Posted On August 26, 2016 by Print This Post

Three Parts, One Wish by Laurie Schnebly Campbell

Yay! Laurie Schnebly Campbell is with us at Romance University! I came “THIS CLOSE” to meeting Laurie this summer, which would have completely made my day. If you’ve never taken one of Laurie’s classes, sign up ASAP, you’ll be amazed at everything you’ll learn!

A braid needs three parts, right? And when you think about the three items you need for your book, probably the first two that come to mind are character and plot.

Which are certainly the most essential, because even if that was ALL you had while writing a book, those would pretty well fill the requirements for an intriguing, enjoyable story.

15898-illustration-of-an-arcade-styled-rainbow-striped-ghost-pv         Of course, there are other elements that’ll make it even more appealing. Your voice, for instance. The setting you portray. The way your people talk. Not to mention the tension, the humor, the emotional drama and all those other things that put the color in your story.

How come none of those are as big a deal as plot and character when you think about the three elements of your braid?

Well, it could be because our stories fall into so many different categories.

Sure, the plot helps make them different, but it’s not the only thing.

And the characters help make them different, but they’re not the only thing either.

No, what really makes each book unique is how the story unfolds when the characters and the plot come together.


We might define that as style.


15896-illustration-of-an-arcade-styled-princess-ghost-pv     Let’s say you have a story where the heroine — let’s call her Princess Pearl — is up against ninja assassins. That’s going to be a whole different story than one where Pearl is up against the discovery that her prom date’s has fallen in love with her best friend.

And that’ll be a whole different story than one where the ninja assassins are up against James Bond, or where James’ latest girlfriend is falling for Q or M instead.

17137-illustration-of-a-ninja-pv  You see how that works? The style, whether the story involves ninjas or a prom date, take an enormous shift when you envision it involving Princess Pearl or 007.

(Or, hmm, maybe both at once!)

Sure, those are pretty simplistic setups, but even so there’s a major difference in how each of the four stories will progress. And that’s because of the style. Which is…


Your third strand.


Maybe the story deals with your heroine’s princess party.

Or maybe she’s training to become a ninja assassin.

15900-illustration-of-an-arcade-styled-chef-ghost-pv       Maybe the trainer is a wanna-be chef.

Maybe an evil wizard tricks him into poisoning the broth.

Maybe she’s a a detective determined to solve the case.

Maybe she’s a pharmacist seeking an antidote for the poisoned broth.

Maybe she’s taking the weekend off for some BDSM fun.


You see how each one of those situations turns your story into something completely different?

They all feature a character who could star in any of those other plot ideas just as well, but the result would be a whole other style of book.

The style — or we could call it the genre — is a big deal. In fact, it might even be the biggest item of the three in your story’s braid.


Once you’ve got your three, what next?


It makes an enormous difference -when- you get each one — all together, or scattered throughout the process.



Some writers have a very clear idea of their style, characters and plot from the very beginning. (“My story features a detective tracking the broth poisoner but falling in love with the wizard’s daughter.”)

Some know their genre (“I’m gonna write about a princess party”) and then create a plot and characters who’ll work within it.

And others begin with a plot (“Suppose a pharmacist discovered a BDSM club but was being blackmailed to keep it a secret”) or a character (“What would make a ninja trainer dream of becoming a chef?”) with no idea what style the story will fit into until they’re actually writing it.

All three ways have worked for millions of authors.

The only trouble arises when the three parts of the braid don’t quite fit together.


15890-illustration-of-an-arcade-styled-devil-ghost-pvPrize-drawing question: What then?


If your braid isn’t as smooth as you’d like, which aspect do you look at first? Character, genre, or plot?

Sure, we almost all look at each one…but we usually have an area we think of as our strongest base. So if you have one of those three, please share it. Because your observation might be exactly the cure some other writer will need!



And if 25 people post observations, someone will win free registration to next month’s class on Your Plot-Character-Story Braid at (If you’re one of those who’s already registered, you’re still eligible because you’ll get a refund AND the class.)

Laurie, who always loves seeing what people turn to first in a braid — or, well, let’s call it a book — and will be back first thing tomorrow with a prize-drawing winner


Oh don’t forget to tune in next week, it’s going to be a great one!


