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Writing Tips...

The Basics in a Nutshell - by a Nutcase ©
By Juliet Burns

PLOTTING -- What you need to know BEFORE you can plot

I’d like to preface this information with one caveat, if I may. Not one single thing works for everyone. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say, almost every writer has a slightly different way of plotting. My critique partner likes to use Story Magic. She buys a big poster board, divides it up into 20 even blocks (4 rows of 5) and decides on her character’s turning points (Jo Leigh’s) and we brainstorm scenes to fill in each square.

Me? I use Vickie Taylor’s plot blob—yes, you can already see where this is going—neat squares versus a BLOB—and I only worry about actual scenes as I sit down to write the story.

“What?? You don’t plot?” you ask. “So, why the heck are YOU giving a workshop on plotting??”

Well? <scratching head> I’m not sure, I haven’t plotted that out yet.

Seriously, I guess what I’m trying to warn you about is this: All I can do is share with you some tools that I’ve tried to use until I found what worked for me, and encourage you to do the same. I’ve actually tried several different plotting tools with each book. Except my first manuscript, which I wrote when I knew nothing about ANYTHING about plotting. Which is the only one I’ve sold, so go figure, right?

Hey, you were warned… Nutcase…

OK, down to business.

First, some basic plotting supplies everyone MUST have, IMHO


I believe you cannot begin to plot until you KNOW YOUR CHARACTER’S GMC. And each character has *2* GMCs. External, and Internal. If you know your hero’s and heroine’s goal, you can plot scenes that state what his/her goal is. Same with motivation and conflict. Debra says EVERY scene MUST have at least 2 of the 3 shown. In other words, each scene should show the hero or heroine stating his/her goal, working toward that goal, or establishing a REASON why they want that goal and why they can’t get it, or any combination of the 3. Does that make sense?

Here’s an example of how I write out my characters’ GMC before I begin a new manuscript:
Heroine’s GMC:

External Goal—write thesis
External Motivation—earn masters degree
External Conflict— Her teacher had rejected 3 proposals already. She’s absolutely hitting a blank wall on what to write.

Internal Goal—never let passion rule her heart again
Internal Motivation—passions are illogical and blind you to reality—they cause emotional pain
Internal Conflict— Hero stirs her passions

Hero’s GMC:
External Goal—keep his job working with horses on the ranch.
External Motivation— He’s finally found something he loves and that he’s good at. (Doesn’t know it, but he’s tired of drifting.)
External conflict— Boss’ daughter is forbidden territory and he’s attracted to her

Internal Goal— To find a place where he belongs, acceptance
Internal Motivation— black sheep of family, never been accepted for who he is
Internal Conflict—doesn’t believe in himself, guilt over brother’s death.

Now, you can see the external, IMHO, has to do with the physical world, usually a career, or revenge, or catching the murderer, etc…
The Internal goal has to do with emotions and is usually motivated by the character’s backstory. And that brings me to the next important ingredient:

2. Backstory

This is a character’s past. Jo Leigh says in her workshop that each character has a “Core Belief”. Something that shapes their every decision. Usually stems from an incident in their childhood, or possibly from early adulthood. To know your character’s CORE BELIEF, you must know what happened in his/her past.
Here’s an example of what I wrote for my heroine’s backstory before I started the ms:

Miranda is the youngest of 3 daughters of Glenn Tyson. She was always the quiet, studious one. She graduated early from high school, graduated from U of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and is working on her masters. She lives at home and works part time at the library, but would like to earn her doctorate to teach psychology at the college level.

