My editor, Emily Rodmell, recently invited me to be part of a Love Inspired Suspense anthology, featuring three, military-themed Christmas novellas. I was thrilled to be included and excited about writing a Christmas story. The only downside was the short deadline. The anthology is scheduled for an October 2014 release, and the completed manuscript is due Feb 1. No worries, I thought. With a 20,000 word count, the storyline should be easy to create.
I quickly realized that a submission--no matter the length--has to include all the elements that make a story work. Much as I tried to come up with a simple plot, the holes were too obvious. I needed a complete framework on which to hang my novella. No shortcuts allowed.
Creating the plot is always a challenge, and for the first few days after Emily contacted me, I ambled around the house, cooking meals and washing dishes while flipping through my mental notes on possible story ideas—think stream of consciousness that, for me, often produces the beginning trickle of a story. Regrettably, this time, my inner stream ran dry.
I had turned in a multi-book proposal shortly before receiving the invitation to write the novella and had pulled those ideas from my treasure chest of inspiration. This time, when I dug for something new, I came up empty handed. Surely, I thought, there must be a fragment of an idea, previously abandoned, that could be dusted off and cleaned up. Regrettably, nothing I retrieved seemed appropriate for a Christmas story.
In 2009, I had written Yule Die, a novella featured in an anthology entitled, CHRISTMAS PERIL, which included Margaret Daley’s Merry Mayhem. Yule Die deals with a medical hostage situation so anything involving captivity or hostages wasn’t an option. For the 2014 submission, I wanted something fresh and new and certainly not a rehash of a past story.
To prime my inspirational well, I noted elements that should be included, especially those that tug at the heartstrings. Naturally, children had to be in the story--little ones who love Baby Jesus. The children would to be old enough to express a simple faith, yet young enough to be totally enthralled with the magic of the season.
Twinkling lights, evergreen wreaths, snow and mistletoe would be included as well. I like Nativity scenes and added a crèche, with the Infant Babe, that would tie in with one or both characters coming to and/or deepening their faith.
mentally auditioning a lineup of little ones, I chose Mary Grace, a precocious 6
year old, and her younger, more reticent brother, Joey, age 4. Both children
would be raised by their widower dad. They stole my heart, but the adorable duo
and their father needed to be secondary characters related to the heroine,
their Aunt Lizzie, a teacher at the local elementary school.
, as she likes to be called, is
twenty-eight and single and no longer the impressionable teen in love with her older
brother’s best friend. Elizabeth
|Mary Grace's mother stitched a Nativity set, similar to this one, |
for her daughter's first Christmas.
Location, location, location!
In my mind’s eyes, I saw a small town nestled in the
mountains. No military post in
sight, yet my hero would be an army guy--big and strong but wounded in Tennessee . Afghanistan
The story would take place over a few days leading up to Christmas, which didn’t provide much time to fall in love. That’s precisely why I gave my characters a history. Not a good history, mind you, because if there’s one word I focus on when creating a story, it’s CONFLICT. I pit hero against heroine, or vice versa, and then make them struggle to rekindle the previously flawed relationship. When the ice starts to thaw, I add a black moment that destroys all their hard work and makes the reader wonder if they’ll ever get together again.
No matter the genre, the opening needs to grab the readers and pull them into the story. In a suspense, the inciting incident involves life and death issues. The heroine--or hero--faces danger almost immediately and remains in jeopardy for the duration of the story. Rachet up the intensity of the threats to keep the reader engaged. Add a run for your life element and a ticking time clock to build even more emotion and anticipation.
So who is the antagonist and what’s the big dilemma—the external conflict—that needs to be overcome? I wanted a local problem that would have more far reaching consequences. But what?
Eventually a spark of an idea took hold and grew into a storyline that had me eager to start writing. Once again, I proved that, while my approach to plot creation may seem convoluted and lacks some of the nifty charts others use, the piecemeal process works for me.
Without giving too much away about my novella, I ended up with a military hero who needs to protect a woman he left ten years earlier. She’s moved on with her life but can’t forget her first and only love.
When two little ones need protection, the hero and heroine work together to keep the children safe. They’re on the run, but they’re not sure who’s after them and why. All that has to be revealed as the story unfolds. What they uncover ties in with mistakes made in the past that must be reconciled before they’re able to fall in love again. At the climax, they confront the antagonist in a fast-paced action scene before the resolution and happily ever after.
What are the threads you weave into your stories? What elements do you feel are essential? What differences do you find in writing long stories as compared to a shorter work, such as a novella? Which do you prefer to read and/or write?
Love Inspired is hosting their first Reader Luncheon in
on Thursday, Jan 30. (Click here for more details.) Let me know if you plan to
attend. I’ll add your name to a drawing for a free luncheon ticket, my treat. (Any
other expenses, transportation and hotel accommodations are the responsibility
of the winner.) Tampa, Florida
A second drawing—again, please let me know if you’re interested—is for the first-ever giveaway of an advance copy of my March Love Inspired Suspense, THE AGENT’S SECRET PAST.
Today’s breakfast buffet includes cooked-to-order eggs, country ham, biscuits and gravy, hash browns, assorted fruit, fresh baked muffins and, of course, grits. Enjoy! The coffee’s hot. The tea caddy is stocked with your favorite blends. Grab a cup and let’s start chatting about my favorite subject—WRITING!
Wishing you abundant success in the New Year!
By Debby Giusti
THREAT FROM HER AMISH PAST
Eight years ago, a drifter destroyed Becca Miller's ties to her Amish community—and murdered her family. Now a special agent with
criminal investigation department, Becca knows her past has caught up with her
and doesn't want to relive it. She's convinced that the killer, who supposedly
died years ago, is very much alive and after her. Special agent Colby Voss
agrees to help her investigate. Yet the closer they get to the truth, the
closer the killer gets to silencing her permanently. Fort Rickman
Available March 1, 2014. Click here to preorder.