THE PLOTTING BRAIN

You’ve put aside the first draft you have just finished so you can gain some distance on the work before tackling revisions. It’s a great time to clean your office, sort your files, and write a few blogs. But your mind starts seguing into the next story. 

 Here’s what floated into my mind, even when I’m trying to take a break:

 My next hero is a Tsuran swordsman who has been disgraced on his home world and shunned by his people. What dastardly deed did he commit? He protected a family member by taking the blame for a murder that she’d committed under duress. Thus close family ties mean a lot to him. Now bring in a heroine who is trying to escape from her family obligations. Conflict! 

Add another element. Say our hero, Lord Magnor, is protecting his sister who killed her abusive husband. After he was incarcerated, he learned that she’d been cheating on the man. Betrayal!

Now he’s a sullen, mysterious loner forced to join a team of warriors because they’re the only ones who will accept him. How will the heroine differ? She has to be a people person, outgoing, gregarious, generously reaching out to others. Maybe she gives of herself too much and has overextended her limits. Perhaps her last boyfriend left when she put her dedication to various causes before their relationship. She doesn’t want another man who’ll be so selfish and who lacks compassion. So why does this fierce warrior appeal to her?

Before I delve further into their GMC, what is the hero’s main mission for this story? He has to find the secret weapon that will destroy the evil Trolleks who’ve invaded Earth (it’s a paranormal romance). How will he proceed? Even though I have a list of plot threads from previous installments that have to be tied up in this volume, I’m stumped.

I give up and start cleaning out my files. Oh cool, here’s an article on archetypes. You know what I mean: marriage of convenience, rags to riches, twins, secret baby, prince in disguise, etc. Hey, what if I mix one of these into my story? Imagine the sparks if these two characters had to wed. What if (yes, we plotters use What If? a lot) the heroine enlists Magnor as her fake fiancé? Nah, that’s been done to death already. So how to put a modern twist on the old marriage of convenience tale in a way that would suit my story?

   ideaGenius strikes. My bad guys are using theme parks to recruit humans as their mind slaves. Magnor goes to Las Vegas to follow a lead.  What else is Vegas if not one huge theme park for adults?

I’m getting excited.  I can envision my hero striding down the Strip in his cloak and sword. He encounters a woman who drunkenly boasts to her friends that she can snag any man who walks through the door. Guess who it is?  Yep, our hapless hero.  But he doesn’t fall for her allure right away. Nope, he recognizes the watch she wears as being significant to his mission. And when they end up in a wedding chapel, our warrior from outer space has no idea what it means. They wake up the next morning together in a hotel room, and…you get the picture. Cool set up, huh?

Now I have to figure out why the Norse goddess Hel releases her “Dead Walkers” so the hero has to brave the underworld to stop her. It could be another ploy for dominance by the evil demon, Loki. He’s manipulating the Trolleks, and… well, I don’t want to give too many spoilers. In case you haven’t guessed, this series is based on Norse mythology.

As each idea comes to me, I jot it down. It’s all jumbled right now. Next I’ll sit down and do my Character Development and Romantic Conflict charts, figure out the plot progression, and write the synopsis. It just has to brew upstairs a while longer.

What do you think of my story idea so far?  Any suggestions?  When you finish a book, how long of a break do you take and how do you approach the next story to get started?

So You Think You’ve Finished Your Book?

Writing The End on the last page of your manuscript brings with it a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.  Take a deep breath, let it out, and then scream your joy to the heavens.  Drink champagne, buy yourself a gift, do whatever you wish to reward yourself. 

If you’re like me, you are brain numb and need a break from writing.  Set a date to start on revisions and then relax.  Well, not totally.  You can always work on the Tedious Tasks for Writers that I talked about last month on this blog.  Why, this very morning I spent an hour organizing my Favorites on the Internet.  A waste of time, you say?  I beg to differ.  I’ll actually save time in the future when I need to go to a site and can find it in my bookmarks more easily.

I also spent time cleaning out my Word files for book number one in my paranormal series.  Mind you, I just finished book two, but I am hoping number one sells first.  I’ve got my story blurbs for this title ready to go, plus bonus features for my website, a reader discussion guide, and text for a book trailer.  So what else can my brain brew on during this interval from writing, which we all know is part of the creative process? 

