Monday, February 15, 2016

Playing with your Plot



Thrilled to see my book on the shelf
Janet  here. I’ve prattled on and on about the importance of giving characters book-length goals. Without them the story will feel pointless. Without scene goals that fit those book-length goals, the story will feel episodic. 

Goals are important. 

But sometimes my characters’ goals have me staring at the monitor screen, wondering if I’ve painted myself into a corner with problematic goals that appear unworkable. 

First example: In The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption, my January Love Inspired Historical, bounty hunter Nate Sergeant’s book- length goal is to find the outlaw who killed his parents and his fiancée. He has strong motivation for hunting down Shifty Stogsdill. Still his book-length goal created some problems for him, and, also, for me, the writer.

# 1 external problem for me: Romance can’t spark and flourish unless the
Playing with plot is fun!
hero and heroine stay in close proximity. And editors and readers want them together, too. Yet bounty hunters don't stay put.

The remedy: I gave Nate an important short-term goal. He wants his widowed sister Anna get the seamstress shop she deserves. To see that his genial sister isn’t railroaded by heroine Carly Richards, who's determined to keep the shop she sees as hers, Nate must stay in Gnaw Bone until the circuit judge arrives to settle the dispute. Having to delay his book-length goal is a conflict for him, but fixes the proximity problem for me.

You may question if it’s good for a secondary goal to trump the main goal. The answer is wrapped up in Nate's motivations. Finding their killer won’t bring his parents and fiancée back to life. His recently widowed sister Anna has no means of support and she’d saved Nate’s life as a child, leaving her with a handicap that complicates her life. Only a jerk could ride off without knowing his grieving sister would have a livelihood.

#2 external problem for me: Bounty hunters hunt down outlaws. I had to play with the plot to find a way to make Nate look like the real deal, yet keep him in town.

The remedy: I added a rumor that Stogsdill has a girlfriend in the area, which meant the killer could arrive in Gnaw Bone at any moment. That uncertainty ups the stakes and keeps Nate actively pursuing his book-length goal while staying in one place.

#3 external problem for me: If Nate continues tracking outlaws, even when Stogsdill is captured, he and Carly can’t fall in love. I needed to ensure he has the motivation and the means to settle down. So I gave him a job repairing the town’s dilapidated livery in exchange for a place to live while they await the judge’s decision. This job, along with his interaction with Carly and Henry and people in town, reveal his growing dissatisfaction with his drifter lifestyle and gradually this loner changes as he’s drawn into their lives, which is a big internal conflict for him.

This little writer's seen the remedy for a plot problem!

I’m digressing here but I wanted to make the point that the romance isn’t the plot. The romance merely complicates the plot. Falling for Carly impedes Nate’s goal to bring Stogsdill to justice. His external goal is impacted not only by Carly and the townspeople, but, also, by the wounds in his past that still plague him today. His internal conflicts (issues of guilt, fear of commitment and struggles with faith) must be overcome before he can love. Carly’s past has given her a sense of inadequacy and lack of trust. I bring up the internal conflicts to emphasize that everything in the story works together. At first these conflicts make things worse, but as the plot forces the characters to grow and change, they’re finally freed from their pasts and can see love is not only possible, its deserved.

Most of these plot tweaks felt natural to the story and came fairly easily. But sometimes playing with the plot feels like a skirmish more than recess fun, which was the case with the next example.

Second example: An external goal that gave me fits was in my debut, Courting Miss Adelaide. Adelaide’s initial goal was to ask for an orphan arriving on the train. Newspaper editor Charles was on the committee that rejected her application. 

#1 problem for me: The conflict between Adelaide and Charles was short lived. Though she never gave up the goal of taking in a motherless child, she couldn’t pursue it further without appearing deranged. If you create a goal that isn’t pursue-able for the entire book, it’s more of a set up than a goal. By set up I mean something the writer uses to open the story and set the characters in motion.

#2 problem for me: Adelaide and Charles were getting too close too soon. If the hero and heroine fall in love, the story is over so we writers can’t let that happen. I went over and over possible external conflicts to keep them apart, but to no avail. In desperation, I asked for a brainstorming session with a group of writers. The idea that emerged was to give Adelaide half ownership of the newspaper Charles saw as his baby.

#3 problem for me: This sudden ownership of the newspaper was a great idea packed with conflict, but to make it believable, I had to play with the plot, adding elements that foreshadowed this shocking revelation in Charles’s deceased father’s will.

#4 problem for me: Only pigheaded people can’t work out a solution for handling dual ownership of the newspaper, no matter how irksome it might be. I had to add another goal to up the stakes and keep them apart. I made Adelaide insist on writing editorials championing women suffrage. Charles wasn’t against women getting the vote but argued the issue would spark trouble. The trouble resulted in hostility in town and a loss of revenue for Adelaide’s millinery business and for the newspaper. The conflict between Adelaide’s ideals and Charles’s pragmatism keep Adelaide and Charles at odds and created all kinds of conflict that caused more and more trouble.

When plot elements work together, interwoven with the faith and romance threads, we’ll create a story that'll keep readers turning pages. If you hit a snag, play with your plot. 

I brought playground food. Apples, bananas, pop tarts, and graham crackers iced with powdered sugar frosting. Fill your glass at the drinking fountain or grab a cup of coffee or tea in the lounge. Let’s chat plot. 

Writers, do you find creating plot fun or hard work? Do you brainstorm with a critique partner or a group of writers? Any tips?

Readers, do you like plots with strong conflict or prefer gentler conflict?

Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of either The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption or Courting Miss Adelaide. Tell me which book you’d like in the comments. If you’ve read both and win, share the book with a friend.



141 comments :

  1. I'm easy, Janet. Whatever you give me easy or hard conflicts. I roll with them. I already have THE BOUNTY HUNTER'S REDEMPTION.

