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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book in a Week

I am in the midst of being in a writing challenge for Book in a Week. Each month for a week at a time, this organization offers a challenge for writers to set their own writing goals, which are posted. Each day, everyone who has joined for that week, can post their output for the day.

I have decided to shoot for 10 pages a day. Unfortunately, I am running out of plot ideas, and it is difficult to keep going without a plot in sight, so I'll be skipping to WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL: THE WORKBOOK by Donald Maass (Writers Digest Books, 2004) for the plotting help that I need right now. There are many books that discuss plotting in a linear way, considering the three-act structure, but this doesn't work well for me. Maass's book is unique in talking about plotting from other standpoints. (I will return to Carolyn Wheat's book after Maass's book.)

The first exercise I'm choosing is "building plot players" (chapter 15, pps. 93-98) in which Maass asks a series of questions of questions about the problems the protagonist must solve and ends with suggesting that for each layer (problem) that you list and develop at least 4 scenes in which this problems plays itself out. (Maass prefers that I not write out his exercises; as an aside, I write to the authors of books I plan to use and get their permission ahead of time.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Result of Storyboard Method to Scene Writing

I'm sorry I haven't posted in awhile but fell ill and got behind...


As follows is my application of the Storyboard method of scene-writing as described in Carolyn Wheat’s HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION (pps. 146-147).

Stage Setup

Time: Afternoon

Place: A McDonald’s restaurant or another fast food

Season: Cold – the sun hasn’t shone since the victim’s death

Sounds: Noise of old, grizzled men begging and laughing hysterically, servers speaking Spanish

Smells: the special sauce, grease

Sights – dirty tables, sullen clerks, hamburger juice squirting, special sauce

Tastes – coffee – strong, surprisingly good

Touch – sticky table, plastic seating

A meeting between the main character and one of the police detectives, a pregnant African-American woman. Drew wants to tell her all that she has discovered about the case. Sgt. Reynolds is mad about her interfering and tells her info about the arrest that was made of the housekeeper that Drew didn’t know about. Now it does seem more credible that maybe the police arrested the right person after all.

What physical objects surround the character: other diners

What details of their surroundings do they notice and/or comment on? Maybe Sgt. Reynolds drew the protagonist out to a more dangerous neighborhood to meet on the pretext that she had to interview someone on another case in order to intimidate her. Maybe makes the point that usually the criminals are obvious like they are here in this neighborhood, and it’s not all the scheming that Drew thinks it is behind it. Drew makes the point that if it’s that obvious, then wouldn’t the husband be a suspect and he makes a pretty good one, too, given that he lied about his alibi, and that since he was getting fertility treatments, the pregnancy couldn’t be his. Maybe Drew tries to make some kind of point about justice and how people of color are more likely to be arrested for crimes hoping that she will get Sgt. Reynolds to relate to this, but Sgt. Reynolds is cynical and thinks it’s liberal nonsense she’s spouting.

How do the characters’ clothes reflect personality? Sgt. Reynolds is wearing pregnancy jeans and flats with a blazer.
Drew wears business casual and clogs

Does any physical object remind someone of the past? Drew thinks about her current life seems full of McDonald’s now. Maybe this is Sgt. Reynolds’ old beat, and she feels more comfortable here.

Does any physical object take on symbolic meaning: Pink hamburger that Drew is sickened by – the death of the victim?


What’s the large action? Drew telling Sgt. Reynolds about what she’s found out on the case.

What smaller actions make up the large action? Sgt. Reynolds is eating a Whopper and fries, and a milkshake. Drew drinks coffee.

How does the character’s performance of the action reflect character? Sgt. Reynolds is unselfconscious about eating. She is confident in herself and her judgments about the case. She feels inferior about not having as much education as Drew, and makes fun of her for being a professor and being “so smart.”

How does the other character react to action? Drew tries to get on the same side as Sgt. Reynolds but it’s difficult. She is used to having to be tough as well from having to stand up to student pressure.


What do the characters talk about? The case.

What’s going on under the surface? Sgt. Reynolds is resentful at the time Drew is taking up and feels inferior to Drew’s education.
Drew is intimidated by Sgt. Reynolds’s tough demeanor, but isn’t going to back down.

