I plot. I spend weeks figuring out characters, locations, and flaws. And then I dig in deep. I plot my story out, by acts and beats, down to each and every scene of my story. And, sometimes, those scenes have beats and entire stretches of dialog in the notes.

Thinking Through Our Fingers: In the Mind of an Outliner – Arcs and Structure.

This is front loading a story with lots of work. I know this. But as a teacher, mom, wife, and all the other things, I realized I was doing more work trying to keep a story in my head than taking the time (several weeks) to really think through where I was going. Having a structured system lets me see the big picture and the small picture.

Like the quote says, I realize it’s a lot of work. I once bemoaned how long my writing process takes me and the wise K.M. Weiland tweeted back to me, to paraphrase, that’s the least important thing in writing I could worry about. And she’s so freaking right. Getting the story right, and layered with resonance, is the most important thing. How we get there are just details.

I have to add that once I start writing, it goes pretty fast. I can do up to 6k a day because everything is already in place, except the actual words. That becomes the easy part, at least in the first draft. I sprint with my friends, the words flying from my fingertips because I know where I’ve been, I know where I’m at, and I know where I’m going. Need to foreshadow–no problem.

I highly recommend that people try plotting, to their own comfort level. There are some things in your story that you will need to work out. Doing that ahead of time prevents writer’s block.

Best resources for plotting

Good luck!

P.S. Don’t forget my new novella, out now, My Fake Vegas Boyfriend. It’s book one of my Viva Las Vegas series set in 1958. Books 2 will be out in early April and book 3 in mid-June. Read chapter one here.

Digging Right Now 716I haven’t done one of these in a while. For one thing, I’ve been busy writing! I finished all three of my fifties novellas (and I’m in the middle of editing them right now), I’m just (like this weekend) finished with second round edits on my novel, Infamous, contracted with The Wild Rose Press, and I’ve started the second novel to follow-up Infamous.

I’ll have lots more info for you on all of that in the coming months. But for now, what I’m digging this month.

Click it.
Click it.

First, we have to talk about Game of Thrones. In my opinion, it was the best. season. ever. In fact, it was so good that when I finished it on the last Sunday, I started watching again on the

following Thursday and rewatched the entire season.

The Battle of the Bastards! Daenerys and dragons! The taking back of Mereen! Killing the khals! Bran and Whitewalkers! Hodor! “I drink and I know things,”! The Green Trial! I could go on. And on and on. The point is, it hit every structure and pacing note imaginable. Every episode was top-notch. If you’ve never watched Game of Thrones, I not only suggest you do so immediately (get HBO Now for a month or two), I’m wondering what the hell you’re waiting for.

Next, let’s talk about what I’m doing in my down time. I’m playing video games, of course. I play lots of what’s called casual games. I play Happy Street and Hollywood University on my iPad. I’m an Animal Crossing fanatic. (My AC:NL dream code is 4600-4766-5087; go ahead and visit me.) Yes, I’m blushing as I admit that.

I have lately been investing a lot of my free time in The Sims 4. In many ways, it’s not as good as it’s predecessor. I mourn the open town and the color choices, particularly. However, other than loading screens, TS4 has its own high points. Being able to do more than one thing at once and great graphics on low-end machines are two of them. All the same, it amuses me, and that’s all that matters. Maybe in a few years, when computers catch up to higher end gaming, we can have an open town again. For now, I’ll play both versions.

Finally, let’s circle back around to writing. A book was recommended in the crit group I belong to called Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. It’s to the right there and that’s an affiliate link. This book was everything I’ve ever looked for on story structure for romance novels.

I read an article recently from BookRiot that the forumalaic elements of romance are like the elements of a sonnet. Yes, there are certain beats you want to hit if you want to write a good kissing book (what the author of the book calls them), but that’s no different than a lot of other writing that is revered. So what? It doesn’t make them any less enjoyable to read, if they’re your thing. They’re definitely my thing, and understanding why they work is, as well.

What are you enjoying this July? Also, happy birthday to me: I’ll be 42 on Sunday!


wpid-wp-1415857899407.jpegI’ve been writing – not reading much – for the last week, which is both awesome and awful (because I got the new Anne Rice Prince Lestat book AND Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Heroes Are My Weakness). Unfortunately, this means no Dating Advice from Romance Novels.