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  2. Hi Janet! I'm kind of a middle ground person when it comes to conflict. Not too much and not too little. Just like life, you won't go without some kind of conflict! If the hero/heroine get along just fine, I think I'd become bored with the story and move on. If they have conflict where they can never agree with anything, I'd get very frustrated and move on. I like when, over time, they learn to compromise, or understand past issues that affect the other person and have a better understanding of each other. It makes their coming together the more sweeter :-) In other words, make it true to life....even in marriage you will have conflict...but you learn over time to resolve them. By compromising or understanding the others view...or barring that....agree to disagree and go on!

    I love how you shared playing with your plot on today's post. I can see how important it is to draw out your characters into book length goals. Since I'm not a writer, guess that's something new I learned from you too! I can see where a goal can't be too short or too long for your story. And I just bet your characters don't always listen to you either on that...haha! How fun to come up with various ways to draw out a story to novel length :-) You were very creative, Janet!

    The Bounty Hunter's Redemption has been on my want-to-read list, but either one would be awesome to win. They both sound good :-) I'll take a apple and banana & go sit on the bench with my carton of milk dreaming of reading one of these books...lol!

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  3. I think Love Inspired romance is by definition are low tension. Not necessarily low conflict but low tension. Short amount of book real estate so the stakes can't be too high.

    Historicals. Not so sure.

    LIS is much higher conflict and tension.

    Plot is a total bear, especially when you have to plot before you write the book. Not so much when you write the book first, because the characters help you out more. I think when you plot they get a bit annoyed at us and don't talk as much.

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  4. Plotting is painful for me and a major weakness! Thanks for these tips.

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  6. Oops. Thanks for the tips. I hadn't thought of the different levels of conflict like that. I sometimes write myself into a corner. eek!
    Since I've worked for a small town newspaper for almost 25 years, I'd like to read Courting Miss Adelaid.

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  7. This was so helpful, thank you for the tips! So often when something is just off in a book I'm working on it turns out to be to do with the conflict (i.e. it's easily solvable and yet I'm dragging it out to book-length, or it is impossible to solve and needs further thought.) I'm trying to plot a book at the moment and getting nowhere, so I'm going back to the plots/subplots and character conflict. I think "because I said so" is not a good enough reason for my h/H to be in conflict.

    ;) Will look out for both of your books, especially now you've given us a little insight into the plots! Watch as my tbr list/wishlist increases yet again...

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  8. Playground food sounds like fun!

    Janet, you laid out the many reasons why revisions and edits are a crucial part of book production. Well done!

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  9. Trixi, you made great points, and I'd like to join you on the bench! With coffee, though! :)

    Sometimes I overplot. Sometimes I underplot. Usually it's fixed the second or third time through as I spot the holes.

    Sometimes the editor smacks me upside the head. :)

    Tina, interesting point about LI vs. LIS. I love the human drama I can put in LI's, it fits my worldview. But yes, you're totally allowed to wreak more havoc in LIS... and that's a great read. How cool that they went to 6/month!!!!!

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  10. Rachel, often the roots of "why" they do or don't do something lay in their past, those crazy teen years or childhood trauma or the inference of childhood trauma.

    If you travel back in time in their heads, that might help with the plotting.

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  11. 'Romance is not the plot.' That statement stood out to me as a rookie writer. I sort of knew that, but your comment was a good Leroy Gibbs' smack in the head.
    I recently read The Bounty Hunter's Redemption so your examination of the book was really helpful. Thank you so much! Please throw my name in the hat for Courting Miss Adelaide.
    Happy President's Day!

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  12. Both types of plots have their place. I suppose it depends on my mood, emotional state, etc. It's similar to sometimes needing to see Lord of the Rings, or getting a good dosage of Gilbert Blythe. (o:
    Both books look great. I'd be happy to win either. Thank you!!!!

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  13. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for the great tips today. This is definitely a keeper post. I'd love to be in the drawing for Courting Miss Adelaide. Thanks.

    I hope you all had a great weekend. Stay safe today!

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  14. Good morning, Janet! Credible plots are HARD work for me most of the time. So many pieces to put together into a cohesive whole--and it's tricky because Love Inspired writers have to put the plot together in advance for a proposal approval.

    I love how you illustrated here the challenges / solutions you've faced in developing a logical plot in your stories and the strong GMC that drives it.

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  15. Hi Janet! These are great tips...thanks so much! I'd love to be entered into the drawing for either book.
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACKIE!!

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  16. Hi Marianne. I'm with you, I like whatever conflict fits the characters journey, easy or strong, as long as they find a way to their happily ever after ending.

    I hope you enjoy The Bounty Hunter's Redemption!

    Janet

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  17. Hi Trixi, you're the voice of wisdom. The conflict needs to be strong but, also, we need those sweet moments that show the hero and heroine are meant for each other once they find a way to overcome the issues between them.

    Enjoy recess! Today's playground is just the right temperature. :-)

    Janet

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  18. JANET, a good and meaty post. It's a balancing act to keep both short-term and long-term goals in every chapter and scene. My crit partner is especially good at this and gently points me back to the right path. It is challenging, but I love the sense of accomplishment when I finally get it right!
    It is very cold in NH today and Gio Benitez from ABC is in the state today. I thought they were all going to go away after the primary. I am staying inside as much as possible, which will probably be good for my writing if I don't get distracted by Housework.
    Kathy Bailey

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  19. CHRISTY, I have worked for small-town newspapers my entire career! It is an interesting life. We have a finger on the pulse of the community. And even with the Internet, people turn to us for the real story. I have enjoyed being part of people's lives.
    Kathy Bailey

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  20. JANET, please put my name in the drawing for either book. There's still a lot of winter left and I need reading matter!
    KB

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  21. Interesting point, Tina, that the length of the book determines the amount of tension. I'd never thought of that. LI historicals are longer at 70k, which gives authors more time to sustain tension.

    If your characters won't talk to you, put words in their mouths. They'll soon learn silence doesn't pay. :-)

    Janet

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  22. Hi Terri. I hear you! It is hard to create strong external conflict that will carry the story to the end. Do you find internal conflicts far easier to come up with like I do? But when I do find a strong external conflict, the story is far easier to write. Brainstorming with a critique partner helps.

