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The missing ingredient

Most of my story ideas come from a tiny spark: a single scene, a premise that interests me, or an intriguing character. That spark is the all-important beginning to a story, but it's not nearly enough to build an 80,000-word book.

It's no secret to my long-time blog readers that I struggle with plotting. By this, I don't mean structure, I mean the meat that hangs on those structural bones. For example, in Counting on You, the H/H meet under false pretenses. When he later ends up as her boss, it sets up all sorts of problems.

The opening scene at a fundraiser was the spark that got me going, and suggested several scenes to follow. Great! But then what? I muddled my way through, and luckily found a few turning points, battled a saggy middle, and wrapped it all up. That is, after I scrapped a bunch of material and started over from 1/3 of the way through.

Hmm, I did that with Slow Burn, too. Do you see a pattern?

I have some writing strengths. For example, CPs and judges usually like my dialogue. And I do okay with the opening scenes, but figuring out what happens next is not my strong point. I know that my new understanding of structure will help me write the story, once I figure out what all those major milestones should be. But even having the milestones laid down isn't enough.

I've been working on a new MS for the last few weeks, and like a good girl, I sketched out my turning points ahead of time. But then I started writing the story and didn't like how it felt. I started over with a new angle, and still didn't like it. So, even having a plot and hanging it on a nice structure isn't everything.

There's some missing element, some extra ingredient that makes it all work. Like the salt in a cookie recipe.

Maybe that's the art of it.

If I figure out what it is, I'll be sure to let you know. Any suggestions?

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    Do you know..this is exactly my process. And, the same challenge I’ve been having with the most recent WIP. I’ve just gone back and reviewed a bunch of things I’ve written. I’m embarrassed to say how many manuscripts I have done, but still need to edit.

    This last book? I sketched it all out. I never do that. Oh, it changed, but it helped me fight my way through it. Glacial just wanted to be a challenge.

    My best changes? Ideas? Come when I’m out driving by myself. Go figure.

    • Reply

      Glad I’m not the only one! 😉 I thought for sure plotting out the major elements would save me from this, but alas, it did not. I don’t mind changing things along the way, but I’d like to not backtrack so much in the future. If I ever get a contract, how will I get it done?!

      My best ideas come while I’m jogging. The problem is that I’ve been sick for over a week and have only been walking or using the cross-trainer. Plus I can’t go for a run every time I hit a snag. Though it would be good for my bottom line…

  2. Reply

    Oh, Gwen, This is me too and it keeps bringing me to a standstill. I know the basic story but the scenes elude me. I sit down to write and …. I just stare at the screen. I’ve taken to writing scenes in random order when they come to me but that’s neither efficient nor very satisfying.

    I don’t know what it is. For my first three stories I knew exactly where I was going and everything seemed to fall into place, but lately it’s like pulling teeth.

    Showers work best for getting my ideas flowing, but Ifear I’ll drown before I finish the WIP. ;0

  3. Reply

    My sweet bride is a writer. She does not torment herself with the subject like I do. She writes. While I’m reading books on the subject she writes. While I’m talking to other writers about writing she writes. Guess what? Her writing, which was good, has only gotten better. Her sentences have a much tighter construction. She comes up with phrases she never came up with three years ago. She has no idea how her writing has changed. Why? Yeah, it’s because writes.

    I think her secret that is unknown even to her— her passion drives the writing process. She wants to say what she has to say so bad that she finds a way to get it said. She finds the way in the writing.

    With this thought in mind I reviewed my NaNoWriMo book. There were parts of the book where I actually cried. There were other parts when I laughed out loud. Those sections and or scenes were the strongest. I could also tell that the longer I wrote the more I wrote and the deeper and truer the story sounded later when I read it.

    I’m thinking the missing ingredient is practice and a smidgen of passion.

