header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); Plot Archives – Kristen Koster
Nov 052013

In Britain, today is Guy Fawkes Day. You might recognize him better as the face of Anonymous or that fellow in V for Vendetta. There’s a reason for that.

This post was originally published here on 11/5/2010, but I think it bears repeating in the current political and economic climates. People are unhappy and they’re always looking for someone to blame. Most will not take it upon themselves to act for the better of all, but some will take it into their heads that Fate has tapped them on the shoulder and they must act. Unfortunately, these aren’t the type of actions that will help. Many of us enjoy the right to vote. Some harder fought to gain than others. If you’ve got an upcoming election, exercise your right. If you don’t, take advantage of the opportunities to contact your elected officials and let them know how they’re doing and what needs doing in their area.

Guy Fawkes Day: Conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot: November 5, 1605
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t’was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli’ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England’s overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holla boys, Holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

I’d never heard of Guy Fawkes’ Day/Night while I was growing up in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. And, Bonfire Night was the night before Homecoming when an effigy of the other team was offered up as a ritual sacrifice to the almighty football gods. I do remember my mother often saying “Remember, remember, the 5th of November” on that day and seeing references to it in the Regency and Victorian romance novels I read over the years, so I was curious to what this holiday was all about since it’s cropped up in pop culture recently with movies like V for Vendetta and thanks to 4-Chan many different groups of protesters have adopted the traditional Guy mask as a show of solidarity and a way to preserve their anonymity.

So when I asked my 13 year old daughter, if she knew what today was, I got a blank look. So, in explaining how Guy Fawkes was the fellow who was caught in connection with the Gunpowder Plot, she was highly amused by some of the traditions the British have kept in celebrating this holiday.

“So, that was around the time of the Declaration of Independence?” She’s studying the American Revolution and Constitution currently, so she tries to relate everything to that. Nearly two hundred years earlier, the Gunpowder Plot planned to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605 in an effort to not just protest his stance on Catholicism but to assassinate King James I. November 5th was chosen because it was the day Parliament was scheduled to reopen and the King would be present.

“People celebrate this? Why? How?” The idea was that they were happy to have avoided the disaster and also serves as a warning to Parliament to keep the desires of the people in mind as they make their decisions and laws. In England and several former British colonies, like Australia, the night is marked by bonfires, burning effigies of Guy Fawkes or other current political villains, and fireworks.

“What?! Fireworks? Really? Silly Brits.” Remember, it was also to serve as a warning of what could have happened had it not been uncovered. She was unconvinced, claiming it was rather ironic to celebrate preventing a catastrophic explosion and fire by setting off intentional ones. And then I mentioned that in one town, Ottery St. Mary in Devon, they celebrate by carrying flaming barrels of tar through the streets and how the people carrying the barrels had passed the tradition down through their families. Such a stretch for her modern imagination.

“Don’t they celebrate Halloween?” These days, it’s becoming more popular to celebrate with trick or treating, American-style, but in the mid-1600s, Oliver Cromwell’s puritanical rule abolished All Hallow’s Eve and many other traditional celebrations and feasts that he associated with pagan ways. Many of the traditions such as the bonfire on November 1st was simply shifted to November 5th and stayed there. Despite the fascination of the occult, paranormal and gothic romances, the people of the extended Regency period, which gave birth to some of our most familiar Halloween icons: Frankenstein and the headless horsemen, would have been more familiar with bonfires celebrating Guy Fawkes Night and burning a “Guy”.

Guy, guy, guy
Poke him in the eye,
Put him on the bonfire,
And there let him die

“A guy? A real one?” No, not a real person! Sort of like a scarecrow dressed up to look like Guy Fawkes. Kids would make these, and in the weeks leading up to Bonfire Night, they’d sit out with them by the side of the street begging, “A penny for the Guy?” so they could defray their expenses in making this annual effigy. The practice eventually evolved into asking for money to be spent on fireworks, but modern sensibilities worry that the money will be misspent on more dangerous things and sales of fireworks to children have been limited.

So, I’m not sure I explained it well for my daughter, but she did get a taste of a different culture than the one she’s used to and I’ve been thinking about ways to incorporate it into a plot. But then I wonder if I could do it justice, not having experienced the tradition firsthand. Some day, maybe.

