Category Archives: plotting

Kindred Spirits

Greetings Scriblings! PJ Sharon here.

I had the good fortune of attending a few days of the 2014 IWWG Summer Conference this week. If you aren’t familiar with this acronym, it stands for International Women’s Writing Guild. Despite the fact that I’ve been heavily involved in the romance writing community for several years, I’d never even heard of this organization.  Here’s why.

Romance writers and literary writers tend not to associate or travel in the same conference circles. Whether this is due to some misconception that one is better than the other or that the two are diametrically opposed, I can’t say, because my experience with this incredible group of amazingly talented women was nothing but educational, inclusive, and uplifting–not to mention well organized and fun. These ladies write everything from poetry to memoir, creative nonfiction to essays. A few write fiction as well, and many are published, either traditionally or Indie.

Workshops included a study in Metaphor with the fabulous Susan Tiberghien,  a chance to make “mischief” with Kelly Dumar, where we explored our childhood prankster selves and acted out stories of our misspent youth.  I learned some new plotting strategies from the excellent Chris Eboch in the workshop, What I Learned from Nancy Drew,  and Dr. Dixie King’s extremely helpful Nourishing the Writer Within was an eye opener! Dr. King took us through a step by step guide of smart goal setting and challenged us to pinpoint the barriers and limiting beliefs that hold us back from achieving our goals. I was only able to attend two days of the five day conference, but I felt so welcomed and appreciated by the group that I felt as if I’d met some kindred spirits.

IWWG conf. 2In addition to the wonderful workshops and new friends I met, the food was outstanding and the venue at the Wisdom House in Litchfield, CT was absolutely lovely. I even walked the labyrinth at sunset and spent some time in meditation, which is an area of my life I’ve been neglecting and was sorely needed.

IWWG Conf. 6There was an opportunity to showcase my books at the book fair and take center stage to share from one of my stories.  I was completely floored by the quality of each and every writer’s work that was shared. Poignant stories of family,  deep inner journeys, and prose that gave me chills and had me laughing and crying within the same three minute reading. These women are powerful and brilliant, I tell you!

Regardless of genre, we were all writers and all women–sisters of the pen–there to support each other. I feel so blessed to have been a part of this group if only for a couple of days. It gave me just the shot in the writer’s arm that I needed. I learned some important things about myself in the process and hope to meet these lovely women again in the future. My eyes are open a little wider and my heart has been touched by the gift of their words. Thank you IWWG!

Here’s a little about the organization:

The IWWG, founded in 1976, is a network for the personal and professional empowerment of women through writing and open to all regardless of portfolio. As such, it has established a remarkable record of achievement in the publishing world, as well as in circles where lifelong learning and personal transformation are valued for their own sake. The Guild nurtures and supports holistic thinking by recognizing the logic of the heart–the ability to perceive the subtle interconnections between people, events and emotions- alongside conventional logic.

Have you stretched your wings and made some new friends lately? When was the last time you just wrote for fun? Because if you aren’t having fun, what’s the point, right?

When the Sound Stopped

Thea here. Happy Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, everyone.

Now, you know I’ve confessed to being a tv-holic. But people, I can’t watch everything. So when some gremlin snuck into my remote and rendered my tv silent for four days, I was near to losing my mind. How was I going to catch up on Revenge, The Good Wife and Homeland? Was I really going to have to sit in my kitchen to watch Wendy Williams? Or raise the sound on that tv so I could hear and watch in the living room? What about Thursday, and Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal? The #@#$% tv was ruining my life.

You guys should understand: I watch these shows for research. There are writerly lessons to be learned from them. I got hooked on Pretty Little Liars because I loved the premise — and then the whole onion peeling of the plot was fascinating. And Scandal — the twists! the turns! The yes I will, no I won’t. Delicious. And the burning question: how could I apply those strategies to what I was writing?

Now I told John this. I won’t say how he responded except I will never ever try to explain my tv viewing habits to him again. I will be as kind as he was after we’d moved and I told him two months later I wanted to move back to the house we had moved from (he didn’t divorce me). In all fairness, the analogy of house:move=tv:research doesn’t quite equate, but you get the idea.

I really thought the solution to the silent tv was simple: something in the remotes, you know? There were two of them and my oldest son, John and I all fiddled around with them for days and nothing happened. We disconnected all cords and reconnected. Nothing got grounded. Score: TV reception perfect. Sound: 0.

