Outlining a Novel by Samantha Seidel

I’m very excited to introduce a writer new to JPC Allen Writes. I wanted different opinions on how to tackle writing a novel during NaNoWriMo, and Samantha has provided her insights on outlining a novel. Take it away, Samantha!

I can hear the groans just from reading the title. If you’re like me, you write off the top of your head, starting wherever you please and leaving organization for later. While it’s my favorite way to write, it opens the door for breaks in character, mysterious setting mishaps, and random plot holes. That’s why an outline, even a basic one, can help organize your thoughts and make editing a breeze. Here’s three things you need to know and have outlined before you write.


Characters are the guides in every story. Readers connect and invest in characters. If you don’t have solid characters, you’ll lose the intensity and reader connection to the book that keeps them craving the next chapter.

How do you create a solid character? I won’t go into depth since JPC Allen has a month for characters, but I’ll cover a few points. They have a distinct personality, physical appearance, and back story. Think of a family member or best friend. What key points make them unique? When designing a character, you’re designing a person. Look at people around you for inspiration on what to add or consider.


The setting is the backdrop for your entire book. Especially for a journey with multiple places, the setting needs to be solid so readers don’t get confused or lost while accompanying the characters. Even with one setting, there’s constantly changing components like time of day and weather. These elements can work in your favor, but they need to be solidified before writing.

How do you create a solid setting? Heavy description is the only answer I’ve got for you. I’ve been refining my description abilities for years just so my settings drags readers into the room or roadside. Some of it will get cut in edits, but if you start with lots of description and sensory information (think five senses), you won’t have to add onto it later. Develop the overall setting in a paragraph or two before shifting into writing.


The plot is the major dilemma of the book. You may have subplots that help move along the story, but there must be one main plot that exists from word 1 to word 50,000. Depending on the genre, this plot will vary. Every book has a plot, and those without one or with a poor plot don’t go anywhere.

How do you create a solid plot? Problems don’t simply arise; something changes that results in a problem. Take the characters and setting you developed and brainstorm on what changes. Does the character lose their job? Does the world become too polluted? Now think about the problem that arises from that change. The bigger and more impactful the problem, the more readers will want to know what happens. That problem is your plot.

Final Thoughts: Road Map

Now the three points above are easy enough, but you’re probably looking for the outline. Remember when I said the most basic outline will do the trick? A basic outline doesn’t need to be a list, but a few paragraphs on the characters, setting, and plot. In other words, we just made a basic writer’s outline.

However, I’ve found that while writing, I get a new idea and create a road map. In this scenario, grab a sheet of paper, write some key scenes down, and connect them with lines. That’s a basic road map that literally shows you how each scene moves into the next. This outline doesn’t restrain freethought writing but gives it direction and purpose.

Thank you so much for stopping by today, Samantha! Click here for more inspiration on character, plot, and setting.


Samantha Seidel is a speculative fiction writer and graphic designer. Her goal is to inspire others to find their inner creativity through imaginative stories and meaningful design. Writing since she was thirteen, Samantha continues to improve her skills as an author and editor. She has a contract for her first book and is ready to publish more. If you ever want a different perspective on a project or some free writing help, contact her at srsinkfeather@gmail.com. Follow her in Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

Book Writing Adventure in France by Susan Neal

Susan Neal is an author new to JPC Allen Writes. Her books on healthy eating and yoga give a Christian perspective to living a healthy life. Her true story below relates how writing, one of the most solitary and sedentary arts, can lead to adventure. Welcome, Susan!

I had been teaching Christian yoga at my church for ten years. Through the years I created dozens of theme-based Bible verses to recite during my yoga classes. One of my favorites was “How to Receive God’s Peace.” I felt called by the Lord to compile those lessons into a book. I had published two Christian yoga DVDs, but I had never written a book. So I attended Christian writer conferences and joined a Word Weaver Writers Group to help prepare. I worked on the manuscript for two years before it was published in 2016. 

You become an expert on the topic that you wrote about when you publish a book. Soon after Scripture Yoga was published, I spoke at the Christians Practicing Yoga Retreat in New York. I made many connections through this group during that conference. Three years later, one of the Christians Practicing Yoga Association leaders put together a trip to the French Alps to find the yoga retreat center of the person who wrote the first Christian yoga book. A priest, Father Dechanet, published Christian Yoga in 1956. It sold over 100,000 copies and was translated into seven languages.

What an adventure to jump on a plane and fly to France. I previously met all the individuals on this trip at the Christians Practicing Yoga Retreat. Seven of us met in Lyon, France and traveled by van to the little village of Valjouffrey that was nestled in the Alps. What a glorious countryside with tall green mountains, crystal clear blue skies, and winding rivers. The little village of about fifty people was like going back in time a hundred years. 

