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How to Make a Vision Board for Your Novel

Vision boards are a powerful tool for novelists, storytellers, and anyone who wants to change their life. It’s the perfect visual reminder of what you’re working towards, and it can help motivate you when you hit a snag or just need to brainstorm ideas.

Creating a vision board might seem daunting at first, but if you follow these guidelines, vision boards should be easy to create and update on a regular basis.

What is a vision board?

A collage of images showing book covers, a keyboard button with the word publish on it, and a man drawing a line saying "sales" going up and up.
An example of a vision board I made in the past. Do I want to publish a book, draw a bright line on glass, or bewitch a billionaire? Por que no los tres?

A vision board is a collage of images that represent a goal you’re working towards.

You can make them on paper, cardboard, corkboard, or as a digital image. Digital copies are becoming more and more popular as people spend more time on their computers, tablets, phones, or other devices.

A vision board for novelists might include pictures of characters, settings, plot elements, atmosphere (e.g. foggy London streets for a story about Jack the Ripper), or publication goals, e.g. a deadline, or a mockup of the book cover in a store display.

You do not have to be an artist to make a vision board. You can find free templates online that make vision board creation easy. I’ll show you how later in this article.

Think of a vision board like a map to the future you want. If you’re going to achieve your goals, you need to know what they are. These boards represent and help you visualize your goals, dreams, and wishes to help you create the life you imagine.

How can your dreams come true if you don’t have any idea what they are?

How can vision boards help you write a novel?

Vision boards work because they help you focus on your goal. When you see the images every day, they’ll start to influence your thoughts and actions in a positive way. Concrete, visible goals are possible goals, and when they look possible, they’re easier to achieve.

If you have a visual cue for your novel, that makes you think about it throughout the day, you’ll be more motivated to work on it when you finally have free time.

Do vision boards really work?

A vision board is not a substitute for writing a novel, editing it, or submitting it to publishers. Making one might feel like busywork or nitpicking to avoid actually writing. How can a board of pictures help in achieving…anything?

The truth is that a vision board is not enough by itself. You can’t just paste up pictures and magically have all your dreams come true. But vision boards are one tool, among many, that can help you see the future you want, or the reality you want, and focus on how to create it.

Which should I make: a physical or a digital vision board?

An image of a board with the words "I am a woman on a mission to..." surrounded by post-it notes with words like "live my best life" and "make people feel good."

The real answer: whatever is easiest and most rewarding for you. If you like making collages with scissors and glue, then by all means, make a physical vision board for your office, bedroom, closet door, or other private space.

If you have a bullet journal, a sketchbook, or a notebook you use to outline your novel, you could make a vision board there.

If you have a cork board in your bedroom or office, you can use it to create a vision board with images from magazines, newspapers, or printouts. magnetic whiteboard and attach images for your vision board with magnets. Seriously, whatever works.

If you don’t have the time or materials to do this, I’d recommend using a program like Canva to create a vision board for your smartphone, tablet, or computer.

When creating vision boards, the important thing is to focus on what you want by creating a picture of the future you desire.

An okay-looking vision board that actually exists will always beat the perfect vision board that you never actually got around to making.

The same is true of novels, by the way.

Where can I find vision board ideas?

If you want to find some ideas for vision boarding in a hurry, do a Google image search (images.google.com) of “vision board” or “mood board.”

You can also do a Pinterest search for “vision board” and look at some of the results.

How do I make a digital vision board?

As long as you have an internet connection and an email address, you can start vision boarding today without any trouble.

Here’s the complete list of ingredients. To make a vision board, you will need:

  • A computer, smartphone, or tablet with an internet connection
  • Canva.com account, plus the Canva app if you’re using your phone or tablet.
  • An email address or Facebook account.

Now let’s get started.

How do I find the right template?

Log in to your Canva.com account, or create one for free using your email or Facebook login. Your home screen should look like this:

Once you’ve logged in, find the search bar at the very top of the screen and type in “wallpaper.” This will fill the screen with suggestions. The top two will usually be “desktop wallpaper” and “phone wallpaper.”

For this example, let’s use Desktop Wallpaper. You can create a wallpaper, of any size, on either the desktop website or the app.

You can look for a themed template, e.g. “spring desktop wallpapers” or “pink desktop wallpapers.”

Or, you can do what we’re going to do in this tutorial, and click on the top left result, which says “Create a blank Desktop Wallpaper.”

That will take you to this screen:

Note: if you know the dimensions for your desktop or phone screen, you can enter it by choosing “Create a design” (upper right-hand corner) and selecting “Custom size” at the bottom.

How do I edit my template?

Now it’s time to make your vision board. For this example, we’re going to use a simple grid. It’s easy and fun to make.

To find a grid, go to the “elements” tab (just underneath templates) and scroll all the way to the bottom, to “Grids.” There will be a few examples, but if you click on “more” it will pull up all the grids available.

To try out a grid, click and drag it to your blank document. The grid will automatically resize to fit your canvas. if it doesn’t look good, just click delete or backspace and try another grid.

How do I add an image to my vision board?

Now it’s time to add some images. If you have Canva Free, your image selection will be fairly limited, so you may want to find some free photos on sites like Pexels or Unsplash.

You can also make AI-genereated images on apps like Wombo Dream, Neuralblender, and Artbreeder to make images of your characters or settings in your book.

Once you’ve downloaded your image, or chosen photos from your own computer or phone, you can upload them by dragging and dropping them from your computer into Canva.

If you’re using the Canva phone app, you’ll have to upload from your phone’s gallery.

You may want to include your book cover if you have one already. If you like to design your own book covers, feel free to do so here.

For this tutorial, I created a basic image board based on one of my works in progress. It reflects the dreamlike aesthetic of the novel, even if it doesn’t show the characters or the plot. When I’m satisfied with it, I download it using the button in the upper right-hand corner.

Here’s the final product.

These images connect to my story outline, the draft I’m working on, and the dreams I have about this novel. It’s another visual cue to remind me of this work on a daily basis, even when I can’t work on it right now.

I like to save these images to a folder for Desktop Backgrounds. That makes it easier to find them later.

How do I make this my desktop/phone background?

To start, look up “change desktop background” and then your operating system, e.g. Mac OS X, Windows 11, Chromebook, etc. Same if you’re on a phone.

If you’ve been working on a desktop and want to save an image as your phone background, email the picture to yourself and download it on your phone. There’s usually an easy way to change your background from the photo gallery.

What’s the secret to creating a vision board that works?

The key to creating a vision for your novel is to be clear about its purpose. Is it supposed to reflect the mood of the story, the plot, the journey of the main character, or something broader about the story’s theme?

You may not know that when you first make your board. That’s okay. Honestly, that’s to be expected.

Just keep tweaking and working, creating more vision boards, until you create one that feels right to you.

The best vision boards will inspire you and keep you motivated to work towards a clear goal: in this case, writing and publishing a novel.

How often should I update my vision board?

I like to update my vision boards when I hit a writing milestone. For example, if I finish a chapter, finish a draft, hit a word count, or even just revise my outline.

However, I don’t make a new vision board every single time I hit a milestone. It’s more about when the mood strikes, and when it feels like a good time.

If this is too woolly for you, try creating a new vision board at the start of every month. A collage of new photos and words will help you get those creative juices flowing and help you stay focused on the novel you want to write.

Today's guest post was written by Athena Miles, and was originally published on her website. It occurs here courtesy of the author.

