Creating An Outline

Before I ever start writing a book, one of the first things I do is write an outline. Having an outline makes writing a book so much easier. Having the roots of your story established so that when you write everything can grow and branch out.

When I write my outlines I do my best to keep everything simple and clear. It keeps you from suffering the derided blank page that seems to haunt many writers. It also ensures that you know where your story is going. It does this by making you think out all the major events that are going to take place before you start writing it.  Nothing is worse than getting halfway (or more) through writing a book, only to find yourself stuck not knowing what to do next.

Some people may argue that having a detailed outline of your book before you start writing takes away all the creative freedom one has from free from writing. My experience has found that to be a completely false statement. The way I write my outlines allows for plenty of room for one to be creative and come up with story ideas and events on a whim.

When I create an outline I date it with the date I started working on it. I will then title it ‘Outline’ with a subtitle of the book’s working title if I have one. I will than indicate the chapter followed by the month and year of when the even in the chapter is taking place. So for example:

Chapter # – (Month/Year)

  • Even number one
  • Event number two
  • Event number three

So If I took the template above and added actual content to it, it might look something like this:

Chapter 1 – (December/1980)

  • Birth of Joseph White at McCady Hospital
  • Joesph’s parents notice the new baby is not like other babies
  • Joesph’s parents struggle to keep their babies special abilities a secret from friends and family.

That is how I outline my books. Chapter 1 through however many till I am done.

Once my outline is done then I begin writing it all out. I do this by opening up a new blank page in my word processor application and copying my outline for chapter one and pasting it in that new blank page and use that outline as my guideline.

As you can see by my outline it leaves plenty open for the creative process to take over. My writing can take me off in many different tangents. Some are good and help the story along, while others do nothing but bloat out the story with needless details. I don’t normally worry about that during the first draft of my writings. I just let myself write and get it all out of my system. Its normally the second draft of my writing where I will go over everything line by line eliminating the needless tangents or the excess descriptions.

I found a really cool youtube video called ‘How To Write A 1000 Words‘ not to long ago. It’s was pretty neat for me to see a visual representation of how I pretty much write.

I hope you found this information useful. I am interested to read what you might do when creating an outline, or any writing tips for that matter. Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know.

More Framed Books

I recently got a great e-mail from Anthony James, who stumbled upon my ‘IKEA photo frames hack for comic books‘ post. In this e-mail he wrote:


I recently had a chance to meet Scott Snyder at the Midtown Comics in lower Manhattan for the launch of Batman 1. I bought a copy of Batman as well as Swamp Thing and had him sign both. I also bought a copy of American Vampire 1 signed by Scott on Ebay.

After getting home I realized I didn’t want them all sitting in a long box in the closet so I looked up framing solutions online. They had to look nice in order to get my girlfriend to approve hanging them in the hallway, so at first all I searched was Amazon. After giving up because I needed 3 frames which would be very costly, I searched Google and came across your site.

We went to Ikea in Brooklyn (just a short 15 minute drive so I can do this all the time!) and I picked up the frames. One thing your site doesn’t mention is that the store has different colors so I went with a white frame for American Vampire as it’s primarily a white cover. They have other colors as well but the black was the best fit for Batman and Swamp Thing.

One thing I did different was I used white card stock behind the comics to make them almost appear like they are floating. I also used foam mounting tape on the edges of the frame which keeps the flush with the wall. The comics don’t pinch at all in the frames which is great.

Again, thanks for the awesome tip. It saved a lot of money and left me with a nice exhibition in my hallway!

Thanks for writing and sharing your photos Anthony!

Create A Cheat Sheet

The Simpsons Family Picture
The Simpsons Family Picture

Before I ever start writing a book there are a couple of things I do that help me with my writing process. One thing I do is create a ‘Cheat Sheet’ of characters I am going to use in my book.

My ‘Cheat Sheet’ helps me keep track of people, there names, there personalities, there ages, and anything else I might need for future reference. A character I keep on a cheat sheet rarely takes up more than one line on text. So the whole thing is clean and simple and is an easy to use reference.

So here is an example of a cheat sheet I would create using characters from the Simpsons. It contains the important information I might need to know about a character in one line of text.

Bart Simpson • 10 (Dennis The Menace) Trouble maker – Fat – Prank Caller
Homer Simpson • 36 (Ralph Kramden) Loud – Get Rich Quick ideas – Lazy
Lisa Simpson • 8 (Marcie from Charlie Brown) Smart – Voice of reason – Musical

So the idea behind it is pretty simple and generally includes.

  • Character Name
  • Age
  • Who they remind me of
  • Personality traits to remember

This is actually the template I use when creating a cheat sheet.

Character Name • Age (who they remind me of) Traits – Personality – Quarks

Thats how I do it. My cheat sheet has been such a valuable tool for me when writing. It makes the whole process of writing so much easier. I really hope anyone getting into writing will find this tip useful. Let me know if you have any tips on how you track characters. I am always interested to learn how others write.