    Janet

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  23. Hi Christy. None of us like to be trapped in the corner. Sometimes it's an easy fix and sometimes not. I wonder if anyone has ever written themselves into a corner and had to start over.

    Twenty-five years with a small town newspaper should give you some great story fodder. Thanks for your interest in Courting Miss Adelaide.

    Janet

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  24. Hi Rachel. You must've had a mother like mine. I found myself telling my kids the same thing. If only "because I said so" worked with our characters. We can create them and make them do things, sure, but those things need to fit the conflict and who they are or the story won't ring true. Plotting isn't for sissies. LOL

    Love that your TBR pile is growing. Sounds like mine!

    Janet

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  25. Kate, that's a great reasoning. Different styles of books will take different leaps and what works in fantasy can be adjusted to help deepen a romance, mystery, literary masterpiece.

    There's a freeing style in fantasy that allows the author wide boundaries while using tight parameters of conflict and romance.

    Signed,

    Closet fantasy lover!

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  26. Thanks Ruthy. I'm a plotter, not a seat of the pants writer so I like to play with the plot early on before I write. Even so, sometimes I don't see the conflict isn't strong enough until I've finished the story or an editor points out a plot weakness, which can mean a lot of rewriting. Ouch. But whatever it takes to get it right, is what we do.

    Janet

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  27. Janet, thanks for the detailed information on several plot questions. The first one: keeping the hero and heroine together is the toughest part for me. You solved that right off and I appreciate reading your other methods which deepened the plot and carried the book to the end. Your column is already printed out. Today is Monday and I'm inspired to write. I love Seekerville. Everyone is so nice. Bless you all.

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  28. Hi Janet What a great way to show how you develop those conflicts and work them in. This was very helpful. MIght save me some time. YAY!.

    Love the photo of you holding the books. Saw it on Facebook too.

    Thanks again.

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  29. Oh yes, plots are difficult, especially trying to maintain the GMC in each scene. I tend to get episodic. sigh.

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  30. Hi Bettie. I'm glad the post was helpful. I included that statement in the post because I need that same smack on the head reminder that the romance isn't the plot. The romance merely complicates the plot. When I get that, then I can focus on creating external conflicts that mess up the romance. The characters' goals are key to conflict.

    Janet

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  31. Good morning, Kate. Great point that readers' mood impacts the kind of story they want to read, whether it's suspenseful or sweet or edgy. Thanks for your interest in my books!

    Janet

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  32. Good morning, Jackie. Writing a novel isn't easy. I'm delighted when my posts help.

    Thanks for your interest in my books.

    Janet

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  33. Hi Janet:

    You're on my favorite subject this morning!

    It's so nice to wake up and see my all time favorite romance cover art. Any one who has not yet read, "Courting Miss Adelaide," should do it now! I'm so glad that LI books are no longer here for just one month and then gone. That cover is exactly the hat and the heroine. It's my favorite of all your books.

    The conflict in "Courting Miss Adelaide," is perfect for its historical context. I like the conflict in a historical romance to be age specific and not just conflict that could easily appear in a contemporary novel.

    Now when it comes to really memorable conflict, I don't think you can beat the start of "Courting the Doctor's Daughter". I think that start ranks with Darcy being overheard by the heroine insulting her whole family at the very start of "Pride and Prejudice".

    Like Tina, I'm not sure conflict is the whole story. Tension is very important. But I think at a more basic level is doubt. I want there to be real doubt about the possibility of the hero and heroine ever getting together and finding happiness.

    I've been reading a romance now for over a month and while there is a great deal of external conflict, the hero and heroine are getting along just fine. I have no doubt that they are on the way to an HEA. This romance is so slow moving and boring I keep switching to more interesting novels which are always just a click away on my Kindle.

    Use tension, conflict, competition, distractions -- but above all -- please create doubt!

    I'll talk about plotting in my next post. TMI here. : )

    I have all your books so I'd much prefer that someone who has not read "Courting Miss Adelaide" win that book!

    Vince

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  34. Good morning, Glynna. Thanks for emphasizing the importance of GMC. Goals and motivations are the foundation for conflict.

    How's the weather? Are you up to your knees in snow?

    Janet

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  35. Hi Jill. Glad the post resonated with you. Thanks for your interest in my books and for telling us it's Jackie's birthday!

    Janet

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  36. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACKIE!! I grabbed a lovely chocolate cake out of freezer. Let's all gather around the table and sing the birthday song to Jackie!

    Janet

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  37. Good morning, Kathy B! Hope you get a lot of writing done on this cold winter day. Stay warm and away from the news and the housework! :-)

    Janet

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  38. I'm with Tina - it depends on the type of book. In a suspense or mystery, I expect more conflict and more tension than I do in women's fiction or a romance.

    Wait when did LIS move up to 6 a month?! I have more catching-up to do than I thought...

    Janet, either book sounds wonderful! Adelaide sounds like my kind of girl :)

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  39. Kathy, your day job sounds fascinating! You and Christy can compare notes.

    You're in the drawing.

    Janet

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  40. Ruthy has come out of the closet! LOL Are you planning on writing a fantasy one day, in your spare time?

    Janet

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  41. Thank you for this great post about plots. It is helpful.

    Please put me in the drawing for Courting Miss Addelaide.

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  42. Christy O! I was thinking the same thing as Janet. You have a great background for a story.

    My current story has a small town paper in it. I have done an incredible amount of research and read books for accuracy. Had I known, I could have simply bartered to pick your brain!

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  43. Nope, Janet. No snow here currently. I mean, there's OLD snow on the ground but nothing fresh for the past week or so. But it often snows all the way through the middle of May here, so winter's far from over yet! :)

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  44. Good morning, Suzanne. Seekerville is such a warm place, a safe harbor for the best people, readers and writers. I love it here, too. Each day is a new beginning, another chance. Isn't that great?!