Instead, I decided to write about writing. When I first started, I asked for writing books as birthday and Christmas gifts and scoured the internet for someone to tell me how to write. I’ve since learned that the process of writing is extremely personal. My way is my way. And there is a very specific way that works for me, but I know it wouldn’t work for everyone.

I also learned that there’s no one place to learn everything needed to be a good writer. However, there are some extremely good sites (a lot of which I’ve noted here) and some great books.


The book I think I learned the most from, that made everything click into place, that made me a better writer, is GMC: Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon. I’ve written about it on this site before, so I won’t detail again why it’s integral to writing except to say that you can do almost anything with a character who has legitimate, realistic motivation. Characters have to make sense as people. And people do everything they do for a reason.

The Writer’s Journey

Next, THE book on structure – The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. One only needs to look at nearly any Disney movie ever made or the Star Wars (Original) to see that storytelling is universal. We need to see certain things happen. I’d never say this is a rule book that must be followed. But I do believe it’s essential to understand before drawing your own road map, the plot, to get from beginning to end.

Emotional Thesaurus

I also could not write without the Emotional Thesaurus. The authors of this book began with a site of the same name. When I went back and realized the wonderful material from that site had been added to and then turned into a book, I bought it without a second thought. The organization of the book makes it easy to use. What feeling is your character experiencing? Look it up and see how he or she might show that feeling physically and what might be going through their mind. This makes for a compelling, realistic way to SHOW the experience rather than tell it. It also helps you write a tight story, in which every word does double or triple duty. And that’s essential.

I hope that these books give you some direction and inspiration, as they have for me.

Tweet: “Three books I could never write without.” | Essential Reading for Writers bit.ly/1xPKbeH

Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Nh313066.

Alicia Rasley (blog) is a wildly talented writer and teacher who should get more recognition than she does. I bought her e-book in PDF, Discovering the Story Within, before people were even reading e-books. (My only complaint: it’s full of awesome worksheets, but the PDF is protected against copying, pasting, highlighting–anything you right-click to do, so filling them out in a word-processing program is impossible.)


But, for today, and for GMC month, I’d like to point you to an article she did on her site called Plotting Without Fears.

In this article she tells you the quick and dirty way to plot a story. Find your one-sentence idea, your theme,  and your hero. Then, she shows you how to figure out what questions your story will answer and the goals and conflicts.  Finally, taking that information, she shows you how to use structure to form a plot.

There’s a lot of vital information packed in this article.


This article, also by Alicia, on motivation is made up of three parts to help you get GMC right.  First, knowing the difference between your (the author’s) goal and your character’s goal. This is a crucial distinction. Nothing should ever happen in a story because you need it to happen; rather, it should happen organically from the character’s goals, motivation, and because of conflict with the antagonist.

Second, she says motivation should pro-active:

Pro-active: Motivating movement TOWARDS something. Success is a pro-active motivation because it draws the character forward towards itself.

Reactive: Motivating movement AWAY from something. Guilt is a reactive motivation because it propels the person away from itself.

Finally, she urges us to know the difference between external and internal motivation.  To help you understand the difference, she says:

External motivations tend to be more or less universal. Internal motivations are what will individualize your character. Most of us want success; the question is why? Your internal motivation for wanting success (to win the love of your father) might be different from mine (to get revenge against those who scorned me).

Then, she includes a fantastic list of some external and internal motivations that are worth the click there, just by themselves.

She concludes by distinguishing between story and backstory,  goal and motivation, motivation and action.

Motivation is the past.
Goal is the future.
Conflict is the present.

I urge anyone who writes, whether they’re just starting out or have been doing it for years, to explore the wonderful articles on her site.

Photo by Patrick Hajzler used with permission. Find Patrick on stock.xchng.


Character Development Series

Turns out, I had so much to say about developing characters, I wrote a series of posts. Here they are, in order:
Develop Characters Without Worksheets
Writing Free Form Character Biographies
How to Find a Character’s GMC?
My GMC “In the Wild”
Plotting and Motivation

So, I needed some creative inspiration. I keep coming back to these characters. Their story stalled on me. It lacked direction, I think. But the characters. I love these characters.

Then, a series of blog posts came across my computer, on Tarot cards and writing from Raelyn Barclay (@raelynbarclay on Twitter). I remembered a Material Girl post I did, years ago, about using Tarot cards to help write. I’d even picked out the deck I wanted (which is good, I’d never have remembered after this long).