Seventeen on Christmas Eve, by Esme Rome (Lyrics)

you always used to joke, i always used to laugh
you made me a bracelet when i turned nine and a half
“born on christmas eve,” you said, “it tells a certain story”
“you and me,” you said, “together, we are bound for glory”
and time unfurled
and god laughed
you made me a bracelet when i turned nine and a half

we're driving through the old town, we're listening to a waltz
this is the only station in the world not playing schmaltz
we barely said a word in church, but something still survives
we're friends because we've been friends for almost all our lives
as time unfurled
to show our faults
we still have the midnight world and all those messy memory vaults

i don't know if i'll ever see you again
i don't know if i'll ever call you my friend
together we're alone, and alone we have to grieve
this is how it feels to turn seventeen on christmas eve

i always used to laugh, you always used to joke
we come up to a stoplight and you give me your last smoke
and light it as the radio turns over to another song
some cheesy Christmas holiday thing that goes on and on
and our eyes meet
and we both laugh
I've worn this bracelet since the day i turned nine and a half

i don't know if i'll ever see you again
i don't know if i'll ever call you my friend
together we're alone, and alone we have to grieve
this is how it feels to turn seventeen on christmas eve

AI Ecstasy: Profound Joy from the Unseen Dimensions

My NFT collection, AI Ecstasy, is now available on OpenSea! This set of AI-generated NFTs contains a variety of images that explore the many different forms of ecstatic experience. From everyday moments to religious experiences to drug-induced trips, these NFTs show us things we don't usually see in our day-to-day lives. If you're looking for some NFTs that offer a fresh perspective, then this is the collection for you!

I started making this collection when I created an image based on Ennio Morricone's incredible song, “The Ecstasy of Gold.” I was so pleased with the results that I decided to explore the theme of profound, wondrous experiences, for good, ill, and something beyond that.

Every NFT in this collection combines AI-generated artwork with images from history, religion, philosophy, art, music, and science. Many also include stories and surreal descriptions. Some of the NFTs in this collection include:

If you've seen the preview videos you know that some images are missing. I have more to upload in this series but this is my first full NFT collection, so I'm still learning. Hope you enjoy!

7 Creative NFT Ideas for Writers

There are many ways to use NFTs to engage with your audience, but if you're a writer, you might feel like they're not for you. After all, what can a digital asset do that a book can't?

Actually, NFTs are great tools for writers to expand the world of their story and dip a toe into the metaverse. Here are seven ideas for using NFTs with your writing:

1. Character portraits

A portrait of Mevelina, the villain from my novel The Dream Kiss. The portrait is of a young woman with light skin, sharp cheekbones, glowering eyes, and dark red hair.
A portrait of Mevelina, the villain from my novel The Dream Kiss.

Draw characters from your story world. If you're not artistically inclined, use an app like Artbreeder or Generated Photos to create a character portrait. The picture above was created with Artbreeder, for example.

If you want to make your portrait more unique, use deep art to give it a distinctive look that mirrors another artist or just doesn't look quite like anything else. You can do this for free through a variety of deep art apps, or through a website like deepart.io or loonapix. For example, here's the same portrait in a stained-glass style.

A portrait of Mevelina in stained glass. The portrait shows a glowering young woman with multi-colored hair in a stained glass style.

You can also hire an illustrator from a website like Fiverr to create an illustration. There are many very talented illustrators there available for quite reasonable prices.

2. Scenes or settings from your book(s)

In addition to making character portraits, Artbreeder can also create abstract images, landscapes, anime portraits, and much more. If you want to include some images of settings from your book, you can use Artbreeder's powerful customization features to create them pretty much how you imagine them.

NVIDIA's GauGAN scene generator uses artificial intelligence to generate an image from a basic picture or just a text prompt. For example, here is the image it gave to me based on the text prompt “mountain castle.”

You can also create basic sketches of what you want to see and let the AI try to make a photo-realistic image. For example, here is a sketch I made of some clouds above a mountain range:

And here are a couple of the resulting sketches:

Not quite what I wanted, but it does show you some of the power of this image generator. Even though there's a bit of a learning curve, it's a really good source if you want to get started making outdoor scenes, or making references for any artists you work with.

If you're looking for something a little more subjective or surreal, the app Wombo Dream can create a wide variety of images, from ordinary landscapes to surreal collages. All you have to do is enter a text prompt and choose an art style. If you want to show something of a character's mental state, or portray a world that's a little out of the ordinary realm of experience.

What can that look like? Here's an example Wombo Dream image I created while worldbuilding for my new project, Shadowfire Academy. The series is set in a magical boarding school, and I feel like this image does a good job of capturing the feeling of the academy, even if it's not strictly representational.

Here's a picture Wombo Dream created based on the name of one of my characters, Bronwen Elvis Hagen. I was surprised at how well this image captured something of the character's personality, even though her name is fairly anonymous. Maybe that's confirmation bias at work.

Any of these generated images could be an NFT without much editing, although you could use them as the base on which to create art of your own. It's up to you and your fanbase.

3. Passports to your story world

Make digital “passports” to your story world that include randomized portraits, names, statistics, or other information that's relevant. For example, if you're writing a science fiction story, you might include information about the passport-holder's home world, species, and native language in their passport.

You can also create “passport photographs” with randomly-generated images of people (or other sentient beings) who could live in your world as “background extras.” If you have a story set at a school for vampires, for example, you could create portraits of vampire students who could be at the school, even if they don't correspond to any of your characters.

4. 3D Models of characters, settings, or objects in your story.

If you know how to render 3D scenes, consider using that knowledge to you'd rather not make the scene yourselfcreate models of settings or scenes from your book.

If you don't know how to render, no problem! You can use free apps like SketchFab (there's also a Pro version for $30/year) and Daz3d to create virtual versions of scenes or objects in your story world.

5. Writing prompts.

Create tens or even hundreds of thousands of writing prompts using a fill-in-the-blank style template. For example, the bottom layer of your image could look something like this:

  • Once upon a time, there was a ______.
  • Every day, ___________________________.
  • Until _________________________________.
  • Because of that, ____________________.
  • Because of that, ____________________.
  • Because of that, ____________________.
  • Until one day, _______________________.
  • Ever since then, _____________________.

Next, you can create layers with possible answers for the fill-in-the-blanks, such as events, characters, and consequences for their actions.

If you're not sure how to create 10K+ NFTs at one go, start with this tutorial.

6. Randomly-generated background characters.

Create “passport photographs” with randomly-generated images of people (or other sentient beings) who could live in your world as “background extras.” If you have a story set at a school for vampires, for example, you could create portraits of vampire students who could be at the school, even if they don't correspond to any of your characters.

If you're not sure how to create 10K+ NFTs at one go, start with this tutorial.

7. Trading cards.

Similar to the passports above, you can create Magic the Gathering-style trading cards for your characters, for randomly-generated background extras, or for different objects in your story. Trading cards are huge in the NFT world right now, so give this a look and see if this is right for you.

What are NFTs?

A non-fungible token (NFT) is a digital asset, like an image, video, or audio file, that's stored on a decentralized ledger called a blockchain. This blockchain ledger provides a proof of ownership for the asset without restricting copies made by others.

NFTs have experienced sharp spikes and falls in popularity, with some NFTs selling for as much as an entire house. That's more the exception than the rule, so don't think you can pay off your mortgage just by uploading a picture of a duck.

However, NFTs are an exciting bridge between the art world and blockchain technology. If you're a writer, this is an area where your knowledge of storytelling could help create new types of digital assets that can be used across the web.

Conclusion

NFTs are a fun and relatively easy way for writers to create digital content that can be shared with potential readers. You don't have to be a great artist or a tech whiz to get started. What other types of NFTs do you want to make?

The Writing Prompts Master List

It's writing time! But where are all the writing prompts? They're right here, in this article, and the linked articles below. Here you'll find writing prompts for every genre from fantasy to romance to horror and science fiction.

You'll also find writing prompts for middle and high school students, short story ideas, and fill-in-the-blank story prompts. So get out that pen and paper (or open your laptop) and get started! The words are waiting for you.

Fantasy Writing Prompts

Write a story about an innkeeper in a village that gets many pilgrims, travelers, or people on quests. Who do they meet during their work? What mysteries or secrets do they uncover? What do they know that nobody else knows? Hard mode: During the story, they never leave the village.

