Plot: Turning Ideas Into Books
Plotting: Flying Into the Mist
or Adhering to An Outline
So, in beginning my first book,
I started with this germ of an idea for a scene (the boy in danger,
running for his life) and now through my research,
I've come up with the ideal setting. Now all I needed was a plot.
I don't know about you, but for me, story ideas often come in
the form of a single scene--sometimes just a small kernel of
a scene--and then I have to stretch and twist it to see if I
can shape it into a 400 page manuscript.
To do this, I begin with characters
(I'll talk more about them later). Who is the boy? Why is he
in danger, and from whom? What will become of him if he survives
this trauma? What kind of person will he be? You know, I'm talking
about the writer's favorite game: "What if . . . "
Some writers play 20 Questions as they begin brainstorming their
books. I tend to get a brain cramp around Question 12, so I usually
just stare out the window until things start to click. Then I
start scribbling like mad in my Ideas notebook, a three
subject spiral that I divide into Characters, Story,
Something I've started doing
recently is brainstorming a list of potential scenes for a new
story idea as I begin to plot the book. Very often, those scenes
are sexual tension or conflict scenes because in romance, those
are the key scenes to the book. I try to come up with interesting
places to set them (interesting in terms of mood/tone of the
setting, or interesting because I can weave in some of my historical
research at the same time). I don't always use all of my scene
ideas, but sometimes the ones I discard end up springboarding
other ideas I hadn't thought of before.
Very often, additional plot ideas
will develop out of your setting and/or time period. For example,
OF VENGEANCE, I based my revenge plot on the lawlessness
of King Stephen's rule in England. In LADY
OF VALOR, I used the Third Crusade as my vehicle for
widowing my heroine and giving her the power to run her dead
husband's estate. I also incorporated the political strife of
that period, creating a villain with allegiances to Prince John,
and a hero who's sent to help the heroine hold her castle for
the absent (kidnapped and ransomed, actually) King Richard.
LION'S LADY, my August 2001 book, I took the era of the
Third Crusade a bit further, using the political turmoil of the
time and Prince John's misbehaving as the catalyst for my heroine's
troubles. I even gave the prince a cameo appearance in the book,
just for fun.
I had another reason for setting
WHITE LION'S LADY around the time of the Third Crusade.
I wanted to write a sequel, and I wanted to set that sequel in
the Holy Land. Why, you might ask? Because in my research for
LADY OF VALOR, I ran across a fascinating bit of history
that I was dying to use in another book. (This happens often,
which is one of the best parts of writing historical romance--there's
never a shortage of material!)
It so happened that during the
Third Crusade, a radical clan of Muslim warriors gained notoriety
among the European crusaders. They were known as the Assassins,
dagger-wielding masters of disguise who killed on the orders
of their wicked leader. In fact, two assassins, garbed as monks,
murdered the Christian king of Jerusalem, Conrad of Montferrat,
and there were rumors that there had also been a "contract"
on King Richard. What if, I thought in a burst of sheer writerly
excitement, one of those assassins were female? What if she had
orders to kill the English king, and, what if, in her infiltration
of the enemy's camp, she fell in love with the king's right hand
man? That book is soon to be my May 2002 release, BLACK
I used to consider myself a strict
outliner. I plotted out each scene of my first book, working
out an intricate "W" structure for every chapter, and
then I tried to write within those lines. At the time, I thought
it gave me focus, but in retrospect, I think it was a bit confining.
I can recall struggling with scenes that just didn't want to
go according to plan, and I think that strict outline was partly
to blame for the two years it took me to write that first book.
When the time came to write my
second book, I didn't have two years to work on it. I had something
like 9 months (which sounded like two days to me)! I knew I was
going to have to trust myself a bit and let some of the story
"tell itself." So what I ended up doing, and what I
still do now, is draft a brief synopsis that takes the story
from beginning through the black moment and to the end (which
always changes), then, as I write the chapters, I plot out in
longhand in my Ideas notebook, a paragraph summary of the upcoming
three or four chapters based on what I have written so far. A
friend of mine uses chapter headings (one line chapter summaries,
like you find in children's novels) to keep her focused on what
needs to occur in the chapter.
I think it's important to have
some sort of structure on paper before you begin writing your
book, but how much detail to include, and how strictly you adhere
to it, should be based on what works for you.
Now, on to the next topic: Characters