Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Things were going great then I hit a plot snag. Though the book is fiction, it has to be believable. I sometimes spend 2-5 years researching a book before I write it. Unfortunately, sometimes all that technical info sops my brain and it runs out of RAM, leaving me with spurts of no common sense.

I totally blitzed on a portion of the plot regarding legalities and proper Illinois (the state my story is set in) proceedures for what happens to an unnattended child whose parent is incapacitated after a wreck. I had to go back into the opening scene and insert a DCFS (Department of Children and Family Services) caseworker.

Thankfully, I'd had one in a previous book (who may get her own story some day) so I had her make an appearance. Up to this point, I hadn't introduced many secondary characters, so there was room for her to revisit this story.

So that lengthened the first scene. For some reason my first chapters usually come close to hitting 20 pages. I like to stick to around 15. We'll see if my critique partners can help me shave off a page or two. Anyway, if they can't (because it's already pretty lean) my first chapters are usually highly action-driven which makes them seem to move quick even though they tend to be longer.

After I wrote the caseworker in, I went through and added emotion and depth to the second scene. That part takes a lot of time, and it takes a lot of mental energy. I'm usually drained because I have to really get inside my characters' minds and hearts. I have to explore every angle, and try to put myself in their positions to feel what they'd feel. It's like acting of sorts, only you do it on paper. And sometimes it's hard to have to try and imagine some of that stuff, because it's stuff I'd never want to happen to me or to someone I love. Or it's stuff from a character's past that I feel my reader needs to know in order to help endear the characters to readers.

That's another thing I've done the last couple of days...write in touching moments that will hopefully live in reader's minds. The kind of stuff that brings a tear to eyes. For instance, a movie scene that has had that effect on me is the one from "Raising Helen." If you've never seen it...GO RENT IT NOW. LOL! Watch it immediately. Bring tissues.

Anyway, the scene I'm talking about is when Kate Hudson was in the closet with her just-deceased sister's children closeby. They're smelling her clothes and crying. This is her sister's closet. That scene makes me cry every time I see it. It lives in my mind and heart, especially since I have a sister who I love and can't imagine having to live without. This is the kind of thing you want to try to do with your stories. Write in emotional scenes that most people can identify with. We all love someone. We all grieve. Death or loss has touched every one of us in some manner. Try to write to a universal human need or something that most readers can sympathize with. Some examples I've used in my books are: touching upon the need to belong. The desire to be loved no matter what. Various faith battles. Coping after loss.

I also incorporate light and funny moments that most people can identify with. How many of you get those stupid email messages that say "if you don't send this to a billion people in the next five minutes your eyebrows will explode" or some other equally ridiculous "curse." I absolutely hate those and had my heroine groan over one in a scene in my first book. It's the kind of thing you hope your readers will read and say, "Oh, yes! I hate those things too!" So you've just personified your character, added dimension and realness, and made them a person your reader can identify with.

My particular writing technique is that I see and write the stories by scenes. There is no right or wrong way to write. Everyone is different. Find what works for you. I break the story up in my mind. I rarely know the story from beginning to end. I get it in snippets or scenes. Snippets of dialogue. Flashes of interaction. I see portions of the setting. I usually have a written scene index to go by, but they're usually not in depth..and in fact are usually only 1-3 sentences of scene summary. Then I free write. This keeps me on track plot and word count-wise, and helps me to avoid sagging middles. It also helps me cover all the plot points if I have to write a plot-driven synopsis. I much more prefer character-driven synopses, but I have to make sure in my synopsis that I'm showing my editor the story has a very definitive beginning, middle and end. Once I start a story, I need to have it down (mess draft) in a few days or weeks.

BTW: A sagging middle is when your story just suddenly bogs, and you get stuck. Though I'm mostly a panster as far as plot, I do like to have some kind of a roadmap. My scene index serves that purpose.

For an example of how I do my scene indexes, refer to the Labels in the right side bar of my blog. Click on "Plotstorms" and you should be able to scroll around and find the section where I posted an example of my scene indexes.

In the last couple days' pass, I also changed up my wording a bit in order to foreshadow some things to come, one being a disaster. I also tailored my analogies, metaphors, etc. so they are plot-specific. There is a hurricane later in the book, so I've used words such as, "emotion stormed in her eyes" etc. That's not the precise wording, but you get the drift...pun intended. LOL! My hero is also military, so I've tried to paint word pictures while in his POV that he could identify with. Such as, "her words hit like a mortar shell." Again, not the exact wording I used, but just to give you examples of how your word choices should exemplify the tone, setting, theme and plot of your story.

Another thing I've done is proof and proof and go through my grammar books. I've also done spell check a gazillion times. When I'm satisfied with a computer copy, I print it out and proof it by paper because I am a TERRIBLE proofreader by computer. As you can probably tell by lots of the typos in my blog. I plan to take a couple of days to go through and correct those though because I can't stand the thought of leaving them out there. But for now, I just want to get this down while it's fresh so I can get the story turned in to my editor.

More in a day or so.



1 comment:

Hope Chastain said...

Sounds as though you're doing well, so hang in there and keep up the good work! :-)

BTW, when does the next story starter come out? ;-D