Thursday, April 10, 2008

Guest Blogger - Lori Borrill

Lori Borrill is a long time friend and a very welcome guest on the playground! She and I have been critique partners for several years and have 'grown up' as writers together. I know from first hand experience that her books are wonderful, her writing amazing and her characters to die for. Everyone, please welcome Lori to the Playground.

As a writer, one of the things people often ask is where I get my story ideas. I have to admit, plotting was one of my big learning curves when I first started on this venture. In the beginning I had dozens of great ideas, but without the understanding of all the fundamentals that go into crafting a story, like conflict and tension and motivation and black moments, my "great idea" always seemed to fall apart around chapter four. Getting those basics down was a big step toward publication. Unfortunately, the side effect was that my pool of awesome story ideas dried up to a small puddle.

And it's been trickling ever since.

I have author friends who have a seemingly endless well of plots. Me? I'm lucky to come up with two or three working ones a year. Well, let me rephrase that. I can come up with a hundred good plots, they've just already been done by somebody somewhere. So once I come up with an idea that can sustain 280 pages, run it through all the plausibility filters, make sure it has the hook that makes it a Blaze, then confirm it's not an exact replica of a plot Nora Roberts wrote five years ago, I'm left with about two or three to work with in any given year.

The idea for my latest, "Putting It To The Test", came straight from those eHarmony commercials on TV. For over a year, I watched them thinking, "There's a story in there." From the start, I knew it had to be about a woman who cheats on the test then is forced to pretend to be the perfect match for a guy she hates. Those are what I call the "I Love Lucy" plots--the ones where a woman gets herself in trouble because she hadn't quite thought her little plan all the way through. They're my favorites, and that idea had Lucy and Ethel written all over it. I could see all kinds of possibilities and deliciously horrid ramifications from a move like that. It was perfect.

But for a year I couldn't get past one little word: Why? As in, why would a woman take the test in the first place and then cheat?

Arrrgggh. I can't tell you how many great story ideas are sitting in a mental trash can because of that one pesky word. For me, plotting is entirely love/hate. It's the ultimate emotional roller coaster. An idea springs up and I'm grinning, thinking the world is a beautiful place to be. The idea is hot, it's fun, it's funky and fresh, and I can't wait to dig in and start writing. But then somewhere in the middle of my celebration, a sniper comes out of the woods and shoots a big hole right in the middle, stopping me dead in my tracks. Sometimes I can solve the problem and ultimately make a book out of it. Other times it's the fatal shot that kills all my fun and a half-written synopsis along with it.

With "Putting It To The Test" I was able to work up an angle, and the result was a book that was a lot of fun to write. Other ideas aren't so lucky. I had plots about game shows, ghosts, stolen heirlooms and earthquakes--you name it--all thrown in the tank because something couldn't be worked out. They aren't gone forever, mind you. After all, I never gave up on the eHarmony idea and a year later, I was able to turn it into a selling proposal. But I have way more half-answered plot lines than I do selling proposals. And the farther I get into this business, the more admiration I have for authors who come up with really clever ideas--especially those pantsters who start with a grain of an idea and just start writing from there.

I have enough half-written manuscripts to forever remind me that I'm a plotter, not a pantster. Before I sit down to write those first lines, I need at least a two or three page outline of the basic plot points as an assurance that my idea can flesh through from beginning to end. I may not always follow it to the tee, but at least I know there's one way to make it work if all else fails. Without that, I'm either rewriting into infinity or tossing it out of frustration.

So what about you? To the writers in the group, how do you typically come at your story ideas? And how much do you need to have plotted before you sit down and write?

And to the readers here, what are some of your favorite types of plots? Are there any tried-and-true story lines that you keep going after even though authors have come at them from practically every angle possible?

And as bonus incentive, I'll select one person who comments today to receive a free copy of "Putting It To The Test" so you can find out how I answered this particular plot dilemma.

Wha--?? You thought I was going to tell you here? Now what fun would that be?

I know Lori would love for you to visit her at her website or her blog And don't forget, Putting It To The Test is available now.

P.S. We want to wish our very own Playground Monitor a very Happy Birthday! We hope you have a wonderful day, PM.


