The AND THEN GAME (aka Plotting)

When it comes to plotting, this is what I do.

Drink lots of tea and eat biscuits, and wonder why I think I can write.

No, no, wait, sorry, that’s just what I do all the time.

When it comes to plotting this is what I do.

  1. Get a piece of paper
  2. Draw a squiggly snake (or if I’m feeling particularly creative, a set of connected arrowheads)ANG1
  3. Then I write out what I think would be my first scene or imageANG3
  4. Then I think of what happens next…AND THEN this happens. The big thing here is the AND THEN *has* to be an action. It can’t be “and then she thinks of Roderick,” unless it’s “and then she thinks of Roderick and goes to see him.ANG2
  5. I keep going until the only AND THEN left is “AND THEN, the end.”

In Author Words

In author wordsWhen I first began in this industry, I was alternately exhilarated and (to quote Anne Shirley) “in the depths of despair.” Publishing is ever changing, evolving, and the information about getting (and staying) published, conflicting.

What was a new writer to do?

I did this: whenever I met an author I’d ask two questions: (1) What do you attribute your success to? (2) What tips/advice do you have for me.

In Author Words, you’ll find me asking those questions not just of writers, but of illustrators, story-tellers–anyone in the artistic field who has something substantial to offer in the way of career and life advice.

In Author Words ~ Kenneth T. Williams

In Author Words ~ SG Wong

In Author Words ~ Karen Spafford Fitz

In Author Words ~ Sigmund Brouwer

In Author Words ~ Marty Chan

In Author Words ~ Caitlin Crawshaw

In Author Words ~ Sheldon Casavant

In Author Words ~ Kate A. Boorman

In Author Words ~ Kathy Jessup

In Author Words ~ Judith Graves

In Author Words ~ Tyler Enfield

Author Question

Q: When you have a character with a long monolouge and you want to break up the paragraphs, where/how do the quotations go?

A: When you have the paragraph change, don’t put end quoations on the last sentence of the paragraph, but do put starting quotations on the beginning of the next paragraph:

Author Question

Q: When do you use a scene break, and what’s the format?

A: I asked a few editors/authors about this. So, you designate a scene break with four asterisk, centered, in between the two scenes:
End of scene one
Start of scene two

Use them any time there is a change of: Time (next day, that night, etc), Place (If a character is at home, and you want to cut to them arriving at work), POV change.

Author Question

How important is it to tell the agent/editor the length of your story, the genre, and the audience it’s intended for?

In a word: VERY. Think of your book like a house. How thrilled would you be if you were searching for a house with four bedrooms and the agent refused to tell you?

Agent: I have an adorable house for you!
You: Does it have four bedrooms?
Agent: It’s close to a hospital.
You: Great. But does it have four bedrooms?
Agent: And a skylight! It’s got a skylight!

Now, imagine the book agent is “You.” and you’re the “Agent.” See how annoying that would be? Agents & editors are in the market to sell a specific type of “house.” If you don’t answer basic questions, they’ll go to someone else to find their product.

Publishers are like home buyers, and a publisher who wants a penthouse in the heart of downtown is very different from the publisher who wants the sprawling ranch house on an acreage. So, do your agent a favor. Let them know what kind of place you’re selling, so they know how to place you in the market.

Author Question

Got an interesting question the other day: “If the heroine ends up with her ex-boyfriend’s best friend, does that discount the story as a romance?”

The short is “no,” the longer answer is “it depends.” The relationship dynamic can fit romance if you start the book right after the break up. She’s packing up her things, giving the ring back, whatever. That shouldn’t take up too much room. The crux of a romance story is to explore the courtship and union of two people, so the vast majority of the story should be about her and the ex’s best friend.

If you spend a lot of time on the past relationship,then the breakup, then the new relationship, then your focus is really about her personal journey of transformation, which in my mind, would make it women’s fiction.

Author Question – Queries

A lot of query letter templates say to mention other novels that are like yours, but how many stories should be listed?

