Monday, October 3, 2022

The Big Question, Part 17

NOTE:  This is the final post in "The Big Question" workshop.  Yeah!  If you have other subjects you would like me to cover, please contact me via this website or my .io group.  


Now that you've completed all your worksheets and have a good general idea of what your novel is about and who your characters are, you are ready to start outlining your novel.  By outlining, I mean having all your major scenes and subplots in general order.  

Some writers use jotted notes to outline, but I suggest index cards because they allow you to change the order of events, etc., without a major hassle, and the visual quality of index cards helps many of us.

Choose whatever size note card you want.  If you're a serious note taker or fear you'll forget minor points if you don't write them down, a large one will work best, but for most of us, the 3X5 inch works just fine.

On Worksheet 4 you listed the major plot or plots and subplots as well as important events which thwarted the main character's plans.  These will help you fill out your note cards.

On each note card, put down a major scene or turning point in the central plot of the novel. Each of these scenes gives several important pieces of information on plot or character as well as moving the novel forward by causing change. Some of these scenes are obvious. The meeting of the hero and heroine, for example.

For STAR-CROSSED, my note card said, 

Mara tracks down Tristan at hospital. She is shocked at his injuries yet attracted by his unfamiliar maleness. The nurse tries to throw her out. Tristan drags himself out of his coma-like state in reaction to her. Her kindness as well as her attraction to him makes her decide that she will fight the government to keep him alive and out of the harem, whatever the cost.

After you finish the major scene and turning point cards, add cards of events that have to happen between these very important moments.  Most of these events move the plot forward by giving the reader and the character information. 

Now write the index cards for each subplot story line in the same manner. 

In STAR-CROSSED, I wanted Dorian to realize Tristan wasn't dead and to figure out that slavers attacked his ship and brought him to Arden.

Since no one outside of Arden knows what is happening, I realized that my heroine Mara would have to let Dorian know the truth in a clever manner.  

To set up this scenario, I had to give the reader a number of scenes that lead up to Dorian's decision to go to Arden to rescue Tristan.

First, Mara would have to find out that Tristan has been reported as dead to his family.  My note card said, “Mara receives an off-world scientific journal and finds Tristan's obituary.  It was written by Tristan's friend Dorian.  Mara realizes that her plan to use Tristan's fame to save him has been ruined.  She wants to tell his parents the truth but doesn't know how she can.”

The next logical scene in this chain of events is that Mara decides to plagiarize Tristan's current scientific notes and send them to Dorian under the guise of asking her scientific opinion on them.  She believes that Dorian will recognize the notes and will tell his parents.  

In other scenes which are part of the Dorian subplot, Dorian will receive the notes, research the number of ships lost near Arden, and talk to a space smuggler friend of Tristan about space slavers.  She will realize most of the truth, but she'll not realize that Mara is a good guy.

I placed these cards at logical points in the Tristan/Mara plot line.

Plotting a novel is as much a logic puzzle as it is inspiration and storytelling.  The various elements must make sense by themselves as well as in relationship with the rest of the novel.  Most will be decisions in plot logic. Some will be decisions about pace.

For example, just after the scene where Tristan and Mara finally admit their emotional attraction and hope for a true future between them, I put the scene where Dorian decides to rescue Tristan and declares her determination to marry him. This scene adds tension, not only because Tristan may be rescued from the evil harem (a good thing), but also because Dorian will destroy the heroine's hopes for happiness (a bad thing).

Normally, I write the first three chapters at this point. Here, I learn even more about my characters and plot, and I discover holes in my plot logic and have to change my note card order. After these chapters, I type out a plot summary from the compiled note cards. I find even more plot holes which I correct.

The most important thing to remember is that the note cards and plot summary aren't carved in stone. The book will change as you write it. You must decide if that change is viable to your overall concept of the book and its Big Question.



The most important thing to remember is to write, and if you love your story, keep writing until you finish it.  

Writing is a rough career where few of us make a living, but the profession is worth most of the grief if we love what we are doing.  Without that love, we'd be better off working at Wendy's or watching TV.


If this workshop didn't light that bulb above your head about creating a novel, please don't be discouraged.  Keep trying different methods with teachers or books on writing, and one day that light bulb will go off.  I know I read a lot of books on writing before my own light bulb lit up, and I suddenly understood how to create a novel with plot and characters working together.  

At the same time, you have to really work at the process of creation.  No teacher and no book can give you a magic word that will make a novel suddenly appear in your head.  You have to work at whatever creative process suits you.

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Big Question, Part 16


If you haven't already, you need to start listing the books you read.  

Make a note of all the publishing information as well as a brief plot summary, the type of book it is, and your impressions of the book, then put it in a file for later when you begin to plan the marketing of your book.

Also mention where the book is physically. This will save you from ripping your keeper shelves apart when the book came from the library or was loaned to you.

You may be eclectic in your reading, but the NY publishers aren't eclectic in their buying. Every line, whether romance or otherwise, has neat little pigeon holes for each kind of book, and if you choose the wrong pigeon hole to put your book in, they'll toss it back to you.

