Methods of Writing: Plotter, Panster, or In-Between

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
Some writers are plotters. They thrive on planning out their books in great detail, making outlines, filling out note cards, and making story boards.

Other writers are pantsers. They write by the seat-of-their pants. They start with a blank slate and let the story and characters take them where they will.

I’ve seen both types of writers—plotters and pantsers—do very well. If you were to read their final manuscripts, you likely wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. They both end up in the same place—with a delightful well-told story.

With that said, however, I will admit I’m neither of the above, that I’m really more of a combination. You might call me a plantser (plotter + pantser).

Before I start my first draft, I do a TON of research (as in weeks of reading and scouring books). But most historical writers have to do that. It’s just part of the nature of writing a book set in a different time and place.

And before I begin writing, I also do a TON of brainstorming. I pull out a new spiral notebook and jot down ideas as they come to me or as they arise from all my researching. I fill pages with lists of all kinds of wild and crazy possibilities.

Eventually I narrow down my plot and come up with a very rough sketch of how I’d like to see my book progress. I write a few brief ideas for each chapter. But usually those ideas are fluid and vague.

Of course, I also get to know my characters before starting the first draft. I need to have a good grasp of each of my characters' backstories, their personalities, quirks, goals, etc.

Once my characters come to life, I usually begin to have the feeling that I’m ready to write the story. I have a pretty good idea of the plot and where I’d like it to go, but I’ve also left plenty of room for the story to develop as I write (and my characters too). For me that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing—seeing the story and characters become bigger and more dynamic than I could have ever initially imagined.

Yes, I love the freedom that comes from not having things too planned out. That’s the pantser in me. But I also need a simple road map for my story. And that’s where the plotter in me comes out.

As I begin the actual writing of the story, the pantser in me likes to go off on detours, try unexpected twists, and meander at times. But to help me from getting too far off track as I'm writing, I take a little time before I start a new scene to write a brief sketch of what I hope to accomplish with that scene.

Here are some of the things I jot down in outline format before I write a scene:

Time and Place: (This helps me keep track of the story timeline and how well I’m varying my setting.)

Point of View: (This helps me monitor how often I’m switching POV; I try to keep it fairly even throughout the book.)

Hook: (How can I initially grab the reader’s attention at the beginning of the scene?)

Intensity: (Will this scene be high action or more contemplative? I want this to vary.)

• Read on Prompt: (How will I end the scene so that I make the reader want to keep going?)

Mood: (What kind of mood do I hope to portray and what kinds of things will help with that?)

Sensory details: (I brainstorm ways I can get most of the five sense into the scene, hopefully in ways that will match the mood.)

Goals: (This is where I list any and everything that I hope to write in the scene including character details, plot points, minor characters, etc.)

Once I pencil these details out, then I refer to the “outline” as I write the scene. It helps give gentle direction and keeps me from leaving out important points. By doing the plotting in small increments as I go, I’m able to allow the story the breathing room it needs to develop, but I’m also able to keep myself on track with where I need to go next.

How about you? Are you a panster, plotter, or a plantser? What’s your method for getting through the madness?

Planting Minor Characters With Purpose

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Every story needs minor characters to add layers of richness and dimension. But like every other element or technique that we employ in our stories, minor characters should be added with purpose.

There are three general TYPES of minor characters:

1. Pivotal minor characters who play an integral part in the story: the main character's sister, a old fling, a grandmotherly caretaker, etc. Almost always we give these minors a name and distinguishing tag.

2. Walk-on minor characters who are there for a moment and then gone: a cashier at the grocery store, a mad cab driver, a creepy neighbor, etc. Usually we don't need to name these characters or describe them, but we can if they appear more than once.

3. Background minor characters who are never named, but only referenced in general terms: other dancers, guests sitting at the tables, hordes of zombies, etc. These minors never need names or descriptions except in the most general terms.

We want to make sure that we're not overpopulating our manuscript with minor characters, otherwise readers may have a difficult time keeping names and faces straight. Before adding a new minor character, we can evaluate if another character that is already on the stage can do the “job” first or if we should simply have another background character that isn't named.

