A Funny Thing Happened . . .

A funny thing happened on my way to Mill Pond’s book 4.   I introduced Tyne Newsome in my third romance.  He’s Paula’s assistant chef.  He’s tall, scruffy, and sexy.  He has to beat women away, but the man has tunnel vision.  All he thinks about is opening a restaurant of his own and cooking.  And he came to life in book 3 and jumped off the pages.  So, when I started book 4, how could I not let him shine?

I wrote the first three Mill Pond romances from the female protagonist’s POV.  But when I sat down to write FIT TO BE THAI’d (the working title for book 4), Tyne didn’t want to be pushed in the background.  He has attitude and opinions, and he meant to share them.  The thing is, he’s such a strong character, I worried he’d overshadow Daphne, so I needed to give her a voice, too.  So, for the first time in a romance, I’m writing the male and female POV.  And I think it’s making this book stronger.

Will I write both POVs in my next romance?  I don’t know.  It’s according to how loud the characters yap at me.

The other surprise in book 4?  I ended up with more plot points than any author needs.  Forty of them, and they’re detailed.  And I only had a few, small references to Daphne’s friend, Miriam, in any of them.  But then Miriam walked into Tyne’s kitchen in chapter seven, and that woman had just as much swagger and attitude as Tyne did.  I listened to them go back and forth and loved how they interacted.  So guess who gets a bigger role than I expected?  Miriam is a high school English teacher who doesn’t mince words.

Now don’t get me wrong.  When I have an outline and a character surprises me, that’s allowed.  It’s even encouraged.  But the characters know what their boundaries are, and they have to stay in them.  Miriam doesn’t change any turning points, but she sure enjoys it when she can steal a scene:)

A good writer friend of mine, Kyra Jacobs, experienced the same type of thing when she was working on her Checkerberry Inn romance series and her paranormal romance/dragon series.  On her blog, she wrote, “…it marked a wonderful new beginning for my writing as I stepped away from writing in first person, single point of view (female main character only) to multiple points of view.”

You can find her blog @: https://indianawonderer.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/psst-its-me/

Whatever you’re working on now, I hope you’re having as much fun as I am.  I’m trying to twist Kyra Jacobs’s arm to get her to do a guest spot for you here.  After all, she writes about dragons, who are shifters.  And I write about Prosper, who’s a shifter.  Okay, he’s a bear, not a dragon, but there’s something about shifters, don’t you think?  Those big, strong men who have an animal caged inside them?  And Kyra writes romances…and I write romances.  We have so much in common, except probably the way we write.  If she’s sane, she’s never done forty plot points for any of her novels.  No one should.  But, hey! Every book’s different.  I never thought I’d do it either.

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Outline to Finished Draft

This post is too long…again.  But it should finish explaining how I turn an outline into a finished draft.  I hope.  If you still have questions, let me know.  But here goes!

When I start a book, I do pretty detailed plot points.  I didn’t always.  I used to stick to the basics of what had to happen to move the story, but now, when I think of a chapter or scene, I scribble down whatever comes to mind, and the more I scribble, the more things I think of.  That way, when I read my notes, I just need to bring them to life.

Every book starts with a hook.  For Wolf’s Bane, I show Reece racing to her mom’s house. Her mom remarried after Reece’s father died and had two children with her new husband. Eugene’s proud that he has a son, but Jenny reminds him of his mother.  He doesn’t like his mother, so whenever he’s had too much to drink, he likes to smack Jenny.  Reece, who teaches martial arts, rushes to prevent that.

However, Wolf’s Bane isn’t a literary novel.  It’s urban fantasy, so Reece’s family isn’t the main plot.  When she jumps out of the car to rescue Jenny, she sees a woman sitting on a porch stoop.  The woman raises her face to the sky and howls before she runs away. Later, after Reece has sent Eugene to the kitchen and gotten her brother and sister to bed, when she starts to her SUV, a werewolf attacks a young man on the street corner.  The man seems doomed until a gargoyle plummets from the sky to rescue him.  He kills the werewolf, and it shifts back to the woman Reece had seen earlier.  Plot point 1.

Now, that’s all plot point 1 is, a summary of what happens in that chapter.  But I’d already decided that I was aiming for 80,000 words for this book.  As it happened, I ended up with 30 plots points, and the novel ended up being 364 pages and almost 91,000 words.  But at the time, when I finished figuring out my 30 plot points, I figured I needed 2,600 words for each plot point, or about 10 -12 pages.  Each point might involve a few different scenes.  For my latest romance, I plotted forty plot points for 70,000 words.  Why?  Because I knew I wanted shorter, punchier scenes and chapters, only about 7 pages each.  How do I make one plot point into 7 to 12 pages?  By bringing the scene to life.

