Tag Archives: writing advice

Ponder. List. Outline. Type. The YA Gal’s Guide to Plotting.

Are you a Plotter or a Pantser? Writers love to bandy around that question in online chatrooms and Facebook forums. Do you plot out your novel to the very last scene before you start writing, or do you let the Muse guide your pen, and write by the seat of your pants?

I’ve found that neither strategy works well for me. I’ve tried plotting intricate outlines and lost inspiration fast. When I sat down at my computer and just “went for it” I ended up with story arcs that fizzled out.

Over the course of many years and two published novels, I’ve created my own method of plotting that fits my needs. It’s an easy structure to remember because PLOT says it all: Ponder. List. Outline. Type.


PKO_0005504The Ponder step is the most important. The publishing industry is so competitive, that unless a concept is perfect a book is doomed. I spend several months, and sometimes years, formulating the right idea. I let the story germinate in my mind while I drive around town running errands, or struggle to fall asleep at night. During the Ponder step, I determine what my logline hook will be. With GENESIS GIRL it was “An Internet innocent gets sold to the highest bidder.” For DAMAGED GOODS it was “Scarred by a childhood spent in captivity, Blanca struggles to recognize friend from foe.” The hook is the one sentence description that describes the whole novel.


unending-list-aBefore I start writing a book, I list out my main characters. One of the hardest things about writing a book is making characters seem alive. If Good Morning America interviewed the people in a novel, the author should know exactly how the characters would respond. But getting to that level of intimacy is difficult. One trick I use to help flesh out my characters is a graphic organizer I call my Character_Map. I print out a page for each major person in my book and fill it out in detail. These lists of descriptions, quirks, backgrounds and secret desires give me a strong cast of characters to utilize.


Every writer has a different level of comfort when it comes to outlining, but even a simple outline can help keep a manuscript on track. Jotting down the main plot points ahead of time gives a story structure and helps define story arcs. If I’ve done the Pondering step properly then I already have a one sentence description of my book before I start writing an outline. Taking time to formulate a beginning, middle, and end saves me time in the long run.


For a writer, following the Muse is essential. That’s why when I finally sit down to type my story, I sometimes change course while composing my first draft. Story arcs change. quick-typing-aCharacters are eliminated. Often I don’t nail down a person’s name until I’ve written hundreds of pages. Typing out the first draft is the hardest part for me. But the effort I spend in the Pondering, Listing, and Outlining steps, makes the Typing step easier. Once I’ve written my first draft, it’s time to celebrate—and let my manuscript sit for a couple of months before I start revising. For me, revising has its own separate process, but unfortunately, I haven’t come up with a cute acronym yet!

Jennifer Bardsley writes the column “I Brake for Moms” for The Everett Daily Herald. her novel GENESIS GIRL debuted in 2016 from Month9Books. GENESIS GIRL and its sequel, DAMAGED GOODS, Jennifer Bardsleyare about a teenager who has never been on the Internet. Jennifer however, is on the web all the time as “The YA Gal” on Facebook, the @the_ya_gal Instagram, and @JennBardsley on Twitter. Jennifer is a member of SCBWI, The Sweet Sixteens debut author group, and is the founder of Sixteen To Read. An alumna of Stanford University, Jennifer lives in Edmonds, WA with her family and a poodle named Merlin.

Genesis Girl (Blank Slate, #1)About the Blank Slate Series

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the Internet.

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

31950044Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is.

All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable.

By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online.

Damaged Goods: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | TBD

Genesis Girl: Goodreads | Amazon |  B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Books A Million | Google Play | IndieBound


Make it Stink. Ain’t nothing wrong with smelly stuff — Rule #21 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #21

21: Use all five senses in your descriptions. Smell and touch are too often neglected.

Wave that banner high and don’t forget about it.  So many times I have been stuck, needing that little extra “umph” in a scene.  Adding that little bit of extra sensory perception into a scene is awesome for really engaging your reader.

For instance, the smell of popcorn when you enter a movie theater.  The fragrance of roses dancing on the breeze.  The gritty surface biting into her flesh.

I don’t think there’s a better method of really engaging your reader than NAILING the sensory perceptions.

Do you have a favorite sensory perception?  How about a great example ina book your reading?


