Archive for 'plotting'

Plotting Methods
by Annette McCleave on May 24th, 2011

Are you a plotter looking for guidance on how to deliver maximum punch? I’ve got some suggestions for where you might want to look for answers:

1. 3 Act Structure – A plotting method that originated in the theater and is commonly used in movies. It breaks the action into three distinct sections, each with their own turning points, high points and low points. Here’s a link to Alexandra Solokoff’s blog where she discusses the 3 Act structure. Her blog has lots of great tips on plotting.

2. Hero’s Journey – American scholar Joseph Campbell outlined the stages of the Hero’s Journey back in 1949. Chris Vogler later wrote a book based on Campbell’s work called The Writer’s Journey and, with its clear explanations and more modern examples, it has become an iconic writer’s tool.

3. W Plot Method – This method is commonly used in novels and movies. It involves plotting toward a series of high and low points, which occur when the hero meets barriers to his or her goal. The reason it’s called the W plot is because the points go from high to low, low to high, and repeats…creating a W shape.

4. Snowflake MethodThis method is not for the faint of heart. It requires a lot of prep work that may not mesh with your creative brain. On the other hand, some people swear by it. The guy who developed it is a former software engineer, so you can comfortable that it’s a very logical and organized way to create a book.

5. A Mix of Methods — Some writers blend plotting methods to create their own way of working. Some write down a few turning points, then write organically from there. Others blend the W plot with the hero’s journey, or the hero’s journey with the 3 Act structure. Anything is acceptable as long as it gets you to the finish line. Here’s a nice explanation of the W plot blended with the Hero’s Journey.

The good news is you can use any of these methods, or none of them, and still end up with a great novel. We all work differently. But sometimes creativity benefits from a bit of structure, so if you’re tempted, give one of these methods a try.

When plotting isn’t enough
by Jessa Slade on May 9th, 2011

Currently working on: Kicking this nasty cold
Mood: Disgustingly congested

XY and I hike and camp in the summer, often through Eastern Oregon and over and down into Idaho and Nevada, so I was saddened to read about a couple lost after traveling in the area. The wife was recovered alive this weekend after seven weeks missing, having survived on creek water and trail mix; the husband tried to walk out for help and has not yet been found. It’s rugged country, much of it still snowbound this time of year.

According to some reports, the couple had been following some scenic route with the help of a GPS when they became trapped in a ravine.

Which made me think about my writing.

I’m a plotter. Evidence at right. I like tools to help me find my way, whether that’s a GPS or a scene-by-scene beat sheet. When the tools are working, everything can be wonderful, each step proceeding accordingly and to plan, miles/pages whirling by under the feet/fingers.

But when it doesn’t work…

Hopefully you packed extra trail mix.

On Saturday, I drove up to the Seattle area for a romance reader event. (By the way, if you live between the Covington WA Library and Portland Oregon and want a signed copy of VOWED IN SHADOWS, check your local Barnes & Noble; I probably signed it.)  For the three-hour interstate drive, I had the following:

  • Turkey croissant with cheese
  • Apple (with knife; always have a knife)
  • His Bakery chocolate chip cookie
  • Trader Joe’s chocolate chip cookies (just in case)
  • Trader Joe’s gluten-free ginger snaps (for gluten free just in case)
  • Gardettos (garlic to keep vampires away)
  • Pringles (because vampires aren’t real)
  • York peppermint patties (because garlic IS real)
  • Dark chocolate M&Ms
  • Organic Valley chocolate milk
  • Water

XY asked if I was EVER coming back. [Author's note: I don't usually eat this trashy. Special occasion only.] While I didn’t intend to become stranded on the side of the interstate for seven weeks, you just never know. I find the same is true of my writing: I never intend to become stranded after I fill out all my plot sheets, but it’s best to have a contingency plan.

I don’t know how the lost woman survived for seven weeks, not knowing what would happen to her, still not knowing what happened to her husband. Maybe she’ll write a book someday. But here’s a little bit about what I’ve learned when I’m lost in my writing, and not in a good way:

Don’t get more lost.

Lost people do walk in circles. Actual scientific studies found that, devoid of locational cues (i.e. blindfolded), walkers will end up going in circles less than 100 feet in diameter.

When I don’t know where I’m going with my story, my writing can become equally cramped and pointless. It’s better for me to stop, orient to my last known position in the story, and then make a new plan before moving forward.

Send up a flare
Sometimes I get so lost in my own head, I just can’t see a way out. I need help. Call the Coast Guard! And make sure the Navy SEAL is hot! (Aren’t they all?) Also, bring more chocolate.

My writer version of a distress beacon/sat phone is a brainstorming session with other writers. A lot of times, I don’t even need them to answer me, really, I just need to talk through the path and lay it out for my own mind’s eye.

