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Finding The Bones of Your Story

Get Writing, Part 3
 (Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.)

Finding The Bones of Your Story
(That’s my Milly, who loves finding bones of any sort)

Okay, we’ve battled the dark forces of procrastination and perfectionism (and for some of us the battle is won but the war continues) and we’ve started our story.

Do you plunge in with joy, or are you a prowl round the edges type, examining your idea from every angle before you start? People are always asking writers whether they’re a plotter or a pantser — I like to say I’m both. I don’t usually have the story worked out in advance (though I often wish I did) but I have a vague idea of where it’s headed, and I plot obsessively—all the time— while I’m writing.

I plot and replot, refining this thread, clarifying that conflict, pulling apart the opening so the story starts at a better angle, going back over a scene to give it a sharper edge, cutting out other scenes because while I thought I knew what the main conflict was when I started, I now know what it really is. And usually I write the final version of the start when I’ve finished the whole book — because then I know what my story is.

But every writer is different. And I don’t know about you, but my writing process is constantly evolving. I’m always up for trying new things and I love learning about how other writers work.

Some writers start with a situation. A “what- if.” 

Ask yourself a question or a problem that isn’t easily solved or answered. Starting with a “what if” can really help you set up a strong premise for a story.

eg. What if a man who didn’t want to get married could only inherit a fortune if he got married? What are his options?

1) Pay a woman to marry him and plan to divorce later? That’d work in a contemporary story. Not so much in a historical, where divorce wasn’t easily obtained. But what if he thought he could get the marriage annulled? And was wrong. (I used this in Bride By Mistake)

2) Marry a dying woman? That’d work, too. But what if she didn’t die? (I used this one in a novella called The Mistletoe Bride, part of a Christmas anthology called Mischief and Mistletoe.)

3) In a temper, vow to marry the first eligible woman he sees. (I used this in The Laird’s Vow, and Georgette Heyer used it in Friday’s Child.)

Brainstorming further options for your “what-if” can give you a range of choices. Choose the one you think has the strongest and most emotional conflict potential.

Sometimes a “what-if” has become so popular that it has become a trope.


Some writers begin by deciding on the trope they’re going to explore— in romance  a trope might be; convenient marriage, beauty and the beast, friends to lovers, amnesia, bad boy/good girl, etc. You get the idea. There are plenty more.

Tropes exist because they are hugely popular with readers. Each trope brings with it certain reader expectations, and understanding how and why the trope works, and why readers love a particular trope is important.

In some cases a trope can help you with your plot — for instance in a “secret baby” story there will be a scene where the hero first discovers he’s a father. Sometimes it’s when he first meets the child, in other cases, the first meeting of the child is another scene. For “pantsers” this can help you work out some of the scenes in your plot.

On the other hand, know that if you’re writing a “convenient marriage” story, your readers will have read many, many stories with that trope — so how can you make your story fresh, fun and different?jewelled skull

Try to work out a way of surprising the reader; a good surprise planted in the middle of a beloved plot is a delight.

Many writers start with characters. For me, a story only has legs once my characters are on the page, talking and interacting as if they have a life of their own.

Sometimes I’ve chosen a trope and a situation but the characters simply would not come at it. “I wouldn’t do that,” they’ll mutter. They’ll become wooden, sullen, lifeless. The solution—change the characters or change the plot.

Sometimes all that’s needed is a name change. Sounds bizarre, I know—I mean, a rose by any other name smells as sweet—right? Not in writing, at least not for me. A few chapters into an early draft of The Autumn Bride, I realised my heroine was a bit priggish and righteous. I hated her. I changed her name to Abby and a new heroine sprang to life, warm, courageous and loveable.  The same thing happened in Tallie’s Knight — she was called Serena in an early draft, but she wasn’t a Serena, and when I changed her name to Tallie, she revealed herself as a quite different character and came alive on the page.

And then sometimes it’s just a gift from the muse. But more of that —the muse, and how to manage and encourage her — next time.
Until then, keep writing.