    Keeping the hero and heroine together is very important, especially to Love Inspired. I've had a hero living in a shed out back of the heroine's house. I've had the hero and heroine's workplace right across the street. I've had them live in the same house in marriages of convenience, or as in my wip, with family present. There's so many ways to keep them in close proximity, as long as it fits the story. Have fun!

    Janet

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  45. Hi Sandra, I'm always excited to see a book on the shelves. It's thrilling and amazing at the same time, proof our dreams come true!

    I'd love to think a post helped a writer save time. We all write so differently, it's hard to know what might help. Thanks!

    Janet

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  46. Hi Janet:

    Back again to talk plotting.

    For me, plotting provides the most fun there is in writing followed by creating the synopsis for that plot. Everything else after that is down hill. Unfortunately, this is from the POV of a philosopher and not that of a successful writing practitioner. : (

    Plotting is like giving birth to a 30 year old adult. You know just what you got form the very start.

    Pantsering is like giving birth to an adorable infant. All you see is potential. She will become Miss America on her way to winning a Nobel prize in physics before becoming President and later serving honorably on the Supreme Court. What dreams! What joy! What a thrill to watch all this happen as it unfolds. Potential unlimited!

    Who would ever choose to plot? Aren't plotters like readers who read the last chapter first? What fun does that leave? Where's the doubt? To what avail is all the conflict in the world?

    Creating a great plot is so satisfying that actually writing the book afterward is like washing the dishes after preparing a world class, award winning, gourmet meal!

    "Duty, duty, duty, why couldn't thou be a cutie?" O.N.

    It is far, far more pleasing to pantser and hope your story is not going to become an abandoned disaster later than it is to plot it in advance and remove all doubt.

    Pantsers write as if there is no author while plotters write as if there is a writing god and it is them.

    Vince

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  47. Sandra, we all dread the Big E, especially if it is said by an editor. I have to remind myself in each scene I write that the goal is the point of view character's, not mine.

    Janet

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  48. Good morning, Vince. Courting Miss Adelaide's cover remains my favorite, too. Funny that you mention Courting the Doctor's Daughter's opening, as it's the opening I share when writers ask me how to start the story with a bang. Thanks for your lovely comments about both stories!

    I agree with you that the story needs to keep readers guessing, in doubt of that happily ever after ending. Sure savvy readers know in a romance that ending is guaranteed, but when they have no idea how these two will get there, then the writer has done her job.

    Janet

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  49. This is a workshop condensed down to a blog post! SO much packed here, Janet.

    And this....

    ...the romance isn’t the plot. The romance merely complicates the plot.

    Yes! Yes! Yes! You are so right!

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  50. Good morning, Sarah. Reader expectations are important. I love to pick up a book and have that little thrill of expectation, knowing the author delivers what I expect, a page turner.

    Editors want tension and conflict to carry the story to the end, but there's all kinds of levels of tension and conflict. All kinds of ways to put it on the page. The reason no story is alike.

    Janet

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  51. Good morning, Wilani. I'm glad the post was helpful to you. Thanks for your interest in my debut. I'm with Vince. I'm grateful these stories live on as eBooks, but I still have a few copies to share.

    Janet

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  52. Tina, it's cool to have an authority on the subject right in Seekerville! Guess we need Villagers to list the areas in which they have expertise so we know whose brain to pick. Love the idea of bartering.

    Janet

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  53. Glynna, good to hear you're not spending your precious time shoveling your car out of the driveway. Enjoy it while you can!

    Janet

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  54. Vince, are you playing the devil's advocate or have you changed sides overnight? LOL Actually plotters' characters can still surprise them. It's not like our plots are set in stone or are in such great detail that there isn't room for our characters to refuse to cooperate. Still the bottom line for me is the reader's doubt, not mine.

    Janet

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  55. Pam, thanks! That statement about plot and romance was drilled into my head by my critique partner. Trust me my skull is hard and it took many reminders!

    Janet

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  56. Whatever your process, Janet, you do it well. I loved the Bounty Hunter's Redemption. To me the key is making the reader care about the character's goal. I really wanted Nate to catch Shifty and get that obstacle out of his path. I really wanted Carly to find a solution to her seamstress shop problem that worked for her, Henry, and Nate's sister. I also wanted a father for Henry, someone to buy the livery, reformation for the brothers, and a new husband for Anna. You wrote this story so skillfully that you drew me right into it and made me care about all these people. That's what I love about this book and your writing. Thanks Janet, great to hear about your plotting process. I wonder if our characters moan and groan whenever we writers give them a new problem in order to fix one of ours? Hardly seems fair - but oh what fun!

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  57. Love these examples, Janet! And one thing you said especially resonated with me: "the romance isn’t the plot. The romance merely complicates the plot."

    I remember one of the very first Christian romance novels I ever read, and it seemed to be only about the h/h falling in love. The story devolved into whether or not each would acknowledge his/her love for the other, and it got boring really quickly.

    I'm really glad I discovered there were better writers writing far better inspirational romances, or I might not be doing what I'm doing today!

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  58. Hi Cindy. I'm delighted you cared about the characters in The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. I feel the same about them when I'm writing the story. If I don't care, I know I've got work to do to bring them to life on the page.

    When our poor characters are moaning and groaning over the trouble we're causing them, we need to remind them it's for their own good. :-) They'll thank us when they get their happy ending.

    Janet

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  59. Hi Myra. I think it's harder to get published traditionally today than it was say back in the eighties, though others might think differently. I'm sure glad you found other inspirational authors you admired and are doing what you're called to do! I'd hate not having Myra Johnson books to read.

    Janet

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  60. hi Janet
    my big takeaway from today: ...the romance isn’t the plot. The romance merely complicates the plot.

    I think that is what trips me up sometimes.

    Funny thing, Courting Miss Adelaide was my first Seekerville prize, and I won The Bounty Hunter's Redemption - which I finished this weekend. AWESOME!!!!!!!! I love Nate, and not only because that is the name of my little guy either. I must post a review today for you.