Here’s what is next on my writer’s To Do list: Write the text for book number two trailer.  Since I have six heroes and heroines altogether in this series, I should match them up.  Scan in the photos I’ve cut out of magazines, match the guys to the gals, give the girls names and occupations. Then narrow the focus to book number three. Develop the backstory for the hero and heroine. Determine what this guy’s particular mission will be within the core story. How will I weave in the different plot threads from previous installments, and how will these loose ends be resolved at the series’end? Make a chart or a spreadsheet of the magical elements in this paranormal fantasy along with who possesses them and what they do.  Write the plot for book number three. By now, I’ll be chomping at the bit to write this story. But wait, first I have to revise Book Two.

You know what?  That sounds like a lot of work, and I deserve a break.  Think I’ll go on vacation instead.  See ya in a few weeks.

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The Big Dark Moment

In a romance, the Big Dark Moment is the crucial juncture when all seems lost between the hero and heroine.  He stomps away and she strides in the opposite direction, and it seems as though they will never be together again.  How can they overcome their insurmountable obstacles?  Will love triumph in the end?

Of course it will.  The prerequisite for a romance is the HEA  (Happy Ever After) ending. But for this HEA to have emotional impact, our characters first must experience the painful Big Dark Moment when their relationship seems hopeless.

Tossing a cog in the story wheel isn’t the way to go about it.  This confrontation must arise naturally from the character’s internal conflicts.  Take Paz and Jen from my WIP.

elegant woman Jen is a fashion designer who looks as svelte as her models. For years, she struggled for parental approval.  Growing up in a wealthy family, she internalized her mother’s superficial values that appearance matters.  But she yearns for a man who can appreciate her for herself and not for her looks or money.                                                   

Drift Lord warrior Paz Hadar isn’t the rich businessman she’d expected to snag, but he brings out her strength and resourcefulness and admires her bravery.  Yet when she tries to discuss their future together, he clams up.  He’s planned for nothing beyond this mission, and so she figures he’ll leave her in the end.  Paz, in turn, gets angry when she pushes him for his plans, believing she can’t accept him for the person he is and wants to mold him into the ideal man. And if he’s not good enough for her, forget it. And so he stomps off.  Jen feels he doesn’t care enough about her feelings to truly confide in him.                                  angry eyes

 Thus they go their separate ways, until each one realizes how much they need the other.  But by then, Paz seeks to prove himself by attacking the enemy all on his own.  Jen rushes to his side, but it’s too late.  He’s been…well, we don’t want to give the story away.

sad woman

 

 

 

Action and reaction propels the story forward, leading to the Big Dark Moment and the final confrontation with the villain. And when Paz and Jen finally commit to each other as we know they will, we’ll heave a deep sigh of satisfaction.  Sour before sweet, despair before joy.  It makes the ending all the more Happy Ever After.  

               wedding couple

 

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FINISHING YOUR BOOK

When you’re nearing the end of your book, do you tend to race ahead?  I have 25 pages to go in my WIP before reaching my required word count, and I’m beginning to think I might go over.  I still have several scenes to go to reach a satisfactory conclusion. While I’m tempted to rush through to the finish line, this is actually when I need to slow down to bring all my plot threads together. So here is my advice for what you should do when approaching The End.

 Take Your Time                                                                                     

You’re sick of working on this story.  You just want to finish.  You’ll layer in more details later.

STOP.  You need to slow down and work your way through each scene as the story logically unfolds.  It may be tedious and make you grind your teeth, but remember why you’re writing in the first place.  You love the process.  So enjoy the storytelling and live with your characters a while longer until their tale is done.

Tie Up All The Loose Ends

If you juggle several plot threads in a complex storyline like I do, you’ve either lost track of them or you keep detailed spreadsheets and notes to guide you down the track. Make sure you have covered all your footprints. Often I may have to take care of this on my second read-through.  On the first revision, I’ll write down questions that spring to mind about the story from the reader’s viewpoint. Or I’ll do a plotting board as the story progresses, and these questions will be in a different colored ink from the main plot.  You’ll want to resolve these questions by the story’s end.  There’s nothing more frustrating as a reader or tv viewer than to be left hanging.  You know how this feels. Don’t do it to your readers. Be sure you have answered all the story questions for an emotionally satisfying end.

Resolve The Plot Before The Romantic or Emotional Resolution

If you’ve done your job right, your main character will have changed or come to a realization about herself by the end of the book.  The emotional resonance of this revelation should follow the climactic sequence with the villain, if you have one. Or the external plot, if there’s no definitive bad guy. Perhaps the internal revelation prompted the action that led your heroine to the final conflict. Then have her reflect on it, change her direction in life, make a decision, or alter an important relationship with another character. Maybe it means accepting herself or shedding her guilt.