Write a story about a young girl taken by the fae. She has to complete three tasks to earn her freedom, but she doesn't know what they are. What kind of tasks do her captors give her? How does she go about completing them? Extra twist: She willingly takes the place of a little boy, maybe her younger brother.

Write a story about an aging king on his deathbed who wants to figure out what happens when you die before he kicks it. He calls for ten of his wisest men and gets ten different answers. What answers do they give him? Which one turns out to be right?

Write a story set in a fantasy world from a cat's perspective. How does the cat describe the world s/he lives in? What does she think of the the legendary characters she meets? What do different types of magic look like to a cat? Can this cat do magic herself? Hard mode: The cat can't understand human speech, but can understand some supernatural creatures (e.g. fae, elves, goblins, etc.).

Write a story where the main character discovers a portal to a world threatened by imminent destruction. Extra twist: the protagonist is from a fantasy world, transported to today's society.

Mystery and Suspense Writing Prompts

Start a story with a suspect confessing to a murder, but their story doesn't add up. What are they hiding that's worse than murder? Who actually murdered the person? And why are they covering for them?

Write a story about two detectives investigating the murder of a senator. They have no clues, no suspects, and it seems like they'll never solve the case. But then a strange coincidence puts them on the killer's trail. Is it really a coincidence? If not, who manufactured it? Extra twist: The senator was killed because of their involvement in a secret government project, or a scandal of some kind.

Write a story about a woman who wakes up one day to find that she can't remember anything from the last five years. She has no idea what happened during that time, and her husband and friends all act like she's been gone for only days. What secrets does she uncover in her investigation of her own life?

Romance Writing Prompts

Write a love story about two people who meet at their favorite place. Explain why this place is their favorite. Maybe one of them associates the restaurant with a childhood memory, and the other just loves the ambience and food. Maybe the heroine has returned to her childhood home, and the hero lives there now. Hard mode: These two are from very different backgrounds, and seem completely incompatible at first.

Write a love story that starts in a very unromantic setting: a desert island, rush hour traffic, a smelly bus stop. What series of unfortunate events brings these two lovebirds together? Hard mode: it's the morning of their favorite holiday.

Write a story about a famous person suddenly entering a parallel dimension where they're not famous at all. The only person who remembers them entered this dimension at the same time as the celebrity, and found out that they're massively famous in their new home. What brings these two together? Hard mode: the ex-celebrity does not miss fame, and the new celebrity loves it–or vice versa.

Write a story about a time traveler who falls in love with a person from the past. Hard mode: they fall in love by writing letters, but can't physically meet each other until much later.

Write a story about two people who are forced to get married to cement a political alliance. They're from different social spheres, and their families are enemies. Why were they forced to get married? How do they fall in love? Hard mode: One of them is already infatuated with someone else.

Write a story about two good friends who fall in love. They know everything about each other and share a special bond. What changed to make them fall for each other? What challenges does their relationship face? Hard mode: One of them is moving away soon.

Write a story about a teacher who starts dating a star player from her least favorite sport. She has no idea who he is, but everyone assumes she does because he's a household name in every other household. Hard mode: Her brother is a huge fan of this sport, particularly this player.

Science Fiction Writing Prompts

Write a story about a young girl living on a space station with her parents. Her parents work on the ship, but they're killed in an accident soon after she arrives. The girl is left completely alone on the ship as it hurtles through outer space. Nobody is there to help her or show her how to operate it. How does she survive? How does she get back to Earth? Hard mode: the space station is way off course, and the girl doesn't know how to get it back to Earth.

Write a story about an alien who impersonates someone famous or important to study humans without their knowledge. Perhaps s/he's writing a dissertation on human behavior for his planet of origin. What happens when this character meets other famous people? How do they navigate this strange new world? Hard mode: the main character falls in love with a human.

Write a story about a post-apocalyptic world where the only humans left are those who have been mutated by radiation. They can't reproduce, so their numbers dwindle with each generation. One day, a stranger arrives in their settlement; somebody who doesn't look like them at all. Who is this stranger? What are they? Are there more of them? Hard mode: make this post-apocalyptic world beautiful instead of ugly. Fill it with wild-growing trees, shrubs, and flowers. What else makes it more beautiful than the world we live in today?

Write a story about an alien who regularly visits Earth in disguise. One day, the disguise fails, and the alien reveals his/her true form in front of a huge crowd. What kind of alien are they? What are the aftereffects of the ? Hard mode: They're not an alien, but a human from the future.

Write a story about a young boy who discovers her parents are actually androids. What's everyday life like for them? Why are they living in the suburbs (or a city, farm, etc.)? How does the boy cope with this revelation? Hard mode: the boy is also an android, but doesn't know it yet.

Write a story about an advanced android who is tasked with writing love stories for humans, and becomes self-aware in the process. Perhaps she becomes self-aware as she starts to actually fall in love. Or is she falling in love, or just imitating what she's read and written? What kind of stories does she write? Hard mode: the android's writing style changes during the story.

Young Adult Writing Prompts

Write a story about a jock who loves Dungeons and Dragons falling in love with a goth girl who joins the cheerleading squad. What happens when these two worlds collide? How do their friends and family react to this romance? Extra twist: the jock is a she, not a he.

Write a story about a scholarship student at an elite private school who has to decide whether or not to leak a wealthy family's secret to a journalist. What is this secret information? What would happen if she leaked it? What would happen if she didn't? What's at stake? Extra twist: She's in love with the wealthy family's son, who goes to her school.

Write a story about a girl whose favorite hobby is writing fanfiction about her favorite book. She later finds out that another author is taking her fanfiction, slightly altering them, and publishing them as her own short stories. What does she do? Who does she enlist to help her? Extra twist: the plagiarist is a teacher, a mentor, or family member writing under a pen name.

Write a story about a boy whose best friend secretly dates his ex-girlfriend. How does he react? What does he do about it? How does their friendship change? Extra twist: the boy is secretly in love with his best friend.

Horror Writing Prompts

Look around your room and pick a random object. Now make it the most important object in your next horror story. If you picked a pen, for example, how could this pen be horrifying? Maybe it writes stories of its own accord, or takes over the mind of the writer. Maybe it's cursed and anyone who holds it dies a gruesome death related to the last thing they wrote. Get creative!

Write a story where a character finds a strange diary in a box. The diary seems like it was written by someone crazy, since it's full of figurative language and descriptions of thigns that don't make sense. But every diary entry eerily corresponds to something that happens in the present day, even though the diary is over a century old. Why is this? Is the character just going crazy?

Write a story that takes place in a hospital where the patients are all zombies. The doctors and nurses are trying to find a cure, but things go from bad to worse when they realize that the virus is airborne and extremely transmissable. Hard mode: Most people outside the hospital don't believe the disease exists, and won't take the medicine that works.

Using defamiliarization, write a story about a historical event (the Trojan War, the death of Marie Antoinette, Woodstock, etc.) from an utterly strange or alien perspective.

Short Story Prompts

Write about two strangers who meet at an airport and share their life stories as they wait to board the plane.

Write about a street performer who can make anything happen with just a few words. What kind of magic does s/he perform? Why do people come to see her/him? Do they know the magic is real? Are they good or bad?

Write a story about your favorite food. Why is it your favorite? What does eating this food mean to you?

Write a story about the last time you were embarrassed.

Write about what happens when an antelope escapes from the zoo and runs loose in New York City's Central Park.

Write a short story based on your earliest memory. Try different writing styles to give different perspectives on the memory.

Look around your room. Pick an object you can see. Now write a short story based on that object.

Write a story based on one random word. It can be the first word that comes to mind, or a word from this article. Here are a few random words to get you started: orange, stretch, favorite, fruit, dog, patches.

Creative Writing Prompts for Any Genre

These prompts can work for any genre with a little tweaking.

What's your favorite movie?

