Author Archives: T. P. Jagger

To Write or Not to Write, That Is the Question

For the record, I am a very brave man. This is not just because I floss before bedtime and sometimes intentionally consume leafy green vegetables. No, it’s much more than that. My bravery blossoms from a single, bold writerly act. Some would call it courageous. Others daring or even heroic.

I would call it quitting.

Yes, after writing the first page of a story, I stopped. Totally up and abandoned the manuscript. Then, with equal doses of valor and cold-blooded resolve, I started to . . .

Outline.

[Cue gasps, groans, and eerie music.]

I am not an outliner. Every other story I’ve ever written has been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants affair. At some point in the writing process I might skip ahead and write the ending to help guide the middle of my story, but planning each scene from the get-go? . . . Are you kidding me?!?!?!

Here’s a list of six things that made me change my ways (at least this one time):

  1. My last 50,000-word story underwent a ton of drafts, a couple with super-major plot revisions that required loads of rewriting as I uncovered new elements of my story on the fly. I liked the final results, but the process of getting there was painful. By creating a bare-bones outline for my newest story (a few sentences per chapter), I uncovered some surprises for myself before I had an entire plot to go back and overhaul.
  2. Revising a few sentences is easier than revamping a 50,000-word manuscript.
  3. I’m a slow writer. I’m an even slower reviser. Less time revising = more time writing.
  4. For a plot to push forward, I know every scene needs conflict and/or suspense to keep the reader engaged. By outlining, I ensured that each chapter was built around some form of tension, which provides the fuel for my story’s problem to keep chugging along on the road to the resolution.
  5. The outline also helped me look at the big picture of the story’s plot, making sure that the overall level of tension steadily increased scene-to-scene, pushing toward the resolution and climax.
  6. I figured outlining is like Brussels sprouts—it might not be that enjoyable at the time, but it’ll probably be good for me in the end.

My outlined story? It’s moving right along and feels way easier to write than anything I’ve ever written before. Will my plot change from my original outline as I progress? Undoubtedly. But it’s sure been nice to have a basic roadmap for the writing journey ahead.

Want a bit more perspective? MUFs own Linda Johns presented “The Case for Outlining” a few months back. Or do you have your own outlining versus seat-of-the-pants-writing viewpoint to share? Post your comments below.


T. P. Jagger The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.

Writing Effective Beginnings

DISCLAIMER: If the contents of this post about how to write effective beginnings seem familiar to you, you’ve got a good memory. You’ve also probably been reading the MUF blog for at least two years. Let me explain.

A couple of years ago, I posted about key elements that should be present in a story’s opening lines, and I used Wendy Mass’s Every Soul a Star as a model. Today’s post is going to revisit the same book. And I’m so lazy, most everything else is the same, too. But there’s one key difference:

Wigs.

Now, instead of reading, sit back and relax. Grab your favorite beverage. Then take just 3 minutes to watch my video on what you can do with your story’s opening lines in order to hook your readers.

So . . . what’s a book you’ve read that pulled you in from the opening line? What struggles and/or successes have you had at crafting your own effective beginnings? Feel free to post in the comments below.

T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing Teacher Along with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus free, original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers. You can subscribe to his e-newsletter and/or his YouTube channel in order to be notified when new videos are posted in “The 3-Minute Writing Teacher” series of how-to writing tips.

 

Five Reasons to Keep a Writing Journal

This week, I’m wrapping up the eight millionth draft of a manuscript, polishing it to a high shine before querying agents. Of course, putting the finishing touches on one manuscript has put my mental gears spinning as I think about what’s next. Should I tinker with an old manuscript, trying to salvage a story that’s been pushed aside? Or should I start fresh, seeing where my muse might lead?

I’m still not sure what direction I’ll go, but this transition from one story to the next has sent me flipping through my writing journal, weighing my options. And it’s also provided the inspiration for today’s post.

When I first started writing, I didn’t keep a journal. After all, I like things nice and neat and orderly. A writing journal is inherently messy. There are jotted down bits of dialogue. Clipped newspaper headlines. Pictures of people, places, and potted plants pilfered from magazines. A bazillion ideas for story starters. In general, just lots of “stuff.”

And it’s all an absolute mess.

So why do I do it? Why do I now jot, clip, tape, and scribble things into my writing journal, even if the chaos pushes me ever closer to crazy?

I’ve got my reasons. . . .

Writing Journal

1) How else will you remember when a friend sees a man in Wal-Mart pushing his wife in the shopping cart while the wife paints her nails?

2) Sometimes people say the darndest things. And characters have to talk, too.

10-year-old coming off of a looping roller coaster: “I kept my eyes open the whole time! . . . I just blinked kind of slow on the twisty part.”

3) Real newspaper headlines can often trump anything my imagination could ever conjure.

“Rifle cases taped to bike give away Elkhart burglar”

and . . .

“Woman fends off bear with zucchini”

4) Often, it’s that extra little detail that makes a setting come alive.

Slogan on the side of a plumbing truck: “A flush beats a full house.”

5) When I write a story, I always uncover a lot of “what if” questions then try to answer those questions in interesting ways as the story unfolds. Of course, I may need a bit of help with the initial question that gets a story rolling, and a writing journal is the perfect home in which those questions can reside.

What if . . . a boy’s dad sometimes wears a kilt?

So how about you—are you the writing-journal type? If so, take a meandering stroll through one of your journals and see what you find. You might uncover an old spark for a new story. Even if you don’t, you may find something to inspire the rest of us. Feel free to share a snatch of stolen dialogue, a meandering musing, or any other random tidbit that’s found its way into your journal over the years.

And, of course, happy writing!

T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing TeacherAlong with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.