Monday, October 25, 2010

A Series Diary Even Pantsers Can Love

For some reason, I spent a lot of time either listening to the way other people plot or telling them how I plot. So, I decided today’s blog should be about that.

I recently went to successful writer and workshop teacher, Randy Ingermanson’s Workshop The SnowFlake Method. He starts with a twenty-five word or less blurb and builds it into a workable synopsis. On Saturday, the talented, Lori Wilde spoke at my chapter meeting about themes and plots. She has over 50 books out there, so she’s doing something right. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no right or wrong way. You have to do what works for you.

Even true-blue pantsers are finding they are doing more plotting nowadays than they used to, especially if they’re writing mysteries or selling on proposal. Die-hard plotters have been doing this all our writer lives. So, I decided I wanted to know how everyone else does it. I’ll start with my own writing and my latest wip.

I went to a “gathering” of a few writer friends a while back, and the question came up about plotting. I confessed I only had a blurb for my second book, BEEF STOLEN-OFF. Here it is:

Jordan finds herself smack in the middle of a cattle theft ring where the “steaks” are high and the cowboys are not what they seem.

Since my series title was about casseroles (or it was before my editor changed it to Clueless Cook, which actually fits better.) I had what I thought was a catchy title following that theme and an idea what it would be about.

That’s it. I had no clue where I was going with it, other than cattle rustling was involved. With the help of my friends, we threw out some “what ifs?” and I came home with a pageful of ideas.

The next thing I did was sleep on this for a week or so. That’s where I do my best plotting, and this time was no exception. Since I write long-hand, I list what I call plot points on a piece of paper.
Things like :

Jordan goes to Cattleman’s Ball so she can write a review and her escort dies in her arms.
Jordan goes to his funeral and his aphasic mother mouths “help me” to her.

I usually have a page and a half to two pages, and these eventually end up as scene hooks and/or red herring candidates. When I have this all on paper, I start my research. In this case, I needed to know something about cattle rustling, ways I could poison someone without it showing up in their blood, and Texas Barbecue. These printed research sheets are the things I study when I’m in the doctor’s office or on an airplane, and my imagination goes wild. My plot points get changed so often, I have to write them in pencil. The same goes for my character profiles.

Now it’s time for me to meet my characters. I have developed my own character profile sheet that I use for every single character in my book. It has important things like their GMCs, their backstory, etc, but it also has not so important tidbits like what kind of perfume they wear, what kind of music they listen to, what kind of clothes they wear. Since I am taking my first shot at a series, I can’t tell you how helpful this has been with my second book.

There’s nothing that ticks me off more than when I’m reading a book in a series, and I notice some minor detail that is different, like all of a sudden a secondary character is wearing jeans and tee shirts instead of moo moo’s. Kind of extreme, but you get the point.

Since my series involves a small town, I have given that its own character sheet as well – where the Pizza House is, how far does she have to drive to get to work. Things like that will appear in all the books of the series and trust me, they’d better be accurate. I’m on a loop with mystery readers, and those gals are educated and know what turns them off...and have no problem talking about them. God forbid if Aunt Suzie's hair changes from blond to brunette.

I once heard the wonderful Roxanne St. Clair talk at Nationals about keeping a diary, especially if you are writing a series. Said the fans get really bent out of sharp if you get something wrong in your own book. She didn’t do this and ended up paying big bucks for someone else to do it for her. ..after the first few books.

Thank you, Rocky, as that one thing stuck in my head and forced me to take the time while I was writing Book One. Number one – I don’t have big bucks and number two- it has really helped me know my story. I use my character sheets for my diary. It was great pulling out the original ones from LIVER LET DIE to use when I started on

Of course, there are different characters in BSO since I killed off a lot in LLD. Oh well, what’s a few more sheets?

So, let’s hear it. How do you plot? Inquiring minds want to know. If you’re brave enough to throw out your blurb so we can tear it apart – just kidding- go for it. Feel free to rip mine a new one on this glorious Monday in Texas where we’re still celebrating the fact that our Texas Rangers are going to the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Now if only the Cowboys can beat the Giants tonight!!


Anita Clenney said...

Loved this post, Liz. I love hearing how other writers plot and how they write. It is important with series to keep everything consistant. I tend to just make a lot of notes on the computer,and in notebooks, but then I get my info spread out and I have to look in too many places to find what I want. I love the character sheet you sent. I think it will work out better than my old system.

I love your titles, and the blurb is fantastic. Cattle thiefs and high "steaks"...very good! I can't wait to read these. I love your writing.

Donna Cummings said...

Fun post, Liz!

I consider myself a Pantser, because when I tried to plot everything out ahead of time, I couldn't write--I thought that was the only way to write and was glad to find out it wasn't.