First she must write a Masters Thesis to complete her masters degree. Her freshman year in college, when she was only 17, she fell instantly and madly in love with a charming senior. He finally seduced her into bed after only six weeks. Miranda had never even dated before, being too shy and studying all the time, but this charmer swept her off her feet and wouldn’t take no for an answer. After making love in a hotel room, (he told her she couldn’t come to his dorm room because of roommates—she was commuting from home) she felt cheap, but he convinced her she was just too uptight and inflexible. So to prove she wasn’t she decided for once in her life she’d be spontaneous—so she bribed a friend in admissions for his address and drove to his apartment off campus—not a dorm like he’d said--without calling first, intending to surprise him with a picnic dinner and a seduction. When she rang the doorbell, a woman answered the door. With a baby on her hip. And a toddler gripping her leg. Miranda asked for Ron, and the woman scowled and said he wasn’t home. Miranda noted the woman’s wedding ring and inquired if she was Ron’s roommate’s wife, or perhaps Ron’s sister. The woman narrowed her eyes and growled, “I’m his wife. Who the hell are you?”

Miranda feels like a failure. She’s embarrassed for being so dumb so she vows never to fall again, Especially for a charmer. Never again believed in her own ability to judge a man’s character and vowed to someday find herself a nice studious professor like herself if she ever got married. Falling in love and giving in to her passionate side had blinded her to all Ron’s--what seemed in hindsight—obvious lies.

But the passion still burns deep inside.

Now that you have these down, you’re ready to plot. These are some recommended plotting tools I have tried:

2. JO LEIGH’S TURNING POINTS (RWR Jan. 2003 issue—attached below)
3. VICKIE TAYLOR’S PLOT BLOB (excellent workshop)

Vickie says in her workshop you need a THEME for your story, or “THE LESSON YOUR MAIN CHARACTERS MUST LEARN IN ORDER TO ACCEPT LOVE. To find this, you can determine your character’s “high-level objective or defining characteristic.” For instance, it might be: HONOR, or TRUSTING YOURSELF or FORGIVING YOURSELF or LOVE HEALS. I find this helps keep you focused when plotting on bringing this “theme” out in every scene, and keeps you working toward this goal as you plot. In other words, if you know your hero needs to forgive himself, you can plot scenes that will force the hero to confront his guilt, or his past and scenes that help him discover his need to forgive himself, etc…

5. THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY –(Elaine Sterling gives a wonderful workshop on this)

Now, here's the Jo Leigh version of turning points in the January RWR: (pg. 50 -Revisiting the classics) In the RWR article, Jo Leigh gives examples for each using LaVyrle Spencer’s HUMMINGBIRD

Inciting Incident-Introduces the central characters and presents the central conflict. (I recommend you start with change, preferably action or dialogue)

1st turning point-Roadblock appears for central characters; forces the action to move in a different direction. Characters understand there's a problem. (in a 400 page novel-app. page 100)

Jo Leigh's workshop covered 4 different lines with all the turning points in each.

1. Plot
2. Romance
3. Hero
4. Heroine

So the first turning point in the romance might be different... The turning points can be the same for say the H(hero) and the h (heroine), or the H and the Romance... does this make sense?

(I know, it's enough to make your head spin)

Midpoint-Another roadblock appears; yet again forcing the characters to make new choices and move in a different direction. Characters get how big the problem is. (-app. page 200-250) Jo Leigh said at the mini-conference a lot of times the midpoint is where the H/h make love. But not always.

2nd turning point-Ditto above; character realizes he's responsible for the solution to the problem. (app. page 300)

Black Moment-When it appears the relationship is doomed. Characters cannot see how the problem will be solved. Leads to a decision. What's the decision? (app. page 350)

Climax-Action based on the crisis/black moment decision. The characters learn something about their conflict they didn't know before. (app. page 350-380)

Resolution-Slow curtain to end (app. page 380-400)

Leigh says although the page count for each point is flexible, it can often be a window into pacing problems.

The other thing I did before beginning to plot was to think of words I might want to use to bring out either my theme or my 5 senses. This story takes place in the dog days of summer; late August in Fort Worth, and my heroine is passionate on the inside (hot) and reserved (icy) on the outside, so I used a lot of hot and cold words. Most of this work I did while sitting in that orthodontist office on a borrowed notepad, so don’t panic if you think this takes a lot of time.


And last but not least, here’s some very helpful articles on plotting:

Plotting Conflict by Adrienne Lee
More on Plotting by Jane Toombs

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