W-Plot Your Way to a Better Scene

~ Plot Your Scene with the W-Plot Method ~

The W-Plot can be used to lay out an entire novel, but it’s true strength is in plotting scenes. I am doing NaNoWr again this year. I love being part of a huge group of writers all excited about writing and encouraging each other every day to do their best. But sometimes when I am writing as fast as I can, I lose track of where a scene is going.

That’s when the W-Plot comes in handy. The W-Plot method can keep a scene from falling flat. It can also get you out of writer’s block when you are fast drafting.

I first learned about the W-Plot from Karen Doctor. (You can get her W-Plot course here)  Simply described, the W-Plot Method lays out the rising and falling tension in the series of events that make up your scene. Here is my version of the W-Plot adapted to writing a scene.

W-Plot Example

 

When I get stuck for an idea while writing a scene, I quickly sketch a W on a sheet of paper and then brainstorm different events that would move the character to and away from his or her goal in the scene. From those, I pick the ones that fit best or are most surprising and then get back to writing.

Want to learn more? Here are some other takes on the W-Plot.

The W-Plot by Heather Dyer

Storyboarding and the W-Plot Chart by Mary Caroll Moore

Happy Writing!


How do you plot your scenes?

Have you ever used the W-Plot Method?

 

Plotting a Romance: What Works for Me

~The Path of True Love ~

I truly believe that the best way to learn to be a writer is to be a voracious reader. That said, how-to-writing books definitely have a place in honing one’s skills. I have read many books that I have found helpful. Today I will review one of my favorites and explain how it helped me improve my writing.

Before you can write a romance, you need to plot out your story. When I began writing my first novel, I plotted by the seat of my pants as most beginners do. The feedback I received was that it didn’t fit the romance genre because the love story wasn’t the main focus, and the relationship between the hero and heroine was too antagonistic.

For a while I scratched my head. Then I went back and reread some of my favorite romance writers and tried to figure out what made their book so terrific. This was very time-consuming, and I soon found myself buried in the details (or just enjoying the story all over again) and losing the big picture.

Zara West reviews Romancing the Beat So I was very happy to find this little book. Romancing the Beat by Gwen Hayes. This inexpensive, short book (100 pages) is perfect for the beginning writer or non-romance writer who has a basic understanding of how plot and character work together to build a story, but needs some general direction on crafting a truly awe-inspiring romantic relationship.

Romancing the Beat starts with a discussion of theme and points out that all successful romances share the same overarching theme “love conquers all.” Then she has a delightful way of describing the love arc as going from “hole-hearted to whole-hearted.” Doesn’t that just summarize the whole romance thing in a nutshell?

However, the part I found most useful, and that I will focus on today, is her analysis of the inner journey the lovers must go through to reach their happy ever after

To do this, Gwen Hayes provides a clear, easy-to-understand summary of the required plot elements or what she calls “beats” that show what the lovers need be doing from first kiss to final breakup and where these elements fit on a basic three act plot outline.

She encourages the reader to create their own version and promises that if you outline your story using these beats you will have a coherent love story with some very satisfied lovers (and readers) by the end.

A Perfect Romance Arc

Does it matter when they kiss?

Based on her book, I created my own version of The Beat Sheet and have used it successfully to improve my writing. I find it particularly useful when doing my initial outlining and when revising

If you prefer a pre-made version you can download a printable pdf that can be cut into cards or Scrivener template on her website.

To learn more about the method or about Gwen’s other books visit GwenHayes.com



How do you plot out your romantic love arcs?

I’d love to hear your methods.

Fast Drafting My Way to The End or What I Learned from NaNoWri

My first novel, written as a respite from working on my dissertation, took me five years to write. My second novel took seven years to write. My third novel took one month.

What made the difference? Fast drafting.