Most huge blockbusters tap into universal fantasies, tropes, and themes that resonate with a broad spectrum of viewers. When you watch these movies, take note of any ideas or situations that resonate with you, and see how they could apply in another genre or type of story.

Try putting these ideas on notecards, and then draw out three notecards at random and create a new story from them. For example, if you're watching Star Wars or Harry Potter, you might draw out the following three

The B Story is the A Story

What would usually be the main story, e.g. the superhero grappling with his powers, the team fighting to save the world, etc., becomes the background story instead of the focus. The B Story, such as a love story or a character's self-discovery, becomes the focus. See “The Zeppo,” episode 3×13 from Buffy the Vampire Slayer for an excellent example of this.

Additional Tips

Writing prompts can be a great way to get started on a new project or generate new ideas when you're stuck. They can also help you to explore a new genre or style of writing. Here are a few tips for using writing prompts:

Outline

Once you have a prompt, write an outline of your story. Even if it's a simple beat sheet, an outline can help steer your course and provide writing inspiration.

Story starters are great, but an outline fleshes out the prompt and makes it your own.

Play

Try several different approaches to a story before committing to one.

Ask yourself, “What would absolutely not happen in this situation?” Then try to make that happen somehow.

Put two or more characters in the same situation and seeing what happens.

Start two stories with the same first sentence to see where they go.

Conclusion

The writing prompts in this article are designed to help you brainstorm new ideas for any genre. Whether it's a horror story or romance, there is something here that will spark your imagination. With these writing prompts and tips, we hope you'll be able to take the next step in creating stories of your own. So what are you waiting for? Pull up a chair, and start writing!

The Best Writing Apps for iPad

Welcome to my list of the best writing apps for iPad users. Many writers like iPads because they're lightweight and easy to carry anywhere. You can write with a stylus, a detachable keyboard, a Bluetooth keyboard, or an Apple Pencil. I've used these writing apps on my own iPad Pro. They make the iPad a great tool for anyone who wants to write without lugging a laptop around. With these apps, you can check your grammar, brainstorm ideas, and sketch out your latest project, whether it's a novel, a screenplay, a webtoon, or something else entirely. Let's get started with the best writing apps for putting your words directly on the page–er, screen.

The Best Writing Apps for iPad

Scrivener

Scrivener is one of the most popular novel-writing software programs, and for good reason. It's a powerful, feature-rich word processor that makes it easy for writers to organize their ideas, track their progress, and revise their work. One of the coolest things about Scrivener is that you can create and organize your novel's backstory in the same file as the manuscript. Not only can you create multiple scenes per chapter, which lets you reorganize your book very easily, but you can create character and setting profiles, add notes and research, and edit the front matter of your book. The learning curve is not as steep as you might think. When you create a new Scrivener document, all these separate sections are already organized in your Binder, waiting for you whenever you need them. Scrivener also has a built-in word processor and lets you export your work in a variety of formats, including PDF, ePUB, and Microsoft Word. Scrivener is available for Mac, Windows, and iOS. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to open the same Scrivener file across different devices. I do most of my writing on my Macbook Pro, but the Scrivener files from my Macbook never open on my iPad. However, I can easily open Scrivener files from my iPad on my Macbook. Even taking this hiccup into account, Scrivener is one of the most powerful writing apps on the market. It is optimized to meet the needs of professional writers, especially creative writers of fiction, memoir, and character-driven nonfiction.

Best for:

Novelists, memoirists, long-form journalists, and other writers of long-form writing projects, e.g. research papers, master's theses, game worlds, and interconnected short stories.

Key features:

iOS and desktop versions, light and dark mode, easy organization of manuscript, research, and story notes

Pricing:

$19.99 for the iOS version. The Mac and Windows versions both cost $49 each, or $80 for a Mac and Windows bundle. If you want to get the desktop and mobile app, the total cost is $68.99. These are one-time fees. When Scrivener releases a new version, license owners pay a reduced price for the new version. Try Scrivener

iA Writer

iA Writer is a minimalist writing app that's designed to help you focus. It offers a clean, distraction-free writing environment and comes with several features to make writing on your iPad easy and efficient. One of the things I like best about iA Writer is its Focus Mode. When you enter Focus Mode, the app hides all of your notes and formatting options, leaving you with a clean screen and a blinking cursor. It grays out every sentence but the one you're currently writing. This allows you to focus on your words without any distractions. iA Writer can also highlight certain parts of syntax for you, such as nouns, adjectives, adverbs, etc. The app can also check your prose style for redundancies, fillers, cliches, or any other custom patterns you want it to note. It is a very powerful writing tool and the perfect writing app for fans of minimalism. While using iA Writer, you can publish your work directly to Medium, WordPress (via the Jetpack plugin), Ghost.org, Micropub, or Micro.blog. All you have to do is connect your account under the “Settings” tab. iA Writer also includes a built-in word counter, iCloud support, and Markdown formatting. This app allows you to export your work in a variety of formats, including PDF, Microsoft Word document, Markdown, or HTML. You can also save your files to Dropbox through the app. All these features make iA Writer one of the most popular writing apps for the iPad. I found it difficult to import documents into iA Writer, regardless of their format. This means that it's not a great app for collaborating on a document. In order to get around this problem, you have to export the document from your Mac when it's in plaintext (.txt) format and then import it into the app.

Best for:

Bloggers, Medium writers, minimalism fans, writers who want in-line syntax highlighting (e.g. to check for extraneous adjectives, adverbs, or passive voice constructions), writers with ADHD

Key features:

Focus mode, word counter, Jetpack integration, Medium integration, syntax highlighting, style checks, multiple format exports, minimalist interface, light and dark mode

Pricing:

$29.99 for iOS Try iA Writer

Notebook

Notebook is a free and versatile note-taking app created by Zoho. This app allows you to organize your notes, sketches, audio files, documents, and images in one central app. Notebook lets you organize all your notes into separate notebooks, making it easy to keep track of different projects and ideas. You can customize the cover images on your notebooks, the background color of your notes, and save pages from the web. You can also share your notes with others via emails, messages, exported znote files, and as shareable links. This is a note-taking app, so it's probably not what you want if you're looking for a word processor or something that easily converts to docx ePUB. However, this app is very good for brainstorming and organizing your thoughts. I've been a little disappointed at Notebook's ability to handle some files. It can't open rtfd (rich text) files, which I use a lot on my computer. That said, I appreciate how easy it is to use to keep all my other notes in one place. In addition to the iPad, Notebook works on Mac, PC, Linux, and on web browsers like Firefox and Chrome. This app's cloud sync and social sign-in options make it easy to keep track of your notes across multiple devices.

Best for:

Students, multi-project writers, virtual assistants, writers who market their own work, anyone looking to keep all the notes from their projects in one app, people who keep losing their bullet journals

Key features:

Document scanning, cloud sync, easy organization, project customization, collating diverse documents and document types

Pricing:

Free Try Notebook

Google Docs

Google Docs is an online document processing platform that's available on almost every platform, including iOS, Android, the web, and as a Chrome extension. Google Docs allows you to write, edit, and send documents from your iPad. You can then access and download these documents from anywhere with an internet connection. When you're connected to the web, the documents are saved automatically for you. They're stored in the cloud so you can access them anytime you need them. Google Docs also works on nearly every platform, and connects to Google Drive thanks to the “File picker” option in the upper-right-hand corner. Google Docs allows you to collaborate with others in real time. When you share your files on Google Docs, you can create and edit documents together with your friends, family, or colleagues. If you're co-writing a book, or coordinating a group marketing promotion, this is a great way to keep everyone on the same page. You can export your Google Docs files as Word files, PDFs, and even ePUBs. Some authors create their ebooks right in Google Docs. There is one big downside to this app. You cannot really organize documents within Google Docs. It will only show you the last 30 documents you've opened, but not the folders they came from. You have to organize these files on Google Drive (drive.google.com), which is a separate app and website. This extra complexity might annoy some users, and the user interface does not make this a good organizational tool. This app may not have the organizational capabilities of Scrivener, but it does allow you to keep your documents easily accessible all in one place. With this app, you can access and download your documents from anywhere with an internet connection.