In Wolf’s Bane, I’d already shown that Reece is attached to her step-brother and step-sister.  If they call, she’s there.  Why?  Why does she care?  How much of an age difference is there between them and her?  How does she feel about her mother now?  Why does her mother tolerate Eugene’s drinking?  And how does her mother feel about Reece popping in to protect Joseph and Jenny?  What was Reece’s father like?  And what does Reece do now that he’s gone and she lives on her own?

Plot point 2:  This is still set-up.  Usually, the entire first fourth of my books are set-up.  This scene takes place a month later.  Reece is back at her mom’s house, and when she leaves, the man who was attacked gets off the bus at the corner and starts toward her.  Moon light hits him, and he starts to change.  He attacks Reece, and again, the gargoyle comes.  This time, he saves her, but his wing’s hurt in the battle.  She drives him to her condo, and he notices that she’s been scratched.  The wolf’s paw mark makes a tattoo-like stain close to her heart.  A sign that she’s a witch.

Again, this plot point only summarizes what happens in this scene or chapter.  I have to add details to bring the scene to life.  What did Reece do when she watched the man shift into a werewolf?  How did she feel?  How did she feel when the wolf attacked her?  When the gargoyle came to help her?  Does she believe him when he tells her she’s a witch? How will she cope with that?  What does it mean?  etc.  Question after question to bring the characters and actions to life.  Anyway, that’s what I do–scene after scene.

For me, once I get the plot points, I can concentrate on “seeing” what’s happening, what each character is doing, what the setting looks like.  I can “hear” the characters, listen to the grunts and shuffling of the battles.  That’s how my outline becomes a draft.

Now, a quick note:  I divide my stories into fourths, and that helps me keep my plot points on track.  The hook is extra–something to grab the reader.  So here’s how I start:

  1. Hook:  Reece races to her mother’s house to protect Jenny from Eugene.
  2. Plot Point 1:  Reece sees a werewolf attack a man and a gargoyle save him
  3. Plot Point 3:  The man shifts and attacks Reece. The gargoyle saves her and she learns she’s a witch.

I know I want 80,000 words, and I’ve decided I can reach that with 30 plot points.  That means that I want my first turning point to come at the end of chapter 7 or 8, at the end of the first fourth of the book.  Reece knows she’s a witch, but she has no idea what that means or how to awaken her magic until the end of the book’s set-up (the first 7 or 8 chapters).  Also, a rogue werewolf tries to kill her, so she’s been targeted for some reason and doesn’t know why.  At the first turning point, an owl brings her a moonstone necklace to awaken her magic and she teams up with the gargoyles who protect Bay City to fight the rogues.

The second turning point comes at the middle of the story.  Wedge Durrow and his werewolf pack join Reece and Damian to fight the rogues, and they have an idea who the rogues are.  Hecate, a powerful witch, joins them, too.

The third turning point hits at the three-quarters point of the book, and the fourth quarter of the book leads to the final, big battle and resolution.  It ties up all the subplots, etc.  For plot points and structure, I highly recommend: http://storyfix.com/story-structure-dummies.  The point is, once you have your hook, first plot points, three turning points, and the end of your book, all you have to do is fill in more plot points from A to Z.  And then, all you have to do is bring each of those plot points to life.  Good luck and happy writing!

 

 

 

 

 

Plot to Story

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…

Who Wins–me or my characters?

Most of life is a compromise, at least, for me. I’m a Libra. Sign of the scale. Always searching for a middle ground, a sense of balance. It’s no different with my writing. Did I mention I have a thing about security, too? Okay, that adds to the mix. That means that when I start a book, I need to feel like I can rev my engines at Point A, write for seven chapters and get a flat tire (or some other plot twist) in chapter 8, fix it and hit the road again, only to end up in a garage at the middle of the book. The middle means another fix, so that I can skid into the last breakdown three-fourths of my way to the finish. This time, the mechanic tells me that his fix either solves my problems or not. The last fourth of the book, bless it, pretty much knows where it’s been and how many miles it has to go. It knows, too, that it will probably end up in a mad derby with lots of crashes at the big, final battle, but it can limp home. Knowing those key plot points gives me courage. Writing 28 plot points, like I did for the new book I just started, gives me security.