    No name in the draw for me. I've an over-abundance of Janet Dean prizes in hand. I am so spoiled. :)

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  61. You know, Myra, you and I both are wearing teal in our photos. At a glance, I think I'm you. Does that happen to you? Or am I the only one who's colored coded Seekers?

    Janet

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  62. DebH, you've made my day! Thank you! I'm tickled that my hero shares your little guy's name. A good strong name.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to review The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. I appreciate reviews and reviewers!

    I certainly identify with the struggle to remember the romance isn't the plot.

    Janet

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  63. Janet I love you talking about 'adding' a girlfriend and 'adding' the means for the bounty hunter to stay in town, because I read it and I can see exactly that you did it, but it's so smooth. I'd never think, "Wow she added that to make it work."

    Instead the hero and the livery repairs, the girlfriend, the sister and mixed up ownership of the store are all smoothly blended parts of the story that feel perfectly done.

    I look back at Courting Miss Adelaide and it's been a while since I read it, but it seems the same. It was so well done, not an episodic feel or like any conflict didn't fit naturally into the book.

    But you're right. I once had to go back and take a little brother and sister away from a minor character and I think this was after the book was done and again these weren't MAJOR characters but those three stuck together and I had to hunt down all the 'we' and 'they' sentences and I didn't succeed perfectly. I caught a few more once the book was finished and in print.

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  64. DebH, I agree with you. I saw that statement and thought, "THAT should be a famous writer's quote."

    Way to go, Janet.

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  65. Mary, it helped that the issues I mentioned came to mind before the book was written. But I've also had to make changes that meant combing the entire book. It's easy at that point to overlook something. In The Bounty Hunter's Redemption, I eliminated Henry's brother, as the toddler complicated Carly's life. LOL Doesn't say much for my motherly instinct. I marvel at how you've managed all those kids in your stories!

    Janet

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  66. Mary, if that's worthy of being a famous writer's quote, I don't get the credit. Shirley Jump told me that. More than once. LOL

    Janet

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  67. I agree with Pam on this post, Janet -- a workshop in a blog!! And like Trixi said, it's so fun to see first-hand how you tweaked your plots -- VERY motivating and informative, my friend!

    I will admit that when I read this line, "I’m digressing here but I wanted to make the point that the romance isn’t the plot," it stopped me dead in my tracks because I wasn't sure I agreed. Because you see, for me, the romance IS always the plot! ;) But I just finished a Rita book this weekend where the romance WAS the plot -- I mean seriously, that's all there was to the book, so YES, I will definitely agree that the "romance isn't the plot. At least, not if you want to sell books ... ;)

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  68. TINA SAID: "Plot is a total bear, especially when you have to plot before you write the book. Not so much when you write the book first, because the characters help you out more. I think when you plot they get a bit annoyed at us and don't talk as much."

    LOL, when I plot, my characters start yelling at me, slam the door in my face, then start yelling some more, so why does that tell me something about Tina's personality vs. mine???

    RUTHY SAID: "Sometimes I overplot. Sometimes I underplot. Sometimes the editor smacks me upside the head. :)"

    LOL ... I never underplot. Just like I never underwrite. Overplot. Overwrite, and my editor ALWAYS "smacks me upside the head"! ;)

    It's Jackie's birthday and she didn't mention it?? We need to know these things, girlfriend, so thanks to Jill for spilling the beans. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACKIE!!

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  69. The stronger the conflict the better the story! Bring It On!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JACKIE!

    Have a Magical Monday everyone!

    Please put me on for the draw.....

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  70. VINCE SAID: "Who would ever choose to plot? Aren't plotters like readers who read the last chapter first? What fun does that leave? Where's the doubt? To what avail is all the conflict in the world?"

    LOL ... a person with fifteen main/subordinate characters to keep track of, that's one reason a person would choose to plot ... or rather one reason why a person would succumb to a sanity plot (aka life) line. ;)

    VINCE ALSO SAID: "Creating a great plot is so satisfying that actually writing the book afterward is like washing the dishes after preparing a world class, award winning, gourmet meal!"

    LOL ... love it!!

    VINCE SAID: "Pantsers write as if there is no author while plotters write as if there is a writing god and it is them."

    LOL ... I'll tell you what, Vince, you need to write a blog or a book on Vincisms! They (and you) are priceless, my friend!

    Hugs,
    Julie

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  71. LOL, Janet--yes, I have noticed we're wearing almost the same color. And yes, sometimes if I'm quickly skimming to look for where I commented last, I do a double-take on your photo! :)

    Here's another fun thing. The Photos program on my Mac has a face recognition feature. When it's trying to match up photos of me, sometimes it asks if a picture of you is me!

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  72. Janet, your stories are always packed with conflict, which make them so compelling! Love your writing. Love these new characters from Gnaw Bone! What a name for the town. Fantastic!

    I struggle getting the plot laid out. The prep for a story AND the first three chapters take me a long time...with lots of hair pulling. Then, once I see the story and have the first three chapters in place, the writing speeds up nicely. But it's always tough to get to Chapter 4!

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  73. We got about a foot of snow last night. I am loving it! But it's powdery so I can't make a snowman, unfortunately!

    I see I am not the only one that caught this: the romance isn’t the plot. The romance merely complicates the plot. I loved your examples from The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. Please enter me for a chance to win this book! Would love to see your examples in action.

    I am stumped right now regarding plot, internal conflict, external conflict, goals, motivation. Any insight on how to make these things work? I am reading through Goal, Motivation, Conflict and Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View, but I think I am thinking too hard. I'm just confusing myself.

    Referring to what Mary said: how do you blend, work in the plots, so they don't appear contrived?

    Thanks, Janet, for a great post! Lots of great information!

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  74. I have so many comments I agree with. Writing LIS, I have lots of conflict and tension, as Tina says. Sometimes too much, and I need to tone it down so that the romance can flourish. I tend to be a tweener. I like to write the first three chapters before I plot out the entire story in detail. And even then, sometimes things change or just pop up. But it's all fun.

