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.

Faceoff of the Heart is now available.

I did it! I did it! Faceoff of the Heart is done and ready for you to read!

There were a few days when I wasn't sure I'd have everything done on time, but as you've probably noticed, I haven't been posting lately. I was spending that time on finishing up Faceoff of the Heart. It's been uploaded and approved and is ready for you to purchase at various locations. :)

Some locations do not have it yet, but hopefully it'll be ready everywhere soon. As of right now it is available in the following locations:

Me (paperback, ePub, Kindle, and PDF available)

Amazon (currently available for Kindle, should be available as paperback within a week)

Barnes and Noble (currently available for nook, should be available as paperback within a week)

Smashwords (many ebook versions available)

Createspace (paperback)

Kobobooks (still waiting for notification of availability)

iBookstore (still waiting for notification of availability)

Revising a novel

I struggle with revisions. Every time I start revising a novel, I spend time looking for a magic method, a checklist of things to do, and I keep looking until I think I've found the perfect plan. Then I print out my manuscript and start marking stuff up with my pen and the plan goes out the window. I have a hard time keeping things in my head. All the things I planned to fix remain on a sheet of paper next to me and I say, "I'll fix those in the next revision."

I've tried Holly Lisle's One Pass Revision method, and I get bogged down and overwhelmed before I get to the third chapter. I've done Darcy Pattison's Novel Metamorphosis workbook for two different novels. One is still in the Trunk-o-writing junk, awaiting its chance to see the light of day again. The second one is Faceoff of the Heart.

Working my way through the Novel Metamorphosis workbook was helpful to realize what areas I needed to work on, but I still have a huge list (okay, not really huge, but still a full page) of things I want to fix. When I look at the list, my eyes gloss over and I start to freak out that I have these things to check for and fix all the way through the 200 pages of manuscript.

The list sits on top of the manuscript in its expandable folder. I look at it every time I pull the new pages out to be revised. And I sigh, because I haven't really been paying attention to those things. Ugh. 100 pages in and I didn't fix any of the things I'd specifically written on my "Plan of Action."

So tonight, when I pulled out the list I didn't just set it aside. I sat down and read it, and thought about each item on the list.

Plotting. Make sure each scene ends a little worse than the previous scene. Yeah, I've actually been doing that. That makes me feel better.

Characters. Better description. Well, hmm. I've never been good at describing the physical appearance of things (not even real items), but I've been adding more about the characters as I get to know them, so they're becoming more real. Knowing someone rocks back and forth on their feet when they're nervous, or their hands hurt because of early onset arthritis HAS to be nearly as good as knowing they have blue eyes and light blonde hair. Right? I mean, we don't choose our friends based on their eye color in real life. 

Sensory details. Include more details in each scene. Oh. I'm doing that without really thinking of it. Maybe I'm not doing as horribly as I'd thought.

Settings. More description again. fail

Okay. I guess fixing 75% of what I'd aimed to fix isn't awful. I can always go back through and add a bit more description of the settings as I type in all these changes I've made. Right?

What's your method for revising a novel?

Results of October Book In a Week

I know it's been a while , but I didn't get a chance to post my results of October Book In a Week yet. I had set my goal at 100 pages. The week started out successfully and improved each day. My most productive day ended with 25 pages (roughly 6250 words). I knew that I wouldn't be writing much on Saturday because I had a friend visiting from out of town, but I did expect to use 7 hours in the car on Sunday as a chance to get a lot of writing done.

However, I achieved the 100 page goal on Friday evening and didn't write at all for the rest of the weekend. I guess I should have set my goal higher so I'd kept working on it over the remainder of the weekend.

I just checked the results of October Book in a Week and I was the 6th most productive writer for the challenge. The most productive writer completed 280 pages during the week. Wow!

I'm unsure whether I'll be participating in November's Book In a Week. I have a heavy schedule to get Faceoff of the Heart revised on time, but maybe I'll be ahead of schedule with the revisions by that time and will need to take a week away from it. If I do participate in November's challenge, I'm going to increase my goal again.

What do you guys think would be an appropriate goal for Book In a Week? 150 pages? 200 pages? An entire novel (since November is National Novel Writing Month)?

What do you guys think of challenges such as NaNoWriMo and BIW? Is it a surefire way to burn out? Or is it a good way to boost productivity?

