5 Simple Ways to Outline Your Novel or Short Story


Outlining is often the dreaded phase of writing, perhaps only surpassed by the editing phase.  You’re ready to start typing away, but you have to stop and write down all your jumbled thoughts first so you don’t forget.  It’s exciting, but also intimidating.  You’re going to launch into a story, maybe only three pages or perhaps three hundred depending on your cup of tea.

No matter how long your story is, I advise you make an outline.

Since Elementary school, I have had many teachers tell me I need outlines.  Most of them I ignored. (If you haven’t picked up yet from my other posts, I was never a favorite of my English teachers.)

Want examples of why you should plot out your story?  Just read my first two books, Black Forest and Hollow Dreams.  They are examples of everything not to do when writing a book.

There’s no one perfect method for outlining.  Every writer goes about it a little differently.  

Below I include the methods I have found most useful.

  1. Notecards

While many authors love this method, I’m too disorganized to use it.  Write one scene on different notecards until you have every scene in your book.  Notecards give you the flexibility to shuffle scenes without reworking the entire outline and help you focus on one scene at a time.  Warning: If you’re writing an epic, don’t use this method.  More notecards equal more likelihood of them getting dropped and scattered.  You don’t want to spend hours remembering where your scenes go after you drop them.  I’ve done it, and it’s not fun.

2. yWriter

This free software helps you break your book up into chapters that you can move around or edit at any time.  I preferred to write in Microsoft and copy and paste my words over, but you can also write directly in yWriter and skip Microsoft altogether.  It also has sections for character bios and other fun things.  It’s easy to use after you’re familiar with its many different settings.

If you want to check it out, click here.

3. The School Method

I also call this the classic method.  You follow a standard outline, the kind with Roman numerals, filling in either chapters or any way you want to chop up your book.  I suppose you could even fill it in using character viewpoints, but that might get tricky.  The picture below is one I did.  Instead of Roman numerals, I used dates and wrote beside them what scenes needed to happen at that time.  This works especially well if you have a plot that goes day by day, such as action or thriller.

(Sorry for my atrocious handwriting in this picture.)


4. The Web

I start with the center idea or character of my story in the middle of the page.  Around it, I include all the names of main and secondary characters, movements (revolutions, groups, etc.) and anything else vitally important to the plot.  I circle each and then draw lines to all the things that interconnect.

For instance, take a look at the web I made for City of Deception, my upcoming YA novel.


If you look closely, you notice my main character, Talia, is at the center with lines connecting her to other characters and groups.  This helps me visualize how all the characters interconnect and how their relationships influence each other.

5. Notebook

My favorite method so far.  I’m a bit of a pantser, meaning I write mostly without strict outlines and sometimes even dare to write without any.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to realize why an outline is necessary and try to balance both my plotter and pantser sides.  All I do is take a notebook and write all my ideas in it.  Either on the first page or last, I write down as many scenes as I have in the order I think I want them to be. Often this is only the beginning, end and the inciting incident. Over time I fill in the scenes I come up with, as well as put character bios or notes in the other pages of the notebook.  If I don’t like where a scene is, I erase it or draw an arrow to where I want it to be. It gets messy over time, but it’s the best method I’ve found that gives me structure but not to the point of strangling my creativity.

There are hundreds of different outlining methods, and I haven’t even scratched the surface in the post.  Those listed above are mostly the old-school, straightforward methods for outlining, but I’ve found old-school is often the best method when it comes to writing.  

Get creative with your outline. Draw pictures if you’re an artist or come up with something unique.  Every writer has their own methods and only you can come up with yours.   

How to Deal with Criticism as a Writer



One of perhaps the hardest things for writers to overcome is the fear of facing criticism.  

I hate to tell you, but it is inevitable.  Eventually, someone will not like your work.  It will hurt, but you want to know a secret?

Criticism is what makes you a better writer.

I have been fairly lucky when it comes to people reviewing my work, but there have been times where someone tells me they didn’t like a particular scene or that they think my work is too “young.” (I’m nineteen and published my first book, for better or worse, as fifteen.  I heard this OFTEN when I first started out.)

Now, I know that it doesn’t seem like that sort of comment should have bothered me, but at the time, it really hurt.  I was lucky enough to receive mostly favorable reviews, but it didn’t matter.  One negative comment would have annoyed me no matter how many five stars I received.

Looking back, it all seems a little silly, but I know every writer hits a point like this when one negative piece of feedback just seems to be ripping your heart open.  Your book is your baby.  You don’t want to hear how you or it failed.

Negative feedback isn’t a sign of failure if you use the information to make your future writing better. Actually, you should LOOK for the critics.  Without criticism, how do you expect to find the weak points in your writing and make it better?

However, I believe there are three different types of criticism, and only one of them is the healthy kind that builds you up as a writer.  The other two you need to ignore because they will only tear you down.