Being published for the first time is hard enough when you have an incredible book that's perfectly crafted. Don't shoot yourself in the foot and waste your time and some editor's by sending a book written for one market to another.

Also, notice what the first-time writers have sold to publishers. Nora Roberts can do incredibly innovative things because she has the name and audience to do it so editors let her write whatever she pleases.  

The first-time writer shows you what you probably can get away with and sell. Of course, if that new writer's book failed badly, I wouldn't use it as your poster child to a successful career.

If you are going to self-publish, all this information will be useful in not only figuring out where to put the book but how to market it.  

Monday, September 19, 2022

The Big Question, Part 15


Once you have your three levels-- the Big Question, the characters, and the general plot, and you have your world building complete, you are ready to begin writing the book.  

As you write, remember that the Big Question drives your book, but it should be invisible to the reader.  Avoid sermonizing at all costs.

And if you lose the thread of your novel or hit the dreaded writer's block, go back over your original notes and examine what you've been writing recently.  More than likely, you've strayed away from the Big Question.  

Go back a bit and get that book on track so you'll have a book that will resonate with readers.


 If you're still not sure about how to construct a novel, you need to take a novel or two apart.

You do this by going to your keeper shelf and finding several books of the type you want to write.   These books should be fairly recent, no more than a year or so old.   Try to find one by a familiar name writer.   Another should be by a fairly new writer with a few books out in that genre.

Here's how you take each novel apart.   Start reading the book with a pen and pencil beside you.   After each chapter, write down the major plot points and events that happened in that chapter.   When you're done, you'll have a good overview of how much goes into that size novel.   Do this for several novels.   If you know of a book that is close to how you imagine your book with the plot, be sure to take that book apart chapter by chapter as well.

Some writing instructors go so far as to say you should analyze the amount of dialogue, narrative, character interiors, etc. To do this, take a number of different colors of highlighters and code each color for a specific aspect of the novel (dialog, interiors, love scenes, etc.) then highlight away.    You need only do this for a few chapters, and you can make copies of the pages if you don't want to mess up the book.  You can also usually find the first chapter or two on the author's website or Amazon.

This type of analysis is especially useful for series romances from Harlequin.

I did the chapter analysis of a Dick Francis suspense novel before I started my first suspense, and it was an eye-opening experience about how much goes into a novel.

I know a few writers who have actually used the chapter by chapter analysis of another book to write their own.   The result wasn't suitable for selling but few first novels are, and the writer learned a lot about constructing a plot.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Worksheet 7


If you want to sell what you write, particularly to a major publisher where the money is, this is a very important worksheet to do.  You have to read what you want to write, and you have to read widely.  

List recent published books (the last year) that you have read that are similar to the book you want to write.  Who is the publisher?  How long is the book?

By similar, I mean it may have the type of general plot you are using.  

For example, your book is a romantic suspense involving the hero and heroine being chased by organized crime, and the romantic relationship is as important as the suspense plot.  A general plot would be a book with a chase at the center of the story.  

Monday, September 12, 2022

The Big Question, Part 14


I've put together my Big Question notes on my out-of-print romantic suspense novel, THE GAME WE PLAY, to show you how I went from a few ideas to a complete novel.  

What genre (science fiction, for example) or book line (Harlequin Intrigue, for example) are you aiming toward? If it is single title (not part of a line), what length?

Single Title Romantic Suspense, 75,000 words


What is your big question?

After total betrayal, can a person regain their trust?  

What are its two sides?

Trust versus distrust

List the characters you will need to answer your big question and show each character's function as part of the big question.  Only give general answers.  The specifics will be the next exercise. 

After being betrayed, NICK PRICE trusts no one.  He's put into a situation where he is forced to trust Faith and betray his best friend, Clement.

After being betrayed, FAITH CODY has regained her trust in others.  She's forced to trust Nick who doesn't deserve it and betray Clement who does.

Clement has lived a life of false identity and betrayal because he was The Night, a legendary cat burglar who robbed the wealthy on the Continent before WW II.  During the war, he fought with the Resistance against the Nazis.  He returned to the US with a pardon and began a new, fairly honest life, but he still has a ruthless streak. In contrast to his past life, he is kinder and more honest with Faith than Nick is.  He is Nick's foil emotionally and romantically.

Joseph, Clement's right hand man and unofficially adopted son, is the distrustful one who sees Nick as a rival and a danger to Clement. He is Clement's foil as well as the inciting presence in the mansion.


Flesh the major characters out and give background and motivation:

FAITH CODY's life has been shaped by betrayal and desertion.  When she married Sam Cody over her father's objections, her family disowned her.   His own life in crisis, her beloved, weak-willed Sam turned to alcohol and other women.  Faith remained loyal until, in an alcoholic fury, he beat and raped her.  She left him, and he died soon after.  

Totally alone, Faith became strong and courageous in the face of adversity.  She reshaped her life, worked to free herself of the past, and learned how to protect herself so no one could ever physically hurt her like that again.  

Avoiding another relationship with a man, she focused her attention on repaying Sam's debts and lavished her great love and loyalty on the children she teaches.  

