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Taking a shortcut

A few months ago I read a good writing book called Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell. In it, Bell advocates going through six books and writing a note card for every scene to describe its POV, location, type of scene, and purpose. Then when you're done (six months later), you periodically pull out the cards and flip through them, lay them out to see the flow, and so on.

The idea is that eventually an understanding of good story structure will bubble up from your subconscious. I don't doubt the efficacy of this exercise. Nor am I one to shirk a little homework. But in this case, I made it through about half a book before I gave up. Maybe if I'm having trouble sleeping sometime, I'll try again.

In the meantime, I'm going to try Larry Brooks' suggestion to do something very similar, but using movies. Good movies are built around the same structure principles as a well-written novel. So, it makes sense that we should be able to accomplish a similar exercise with a movie, and in much less time. Maybe three hours.

So, my plan next week is to analyze at least one movie. I'm putting it here to hold myself accountable. I'll post my results for discussion in a future installment.

If you're up to it after you read Larry's post, I'd love to hear how it went for you too. (No, the comma is not required before “too”.) 😉

Have a great weekend. Write on!

Structural integrity

I just finished Story Structure Demystified by Larry Brooks, and I think it's the book I've been looking for all along. We've discussed “pantsing” vs. “plotting” here several times before, but the best thing about Larry's book is that it gives you a structure to hang your work on, regardless of how you write.

There are other books out there that discuss structure, but I've bought several, and so far SSD is the first one to break structure down into easy-to-understand parts.

In my own book, Slow Burn, I had a beginning premise and a vague idea of where I was going with it, but nothing concrete. Every day it was a struggle to decide what came next.

Now enter story structure. I've used the metaphor of a cross-country journey to describe my writing process. It works even better with an understanding of structure. If you think of each milestone (opening hook, plot/twist/turning point 1, p/t/t point 2, etc.) as a waypoint on the route, you still leave a lot of room for creative endeavor, and change.

With a better understanding of each section of the book, I can decide if the ride for my characters between waypoints should be smooth, bumpy, uphill, a car chase, or what. If I understand what section of the book I'm in while writing, it's easier to determine what the purpose of each scene should be, and the types of actions my character should take.

Structure is not sexy, but it's very freeing. Think of building a house. Once you know that it won't collapse because you've created a sound design based on engineering principles, you're free to make it look like a spaceship, treehouse, giant shoe, or tract home.

I know there are authors out there who don't do this intentionally, but chances are if their books are on a shelf somewhere, they do it instinctively.

After reading SSD, I went back and looked at Slow Burn again. It turns out that I had most of the important milestones, and they were even largely in the correct spot. But it would have been so much easier to create that story with an intrinsic sense of the purpose of each section of the book.

My awesome CP has mentioned these concepts to me before, and I balked. Totally. Basically, because I didn't understand the purpose of the different milestones or sections of a story. You may have heard the phrase, “The confused mind says ‘no'”. That was me.

Now, my left-brain is happy about the logic of structure, and my right-brain has been popping out scene ideas all afternoon. Go figure.

Writ large

I've written in the past about wanting to make my story bigger. Not in word count, per se, but in feeling. The complexity of the story and characters have to be large enough–interesting enough–to carry the novel through 300+ pages.

Thanks to my most wonderful critique partner, I now have some ideas for how to make it happen for Slow Burn. I'm not tearing into it yet, I have lots of brainstorming to do, but I'm excited about the possibilities. My friend Martha is facing a similar challenge.

Good luck to both of us! 😉

I'm still interested in ensuring that the structure of the story works, and working on pre-planning for my future MSs. To that end, I broke down and bought Larry Brooks' e-book, Story Structure Demystified. While I agree with regular commenter Curtis that $14.95 is a bit high for an e-book, Larry's offering a twofer deal until March 15th, so I went for it.

I'm a regular follower of his blog, and I find his explanations both well-written and engaging. I'm expecting the book to be more of the same.

Now, I'm off to bigger things…

Crack that WIP

Day three and I've already started over with Blind Fury. It's okay because I'd only written 1600 words, and I'm up to 1800 new ones now, but still. I realized early on that the GMC I had before wasn't working, and neither was the setting. Sometimes it can take me a while to admit that the cool opening scene, or the interesting career, just isn't the best choice for the story.

I probably started writing before I was really ready. But, on the other hand, the act of writing helps me find my weaknesses, and gets me thinking ahead.

One of the reasons I struggle with pre-planning may actually tie back to my logical, linear brain–as illogical as that may sound. Let me explain.

What I've noticed is that I write very linearly: first this, then that, like a chain. That is, I write a scene, and then decide what the next scene should be, based on what just happened. The creative juices required to come up with the next scene require the platform of the previous one to jump from.

Does that make sense?

So, until I've really fleshed out a whole scene, complete with unexpected twists and revelations that came about in the heat of writing, I can't write the next one. So how could I possibly plan via a thorough outline ahead of time?