However, I think I'm becoming more of a Pants-A-Plotter, because I've been doing a lot more of the plot point activities you describe -- partly it's because my rom coms can get kinda wild and crazy, and I need to have a little idea of what's happening! Plus it actually helps me figure out more about the characters as I'm going.

But as you said, you have to do what works for you, and sometimes my "method" isn't even the same from book to book!

Liz Lipperman said...

Hey, Anita, as usual, you are so kind.

I keep a notebook I bought at one of the office supply places that a has pockets and a binder. I have one for every book. this is where I keep all the research stuff, all the character profiles, and anything else I think needs to be kept. It's all there if I need to go back. One other thing I do religiously is I use a small index card to keep track of my chapters and their content,


Chp 1 --1-13---Jordan goes to ball with Rusty. In limo with rich rancher and mistress. 14 pages

Chp 2 -- 14-28--At ball. Meets Cooper and Blake - Rusty dies. 15 pages.

I use pencil on the pages since that changes so much. This gives me a quick reference whenever I need to know something- when did something happen of when do I need to add a clue. Keeping track of the pages gets me in a mind set for keeping that number consistent. I can't tell you how many manuscripts I read where one chapter is 5 pages and the next is twenty. It's a small thing, but it drives me crazy.

And back atcha for me wanting to read your book coming out this spring from SourceBooks - Awaken the Warrior. (That is bad English on so many levels!!)

Liz Lipperman said...

Donna, I love that "Pants-A-Plotter" tag. I think most writers find themselves in the middle that way. Even a true plotter like me finds ways to veer off the written path and sneak an entirely different plot in - most of the time, an entirely different killer.

I love that we all don't do the same thing. It's what makes us so unique.

Thanks for commenting.

Tiffinie Helmer said...

Hi Liz,

I take your notebook a step further and do a scrapbook for each of my stories. Before I start a book, I cruise the Internet for pictures or magazines for shots of stars that speak to me. When I pick my hero and heroine, I make them a scrapbook in a binder where I cut out everything that I can think of about their character. I do this for each of the characters in the story and even the setting. This binder gets stuff with all the research material and so forth. What's really great about it is that when I signed with Christine, and we rewrote one of my books that I hadn't touched in 4 years, all I had to do was open that binder and visually I was able to jump back into that book.

I consider myself a pantser but learning plotter. This book I'm currently working on is the only one that I have plotted and it's hard knowing what is coming up. I've actaully had to stop and try to forget because I can't seem to lose myself in my story.

Your books sound awesome and I can't wait to read them.

Mary Martinez said...

Liz I'm strictly a pantser. I have tried and tried to plot. A brief outline, everything and it just takes the fun and passion out of it for me.

I am brainstorming with the boys for a middle grade and so far that's working but we're still brainstorming each chapter and then I'll write it. We'll see how it goes.

But for my writing in a file separate than manuscript, I do a blurb. Then do all of their names, and as I write, I add character names to my list. I keep the file open and when I think of backstory for a character I put it in my file. That way I have it, but the reader doesn't have to get bogged down. I sprinkle a bit through the story if needed. By the time I'm done with the first draft I also have a complete history of each character and how they belong. But I build it as I write the first draft.

So what the heck would that be called? As you go plotter?

Sylvia Rochester said...

Liz, my approach is similar to yours, only I’m not about to write my novel in long hand. I create a folder and name it the title I’ve assigned to this manuscript. In that folder I create documents for everything that will pertain to this novel. The first document in this folder I name “Storyline.” It covers the plot, main characters and how their goals, motivation, conflict, and resolution will play out in this story. I do a brief chapter outline, similar to yours, after the story is well underway. Other documents I include in the main folder are WIP-Title, Characters, Research, Cut Scenes, QL, Blurbs, Synopses, Editors/Agents to consider, etc. That way, everything pertaining to this WIP is in one place.

vicki batman said...

I was in on the what if??? session for book two and we had a hilarious time. So in a sense, brainstorming is plotting.

I can't wait for your books!!!

Liz Lipperman said...

Ooh, Tiff, a scrapbook sounds intriguing. That way when your editor asks for ideas about cover copy, you have some things to refer back to.

I may have to go out and buy scrapbooks.

Thanks for the nice words about my books.

Liz Lipperman said...

Mary, as I've said many times before, you pantsers totally amaze me. There is no way I could start a book without knowing most of what's going to happen. I still end up with lots of unpredicted stuff, but for the most part, it stays the same.

The story with your grandkids helping to plot sounds really cute. When will it be finished?

I love the tag, "As you go-plotter."

Liz Lipperman said...

Sylvia, your approach is very similar to mine. No wonder we write alike!!