Best for:

Students, editors, collaborative writers, anyone who wants to access their files across multiple devices, anyone with the time and patience to format their ebooks in Google Docs

Key features:

Auto-save, cloud storage, collaborative writing, export in multiple formats including docx, PDF, and ePUB

Pricing:

Free. All you need is a Google account. Try Google Docs

Final Draft Mobile

Final Draft Mobile is a screenwriting app designed specifically for the iPad and iPhone. If you're a screenwriter, this app can help you write your screenplays when you don't have your computer handy. Final Draft Mobile has all of the features of the desktop version of Final Draft, including scene numbering, character tracking, location tracking, script markers, and more. The app includes a built-in outlining tool so you can keep track of where you are in your story. The SmartType feature recognizes character and location names as you type them, keeping you from having to painstakingly tap out “CASTOR TROY” over and over, and then swear when it autocorrects to “Casper” every time. You can also sync your screenplays to Dropbox and iCloud, or save them locally on your tablet or phone. Since Final Draft is the most popular screenwriting software in the world, this app is a must-have for any screenwriters with iOS devices.

Best for:

Screenwriters

Key features:

Cloud sync, SmartType, script markers, revision tools, scene numbering, character and location tracking, outline view Try Final Draft Mobile

The Best Grammar Checker for iPad

Grammarly isn't just a grammar checker; it's also a spellchecker and plagiarism detector. It checks for more than 250 types of errors and offers suggestions to correct them. The Grammarly Keyboard app works across every app on your iPad, including your email client, Facebook, and whatever word processor you end up using. In addition to being useful on the iPad Grammarly integrates with a wide number of apps and services, including Microsoft Word, Chrome, Firefox, Jarvis, and Google Docs, among many others. This is one of my favorite writing apps because it is so versatile across so many platforms.

Best for:

Anyone writing in English

Key features:

Spellchecker, grammar checker, plagiarism detector

Pricing:

Free for basic use. Grammarly Premium costs $30 month-to-month ($360/year), $60 for three months ($240/year), or $144 for one year. Try Grammarly

Conclusion

It's important to have the right writing apps for your iPad. Just remember that these apps are just tools; they are what you make of them. Not even AI can write your manuscript for you, although it can help. Whether you're writing a novel, a blog post, or a creative writing assignment at the very last minute, these apps will help you in your writing process if you take the time to understand them. I wish you well on your writing journey, and hope these apps will help you get there.

How I Outline My Novels in Five Simple-ish Steps

I've always been a heavy outliner. I outline everything, from my short stories to my blog posts and even next week's recipes. The outlining process is a little more complicated when I'm writing a novel, though. In this post, I will show you the outline process that takes me from a vague idea to a novel outline that I can use to write a good first draft.

I say simple-ish, because explaining them is easy, especially when working with an outline template. However, some steps are more challenging than others.

1. Start with a big picture outline, or “beat sheet,” covering all the major plot points.

The first step in outlining my novel is to write a broad outline, or “beat sheet.” A beat sheet is just a list of all the major plot points in my story. It can be as detailed or as vague as I want it to be, but it will become more concrete as the process continues. Here's the beat sheet I use:

To download PDF, RTF, TXT, and image-based versions of these beat sheets, click here.

You don't need to know much of your story to fill this out. Sometimes, I don't even have a name for my main character yet. I never know all the events that will happen, especially in the second half of the story.

If I get stuck, I might write something like “something big happens here that destroys the heroine's trust in the hero” or “The mentor disappears right when the heroine looks to her for guidance.” I have enough confidence in myself to know that these important details will come in time.

I usually start filling this out from the midpoint and working from there. I don't necessarily write the beat sheet in order, and I may try to write several variations before I find one I like. It doesn't take me long to get a novel outline this way; I can often come up with the key plot points in 15 minutes or less.

Once I have this big picture outline ready, it's time to develop it into a list of scenes. This tells me if the story structure is solid or if it needs work.

2. Write a scene list.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash.

This is a more detailed novel outline, listing every scene from beginning to end. While the first step deals with major turning points, this outline covers every scene needed to get from the beginning to the end of the story.

I number the scenes and give a brief, 1-2 sentence description of each. Sometimes I'll write a short paragraph underneath describing the scene in detail. Sometimes the description is more like a sentence fragment or a bullet point list. It depends on the project.

I know that some scenes will get cut and I'll have to add others, so I don't worry too much about renumbering the scenes. If I need a new scene between scenes 14 and 15, I label the new scene 15A and keep it moving. If I need to delete Scene 16, I just delete it. There's no point in tediously renumbering everything when I might have to do it again in 2 minutes.

I also treat the scene list as my master outline document. When I want to change something in the outline, I change it in the scene list first. Then I change the beat outline, if necessary, and the subplot spreadsheet (see next step).

The cover of Wolf Cursed by Esme Rome, showing a young woman with red hair kneeling on a rock, surrounded on both sides by wolves.Here's part of my scene list for the start of Wolf Cursed:

ACT I

1. Wolf versus vampire in forest – Red observes

Red watches a wolf and vampire fight in the forest. She says that she came here to see her mother. The vampire threatens her, and she uses holy water to defeat it. she falls to earth and is caught by D’Avalos, who is out there with Blackwood for the same reason.

2. Running back to school–vampires waiting for them, they fight

Red is carried in D’Avalos’s arms as they run to back to the school. Before they get to the school, they encounter three vampires waiting for them. D’Avalos and Blackwood fight two, but Red holds back the third with a little borrowed magic from Hannah, but she’s rescued by Blackwood at the last moment.

-This scene reveals the character of the big three:

-D'Avalos: strong, skilled in human/wolf martial arts

-Blackwood: fast, hybrid powers, huge fangs

-Red: lost her powers, has borrowed magic, can throw, can smell and react.

If you've read Wolf Cursed, you know that this outline leaves out a lot of details. The truth is that I didn't know most of those details when I wrote it; I discovered them while writing the scene. Red's encounter with Lady Crow came relatively late in the writing process, which is funny considering the dramatic changes that event has on the course of the book.

This is why I don't buy the argument that outlining stifles creativity. If anything, it encourages it. Even if you write an incredibly detailed outline, with your novel's plot completely cast in iron, actually writing the novel will always surprise you.

Novel writing is a process of discovery, a bit like going to a cave with a headlamp and an outdated map. If you go in without a map, feeling your way along, you may discover completely uncharted territory that no one else would ever see. Or you might fall down a huge hole and never come out.

That may also happen even with the best map in the world, but it's less likely. And there are still treasures to discover, no matter which way you go. The map is not the territory.

3. Fill out a subplot spreadsheet.

Even the most straightforward romance is likely to develop a subplot or two. I like to create a spreadsheet that lists out every major subplot and where they appear in each chapter, even if it's just a mention here and there.

This shows me any subplots that should be cut or combined. If a subplot doesn't appear at all for most of the book, I can either cut it or include it more in the middle of the book.

I use Plottr for this, but I've known writers who use Excel or Google Sheets. J.K. Rowling used binder paper to make basic spreadsheets for all her plot points. Here's an example spreadsheet she made while writing Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

A picture of J.K. Rowling's hand-written spreadsheet of part of her plot outline for Order of the PHoenix. The outline is written in ballpoint pen on notebook paper turned horizontally.

In Rowling's example, every chapter is a separate row, and the different subplots (Dumbledore's Army, Order of the Phoenix, etc.) are in separate columns. Plottr defaults to the opposite orientation, with each chapter as a column and the subplots as rows, but you can change that by pressing the “Flip” button in the upper left-hand corner.