A mile up the mountain from that village was the abandoned Christian yoga retreat center founded by Father Dechanet. Every morning for a week, the seven of us hiked up that mountain and began our day with a Catholic mass, yoga, and meditation. I could envision the lively retreat center in the 1970s when people from all over Europe learned Dechanet’s teaching on spirituality, health, and yoga. Dechanet understood the close link between the body, mind, and spirit. He died in 1992, but his books leave a legacy for those who follow. That is what books do.  

I would’ve never guessed that writing Scripture Yoga would have led to such an international adventure. What traveling adventures have you enjoyed because of your writing?



This book assists Christian yoga instructors and students in creating a Christian atmosphere for their classes. Choose from twenty-one lessons, each is a mini Bible study that will deepen the participants’ walk with God. 

Each lesson contains a Scripture theme designed to facilitate meditation on God’s Word. The Scripture verses are arranged progressively to facilitate an understanding of each Bible study topic. The Bible lessons will enhance the spiritual depth of your yoga class, and make it appropriate and desirable for Christian participants. 

Check your poses with photographs of over 60 yoga postures taken on the sugar white sands of the Emerald Coast of Florida. A detailed description of each pose is provided with full page photographs so postures are easily seen and replicated. 

“Scripture Yoga is a useful tool for teachers and students of Christian Yoga, written by an experienced instructor. Specific Bible verses are suggested, along with clear instructions, and beautiful photographs illustrating each pose. It is quite clear that users will discover their bodies as ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’ (1 Corinthians 6:15) under Susan Neal’s wise tutelage.”

-THE REVERAND NANCY ROTH, author of Invitation to Christian Yoga

Photography: RK Photos http://rkphotos1.zenfolio.com/                    

Cover Design: Angie Alaya


Susan Neal RN, MBA, MHS, lives her life with a passion to help others improve their health so they can serve God better. She is a Certified Health and Wellness Coach and Writer and Speaker Coach. Her mission is to improve the health of the body of Christ. She is the author of seven healthy living books. Her #1 Amazon best-seller 7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and Carbohydrates, won the 2018 Selah award. The sequel Christian Study Guide for 7 Steps to Get Off Sugar and Carbohydrates won the 2019 Directors Choice award. 

Susan is a certified yoga instructor with over 30 years’ experience in practicing and teaching yoga. She published two yoga books, Scripture Yoga and Yoga for Beginners; plus, two sets of Scripture Yoga Card Decks, and two Christian yoga DVDs. You can find her on SusanUNeal.com. Follow her on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Headlines as Imagination Sparks by M. Liz Boyle

When I decided on adventure as my theme for the month, I knew I had to ask author M. Liz Boyle to do a guest blog. Her first novel, Avalanche, in the Off the Itinerary series concerns a group of teens trying to survive in the mountains after getting caught in, appropriately enough, an avalanche. The same characters return in her second novel, Chased, released earlier this year. You’ll find all the details about this adventure after the post.

Take it away, Liz!

We’ve all seen headlines like ‘Injured hiker found by tourists, airlifted to hospital,’ ‘Youth camp evacuates as wildfires encroach,’ and ‘Flash flood surprises campers.’ Since news stories are attached to real events and real people, why not use headlines as imagination sparks for fiction? 

Once I was backpacking with a group of 10 in the Grand Canyon. We had two seasoned leaders and months of preparation in our favor, so even though we were on such a primitive trail that rangers don’t routinely patrol it, my group was ready for the challenge. Now the thing about the Canyon is that you’d have to be blind to not see the many signs warning hikers not to attempt to make it down to the river and back up to the rim in a day. 

Well at 2:00 pm when the sun was blazing down on the wall of the South Rim, we met a couple who was trying to do just that. It had been hours since we’d seen day hikers, so we knew we were in hardcore territory, and we had just descended the Cathedral Staircase. What is the Cathedral Staircase? Imagine the longest set of stone stairs in the world, double it, and put it in a pizza oven. Oh, and strap a 50 pound bag to your back. The couple we met was facing that with 20 ounces of water and a Clif bar (minus the backpacks full of lifesaving gear). The girl was in a heap and had signs of heat exhaustion, and the boy didn’t have a clue what to do. 

Our group was able to share food, electrolytes, hold up a sleeping pad to provide shade for the overheated girl, and call for help. After much conferring among our leaders, we chose to separate. Most of our group went ahead to our campsite and to filter water at the river (which our fastest hikers then delivered to the couple), and the rest stayed with them until the rangers arrived in the cool of night to hike them out. 

