Tag Archives: Left

Sep 15

Mary Deal Outlines “Outlining a Story”

Outlining a Story

Writing a novel, even a short story, and keeping details and action in some semblance of order can be a daunting task. A loose outline, even a simple list of occurrences, can be the best aid to keep you writing on track.

I began using a structured outline but have since been able to keep facts in order by making a running list of plot points and anything else I need to remember.

We all remember learning about outlines in school. To me, they were rigid with a lot of requirements and I spent more time trying to remember how to title the information than getting the data on paper.

As a writer, you will have had more experience with keeping an accumulation of facts in your mind as you pound the keys. Or maybe you’ve gotten lost in all the twists and turns of your story. Here’s some easy help. For example, let’s say your story is about a woman searching for her abducted daughter.

Keep in mind that all stories need the following:

Setup (want)
Rising Action
Reversals
Recognition
Climax
Denouement

Here’s a simple outline to keep the plot on track. My notes in parenthesis are for your understanding and need not appear in your outline unless they further help you.

Title at the Top

1-Abi’s daughter was abducted (told in present time, with some back story (SETUP)

2-Abi learns of a young woman her daughter’s age on Death Row (Rising Action)

a-The inmate faces lethal injection for a crime she didn’t commit

3-Twenty-three years have passed but similarities exist between the inmate and Abi’s daughter

a-Abi begins an intense investigation, including DNA, to learn if the inmate is her daughter
b-Abi pays to restore the sight of the only eye witness.

4-While Abi investigates; her home is torched, as is the sole witness’s home (Reversals)

a-With restored sight, the sole witness skips town.
b-Abi discovers an undercurrent, one to get the inmate to pay for crimes of others

5-DNA proves the inmate is Abi’s daughter (Recognition)

a-Abi fights to prove the innocence of the inmate

6-The case goes all the way down to the needle (Climax)

a-The lethal injection chamber

7-How the story ends after all the action plays out; how the characters’ lives are affected by the climax. (Denouement)

For the sake of this newspaper column, everything begins on the left margin. When you make your list, you can indent the a and b lines to set them off to detect them easily.

It’s as simple as that. The Setup should be brief, intense so the reader is drawn into the plot and can’t leave. The bulk of your story will be contained in Rising Action, Reversals and Recognition. The Climax should be unexpected, brief and stunning, or stinging. The Denouement is a wrap up and should never be more than one or two very short chapters. It can also be handled with anything from a few lines to a paragraph or two.

As you work with your outline, you can lengthen any area. I make more notes for the middle portions because that comprises the bulk of the story.

Another form of outlining: Many people prefer to put each new scene on a 3×5 card and write each scene before going on to the next. I prefer to have a running outline which I sometimes print out so I can see the whole story at a glance.

By the way, the story I’ve just outlined is from my latest thriller, “Down to the Needle.” If you read it, you will see most of the book is NOT included in the outline. Outlines are merely the main plot points but can be as detailed or as simple as you can work with. My outline here is simple. The story itself has so many twists and turns that could only happen by not tightly structuring the creativity of my muse. Read More

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Jul 28

“Creative Writing Prompts” An Article by Mary Deal

Writing prompts and story ideas can be found in numerous lists on the Internet, but the best ones are found right around you.

How many times have you searched to find topics that might serve to shake a story out of your Muse? A list of words or phrases just might jog your Muse into action. Then, when you find such a list, you are not enthused by its offerings and you continue to search for more.

Story starters that encourage descriptive writing abound around you. Everything you see day-to-day is a writing prompt. If you don’t see life that way, I encourage you to take another look.

Take new interest in the things you take for granted. Let your mind wander from the probable to the improbable. Fantasize about things and events. Give them new life.
Here are a few samples of story ideas taken from everyday life that might help you see what’s around you in your world.

Imagine you’re walking down a road. Normally you see rocks and you side step and walk on.

If you’re a fantasy writer…

What would happen if all those rocks lying dormant for eons suddenly came to life? They pop. They explode. Wow! Would they be friendly? Or would they be alien, just waiting for the right moment to change the universe?

Want to write a mystery?

Suppose one of those ordinary rocks had fresh blood on it?

A romance?

You find an envelope caught under a rock along the road. It’s open and money is sticking out. You want to get the money to its rightful owner so you return it promptly and find yourself looking into the fiery eyes of…

See where I’m going with this? Writing prompts are everywhere.

In my day to day life in Hawaii, just this morning, I saw or heard the following writing prompts out of my window from where I sit composing this bit of descriptive writing at my desk.

