Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What Happens In Henderson ...

By Kate
I spent part of last week at Plot Group. And good news – I survived!

My Plot Group is really amazing. Most of them have been plotting books together twice a year for over ten years, but this time there was something new and different added to the mix.


Yes, I’m a Plot Group virgin! I had no idea what to expect when my fabulous friends, Susan Mallery, Maureen Child, Christine Rimmer and Teresa Southwick, invited me to join their very successful Plot Group.

There are plenty of plot groups out there and apparently, they all work a little differently. Some meet more often and plot an entire book in sequence, scene by scene, turning point by turning point, fleshing out every single character and their motivations and conflicts and every little detail until the book is done.

Um, we don’t do that in my group. Turns out, none of us has the patience to micro-tune someone else’s story to that extent.

So here's how we work: First, before we get together, we email each other the basic plot idea we want to work on – anywhere from one to ten pages (or more, if you dare). Then, when the group gets together, we determine the hero and heroine’s conflicts and goals, work on an opening scene, three turning points and the black moment. If someone needs some specific scene ideas, we work on those. We give each book a total of ninety minutes.

For three days, we plotted ten books. Two books for each of us. We brainstormed like crazy, threw out tons of ideas, built new worlds. We yelled and laughed and worked really hard not to interrupt. Some of us had a better handle on the big picture. Others were good with the smaller details. There were no bad ideas. The author whose book we were working on had the responsibility to say if it was working for her or not. We plotted single title contemporary romance, light paranormal, category romance, a cozy mystery. We taped everything. And we ran a back-up tape in case of the unthinkable -- tape malfunction.

And we did it all in a huge casino hotel in Las Vegas – or rather, Henderson, the town right next door. On our breaks, we went downstairs to the casino to play video poker and penny slots. There’s a Starbucks in the lobby. And an ATM. And a Ben & Jerry's. And so much more. I spent way too much money and had an absolutely incredible time with my wonderfully talented friends. And I came home with two amazing, fully plotted stories I can't wait to write.
What’s your plotting process? Do you work with a plot group? A critique group or a partner? And the question everyone wants to know the answer to: where do you get your ideas?


Anna Campbell said...

Kate, that sounds like the most marvelous weekend! I'm as green as the baize on a blackjack table with envy (is the baize on a bj table green? In my imagination, it is!). And fantastic to get two plots out of it. Well worth any amount of money, I'd have thought.

My plotting process starts very privately. Like it's a secret just between me and the characters. By the time I'm ready to give my long-suffering critique partner (Annie West who often calls in to say hi)some vague idea about where my thoughts are tending, I've basically committed to the story. If my plots were a plant, the green shoot is starting to appear over the bed of compost before I talk to anyone about my concept. It's still very unformed regarding actual incidents and fine details then. We throw a lot of ifs and buts around and then when I'm ready to write, I've sorted out a lot of stuff in my mind. Then most of that goes out the window in the writing process. My books never turn out like I think they will! I guess that's what makes the journey interesting.

Annie West said...

What is this - every time I pop in here, Anna has been here first!

Kate, this was a really interesting post - thanks! I've never been to a plot group though I do bounce my ideas off others to make sure they 'have legs'. In fact I did that just today (thanks Anna).

How fascinating to spend a couple of days doing nothing but plotting. Were you all exhausted? I bet the shouts and laughter were raucous. And you're so right about no idea being a bad idea. When you're throwing ideas around I think it's important to just consider everything that comes up. It's amazing where some ideas will lead you. Isn't it fun to play 'what if?'.


Amy Andrews said...

OMG - 2?
Two fully plotted books?
I think I need to go and lay down.

Amy Andrews

Anonymous said...

My plotting process involves a lot of...er...thinking. I start mulling over the kernel of the book, the "what if" or the character that needs a story, for months before I start writing, usually right about the time I start getting tired of my WIP. ;-) I think on the massage table, while I'm out for a run, while I'm in a boring meeting at that other job (the one that keeps sending me paychecks, thank goodness)...sometimes I even start putting a few words on paper (turning points, conflicts, etc.). But the real magic doesn't happen until I actually start writing. I write a few chapters, plot some more, write some more, plot some more. It's all very organic and great fun.

thanks for distracting me from the WIP, Kate!! Always fun to talk about the process. :-)

Donna MacMeans said...

Process? There's a process to this madness?

I'm so jealous of your weekend! Sounds just incredible and to walk away with two good concepts is heaven.