I finally called the appliance store where we purchased it. Two days later, the repair person determined it wasn’t the tv, it was the cable box. He did not leave me hanging, thank goodness.

Listen carefully, people — this may save your tv viewing life. He disconnected the cable box from the tv and pressed the power button on the cable box for a minute. He then replugged the cable box and voila! SOUND!!!!!

People! It was Thursday!!! I had Grey’s Anatomy back. And I didn’t have to watch Scandal in the kitchen with an aching back. And this weekend, I and the Mentalist finally found out who Red John is. How do you put a price on priceless?

And life is back to normal. I know you’ll be happy to know I caught up on nearly everything, though John is absolutely certain I watch Vampire Diaries every day. (I wish). However I have taken on Almost Human and Hostages and I’m thinking about catching up on Blacklist, Dracula and Sleepy Hollow.

Really — you guys get it: too much is never enough, right??

Have you had a tv-is-ruining-my-life moment? How did you handle it? What did you do? What did your husband or significant other say?

Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She’s the authors of 27 historical and contemporary romances and a dozen novellas. She was a freelance manuscript reader for many years, and is a Romanic Times Booklovers’ Romance Pioneer honoree. Look for the sequel to The Darkest Heart — Beyond the Night — in 2014.

Up In The BLues

Sometime ago, my husband was buying seasons tickets for the NY Rangers, up in the (then – we haven’t seen the new Garden configuration) blue seats. Those were the ones practically on the ceiling, but I always thought you got the best long view of the action.

But what he found there was not only like-minded fans; he found a comraderie, a Garden” family,” if you will, whom he didn’t need to see or confer with outside the arena, but who he knew would be there week after week and they could share whatever sports and personal information they cared to, and whether they were renewing for the following year

This went on for several years and then — the commute got to be too much, the ticket prices too high, the losses made the whole thing not worth it. But the reminiscences were interesting. It was like the “family” had moved away. They barely knew each other, so there wouldn’t be any kind of contact. And yet the memories of the good times, the great on-the-ice triumphs, the family atmosphere live on and are resurrected every now and again with great nostalgia.

Like family memories of long-gone neighbors, relatives, cousins, friends. People you meet at conferences. Family from whom you’re estranged. Or who are so long distance, you can’t manage any kind of relationship.

Do I not hold in my heart the memory of my Uncle Manny, my Aunts Gladys and Mary? They were not relations — they were neighbors in my toddlerhood who lived across the hall and upstairs. But forever, they will be my aunts and uncle: I never remember or speak of them any other way.

Is it any wonder that “family” is the bedrock of almost every tv drama, movie and novel these days? Arguably, it is one of the most important fictional memes, given how dislocated families are and people feel.

And maybe it’s not your conventional family. Maybe it’s a hospital’s sexy doctors, your office cohorts, a newsroom, an FBI behavioral unit, a quartet of high school girls, the staff of a high powered “fixer.” A group of romance authors. Or your neighbors in a small town in anywhere USA who always have your back.

Rediscovering family, going back to your roots, finding the people who anchor you, coming finally understand the place where you belong — even if it’s “up in the blues” … are powerful underlying themes that will always resonate, themes on which you can build or rebuild a plot, a novel, your heroine’s — or, for that matter, your own — life.

Who’s in your family, not directly related to you? Do you feel that “family” thing in the tv and movies you see?

Thea Devine is currently working on her next erotic contemporary romance — and several other projects. She’ll be speaking at NJRWA’s Put Your Heart In A Book Conference. She was among those honored as a Romance Pioneer by RT Booklovers last year.

Porch Story

So we went to Maine, and I am sitting on the porch with my ghosts and memories as twilight falls and the call of a loon breaks the silence. And then the quacking of ducks from somewhere at the edge of the pond.

“Margaret still feeds the ducks,” John says, which seems very odd to me since they have to make their way from the pond up our lengthy path to get across the road to Margaret’s house.

I wonder what my heroine would do. She’s come to Maine — why? She inherited the island in the middle of the pond, even though she’s not family. She’s thinking the family must be furious. There are a raft of nephews, nieces, cousins, aunts and uncles who on the face of it are more entitled to inherit than she. She’s never asked herself why her.

But the family must have: the family was surely gathering forces to contest the will. At the moment, however, my heroine doesn’t care.