Jan 252013
Steaming Hedge - Version 1 before self-editing process

Raw image as downloaded from camera.

I’m trying to develop/discover my self-editing process and this week in my accountability group How I Write series was asked, “Do you have an editing process? If so, what?”

This is one of the things that I’m honestly struggling with as a writer. I do not currently have what I would term a self-editing “process” and have just sort of flown by the seat of my pants in this area. But this year, I decided I needed a process that I could follow and would cover the necessary bases instead of just getting lost in an endless circle of line edits as my internal editor argued with itself.

So, what did I do? I started researching it. I’ve read through Cathy Yardley‘s Rock Your Revisions, by Renni Browne and Dave King‘s Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and Noah Lukeman‘s The First Five Pages. However none of them really felt like a good fit with what I have in my mind as what an editing process should look like. Just call me Goldilocks… cause they’re either too vague, too fluffy, or too small and only cover a particular part of the self-editing process.

Now, that’s not saying I don’t recommend any of these books. I absolutely do! They are ALL great books, they’re just not what I’m looking for right now. They may have PART of what I’m looking for, and I haven’t discounted that either. I have one more to read through that I have high hopes for that Danie Ford recommended: Alan Watt‘s The 90-Day Rewrite: The Process of Revision. On the surface it sounds like it has the stuff I’m looking for.

So what is it I’m looking for that I haven’t found yet? Something that’s kinda like a checklist, but organized in a logical fashion. Something that details not just what I should be looking for, but how to address any problems I find. Something that holds my hand through the process and doesn’t just say, “G’won! The water’s fine! Just jump in!” Something that’s a comprehensive game plan to tackle these projects. Tall order, right?

I think I’m also looking to clarify in my mind what I should be doing at this point to get a manuscript to a state that is “good enough” to send out and hopefully one that better matches what’s in my head.

As I sat down to write this post, I immediately started thinking about what photo I was going to put with it that would be illustrative of the self-editing process. As I was looking though my digital collection, I realized I do a lot of preliminary editing “in the camera” as well as a bunch of post-processing, especially on my close-ups of flowers to get them to pop.

By “editing in the camera” I mean that I take several shots of the same subject. Often with identical settings, but sometimes I purposely try several different ones to get different effects. Then once I download the photos from the camera, I’ll sift through the multiples and pick the ones that appeal to me. Sometimes, it’s a no-brainer — blurry, badly composed, and/or poorly lit ones get tossed. But I’ve found some that had lots of potential, but it hadn’t been captured in a very flattering way.

Take the photo at the top of this post, for example. Lighting and composition were the first things that jumped out at me at problematic. In writing, this would probably translate to tone and structure. If that photo were a book, I’d say it had a lot of extra irrelevant scenes and odd tone choices that were detracting from the overall story I wanted to tell.

Steaming Hedge after self-editing process

Final image after cropping/resizing, desaturation & additional affects applied.

I’m not sure if I tackled the lighting or the composition first. I suspect I probably played with the lighting first, trying to minimize the glare from the morning sun and then added a few special affects to get the hedge to pop more visually. In that process, I’m sure I decided to play with the saturation levels and the black & white struck me as the best way to show off the contrast between the hedge and the steam rising from it. Then, a quick crop (re-framing the picture and cutting away parts of it) to fix the composition and further eliminate the big ol’ glaring sun from the top left corner.

I guess my next question is, how do I take the ideas of what I do instinctively (now?) for photography into something usable for writing.

YOUR TURN: Do you have an editing process? If so, what?

And if you’d like to check out the rest of my accountability group, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Susan Saxx

Jun 022012

Writing Plan: Summer Edition -- Photo of someone coming down the pool slide.

Will you make a splash this summer?

This week for our How I Write series, my accountability group’s topic is Summer Writing Plan. We were asked, “What adjustments will you make to get through the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer?”

