Archive for the ‘Plot’ Category


Figuring Out Your Subplot

May 20, 2015

plot threadsIn my first Regency mystery, my subplot was an obvious extension of my main character’s romantic interests and just sorta ‘showed up’.

TA-DAA! Heeeere’s your subplot!

In that first mystery, I had a Plot A, Plot B…and a Plot C. Too much plot? Perhaps. But I liked the trinity feel of it, my variation of the rule of three.

It developed organically and it all felt fine. I was diligent about balancing them out properly, so that Plot A was the shining star and Plot B and C the back up singers. (No plot coups on my watch!)

In the next book, the second of the series, I’ve had to put more thought and intention into developing my subplots.

Plot A has a very clear direction (though not necessarily a clear path).

But Plot B and C? Not so much.

In fact, I’ve been in such a hurry to lay down the beginning of Plot A that I completely forgot about the others. It wasn’t until I re-read what I had from the start that I realized how heavy and off balanced and one focused it felt.

Wait! I gasped, smacking my forehead. I don’t have a subplot! What the heck is my subplot?

First, a reminder. Here’s the definition of a subplot: “it is the secondary or subordinate plot in a literary work”.

Subplots are great. I love how they break tension and yet crank it up.

They interject the main plot, giving that plot a chance to breathe. By doing so, they also create suspense…you now have to wait to get back to the main plot! But they also mirror the tension of that main plot, acting like an extra music note played a half a second later…and they all get faster and louder and faster.

So in reality, there is no break in tension. That’s an illusion! Really all you’ve done is shifted in your seat to look out a different window. But you’re still in the same vehicle, one that is still hurtling forward, and the speed is steadily increasing–

Subplots add complexity and nuance.

They really are fabulous.

Great. So where do I get one?

I ended up looking in these places:


Family and friends of your main character are a great source of subplot material. This is, in part, what I ended up doing. I’m mining my main character’s relationship troubles.

Themes & ‘Big Issues’

Search out a secondary area that mirrors your ‘big ideas’. Does your story deal with issues of abandonment? Well, then, find an abandonment plot that connects or mirrors or is similar to the main one.  (In my book, reconciliation is something my main character struggles with. So finding other ways and means for my main character to obtain goal is part of my subplots.)


I’m writing mysteries and so it makes sense to have my main mystery be Plot A and then have some mini mysteries in my subplots.

These are some areas where you can find subplots. I’m sure there are more.

For me, this is what worked.

I think it’s good to sort out your plot threads every now and again. I tend to write organically–I am an organic plotter, not of the ‘outliner’ persuasion–but sometimes an analytical approach is needed and I’ve got to pause to take stock…or else I’ll just have a knotted mess! Grrrr.


Don’t Hate my Lord Byron Interpretation! aka In Writing, You Go Where You Must

June 8, 2014

real fictionI’m starting to think ahead to Book 2 in my Regency mystery series. And this time around I think I’d like to include some significant ‘real life’ Regency guest stars–namely Lord Byron and (my muse) Lady Caroline Lamb.

In my current novel (book 1) I was VERY careful to create only fictional Regency folk–with a little bit of ‘real life’ name dropping. I mention Prinney (the Prince Regent), Napoleon, Lord Byron and his publisher John MurrayBeau Brummell, and others. But they are only on the periphery. The background. They never take the stage.

I did this because I wanted the story to be 1st and foremost about my characters. I didn’t want any distraction caused by some famous person showing up.

Also, writing about a real life personage is A LOT of work involving a TON of research.

Which is why I’m now wondering: am I crazy to want to include Lord Bryon, a historical personage so overly fictionalized that he has his own reading list? see “Best Lord Byron Books”

Also, how can I possibly do him justice? There are a bunch of biographies solely devoted to trying to do him justice.

Also, how can I do justice to a person that is so beloved? Will English grads (and English professors) nation wide send me snarky letters, irate at my fumbling portrayal?

On the other hand–HOW CAN I RESIST?

My novels is set in the fall of 1813. THIS IS PRIME BYRON TIME Part 1! (Part 2 is when he hooks up with The Shelleys in 1816…but that is beyond my novel’s current time line.)

So just before my novel’s time line:

  • Byron publishes Childe Harold in March 1812 and ‘becomes famous’…
  • In March 1812 Byron and Caro Lamb start their mad cap, cross dressing, self stabbing, on/off again affair…
  • By the summer of 1813, Caro Lamb has embarrassed herself so badly in her conduct in this affair she is taken out of town…
  • In the summer of 1813 his half sister Augusta Leigh arrives…
  • In the fall Byron visits Newstead Abbey, returning to London Oct. 19 1813…

Which is right about the time of my novel. And not a lot happens to him between Oct-Nov.

