Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Plotting Process

[[As promised last week, this is a continuation of Process posts while we’re moving.]]

First, a few words on actual structure. I'm coming at this from a mystery writer's perspective, so my notes and sources are generally skewed in that direction.

For physical structure, I like to use the W plot. Kris Neri first introduced this to me, but many writers use it. It's very hard to find a good picture of it, but this site ( includes two fairly good samples. This one has a simple example near the end of the page (
).For mystery fiction, it's useful to put one more hump in it. Point A starts at the top left, B is the bottom of the first downstroke, then C is up, D is down (but not as far down as B), E is up (but not as far up as C), F is way down, and G finishes with a big upstroke.

A: Begin and immediately start a struggle for your protagonist
B: Pull the rug out from under her
C: Allow her some progress toward her goal
D: Give her a hurdle and make her think that her goal will be in sight once she leaps it
E: Move her close, but then make things worse
F: This is the low point of her struggle, she despairs that she will ever reach her goal
G: She finds a way to prevail

This works for a broad overview of the plot. You can also use one for each subplot and plan where they'll overlap and/or intersect.

I like to brainstorm with myself a bit and set up plot points. If I can end up with at least 12, I distribute them into Act I, Act IIA, Act IIB, and Act III. If I can work from point to point, putting at least 5400 words between points, I know I'll end up with a 65,000 word novel on first draft. From there, I usually layer in some texture. I revisit dialog and description, and try to put as many of the 5 senses into each scene as I can. I make sure each scene has a goal, conflict, and resolution. That last should lead to another goal set up to keep the story going.

Sounds simple, but the plot points tend to morph during writing. Some don't work out, others have to be added, always paying attention to the ebb and flow of action that some call scene and sequel. Character refuse to play the role you've assigned to them, and other characters pop up unbidden and interrupt things. Yikes! How did I ever write a novel?

So, I guess, it's complicated. I'm open to suggestions on how to plot here! It's good to see how others do it.

To prepare this blog, I googled around and found some sources new to me. These folks have some good thoughts on plotting for fiction:

Here's a fun one:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Writer’s Process

[[While I’m in the midst of moving to Tennessee, I’m repeating some blogs that originally appeared on a group blog I used to belong to, All Things Writing. I’ll report on our trek later in February.]]

Since this is one of those questions writers get asked a lot (e.g. What is your writing process?), I suppose I should punctuate it thusly: The Writers’ Process.

Aside: Another frequent question is: Where do your ideas come from? I guest blogged on that topic last year at and found out that writers DO like to answer that particular question. End of Aside.

This is an actual process, but not for writing
Maybe some like to answer this one, too, but not me! I don’t even know what it means. To me, processes apply to things like fees (processing fees) and film development. When I saw this definition at, my confusion lifted a bit.

1.a systematic series of actions directed to some end: to devise a process for homogenizing milk.
2.a continuous action, operation, or series of changes taking place in a definite manner: the process of decay.
3.Law .
a. the summons, mandate, or write by which a defendant or thing is brought before court for litigation.
b. the whole course of the proceedings in an action at law.
4.Photography . photomechanical or photoengraving methods collectively.
5.Biology, Anatomy . a natural outgrowth, projection, or appendage: a process of a bone.

See, these things are systematic and orderly. One is even continuous. For me, writing is not like that. Not a bit like that.

If I’m going to write a flash piece, I can sit down and write it. Then I can leave it until I remember about it again, then rework it. Repeat a few times and submit it somewhere. I’m not sure that could be considered a process.

For a longer length short story, I can think up an idea and start to go with it until I hit a snag. Then I either go off and do research that I may or may not ever need or use. Some time later I come back to it, if I still think it might work, and wrassle with it some more. When it seems done, I have to step away for a day or more. At least one more rewrite, maybe lots of rewrites, then if it still looks decent, I’ll submit it somewhere. This is too messy to be called a process.

Novels? Process? I do a first draft. During that time, which may be several months to a year, I quit a lot. I vow to write on it every day. I break that vow within a week. I make a vow to work on it 5 days a week. I break that vow the next week. I decide when I want to be finished and figure out how many words a day I need to write. That sometimes works.

This is all after or amongst the plotting “process”. I have actually evolved one of those after attempting to write 8 novels. It’s pretty involved and will be the subject of another blog post.

After the first draft, I begin edits. I have a loose procedure for this, too, and, again, a time deadline works well to keep me on track. That, too, will be a blog post. (Hey, I’m developing a process for generating blog post topics, at least.)

Stay tuned for the next developments in processes. Meanwhile, do YOU have process? Do you know what a writing process is?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

My 10 best list

This will be much easier next year, but I thought I’d try it now, too. Next year I will have my Good Things Jar to supply me with a list of all the good things that happened to me in 2013. Now I’ll rely on my “attagirl” file, where I stick those sorts of things.