We have 4 more days of school this year. Our son will be moving up from middle school to high school. It doesn’t seem possible we’ll have two in high school next year. But that also means for the next 9 weeks or so, I’ll have them underfoot for more of the day than I’m currently used to. They LOVE to sleep in. And by that I mean until noon or so. Then they wake up ravening beasts who want fed and entertained (which now usually means driven around to either be dropped off at a friends or to pick up said friends who are likewise transportationally challenged.

Luckily our schedules shouldn’t change too much except to open up more free time for everyone, both over the summer and next school year as I’ll only have 1 drop-off/pick-up time instead of two.

Writing Plan: My Big To Dos


  • Add 8,210 words to BHT to bring it up to 90k by July 1 — 328 words/day
  • Halfway point for Jack of Hearts (Stop laughing! it’s only ~2,300 words per day to get to 35k by mid June.)
  • Outline JoH using 9 sentences for structure and fine tuning.
  • Pitch Workshop, online
  • Get business cards reprinted with current info


  • Continue working on JoH
  • Attend National RWA Conference in Anaheim toward the end of the month
  • Take lessons learned from pitch class & combine with story bones for sequels to BHT


  • Continue working on JoH — need 70-75k by end of Sept
  • Analyze scenes for Revealed, Sweet Temptation and Flower Queen’s Daughter to see where to improve or rewrite

Writing Plan: My Big How Tos

  • Get Up Early and get working by 7am to take advantage of a quiet house
  • Focus on priority goals first: BHT & JoH before everything else
  • Track time spent writing in spreadsheet
  • Take advantage of other writers doing sprints via twitter or chat rooms
  • Limit Facebook Games until after lunch

YOUR TURN:How does summer affect your creative schedule? Does it enhance or impede it?

And if you’d like to read about how the rest of my accountability group answered, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 092012

Photo of a rabbit munching on grass.

The seemingly innocent-looking plot bunny
(Cuniculus ex machina).

Before we get to plot bunnies, let’s talk about creative insecurities for a minute. Many people worry to the point of paranoia about having their ideas stolen. This notion isn’t specific to any one industry either. Movies, music, writing, game design, car makers, electronics, everyone’s got something they’re afraid someone is going to overhear and take off with it and make their millions with it.

Unfortunately, ideas are cheap. Ideas are the easy part! It’s the execution of those ideas that are the equivalent of the MultiMillions Lotto ticket. Or not.

So… what’s a writer to do?

If you’ve ever heard the term plot bunny, you already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, a plot bunny is an innocent looking idea that hops up to you, nibbles at the carrot you’ve been dangling in front of your muse’s cave, and promptly scampers off in completely unpredictable zig-zags only to disappear down some plot hole, dragging you and your work-in-progress (WIP) with it because you refuse to let go of the string tied to the carrot. Way to go!

Today, we’re going to talk about what we can do to harness these wild critters and tamer, more domesticated story ideas and put them to work for us when we need them. Generating ideas, once you start is easy… you play the “What If…” game enough and the ideas start breeding like… well,… bunnies.

How to keep track of story ideas?

You need a way to corral these pesky varmints! Whether you use a notebook, a scrapbook, a WORD document, some other fancy piece of software on your computer or a combination of all of the above really doesn’t matter. The important thing is that your system works for you and that you can periodically retrieve and review your ideas.

Personally, I keep a set of nested folders on my computer for projects I’d like to one day write. Several have simple notes, others are more detailed, complete with pictures and outlines. Others have exploratory writing where a character, a voice, or other aspect captured.

How to decide if an idea goes into the story idea file?

The middle of a brainstorming session is NOT the time to let internal editors out of their box. Leave the censoring until later. Ideas shouldn’t be tossed before they’ve had adequate time to ripen. Some will definitely be “off” when you look at them again. Toss them then. It really doesn’t cost anything in the meantime, and luckily there’s no physical mess or smell to deal with. The ones that only seem a bit stale? Let them percolate a while longer. They’ll either bloom given more time, or prove rotten later.

Yep, I periodically review my idea file (not just when I’m bored or procrastinating) looking to see what’s interesting, might spark other ideas, or just to see which ones need a little air and attention. This is all part of the next section…

How to decide if an idea will make a good story? If it won’t?