Update on Faceoff of the Heart

800x1280_Faceoff of th#1418I finished the first revision of Faceoff of the Heart during the first week of October. Writing some new scenes was part of my 100-page challenge for Book In a Week. There weren't a lot of surprises as I finished those scenes, but a few things turned out differently than I expected. Even with an outline, and notes galore, my characters still managed to change the story a little from what I originally thought it was.

I tried to force them to behave as I thought they should, but it just didn't ring true and I struggled to write the words in those scenes. Once I surrendered to Rhianna, Cam, and Luk, the words came easier.

People who don't write think writers create the stories they read, but honestly, I'm just the middle(wo)man who gets the story from the characters to the readers.

I took some time off over the weekend to redo my office and I'm currently working my way through the second revision of Faceoff of the Heart at my huge new desk.

As you can see there's now a cover for the book. Lori Gnahn captured the image in my mind perfectly and now I'm doing my best to make sure the story is good enough for such an awesome cover.

I'd love to hear what you think of the cover.

"The Look" blog challenge

Oh Darcia and Marty, I will get even with you both. Eventually. When you least expect it. ;) These two wonderful authors have both tagged me in "The Look" blog challenge. Thanks to them, you (my faithful followers) will get to experience something few people ever get to experience. You get to see part of the current manuscript I'm working on.

You can see what Marty and Darcia posted on their blogs for this challenge by following the links above.

The instructions are: The Look is a writing prompt, a game, another tagging event. This is how U Got “The Look” works: you take your current manuscript, search for the word “look”, and post the surrounding paragraphs. Lastly, you tag 5 blogging authors who you think will be a good choice for the game.

So without further ado, here are a few paragraphs from Faceoff of the Heart.

The announcer finished the Red Wing introductions and moved on to the opposing team's. Rhianna tuned him out until she heard, “Number seven, Cameron Walker, former Michigan State University Spartan returns to Detroit with the Devils.”

Rhianna jerked in surprise and almost jumped to her feet as the player skated onto the ice. Even if she had heard wrong, she would know him anywhere, just by the way he moved. He’d always had a fluid grace to him which was unexpected for someone so large. The row of women looked at her curiously and she forced herself to relax back into the seat, as she said, “I think he was in my chemistry class at MSU.”

Rhianna didn’t hear anything else the announcer said. What the hell was he doing here?

Her voice was calm, but her mind raced. She avoided meeting the gaze of the well-coiffed woman next to her, Teresa, who smiled.

Teresa leaned toward Rhianna and pointed one of her long, manicured fingernails. “I bet there was chemistry with a lot of hockey players.”

This is from the opening scene of Faceoff of the Heart, which is scheduled for release at the beginning of December, 2012.
And now, for my five victims, erm, I mean, fellow authors.

Goal: 100 pages in a week

It's time for BIW again. The time off flew by, and I considered skipping it this month, but I was so productive last month with the challenge that I decided to sign up. I committed to 100 pages in a week. That's a lot of writing, but how proud will I be if I achieve it? That's twice as many pages as I set my goal for last month. And thirty more pages than I achieved last month. And if I write the entire 100 pages for Pucked (I don't know why but that title seems to be sticking, at least in my mind. For now.), the draft will be completed, as long as the characters cooperate and don't change the story on me again.

I don't really have a plan, other than write like crazy. Again, I have an outline of what the characters are supposed to do. I'm kinda curious whether they'll follow the plan or send me off on some tangent.

I decided to do this Saturday night, so I spent the weekend telling myself, "You're nuts. You have two kids, you have an office to clean, you have a full-time job, you have plans for doing other things." Yet, I kept responding, "Oh pshaw. What's a hundred pages? No problem."

My secret weapon? A long car ride on Sunday. And by "long car ride" I mean around 6 hours in the car. No internet access. No kids. No games on my laptop. And a husband who doesn't like to be the passenger. Surely, I'll be able to finish everything I didn't finish during the rest of the week. And if I complete that goal, well...

I'll find something else to write. Or I'll catch up on my sleep.

That's 14.28 pages per day. What do you think? Is 100 pages in a week possible?

Now I'm contemplating NaNoWriMo. Really, that shouldn't be a problem, should it? If I can accomplish 100 pages in a week, I'd just have to work on my NaNoWriMo novel for two weeks (100 pages in a week times two). OR! I could write 2 NaNoWriMo novels 100 pages in a week times 4). Or one really long NaNoWriMo novel. Really, the possibilities for November are endless.

Entire 50,000 word rough draft in one week? Hmmm....