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.

This month has been spent in revision hell. I’m revising two novels and trying very hard to get them ready for a March 31 submission. One is a hard deadline; the other is self-imposed (important if we ever want to get our stories out there–there’s always a reason to not be writing if we let there be).

But there is no hell for the writer like Revision Hell.

I currently reside on the seventh level, the ‘this book sucks’ level where plot points and dialogue I thought were so cool in the first draft now strike me as vapid globs of desperation. Oh lord, deliver me from my woe!

–Writer Unboxed

Here’s this excellent post by Holly Lisle (my personal hero) on revising in one shot.

Here’s what she says on revision hell:

And let’s debunk one bit of writer myth while we’re here: Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, and smack of dilettantism. Real writers, and real artists, finish books and move on to the next project.

Because this is isn’t a real post, other than to gather resources I need (and you may need), here you go.

I hate revising more than anything in the universe. More than cleaning up cat puke. I am done with this book and do NOT want to work on it anymore.

This is where I’m at, y’all.

My Process-I’m not literally on crack, I feel compelled to share with you. It’s just that my writing process is so super-organized, its on crack. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

When I first started writing, I wanted someone to tell me how to go about the process of doing so. Turns out, those posts are fairly rare because process is as personal as fingerprints. Nonetheless, I’m going to begin sharing mine with you. I’m beginning here because there are so many freaking stages.

Let me list them:

  1. Idea, aka writer euphoria. Birds sing, angels weep because they’re so touched by this incredible idea that you have.
  2. Plotting, aka this could happen, then that, and also….oooh, yes. That.
  3. Plotting turning points, aka my story seemed more fully formed in step one. So, um, this goes here, and then… shit. Let me call my critique partner.
  4. Plotting scenes, aka you know what’s going to happen, and when, and now you need to let these people do their thing while also accomplishing plot goals, theme, emotional arcs, etc. etc.
  5. Pre-writing plotted scenes, aka let’s get this dialogue down while it’s fresh and hot. Sizzle!
  6. Typing pre-written scenes, aka get those nuances in there.

So, you see the on crack part. I actually plan to write more about each phase, if you care to read the insanity.

For now, what’s your process like?

I wanted to share my post from the HSG blog this month because it’s about writing accountability. I have quazillioned my output this year and if you want to do the same, go read my post!

I am so. close. to writing the end on my novella. I have written all the scenes that set up the big bang scenes and the black moment. I’m crazy excited. And busy.

So, I though I’d just share a picture with you about how insane writing can look to outsiders.



Click for a larger look.

I found my critique partner through a website (Ladies Who Critique) about eight months ago. We exchanged a chapter to see if we would be a fit. We decided to chat on Google a week later and about five minutes in she said, “Can I just call you? I hate chatting.” Feeling slightly awkward about my West Virginia accent, I reluctantly agreed. (She doesn’t know I was reluctant. I’m shy. Shh, that’s a secret).

That night, we went over our crits, answered questions, brainstormed. Then we spent three hours talking about writing, and story, and good books. And life. It was like we were meant to partner up.

Now, she’s my writing partner. We write our own stories, but we help each other by brainstorming, critting, beta reading, and motivating. We talk at least weekly. We actually talk a lot. Like, we usually run down the battery on my home phone and my cell phone.

The thing is, besides acquiring a loving, accepting, genuine friend, my writing has improved. A lot. Because when you have someone to throw around ideas with, who will say, “Your hero is acting like an asshole,” (her) or, “No, I’m sorry. Internal conflict doesn’t count as scene conflict. Something has to happen. Period,” (me), then you up your game. You have someone, in real time, to call you on your flaws, to draw out your talent. It’s like creativity crack.

Before I end this with crazy, random quotes, I encourage everyone to find a writing partner. It should be someone you trust. It should be someone you connect with. It should be someone who is committed at the same level you are. But do it.