Some ideas won’t let go. Like earworms, they’ll keep coming back. Often when you least expect it. These plot bunnies are more like the vorpal rabbit of Monty Python fame. They’re the kind that leap up and grab you by the throat and refuse to let go. These shouldn’t be ignored, but carefully explored and exercised regularly. They can be tamed, although some may take longer than others. If it holds your attention over time, it probably has some merit.

Many people talk about the “Book of your Heart” and “commercial ready” fiction. Only you can decide if an idea contains a story you want to tell.

Take your plot bunnies to the equivalent of a county fair. Talk about them with other writers and readers. If they get excited about a story idea, it probably has some merit.

My biggest problem is identifying story ideas that are with the range of my technical capabilities. I often feel like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. Practice and patience are probably the best tools to use in this situation. I keep telling myself that anyway.

How to choose which story idea to work on?

The one that won’t go away. That’s easy for me to say, because I don’t have any external deadlines yet. I’m free to pick and choose between which characters are vying most loudly for my attention. Shiny New Project Syndrome (SNPS) is a valid concern. This is when anything new looks more interesting than what you SHOULD be working on. Set a limit on how long you’ll allow the new idea out to play. Use it as a reward for progress toward completion on the dreaded old project.

How to take an idea and form it into a plot?

Once I have an idea selected, I play with it for quite some time before I ever try to begin putting together a plot. I have to know the characters first. I have to know what drives them and how they’ll react to certain things. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be surprised along the way too, but I need to know the lay of the land first.

What to do when a story idea hits while working on another WIP?

First, make sure it’s not just SNPS rearing it’s ugly head. If it is, feel free to set aside 5-15 minutes to jot down everything you can think of about it. Remember, at this point the idea is probably not ripe. You can’t judge its merit yet. Let you muse play with it for a bit, then let it sit. Of course, I’ve also taken ideas like this and run with them and I think it shows that they weren’t quite ready to go because there are either gaping holes or I run out of steam after a certain point with them. They’re still in my folder, waiting for more information.

What kinds of ideas are in my story file?

Regency Romance Ideas: Beyond my big three projects (BHT, Revealed, and a new one I just started writing, but have been playing around with since last summer), I have 2 sequel ideas for BHT, a sequel to Revealed, a story about horse breeding and bloodlines in the nobility that’s based on a folktale at the same time, a Regency-set romcom involving mistaken identity and gender role reversals.

Other ideas: contemporaries: chef & foodie/reviewer/blogger, Holiday story with two blizzard-grounded travelers paired up in hotel because the airline assumes she’s male because of her name, then there’s the game developer heroine who finds true love online.

Also, before I go, I’ll apologize for any mixed metaphors or even abandoned ones above. I’ll blame it on the free-ranging wild bunnies and not on distractions or the lateness of the hour.

YOUR TURN: How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you have a wishlist of things you want to work on (feel free to talk about artistic projects, or any other projects around the house, the organization methods are likely similar)?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group suggests for ways to deepen characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Mar 022012
A view of the elevator shaft at The Top of the Rock in NYC.

How Far Down Can You Go?

My accountability group talked a bit before in our How I Write series in the posts on Building Character, but I wanted to take a closer look at some ways to create character depth, to make them unique, not just in your book, but in the market place.

WHY do we want to read about these characters, spend time with them and even revisit some of them? And WHY will we identify with them and CARE about their successes and failures? And, what can writers do when building characters so that they come alive on the page for readers?

1. Not just Faults, but Contradictions

Perfect characters are BORING! But in addition to giving them some quirks and character flaws, go farther. Give them contradictory details. Make the bad guy have a soft spot for small helpless fuzzy things. Too easy? Make your main character hold a strong opinion about something and then act in a hypocritical fashion.

2. Go Beyond Stereotypes & Archetypes

Yes, they exist because they’re familiar and recognizable. Are they interesting? Where’s the surprise? Where’s the mystery? Most people don’t like cardboard pizza. They don’t like cardboard characters either.

3. Go Beyond GMC

Deb Dixon‘s idea of Goal, Motivation and Conflict works well at the larger scale. But how many authors drill down with it to the smaller scale? How do those three elements color even their smallest actions and decisions? Weave it in, so it’s an integral part of the story fabric.

