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And on the fifth day of plotting…

If I’m quiet, I’m working. ūüôā And I’ve been quiet! I should have a release date for AMERICAN DEMON for you soon But what’s on my desk is THE RULE. (followup to AMERICAN DEMON) Yep,¬†I’m in full cry, chasing the next Hollows story. A reader¬†recently asked about my plotting process, which has become¬†fairly stable by now,¬†though I admit that every book is built using different tools¬†depending upon how much new magic/new characters/difficult themes/new techniques it has. But rather than tell you how I plot using AMERICA DEMON or THE RULE, and give away a lot of spoilers. (Pike. OMG. Pike.) I dipped¬†back into my files and found a few posts from 2009 that pretty much encompass the process. You can go back a few posts from here to get to the first nitty gritty of how it starts, but today, I’m¬†going to share a post where I’m at about day five in my plotting process. (In a new world/series, this would be about day ten.)

About the only difference between then and now is that I’ve begun using index cards¬†with one sentence plot movement to help me place where¬†certain¬†information becomes known: the red herrings, actual clues to solving the crime, or¬†knowledge of how to build the spell. I’ll have a stack maybe an inch thick when I’m done, divided up by chapters, which I then use to help me structure the one-page chapter¬†synopses. ¬†It helps when I’ve got two or more plot lines going because I can easily move¬†realizations, discoveries, and new-skill¬†attainment around before¬†anything goes on paper.

So here is my original post from 2009, as I worked up THE OUTLAW DEMON WAILS. ¬†I’ve got one more post to share after this concerning my plotting methods, but as always, everyone writes¬†differently,¬†and what works for me might not work for you. Just keep trying things. The only wrong way to write, is to not do it. Oh, and my chapter synopses always change when I begin writing. Always. If they didn’t, I’d get bored. Gotta follow the story where it leads!¬†

It’s about day five of the plotting/outlining stage of the next Hollows book, and I’ve got my 13 page synopsis broken into ten chapters so far.¬† Hopefully I’ll finish the chapter breakdown today, and can start on the actual writing tomorrow.¬† (whoo-hoo!¬† I’ve got to catch up with you guys doing the NaNoWriMo!)

So far, while using my character grid, I’ve found that I’ve got a slow spot, and I moved some things around to quicken it up.¬† I also named a new character, learned a few things about him,¬†and Rachel has told me she likes him better than the guy I thought she’d be interested in.¬† He¬†kind of likes her, too, or maybe he just likes the way she makes him feel.¬†¬†(Be smart, Rachel.) ¬†I’ve also learned what the story is about besides solving the crime and settling the love interest.¬† (By the way, it’s not settled.)¬† What I’m talking about here is the character growth, I suppose.¬† And without character growth, not only would the story be stale, but I’d be bored to tears writing it.

So¬†today,¬†I know what inner demon Rachel is going to slay this book–or at least come to terms with, and can work it in even at this early stage.¬† Previous demons?¬† Trust, adrenaline, her sexuality, independence. ¬† That I’ve realized it this soon is good.¬† Sometimes I don’t see it until the end of the book, which goes to prove that I’m still learning my craft.¬† Thank all that is holy.



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Character Grid

As I begin work on the next Hollows book, THE RULE, I’m sharing my plotting methods. ¬†Today, I’m at day three of my¬†process, which is¬†where my character grid comes into play. It’s ¬†basically a spread¬†sheet that lets me see the entire book at a glance and helps me organize my thoughts. It’s invaluable in a rewrite when I have to insert a¬†snippet of information and am not sure where to logically do it.
The post below is from 2009, but it’s still¬†
accurate. Though a lot of my plotting methods have changed through the years, I still use and keep my character grids for future reference.

For those of you who haven’t been to the drama box in a few days, I’m taking the opportunity of NaNoWriMo and me just starting rough draft to detail out my plotting process.¬† Disclaimer:everyone writes differently, there’s no wrong way to do it.¬† This is what I’ve come up with over the last ten years or so, and what works for me.¬† It’s a process that’s still evolving.¬† Oh, and my word count is still zero.

