Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Plotting is a Strange Animal

Melanie Dickerson here.
One of the things I get asked about most often from young writers is plotting. Even though they may not know they’re asking me about plotting. For example, they may tell me that they have started a novel but they’re stuck and don’t know what to write next. Or they may ask me, “How do you finish a book? I always get about 50 pages into it and then I never seem to be able to finish.” And even more common is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

In these cases, the problem is usually that they don’t have enough plot. So if you know you need a plot, where can you get one? Or if you have a partial plot, where do you get the rest?

Plotting is a strange animal. Some of us outline meticulously, and others get a few vague ideas for a story and just start writing. But either way, you have to have a plot. So it’s important to know the basics of what makes up a good story. It’s important to know the essential elements. It’s important to read about how other writers come up with their plots. And it’s important to figure out what methods work best for you.

When a young writer asks me for advice, I will usually send them my list of writerly websites, with Seekerville and the Seekerville archives at the very top. I also give them a list of several books on writing for them to read, such as Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass. This is what I did, I read how other writers do it. I tried to learn as much as I could about story and characterization and plot. And I went to workshops at conferences and took notes.

I have 15 published novels but I still like to get tips on plotting, even though I’m a pantser who hates outlining. I sometimes say I don’t do a whole lot of plotting, but that’s not really true. I have to plot. I just don’t like to plot in too much detail too far in advance. I’d rather plot as I go along and keep the ideas percolating in my head. But however you plot, it’s good to figure out what works best for you.
And it’s also good to acquire some plotting tools.

One tool I’ve used with several of my books is Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. It’s a fill-in-the-blank workbook that is a companion to the book by the same name. It can help you come up with ways to make your plot more interesting.

These days I have a Plotting Worksheet that I made for myself. I fill it out before I start writing. The first part is basically the GMC chart from Debra Dixon’s book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, or GMC, which is a classic and should be read by every fiction writer. I focus on one of the main characters and I write down an external goal, a motivation for that goal, and the conflict for that goal. Then I do the same thing for the other main character. You might also find it helpful to write down the GMC for the villain as well, but you definitely should have one for the villain.

The rest of the worksheet are a series of blanks that I do for each of the main characters. These are mostly questions about the characters’ past, and I got these from a workshop taught by Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck. (So I did actually go to at least one workshop while I was at a writers conference, instead of only socializing my friends!)

I would love to tell you all the questions I ask myself about my characters, but that would seem like I was giving away Susan May Warren and Rachel Hauck’s information, almost like plagiarism. So I suggest you check out their materials. Susan May Warren’swebsite  has a section of her website Writing/Teaching, and you can explore there, but she also has a separate website here with her My Book Therapy information called Learn How to Write a Novel.  She and her team have workshops that they teach, writerly services where they teach you one-on-one, and they have books. Some of their services are expensive, of course, since they’re teaching one-on-one and you’re getting their focused attention. So if you can’t afford that, don’t despair. I didn’t shell out a lot of money in the beginning, either. I read books from my library. I bought books on writing. And I read the great blogs out there that are chock full of free articles.

I will tell you some of the questions I ask about my characters. I try to come up with their greatest fear, the lie the heroine believes about herself, her biggest strength and her biggest flaw. Her deep wound she acquired from her childhood. If you can come up with this stuff about your characters, it will help you with plot, because plot and characterization go hand in hand. Think about it. If you know your character’s worst moment from their past, or their biggest fear, you can use that to create tension and conflict and create something for your character to overcome, something the villain can use against them. Before you know it, you’re coming up with scenes in your head.

Something else your plot needs is a Beginning, Middle, and End. It needs a trajectory. What is the big “inciting incident” that starts your story, that thrusts your character into conflict or on a journey? For the middle, you have to ask yourself, What is going to keep the tension and conflict going? How can I make things worse for them in the middle? What is a good plot twist that ramps up the conflict? Where are my characters going, and what do they have to go through and learn before they can get there? And of course, you need to figure out the ending, preferably before you get too far into the story. What does Happily Ever After look like for my characters? And if you don’t write HEA endings, then how are you going to tie up all the loose ends and bring closure for your characters?

Another plotting guru who has tons of resources and books on writing is James Scott Bell. You can check out his website where he has a section For Writers.

Okay, let me know if that’s helpful. You at least have a TON of possible resources now. And if you’re willing to share, tell me how you plot, what resources have helped you, and how you get ideas for your plot, or what your plotting process is. One commenter will win an e-copy of my new book Magnolia Summer.

From New York Times Bestselling author Melanie Dickerson comes a story of romance, heroism, and secret identity. Will this Deep South Zorro succeed in saving his sleepy Southern town? 

Truett Beverly returned to Bethel Springs, Alabama, after finishing medical school. Fighting a secret war with a corrupt lawman wasn’t in his plans, but when Sheriff Suggs threatens his childhood friend, Truett dons a cape and hood and becomes the Hooded Horseman, placing him squarely in the sheriff’s crosshairs. 

