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Category, Single-titles and Plot Structure, Oh, my! by Adrienne Giordano

RU co-founder and multi-published author ADRIENNE GIORDANO [1] tackles a subject sure to make pantsers break into a cold sweat – plot structure for a shorter length novel.

While attending a luncheon last year I had the good fortune to meet a Harlequin Intrigue editor. During lunch, we chatted about my writing and she asked me if I’d ever considered writing an Intrigue. I admitted that I hadn’t because, well, the shorter length (55-60,000 words) scared the daylights out of me. At the time, it took a small miracle for me to bring in a first draft under 90,000 words.

After the luncheon, I was curious if I could handle writing a shorter book and decided to try it.

I began plotting a 55-60,000 word book and kept my fingers crossed that the word hog in me wouldn’t take over. While brainstorming ideas, I realized my obsession with plot structure could help me. While plotting, I like to follow the three-act structure used by screenwriters.

Three-act structure contains three different sections of a story linked by milestones. Act one contains the set-up (character introductions, conflict, etc.) information. At around the twenty-five percent mark of the story there will be a turning point (also known as a plot point) that will spin your story in a new direction. This turning point catapults your story into act two.

In the middle of act two there will be another turning point. This is the mid-point of the story where your character is completely entrenched in his journey and can’t turn back. At about the seventy-five percent mark another turning point will send the story into act three. This turning point will be a major set-back known as the black moment. Here your characters will think all is lost and they will have to fight their way back so they can destroy the antagonist. Click here [2] to see a chart of what three-act structure looks like.

I’m about to make the pantsers out there cringe, but stay with me pantsers! I’m a plotter so I usually know when I start writing what event will represent my first plot point. I also know that my first plot point needs to happen somewhere between the 22,000 and 25,000 word mark (I divide single-title length of approximately 90,000- 100,000 words by four and it gives me my 25% mark). I then keep track of exactly where I am with my word count as I’m writing. If I hit 25,000 words and my first plot point isn’t close to happening, I know the word hog has taken over and my pacing is probably dragging. I then go back and see where I can trim.

My Intrigue was a tricky devil due to its shorter length. With single-titles, I’m used to my first plot point happening somewhere around 22,000 words. With Intrigues my first plot point needs to be around the 14,000 word mark. That’s a big change!

The Intrigues also require me to have minimal secondary characters. If you’ve read my single-titles, you know I love a lot of secondary characters. My next step in writing my Intrigue was to kill any unnecessary secondary characters. Make no mistake, it was difficult, but I forced myself to stay focused on the hero and heroine.

Sub-plots were the next thing to get booted. Zac’s pain-in-the-neck sister needed a love life? Forget it. She could be the heroine in another book. I didn’t have room to explore her needs in Zac’s book.

If I’m making this sound easy, it wasn’t. My inclination was to explore, explore, explore, but writing a category book taught me how to control my plot with surgical precision.

Using three-act structure, I was able to focus on the following two things:

1.) Make Zac and Emma fall in love

2.) Solve the crime.

Before starting each scene I would analyze whether or not the scene I intended to write performed the above tasks. If I had any doubt, I reworked the scene.

I also became even more obsessed with my word count. My plotting partners will find that hard to believe but it’s true. As I hit each plot point in the story, I determined how many scenes I needed to write until I hit my next plot point and calculated my word count accordingly. If my first plot point happened at the 14,000 word mark, it meant my mid-point should happen right around 28,000 words.

I completed the book using this system, and I’m proud to say the first draft of The Prosecutor, a book that had a 55,000-60,000 word count limit, came in at just over 58,000 words.

So, yes, it was worth it.

Prosecutor_Cover_Front [3]
Amazon [4]
Barnes & Noble [5]


RU Crew, have you ever tried a plotting method similar to this?

On Wednesday AND Thursday, author Jade Lee brings us a 2-part feature on imagery and characterization.



adrienne-251x300 [6]

USA Today bestselling author Adrienne Giordano writes romantic suspense and mystery. She is a Jersey girl at heart, but now lives in the Midwest with her workaholic husband, sports obsessed son and Buddy the Wheaten Terrorist (Terrier). She is a co-founder of Romance University blog and Lady Jane’s Salon-Naperville, a reading series dedicated to romantic fiction. For more information on Adrienne’s books, please visit www.AdrienneGiordano.com. Adrienne can also be found on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/AdrienneGiordanoAuthor and Twitter at http://twitter.com/AdriennGiordano. For information on Adrienne’s street team, Dangerous Darlings, go to http://www.facebook.com/groups/dangerousdarlings.

MistyEvans_StealingJustice_HR [7]

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21 Comments (Open | Close)

21 Comments To "Category, Single-titles and Plot Structure, Oh, my! by Adrienne Giordano"

#1 Comment By Kelsey Browning On February 24, 2014 @ 6:44 am

A –

We love you for your plotting brain and eye on pacing. Don’t know what I’d do without you!


#2 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 24, 2014 @ 7:38 am

Kels, you know how I love my plot structure!

#3 Comment By Linda F On February 24, 2014 @ 7:23 am

Adrienne, this is a great post, and very timely for me, as I’m a pantser (see, you didn’t scare me off!) trying to keep the word count on my WIP under control. I will print this out and keep it within arm’s reach as I write.

By the way, just as an FYI in the sixth paragraph (if you count the intro), you say, “Click here to see a chart of what three-act structure looks like,” but there’s no clickable link anywhere in the sentence that I can find…?