The experience opened my eyes to the fact that we’re all just a few poor decisions from being in a dire state, and life is fragile. After our trip we received news that the couple was safe and recovering well from their close call. 

Meanwhile we heard a few other headlines that showed how quickly a tragedy can occur. As a hiker, it made me aware. As a writer, I was inspired. If a headline can summarize a true story, why not create a fiction story based on a headline? I wrote my next novel about a group who helps a dehydrated hiker (sound familiar?). Except in my book Chased, I added a plot twist. When the dehydrated victim recovers, he becomes a threat to the very people who saved his life (sometimes the fiction is more enthralling than the inspiration!).

Chased barely resembles the experience that sparked my imagination, but a whole YA novel developed from simply considering how the media would tell the real story. How will headlines (or would-be headlines) shape your next story?

Check out Liz’s other guest post about being a newly published author.


Marlee and her sisters are glad to be hiking again with the Miles boys. Their group of five is strong and cohesive as they explore the rugged mountains of Montana.

When they first meet Thad, a dehydrated hiker on the trail, they offer first aid to help him recover. Thad seems harmless until he tells them to hike a few extra miles at sunset. When Lydie finds a hand-drawn map that Thad dropped, the group realizes that he is a modern day treasure hunter – and he decides that they’re after his treasure.

As they rush to flee from Thad, they make split-second decisions and find themselves in a unique set of dangers. They climb up unforgiving ridges, sneak through the night to avoid him, and experience a threatening thunderstorm.

To make matters worse, Marlee becomes distracted with a nagging worry that Ellie might move away from home.  

What is God’s plan for the Miles boys and Stanley girls? How will they get away from Thad before it’s too late?

Click here for BUY LINKS to Amazon and Draft2Digital.


Liz is the author of the Off the Itinerary series, the wife of a professional tree climber, and the mom of three energetic and laundry-producing children. Liz once spent a summer in Colorado teaching rock climbing, which she believes was a fantastic way to make money and memories. She resides with her family in Wisconsin, where they enjoy hiking and rock climbing. Liz and her husband have also backpacked in Colorado and the Grand Canyon, which have provided inspiration for her writing. She makes adventurous stories to encourage others to find adventures and expand their comfort zones (though admittedly, she still needs lots of practice expanding her own comfort zone). 

Follow Liz on her website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.

The Fandom Method of Worldbuilding

My friend author/editor Michelle L. Levigne is back to give advice on writing speculative fiction. Michelle has written books in almost every genre but her favorites are science fiction and fantasy. She writes about the fandom method of worldbuilding as a way for budding speculative fiction writers to learn the rules of the genre. Take it away , Michelle!

There is nothing new under the sun — no matter what world you’re talking about.

Our Lord is the Creator, but face it, gang, no matter how much effort we put into makin our brain children appear to be totally new, unique, fresh … writers are RE-creators. We take what we see around us and reweave, slap some paint on, cut a few new holes, patch holes, add material, whatever.  Bottom line: we’re recycling.

When it comes to the adventures of the starship Defender (shameless self-promotion of my book in print this month, FRIENDLY FIRE), I freely confess it’s all recycled material. To be specific: my worldbuilding is firmly based in fandom.

This is the AA part of the meeting:

Hi, My name is Michelle. And I am a recovering Trekker …

Many moons ago, I wanted to get my MA in filmmaking, focused on writing. (With a theater/English degree I could either continue my education or go work in a fast food restaurant until someone bought my Great American Science Fiction Novel.) I went to California to live with my aunt and apply to film school. I had a connection there with a fellow fan of the TV show The Phoenix. She invited me to her Star Trek club, the USS Defiance. One of the watershed moments of my life: More crazy people like me, who lived in their imaginations. They had stories in the monthly newsletter and a yearly fanzine. I hooked up with people who were constantly talking stories and it was glory

Writing for fandom is an incredibly useful, strength-building and skin-thickening exercise. You’re playing in someone else’s playground, and other fans will NOT let you get away with breaking the rules. They will let you know when your characters are being Too Stupid To Live and when you’ve violated the laws of that particular universe.

The important point here is that the foundations, the boundaries, the research and worldbuilding had already been done. I could concentrate on the characters, the dialog, the plot — learning to simply put stories together, with the scenery, the costumes, the props already provided by someone else. Like learning theater in summer camp, rather than starting your own theater from the ground up.

Fandom provides the answers to questions writers need to learn to ask in their own, original stories: WHY can’t the characters act that way? HOW are they going to get from A to B? WHAT happens if they do C instead of D? And when you violate the understood, unspoken rules of that story world, other fans let you know. They explain, with varying levels of kindness, why what you want the characters to do, or to have happen, won’t work.