She sits on the porch at the home of a friend, thinking about the past as she gazes out over the pond. She used to come here as a child. There was a guy — but best not to think about that. She hasn’t really thought about him in years and gives herself a moment to wonder now, is he still around? Is he married? Is he dead?

He is one of the ghosts; she fully expects to see him canoeing toward the dock, calling out to see if anyone’s home. Or to find a jar of homemade jelly on her front steps, a sure clue he came visiting.

But no — all she hears are the far-away voices from the camp at the other end of the pond. The sound of oars dipping in the water, or the occasional roar of a speedboat pulling water skiiers on the far side of the island.

It’s all about the island, my heroine thinks, and how it reflects in the water. In some lights, when you photograph it, you can’t tell which is the real island and which is the reflection. It feels like a metaphor for her life.

Clouds gather, a portent of a storm. Mist wafts across the water. The branches overhanging the pond, which look like a samurai warrior and a dragon respectively, sway in the churning wind like marionettes controlled by an unseen hand. It starts to rain, a pattery rain that causes the water to ripple. A drift of lily pads and pond grasses floats across the reflection, effectively dividing it in half.

The rain drops blur the shadowy trees mirrored in the pond, making the upper half look like ghostly men rolling toward the shore, coming for her, coming for me.

Across the pond, out of the corner of her eye, she sees movement — an ethereal figure in white which looks as if it’s walking on water.

She freezes. Who’s heading toward her island? Anyone could — it’s wide open all the time. If she were there, she’d be defenseless. Here, on the porch, in the rain, she can do nothing about it. She feels terrorized nonetheless.

The ghost men in the water come closer and closer, reaching for her, reaching for me. The white ghost floats along the length of the island, seeking — what?

Ducks quack loudly, one-two-three. “They’re on their way to Margaret’s house again,” John says from the kitchen window. “We’ll visit tomorrow morning.”

My heroine (and I) look up. The mysterious white figure is gone.

Does being away from home set your imagination in motion? Do you weave stories from dust motes? Do you believe in ghosts? Yes, the island really exists.

Thea Devine is working on her next erotic contemporary romance, and other projects. She will be attending CTRWA’s Fiction Fest in September, and speaking at the NJRWA Put Your Heart in a Book Conference in October. She was among those honored as a Romance Pioneer at this year’s Romantic Times Convention.

Starting Over

Welcome! It’s another steamy Tuesday in the Berkshires. My garden is well in bloom and loving the sunshine, warmth, and afternoon thundershowers.Garden

PJ here, and I am about to embark on another journey–both on and off the page. I’ll be leaving next week for Atlanta for the National Romance Writer’s Convention. I look forward to filling you all in on the action while I’m away (check out tweets by following me @pjsharon and using hashtag #rwa2013, or catch up with me on Facebook @pjsharonbooks for pics of who’s who and what’s happening). Although I’m looking forward to all the workshops, networking, opportunities, and fun with my writer buds, what I’m most looking forward to is a boost of enthusiasm to dig into my next project, book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Though conferences can be exhausting, I always come home energized and raring to write, so the timing couldn’t be better.

Most writers will agree that the happiest words we write are “THE END.” At the same time, I think many will also agree that the most daunting words we write are “Chapter One.”

It’s hard to believe I’m starting over yet again. I can honestly say it’s still as bitter sweet and anxiety provoking an endeavor as I have ever faced. Sitting in front of a blank page can be the most exciting moment for a writer, or the most terrifying—usually both in equal measure for me. So here I find myself having to put another 80,000 or more words on the page in some semblance of an entertaining tale. Being that this will be the final in a trilogy, I have a lot riding on making this my best story yet. As added pressure, I need to write it and publish it in the next nine months so as not to lose readers who are awaiting the final installment, and to meet the general standards of the publishing industry. It’s tough out there, and to compete in such an overcrowded market, I have to continue to produce quality fiction in a timely manner. That’s the business woman in me speaking—the grown-up.

But when I break down the details of all that needs to go into making that deadline, I immediately want to take another week off and rest up a bit more (my inner teen in total rebellion). “It’s summer vacation,” she whines. “All work and no play…,” she cajoles. I let her have her way for another day and then my inner mom grounds her and takes away her TV until she gets that blog post done and starts outlining her scenes. It’s hard being the grown-up, but somebody’s got to do it.

