Uh … not so much.
Come on, you all know what I’m talkin’ about — or maybe you don’t. There’s been so many times (at least once a book, in my case) when my plot is just a-churnin’ away and suddenly the old mixer (my brain) grinds to a groaning halt for whatever reason — faulty research, unhappy editor/agent, or just plain comatose boredom. The next thing I know, I’ve run into a concrete wall as hard and unmovable as my plot. Nowhere to go. And no way to get to the other side of the story.
THE TALE OF A CONCRETE TRUCK ...
You see, story plots are a lot like making concrete in a concrete truck. You mix sand (the premise), stone/gravel (characters/era/locale), water (the flow of ideas), and cement (GMC … or “goals/motivation/conflict) in a mixer, whether stationary or on wheels, and Voila! It produces a tumbling, rolling, almost fluid plot that thickens beautifully into a strong solid story.
But … what if that plot thickens to a concrete wall where you and your plot are “stuck” in a quagmire with nowhere to go? What’s an author to do?
BRAINSTORMING YOUR WAY THROUGH CONCRETE ...
Well, I did some research on this and found some great “brainstorming” ideas listed on a cool blog called “The Other Side of the Story” by Harper/Collins author Janet Hardy who writes fantasy and science fiction for teens. Which is probably why this woman came up with 11 excellent ideas on what to do when your plot hits the wall — her mind is apparently used to bending in bizarre and creative ways! BUT … instead of repeating Janet’s ideas like they are mine, I strongly encourage you to check the list out here: “Living on the Wall: Not Knowing What Happens Next in Your Story.”
Another very good resource I found is a blog entitled “5 Tips to Brainstorming a Limp Story to Give It New Life – Limp Noodle Revolt” by Michelle Lim, the Brainstorm/Huddle Coach at My Book Therapy and President of MN N.I.C.E., a local chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers, so I encourage you to check it out!
"Top 10 Sites for Brainstorming/Mind Mapping," which is a wonderful resource.
Not that I don’t have my own ideas on brainstorming, of course, because I do and wrote a very detailed (and, yes, very long — 12 points long!) blog two years ago on brainstorming story ideas/plots called "DIGGING DEEP … Unearthing Story Ideas From Your Own Backyard." If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to check it out if for nothing else, to find out what a sliced ham, frozen chicken, and shaving cream have in common.
BUT … today is not a blog on “brainstorming,” oh no. Today is the day I talk about “God-storming.”
LIGHTNING-BOLT BRAINSTORMING …
What is “God-storming” you might ask? Well, for some people it’s a last resort, but for this author, at least these days? It’s the VERY first thing I do when my plots thicken to concrete. And in almost every case, it’s been like a bolt from the blue.
Let’s pause here for a moment of silent prayer on behalf of my agent Natasha Kern.
Sigh. Yes, I really was that green of a writer, one who actually didn’t consider the historical aspect of my story as important as the emotional tug-of-war between the hero and heroine. I mean, come on now, everybody knows the most important thing is WHAT happens in the story, not WHEN it happens, right?
Wrong. That misconception almost derailed my plot for A Passion Most Pure completely, a HUGE research blunder that got past me, past my critique partners, and past my editor. You see, the first half of APMP takes place in Boston, and when WWI breaks out, the 2nd half of the book shifts to Dublin, Ireland. It was essential to the plot that the O’Connor women and children travel to Ireland mid-book, but during 1916, the only way to do that was by ship. No problemo—I simply plopped them all on a comfy-cozy passenger ship.
Beep, beep … back the truck up … or in this case, the passenger ship!
“No can do,” says my editor, whose husband just happened to be—what are the odds?—an Irish historian! He innocently pointed out to his wife that the O’Connors traveling on a ship to Ireland during World War I would not have been feasible as passenger ships at that time were commandeered for war. Not to mention the annoying fact that German U-boat warfare made it too dangerous for ship travel. Double sigh.
So, what did I do when my editor called me with the dilemma?
I had a meltdown. Cried for days. Walked around in a fog. Then frantically began researching other “Irish” destinations (other than Europe) that the O’Connors could possibly travel to via ship. Main ports for Irish immigration were New York, Boston, and Canada. I nixed New York because the plot for book 2 A Passion Redeemed needed days and days of ship travel. That narrowed it down to Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, Canada, neither of which gave me the warm, fuzzy feeling that Ireland did. Consequently, I was a basket case, not only because of the MAJOR research and rewrites looming, but because I had fallen in love with Dublin, Ireland and mourned the loss of it.
GOD TO THE RESCUE!!
“Pray for a simple solution,” came the thought one day after I’d spent hours and hours laboring over daunting research.
Oh. What a novel idea for a Christian author!
So I did. And guess what happened? An old friend called me for lunch and when I told her about my dilemma, she squinted at me and said, “You know, it seems like I just read something recently about freighters during the war. Have you considered sending them over on a freighter?”
Uh. No. Never even knew that supply freighters sailed from the U.S. to Europe during WWI delivering supplies to the troops, but guess what? When I researched her suggestion further, I discovered that merchant and troop freighters began sailing in convoys with a navy escort because it reduced the risk of being sunk by German U-boats dramatically. WOW … who knew?? Well, God apparently, because He Masterminded the lunch with my resourceful friend who just happened to have read an article on freighter convoys during WWI.
