How to Outline a Novel for NaNoWriMo 2015

Notebook next to computer.Before I start, I want to make it perfectly clear that this is not the only way to outline a story, nor is it a guaranteed formula for success. I don’t believe there are formulas for success. However, it is my hope that this will help someone, as these methods and techniques have helped me over the years.

Anyone who has been writing for a while knows there are two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. Plotters figure out what’s going to happen in their story before they ever start writing it. Pantsers sit down and write with no idea what comes next. If you’re a plotter, or curious about the outline process, NaNoWriMo may be the perfect time to exercise your outlining skills. Continue reading “How to Outline a Novel for NaNoWriMo 2015”

Keyboards and Repetitive Stress Injury – An Experiment in Progress

GoldTouch Keyboard
My GoldTouch Keyboard configured in “Boring Mode”.

For at least two years now, I’ve been suffering off-and-on with pain in my arm when typing. This pain seems to be related to my neck, and when I apply a heating pad to my neck and take Varlarian root (an herbal relaxer I found years ago to deal with my low back problems), it usually gets better, but it doesn’t go away until I can pop my neck. In fact, once my neck pops, I feel relief go all the way down my arm and I can usually go the rest of the day without significant pain. I’ve assumed this was all caused by a car wreck I had in ’08 where my neck was stretched and the liniments in my neck were strained. Now, I’m rethinking the idea that the cause is in my neck.

Let me start a the beginning and work my way forward.

Years ago, I thought I had carpel tunnel and my psychical therapist showed me A) that it wasn’t carpel tunnel and B) how to alleviate that pain. Even after the pain subsided, I decided to use ergonomic keyboards from that point forward. I got a Microsoft Ergonomic Media keyboard with hotkeys for Windows 98/XP and wrote four novels with it (all unpublished, I wasn’t a great writer). By that time, many of the keycaps were worn smooth and the spacebar actually had a grove on it from my thumb hitting it so much. Then, sometime after novel attempt #4, the cord shorted out and I couldn’t buy a direct replacement, as Microsoft had discontinued that particular generation of product. Continue reading “Keyboards and Repetitive Stress Injury – An Experiment in Progress”


The To-Read StackToday is apparently National Writing Day, and I had no idea until I saw the top trending topic on Twitter is #WhyIWrite. Twitter does seem to be the epicenter for writers and social media.

Why I write is simple. I write because the story is inside me, demanding to be let out. I write because I can’t imagine a world in which those stories exist only inside me. I write because there’s freedom in yelling to the call. I write because I believe in the deepest parts of my soul that writing is what God created me for. I write because it’s my life’s work.

I write because it’s time, because it’s what I need to do. And, I wager, that’s why you write too.

Is It Just Me, Or Have I Lost Sight of What’s Important?

It’s 5 o’clock in the morning and I should be sleeping. Things just keep running through my head and instead of laying in bed, snoring, I’m sitting here with my computer on my lap scouring through social media for… I don’t know what for. I have no idea. None whatsoever.

Do you know how much life is “lived” on social media? I can’t imagine the hours I’ve spent reading Facebook posts, reading other people’s Tweets, liking and favoriting things other people thought and typed.

Am I insane? Is my life so empty that I have to live vicariously through other people’s typing? And if so, why can’t I live vicariously through books?  Continue reading “Is It Just Me, Or Have I Lost Sight of What’s Important?”

National Novel Writing Month is Here!

Maybe you’ve never heard of National Novel Writing Month. If you’re on Twitter, you’re probably seeing the #NaNoWriMo tag trending. Every November, millions of writers sign up to perform a seemingly simple task–write 50,000 words in 30 days or less. This year, I’m one of those writers! Day one got off to a slow but productive start, day two looks pretty slow too. Fingers cross, here’s hoping that by the end of the week I’ll be on track to finish.

GIVEAWAY: Three Act What? Great Story Structure and Why You Need It

Three Act What? by S.J. Murray

UPDATE: Twitter user Amber Crafton received her free copy of THREE ACT WHAT? today. If you’re a writer, be sure to follow S.J. Murray on Twitter and pick up your copy of THREE ACT WHAT?

Aristotle described story structure as such, “A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end.” As uninspiring as that may seem, this is the foundation upon which all good storytelling is built: the three-act structure.

If you’re a writer and you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve heard about the three-act structure ad nauseum. I can remember my kindergarten teacher going over it in class—and, while I’m thinking about it, thank you for that!—and revisiting it almost every year during school. Odds are, you’ve been exposed to it just as heavily. But how many writers really understand the three-act structure?

