Another 'Lightbulb' Moment by Cara Lynn James.
Which comes first—the characters or the plot? It’s hard to determine. In fact, I’m not sure there is a correct answer. Some writers concentrate on characters first, others gravitate toward plot. I imagine most combine elements of both as they develop their story.
The first thing that often catches my interest is an unusual situation. From there I can picture my characters with their unique personalities, strengths and flaws etc. If I’m lucky, my hero and heroine spring to life in my mind’s eye. I see their faces and hear their laughter. And then I’m off and running at least for the first few chapters. The ending suddenly appears in skeleton form, but clear enough to know the characters will eventually burst through the finish line and create their own story resolution. I can smile at this point, confident (hopeful) my idea has potential and will work.
But then I’m left with the sagging middle which stretches on and on like the Sahara Desert. I try not to panic when my mind goes blank. I try to deepen my characters by reexamining their goals, motivation and conflict. But sometimes I get overwhelmed and discouraged, so I surf the net or read a book. Still, a sagging middle doesn’t tighten itself all on its own. It takes hard work and for me, a lot of trial and error.
Tired of trudging through the barren wasteland between the beginning and the end, I recently decided to take the problem in hand and deal with it. My ‘seat of the pants approach’ to the middle doesn’t work for me. And I can’t outline because I’m wandering around the desert without an oasis in sight. But what do I do? In the past I’ve tried to follow different plotting techniques which worked for writer friends, but they only helped a little bit. Nothing clicked until I took an online plotting course using the ‘W’ plotting method by Karen Docter. It sent me from plot point to plot point which made all the difference in the world.
I can now plot! This is a giant step forward for me. Plotting will save me hours of birdwalking. So I’m grateful I found a method to steer me in the right direction. Now I know many of you break out in hives from the very idea of plotting, so this method or any method isn’t for you.
But my point—we all have ‘light bulb’ moments that propel us ahead in our journey toward publication. What are some of yours?
This post first appeared in Seekerville August 28, 2008.
Cara Lynn James writes historical romances set during the Gilded Age. Her Ladies of Summerhill series is set in Newport, Rhode Island, the country's premier resort in the nineteenth century. She lives in northwest Florida with her husband, daughter, grandson and Papillon.
You can find Cara at www.caralynnjames.com
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