Writing Prompts Crew welcomes Fay Lamb, author and editor, to share her expertise on plot development. We know you’ll enjoy whatever she has to say. In much the way spring rain softens the ground so the flowers will grow, Fay’s humor prepares us to soak up the knowledge she has to share with us. Thanks, Fay!
When I was first asked to write a post on “Developing Plot in Your Novel,” I had to laugh. What I hadn’t shared with my host is that I’d just survived a bout with an ailment known only to authors. I’m the only one crazy enough to give it a name: Plot-Hole-Itis. This condition can begin at any stage of a project. Mine began a hundred pages into what I thought was a completely formed idea. The idea was formed all right—with Swiss cheese. The vision wasn’t a solid picture. Nope, holes were so bountiful the breezes blowing through nearly knocked me down.
At this stage of Plot-Hole-Itis, the doctor draws back the curtain and says, “If she makes it through the night, she’ll beat this thing.”
I had to find a cure. I’m normally a seat-of-the-pants author, but I occasionally hike up the breeches and do a little indexing of scenes with the LOCK system as described by the masterful James Scott Bell in his must-own how-to-write book, Plot and Structure.
With my current novel, though, I needed a little bit more than indexing, but what? I’m not an outliner. Even the word outline makes my eyes roll back so far I can see through the back of my airhead.
As I said, I needed a cure for my severe case of Plot-Hole-Itis, and it just so happens that the miracle drug for the ailment depends upon the one subjected to it. As writers, we should know our temperaments enough to know when we need to break out of a stagnant routine.
So, I pondered. What to do? What to do?
I’d rather die.
Yet, I didn’t want to bury my characters along with me. They’re really great folks, and their story deserved to be told.
That’s when I decided that they needed to help save me from this malady.
I sat down with the hero and heroine, the secondary characters, the villain—even the dead guy, and I talked to each of them at length, taking notes, letting them spill their guts. I asked them to share their back stories. It’s amazing how characters always want to tell you what happened to them before the story starts. I warned them that most of their past would stay between them and me. They weren’t too happy about that, but they opened up. I found out why the heroine allowed her sons to be taken by her brother. I learned why her husband never told her about his life before they met. I learned why the husband’s brother holds so much guilt. I even learned why the crafty villain thinks he deserves what he’s willing to kill people to get. The most important information came from the dead guy. He told me what he learned from the killer before dying.
The fever broke. I began to rally. Holes begin to fill, but I wasn’t done yet.
As I learned the characters’ back stories, I took note of what I wanted to reveal to the reader and when I wanted to reveal it. I love to write in twists and turns, and well, that’s what back story does the best. Don’t tell your characters this, though, because they might want to surprise you by holding back pertinent details.
After I got all the back story I needed, it was just a matter of structuring the front story so that those pertinent details would be revealed as the story unfolds.
When the seat of my pants doesn’t get the job done, I fall back on the LOCK system. For each scene, I wrote L-O-C-K, down the side of a 3”x5” card on my computer. This gives the writer just enough space to delve into the following:
L=What is the lead character doing in this scene that is pertinent to the story as a whole and moves him toward his goal?
O=What is the objective of the lead character in this scene?
C=What conflict prevents the lead character from obtaining his objective?
K=What is the kicker for the ending of that scene (doesn’t have to be a bomb blast, just something that will make the reader turn the page.
Please note, again, that this is not my brain child. This is written about in more detail and expertise by James Scott Bell who introduced it to me in his book Plot and Structure.
That’s all I needed to fill in the plot holes. Basically, for me, getting to know the past, present, and the future of your characters was essential to development of my plot.
I’m off my sickbed now. The plot holes are filled, and I’m moving forward with the writing.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
About Fay –
Fay Lamb’s emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted with Write Integrity Press for three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Graceromantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby, the first two releases in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series are also available. Fay has also collaborated on three romance novellas: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the newest A Dozen Apologies. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.
Future Write Integrity Press releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind. Also, look for Book 1 in Fay’s Serenity Key series entitled Storms in Serenity.
Fay and her husband, Marc, reside in Titusville, Florida, where multi-generations of their families have lived. The legacy continues with their two married sons and six grandchildren.
Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads.
Great storytelling isn’t done haphazardly. Storytelling is an art which requires practice to master. In The Art of Characterization authors are shown elements of storytelling which, when practiced correctly, utilizes forward–moving description and back story, deep point of view, dialogue, and conflict to create a cast of characters readers will never forget.