    Can I just say I almost spit out my tea when I read Vince's comparison between plotting and giving birth to a 30 year-old! Teach me not to read and drink at the same time on Seekerville!

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  75. Hi Julie, glad you saw the point in a story you read. The romance is front and center in a romance, but the hero and heroine's goals make them take actions that create external conflict for themselves and others. Like your San Francisco story where the heroine wants to help kids in a bad area of town and that adds conflict between her and the cop hero who wants to keep her safe. Sorry I've forgotten character names! The romance complicates the external plot. You do it, you're just so focused on romance, you forgot it. LOL

    Janet

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  76. Oh... and I already have all of Janet Dean's books, so I do not need to entered into the drawing!

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  77. Caryl, I'm smiling at your "Bring it on!" comment. I love strong conflict, too. You're in the drawing.

    Janet

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  78. Here's another fun thing. The Photos program on my Mac has a face recognition feature. When it's trying to match up photos of me, sometimes it asks if a picture of you is me!

    Myra, who knew we looked alike! This program must be as impacted by color as we are! When I'm skimming the blog for new comments, I'm always skidding to a stop thinking it's me, when it's you.

    Janet

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  79. Debby, I, also, struggle trying to get a handle on the plot. I want to know the story arc before I can write more than the first three chapters. The first three chapters are the easiest for me to write. Perhaps because the set up conflict comes easily. Even once I know where the story is going, I still pull out my hair writing the remaining chapters and I don't have hair to waste.


    Janet

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  80. Hi Sally. You've asked some great questions. I'll make a stab at an answer. Others may chime in.

    I start with the character's external goal. The external goal is wanting something tangible, something that can be seen, touched, etc. When the goal is important (strong motivations compel the character to seek the goal), the character will act. But what they do, gets them in trouble with other the other character or sometimes the entire town. This is your plot. The romance complicates the plot when the person the character cares about is impeding what they want or even in direct conflict over the character's goal. Plots won't feel contrived when they fit the character, who s/he are.

    The internal conflicts come from their pasts (the wounds they've experienced) that make them avoid or want things that are intangible like love or harmony. These issues also cause trouble for the characters and impede the romance.

    I write both the hero and heroine's goals and why they want them then what is hindering them. Often the plot doesn't work when the goals aren't big or important enough.

    Does this make sense?

    Janet

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  81. Dana, we do have to take care when we drink a beverage while reading comments. Better to turn aside from your keyboard. LOL

    I'm like you, the first three chapters generally come before I plot the whole story.

    I can imagine in LIS that it's hard to give your characters a rest from the danger in order for romance to flourish. Any tips?

    Janet

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  82. Dana, you have all my books? I'm honored! Thank you!

    Janet

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  83. Uh, oh, and Kathy Bailey on small press too. I'm in trouble. Are your paper's weeklies, Christy and Kathy?

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  84. Hi Janet:

    I have not switched sides from plotter to pantser. However, two NaNos ago Tina asked a question which made me enter NaNo on the second day of November with no preplanning. I pantsered an entire 78,500 word romance, "When Characters Come Alive," and finished a few days before the end of November deadline. Writing this book was more entertaining than reading most other books. I think pantsering can be addictive!

    Since writing that book I have much more admiration for pantsers who can do it well. Also, I have found that since I can write some serious stuff, sometimes when I am being facetious, I may still be taken seriously. Satire like comedy comes with a high coefficient for confusion. : )

    In reality, I'm a plotter who always sends plays into the game but who also always allows my quarterback to call audibles to insure the best outcome.

    As for 'the plot not being the romance', well, while the airplane is not the passenger, the passenger is still going where the plane goes and still lands where the plan lands. (Skydivers excepted.)

    Vince

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  85. Janet, I liked your mention of a book-length goal.

    Michael Hauge talks about goals changing during the story. The hero may enter the "adventure" to uncover local corruption. That corruption leads to a killer, perhaps, who will eventually capture the heroine. So everything gets much more intense and personal. The original goal is still there, but the endgame is so much more important, more life and death, to the hero. Does that make sense?

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  86. Janet, what a great post! I love these examples. It's always a nice reminder that we can play around and switch things up to make them work better. :)

    Yes, I love brainstorming. You've certainly helped me through the years! :)

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  87. LOL, Rachel Meyers! So true about the "because I said so." hahaha I get frustrated with plotting and tend to want to just ignore it and write on. Then later I realize the problems don't just go away. :)

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  88. Kathy Bailey, it's good that you have a critique partner for helping you stay on track! A good one is worth her weight in gold.

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  89. DEBBY, you commented about how goals can change during the story. I agree. A character can start out with one well-defined and logical goal in mind, but as things change--as the character grows and develops--goals can be adjusted. What initially seemed so vital for the character's happiness and fulfillment may turn out not to be what he/she really needed after all.

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  90. Vince, how fun to see you can panster a book and so quickly! I'm impressed. I doubt I can. I'm thinking back to my first attempts at writing a book when I planned nothing and found I was missing a story. I'm better equipped now. Maybe. :-)

    You said: In reality, I'm a plotter who always sends plays into the game but who also always allows my quarterback to call audibles to insure the best outcome.

    I understand football enough to say I do the same.

    If the plane is the plot and the passenger is the romance, then we're in agreement. The romance goes where the plot takes it. But the romance/passenger complicates things for that plot/plane. But the HEA is always worth the ride.

    Janet

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  91. Debby, that makes great sense. The set up goal gets the story rolling and like you say, can still exist later, but the book-length goal surfaces quickly and impacts everything most.

    Michael Hauge should put you on the payroll. :-)

    Janet

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  92. Hi, Janet! I love plotting and working out the problems my characters will have to tackle. Of course, once the characters are on the page, they have minds of their own and they're not quite the same as mine. So, besides being fun, plotting is hard work. But what work isn't hard?

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  93. Hi Missy. You've helped me with plot more I think. Sometimes it comes easily but often it's like pulling teeth to find a goal that's strong and book-length.