    I have a feeling if I wrote a romance I would have to fall in love in the most intense way with the leading lady. I would have to suffer the pathos of the slightest possibility of her loss. I would have to savour through to delight every single day dream of her. I would have to taste her lips without every describing the moment. I would have to settle into the warmth of our love without ever discussing it. If I could do that in the context of the damp and moss covered trees of Savannah, I might be able to make it work for the reader. Maybe.

    • Reply

      Very eloquent, Curtis. You have a bit of the poet in you, too. 😉

      Writing is definitely part of the key. Even when I was going in the wrong direction, I wrote almost 20K. It’s hard to discard those scenes, but I view them as practice. It’s part of the process of finding the story that I’m passionate to tell.

      Practice and passion are good words of advice. Thanks!

  4. Christine


    There’s an article in RWR Mag this month about the non-plotter who writes (and she is multi published). She calls it “writing into the mist” (or something similar to that–don’t have the magazine in front of me). Basically, I think most of us fall in the middle of the writing spectrum.

    My first MS was sparked by an idea, written forward with little plotting.

    My second MS was sparked by an idea, plotted methodically via a book I’d read and it was too, well, methodical.

    My third MS was sparked by an idea, brainstormed by writing chapter companions, CPs and myself. I rewrote the bugger 5 times.

    My fourth MS was sparked by an idea, written in a week, torn apart twice, had the guts extended via sheer extreme will and is now undergoing a “tone” revision. (As of tomorrow, which you know).

    Will it get any easier? Nah. We all have to muddle along and figure out our own processes. I just want to make sure the NEXT idea is THE idea that sells.

    Onward ho!

  5. Reply

    Why do I always get my RWR so much later than everyone else?

    This writing thing is such a painful process. You know me, Miss Logic, always wanting to find the steps that make it happen. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. Boiled every process down to steps that I could teach a monkey.

    Problem is, the art of storytelling can’t be put into steps. Structure, dialogue, characterization, tension, and hooks can be written about in “how to” form, but the art part. That’s the little bit of magic in each of us, and I just have to trust that I have it and keep going.

    Good luck with TFC part 6!

  6. Martha W


    Me and you, girl… we’re in the same boat. I am getting ready to slow waaaay down (metaphorically) and work through my paranormal over the next month or so. I want to figure out why my characters are flat. I have to figure it out. That’s my missing ingredient. I’ll find it though… and so will you. 😉

    • Reply

      I knew there was a reason we got along so well. 😉 I wonder if I did a poll, how many authors, both published and unpublished, would feel the same way. Many, I’m betting!

      Perseverance is key. We always find it as long as we don’t stop looking. Does make me wonder how I’ve done this three times already, though!

  7. Reply

    I remember Anne Lamott hissing the words “plot points” to, actually at her audience at a writers conference in Austin, TX .

    “I know nothing about plot points.” She wrapped word pair “plot points” in a sarcasm so thick they sounded like anything but the keys to the kingdom. “If you’ve come for that discussion you will be disappointed. ”

    And, with that and what she said for the better part of two hours, she sent us out ready to write even if we had been in hell.

    It seems to me that to write with passion is to write with an abandon that delivers from the preoccupation with technique, word count and all things associated with production writing. If any of that occupies my mind you the reader will here the sound of hammer, ax and anvil as I pound together a product for the market place.

    Yeah, well and not only all that, I’m still jealous of Janet Evanovich. That hasn’t changed any. 🙂

    • Reply

      I think we’re all jealous of Janet Evanovich!

      I wanted a better understanding of plotting and structure and all of those things because I was hoping it would make it easier to get the story out right the first time. I think it will help, but yeah, in the end, without passion for the story it doesn’t matter what else I do.

  8. Reply

    I am so happy to see I am not alone. I have taking a recent online class on plotting and thought, Crap! I was overwhelmed. I have very loose plotting. I have a beginning and a end, I know several points in the middle and then I write to get there. I have started plotting more on my 3rd MS but find I keep changing it as I go along. I think I need to write it, then plot to see what I missed!

    Thanks for a great blog!

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