Comic Book Frames

I got a great e-mail from Hamp Freeman this last weekend who read my post on IKEA photo frames hack for comic books and decided to drive 3 hours to his nearest IKEA to pickup a set of these photo frames for his own comic book collection. He was kind enough to share with me some great photos of his comic now proudly displayed on his walls. Check out his e-mail to me below.

I’m from Raleigh, North Carolina, where I went to NC State to get a Master’s of Industrial Design. Comics were a minor interest as a kid, but came out even more when I went to the College of Design. I found it really interesting to see how they have affected entertainment and popular media through their design over the years, especially within the past few years. Recently, I fell into some rare comic books (my girlfriend’s father gave me a few of his old comic books when he found out how interested I was in them, and they happen to be some of the earliest issues of The Amazing Spider-Man) and this got me very excited to not only collect these amazing covers, but find a way to show them off. I never wanted to be “that comic book guy” who hides his collection in boxes to keep them safe. I was proud to own these books, and wanted to share their history with those that came by.

I scoured the internet one day, looking up “how to frame comic book covers” and like you, found that most of the products out there are pretty expensive, something a recent college graduate couldn’t afford, especially not in the mass quantity I wanted. I finally came about your blog post (drawn in by the mention of IKEA) and became really excited about the idea of a D.I.Y. IKEA solution that was affordable. I had to drive to Charlotte, NC to get them, but it has made all the difference in the world. I bought 16 while there, and plan on getting another batch soon.

Your solution is incredibly effective. Not only for its affordability, but also because the IKEA frames allow me to quickly change out the covers to show off different collections in the same area. I have a few different sets of collections going right now and I plan on switching out different collections to keep my room’s art always changing. Right now I have three collections going at once. The first are classic issues of my favorite Marvel characters, chosen by their cover designs. The second are homage covers to Spider-Man #1. I really find the concept of “paying tribute” to past covers by recreating the design with updated characters to be very interesting and visually stunning (something that can’t quite be completely understood until you see them all up together). My final set of collections are the “Marvel Zombies Homage Covers paired with their originals”. Basically their is a comic book artist, Arthur Suydam, who created amazingly painted covers for a yearly series “Marvel Zombies” where he took classic covers recreated them to have zombies in them. You can see the Spider-Man#1 zombie counter part in the previously mentioned picture, but also the 2nd picture shows the classic “Spider-Man Wedding” matched its zombie counter part. Suydam’s covers are really interesting and you can find a list of the covers at his wikipedia page.

So that pretty much sums up the whole process. I apologize for getting a bit long winded, but finding your solution really rebooted my interest in comics, and I’ve been incredibly excited to show off everything.

I think it is so great when people like Hamp share stores like this with me. I hope this becomes a thing on the Internet where more and more people take pictures and share their comic book photo frames with me. Feel free to contact me if you have done a project like this. I would like to hear about it.

Using Markdown

I recently wrote about keeping a simple wiki with just text files. Text files are fast to open and easy to work with. In fact you can open a text file on any kind of computer running any kind of operating system and it will just work. If you have a modern operating system like me, (I am running Mac OS X) you will be able to do a simple find command to not only locate the text file you want but even search within the content of that text file quickly and easily.

I want to talk a little bit about some ideas on how you should format that text file. There are going to be times where you don’t need to think about formatting your text file. The text file may not contain enough information to bother with formatting. I have text files that just contain the information with in the name of the text file its self, but nothing is actually inside of it. Other times I have so much content in my text file I need to write it in a way that it is organized and easy to read. This is where Markdown comes into play.

Wikipedia discribes Markdown as this:

Markdown is a lightweight markup language, originally created by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz allowing people “to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML)”. The language takes many cues from existing conventions for marking up plain text in email.

What does that mean in English? Well, here is how I look at it. Markdown gives you a set of rules for writing a plain text document which gives it structure, which makes it easier to read and at the same time allowing it to be rendered into something you would see in a word processor or in HTML with all the correct tags.

So let me give you an example of what I am talking about. In my post I mentioned earlier about keeping a very simple wiki, I also talked about one of my favorite recipes, Corned beef. With out using any Markdown what-so-ever here is what the text document looks like when you open it up.

Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Vegetables

Prep Time: 15 min
Total Time: 9 hours 15 min
Makes: 10 servings

Ingredients

2 and 1/2 pounds medium new potatoes, (about 8), cut in half
2 cups baby cut carrots
1 cup frozen small whole onions, thawed
1 corned beef brisket (3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup of water
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water

Directions

1.) Mix potatoes, carrots and onions in 4 to 6 quart slow cooker
2.) Thoroughly rinse corned beef; discard seasoning packet. Place beef on vegetables; sprinkle with pepper. Mix 1/2 cup water and the Worcestershire sauce; pour over beef.
3.) Cover and cook on low heat setting 8 to 9 hours or until beef and vegetables are tender.
4.) Remove beef and vegetables from slow cooker; cover to keep warm. Pour juices from slow cooker into 1-quart saucepan; heat to boiling. Mix cornstarch and cold water until smooth; stir into juices. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce has thickened. Serve sauce with beef and vegetables.