Anonymous said...

i do like cliff hangers, and then there would be a sequel.
i like lost love and found
kim h

Anonymous said...

No, I am glad you didn't tell us. That would be spoiler. LOL.

Sounds like a vg story. Would love to read it.

I like the bad boy comes back home, the next door neighbor, h or h with something from the past that stops them from commiting to love. There are so many plots out there

Pat L.

Playground Monitor said...

The book is in my TBR pile. Can't wait to read it!

I've had great book ideas too but usually can't even get to chapter four because I'm still in that learning curve. They fall apart long before that. As for the short stories I write for the magazines, I get ideas from everywhere -- blogs, newspapers, wacky family members and most recently a new show in cable TV. It's had a plethora of great ideas for scandalous stories. Now I just need to develop them.

PM the Birthday Girl er... Woman

Smarty Pants said...

Hey Lori. Thanks for stopping by today! Congrats on the new book. My favorite plots...that's hard to say. I'm not a big fan of a lot of the typical hooks - marriage of convenience, etc. I do enjoy a funny book, even if its sexy.

Problem Child said...

Are you sure we aren't soul sisters, Lori?

I can totally I just need to find that plot without the giant hole in it :-)

Instigator said...

Welcome, Lori! I can't wait to read Putting It To The Test! It's my reward for finishing my roughdraft.

I think I usually start with a small kernel of an idea. But once I start brainstorming - and figuring out the problems with the idea - it can morph quite a bit until I get something that can sustain a full book.

I used to be a complete and total panster - to the point of writing scenes completely out of order. However, with this new book my editor suggested I write out a chapter outline and I've found it's really helped me stay on track.


Lynn Raye Harris said...

Happy Birthday, PM!!

I'm a total pantster, yet I so understand exactly what you're saying here! I pretty much only need the hero/heroine and a basic idea to start writing. Of course this gets me into trouble as I write and discard scenes along the way. I write linearly, but without a lot of guidance in the way of an outline or synopsis.

As for reading, I love reunion plots. I seem to write a lot of them, in fact. :) I just love when the characters have a history together, even if it's brief and intense. Makes it more emotional for me.

Angel said...

Welcome, Lori! I'm really excited because I just finished this book! I know how you made it work (and it worked really well!). Ha ha, I'm in on the secret!

Yep, thought I'd just pick up Putting it to the Test, glanced at the first chapter, and was hooked. Finished it before the day was out (well, not technically, because it was 1 am). But it was great. And I loved the hero's journey in this book. He had a lot to learn. :)

I'm definitely the plotter of this group. As you mentioned, I have to at least know how the story will resolve itself and work out before I can get started. Much to the consternation of the pansters around here, I do a story magic chart, plotting notebook, and plotting chart. Sometimes I even do a collage.

About how long does it take you to plot? I've been trying to whittle that amount of time down, but I just end up doing it while I'm writing. :)

Happy Birthday, PM!!!!! We love you.


Lori Borrill said...

Good morning and thanks for having me!

PM, happy birthday! I hope you're doing something special. And Instigator--what a great cover!!! Congrats! Those first covers are always the best. (Oh, heck, all covers are the best. lol) You got a great one!

I'm thoroughly enjoying hearing about all the plot ideas people like. And yes, I'm shamelessly taking notes. LOL!

And from the writers, I love hearing how everyone writes. I know the plotter/pantster one is a common topic, but I can never seem to get enough of it. I always write out a synopsis from start to finish, highlighting the motivations and all the main plot point. But the funny thing is, once I write it, I never go back and look at it again. I think it's just the process that forces me to think through the story and my characters before I start writing, and once I get that down in my head, I can wing the details.

It's funny though, a couple times I've gotten stuck somewhere in the writing, and as a (of course) last resort, I bring up that old synopsis I wrote months ago. And usually when I do, I see how I had managed to trail off course, or how I'd handled that problem in the synopsis but had forgotten what I'd planned to do.

So I sort of think of them as little safety blankets.

Lori Borrill said...

Angel, so glad you liked it! I admit, it wasn't easy finding motivation behind the core plot. I had to do some deep knee bends where that was concerned. But I just knew it would be soooo fun to play with the premise if I could make it work.