Yesterday I rewrote my plot to take out the demon plotline and expand two others of crime and love.¬† It made a much more tidy¬†story and I was able to dig deeper into the relationships instead of skimming over them.¬† My one page synopsis turned into a 13 page synopsis, casually broken into maybe-chapters.¬† Today I’m going to begin to break this up into clear chapters so I can better balance the entire work as to pacing, place, and characters.¬† I don’t want to spend too much time in the church, or be moving from place to place in any given chapter.¬† My rule is no more than one scene shift per chapter, and try not to stay in any one place for more than two consecutive chapters.¬† Same thing with characters.¬† Variety¬†keeps the reader interested and the story moving.¬† So to better see the patterns that the story is taking and head off any potential problems, I have come up with a character grid.¬† It’s about the only piece of “software” that I use, and it’s just an Excel spreadsheet that I’ve modified¬†to my needs.¬† Here’s the one I used for ODW.

Characters are down the side, the locations of the scene are on the top, and the action is at the bottom.  (this is an early version, so it might not dovetail perfectly into the published book) The color shift is an indication of a change in day (which can be seen by the dates) and the chapter numbers are under that.  The Xs are when a character is an a chapter, and sometimes I use an O to indicate that they are in the chapter by way of phone or scrying mirror.  I usually have the month and day the book takes place in across the top, and the sunrise and set and average temps at the bottom,

My character grid is¬†how I first realized that Jenks was in almost every chapter in the earlier books, and I’ve become better at getting him out so other characters can shine.¬† It’s also how I know if I have a character who is needed for a crucial¬†scene, and yet is not introduced anywhere until that scene.¬† Very bad.¬† Same thing with the bad guys.¬† I try to have them show up early, and then at least one more time before the end.¬† Another rule of thumb is don’t introduce too many characters in the same scene, even if they are returning characters.¬† I like to have only two at the most, and will break a chapter just to avoid this.

A character grid of some sort is¬†also a great way to make sure that your male to female ratio isn’t wildly out of balance.¬† Mine usually slant to the male end of the ratio, but since Rachel is female it works out.¬† Oh, and when you go to rewrite and need to add something that¬†revolves around a character, it’s really easy to go the grid, see where they are, and place your clue instead of spending an hour thumbing through the file and guessing where to put it is.

Tomorrow, after I break this monster into chapters, I’ll let you know what balance issues¬†I encountered and nipped in the bud, but for now, I’ve not a clue as to what problems the manuscript has.¬† I can’t wait!



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Day Two Of The Plotting

I’m sharing my outlining process this week, thanks to just having finished outlining THE RULE, (sequel to AMERICAN DEMON, out in 2020) and a curious reader. Friday I gave you my bare bones of how I start with a list of “I wants” to do a very rough plot plan of two or three threads, as well as figure out which characters will be the most useful in reaching my goals. It takes a day for me to do this if I’m working in the Hollows. If it’s a new world, it can take a week, or even two if I’m developing all new characters, magic systems, and mythologies/species.

Below is the beginning of step two of my process. It’s a reposting of several years ago when I was¬†working on book ten or so, but not much has changed.

Friday was the second day of my plotting out of the next Hollows book, and still no words on the screen, but I’ve plenty of notes, so all you people taking part in NaNoWriMo, be assured that you are way ahead of me.¬† At this rate, I will be hard pressed to meet your 175 page count by the end of the month.¬† And I still have a few days of plotting before I can begin.¬† So what am I spending my time on?