Next week: The muse
Previous posts in this series:
Get Writing , Part 1 – Danger, Will Robinson
Get Writing , Part 2 – Procrastination, Perfectionism and Getting Unstuck

Australian Romance Readers Awards

 The Australian Romance Readers Award (ARRA) finalists have been announced and I’m delighted to report that  The Summer Bride, Daisy’s story, is a finalist in the following categories: 
Favourite Historical Romance 
Favourite Continuing Romance Series (The Chance sister series) 
Favourite Heroine from a romance published in 2016
and Favourite Couple from a romance published in 2016 (Flynn and Daisy).
As well I’m a finalist in Favourite Australian Romance Author 2016 
Read the full list of ARRA finalists here. 

The ARRA awards will be announced at the ARRA convention in Melbourne on Saturday 25 February.  In the meantime, thank you to ARRA and all the members who nominated and voted for my book. I’m hugely honoured.
Find Out More about the Summer Bride here.   Or Buy it here

2017 will see the start of a new series for me— Marry In Haste comes out in May 2017.  I’ll put out more information on it soon. You can pre-order it here.

Procrastination and Getting Unstuck

Get Writing part 2  (Part 1 is here)
Procrastination, Writing Anxiety and Getting Unstuck

Different people deal with procrastination in different ways. Some writers I know have bought a program that blocks them from internet access for a set time. Others unplug the modem and give it to someone else, with strict instructions not to give it back until a certain amount of work has been done. I know people who do all their writing on a computer with no internet access, in a different room from the computer with internet. 

Some take themselves off to write in public places, in cafes and libraries and places like that. That’s me, and I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

It’s easy to blame the internet for habits of procrastination, but sometimes the cause is a deeper writing anxiety. If you’re anxious about your writing and have no internet, you’ll still find other things to distract you – a burning desire to scrub tile grout with your toothbrush. Followed by an urgent need to go to the supermarket and buy a new toothbrush.

Procrastination and Perfectionism
Sometimes procrastination is about perfectionism—your subconscious telling you that you can’t start until you have the perfect opening sentence, or until you know exactly what this scene is about, or what that character is going to say. Or maybe you’ve started, but you don’t want to write rubbish, and everything you’ve written in the past five minutes is rubbish.

It’s a battle. But you know, often the hardest thing is just to start.

Don’t worry about the first line – most of what you write at the start will change as your story starts to grow and become more dimensional, and the more you write, the more you’ll ask yourself the kind of questions that will let you uncover your character’s secrets and push the story to a deeper level. Just write.

Don’t worry about writing rubbish. Writing is like a muscle — it can get a bit stiff without regular use. Sometimes you have to write a pile of rubbish before the good stuff starts to flow. Accept it. It’s all part of the process.

Try Writing by Hand When I’m stuck, I go to my local library, and I write by hand in a large spiral bound notebook. Research has shown that the hand/brain connection works differently — is more immediate with handwriting, than a keyboard and screen, so for me it helps get the words flowing quicker and often better.  I have a rule that I’m not allowed to leave the library until I’ve written three pages. That works out around 1,000 words.

But usually I write more. If I’m really stuck, I will start by asking myself questions about my character. e.g. What just happened in the scene before? Has it complicated things for your character? What’s s/he worrying about? What might s/he do next? The questions, of course, are different every time, but that one about what s/he’s worrying about is particularly useful and can crop up at any time during the manuscript. 

I write the questions down, and answer them in writing as well. Sadly, they don’t count as part of my three pages, but what usually happens is that in answering a question, I’ll find myself writing screeds of dialogue, and lo! the next scene is unrolling.

Sometimes it’s not the next scene, but a future one, or one that should have come earlier, and I realize that’s why I was stuck — I took a wrong turn in the story.

Whatever, I find that taking myself away from home, and writing by hand, almost always gets me unstuck and the story moving again. The other benefit is that when I go to type it up, I edit as I go. 

So try writing without fear or perfectionism — and remember the famous Nora Roberts quote: “You can fix a bad page but you can’t fix a blank one.”

 Next Week: Get Writing Part 3, Finding The Bones of the Story

Last Week: Get Writing Part 1