By the time THE GAME WE PLAY begins, she's almost healed from the betrayals of the past, and like a butterfly she's ready to emerge from her cocoon, her heart able to love again.

NICHOLAS PRICE has also been shaped by betrayal and desertion, but his reaction has been very different from Faith's.  A respected investigative reporter for a prestigious Washington newspaper, he was tossed into a sanitarium for erratic, violent behavior.  By the time he emerged eight months later, his wife had married the lawyer who'd put him into the sanitarium, he'd lost custody of his two children to that man, and his job was gone.  

Only Nick and a few close friends know Nick's erratic behavior had been deliberately caused by chocolates spiked by hallucinogens.  Nick is certain his good friend and lawyer Adam did it to steal his wife, children, and his life.

Formerly a warm, loving, and deeply empathetic man, Nick has emerged from this experience a cynic no longer certain of anyone.  He expects the worst of others to save himself the hurt of disillusionment, and he avoids emotional relationships.

List your story arcs.  Include the main story arc, any secondary story arc, and subplots that are needed.  

Main story arc:

Nick and Faith must find Clement's documents to ransom Nick's children.

Romantic story arc:

Faith must teach Nick to love and trust again, and help him survive the brutal emotional pressure caused by his children's kidnapping.


Faith becomes friends with Clement who sees her more truly than Nick, and she starts to unravel the secrets of Clement's nature to discover where he would hide the documents as well as discover his one great secret which will change everything.  Her relationship with him is flirty, but he knows she loves Nick while she recognizes that Clement is the kind of man she should love instead of dark and damaged Nick.

The kidnappers use sick messages, cause accidents, and attack Faith to hurt Nick and destroy him emotionally.


Taking all this information, I wrote my plot synopsis.  I've colored coded the back story in red, and the trust/distrust Big Question in blue.


Plot back story                  Trust and distrust

From a drugged sleep, schoolteacher FAITH CODY wakes in an unfamiliar bed with a strange man leaning over her.  Assuming rape, she groggily attacks him, but she finally recognizes NICHOLAS PRICE by his resemblance to his son.  She tells him and his ex-father-in-law, Austin, that she was sent by Nick's ex-wife April as governess for Nick's two children for their summer visit with their grandfather.  She remembers getting on the airplane with the children, but nothing else, including being dumped by the kidnappers on Austin's front lawn.

Nick's upset when he learns April's pregnant by her new husband because a third pregnancy could be fatal especially if she becomes distraught about the children's kidnapping.  He's also bitter April doesn't trust him alone with his children.

A ransom note arrives, but rather than money, the children's kidnappers demand that Nicholas steal some special documents from Clement Zachary, Nick's best friend and one of the most dangerous criminals of the century.  The documents are incriminating evidence against Clement's criminal enemies that Clement uses as blackmail so they can't kill him.

Faith decides to go with Nick to help save the children.

Later, Faith overhears Nick and Austin.  Nick believes her a spy either for April or the kidnappers, but he intends to take her with him to Las Vegas to steal the documents so he can keep an eye on her.  He's also suspicious because under her "disguise" of glasses, ugly hairdo, and cheap clothes she has the looks of a centerfold model, but he's eager to play house with her.  Nick discovers her eavesdropping, and she asserts her only loyalty is to the children whom she loves.  Enjoying her spirit and their sexual attraction, he bickers playfully with her.

The next day, Nick transforms her into the "centerfold model" with a trip to the beauty shop, and he buys her an expensive and far too provocative wardrobe.  Shocked at seeing herself as she was four years before when her husband died, she realizes how much she's let herself go from fear of being hurt again.  

At the airport, Nick chastises her for pulling away from him in public since she's pretending to be his mistress.  She demonstrates her acting ability by passionately kissing him.  The acting proves to be in pretending the seismic kiss hasn't rocked her off her feet.

Faith realizes she must keep Nick emotionally stable with their playful bickering and sexual attraction as his emotional outlet.  April had warned her of Nick's mental breakdown -- two years before this, he tried to strangle an editor at the prestigious Washington paper where he worked as an investigative journalist.  Because of erratic, violent behavior and hallucinations, he spent 8 months in a mental institution, but Austin had him released despite his psychiatrist's objections.  Nick hasn't had severe symptoms since although stress could make him fall apart again.  Despite her awareness this dark, violent side could reappear again, Faith is attracted by Nick's charm and his intense love for his children.

At Clement's isolated estate where they're staying, Faith meets Joseph Sabat, Clement's right hand man whom Clement raised and educated, and Clement-- a dashing gentleman and rogue.  Clement is charmed by Faith, who must entertain him to keep his attention away from Nick's search for Clement's infamous hidden safe.

That night, Nick becomes violently agitated when Joseph offers him his favorite chocolates, but Faith covers for Nick and gets him up to their suite.  Later, Nick visits her bedroom, and they talk.  He explains that Clement is The Night, the famous cat burglar who preyed on the wealthy on the Continent before the second war, and who was a thief and assassin for the Allies during the war, but who has retired to being law-abiding.  They met when Clement saved young reporter Nick from vengeful criminals more dangerous than Nick was experienced.  Clement took him under his wing and educated him in the ways of the real world and on the skills of the professional criminal.  Nick now employs these skills to investigate criminals.