  1. Spammy Criticism:

As my dad said once to me, this kind of criticism comes from keyboard bullies.  They are the ones that post in the comment section of blogs not with helpful information, but rather a bunch of nonsense that angers more people than it helps.  This kind of criticism exists to annoy you.  It’s rarely true and is just as the name I gave it suggests: spam.  Flat out ignore it.

2. Self-Criticism

Stepping back and questioning the integrity and quality of your writing is a healthy practice.  You are your best critic, but likewise your worst.  It’s sometimes hard to distinguish between taking a good look at your writing and judging yourself on things that don’t matter.  Self-criticism can quickly morph into self-doubt, and while it’s normal to have a little self-doubt, it’s not normal to get yourself in a panic over things that are out of your control.  I am quite familiar with the fine line between the two, and even after two self-published novels and a third one soon to come I still have to evaluate almost every day whether I’m dealing with self-criticism or it’s deadly twin, self-doubt.

3. Constructive Criticism 

You might remember this term from when you wrote papers in school and your teacher scribbled “helpful” revision comments in the margins before giving it back to you.  Then, if you were at all like me, you remember those comments as a pain and another long night of homework.

I hate to tell you, you still need constructive criticism now.  Occasionally having an unbiased person review your work and give useful feedback is important for a writer.  This is healthy and the only kind of criticism you really need to focus on.


So, next time you receive feedback, remember that whoever said it is actually helping you.  Don’t go after them and demand to know how they could say something bad about your work.  Instead, ask them to explain what they meant and even see if they have anything else to say to help you improve your work.


Wow.  As I read back down through this post, I’m starting to remind myself of one of my previous teachers.  That teacher used to preach about constructive criticism, but I always hated it.  Funny how viewpoints change.

Before I get weirded out by that thought, I’m going to leave you with this post.

As always, hope this helps!  Feel free to leave a comment or question below.


Top 10 YA Books For National Reading Day 2017


Today, January 23, is National Reading Day!  What better way to celebrate than curled up with a good book?  

National Reading Day is a little overshadowed by Trump’s recent inauguration,  but no fear. Need to get away from the media’s and your Facebook friends’ onslaught of political news?

Then pick up a book!

I’m going to curl up by the fire and read Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, but I’ve included it as well as nine others below in case you need suggestions.

  1.  Grave Mercy 



Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.
Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

My Thoughts:

Death, history, and romance?  Yes, Please!  (And look at that cover!)

I’m only halfway through, but if the second half is as good as the first half, then this is a book I will definitely recommend.  It’s fast-paced, beautifully written, and certainly a different take on the typical “historical-fantasy” novel.

Click here to view it on Amazon

2. The Wrath and the Dawn



A sumptuous and epically told love story inspired by A Thousand and One Nights

Every dawn brings horror to a different family in a land ruled by a killer. Khalid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan, takes a new bride each night only to have her executed at sunrise. So it is a suspicious surprise when sixteen-year-old Shahrzad volunteers to marry Khalid. But she does so with a clever plan to stay alive and exact revenge on the Caliph for the murder of her best friend and countless other girls. Shazi’s wit and will, indeed, get her through to the dawn that no others have seen, but with a catch . . . she’s falling in love with the very boy who killed her dearest friend.

She discovers that the murderous boy-king is not all that he seems and neither are the deaths of so many girls. Shazi is determined to uncover the reason for the murders and to break the cycle once and for all.

My Thoughts:

I must say, I’m not a fan of this new cover (the old one is much better, but obviously, that’s just my opinion).  However, this is an amazing story filled with rich details, a complicated love story, and an ending that will make you want to have the sequel, The Rose and The Dagger, immediately on hand.

Click here to view it on Amazon

3. Cinder

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

My Thoughts:

The first time I read the synopsis, I couldn’t imagine how the story could be any good.  A cyborg Cinderella?  It just wasn’t my cup of tea.

But a few years later I picked it up again out of curiosity over all the good reviews it was receiving and was extremely impressed.  It will make you laugh, cry, sit on the edge of your seat and swoon.  I can’t say enough good things about Cinder and the rest of the books in the series.

Click here to view it on Amazon

4. Red Queen


red-queenGraceling meets The Selection in debut novelist Victoria Aveyard’s sweeping tale of seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose once-latent magical power draws her into the dangerous intrigue of the king’s palace. Will her power save her or condemn her?

Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the king, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own.

To cover up this impossibility, the king forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything and uses her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal.

My Thoughts:

Alas, I have not read it yet, but everyone I know who has read it recommends it to me.  So, I’ll take it on their good word that it is worth reading.  How could it not be with that cover?