In other words, when we have too many miscellaneous people standing around, they can clutter up and detract from the really important story elements. In addition, the fewer the minor characters, the more memorable we can make each one.

As we narrow down those pivotal minor characters that truly need to be included in the story, sometimes it helps to discover what ROLE they will play in the major character's life. Here are some common roles that minor characters can have:

• Mentor: Wise counselor-type of people that the main characters (MCs) can turn to for wisdom, advice, or help. Mentors help the MCs realize the error of their ways, help them think through problems, or are instrumental in their spiritual growth. Often mentors help the MCs see the obstacles that are separating him or her from their true love.

• Competition: We may add in another man or woman to serve as competition to a budding romance, to a potential job promotion, or a coveted acting role.

• Tease/Humor: We might have one of our minor characters there to add some comedic relief or to lighten the mood especially during those tense moments in the character development and plot.

• Protector: This type of minor character is someone who watches over the MC, defends, provides financially, shelters, or fixes things. Perhaps the protector will even try to protect the heroine from the hero for a time.

• Contrast: We may have a minor character who reflects qualities that our character envies (like wealth, beauty, strength, wit). Or we may add a minor character whose negative qualities emphasize the heroic qualities of our MCs.

• Urchin: Adding in helpless children, an older relative, or someone dependent upon our MCs can help make the MCs more likeable. When readers see our MCs taking care of others, acting selflessly, sacrificing in order to help others, it builds empathy toward the MCs.

• Best Friend: A minor character can be used to reveal our MC's character or true nature. This is the friend, brother, or close confidant who knows our character on an intimate level and sees the person for who they really are, faults and all.

Obviously we don't need each role in every story. Sometimes minor characters can function in more than one role (i.e. acting as both a mentor and protector).

The main point is that we want to avoid randomly dropping minor characters into our stories. Rather we want the minor characters to intertwine integrally so that they enhance the major characters, the plot, and theme. The more we accomplish that, the more satisfying the reading experience we give our readers!

Do you have any pet peeves regarding minor characters? What should writers avoid or employ as they craft minor characters?

Scavenger Hunt Stop #7

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Welcome to the Autumn 2014 Scavenger Hunt!

I'm doing something a little different on my blog today! I'm participating in a Fiction Scavenger Hunt! Please join in the fun!

You have arrived at Stop #7 in the hunt.

WHEN: The hunt begins 10/17 at noon, mountain time and ends at 10/19 at midnight, mountain time. 

WHERE: Once the official start has begun, go to Stop #1 ( and then go to each site, gathering clues and entering bonus giveaways, until you reach the final stop which will also be on the site of Robin Lee Hatcher. (For a list of all participating blogs, go here.)

HOW: Collect a CLUE IN RED at each stop. Write them down as you go. At the final stop of the scavenger hunt, enter the clues into a Rafflecopter form.

WHAT: The GRAND PRIZE is a Kindle Fire HDX. Two runners-up will receive a new release from each of the 33 participating authors. (The hunt is open to international entries.)

Make sure you check out the bottom of this post for the rest of the information you need for your clue and to continue to the next blog in the scavenger hunt!


My Special Scavenger Hunt Guest: Tricia Goyer

Today as part of the scavenger hunt, I'm hosting the fabulous Tricia Goyer, another one of the authors participating in all the fun! (You'll visit her blog on the next stop in the scavenger hunt!)

Tricia is the award-winning author of more than forty books. She writes regularly for several popular Christian women's blogs in addition to her own. She's been married for more than twenty years and is the mother of six children.

Tricia and I blog together over on Inspired by Life and Fiction. Not only do I admire Tricia for her words of wisdom on all kinds of issues from parenting to writing, but I also LOVE her fiction!

Her most recent book is the novelization of the hit movie, Moms' Night Out, which is a hilarious family comedy that celebrates real family life—where everything can go wrong and still turn out all right.

All Allyson and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation . . . a long-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult conversation and food not served in a bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for a few hours—what could go wrong?