LaurieSchneblyBio: Laurie Schnebly Campbell always loves analyzing what makes a book work, so she’s  looking forward to starting a four-week class on “Your Plot-Character-Story Braid” at’s on September 5. Although she enjoyed braiding her own romances, including one that beat out Nora Roberts for “Best Special Edition of the Year,” she enjoys teaching even more. That’s why she now has 17 novels on her bookshelf with acknowledgments from authors inspired by her classes.


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69 Responses to “Three Parts, One Wish by Laurie Schnebly Campbell”

  1. Thank you for another great article, Laurie. Will add your observations to our toolbox. As for your question, if something doesn’t feel right, I tend to review the plot points and check each beat for the right scene.
    Looking forward to more of your insightful posts. 🙂

    Posted by Chris Almeida | August 26, 2016, 12:47 am
    • Chris, it makes sense that your first instinct is reviewing the plot points — you have such wonderfully well-plotted books that the braid always seems tightly woven! And with all those strands woven together, that makes it all the more impressive.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 8:17 am
      • The more I think about it, the more I see the style/genre of the stories we’ve written. The question is how to change that when the story you are writing needs it. Would that be why some are successful writing in one genre but not the other? I am so used to the Suspense and Mystery tone of my writing that I find it hard to write anything lighter and in the end, even straight Contemporary sounds like mystery. Lots to think about….

        Posted by Chris Almeida | August 26, 2016, 11:42 am
        • I’m always amazed by authors who switch genres and do it well — either because they got tired of their old one, or because the market no longer wanted that kind of story. What’s lucky for you is that mystery/suspense NEVER gets old, so as long as you’re enjoying it there isn’t any need to switch.

          Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 12:01 pm
  2. Hmm…thought-provoking article, Laurie. I never thought about my stories in three interwoven strands like that, but it makes total sense. In my case, when something isn’t working I always look at plot first, since that’s my weakness. And after reading your article, I’d look at genre second, because this: “And others begin with a plot or character with no idea what style the story will fit into until they’re actually writing it” sounds suspiciously Linda-ish. 🙂

    Posted by Linda Fletcher | August 26, 2016, 7:30 am
    • Linda, it’s totally okay to start writing without a particular genre in mind — as long as you pick one while you’re telling the story. The only danger is finishing the book without knowing its genre, because then it’s hard to identify who’s going to enjoy it…aside from diehard fans, who we can all be grateful will love anything we write!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 8:20 am
    • Roz, I like your analysis of how character / plot / voice would all make the same-set story different from various authors…that’s SO true! And I’m looking forward to heading over to your Heartwarming blog going live today, because those are always a treat as well. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 8:25 am
  3. Laurie, You are always so spot on with writing advice or observations. character, plot, voice are probably areas I see that would really make a story resonate and be different if several people were given the same setting. Great post.

    Posted by Roz Fox | August 26, 2016, 7:55 am
  4. Laurie, another insightful post, as always. Each time I read you, I think I get a bit smarter about this fiction-writing job I’m in!

    I may be different from some here because I write in so many different genres, thus, for me, the focus changes tale to tale. When writing culinary mysteries, I really focus on examination of what makes a mystery a mystery. Did I sprinkle in the right clues at the right time? What clues will move the story forward? How can I help readers think along with the story to solve alongside me? If my writing group figures it out on page three, something isn’t working!

    But with women’s fiction or romance, I focus on my characters if I am struggling. How relatable are they? Which foibles and strengths am I using to make them believable? Where is the disconnect?

    If I am struggling with a story, it is not typically plot since I do such massive pre-planning. It usually is genre expectations or characters.

    Posted by Sharon Moore | August 26, 2016, 8:35 am
  5. As always, you’ve provoked my thoughts. 🙂

    I was thinking that when my braid isn’t smooth, it’s usually a problem with the characters–and that’s usually motivation. And then I thought that style is rarely a problem for me, because I always know the style I’m writing…except my most frequent reason for getting rejected is that they don’t know how to place my books on their list because my genres are too blended. LOL So that IS a problem! It’s perfectly clear to me, but not to anyone else!

    Posted by Natalie J. Damschroder | August 26, 2016, 9:02 am
  6. When things go wrong in my story, I tend to look at character first. Most of the time the trouble is that the character isn’t acting according to their motivation, or they’re lacking motivation to begin with. When the character becomes my “puppet,” the story can stop, and it has on occasion (okay, many occasions!). Once I fix the character, I find the story will flow once again.

    Posted by Stacy McKitrick | August 26, 2016, 9:13 am
  7. I would look at the plot. I sometimes get very tangled up in my braid. Yeah. Though I never knew of that term for it. Laurie, as always, you are thought provoking and you inspire me.