I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I checked out the cards again and they’re just beautiful. Modern, girl-powery, bold. I chose the Vanessa Tarot and you can see all the cards here.

The cards are due to be delivered today. Besides Raelyn Barclay’s site, I’ve also been researching with info from Biddy Tarot, and I bought Tarot for Writers (which I’m still reading, but it’s wow).

I will definitely update you in the next few days. I’m dying to get started!

If you’ve used Tarot to help you write, I’d love your input in the comments or on Twitter.


I bought another pack of index cards.  I’m at this point in my story where I’m chucking what doesn’t work (after 11k words, trust me when I say: it could be worse).  I’ve got to keep what works (mostly the characters) and dig deep and find the goals and the antagonist(s) and the conflict.

(Why do I forget these things when I first start writing?  It’s like I have to play with my characters for a bit before I can rip them apart and say, “You’re not quite right.”)

So, I’m in the grocery store and there’s this pack of index cards. A big stack, probably a 100.  And they’re unlined… *sigh* (The lined ones restrict my process, somehow).

Next thing I know, despite the fact that the last time I tried using index cards to plot it was a colossal failure, I bought index cards.  Again.

I get so caught up in how well it works for authors like Roz Morris (who convinced me to do it last time with her very good book, Nail Your Novel
, and she’s just so passionate and convincing) and Johanna Harness (who I’ve linked to before about her use of magic index cards).  They make it sound so fun, and creative, and organic.  But, that’s where it doesn’t work for me.

I think I crave the structure that goes with them.  Being able to make sense out of something huge and messy. As first drafts tend to be.

I write down everything floating in my head, and really, that’s a lot.  But it’s not a whole novel. And, so, I have my index cards, which amounted to about 20 for the first act, 8 for the second act, and 2 for the fourth act (I write with a 4 act structure) the last time I tried.  Nothing for act three.  The middle. Which, you might’ve heard, has been known to sag.  Be boring.  Or be full of crazy, not-organic stuff, that a writer just makes up to fill her damn index cards.

I need what happens next to come from the choices and actions my characters take before.  And I just don’t know how to do that with index cards.  It doesn’t work that way, for me.

What works for me is a notebook. A big, fat notebook with lots of pages.  Where I will just write scenes down all over.  Make outlines. Draw conflict boxes. Write letters from my characters.

Does anyone need any index cards?

I read a post a few days ago.  It’s not the one linked below, because I had Kindle Klipped it to myself and read it there.  In fact, I can’t track it down at all, because a Google of “brainstorming 100” comes up with lots of posts from different sites.  It didn’t even hit me that much when I read it, except to say, “Hmm.  That idea doesn’t suck.”

But then I started reading a novel and, while trying to go to sleep, began looking for the GMC in that book.  I was impressed to realize that while the hero’s GMC is obvious from the beginning, the heroine’s changes (although they’re all connected to what her real goal and motivation was all along).  Sometimes, we don’t know what we want.  Sometimes we do things and we don’t know why we do them, except they have to do with this immediate thing we want that isn’t such a huge thing.  But, in the doing, it evolves and we learn more about ourselves and, if that need is met, we start looking for more of what made us feel good about meeting that need.

Does that make any sense?  I think I slipped into therapy-speak for a minute.

Anyway, so I’m examining the GMC for a book that is certainly well-written but is not at all my story or similar to my story.  And then, I think I figured out where the term brainstorm came from.  Because, like lightning flashes, I got hit by realizations of why the 76 page outline (let’s just stop kidding ourselves and admit it’s a first draft at that point since I’m still in the first act) petered out.

I NEED goals.  I know this.  This is not news to me.  Understanding the need for goals, motivation, and conflict completely changed writing for me.  It made it actually do-able.  And yet… there it was.  No. Freaking. Goals.

So, I made a choice.  It’s 76 rough pages.  If I don’t keep a word of it, who cares?  It can’t hurt that I’ve put my characters in situations just to see what happened.  It can’t be bad that I got a really good idea of how they interact and converse and feel.  Even if exploring completely outside of what I’ve written means I have to start over, it’s not really starting over.

I tried the idea.  In one sitting, brainstorm 100 things.  And the thing to remember about brainstorming is, you write EVERYTHING down.  Even if it’s “stupid” or it doesn’t make sense.

