I blogged about how I rewrite last week and mentioned that I use plot points to keep myself on track. A fellow writer asked how I turn an outline into a finished draft. I might make a muddle of this, and it might take me longer than usual to describe, but here’s what works for me.
1. My books always start with an idea, something that snags my interest and won’t let go. For the romance I’m working on now, I wanted a protagonist who makes a habit of falling for the wrong guy, the guy who won’t be good for her. I wanted her to work with a hot guy who doesn’t rev her hormones at all, and they become friends. And finally, I wanted her to meet Mr. Right, but not realize it because he’s interested in someone else.
2. Once I have an idea, I populate it with characters who’ll make it work. Paula is a widow who lost her husband on tour in the military. She has two kids. And she’s a chef. She moved to Mill Pond for a slower pace, but the resort she cooks for has grown so popular, she’s swamped, so Ian hires Tyne–Mr. Hottie, her assistant chef. Jason delivers supplies from the area’s regions to her kitchen everyday. And Chase owns the bar on the edge of town.
3. Now, I can start writing. First, there’s the hook–the event that shows the protagonist and draws the reader in. The first chapter always makes me crazy. It has to introduce the main character and some important minor characters. It has to tell us the book’s big problem and the internal struggle the protagonist has to solve. It has to ground the readers in a setting, to let them see the protagonist’s world and how it affects her. And if there’s a romance, this is a good time to hint at it. I rewrite first chapters over and over again. So, in my romance:
Hook: Paula walks her kids to the school bus and waves them off.
Okay, this isn’t plunging the reader into drama, but it shows the reader what’s important to Paula–juggling a career and being there for her kids, even if it leaves her frazzled and alone after her husband’s death. To bring the scene to life: What does Paula look like? How can I show her when I’m in her POV? How old are her kids? Use dialogue to “hear” them, to show what their personalities are like. Why does she walk them to the bus? What time of year is it? What does the setting look like? How does Paula shift from Mommy to chef every day?
Scene 2: Paula hurries to Ian’s office (the man who owns the resort) to meet her new assistant chef. Ian let her help choose him.
To bring the scene to life: What kind of a boss is Ian? What’s the resort like? Describe Tyne. Why did Paula choose him as her assistant? Does she have any reservations? What’s he like? Why did he want this job? How is he qualified for it? Let me “hear” the three people and see what they’re like. Let me hear Paula’s thoughts and feel her emotions.
Okay, you get the idea. A plot point is just that–an event that happens in the story. When I sit down to write, I have to bring that scene to life. I usually write the first three chapters in my book before I try to work on any more plot points. Why? I need to hear my characters and see how they react to things before they become real to me. I still don’t know them that well, but I have a feeling for them. Then I work on character wheels to round out their personalities and histories, their strengths and weaknesses. Characters need to be consistent. That’s how we decide how they’ll react to things. And finally, I start filling in the signposts (plot points) along the way from the beginning of the book to the end. I always know my book’s ending, or how else can I aim for it?
So, I know the book’s beginning: the hook, the big problem, the internal problem, and the inciting incident. I know the setting. In the first fourth of the book, the protagonist reacts to the changes around her. She tries to find her balance and make everything work. I usually introduce at least two subplots that mirror the protagonist’s struggles. By the end of the first fourth, she comes up with an idea to meet her goal. That’s a turning point, and that’s the plot point I aim for at the end of the first quarter of my story. The thing to remember is that the character doesn’t just react to what’s happening to her. She struggles to survive it, to move forward, and to reach her goal. Plot points aren’t about what people do TO your protagonist. They’re about what the protagonist does to reach her goal. It won’t turn out the way she wants it to until the end of the book, but she doesn’t stop trying, (if you’re writing a happy ending). At the end of the book, she saves herself. The hero/love interest might stand beside her, but she flexes her new muscles and fights her own battles.
This blog is getting long, so I’ll write more about plotting and bringing your plot to life next week. If you have any specific questions, let me know in the comments. And if you have something that works for you, please share. More later…