Adventures in Plotting

Part of the key to succeeding as an indie writer is to offer new products on a fairly regular basis.  You cannot expect to put out one book and then sit back and count the money.  Readers want more, and writers have to offer it.  There are ways to get around this.  Established writers can publish eBook versions of backlist titles they own eBook rights to.  If your project is coming along slowly, you can write a few self-contained short stories featuring the characters.  An ideal publication schedule is to have something new every three to six months.

This can be difficult for slow writers like myself.  I find that regular writing helps, and I use tools like a hand-held recorder compatible with Dragon dictation software, to help maximize my output.  But my biggest obstacle with this is being able to knowing what to write about.

I’m not sure I ever really understood plot-driven vs. character-driven (probably not a good thing for a fiction writer), but I do know this:  When it comes to writing my books, I am a plotter, not a panster.  I summarize the entire story first.  This comes from my years as a traditionally published author, when new contracts were offered to me on the strength of the synopsis I provided to my editor.  When I began to indie publish, it was easy to keep up this practice.

I have had times when putting together a story where I became more stuck than tires in mud. In the case of my book A Kiss of a Different Color (2010), I had a basic premise of a black woman forced by economics to take a job in overwhelmingly white North Dakota, where she decided to take a chance and enroll for the ballroom dancing lessons she’s always dreamed of taking.  There she is paired with a handsome, tall blond man from Minnesota. Some cute banter and a few fireworks at their first meeting…a car that won’t start after one night of classes that puts them together in a bar while they wait for a tow truck…and then what?  I had a promising beginning, but nothing else.

I did what most writers would do…I put this story aside and worked on something else.  I kept coming back to it, hoping that the “light bulb” inside my head would go off.  Months passed, and then years…and I still couldn’t come up with a plausible story.

‘Plausible’ is an important word to me.  While I’m a big believer in having a defined plot, I also feel it’s important to stay true to my characters.  Have you ever read a book where a character you think you know does something totally out of character?  This usually happens when the author is trying to force the characters to fit their predefined plot, and it won’t ring true, which will leave readers feeling bewildered and ultimately unsatisfied.

Obviously, I eventually figured out a plot line for A Kiss of a Different Color, although it took several years.  I ran into a similar problem when outlining the story that became Isn’t She Lovely? (2012)I was pleased with the story I’d created, but then after reaching a pivotal moment in the story, where the hero is threatened with exposure of a carefully guarded secret by a vindictive person (who learned of his secret by her own devices, not because he confided in her), I got stuck.  What would happen next?

This time the solution came to me much more quickly.  I let the characters decide.  My hero was running for governor, and if his secret became public knowledge, it might mean the end of his campaign.  My heroine was being threatened by her ex-husband who wanted custody of her children and was desperate to keep her name out of any scandal that might make the judge decide in her ex’s favor.  I had written these characters pretty well and felt I knew them.  By getting into their heads, I figured out what they would do.  The solution opened the door to a ton of additional conflict, which would keep the story moving.  I was happy…my editor was happy…and, judging by the responses I’ve received directly and those left on review sites, the readers are happy.

Plot-driven vs. character-driven?  I guess I believe in a little of both.  Have a plot, but let the characters’ personalities propel it forward and get from point A to B and so on.  Once you have a fully defined story, it’s easy to focus on one scene at a time until you have an entire book.

Because the clock is ticking.

Bettye Griffin

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Bettye Griffin began indie publishing in 2009.  Her latest eBook, Isn’t She Lovely?, was published in March 2012.

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