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on plotting

I have three characters clamoring to get onto the page, and I don’t care how many people say “writer, you are God,” these characters are not behaving, and they aren’t happy that I’m struggling with the plot. I know, why not just let them get onto the page and let them tell their stories?

Well, I tried that, and it was like herding cats. I have to have a plot. Part of my problem is perfectionism. I don’t want to write anything crappy. But Chris Baty, author of No Plot, No Problem, writes, “The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy” (32).  He adds, “…you should lower the bar from “best-seller” to “would not make someone vomit” (33). LOL

An exercise Baty recommends is to answer this question:  What, to you, makes a good novel?


  • An anti-hero.  Like Vachss’ Burke.
  • sexual tension
  • a mystery
  • well-researched–nothing makes me throw a book like the hero flipping the safety off a Glock.
  • snappy dialogue
  • cranky people
  • heroine with a passion for a particular thing; don’t care what it is.
  • people who awaken from ‘deadness’
  • funny situations
  • thought-provoking. (like Einstein’s Dreams, for example)
  • people who overcome adversity
  • foreshadowing
  • symbolism and metaphors

And another exercise–what bores you in a novel?

  • dialogue that goes nowhere
  • too much narrative (although I really liked Portrait of a Lady, and I love Herman Melville. Go figure.)
  • flat characters (bad guy has to have at least one redeeming characteristic)
  • improbable action
  • characters who don’t reap what they sow, good or bad. Bad enough to see that in real life.    *The Lovely Bones hit these two no-nos for me:  when the girl possesses Ruth’s body and the boy knew who she was?  Please.  And the mother abandoned the kids and slipped seamlessly back into their lives. Double please.

So where do I go from here? Back to GMC, I think.  I’m also finding this site on plotting helpful:


  • start with the status quo
  • and then something happens
  • the character commits to their goal

Go to the site to see the pages on middles and endings. Great info.

here’s what I’m working on:

Hero’s brother & wife have been murdered over a very rare gun. Hero is on the hunt for the murderer. Wants revenge.
Heroine runs a gun shop that her father willed to her and her mother.
Mother is still grieving husband’s death (it’s been a year+) and is no help to heroine; she’s also a bit like Grandma Mazur.

Well, it’s a start.