Here are the best things to come my way, as a writer, in 2012. I can’t seem to rank them, so there’s no particular order here. I will say that I’ve cut this down because 2012 was a tremendous year for me. After over 10 years of toiling away in the trenches, I’ve become an overnight success.

1) Signing with Kimberly Lionetti at BookEnds LLC and being able to say I’m agented.
2) Securing, through my agent, a three-book contract with Berkley Prime Crime.
3) SONG OF DEATH, retitled, EINE KLEINE MURDER, accepted by Barking Rain Press
4) Agatha nomination for Best First Novel for CHOKE.
5) Invited by Katherine Tomlinson of Dark Valentine to submit a story to the anthology about the end of the world, NIGHTFALLS. My story, The Last Wave.
6) Invited to write a story for SEEDS, online newsletter for Texas Gardener Magazine by Michael Bracken, the King of Short Stories. It will appear 1/23.
7) Kevin Tipple, an independent reviewer, chose A PATCHWORK OF STORIES as one of his BEST READS of 2011.
8) Rosa St. Clair, a reviewer for the Miami Examiner, said my writing reminds her of Dickens, one of my favorite authors. She also named CHOKE as a special recommendation at the end of her top 10 list of 2011 novels in January.
9) Asked to judge a short story contest for the anthology for the Mary Roberts Rinehart SinC chapter.
10) Featured in November issue of Suspense Magazine

Being asked and invited to do things blows me away. I’ve also been asked to blurb some mystery novels and have gotten incredible emails and reviews from people who like one book or another. Some library and book groups have invited me to speak and I’m almost over my stage fright at these events. I feel like Sally Fields sometimes, but isn’t that how all we writers feel? We’re amazed when people like our writing? Or is that just me?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I'll jump on the bandwagon

I know a number of writers and writers’ groups are encouraging people to fill up the e-readers they received as gifts over the holidays. I can’t see why that’s a bad idea!

In the interests of helping fill up those nice, shiny, new devices, I’ll guide you to a place where you can download to your heart’s content. At this site, put together by Theresa de Valence, there are three pages of mysteries and crime fiction books, all of them inexpensive, some of them free. The books are organized by author or by title and teasers as well as buy links are included. Have fun browsing!

Here’s the link:

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Enough about cliffs!

We went over, we didn’t go over. We’re not going to, we are going to. I feel more than a little queasy. And it’s not from my fear of heights.

OK, I have vowed not to get political in public, so, in light of the fact that the crisis is, at east temporarily, shelved, let’s get on to the more pleasant business of writing.

I’d like to recap my 2012 here, for my own sake, and kind of as a picture of what can happen to a writer, especially if she keeps at it.

My goals for 2012 were:

Publish at least 2 books and 6 short stories.
Write 2 hours a day M-F, or 5 days a week.

Here is my list of short stories:

THE TAKEOVER Kings River Life Magazine, June 9th
(A FINE KETTLE OF FISH - Second Wind, June (published on their webpage))
RATTLED America Southwest Border Noir Anthology, December NOT PUBLISHED
MY HUSBAND He Had It Coming Anthology by Gryphon's Lair, end of August
AS THE SCREW TURNS (Imogene Duckworthy story) Mysterical-E, Spring/Summer
YOU CAN DO THE MATH reprint King's River Life Aug 4 issue
COLOR ME BABY BLUE reprint King's River Life Sept 15 issue
DEVIL’S NIGHT reprint King’s River Life 10/11 issue
THE LAST WAVE in NIGHTFALLS Dark Valentine Press anthology 12/1

The second one, A FINE KETTLE OF FISH, was unfortunate. Since it appeared on their web page it is, officially published, but then it was not accepted for their anthology. I plan on trying to get a different version of the story published elsewhere.

One more story was accepted in 2012, but will be published this month.
YELLOW ROSES in Texas Gardener magazine January 23, 2013

I took back my rights from Mainly Murder Press when we parted company and was able to self-publish a second edition of CHOKE, and also the second and third Imogene Duckworthy mysteries, SMOKE and BROKE. SMOKE occurs around the Fourth of July and BROKE at Halloween, so I wanted to get them out then, and I succeeded!

My BIG accomplishment of 2012, though, was signing with an agent at BookEnds LLC, Kim Lionetti! Within a few months of our connection, she secured a three-book deal for me with Berkley Prime Crime. I was able to get about a third of the first book in that series written by the end of 2012 and feel I’m on schedule with that. (I hope!)

One more accomplishment. We bought a house in Knoxville and will move there at the end of this month. It feels like we just moved, for some reason. Oh wait--that’s because we did, 7 months ago. Luckily, we have over 90 boxes that haven’t yet been unpacked, so they won’t need repacking. Aren’t we smart? What, lazy? No, that’s smart, I’m pretty sure. Sort of sure.