Nick, using his cat burglar skills, breaks into Clement's third floor private quarters, but returning, he falls from a breaking limb, setting off the alarm, and hits Faith's balcony.  She drags him stunned into her bedroom and undresses him then gets into bed with him to provide him with an alibi.  Joseph enters with a gun but isn't suspicious when he finds them entwined together kissing.  He sees the broken limb and departs.  Sensing her response to him, Nick wants to stay the night, but she refuses telling him she needs more than sex with a man.  She needs love, trust, and security.

The next morning, Faith examines the broken limb which could have been partially cut.  She flirts with Clement by the pool while Nick's swimming, but Clement quickly recognizes her as the small town, old-fashioned schoolteacher she is.  

She admits to the deception and honestly says that Nick insisted she play at this sophisticated role, not to fool Clement, but to allow Nick to keep their relationship casual.  Clement tells her she reminds him of his late wife, and he sees her emotional as well as physical attraction to Nick.  Jealous Nick shows off on the diving board but falls and is nearly hurt when the diving board comes loose.

Once again, Faith discovers that Nick's fall could have been engineered.  She also senses she and Nick are being watched by Joseph whose bland appearance hides an extremely dangerous personality.  Nick tells her that Joseph is obsessively protective of Clement whom he considers his father.  Joseph has become suspicious of them.

Nick receives a photograph of the children with a sadistic threat to them on the back which devastates him.  

That evening, Nick becomes furious when Faith suggests they seek April's husband Adam's help.  He pounces on her then releases her to show her how anyone, even someone she trusts, can betray without warning.  He tells her that Adam, his friend and lawyer, had deliberately put him into a fashionable sanitarium which wouldn't bother to cure him, then Adam wooed and stole Nick's emotionally fragile wife then adopted his children.  Because of this betrayal, Nick has lost his ability to trust anyone as well as to understand others' personalities.

To keep Clement out of Nick's burgling way, Faith spends the next afternoon with Clement in his quarters where they talk.  Clement reminisces about his late wife and speaks of his passion for the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe.  Faith realizes she likes and trusts Clement whose death she must cause, and both tacitly acknowledge sexual attraction.  She begins her own campaign to find the documents by learning how Clement thinks and feels.

Nick can't find Clement's hidden safe.

That evening after they return to their suite, jealous Nick becomes angry at her for sleeping with Clement when she won't let him touch her.  She explodes herself, grabs him by the lapels, and gives him some home truths-- that he insisted she entertain Clement, that it's none of his business whether she did or didn't sleep with Clement, and that she hasn't slept with Clement because he thinks Nick intends to marry her and honorable Clement wouldn't put a finger on the future mother of more godchildren.  Nick is shocked out of his jealous anger and into amused laughter.

The next day, a chastened Nick takes Faith to Vegas for some investigating.  They lunch, and Faith gets to know the tender, charming, and silly Nick April must have known.  Faith tells of her unhappy marriage with an alcoholic husband who beat and raped her before she left him.  

They seek information on Clement's enemies to determine which one has kidnapped the children, and they narrow down the field to certain underworld types after Clement's casinos.  Faith's natural trust and understanding of people proves a valuable asset to distrustful Nick. 

Two hoods grab them and shove them into an alley, but before one of the hoods can harm Faith, she and Nick defeat them.  She allows Nick to comfort her.

A cat burglar reluctant to give them information flees them, but Faith helps catch him on the catwalks above a nightclub stage, and she convinces him to trust them by trusting himNick gains a valuable clue to the location of Clement's illusive safe, and they return to the estate.

A sick note and small package from the kidnappers arrives, but rather than the ear or toe the note implies, Nick finds a lock of his little girl's hair.  He goes into an emotional tailspin.

Faith realizes she's falling in love with Nick, and concerned for his emotional stability, she wonders if the children's kidnapping, his almost fatal accidents, the sadistic notes, and the men in the alley might be a plot to drive Nick back into a mental institution.  

That night, Nick finds the safe and breaks into it, but the documents are not within.  Riven by his despair that the last hope for his children is gone, Faith becomes his lover.  Lust turns to tenderness when he realizes she hasn't been with a man since her husband raped her and she's frightened.  He opens himself up emotionally, revealing stronger feelings for her than he'll admit to, but the next morning after she tells him she loves him, he retreats into his untrusting emotional shell again although he depends more and more on her emotional strength and love to help him survive the pressure.

Having no other clue, Nick starts looking for a new safe.  That night because of her sexual relationship with him, she remembers clearly a hazy recurring nightmare she's had since the kidnapping.  The dream proves to be a memory of the kidnappers blurred by drugs and her fear of recalling it.  Nick recognizes her description of one of the kidnappers as a local ambitious hood.  She has a hazy recollection of Joseph, but Nick doesn't believe she's right.  They also figure out a professional cat burglar like Clement would have no trust in safes, and recalling Poe's "Purloined Letter," she decides the documents are in plain sight.