Is this folder an electronic one or a hard copy one?

It goes so much further than mine, including submission lists and everything.

Ooh, I love hearing h9w everybody doe this. I'm getting all kinds of great tips.

Liz Lipperman said...

Vicki, I just had the pleasure of having lunch with you on Saturday, and now I get to see you here. Woo hoo.

And you are so right. Brainstorming is plotting, and doing it with friends is the bomb. You should have heard all the scenarios!!

If I remember correctly, I think transporting criminals across the border in coffins was one of them!!

Thanks for stopping by.I'm just about ready to brainstorm book three - CHICKEN FRIED CORPSE. My place or yours!!

Lindsay said...

What I learned or didn’t learn from the previous project, which took 18 months to write, I’m taking into the next project. Before I start the actual writing I’m plotting out the story. Since I’ve got an idea of how many days I want the story to play out over, instead of plotting each chapter I’m plotting what happens on each day. I’m using a dry erase board and when happy with the day’s event transfer it into my computer
Since most of my characters are in the Army during the plot process that’s where I do the majority of my research. And the facts have to be correct, or as correct as I can make them.
I’m also spending more time in defining my characters.
Guess you never stop learning.

Kari Lee Townsend said...

Another great post, Liz.

Right now I am plotting my own book two of my series and using the 3 act 8 sequence structure from screenwriting tips for writers!

love it!!!

Also, it won't be all filled out until I finish my research as well :-) love the inspiration that brings.

Mary Martinez said...

The problem is brainstorming with the grandkids is like trying to pull teeth. With Tony especially he goes off on tangents about totally unrelated things like "ghostbusters". We usually get two chapters brainstormed per session we are on chapter 7 or 8. It's called the Nana Adventures and the first book is History Mystery.

We'll see if it actually works when I try to write it. If I plot out or have an idea when I'm doing my stuff, it never works. I plotted out a book once and it's still sitting there unwritten. I knew what was going to happen so why write it?

Oh and Tiff, I picked out pictures of my H/H once and there was no chemistry in my head for them, and I still haven't finished that book either. I keep going back though. I've deleted the pic's and the memory of the images are fading. It's one of the books I'm working on during Nano. I'm hoping to finish it then edit it.

Cassy Pickard said...

Liz: What fun. I am close to what you do, but a little backwards. Well, my husband and kids tell me that all the time. I form my characters first- who are they what do they need to accomplish, what scares them as they go forward, etc. Then I come back and worry about the plot and the setting. I'm not sure it really makes a difference, but somehow I want my "folks" with me as we (together) put them through turmoil. Again, thanks. now you have me worrying about my Wednesday post!

Sylvia Rochester said...

Liz, the folder is in My Documents. No hard copies for me. Of course, everything is backed up constantly.

Marilyn said...

Liz, your titles are hilarious! As a pantster, it comes as it comes. However, I am finding help from the Snowflake Plan software. I have an idea you plotters don't need it--already have your own system.

Liz Lipperman said...

No, Lindsay, you never do stop learning. And research is just as important to plotting as a synopsis, IMO. I can't tell you how many times I read manuscripts with incorrect medical info in them. I want to throw the book across the room.

Lindsay failed to mention, he is the winner of a giveaway Evanovich book on writing from Friday, October 15th's blog with Jeff Mehalic, the Write Lawyer.

Congrats, Lindsay, and smooches for the nice words back.

Liz Lipperman said...

Kari, I'll have to check out that act and scene method. It definitely works for you.

Which book are you working on - Book Three of your Middle Grade or Book Two of your mystery series?

Liz Lipperman said...

Mary, I can't wait to see what brainstorming with grandkids produces. What a great idea for a MG or kids' book.

Rochelle Staab said...

Good luck with the Cowboys tonight, Liz. This is a do or (somebody's gonna be fired) die game. I'm rooting for your 'Boys.

I do an outline at the onset then proceed to stray off every path as I write. I'm in the middle of my book two also and the characters are getting cranky. A new one showed up out of the blue, others reappeared when I didn't expect them to.

Best thing I did when I wrote Hollywood Hoodoo was to create a character profile for everyone. They are invaluable. I'd love to see your 'fill-in' list for yours.

Fun post. I love reading about your process!

Liz Lipperman said...

Cassy, whatever works best for you is the way you ought to do it. Don't fix it if it ain't broken!!

And quit worrying about Wednesday. Your blogs are always from the heart.

Liz Lipperman said...

Sylvia, why am I shocked that you have online folders? I thought everybody did long hand ones lie me!!!!!

When I come out of the dark ages, I'll let you know. I did see an article in our chapter newsletter about pens you use that transfer your long hand work onto a document. I will be checking that out to see if I want Santa to surprise me with it.

