Sunday, January 6, 2008


As your Sunday CRAFTIE lady, I've been talking about pre-planning a book. Brainstorming ideas. Characterization. Subplots. Conflict. Pulling it all together, in a sketchy way, can be tricky! Especially since everything can start to change, once you start working on the story. In one of my earlier books, Operation: Katie, I had no idea, during the planning stages, that my villain would set a fire that would then lead into the climax. Yet--suddenly, it happened. And it worked. There's no sense in being locked into a rigid plan devised before you begin writing your story. And sometimes, especially after the first half of the story, the characters may do and say things that surprise even you, because it comes out of who they are, and because you've done a good job of creating them! How can that be?

Once you create your characters, giving them flaws and strengths and back stories and personalities that are real, they essentially take on a life of their own. It's a strange concept to readers, I imagine, but if the author then tries to make these characters blithely say and do things in opposition to who those characters are (just because its convenient to the author for this to happen) it will ring false. Jarring the readers' expectations in this way is going to pull them out of the story. Yes--your characters can make mistakes. They can be forced by circumstances to do something they don't want to do (great inner conflict!) Your heroine can dissemble, or do something recklessly...even lie, if the reader sees strong motivation behind it. But dropping in language or actions that are totally out of character, and for no good reason, will make her far less real. How many books have you tossed aside after becoming irritated with the main characters for being "too dumb to live" or for coming across like cardboard?

Back to planning out a much do you plan ahead? Do you sit down and just write (seat-of-the-pants), or are you a plotter, who plans everything carefully first? Something in-between? I try to work out a very simple "Plot Spine" that shows me where I think I will end up....and try to list the key, progressive turning points between the beginning and the end. As I mentioned above, things may totally change. can help me see where I'm headed! A simple road map means less chance for time-consuming detours and false turns.

Consider trying this. For the MAIN external plot of your story, figure out five or six progressively worse events leading to the big, climactic action you expect to have at the end of your story. This works whether this is a suspense or a straight romance, or even a light-hearted romp, because "Worsening events" can be anything from humorous/embarrassing situations, to a killer on the prowl. Sketch these ideas onto your plot spine---which can be just a vertical line on the left hand margin of a piece of paper. Be sure things are heating up--that the stakes are getting higher--as you approach the climax. As your story starts to gel, more ideas will start to come, and you can fill in logical scenes along the way. Give it a try! If this is all baffling, I'd be happy to share my "Plot Spine" form with you. You can email me through my website at and just mention this blog when you ask. Best wishes for productive writing! Roxanne

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