Click here to view it on Amazon

5. These Broken Stars



It’s a night like any other on board the Icarus. Then, catastrophe strikes: the massive luxury spaceliner is yanked out of hyperspace and plummets into the nearest planet. Lilac LaRoux and Tarver Merendsen survive. And they seem to be alone. Lilac is the daughter of the richest man in the universe. Tarver comes from nothing, a young war hero who learned long ago that girls like Lilac are more trouble than they’re worth. But with only each other to rely on, Lilac and Tarver must work together, making a tortuous journey across the eerie, deserted terrain to seek help. Then, against all odds, Lilac and Tarver find a strange blessing in the tragedy that has thrown them into each other’s arms. Without the hope of a future together in their own world, they begin to wonder—would they be better off staying here forever? Everything changes when they uncover the truth behind the chilling whispers that haunt their every step. Lilac and Tarver may find a way off this planet. But they won’t be the same people who landed on it. The first in a sweeping science fiction trilogy, These Broken Stars is a timeless love story about hope and survival in the face of unthinkable odds.

My Thoughts:

I like that this isn’t your typical sci-fi story.  It includes the fight for survival under impossible odds and is unlike anything else I’ve read.  I love that the characters are realistic and their reactions to their situation seem natural, not like paper cut outs forced to do the authors’ bidding.  This is by far one of my favorite YA books.

Click here to view it on Amazon

6. Into the Dim


into-the-dimWhen fragile, sixteen-year-old Hope Walton loses her mom to an earthquake overseas, her secluded world crumbles. Agreeing to spend the summer in Scotland, Hope discovers that her mother was more than a brilliant academic, but also a member of a secret society of time travelers. And she’s alive, though currently trapped in the twelfth century, during the age of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Hope has seventy-two hours to rescue her mother and get back to their own time. Passing through the Dim, Hope enters a brutal medieval world of political intrigue, danger, and violence. A place where any serious interference could alter the very course of history. And when she meets a boy whose face is impossibly familiar, she must decide between her mission and her heart—both of which could leave Hope trapped in the past forever.

My Thoughts:

Admittedly, the first fifty pages are a little slow.  However, once you get through those, the story really takes off.  If you like the middle ages, then this book is for you.  It’s historically accurate and a fun time travel novel.

Click here to view it on Amazon

7. The Girl From Everywhere


Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.
As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.
But the end to it all looms closer every day.
Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.
For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.
She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.
Or she could disappear.

My Thoughts:

This is a very fast-paced story.  Once or twice I had to stop and process what I just read because I had to think back to something twenty pages earlier.  In some ways, it’s more like a time travel mystery because Nix is discovering so much about her heritage, history, and Navigation.  As long as you stay on top of the details, this is a great story. Also, if you read it now, you’ll be ready for the release of its sequel, The Ship Beyond Time, on February 28th.

Click here to view it on Amazon

8. Carve the Mark


Fans of Star Wars and Divergent will revel in internationally bestselling author Veronica Roth’s stunning new science-fiction fantasy series.

On a planet where violence and vengeance rule, in a galaxy where some are favored by fate, everyone develops a currentgift, a unique power meant to shape the future. While most benefit from their currentgifts, Akos and Cyra do not—their gifts make them vulnerable to others’ control. Can they reclaim their gifts, their fates, and their lives, and reset the balance of power in this world?

Cyra is the sister of the brutal tyrant who rules the Shotet people. Cyra’s currentgift gives her pain and power—something her brother exploits, using her to torture his enemies. But Cyra is much more than just a blade in her brother’s hand: she is resilient, quick on her feet, and smarter than he knows.

Akos is from the peace-loving nation of Thuvhe, and his loyalty to his family is limitless. Though protected by his unusual currentgift, once Akos and his brother are captured by enemy Shotet soldiers, Akos is desperate to get his brother out alive—no matter what the cost. When Akos is thrust into Cyra’s world, the enmity between their countries and families seems insurmountable. They must decide to help each other to survive—or to destroy one another.

My Thoughts:

This just released on January 17th, so I have yet to read it.  If it is anything like her other books, I suspect it will create a lot of buzz in the YA community over the next few months.  It sounds interesting, and I think I fell in love with that cover the first time I saw it.

9.  My Lady Jane


This comical, fantastical, romantical, New York Times bestselling, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey is “an uproarious historical fantasy that’s not to be missed” (Publishers Weekly, starred review). In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind YA fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

My Thoughts:

If you need a good laugh, then this is for you.  I don’t usually like books that completely change historical facts, but that is the thing that makes this story so humorous.  You never know what to expect, and the bumbling actions of the characters make them far more realistic and all too relatable.

Click here to view it on Amazon

10. Something Strange And Deadly


Sixteen-year-old Eleanor Fitt’s brother is missing. And when she discovers that the Dead are rising in Philadelphia and wreaking havoc throughout the city, she knows that her brother is involved.