Liz Lipperman said...

Marilyn, I can't take credit for the title of my first book. That came from my editor who loved the second title so much, she wanted to keep it funny. I had named it Ducks In A Row, which I still call it. It's about my protag who inadvertently orders duck liver in a restaurant she's critiquing and ends up shoving it into her purse. That leads to all kinds of stuff, including a dead guy outside her apartment. Thus the Ducks as well as the liver reference.

Thanks so much for stopping by. I'm so glad you are finding Randy's method helpful.

Liz Lipperman said...

Thanks for the Cowboys support, Rochelle. The question is - will you also be rooting for my Texas Rangers when they come to your town?????

Your "pre-writing" process sounds really similar to mine. I'll put one of my character profile sheets in the mail to you, and I'd like a look at yours as well. I'm always looking to improve on mine.

I forgot to mention in my research for this second book, I am looking into seances. Although my scene will be a humorous one, I do need to know something about it. Went to see "Hereafter" the other day -research, folks!!- but it didn't offer much info.

You were such a big help with my tarot card reading scene in LLD, I'm hoping you might know something about seances, too. Help?

Three more weeks and we'll eat French fires together!!

Lindsay said...

Liz in my case not only incorrect medical but incorrect military esp Army term or weapons. That's why research is so important.
No I didn't forget To mention I was the winner, just not here. I did on Jeff's interview blog. To reiterate I can't tell if I'm thrilled to win the book and get it a Crime Bake or seeing you Liz again. All three are exciting. Just don't know which is more exciting.
I did go check out the software mentioned but am not sure the money to buy it, for me at least, is worth it. If he had a trial version then I'd give the Snowflake software a shot. Guess I'll stick to outlining the plot

VR Barkowski said...

Great post, Liz! Process fascinates me, maybe because I have no control over mine. :) While a compulsive planner in every other facet of my life, when I write, I revel in being a pantser. I've tried character worksheets and outlines and they don't work. Like Mary, for me, it's all about the discovery. Characters come first and out of research comes plot. I'm always investigating something - that's my jumping off point. In my first ms it was esoteric societies and the Thoth tarot, second manuscript it was the Œuvre de secours aux enfants, and I believe my third will be the Romani in the US.

Marilyn said...

Liz, I'm frustrated that I have to wait until October 2011 to read your first book!

Liz Lipperman said...

V.R, I thought you were a plotter. Don't you write mystery/crime?

I'm laughing as I admit I have no freakin' idea what you are talking about with your research. And that's another thing that always amazes different people really are. I can tell you just about anything about just about every sport known to man, but ask me something literary...ain't gonna happen. It's good to know I have a resource if I need it, though. Now if I could only figure out what the hell you're talking about!! LOL

Liz Lipperman said...

Marilyn, what a sweet thing to say. I'm just glad I don't have to wait that long to read yours!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mary Marvella said...

You work way more than I do. I start with a "what if a man or woman.." situation, then I think about that situation and the person I need for the situation. Then I think about that for days until I can't stand it and must start writing. I have an idea what I want to have happen by the end of the book.

Lindsay said...

You know ladies, I wish you'd all stop teasing me with your release date. What's it going to take to get ARC copies?
At least I'll get to read Kari Lee's 'The Samantha Granger Experiment: Fused' sooner than later.
And I'm not into YA or MG but the series sounds fun, even for us adults.

Wolfgang A. Mozart said...

Liz, you inspire me! As a disorganized pantser, I recognize the need to be more focused on my next book. So, as I requested this morning on the BC Loop, would you mind sending the character sheet format my way?

Also, since I now have at least four friends in Texas, I will be routing for the Rangers, even though they made mincemeat of our Yankees :)

Manhattan Mary

Liz Lipperman said...

Mary, I am really surprised to find out you're a pantser. As a school techer used to lesson planning, it seems almost sacrilegious. LOL

Again- it's that different strokes thing.

Thanks for popping by.

Liz Lipperman said...

Lindsay, I, too, am looking forward to Kari's MG even though it's not a genre I read. If it's like her other writing, which I'm sure it is, it will be great. She has a light humorous voice that keeps you smiling.

You're a good friend to this loop, and I have no doubt you'll enjoy all our stories.

I still haven't gotten to yours yet. I hate that my reading has taken a back burner to my writing.

Liz Lipperman said...

I'm sorry, Mozart, but I don't believe you're a disorganized anything. I've read your stuff, remember?

As for my Rangers making mince meat of your Yankees, payback is hell. Your giants killed my Cowboys last night and even broke my boy's collarbone.

Still, I'm glad you're going to be a Rangers fan for now.

Character Profile sheet is on the way.