4. Vocations & Avocations

So your character has a job or a hobby. That’s nice. Go deeper. How does that influence their vocabulary, their insights, their relationship with others, their smaller actions and decisions? Do they live and breathe it? Or is it just another gloss coat? How does this profession or passion affect the plot? WHY did they/you make this choice? If you can swap it out easily, consequently you haven’t gone deep enough.

5. Use Varying Degrees of Focus and Distance

You know how some photographs are more interesting because not EVERYTHING is sharp and competing for your attention? Think of the difference between your mental definitions of “snap shot” and “photograph”. Good photos tell stories too. They also leave a bit of mystery and interpretation to the viewer. Writers can do similar things. By focusing on different aspects of your character at different times in the book, you can draw the reader in and let them explore what makes your characters tick. Then, only when you absolutely need to, reveal what you’ve hinted at in the shadows and the murky background to bring the whole picture into sharp focus when it will mean the most to the reader.

6. Go Big or Go Home

Don’t settle for making average characters do ordinary things. What can you do to pump them up and make it so the reader believes they may not overcome the high stakes they’re up against? What about your characters keeps the reader’s hope burning that they WILL succeed? This is where many characters who are deemed Too Stupid To Live (TSTL) fail the reader. The reader therefore has lost all hope for this character and may actually be rooting against them.

7. Dig Deep, Put Yourself In There

This is probably the hardest one for me to do personally. It doesn’t have to be the biggest, most traumatic event in your life, but we all share common experiences: happiness, sorrow, regret, hope, frustration, anger. Find ways to channel situations you know into your writing. The story details don’t have to be autobiographical, but use the feelings, both emotional and physical to connect your characters to your reader. For me, this is “write what you know” writ large!

Have I missed anything? What are some of the things that make you fall in love with a character or wish you could know them in real life? What makes YOU care about a fictional person’s success or failure?

And if you’d like to read about what the rest of my group suggests for ways to deepen characters, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney

Dec 022011

Last week, we talked about How We’d Spend A Day With One of Our Characters, but this week’s entry in our How I Write series, takes a closer look at our planning process. So, since we’re all writers, we’re focusing on plotting, which inevitably leads to the question: Plotter vs Pantser or some weird mix?

Plotting Via Spreadsheets

Hi. My name is Kristen and I’m a spreadsheet addict.

There. I said it. Now, I love me some colored index cards and other office supplies, too. They have their uses, but they also get scattered and lost. I’ve also been known to scribble mind-maps and notes on loose paper, but I do much better if when I’m satisfied with the basics, I transfer everything into Word or Excel. Sometimes both.

I also have a love of puzzles that captured my attention in my college economics courses and led me to double major in it alongside business administration. You probably think I LOVED my accounting classes too, but you’d be wrong. There’s a huge gap between intriguing puzzles and busy work. I see plots more as complex puzzles that I haven’t quite worked out the rules behind.

I’ve looked at many different plotting methods to build my outlines, Snowflake Method, 3-Act Structure, Save The Cat, The Blob, Hero’s Journey, Emotional Structure, Billy Mernit’s 7 Steps of Romantic Comedy. You name it, I’ve probably tried it. Even on the same manuscript.

You see, I also have another problem. I over think things. Yes, I can admit it, but that’s easier than avoiding doing so. I like to look at things from different angles. I want to make sure what I’m building will make sense when it’s complete. I like looking at things through different lenses and not just for photography. This is why I don’t think I could pants a story to save my life. It only takes me so far and I’ve lost sight of where I was going and end up circling in confusion and walk away from it.

With spreadsheets, you can keep all your thoughts and notes in one place. Using different worksheets in the same file or even different columns on the same one, you can apply different lenses (plotting methods) to the same plot outline. Is it effective? I don’t know. I think it works for me in the long run. I think of and see different things as I approach the problem from different angles. Does it help keep me on track and get the project finished? Probably not, but it does help me explore and think about the story and the characters so I know them before I sit down to work.

Linear vs Non-Linear Writing

If you’ve read any of my previous posts on writing or plotting, you know I strongly believe I need a road map to get from the beginning of a story through to “The End”. I may sound like an extreme plotter who plans everything down to the most miniscule detail, but I really do enjoy having my characters surprise me along the way.