Fast drafting is the writing process in which you throw out everything you’ve learned about good writing and just write whatever crazy, horrible, wonderful thoughts come spilling out of your head. You don’t stop to do research. You don’t stop to reread. You don’t stop to go back and fix something. You just write. But the question is: How do you know what to write and not end up with a mishmash?

What makes fast drafting work? Good planning at the start and great editing at the end.

Planning for Fast Drafting

I don’t think that I would have been as successful in my first NaNoWri if I hadn’t written the two slow pokes first. I learned a lot about writing between them and all the writing courses I took during those years. For one thing I learned how to plot.

My first two novels are what I would call meandering. Since they were historical fiction, I got buried in the research. I got enamored with writing beautiful settings and long sections of internal thought full of metaphors and literary references.  Many chapters existed only to share some of that incredible information I uncovered or to weave in a particular place or quote.  Originally these novels topped out at 170,000 words or there about.

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage One ACTION

Now I know that the action must come first. Forget setting. Forget angst. I write a bare-bones sloppy synopsis or what I call a fairy tale version of my novel. I imagine I am sitting around a campfire and making up a fairy tale to entertain a group of antsy kids in the format of first this happened and then that happened and then this and that until bang there’s a horrible villain and a catastrophe and oops a terrible choice that leads to a heroic deed and then an ending – a happy one, of course. I write romance.

Why does this work? The structure of fairy tales is believed by many researchers to be hardwired into our psyches. At least in my case, I know this is true as I grew up on a steady diet of fairy tales, especially Grimms. For a more professional take on this: the this and that and thens are called plot points and there are a ton of wonderful websites and books explaining them. Check out Larry Brook’s StoryFix website, for helpful examples of plot points and story structure, or take Carol Hughes workshop Deep Story I offered this coming April.

Using Fairy Tales in Fast Drafting

Illustration by Hope Dunlop from The Little Prince

Next I take that synopsis, paste into my NaNoWri draft document, and put line breaks between the sentences and label them ACTION. Here is an example from my NaNo draft

  • CHAPTER Setting The Siren POV Alba
  • ACTION Hanger is missing. Alba goes to The Siren to get help

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Two GMC

I head each sentence with the word CHAPTER. I identify a possible setting and the POV character. Then the POV character’s goal(s) for that chapter, his or her motivation for achieving that goal, and what’s going to prevent or hinder the character from achieving that goal. Debra Dixon is my resource for this. Here is my GMC from the same chapter:

  • Goal– Find Hanger
  • Motivation – furious/worried/he could be injured or dead
  • Conflict –Alba has gala that night and she must go

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Three Dilemma

I can’t remember what course I took that made me realize how important the dilemma is in plotting. The dilemma is the hard choice the POV character has to make by the end of the chapter to obtain the goal or at least get closer to it. A dilemma is stated as an either/or choice. It often becomes the hook that leads into the next chapter, especially if the choice is really dangerous or the wrong one. If you have great dilemmas for each chapter, the story will write itself. From the same chapter:

  • D – Go to Gala or go look for Hanger

Fast Drafting Plot Planning: Stage Four: Make it Simple

Now here’s the way to put this all together so you can sit down and fast draft. I happen to use Word so I make the CHAPTER ACTION SETTING POV info a Heading 1, and the GMC + D a Heading 2. Now all I have to do is open the FIND Navigation box and there it is – an outline of my novel. This way I can keep the plot right in front of me as I write. I can see where I have been and where I am going.Fast Draft Header System


Have you ever fast drafted?

What are some tricks you use.

 

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NaNoWri starts Tomorrow and I Can’t Wait.

Ready. Set. Go.

Got my plot. Got my characters. Got my GMC outline. Got my alarm set. Everything appears ready for me to dive in and write my first 2000 words (Technically you need to write 1533 a day, but I aim for 2000 words a day – that way I get ahead a bit for the days I can’t write for some reason or other.)

Problem is I also have a dentist appointment, a sister visiting from Scotland, the last broccoli and chard to harvest from the garden, and pizza night with the whole family. Not to mention constant interruptions from children, husband, and telephones. I don’t want to hear one more political robot, please!