Clement tells her the truth about Nick's mental breakdown -- Nick had been cleverly fed hallucinogens to cause his symptoms, but Clement had spotted the deception when he visited the institution and discovered Nick's favorite chocolates with Clement's real name on them as sender.  Clement and Austin rescued Nick from the hospital, and when the drugs were out of his system, Nick returned to normal.  Nick is certain Adam did it to steal April.

After Faith lures Clement away from his quarters, Nick finds the documents.  He and Faith meet the kidnappers in an empty warehouse in Vegas.  Nick prevents the villains from killing them and the children with his own secreted copies of the incriminating documents, and he and Faith take the drugged but healthy children to the hospital.

Faith leaves their hospital room where they're curled against their father asleep, and she wanders about thinking.  She bumps into Clement, and in a panic, she begs him not to kill Nick for stealing the documents.  Clement assures her he has no intention of killing Nick, and asks after the children.  

He then tells her a secret no one else knows, but she's begun to guess-- he's Nick's natural father.  He'd been in prison when Nick's mother died giving birth to Nick, and Nick had been adopted by his mother's sister who told him his father had died a Korean War hero.  Clement never has nor ever will tell Nick the truth about himself, but he's always watched over Nick.

Completely reassured about Nick's safety, Faith confides that Nick doesn't love her or need her anymore now that the children are safe so she's going home.  Nick joins them.

Clement tells Nick he got the message Nick left behind about stealing the documents, and he went after the kidnappers at the rendezvous and found them dead, his documents retrieved by Joseph who'd followed Nick and Faith from the estate.

Joseph arrives and pulls a gun because Nick now knows he arranged the children's kidnapping to discredit Nick with Clement.  Joseph's always been insanely jealous of Nick and Clement's close relationship, and even though raised by Clement, Joseph senses Nick means more to Clement than he does.  He also has learned Nick is Clement's primary heir.  Joseph sneeringly admits to sending the poisoned chocolates that put Nick into the mental institution and trying to destroy Nick with the children's kidnapping, the near fatal accidents, Faith's assault in the alley, and the sadistic notes.

Clement pleads with him not to kill Nick and admits that Nick is his natural son.  These shocking words draw Clement's and Nick's eyes from the gunman and toward each other.  Joseph whispers, "I should have been your son," and shoots at Nick.  Faith steps in front of Nick and takes the bullet.

Clement and a hospital guard disarm Joseph, but Nick catches Faith and holds her.  Clement returns and discovers she isn't seriously wounded. 

Nick demands to know why she risked her life for him.  Irritated, she grabs his lapel, shakes him, and gives him another home truth -- she loves him, and now he'd better give up his distrust and believe her.  After she's repaired, Nick admits he loves her too and proposes, but she refuses him.

Over a week later, Nick, Faith, Clement, and the children have returned to Austin's beach home.  Watching the children play on the beach with their secret grandfather, Faith and Nick talk.  Nick tells her he's come to terms with Adam stealing April from him and he's buried old grudges and wants to live in the same town so he can see his children more often.  He realizes he's not the same man he was.  He would never be happy again with a fragile, dependent woman like April; he wants a strong, courageous woman like Faith.  He also talks about his future plans.  

He admits Faith was right not to marry him in the heat of the moment, and that he's enjoyed courting her and getting to know her in peaceful circumstances.  He assures her he's still certain his feelings toward her aren't motivated by guilt or gratitude.  He proposes again, and sensing Nick does love her and has learned to trust again, she agrees.

NOTE:  I will be posting Worksheet 7, tomorrow.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Worksheet 6


If your novel requires a back plot, please give a brief summary.

EXAMPLE:  In STAR-CROSSED, the plague which totally changed Arden's society mutated into a harmless form twenty years after the first outbreak.  By this time, the women in power didn't want to let go of that power or emancipate the men so they didn't tell the population about this.  

To keep up the harem population, the leaders told mothers of newborn boys that their child had died of the plague then put the child into the harem system.  

Mara's mother, Jorel, was the premiere scientist on Arden, and when it was time for her to choose her mate for a year from the lottery, she met Adam Randell, an Earth astrophysicist whose spaceship had been damaged by the nearby asteroid belt.  They fell in love, but she was unable to free him although he was a scientist.  When she became pregnant with Mara, he killed himself before he could be returned to the lottery.

Embittered, Jorel began to hack into the government computers, etc., to find a way to destroy the harem system.  She discovered the horrific truth but didn't dare risk destroying the system because she feared for Mara's safety.

Before she died, she gave all this information to Novia to give to Mara if she was ever faced with losing her own mate or risked losing a boy to the lottery.

By the time Cadaran came into power, the use of men as bribes and the money from their sale was rampant.  Cadaran made the system even more brutal to build her power structure, and she also started slaving operations in the nearby star lanes to acquire off-world “exotic” men.  

Tristan and Kellen were victims of these slavers.

Novia fears for Mara's safety, and she distrusts Tristan so she refuses to share this information when Tristan comes into their lives.

