15 September, 2015


Plot: verb (gerund or present participle: plotting)

1. devise the sequence of events in (a play, novel, movie, or similar work).
  2. secretly make plans to carry out (an illegal or harmful action).

When you write mysteries, plotting probably involves both definitions, but last weekend I participated in a Power Plotting workshop given by Mary Buckham to hone my craft in the first one.

I’d previously taken several of her on-line courses (Active Setting, Pacing, Body Language, First Five), but never a “live” workshop. I should have been forewarned.

The class, which is based on the book she co-wrote with Dianna Love titled: Break Into Fiction, was intensive and exhausting, but so rewarding.  The book includes eleven plotting templates and we spent two-days working through them (we’d been assigned the first two as pre-workshop homework). For each template, the book gives examples from four movies: Pretty Woman (templates for both Vivian and Edward), Finding Nemo, Casablanca, and The Bourne Identity. During the workshop Mary also included other examples such as G.I. Jane and several popular TV shows.

You might be thrown when asked “What is the character lacking internally at the beginning of your story that will change by the end of the story?” but when you read the example answers based on the  movie plots, it’s an instant "AHA" moment. I couldn’t believe  how simple plotting became, broken down into  eleven critical steps, when I had instant reference points. It was like paint-by-numbers, but adaptable to any fiction genre.

The workshop also afforded each of the ten participants one or more one-on-one meetings (in addition to 2 group lunches and dinners) with Mary to discuss our individual plots and problems. Each attendee’s reaction to these meetings was the same: Wow, why didn’t I see that before?

I am, I confess, an inveterate pantser, so I wasn’t sure that learning to plot was going to fit my writing process.

I was so wrong.

A plotter will use the templates before hitting the keyboard.  For a pantser, they are the perfect review system, highlighting plot holes, missed conflict, slow pacing, and flat characters.  

Before ending the class we also covered templates for pacing, endings and dialog, as well as a tutorial on the art of writing hooks. Did you know that there are ten types of hooks? And they can be combined to make even more powerful hooks?

So now, the world has ten more master plotters and hookers!(Pun intended) Thanks, Mary.

02 September, 2015

I lost, but I also won

This year, for the first time, I entered Pitch Wars.

For those unfamiliar with this "contest", Pitch Wars is an opportunity for aspiring writers to submit to five mentors. Everyone submitted on Aug 17th. That's when the mentors—— published/agented authors, editors, or interns who generously volunteer their time—— start winnowing down the submissions to the single story (and author) they want to help for the next five weeks.  On Nov. 3rd, the polished pieces (and pitches) will be presented to a panel of agents and, hopefully, representation will be offered.

This year there were 103 mentors. Unfortunately for me, most wanted to work on YA or MG manuscripts of varying genres.  By stretching my imagination a little, I was able to winnow out 5 mentors who might be interested in an adult, traditional mystery.

The bad news is that I lost.  On the more positive side, once Pitch Wars begins, a frenzy of Tweets ensues.  Both mentors and mentees post (See #Pitchwars and # Menteemates on Twitter) advice, suggestions for distractions, crazy cartoons and videos, encouragement, and offers for critique partners and beta readers. 

We were getting kind of punch drunk by Tuesday evening!

When they come up for air, most mentors will be sending short (or long) critiques to those they didn't choose. Another plus.

I came away with renewed determination and the knowledge that I'm not alone in my struggles. And I'll be checking my Twitter feed to see if anyone wants to critique or read Chill Well before Killing!

Everytime you put yourself out there, dip your toe out of your comfort zone, you get stronger.  Repeat three times and get back to writing.