There are no shortcuts from the first page to The End, and if you’ve written yourself into a corner more than once, you may want to heed the advice of today’s guest, author Robin Gianna.
I like this quote from the amazing and prolific Ray Bradbury – “Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations…It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It can only be dynamic.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing Mr. Bradbury was a ‘panster.’ 🙂 You probably know many writers are plotters, others write by the seat of their pants, and still others are a mix of both. I’ve tried thorough plotting, and found it torturous. I’ve also tried a complete seat-of-the-pants approach, but find I get too lost somewhere along the line. So I’ve settled on a method where I learn who my characters are, their goals in the story, and most importantly, WHY they want to achieve those goals. Then I come up with turning points to hit along the way that interfere with that goal, and are organic, not contrived.
Over the years of learning the craft (and goodness knows I’m still learning!) I’ve taken several online classes and attended workshops that were based on this plotting concept. Laurie Schnebly Campbell calls her classes Plotting Via Motivation. I also use worksheets by author and writing coach Alicia Rasley that are based on this, and love screenwriting coach Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure. Because I’m a visual person, I take what I’ve figured out regarding turning points, and apply it all to the W plot line (which you can find described online by any number of people) to glance at as I’m writing.
In a nutshell, at the beginning of a story, I ask questions about my characters:
Who are they?
What are their strengths and weaknesses?
How will those come into play in the story?
What is their external goal during the story, and why do they want to achieve it? What motivates them? Is it recognition, or money, or self-respect? Roots? Escape? Children? There are dozens of possible motivations. What is the wound that makes them want this? How are they going to grow and change from the beginning to the end?
Next, how is the story going to open, and why? How is the external situation going to affect the character’s story goal – does it help it, or hurt it? Usually, it throws a monkey wrench into the mix.
So, as the character is slammed by the new external situation near the beginning, what is the character going to do to deal with it, and still achieve his/her goal? That’s what we’ll be seeing until about the one quarter mark in the story. At that time, there should be a turning point, which is usually another external event that complicates things further for your poor characters. Here, you’ll have to ask what your characters are going to do to deal with this new situation, and this should be based on who he or she is, and what they would do that might be different than what someone else would do.
List two more obstacles the character is going to have to deal with in the story, and make one of them an internal obstacle that she has to confront and wrestle with in order to deal with the external problems.
The halfway point is often described as ‘the point of no return.’ Here, so much has happened that it will be impossible for the character to go back to who he or she was at the beginning of the book, but they don’t realize that yet. They’re still struggling to hold on to their goals. Here, in the middle, there can be a brief resting period, where problems seem to be resolving and things are looking better. Or, it can be a time when something even worse happens, which pushes the characters closer. Either way, this is often the point where characters make love—they haven’t solved their problems, and don’t yet understand how they need to change, but can’t fight against their attraction any longer. Lovemaking here should complicate things internally for the characters. They may find that they want two opposing things at the same time here, which is good for ratcheting up the internal conflict.
Then, three quarters of the way through the story, something really bad happens – the black moment. I’ve found out the hard way (as in, having to rewrite endings!) that in a romance, the black moment MUST come from the character’s deeply-rooted internal conflict, even if there is an external event that triggers it. All looks to be lost. Here is where your characters push through their internal barriers to become the new people they were meant to be. They put aside the goals which seemed so all-important at the beginning, because that’s not who they are any more. This revelation and internal change leads to the wonderful happily-ever-after that romance readers want.
I hope you find this helpful, and I recommend looking up one or all of the writing coaches I mention at the beginning of the post to study this further. Happy plotting!
What plotting method works best for you?
Her Christmas Baby Bump – Midwives On-Call at Christmas
Harlequin Medical Romances – November 2015
One Christmas night with consequences!
Talented midwife Hope Sanders’s dream of holding a baby of her own is finally coming true! She’s just weeks away from beginning her fertility treatment—and then meeting gorgeous hotshot fertility doc Aaron Cartwright throws a holly sprig in her plans…
Aaron’s mistletoe kisses might be dazzling, but after they spend one magical Christmas night together, Hope never expects to end up pregnant! Now she’s faced with telling Aaron her surprise baby news…but has she finally found the man of her dreams, too?
Bio: After completing a degree in journalism, working in the advertising industry, then becoming a stay-at-home mom, Robin Gianna had what she likes to call her ‘awakening’. She decided she wanted to write the romance novels she’d loved since her teens. Robin embarked on that quest by joining RWA and a local chapter, and working hard at learning the craft of fiction writing.
Robin loves pushing her characters toward their own happily-ever-afters! When she’s not writing, Robin’s life is filled with a happily messy kitchen, a needy garden, a wonderful husband, three great kids, a drooling bulldog and one grouchy Siamese cat.
- It’s All About Your Characters with Robin Gianna
- The Secret Driver by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- Revision Techniques That Make Your Manuscript Shine with Robin Gianna
- The External Story vs. The Internal Story with Lori Wilde
- Before You Climax by Chris Eboch