Stuff I can’t share . . . and stuff I can

That’s what I’ve been working on for the last two weeks.  Stuff I can’t share.  Despite the popular theory that I LIKE TEASING YOU, (which I sort of do) sometimes it sucks pixy dust to be working on ideas that won’t see the light of day for years.  I’m talking book thirteen here.  🙂 OMGosh, it fell into place yesterday–after two weeks of plotting and a new-to-me plotting technique.

Horrors of horrors, I’ve actually plotted this thing out in a flow chart.  I know some writers use them extensively, but it’s not much use to me yet apart from helping me organize my thoughts, but I do have a new-to-me plotting technique to share, one that I’ve been using lately to help me mesh several diverse story lines into one cohesive plot.  If you’re struggling to organize your thoughts, this might help.

After coming up with the general story line, I write each separate plot down without regard to the other stuff, sort of like mini synopsis.  The elf thread, the magic thread, the relationship thread, the vampire thread.  Each one takes up a page, maybe two.  Then I transfer those ideas (and motivations) to cards, one idea per card. (This is the new thing for me.  Cards.  Sheesh.)  So I end up with about six to fifteen cards per thread.  I work making my card piles for a few days.  Long days.  I take it slow, and do lots of revisions here since I’m still putting the main plot together.  Lots of handwriting, lots of notes.   I do this with each plot thread–several times–and then sit down with my stacks, looking at the first thought in each thread.  And start weaving.  If you do it right, one idea flows into the next, and you don’t forget anything that needs to be included.  I usually break my woven piles down into chapters and days.  The trick is to be loose and free, and don’t rush it!  It took me two weeks.  I fully expect I’ll be doing some changes as I get into the writing, but if I don’t know where I want to go when I start, I can be paralyzed by the feeling of being afraid of wasting my time.

I’ve used cards for each thread now for a couple of books.  Peri needed this kind of organization badly, but I found I liked it so well that I’ve been using it on the Hollows too.  It lets me be convoluted without asking the reader to work too hard.  The flow chart?  I don’t know.  I got to use tape and scissors . . .


Filed under Drama Box

42 responses to “Stuff I can’t share . . . and stuff I can

  1. There’s a great little Kindle book just released edit by mystery/thriller writer Timothy Hallinan, called “MAKING STORY: Twenty-One Writers on How They Plot.” I did a bunch of proofreading of it, and it’s really great, as you get to see how a LOT of different authors do their plotting (or pantsing…). It’s on Amazon at:

  2. I have resorted to using post it notes for the computer, but have decided to follow as I will probably learn a thing or four, about getting that book finished.

  3. Reblogged this on Serendipity and commented:
    Kim Harrison, AKA Dawn Cook, is the author of the Rachel Morgan “Hollows” series that has become my favorite series of books. Although she’s nearing the end of this series, there are a couple of more books coming, so I am preparing myself emotionally for separation and it’s like having a good friend with a fatal illness. I’m trying to stay calm. Meanwhile, however, she is exceptionally generous about sharing her process, how she manages to write long, complex books without dropping pieces of plot or motivation along the way. She is an elegant writer, far better than most urban fantasy genre writers ever dream of being. In this piece, she shows us all exactly how much work, thought, and preparation she puts into her writing. It’s a lesson for everyone who write, especially for me who tends to just “let it fall out of my fingers.” Perhaps my failure to do the prep wort explains a lot of what is wrong with my stories. Meanwhile, if you haven’t discovered her books, they are wonderful and keep getting better. Just when I think they can’t possibly get any better, they do.

    • I love everything Kim has written – and you’re so right. The end of the Hollow series is going to be so hard for me. I hate goodbyes. Fortunately, I have her books in my possession, so I’ll be able to go back and revisit these characters that have become like old, and beloved, friends.

  4. I’m *really* impressed! Your care and preparation go a long way to explaining how you write such complex stories without losing pieces of plot or motivation along the way. One of the most elegant things about your books is that you never “drop stitches.” A clue that appears in an early chapter leads to an answer in a later chapter (occasionally another book, but in a series, I guess it’s legal). It is one of so many things that sets your writing apart and far above other authors in the genre … and has put you on the top of my “favorite living authors” list. Brava!

  5. Pingback: The Magic Thread – Sharon Penner

  6. Hi Ms. Kim-Thanks for the ideas. Maybe it will get me going on the book I’m trying to write(Hope springs eternal etc)

  7. Wonderful timing! It is my week to moderate at my writing club, and I have been looking for a new technique to share. This sounds like a great process, and a great way to not accidently leave anything out that you wanted in, or try to cram it in at the last minute!

  8. Jennifer W

    I would like to get a visual on this 🙂 I just see you sitting on the floor covered in index cards — with your computer in the middle of it all. Thank you so much for all you do to entertain us!

  9. Anna

    Thanks for sharing your plotting process, I love to read about it 🙂

  10. jkh

    Wowee! Thank you all, fellow fans and Ms Kim as well, for all the plotting ideas. I shall surely incorporate at least some of them. Do you use different-color cards for the various threads?

  11. Very interesting! My plots aren’t usually involved enough to require extensive planning – I don’t have multiple creatures or subplots like your books – but I have a couple of ideas for future books that this would probably work really well for. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  12. Eva

    Sounds like a very good method, and it might also apply to my kind of work (software design). Thank You for sharing, and for your wonderful stories.

  13. I am properly teased. May I get my book now?

  14. Karla Stamps

    When I am trying to “map” out ideas for room designs…. using a wall works well. You can paint a wall (or part of it) with chalkboard paint or cover it with cork. You can write ideas or hang cards and stand back and follow the “thought trail”, to see if it makes sense, if you need to add or subtract something… or change the order.

  15. It’s always fascinating to read how other writers get the words and ideas out of their heads and onto paper. I may be the exception here, because I’m a pantser – as in writing by the seat of my … It may have something to do with the way my brain works – or … doesn’t. Anyway, Kim, thanks for sharing what you CAN share!

  16. Great advice. I never thought of dividing up storylines separately. Might have to give this a try.

    And the thought of book 13 makes me giddy. I love it when thIngs fall in to place.

  17. Thanks for sharing! I kinda like the flow chart and cards thing, but then I get scattered and distracted otherwise! Can’t wait to see what you come up with!

  18. OMG! I just came back from vacations and I found a lot has been going on! granted I was off for a month but wow! and of course now curiosity’s killing me.
    Good luck with all the new stuff! =)

  19. Thanks for the peak behind the creative process!

  20. gene

    Yeah, I write all my plot points, major and minor, on little white pieces of paper, and I write REVEAL in capitals in the top corner, for points that are reall-y important/integral to the plot, so I know they can’t be edited out (even if I can’t remember why at the time!). I also highlight the character’s names, so I can see who is where, at any given stage. Then I blutac them to a wall, & make little notes on them/move them around, till I’m happy. I was proud of my plot point wall… until my best friend told me it looked like a serial killer’s lair! :s

  21. I’ll never be that organised. About the best I can do is the clean pile, used pile and wash it pile…


  22. Donald Kirby

    One word: Scrivner.

  23. I actually do something similar, but instead of using cards I use a Mind Mapping software. I’ve been using FreeMind, which is free. Works pretty much the same way, but with less pen and more keyboard.
    Thank you for the tip. Anything you can share is always appreciated.

  24. 😎 All these cards for individual threads/characters sounds almost like the way I hear television shows are put together. Except without the large pegboard to organize them, or the large staff of writers, producers for that matter.

  25. This is quite similar to a technique taught to me in my screenwriting class for my MA. It works well but it requires an amount of discipline and sheer hard work. The temptation for me is always to dive in and start writing too early…. Hmmm – maybe that’s why I haven’t managed to crack it yet!

  26. Maybe its because I’ve been trained to be organized, but I write an outline; transfer main points to 3×5 cards, flesh them out a little; make a color-coded card for each main character, as well as a color coded card for main locations. I also draw up maps and floor plans…. If I ever finish this book, it had better sell!

    • I’ve got three maps drawn out and two floor plans using googles SketchUp program, in 3D! … Yeah I went overboard on that one. But I like the way you think!

    • jkh

      I have to sketch up house plans, snag architecture photos, and look at maps in order not to make “howlers” when working out action, too. And my drawing abilities are pathetic.

  27. Kate Ohlander

    I heard once about a guy who set up an entire wall in his garage to create a flow chart for the novel he was writing. He even included the pacing for when dramatic points, climax, and resolution should occur and for how long. I think it would help you see the big picture to keep from getting bogged down in details.

  28. I’ve used cards but always struggled w/seperate piles. Never thought to weave them literally – I always attempted to do this in my head or kept seperate notes. But how much easier this will make it (as if writing is easy but you know what I mean). Thanks SO much for a great idea.

  29. Having spent 25 years as a programmer, then a programmer analyst, then a system analyst, it was natural for me to use a flow chart to plot out the story line(s) – I thought everybody did.. Now if my writing didn’t suck (pixy dust – I like that!!)

  30. that flow chart or cards would be an awesome thing to give away, once the book releases of course 😉

  31. bookluvr

    Arts and crafts are always fun! ;P

  32. Martin

    Thank you for sharing what you can….

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