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 www.loriborrill.com or her blog www.sizzlingpens.blogspot.com. 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.