 LOTS goes wrong! But you'll have to read the book to find out exactly what!

You can purchase Moms' Night Out and Tricia's other books on Amazon, B&N, and

Join me in welcoming Tricia today!


Fiction Helps You Find the Joy in Life

By Tricia Goyer

I'm a mom of six, and there are days when it's hard to laugh. Like moments when I find permanent marker on the wall, or I discover that crayons in the dryer (from a little boy's pocket) have ruined my new blouse. Sometimes I'm so tired that it's hard to laugh. But it's times like this when I need to laugh the most.

I was asked to write the novelization of Moms' Night Out last December, and honestly I didn't know if I had the time to write it. As a mom of six I had lots to do for the holidays—like Christmas shopping, and making cookies, and spending time with my family. We also had a family vacation planned, and I didn't know if I could fit writing a novel into that schedule.

I prayed about whether or not I should write the novelization, and I felt peace. I talked to my husband, and he felt peace too. So in a very full month I embarked on the impossible—turning a movie into a book.

Laughter bubbled up as I watched Moms' Night Out for the first time. I could so relate to Allyson and the other ladies. I could so relate to the questions of, “Am I doing this mom thing right?”

In order to write the novel I watched the movie … again, and again, and again. And the messages of encouragement and hope dug deep into my heart. Yes, I was able to write a book that readers enjoy, but I have a feeling that God wanted to share that message with me first.

That's what I love about fiction. It's universal, yet so personal. Fiction allows us to take the hard stuff of life and make sense out of it. Fiction helps us to find the joy in life … and the joy in ordinary days.

If you enjoyed the movie Moms' Night Out, consider picking up the novelization and spending time with those characters again! I've seen the movie more than most, and I'll never get tired of the messages shared. And, friend, may you find true joy as you pick up your next book!


GET YOUR CLUE HERE: Before you move on to Stop #8, which is Tricia Goyer’s site, be sure to write down this clue: IN ANY OTHER WAY."

BEFORE YOU GO: Please Enter the Rafflecopter below for a chance to win my latest release Captured By Love. Publisher's Weekly gave it a Starred Review calling it: "Superbly written romantic tension comes together with rich historical and scenic detail."

LEAVE A COMMENT: What novel have YOU read recently that's helped you find the joy in life?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Update: THE WINNER OF CAPTURED BY LOVE IS: Cheryl Grubbs! Congrats, Cheryl!! 

Encouragement for Writers Who Don't Know If They Should Keep Going

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I had the recent privilege of doing some paid critiques at a writer's conference. Ahead of the conference, writers sent me twenty pages of their manuscripts which I then read and carefully critiqued.

As I met with each writer one-on-one at the conference, many of them voiced their concerns, saying things like, "I just don't know if I should keep going" or "Should I really be spending so much time on my writing?"

I only had fifteen minutes with each of the writers which I quickly realized wasn't enough time to encourage them the way I would have liked.

So today I thought I'd share everything that I didn't have time to say–a special encouragement for those who've written a book, but don't know if they should keep going . . .

1. Finishing a first book is a HUGE accomplishment. Anyone who does so should be proud of the feat. There are a lot of people who talk about writing a book, who have all kinds of great ideas, or who may even get a few chapters written . . . but for all the good intentions, they never complete the book.

I always applaud anyone who actually makes it to "the end" of the first book or two. It shows that we have the endurance and self-discipline to persevere.

My first books were my hardest to write. Half the time I didn't know what I was doing or where the story was going. I was filled with all kinds of self-doubts and didn't really know if I had what it took to be good.

But isn't that true of anything we just begin? For example when I first started running a year ago, I wanted to puke and die every single step of the run . . . even though I only went around the block (which is barely a mile!). I can't say that I run effortlessly now, but it sure is a LOT easier than when I started and I can go a lot further.

The same is true of writing. If we can write the first book or two (or three), our writing muscles and skills grow stronger. And while writing may never be totally effortless, it will get easier.

