Tag Archive | writing

“I have an idea for a plot.” Dreaded words to an author.

About a month ago, I took a weekend trip with some friends. In our long ride in the car in which I had no responsibility for driving, we took some time to catch up on what was going on in each others lives, shared some insights into daily issues, and then the sentence came out which made me cringe.

“I have an idea for a plot. Here it is.” She launched into her idea, which came from a real incident in her life. 

I listened, not having any idea how I would turn this into a story. It was only the description of one meeting. At least it was a good one, where the hero and heroine would meet. My friend had one other requirement–that the characters have sex on the hood of a car. In my head I was thinking, “Um, I can’t do that.” 

Except, you can’t say that when you are sitting beside your very good friend. Great friend. Life long, always been there for you friend. Yes, we are honest enough with each other that I could have given her the “that’s nice” line, but for reasons I won’t discuss here, I was needy, wanting real in depth round and round go get ’em conversations. So, I said, “That’s a nice idea, but it takes more than that to write a story. We need to know who the characters are, and one of the ways to do that is by answering some questions about the characters.”

Here is where I pulled from one of the best online classes that I’ve ever taken. Quilting 101: Patchworking the Perfect Plot with Suzanne Johnson. It covered plot arcs, the threads of the story (the individual character arcs), and so much more. All the parts she showed us stuck with me, but I focused on the character dossier. 

Let me tell you a bit about Suzanne first. She’s the author of Royal Street, River Road, and Elysian Fields, a gritty, but delightful story set in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s great urban fantasy with some amazing characters that jump off the page. I was instantly in love with Jean Lafitte. She also writes as Susannah Sandlin. You can find all about her at Preternatura

Back to the main story. I pulled from Suzanne’s character dossier questions as we rode along the interstate. As i was going from memory, I didn’t cover all the questions, but I got the big ones. Honestly, a writer needs to know what a character’s childhood was like and who their best friend is. These things tell you a lot about a character.

My friend jumped right into the questions, taking my deeper questions and criticisms in stride. That skeleton of a heroine grew into a truly fleshed out person. I know who she is, and by the end of an hour, I had a pretty good sketch of the hero. I’ve got the big idea, or in Suzanne’s words, what the overall quilt will look like. The colors that I’ll be using aren’t very clear yet, but I’m not even halfway through the patchwork quilt process with this plot idea. (I am in the middle of what started out as a crackpot idea.)

Here is what I do know:

  • I can make my friend’s idea into a story I can sell. It may not be exactly what she envisioned, but it’s one more idea to make into a story.
  • I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the education I got via Suzanne. 
  • I may not ever cringe again when someone says, “I have an idea for a plot.”

Ok, that last one is probably a lie. I will still cringe. Most authors aren’t struggling for ideas. We struggle with the limitations of time and the speed of our fingers to get the ideas out fast enough. Here is the other beautiful part about Suzanne’s way of plotting; it is all there once you are done. You’ve got the accessory characters, the furniture (you’ll have to take one of her classes to understand), the interactions between all the characters, plot arcs, and a nearly full blown synopsis. Due to me taking care of my mother, it was necessary for me to take a pretty large break in writing. When I went back to the manuscript in my editor’s hands, I knew exactly where I was in the story and where I needed to go once I had time to devote to daily scribbling. I didn’t have my brain to thank for that. I had Suzanne’s plotting method.

I’m left with a scribbled plot idea and half synopsis in the back of my day planner and a serious appreciation for a great writer and an even better writing teacher. Check out Suzanne Johnson’s website and look into one of her workshops that she’ll be leading in the next year. You’ll be glad you did.

Only slightly disorganized from moving

Image This photo? This is where I live now. No more crazy city of New Orleans. I don’t live amongst towering live oaks and stately mansions. There aren’t any double shotgun houses around me now. No longer do I hear the rattle of streetcars as they travel in the neutral ground of St. Charles Avenue.

What I wake to every morning are the low tones of mourning doves and the scratch of palm fronds against my windows. My dogs and I walk along the water, marveling at the scurry of tiny fiddler crabs, and the grace of great blue herons. Mullet jump randomly. 

I once lived where people talked about sidewalk side and neutral ground side. Here, we say gulf side or sound side. 

This place makes me happy. I adore the beach, and I’m living a dream of waking up to the waves each day. Will my characters hail from here more than from New Orleans? Some certainly will, but my writing won’t abandon The Big Easy. 

Sure, there will be more stories like Man of Few Words, but soon Big Bad Easy will be out, and that could only take place in one city–New Orleans. 

I at least have my desk set up, my computer ready to go, and plenty of inspiration outside my windows. These seven boxes still packed? They can wait. 

Only so many words

Writing has sucked all the words out of me. I have nothing left for a blog post. I’m in between releases. I love Behaving Badly, and have since my editor and I went round and round making it what it is. Yet, y’all, I got nothing left after revising another story coming out later this year. I have only words left for writing. I did just sell another story to The Wild Rose Press.

But, short, quirky posts?

I ain’t got nothing. (Double negative and improper grammar intended.)

I’m writing on a story that was inspired by a real life event in my life. No, the character isn’t me. No, I didn’t do anything that my heroine will do. But, y’all, inspiration comes from everywhere. I’ll be damned before I let good inspiration pass me by.

Back to writing fiction instead of quirky blog post. Instead, I’ll leave you with a photo of the man that has dreamy eyelashes (according to my ten year old daughter). We’re on a serious Avengers kick in this household, because, yum. Sexy people all around from Black Widow to Iron Man. Maybe not Hulk. Green ain’t my thing. (Photo removed, because I don’t have permission to post it.)


Weekend for Writers


For the past 24 hours, I have been at the Dreaming in Dallas conference. My trip didn’t begin well, but I disposed of my bad attitude due to bad transportation with a glass of wine and discussions on writing.

Today has been full with classes and agent appointments for everyone. Julia London presented my favorite session. She gave her ten rules for a saner happier writer. We apparently need that, because so many times we forget that we are writers who have to produce. We also have lives and people around us who don’t understand that our writing time is working time. I also bought a book from her last night, and I am hooked already.

I didn’t learn much craft but that could be due to the sessions I chose rather than the sessions offered. What I did gather was more confidence and inspiration to keep writing and creating. I didn’t bring my laptop, which means I will type with my thumbs tonight on my Droid’s word processing program. That is the tradeoff. Thumbs versus the hassle of taking the ‘puter on the plane.

There are plenty of conferences out there. They are great places for education and the type of networking that fill your life with people who understand you as a writer. Take a look for one in your area. They are listed with RWA. Or go to the national conference. I’ll sit that one out though. But, you go and tell me all about it.