How to plot a novel

To be a plotter or a panster

To plot or not to plot, that is the question!

So as a romance writer I used to love just writing, writing, writing, writing my stories, filling them with my characters and their interactions, and at the end of the story… Voila! Finished! Now to go back and edit, edit and edit… Oh, and edit some more. I loved getting my creative juices flowing, and loved writing whatever I wanted to, without giving any thought to the writing do’s and don’ts, because I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Surely if you’ve got a good story, likeable characters, that’s all that matters, right?

Wrong!

When I entered my first romance writing competition in 2010 and got my score and feedback from the judges, I was shocked. What? My story wasn’t the most brilliant they’d read? How could this be possible?

Over the course of the year I entered my three stories in various competitions and the feedback was the same – the conflict isn’t strong enough to sustain a full length novel, the story isn’t pacy enough, you do too much telling and not enough showing. I can’t relate to your characters. Too much backstory.

And by the end of entering all these competitions, and attending my very first ever romance writing conference in Melbourne this year, and learning from other members online about the writing craft, I understand why it’s so hard to win a writing competition. If you want to get published, you can’t just write whatever you want to, in whatever way you want to. There are so many things you need to consider with your story, and finally I think I have it figured out:

• You need a great plot
• You need believable, heroic, strong characters the reader can relate to or understand
• Make every word count
• Weave your backstory throughout the novel, don’t just dump it in the beginning, or in one spot
• The reader needs to be captivated on every page
• Limit your use of adjectives and adverbs. Convey your meaning in a suitable word
• Show don’t tell
• Get the readers to care about your characters
• Don’t dump your description of the hero/heroine or a setting in one full paragraph, weave it through the dialogue of your characters, or the story’s action.

Probably the three things that have struck me the most when you want to write for publication, is the importance of knowing your characters inside and out, (they are the heart of your story), having strong, believable conflict, and the importance of plotting. If you make sure you have a detailed plot before even writing one word of your story, then you won’t be caught out with a weak plot, weak conflicts, unbelievable heroes and heroines, and a story that may meander from the central theme of the hero and heroine overcoming their obstacles and getting together.

But if you’re naturally a panster, and just like to write, write, write, and let your creative juices burst forth, like me, how can you suddenly change your ways, write a detailed plot that you have to stick to, and still be able to keep those creative juices flowing? Having to stick to a detailed plot could stifle your creativity, take you away from the enjoyment of actually writing. Make you feel very constricted with your writing.

So is there a solution if your naturally a panster?

My solution is this – do have a detailed plot, chapter by chapter, and be sure to focus on the conflicts between your hero and heroine and have strong conflicts that can sustain a full length novel, really flesh out your characters. And then when you’ve done this exercise? Read the plot of the first chapter, and then become a happy panster again! And write and write with all the creative freedom that you like, as the plot of chapter one will be fresh in your mind and will guide you along. And then at the end of writing your first chapter, re-read the chapter one plot again, and your chapter one, and make any additions and changes necessary to make sure you’ve followed all the plot points. Do this exercise with every other chapter of your book.

And by the end of this exercise, not only will you have a story that ticks all the boxes, but you’ll know that your creative juices weren’t stifled after all.

So in a nutshell – plot the book chapter by chapter, review each chapter before you start writing, and then panst to your heart’s content!

The Romance Writing Conference of Australia is Brilliant!

Romance Writing Conference in Australia

Being A romance Writing Conference Newbie

So, I knew that RWA (Romance Writers of Australia) was a fantastic organisation, with so many friendly members all ready to help aspiring and established authors alike, but I had no idea that their annual conference would be so brilliant!

As a newbie to the conference, I was unsure what to expect. I knew I’d gain great knowledge in the writing craft, and would meet my writing buddies and all the other lovely ladies from RWA, but I was blown away by just how awesome the conference was, and how well it was organised. There were about 350 members attending so you can imagine all the hard work and time that would have gone into the organisation and running of it, all those countless workshops to arrange, guest speakers to secure, writing material to publish, gift bags to organise, awards to be made, and so much more. There was even a silent auction with so many different gifts available to bid on, ranging from book packs, to jewellery, to gift baskets, to even a critique by one of the editors from Harlequin UK of someone’s first three chapters, a bid that ended up going for a very high price, but it’s really a priceless service.
Everything ran so smoothly for the whole weekend, and I know everyone got so much out of it, and talk about choice, choice, choice!

Spoilt for Workshop Choice

I wanted to attend all of the workshops, but unfortunately with five workshops in the same timeslot over the Saturday and Sunday, you can only choose one. Such a hard decision. But every workshop I attended was brilliant. I learnt how to pitch to an agent/editor in 5 minutes, I learnt about the importance of having a cracking pace to your story and how to achieve this. I learnt a bit about the online publishing world and how dramatically it’s affecting the industry. I heard about ebooks, kindle, kobo, self-publishing . I learnt about what an agent looks for, writing a Single Title that sells, the life of a Trade Fiction book, and so much more. The information I gained in all of my workshops was invaluable to me.

And then there were the lovely ladies I met!

I finally met my long-time writing buddy and critique extraordinaire Helen Lacey, who has inspired me and given me such invaluable feedback and support over the five years we’ve known each other online. It was totally brilliant to meet her in person, and all the other lovely ladies I know from online groups.

One of the great things about the RWA members is that they are only too happy to help you out in your writing journey, and the level of support and resources and tools available for us through RWA is amazing.

Meeting published authors – one memorable experience I had

So I arrived on the Thursday afternoon and happened to see one of the many RWA authors Bronwyn Jameson. I couldn’t believe it. I was in the middle of reading one of her books in the Ashton Dynasty series and there she was, standing right in front of me! I was so excited, and so I went up to her and told her I was in the middle of reading her book, and how much I love her writing. She just smiled and looked at me as if it was not a big deal. But to me it was, as this was the first author that I’d met since arriving at the conference, and a writer whose book I was currently reading as well.

You could say I was star-struck!

Every experience I’ve had has been wonderful, and I felt incredibly invigorated during the weekend, and even now!

So will I be going to another one?

You betcha!

In fact I am now officially hooked on RWA conferences and will be attending every one if I can!

See you all up at the Gold Coast next year!