I could never write out of order because of that though. Things change wildly enough sometimes without jumbling things out of order and requiring major surgery to stitch everything into place before it can be considered done.

One of the methods I found and liked, but which drives my DH insane when I mention it, is called a Phase Outline. It’s a very detailed outline, where you describe what needs to happen on each page in a line or two. “Why write the story twice,” he asks. It doesn’t feel that way to me. I try to leave it lose enough that the characters can move outside the confines of the box and become who they need to be, but it’s still structured enough that I’m comfortable in knowing where we’re all going, and that we’ll get there on the right page.

Escape From the Box

So, you probably now have an image of me as a control freak. You wouldn’t be wrong.

You might also picture me as indecisive, insecure and unable to commit to a single method and stick with it. I prefer to think of it as thorough, but you might have something there.

So, how do I know when I have a plot that I can work with? Gooooood question. Sometimes it takes working through it and see if the pieces fit together.

Wait?! Didn’t I just say that was the exact opposite of how I saw my self working? Probably, but I’ve found that when my characters surprise me by doing something that’s not planned, it’s better for the story. I know a lot of pantsers say they run everything through in their head several times before committing it to paper. I suspect many hardcore plotters do the same thing, they just commit all their iterations to paper along the way.

As far as knowing when something’s ready to go out into the world? It should resemble the working outline, but doens’t have to exactly. The highlights of the journey must be hit, and I often can’t see that for all the details along the way. Once I have a draft or two on a manuscript, it has to be sent to a couple of readers to see if I managed to get the story in my head onto the page.

I’ve only reached that point with one manuscript and only sent that to one agent because my confidence having done that isn’t as high as I’d like it to be. That’s definitely one of my goals for next year. Deconstructing the puzzle and putting it back together again. Each iteration gets better, but I fear I’ve left a string of characters still trapped in their boxes along the way.

I’m determined not to sit complacently with them though, I will find my way out of this self-made maze.

When I first conceived of this post, I had the idea of a mime trapped in a box, which was really a cell in an excel file. But this morning as I got thinking about taking my laptop with me on a field trip to the car dealership, I was thinking how similar it was to the portable writing desks people carried (lugged?) with them during the Regency Era. So, as a special treat, here’s a photo of one. I think I’ll keep my laptop with Word and Excel for everyday use, but one of these to go with my antique lady’s secretary would be nice too.

A Regency era mahogany and inlaid writing box, circa 1810.

A Regency Tunbridgeware mahogany and inlaid writing box by Dunnett's of London, circa 1810. The cover inset with a painted panel of Venus and Cupid, the border of chequered form, the compartmented interior with green paper lining and label inscribed 'Dunnetts Toy & Tunbridge Ware REPOSITORY No.3 Cheapside, London' 14 in. (36 cm.) wide

YOUR TURN: Are you a macro or micro manager? Do you plan everything down to the most minute details or do you get a vague idea in your head and take off running? Do unfinished projects haunt you? How do you know when your project is complete?

And if you’d like to read about deal with plotting and knowing when a manuscript is ready to go out, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Kimberly Farris *
* Danie Ford * Emma G. Delaney * Angeleque Ford *

Sep 162011
Image of a playing card from Hall & Sons, early 19th century.

The Jack of Hearts. Early 19th c. playing card from Hall & Sons. Notice the face card has a single head and centered eyes compared to modern cards. The backs also would have been plain white.

This week my accountability group is blogging about where we got the idea for our current WIP as a follow up to last week’s more general discussion of Inspiration.

Coming up with ideas is the easy part. Executing them is the part that gives me trouble. Generating ideas is something we can train ourselves to do easily. Identifying the good ones… now that’s the trick!

I’d say in general I start with characters and then brainstorm situations to put them into. Very rarely do I come up with an idea that begins as a conflict and needs characters to play it out. Sometimes they start with the title, but that’s usually most suggestive of the characters. I’ve been known to get ideas from song lyrics, obscure folk tales or playing games of “What if…?” with characters.