2. Don't get overwhelmed with well-intentioned feedback. I have to be honest, I was never brave enough to get feedback on my first few novels. I never let any eyes but my own ever see them. So I admire those writers who can take critiques on early manuscripts.

I would just caution against getting overwhelmed by all of the advice. I've seen too many writers who spin their wheels editing the same chapters (or same book) over and over and trying to perfect it. While there's nothing wrong with improving a manuscript, sometimes being in editing mode for too long can zap the joy out of writing.

It's best for "younger" writers to keep the writing hand moving and the creative part of the brain unfettered. If we apply what we're learning as we write the next book, we're bound to take greater strides forward than if we simply keep nitpicking an old manuscript. After completing several manuscripts we'll be able to look back on our first ones and see how far we've come.

3. Finally, keep the dream of publication alive. We can't let it die because we think it's too hard to get an agent or land a book deal, or because there are already too many books out there, or because of the uncertainty of the market.

The good news is that publishers and readers still love discovering new authors. There will always be a place for an author who has honed her writing craft and is able to tell a riveting story. But that means, however, that we can't rush the process, that we have to make the effort to actually hone our skills and learn what comprises a good story. Taking the time to "do writing" right still works best in the long run.

My Summary: Should you keep going? Do you have what it takes? If you love writing and if you're passionate about story-telling, then keep fanning the flame. Don't let the dreams of publication die. Maybe you won't find extreme riches and fame, but you'll find extreme satisfaction in a story well-told.

What about YOU? Do you ever struggle with knowing whether YOU should continue writing? What's helped you to keep going?

P.S. If you haven't yet downloaded my FREE e-novella, OUT OF THE STORM, I invite you to give it a try! Amazon, B&N, and CBD

The Growing Popularity of Novellas

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

If you're like me, you may not have read many novellas in your life. In fact, for a long time I didn't even really know what a novella was.

Over the years, I've learned that a novella is simply a short novel, usually about a quarter of the size of a full length book. It contains all the same elements as a novel–well-drawn characters, interesting plot, love interest (if you're writing romance), and internal character growth. But . . . obviously, the story is much less complicated and moves fairly quickly.

With the advent of ebooks, the publishing industry has been experimenting a lot to discover what works in this new age. And of course that means authors and publishers have experimented with novellas–particularly e-novellas which are available for e-readers but usually not in print.

While e-novellas go through the same editing, cover design, and formatting process as full length novels, the shorter word count obviously cuts back on some of the time and cost involved in the process. So does the fact that the e-novella doesn't have to be printed, sent out to distributors, put in buyer catalogs, etc.

In addition to the fact that novellas are quicker to write and produce, publishers and authors are also seeing some other benefits to e-novellas:

1. Novellas can act as a marketing tool. 

Authors and publishers have quickly realized that one of the best promotional/marketing tools is to offer a book at a discounted price (or perhaps even for free) as a means of attracting attention to the author's other books. Readers see the discounted or free book, read it, then (hopefully) fall in love with the writer and go on to purchase her other books.

While writers may balk at discounting or giving away full length novels that require considerable time and effort, we're more apt to consider putting a novella up for sale. We realize that in the short term, the sale can give us more exposure and sometimes move us up into best-seller ranks.

My publisher has been experimenting with giving away novellas as a way to kick off a series. For example, I just had an e-novella, Out of the Storm, release that introduces my new historical romance lighthouse series. The first full-length novel, Love Unexpected, comes out Dec. 1, but the free novella just released as a way to introduce readers to the series and get them excited about the first book.

2. Novellas help build a backlist.

This has clearly become an age when having multiple books for sale works to an author's advantage. Not too many years ago, once books were out-of-print or no longer on a bookstore shelf, the books basically died (sometimes a quick death!).

But now, those previously published books (also known as a backlist) are continuously available for readers online. Once a reader finishes a current release, they're able to go to any online bookstore, to the author's website, or to Goodreads and easily view and purchase the rest of the author's books.

The ease and availability of past books means that having a multitude of books works to an author's advantage. Readers talk about and continue to promote our older books which in turn helps current books. In a sense, the book promotion becomes cyclical.