Just about anything can spark an idea for me. Mrs. Brimley resulted from a writing challenge ("come on - I double dog dare ya") Yeah - that's me, can't turn down a direct challenge. But once I have my characters and a general idea of the first turning point - I'll good to start writing. I'm never sure what's going to happen, but that's the fun and torture of it all.

Great post!

Kate Carlisle said...

Hi Anna - It's amazing how we all have such different processes, isn't it? I get an idea and I can't wait to blather about it to my friends! I wonder if they'd prefer me to keep my thoughts to myself as you do? Hmm. Sorry, girls, you know that won't happen. LOL.

Hi Annie! How lucky you and Anna are to have such perfectly suited critique partners! I spent a long time in the wilderness before I found anyone I could work with so well.

And OMG yes, it was exhausting! But so much fun, too. I can't wait to do it again.

Kate Carlisle said...

Amy, hi! Yes, naps are an essential part of the process, LOL.

Hellie Sinclair said...

That sounds fabulous! *makes note to run this by critique group to see if this can be done--preferably at a place with lots of liquor*

I have very little of a plotting process. My story begins with "What if?"--and it sorta runs from there. Actually, the what if creates a scene for me. It might be an opening scene. It might be a black moment scene--something--and I either build from that scene OR to that scene. I'll usually do pretty well for about 8 chapters. That's my MO, 8 chapters, then someone will point out: your characters don't seem to have enough conflict.

I'll turn in a circle, trying to figure out how to torture my characters without hurting them, because I'm unfortunately too nice to want to really hurt people's feelings. Even fictional ones.

I'll bluff my way through critique groups. I'll have absolutely NO idea what my black moment or big twist is going to be. None. None, none, none...and my critique partner will burst out in the middle of the session with: "I know what the twist is! Can I guess?" and being the generous person I am, I nod--and then she tells me the brilliant plot twist *I* never would have thought of.

I then tell her she's of course correct.

I'm great with dialogue, occasionally brilliant with beats and pacing--absolutely stink at plots, big reveals and clever twists.

Anna Sugden said...

I'm sooo envious, Kate. Aside from the plotting help - what fabulous authors to do it with! And ice cream too ... what more could you ask for? Except maybe shoes (I got a great pair when we were last in Vegas *grin*)

Plotting process? Umm ... I start with an idea - usually an idea for a character. I try to flesh them out with my adapted version Deb Dixon's GMC charts and I write down all their back-story (which prevents me from dumping it into the story). Then I try to work out what the key turning points are in the story.

Once I get to that stage, I start writing and head for the first turning point. I don't know what happens on the road to each turning point until I write it ... I just know where I have to get to.

And I always find that around chapter nine, one of my characters will throw in a zinger which I hadn't expected. It takes my story to the next level (and means I have to go back and foreshadow it!).

I often debate plot points with my local crit group - which always helps!

As for where I get my ideas ... hunky hockey players ... need I say more? *grin*

jo robertson said...

Kate, what a wonderful experience! Thanks for sharing with us. It's amazing to me how unique everyone is at plotting -- or not plotting LOL.

I'm an extrovert in my thinking process, which just means that I'm energized by other people rather than energized from within. I don't need much of a spark -- a real-life event, a movie or TV, a poem, a friend talking. Then my imagination runs wild.

We extroverts seem to think as we talk, while introverts think BEFORE they talk. That's how the plotting process works for me. I'm not sure what the idea REALLY is unless I say it aloud (or write it down -- either works).

Kate Carlisle said...

Kirsten, I love the "what if" game. I usually play it in the same places you do -- well okay, not the massage table and OMG, NOT while out running, LOL. More like, while doing dishes or staring at the microwave as it cooks my lunch!

But yes, the real magic begins when you sit down to start writing. And I'm glad I could distract you for a few minutes! Good luck with the WIP.

Caren Crane said...

Mshellion, I had to laugh at your post. I've done exactly the same thing! I'll wait for one of my brilliant critique partners to say, "Oh, I can't wait until she..." and then I steal the idea and run with it!

Of course, being a total pantser, I sometimes fear writing myself in a corner. But magically, it all works out. Then I think, "Oh, I need to make sure I set all this up." When I go to look, I usually have to add very little because it's already there.

That said, I spend considerable time "marinating" a book before I start really working on it. I let it simmer in its own juices, usually for a couple of months, before I can write more than the first chapter. There are exceptions, but the marination process is integral to my writing. Not sure how that will translate when I have deadlines!

Kate Carlisle said...