    Posted by Lynn Morgan | August 26, 2016, 9:24 am
  8. Lynn, I like your image of a tangled braid…that’s SO true. And I suspect plot is the easiest strand to get tangled up in, except for those gifted plotters who envision everything straight through — although, in the interests of cosmic justice, they probably get tangled up in character or genre instead. 🙂

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 9:45 am
  9. I think because I generally start with character, I tend to fall back on character first when things aren’t flowing smoothly. As a serious pantser, I tend to let my characters tell me where they need to go, for better or worse, and if they get stuck, my first thought is I don’t know them well enough. The second strand I tug is plot. Perhaps I’ve forgotten something important in the setup. Maybe Hope is an unhappy puppy doctor, but before Duncan can help her solve her problems she needs a secondary hobby, baking, to give him an idea. I’ve got them figured out. The two of them are serious vs light-hearted, unsatisfied vs content, and introverted ve extroverted in a good opposites attract way already, so I look to plot. Cookies!
    Thinking out loud while typing, Cheryl.

    Posted by Cheryl | August 26, 2016, 9:50 am
    • Cheryl, it’s such fun watching your stream of consciousness — I hope you’ll put that on your website when the book comes out, because it’ll be a treat for readers to see how Duncan and Hope evolved. I remember reading something along those lines by Sue Grafton once, and it’s always a kick watching an author at work!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 10:11 am
  10. This was a very interesting post. If I’m having a problem, I usually look at plot first. Something about the order of events is usually off. Starting stories in the wrong place is a real thing It’s taken me a long time to figure that out.

    Posted by Lucinda Preston | August 26, 2016, 10:14 am
  11. Interesting concept. For me, I think I’d look at my genre first, then character and finally plot. My genres are usually the least of my concerns. But my characters have to fit the genre. But my character has to fit the genre. I can’t have a medieval witch running around in a spaceship (unless she’s with Dr. Who). The genre suggests a certain mindset that has to fit the character and plot. So… Genre first for me. Thanks for an intriguing article.


    Posted by Vicky Burkholder | August 26, 2016, 10:31 am
  12. Laurie, I like the braid example. I am a visual person and it gives me a new incite into how to examine my work. I know my genre, voice and setting. My characters are my weak point. It is often hard to detect that until after I have written several chapters. It is more difficult in my genre- Christian inspirationals- since certain things are taboo.

    Enjoyed your information.

    Joyce Myers

    Posted by Joyce Myers | August 26, 2016, 10:37 am
    • Joyce, I’m always envious of visual people because description seems to come effortlessly to writers like you. And you’re right about how the genre can sometimes make things tricky…there are advantages and disadvantages to knowing exactly what readers (or at least their publishers) expect!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 11:35 am
  13. On my current story, I have the setting and main characters fairly firmly in my head. As a result, the plot is the thing I keep tweaking.

    That isn’t always the way this works for me, or at least it didn’t use to be. Sometimes I have a particular scene or image, and the story is largely a matter of building towards that. But in that case, it feels less like plotting and more like problem-solving: what character(s) and what setup do I need to get there?

    Posted by Michael Mock | August 26, 2016, 10:47 am
    • Michael, I’m impressed by your versatility in being able to build stories so many different ways. This time the plot is the tricky part, other times it’s been the characters or setup…I’d be willing to bet that you NEVER get bored with the writing process. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 11:39 am
  14. When something isn’t right I always evaluate my character arc. Usually something needs to be tweaked there. I’m looking forward to taking your class.

    Posted by Haley Whitehall | August 26, 2016, 10:55 am
  15. This blog post seems to have come along at a fortuitous time. I have characters and a basic plot and like another commenter above mentioned I’m weakest with plot elements. I’ve actually strengthen the plot but now the genre could go either way depending how the main characters interact. Is it strait adventure/fantasy with romantic elements? Is it romantic suspense in a fantasy sub-genre?
    Very interesting. Thank you for the post.

    Posted by Karen | August 26, 2016, 11:07 am
    • Karen, I’m so glad the timing was helpful — don’t you love it when things work out that way? And it’ll be interesting to see how you determine your genre, whether it’s by deciding “this is the kind of book I want to write” or seeing how it all shakes out after the fact. Hmm, suspense!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 11:42 am
  16. Wow…that coalesces a lot of information into a very cogent lesson. I’m all about the main thread of couple moves west and faces challenges, but I’m really weak on secondary threads.