Asked writers and a friend who has connections with the agenting business, and the consensus seems to be: more than 1, not more than 3. If you only mention one, then it seems like you didn’t do enough research. However, if you mention 5 then it just seems like you’re trying to justify your book’s existance. Plus, it takes up extra space. Two or three, it seems, says “I’ve done my homework and there are a goodly number of books like mine.”

My friend also said this: “Just make sure to put the most important two first and last, because the eye tends to read the first thing, then the last, then the middle, and often forgets the middle, especially when it comes to lists.”

Author Question – Is It a Romance

Does the inclusion of secondary characters’ POVs mean my story isn’t a romance? How do I know if my story is a romance?

One of the reasons I started writing in romance was because I was fed up with what I call Dysfunction Masquerading As Conflict. You know what I mean: she’s supposed to be self-sufficient and stubborn, but just reads shrill. Or he’s “wounded” and that’s the reason he’s allowed to emotionally abuse her, and be a jackass because “it’s okay, ’cause he loves her.”

One of my favorites is the external conflict that a five year could solve. She needs the rind of an orange, and he needs the inside, but oh-uh!! There’s only ONE orange. What are they going to do? So the reader suffers through hundreds of pages of “come here” “go away” hot sex, more sex, oh, look, more sex and right when she hits the 100th orgasm, she realizes she really loves him, but boo hoo, there’s that problem of the orange. Then she either gets pregnant and runs away, or sees him having dinner with another woman and runs away, or realizes it’ll never work in this mad, one orange world, and runs away. Inevitably, she gets hits by a truck or car (no doubt, driven by the now, completely pissed off romance reader). Then, she wakes up in a hospital, sees him. He’s all “oh, I love you!” and she says, “It won’t work. There’s only one orange.” Then he solves it all by saying, “No, we can share the orange.”

Then there’s more sex…well, except for the reader whose too busy poking their eyes out or seeking professional help to even consider having sex.

Oh, wait, you had a question, right? 😛 Maybe I should stop ranting.

So, about the secondary characters:
Secondary characters are fine, they just can’t dominate the story. So, if you break it down, it should be (and I’m totally pulling a ratio out of my head for example, not as a hard and fast statistic) 85% the main characters, 15% supporting.

If you look at Crusie’s work, she has secondary characters, but they don’t dominate.
On a more personal example, in my novel Ethan’s Chase, there is a cast of 2 villains, 2 main characters, and 4 supporting characters. Not every scene is the H & H, but when they’re not together, they’re at least mentioned or in the “back of the mind.”

I think that’s the crux of a romance. If they’re not together, they’re thinking or talking about each other. And that doesn’t mean it’s all got to be kissy-face, swoony, stuff. It can be a “quick” mention. In Ethan’s Chase, Chase (the heroine) is dealing with a stalker, so her attention isn’t on romance. There are scenes where Ethan is mentioned, but just in passing and sometimes (if I remember correctly) not at all, because the discussion is the stalking and that would have been wildly inappropriate. Snort, can you imagine? “Oh, Chase, I know that Tony just posted all your private information on a rape fetish website and now you’re in physical danger and the police can’t prove anything, but who cares? Tell us about that hunky Ethan.”

Schwarzenegger had made a similar comment when he was filming Predator. The director wanted a love/sex scene and he was like, “Yeah, how? I know this giant thing is chasing us, but let’s duck behind the bush for some nookey.”

So, what I’m saying (in my usual long, rambly way), is (and this will sound like SUCH a cop out), but you’ll have to make the call. If the secondary characters take up as much space or more space (their story, not them supporting the main characters), then it may be more women’s fiction than romance.

The Birth of a New Venture

I get questions from authors about query letters, synopsis, etc. all the time. While I in NO WAY shape or form think I have all the answers, I have some answers.
That work for me and those I know.
So, I thought, heck, why not open the blog to questions from authors? This way, people can browse, find their answers because, let’s face it. If one person voices a question about queries, chances are that other people are silently asking the same thing.
If you have a question, email me at or post in the comment section. I’ll do my best to find your answer (though, I may not always succeed).