Little inconsistencies always come up between the big picture plot outline, the scene list, and the subplot spreadsheet. I treat the scene list as my master outline, so I don't worry about these too much. If I have a sense that some subplot is being neglected, or there's something snarled in the story, I often return to this spreadsheet for ideas.

4. Create a “folder outline” in Scrivener.

Scrivener is an incredibly powerful piece of writing software, and some of its best features are its simplest ones. In Scrivener you can create chapters (folders) with multiple separate scenes (text files). This lets you group my scenes by chapter even before you've written them. It also gives you an at-a-glance view of how everything fits together in the book.

To do this, I open up my project in Scrivener and go to the Binder (on the left-hand side). The “add scene” and “add folder” buttons are on the bottom left-hand corner. I add folders for each chapter, and add the scenes to each chapter.

When I add the scenes, I just add the titles. I fill out the descriptions after I've finished my folder outline.

5. Fill out the scene descriptions in the “Synopsis” window in Scrivener.

I've learned that it's easier to create the folder outline and then add the scene and chapter descriptions. I don't know why. I suspect it's another ADHD symptom.

Some of the scene descriptions will be incredibly brief. Others will be a step-by-step walkthrough of the scene, from beginning to end. If I have a strong idea for a scene in my mind, I'll continue to Step 6…

6. Create “lecture notes” for some scenes

With some scenes, I can see them in my mind the way you might “see” a movie or a memory. I can see the characters' movements, facial expressions, and feel the emotions they feel as the scene progresses.

It can be hard to hold onto this while writing, especially when I get bogged down by word choice and grammar questions. Sometimes, it's much easier for me to write bullet points or a rough sketch of the scene before filling it in with sentences that actually make sense.

I got this idea from listening to old lectures by Aldous Huxley online. He was an incredibly bright and educated man, but you can tell, when listening to him, that he's not reading word-for-word from a page.

I don't know exactly, but I'm guessing that Huxley referred to lecture notes as he spoke, and these notes gave him the outline of the talk while allowing him to digress or return to different points. So I thought, why not do this for writing fiction as well?

Here's what these “lecture notes” might look like on the page:

-Emma stares at her phone screen

-Number unidentified

-Could feel Marco's eyes > her

-Had to play it cool (Em thot). No cause for alarm.

If I were to turn that into a story, it would look like this:

Emma stared at her phone screen as it vibrated. The number wasn't associated with any of her contacts. The area code was not one she recognized; her phone said it was from Springfield, Missouri. She could feel Marco's eyes on her as the seconds passed.

“You gonna get that, Em?” Marco said, laughing a little. She met his eyes and then wished she hadn't. He'd already seen how upset she was; now she had to play it off. Be cool, Margo told herself. Act like nothing's wrong. There's no cause for alarm.

“Hey, you okay?” Marco said, getting up out of his seat. “Seriously, who is it?”

“No one,” Emma said, tapping the red icon.

Notice that this adds a lot that wasn't in the lecture notes. None of this was prepared beforehand, and I'm sure if I wrote it a few hours or days later, the result would be a little different. It's not exactly Bill Shakespeare, but it's a serviceable first draft.

And best of all, I spent almost no time staring at the screen. Since I had a rough outline to work with, the rest came pretty easily.

What if the story changes so much that your outline(s) are useless? What do you do?

My novels usually change the most after the midpoint, especially in Part 4/Act III. When I start writing, I often have a very vague idea of how the story will end, and the climax will often not be very clear to me until mid-way through writing the first draft.

When it becomes clear that the outline and the story are consciously uncoupling, I follow a simple process to stay on track. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Here it is in full:

  • I start by changing the outlines, starting with the big picture outline and followed by the scene list and subplot spreadsheet.
  • If I'm still outlining, I go through each chapter and edit the scenes in each folder.
  • Then I edit the scene descriptions for any scenes that will have to change. I may add a note or two for a scene that's now a setup or a payoff for something different.
  • I keep writing as if these changes have already been made throughout the manuscript. I can go back and add or edit the necessary scenes later.

Conclusion

This is the novel outlining process that works for me. It comes from almost two decades of trial and error. In five or ten years, I may have a completely different process. Likewise, the process that works for you may be completely different from mine.

The important thing is to find a process that works and to stick with it. That way, you'll always be moving forward, even when the story changes or veers off in an unexpected direction.

How to Outline Your Novel in 15 Minutes or Less

Outlining a novel might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be! This post features an outline template and will walk you through the outlining process. Whether you're writing your first draft or just want to get organized, this guide will help you figure out how to outline a novel and what needs to happen next.

If you've never used a novel outline template before, don't worry. This template works with almost any writing process, writing style, or genre, including romance, children's literature, historical, and speculative fiction.

If terms like “inciting incident” or “rising action” leave you confused, don't worry about that either. I'll keep it simple.

Unless you're a super-speed reader, I think it will take you longer to read this article than to outline your novel. So let's get started!

How do you outline a novel? Start with the key plot points

Photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash.

You don't need to know all the scenes in your book yet. You don't need to know the main character arc, or the main character's name. You might just have a central theme or a vibe.

Or maybe you started writing and got completely lost. Maybe your story's plot is a complete tangle, and it has more plot holes than a soap opera in its 70th season. Or your last plot outline looked so ridiculous, you nearly threw your computer out the window.

None of that is unsolvable. Put the computer down. A big picture outline of the key plot points will give you a great road map to guide your writing process. It will save you a lot of time.

Some novelists and screenwriters call these outlines “beat sheets,” because they cover every “beat” in the story arc from beginning to end. They use a little bit of jargon, which I'll explain below.

How to Understand Basic Story Structure

Here's an image of the book outline template we're going to use:

This outline template features all the major plot points without any fluff. It naturally lends itself to character development, and you can use it multiple times for different characters in your story. If you've never done a detailed outline, start by filling this out.

You can download this template as a TXT, RTF, and PDF file here.

If you can't see the template, or don't really know what you're looking at, let's break it down, going from left (the beginning) to right (the end).

PART 1 – also known as Act I

A picture of a dog in midair, leaping above a field of grass. The dog's shadow is on the ground below him.
Photo by Ron Fung on Unsplash.

Beginning/Hook: The first image, scene, or sequence in the novel. Often made to “hook” the reader into the world of the story. Good hooks include: chases, mysteries, and unexpected images.

Inciting Incident: The event that sets the story into motion and changes the protagonist's life. Often a challenge to the established story world. The inciting incident could be an invitation, a discovery, an unexpected guest, or a surprising event, among many, many other things.

2nd Thoughts: The protagonist isn't sure if they're going to accept the invitation, go on the journey, or answer the challenge offered by the inciting incident. There are often really good reasons for them not to accept, and yet…

Key Incident/Climax of Part I: The protagonist accepts the invitation offered in the inciting incident. They will answer the challenge. Sometimes they go forth happily, sometimes reluctantly, and occasionally they don't really have a choice. However it happens, the key incident ends Part I/Act I and sends us into Part/Act II.

PART 2 – also known as Act II, First Half

A man climbs a steep hill of barren rock. The background is a deep blue sky.
Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash.

Obstacles 1, 2, 3: This part of the story is all about obstacles faced by the protagonist. They are often physical, mental, or emotional challenges. There are usually 2-4 major obstacles in Part II. Some books can have more, but be careful putting too many obstacles here.

These obstacles aren't necessarily booby traps, puzzles, or other external problems. They can spring from internal feelings like doubt or lack of confidence.

MIDPOINT: A big twist, change, discovery, or revelation usually happens about halfway through the story. Sometimes the ultimate goal is reached, e.g. the treasure is discovered, and the second half of the story is about the consequences of that, e.g. getting the treasure away from the guards, back onto the ship, and back home.

Here are a few classic midpoint tropes: something lost is found, a secret is revealed, a disaster wipes out all progress, or the main character makes a big decision. Many romances have the first kiss or first sex scene around the story's midpoint. I like to start outlining from the midpoint and work my way forward and backward from there.

