Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How I Plot a Book by Toni Noel

I never know what will inspire me to write a book. Sometime it starts with a character, like the little boy I saw on a steam train ride through the back country of San Diego County. He had coal-black hair and the kind of flirty blues eyes you'd love to see in a man seated across from you in an intimate restaurant. I thought This kid will be a lady killer when he grows up, and started pondering where a hero with those good looks might fit in a story.

How about an office setting? I hadn't been retired long, then, and work situations were still fresh in my mind. A working 9 to 5 story? Not likely. Not much chance for romance there.

Or was there? I wondered, remembering the temp employee I once interviewed and hired to take over my time-card duties in the accounting department while I prepared for our company's year-end close. He had a degree in accounting, great personality and good looks that left female coworkers panting after him, regardless of their marital status.

My blue-eyed hero became a temp employee sent to help out the overworked owner of an advertising firm on the busiest day of her brief career. He has no skills or references on his resume, and she doubts he'll be much help, but welcomes another body and agrees to let him try his hand answering her busy phones.

He fits into her office so smoothly she hardly realizes she's begun to depend on him, but she definitely notices her unwanted attraction to him. Determined not to act on that attraction, she concentrates on the job at hand. Ah ha. Great conflict.

What about his? My ethical hero has strong feelings about office romance, and is secretive about his past. More conflict. His secrecy will drive my honesty-above-all-else heroine wild.

Okay. With two well-defined characters in mind who are attracted to each other but determined not to act on it, I begin to plot in earnest. I know from past experience I'll need at least 50 scenes to write a 230 page novel, more for a longer book. How do I want the story to end? What kind of book am I writing? Not a literary novel or women's fiction for sure. Happy endings are my strength.

That means in the end my heroine must get the man of her dreams. In Temp to Permanent the heroine considers letting the hero go, freeing her to act on her attraction to him. More good conflict here. She can't. He's too much help for her to send him packing.

Can she have her cake and eat it too? Not and remain the boss. The possibility of being accused of sexual harassment constantly occupies a female boss's thoughts, and the hero has made it clear he's ethically opposed to office romance.

Can I throw two healthy people of opposite sexes together for 8 hours a day and not expect sparks to fly? No. What can I do? Throw in a little suspense or my novel runs out of scenes by chapter 5.

The heroine is already suspicious because her tight-lipped temp refuses to talk about the past places he's worked. How did he learn his skills?

Have something disappear from the office. Could he be the culprit? How do her suspicions affect her attraction to him?

Now, what other scenes are needed to tell their story? I visualize their first meet, write it on a 3-by-5-inch card, and proceed to the next scene. As my stack of cards grow, I think of more scenes. What if the office copier quits? What if the sick secretary stays out another week? What if the heroine decides to go after a huge contract because she has the hero's expert help? Will she win? If not, why not?

Who might be determined to bring the heroine's company down? Why?

When I have at least 50 necessary scenes guaranteed to tell the story, solve the mystery, and allow the hero and heroine to fall in love while each of their lives changes (arcs), I'm ready to write the book. I arrange the scenes in the order in which I want to tell the story, number the cards, and write the story right from my cards. If I realize a necessary scene is omitted, it's easy to slip in a card for the missing scene, or rearrange the order of the scenes.

The writing of Temp to Permanent went fast, in part because my muse took over and created several office diversions I hadn't anticipated.

I'm a sensitive woman, a sensual writer, and those traits open the door for writer's block to shut down my creativity. Following the death of the contractor who remodeled two bathrooms and inspired one of my books I suffered a lengthy bout of writer's block. During those long months of drought I still went to my computer every day, even when written words for my current work-in-progress refused to flow. Revision became a godsend, and eventually caused the block to unblock.

My advice for aspiring writers is to learn everything you can. Take online classes, join RWA, and find someone to critique your work. Study the rules of proper grammar and punctuation and put them to work. Don't be afraid to ask published writers for help. Join an online critique group. Polish your writing until it shines, then enter contests, and never, ever give up.


Jannine said...

It's always fun to read how other writers plot their books. I love the idea of the cards, but for me it would be too constricting. When I write, I have to let the characters tell their story. And that's why I'm a pantser. But I think it's wonderful how you plot out your books. I wish I could be that organized, lol.

Toni Noel said...

Hi, Jannine,

I envy pantsters. How I'd love to be able to just sit down at the computer and see what my muse has in store for me. I love surprises, but not with what I write.

Good to hear from you,


Gabriella Hewitt said...

I do need to plot but have never managed index cards. I can see how this system works for you. I generally do a chapter by chapter outline often writing the chapter description by scenes. It's close to what you do but it's all done on the computer. I've tried working with bits of paper, storyboarding, etc., but they just don't stick as a method for me.

Thanks for an interesting post. From Temporary to Permanent sounds like a fun story to read. ( :

Toni Noel said...

Hi, Gabriella.

Thanks for stopping by.
Outlining just didn't so it for me.
Glad it works for you.


Anne Patrick said...

I'm a pantster but I do like your idea with the note cards since I write scenes out of sequence.

I've delt with writers block a few times and find editing and revising does work well to get me back in my writers zone. Great advice, Toni.

It has been such a pleasure to have you join us this month. Thanks so much! I wish you continued success in all your writing endeavors.