Since newer authors don't have a large backlist, novellas can become one way to help build a strong author presence a little faster and that backlist then helps continue to promote current books.

3. Novellas appeal to the busy modern reader.  

The shorter length and the subsequently lower price, make novellas an easy buy.

Let's face it. The modern readers' attention is growing shorter especially since so many things are competing for their limited time. That means readers are more hesitant to pay $10-$15 on a new book that they might not have time to actually read.

But readers are more willing to pay a couple of bucks. If they end up not having the time or end up not liking the author, then they don't feel they've "blown" their money. Thus the shorter, inexpensive book offers an appeal that can put novellas at an advantage over longer more expensive books.

What do you think? Have you read any novellas lately? Do you like or dislike them?

If you haven't read a novella yet, I invite you to try mine, Out of the Storm. It's FREE! See what you think, then come back and let me know. Links to download the ebook: Amazon, Barnes & Noble,

A Few Tips for More Complicated POV Issues

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I recently shared some Point of View Basics that every writer should know. As always, such posts raise even more questions! I'll take some time to answer a few of those questions that dig deeper into more complicated POV issues.

Question: What is your view of having the same scene in both the heroine and hero's POVs? I'm working on a scene at the moment that I'd like to tell in both POVs to contrast the girl's over-analytical, dramatizing POV with the guys low key "what you see is what you get" POV. But I'm not sure if it's a good idea.

My Answer: As far as having the same scene in two POVs, that will depend on your voice and story. I think it can be done, and I've seen it done well (and have done it myself on occasion). One caution is to make sure not to jump back in time when switching POV's, but instead to continue the scene at the point where the other character leaves off.

I also see some writers switching POV mid-scene as a cop-out, to avoid having to do the hard work of SHOWING what the other character on stage is feeling. It's much easier (but not necessarily better!) to change POV and hop over into the head of the other character and use internal narration for the reaction. While not wrong to switch, we have to make sure we're not trying to short-cut the more complicated job of showing reactions and feelings.

Question: When writing a scene that involves multiple POV characters, how can a writer determine which character is BEST to use for telling the scene?

My Answer: I usually ask myself, who has the most at stake in this scene? Or which POV will add the most drama, conflict, and tension to the scene?

Sometimes, if the scene is a toss-up (meaning I could tell the scene equally well from any of my character's POV), then I go back and see who hasn't had center-stage in a while and try to give them their due time.

Question: I have a character planned who I want to give some POV snippets, but I'm not introducing this character until midway through my book. Any suggestions on how to best handle this?

My Answer: First we need to ask ourselves why we want to introduce another POV. What purpose will it serve the plot? Is it really necessary for the story? If we have to wait to introduce this character, we may want to ask ourselves if we're starting the story in the right place. Usually any main character that is pivotal to the plot needs an introduction into the story fairly early on, even if we only mention them by name, foreshadow, or allude to them.

However, for a series, we may be able to get away with introducing a main character from the next book slightly later in the book. Just be aware that a completely new POV later in the book may jar your reader.

Question: When is it okay to move from third person POV to omniscient?

My Answer: We need to pick either third person or omniscient and stick with one rather than switching back and forth.Third person involves getting inside our character's head and living out the story as much as we possibly can from her perspective. An omniscient narrator, on the other hand, is looking down on the story and viewing everything at the same time.

Sometimes writers unknowingly shift from third POV to omniscient. This subtle but jarring shift happens when we're inside our character but then move outside her head so that now she's looking at herself as if suspended above her body. We do this when we have our character describe her own smile, eye color, or any other bodily action that would noticeable by others, but that she wouldn't notice about herself.

Question: If I write a YA novel in first person but want to have a short snippet in third from the antagonist's POV, would that be okay?

My Answer: Some authors do a good job of switching between first and third POV but almost always do so at a scene or chapter break. Again, before doing so, I would ask if the technique is completely necessary. Are there other ways to accomplish the goal?