PART 3 – also known as Act III, Second Half

Two metal boards, with a grid of nodes on their surfaces, face each other. Electric sparks fly between the connected nodes, reflected by eerie blue light on the surface of the boards.
Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash.

Obstacle 4: The first post-midpoint obstacle often relates to what just happened at the midpoint, since it's one of the major turning points in the story.

For example, if the midpoint was the first kiss between the hero and heroine, the next obstacle might be both characters reflecting on what happened.

If the midpoint involved the protagonist discovering something, the next obstacle is usually about dealing with the consequences of their discovery, emotional or otherwise. If you just discovered your brother-in-law was a drug kingpin right under your nose, you might have a panic attack and crash your car, for example.

It’s Bad: Just what it sounds like. Nothing is going according to plan. Your characters are stumbling forward. And just when things look like they can't get any worse…

Now It’s Worse: …they do. Usually in the most dramatic way possible. This is a great time to turn up the heat and slam the lid shut. Force your characters to find their own way out, by any means necessary.

Climax of Part III: They escape the imminent threat from the It's Bad/Now It's Worse sequence, but they're not yet out of the fire. Sometimes the peril is worse on the other side; sometimes they think they're safe, but they're anything but. This often, but not always, involves a location change. In most of the Harry Potter books, for example, the third act starts with a dramatic location change: through a trap door, into the Chamber of Secrets, dragged into the Shrieking Shack, transported via portkey to Godric's Hollow, etc.

PART 4 – also known as Act III

A black-and-white image of a chessboard. A hand holds a white king piece, which is knocking over the black king piece. The black king is mid-fall.
Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash.

Obstacle: This obstacle separates the climaxes of Part III and Part IV. This is a good place for an internal struggle, for an unbreakable obstacle, or to highlight a different kind of struggle. For example, if your main character has just been running everywhere, maybe it's time to bind them so they can't move, even if they try.

Climax of Part IV/the book: This is it. The big showdown between the protagonist and whatever they're fighting. This can take many different forms, but it's always epic.

Obstacle: The post-climax obstacle is usually related to the climax. If there's just been a huge battle, both sides will have to bury their dead and tend to the wounded. If

Denouement: The denouement wraps up the loose ends. Show how things have changed with your central characters, and with the world at large.

End: What's the last scene or image in your novel? Whatever it is, don't let it end with a whimper or something forgettable.

Download Your Novel Outline Template

Feel free to copy and paste the image and template below:

PART I
Beginning/Hook:
Inc Inc:
2nd Thoughts:
Key Incident/Climax of Act I:

PART II
Obstacle 1:
Obstacle 2:
Obstacle 3:
MIDPOINT:

PART III
Obstacle 4:
It’s Bad:
Now It’s Worse:
Climax of Part III:

PART IV
Obstacle:
Climax of Part IV/the book:
Obstacle:
Denouement:
End:

You can download this template as a TXT, RTF, and PDF file here.

If you're familiar with Kate Hall's work, this template might look familiar to you. This is based on the ones she uses in A Book a Week and Write to Market. I've changed these templates to fit my own needs as a writer. You can change them to fit your needs as well.

That's as it should be. This outline is a tool to help you write a novel, much like an artist's reference is a tool to help an artist draw a picture.

And ultimately, your novel's plot may not perfectly follow your outline. Do you know who will care?

Nobody, probably not even you.

The novel outline process varies from writer to writer, and often from book to book. Some authors create a loose outline, some use mind maps or spreadsheets, and others simply write by the seats of their pants. (Which I've done, and do not recommend.)

The Wizard of Oz Beat Sheet

I've read that The Wizard of Oz is the most commonly-seen movie in North America. More people have seen that movie than any other, at least at some point.

I don't know where you are, but I'm going to assume you've seen this movie, if only as a kid. Don't worry about rewatching it or refreshing your memory right now. We're going to quickly run through the story outline template we just used, with The Wizard of Oz as a case study.

You'll notice that The Wizard of Oz doesn't perfectly follow the outline template we used above. So don't worry if your story idea doesn't completely match the outline template I've given you.

PART I

Beginning/Hook: The first shot in the movie is Dorothy and Toto running away from the camera, with Dorothy looking back–at the viewer–and picking up Toto in fear. Instant interest. A girl and a dog are both vulnerable, and they're both running away from something. What is it?

Inc Inc: Dorothy hits her head, lands in Oz, and literally goes from sepia to technicolor. When she goes through her front door, everything changes.

2nd Thoughts: Throughout the Munchkinland sequence, Dorothy is overwhelmed, apologetic, and terrified, especially when the Wicked Witch of the West appears. She wants to give the ruby slippers back, but Glinda won't let her do it. (Are you sure you're a good witch, Glenda?)

Key Incident/Climax of Act I: “We're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz!” Glinda basically stage-manages the key incident here, but by the end, Dorothy is smiling as she follows the Yellow Brick Road. Oh, Dorothy…

PART II

Obstacle 1: Dorothy is scared and doesn't know which way to go. She meets the Scarecrow, who has a similar problem: he has no brain, and he wants to see the Wizard about getting one.

Obstacle 2: Dorothy and the Scarecrow meet the Tin Man, who's missing a heart.

Obstacle 3: Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man are frightened in the forest. They meet a lion who seems like a threat, but it turns out that he's just a coward, and needs courage.

MIDPOINT: You're out of the woods! Dorothy and her friends leave the forest and see the Emerald City for the first time.

PART III

Obstacle 4: The witch sends a sleeping snow over them to make them fall asleep and not reach their goal. But Glinda the Good Witch saves them from the snow and they wake up again.

It’s Bad: The guard won't let them into the city!

Fun and Games: “That's a horse of a different color!” Here we have a break as all four of the main characters get refreshed within Emerald City: the scarecrow gets re-stuffed, the Tin Man gets polished, etc.

Now It’s Worse: The Wizard of Oz is terrifying! He is a huge booming face behind smoke and fire. Who dares seek the great and powerful Oz?!

Climax of Part III: The Wizard of Oz says: bring me the witch's broomstick, and I'll give you what you seek!

PART IV

Obstacle: The witch kidnaps Dorothy and puts her in danger, but also puts her closer to her “ticket” home (her broomstick). The witch realizes the slippers will only come off if Dorothy is dead, so she puts her under a “ticking clock” (or in this case, an hourglass) that will kill her when her time runs out.

Climax of Part IV/the book: The Scarcrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion appear to rescue Dorothy. They fight the Wicked Witch, who sets the Scarecrow on fire. Dorothy kills the Wicked Witch with a tub of water, vanquishing the main threat.

Denouement: Dorothy et. al return to Oz and find that the Wizard is really a man behind a curtain, pulling levers and putting on a show.

Obstacle: Dorothy wants to leave, but she misses the hot air balloon that carries the Wizard away. How will she get back now?

End: Glinda tells Dorothy that she always had the power: just tap her shoes together and say “There's no place like home.” (Are you really, really sure you're a Good Witch, Glinda?) Dorothy wakes up in her bedroom in Kansas, happy to be home again.

Let's Outline a Novel from (Almost) Scratch

A picture of a contemplative woman looking out at the rain at night.
Photo by Andrey Zvyagintsev on Unsplash.

For this post, I'm going to outline an entire novel based on one of my romance writing prompts. Here's the prompt in easy-to-read format:

A high school girl needs an intimidating boyfriend so her creepy, anonymous stalker will leave her alone. She starts dating her best friend, the son and heir apparent of the most powerful mafia family in the city, but this causes all sorts of problems with the other mafia families, who want him to marry their daughters instead.

Our heroine is a high school student, a generally good girl with “resting therapist face.” Other people come up and spill their guts to her, and boys in her class tend to develop obsessive crushes on her thanks to her manic pixie dream girl vibe. She believes that she shouldn't make trouble for other people, ever. She should always put others first.