My plot points are just dots on a map that my characters have to reach. I give them sketchy directions and wish them the best. That’s where the give-and-take comes in. I have ideas on how my characters will get to each spot. I can see Brody helping his brother convert a wing of his lodge into four guest suites. I can see Harmony staying at the lodge to finish her book and meet her deadline. I know they’ll bump into each other and sparks will fly. But did I know that Brody would trudge through the snow to rescue a duck? Nope, didn’t have a clue, not until he told me that he and Ian had to take care of the family dog when they were growing up, and they loved that dog. He can’t stand by and let an animal suffer if he can help it. I didn’t see that scene coming. Do I care? No, because Brody got to Point F on his map. He just didn’t do it the way I expected. But it caused the result I was looking for–Harmony looks at Brody in a new way. If, however, Brody decided to take a side trip and skip Point F altogether and change the direction of the story, then Brody and I would have to have words. And I’m not afraid of him. If he doesn’t go to Point F, my new minor character–an ambulance driver–will take him there.

I know I’ve talked about plotting more than usual lately. It’s because that’s what I’ve been working on, but I’m finally past it. Hopefully, my mind will be on something different for my next post. Suggestions are welcome.

I have friends whose stories are character driven, and I admire their work. They create their characters and plot a Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, then give their characters free will. It works for them. It wouldn’t work for me. I don’t trust my characters that much. Hell, I don’t trust myself that much. It would feel like I was driving cross-country, blindfolded, just meandering from one place to another. My friends don’t have that problem. Their inner compass guides them, but I can get lost in a big hotel. When my husband and I feel adventurous and take off for rides, he drives and always knows if we’re going north, heading east, or taking a diagonal. I never know where the heck I am. I have no sense of direction, so I need a road map. And some security. I don’t always need 28 plot points, but I sure don’t mind having them. I’ll have less chance of getting lost.

Oh, and BTW, have a wonderful holiday, whether you celebrate Passover or Easter or a blissful day to relax.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Plot points: can you brainstorm?

Today, I finished 28 plot points for my new novel. One, hopefully, for each chapter. I don’t always write that many, but I didn’t want the novel to have “soft” spots, so I wanted to see where the twists fell and how the tension built. I might change things as I go, but at least I have sign posts to guide the way. So hip, hip, and time to hit the keys! I had an awesome thing happen to me while I plotted, though. A close friend and fellow writer started e-mailing me questions about my new characters. What brings them together? she asked. What pushes them apart? How does one’s divorce affect him? How does it affect his relationships with women? I had character wheels for anyone important in my story, but her questions prodded me to think of my characters in a new way, in a different light.

Her questions made me think of the dynamics of the story–the interactions and their aftermaths. She plots in an interesting way. She draws circles for each of her main characters and has them arc over one another, so that the area that Circle A and Circle B share are where those two characters interact and how. And that reminded me of a writers’ group in town that used to meet to brainstorm their story ideas and plots. My writers’ group rarely does that. We all tend to struggle with our characters and their journeys on our own, then we write pages and share them. But when we do that, and we have what we think we need to start a book, or when we’re stymied and unsure, I wonder if it would help to brainstorm with each other BEFORE we put too many words on paper. I can’t decide if that would help me or confuse me. Would it send me off in the wrong direction for me? Have any of you out there tried it? Did it work for you? Just curious:)

Writing: Triggers that move the plot

Friends keep asking me how my romance novel is coming. It’s coming. I think I only have about 50 more pages to write before I finish the first draft. Is it ready to go? No. I need to go back and “fill in.” I’m a bare bones writer–if I get the characters and plot points right in the first draft, I’m happy. Every scene has to have some kind of tension. There has to be Goal, Motivation, Conflict for each scene. But that’s not enough. Once I get that down, I go back a second time to add emotion, reactions, descriptions, and internal dialogue. Am I happy with what I have? Yes. Do I think I got it right? Beats me. Romance feels “spongy” to me. The things that trigger forward movement in the story are alien to me.

Every type of writing has different triggers. When I wrote mystery short stories, the focus of the story was on who did it and why. Each scene advanced that. I introduced the crime, the detective (amateur or sleuth), suspects, witnesses, and clues. I could judge by those triggers how the story was advancing. What did the detective learn when he went to question Suspect A? Did that clue lead him to an answer or was it a red herring that threw him off track? When the person he thought committed the crime ended up dead, he had to start over and re-evaluate what he’d learned, etc. Each step leads to the next one in the plot. With urban fantasy, I introduce the good guys and the evil that they have to battle. They win one small skirmish, but that leads them to a bigger problem. They confront that problem and that digs them deeper into trouble. Those are triggers I understand and feel comfortable with. In literary novels, the triggers are internal. They’re about character development. How does the character change throughout the story?