Beneath His Touch came about that way. From there I found the characters and explored their situations to find the conflict that would sustain the story and eventually drive them together instead of apart. Revealed or what I still call in my head OTS, short for On The Shelf, also started with a title. One that’s evolved for sure, but we’re talking about how these stories are sparked.

The newest story that I’m working on has a couple of working titles that float through my head. Jack of Hearts and Love, According to Hoyle are the two that get my brain clicking though. Combine those with the saying “Lucky at cards, unlucky at love.”, toss in a game of Whist, and add a dollop of workshop on character development using archetypes and you’ve got a juicy story spark with lots of possibilities.

And what do you know. I just had one of those ‘AHA!’ moments while writing this post. Just like a hand of whist, this story needs 13 chapters — one for each trick. This also just set off a bunch of other what if’s bouncing around in my head. Look out WIP, here I come!

Your Turn: What are you working on and what sparked your initial interest in it? It can be a story or any other creative project you might be working on, but I’m curious to hear about how other creative types work. So go add your thoughts in the comments section!

If you’d like to read about what the rest of my group is working on and where they got their ideas, you can find their blogs here:

* Alexia Reed * Angeleque Ford * Danie Ford *
* Emma G. Delaney * Kimberly Farris *

Dec 072010

Picture of trees and clouds, nothing exciting.In my last post, I talked about how my writing style seems to be rather Cyclic in Nature, either full-on or drifting between bouts of inspiration. The good news is that I’ve finished a very rough draft of Beneath His Touch and I’m looking ahead to 2011 and starting to build my goals list.

While it’s tempting to be all cloud-like during this hectic time of the year, I know I need to take advantage of this “down” time and stuff my head full once more in order to build up for the next round. Looking at what I want to accomplish next year, I have one manuscript to edit and revise, one to do some reworking on, and one that I want to do as a free serial read here as part of Excerpt Mondays.

Just putting that much down in black and white makes it intimidating and I feel like the clock is already ticking. Maybe that’s just the one for Christmas shopping! Eep. I’m sure you’ve have plenty yet to do in 2010 as well, so I’ll just wish you and yours a fantastic holiday season and that 2011 is all you want it to be in case we miss each other in all the holiday cheer.

(And no, this isn’t my last planned post for the year! I’m trying to ease back into regular postings so I don’t scare myself away again.)

Nov 142010

Writing as Art IconIn the past three years (Gosh, it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long!), I’ve come to realize that my writing process is quite cyclic in nature. This isn’t so much tied to the time of year when I may or may not have more free time, but feels more like one of those buckets on a waterwheel. First, it dips into the river and scoops until it’s overflowing, along the trip up out of the river, some may splash out, but really it empties in one big dump to contine back around again for another refill.

Sketch of a water wheel by Jon Constable, Oct 11, 1814I seem to always be in one of those two modes, where I’m either pulling all sorts of things into my brain or dumping them back out again. The river of information includes several sources such as books, blogs or workshops on the craft of writing, published novels both in Regency Romance as well as any other out there (and sometimes the further the better), poking around into various research sources, as well as just plain ol’ people watching. Depletion of these creative stores is where the actual writing and idea generation come in. Once my head is stuffed full of ideas and they have a chance to percolate, they simply must escape again.

The problems come when I foolishly try to work against this cycle. I should know better by now that trying to generate new word count when I’m in need of an inflow period, it isn’t going to be pretty. Talk about a feeling of writer’s block. Oddly enough, reading an article or book on the craft of writing while in the middle of an outflow period, doesn’t switch the flow, it just doesn’t click or get absorbed as well.

Since returning to writing mode late last spring, I’ve been busy building word count and struggling to reach “The End” of Beneath His Touch. The good news is that I have something written for the whole plot line. The problem I’m up against now is that I need to go back and layer in actions, descriptions and thoughts around the runs of dialogue that went down so smoothly in the past couple months and every word is like pulling teeth.

I’ve been fighting the urge to set it aside and work on something else, anything else, because it feels so close to be able to say, it’s done, but I know it isn’t. Also, my critique partner is ready to kill me over the cliffhanger chapter endings and she KNOWS she’s only 4 chapters from the end. I’m nearly done with chapter 18, but the thought of doing two more chapters is killing me.