Nutrition Information

1 Serving: Calories 340 (Calories from Fat 160 )

From the get go I am clearly not working with the most complex document on the planet, but I do think it works as a springboard for showing you how to write Markdown and why I think it is so beneficial.

So to get started. We are going to jump right to the top of the document. The first line reads:

Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Vegetables

All we are going to do is at a pound sign in front of the title so it looks like this:

#Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Vegetables

In Markdown a pound sign represents a header 1 tag or an H1 tag. The first level header. If we where to put this in a program like Textmate (the greatest text editor ever) that can render Markdown, it would render the font large and bold. I will show you an example of this once we get a few more lines written.

The next three lines of the recipe are:

Prep Time: 15 min
Total Time: 9 hours 15 min
Makes: 10 servings

Now with this I want to make an unordered list. Unordered is just an odd way to say that I don’t want my list number or alphabetized. So to do this in my text editor I and going to add a dash and a space in front of each line like this:

– Prep Time: 15 min
– Total Time: 9 hours 15 min
– Makes: 10 servings

So now my whole plain text document looks like this:

#Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Vegetables

– Prep Time: 15 min
– Total Time: 9 hours 15 min
– Makes: 10 servings

So lets look at what this looks like rendered in Textmate:

Pretty sharp. From Textmate, I could also render out HTML and it would look like this:

<h1 id=”Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Vegetables”>Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Vegetables

<ul>
<li>Prep Time: 15 min </li>
<li>Total Time: 9 hours 15 min </li>
<li>Makes: 10 servings</li>
</ul>

So lets continue on with the rest of the recipe.

#Slow Cooker Corned Beef and Vegetables

– Prep Time: 15 min
– Total Time: 9 hours 15 min
– Makes: 10 servings

##Ingredients

– 2 and 1/2 pounds medium new potatoes, (about 8), cut in half
– 2 cups baby cut carrots
– 1 cup frozen small whole onions, thawed
– 1 corned beef brisket (3 to 3 1/2 pounds)
– 1/8 teaspoon pepper
– 1/2 cup of water
– 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
– 1 tablespoon cornstarch
– 2 tablespoons cold water

##Directions

1. Mix potatoes, carrots and onions in 4 to 6 quart slow cooker
2. Thoroughly rinse corned beef; discard seasoning packet. Place beef on vegetables; sprinkle with pepper. Mix 1/2 cup water and the Worcestershire sauce; pour over beef.
3. Cover and cook on low heat setting 8 to 9 hours or until beef and vegetables are tender.
4. Remove beef and vegetables from slow cooker; cover to keep warm. Pour juices from slow cooker into 1-quart saucepan; heat to boiling. Mix cornstarch and cold water until smooth; stir into juices. Cook, stirring constantly, until sauce has thickened. Serve sauce with beef and vegetables.

##Nutrition Information

1 Serving: Calories 340 (Calories from Fat 160 )

So you will see with the sub headers. The Header 2 or H2 I started the line with two pound signs. You can do this all the way to header 6 or H6 with six pound signs.

Under “Directions” I also used numbers followed by a period and a space rather than dashes. This means if I render out that section it will be a numbered list. So lets render this out in Textmate and see what we got.

Not a bad-looking document. Something that looks great and is easy to read as a text file. Giving it structure and conformity, a cleanliness that was not there before. It looks even better when rendered out. I hope you I have done a good job explaining how great I think Markdown is and how useful it can be. I will be including all basic formatting information for Markdown below as my recipe example above did not use all the possible formatting tags.

Paragraphs

Just write sentences like you would normally do. No tags for paragraphs are needed.

Emphasized text

*Italics* Anything surrounded with “*” Is italicized.

**Bold Text** Anything surrounded with two “*” is turned bold.

Code

Blocking off code inline requires it to be `surrounded` by a backtick.

Indent several lines of code by at least four spaces.

Lists

*  This is an
* unordered list
* This is a sub list item

1. This is an
2.) in an enumerated (ordered) list

Headings

#First level heading

##Second level heading

######Sixth level heading

Blockquotes

> This text will be enclosed in an HTML blockquote element.
> Blockquote elements are reflowable. You may arbitrarily
> wrap the text to your liking, and it will all be parsed
> into a single blockquote element.

Links

This is [an example](http://example.com/ “Title”) inline link.
[This link](http://example.net/) has no title attribute.

This is [an example][id] reference-style link.

hen, anywhere in the document, you define your link label like this, on a line by itself:
[id]: http://example.com/  “Optional Title Here”

Horizontal rules

Horizontal rules are created by placing three or more hyphens, asterisks, or underscores on a line by themselves. You may use spaces between the hyphens or asterisks. Each of the following lines will produce a horizontal rule:
* * *
***
*****
– – –
—————————————

For more information on Markdown and to see a few more tags I did not include here please check out the following links.