti-amazing. 

It’s ordinary.  It’s expected.  It’s pretty darn unremarkable.  Ask me to describe why you’re character would be interesting without the added help of a plot, and you’ll hear me say, “Well, he has brown hair, and, uh, a job as an architect, and he  seems nice to his employees.”

Not. Very. Amazing.

Want to create amazing?  Here’s how:

#1 Create a Character Capable of Amazing Thoughts.

Not talking about illogical thoughts, here.  I’m talking about characters whose minds are just fascinating to behold and explore.

Oddly enough, being wealthy or a vampire or any other “situational” characteristic isn’t that amazing.  Yeah, yeah, you want blood.  Got it.  You’ve got a big mansion, okay.  Quit bragging.

What about the wounded hero with PTSD?  Thinking about stress.  Yeah, seen it.  The teen thinking about hating school?  Boring.

Give us a mental landscape we haven’t see before.

#2 Who Talks About Amazing Things.

If you’re thinking amazing thoughts, then what you choose to talk about and how you embrace the subject should be, uh, amazing, too.  Obvious, I know.

#3  In an Amazing, Singular Voice.

It used to be enough to write the character who said the things we wish we could say if we weren’t so polite. But now everyone is pretty much saying what’s on their minds in all its snarky-glory.

So, that’s not enough. Besides, all snark sound pretty much alike.

Create a character’s voice that is so rich, singular, and amazing, that we readers can’t wait to hear it.  And when the books is done, find we’re accidentally talking to our spouses in that same voice.

It freaks us out and makes us want to read the book all over again.

#4 And Responds in an Amazing, Mesmerizing  Fashion.

Characters are either acting or reacting.  It’s stimulus and response. 

So, dazzle me, baby.  Delight me.  Give me a character whose responses are logical, believable, and yet wholly breath-taking, original, and amazing.

#5 And is Changed in Amazing, Unanticipated Ways.

Let me see what your characters become, how they unfold, and please-oh-please let it be worth watching. 


clip_image004Diane writes two alternating columns for Freelance-Zone:Fiction-Zone: Leaps in Fiction Mastery and Marketing-Zone:Marketing-Zone: Marketing Yourself and Your Book.