What’s Inside Out about the Inside Outline?

What’s Inside Out about the Inside Outline?

The workshop I’m teaching on Zoom through Writers in Progress over two consecutive Saturdays, June 5 & 12, is an introduction to one of the most powerful tools for seeing your fiction or memoir project as a whole I’ve ever come across. Whether you’re someone who plots and plans everything out before you put a word on a page, or you’re a pantser, and your fingers itch to get on the keys and you just dive right in with a vague idea of where you’re heading, this tool will transform the way you think about your book.

Confession: I’m a pantser at heart. As a pantser, I’m highly skeptical about anything concerning writing that has the word “outline” in it. Even though I write historical fiction (which in theory involves a whole lot of research and careful planning for how to use it), once that idea is in my head, I charge on and keep going until I write myself into a corner.

At least, that’s what I used to do. (Okay, I’m not 100% reformed.) I knew there had to be a better way, but when I studied those methods that have you outlining down to the beat, pinch point, inciting incident, and resolution, my teeth would itch. I couldn’t see the point of not letting the story find its own way, not letting the characters develop right in front of my eyes. Isn’t that half the fun? So I stuck to my old pantsing ways, writing multiple drafts until I stumbled on a way to make the story really work—after the fourth or fifth draft, usually.

Then one day I went to a webinar given by Jennie Nash, CEO of Author Accelerator and creator of the Inside Outline. The way she explained it, I thought, of course! My head exploded with the possibilities of putting that tool to work for myself.

You see, this was no typical outline. It was a whole new way of thinking about the structure, plot, character arc, theme—everything—of the book you’re writing or revising. It’s organic, and flexible, and can be used as a planning tool at the beginning of writing your book, in the middle when you’ve written yourself into a corner (raises hand) and need to figure out where things have gone wrong, or when you’re a draft or two in and you know something’s not working but you don’t know how to figure it out. It’s part of the Blueprint Program I coach, too.

It’s shockingly simple, really. There’s no inherent hierarchical outline or even places where you have to have a beat here or a crisis there. It’s simply a case of linking each scene in your book to the next scene in a cause and effect relationship. But there’s more: Each scene causes a response in the protagonist, setting off a reaction-decision-consequence chain that both leads inexorably to the next scene—therefore maintaining the pace of the plot—and moves the protagonist along her character arc.

I thought this tool was so brilliant that I signed up on the spot for the Author Accelerator Fiction Book Coaching course, got certified about six months later and started my book coaching business. And then I signed up for the nonfiction course when it became available, and got certified in that. Two rigorous, mind-blowing courses about helping writers write the best book or book proposal they can. I realized quickly that I could do more good for writers by helping them develop powerful tools they could use in their writing than by just reviewing manuscripts or doing line edits.

And thanks to Writers in Progress, I’ve also found ways to share these tools with writers who don’t have the means or the time to do one-on-one coaching with me. This workshop is one of them. It’s limited to eight participants, and I’ll be giving homework to do in the intervening week. I explain everything about the Inside Outline, pair you up with a partner so you can critique each other’s IO, and give feedback that I hope will help you continue the process on your own.

I absolutely promise it will rock your world. It really is amazing what an Inside Outline can reveal about your book, no matter where you are in the process. It’s the final step in a bigger program called the Blueprint Your Book Program, which is the foundation of my one-on-one coaching work.

So, if you’ve got an unruly manuscript that needs taming, or an idea that needs fleshing out before you decide to commit to it, I encourage you to sign up for this workshop. There are only three spots left as of now, so don’t wait!

The Real Rewards of Being a Book Coach

The Real Rewards of Being a Book Coach

Back when I first started on my book coaching journey, during a pandemic-petrified world where I wasn’t sure what would come next, an extraordinary woman reached out to me—I think she took me up on a 5-page review offer—and we started working together on a blueprint process for her memoir.

She had been writing blogs about her journey through being diagnosed and having surgery for hydrocephalus, and then learning to live with two benign brain tumors. She was sharing these blog posts with a small group of close friends. Brain-tumor and other survival memoirs are not unusual. What was unusual about Susan was her mindset of gratitude—and her fall-down-laughing sense of humor.

 We went through the blueprint process, and she went off to do some more work before coming back to me to coach her through writing the book. Susan was a joy, beginning to end. Her voice is so engaging as she introduces us to The Emerald City (the Mayo Clinic), her remarkable team of doctors, nurses, clinicians, physical therapists, etc., and of course her two dearest friends: Pinena and Polyanna, her brain tumors.

What could have been a sad, dull story absolutely glitters with personality, charm, and humor. I am so honored to have been able to help her create her beautiful book, Keep Calm: It’s Just a Brain Tumor.

Although I thought she could have gotten an agent and a publishing contract, Susan is (of course) very aware of mortality and the precious gift of time. She chose instead to publish with Bellastoria Press, a selective hybrid publisher.

The result is that I now have my wonderful client’s book in my hands. That, in my opinion, is possibly the greatest reward of being a book coach. Knowing that I was able to help Susan achieve this dream of hers, a record of her healing and gratitude for all those who helped her—and are helping her still.

