Do They Come Out the Same?

When I first started writing, I concentrated on plot. I’m still a mostly plot-driven writer. WHAT happens in a story pops into my head before WHO is in the story. But over the years, the characters matter to me more and more, almost to the point that the people in the story are as important as the story itself.

On my first draft, though, the plot’s what I hammer out. This happens, then that happens, and that causes something else to happen. I pay more attention to setting and senses on the first write than I used to, and I add a few feelings in but not many. How did X react to that news? Etc. But it’s not until the second day that I go back and flesh the scenes and chapters out. Without that second polish, my work would be too lean, too simple. On the second day, I ask myself about what else might be going on in the scene. Who’s there? How do they feel? What do they think about what’s happening? Does it change any of the dynamics between people?

So the first draft is mostly about what’s happening. The second draft’s about characters.

Most of my friends start writing, driven by their characters. The characters’ reactions lead them to what happens next in the story. They have to work to keep their plots moving in the right direction. My question is, if you get the balance right, can you tell a difference between plot driven and character driven stories? Can you find a balance that has the perfect amount of each?

I think some of it depends on the genre you write. Mysteries need a certain amount of plotting. Thrillers do, too. But the best plots are enhanced by characters who grab us like Louis Kincaid. His personal story is almost as important to me as solving the mystery he faces in each book. Literary novels are character-driven where the internal struggles of the character are more important than what happens in the story. But if nothing much happens, the story grows stale, so the character still has to face some conflict and work to resolve it. I consider Elizabeth George’s novels literary mysteries because the characters’ growth is almost as important as the mystery that needs to be solved.

I found a great blog about plot vs. character that might interest you:,inner%20transformation%20or%20the%20relationships%20between%20the%20characters. How do you write? Does the story come first or the characters? Do you have to go back to reinforce plot or add depth to characters? Or both?

And the truth? There is no right or wrong, but it helps to know what kind of writer you are, so that you can work to balance your finished product.

Not my destiny?

I’ve been trying to write a blog for days now. Not anything earth-shaking or deep and wise. Just a little, simple blog, but every time I sit down at my computer to write it, someone stops to visit or calls. I’ve decided the stars and planets are warning me to keep my thoughts to myself this week..

HH loves to go to the American Legion every Thursday after supper. There are hardly any young members. He sits with other veterans and drinks beer and tries to win at raffles and has a “guys night out.” While he’s gone, I sit down to write a blog, but this week, my sister called, and we hadn’t talked for a while, and before I knew it, HH was home again. How did the time fly that fast? The night before that, my grandson called. And the night before that, I invited a friend over for supper and had a wonderful night, yakking.

I know I could write a blog during the day, but I work hard to reserve that time for writing books–and it’s hard to hang onto that slot of hours anyway. There are always things that need done. HH thinks he should have something to eat every day, silly man. He likes to have groceries in the house:) The dog and cat think they deserve attention once in a while. And weeds keep growing every time it rains–and it’s rained more than usual this year. Not that I’m complaining. I feel for the people in drought. And for the poor people who are flooded.

Everyone I know struggles to find enough time to get everything done, so it’s a common ailment. But I can usually sneak in a blog post here or there. Not this week. But that’s okay, because instead of connecting with internet friends, I spent time with family and flesh and blood friends. It’s all about balance. Hope your life is balanced right now. And happy writing!


I’ve been fizzling on some of my favorite TV series lately. I hope it’s temporary and eventually something pulls me back into the storylines, but for now, I’m avoiding them and trying new shows to find something HH and I like.

We liked Longmire for a few seasons, but the angst lately is getting to us. Too Much Angst. I know the advice is to always pile on the conflict, to have one problem after another and if you can add internal conflict on top of that, so much the better. I feel buried under an avalanche of troubles. Maybe if just one person at a time had to struggle with something, it wouldn’t be so bad. But EVERY single person is struggling with something. I can’t take it. I’m MIA.

On the flip side, HH and I enjoyed watching Shakespeare and Hathaway, but some of the shows we’ve watched recently have gotten so frivolous, we’ve turned that off, too. And then there’s Doc Martin. In the beginning, we loved it. Yes, the doc was eccentric to the extreme, but there were scenes that showed his soft side, his caring. Not so much lately. Louisa has had his baby, and all he does is complain about the inconvenience of losing sleep and how much the baby’s crying interferes with his office hours. Ugh. I hope to try him again later, but at the moment, I just want to shake him and tell him to grow up!

In the meantime, we’ve found the Dr. Blake mysteries that take place in Australia, and we’re enjoying those. We found McDonald and Dodds, too, with the sly dynamics of a ambitious detective who wants to get ahead teamed with a partner who first comes off as a bumbler, but is actually a genius. Fun so far.

When I watch TV, it makes me think about book series and writing. What works, what doesn’t. And I know everything is personal, but it’s easy to watch shows and decide what I like about them and what I don’t. It’s easy to see someone else’s mistakes, isn’t it? Not so easy to see our own. So, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and try to find a middle ground with more balance. Problems, but not too many of them. Humor but nothing too forced or far-fetched. And a protagonist I want to hang around with.