Monday, September 5, 2022

The Big Question, Part 13


The back plot is what happens before the novel begins.  

No, I'm not talking about a character's back story which is what happened to the character in his life-- he was born, etc.  Instead, I'm talking about the plot line or events, usually the villain's, which must be discovered by the characters in the novel.

Back plot usually isn't necessary for a standard romance, but it is essential in romantic suspense, mystery, most cross-genre novels, and complex novels such as many paranormals and historical romances.

Remember that the back plot must be as logical as the novel's plot with attention paid to motivation, etc.  If the back plot makes no sense or is filled with coincidences, illogical information, etc., the whole novel will be deeply flawed.



Tell me the plot of "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

Easy enough you say. A country doctor comes to Sherlock Holmes and Watson. The local lord has died of heart failure, but there were a giant hound's tracks near his body, and there's this family legend about....

But is that the only plot?

Not really. Long before old Sir Charles is frightened to death by a hound, there is a man in South America, a distant relative of Sir Charles, who decides he will be the new lord of Baskerville Hall so he changes his name, makes his wife pretend to be his sister, and....

Some mystery writers call this second storyline the back plot. It is the story behind the story. The detective's plot is the discovery of the back plot. Holmes must reconstruct the murderer's back plot through the clues left behind. He must understand what happened before.

This twining together of two plots is the glory of the mystery and the agony of the mystery writer for she must not only have one plot which is logical and interesting. She must also create a second which intersects it backwards in time.

No, that's not crazy. Think about it. A murder occurs, and the detective investigates. He finds clues, and these clues point toward the past of the victim and the murderer. The detective must decipher these clues to discover the who, what, when, where, and why of the murder. He must travel back in time to the murderer and his motives.

Holmes studies the crime scene, the stories of the butterfly collector, the sounds of the moor, and the ancestor's portrait, as well as other clues to find that distant Baskerville relative who has designs on the family fortune.

How does a writer create these two plot lines? The answer to that is as diverse as the authors questioned. Some create the back story, pick the relevant clues to pepper the novel with then set their detective to work.

Other writers are as surprised as their detective at the murder scene and never guess the killer until the last chapter. Somehow the clues, through the miracle of the writer's subconscious and a little judicious rewriting, have pointed to the murderer all along.

Still other writers mix a little of both methods. Cold calculations about clues and the killer's identity are leavened by the spontaneous generosity of the writer's muse. The writer is as surprised as the reader to discover why the killer hums but never sings and how that fits so perfectly into the puzzle.

No one can tell you what method to use to create a perfect blend of detective's plot and back plot. Each writer must discover what works best for her. But the wise writer takes the time after the book is written and before the rewriting to ask herself, "What is the plot? Does it make sense? Is it complete?"

The even wiser writer also asks the same questions about the back plot. The wisest writer also remembers that in the back plot the killer is the major protagonist, and it is here where the true heart of the novel lies.

Now tell me the plot of "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

NOTE:  I'll be posting the next worksheet, tomorrow.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Worksheet 5



World building/back story


What kind of background, setting, or back story is needed

to tell this story?  Yours need not be as detailed as my 

example below.  

If your book will require research, this would be a good place to create a list for later. 

World building and back story example:

Two hundred years before STAR-CROSSED begins, the human colony on the Earth-like planet Arden was devastated by a plague which killed many inhabitants and most of the males.  Having no cure, Arden has been quarantined ever since with only careful trade allowed.  Arden's women took over, and the men came under government protection to keep the humans from dying out completely.  This control has evolved into a planetary harem system.  Through a lottery, women of wealth or merit can buy a male for a year's time for reproductive reasons.  The rest of the female population bear children through artificial insemination, the sperm coming from off-planet.   Most male children supposedly die within hours of being born.

This lottery has become extremely profitable and useful for the government so, at all costs, the leaders wish to keep it in place.  All contact with other planets is controlled, only scientific knowledge being allowed into or out of the planet, and the concept of a male-female society has faded from memory.  Few women have seen a man except at brothels, and men have no rights or privileges within the system.  Women consider men fragile and unworldly.  Words like "father" and "love" in a romantic sense aren't used.  Children and pregnant women are the most protected members of society.

Arden is fairly poor, and its quarantine prohibits much trade so its citizens live with day-to-day technology ranging from the late 20th to the mid 21st century.  The novel is set in the mid 24th century.

The planet is Earthlike except for some pink vegetation and animals.  The buildings have high small windows and yards are enclosed by high brick fences because of the tyrlin, a large tiger-like predator.  The planet's gravity is a bit heavier than Earth's so the women on the planet are stronger than Earthmen Tristan and Kellen.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Big Question, Part 12


I haven't talked about world building, but in most ways, it is the same as character building using the three-tiered structure.  The premise and plot give you certain requirements, then you build your world to fit them.    

World building can also involve creating the back story of a novel.  Back story is what happens before the novel begins that will influence the events and characters in the novel.

In a mystery, for example, the world building would involve the murder and the world around the murder victim as well as the crime solver.  If the victim is a professional rodeo bull rider, the life of the rodeo would be the world you must create.  