So … by adding a freighter convoy, a menopausal wife having a breakdown because her grandmother is dying in Dublin, and a cousin in the freighter business, my massive plot rewrites/research dwindled down to two measly paragraphs—count ‘em, two!—added to the book to make it historically accurate. And here they are:
“I can’t believe your father is letting you go!” Maisie cried, “It’s just plain crazy, Faith, to even attempt ship travel right now. What about the German U-boat warfare? Isn’t he afraid?”
Faith pulled back and took a deep breath. “Yes, he’s afraid, but he’s more afraid that Mother will have a breakdown while he’s gone. With Mima near death and Father drafted, Mother begged to go to Ireland. She simply wouldn’t relent, and I think she just wore Father down. He contacted his cousin, Thomas, who owns a freighting company, and although all passenger-ship travel has been suspended, apparently freight shipping is going strong, especially in convoys. Thomas convinced Father that losses for ships sailing in convoys have fallen dramatically.” Faith sucked in another heavy breath and lifted her chin. “So he agreed to take us. With God watching over us, we’ll be fine.”
Ta-da!! “Fine,” indeed. And—I’m happy to report—so was I!
A HOPE DAUNTED BY CONCRETE ...
The brick wall I hit on A Hope Undaunted was a real doozy, reinforced by a concrete wall that had me backsliding into tears, rants, and a black hole for almost a week. It took me nine months to write that book and it’s my absolute favorite, so I was really excited. Instead of popping the huge surprise at the end of the book like I did in the prior three novels, I pulled the old grenade pin mid-book, blowing up both my hero and heroine’s future together and, hopefully, the reader’s mind as well. Unfortunately, my editor tossed her grenade first, demolishing my plot so completely, a total rewrite/replotting appeared to be in store.
That night my husband held me while I sobbed in his arms. “We’ll just pray about it, Julie,” he said softly, “and God will get you through this, babe — He always does.”
“No, you don’t understand,” I wailed, lying in a soggy pool of tears on my pillow, “the heart and soul of my plot has been destroyed, and now I have to start over, coming up with a whole new book!”
Oh ye of little faith.
So, yes, we prayed and God showed up carrying a few grenades of His own. Talk about a wall-crumbler! One minute my editor is mentioning total plot rewrite, and the next she’s saying, “What if we just shift things a bit, deleting my main surprise component — a component she patiently explained I could not do in Christian romance — making it vague enough that the shock value was still in effect.
Say what? I blinked. I squinted. I caught my breath. A slow smile curved on my lips. Oh. My. Goodness! One minor shift, and the entire plot remains intact with nothing more than a few line revisions. WOW—from total rewrite to total peace for my editor and me in a blink of a prayer!!
MY MOMMA DIDN’T RAISE NO DUMB CHILDREN …
Okay, by my 5th book, I was confident that I was finally getting the drift of this plotting thing, so when it came time to write A Heart Revealed, I was ready. As an author who incorporates a hairpin twist at the end of each of my books, I was a wee bit concerned about this story. Emma and Sean’s romance was not my typical romance where boy meets girl and sparks fly like in all my other books. Instead, this plot hinged on a ten-year friendship that grows spiritually and emotionally, ripening into unconditional love where two people sacrifice themselves for the other. Great story, I thought … with one itsy-bitsy problem.
There was no way I could surprise my readers at the end of this one. Why? Well, because Emma Malloy is married to an abusive husband named Rory who is very much alive back in Dublin, and since both she and Sean are Catholic, the two of them can’t get together until the slime-bucket husband kicks the bucket. I figured everybody who read the book would assume I had to X the ex in order to make this plot work, and regrettably, they were right. Believe me, I researched divorce and annulment ad nauseum in the Catholic church back then and frankly, they pretty much were not a viable option for my story, so I was stuck.
Well, I thought to myself, I don’t have to have an earth-shattering plot twist at the end of every one of my books, do I?? I mean, if it’s a good story, does it really matter if I shock my readers senseless?
Sigh. Unfortunately, to this CDQ, it does matter. I just get such a thrill out of those high-voltage electrical twists that cause my readers to jolt right up in bed so hard that they wake their husbands up, a true story that one of my sweet readers actually wrote me about.
But … how do you write a jaw-dropping climax when there’s only one predictable, ho-hum ending in sight? “I know, I know,” I scream wildly, waving my hand in the air, quite certain that this was a lesson I had finally learned well.
You call the God Squad.
Without question, I would have to say A Heart Revealed was the coolest (and most concrete-busting) brainstorming experience I have ever had. There I am praying on my lower deck one crisp autumn day, staring at the kaleidoscope of color in my sun-dappled woods when I looked up into the sky. “God," I say, "You are the God of creativity and You have an ending for me that I just know will blow everybody way. Would You mind sharing it with me, please?”
As God is my witness, within ten seconds, an idea fluttered into my brain like those scarlet and gold leaves that were fluttering all around me. The idea was SO masterful and SO genius, that I literally shot straight up in the chair and started laughing, knowing that I could never have come up with anything like that on my own. And do you know that to this day, no one has guessed the ending so far?
Now that’s the kind of brainstorming partner you want!
EXTRA CHANCE TO WIN “LOVE AT COST” TODAY ONLY — WED. 6/12, 1-2 PM CST — AT REVELL’S AUTHOR CHAT!!!
Here’s the link:
JULIE’S SEEKER BLOG GIVEAWAY TILL FRIDAY NOON, 6/14:
Share your experiences where God dropped an idea or a plot into your brain that you just knew was from Him … or just leave a comment, and I will enter you in my drawing for a signed copy of any of my books, including my upcoming January release of Dare to Love Again or a spiral-bound printed copy of A Light in the Window.
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