And by the way, she’s donating everything she makes from the book sales to brain tumor research.

Back when I started this book-coaching journey, I had no idea just how magical it would be, how having the expertise and knowledge to coach writers in many genres to get their books started, revised, finished, and published could be the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my professional life. I thank Author Accelerator for creating the courses that opened my eyes and gave me so many skills.

But most of all, I thank the writers who have trusted and are trusting me with their work, their hearts and minds. I couldn’t do any of this without you.

Head Hopping—and Why You Should Avoid It

Head Hopping—and Why You Should Avoid It

 You’ve no doubt heard the phrase, “head hopping,” usually referred to as something that betrays an inexperienced writer at work. This generally happens when the writer is using third-person close POV, which means that at any given time, the reader is experiencing the story only through what a single POV character can perceive and think.

First, here’s what head hopping in that context means:

In a scene involving more than one character, the author puts the reader in each of the different characters’ heads at different times—meaning she reveals thoughts that only each character individually could know— switching around instead of staying in one character’s head for the entire scene.

Why is that so bad, you ask? Isn’t it more interesting to get multiple reactions to something that’s happening in the story? Yes and no.

First, effective storytelling involves keeping your reader immersed in what’s happening and avoiding anything that jolts them out of that immersion. Each time you change a POV character, it forces the reader to readjust perceptions a bit before settling back into the story. If you do this multiple times in mid-scene, you’re continually knocking your reader in and out of the narrative, which inhibits that deep absorption you’re trying to achieve.

But the benefit of multiple close third POV is that you can, indeed, give readers different close perspectives of events. The trick is to switch only between scenes or chapters so your reader can stay comfortably immersed in the narrative and take time to settle in when the perspective changes.

Of course, there are authors who manage head hopping brilliantly, and whose work deserves close study to see how. The first one I think of is Toni Morrison in Beloved. The reason she can flow easily from head to head within a scene or a chapter is because of the style she’s set up, the dreamlike trajectory of her masterful prose that deliberately knocks the reader off balance. It’s utterly brilliant.

But none of us is Toni Morrison.

Yet I can already hear the questions: isn’t doing what I describe as head-hopping simply third-person omniscient POV?

It’s not. Omniscient POV creates an unseen, invisible narrator who has an overarching view of what’s going on in the entire story. That narrator can indeed see different reactions within a scene, but the way those reactions are conveyed to the reader have a distinctly different style from the close-third POV, where we are listening in directly to a character’s thoughts.

Omniscient POV was popular in the 19th century—Dickens, Thackeray, Austen. Think of how authors like this sometimes directly address the reader, or overlay authorial irony on events. Think of Austen’s opening line in Pride and Prejudice, that “truth universally acknowledged.” Such a terrific line, dripping with irony, but it’s not spoken from the point of view of any character. In most screen adaptations, the writers choose to put that line somewhat awkwardly in Elizabeth’s voice, because movies usually try to avoid having an off-screen narrator.

It is still certainly possible to use omniscient POV, or even to use it occasionally in an otherwise close-third POV narrative.

The example here is Amor Towles A Gentleman in Moscow. The bulk of the story mirrors the protagonist’s confinement within the walls of a luxury hotel in Moscow and remains within his close-third POV. But occasionally there are events that occur outside, that the protagonist cannot possibly witness but that are directly bearing on or caused by what has happened inside the hotel. Towles deftly switches to omniscient POV to give the reader that view, and he does it seamlessly and with great panache.

Describing all this is one thing. But if you are still unclear, here are some (admittedly trite) examples:

1. Head-hopping (color-coded just to make it obvious—blue is Jane, orange is Alistair):

Jane came down the stairs in her elegant gown, the one she’d spent all her money to purchase, hoping it would pay off and gain her a proposal of marriage from a wealthy man. As she descended, she scanned the crowd, trying to spot her prey. An unfamiliar gentleman stared at her from far across the room. She couldn’t read his expression, but decided it was worth getting to know more about him.

Who is that? Alistair thought as he looked up initially to find out where the bar was and instead couldn’t tear his gaze away from the fetching creature gliding down the curving staircase on the other side of the room. Jane had to make her way slowly through the crowd, pausing to say a word or two to acquaintances without making it obvious she wanted to pass by them. At last, she found herself face-to-face with the unknown gentleman.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Jane said, noticing the large diamond ring on the man’s pinkie finger.

Alistair saw the tell-tale signs of fatigue in the woman’s eyes, as though she normally had to work hard or struggle in some other way. He took her hand. “Alistair Hastings, at your service.”

2. Same scene in one character’s head:

Jane came down the stairs in her elegant gown, the one she’d spent all her money to purchase, hoping it would pay off and gain her a proposal of marriage from a wealthy man. As she descended, she scanned the crowd, trying to spot her prey. An unfamiliar gentleman stared at her from far across the room. She couldn’t read his expression, but decided it was worth getting to know more about him.

As she made her way slowly through the crowd, pausing to say a word or two to acquaintances without making it obvious she wanted to pass by them, she kept the man she’d spotted in the corner of her vision. He was tall and lean. She expected he was an athlete, a swimmer perhaps. When at last she found herself face-to-face with the unknown gentleman, she noticed a large diamond ring on his pinkie finger. Oh yes, she thought. I must get to know him.