    And I have a question: plot and story seems sort of the same to me. I was feeling all smart about having a plot-description-dialogue braid, but now I don’t know where story should go…a French braid?

    Posted by Lisa Heidinger | August 26, 2016, 11:43 am
    • Lisa, a story sure CAN be all plot (or mostly plot) if there isn’t much about the characters’ internal development OR whatever makes readers love that genre: historical detail, fantasy worlds, mystery clues, inspirational realizations, romantic relationships, whatever. And description & dialogue are good things for ANY book, so you can’t go wrong with having those in yours. (Whew.)

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 11:52 am
  17. Hi Laurie,
    Another thought-provoking lesson!
    Can I break the braid up into strands? 🙂
    Seriously, I think of my plot first when starting a story, and then the characters and genre fold into place as the story threads together.
    I always learn great stuff from you, need to take another class soon 🙂

    Posted by Jacquie Biggar | August 26, 2016, 12:13 pm
    • Jacquie, you absolutely CAN break the braid up into strands — heck, without strands you wouldn’t ever have a braid. And different people use different things in each strand, like one of those hairstyles that takes forever to arrange but looks really cool when it’s all put together…which could very well be yours!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 12:19 pm
  18. Hey Laurie,

    I’m signed up for your September 5-30th Plot-Character-Story Braid Class. Having taken your braiding class before, I’m psyched.

    First of all, true confessions, I’m a reformed panster because of your Plotting by Motivation and From Plot to Finish classes. They’re the right mix of planning and pansting for me.

    By the time I get to your braiding class, my character-motivated plot has already dictated the genre. I KNOW what the outside forces are pushing against my characters and plot. If anything I use braiding to keep up the pace of the story. With your braiding techniques I feel like I never have a saggy middle.

    Because of all this pre-work, any problems I encounter are usually caught and fixed early on.

    So when you ask, “If your braid isn’t as smooth as you’d like, which aspect do you look at first? Character, genre, or plot?” I’m sorry I have to say if I’ve done my homework and followed the techniques you’ve given me then there’s only one thing left…

    The heart of my story. What does this story mean to me? I can often get wrapped up in a story only to realize I’ve lost the heart of it. Braiding helps with that too. It’s the final step in looking at everything to make sure it’s all working together to a single purpose.

    Posted by Sheryl Kaleo | August 26, 2016, 1:00 pm
    • Sheryl, looking at Heart is every bit as useful as looking at character, genre, plot and any of the other elements that make a story WORK. Although now I’ve got visions of the heart beating inside a skeleton which is what we developed in PVM, and that whole image is just getting entirely too yicky…ulp.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 1:27 pm
  19. I’ve always enjoyed your thoughtful comments. Your class helped me braid in the characters with more depth and thought to the plot and story, genre, especially since I’m working on a mystery series.

    Posted by Laurie D | August 26, 2016, 1:08 pm
    • Laurie D, I’m so glad you’re doing a mystery series — your heroine definitely deserves more than one book. And with your problem-solving mind-set, braiding seems like a natural skill because it’s all about balance…which means (amazingly) that engineers and visual artists have a lot more in common than I ever would’ve guessed. 🙂

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 1:29 pm
  20. Another awesome article, Laurie! You know me. I start with plot first, then do my braiding while I outline.

    Posted by Lyn Brittan | August 26, 2016, 1:11 pm
  21. Hi Laurie,
    I love reading all these comments. I always get great tips from your blog posts.

    “If your braid isn’t as smooth as you’d like, which aspect do you look at first? Character, genre, or plot?”

    Because I write romance novels the genre dictates that I make sure the hero and heroine are going to be the type of people to bring positive change on each other.

    To help me do this I study enneagram types. Once I have my hero and heroine’s enneagram types I use these to create the plot.

    So for me the answer is character every time. The two other parts of the braid (genre and plot) depend on getting the characters right.

    Posted by Janet Ch. | August 26, 2016, 1:47 pm
    • Janet, I’m glad you enjoy the comments — I think people who read writing blogs are amazingly helpful! And your observation that a good plot for the romance genre depends on the characters is very insightful…that’s especially true for your kind of romance, where it really IS all about the hero & heroine.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 1:59 pm
  22. Great post! Thank you. 🙂

    When I hit a road block it’s almost always because I’m forcing the characters to do something that they don’t want to do. I suppose that makes my trouble spot Characters, except that this generally directly influences the Plot… so…

    LOL! Me and my characters have good times together. 🙂

    Posted by Mae South | August 26, 2016, 2:32 pm
  23. Just like Charmed, I’ve always had the power of 3. But I never thought of it as a braid. When the story doesn’t want to flow, I usually visit the characters. They are the part of the story that always gives me the hardest issues. That’s what I get for writing strong men and women who can fight alongside them rather then walk behind.