And maybe in winter, when the doldrums set in, I’ll be ready to return to the series that I enjoyed for quite a while. Maybe they’ll entertain me again.

Mystery Musings

Well, darn.  I’m a late comer to J.D. Robb’s Death series, but once I read the first one–Naked in Death–I had to read the second, Glory In Death, and the third, Immortal in Death.  I enjoy the grittiness, Eve Dallas’s character trying to stay true to herself as a cop while falling hard for rich and handsome, Roarke, who’s been known to bend the law, and the compromises they both make to make their relationship work.  The mystery never takes a back seat to romance, stays the main plot line with the romance as a subplot.

So, when I saw one of J.D. Robb’s books on sale, I bought it, even though it was WAY ahead in the series–#43 of the soon-to-be 51 books.  I mean, I’m so far behind in the books anyway, I thought What The Heck?  The first three books build on each other, but they were easy to read as standalones, too.  I thought Eve and Roarke’s relationship might have evolved quite a bit by number #43, but I expected pretty much the same type of story.  And it IS still a gritty crime that becomes Eve’s case, along with the usual cops who work with her.  And she and Roarke are still crazy about each other, and he still fusses over and helps her because he worries about her.  Nice.  But the TONE of the book really threw me off.  I found it so annoying, I had to make myself stick with it, and I have to say, it wasn’t until the last half of the book that I felt like I was reading J.D. Robb again, that she settled into the rhythm I enjoy so much.

Because books do have a rhythm–and not just words, sentences, and paragraphs.  It’s a balance of concentrating on plot, subplot, and developing and fleshing out characters.  I’m just as hooked on Eve and Roarke’s relationship, her interplay with her friends and fellow cops, as I am in the crime they’re solving.  And for the first half of the book, there was scarcely enough of that for me.

It felt like Robb was telling the first half of the book in staccato.  I went from one scene of Eve snapping orders at one person to Eve snapping orders at someone else.  I understand the intent.  It was to build a sense of urgency.  Which it did.  There was one shooting after another with intermittent interviews of witnesses and searching for clues because Eve knew the killer was just getting started.  And each time she struck, she’d kill more and more victims…because she could.  Occasionally, Roarke just felt like Eve’s lackey, and I didn’t like it.

Finally, a little after the first half of the book, Eve zeroes in on who’s committing the crimes, and Robb let more character interaction enter the story.  The pace settled a little, and I felt like I was reading one of my favorite series again.  The voice AND the tone felt right.

Everyone has his own personal likes and dislikes, and most people are going to like the fast pace and building tension of this book.  Robb created two well-developed villains, especially the girl.  A great character study of a psychopath.  And once I got to the middle of the story, I was a happy reader again.  I finished the book satisfied.

Finding Balance

I’m a Libra–the sign of the scales, so I thought my life came with some automatic balance.  Come to find out, one of my favorite astrologers explained that being a Libra meant I was constantly SEARCHING for balance.  A whole different thing entirely.  And after I thought about it, aren’t most people striving for balance, too?

The old saying “Too much work and no fun make Jack a dull boy” could apply to too much of anything.   I read a thread on twitter recently where Ilona Andrews and Jeaniene Frost (both New Times bestselling authors) worked so many hours writing their books that Jeaniene Frost ended up in the hospital and both suffered from too much stress and felt everything else in their lives got neglected.  What were they missing?  Balance.

Now, I’d love to be a bestselling author, but not enough to ONLY write.  I like seeing my husband, kids, and grandkids.  I like having family and friends over for suppers.  I enjoy cooking and gardening.  I’m not very exciting, but I’m happy.  Of course, if all I did was play, I’d feel out of sync, too.  I like checking off goals when I finish them.  They give me a sense of accomplishment.  Too much down time, and I get antsy.

As a writer, I strive for balance in my books, too.  I recently finished reading Maria V. Snyder’s POISON STUDY.  I really liked it and highly recommend it, but the book had so much action, with the heroine under constant attack from enemies on all sides, that it felt like too much of a good thing.  For me, the book’s rhythm began to feel repetitive.  She created wonderful characters, and I’d have liked to spend a little more time with them.  Valek, especially, was fascinating.  So were many of the minor characters.  On the other hand, though, I’ve read books where action would be welcome.  It feels like nothing is happening, page after page.  No character development.  No clues to add up.  The pacing’s so slow, the story barely moves forward.

I also recently finished reading Cee Cee James’s cozy mystery CHERRY PIE OR DIE.  I loved the characters, the interaction between them, and the clues sprinkled here and there that teased me to solve the murder.  The pacing took its time, taunting me with tidbits of information and red herrings, like cozies do.  And that’s one of the things I liked about the book.

Great books create a balance between action, dialogue, setting, character development, and building momentum through pacing and tension.  Not many of us get every scene, every page right.  And not all of us can even agree on what’s good and what’s not.  What excites me can make another reader close the book and toss it aside.  But for whatever you’re working on now, I hope you find a good balance.  And happy writing!

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