No, I'm not abandoning the pre-planning phase. If anything, I've realized that I have to test my characters' GMC more carefully. Not only do they need strong, story-worthy goals, motivation, and conflict, but ideally, the hero and heroines goals with conflict with each other.

This is why writing romance is tricky, especially romantic suspense. Not only must the villain's goals conflict with the H/H, but the H/H's goals must be at odds with each other. Otherwise there's nothing to write about.

Yes, all of you smart people knew that already. In theory, so did I. Still, I often get an interesting concept stuck in my head, try to populate it with characters, and then realize the GMC's just not strong or interesting enough.

At least this time I didn't start over after writing 20,000 words. Hopefully, I can avoid that again. I made sure that Blind Fury has at least a tentative outline including the inciting incidents for H/H, 1st turning point, midpoint shift, 2nd turning point, black moment, climax, resolution.

If I get to those points and they're wrong, I'll fix them. But for now, I've got a compelling reason to take the drive, and a few destinations along the way to guide me.

Now to get crackin' on that WIP…

Plotting along

I've mentioned before that I lean toward the pantser end of the scale, but with each subsequent book, I do more pre-planning. I know I need a pretty good idea of my destination and way points, or I'll get completely lost, circle the midwest five times, and end up in Mexico if I'm not careful.

This week I started thinking about my next book, Blind Fury. It's not the one I thought I would work on next–neither Diego's story, nor the one I've been hinting at in my recent squirrels. For some reason, I'm not ready for either of those yet, but this next one kind of grabbed me.

I spent the morning attempting to nail down my Inciting Incident, 1st Plot/Turning Point, Middle Transition, 2nd Plot/Turning Point, and Climax. Based on experience, I know I at least need a loose idea of what will happen in each of those sections, who the villain is, what the GMC is for every major character, and what my character arcs are.

Gosh, the more I write, the more of a plotter I become.

Larry Brooks over at had a great post on Tuesday about how to pre-structure your story using “beats” for each scene and the four-part structure that he advocates in his books and on his blog. I'm going to take a stab at doing this in advance for a change.

I'm calling it “plotting by the seat of my pants”.

Plotting by the sun

The sun came back this week. I really, really needed it. Cloudy days may be perfect for staying inside and writing, but I need that bright light to keep my brain turned on. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a run in the sun.

Overcast days make me want to nap, or curl up with tea and a good book. Write? Not so much.

So, yeah, we won't be retiring to Seattle if I have anything to say about it. Which–thankfully–I do.

Enough procrastinating. I'm avoiding the subject of plotting. Why? Because I'm struggling with it. As I finish up the first major revision of my current MS and start stretching my brain around the next book, I keep getting hung up on the plot.

Or lack thereof.

I have a basic premise for how the characters meet, their personalities and backgrounds, and the story setting. If I were writing a contemporary romance, I'd be almost done. Throw in some conflicting goals and a few fun twists. Bam!

But, wait. I'm writing romantic suspense. I need the suspense part.

I've always had trouble coming up with the initial evil component, but once I have it, then I can run with it. There are plenty of interesting motivations and crimes out there, but so far none of them appeal to me. Part of the problem this time is that my characters are in the military, and I wanted the crime to be related to that somehow.

So, I think of how much I don't know about the military (in spite of how much I do know, having spent most of my life in or around it), and I freeze up.

I think what it really comes down to is that I need to develop my devious mind.

Any ideas? 😉

Size matters

I'm struggling with my storyline, thinking that it's not “big” enough. Are my villains' (yes, there are two) motivations and goals big and interesting enough? Do I have enough layers? Do I need to flesh out my secondary characters more?


In a lot of the romantic suspense books I read, the villain has a reason to go after the hero or heroine, but their larger purpose is something big like human trafficking, or stealing women's eggs to sell to infertile couples, or…okay, well one of my villains is a drug lord. Is that high concept enough?

I keep thinking that I'm struggling to reach 80K because the premise is not quite large enough. Or maybe I just need to do a full-pass edit from page one before I get frustrated. The thing is, I want to get my plot hammered down before I waste time on the full edit.

I have some ideas for changing things up without completely changing the story structure. I'm pondering them now, and trying to decide if I should give it a rest for a week or so.

I probably won't.

I'm also pondering dropping my first four scenes. A depressing loss of 2400 words, some of which would have to be added back in to fill in the backstory the reader will have missed.

Why cut them? Well, I was thinking about entering a contest that is only for the first 1000 words of the MS, and I realized that I don't like them that much. The prologue maybe (I know, big no-no), but not the rest. They seem necessary, but I still don't love them.

I'm hoping for some guidance in the form of my beloved CP who is very busy right now. She's also in the throes of revision, and her poor husband has a busted wheel.

No matter how many words the MS ends up with, it's the size of the story that matters. I only hope that, by the end, mine's big enough.