There’s countless writing books that expound on it. Blake Snyder may be remembered for the storytelling techniques and beat structures he proposed in Save the Cat, but in that book, he also gave a fairly concise method for outlining screenplays with index cards using the three-act structure. I believe that before any writer can make use of tools like Snyder’s beat sheet or even outline effectively, they must first understand the fundamentals of storytelling structure: the basic three-act structure.

A while back, I was fortunate enough to discover S.J. Murray’s wonderful book, THREE ACT WHAT? As a student of writing for nearly two decades, I found myself highlighting passages and taking notes like crazy.

Who is S.J. Murray? She’s an emmy-nominated screenwriter, Hollywood story consultant, and professor at Baylor University—trust me, this book is well worth reading, and it’s priced at only $4.99.

Thanks both to her generosity and the generosity of her publishers, Livingston+McKay, I have a promo code for a copy of Three Act What that to give away on Friday, July 4th, 2014. This is an interactive ebook published on the Snippet platform, and can be read in a web browser or on a tablet. Some of the best features about this book are the  videos included at periodic intervals, either expanding on the subject of the chapter or expanding on the craft of writing itself.

To enter, leave a comment on this blog post, on my Facebook, or send a reply to me on Twitter—BEFORE MIDNIGHT July 3rd, 2014—telling me how a better understanding of story structure would improve your writing. The best responses will be put in a random drawing and I’ll announce a winner on Friday, July 4th, 2014. I’m seriously excited for whoever wins because I know it will help you become an even better writer.

Follow S. J. Murray on Twitter. Follow Livingston+McKay on Twitter or on Facebook.

Never Stop Learning. Ever.

When the Jim Carrey movie Bruce Almighty hit theaters, I thought it was the most blasphemous concept for a movie I’d ever heard. I mean, Morgan Freeman playing God? And then vacating His powers to Carrey? Yet when someone finally sat me down with a DVD copy of the film and assured me it wasn’t as blasphemous as I thought, I found that I really liked the story. I especially liked the conceit that, even though we all think we know what’s best for everyone around us, if any of us had our way all the time, it would seriously mess everything up. As a whole, people have too many conflicting interests and too many conflicting world views. Plus, the examination of free will in the film is as good as any sermon I’ve ever heard. It was the first time I ever watched a movie and came away with big questions about my own theology and worldview. The closest I can remember to experiencing this before was after reading Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair, and yes, some tiny part of my soul just died upon realizing that I’d made a favorable comparison between that masterpiece of a novel and a Jim Carrey film.

Years later, when Bruce Almighty‘s “sequel” Evan Almighty was released, I wanted to like it. I wanted to have that same experience again. Yet, as more and more marketing materials poured into the church where I was working at the time, I slowly came to realize that Evan Almighty would be nothing like Bruce Almighty.

Continue reading “Never Stop Learning. Ever.”

Why I Stopped Using Celtx

Notice that the title of this post is why I quit using Celtx. Not why you should, not why anyone else should, and certainly not why I think Celtx is rubbish. In fact, I loved Celtx for many, many years.

After the demise of Sophocles 2003 software in 2007, Celtx became the tool on which I cut my screenwriting teeth. I will forever be grateful to Greyfirst Corp. for the development they made on Celtx. Going from early versions to the last desktop release, version 2.9.7, there was always a great palette of tools—index cards, a scratchpad (invaluable), embedded notes. I wrote my first three features in Celtx, countless shorts, and started all of my current screenwriting WIPs on Celtx. I even won a screenwriting competition using Cetlx software. But I’ve moved on… and here’s why. Continue reading “Why I Stopped Using Celtx”

And the Winner Is…

168 Film Project Write of Passage LogoThe tuesday before Thanksgiving, November 26, 2013, I clicked on Facebook and saw these words: “And the winner is…” followed by… nothing. After being named a finalist in the 168 Film Project’s Write of Passage screenwriting competition, I had dreamed of seeing those four words followed by my name. I figured it was pretty much a long-shot. This was my third year, but the first time I’d made it to the finals. After reading through the other finalists scripts, I was absolutely convinced I’d be lucky if someone picked my script out of the top 10 semifinalists to turn into a Write of Passage Spotlight Film.

So, with a defeated mindset right out of the gate, I clicked on the 168 Film Project website and read this page.

Did you read it? Did you see it? I stared at that page slack-jawed for quite a while, convinced I was hallucinating. Continue reading “And the Winner Is…”