Tag Archives: plotting

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.

Conference Time! by Vivienne Lynge

Hello!  Happy Saturday to you!  Vivienne Lynge here.  I’m so excited…the 2013 RWA National conference is just days away.  This will be the first year that I’m going.  I’ve been to a local, 1-day conference before which was good, but I’ve outgrown it.  It was a general “writing” conference, not something focused on romance.  RWA Nationals is a 5-day, jam-packed fiesta of wonderfulness.  Well, at least it looks that way from the schedule. 

Now, as you know, I’m a plotter, not a pantser when it comes to my writing.  Naturally, my plotting tendencies overflow into the rest of my life as well.  Except instead of ‘plotting’ we call it ‘planning’.  I love to plan.  About 6 weeks ago, I studied the huge schedule of daily seminars and made myself a spreadsheet of those things I’d like to attend.  Ooooh – I just saw that I can pre-print workshop materials…I’ll have to do that on Monday!

Today, I’ll dig out my luggage (I’ve already decided what pieces) and begin packing.  I love to pack (not for moving the house, but for trips).  Packing is a physical form of planning.  I’m a pretty low-maintenance kind of girl, so I’ll be trying to figure out the very minimum I can bring along and manage to get through a week.  Yes, I may resort to hand-washing a shirt in the hotel sink and hanging it up to dry.

There’s been a lot of chatter on Facebook about shoes.  How many pair is the right number?  Of course, I need a comfy, casual pair (will wear sneakers), I have fancier-than-usual flip flops, open toed mules for conference time and a dressier pair for the RITA gala.  So four.  I might skimp on shirts, but I’ll have 4 pair of shoes!  :)

Because this will also be the longest time that I’ve been away from Hubby deLuxe, Princess Second Grader, Jester and Minx, I learned how to Skype last night.  I need a little more practice, but that’s what the weekend is for. 

Today’s Secret: For me, the planning and anticipation of the event (and of course, purchasing needed supplies!) are as much fun as the event itself. 

How about you?  Do you like to travel?  Do you plan it out ahead of time, or just wing it?

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 Play is the Thing by Casey Wyatt

Happy Friday everyone. Casey here!

TRR Sizzling Summer Reads 2013Two announcements. The first: I’m participating in The Romance Review’s Sizzling Summer Reads Party. Check it out starting June 1st!  Click on the lovely beach to the left and you will arrive at the party.

The second piece of news is at the end. (I know, such a tease!!)

One of my favorite courses in college was studying Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. An often quoted line among thespians is “the play’s the thing.” I spent seven years in drama clubs and amongst the players it took on a different meaning. The play was the thing. The thing we were striving to perfect and perform to the best of our abilities.

But that is not the thing that Shakespeare meant. The popular line is from Hamlet:

“I’ll have grounds more relative than this—the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.”

The thing in this case, is evidence corroborating the information received from a ghost – that his uncle murdered his father. Hamlet would do this by performing a play at court and adding in a few lines about regicide. Then the prince would wait and watch for his uncle’s guilty reaction.

To modern ears and eyes, this seems a rather convoluted and unscientific way to ascertain guilt, but back in the Renaissance, it was a common psychological belief that you could subconsciously influence the guilty person’s mind with a mere suggestion. Thus, the villain would be revealed through either expression (a guilty look) or action (full out confession).

So, what does this have to do with writing? And have I completely lost my mind?

No, my mind is still fully intact. This has to do with plotting your story. This is the third part of my plotting process, after the initial premise and shallow character identification.

I use a three act structure – just like a stage play. There are a million ways to plot a novel and this is just what works for me. Like the other stages of the process, this is high level. Think thirty thousand feet in the air looking down.

Like Hamlet, I throw out a suggestion of what might occur. Later, as I go more in-depth, concrete plot points are teased to surface, much like the uncle’s guilty conscience.

Very simply:

Act One – introduce your character in their everyday world. Then, introduce the event that will move them out of their comfort zone (aka the call to adventure). Like before, I write one, short paragraph.

Act Two - this is where the bulk of the action should occur. The place many authors find themselves with a sagging middle if they aren’t careful. But that shouldn’t been a blip on the mental radar at this point. Right now, think obstacles. You don’t have to specify the problems. Only note the bare bones, overreaching issue (for example – stop evil overlord from achieving world domination or save beloved homestead from being destroyed by greedy real estate developer). That’s it. As mentioned in previous posts, the less the better. The assignment here – write a sentence or two. That’s it.

Act Three - resolution. The happy ending. The happy for now. The main bulk of the plot concluded. For me, I often only know the very, very end. Since I write romance, they all lived happily ever after. I usually don’t have more than a sentence or two.

Again, the plot details will come. Just not right now.

Normally, I would give you examples of my own work, but since spoilers are involved, I’m not. Instead, I’d like to announce -

Mystic Storm is on sale now!

MysticStorm2_850

Share and share alike. How do you like to plot your stories? Have you ever laid a mental trail hoping to achieve a specific result?

Getting to Know You in the Most Shallow Way Possible By Casey Wyatt

Welcome to another Friday! Casey here.

Last week, I shared the first thing I do when I start a new book - create the initial premise.That is only the tip of the iceberg. There is so much more!

All the world's a stageAs I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, I’m a plotter and, in most cases, I spend more time mapping the story then writing it. I do this for numerous reasons (which is a whole other blog post!). One reason is so I have a document that outlines all the basic facts. I call it my pre-work document.

After I jot down the initial premise, the next step is to identify the major characters. Notice I said, identify, not psycho-analyze, speed date, or get too far into their heads or physical appearances. At this stage, I want only the most basic information that is integral to the story.