Since I can ignore the publishing/promo part until about 3-5 months out from deadline, I can focus just on the task of writing the book. Easy-peasy, right? I’ve done this a few times before. A thousand words a day and I’ll have my first draft done in three months. That leaves six months for multiple edits and all that goes into polishing a manuscript before it goes to print. I don’t know about you guys, but each book has been a completely different process for me. Hopefully, my process has evolved enough that this time it will be easier. Of course, this is my first trilogy so that makes it more complicated…a lot more complicated.

I have tons of loose ends to wrap up and have to find ways of weaving bits of backstory in so readers aren’t totally lost if they missed something in WANING MOON or WESTERN DESERT. I have to up the stakes, force my characters to face their demons, and carry them through their arc to completion in this book. They must overcome their fatal flaws, win out over the villain, and find their hopefully ever after, maybe even saving the world while their at it. I could easily stretch this into a series of four books, but since I marketed a trilogy, I’m stuck, LOL. So a lot of what I’ need to do in the planning is narrow my focus to what absolutely has to happen in this book. There will be NO tangential literary diversions!

Luckily, I have a lot of tools to get me started and keep me on track. Casey Wyatt has outlined her method, which appears very straight forward and doable. I am anxious to try her approach, although I’ve learned from so many other great teachers in this business that my process will surely be a hybrid of hers, theirs, and mine. A quick breakdown of my plan looks like this:

1) Summarize the story/create tag line- I totally agree with Casey on this one. It is really helpful to understand the bare bones of what your story is about before jumping in. It saves a lot of writing in circles and editing later.

2) Identification of characters-I know Casey likes a very superficial view at this point, but since I’ve already written two books about these characters,  I’ll use this step to update and add details to my Series Bible (a notebook I developed to keep character traits, appearance, weapons, and world building details straight). I will also take time during this step to begin working on my character grids (outlining each character’s internal and external goal, motivation, and conflict, the inciting incident, fatal flaw of each character–what they must overcome within themselves to find their HEA). By now, I should know my characters well enough that these questions shouldn’t be too hard to answer.

3) Three Act Story structure-Like Casey, I learned the three act play story structure that outlines the beginning, middle, and end of every story, but after taking a Michael Hague workshop several years ago, I had the opportunity to delve a little deeper into how to progress through those three acts. His technique helped me to better understand the structure behind the stories we create. He breaks  it down into stages consisting of SETUP, NEW SITUATION, PROGRESS, COMPLICATIONS & HIGHER STAKES, the FINAL PUSH, and the AFTERMATH. He also taught me that pacing is controlled in part by appropriately placed turning points (a sure cure for the sagging middle). The first turning point, he describes as the OPPORTUNITY (aka: inciting incident), followed by a CHANGE OF PLANS (aka: call to action), POINT OF NO RETURN (about half-way through), MAJOR SETBACK (Dark Moment), and CLIMAX. Working this all out on index cards, a poster board, or in an outline combines Casey’s step four (the meat and potatoes of plotting), and step five (scene development on index cards).

Being a pantser by nature, all of this plotting, planning and prep work requires a bit of self-discipline and a tight rein on my inner rebellious teen, who would like nothing better than to jump in and write willy-nilly in complete denial of the consequences (such as dead ends, tangential diversions, and lots of unnecessary editing later on), but it’s a good thing that grown-up me is in control, right?

Hmmm…maybe I’ll just wait to get started until after I get back from Atlanta. After all…it is summer vacation and all work and no play…well, we all know what that does. I hope to see some of you at the conference!

I’d love to hear your feedback on my plan. Any tips, suggestions, or questions are welcome.

A Hockey Lesson by Casey Wyatt

Happy Friday! Casey here!

IMG_2763
So much snow…..

I read the most interesting quote by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky -  “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Now, I probably missed this very cool piece of wisdom because I don’t really follow sports. At all. Other than wondering how the Red Sox are faring, I leave all the sports love to my hubby.

Once I read this quote, it rattled around in my head for days. There are so many ways that this is true for writers as well. The first, most obvious comparison is the question a lot of us ask – should we write to the latest market trends?

For me, that is a big, resounding no. Chasing trends, for most writers, is an exercise in futility. By the time you finish your book and get it published, chances are high, the trend has passed by already. Write what you love.