    If I overlooked giving the point of view character a goal for a scene that fits his book-length goal, I can play with the scene and embellish it with his goal in mind and often don't have to scrap it or lose a thing.

    Play isn't just for recess. It's part of the writer's toolbox.

    Janet

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  94. Myra, excellent point that growth can change how the character views his goal. Sometimes he or she will even sacrifice the goal for the other. Now that's love, and a great example of the romance not only complicating the plot, but turning it on its head.

    Janet

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  95. Good afternoon, Cara! You're blessed to love plotting. Plotting is hard work for me. But it's definitely worth the hard work. The fun part for me is writing the opening. I always have such excitement and high expectations then.

    Janet

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  96. I feel the conflict has to have some strength to it for me. Don't like it to be too gentle. Would love The Bounty Hunter's Redemption because I think that conflict is just right.

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  97. One more plotting tip for Sally. Everything in the story weaves together. The plot should come from our character. When we look at the character's internal goal, motivation and conflict, we can usually see what s/he'll want for the external goal.

    For example, in The Bounty Hunter's Redemption, Nate Sergeant wants to bring the outlaw that killed his fiancée to justice. He also wants to see that his sister gets the heroine's seamstress shop. Why? Because he failed them both. Because of him, his fiancée was a target and died. Because of him, his sister was maimed. His motivation for his external goals is guilt. He's trying to undo the past. But the trouble is, that's impossible. At some point he'll grow enough--with faith, relationships to release the past and believe he's worthy of love.

    Janet

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  98. Hi Mary. If you like conflict, The Bounty Hunter's Redemption is a story for you. Thanks for your interest!

    Janet

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  99. ...the romance isn’t the plot. The romance merely complicates the plot. I know several commenters have already drawn attention to those words, but they bear repeating. They also explained to me why some romances are yawn-worthy while others sparkle. It's what the romance complicates that adds dimension to the book :-)

    Enjoyed the post, Janet. Don't enter me in the drawing. I have both books.

    Nancy C

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  100. Waves to Christy and Kathy from another Villager who worked for a local weekly!

    Nancy C

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  101. Janet, this is a timely post.

    LI is suppose to reveal their new contest next week. (The hint is it will be for LIH.) So I've been trying to come up w/a brand new story that fits more w/LIH storylines. I've got a couple of ideas, but I'm struggling w/all the things you just mentioned.

    Toss my name in the hat for The Bounty Hunter's Redemption please.

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  102. JANET - I found this post so helpful, thank you! I'm more of a "panster" at heart but I hope to develop at least some plotting skills before I get into my second book.

    I wrote the first one in a weird way - I did all the conversations first (hero/heroine, heroine/sister, hero/ranch foreman, etc. and then worked the story in around them. As I look back on that, I realize I must have had some plotting going on, or I wouldn't know what they needed to talk about, but I didn't have any of it written down or thought out when I started. And even weirder, at least to me, is the conversations hardly ever flowed freely while I was sitting in front of the computer, but only when I was driving, washing dishes, etc. I would write them all down later when I was back at my desk.

    JANET, love the whole post but this made me laugh: If your characters won't talk to you, put words in their mouths. They'll soon learn silence doesn't pay. :-)

    TINA, loved this too: Plot is a total bear, especially when you have to plot before you write the book. Not so much when you write the book first, because the characters help you out more. I think when you plot they get a bit annoyed at us and don't talk as much.

    Like CHRISTY and KATHY, I worked for small town newspapers for many years, up until last year in fact. And as Kathy said, it is an interesting life! I've had some exciting assignments through the years, but I've also done my share of writing obits, covering routine meet-and-greets, shooting "grip and grin" photos, covering contentious council and commissioner meetings, and photographing giant catfish, feral hogs and deer (who were not in any condition to say cheese)in the back of pickup trucks. Not to mention the many "near record-setting" vegetables and fruit I've taken photos of through the years :-) But I can honestly say (except for fires and accidents) I truly loved it.

    Please enter me in the drawing for Courting Miss Adelaide. Thank You!

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  103. Janet, that makes sense. Thank you! I've been reading and studying so now I need to sit back and relate what I've learned to my story. Thanks for the tips and explanations and examples!

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  104. Laura CK, you just made me laugh at loud over your description of the photos you've taken for the paper. :)

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  105. Connie Q, good luck with the new, upcoming contest!

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  106. "....the romance isn’t the plot. The romance merely complicates the plot."
    I've seen this more than once on this post and the longer I think about it, the more I see how true it is! For me as a reader, it's just another rich layer to the story, there is always so much more going on than the romance. It adds a dimension that a writer can really have fun with!
    Seems I'm always learning something new here on Seekerville. Makes me appreciate you writers even more, you have a tough job, but you make it look so easy....lol!

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  107. Janet, that was such a good description of how to plot based on the internal GMC! (in your comment to Sally)

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  108. HI Janet! You look so cute beside your new book. I just got it from Harlequin because I like to order direct. I'd write more, but I'm trying out my new laptop and dh still has things he needs to download, so I have to give it back, lol. Had to plead to use it for ten minutes.

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  109. Hi Nancy C. I can't imagine how to write a plot-less story with just the romance for conflict. When I first heard and needed this "romance isn't the plot, it merely complicates the plot," it wasn't that I didn't have a plot, but more that I found writing the story confusing. I kept forgetting what the characters were after--and that wasn't love. Often the last thing a character wants is love. Yes, in a romance.

    Janet

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  110. Thanks for a very informative post, Janet. I don't know how much I have thought about breaking down the goal like that. I do enjoy plotting--until I get bogged down and can't move forward. Your tips will be helpful.

    Please enter me in the drawing. I have not read either book, so it doesn't matter which one.

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  111. Nancy, Christy and Kathy, do you find that it's harder or easier to write fiction after writing news?

    Janet

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  112. Connie, how exciting that LI is opening new opportunities! If you have questions about plot, ask. I'm leaving for a while this evening, but will do my best to help, if I can. You're in the drawing.

