Guest Blog: Author Melissa McClone

I’m pleased to welcome best selling author Melissa McClone to my blog. Melissa has published over forty romance novels with Harlequin and Tule Publishing Group and has been nominated for Romance Writers of America’s RITA® award. When she’s not writing, Melissa can usually be found driving her children to various activities. (I can relate!) Her latest novel is The Valentine Quest (Love at the Chocolate Shop Book 5). You can find links to all Melissa’s books on her website. I like her idea of writing the last chapter near the beginning of her writing process. I may try that myself just to see what happens. Anyway, welcome, Melissa!

Knowing the End by Melissa McClone

When I decided to try writing a romance novel, I was a die-hard romance reader who was working full-time during the day as a mechanical engineer and taking classes toward an MBA at night. I was left-brained to the max. This, however, served me well with plotting those first stories.

Forty-odd published works later, I’m still a plotter, but over the past two decades (my “call” from Harlequin to buy my first book came in November 1997 when I was pregnant with my first child who is now a freshman in college), my process has changed a little.

What’s the same?

I like to have an outline or synopsis to get a general feel for the story. I use this to make sure I don’t forget anything I should have. That means when I’m ready to outline, I pull out one of my plot/structure books/worksheets and decide which one I’d like to use. I wish I could say I found the perfect plotting tool or method that I use with each project, but I haven’t. These, however, are my go to resources:

My outline/synopsis is never set in stone. It’s just so I know where to start and have an idea of where I’m going. Next, I write the first three chapters. This is where I get to know my characters. Often there’s too much internalization and backstory in the first draft, but I don’t worry about that. That’s what revisions are for.

What’s different about my process now?

With a couple published novels to my name, I decided to try something different with how I wrote. After I’d drafted the first three chapters, I wrote the last chapter of the story. When I did that, something clicked in my brain. Something good, so that’s what I started doing and have been doing. I used to write only the last chapter, but lately (I forgot exactly when), I’ve been writing from the black moment to the end.

During the revision passes (I’m a draft writer), I’ll add more detail and description, and of course, clean up the writing, but the scenes don’t change much. The only significant rewrites have happened when I changed a character’s internal conflict, but I can’t remember ever changing the actual setting of an end scene.

Some of my writer friends don’t get this at all. We’ve had some interesting discussions about my process. I don’t know if it’s my left brain or what, but I need to know the ending to know how to get there. Writing the end first doesn’t take away from my enjoyment of writing the rest of the story. If anything, I can breathe easier and enjoy the journey to get there.

A friend once encouraged me to write the story linearly just to see what that was like. She felt I was missing the discovery that happens as you write from start to finish. I’m always up for experimenting, so I gave it a try with a novella.

The result?

A total mess and lots of tears.

D-I-A-S-A-T-E-R!

The bright side of the experiment, however, led me to completely embrace my process. When others tell me that they could never write the way do what I do or they’d never need to write the book if they knew the end, I just smile and continue doing as I’ve done. The way I write works for me, so why switch things up?

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Melissa’s uncredited coauthor.

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Snowflake Pro Outlining Software: A Review

I fully admit that I hate outlining. It rarely feel as satisfying as actually writing the novel I’ve cooked up in my head. Often, I end up with a jumbled mess of scene and chapter breakdowns that don’t serve me well in the first or subsequent drafts.

That’s why I decided to try Snowflake Pro. I was hesitant because I’ve had experience with screenplay outlining software that was either too complex or tried to put my script into a formulaic, three-act box. Thankfully, while author and software developer Randy Ingermanson talks about three acts and other structural tools, he doesn’t push them hard, so I felt comfortable only using what I needed to help me write my outline.

The snowflake method isn’t new. The idea is to start with a simple pattern and make it increasingly elaborate until you end up with a beautifully designed snowflake or, in this case, a novel.

Snowflake Pro retails for $100, but discount codes are easy to find. I paid $50. It’s easy to install. The only issue I had was that it’s not yet compatible with Mac OS Sierra, but a quick email to Snowflake’s support staff told me that all I needed was to download an earlier version of Flash. I did and was quickly up and running.

snowflake-welcome

Snowflake first asks you to choose a number 1 through 6 for how much detail you want in your outline. It didn’t give any direction as to what those levels meant, so I chose 4, which felt about right.

After entering some author information, step 1 asks you to write a one-sentence summary of your story. I think this is a vital step in any story development process, and one that was very familiar to me through my years of writing screenplays.

In subsequent steps, Snowflake has you expand that one sentence, first to a paragraph, then to longer synopses. It alternates this with steps where you develop your characters in more detail. At each step, Ingermanson offers a short audio lecture to guide you. I found these useful to get my bearings. Less useful are the examples offered from other books. There are only five available: Gone With the Wind, Harry Potter, Book 1, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Pride and Prejudice. I would like to see a wider variety of well-known classic and genre novels, and isn’t Pirates a movie, not a novel?

I appreciated the systematic way the software helped me expand my novel. When new ideas or changes popped into my head, it was easy to backtrack and add them in at earlier steps. In fact, Ingermanson encourages this.

Not as useful to me was the step where you add various details to your character profiles: what color are their eyes, what kind of clothes do they wear, what books do they read, etc. I know some writers like to consider these things, but I find it useful only when it comes up in my narrative.

While I loved the step where you make a list of your scenes (Though I know they’re going to change as I write.), it wasn’t useful to think about the typical pages per scene and the ideal pages per chapter. If that’s what your focus is on at this point, you’d better get your head back in your story.

The other step I found kind of strange was the final one, where you take what you’ve outlined and turn it into a proposal, adding marketing details, endorsements, etc. I know it’s useful to consider some of these things before writing a novel, but what are you going to do with a formal proposal? Unless you’re an established writer with an agent and publisher, who’s going to even read it?

I also missed having spell check and drag-and-drop editing. I’m so used to those conveniences in Word and other software that it made Snowflake Pro feel a little underdeveloped.

Overall though, I would highly recommend Snowflake to any writer who wants to improve his or her outlines. While you could create something like this on your own, it’s great to have it in a neat package. In my humble opinion, it was well worth a $50 investment in your writing.

Kelee