Do they disagree? Most of their conversation is about disagreeing.


What’s the outcome for the main character scene? Sgt. Reynolds doesn’t listen. Drew wonders whether she has been wrong.

What does the main character feel, have, or want at the beginning of the scene? Drew wants to convince Sgt. Reynolds that there are other possibilities besides Blanca, whom they have arrested at this point.

What has the character gained or lost? Drew has at least gained the relief of telling all that she knows. She has lost her conviction that Blanca is innocent.

How does the gain/loss affect the character’s overall story goal? For awhile, Drew may decide not to keep pursuing the case, and she will question if what she has been doing is worthwhile.

What’s the climax of the scene? When Sgt. Reynolds snaps at her that she said she will tell the detectives in the missing congressional intern case about the information Drew has told her.

Do you have a curtain line? “I said I’d tell them, and I will.”


This exercise took some time, but I got a lot out of it. I often get stuck in writing scenes, and I think it may be partly because I don’t know how to write it and what should be covered. As a result, I don’t write anything. This is an excellent exercise to counteract the overthinking and stuckness that I’m sure other writers are prone to as well. It helps in planning scenes and frees up a lot of blocks because it makes you think through so many elements before you even start writing the scene. You can also use it when you have already written a scene, as Carolyn Wheat suggests, and you want to go deeper.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


The next book will be HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION by Carolyn Wheat (2003, Perseverance Press). I will start with her "Storyboard" technique (pps. 146-147). Here she details 6 aspects of the scene: 1) Stage setup; 2) Characters; 3) Props; 4) Action; 5) Dialogue; and 6) Outcome. The purpose is to think through all these aspects ahead of time or to revise an existing scene to go deeper or to cut material that doesn't advance the goal of the scene and how it ties to the plot. In the next post, I will apply all the details of these aspects to at least one scene.


Yardley's book WILL WRITE FOR SHOES would be helpful if you were planning to write a Chick Lit novel, and she talks about some of the stereotypes and pitfalls to avoid about writing in this genre. She acknowledges that her method of structuring a novel is very linear and left-brain, and I had a hard time being able to use her method for that reason. Although I have elements of chick lit in the novels I am writing, I am not enough in that genre to benefit fully from the advice Yardley offers.

A strength of WILL WRITE FOR SHOES is that she takes the reader through the planning of the book, the writing process (although I wished there had been more about this), and selling the novel. Another strength is that she keeps the personal chick lit tone going throughout the book. She makes it sound like writing a chick lit novel is, if not easy, an achievable goal, which should motivate and insire authors in this genre.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Results of Yardley's Synopsis Ideas


Fourteen year old EVE ELLIOTT yearns for popular CHASE RIVERS but doesn’t stand a chance against AVERY CARTWRIGHT who’s so rich she competes as an English-style horseback rider. Meanwhile, Eve lives with her single-parent mother, ARIANE, in one of the few rentals – an apartment in a Victorian building twisting with turrets and staircases -- in the Washington, D.C., Georgetown area. Eve, convinced she must have a sperm donor dad given her lack of information about him, searches for clues in her mother’s room on the Friday before Halloween. She finds a beautiful crystal watch, surprised that her stylish mother, who works with the mentally ill in downtown Washington D.C., has never worn it.

That night at a costume party her mother has forbidden her to attend, Eve and her best friend JOCELYN are shunned for wearing “old school” witches’ costumes while the other girls prance around in provocative outfits, until everyone’s attention is focused on Avery’s latest drama, the theft of her championship horse. Finding out that her mother has not yet returned home, Eve and Jocelyn sneak into the park at Dumbarton Oaks, an historic mansion and site of many diplomatic meetings, to start a treasure hunt their teacher Ms. Ainsley assigned. In the woods, Eve is stricken to find Avery and Chase fooling around in the woods as Eve had her own secret make out session with Chase two weeks before they began high school.

After scaring Chase and Avery off, Eve starts to get in touch with her witch powers, but doesn’t yet realize what’s happening. The next day Eve’s mother has still not returned home, but Eve keeps this a secret from everyone but Jocelyn realizing that foster care is the next stop. The only clue to her mother’s whereabouts is that an unknown woman with auburn hair was last seen riding BRAM, Avery’s championship horse. Eve and Jocelyn team up with Avery and Chase to find the missing horse, believing that it might lead to Ariane.

