Note to Readers
Feature Article: PLOTTING ALONG
Best Book(s) Iíve Read This Month
* * * Like the rest of the country, my family and I have been staggered by the hurricane devastation along the Gulf Coast. Our prayers go out to those of you who are struggling with the aftermath. We wish you easing of sorrow, a full recovery, and many heartfelt blessings.
* * *
Summer ended, school started, HOME AT LAST was released (to good reviews and a spot on B&Nís Top 25 Mass Market Romance list, just to brag a little), and I thought I could settle into a routine approaching normalcy this fall.
Instead, Iím wrestling with a short deadline for the rewrite of the fourth book in the HOME series. Yep, contrary to a number of reviewers who listed HOME AT LAST as ďlast in the trilogyĒ (gee, I hope they donít know something I donít!), there will be at least one more book in the series.
So, Iím taking the lazy way out with this newsletter. The feature article this week is almost a word-for-word reply that I sent in answer to a question posed by fellow writer, Marie Benesh: How do you plot your books? (I love Marie because she put timidity aside and approached me at the RWA conference to tell me how much she enjoyed my work... thanks, Marie!)
Upcoming this fall:
Week of September 12
Guest on AskAnAuthorAll, a Yahoo! e-group for RWA members.
Topic: Keeping The Details Straight (Kind Of)
Talk and Signing for Johnson County Libraries:
Sunday, October 9, 2:00
Lakeview Village, 9100 Park, Lenexa, KS
Iíll be back online at least monthly (sometimes more than monthly depending on how much Iím procrastinating on my real work) at the NAL Authors web site, and would love to see you there. Chat with me and other NAL authors: Visit http://nalauthors.com/forums/. Browse around, see whatís cooking. There are lots of discussion threads, as well as ongoing contests listed under (whoída thunk it?) ďContests and Games.Ē
FEATURE ARTICLE: PLOTTING ALONG
Fellow writer Marie Benesh posed the question: How do you plot your books? Following is the reply I sent her (edited for brevity and better readability!)...
You know, I really had to think about your question. I'd never given much thought to how I plot my books! (The plots, yes, the method, no.) While, like you, I've read Debra Dixonís GMC: GOAL, MOTIVATION & CONFLICT, as well as a number of other solid craft books, I can't say I've ever sat down and tried to apply the tools theyíve recommended verbatim. Thatís not to imply thereís anything wrong with the tools...it may have made me a better writer if I had.
I remember when I was writing my first manuscript (now buried in a draweró-you can thank me later), I applied everything I read in craft books to my work. And then realized that once I'd changed everything this way, the next book said to change things that way... so, I learned along the way to absorb the things that resonated with me and discard the rest: something that I think comes with increasing confidence.
That said, craft books can and do help me during idea-generation. I think part of that is that reading them is a left-brain function and leaves the right brain free to play around!
Right now I'm reading IMMEDIATE FICTION, by Jerry Cleaver, and Iím finding it useful. Robert McKeeís STORY is an excellent craft book, as well as Elizabeth George's WRITE AWAY. I read craft books that other authors recommend, but have not made any one book my "Bible." I donít want to try on somebody else's method and then struggle because it doesn't fit. Like you've probably heard ad nauseum, what works for one writer often doesn't work for another.
But that didn't answer your question! I really don't have a particular method I use in plotting. I have to prepare a (12 to 20 page) synopsis/proposal before writing a book as thatís what my editor prefers (for some editors, a mere paragraph might suffice). At some point, a premise is born. Hard to tell when and where that happens... Like for HOME AT LAST, I always knew that Mari would leave home, then return, dragging her feet. I just needed a reason for her to do it. The premise in turn usually presents other plot points.
Too, I'm always asking why... "Why would she do this? Why would he act this way? Why did this happen?" And I ask, what else? As in... "What else could happen?"
Just playing with these questions means that before I've written anything down, I've got "scenes" floating around in my head. Then itís almost a matter of playing connect-the-dots. (I say "almost," as donít you wish it could really be that easy!?)
I also do a lot of what I call "story journaling" where I let myself ramble in this direction or that to see what comes up.
Clear as mud, eh?
After I wrote the first version of SING ME HOME, I read STORY. While I read, I thought of SING and realized that I'd written the book in that kind of three-act "format" McKee discusses without really thinking about it. Which led me to the theory that since writers are such avid readers--and usually always have been--that we've got an instinctual feel for the structure of a story. I can't prove it, of course!
And that's not to say that I don't think instincts have room for improvementó-or room for craft books! Along with stoking some ideas, craft books often help me identify problems if I feel what Iíve written is... well, squishy (that's a professional writer term).
I love your idea for using this as the basis of a future newsletter. So I am going to copy this letter and save it--I might use parts of it verbatim. May I attribute the idea to you?!
(Thanks, Marie, for saying, yes!)
BOOK(s) IíVE READ IN THE LAST TWO MONTHS:
THE KITE RUNNER, by Khaled Hosseini
Powerful, sometimes painful, ultimately uplifting.
SHOOT THE MOON, by Billie Letts
By the author of WHERE THE HEART IS... I love everything she writes, so Iím prejudiced.
POTTER SPRINGS, by Britta Coleman
A beautiful debut. Wonderful characters, story-telling, imagery.
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE, by J.K. Rowlings
Not done yet, but Iím having a great ride as usual!
IMMEDIATE FICTION, by Jerry Cleaver
Fiction for and about women rediscovering themselves