19 May 2011

Margaret West Talks about writing the perfect plot

How to write a perfect plot

Good Morning. I am very happy to be here, on Sherry’s blog for the next seven days...yikes...I hope I don’t bore you all rigid lol. I like feedback, so any comments/questions you may have, feel free to ask. I’ll be popping in and out all the time.

So let’s talk about how I think you can write a perfect plot. I need input here. So anything you can add will go onto my writer’s blog, under the Author helpful hints page. So be sure to leave your website addy beside your comments for me.

In my other job as a medium, I observe people. So I apply that technique to those who like to read books. If a person stops, frowns, then re-read a sentence, it’s a warning that something is very wrong. It could be loss of viewpoint, failure to provide adequate settings or, worse still, an inconsistency in the plot. Whatever it is, it usually results from careless plotting compounded by either failure to double check each development, or a suicidal conviction that no one will notice! Trust me, a reader WILL notice.

I believe a first scene should have a good hook, which I will discuss in tomorrow’s blog. You set the pace and mood here. It’s all about making your reader care about your characters.

Non writers always ask me, where do you get your ideas? I believe that what sets a writer’s imagination apart from other types of imagination, is the way it collects and organises it. I read somewhere that a writer thinks of them self as a hunter gather. I like that phrase. A writers mind is where an impression can grow and spread into fully expanded ideas. It’s like having a personal filing cabinet inside your head. People’s lives are interesting. So be a hunter gatherer and grab any information that takes your fancy and store it away.

PLOTTING. I only chose the strongest ideas. Never some vague outlines that may form. You should have an idea of settings and conflict. So which comes first? In answer to that, both! The elements come at the same time, spurring each other on. Give your characters bones to fight over and a place to hold that fight. The hero and heroine are the most important members of the cast. Their backgrounds, personalities, and skills must make them come across as real. I always check and cross-check their histories as I build them. A heroine who has a lovely, but empty face, no wrinkles in her clothes, and no wrinkles in her spirit is boring. So don’t expect anyone to care about her. She’s not real enough. Let’s say my heroine is twenty – three, ought to be pretty, because if she is I don’t have to look too hard to get her noticed. But one character doesn’t make a novel. In steps the hero. Also secondary characters. Traits and agendas for them. I build them as carefully as I build my main characters. They are just as important. But not too many. In my experience, a whole crowd of characters with agenda’s make confusing reading.

The hero…let’s call him Edward, knows what he wants. He was born knowing that and he’s been going after it ever since. He’s honourable, loyal and smart and confident. Understanding women isn’t something he’s worked real hard at. He never had a reason to before he met Virginia.

She’s the woman he wants. She works at the office and he’s tried to get to know her but she doesn’t want to know. He hates that, but he can’t get her out of his head. It doesn’t help that she applied for the promotion that was given to him. He also heard that one of the firm’s biggest accounts is her ex-husband. Who still wants her. Can you see the hero developing here? He’s not perfect, but who is nowadays? This makes him more believable to the reader.

Major characters lead to secondary characters. Major and secondary characters lead to minor characters.

CONFLICT. When I work on characterization, I always work on conflict. I try hard not to get bogged down with silver eyes that shine like a polished kettle, and sardonic eyebrows that slash heavenward like dark thunderbolts prepared to challenge God. My rule of thumb is, only trouble is interesting. And if you want to capture a reader’s attention and hold it, your characters must be in trouble. The root of all this trouble comes from your characters wanting something they can’t have. BUT they must have it or be doomed to eternal unhappiness or, almost worse, a passionless existence.

MOTIVATION. I try hard to make my story real, but basically it’s a fabricated vision of a selected sequence from life. Here is where inconsistencies can creep in. But if you don’t catch the problem, you’re in trouble. As I write, I ask myself questions: Why? Where and how? Then I cross-check everything. I never leave a question unanswered a loose end untied. Everything needs to be as tight as a glass blowers backside!