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Torture Your Protagonist Rule #20 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #20

20: Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

I just love this one.  Honestly, I fought this for a while in one of my novels.  I just loved that poor little MC so much.  My beta partner screamed at me to torture him, but I couldn’t.

Of course, now I have grown.  If he has to get across the street, he will have to weave in and out of umpteen explosions as the alien bear down on him, only to get to the other side to be caught in a tractor beam, and while he is immobilized, his girlfriend gets beaten up by an alien…. Okay, that’s not a real plotline of one of my books (yet-Tee hee) but you get the picture.

Easy is boring.  Never make it easy.  This goes back into adding conflict. Each time you sit down think: “How am I going to torture him/her today?”

And then don’t be all nice and wuss out.  LET HIM/HER HAVE IT!  They will forgive you after they get their happy ending.


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Don’t sleep with him/her? Rule #19 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #19

19: Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bed. Unless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

Umm…. What?

I’m staring at this, and trying to think about novels that were good, where there was a little bedroom time, but no jealous lover.

I have to admit… there are a lot… and they are fine. A sexual triangle just is not the main conflict of the story.

Sometimes the strong relationship between two characters makes the overall conflict (not necessarily a jealous partner) a deeper conflict, because the characters really care about each other.

Maybe Allen Guthrie has never read a romance novel? Maybe he just doesn’t like to read bedroom scenes?

What’s your take on this?


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Goals and Obstacles in every scene – Rule #18 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #18

18: Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

I have talked about this with almost every beta partner I ever had.  Why?  Because my first few beta partners spoke to me about this, and when I started listening, things started coming together for me.

This is where we start having to ax out “Little Darlings” – those scenes where two characters have a nice conversation, but NOTHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS.

Make sure every scene has conflict, and if it doesn’t chop it out.  If it is important to you, you can always post it as an “extra” on your website.  [Smile]


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Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make #1 – Avoid the Dreaded Delete Frenzy

At a recent NJ Author’s talk on “Getting Published”, a group of published authors discussed the biggest mistakes they think new writers make.  Boy did they have a long list!

The panel consisted of: Jonathan Maberry, Mike McPhail, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jon Gibbs, Jennifer R. Hubbard, and Kristin Battestella.

As always, I love learning from mistakes others have made, and I truly appreciate them sharing what NOT TO DO.

Rather than making this an insanely long post— and since Friday is now open—

This is going to be my new “Friday Night” slot… Biggest Mistakes New Writers make.

Mistake Number one:



It is really easy as a new writer to get frustrated, and go on a delete frenzy.  The problem is, the days of crumbling up paper and throwing it into a garbage can are over.  You can’t take your deleted file out of the trash, smooth it out, and look at it again.  Once you delete… it is gone.

Deleting in a frenzy can lead to loss of very valuable work.  Especially if you are really emotional when you are editing (we authors never do that, right?)

Trust me, you may think everything you’ve written stinks now, but you may find you need to refer back to part of it later.  Even if you don’t use it, it is part of your back story, and you may need to review it to keep your story consistent.

The Author Panel suggested keeping a side file and don’t actually delete anything. Just drag and drop.  If you never want to see it again, just don’t open the file.  But if you do—

From my own experience, I know I always change my mind.  There is a huge scene near the end of my novel where one character gets his memory back.  I have re-written the scene five times, and they are all dramatically different.  You know where I landed?  With my very first draft.  I was putting so many plot twists and turns in the revisions that the scene became confusing.  I did need to re-write it a little, but I stuck with my original idea.  Believe me, a year later, I was glad I had a copy to refer back to.

Avoid the dreaded Delete Frenzy.  Make a cozy little file. Call it a nasty name if it makes you feel better.  Someday, you may thank me.  🙂

Jonathan Maberry:  www.Jonathanmaberry.com

Mike McPhail:  www.mcp-concepts.com

Danielle Ackley-McPhail:  www.sidhenadaire.com

Jon Gibbs:  www.acatofninetales.com

Jennifer R. Hubbard:  www.jenniferhubbard.com

Kristin Battestella:  www.jsnouff.com/kristin

Sorting Out Your Feedback Comments: Dealing with Conflicting Criticism

If you have had several people reading your work, conflicting opinions are common.  But what do you do with them?  Your mother says you are brilliant, but then you find this person you’ve never met who thinks your novel needs all these changes!  Huh?