Each book in a series should affect the personal relationships in your character’s life. Nothing is static. People change based on their experiences. So should your characters, and it’s much more emotionally gratifying to your readers when this final declaration comes at the end.

In my Bad Hair Day mysteries, my hairdresser sleuth Marla Shore decides to date the handsome detective at the end of book one.  By the end of book nine, they’ve set a wedding date.  Yes, it’s taken them that long to get together because they’ve had a lot of issues to resolve. Each volume in the series offers a step forward in their relationship even though they might falter along the way. So, too, in Silver Serenade, my recent sci fi romance, the heroine agrees to marry the hero at the end and also realizes she might make a better intelligence officer than an assassin. These decisions come after she’s tested her skills and defeated the bad guy.  It wouldn’t have the same resonance before then because we’re still caught up in the tension of executing the external plot.  So after the adventure comes to a close, have your protagonist let us know how this has experience has changed her.

As a reader, what do you find most satisfactory or unsatisfactory about endings?

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SIDEKICKS AND RWA

I blogged today on Sidekicks as Secondary Characters at http://ffnp.blogspot.com/.  Check it out and leave a comment for a chance to enter my drawing for a $7 gift card to TWRP.

Attended RWA conference today: State of the Industry Talk with publisher Lou Aronica, keynote luncheon with Nora Roberts, and two panels today on paranormals and writing in multiple genres.  More details to follow when I’m home.

SCENE STRUCTURE

Ever wonder how a writer constructs a scene? Check out my blog on Scene Structure today over at Savvy Authors: 

http://bit.ly/9dzBIl

Congratulations to the winners of my guest blog/interview Prize Drawings:

The Galaxy Express:  Erica Anderson

SFR Brigade: Mason Canyon aka Pamela Mason

You still have a chance to win a $7 gift certificate to TWRP by commenting on any of my sites in July.

Also watch for my discussion on Diversity versus Intolerance in Science Fiction Romance over at http://www.thegalaxyexpress.net

BAIT AND SWITCH TACTICS

Bait and Switch Tactics are a means to keep your reader on the edge of her seat with gripping fear for your characters’ lives. What you’ll want to do is isolate your characters, then write scenes in each person’s viewpoint with a cliffhanger at the end of each sequence.

Take my main characters in SILVER SERENADE, for example. Silver is an assassin whose assignment is to kill Bluth, the leader of Tyrone’s Marauders. Jace, a hunted criminal, needs the terrorist alive to prove his innocence. Bluth has kidnapped his sister. Jace must learn her location to attempt a rescue, and Silver has promised to help him before she ends Bluth’s tyranny.

In one scene, Silver and Jace confront the terrorist leader in his lair. The purpose of this scene is to deliver important information to propel the action forward. To rachet up the suspense, I’ve isolated these people. Here is how the scene breaks down into several sequences [SPOILER ALERT!]:

1. Jace=s viewpoint. Jace and Silver, in disguise, present themselves as new recruits for Bluth=s terrorist network. They look for their contact, Gruber, at a saloon on the planet Al=ron. While sitting at the bar, Silver shrugs off a roughneck patron who makes a play for her. The fellow insults Jace, who kills him. After this display, their contact approaches and introduces them to the bandit leader. Impressed by Jace’s quick response, Bluth says they passed the first test. He=ll take Silver with him to his headquarters, but Jace must follow them alone in his ship. Jace fears for Silver=s safety. Or worse, will she use this opportunity to assassinate Bluth and leave him behind?

2. Silver=s viewpoint. She is on a firing range at headquarters for Tyrone=s Marauders, being tested for her skills as a sharpshooter. She passes the test. Her supervisor marches her to the detention center where the evil Bluth snatches a captive child from his mother=s arms and demands Silver shoot him. Tempted to aim her laser rifle at Bluth instead, Silver manages to demonstrate her skill in a less lethal manner. During their dialogue, she learns a piece of important information. Bluth leads her away, while she wonders what=s happened to Jace who has failed to show up. Has he been caught?

3. Jace’s viewpoint. Jace’s cover has been blown, and Bluth arrives to torture him in his prison cell. Bluth questions him about his contact, Gruber. Was Gruber duped by Jace, or is he a willing accomplice? Jace turns the interrogation around when he learns where his sister is being held and also gains news on urgent political issues. What chills him more is Bluth’s boast that Silver waits for him in his chamber, unaware the pirate knows her true identity.

