It’s Messy. Is It a Process?

Process? I don’t need no stinking process. My book, alas, needs a plot.

I’ve read the craft books. I know a scene from a sequel, and I understand the big W shaped romance plot and the four acts that make it up. I get hooks and turning points. I’ve tried outlines, story boards, and scene by scene 3×5 cards. The snoring you hear is my muse who falls asleep as soon as I try those methods. She expects me to write by the seat of my pants. Yes, I’m a pantser, but that doesn’t let me off the hook. The book still needs a plot.

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Not how it works

To begin with I need characters. Usually one of them is well known to me. In the case of my Children of Empire series, the heroes are three cousins. I know their backstory, but in each case I have to look deeper. Who are they? What drove them to the place the story begins. By “place” I mean self image and emotion. To get deep into that I have to start writing. The first scenes may be tossed out later, or at least be heavily rewritten, but I have to write to know who they are.

By “place” I also mean location. Setting is my hobby horse. My next release begins in India. The sequel ends in China (or on a ship leaving Canton—I haven’t decided). The setting lends depth to the character once I figure out why they are there. Next I have to ask what heroine will throw sparks—and then add depth to her. Generally an ending forms in my mind by that time.

The early writing, obviously, is slow while I work out motivation and goals. I hit no daily word goals at this point. One craft book that helped me a lot is James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From the Middle. It isn’t enough to know the end. I have to know the tipping point, the point Bell calls the Mirror Moment, the point at which the protagonist looks in the mirror and makes a decision that changes the thrust of the story. The classic mirror moment is Scarlet O’Hara with her fist in the air vowing never to be hungry again. It was the exact mid-point of the movie.

Right at the mid-point of The Reluctant Wife, my hero realizes he can’t just send his children off to his sister in England with the heroine while he hires out as a mercenary to support them. He has to accompany them. He still thinks life as a soldier for hire is his only option, but he takes responsibility for the girls first. It is his mirror moment and it changes the direction of the novel. It took me some writing to find it, but the book rolled out easily once I knew what it was.

It isn’t tidy. It isn’t organized. Is it a process? Maybe.

8 thoughts on “It’s Messy. Is It a Process?

  1. Thanks for this. I am at the same point. You reminded me to look again at the book you recommended earlier about know the middle. I am going to look at it again.

  2. If it works it works. My process isn’t organized and it’s not always easy, but it’s how I work. Hoping that the more I write, the more I’ll clean up my process and the writing will flow just a little easier as a result. Love when the characters give you those light bulb moments like your hero did. 🙂

  3. I start from the characters as well. Their personalities and character flaws are key to how they react to the situations I put them in.

  4. When I read Bell’s Write Your Book from the Middle, I thought it was pure genius … but unfortunately it hasn’t helped me write. I need more than just the middle. I need the turning points into each of the four acts that you mentioned. With that skeleton I’m ready to write…usually.
    I guess there’s no blog hop post this week, but here’s my process.

    • Starting with the middle forces me to ask hard questions about the character and bring the angst from page one. Ultimately we need all those turning points.

  5. Even when the story idea is triggered by a situation, I need always to start from character. Who are they? Why are they? What makes them tick? The hero’s journey from outer self to inner self is particularly interesting in the second book with the same hero.

  6. I’ll have to check out the book you mentioned. Writing from the middle sounds tough, but maybe it’s the key to moving forward and keep me from getting hung up in the middle.

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Caroline Warfield, Author

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