Using the Big Question in your world building also forces you to create a depth that you might not have otherwise because you are forced to think of both sides of the question in relation to the world.

For STAR-CROSSED, I knew I needed a planet where men have been disenfranchised so I asked myself a series of questions.  The first was-- Why would such a human society evolve?  

As an answer, I decided an incurable plague whose primary victims were men quarantined Arden for several hundred years. The quarantine would not only hide the slavery from other human planets, but also permit the government to keep outside influences to a minimum. 

To repopulate the planet, the colonists decided that the remaining men were state property whose sole task was reproduction. This system developed into a corrupt, inhuman harem bureaucracy.

My next question was a tougher one--What would a society like this be like?  Children and pregnant women would, obviously, be revered and protected after such a devastating plague.  

As time passed, men would lose all status socially and all claim of being the stronger sex.  In women's minds they would be poor weak dears incapable of anything but sex.  Even language choices would change.  Words like "father" and romantic "love" would no longer be used.  

A woman's last name would indicate the mother, not the father, and religious terms would change.  God would be female, for example.  Family life would be strong, generations of women bonding together for the sake of their girl children.

On a larger scale, the changes would not be so benign.  The harem system would be a social corrupter.  Men's sexual favors would be used as bribes, and those who control the harem and the chance for children control the world.  

Corruption and incompetence would spread throughout the society.  Those in power would use propaganda to insure women's poor opinion of men and men's blind subservience to their role as bed slaves.  Drugs to control sex drive and will would force rebellious men to cooperate.  

The emotional void men fill in women would be partially replaced by female bonding, but the remaining void would be an emotional cancer eating away at society.  

I now had my society, but what would the planet Arden be like?  I wanted to avoid a planet radically different from Earth because those differences would change human society even more, and I wanted my emphasis to be on the society, not the planet.  

I decided to make Arden Earth like, but I added alien touches--a sprinkling of pink trees and bushes, vicious predators which forced odd architectural changes in buildings, and native foods.

I chose to make Arden's gravity a bit heavier than Earth's for a specific plot reason.  I intended to introduce my Earthman hero Tristan and his best friend Kellen to the planet, and I wanted them to be inferior in strength to the local women.  A stronger gravity gave Arden women that physical advantage.  

NOTE:  I will post Worksheet 5 tomorrow.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Worksheet 4


1. List your story arcs.  Include the main story arc, any secondary story arc, and subplots that are needed.  

Remember that the more complex the story, the more arcs will be needed.  

Example of story arcs: 

Main story arc:

Mara must rescue Tristan from the harem, and they must escape to freedom.

Romantic story arc:

Mara and Tristan must put aside their cultural differences to find love.  Tristan must choose between Mara and Dorian by giving up his own insecurities about love and by discovering whom he loves. 


Kellen must try to survive Cadaran's abuse and try to escape.  Later, he must come to terms with the rape and brutality he has lived through.

Novia attempts to destroy Tristan first by trying to change Mara's opinion of him then by spying on them for Cadaran.

Hallie meets Kellen, becomes his friend, then must try to find the courage to save him.

The alien cat Floppy hates Tristan because he believes the human will hurt Mara, but he learns to respect Tristan when Tristan teaches him to read.

2. List the main character's goals and list the character or characters who will thwart each attempt.



Mara against the government:

She tries to contact Tristan's family -- The bureaucracyof the planet prevents this

She tries to give Tristan status as a scientist instead of a man-- her elderly scientist ally becomes ill, Cadaran uses bribes and fear tactics on the other scientists

She tries to use Tristan's fame and value as a scientist to make him valuable enough to the government to free him -- She discovers that the government has already told the other planets and Tristan's powerful family that Tristan and Kellen's ship blew up near the planet with no survivors.

Monday, August 22, 2022

The Big Question, Part 11


The main plot of the novel drives the story forward through the whole work.   

Some novels have only one plot.  A simple romance's plot is boy and girl meet, one or both screws it up because of some inner flaw or weakness, but they manage to change enough to create a happily ever after.  

Other novels have a major story line and minor story lines.  Most often, these books mix genres like romantic suspense, or they are more complex in both subject matter and word count.  

A minor story line is called a subplot.  The two major types of subplot are the parallel or woven subplot and the independent subplot.  

The parallel subplot is a smaller element of the overall plot that intersects the major plot with both its characters and the events.  The main plot affects the subplot, and the subplot affects the main plot.  

In AVATAR, Sully's romance with Neytiri is one of the parallel subplots in the main story of Sully's learning about the planet Pandora and his decision to save it from the other humans.

His relationship with Neytiri is his personal introduction to the planet, its people, and their ways, and his emotional/romantic relationship with her teaches him the value of its people as well as giving him the original impetus to reconsider his decision to spy on the scientists and betray the locals to the corporation and its mercenaries.

In my STAR-CROSSED, Kellen's struggle against sexual slavery, his owner Cadaran, and his search for his freedom parallels Tristan and Mara's sweet relationship and their own fight for Tristan's freedom against Cadaran as representative of the corrupt government.

