DSC_6334_smallWelcome to my writing pages!  The main focus of this website is to offer writing tips, prompts, and inspiration to writers, no matter what their genre or skill level. You’ll also find information on my published works and the ones in progress. My schedule for posting is:

Monday Sparks: Writing prompts to fan your creative flame.

Thursdays – Writing tips based on a monthly theme

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What’s the Plot for This SciFi Scene?

What’s the plot for this scifi scene? There’s so much going on. Here’s my inspiration.

“No, no, no!” shouted Commander Zaeron. “We’ve entered the atmosphere, Cadet!” He shoved Cadet Plsae out of the pilot’s seat.

With the cadet screaming as the land rushed toward them on the main view screen, Commander Zaeron slapped at touch panels. The starboard side of the ship plowed into the field, showering the landscape with boulders and dirt, the metal skin grinding through layers of sediments. Zaeron flew out of the seat.

Then the ship went quiet, except for the gasping of Cadet Plsae.

Zaeron pulled himself up to the bank of touch panels, half of them black, the other half almost vibrating with warning alarms.

But the main screen still worked. A small figure, possibly female, stood in the field, looking directly at the ship.

Zaeron gulped, every story he’d ever heard or read about Earthlings colliding together in his mind.

For more prompts to inspire plots, click here.

Six Tips for Plotting Elegantly

Last week, I gave some examples from movies and books of what I considered plotting elegantly. This week, I list six tips for plotting elegantly–three for how to recognize when you’re not plotting elegantly and three for how to fix the problems.

Three Clues to When You Aren’t Plotting Elegantly

Too Much Explanation. If I find myself writing pages and pages, trying to explain a plot point, something is wrong. This is a particular pitfall for mystery writers. We have to explain the mystery at the end, but we should be as concise as possible. After sending the manuscript for A Shadow on the Snow to my publisher, I didn’t look at it for several weeks. When I went back to work on the edits I received, I was shocked at how chatty my characters were in the last chapter, over-explaining the solution to the mystery.

Your Guts Say No, But Your Brain Says Yes. When it comes to my writing, I go with my gut. If I reread something and my gut gets sick. I know something is wrong. When I reread the climax for Shadow, I cringed . Nothing technically wrong with it, except that I’d seen or read something like it about a thousand times before. And it felt mean. I could do better, write something original that flowed elegantly from the traits of the characters.

No One Will Notice. I don’t know how many times I’ve read a section, toward the end of an editing session, and thought, “This isn’t great, but no one will notice.” I’m tired of editing, my creativity is ebbing, and so I want to skip the mediocre section. It’s much better to flag it, let it sit awhile, and come back to it when I’m fresh.

Three Tips to Help You Plot Elegantly

Let Your Characters Act Naturally. If you know your characters like you know your relatives, they can help you when the plotting turns clunky. Often when my plot limps along, I realize I’m forcing my characters to act contrary to the way I’ve designed them. If I’m forcing an introverted character to act extroverted, and haven’t given any reason for this change in behavior, I’m in trouble. If a certain behavior is essential to the plot, I need to find the character most suitable for it.

Examine Your Setting. In a previous post, I write about how to “Maximize a Setting”. Are you taking advantage of everything a particular setting has to offer? My main character Rae Riley works as a check-out clerk in a library. One advantage of this setting is that it’s public, so I can have just about any character walk through the doors. It’s also a place where Rae learns to conduct research because she interacts with librarians. This fact gives my nineteen-year-old MC a plausible reason for knowing what a microfim machine is and how to use it to look up old newspaper article.

What Would the Reader Like? Until I tackled Shadow, I didn’t understand how critical keeping future readers in mind is. In the middle of my novel, Rae has a personal breakthrough. I got all warm and fuzzy writing it. After polishing it, I realized I couldn’t let all these cuddly emotions continue. Readers might overdose on the sweetness or grow bored. I had to let something bad happen. Even mean. I forced myself to give my main character a major setback. That setback led to more clues and hugely helped the plotting of the mystery.

Writers, what do you do when your plot starts to sputter and clank? Readers, what’s one of your favorite plot?

What’s the Plot for this Scene?

What’s the plot for this scene? What drama can you add to two people out on a trail ride? Below is my inspiration.

The top arc of the sun just clears the horizon as we trot down the deserted country lane. A woodpecker drums on the snag of a dead ash.