I'm really glad it didn't disappoint.

OH! And I need to let people know that I'm running a "Buy 1 Get 2 Free" promotion on my website. If you buy this book, you can get two free backlisted Harlequin Blazes from my private collection. (I keep forgetting to mention that as I blog around town). And Playground hosts are most definitely welcome to participate too. Find the details on my website under "Contests and Promotions".

Kathy said...

Happy Birthday, PM!!! Have a great day. :-)

Hi Lori! Great to see you on the playground. Do you prefer the swing set or the merry-go-round?

Love your cover, story, and your blog. I'm oftentimes confused about process. I have no problem coming up with ideas but they're usually more than enough to fill 2-3 books at a time. My dilemma is symplifying the story. Ack!

Like Angel, I do storyboards. I'm a visual thinker, needing photos, research, music to get me into the period (I write historicals). However, I'm finding I really like the idea of letting the story take me along for the ride. Isn't that intriguing?

So, how do you know which process to lean towards? (I like the fact that you write a synopsis first allowing yourself room to deviate from it.)

How do you manage your writing time and 'real life' responsiblities?

Thanks for being here!

Party on, PM!!

rebekah said...

This sounds like a really good book. Thanks for sharing.

Betina Krahn said...

Wow, Lori, you really nailed one of my problems. Lots-o'-ideas. So-few-that-work as book length fiction!

When I get hammered by that sniper, I have to stop and go back and deepen and strengthen. sometimes that means I have to replot or revise the story considerably. But I seldom abandon the idea altogether. If there was something about it that drew me in the first place, then there's something in it that will please readers too.

Can't wait to check out Putting It To The Test! Gotta love these fellow Blaze Babes. they're great!

limecello said...

Hi Lori,

Thanks for visiting today! I have to say, I've a great fondness for friends-lovers stories. The "never in a million years" to "hmm what if?" The other... is the boss-secretary story. I think it's so skeezy in real life, but in books? So well done! Both of these are tried and true, but there are book that just *really* get it. Oh - that an opposites attracting. (One of my favorites being "Heaven, Texas" by Susan Elizabeth Phillips.)
Happy birthday, Playground Monitor! I hope you have a fabulous day and lots of cake!

CrystalGB said...

Hi Lori. I like friends to lovers, couples reunited, secret babies, and in love with brother's best friend stories.
Happy Birthday Playground Monitor.

Lori Borrill said...

"So, how do you know which process to lean towards? How do you manage your writing time and 'real life' responsiblities?"

Wow, great questions! As far as process, I used to be a complete pantster, but I had to change my process after I sold. Now, my editor wants a synopsis up front, and if I don't have all the answers worked out, she'll prod me to do so. Funny, with my next Blaze coming out in November, one of her comments was, "So you don't mention it here in the synopsis, but I'm assuming somewhere between Reno and Texas they fall in love?" LOL! I think that was the first time I said, "trust me" and she went ahead with it. But for the most part, they do want you to have the story idea fleshed out before you start writing, so necessity kind of caused me to change my ways.

And managing writing with real life? That's a really hard one. Unfortunately, I'm not making enough to quit my day job so I'm having to juggle both, and we have made some life changes to allow me more time. My husband is self-employed and is home to handle LOTS of kid stuff for me, which is huge. And I think that also ties into writing off a synopsis. With my editor asking for more books than I can produce, I've got to become a pretty efficient writer. I can't afford to trail much if I don't know where I'm going, you know?

Betina, glad to see you here!

Limecello, it was Instigator who got me into SEP and I've been hooked ever since. She's one of the few auto-buy authors for me.

Instigator said...

It's nice to know I'm spreading the SEP joy :-) I just love her!

And thanks for the kudos on the cover, Lori! I did luck out. I'm very, very pleased.

Yeah, I know what you mean about process changing after you make the first sale. Sometimes creativity just doesn't fit into the business side of this career choice. Unfortunately, we have to find a way to make them coexist.

I love stories where the characters have a history. It makes the story more interesting - and the writing a little easier since they already have issues and tension to deal with.