Instead, I’d rather apply Mr. Gretzky’s wisdom to another lesson in plotting. If you’ve been following along, here is where we’ve been: Initial Premise, Shallow Character Development, Three Act PlottingThe Meat and Potatoes and, GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Since I addressed GMC last year, please check this post out too (really, it’s an important part of plotting).

However you arrive at your plot points, either on index cards (like I do), sticky notes, Scrivener, outline or whatever – they must be arranged in a pulse pounding, forward moving direction. Like a hockey puck!!

Your job as a writer is to move that story along and chuck anything that doesn’t meet that goal. So like the hockey puck, your job is to see the reader to their final destination – an engaging, page turning story.

<and the crowd goes wild>!!! <Insert your own imaginary victory crowd here>

As stated last week, the reason I use index cards is because they are cheap and I can chuck them without remorse. The other nice thing is they can be pinned on a big board or laid out on a table or floor. And don’t be afraid to number the cards or create categories (like main plot, romantic subplot, back story, etc.) Use different colors of ink or highlighter (whatever floats your boat).

Once, I’m sure I have all the major plot points jotted down, I sort the cards into piles for each act. Then once I have the cards into Act 1, 2 or 3, I order them sequentially. At each pass, I read them and determine if that plot point fits. If it doesn’t I remove it. If I notice something is missing, I may add a new plot point.

If I know something is missing but don’t know how to fill the gap, I keep a running list on a piece of paper. Later, I can add another plot point, either before or during writing.

Keep in mind, that while I think this is what the story will be, it’s not final until I start writing. Nothing is set in stone. I can (and will) modify the plot during writing or editing if warranted.

Now, the fun part (for me anyway). I lay out the cards starting with Act 1 and read through them paying attention to the “action”. Do I have too many scenes with talking in a row? Not enough romance? Do I have try/fail moments? Too much action for long

Seriously? Who can write with so much cuteness nearby?
Seriously? Who can write with so much cuteness nearby?

stretches? Did I remember the black moment? Are all the subplots wrapped up? And my favorite question – how can I torment the characters more?

The beauty of the cards is that I can move things around. I add and subtract plot points as needed. This activity allows me to see the plot as a whole in small, manageable chunks. And if there’s a sagging middle, I’ll see it here.

Overall, this is a great way to visualize pacing and ensure that you’ve cut out plot points that drag. This process can take me days or weeks. Depends on the story and the complexity. When I’m sure I have the plot I want, I take the cards and type them into a synopsis and use it as the basis for writing the story.

If at any point while plotting or writing, you get stuck, make sure  you have your eye on the end point, not just the immediate moment. That way, you’ll make it to your destination, and for a writer, that is typing – “the end.” Or if you are a hockey player – you shoot. You score!!!

What method do you use to order your plot? Anyone have any fascinating quotes to share?

The Hoarder

Scribes June 12, 2013
Thea Devine today, and I am the hoarder (can I get a tv show off of this?). I hoard my ideas. I will not share. My ideas and the tangents they take are mine. They are a product of my thinking, my intuition, my interests, my imagination, and things uniquely skewed to my perspective. When once it was suggested that a group of us share ideas we never intended to use, I was adamantly against it. How did I know I’d never use them? I didn’t, and even if I didn’t, I saw no reason to share them.

Now you can make a case that nobody writes the same story even if they’re basing it on the same idea. I do believe this is true, but we’re not talking merely loglines here, we’re talking paragraphs and page-long stream-of-conscious concepts and high concepts, character and scenic description, snippets of conversation, incidents that I’ve witnessed or overheard, words and phrases, titles, log lines, tags, opening paragraphs and opening pages, brief synopses, and all kinds of things that might be useful somewhere, sometime.

My idea file is like a treasure chest. Sometimes I go back and review everything I’ve written in those files — years worth, things I might have forgotten, things that are a key to something else I’ve written or I’m writing now, things I want to work on that rereading them gives me fresh incentive, titles I’ve forgotten, characters I should write about, lives I want to explore fictionally, things I will not share.

Is this selfish? I make no apologies. And I ask you to really think about it: how do you feel about your ideas? Do you keep them to yourself? Do you share? Am I being not only selfish, but unfair?

Thea Devine is working on a contemporary erotic romance. She’s USAToday best-selling the author of 27 erotic contemporary and historical romances and a dozen novellas.