***Smile*** I wish my Mom was still around to tell me how brilliant I am.

First of all, ditch your mother’s opinion.  Her job in life is to support you no matter what.  She thought your mud pies were works of art, remember?  Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother… all those great people.  Let them read, but be careful of their praise, no matter how critical you think they normally are.

Anyway… This is where I am going with this post…

I had one beta left from my previous beta run that recently finished a second read of HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT.  He told me that the words I chose were too childlike, and even if I was writing for a teen audience, I should not insult their intelligence, so I should insert some more adult words in the narrative.

In this new and final round of beta readers– reading pretty much the same manuscript– another beta (I don’t know either of them personally, by the way) told me that some of my words are too mature in my narrative for a YA audience.

Talk about contradictions!  One says too mature, one says too childlike.  Exactly the same manuscript.

Mulling it over, I am sticking to my guns and not “smartening it up”.  I appreciate an easy read.  I am sure I’m not the only one.  Even with the Kindle (easier to look words up in the dictionary)  unknown words are annoying, and I either totally ignore them, or if I do look them up, I have spoiled the pacing.  That is not what I want to do to my reader.  I did replace one word he complained about, but I replaced it with a “common speech” word.

Now… dumb it down further?  Hmmmm.

Reader #2’s comments are valid.  The older-sounding words are in the narration, but in a ten-year-old’s POV.  Would he really have the word “furrowed” in his narrative self-conscious?  (It is not inner thought by the way.  That would be a no-brainer.)

In this case, he “furrowed his brow.”  I changed this to “Twisted his brow” and I have to admit she was right.  It flows much better and sounds natural.  She also suggested that no ten-year old even knows they have hair follicles.  (He is getting his hair pulled, and the follicles spring back to his scalp when they let go.)

The follicles I am leaving.  I didn’t find that one as obtrusive.

There is another point when someone furrows their brow, but it is in an adult POV.  That one I will probably leave as well, since the perspective is more “mature”.

So— Sorting out contradicting feedback…

One person says apples, the other person says bananas.  I reviewed their suggestions and gave them strawberries.   Everything I’ve read said don’t try to make one person happy, write to the masses.  I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who didn’t like strawberries.

Have you ever had such completely contradictory assessments?  What did you do?

A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

I’m sitting here, staring at a rejection letter one of my writing partners received. “Not quite ready for publication at this time.”   Bummer.

Rejection letters stink, but this one comes with an offer to resubmit through alternate channels if she decides to revise. Hmmmm. Sounds positive.

I open up the PDF file of the full manuscript, and find it redlined to heck and back. HOLY COW!   Wait a minute, one thing they said is never use capital letters. Excuse me… quick correction… Holy Cow!   Wow, it even looks better.

So, yes, this is a rejection, but I cannot help but be extremely positive.   It took me three hours to read and take notes on all their comments. Did you get that? THREE HOURS Oops… Three hours!   I can’t help but think, “Wow… if they put that much work into it, they must have thought it was worth something.”

Yes, they are gently suggesting a few pretty major changes, but most of them are minor, and they are really dumb mistakes that I realized my own manuscript is riddled with.  Funny thing is, I didn’t even realize that these things were mistakes.  I looked at my own pages, found three of the same mistakes in a single chapter I was editing, and fixed them with about ten seconds thought.  It was so simple, and it flows so much better now.

So, was this just another rejection? Nope! No Way! This is a stinking gold mine!

I have my writing partner’s permission (keeping it anonymous) to post what I’m learning from this experience here on my blog.  As I really digest everything, one topic at a time, I will send up a blurb about it.  At the end, I think I will post all of the entries up as a permanent page.

This is stuff every writer should know, because it came right from a publisher.  I know I’ve heard some of these things from other writers, but didn’t really understand the concepts completely, or just blew them off, but here is a manuscript (that I personally thought was awesome) that was rejected because of it.

I’ll be shooting up a new topic every few days, so stop by to be baffled by the simplicity of the mistakes that we are all making.

For now go back and look for capitalization in your manuscript. Yes, some pretty major published authors are out there getting away with it, but we don’t have the clout to argue yet, do we?

I hope you get as much out of this as I have!