Donna, you cracked me up! A double-dog-dare sounds like the best sort of process to me.

Years ago, my husband told me to stop talking about writing a book and just do it. So I did. I called it the "I'll show 'em" process. It really works!

Mshellion - LOL! I love how you come up with your brilliant plot twists! And yes, liquor is required for plot group. It's in the rules.

Hi Anna - It IS the most fabulous group! I'm so lucky. And hey, the hotel we stay at is right across from the Mall. Shopping for shoes is always on the agenda!

Ooh, and I like where you get your ideas! ;-)

Kate Carlisle said...

Hey Jo, that's interesting that you mention plotting as an extrovert, because my group is about half and half. It seemed like the extroverts in the group had a better grasp on the big picture, but now I'm wondering if it's simply because they were better able to talk it out as they went along, while the introverts were still dwelling quietly on a particular detail a few sentences back.

I'm always in awe of extroverts because I'm so NOT one. Naturally, one of the biggest challenges at plot group was making sure my ideas were heard! Well, and not losing all my money on video poker, LOL.

Trish Milburn said...

It sounds like a fabulous weekend -- the perfect mixture of fun and work. And how awesome to come back with two fully plotted books.

I've plotted solo, with critique partners, with my agent, and most recently with my editor.

doglady said...

What a fabulous idea and what a great way to spend a weekend! Sounds like a lot of fun and a lot of work. And two books plotted. I am as green as my friend in the land of Oz! I am afraid my process runs the gamut. The funny thing is, I was working on what I thought would be my first novel and I got stuck. A fellow Avon FanLitter sent me a writing exercise she was doing in a class she was taking. They drew three or four words out of a hat and you had to write your first chapter and include those words. It was just supposed to be a writing exercise to bust the dam of my writer's block. The result was the first chapter of Lost in Love, now my almost finished novel! I carry a little red notebook around at my other job (like Kirsten, it is really annoying, but they do keep handing me paychecks.)and I write down scenes, lines and story ideas as they pop into my head. I have decided no idea should go unrecorded. You never know where it might lead!

Maureen Child said...

Hey Kate......you did GREAT! First time out and you didn't run screaming from the room. I call that a win!!

And we're not really extroverts, we're just LOUD.....hmm. A contradiction there?

Kate Carlisle said...

Caren, you have no idea how in awe I am of you pantsers! I would be lost and terrified without my outlines and synopses and lists and notebooks and such. But I do understand the marinating process. One of the books I plotted last week has been stewing in my brain for over for five years. I think it's ready to start cooking!

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Annie, you must have known I was talking about you! MsHellion, had a lovely picture of you turning round and round before you write, a bit like a dog before it lies down. A very ELEGANT dog! Doglady, how amazing that that exercise led to a complete book. Just shows you don't know where the big ideas will come from, as they say in Working Girl! Caren and Kirsten, my process sounds a lot like yours. It's the marination that counts. It gets my subconscious involved in the process and it's my subconscious that sends up most of the great ideas. I love Barbara Samuel's term 'the girls in the basement'.

Kate Carlisle said...

Hey Trish, it was a fun weekend. And speaking of fun, how cool that you're now plotting with your *editor!*

Kate Carlisle said...

Wow, Doglady, I agree with Anna! That is completely amazing that you came up with your novel based on that simple exercise. You just never know where the next idea will come from.

Maureen!! Hi!! Thanks for visiting! And thanks for inviting me to Plot Group! And hey, I wouldn't say you extraverts are...LOUD...exactly...*snort!*

Susan Sey said...

My process is weird. I like to be alone to hatch the idea, then I like company for kicking it around to see where it might go, then I retreat again & write alone for a while, then I toss it to my trusty CP & see what she thinks, then I take it back & write for a while longer. I guess I'm right on the line between intro- & extrovert? Can you be bi-troverted? That's me. :-) Thanks for a fun topic, Kate!

Helen said...

Sounds like a fantastic weekend and so much work done this is great for readers it spells more books for us to read thanks Guys.
Have Fun

Caren Crane said...

Kate, Susan got it! I'm bi-troverted, too! Some might think I am completely extroverted, but it's an illusion. I enjoy being alone in a profound way. I also adore company--when I'm ready for it. My favorite alone time is early in the morning. I want to be up, caffeinated, fed and a-a-a-ll alone!

My critique group used to post chapters (and I've done so with books I needed to turn around quickly). These days, we're more likely to post a whole manuscript.