A complex novel may have numerous parallel subplots.  Some may be almost as complex as the main plot, and others may be short and simple pieces of the puzzle that is the story.  

Another simple subplot in STAR-CROSSED involves Tristan's relationship with Floppy, the intelligent alien kitty.  

When Tristan lives in Mara's house, Floppy sees him as a rival for Mara's time and attention, and the housekeeper has told Floppy that Tristan with his sneaky male ways is a danger to her.

Floppy works to prevent a physical relationship between Mara and Tristan, and he's more than willing to kill Tristan to protect Mara.

Floppy and Tristan gradually learn to like each other when Tristan teaches Floppy to read.  

After Tristan saves Mara's life at the risk to his own freedom, Floppy is totally won over to Tristan's side. 

This subplot not only drives the main story forward by interfering with the romantic relationship of the hero and heroine, it also is comic or scary in contrast to the main story line's tone at that moment to add variety.  

An independent subplot doesn't impact the main story.  A common use of this kind of subplot is in a mystery where the main character has a home life subplot as well as trying to catch the killer in the main plot.

At its least, an independent subplot gives a fuller picture of the main character or a more complete view of the world he inhabits.

At its best, it reflects the main plot thematically or emotionally.  For example, the hero must face the death of his father and their issues of abuse at the same time as he is chasing a serial killer who targets elderly men which may indicate he was abused by an older man when he was little.

The TV show, HOUSE, often used the independent subplot which involves the relationships of the hospital staff to reflect the main plot of discovering what is killing their patient.  

In most episodes, House will gain a valuable clue to the illness through his interactions with another character during that subplot.  

The very strongest subplot, even those that aren't parallel, brings a thematic, characterization, and world building depth to the novel. 

NOTE:  I'll post Worksheet 4, tomorrow.  

Monday, August 15, 2022

The Big Question, Part 10


Now that you have your cast of characters, you need to come up with more plot details and decide on what story arcs (major plots and subplots) you'll need to answer your Big Question.  

An arc or plot line is a simple statement of plot.  You can create one for the main plot, the secondary plot line, and for the subplots.

For STAR-CROSSED, the science fiction story arc is 

Mara must rescue Tristan from the harem, and they must escape to freedom.

Since this novel is a romance as well as science fiction adventure, there is also a romantic story arc:  

Mara and Tristan must put aside their cultural differences to find love.  Tristan must choose between Mara and Dorian by giving up his own insecurities about love and by discovering whom he loves. 

Here are story arcs you'll find in different types of romance novels.

In a romantic suspense

the romance story arc--

the hero and heroine's emotional story arc

the mystery/suspense arc--

the villain's story arc

In category romance (series lines like Harlequin American)

The romance is the major and usually the only story arc

    Sometimes, a minor subplot may cause conflict between the hero and heroine

Fantasy, science fiction, and straight mystery also have one major story arc. Fantasy and science fiction tend toward the quest or task story arc.  Romance and character relationships are more often a subplot arc or character development with no major plot importance.

Now you need to detail your own story arcs and plot elements.

Get a sheet of paper or a blank page on your computer.  First jot down the ideas you've already come up with thanks to creating your question and the characters you've created.

Now start writing down the obvious plot points.  

For STAR-CROSSED, the most obvious ones involved the story arc Mara must follow to fight the corrupt government, to save Tristan and Kellen, and to destroy the government. 

Each attempt she makes is thwarted in the early stages, and each time she's thwarted, the situation becomes more hopeless.

Since this is a romance, I also had the romance story arc.  

Here are some other notes I made on the novel.  

Mara & Tristan in unfeasible power positions, a struggle to regain equality between them.

Cadaran as embodiment of the evil government and the evils of the harem. Tristan's best friend Kellen must become Cadaran's bed slave and faces the true indignities of the harem which Mara spares Tristan from.

Kellen vs. Cadaran, Kellen's attempts at escape -- major subplot.

Another plot conflict/subplot: Tristan's female friend Dorian must discover that Tristan & Kellen aren't dead, and she figures out about the harem planet and must come to their rescue. 

Emotional conflict from this: Dorian believes herself in love with Tristan. Tristan uncertain of his feelings for her. Dorian's presence will tear apart the fragile bond between Tristan & Mara as his escape releases him from Mara's control. 

Tristan's emotional conflict-- anger at harem society with Mara as representative vs. love for Mara as individual. 

Theme: freedom through love, the importance of trust.

Kellen as foil to Tristan 

Kellen's emotional conflict-- hatred of society and struggle to retain emotional dignity. 

his inner freedom vs. the hopelessness at being victim of an inescapable system. 

Possible small conflicts: 

Mara's housekeeper Novia acts as spy for Cadaran. 

Mara's intelligent alien pet Floppy hates Tristan. 

Mara becomes laughingstock when she takes a bed slave because her beloved dead mother was opposed to sexual slavery.

Notice that I also gave suggestions for different themes within the novel that are a bit different from the original question, but reflect the original question.  Doing this will add even more depth to your novel.