Celia Wilcox arrives in Bethel Springs in June of 1880. She’s come from Nashville to help her sister care for their younger siblings. She hopes only to be on the small farm for the summer, just until her mother recovers from the shock of Celia’s father’s death. She must return to Nashville in order to fulfill her dream of opening her own dress shop. 

Celia catches Truett’s eye from the moment she steps off the train. He finds himself wanting to impress her, but she flatly refuses to flirt with him or to fall for his—if he does say so himself—considerable charm. Truth is, Celia’s attraction to Dr. Truett Beverly terrifies her. What will happen when Sheriff Suggs discovers Truett is the Hooded Horseman? Will Celia's greatest fears come true? Or will she be able to prevent the sheriff from carrying out one last lynching?

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Jesus Rejoiced

Ta'Mara Hanscom
 21In that same hour He rejoiced in the Holy Spirit…Luke 10:21a ESV

I’ve read my Bible so many times over the last thirty-some years that I’ve lost track of how many. What’s remarkable in that is that I still see something brand new almost every day. For instance, the verse that I just read to you; I can honestly say that I don’t remember ever seeing that verse in my Bible before. And when I saw it the other day, it stopped me in my tracks.
Jesus rejoiced…

The story surrounding that verse goes like this: 17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”Luke 10:17-24 ESV

Seventy-Two of Jesus’ disciples had just returned from performing miracles in His Name, and they were excited about that – perhaps even bragging a little bit! But Jesus lovingly admonishes them, i.e., Guys, don’t get so puffed up about this! I saw Satan’s fall from glory because of the same problem.

And it can happen to anybody. 

There’s a great story about a successful, godly king in our Old Testament. His name was Uzziah, and he could do anything. He had an impeccable talent for industrialism, he was gifted in agriculture, and he had a hard-wired sense for national defense. But you know what did him in? Pride. When he’d developed his country to a superior point, he started to rewrite God’s perfect rules about worship. God struck Uzziah with leprosy and he was never permitted to be in His presence again.
Click to buy 'A Blackguard's Redemption' by Ta'Mara Hanscom

I think that Jesus’ seventy-two, having been revealed the glorious treasures of God’s Word, were caught up in the pride of accomplishment—not unlike King Uzziah. God gives us our gifts and talents, and we are to utilize them for Kingdom service and edification of the Body. They’re not intended for our personal glory.

Jesus told His disciples not to rejoice in the fact that they could overcome Satan and his minions with just His Holy Name. But, rather, that their names were written in heaven.

And it’s right there that Jesus rejoiced!

Jesus was delighted for the seventy-two, just as He is for each and every one of us who have our names written in heaven. In another passage, Jesus declared, “10 … I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.Luke 15:10 ESV
…before the angels of God…

Jesus is before the angels of God. He is Commander of the heavenly host. He is filled with joy and He rejoices when even just one of us turns to Him in faith and repents of our sin.

“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Luke 10:23-24 ESV

We are blessed when we uncover the mystery of God through Jesus Christ. People a whole lot smarter, and in much higher position, study and wait for years for the revelations Jesus just lavishes on His people. We need only faith to stand in His grace.
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In faith, turn to our gracious Savior today! Repent of your sin and live a new life in Him. I guarantee, He will rejoice over you!

17 The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 ESV
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
© 2018 Ta`Mara Hanscom

Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for an ebook copy of book #1 of the Caselli Family Series, The Pretender - A Blackguard in Disguise by Ta'Mara Hanscom

A Blackguard s Redemption is the third volume of 5 in the epic romance series The Caselli Family Series.
Eleven years have passed since Noah and Tillie s chance meeting. Tillie is married to Alex Martin, III. Noah has been a widower for the past five years, and has grown terribly lonely.
Giuseppe and Rosa conspired, along with their daughter-in-law, Tara, to keep Noah s identity a secret...but little did they know that Noah himself would reveal their deceptions to an unsuspecting Angel.
As Alex relocates his family to Rapid City, SD, Noah s heart returns to the desire of a love he s never forgotten. And while Alex grows in the limelight of politics, Angel s heart softens to another man.
When tragedy strikes the Martins, Alex abandons his wife and children in their greatest hour of need. Giuseppe watches his planned marriage unravel and confesses his deceit to Noah.
Caught between a workaholic husband and a charming old flame, Tillie is torn between righteousness and desire.
 Fiction to Ignite Your Faith

Ta`Mara Hanscom was born and raised in South Dakota. She has lived in Sioux Falls, Tea, and Rapid City, the primary location of her fictional series, The Caselli Family Series.
Ta`Mara is a dedicated Bible scholar, specializing in the Old Testament which she has taught at her home church. She also teaches AWANA Sparks and speaks at women’s events.
She works full time on her writing and Bible lessons in northwest Iowa, where she currently resides with her husband Jim. She has three grown children and one grandson, two rescued cats and one Pomeranian.