Sometimes, we can write ourselves into a corner and there’s no coming back until you are ready to chuck the corner, the wall, the whole damn structure to see how you get there and where you need to go.

Just for kicks, here are some directions on Brainstorming 100.  Let me know how it works out for you!

Oh, you’re wondering if it actually worked?  It opened the story up.  I’m still working on it, but I’m no longer banging my head on the keyboard.  That means it worked, right?

And the birds sang, the trees swayed happily, and I was free.  Free to spend as long as I needed filling in character, backstory, synopsizing scenes, and outlining.

I have this from very reliable sources.  I recently took a Write It Forward workshop from Bob Mayer (on Twitter @Bob_Mayer) on Plot and Outline.  He says:

Failing to do this essential background work sabotages the story before you type your first word and becomes very apparent to readers as they progress in your work.

(Truly, this workshop was chock full of empowering, on-target info.  It would be worth the money to invest in one of the Write It Forward workshops.)

And then, there’s Roz Morris’ (on Twitter @NailYourNovel) Nail Your Novel (now on Kindle!  Yay!).  She says:

You’ll be prepared to start writing.  The preparation you have done will make the writing go faster.   You are less likely to get blocked and more likely to sail through to the end.

Buy Nail Your Novel or read the first 15 pages first.

I needed time before I started writing.  There’s  no end to the things I can do before writing.  Character bios and pictures, apartment layouts, city street maps, pictures of clothing, snippets of dialogue, whole scenes.  My One Note notebook already has about 15 pages in 3 sections and I haven’t even started plotting yet.  Okay, I have.  But not a lot.

The point is, I used to feel so bad for this time.  I love this creative time, where the ideas just come willy-nilly and, like a medium, I just jot them down as fast as I can and let them speak.  It’s so fun I actually have a name for it: writer crack.

But now, I’m giving myself permission to take this time.  To let my muse say everything she needs to say, to research whatever she needs to know, to act out scenes in my brain completely out of order and out of context.  Sure, a person could get lost on writer crack forever.  Maybe even need writer rehab. For me, though, when the times comes to start writing and I’m prepared, this process has generated so much excitement that it’s just the next step.

I guess people who get stuck in this are the same people who re-edit the first chapter over and over instead of finishing.   If there’s a glaring plot hole that you fixed, but your previous chapters are still pointing down another road, you should take some time to fix that.  Or see if you’ve made other holes that need filling now.

And that was total digression.  My point is, if a person is looking for excuses not to write, then those people just aren’t going to write.  Doesn’t matter what anyone says.  They’ve either got the guts to jump in or they don’t.

Don't confuse creative process knocking on your door with stalling. Click To Tweet

Maybe we just need to trust our instincts, and do what feels right.  And read those craft books and take those workshops and attend those conferences because if we are onto something, odds are someone else (with more experience) has already been there.

Put your notes away before you begin a draft. What you remember is probably what should be remembered; what you forget is probably what should be forgotten. No matter; you’ll have a chance to go back to your notes after the draft is completed. What is important is to achieve a draft which allows the writing to flow.


via AdviceToWriters – Home – Put Your Notes Away.


I usually post quotes that I, you know, agree with.  But this? No freaking way.

I almost spend too much time making notes; I’ll give him that one.  Sometimes it’s a procrastination tool.  Sometimes, you do just need to sit your behind down and write.  And, maybe, for some people, the above is true.  They don’t need notes! They have memory and imagination and they bask in the story like a cat in the sun.

I’m not that person. I have a notebook for each project that I work on.  I have character bios (not forms, but freehand bios written in character voice), I have house plans, I have pics of cities and rooms and people to model the characters after.

I guess my point is this: writing is deeply, deeply personal and whatever it takes to get you to that sweet spot, that’s what you do.

Image: Felixco, Inc. | FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Writer’s Digest is studying the romance novel today (and giving you a bit of a glimpse into the book I’m currently reading, On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels).

I say: If you’re not a beginner, the first 85 pages are full of info you’ve heard before.  But then, it’s writing gold.  Give it a shot.

My favorite, the real “formula” of a romance:

What romance novels have in common is this: A romance novel is the story of a man and a woman who, while they’re solving a problem that threatens to keep them apart, discover that the love they feel for each other is the sort that comes along only once in a lifetime; this discovery leads to a permanent commitment and a happy ending.

via Writer’s Digest – Studying the Romance Novel.