In romance, the triggers are emotional. Ian’s arm brushes Tessa’s breast and Want sweeps through her. She denies it and pushes it away. But when their eyes meet, she can’t turn away. She never meant to let down her guard again, but Ian shatters her defenses. These are triggers that show Tessa’s growing attraction for Ian. Do I feel comfortable writing an entire novel driven by mounting emotions? In truth, it’s been fun. Have I done it right? I don’t have a clue. But every novel is moved forward by triggers that escalate from the beginning of the story to a big, dark moment near the end, and finally, a happy or unhappy ending. In romances, it had better be a happy ever after. A writer can track how his story is progressing by following these triggers to see how they push the protagonist’s buttons–the bigger the reaction, (even if it’s controlled or denied), the better. Tension needs to build and build until there’s a resolution.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope your plot points push the protagonist harder and farther than he ever wanted to go.

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

P.S. I wanted to add a reminder that Sia Marion at http://sia4215.blogspot.com/ invited me to participate in the World Tour Blog. I invited M L Rigdon from the blog: http://historyfanforever.wordpress.com/. Mary Lou writes a variety of genres, all on her webpage: http://www.mlrigdon.com/. She recently finished her third Regency romance as Julia Donner. I also invited Susan Bahr from her blog: http://suebahr.wordpress.com/. I’ve followed Susan’s blog for a long time, but she just started this new one about writing. I like her approach! I hope you remember to check out their posts on Tuesday on how they write. I’m going to!

Writing: And now it gets ugly

I usually write my blog posts on Sundays, but my sister and I are driving to Bloomington to visit my grandson tomorrow. We’re leaving at 9:30 in the morning so that Mary can take him out for lunch–his pick–and then take him shopping before we drive home. Yes, my sister is the best great aunt any boy could have. Both boys know it. My other sister’s not too shabby either. It’s going to be a great day–yakking with Mary on the way there and back–and seeing Tyler, but it’s going to be a long day. I won’t want to write a blog when I get home, so here goes.

I’ve been working on the romance novel I started. I’m always excited when I start a new book. Ideas churn away in my head, my characters clamor to do this or that, and everything’s new and different. My first chapters usually have problems, but it’s still a joy writing them. I can’t really hear my characters until I watch them act and react to things and listen in on their dialogue for a while. Usually, after the third chapter, I know them better, and then I can write plot points for them. By then, they have opinions of what they will or will not do. I’m a plot driven writer, so I have turning points they have to reach, but they tell me how they’ll manage that. It works for all of us. I’ve been sailing through my plot points, and my characters keep stretching and surprising me, and all’s going well. But now, I’ve finished the first fourth of my book. It ended with a crash–literally. Someone cut the chains of the beautiful, crystal chandeliers that Ian bought for the great room of his lodge. Someone’s sabotaging him.

Now things turn ugly. Not just for the characters. Every conflict cranks up from now on. Ian’s hit his internal and external problems, and so has Tessa. And things are only going to get worse. For me, the writing gets more serious now. There are more balls to juggle, more subplots to weave in and out. We’re past introductions and we’re going for the long haul, the nitty gritty. The longer the story goes, everything has to become more intense, have more depth. Pacing becomes more important.

I’ve never written a romance novel before. In urban fantasies, the bad guys gain momentum, and the battles grow more dangerous the longer the book goes. That’s what I like about reading and writing UF. Eventually, the stakes reach the point of live or die. In romance? There has to be the push-pull of attraction that’s frustrated by the reasons the hero and heroine can’t get together. So far, it’s been fun figuring out what brings them together and then adding things that push them apart. But now, my characters have hit the nitty-gritty. They’re past chemistry and sly looks. It’s time to up the ante. push the buttons, and add the romance. I have some great ideas. We’ll see how they go:)

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Just a note: Another practical blog from Lindsay Buroker: http://www.lindsayburoker.com/

Writing–& Rewrites

I’ve been reading different authors talk about how they do rewrites.  There’s no right or wrong way.  Each person has to find what works for him or her.  Some of my friends write “long,” throwing everything on the paper for their first drafts, and then go back to cut and tighten when they polish their books.  Some of us write lean and then have to add when we do rewrites.  But those are the BIG rewrites, when the manuscript’s finished and we’ve let it set and we’re ready to dig in and do whatever it takes to make it work.