Well . . .¬† I took my six pages of notes from Thursday and wrote up a¬†free-flowing, one-sentence brainstorming list of “ways to start” and a list of ¬†“ways to end.”¬† I still don’t¬†have a good way to start the book, and I won’t until I have the end, but my goal is to have in the first five pages the hint of the problem that is settled in the last so to make a full circle.¬† I’m more successful at this some times than others, but if you break¬†the stories apart, it’s there.¬† By the way, I found the ending by the time I turned my office light off.¬† Damn.¬† This is going to be a fun one to write.¬† As usual, Tim helped with finding the kicker.

I then wrote out a¬†handwritten, ten-page summary¬†of the book, starting at the beginning and going all the way to the end, saying who died, who got jailed, and who got pregnant.¬† No, none of those things happened, but you get¬†the idea.¬† Some might say it’s a waste of time, but I just saved myself three to six weeks of grief as I realized that my original three plots of demons, love, and crime were taking up too much page count and there were too many characters.¬† My solution?¬† Get rid of the demon story line for this book, much as I love it. (It will show up in the next book where it belongs)

After some thought, I realized that¬†the story¬†would work that much better with some new limitations that no-demons engenders.¬† Now I can expand on the other two story¬†lines and bring in some secondary characters that I’d have had to skimp on.¬† I’m going to miss Al, but let’s hope it’s absence makes the heart grow fonder rather than out of sight, out of mind. . .¬†¬† Today, I’ll rewrite my 10 page summary and maybe start on some more detailed chapter outlines to be sure I’ve not forgotten some bit of logic and to nail down the character lineup.


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Writing starts with “I want”

Wendee asked me if I might detail out my outline process, seeing as I’d just finished prepping THE RULE for some serious keyboard time and I was happy dancing online about it. I thought it was a great idea, so I went back into my old¬†Wordpress files, and found where I’d already done it! Not much has changed in the last nine years as far as my process goes. I’ve trimmed some things out, and added a new¬†tools in my toolbox. I’m just going to drop my old post here, and maybe add a few notes as to what’s changed in the preface.

I decided to detail out THE OUTLAW DEMON WAILS to help reduce spoilers, but if you’ve not read it . . . well . . .¬†there it is.

Even now, I still start each book with a list of “I want to see,” but by this point, much of my list is things that stem from the previous books, things that rise from Rachel’s actions as she tries to make her world a better place for everyone, not just herself.

I’ll have the next step¬†for you on Monday, but for now, here is how I begin my plotting:

So, it’s NaNoWriMo, and though I’m not taking part, I am just starting a rough draft of book ten and thought it might be cool to detail out what I do as some of you are scrambling for page count.¬† Mine is zero right now.¬† I’m way behind.¬† I just finished the last of my personal rewrites on book nine.¬† (insert wild happy author dance here) and am ready to rip into the next, so what do I do first?¬† (disclaimer:everyone writes differently.¬† I’ve been developing my writing style for over a decade, and this is what works for me.¬† There’s no wrong way to do it as long as you’re making progress.)

I want. . .

That’s what it’s all about at this point for me.¬† What do I want to see or accomplish in this 500 page monster.¬† So today I’ll be sitting down with about ten sheets of paper and a pencil.¬† No keyboard for about a week or so.¬† I’m going to go over what I just finished and where I want to be in about three books from now.¬† I try to write¬†down the gottas for story movement, and even some fun things that make the story interesting.

Since I’m not going to share with you my want list for book ten, I scrounged up my want list for THE OUTLAW DEMON WAILS.¬† (Yes, I keep everything)¬† So don’t read if you don’t want spoilers.

Set around Halloween–cause I want to know how¬†Inderlanders celebrate it.

Matalina dies, Rachel does black magic¬†to save Jenks¬† –Obviously this didn’t happen.¬† The pixy just won’t die.¬† (laugh)

Marshal out of the books, and Pierce starts moving in.¬† (no sex).¬† —¬† This one I managed.

Rachel bites Ivy?¬† Maybe work the demons in this way with a spell or charm?¬† —¬† again, this one didn’t make the cut as it’s written, but it still might be used in a later book.¬† Don’t know yet.

