by Our Guest on December 18th, 2008
I’m a daydreamer. Always have been. One of the great things about being a writer is that I can sit staring into thin air indulging in my wildest fantasies and say, “Hey, I’m working…I’m plotting.” I’ve always also had a sneaking suspicion I was born in the wrong century. I just feel more “right” when I’m around old things, while too much modern sets me on edge just a little bit.
Idle daydream, or brilliant plotting? Only the author knows for sure!
I’ve always said I don’t have the foggiest idea how to plot a contemporary story. I read contemporaries and enjoy them, but my mind becomes a bumbling blank when it comes to envisioning enough plot points to fill a book. Give me a historical setting, however, and suddenly my passion fires up and my imagination kicks into high gear.
I usually start with a simple premise — what happens when a young woman with an insatiable curiosity encounters a man with a lot to hide and everything to lose? That example is from Dark Temptation, but around a basic kernel like that my stories grow layer by layer, often in successive drafts and with a lot of help from the historic accounts I read as I do my research. Cornish history is rich with tales of pirates and smugglers, secret tunnels and wild ocean storms that sent many a ship crashing into the coastline. That all found its way into my story, both in setting and actual plot. It never fails that in doing research I’ll stumble upon some specific event or person that fits right into my theme, which was the case with the real life pirate, Lady Mary Killigrew, who became the basis for my fictional Meg Keating, whose ghost might or might not be terrorizing the characters in the story. But until I discovered the real Lady Mary, that element didn’t exist in Dark Temptation.
Lady Mary Killigrew, or the evil Meg Keating? Wait, both were pretty evil!
So my germ of an idea when mixed with research becomes bigger ideas and subplots, which in turn leads to more research and more ideas. Sometimes when I start a book I worry that I won’t have enough material to fill 350 plus pages, but I always do — in fact I usually end up trimming. It’s a process I’ve learned to trust.
Allison’s Plotting Recipe:
1. One pint daydream — as in, what if I were lost and found myself in a mystical churchyard…would I trust the brooding stranger who wrapped me in his arms?
2. Sprinkle with several generous pinches of historical detail
3. Fold in a scoop each of pacing, conflict, motivation, relationship issues
4. Whip all ingredients to a vigorous froth
5. Bring to a passionate boil, then simmer until plot thickens.
What’s your recipe for a delicious story?