Get slapped with, “Nuh uh, that would never happen,” often enough, you learn to think and figure out the rules for yourself. You learn consistency. You learn to come up with logical reasons WHY a character would violate his behavior patterns, how rules CAN be violated. Finding the guidelines, the foundation, is trained into you. You know to ask the plot-crucial questions before you start writing and to have the props, the scenery, the costumes, the special effects ready and on the set, to be used when needed. To paraphrase Chekov (Anton, not Pavel), if you want a gun to fire in Act III, it had better be on the table in Act I.

Fandom writing is like theatrical rehearsals. Actors learn their lines, then block the action on the stage someone else built, then rehearse with props, costumes and makeup provided by someone else. When you switch from fandom writing to writing your own stories, you transform from actor or crew to director/producer/set designer — and you know what to do because you’ve been watching others do it and following their rules.

As Kirk said to Saavik, “We learn by doing.”


Captain Genys Arroyan has a problem with her shiny new command — the dregs of the universe are laughing.

While the Defender is in spacedock, getting upgrades, Genys has to deal with mind-hunters and farting fur balls, merchants-of-insanity and diplomatic intrigue. Her Chief of Talents is hiding from forced matrimony and her new crewmembers aren’t too happy to be transferred to the Nanny Ship. 

Then she finds out that the insectoid Hivers have a taste for the brains of the children of her crew. Falling through a Chute to another galaxy might turn out to be a good thing, even if dangerous.

A rescue mission turns into a battle to save a race of miniature dragons from genocide. They might just be sentient — but more important, dracs could turn out to be the defensive weapon the Alliance needs against the Hiver threat. Genys and her crew could end up breaking dozens of regulations in the quest to save dracs and maybe the Human race.  Just how much trouble could teleporting, fire-breathing creatures with the personalities of four-year-olds cause on board a military vessel?

The misfit luck of the AFV Defender might finally be running out.

Buy on Amazon.


Michelle has 40+ fan stories in various SF and fantasy universes. She has a bunch of useless degrees in theater, English, film/communication, and writing. Even worse, she has over 100 books and novellas with multiple small presses, in SF and fantasy, YA, suspense, women’s fiction, and romance. Her training includes the Institute for Children’s Literature; proofreading at an advertising agency; and working at a community newspaper. She is a tea snob and freelance edits for a living, but only enough to give her time to write. Her crimes against the literary world include co-owning Mt. Zion Ridge Press and Ye Olde Dragon Books. Be afraid … be very afraid.  

Follow her at:

How to Write a Devotion

My last guest blogger this month on nonfiction is Jamin Baldwin. I met Jamin through meetings of my ACFW chapter. She discusses the lessons she’s learned in writing the special kind of nonfiction that devotions are. Welcome, Jamin!

How to write a devotion?

Having written and published over a hundred devotions, perhaps the best way to tell you how to write a good devotion is to tell you what not to do. After writing as many as I have, and fumbling your way through some monumental blunders, you’ll discover there are some ‘donts’ as well as ‘dos’.With so much advice and mountains of suggestions to wade through, it might be equally important to know what to leave out of your devotion, as it is to concentrate on what to add.

Here is what time, and error has taught me. . .

First, Don’t Criticize.

Yes, I know it seems more direct to scold, but your audience quickly lose their hearts and the book the moment they feel you pointing the proverbial finger. Make sure to end on a positive note. Never let your audience leave feeling as though they have been chastised. Rather take the time to tell them what you felt and learned from the experience. Encourage them to take a different route than you chose.

Second, Don’t Ramble.

Choose a point you want to make and don’t “scatter shoot”, as my grandmother used to say. Of course, you could make several wonderful points in your devotion . . . but, choose one and stick to it. But jot down the other ideas. They could be another devotion, a series, or perhaps even bloom into a full fledged devotional.

Lastly, Don’t Change Your Voice.

Too many times I see people trying to write like someone else. While we all squeeze ourselves into the box labeled, ‘submission guidelines’, we must never compromise our own voice in writing. You don’t need to be someone else. There is already one of those. God believes this world needs a you- So let your voice be heard.

Not only are those great posts for writing devotions, I think they are good advice for writing of any kind, especially about sticking to the voice God gave you. Thanks for stopping by, Jamin!


Jamin Christian Baldwin is a wife and mother of three from SE Ohio. Her love of nature and God is combined in her devotions in a parable about life. Third place winner of the 2019 BRMCWC foundation awards, Jamin does her best to share the love of God and the lessons she has learned with others. She is also a VBS designer and curriculum writer, Sunday School teacher and active member of ACFW-Ohio chapter. You can find her stories and devotions on her Facebook Author Page.

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