    Janet

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  113. Laura, I'm so glad the post is helpful! You get a lot done when doing other chores. I've always heard mindless activities open up creativity. I have to see things on the page before I can think. I've got some weird focus issue. LOL But upon occasion an idea will strike or a snippet of conversation. I guess the characters are tired of me putting words in their mouths.

    Wow, another writer who's covered the news! I'm impressed and grinning at your witty description of the life. You're a writer for sure!

    Janet

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  114. Sally, mull it over, but feel free to give a shout if you need help. It's fun to see how hard you all work!

    Janet

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  115. Hi Trixi, you are the sweetest! Thanks!

    Janet

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  116. Missy, isn't it amazing what all there is to learn about writing a book? Some writers seems to intuitively know all this. Wish I were one of them!

    Janet

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  117. Hi Lyndee, thanks for stopping by with the few minutes you had! I appreciate you! Hope the new laptop cooperates and you enjoy my story!

    Janet

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  118. Hi Sandy, I understand getting bogged down. Writing is fun, when it's flowing and I know where we're going, but let me forget the goal, and I'm wasting time. Wishing you all the best!

    Thanks for your interest in my books!

    Janet

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  119. Laura, I do that a lot. The conversation writing thing. It's a really good way to get the scenes you know in your head are coming, down on paper. Then you can layer in the rest.

    Actually I have started entire books around a conversation that just started in my head between two characters.

    This really makes for excellent characterization when they are talking to each other in your head all the time.

    Not so good for your sanity, but hey, who needs sanity if you have a contract? Right?

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  120. Thank you for the interesting post!

    Please enter me for the copy of "The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption"

    Many blessings to you and all of Seekerville!

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  121. Tina, excellent point! LOL!! I love those conversations in my head. It doesn't happen nearly often enough!

    Janet

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  122. Hi Phyllis. You're entered for a copy of TBHR. Thanks for your interest!

    Janet

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  123. Tina, the conversations in my head are in a British accent. ;-) must be from watching two episodes of Downton Abbey. ;-)

    Janet

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  124. TINA, glad to know that starting books with conversations is not as weird as I thought! I don't have a contract yet, but I've always thought that sanity was highly overrated anyway :-)

    Thank you, JANET and MISSY :-)

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  125. I enjoy both types - strong or light conflict since each tells a story and serves a purpose. Thanks for a great post.

    I'm would be happy to win The Bounty Hunter's Redemption. Thanks!

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  126. So, according to Tina, ...when you plot they (characters) get a bit annoyed at us and don't talk as much."

    Far be it from me to argue with Tina.

    At the same time, I have to admit loving to plot. :-)

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  127. LOLOLOL, my characters, Walt. Not necessarily yours.

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  128. "However, two NaNos ago Tina asked a question which made me enter NaNo on the second day of November..."

    Um, what question did I ask?????

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  129. Laura, Our processes are all different. As long as they produce a book who cares if we write in a padded cell. ;-)

    Janet

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  130. Hi Just Commonly. Great point! Thanks for your interest in my book.

    Janet

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  131. Walt, we plotters can put words into our characters' mouths if they don't cooperate, a writer's version of torture. ;-)

    Janet

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  132. Walt, Tina's military and a nurse. Never pays to argue with someone who can shoot a gun and give a shot.

    Janet

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  133. Janet, Thank you for the hints about conflict and I love how they go back to plotting and brainstorming. While I edit one book, I try to start brainstorming the goals, motivations, and conflicts in the next book I'm going to write, and I'm deciding between two stories right now. The ideas about conflict and stakes and tension all create scenarios I always want to explore and propel me back to the drawing board. Thanks for the tips.

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  134. Janet Dean said...
    Nancy, Christy and Kathy, do you find that it's harder or easier to write fiction after writing news?


    For me, writing news is mainly 'telling' (reporting while striving not to include personal opinion) while writing fiction is primarily 'showing' (to hopefully have the reader see the story/characters the way you intend). Writing non-fiction is great for learning the nuances in word choice, the connotative meanings. Other aspects of writing, like starting with a 'hook,' pacing, etc. are pretty much the same.

    That said, non-fiction editing made the 'internal editor' in my fiction writing very, very, very hard to ignore :-)

    Nancy C

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  135. Janet Dean said...
    Walt, Tina's military and a nurse. Never pays to argue with someone who can shoot a gun and give a shot.

    Oh my gosh, what a great laugh. Thank you!
    Nancy C

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  136. Hi Tina:

    I don't remember exactly but I know I had no plans to do NaNo that year. But you asked a question about something like if I was going to write something about 'characters coming alive' and you must have also challenged me to pantser a whole book.

    I thought about it and on November 2nd I signed up and started my 100% pantsered novel. I know that if you had not asked that question, that book would never have been written. I think it is my best story.

    Thanks, coach.

    Vince

    P.S. Being a nurse and in the Army might mean that you can both take shots and give shots but at least if you shoot someone, they will have a medic right there on the scene.

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  137. Hi Tanya, I'm impressed. You've got this writing gig! Have fun deciding which story is next.

    Janet

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  138. Hi Nancy C, I can imagine turning off the internal editor is hard with your experience writing news. I can't seem to turn mine off and I have no excuse.

    Janet

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  139. Vince said: P.S. Being a nurse and in the Army might mean that you can both take shots and give shots but at least if you shoot someone, they will have a medic right there on the scene.

    You're a hoot, Vince! Thanks for the chuckle.

    Janet

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  140. Hi Julie:

    Thanks for the nice comments on my 'Vinceisms'. I do have a plan to round up the best of these for a Kindle book entitled: "Famous Quotes No One Has Ever Heard Of".

    This will be a reference for writers who don't want to quote the same old quotes.

    Vince

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  141. Janet, I actually work at the paper as a graphic artist, though I have contributed a few articles through the years and I find writing fiction much easier! But just being there is a wonder education on writing, interaction, and community goings on. In fact I'm working on a romance series that is threaded on a background of a small town newspaper.

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