Saturday, September 01, 2007


I'm getting ready to turn in another proposal to my editor. Before I do, I thought I'd throw together my plotstorm for this book. For those of you unfamiliar with my plotstorms, when I say plot, I'm also talking characters because characters drive the plot in my stories.

So Ben-li is one of the U.S.A.F Pararescue Jumpers (PJ) in the series I'm currently working on. Steeple Hill publishers have bought two of the books so far. They'll release in Jan 2008 (A Soldier's Promise) and March 2008 (A Soldier's Family).

To start Ben-s story, I knew these things about him: He's part Asian, and part Caucasian. He's unusually tall for an Asian man. He's marriage-minded. Wants to find someone who shares his newfound Christian faith. He is musical. Likes to play various instruments but mostly the guitar.

So he's a well-rounded kind of guy. A Special Forces soldier, highly educated. I'm the kind of author who loves to turn stereotypes on their heads, so in deepening Ben's character, I didn't want to give him traits most people think of when they think of Asians. He's not the martial arts expert of the team, but the communications expert. One quirk Ben has is he hates chinese food. He eats it so he doesn't hurt his mother and grandmother's feelings. So though he's a tough as mortar warrior, he's also sensitive and thinks of others. Yet he's not wimpy. He's funny and speaks clearly in an American accent. He doesn't drive a sports car, he drives a sensible, economical car...just like him. He's sensible and manages his money wisely. My readers may never know some of this stuff about Ben, but I do. It helps me to know how he would react in any given situation.

Moving onward, Ben's story goal is to move his adult brother (who has Down Syndrome) to Refuge (the fictional town of my story setting) and to find someone to either take care of him, or find a home that his brother would thrive in because he cannot live alone, and Ben gets deployed on a moment's notice. Ben's never really had a relationship with his brother and longs for that. He also longs to honor his parents by enabling them to pursue the world travel they've always dreamed of. His brother doesn't travel well, so Ben taking over primary care of his brother is a win-win situation for everyone.

In comes the heroine. Ben met her by chance in the opening. She was passing through Refuge en route to a friend's house, who'd offered her a job and a place to live. She is a single mom who has a fender bender with a mall light pole. She has to remain in town to get her car fixed. She's financially strapped and unexpected expenses keep cropping up to deter her plans. You want to constantly toss roadblocks in your characters' paths to challenge their goals.

One of the first things I did in the plotstorm was get to know my characters by the use of character charts. Another thing I do immediately is figure out characters' goal, motivations, conflicts, spiritual struggles and relationship conflict. Meaning what is the main thing keeping the hero and heroine apart? There can be more than one thing. It can be an internal reason (heroine hurt in the past and gunshy of relationships-liek my heroine), or it can be an external reason: (hero's job phsically takes him away from the heroine...such as in my first book.)

One thing I determine in the beginning is what can I incorporate into the plot that forces the hero and heroine to remain together, though their goals try to pull them apart. In this case, her car breaking down keeps her in town initially. Ben helps her and she feels indebted to him. Then other things crop up to keep her in town for summer, and so forth. She gets a summer job in Refuge to be able to catch up some before starting school on scholarship in another state.

All of these things are tentative. They may change when I turn this in to my editor. If she likes the story and wants to buy it, there will probably be revisions, which makes everything here tentative. It's always good to have plan B or C, etc for your stories in case one aspect of your plot doesn't work.

I find out why my characters want this goal. This is called motivation. You can get Debra Dixon's book called GMC....and she explains all of this in depth. It's a great way to formulate story structure and make sure you know your characters somewhat before you begin.

So we know the characters' story goals and motivation. Then I figure out who is least and most resistant to the relationship and why. This usually stems from something that happened to them in their past, or a way they were raised, or some defining moment in their life which caused the resistance.

I then figure out their spiritual struggle. One or both of the characters can have a spiritual arc, meaning their faith struggle. In this case, my heroine never feels like she measures up to God's standard to her. She's always working to better herself. She struggles with self-condemnation. That's her arc in the book. I have a goal epiphany for each character usually, but especially for the character who struggles most in their faith. In this case, it's the heroine. Her epiphany is that she must come to realize that no matter how many times she fails, God will never see her as a failure. That she can't do anything to make God love her any less.

Okay so moving on...

We have GMC, etc. Now, I figure out the opening scene, which usually consists of a defining moment in character's life, or a disaster or some life change, etc. I decide whose point of view I'm going to start the book in. In this case, it's the heroine.

I then decide my setting, meaning what time of year is it and where is the story set? I already knew the setting would be Refuge before, since readers like to revisit towns from previous stories in a series. So at this point, I am planning to set the story in the same town as the first two books.

Then I go through and think of as many things as I can to add tension to the book. How can I up the stakes constantly for the characters? What hurdles can I fling at them, and what obstables can I toss in their paths to make them work harder for their goals, and cause the reader to wonder how this is all going to turn out all right in the end. Some ways to do this is imagine your worst fear and write about it. That puts quite a bit of authentic emotion in the story. Or, I've heard of authors putting their characters in a situation they dread most, or that they'd never willingly enter into themselves, and see how they react. Make them do things they think they'd never do, or never could do.

So for now, I have polished the two opening scenes. I had scene two as chapter two originally, but I cut it down by 6-7 pages because I wanted the heroine and hero interacting sooner. In category romance, it's pretty important that your hero and heroing meet within the first chap and even better if it's in the first few pages.

Since I tend to lean toward writing action-driven stories...I struggle with that and usually have to do some major hacking of plot and pages to get them together sooner.

So that's what I'm working on now. Or did a few days ago. Then I've let the story gel for several I can see it with fresh eyes. It's amazine how much stuff you pick out, mistake wise and plotholes, etc. when you set it aside for a time so your mind has a chance to forget most of what you wrote.

This is also why I send it to my critters (critique partners). They always find stuff I miss. I highly recommend if you're serious about learning fiction, to find a good writing group such as ACFW or FHL or RWA. Pray for God to send you critique partners. And if you're able, spring for a conference. Networking is invaluable. Contests are great for feedback, but if contests help you move a few inches in your writing journey, conferences will move you miles. It's that kind of difference face to face networking makes.

Okay, off to tear into chapter three.

More plotstorm another day.


1 comment:

Patricia W. said...

Very helpful as I continue working on my first full manuscript and my process continues to evolve, not to mention great for piquing interest. Thanks for sharing, Cheryl.