Find out Art killed Kisten and bound Rachel.¬† —¬† Okay.¬† Art did kill Kisten, but it wasn’t good for the story if Rachel had been bound.¬† But man, it make for good character development when she realized how close she came to it.¬† Positive, positive.

Work in more demon culture¬† At least one night with Al¬† —¬† Questionable success here.¬† Work in progress.¬† Oh, and one night with Al doesn’t necessarily mean sex.¬† If I mean sex, it will say sex.¬† (grin)

Robbie comes back to Cincy to take Mom to West Coast to reduce Rachel’s strengths.¬† yeah.¬† That kind of happened.

Ford finds Pierce when trying to recover Rachel’s memory.¬† –That one came though pretty much intact.

Oh, and the main story line fits in there as something like, work with a new species.  Banshees?  Use them to touch on auras more.

And there it is.  Not a lot of detail on the structure or the plot, just wants

Then I wrote up a page on what’s going to limit Rachel in this book:¬† Winter, so Jenks is curtailed, Robbie takes mom, Trent not going to help, David¬†on a retreat, Witches won’t sell to her.

Another page was reminders:  Trent still not trusting her, Lee-low profile, David and Weres are happy, Ivy, Cormel, and vamps not happy, FIB is worried, the IS is in with the vamps, the coven is watching her, Nick is unknown, Ceri is four months preggers, and Al knows about Pierce.

From that, I can sort of decide who is going to be in the books, but I just keep it in the back of my head at this point.

So for me, it starts with “I want” and a whole lot of time with my pencil.


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Melody first, my dear

Melody first, my dear, or so they say when you compose lyrics/music. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s been my pattern to spend a day giving structure to a new chapter by writing the dialog out first, let it sit over night, and then turn it into text the next day. It’s a technique I’ve been using for years, and where there used to be a fairly reliable 1:2 ratio of dialog to text, page wise, it’s slowly evolved to more of a 2:3 ratio now.

I’ve noticed my chapters are getting longer, too, but that might be an artifact of having an increasing number of people interacting at one time, stretching myself. I like brevity, but sometimes, there’s a need for everyone to be there. The chapter I’m in now has Rachel, Trent, Quen, Llaze, Bis, and Jenks. Oh, and Buddy, the dog. Remember Buddy? Trent took him in after all. So it’s a full chapter, and they all need to be see/heard at least once a page or you forget about them. Writing dialog first lets me spin through the proposed chapter a couple of times in a short span to make sure I have everyone interacting, or at least, being seen doing their own thing. I shudder at trying to put all the fun stuff, like Llaze using his mouth to catch the Cheerios Jenks is throwing, in at text stage, but in dialog? It’s easier. Low stress.

Today I’m doing text, having spent the first few hours of my day shifting things around after a good think about it last night. For me, it’s a lot easier to change a chapter in this state then after I’ve put in all the physical movement. Not nearly the number of slips where a character is sitting down twice before standing up or needing six hands to hold everything.

I’ve also found that this technique of dialog first, text second has gotten me through more than a few instances of what could have developed into writer’s block. There’s a lot less performance stress if all you task yourself with when you sit down is dialog, and once that is solid, the rest sort of fills in on its own.

So if you’re stuck, give it a try!

Dialog first, my dear.


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Monday, Monday, Monday . . . I’ve got homework pulling me away from THE TURN today, not hard, but tedious, and I know I’m going to get stuck and start reading instead of evaluating as I go over THE OPERATOR, (Peri Reed’s second volume) for pithy tidbits that can be used for promotion.

THE TURN (full-length novel prequel of the Hollows series out 2017) has been occupying my time for a few months now, but, as is not unusual, I have to set it aside to work on something already in the queue so as not to slow publcation down on THE OPERATOR.