~ The man across the street is trimming branches off a tree with a buzz saw. He stops suddenly and tries to see into the window of the house. (Someone from inside that house may have called to him. But as a mystery writer, I can make a real thriller out of that teeny bit of action.)

~ A kid runs down the street, like he’s real scared. Now I hear a siren coming close.

~ A dog limps across my yard. It has a broken leg, or its favoring an injured leg, and hobbling. A moment later, another dog crosses the yard. Looks as though it’s had one leg amputated.

~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.

~ I hear a strange sound and it doesn’t sound like any of the neighbors using power equipment as they repair their houses and structures. The sound is most curious and I can’t get it out of my mind.

~ I hear a loud bang, like a gunshot. It comes from the next group of homes adjacent to this small neighborhood. I hear another.

~ The woman in the house to the left is standing out in her yard. She never just stands there. She’s always on the go. Her husband comes out. They talk. They hug. She cries. He comforts.

The best writing prompts are right around you. However, if you wish only words or phrases to trigger your Muse, then here are a few samples.

Buried money and valuables in a box
White powder in the kitchen and you don’t bake
Loving a married person, learning he is divorcing
A child who leaves alien footprints
An ugly knot growing on your body
Learning your spouse is a murderer in hiding
A horrific recurring dream that gets closer and closer
Lightning always striking only your house
The neighbors on your left practice swinging with the neighbors on your right
A rock containing clear facial images that seems to pull you in
A grotesque Halloween mask
A drop of acid rain
Unidentified creature footprints

This list is just a sampling. I could go on and on.

When searching for writing prompts, keep in mind that it is said only twenty types of stories exist. All stories have been written. This is true, but every story contains a different setting, unique characters, and unusual occurrences and endings. That is how we’re able to create new stories all the time.

As you seek mental stimulation through prompts, begin by having an idea in which genre you wish to write. Genre is what you need to decide first. Take for example, this prompt listed above:
~ A car passes by on the street. The girl looks like she’s gushing all over her guy, the driver. She’s almost in his lap. They look blissfully happy.

A romance writer will turn that scene into, perhaps, one of a happy couple of kids. Then life pulls them to opposite ends of the world. They meet again years later, only by chance, depending on the circumstances of the plot, and realize that they still love each other.

A mystery writer could turn writing prompts such as this into a thriller where the girl is gah-gah over the guy, but he’s got other plans. He turns out to be a serial rapist!

A science fiction or fantasy writer would have the guy taking the girl out to a deserted field, she thinks for a bit of petting. Instead, he beams her up to a hovering ship and whatever fate waits.

Know your genre and then, as you read prompts, determine what appeals to the type of story line you wish to create.

Begin to make a list of story starters that you notice. They are innocent gestures and occurrences that you might find in any good novel or short story. Make a list of anything that strikes your Muse.

Allow yourself to dwell on story ideas that may come to mind. Loosen your imagination. Do it now. You will need to free your Muse to write any story. Begin with your writing prompts.
Any story starters that you discover can also be used as occurrences and highlights in the story itself. Story starters need not only start a story. Starters can also fill in the story middles and endings.

I have used many instances from my life and ancient family history as writing prompts. You might wish to read “Grandpappy’s Cows” in the Flash Fiction section on my website to see how my Muse hilariously stretched the truth.

Or you may wish to read what my Muse made of seeing a boy out in the dead of night with a scissors in “Boy at the Crossroad.”

Writing prompts, story starters, or story ideas, wherever you find them, can trigger descriptive writing if you will loosen the reins of your Muse and let your mind wander on things sometimes best left alone. But then, after all, it’s only fiction. Right?

Mary’s stories mentioned above are further analyzed in the Flash Fiction section of her website writeanygnere.com.
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Jul 23

Multi-Published Mystery Writer, L.C. Hayden, Investigates the Child Finder Trilogy

Harry Bronson, my series detective, made his appearance in Who’s Susan? but he wasn’t the featured character. Susan was. He did his job and that was the end of him, as far as I was concerned. When my second book When Colette Died came out, I received tons of emails all basically the same. “Where’s Harry Bronson?” they asked. That’s when I realized that Harry Bronson needed to make a comeback. He did in my third book, Where Secrets Lie. He was also featured in my fourth mystery, What Others Know, but by then, mostly due to reader input, I knew he had to be the main character and not a side character as he was in my first four mysteries. My fifth mystery Why Casey Had to Die was Bronson’s first book where everything centers around him. I suppose I made the right decision as Casey went on to become an Agatha Finalist for Best Novel and a Pennsylvania Top 40 Pick. The next one in the series When Death Intervenes will be released on April. Read More

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