Thursday, September 24, 2009

This blog is moving!

I am taking this blog to the Sisters in Crime Guppies Group at this time. Sisters in Crime is an organization dedicated to supporting and promoting women who write and publish in the mystery genre. Guppies stands for the "great unpublished" and is a group of people focused on developing their mystery writing craft and getting published. If you want to join me there, the website link is

Best wishes for your writing careers!

Jacqueline Corcoran

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Donald Maas's workbook is an extension of his book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL. For me, the workbook format helps me put his techniques into action. I would suggest using this book for initial brainstorming of plot and character formation, although he often writes as if a complete draft is before you. He relies heavily on reversing ideas (i.e., if you have an idea, take the opposite idea instead), which tends to get you out of the rut of going with your first idea or a superficial idea.

As I've mentioned, he has several exercises for developing plot without being linear, which to me, is a nice departure from scene cards and the three-act structure. However, it's a challenge to put the ideas then into sequential order. My only gripe is that I went back and read the books he suggests as "breakout novels," and I didn't like any of the books he had used as examples. I'm partial to mysteries and that perhaps explains why I didn't like the more literary novels or the romances.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Defining Personal Stakes

Donald Maass has in WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL: THE WORKBOOK an exercise about defining personal stakes (page 48), which I'm applying to TEEN TIME WITCH. The main character's central goals are to win Chase's heart and find her mother.

What could make ths problem matter more: Chase is the prince in a witch's prophecy Eve discovers, and she has to be with him as part of the prophecy, otherwise the "bad" side will win. Eve's best friend points out that Chase doesn’t really act like a prince. He will have to rise up to the occasion. But how can a teenage boy who is susceptible to a popular girl's attention (Avery) give that up when Avery is the prettiest and richest girl in the class?

What could make this problem matter even more: There is some larger political controversy looming in the background that the prophecy ties into -- a possible conflict between the country Eve's mother was from and the US. Eve's best friend Jocelyn's father is involved as he often goes to that country for his ambassadorial position.

What would make this problem matter more than life itself? The abolition of the U.S. if they get into a conflict with this country that would mean nuclear weapons.

After pushing you to keep coming up with reasons to raise the personal stakes, Maass challenges you to incorporate these into the novel in at least six places.

Reflection on Exercise

This is a difficult exercise but stretches your creativity. Maass mentions that people often see this exercise as a way to add plot complications. I'm always looking for new ways to plot so this is helpful. Raising personal stakes will be important in my mystery because there is always the question in amateur sleuth mysteries why the protagonist becomes involved. The problem with the exercise is that in continually brainstorming personal stakes some of them become outlandish. For example, when Maass asks "what could make this problem matter more than life itself?" I ended up with the U.S. potentially being bombed with nuclear weapons!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Creating Inner Conflict

In Writing the Breakout Novel: The Workbook, Donald Maass has an exercise on page 24 about creating inner conflict, which basically involves considering the tension about what the character wants and then thinking of the opposite of that. Note that since Maass requested that I not write out the exercises, I will just apply it to my own work right away rather than posting on two separate occasions.

I am switching now to my young adult mystery paranormal, TIME WITCH. The main character Eve wants Chase, a popular boy, and they are about to start high school together. But she also wants him dead because he made out with her and then appeared to ignore her; he is now responding to the attention of a popular girl. This inner conflict will be the combustion that triggers her witch powers. One of the ways she realizes her powers is when she harms him when she sees him with the popular girl one night. She stops short of really hurting him, although she could.

Results: Plot Layering

I apologize for not posting but I was on vacation in Miami.

Results of Ploy Layering Exercise

I like this plot layering exercise from Maass because it doesn't require you to be so linear in your approach to plotting (i.e., going from point A through Z). Instead, you think about one element of the plot and consider the scenes that demonstrate that plot layer. When you come up with a few aspects of the plot, you are able to create scenes from these, although, to some extent, you still have to know where these plot layers are coming from.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Results of Maaas's Plot Layering

Here is another plot layer: trying to discover the connection between the Senator's mistress and the victim

1. Drew tries to write or call the senator and is blocked by the secretary

2. the aide agrees to meet with her for coffee

3. when Drew is leaving her building at nighttime, she is stopped by the senator and his driver, a man from Russia, and tells her that is connection is related to a congressional subcommittee that is looking into psychiatrists who didn't report their earnings from pharmaceutical companies and the victim's husband was one of them. The intern had decided to do some investigating on her own to impress him; he still denies that he had an affair with her.

4. Drew looks into subcommittee's reports and finds that he is telling the truth

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Result of plot players exercise Donald Maaas

Sorry again for the delay in posting. Book in a Week got me overwhelmed and then I went on vacation to Miami with my family, so postings might be a little thin for the next three weeks.

Results of Maaas Exercise on Plot Layers

Plot Layer #1: Drew discovers that Laurel was having an affair with the subcontractor and they were involved in a building scheme so they could make money and run away together

4 scenes that show this plot layer

1. Drew pretends she wants to get an estimate for a deck at her townhouse so she can question Kyle Harrigan. She gets him to confess the affair.

2. Drew puts together that the phone number she found in Laurel's bedroom connects them to a lawyer who is handling the real estate deal they have going - a large Georgetown Victorian which will be renovated and chopped up into condos. She finds out that the Victorian is not allowed to be chopped up into condos and realizes that another suspect, Tad Gowers, must be involved as head of the Historical Commission to influence this project going through.

3. Drew arranges to meet with Kyle Harrigan at a Panera's to confront him with what she has found out, but he stands her up. She calls him to say that she will go to the FBI with her information if he doesn't talk with her.

4. She meets with the FBI as he won't respond.

Reflection on Exercise

I'm going to continue with this exercise in the next posting as Maaas suggests adding several plot layers.