In the case of antagonists, sometimes we can add suspense by getting into the antagonist's POV and thus showing the disaster that's heading toward our heroine (when she has no clue). On the other hand, sometimes we add more suspense when we hint at the danger, or lay clues, but don't spell it all out by getting inside the antagonist.

My Summary: Know the basics about POV. But as with any writing "rules," once we know the fundamentals, then we can mold and make them whatever we need for our unique stories.

What other questions do you have about POV or any other writing techniques that you'd like to see me address in a future blog post? Ask away! :-)

7 Point-of-View Basics Every Writer Should Know

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

In writing lingo we refer to point-of-view (POV) as the character through whom we tell the story. We get into the head of a particular character and see the story through her eyes. Sometimes we have one POV through the whole story. Other times we have multiple POVs.

Recently while reading a book, I became confused with some of the point of view changes. It was a really good story in many ways, and the author has had a long term writing career. So I was surprised to have to slog my way through several spots of hopping from one head to the next.

As I thought about the POV issues, I realized that during the last ten years, POV “rules” have grown more firm. Editors, agents, and readers want clear, concise, easy-to-read stories. Head-hopping can brand us as an amateur. That means we have to understand some of the basics that go into having clear POVs.

1. Strategically pick the number of POV characters. We can’t get into the head of every character in our books. Nor should we randomly or haphazardly pick POV characters. We should usually try to narrow down those characters we want our readers to care most about—usually the main characters (hero and heroine). Sometimes, I’ve seen writers tell snippets of the plot from the POV of the antagonist to add tension.

If we add too many POVs, we risk confusing our readers. We also risk developing shallower characters since we’ll have less time in each person’s head, giving our readers less of an opportunity to get to know and thus love the characters.

2. Introduce all the POV characters within the first few chapters. We won’t want to all-of-a-sudden halfway through the book throw in a new POV from one of our characters that hasn’t had a voice yet. It’s best if we introduce all of our POV characters fairly early in the story.

3. Delineate POV changes by a line break or chapter break. In other words, we need to make it very clear when we’re switching to someone else’s POV. Hopping heads halfway through a scene just doesn’t work anymore (if it ever did).

If I want to change POV, I finish the scene first. Before I change POV, I move to a new stage, new setting, and new plot point. Of course, this means before starting each scene I have to determine which POV character will help accomplish the goals for the scene most adequately. And if I need readers to “get in the head” of another POV character during that scene, then I have to SHOW the reactions (or wait to recap their thoughts when their POV comes along in a later scene).

4. After a POV break, clarify the new POV within the first sentence or two. I usually try to use the new POV character’s name in the first sentence. And if not, then I weave it in the second sentence so that my readers are clear right from the start of the scene whose head they’re in. If switching among first person POV, I often write out the character's name/title at the start of the scene or chapter.

5. Bring in each POV character regularly. I don’t perfectly alternate scenes between my hero and heroine. Sometimes I may need a couple of scenes in my heroine’s POV or vice versa. But I try not to go too long in one person’s head. For those writing with three or more POVs, the juggling can get even more complicated. But we have to remember to keep all the balls in the air.

6. Beware of making POV scenes too short. Story pacing will play a role in how long our scenes are. When we find ourselves changing POV every few paragraphs or multiple times per scene, then we may begin to annoy our readers. If we don’t have a long enough scene, then perhaps we don’t have enough goals and need to consider how we can combine the scene with another.

7. Once in a POV, stick with it carefully. When we get into one of our character’s heads, we need to do the best we can to see, hear, taste, touch, smell, and think about everything the way that particular character would. The more we can stay deeply inside our POV character, the more alive that character will become to our readers.

Remember, we can’t have our characters noticing things about themselves that they wouldn’t normally see. If in doubt, use the mirror test: Am I describing something about my character she would see of herself (i.e. the protruding blue veins in her hand)? Or would she need a mirror to notice it (i.e. the color of her own eyes)?

If she needs a mirror, then she shouldn’t be thinking it about herself (unless she really is looking into a mirror, which incidentally has become a clich├ęd way of having characters describe themselves).

What other POV tips do you have? What's been your biggest struggle in handling POV changes?
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