Letting someone else know where you are going to be and when you are expected back is always good advice when headed into wild country. I think the same applies to writing; having someone else know what I’m trying to accomplish — with deadline included — helps keep me on track. And they can come calling for me if I haven’t been heard from for awhile.

Use your skills and your senses
There have been several stories in the past few years about unprepared people following their GPS units into trouble. Usually, the trouble starts with nice spring weather that degenerates back into winter as they blunder higher and farther. Sadly in these stories, it seems even the sight of multiple feet of snow doesn’t alert them to trouble. Having all the right tools can’t always keep you safe. Worse, sometimes the tools — whether is GPSs, seat heaters and cell phones or GMC, turning points and high concept — add a false sense of safety.

For example, I’ve learned to smell the snow of the freeze-out that usually hits me in Chapter 7. Even when I plot, Chapter 7 is when I hit my “I’m bored of this story, I see a shiny new idea over there” wall. The story could end right there if I’m not careful.

The adventure in the wilderness of the story is worth a lot of risks, I think. Not foolish risks, of course. Being prepared only makes sense. There will be plenty of unknowns to keep me busy even if I plot every step.

I feel for that lost couple. You don’t usually hear a lot of follow-up to the stories of the lost. Getting found (or not) often seems to be the end of it. For the writer, who will be going out again and again, I always want to know what could be next.

What happens next? I guess that IS the heart of storytelling.

Have you ever been lost, in real life or story life? What did you do?

What Do You Do When Hello Kitty Happens?
by Our Guest on January 20th, 2011

Note from Jessa: I met Laurie at a signing up north when SEDUCED BY SHADOWS first came out. Learning that her debut novel was in the works too, I instantly felt affinity. Even if she’s not a plotter like me :) One of my favorite parts of being a romance writer and reader is that anywhere I meet fellow rom writers and readers, I have insta-friends.  If you need more romance lovin’ friends, you can find Laurie online on Twitter and Facebook, oh, and Goodreads.

Unlike Jessa, I’m not a big plotter. Let me admit that right up front. She showed me her plotting charts once, and I’m still getting over my hives. Before jumping into a story, I do the bare minimum of planning. Oh sure, I write character sketches and fill out a few simple character charts, and now that I’m on contract, I grudgingly write a synopsis for approval before writing the book, but I don’t plot much beyond that. I prefer to discover the story as it’s revealed to me while writing the first draft.

hello-kitty-keychain1However, this can lead to a lot of surprises. Enter Hello Kitty.

Ideal ending hooks for chapters, as well as a line or two of dialog, often pop into my head, and I find myself building scenes around them. This happened when I wrote the first chapter of BONDED BY BLOOD.

At the end of the scene, Dom looked down at Mackenzie’s keys in his hand and wondered, “…who was this woman with the Hello Kitty keychain? Hell, this was going to be interesting.”

Perfect, I thought. Mackenzie was already confounding him—even though she was unconscious at the time.

But now I had a problem. How in the world did a vampire warrior recognize Hello Kitty enough to identify her by name? He didn’t refer to it as a toy, or a Japanese cartoon character, or a keychain from a store at the mall. Heck, my own husband wouldn’t know Hello Kitty by name.

Sure, I could change it, but it felt so right. I just had to figure out how he knew.

Dom didn’t have children, so that couldn’t be it. He didn’t have family members with children, so that couldn’t be it either. Aha, Lily, his good friend and fellow Guardian, had a daughter. That was it!

Because she’s a single parent, Lily works two weeks on and two weeks off. While she’s on duty, her daughter stays up in British Columbia with her parents. It just so happens that Zoe is obsessed with Hello Kitty and Dom often buys little trinkets for Lily to take to her. A few chapters later, Lily tells Dom that Zoe loves the Hello Kitty purse he gave her, and voila, the reader (and I) now understands how and why Dom knew about Hello Kitty.

This process of discovery not only ended up answering questions in the first book, but it seeded events in the second book.

EMBRACED BY BLOOD comes out in July and is Lily’s story. Not being a single mother and never having read a paranormal romance about a vampire single mother (let me know if you have), I’m not sure I’d have thought to write about such a character if this whole Hello Kitty angle hadn’t happened.

So my advice to other writers is this: when Hello Kitty happens, don’t blow her off. Work with her. You might be surprised to learn just how powerful she really is.

bonded-prelim-front-coverThanks for having me on Silk and Shadows. I’d love to give away a signed copy of BONDED BY BLOOD to a commenter.

Jessa adds: To kick off comments, I’ll ask, does anyone know a real-life male who could touch a Hello Kitty object without fearing that he might burst into flames like a vampire exposed to sunlight?

Cooking Up Ideas
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?