I’m not patient or brilliant enough to multi-task and to do too many things at once.  Keeping that in mind, I tend to do lots of smaller rewrites as I scribble away.  Every day, when I start writing, I polish what I wrote the day before.  There are times when I spend my entire writing schedule for that day, going over the same scene I fought with before.  Once it’s decent, I move on.  When I reach the end of the first fourth of my book, (and yes, I do have my main plot points planned out, so I know where each turning point is), then I go back and rewrite that fourth of my book.  I look for passive verbs (and I still miss some).  I look for “show, don’t tell.”  I look for description and emotion.  Have I used the five senses?  Have I made my protagonist real?  Did I use enough internal dialogue so that the reader feels what she feels?  Did I make her reactions true to her character and remember that how she reacts is often how the readers will react.  Have I given the story a sense of immediacy?

Once I’m satisfied with that fourth of the story, I write two or three ideas for big scenes for the next fourth of the book, remind myself what the twist is at the end of that section, and start the whole process again.  I write and rewrite as I go, then do another rewrite of that fourth when it’s finished.   I can hold a fourth of a book in my head.  I can’t keep track of the entire thing, so I inch my way along, scene by scene, fourth by fourth.

When the entire manuscript’s finished, then I start at the beginning and do a final rewrite of the entire thing before I humble myself and give it out for critiques.  This time, I look for more than just basics.  I look for vivid images, specific words.  Did I get lazy and use a generic verb when I could have used a better one?  How does the manuscript flow?  Does the tension escalate?  Do I care about the characters, or did I create a sidekick that functions, but never came to life?    And did I do anything special?  Something that surprised myself?  A turn of phrase I didn’t know I had in me.  A clever plot twist I–and hopefully readers–didn’t see coming?  And even after all that work, my pages return from my trusted friends with red ink rimming their borders.

I read all of the critiques (which are usually right, darn it!), and I do my last, hardest rewrite before I send the manuscript to my agent.  Then I keep my fingers crossed.  Sometimes, I get lucky and only have a few scenes to fix.  Sometimes, like for Shadow Demon, she tells me she’d like the book to be tighter to make the action move faster.  I cut the word count from 85,000 to 70,000–tossing two, small subplots.   And then she okayed it.

When I first started writing, I hated rewrites.  They weren’t as much fun as the burst of creativity when my fingers flew across the keyboard, describing new scenes, new adventures.  Now, I think of rewrites as my best friend.  They let me add layers, nuances, polish that I could never manage in one or two brushes of words and energy.  Rewrites allow me to add layers to the skeleton of my story and characters, to flesh out scenes and plot points.  Rewrites aren’t just about fixing things.  It’s about polishing a diamond from a rough cut to a gem.

 

Writing & Creativity

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about creativity lately.  A few of them claim that if a writer plots ahead and doesn’t follow his/her muse, he stifles his creative juices and forces them to go somewhere they might otherwise avoid.  I usually stay out of the pantsers/plotters debate.  I think every writer has to find what works for him.  We all tap into our creative juices and sweat-and-blood, putting-words-on paper in our own ways.  But a couple of comments here and there have made me feel the need to defend my need for plotting.

For me, plotting is NOT plodding.  That term applies to the late middle of any novel I’ve ever written–it feels like it will never end.  And plotting doesn’t ruin my creativity when I’m not constantly surprised by what my characters might come up.  I don’t make elaborate, detailed plots anymore–even though I did when I wrote mysteries–but the plot points were always just dots on a map.  I start at point A, travel to point B, take a left at C, follow a winding road to D, and finally end up at point E..or F…or wherever the end of the book lands.   Plots are destination points, and my characters almost always suprise me on how they decide to get to each of them.  The points make sure I don’t take any detours that  lead nowhere, but the actual journey is still an adventure.

Plot points actually FREE UP my creativity.  I’m not sitting, looking at a blank page each time I finish a scene, wondering what I should write next, because I have a next bus stop in mind.  All I have to ask myself is how am going to get from here to there?  And what kinds of flat tires, accidents, and bumps in the road can happen along the way?