LOCATION. This is where you decide on the scenes you will use to tell your story. I choose my locations for impact, not just for setting. Here I take the time to organise a few pivotal scenes that act as anchors to the entire plot. If I choose wrong the whole story could fall apart. Here I decide what the next scene must convey, how it will move the story forward, change the characters, complicate the plot. Then I decide what scene I will use as a tray to carry all these tasty morsels.

So to do a quick recap.

1. Flesh out my heroine and hero. Maybe take whole paragraph to talk about them. Make her three dimensional.

2. What do they want that will put them in conflict with themselves and with each other and with the world? Jot down notes.

3. Take the want you’ve developed, devise an action to get it, then motivate and qualify the action with the who, when, why, what, how sequence.

4. You need a scene to present the idea you gathered. To execute the scene, I use the heroine and hero I’ve fleshed out, and some of the want that stops them from leaping into each other’s arms and living happily ever after on page one of your book.

5. Read over the six points you’ve written.

6. Combine them into a paragraph that captures the essence of the story.

Now I have my workable plot line.

If you have any helpful tips or just want to comment, please do.

When Abigail falls in love with Justin she can’t begin to know the world of hurt she is heading into. Gorgeous, kind, rich – he’s the man we all dream to meet. BUT, all is not what it seems because Justin is a true demon from hell, disguised as a mortal being. He wants her and will do, kill or maim anyone who tries to stop him. Namely Shaun the real hero, who wants Abigail more! So what does a mortal man do against a demon? He enlists the help of a gypsy of course. But not any old gypsy. Rosa knows Justin very well and has the powers of the spirit world on her side to fight him. Using crystals as a powerful weapon, the light of the spirit world to lead them, they embark on a battle with the whole of the underworld. Many loved ones will lose their lives. This isn’t a book where everyone survives. In real life, bad things happen. In Abigail Cottage, terrible tragedies occur too. Believe... not every story can have a happy ending.

BuyLinks:  Abigail Cottage in e-book and print
Publisher. www.hedge-witcherybooks.com

My links:

Margaret, :-) thank you for sharing your ideas and blurb for Abigail Cottage with us today.  I enjoyed reading yours and will tweak some of them into my own routines.


Julie Lynn Hayes said...

Mags, you are far more organized than I am. I start out with my characters and a basic idea of the conflict between them, and their world/setting. Some stories demand more intricate planning, like the sci fi book I'm cowriting with a friend - both because we each have to be able to see it, and distant planets are harder to do.

I think not everything works for everyone. I can see yours works for you from the books that I've read. I'm still enjoying Abigail's Cottage. I think it'd make a good film.

Great blog, Mags!

Margaret West said...

Thanks Julie
Like my life, I always have to have a plan lol your right, a lot of authors I know just write from the seat of their pants. :-)

Toni Wild said...

I read Ab Cott and thought it was the best one you have every written.

Lorrie said...

Oh my. I guess I'm a panster. Yes, I see the characters in my head, get them into trouble and must search hard for a resolution. You can sometimes paint yourself into a corner this way, but oh what fun finding a way out.

Nice post Margaret, you can plot my next novel. lol.

Margaret West said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Margaret West said...

Sorry, I sent that before I was finished lol I always thought that I was the one who was so anal about plotting etc. But it seems loads of authors are like me. Which is good, I hope lol

Peggy said...

I only discovered all this from reading your blogs mags. I am a reader and had no idea how much stress a writer has to get that book written.

country queen said...

Well, OMG comes to mind with the blog you've just written. I'm surprised you don't have a permanent headache with all you have to go through to get a book written. So I think I'll leave it to the professionals for the written words that I read.

Sherry Gloag said...

Thanks for such an informative article. I used to describe myself as a 'pantser' but now it's about 50/50. So my question is - when you plot and create such a tight scenario, what do you do if your characters of plot goes off at a tangent? Do you explore the possibilities, or do you bring everyone/thing back on track?