Because of Veteran’s Day, the kids had a four-day weekend. This translated into more segmented time for me, especially since their dad was home sick one day there as well. I made the mistake of picking up a craft book. Yup, I have even less desire to go work on those last two chapters now. I want to either start a new project or go back to page one and rework all the progress I’ve made in the last three years on this one. And I said I picked up “ONE” craft book right? Wrong. I may have said one, but that lead to at least two others as the weekend progressed.

The great thing about going back and rereading these books is that after letting them percolate for a while and trying out some of the techniques, those ideas become assimilated and internalized. So it’s a great feeling to go back and read them again to find that I get something new from the text, or something that didn’t quite make sense before, suddenly clicks.

My brain is telling me that I’m ready to embark on my next journey of study. But I’ll be good. I’ll force myself to flesh out these last two chapters, but then look out! I’m ready to dive in and conquer plotting. Yep! I seem to be going about this completely backwards, but I believe it’ll all be good in the end. By the time I figure out how to string scenes together effectively, all the other stuff will hopefully be second nature.

If you know of any good books, workshops or websites discussing plot, I’d love to hear them!

So much for a post about what I learned by finaling in the SYTYCW contest, but I think I covered that in the introduction to my Excerpt Monday post that will go up tomorrow morning with the extended opening of Marcia’s story: Revealed. So come back tomorrow to check that out!

Jan 112010

Writing as Craft IconJust like we need a bit of structure in our lives in order to thrive and stretch our selves to reach our goals, our writing needs a bit of structure to it. This helps keep the story coherent and cohesive and helps it resonate with the reader. I’m sure there are experimental constructions out there where upon first glance it makes no sense at all and as a reader you can’t make heads or tales of it, until you learn the structure and suddenly everything clicks and makes sense.

Now, structure isn’t the same as plot, nor is it the same as a formula.

When people talk about stories, books, tv shows and movies as being formulaic, they don’t necessarily mean their structure is boring and worn out. Usually they mean their plot is tired and so well-worn, there are no surprises for us.

However, people have been telling each other stories for millenia. Some jaded folks claim there are no new stories or ideas. But we’ve seen numerous stories told where the structure is repeated time and time again. Why? Because it works with a wide variety of plots and people are comforted and satisfied by the familiar. Indeed many of the same basic plot lines have been retold with new characters throughout the ages.

The most familiar form is probably the three Act Structure as described by Aristotle in his Poetics. It can be found from ancient Greek plays to numerous books and movies of today.

Aristotlean Play Structure

Structure: Exposition->Rising Action->Climax->Falling Action->Denoument

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising Action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling Action
  5. Denouement/Resolution

This system will look very familiar if you graph it like Gustav Freytag did at the right when he analyzed ancient Greek and Shakespearean dramas.

Many people are interested in how novels and screenplays are organized and each have their own perception of how it works best and why. Some look at it from the angle of characterization and the emotional stories of those characters. Others have likened it to a journey that the character takes and the steps involved to propel the character on his journey and the adventures and trials experienced and his glorious return as a hero. here’s even a twist on this for the heroine’s journey. Yet there are others yet who are more plot-oriented with some delving into what motivates the characters to make the decisions that they do during the course of the plot.

Popular Takes on Structuring A Novel or Screenplay

  • Traditional Three Act or 5-Part Structure
  • Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey
  • Peter Dunne’s Emotional Structure
  • Debra Dixon’s Goal/Motivation/Conflict
  • Michael Hauge’s Six Stages
  • Kara Lennox’s breakdown for a 400-page novel
  • Billy Mernit’s Seven Steps for Romantic Comedies

I’ll be looking closer at these in the coming months, but I don’t think most of them are really completely different structures so much as various lenses with which to analyze a story or alternate sets of questions to ask yourself as you go about building your story.

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser will determine your level of comfort and need for outlines, but I’m sure you’ll still find yourself asking these same types of questions that will affect your structure at one point or another, either before your first draft or as you try to assemble a later draft into a coherent story.


Which type of structure comes naturally for you? Have you ever used some other type of structure? Diary, Framed Flashack, Family Saga, or something else?