So Eleanor enlists the help of the Spirit-Hunters. This motley crew, hired to protect the city from supernatural forces, is after the necromancer who has been reanimating corpses. Their skills can save her brother. But as Eleanor spends time with the Spirit-Hunters, and their handsome inventor, Daniel, the situation becomes dire. Now not only is her reputation at risk, but her very life may hang in the balance.

In Something Strange and Deadly, the first book in a trilogy, Susan Dennard weaves together vividly imagined scenes of action, adventure, and gorgeous Victorian fashion to create an entertaining steampunk tapestry of humor, horror, and romance. Readers who love Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices series will be intrigued from the start.

My Thoughts:

I first picked this up this past summer while browsing through a used bookstore in North Carolina.  It happened to be a first edition, signed copy for $5, and I didn’t realize it was either of those things until I’d already bought it and walked out of the store. To say the least, I was quite happy.

I’m not a fan of zombie stories, but this was so unique that I liked it.  Fighting zombies in the Victorian era in Philadelphia?  Yeah, not a lot of books like it.  I will warn, it’s not a happily ever after story, especially if you read the entire series.  Have tissues ready for it’s a bittersweet ending.

Click here to view it on Amazon

So there you have it, ten books to read for National Reading Day.  Now get off the internet and go read!

What Anxiety Taught Me About Myself



Thank God 2016 is over.

As you’ve probably noticed, I haven’t published a post in 8 months.  I was supposed to publish a book, City of Deception, in July, but it never came out.  I planned to go to university and study history, my second favorite subject only surpassed by writing.  I planned to get my own apartment within the next eighteen months.

But life is a tricky thing, and the last year and a half have been some of the most difficult and stressful months for my family and me.  If something could go wrong, it did or tried to.

I learned how crippling anxiety can be, and spent most of the summer holed up at home recovering from a year that kept getting worse.  It taught me I’m not as strong and invincible as I think.

So, here’s what happened:

I’m nineteen and finished my freshman year at University.  Last fall, about the time I started this blog, I packed up my belongings and moved ten minutes from home into the dorm with one of my best friends as my roommate.  For the first few months, I adjusted to college life, learning that eating pancakes at midnight is normal and studying your butt off ten minutes before your final exam is protocol.  Despite a few mishaps and arguments on my hall, I succeded at being on the Deans list.

But then about January, something happened.

I started getting more than a few butterflies in my stomach when I had to go to social functions (I’m an introvert at heart, but this was extreme).  I struggled to maintain eye contact with people during conversations and trivial things like phone calls to meeting people in the cafeteria for dinner sent me off to my room trembling.

By March, I pretty much spent most of my time in my room with Netflix, chocolate, and impending due dates.  I couldn’t write, something that calmed me down, because my characters reflected my anxiety making me more worried.  It sucked.

Then in April, the panic attacks came.  I’d go to class, do my assignments (because I’m a perfectionist and hate when things try to stop me or slow me down) and spend a lot of time sitting on my bed reading crappy vampire novels just to escape the moment.  Just having to pass people in the hall would all but send me into panic mode.  The anxiety never stopped.

I chose to take a gap year after meeting with a professor one day and all but crying in his office because I physically couldn’t make myself do a presentation for their class.  I would have vomited had I tried to do the presentation.

The point of this post is if you feel I’ve been ignoring you all, I haven’t.  I’ve been struggling, but now am back.  Thank you to everyone supporting me (which, frankly, is few people because most don’t know.)  To those suffering from anxiety: I know what it feels like, and I swear you’ll get through it.  There will be a lot of tears and arguments and ice cream runs, but you will persevere.  I had to choose to change my life by taking a year off against the wishes and advice of almost everyone who knows me.  Do whatever YOU need to deal with anxiety.  Don’t make the mistake of letting others dictate life for you.  Only you really know what you need.

The best way to explain what this is like is how one feels after a long sickness.  Your muscles are sore and you can’t just jump back into your usual routine.  You have to slowly go back to your normal schedules and activities slowly, and that’s what I’m attempting to do.  (I realize that is a lacking example.)

I have people doubting me, especially for taking some time from college.  I might not ever go back.  I don’t know.  Every time I get on Facebook and see how much all my friends have done in one year while I’ve been struggling just to live normally frustrates and depresses me.  Sometimes I cry for no reason.

The last months have taught me the true meaning of one of my favorite Robert Burns quotes:

“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

Robert Burns

I thought I could plan everything and be strong, but it turns out I can’t get everything right all the time and I am far, far from perfect.  I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.  I don’t know what God has in store or why I have to go through this.

Don’t ask me what I’m going to do because I don’t know.  Every bone in my body screams in terror over the decisions I’m making.  Most days I feel immobile, but I’m doing my best.

All I know is I’m going to get back on my feet and live my life.  I still have anxiety, but I’m learning how to deal with it.  I hope others with anxiety also learn to embrace it and live a meaningful life.