How do I turn an idea into a plot?

One of my readers asked me how I turn a single idea into a plot. Rather than just spout off some quick answer, I decided it’d make a good blog post, so here goes. To clarify, Merriam-Webster defines “plot” as the plan or main story. So, the question really is how do I come up with my story?

It partially depends what kind of idea I have in my mind.

Alaskan Healing

With Alaskan Healing, my initial idea was “What if a woman gets hired on a crab fishing boat in the Bering Sea?” From there, I brainstormed a bunch of possible things that could happen.

  • she could punch the boss
  • she could fall in love with a crewmember
  • she could save someone’s life
  • she could be injured
  • someone from her past could end up on the boat

Those are some of the ideas I had that made it into the story. I came up with 20-30 possibilities and started writing each “occurrence'”. So in that case, I just threw a bunch of possible “plot points” on a piece of paper and rearranged them until they made sense chronologically. Some I didn’t use, and of course there were areas that were missing something, so I had to figure out what happened between them.

It was easier to start Alaskan Healing because of the rough outline I had, but I didn’t stick to the outline for the entire process.

Faceoff of the Heart

Faceoff of the Heart, was written in a different manner. I sat down on November 1st, 2006, and started writing. I was addicted to watching hockey that season, but determined to complete National Novel Writing Month. A novel about hockey was the obvious solution. I could watch games and write at the same time.

I didn’t plan anything ahead of time. I just started writing and kept writing (and watching hockey) through the month, and at the end of November, I had just over 50,000 words in a rough draft. I tucked it into my “trunk-o-writing-junk” and forgot about it.

I found it last fall and decided to revise and edit it. At that point, I made a rough outline of what I had, and decided what drivel needed to be removed. That left me a really short novella instead of a novel, but I had a good idea who the characters were and how they interacted, so it wasn’t terribly difficult to come up with some more scenes to add. And I had to decide on an ending, I didn’t bother doing that on the rough draft.

I like learning the story as I write it without planning.

Another Example

Often, I only have a scene in my mind when I start thinking of a story. If that’s the case,

I write that one scene, hoping to get a feel for the characters. Here’s a shortened version of the possible ways' I’d turn that into an entire novel, if the scene really stuck in my head.

A man steals a hot dog from a vendor, running off before paying. A woman witnesses it, and for some reason, pays the vendor, makes it seem normal and then follows the man. (I’d probably write around a thousand words for this scene, just because that’s what scenes average in my rough drafts.)

When I finish that scene, I’d ask myself, “What if she found him?” And I’d start the next scene that pops into my head.

She asked the man, “Why did you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Steal a hot dog?”

“Why shouldn’t I?”

“Because it’s wrong. The vendor needs the money, otherwise he’d just be giving them away.”

The man refused to meet her gaze. “He deserved it. Besides, it’s not for me.”

“Who’s it for?”

At this point, I’d have to stop and decide who the hot dog is for and whether the man is going to tell the woman anything, or walk away. Or? What else could he do?

“Here hold this,” he said and thrust the coney dog at her. The scent of saur kraut sickened her, but she held on to it.

“Hey! Come on. I got her,” the man yelled and suddenly the duo was surrounded by uniformed police officers, with shields and masks.

“What the hell?” she muttered and considered running, she hadn’t done anything wrong. But clearly, they’d realize she was innocent. It’d just take a few seconds to explain and she’d be back to work at her boring desk job, wishing for five o’clock and a martini.

So I’d figure out how this scene ended, and then ask myself, “Now what?”

Once I have an idea of where the story’s going, how the characters behave, I tend to sit down and write out a list of possible things that happens in the story.

The cops don’t believe the woman.

She ends up in jail

The vendor can’t be found to corroborate her story

The original thief shows up, wearing a disguise, and bails her out of jail

She doesn’t trust him but agrees to talk to him, there must be some crazy explanation for this.

He buys her a martini

He explains himself (not sure what his excuse is yet)

The next morning she goes to work and gets fired.

 

I consider that list of possible things in the story to be my outline. It changes as I write, but if I get stuck, I have something to fall back on.

 

My process for my current WIP is much like Faceoff of the Heart. I wrote a couple of rough drafts years ago and decided that I still liked the characters, but the two stories were similar in some ways so I combined them into one story. I’ve added a few scenes to transition, made lots of changes so they’re cohesive as one story, and now I have another idea to give the story more depth.

The plot hasn’t changed much, the main story is still “Girl wants a family of her own”, but there are more items in my outline now. I’m currently trying to fit the new “scenes/occurrences” in the correct spots in draft. Then I’ll be ready to start revising and editing.

Alaskan Healing Interview!

I feel so important! Darcia Helle of Quiet Fury Books interviewed me after reading Alaskan Healing. Make sure you check out the interview and show Darcia some appreciation for tolerating my presence long enough to ask me some questions! If more questions are posted in her comments, I'll do my best to answer them.