Crazy, Random Quotes:

  • “I think my hero’s hair is going to be troutymouth blond.” (Cool points if you get this reference. See a couple of posts back for a clue.)
  • “That’s okay though. The important thing is you were creatively…creating.” (Yes, I’m a writer. I use my words so well.)
  • “I think my inappropriate dead crush is Yul Brenner.” (Mine is Rock Hudson).
  • “I’m a writer. I can make those fantasies happen all over my mind.” (Let’s not even go there.)
  • “But we’re not normal people.” (It’s true.)
  • “Trust me. You’re going to love conflict boxes so much, you’ll want to marry them.” (She’s almost there.)
  • “I have the perfect song for your story. Go buy it.” (It was).

Photo used with permission from stock.xchng. Photo by: Robert Linder.

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

I think I opened one hell of a can of worms when I offered to post one of my sample biographies last week.  Three hours later, I’ve done the prep work and I’m ready to post.

The biography I’m including today is for a secondary character in the manuscript I’m working on now.  Because I wanted to make comments so you could see my process, I typed it into MS Word, used the Review>Comment button to add info along the right side (in pretty blue bubbles) and, occasionally, in the text itself (but also in blue).


This is what you'll see if you download the file.  For four pages. =)

You can download the PDF here* and it will also be available on my Downloads page for always.

*When you click on the sample graphic or the text link, it just opens the PDF up in your browser.  If you like that sort of thing, we’re golden.  If not, right click (PC) or Control + Click (Mac) to save.

Everything I wanted to say is on that PDF.  I’ll be happy to discuss my process or answer any questions if you leave them for me in the comments or @me on Twitter.

Next Week:

I’ll show you how I used that backstory to create an internal and external goal/motivation/conflict chart as well as a real, live picture of GMC charts hanging on my wall and diagrammed for your use.  Because, yes, I am that awesome.  Or it’s not a big deal.

So, I’ve had my cards a week now.  First impressions: the cards I chose (the Vanessa Tarot) are small.  I was expecting big and… important.  But they’re small, like regular playing cards.  But once I had them out, handling them, shuffling them–I didn’t mind the size so much.

Using the tarot was both harder and easier than I expected.  At once, cards that called to me, that spoke to who my characters were and what I knew of them, made their way into the spread.  I’ll just give you some samples, since I wrote all of my cards (and impressions) down.

  • Character: The three of swords.  In my deck, it looks like this:

I got, just from the image, that she’s a heartbroken woman.  There’s been betrayal or abandonment.  She’s in love with love, though it’s let her down.  She’s made a choice, and something better can’t come to her without making this choice.  It’s hard, it’s hurt her deeply, but it’s the only choice she could make.  She’s turned away from love and is still deeply affected by it.

In my character’s backstory, she has two relationships gone bad.  One with “the perfect man” who she left for the bad boy best friend she’d fallen in love with.  Except he couldn’t really settle down and commit, so she’s walked away from her bad choices to start over somewhere else. A clean slate.

  • The next card, her goal? The lovers.  I’m still trying to work that out, especially since the goal was something I was struggling with before.  But, it’s definitely an evocative card.
  • Basis of Goal: eight of cups.

Clearly someone who is running away (or has run away) from something.  She’s got baggage at her feet, behind her.  Baggage she’s leaving behind, perhaps?

There was more, obviously, but it gave me just a huge jumping off place, sparks to the imagination, a new way of seeing the situation.  It also took hours, although I suppose it’ll get faster when I’m not going through three different books on my Kindle, looking up meanings.

The point, for me, is that the cards give you a new way of looking at things, new ideas, and help you delve deeper into the things that you know.

Accessories I would strongly recommend are a quiet place to work (my new dog kept jumping up on my work area which was more than a little disruptive), a good sized flat surface to work on, a notebook to write, write, write everything that comes to you, and the book Tarot for Writers by Corrine Kenner.  The book is a wonder.  It’s full of information, ideas on how to use the cards, what each card can mean, what elements and astrological signs are associated–just a lot of different ways to look at this resource.

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.