See that’s one of the problems with being a writer. You do everything to get into the flow and then BAM something happens to break the flow and if you haven’t reached your word total, you’re cooked. Or at least I am.

Here are somethings I do to get back into the flow.

  1. Do a 1 mile walk, either outside or inside (I use Walk at Home with Leslie Samsome). As I walk I start to think myself back into the story.
  2. I type some gibberish until the flow starts up. It’s a fast draft. Pleanty will be cut before it’s done.
  3. I reread the last paragraph I wrote (no more than that or I get into edit mode)
  4. I reread my outline – especially the dilemma.
  5. I do a journal entry in the POV character’s voice about what they think should happen next.
  6. I give up and promise to write more words the next day by getting up earlier.

Anyone have any other suggestions on how deal with interruptions while fast drafting?

Leave a comment or two!

 

Why NaNoWri fires me up to write faster

NaNoWri or National Novel Writing Month starts on Tuesday. This will be my third year participating. I don’t know why, but somehow tracking words and trying to attain the 50,000 word challenge in 30 days just gets my blood flowing and the creative juices oozing.  So I am getting set for the race to the finish.

NOTE: If you don’t know what NaNoWriMo is here’s a brief overview. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. A small group of friends in California got together and challenged each other to write a book in a month and an idea was born. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel during one of the toughest writing months of the year, November. The thought is–that if you can write a book in November, you can write a book at any time of the year.


Nano is also about a group of people participating in this goal all at the same time! There is so much energy in knowing that people all over the world are typing away, struggling to write their story all at the same time. (Though NaNo has the 50k goal, many people use NaNo as a means to move forward with their writing. Some use it to edit, others use it to write multiple short stories, or finish a story they have been working on.) Check out the website at http://nanowrimo.org

So this is how I’m preparing for this year’s challenge.

  1. I took a course in using journaling to develop characters and used my journal entries to dig into the psyches of my main characters. I have many, many pages of notes and a whole lot of tidbits in my head about the strengths and foibles of my people,. And I do mean people. By this piint they are like a real friends and enemies running around in my head.
  2. I wrote a very sloppy synopsis- kind of like telling the story to a friend. This happens and then that happens and so on.
  3. I pasted the synopsis into my NaNo draft and broke the events/actions into pseudo chapters. I can’t seem to get myself to drop the chapter format. But since I alternate POVs in every chapter it does work out okay. And I don’t number them. I make them HEADERS. That way if the find panel is open you can see the chapter and POV and setting right there.
  4. I write the Goal/Motivation/Conflict and the Dilemma for each “chapter” and make those header 2s. Dilemma is really important. That’s the choice the POV character has to make by the end of the chapter/scene. Like – Will I kiss him or not? Will I hide from the bad guy or attack him? That kind of thing.

And that’s it. On November 1 I will sit down and start hitting the keys as fast as I can. If I go blank or get stuck I stick in 4 XXXXs and move on. Later I can search out those XXXX spots when the thought hits on what to do.

So for now. I am dreaming my story and getting my fingers going by writing this post. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know by posting a comment.

Are you doing NaNoWri?

Beneath the Skin is different

Now I read a lot of romantic suspense novels. I love them. Why else would I write them? I like the fact that there is mystery and threatening villains along with the love story. I like the complexity of the plot and the challenging of binding the romance so tightly into the suspense plot line that if you took out the romance  or took out the suspense plot the story wouldn’t work.

To do that you need a special type of hero and heroine and a very threatening villain. Most romantic suspenses, therefore, usually have at least one and sometimes both main characters working for the military, especially the SEALs,  or for the police or in some CIA or FBI undercover operation investigating a crime or trying to stop terrorists or other very bad bad people. Blood Code featured the CIA against a crazy Russian premier. Exit Strategy starred an ex-military guy protecting his assigned victim from being assassinated.