While you're on her website, check out her books. I've read two of them (several more are on my "must read soon" list) and she is masterful with suspense.

There's a coupon code for Darcia's readers to save 25% off Alaskan Healing at Smashwords. If you know someone who is considering a purchase, have them head over to Darcia's blog and grab the code! The code is valid until November 1st.

Alaskan Healing ready for re-release

I did it! Alaskan Healing is ready!

I managed to learn how to format my book (Alaskan Healing) for Amazon KDP, Createspace, Pubit, and Smashwords and have them all uploaded and ready to go before my self-imposed deadline. How awesome is that?

I received yet another proof copy today of the printed version. I made a couple tiny changes and I'm happy to let it "go to press." After that, I was confident I had all my grammatical mistakes fixed, and finally have the correct punctuation included. I'm happy with the formatting and the layout.

It looks like a really awesome book, and I owe a lot of that professional appearance to my cover designer, Lori Gnahn. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Lori.

After I was completely happy with the Createspace version, I used that as the starting point for creating the other documents. There are little things that are different for each of the other epublishing sites I chose to use.

So, I saved a copy of my Createspace document, removed the headers (with page numbers, title, and author's name), removed some page breaks, made sure I had the proper Smashwords front matter included, and uploaded that to Smashwords. No errors! Woo-hoo. It's almost like I know what I'm doing.

Then I saved another version for Barnes and Noble's PubIt (for the nook). I removed the mention of Smashwords from the front matter, saved and uploaded. I previewed it on their site and again, no errors!

On to Kindle publishing. I used the nook version of my document, saved as html in Word, uploaded, and previewed. What was I so nervous about?

Now, I wait. Createspace can take up to 48 hours to approve the documents. Amazon, Smashwords, and PubIt all have their own reviews and other things to do before my book appears on their sites.

I have to admit, I was really excited when Alaskan Healing was first released in September 2009, but right now I have this weird feeling in my stomach and I'm practically giddy with excitement. Not because I think I'm going to make more money as an indie author, but because I did it by myself (with some guidance from experienced indie authors).

My sense of accomplishment is through the roof right now. I am so proud of myself. I better get my butt back to work so I can feel this way again in a couple months when another of my novels is ready and loaded everywhere.

Hey! Did I mention that Alaskan Healing is ready for its re-release?

I'm a top ten producer for Book In a Week

I finished September's Book in a week Challenge about a week ago, but haven't had a chance to share my results because I've been so busy. Since I'm sure you're all dying to know how I did, here ya go. I managed to finish 70.5 pages in one week. I'm pretty impressed with myself. Granted, the seventy pages aren't all that great. It's very, very, rough draft material, but it's more material than I had at the end of August.

For the first five days, I focused on Alaskan Hope. I estimate that I completed 55-60 pages for that rough draft. I assume that makes anyone waiting for a sequel to Alaskan Healing happy.

The last two days, I focused on the yet-unnamed-hockey novel. While 15 pages isn't a lot, it's, again, fifteen more pages than I had for it in August.

How did I write 70.5 pages in 7 days? I made myself do it. There were a few days that I wrote absolutely nothing, but I made up for it on the other days. I set the goal for myself and told everyone that it was my goal. I'm stubborn. I didn't want to tell anyone I failed. So, in the end, I spent a LOT of time over the weekend, doing nothing but writing.

Once I got the kids to sleep, I stayed up waaaay too late, writing as much as I could so I'd achieve my goal. And I did. With 20.5 extra pages.

If you think 70.5 pages in a week is a lot, I have to tell you, I was the 10th top producer for the month. That means nine people wrote more than I did. Some of them were in the 200+ page range. I don't want to sound like I'm bitter, but I speculate those people don't have two small children running around, plus a dead website during the week.

I doubt I'll ever be the top producer for Book in a Week, but I'm definitely going to try to stay in the top ten each time I participate. It's a good way to push myself to achieve bigger and better things.

More changes

I haven't posted lately because I've been swamped. First off, as you can see, my website is different. For some reason, the other template decided to quit working with some of the plugins I wanted to use in the future. So part of my being too busy to post was me redoing my website. I'm quite fond of the new look and layout, so I guess it was time well-spent. And maybe I should thank the other layout for crashing?

I've also been busy with the big change that prompted all of this. As of October 1st, I will be an indie author (independent, self-published, and whatever other names there are for it). After an amicable parting with my current publisher, I've been busting my butt, trying to get everything ready to re-release Alaskan Healing.

I found an artist to design a new cover. Isn't it awesome? (Thank you, Lori Gnahn!)

I learned how to format for CreateSpace, so you'll still be able to purchase a bound copy of the book. I also learned all about epublishing, so Alaskan Healing will be available on a variety of ebook platforms.

The past two weeks, I've been proofreading, editing, and making minor changes to Alaskan Healing. The story is the same, some words are different, a few grammatical errors were corrected, and some punctuation issues have been rectified. I have read every word of this book five times in the past two weeks.