4. Silver’s viewpoint: Silver seeks to rescue Jace. In the hallway, she hears approaching footsteps. She opens the nearest unlocked door and slips inside a stranger=s quarters. He turns out to be a financial officer for Bluth. After rendering him unconscious, Silver copies data from his computer. This information may help prove Jace=s innocence and may also help them cut off Bluth’s funding at its source. But this data will only be useful if she can escape the complex. How can she reach the detention center and free Jace?

5. Jace’s viewpoint: Guards arrive to march him from his cell, and he figures he’s marked for execution.

And so on. You get the idea? When I began this scene, I had no idea how it would play out. The sequences developed as I wrote, but each time I was in one character’s head, I left them at a critical juncture. Hopefully this will induce you, the reader, to keep turning pages to see what happens to them next.

In summary, to increase suspense, isolate your main characters and leave each one in jeopardy or fearing for the other’s safety at the end of each sequence. Switch back and forth, until they meet again. This technique has been used successfully in many thrillers, and you can deploy it for your story as well. Hook the reader and reel them in!

ORDER YOUR COPY OF SILVER SERENADE NOW at The Wild Rose Press  Silver Serenade

* Prize drawing from all blog commenters in July!         

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SEQUELS: CHARACTER GRIDS

For the first time in my publishing career, I’m creating a character grid to keep track of my characters. I’m doing this three-quarters of the way through book number two in the series because it’s essential for what comes next.

It wasn’t necessary for my earlier Bad Hair Day mysteries because those stories all featured Marla Shore, hairdresser and amateur sleuth. We, the reader, viewed everything through her eyes.

But the paranormal romance series I’m working on now features warriors from the stars who join forces with a special group of Earth women to prevent a coming cataclysm. Each book involves a different warrior and his destined mate. Book One sets the story into play and creates the world building elements. By Book Two, my characters have scattered and each one has a specific job to accomplish. When all the guys come together at the end of this story, I have to know what each of them has been doing.                                                                  

Have I confused you yet? It’s complicated, especially when you add my two villains into the mix. How are they reacting to the heroes, and what countermeasures are they taking? Figuring out this grid is giving me a headache, even though I have most of these details in my notes.

For those of you who write series with spinoff characters, what methods do you use to keep track of each character’s movements?

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STORY PROCESS

STORY PROCESS

Writers who are plotters know what is supposed to happen going into a scene. At least, we know what we want to happen to our characters when they move from Point A to Point B. How they traverse that distance often comes as a Bookssurprise and may require a leap of faith.

For example, in my latest paranormal WIP, I entered a scene knowing what information my characters had to obtain. It seemed too easy. Were they just going to stroll into the lion’s den, get their scoop, and leave without opposition? Something bad had to happen. Haven’t we been taught to toss our characters into situations that test their mettle? So what could happen to them to throw them offguard?

Jennifer and Paz split up inside a fictional theme park in Hong Kong. Theme Parks are a key element in my paranormal series. What could be creepier than a happy place where everyone seems to be having a good time but something evil ferments below the surface? Both Paz and Jen each have an objective to accomplish. Starting with the heroine, she obtains the information she needs with relative ease. But just as she figures she’s got the goods and can leave, a ride attendant stops her. What ensues developed from the plot and my notes, but I hadn’t seen it coming. It introduces information important to the next books in the series and adds a new layer to the story. This twist was in my head all along. I just needed faith that the scene would carry forth the logic I’d built until now.

Ditto for the hero, who risks going deeper into bad guy territory to get what he needs. As I entered his viewpoint, I wondered how to complicate matters for him. Was Paz just going to jump in, collect his data, and leave so readily? Of course not! Yet I had not foreseen what would happen to him either. Just as it does with Jen, this twist ties in with later events.

I’ve blogged on Story Magic before, but these are perfect examples of how the blank page gets filled in via unexpected ways. It’s the writer’s subconscious at work, mulling over plot details, and these new twists pop up when we’re least expecting them. I thought of the heroine’s situation while driving in the car with my husband at the wheel (See Blog below about The Writer’s Mind). This is the glorious creative time when the story almost writes itself. Compare the plot outline or story synopsis to a skeleton. The creative process fills in the flesh on the bones.

Now if only I can figure out how Paz and Jen will free the dragon trapped in a cave.

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