Also, if we hit a plot wall, we'll throw some what-ifs on our e-mail loop. Now those are always interesting threads!

Unknown said...

Kate, that sounds like way more fun than having wine and food at someone's house for a plotting party. I have two core people that I work my plots out with, both of whom I trust completely. And once in a while a few people from my chapter will get together for a plotting party. I usually find that my core two people work better because you get too many vague ideas in a larger group.

Where do I get my ideas? I have no idea! Really, it can be a bit of conversation I overhear and think - what if? Or most times, just letting my mind wander will give me ideas.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Great post, Kate!
What FUN! Always interesting to see how others do it. And I'm green with envy too over TWO completely plotted stories!

I'm trying to force myself to become more of a plotter in anticipation of selling on proposal. GAH! It's been difficult to do. And like everyone, my ideas come from basically EVERYWHERE! I never know when something will spark an idea.

Caren, I'm definitely an extrovert who values alone time. Maybe that's a trait unique to extrovert writers?


Kate Carlisle said...

Caren I hear you! Susan's got the right idea with bi-troverted!! In the day job I never shut up but around my fellow writers, I'm fairly quiet. Probably because I know I'm in the presence of greatness! ;-)

Cassondra said...

Well, I have to plot. My books are so twisted--I'll write 100,000 words and find out there's this giant hole in the plot.

It's pure agony. I use my husband for some of it because it's all dark super secret sneak around stuff, and since he did that I can say "what if" and he'll come up with an answer. And I can say "why would so and so do this?" and he's great at coming up with a villain's motivation. So I guess my husband is my main plot partner, which isn't the best arrangement, cuz he never feels like talking about a book when I need it talked about, and he tends to make them even more complex and twisted. Ack!

The best and most positive plotting experience I ever had (and some of you have heard me say this before)was riding back from the RWA conference in Dallas with Trish Milburn (just a few posts up above mine)and another friend about three years ago. Trish is a brilliant plotter--able to take a story and brainstorm ideas without taking it over--able to absorb new information and "yes that would work but no that won't" statments.

Wish I had this kind of process available for every book. It would save a bunch of rewriting. Though I've found great critique partners, I've found that plotting is a different process and sometimes requires different people. That, plus my plots are so dark and twisted my critique partners don't like to dwell on them much. (evil grin) Kate, your weekend sounds worth any amount of money. What a terrific experience!

Kate Carlisle said...

Hi Helen! We really did have fun and I agree, I can't wait to read my fellow plotters' books!

Christie - I didn't realize it, but trust is a really important issue when you're doing this sort of thing. I think I'm really lucky to have a few trustworthy friends who won't snort with derision when I come up with my insane ideas!

Hi Aunty!! There are plenty of bestselling pantsers out there so I don't see why you'd need to change your process to meet deadlines.

And if it becomes a problem, we'll just send someone over with the crop! Heehee ;-)

Beth Andrews said...

Kate, I am so envious! I'd love to go on a writer's retreat and your plotting group sounds like so much fun *g*

Like Anna C, my plotting process starts privately. I think about the characters and the plot for days or sometimes a few weeks, then jot down an outline. Once I have a solid idea, I'll phone Tawny and bug her with the details :-) We'll work back and forth until I'm happy with the story and then she forces me...Uh, I mean, then I happily sit down and start writing :-)

Great post!

Hellie Sinclair said...

*LOL* Anna! An elegant dog! I hope I'm a whippet...I love whippets. Though I'm not nearly that thin. I am that twitchy though! I do feel like a dog chasing her own tail a lot of the time...that is until I'm distracted by a car, whose tire I want to catch. *winks*

Kate Carlisle said...

LOL Beth! Every writer should have a nag--er, friend!--like Tawny who helps you out with the plotting details. I've got a champion nagger--I mean, friend--who really kicks my butt--I mean, helps me focus on things. It makes a big difference!

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Mshellion, I can definitely see you as a very elegant (is there any other kind?) whippet! Or a saluki (like a whippet with Farrah Fawcett hair).

And on the subject of dogs, for doglady and whomever else asked about my pug-hua-hua, sorry I don't have a picture of her saved on my computer. What a BAD Mommy I am! But I can tell you that she basically has a Chihuahua face and ears with a Pug body. She is the light tan with white tummy of a Pug and she has the Pug underbite so her bottom teeth stick out when she looks at you. SOOO CUTE! However, her snoring is NOT so cute. Sometimes I'm not sure who is louder, her or the DH.

AC who is a TOTAL dog person