What an intriguing lull! My writing instincts insist I must fill it! Imagine if my characters have a run in with the great Lord B! (*gleeful chuckle*)

And so–as is the way of writing–it doesn’t matter in the end what I think.

The decision is made for me.

I go where I must.


When Plots Go Wild! (a.k.a Have I Inadvertently Written a Series?)

April 2, 2014

when plots go wildI started my novel using Scriverner, which, if you are not familiar with it, allows you to write scenes within chapters as separate segments. It’s great for focusing on writing little bit by little bit, rearranging your scenes as need be (with a quick click/drag of the mouse), and looking at the parts of your whole.

Recently, I decided to put each ‘scene’ from Scrivener into a word document, so I could see how it read in a continuos flow.

I also wanted my word count.

Are you ready for this?

139, 918

And I’m not done yet!

Now, a typical novel is meant to be between 80, 000 and 100, 000 words.

Web sites dedicated to novel lengths will tell you: do NOT go over 100, 000 words, especially if you are a ‘new writer’ (i.e.: not JK Rowling, Stephen King or Geroge R. R. Martin).

In fact, you are better off leaving it at 99, 999 words because it seems that once that tally clicks over into the one hundred thoughsandths column, any agent you are submitting your work to is going to react with a facial tick–and a big fat NO WAY, FORGET IT!

Or so the web sites say.

Which leaves me wondering…am I looking forward to a drastic edit? As in shave off, oh, 40, 000 words (ha!) or…am I somehow in the process of writing TWO novels and just didn’t realize it?

Have I inadvertently written a series?

I will admit it, in writing my novel, plot has been my arch nemesis, the aspect with which I’ve struggled with most.

As I’ve discussed in previous posts (like Determining Plot: Time for a Coin Toss?), I’ve tried outlining the plot events (oh believe me, I’ve tried) but can’t seem to be that specific. I tend to thrive on the process of discovering the finer details of plot by plodding my way, step by step, through it…deliciously surprising myself in the process.

I have a general guideline in my head of how events are going to play out but I also love putting my characters in situations and then seeing ‘what developes’. This is fun and rewarding–and also maddening. It has lead to bouts of back tracking,  rethinking, grasping at straws…

I believe the technical term is called ‘painting myself into a corner with no idea how to get out (yet).’

(Oh, the hours I’ve spent ruminating on plot problems. Ha Ha good times.)

I tend to be one of those go-with-the flow writers…but ‘my flow’ runneth over, it seems.


Or, if I turns out I’m writing two books, I don’t have enough plot yet.

In either case, yet another plot pause and a rethink may be required.




Breaking Thru Writers Block: “Honey, where’s the kayak?”

August 11, 2011

I spent two weeks at the family cottage up north and was able to break through some serious plot points. KERPOW! I had been struggling with these various knotted, tangled plot nubs for some time, trying to massage and release them, and all of a sudden, they literally unfurled in my hands like rose buds. I got it!

And what was my secret, you ask?

Well, I simply hopped in the kayak, and paddled around the island to the marsh. There I would float, looking at all the water lilies bobbing on the water, listening to the wind in the trees, watching dragonflies land here and there (most of them copulating, one on top of the other) and slapping away the occasional horse fly…

The family cottage is quite remote and on a lake with only a few cottages. In the middle of the week, it’s dead quiet. Quiet enough that you can float in the water, hear nothing but nature, and think nothing but…plot.

The question is…now that I’m back in the big, bad city, how do I recapture that sense of stillness so that I can focus and work through the writing issues I need to work through?

Sure, there’s nature around here. I have a garden. The city has parks. But its just not the same. For one thing, it’s…noisy.

I know I am able to tune the noise out. In the past, I’ve proven myself an excellent mutli-tasker. If you need someone to cook, clean, come up with a character for a scene in 19th century Bath, while simultaneously writing an entry on Facebook & Twitter, reading a library book about a crime in ancient Rome, stopping a fight between a 4 & 6 year old over an old Happy Meal toy that neither really wants and asking the hubby what colour to paint the bathroom…then I’m your woman! I have done it. I CAN do it.

But sometimes I can’t. And locking myself in the bathroom with my laptop while shouting at everyone to BE QUIET just isn’t the way to solve the problem.

If only the kayak would fit in the bathtub…?


Writing The Middle: Cue the Ominous Music.

January 17, 2011

I’m in the middle of my novel and it’s a bit of a scary thing.

Though I’ve a point of departure (my beginning) and a destination in mind (my end), in between I’ve got great, murky swaths of The Unknown to traverse through.

I am in The Middle a.k.a. The Great Unknown.

Generally, I am using a previous scene to build the current scene and thus I am inching my way slowly forward through the dark. Sort of like building a bridge across a chasm with tiny Lego bricks. Little bit by little bit, I am stretching my way from Beginning to End–

And of course I am trying to ratchet up the tension with each small step forward (cue the Ominous Music).