    Posted by Helen Henderson | August 26, 2016, 3:30 pm
    • Helen, characters sure CAN mess things up, can’t they? And that’s true even when they’re women who walk behind rather than alongside; it doesn’t seem like there’s ANY character who always behaves exactly the way we need them to…maybe because if they did, they’d be dull as dirt!

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 3:38 pm
  24. Well, shoot, it’s almost the end of the day and several people have said they posted comments which I haven’t yet seen. I’m guessing there’s a glitch in the system, so I’ll check back tomorrow and keep my fingers crossed that at least three people’s comments made it through so we can have a prize drawing! 🙂

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 26, 2016, 9:32 pm
  25. This came in the inbox from Elaine..

    So, Laurie,

    This was a good article. I feel as though I should be gathering my groups of three braids and choosing which set of three I’m gonna work with for the upcoming class.
    Let’s see–Plot. Characters. And, . . . Darn, that third one trips me up. Oh, yeah! That would likely be MOTIVATION for my pair of MCs.
    This is going to be really interesting!


    Posted by Carrie Peters | August 26, 2016, 11:05 pm
  26. Evening Laurie!

    Sorry I’m so late, been at work all day, and now I get to have some fun. =)

    Since I think plot is my weakest, I’d look there first. My characters feel like they know what they’re doing as far as how to act and what to say, but they continually run around in aimless directions while I try to figure out what happened with the plot. Sometimes I can figure it out fairly quickly, and other times I just keep writing until I see where things went wrong. And sometimes I have to call for help, for someone else to see what I keep missing.

    Great post, love the braiding idea!


    Posted by Carrie Peters | August 26, 2016, 11:17 pm
  27. My website and my cards list the 3 things my stories contain: Heart, home and humor. Of course I have to braid a lot of other things into my stories but I love having these 3.

    I second what was said in the intro. If you haven’t tried one of Laurie’s workshops yet, you must!!! I learned so much from every one I took. And I was fortunate enough to finally meet Laurie in person at RWA and a little birdie told me Laurie is coming to give a workshop next April at GRW, my local chapter. Yay!!!

    Posted by Carol Opalinski | August 26, 2016, 11:56 pm
  28. Hi Laurie, I find that I get tangled up when my plot braid goes astray. Then it doesn’t seem to matter about character or genre because I am completely off track…er…weave.

    Posted by Jan Kerr | August 27, 2016, 12:36 am
  29. Laurie,

    Another wonderful article and so helpful! Thank you so much for these insights that I know will be a great help.

    Posted by Nan McNamara | August 27, 2016, 9:32 am
  30. Oh, boy, the logjam broke right after I went to bed last night…what fun to wake up and realize there are more than enough comments for a free-class prize drawing. 🙂

    Which goes to’s pick of #14, Karen — congratulations, Karen, and let me know where to send your yahoogroups invitation to the Sept. 5-30 class from !

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 27, 2016, 12:50 pm
  31. Another great article, Laurie. With two of us writing, we first decide with genre,then really get to know our characters, then plot it out. We keep detail character charts and work really hard to not sound like two authors. You’ve given us another way to think about.
    Looking forward to more articles from you.

    Posted by Tia Dani | August 28, 2016, 10:53 am
    • Tia & Dani, what fun to hear the way a two-author team works — and it sure IS working; the fact that you’re continuing to publish in different genres is impressive! Nice to have a genre / character / plot process that puts everything into a good, workable sequence.

      Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | August 28, 2016, 11:22 am
  32. Hi Laurie,
    It’s been awhile since I have taken one of your classes. I have the setting down, my characters are vivid to me and their situation so heartfelt. What I agonize over is how best to show how the trials and tribulations the characters go through really change them ( for the better). I sm signing up for your braiding class right after this post!!!

    Posted by Judy Migliori | August 28, 2016, 10:28 pm
  33. Glad it helped. 🙂

    Posted by Laurie Schnebly Campbell | September 5, 2016, 1:24 pm


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