As you look at the cover, you'll see that there's a new line, "An Alaskan Healing Novel." Yes, there's going to be more than one. As previously mentioned, I'm working on Alaskan Hope, which I hope will be ready by Spring of 2013.

I know that's a long time to wait for a book from an author if you really like the author, but don't worry. I intend to have a different book out by December 1st, so you can buy a copy for yourself as a gift for the holidays. It's not a member of the Alaskan Healing Family, but I think you'll enjoy it still.

I'll do my best to keep you entertained.

 

Idea creation

I've used different methods of coming up with ideas over the years. When I used to write every day, and had lots of story ideas, most of my ideas came from my dreams. I'd wake up and wonder, "What happened to that guy/girl/dog who chased me through the corn field/pushed me down the stairs/joined me in the shower?" So I'd write what I remembered of the dream then just write whatever came to me. I was just writing the story so I could learn what happened. I enjoyed this method as it was fun for me to learn the story as I went along. However, it wasn't very organized. Sometimes I'd end up with an entire notebook full of words, but it didn't have a plot or any real point. However, I learned more about my characters and if I really wanted to, I could consider those stories prewriting now and pick the kernels from the chaff and outline it into novels. I started Alaskan Healing for a class I was taking online with the wonderful Loree Lough in 2006. It was the night before the class started and I was supposed to have an idea to work with. I'd procrastinated and procrastinated some more, thinking, "Damn. I hope an idea shows up otherwise this class is going to be a waste of money."

Grumbling about my muse's refusal to cooperate, I sat my butt on the couch to watch tv with my husband, he flipped the channel to Deadliest Catch and I said to myself, "I wonder why there aren't any women on any of the boats."

Aha! I had my idea. Thank you, Ms. Muse.

I wrote the rough draft of the hockey novel I am currently revising (no title so far) during National Novel Writing Month in 2006. I followed part of the Snowflake Novel Writing Method, but the initial idea came from watching too much hockey. (Blasphemy! There is no such thing as too much hockey!)

In August (2012), when I finally started working on Alaskan Hope (the next Alaskan Healing novel), I wasn't sure what I wanted to write. I had a good idea who my characters were going to be, but not what they were going to do. I used Freemind mind mapping software to get a bunch of ideas on paper/screen and sorted through those ideas to find the main "what happens to them" of the story.

 

There have been other various ideas between the hockey novel and Alaskan Hope, but I don't know that they'll ever amount to anything, so I didn't mention them in this post.

My writing method

  For anyone wondering how I write, the answer is simple: haphazardly.

For years, I've just sat down with my pen and paper and started scribbling, not really caring whether it amounted to anything presentable. I wrote to entertain myself.

I'd say I was quite prolific. I wrote an entire story in one weekend, multiple times. But, they would take a LOT of work to ever become presentable. I tried outlining things, but never enjoyed it. I wrote so I could learn what happened to my characters. The story unfolded as I wrote.

With the constraints I have on my time (full time job, two children under the age of 3, two dogs, three cats, various hobbies, husband, etc) I can't just muddle around until the story reveals itself and I feel inspired to write. I need some sort of plan to get me to the point where my fans have something to read and quit hounding me for a few minutes. (Just teasing. I love to be hounded. It makes me feel like my stories are enjoyed.)

Here's a quick look at the method I've developed so far. (Yes, I know it's not the order recommended by most "how to write a novel" books.

  1. Idea
  2. Outlining
  3. Rough draft
  4. Character sketches
  5. Setting info
  6. Add details to rough draft
  7. Revise until I'm happy
  8. Proof
  9. First reader
  10. Edit
  11. Proof
  12. Shove that baby bird out of the nest and pray it flies (to the bestseller list)

I'll expand on each step in the future, explaining how it worked for Alaskan Healing, and other novels I'm currently working on.

How does your method differ from mine? I'm always looking for new ideas to adapt to my process.

 

 

Progress

I just spent about 7 hours in the truck with two kids and my husband. My husband drove and I entertained the kids for the first half of the trip. It wasn't very pleasant with the cranky monsters, but I did some pre-writing and made progress getting reacquainted with my characters. Yes, I admit it. This book (working title: Alaskan Healing Sequel), Alaskan Hope, has some of the same characters as Alaskan Healing. I'm not sure I'd call it a sequel, since it doesn't have the same main characters. Don't worry though, it's based in Alaska, and the main characters in this book were in Alaskan Healing.

On the return trip the kids slept, my husband drove, and I got most of an outline worked out, plus some ideas for future books. (I guess it's a good thing my hubby hates to be a passenger and does most of the driving when we go anywhere together.

Crazy as it is, I even bounced some ideas off my husband and he gave me an idea. When I first heard his idea I said (to myself), "Nah, that wouldn't work at all." But then I started thinking about it and it WILL work.

It'll work great plus give an unexpected twist to the story.

Now I'm thinking I need to plan a long road trip for every weekend. And maybe I should talk to my husband more.