It makes for an unnerving experience.

Because anything could happen. They’re sitting in a room and they could talk or they could fight or they could kiss.

Or a cat could jump out from a closet and scare them or they could hear a scream or they could fall asleep because their tea was drugged.

Or they could decide to eat oysters or ham or white soup or they could go for a walk.

Or they could discover the Professor stabbed in the back, slouched over a potted fern.

My characters and I are constantly in the present moment, never knowing what the next moment (or Lego brick) is until it appears like magic. Poof!

(Sort of like real life, I guess.)

Writer, is this your experience of The Middle? Or is it more of a Happy Place for you?

Personally, I’m finding it pretty freaky!


Blah Blah Boring

September 24, 2010

I’ve a character in my novel who needs to explain a few things to the heroine. He needs to tell about what happened when he went to the Red Lion Inn a few days ago…its very important to the plot, so it must be done. This information must be revealed and he has to tell her . It can’t come across in flashbacks or a dream sequence or any other writer-trick, because the book’s written in the heroine’s voice, first person. He tells her the news and she tells the reader, and, of course, she reacts and converses back at him and tells the reader all about that, too.

Sounds simple?


It’s actually quite painful to write an explanation. Though necessary, the detail is tedious and it feels like it takes too long to impart. I’ve tried breaking it down into chunks, and delivering it via dialogue, interspersed with the heroines’ wry observations and her own lively reactions, but still it comes across like some kind of boring legal document, overloaded with detail after detail:

And so, in part a, subsection i, sub-subsection 1.0, the man then followed the other man down the street to the physicians.

In part a, subsection i, sub-section 1.1, the man waited outside the physician’s house for the man to reappear…

Either that, or I have a bad case of the “and then’s”, such as:

And then he followed him down the street. And then he waited outside. And then he saw a body being carried to a horse cart. And then…

ARG! How do I make this explanation less boring? Any and all suggestions greatly appreciated!


Determining Plot: Time For a Coin Toss?

September 12, 2010

I’m going to admit right now to a certain jealously towards writers who outline their novels. You just seem so organized and in control. Whenever I come across the seemingly sane advice to outline my plot, I think: what a great idea! That will solve my problems for sure!

Since I was stuck recently, scratching my head wondering ‘what comes next?’ I tried, once again, to outline my plot. And once again, I failed miserably. Honestly, I should just shove my head in a bucket and start hitting it with a hammer–the effect on my mind is similar…

Trouble is, I can’t seem to come up with enough detail to make the outline worthwhile! Points A and Z are well defined, but all points in between are a fog, a swath of nothingness, that mocking blankness on the page, empty, empty, empty. The map for my novel has a big, blank spot in the middle, so I just dunno what’s going to show up. Will I be trekking through mountains, swamps or desert? I dunno. Is the path straightforward or meandering? I dunno. Is there warning signs on the map: beware ye who enter here, a skull and crossbones? I dunno. I dunno. I have no idea.

While I do know where I’m hoping to go, the route I’m taking to get there is a mystery. I’m feeling my way through the dark with a lighted match–and that’s it.

So  I’ve decided: its official. I am not an outliner. I’m not even a connect-the-dot-er. I like to nail down my details organically, one scene arising from the other, within a very loose and general framework.  Let’s call it the ‘fingers crossed hope to hell this works out’ school of plot development. I’ve also heard it referred to as ‘pant-est’ (meaning ‘Whee! Look at me! I’m flying by the seat of my pants, baby!’)

It’s not an approach conductive to too much rational thought. It’s intuitive–and, as such, tossing a coin or consulting the Tarot to figure out a plot problem doesn’t seem like that much of a stretch. I suppose it can be considered fun and exciting, with it’s perpetual sense of discovery and surprise (oh look! My character just decided to seduce the footman. Wow!)…

But that’s also what makes it terrifying. Nerve-wrecking. Leading to shivers of self-doubt. I have to wonder if all this hap-dash slapped together and tied with bits of string will result in an obtuse, confusing, unpublishable piece of crap. Hence, my occasional yearning for a plan! An outline! If I could only nail this sucker down, I’d win. I’d be fabulous.

Luckily, I learned recently that best-selling author Suzan Elizabeth Phillips (the rom-com Queen of snappy dialogue) has a similar writing style, which she describes in the back of her novel It Had To Be You: “As you’ve probably figured out about now, I don’t do a lot of pre-planning and have a tendency to introduce characters and plot elements without any idea how to solve their conflicts.”

And her novels are best sellers. So, hurray! I guess there’s hope for me yet!

PS. How about you? Are you an outlining- pre-planning-got-details-figured-out-beforehand kind of writer? Or are you the intuitive-got-the-gist-of-it-but-making-it-up-as-I-go type? TAKE MY POLL and lets see the results!

PPS. And feel free to leave a comment too!

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