When a Child Protective Services arrives at her door, Eve absconds to England, trading Avery the crystal watch for plane ticket money, in search of her only living relatives. In a cottage on a deserted coast of Cornwall surrounded by snow and ice, Eve finds her aunt CIERA, who (in an accent Eve can barely understand) denies knowledge of Ariane’s whereabouts, but consents to taking Eve of a tour of the area. When Ciera stabs Eve with an icicle from a tree, Eve thinks Ciera is trying to kill her, but Ciera claims that she is only helping her create a wand so that Eve can more fully develop her witch powers. She is appalled that Eve gave away the crystal watch as it plays a key role in a prophecy about time slowing down and eventually running backwards, which will feed into the powers of DUVESSA, Ciera and Ariane’s evil younger sister. Only Bram, the winged horse, can outrun the watch’s power and correct time’s course. Ciera explains that the reason she and Ariane have both gone into hiding is to escape Duvessa, who stole away Eve’s father from Ariane. Ciera beseeches Eve to return to the states and reclaim the crystal bracelet before Duvessa can find it get a hold of it, because there is only 24 hours until the clock will run down. The new course of time will only enhance Duvessa’s powers. Ciera leads Eve into a cave to find the crystals that are needed to complete the wand, but a cascade of rocks fall onto Ciera and she is killed.

Back at home, Eve is pleased, despite her worries, that Chase seems to have missed her, and he gets the crystal watch back from Avery when she refuses to return it. Jocelyn and Eve are shocked to discover that Jocelyn’s mother turned Eve into the authorities; she also has a horseback riding background. When Jocelyn talks her mother into taking them riding, Eve performs a clearing spell, and Eve’s mother is revealed as Duvessa the witch, and Bram, the horse, grazes in a nearby field.

Duvessa reveals that Jocelyn is her biological daughter who was stolen away by Ariane and adopted. Jocelyn seems pleased to finally know her real mother (she didn’t know she was adopted, but it makes sense). Avery and Chase, who got a ride with Chase’s older brother, drive up, and Avery runs to her horse. When Duvessa tries to stop her, Avery instinctually performs a freezing spell. Duvessa easily deflects it, but Chase, who is also trying to reach the horse, is electrocuted by its force. As Duvessa turns to claim Bram, Eve and Avery simultaneously blast her with a time trance, and Duvessa is forced to reveal the whereabouts of Eve’s and Jocelyn’s mothers, which turns out to be in the clock tower at the Smithsonian. Avery, Eve, and Jocelyn jump on the winged horse, which takes off toward the setting sun. After an explosion of light, they all tumble off, bursting through the door at Dumbarton Oaks. They look at Avery’s cell phone time, and it’s running normally.

When both mothers are freed, Eve’s mother reveals that Eve and Avery are half-sisters. Duvessa stole Ariane’s husband, a master clockmaker, but then killed him after she had his child and he was unable to produce a replica of the enchanted crystal watch that Ariane had in her possession. When Duvessa abandoned Avery to foster care, Ariane gave Avery to an American businessman, who, in turn, arranged Ariane’s passage to America. Ariane set it up so that if Duvessa ever got close, Jocelyn would appear to be her biological daughter to throw Duvessa off the track. Because Eve and Avery shared the same father, their bloodlines were united and their power was exponentiated; thus, they were able to knock the witch into a time trance. Duvessa was taken to a hospital by paramedics where she stayed in a coma, along with Chase. A door is open to a sequel; Avery and Eve, although half-sisters, are still enemies and blame each other for Chase’s coma, and Jocelyn is jealous of their relationship. How will they work out these relationship triangles and manage their witch powers as they continue on in their Freshman year?


I suspect that I got carried away with the synopsis. Although I diligently worked on paring it down, I found it difficult not to recount many of the events. They all seemed important, and it was challenging to keep it to plot points. All the events seemed like plot events. I will take feedback if anyone sees a way to keep it just to major plot points (although I also have to say that the sample synopsis that Yardley includes in the appendix is quite detailed, as well).