#4 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 24, 2014 @ 7:38 am

Hi, Linda. I’m glad it helped.

Sorry about the link. It’s all fixed now. Thank you for the heads-up!

#5 Comment By Becke Martin Davis On February 24, 2014 @ 6:33 pm

My fault – I didn’t notice that the link didn’t go through. Sorry about that!

#6 Comment By Mary Jo Burke On February 24, 2014 @ 8:16 am

Hi Adrienne,

Congrats on all your success! I’m a panster, but I’m open to plotting.

#7 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 24, 2014 @ 10:34 am

Hi, Mary Jo. As much as I love plotting, I do allow myself to be a pantser at times. I just don’t know if I could do an entire book that way. The book would be 300,000 words. LOL.

#8 Comment By Carrie Spencer On February 24, 2014 @ 8:24 am

morning A!

I am just the opposite..lol. I write short! When I do nano, I struggle to get to 50K.

When your first draft came in at 58K, did you gain or lose a lot when revising? Or did it stay close to that?

Great seeing you here again! =)


#9 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 24, 2014 @ 10:33 am

Ooh, this is an awesome question. I just went and checked my final draft to see what the word count was.

When I handed in the book it was 58,386. My final draft is 58,662. So, I picked up a few words.

I’m happy to say the overall scene placement didn’t change much during revisions. It was more of fiddling with characterization.

#10 Comment By Joya Fields On February 24, 2014 @ 10:08 am

Great post, Adrienne! Plot is a four-letter word, but your technique seems pretty painless. I LOVE how you decided before each scene whether or not it achieved your two goals. Simplifies the whole “plot” thing. LOL. (*Waving hi to you, remembering our fun WPA building search, too!)

#11 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 24, 2014 @ 10:38 am

Hi, Joya! Thanks for stopping by. It was very painless considering how terrified I was about the shorter book length.

I actually wrote the two goals down and kept them taped to my monitor so I didn’t stray into subplots. 🙂

Kelsey and I are all signed up for WPA again. Such an amazing experience! I hope to see you there again.

#12 Comment By Donna Cummings On February 24, 2014 @ 10:54 am

This was really great info! I find shorter works harder too, because I started out writing longer ones, and I’m a pantser. But I can see how this will be beneficial when I do another shorter work (even though I swore “never again!” after the last one. LOL)

#13 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 24, 2014 @ 11:23 am

Hi, Donna. Shorter works are hard! It was a huge challenge for me, but I find I enjoy doing shorter ones in between my longer books.

It’s sort of the best of both worlds. 🙂

#14 Comment By Sherry Marshall On February 24, 2014 @ 4:36 pm

Wow, I have alot to learn! Here’s another perspective. I never plot and plan my books or think about word length. They just write themselves! Then I find an excellent editor after I have edited my book at least 5 times myself.
With my first book previously published by Simon and Schuster (how lucky as an unknown author) and now writing my next book, I am realising that there are ‘rules for writing’!
What I am trying to follow is to write when my book ‘calls’ me to write which is everyday! Also to let the characters just be themselves! The only time I got stuck writing was when I thought about what I was writing! I hope I am not the only person who writes like this?
My greatest learning now is how to ‘market’ my book which has just become an E book! That’s a challenge and seems to take up huge amounts of time. My eyes glaze over half way through the articles of how to market!
Thank you for your great blog.

#15 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 25, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

Hi, Sherry. I think it’s safe to say you are not the only one who writes like that. 🙂 I know many writers who don’t outline. We all have our own process and have to do what works for us.

I hear you about the marketing end. There’s always something new to learn.

Thanks for stopping by!

#16 Comment By Becke Martin Davis On February 24, 2014 @ 6:35 pm

I’m a pantser, which means I spend a LOT of time rewriting, revising and then doing it all over again. I’ve tried plotting with anchor scenes, which helps, but this sounds like a possibility, too. Thanks so much for this VERY helpful post!

I’m looking forward to reading your new book, too!

#17 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 25, 2014 @ 12:13 pm

Hi, Becky. I love using three-act structure because it works before, during and after the writing process. Even if you’re a pantser, once you have the book finished, you can go back and analyze the structure to see where your major turning points fall.

#18 Comment By jackielayton On February 24, 2014 @ 6:55 pm

First, I love your haircut.

Second, thanks for this post. I’ve been trying to figure out how to cut 30,000 words to fit LIS. This definitely helped. Thanks again!

#19 Comment By AdrienneGiordano On February 25, 2014 @ 12:14 pm

Thank you, Jackie! I’m a short hair girl. It’s fast and easy. 🙂

Good luck on the cutting! I once wrote a book that was 135,000 words and an editor told me it needed to be 90,000. LOL. That’s when I discovered three-act structure. 🙂

#20 Comment By Michael M Dickson On February 28, 2014 @ 6:00 am

I’m releasing a video this Sunday on this exact topic.

I take a little harder line with the pantser then you do in an effort to show that really both sides – outliners and pantsers – plan just as much as the other. We (outliners) just happen to do it all up front.

I for one create comprehensive outlines that are dozens of pages long for my manuscripts and nearly a dozen pages for a 5000 word short story.

I don’t feel any less restricted or less creative because of this process at all.( the pantsers main argument against outlining)

In fact, I can test subplots all day long and not waste weeks or months having to worry about word choice or chapters or scenes.

Sorry pantsers. I’m an outliner. 🙂

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