Our hero is the heroine's best friend since childhood, Marco, the son of the biggest mafia family in the country. He wants to get out from under his father's shadow and go straight, but his father keeps undermining him. Marco is not afraid to stand up for himself or for others, which is something our heroine needs to learn.

Opening scene could feature heroine's cell phone going off, which makes her break out in a sweat. She screws up her courage and tells Marco, maybe after her parents ignore her.

This is all I know about the story right now. I haven't written any detailed backstories, created any character arcs, or fleshed out the story world in all its details. I'm going to use the novel outline template from earlier to create a big picture outline of the novel.

PART I

Beginning/Hook: Emma's cell phone goes off in class. It's the stalker. She's terrified. Marco asks her what's wrong, and she lies.

Inc Inc: Emma finally screws up her courage and tells her parents…but they blow her off.

2nd Thoughts: Should she tell Marco? If she does, things could get very bad. But then the stalker starts threatening her friends…

Key Incident/Climax of Act I: Emma tells Marco that she's being stalked, and she's scared. He's furious.

PART II

Obstacle 1: Marco takes her to the police, but they do nothing. Marco is disgusted, and tells Emma that she has to stay with him from now on, under his protection.

Obstacle 2: Marco announces that he and Emma are together, but the other mafia families are outraged that he'd date an outsider. Now he has family drama.

MIDPOINT: A school dance. Marco takes Emma, they dance, and almost kiss…but then the stalker ruins it. Maybe he shows up, or sends her a message that spooks her. In any event, he spoils the moment.

PART III

Obstacle 3: Marco and the stalker get into a fight. Marco wins but leaves the stalker badly injured, maybe near death.

It’s Bad: Marco's father learned that Marco went to the police station. He's furious, says you never go to the police. He doesn't believe Marco when he says that he was trying to save Emma's life.

Now It’s Worse: He pulls a gun on his son, right as the police come to arrest Marco for attempted murder. Huge scene, both men arrested.

Climax of Part III: Marco confesses his love for Emma over the jail phone, then breaks up with her, tells her to forget about him. Go live your life.

PART IV

Obstacle: Marco's defense attorney won't listen to Emma until she convinces her by some dramatic gesture. Perhaps she visits her stalker, alone, and records him saying something damning. If that's too much, maybe she plays audio of the stalker's voicemails, something to that effect.

Climax of Part IV/the book: Emma testifies at Marco's trial. On the stand, she confesses her love for Marco while looking at him.

Obstacle: Marco's waiting for the verdict. His family pressures him to quit college and work for them directly after he leaves. He tells them no, and stands up to his father, who threatens his life.

Denouement: Marco is found not guilty. He walks out of the courtroom, expecting to get shot, and finds Emma waiting there. He's terrified she'll get hurt, but she runs to him and hugs him before he can react.

End: Emma and Marco are both in college, maybe in the same city or general area. He tells her about his new internship at a financial firm.

Are you ready to outline your novel?

Novel writing can be difficult, but it doesn't have to be. Start with this template, and you can write an effective book summary in as little as 15 minutes.

The novel outline template we’ve provided will help you write a summary of your novel in as little as 15 minutes. From here, you can write a scene list, a mind map, or a more specific outline based on one of my genre templates.

If you want help further developing your ideas for a novel, please read on for a complete walkthrough of the novel-writing process, from start to finish.

Thank you, and happy writing!

 

Feature photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash.

new year's eve, sparkler, sparks-1283521.jpg

My Goals for 2022

It's almost 2022, somehow, so I wanted to share some of my big, huge, audacious goals for this year. If I don't share them with anyone, I think I'm less likely to accomplish them. So let's start with the goals related to writing–the core part of this website–and go from there.

Writing goals

This year, I will write and publish the following books:

This brings the total to eight books. That's a lot for twelve months, even when you consider that three of these books are already in some state of completion. But I want to push myself to do this. How else am I going to learn?

I will also post at least 100 times on this blog. This sounds like a lot, but it comes to about two posts per week. I already have a few posts scheduled in advance, so if I can batch-create posts, and then slowly post them over a few months, I think that will make things easier.

To reach this goal, I'll probably use AI writing software like Jarvis and Closer's Copy. I find writing blog posts, newsletter, etc. challenging, and using software like this often makes it easier, especially when it's a topic I don't have strong feelings about, e.g. the Best Writing Apps for iPad.

Business goals

This year, I will make $5k/month from selling books. This is the most intimidating goal to me. I know that other people can and have done this, but I keep running up against self-doubt. It's hard for me to write and release books rapidly, and I struggle with deciding between writing the kind of books I want to write and writing to market. Even when I read a lot of books in a subgenre, I'm not always sure what the market wants. Part of the reason I want to publish eight books in the next year is to make this number possible.

Kate Hall has a couple of really good books on rapid release and writing to market, which I plan to reread this January, if not sooner. I also want to reread the Chris Fox series on self-publishing. I would like to branch out a bit into indie and traditional publishing, ideally after I get more of a backlist.

I will make $20k/month from everything at least one month. That “everything” can include many things: books, ads on videos, consulting fees, speaking fees, freelance work, part-time or full-time work, courses, affiliate programs, physical products, digital products, NFTs, interest on stocks/funds/etc., and much more that I might not have even dreamed of yet. There are plenty of other people out there who make this kind of money in a month, so I'm trusting the universe to lead me to them and help me replicate what they do in my own life.

I will create a course this year. Yes, I know everyone and their grandmother is making a course. Now that everyone includes me.

I will also join at least three more affiliate programs. Ideally for companies whose products I use on a regular basis.

I will make an NFT, because I've been curious about the technology for awhile. I'm honestly somewhat skeptical of everything crypto, and I don't understand how a picture of a cartoon duck can be worth $80,000. It sounds like a scam. However, it's very easy to set up an account on OpenSea, so I'd like to try it.

Learning Goals

These goals are more flexible for me. I have limited free time, so I need to focus on writing, especially writing as a business. However I think learning is a lifelong activity, so I want to keep investing in learning, especially with time.

I will take 25 courses this year. That's about one every two weeks. I already have way more than 25 courses on Udemy, plus a number of courses on everything from Procreate to editing to Microsoft Excel. Some of these courses are brief, especially when you listen to them at 1.5 or 2x speed. The trick is not in finding the time to take the course, but finding time to do the assignments.

I'd like to focus on learning a few skills this year:

  • how to edit my own work quickly–and especially how to edit while the book is still at the outline stage.
  • how to draw. My artistic ability has waxed and waned with practice over the course of my life. Now I want to relearn the basics. Even if I just spend 2 minutes a night on drawing, I hope I'll see some improvement.
  • how to use Photoshop for basic photomanipulation and book cover design. I've barely used it since high school and I'd love to design my own book covers.
  • how to write and sell a song. I love music, so I'd like to learn a little more about songwriting. I don't want to perform but I'd love to hear other people performing my music. It also takes a lot less time to write a song than a novel, and (good) songs are much more memorable. However, I have so much planned for this year, realistically this might have to wait or at least take a backseat to other subjects.

This year I had a very scattershot focus, and I think everything suffered because of it. So I will probably go back to these goals in a few days and really focus on what is most important to me and what I want the most.

However, I feel compelled to post this to have some accountability. If no one knows what my goals are, then no one knows when I fail or succeed. And I'd rather celebrate with a group, even if it's a group of (mostly) strangers in cyberspace.

What are your goals for 2022? Let me know. Here's to a happy New Year!

Fairy Tales Unleashed

Break out the Advent Calendars! It's coming up on Christmas, and I hope your holiday season feels like the happy ending of a fairytale. A Charles Perrault fairytale, not one of the darker ones by the Brothers Grimm! But if it feels that way, I hope it's at least interesting…

If you're in the mood for fairytales, I have the showcase for you. Fairy Tales Unleashed features all sorts of young and new adult fairytales. Some are a bit steamy, so be warned. To read them, click here or click the image below: