Plotting–All You Need is the Tip of the Iceberg

Okay, I’ll tell you the truth.  I’m in California at the moment.  And, yes, I know, the stereotype of the Golden State is that the entire land mass is one giant L.A.  But, you’re thinking of the wrong end of the state.  I’m from the far north and that’s where I am visiting.  With family.  Not a single one of whom has a computer.  I’m serious.  And it gets odder still.  Unless I borrow my mother’s Volvo and drive ten miles to the library, I have no Internet access at all.  Talk about off the grid.  I’m not kidding when I tell you I’m going into Bigfoot Country.

And I love it.

However, since it’s my turn to write The Sisterhood blog, and I’m off playing with Bigfoot, I am re-blogging an earlier post from my personal blog.  So, if you’ve already read this post, I apologize. If it’s new to you, then hop on over to my blog and sign up as a follower. See what you’ve been missing? (

But, seriously. . .here’s the post.

The way I plot is to have a scene or character in my head, sit in front of a computer and let that scene play out on the monitor.  I become the character and follow where they lead.  Very soon after starting a new book, usually within the first draft of the first chapter, I have a general idea of where the story is going.  This sometimes veers slightly as a character refuses my direction and goes off on her own, but within a few thousand words, the general plot is visible to me.  After that, I start each chapter with a clear objective in mind and then follow the character.

As I write, the plot becomes more and more clear.

I think of the story as ice that forms slowly in my subconscious until one day it breaks off and floats into my conscious.  I see only the tip, but the entire story is there.  All I do is allow myself to see below the surface in order to get the tale on paper.

 Of course, I go back and tighten the plot thread in the second draft.  Tighten it again in the third draft.  But all I have when I sit down and type that first word on the computer is a scene, an idea for a character, a vague image of a storyline.  

It has come as somewhat of a surprise to me that this is NOT the way most authors write.

Evidently, many people have actual plot boards and outlines and bar graph.

Here’s what I want you to take away from this post:

Each of us has a different writing process.  Find yours.  Try everything until you stumble on what works for you.  Then write.  Write everyday, even if all you have time for is to scribble a story idea on the back of a Walmart receipt.  No writing is wasted.  Everything you create will stay with you and, if it doesn’t fit in what you’re currently writing, it will find you again when you need it for the next book.  Stop trying to get it perfect before you touch fingers to keyboard.  You are a writer.


And, when you take a break, please share  with us how you plot.  Do you channel a character?  Design a spread sheet?  Fall into a trance?


Favorite Characters

Claire Croxton asks this week’s question: 

We’ve all written numerous short stories and/or novels with tons of interesting and fascinating characters. Who is your favorite character from all your writing? Tell us about him/her and the qualities that you admire about them.

JAN: To me, asking which is my favorite character is like asking which is my favorite child. But if held to the fire, I suppose I would have to choose Sachi, my eight-year old character from Broken Dolls. Though she is a fictional character based on my mother’s true story, (see my blog post about my mom and Sachi), she is also a make-believe character created around many of the things I am not. All the things I was not allowed to feel, or was afraid to feel, as a child, Sachi feels. In Broken Dolls, Sachi longs to be accepted at a time when Japanese-Americans were outcasts. Yet, she does not let that stop her pursuit, and in the end, she finds acceptance by accepting others who are also “different,” like her black friend, Jubie. In the end, she realizes it’s okay to be different.

For me, this is the joy of being a writer. I can take a character to places I’ve always wanted to go, make her say things I’ve been afraid to say, do things I might never do. Sometimes, it helps me understand myself a little better. And, if I can help someone else understand something about herself in the process, it’s the icing on the cake. Oh, wait . . . how cliché. It’s the wind in my sails. The A-1 on my steak. The cool side of the pillow. You get the picture.


RUTH:  Black as midnight, mysterious as death, Madame Katanga from The Rook and The Raven is without a doubt, my most favorite character I’ve ever created.  As soon as her name popped into my mind, the witchy-haired Jamaican clairvoyant possessed my being.  I couldn’t read a scene without slipping into her accent and surrendering myself completely to her will.  

Madame Katanga knows many things and can predict the future with one toss of the chicken bones. But for all her wisdom, she is also vulnerable; her greatest fear being that because of her dappling in all things supernatural, her granddaughter will be lost from her forever. Never-the-less she stands firm in her spiritual beliefs and while she would never be found in church at high mass, she would never ridicule the ones that are because all peoples are the children of The Creator. 

Madame Katanga is as wild as a Louisiana hurricane and has a heart as big as her bosoms that her alligator-toothed necklace rests upon.  She stirs the the witchy woman in me.  One story is not enough for this wonderful, colorful character.  Perhaps a sequel to The Rook and The Raven can be found in my future?

PAM:  My favorite character is Robert Lee Johnson, better known as Bubba. He hails from Noisy Creek, a little bitty town in South Georgia where two of my earlier books are set, Redneck Goddess and Noisy Creek. Bubba relocates to the Pacific Northwest and is the good friend of Samantha, the protagonist in Bigfoot Blues and Limited Visibility.  Straight-forward, honest, with a heart as big as Dixie, Bubba is rough-edged socially and all you’ll ever need in a friend or in a lover.

Bubba is my favorite character because, in flannel shirts, jeans and work boots, he’s a true southern gentleman.  An honorable man who listens to Samantha and gives her what she wants and needs before she knows she wants it.  Other men may bring flowers and candy, swear they’ll walk through fire for her, but Bubba brings Samantha’s favorite coffee.  On a cold, rainy night, it’s Bubba who lays a fire ready for the match.   And, when Samantha is in an impossible situation, it’s good-ole-boy Bubba who steps up and shows her he’s right there, his hand firmly in hers.

I may not write romance, but honey, can I build me a man or what?

LINDA:  I have written several short stories about a little boy named Charley. He is based on true experiences of my daddy, Charles Diehl. Charley makes me laugh and I love his attitude. He is the typical eleven-year-old country boy during the 1930’s, doing the typical country boy devilment. It is an innocent time where the worst things kids did was moving the church outhouse a foot behind the “pit” for the evening services.

I like all my protagonists because they embody those close to me. My antagonists are all the things wrong with the world wrapped up in a personality.

CLAIRE: When I first pondered the answer to this question, the heroine of Redneck Ex came to in mind. Then, I stewed a bit and realized that even though I think Dr. Summer Leigh Johnson is an absolute delight, (see her interview on Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews on April 14th!) I’m in love with a secondary character from Redneck Ex: Joshua Elmer McRoy.

Josh started out in this world as a bit character, someone to occupy Summer Leigh’s time while she got her bearings. She had flown to Germany at the request of her ex-father-in-law to check on her ex-husband, Dwight Sullivan, who had been injured in a car bombing in Iraq. Josh and Dwight are roommates at the hospital. I fell in love with him instantly. Seriously, the first words out of his mouth made me smile.

Josh is a young, good-old-boy. Without question, you’d trust him with your deepest, darkest secret. He’s the type of guy you want around during a crisis—mechanical, level-headed, intelligent, savvy. Lord knows, he’d never think of himself as intelligent! He’d kick the ground and blush if you suggested such a thing. So, I guess that makes him humble too, huh? And, that boy has a big heart—melts at the sight of a puppy.

I was surprised that so many readers have commented on his storyline in Redneck Ex. I was in love with the guy, but I didn’t think everyone else would be too. Obviously, he’s lovable.

Let me know what you think about him.

Whether you are a reader or a writer, who is your favorite character, and why?

The Birth of Our Characters

There are many different paths on the writerly journey, and perhaps we can all learn from the successes and failures of other writers. This post begins a weekly feature where one of the Sisters asks a question on writing for all to answer.

We’d love to hear your answers, too. Please feel free to leave a link to your own blogs or websites with your comments.

This week’s question is by Jan Morrill.

How does a character come to you? Does it come as a dream? A voice in your head? What methods do you use to develop your character? 

