Thursday, September 27, 2012

Story Outline Method

Having now written over a dozen full novels, I’ve come to the conclusion there isn’t one “right” way to write a novel; there are over a dozen.  Each novel is unique, not only in its storyline, but in its development process. 

For a new novel I’m planning to write during the month of November for the annual NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I’m using the Story Outline Method, and I love it. Please visit for more information.

What is the story outline method?  Simple – it’s an outline of your novel – constructed before you write the first word.   Here are some of the steps I’m using with this new novel.

·         Before I even think about the name for the novel, I must think on  a grand scale what the general setting of the story is, what I want it to show in the story, and what I want the main theme to depict.  Once I have a general overview, I have EVERYTHING I need to start.

·         I then decide what length I’d LIKE to have the story.  Short Story (300 – 3,000 words), Novella (less than 40,000 words), Novel (50,000 – 100,000 words), or Epic (100,000 +). I also decide the genre (fantasy, urban, historical, romance, sci-fi, chick lit, literary fiction, etc., and writing style (first person, third person, omniscient, Active/Passive, Showing/Telling

·         I also decide who will be my protagonists & antagonists and write up Character Dossiers for those main characters only.  This is where I get the first clear glimpse of my characters.  This is also a great tool to use to ensure your characters are not all cookie-cutters of the same character.  There’s nothing more boring than reading a novel when ALL the characters in the story act, think and respond in exact or similar manners.  Doing a character dossier will allow you to individualize your characters, as well as provide the writer with a resource to review when writing that character – so the character can develop but remain true to the writer’s initial intent. (Will post a blog later this week on Character Dossiers.)

·         I then consider how many chapters, and then do a “Story Structure” (see blog post titled “A Story Structure”) to make sure my plot points hit at certain segments in the story.  I then fill in the chapter summaries with ideas I’d like to see covered between those certain segments – ideas that move the plot of the story.  (There’s nothing more irritating than reading a story and the plot changes, or the original plot morphed(or is forgotten) into something else, so a reader finishes a different story than they began.) Writing out chapter summaries, lets me see the story from a broader picture, and serves as a guide when I go to write that particular chapter.  (Always:  the story doesn’t have to be exact to the summary.  The purpose of the summary is to provide the writer with a clear ‘direction’, but the genius and skill of writer will emerge as they put fingertips to keyboard during the actual writing process.

·         Finally, I create a story board (a large dry-erase or peg board), complete with plot points, pictures, and notes essential for the story.  This board is mostly used for inspiration during the planning and writing process; serving as a reminder of important things to be included in the novel. 

Again, I want to stress that this is just ONE method of writing.  I’ve used this method before and it worked great.  I think the most important part of writing is to do what excites, inspires and energizes you.  You MUST love what you’re doing, or it will just be  a burden, not a true labor of love.

Good luck with your next novel and my greatest hope is that this little bit of writing advice has inspired you to get busy on your next great idea.  Perhaps this could also be a help for someone who finds themselves ‘stalled’ in their current work.  The Story Outline Method is a great process that can help identify problems or weak areas in a story.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review - The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

Review – The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Tor
Genre: Fantasy

Book Description:

Publication Date: August 31, 2010

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.


What a story!  Though difficult to capture my full attention at the beginning, because of the erratic jumping of time and introduction of unknown and undeveloped characters, I did, however, experience perpetual interest and involvement.  Combined with constant encouragement from my son, I stuck with it.  I’m so glad I did.

Sanderson does a superb job laying foundations, story threads and the outer layers of a well-defined world and system of society, it didn’t take too long before I was completely enraptured and transported into this other realm; capturing my imagination from the scenery to the politics.  My heart, however, didn’t become invested until I was introduced to the struggle and enslavement of Kaladin Stormblessed and his plight with the forlorn bridgemen. 

For the next several days, I spent every open opportunity to discover what was, what had been and what was to come.  The confusing beginning became clearer, as questions began to be answered, and as events became align for and against our central protagonist. Instead of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the story, I found myself feeling anxious and sad at its conclusion, highly anticipating the next installment.

This story is action-packed with lots of battles, lots of lore, and lots of gut-wrenching scenes.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray
Author of the Arcainian Series

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Review - The Dragonswarm - Aaron Pogue

Author: Aaron Pogue
Publisher: Consortium Books
Genre: Fantasy






Book Description:

Publication Date: December 20, 2011

The Kingdom of the Sarianne teeters on the brink. While its tyrant king plays out his petty vendettas, rebellion foments on the edges of his domain. Politics and power struggles gamble civilization on the tides of war.

Yet war is not the greatest threat to civilization. A far older enemy rises. The dragons are waking and these fiends of Chaos will swarm across the world of men, razing it to bedrock just as they have done in ages past.