Dad hasn’t said a word to me since I asked to ride with him this morning. Maybe he thinks it’s weird since I haven’t ridden with him in months. Or is it a year? Maybe he knows I wouldn’t ask to accompany him unless I wanted something from him.

I tighten my grip on the reins. Most likely, he isn’t thinking about me at all. Like usual.

Dad takes Paladin into a canter. Squeezing with my legs, I put Cinnamon into one. When we slow back to a trot, I test the waters.

“Dad?”

His block of a face registers no expression, but his head dips a fraction.

“The county fair’s next week. I’m competing on Tuesday. Can you come watch me?”

He shakes his head. “I have meetings all day. I can’t reschedule them.”

And he wouldn’t even try. I stare at the reins in my gloved hands. Should I even bother with what I really need to ask him?

For more plot writing prompts, click here.

Plotting Elegantly

My husband, a nuclear engineer, once mentioned to me that mathematicians try to create elegant formulas. A longer, clunkier one might get the job done, but a simpler, elegant formula is the goal. I realized that should be the goal of writers too–plotting elegantly.

The Bourne Identity

The best way I know to explain plotting elegantly is to use the storyline of the 2002 movie The Bourne Identity. By the way, it’s a terrific international thriller, so if you haven’t seen it, don’t read on.

Jason Bourne is pulled out of the ocean by fishermen without any idea of who he is. As he slowly uncovers his past, he believes he’s an assassin for the CIA, a conclusion that sickens him. His handlers are searching for him, thinking he’s gone rogue or turned traitor. Bit by bit, Jason remembers what finally drove him to escape from his life as a government killer and prompted his amnesia.

The writers could have created any number of backstories to explain why Jason rebelled against his handlers. He could have been an angry young man, taking revenge on the world, until that revenge proved worse than his rage. Or he could have been so empty and purposeless that joining the CIA gave him a chance to feel important, like he was making a difference. Then he falls in love with a woman, maybe a doctor, who shows him that all life is sacred.

Those scenarios and others would have worked. But the screenwriters came up with something elegant. Jason finally remembers his last government hit. He was assigned to sneak onboard a yacht and kill the dictator of an African country. Jason slips into the main cabin, puts the gun to the dictator’s head, and stops. The man’s children, ages five to thirteen, have fallen asleep while watching TV with their father. Jason bolts from the cabin. He can’t bring himself to kill a man in front of his children. Or worse, have to kill the children along with their father so there are no witnesses.

The reason for his amnesia is simple and compelling, so elegant. The writers lay some groundwork. While Jason and the woman, who is helping him evade the police, stay a night with her brother, we see Jason hanging around the brother’s children as they play outside in the twilight. That night, the woman finds Jason checking on the children. These scenes have much more meaning after the single, flashback scene at the end when Jason is on the yacht.

Too Many Clients by Rex Stout

Plotting elegantly doesn’t just mean for the overall story. Each plot point can be given an elegant polish. In Too Many Clients, the body of a wealthy, powerful man is found wrapped and left at an excavation site. Detective Archie Goodwin discovers that the man kept an apartment in a nearby building for his many affairs.

When Archie questions the building’s superintendent and his wife, they confess that they found the body in the apartment and moved it so no one would know about the clandestine rooms. Since they’ve admitted to moving the body, maybe they had some role in the man’s death. Archie asks why they covered the body when they left it at the excavation site. The superintendent replies that the man was dead.

From the way the superintendent says it, as if that was the only decent thing they could do, Archie believes he and his wife are innocent of the crime. It’s a small point in the entire novel, but it’s elegantly done.

For more tips on writing plots, click here.

Your turn. What plots have you read or watched that are elegant?

What’s the Plot for this Ordinary Scene?

This month’s prompts are all about plot, the story component I have the most trouble with. If you have that problem too, I hope these photo prompts will inspire you. I almost passed by the photo I’m using today because it seemed so ordinary. But that’s what fired my imagination. What’s the plot for this ordinary scene? Below is my idea.

As we wrapped up the meeting, I noticed how everyone looked alike. We were all wearing sober blue or black suits. We were all smiling in a friendly but professional way, although I hadn’t felt friendly or professional in weeks. We had just had the fifth meeting of the day to discuss things we would discuss in a meeting next week and the week after that. Had we’d decided to do anything in any of those meetings? I didn’t think so.

“Is something wrong, David?” Amy said as she resumed her seat beside me.

How could she tell? I touched my face. My smile was gone. And I had a feeling it wasn’t coming back.

For more plot prompts, click here.

What’s your plot for this ordinary scene?

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