RUTH: Where does any writer’s character come from? Real life? Imagination? The dark place lurking deep in the soul? Each writer conjures characters from various places.  I’m lucky in that I don’t consciously develop mine. Charles Ely from The Soldiers From the Mist, for example, was a ghost of a Civil War soldier who haunted my house. The Rook from The Rook and The Raven came to me in a dream two years before I wrote the book. Dixie Dandelion was me in a previous lifetime. Charlie, Roark, and Dixie tell me everything I need to know to flesh them out. All that is required from me is an open mind, silence and patience. Perhaps subconsciously that’s the way it works for every writer. But no matter the process, creating an unknown character from a snip of an idea is truly magical. Learn more about Ruth’s writing adventures at

PAM: My characters come to me through alchemy.


Observations, emotions, needs and desires are heated in a magic kettle, spiced with imagination, and released through my fingertips on the keyboard. Let me give you an example. The protagonist of Redneck Goddess is Georgia Barr, better known as Goo Goo.  She’s an amalgamation of every self-confident, intelligent, beautiful young woman I’ve ever met or observed. Starting with this group.

Forty years ago, at a company picnic I watched a group of young women, most of them less than ten years my junior, playing co-ed volleyball. Not once did any of those women appear to moderate one single aspect of themselves in order to fit more closely into a mold of femininity that I, on the other hand, found so constraining. Those women, along with the brilliant red hair of my childhood best friend, Sandra Caudle, became Goo Goo Barr.

Samantha Foster, the protagonists of Bigfoot Blues, is simply me as I exist in a parallel universe.

Characters develop a mind of their own almost from the first stroke of the keyboard. Go over there and do that, I think. And they come over here and do the exact opposite. Once they draw that first inky breath, I simply do my best to herd them toward the plot line and get out of their way.

LINDA:  I draw from interesting people I’ve known. I have a rich heritage of diverse personalities who have crossed my path. As my story develops, I think about the people I’ve known or know now and think about what they would do, how they would respond or react.

Another thing I do is look at pictures. I Google actors and actresses and look through hundreds of photos. Inevitably some speak to me by their expression. I just had that happen. A very minor character in my novel, Daphne, came alive when I saw her picture, I knew her right away and now she has earned a secondary character role in my next novel!

Read more about Linda’s writing journey at

CLAIRE:  To be honest, the first thing that comes to me on any novel I’m writing is the names of the cats. For example, in Santorini Sunset (May 2012, The Wild Rose Press,) the cats are Sherlock and Mycroft. Then, I figure out what type of person would use those names for their pets.

One of these days I hope to develop into a writer who knows her characters before she starts writing. At the moment, I start with a name and a profession or a particular situation and go from there. It makes writing the story interesting since I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it also results in writing more than necessary. I tend to let my characters run free and wild. Once I figure out how the story will end, sometimes I have to rein those pesky free-thinkers in and make them do what I want.

Three things have held true in all the books I’ve written. The support, humor and frustration of the best friend in all the books is based on my best friend, Pearl. The bitchy, horrible woman who gets killed off in every book is based on a supposed friend who betrayed me and scarred me to my very core. And the hero. The hero is always my husband, Kevin. I didn’t even realize that until a friend pointed it out. Then, it was so obvious it was embarrassing.

JAN: My characters in Broken Dolls are all tiny parts of me. I took an emotion, a thought, or a person who made an impact on me and developed characters. Sachi is the emotional child in me who was always told to behave, but who lets her feelings show, whether outwardly or through internalization. Nobu is the duty-bound part of me, who does what’s expected of him, and who represses all his feelings. Mama is a fictionalized version of my maternal grandmother, who I never really knew, though I did hear stories about her. Jubie was based on the beautiful, free-spirited black girl who lived across the street from me when I was growing up.

Since these characters are a part of me, they were often stubborn to tell me their secrets. Sometimes I actually traveled to places they would have lived, such as the internment camp at Rohwer. There, Sachi whispered a secret to me that changed the course of the book.

As you might guess, Nobu was the most stubborn, as he would not tell me anything he “shouldn’t” say. But, all it took to get him to open up was a few drinks over an interview at happy hour to expose his secrets, too.

Leave us a comment and let us know how you bring your characters to life!