But this time the world of men has a champion in Daven Carrickson. Once a beggar and still a fugitive from the king's justice, Daven is also a hero with unrivaled powers. A brush with one of the deadly dragons left him forever bonded to the beast and able to tap into the ever-shifting maelstrom of Chaos that roils beneath man's fragile reality.

It is a dangerous connection, one that threatens to consume him. Can he pay even that ultimate price if it means the salvation of humanity?


I try to read books that are part of a series consecutively, if I can, but in and of itself, that’s a problem, especially if only part of the series has been published.  That is not the case with this particular novel, being the second book in a trilogy, so there’s no excuse.  Dragonswarm by Aaron Pogue had the misfortune of being read directly following the Kingkiller series by Patrick Rothfuss.   Having said that, Pogue did an excellent job in having Daven pull me out of the magic cloud of Kvothe and drop me into the swarm of dragons – whose names are impossible to pronounce.

If you’re a reader who is more inclined to love a story that is more centered on action and plot development, than character-centered, much like epics like Lord of the Rings by Tolkien or the Gunslinger Series by King, then this is a story for you.  A majority of the writing focuses on the magic, the dragons, the quest, and the ensuing battle.  Pogue is able to create a great visual.

Being a character-centered reader and writer, I would have loved to see more development in the relationship between Daven and his lady love, his schoolboy friend, and more conflict with the King and the leaders at the Academy.  However, I loved the connection Daven had with, and against, the dragons.  I’ve never seen dragons depicted in this particular light before, and found it mesmerizing. The magic shared between the two is also a very imaginative element.

This was a good read.  I enjoyed it, and I would definitely recommend it.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray
Author of the Arcainian Series

Monday, September 10, 2012

10,000 Mark!


The Whimsical World has reached it's 10,000 viewer mark since restarting the counter on January 2012!

Thank you readers.  I do so appreciate your faithfulness!

~T.L. Gray

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Review - The Wise Man's Fear - Patrick Rothfuss

Publisher: DAW
Genre: Fantasy







Book Description:

Publication Date: March 6, 2012

In The Wise Man's Fear, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, forced to reclaim the honor of his family, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived...until Kvothe.
Now, Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.

I’m absolutely intimated at the level of cleverness and whit that Patrick Rothfuss has ingratiated into this second installation of the King-killer Chronicles.  Not only is he a talented story weaver, but these two novels are filled with such knowledge, whit, and character development that it would make any fantasy nerd blush.  I did quite a few times, actually.

If you love a simple story with the regular fantasy formula, this isn’t a tale for you.  However, if you love a good puzzle, an over-abundance of science, history, philosophy, mythology, magic – well, a dire thirst for cleverness, then this is a must read.  Yet, the genius of Rothfuss is not in the level of intelligent ingredients he weaved into this tale - it’s that he makes his work of art look easy.

I love Kvothe, not for his genius, his quick wit, or his talent with music and magic, but for his fallibility, his naivety, and his ignorant innocence.  Most of all, I love his drive, his hope, his bravery in the face of adversity, his failures and weaknesses – and despite his confessions, I love his desire for justice.  These might be all the traditional elements of a fantasy hero that have been written out thousands of times before, but what makes that formula great is the fact it works.  Rothfuss, along with a few other authors I’ve read lately like Michael J. Sullivan, Anthony Ryan, and R.T. Kaelin, really have learned the secret to good character development. 

In a story about heroes, it’s not always what must be done, or the powers they have, that make them great, but who they must become as a person in order to fulfill their destiny.  The process from discovering destiny – to the point of fulfilling it – that is the story.  In the King-Killer Chronicles, The Name of the Wind, Kvothe is introduced at the height of his innocence and the beginning of his thirst for knowledge and wonder of the universe around him.  He is full of all the awe, wonder, and wild-eyed amazement of childhood as he steps lightly onto the path of his destiny.  Then, controversy and adversity descends upon him with the murder of his parents and the introduction of the Chandrian, disrupting that innocence, and introducing him to the path of development of his character.  In The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe begins to grow up and face the hard realities of his decisions, life and what lay ahead for him.  THIS is what I love about his series.  Rothfuss doesn’t tell us a story, he allows Kvothe to reveal it to us in a slow development that involves all emotion and intellect.  The result:  readers become emotionally and intellectually invested, rooting for the hero because of the hero, not the quest.

It is this formula that I’m discovering and loving in the epic fantasies I’ve read lately.  I hope I can apply it to my own stories, and with authors like Rowling, Rothfuss, Sullivan, Kaelin and Sanderson, I think I’ve got some great inspirations to use.

I highly recommend this series, and I want to again thank Michael J. Sullivan for his recommendation.

Till next time,
~T.L. Gray
Author of the Arcainian Series