“I don’t believe we’ve met,” Jane said, putting her hand out to the stranger.

He took her hand in his and said, “Alistair Hastings, at your service.”

3. Same scene in omniscient POV:

All heads turned when Jane started down the curved staircase, the same one all the ladies in the room had descended before she did. More than one person below perceived her deliberate strategy of going last. It could have backfired. The company could all have already been immersed in conversations and not noticed her. 

But in the gown that shimmered in the glow of the enormous chandeliers, wearing borrowed jewels that caught the light and fractured it like ice chips, creating a veritable halo around her—no one could have hoped to ignore the unknown woman’s entrance.

That included Alistair Hastings, who had come to the event under protest, knowing that he would be beset by ambitious debutantes and their mothers, all looking to snag the most eligible bachelor of the season.

And of course, he couldn’t know that Jane was not one of them. She obviously counted on that, determined to play her part so well that she could break through the close-knit snobbery of the company and captivate a man from the upper crust before he had time to dig below her dazzling surface. To Alistair, the diamond ring he habitually wore was a business transaction, something to make his underlings understand who the boss was.

To women like Jane, it was an invitation.

I make no claim to literary mastery with these examples (the story of Jane and Alistair does not—to my knowledge—exist). I just hope they suffice to make you aware of the effect of these different uses of third-person POV.

By all means, write the way that makes the most sense to you. But be aware of what you’re doing, and do it purposefully. Mastering POV and being able to direct your reader’s gaze as she reads without jolting her out of the story is the sign of an accomplished writer.

When should you hire a book coach?

When should you hire a book coach?

Hiring a book coach is a big decision. Whether it’s the right decision for you or not depends on a lot of factors, including where you are on your writing journey, what your goals are, and what kind of book you’re writing or plan to write. For a start, here are two things you should think about before hiring a book coach.

Why are you writing your book?

Writing a book is hard work. It takes a lot of time and effort. It’s frustrating. It’s aggravating. It makes you doubt yourself. It forces you to face the possibility—no, the probability—of rejection. So why do you want to do it?

If your answer is, “I want to make a lot of money and quite my day job,” or “I want to be famous,” or “I’ve got a little extra time and I thought it would be fun,” think again. Very, very few writers actually make enough money to live on, and only a tiny number become household names. And although many aspects of writing a book can be exhilarating and rewarding, fun isn’t an adjective most writers I know would use to describe the process. If this is you, then a book coach probably isn’t the right way to go.

Or if you say, “I just want to collect my blog posts together for posterity,” or “I want to write down the family history for my grandchildren,” you might not really need to hire a book coach. There’s a world of difference between the wonderfully therapeutic act of writing for yourself and those close to you and writing something for strangers who don’t know anything about you.

If your answer is some version of, “because I have to,” or “because I’ve been thinking about this idea for my whole life,” or “because I need to prove that I can,” or “because my message is really important and I need to get it out to a broad audience…” then that’s a different matter.

The bottom line is this: Hiring a book coach means you’re serious about writing a book and you want it to be read by strangers—not just your family and friends. It means you are willing to invest the time, energy, and resources into writing something that’s the best you can make it, to suffer through revisions and rewrites, and keep going until you’ve done your best work.

What kind of help are you looking for?

Although in theory a book coach can help you at any stage of your project, if you’ve never written anything and you have a terrific idea for a book you think could be a bestseller, a book coach is not for you.

If you’re looking for validation and reassurance, someone to tell you your work is fabulous and just encourage you to keep going—that’s not the role of a book coach either. There are many wonderful organizations that provide safe spaces for writing with encouragement and camaraderie in generative workshops—Writers in Progress, for instance.

But a book coach isn’t that person. A book coach is someone who is in your corner, but isn’t afraid to deliver hard truths. A book coach wants you to succeed just as much as you do, and part of ensuring that is not letting you get away with work that’s less than you’re capable of. A book coach will celebrate your achievements, commiserate with your frustrations, and do everything humanly possible to keep you on track to meet your writing goals. If that kind of help seems like what you’re looking for, a book coach might well be for you.

Let’s have a conversation about your project!

Just complete the form at the link below, and I’ll get in touch with you to set up a no-obligation Zoom call to discuss your project.

It’s official: I’m an Advanced Certified Book Coach!

It’s official: I’m an Advanced Certified Book Coach!

I’m so happy to announce that I have met all the Author Accelerator requirements and am now entitled to call myself an Author Accelerator Advanced Certified Book Coach!

How did that happen? It took five months of an in-depth course and test clients and submitting practicums. The course—which I can’t recommend highly enough—is through Author Accelerator, the fabulously supportive author coaching business established by the remarkable Jennie Nash.

I’m starting my business by offering a small package of a review/evaluation of 3 chapters (maximum 30 pages, Times New Roman 12pt double spaced) and a half-hour coaching call for just $150. Use the form below to contact me if you’re interested!

 

Find out more about my book coaching services!

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