That said, when I find a blogger who explains writing better than I do, I like to share their post with you.  It’s no secret that I love Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series.  A fan asked her how she wrote her query for the first Kate Daniels book, Magic Bites, and she generously took the time to give a brilliant answer and then a second blog describing what’s crucial to make a good book.  Both would make good, pre-writing scribbles for what to decide on BEFORE you start a book.  You don’t have to agree.  But plot points work for me.

http://www.ilona-andrews.com/category/business-of-writing

http://www.ilona-andrews.com/business-of-writing/queries-common-issues

 

Writing Backwards

When I wrote mysteries, I always started with an idea that hooked me.  Some odd thought would snag my imagination, and it wouldn’t let go until I built scenes around it.  The scenes told me what type of character I was going to follow through that particular story.  Sometimes, I’d get so gung-ho, I’d rush into writing.  At that stage of my craft, rushing was a mistake.  Almost every story I started, when I didn’t have an ending in mind, lacked the tension and punch my stories–with endings in mind–had.  I’ve written for so long now, I don’t need to plot as hard as I once did–at least, not on paper.  Because now, the rhythm and twists are so internalized, they’re just part of the process.

A friend read some of my stories and said, “I could never write these.  How do you come up with so many ideas?”  “But it’s easy,” I told her, “if you know the end and write backwards.”  And it’s true.  You have a beginning, and if you know the end, you just need to figure out how to get there.  If it’s a mystery, you can sprinkle in clues and red herrings along the way, because you know which things ARE clues.  You know who did it and why.  Same holds true for most stories you write.  But middles can still be muddles, so that’s why I fiddled around until I found what works for me.

I spelled out my plotting technique in an earlier blog, but basically, I divide  a story (whatever it’s length) into four parts.  And I know how the story will end, so….

The first fourth is set-up:

1.  One heck of a hook–whatever grabs the reader and pulls him in.  (It doesn’t have to be in-your-face to do this).

2.  Introduce the main & minor characters through action–not back story.

3.  The inciting incident and big story question (both external and internal).

3.  The setting has to contribute to that particular story’s tone/mood/plot.  Show it through the protagonist’s POV, what it means to him.

4.  For novels, I introduce 1 or 2 subplots that deal with the same theme as the main plot.

5.  A direction the protagonist goes in, thinking he’ll resolve his problem and make his world right again.

6.  At the end of the set-up, he discovers his solution won’t work or that his problem’s bigger than he ever thought.

After the set-up, I think of at least 2 more plot twists and try to put the first twist in the middle of the story and the next twist close to the 3/4 mark.  Then for the last fourth of the story, I tie things up and finish what I already put in place–rushing toward my ending.

This technique took something unwieldy (writing an entire novel) and broke it into smaller pieces that make it easier for my brain to hold.  Until, that is, I got bored doing the same-old, same-old.  And I decided to write a novel where I knew the beginning and I knew the end, but my goal for myself after the set-up was to try to put my protagonist in as much trouble as I could get her in, scene after scene, and then get her out of trouble by asking myself, “What would the reader never expect to happen here?”

I wrote the book.  A friend read it.  A small publisher even took it and then went out of business.  (Not my book’s fault.  Lack of money).  And my friend said, “Hmmm, my daughter loved it, but it sure isn’t your usual writing, is it?”  Not a compliment, but I had to laugh.  No, it wasn’t my usual writing, and that was the point.  I learned a lot from that book (not that I recommend writing books to experiment with unless you really don’t care if it’s published or not.  At that point in my life, writing was still a hobby to me, my “me” time.  I wrote and sent books, but wasn’t really surprised if no one took them).  But that book gave me a wonderful sense of freedom.

Before, I tried really hard to write like my favorite authors wrote, to do as they did.  When I gave myself permission to ask, “What do I want to do now?” and it could be anything, I came up with plot twists and scenes I’d never considered before.  Not that it made for a great book, but it made for a fun one.  So now, I make a habit of using the Rule of Three.  (I’ve heard Shirley Jump on panels and in workshops, and she uses the Rule of Six.  If I’d have heard her first, maybe I’d have tried harder, but she’s smarter than I am, or maybe I’m lazier, so three works for me).  Anyway, when I come to a culmination scene now (where I’ve laid the ground work for it and, hopefully, the reader’s waiting to see what happens), I try NOT to go with my first idea–the obvious.  I try to think of a second and a third result that’s feasible, but unexpected, and I go with that.

So my technique now?  I still use the four part strategy for stories, but I give myself more wiggle room.  I try to suprise myself more often.  My advice to new writers?  Find what works for you and have fun!