That’s it. Later in the process, I’ll delve deeper and add more detail, but not right now. For the moment, I just want to know the very basics. Sometimes, I don’t even have  names for all the characters.

This is from The Undead Space Initiative:

Major Characters:

-          Cherry – Vampire, stripper, protagonist

-          Ian McDevitt, love interest

-          Captain Trent O’Connor – another potential love interest

-          Jay (Jayakrishna) – best friend and Thrall (human servant).

-          Antagonist –  Thalia – new Queen of the vampires

The next step is to create a basic sketch of the main characters. In this case, Cherry was the heroine of the story so I focused on her. I only included the most important details of the character for where she is at the time the story starts. Think of it as the launching point for Cherry.

Basic Character Sketch: Cherry is a vampire and a highly valued stripper at Fang Bang.  Her Sire, Jonathan Gilbert, also prizes her for her pure bloodline (Blue Blood). Cherry would have continued to be an entertainer if she hadn’t been considered a conspirator in the murder of the vampire Queen. Her only choice now: run or die (again).

Try to keep the character sketch simple and uncluttered. The details will come later. At the time, this is how I pictured Cherry’s situation in my head.

And that’s all I use at this point in the process. I’ve found going through this exercise in an exact order, keeps me organized and focused. Then I don’t get lost in the weeds early in the plotting process. Plus, it gives me a tangible series of steps to complete while mentally preparing me for the moment I start actually writing the story.

Again, this is only the initial stab at character development and is intended to be a brief first impression only. Once you have characters identified and an idea of the what the story is about, the next step is to map the plot (also at a high level).

I imagine, right about now, that if you’re a pantser, you’re shrieking in horror. Believe it or not, once I finish the “process” I basically let the characters and situations determine the flow of the story. So there’s plenty of room for fun and discovery!

One final note – this should not take hours or days. If it is, you’re thinking too deeply. Remember: shallow, superficial. The rest of the details will come out, I promise.

Questions?  Concerns? Alternate methods? Feel free to comment.

But wait …!

This is the TVholic’s strategy for sagging middles

Hi everyone. Thea here today, but really, as you read this, I’ll be in KC at the RT Booklovers’ Convention and not in my usual position, rooted at the end of the couch, with tv on and WIP at the ready. So forgive me if I’m not posting an immediate response. (Full report on the conference to come, of course.)

So I want to talk about sagging middles — the kind you delete with a key stroke (oh, if only — ). I’ve said during workshops that “what if” is your single most powerful writing tool. Anything can happen in “what if.” It’s no-commitment plotting. It frees your mind. You can let go, make lists, let them take you to the most improbable plot places.

But wait …! It would be even more productive if at the moment when the plot seems to be chugging along, you stop yourself with those words. But wait …! The juicy incentive used by telemarketers to make you buy (can you tell I watch too much tv?). But wait — maybe your reader isn’t buying a smooth, unfurrowed plotline. Maybe your reader is waiting for something juicy to happen.

But wait …! What if your characters are afraid of losing something? (Love, fame, fortune, respect, family secrets, inheritance, friendship …) Make them lose it. Ask what lengths they’ll go to to get it back. What they’re willing to risk.

Because the more they risk, the more that stands in their way, the more conflict, the greater desire they’ll have (at greater cost) to reach their goal, and so, the richer the plot.

In the simplest terms: Get them in trouble and keep them in trouble. Keep throwing in obstacles, complications, repercussions and don’t let up.

But wait …! What if you don’t know exactly where the plot is going?

Write the NYTimes log-line. That hones it down nicely to two or three lines: Danny Jones has everything he wants, until a secret from his past threatens everything.

Or write the cover copy. That will focus you on the set-up, conflict, and what drives the plot.

But wait …! What if it’s still not working?

Make the problem personal and current. Someone is out to destroy Danny Jones and make sure he never is elected to anything.

Give the protagonist two villains and a moral choice. A childhood friend and his own brother are separately threatening Danny Jones. No matter what decision he makes, he will lose everything, including his friend and his brother.

Up the ante. Not only does a secret from his past
threaten Danny Jones personally, but also his burgeoning political career, his marriage, and his inheritance from a famous relative which comes along with a list of moral stipulations he may not be able to meet.

Add suspense by turning “what if” into “if only.” What could his enemy have against him? If only, all those years ago, he hadn’t — but then there was this other moment when — But nobody knew about that, did they?

Give your protagonist a moral dilemma that forces her to compromise either her beliefs or her values. If Danny Jones is up front about his past, then he will never ever be able to run for office, he’ll lose the love of his life, the inheritance from his famous relative, and he’ll never be able to see his children again.

Try reversing things. Make the hero the heroine and vice versa. Danny is Danielle, a powerful CEO who is courting politics and who has a secret she thought was buried deep in the past. Lovers? Liars? Friends? Family? Who is plotting to betray her?

Keep the reader guessing. For Danielle any of those people associated with her could be her enemy; any one of them can say or do something that would lead her to believe she is on the verge of losing everything. She has too much at stake. She has to be careful not to rock the boat. What is she going to do? (I love this; I think it works even better!)

But wait …!

But I can’t. I have to go. But you can. What juicy incentives would you add to the list to entice your readers to keep reading?

Thea Devine is currently working on a new erotic contemporary romance, and enjoying the release of five of her backlist titles, Reckless Desire, Ecstasy’s Hostage, Relentless Passion, Montana Mistress and Angel Eyes in Kindle editions.