Beneath the Skin is different. My heroine is an anthropologist. The hero is a world-renowned artist living the good life. Not military, not undercover, not police. So why don’t they go to the police when Bella Bell is kidnapped? Unfortunately, both have something in their pasts that makes them wary of legal authorities, and by the time, they realize they are in too deep, it’s too late.

The book I am giving away for March is Low Pressure by best selling author Sandra Brown. The hero and heroine in this book are more like mine in Beneath the Skin. In this book, the heroine is a writer and the hero is a pilot. Like Melissa and Ari, they start looking for answers and end up running for their lives.

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What Makes a Romantic Suspense Suspenseful?

Lisa Gardner in the “Seven Secrets of Romantic Suspense” lists the following elements that all romantic suspense novels need to be successful:

  1. A tense, dangerous setting
  2. Complex heroes, heroines, and most importantly, villains, who have goals they must accomplish and something personal at stake, often their only chance at love.
  3. Heroes and heroines with a vulnerability or flaw that hinders them from reaching their goal and finding that love.
  4. A situation that forces the characters to change in some major way and opens them to a loving relationship. By the end of the book, the lovers cannot go their separate ways and be complete.
  5. High levels of sexual tension: Love has the power to make people vulnerable and in suspenseful, dangerous situations, vulnerability can only lead to disaster.
  6. Lastly, there must be fear, there must be doubt, but there must also a ray of hope. Because a romantic suspense can only end with a happily-ever after.

Lena Diaz in her book Exit Strategy is a good example of a romantic suspense that does all these things.

Her protagonists are complex. Her heroine, Sabrina Hightower, is feisty and headstrong, determined to prove her grandfather has been kidnapped. The hero, Tall-Dark-and-Deadly Mason Hunt, is a professional assassin with doubts. Has he been killing the wrong people?

They have flaws. Sabrina is afraid to trust and jumps to conclusions. Mason is suffering from PTSD as a result of torture while a captive as a soldier.

A dark setting and a compelling situation: Set in the shadowy woods of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Sabrina must join forces with Mason, even though she doesn’t trust him, and he doesn’t trust her, in order to survive attacks by the men sent to kill them both.

Sexual tension: Thrown into close contact, sexual tension rises, loves blooms. But this only leaves them more vulnerable.

Fear, doubt, and hope: Will they be able to survive the attacks and prove the truth? Only reading the book will reveal the answer.

Lena Diaz is a Golden Heart finalist and has won the National Booksellers Award. Learn more about her at her website http://www.lenadiaz.com/

*EXCLUSIVE GIVEAWAY*

One lucky subscriber to Zara West Suspense’s Newsletter will receive a paperback copy of Lena Diaz’s Exit Strategy. All subscribers’ names will be entered in the Textfixer Random Choice Maker. The winner will be announced on January 31st.

Sign up today to have a chance to win!

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Beneath the Skin Book Cover Just Released

The book cover for Beneath the Skin is here!

Beneath the Skin Bookcover showing East River, bridges, two lovers

Back Cover Blurb

Ex-Olympic wrestler and reclusive billionaire artist Aristides Stavros has one mission—to rescue his sister, a popular tattoo artist from the old enemy who has kidnapped her. But at every turn, he is confronted by anthropologist Melissa Dermot. Is she just an innocent girl in over her head, or is she working for the international crime boss holding his sister?

Only one thing is certain–when Ari holds the beautiful Asian-American in his arms, questions of guilt and innocence fade against an undeniable fiery attraction. But can their wild passionate love survive the tangled web of long-buried secrets, intentional deceit, and murderous revenge that lie just beneath the surface?

Intrigued?

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Zara West loves all things dark, scary, and heart-stopping as long as they lead to true love. Zara spends winters in New York City where the streets hum with life, summers at the shore where the sea can be cruel, and the rest of the year anywhere inspiration for tales of suspense, mystery, and romance are plentiful.

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