Take Off Your Pants – Libbie Hawker’s advice

One of our special guests at the HNS North America 2021 conference was Libbie Hawker. Libbie is a prolific and excellent writer with many novels to her credit. A recent favourite for me is The Ragged Edge of Night under the pen name Olivia Hawker. But I digress. Libbie put on two master classes, one called Take Off Your Pants and the other called Making It In Historical Fiction. Both were very well attended and received.

Libbie’s master class, Take Off Your Pants, was based on the advice packed into her book by the same name. The subtitle is “Outline Your Books for Faster, Better Writing”. After writing my first novel by the seat of my pants – what folks call a pantser – I adopted an outlining technique cobbled together from a few sources such as Elizabeth George’s Write Away. But Libbie’s advice has added another important layer that I plan to incorporate in the next novel (whatever that is!)

During the three-hour class, Libbie spent most of her time taking us through the outlining technique using a simple document which she develops for each main POV character.

What stood out for me?

  • the notion of specifically identifying the main character’s flaw, something that is a deep, personal flaw and a source of tension for the MC; something that makes interactions with others difficult
  • the need for the main character to recognize and acknowledge his/her external goal
  • finding a way early to to display the MC’s flaw
  • defining an ally for your main character who is someone that helps the MC at their most difficult moment and forces them back onto their path; someone who has power to move the MC’s heart; someone they always say yes to
  • the external goal is something a main character will obsess about, a goal that will compel them throughout the story; a goal that will push the story forward
  • identifying a theme that will help determine scenes that should be in the story; a unifying concept for the book that isn’t too broad and sweeping and that applies to all main characters in the novel

Libbie uses the outline to help build pacing into the novel and to create the sense of urgency that keeps readers wanting to find out what happens. With more than one main character, Libbie encourages writers to use different colours for each character so that when you weave the beats together, you can see which character is carrying the story at which points of time.

This is a very cursory look at Take Off Your Pants. Based on the master class, I feel there is something in Libbie’s book for every writer no matter what stage you’re at in your career. I’ve already purchased my copy!

Take Off Your Pants by Libbie Hawker ~~ When it comes to writing books, are you a “plotter” or a “pantser?” Is one method really better than the other?

In this instructional ebook, author Libbie Hawker explains the benefits and technique of planning a story before you begin to write. She’ll show you how to develop a foolproof character arc and plot, how to pace any book for a can’t-put-down reading experience, and how to ensure that your stories are complete and satisfying without wasting time or words.

Hawker’s outlining technique works no matter what genre you write, and no matter the age of your audience. If you want to improve your writing speed, increase your backlist, and ensure a quality book before you even write the first word, this is the how-to book for you.


M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, PARIS IN RUINS, is available on Amazon USAmazon CanadaKobo, and Barnes&Noble. An earlier novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Writer’s Toolbox

Best-selling author Kate Forsyth is conducting a workshop at the next Historical Novel Society Conference which takes place in June 2017 in Portland Oregon. I asked Kate to give a description of the workshop and it sounds fabulous. If you aren’t already signed up for the conference, please consider it! A great place to mingle with readers, bloggers and authors in the historical fiction community …. and you can sign up for Kate’s workshop as well.

THE WRITER’S TOOLBOX – a workshop with author Kate Forsyth

Writing is an art, and therefore mysterious and intuitive. But it is also a craft, like building a cathedral or weaving a tapestry. And just like any other craftsperson, a writer must acquire the tools of their trade.

Learning how to best use these tools is part of the writer’s journey towards mastery … and it does not matter how long you’ve been writing or how many stories you’ve created. There is always something new to be discovered (and sometimes re-discovered).

I have written more than forty books, of all shapes and sizes, and every single one has thrown up new problems to be solved and required new skills to be learned. And, of course, what can be learned can also be taught. I love teaching creative writing; I love seeing that moment of epiphany on someone’s face when something that had been incomprehensible suddenly becomes pellucid.

I have taught barefoot children in schools with dirt floors and lectured to academics from all over the world at Oxford University. I have run writing retreats in Fiji, Greece and the Cotswolds, and given masterclasses from Aberystwyth to Alice Springs, Chicago to Chichester, Singapore to the Scottish Borders. In Australia, my home country, my workshops have been known to book out in minutes.

Yet every single workshop I teach will be different. Until I meet the people who have come to spend one hour or one day or a week of their lives with me, I will not know what it is that they need. Often they do not know themselves.

How to create characters that seem alive. How to spin a story that is so riveting, so compelling, that the reader becomes addicted to it, unable to stop turning the pages, wishing it would never end. How to still the shrill voices in your head and find that place of intense and single-minded focus. How to control your reader’s physiological reactions to your story, so that their heartbeat quickens and the hairs stand up on their skin.

Words are nothing more but black marks on white paper, and yet they have the power to enchant, seduce, anger, disgust, and reduce to tears. Margaret Atwood said ‘a word after a word after a word is power.’

So find your hammer and chisel, sharpen your axe and your auger, lay out your squares and templates, and prepare to learn how to design the architecture of your own imaginary cathedral.

Many thanks for telling us about it, Kate!

You can discover more about the conference by clicking this link.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union on August 16, 2016. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.