Friday, August 28, 2015

Best of the Archives: How I Build a Story!

By Debby Giusti

This blog post ran in 2012, and the book that resulted was published in September 2013. I hope you enjoy a second look at how I came up with the story line for THE SOLDIER'S SISTER.

I love kids and kids’ toys, especially building blocks.  Recently I watched a group of young children stack the wooden squares and rectangles and cylinders, one atop the other, and realized playing with blocks is similar to constructing a story.

THE COLONEL’S DAUGTHER, the third book in my Military Investigations series comes out in August, and having just completed the fourth story in the series, THE GENERAL’S SECRETARY, I was ready to come up with a new tale to tell.     

I always think creating a proposal will be easy, but the opposite is usually the case. I start with an idea that forms the foundation for the book and build upon that initial concept by adding various “blocks,” such as an inciting incident, black moment and climax that fit together to move the story forward.
One of my reasons for writing the Military Investigations series is to showcase various aspects of military life, and the Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2) is a success story I wanted to feature in this next book.  The program started after 9/ll to help soldiers seriously injured in the line of duty.  Each wounded warrior is assigned an AW2 advocate as a liaison, of sorts, between the soldier and the military.  The advocate helps with paperwork and medical care, career counseling and the soldier’s transition to civilian life.

Like many writers, when I begin a new story I start with the standard what if.  What if my heroine accepts a position as an advocate in the Army Wounded Warrior Program at Fort Rickman, GA, the fictional army post I created for the series?

More what ifs. What if my heroine, Stephanie Upton, is from the nearby small town of Freemont?  Her younger brother Will enlisted in the army after graduating from high school along with two of his high school buddies. Will and a friend were injured in an IED explosion in Afghanistan and were reassigned to the Warrior Transitional Unit at Fort Rickman.

When a killer comes after the high school buddies, the hero—Criminal Investigation Division special agent Brody Goodman—is called in to investigate. (The book is a romance so Brody and Stephanie eventually fall in love and live happily ever after.)

With the basic foundation in place, I focused on coming up with an incident in the past that played into the heroine’s internal conflict.  Had there been a car crash that resulted in the death of one of her brother’s friends?  Was Stephanie at fault? Was her brother driving? Did the boys enlist in the army as a result of what happened on that summer night?  
What if the incident caused friction between Stephanie and her brother?  Perhaps Will transferred his own guilt to his sister who, he believed, was the catalyst that started the string of events that eventually leads to the story’s climax.

The villain needs to be a worthy adversary with his own GMC.  I wanted his motivation to stem from what happened in the back story. The car crash didn’t work so I added and discarded “blocks” until I came up with a new solution.

Needing a high-action opening scene to hook the reader, I decided the villain would attack one of Will’s buddies. The CID hero investigates the crime and becomes suspicious of the brother, which increases the conflict between the hero and the heroine. Stephanie wants to protect Will. As much as she’s drawn to the CID agent, she is also worried about her brother.
After writing eleven Love Inspired Suspense stories, I’m always searching for new ways to place the heroine in danger. The nightly news and Metro section of the Atlanta newspaper are great resources that provide new and devious tricks for the villain to use to up the suspense.
I needed the back story to be resolved in the climax and revolve around the hero and heroine’s internal conflict as well as their external goals.  Each time I checked, my GMC seemed a bit off center, which, in my opinion, caused the plot to fall flat. I took long walks to clear my mind and discussed a number of different options with my daughters and husband until they rolled their eyes and backed away whenever I asked them to listen to my new ideas. Night after night, I would awake to weigh various scenarios and finally came up with a satisfying back story. 

After focusing on the heroine, I changed directions and looked at my hero’s internal journey.  Brody wasn’t as difficult as Stephanie, and I soon had a situation in his past that worked. Then wanting to up the tension, I tweaked his back story to make it more intense and personal.
The black moment occurs close to the climax when the problems between the hero and heroine seem insurmountable, and the reader wonders how they will ever be able to resolve their differences and end up together. Working on the black moment exposed how the conflict between the hero and heroine  needed to be more compelling.  I made some changes until what started out as mild disagreements morphed into significant differences that made me wonder how they could ever fall in love.
Once the story was in better shape, I added the faith journey for my two main characters and established how their relationship with God played into each character’s internal conflict, the black moment and the climax. 
I established turning points for the romance and ensured the black moment was adequately motivated. I included the hero and heroine’s worst fears, reviewed the pacing and plot progression and ratcheted up the danger.

I rechecked characters’ ages, the dates and the years that had passed since the back story incidents.  In order to learn more about the AW2 program, I interviewed the Atlanta AW2 advocate and arranged to talk to her counterpart at Fort Benning as well as the Fort Benning executive officer for the Warrior Transition Unit.

At long last, my story construction seemed sound with all the building “blocks” in place.  

There are no comments on Archive Fridays, but I hope you'll think about how you create your story structure and the important elements you consider when coming up with a new idea for a novel.

Happy writing! 

Wishing you abundant blessings,
Debby Giusti
Love Inspired Suspense ~ August 2015

While babysitting a young servicewoman’s infant, Natalie Frazier hears a murder in the neighboring army duplex. Convinced her former commander is behind the crime, the ex-soldier bolts with the baby. But who will believe her story? Army investigator Everett Kohl deals only with the facts, but this time his gut instincts can’t be denied. Is the attractive Natalie a cunning killer, as his ranking officers believe, or an innocent victim? Ordered to bring her in, Everett has a decision to make. Helping her could cost him his job…but not protecting  Natalie and the baby could get all of them killed…

Order your copy in digital or print format: Amazon.
Still available: STRANDED