Switching world to world isn’t hard for me, but it does tend to be a little depressing having to pull yourself from something you’re excited about right now to go back and look at work you’re not quite ready to face again. What I mean, is I’m full-throddle into THE TURN. I’m happy with it, like where it’s going, and it’s full of promise. All I remember from THE OPERATOR is the stuff that I didn’t do in the first draft that must be fitted in now, or the mistakes I have to fix, moments that I have to flesh out: the feeling of unfinished scaffold and clunky structure.

However . . . today, as I open up the prologue and start in with the intent to fast-read through the entire manuscript, looking for poignant passages that hold the heart of the story, I got lost. In five lousy pages, I got lost. Those first five pages are basically an info dump with five to six important plot and character “must haves,” to intelligently tell the real story along with the early foreshadowing of where the story is going to end up. But the touch was so light, I hardly noticed them, and I’m the one that put them there. I guess what I’m getting at is that I didn’t leave THE OPERATOR in as bad a shape as I thought, and that is a real relief, seeing as it’s going to be on my desk for the next six weeks, bare minimum. I love the raw, in your face exuberance of the Hollows, but Peri’s war with herself still holds my heart hostage.

Today is going to be stressful. I really like what I do, and skimming is hard for me.

And because I have to have a picture, here’s my Lady Slipper Orchid. I’ve had this plant for two moves, and though this isn’t the first time I’ve had it rebloom, this is the first time it has had four flowers in one cycle. I think it might have a fifth flower in there yet, too.


P.S.¬†I should have the cover for the Hollows/Peri mash up novella “Waylaid” (retitled “Leylined” in the UK) for you on Thursday. I’ve seen it, and holy cow, it took my breath away. Check your newsletter. We’ve got a couple of cover releases yet this month.


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Day five

It’s day five in plotting, which is sort of misleading, as plotting a new book starts months before I actually print out my header onto blank pages and pick up that pencil. But it is the fifth day in my office focusing on it. I’m always surprised at how every book comes out the same, but they never progress in the same manner. Index cards are relatively new to me. I’ve used them on perhaps only five books, but I’ve found that multiple POVs require them, and I’m becoming fond of them now.

Pencil and paper though . . . they have been with me forever, along with the pattern of ¬†two or three increasingly complex synopsis starting from three sentences, to about three pages. And then come the chapter outlines, a page apece. That’s what I’ll take with me to the computer. That’s what the mess is there on my desk as I take the bones of the cards and translate them into a fleshy, squishy, malleable outlines that still look like something.


Yesterday I hit a snag, and so reached for the cards to supplement my synopsis, creating and spreading that neat little pile of binder-clipped index cards you can see there across my sofa, laying them out into individual character paths before I scooped them up, one by one, in order of happening. I’m three quarters of the way through them now, and my desk is messy but my path is clear. ¬†I figure I can push through the rest today, and let it sit next week while I brush through the Peri/Morgan mash up novelette before I turn it in.

My lady slipper orchid is on its second flower, but you can see a third, and perhaps fourth or even fifth hinting at coming out. I had no idea they were multiple bloomers in one season. Huh. I think I’ve had this plant for nearly a decade with hardly a flower, and look at it go now.

SecondBloomAmazing what can happen when you give a little water and sun.



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Sixty short minutes, and it will be over

I’ve watched a lot of authors around the panel tables over the years, and it never fails to set me back when I see one or more chortling over the prospect of throwing more trouble and woe against their characters–as if they enjoy it. A part of me agrees as watching your characters rise over the situation and emerge triumphant, or at least alive and kicking, is uplifting. But for the most part, these are the hardest pages for me to write. I procrastinate, I check my FB feed, I make a pot of tea, sharpen my pencils which I’m not even using at the moment. Anything. It’s a recognizable pattern.

SixtyToday, as I finish up the first rough draft of the Drafter teaser (hopefully to be released next month) I ache for my character, knowing what’s going to happen, that I’m the one that is putting it out there–something bad that rocks him to his foundation, that will color him for years, bring him pain, this wonderful man that I gave so many gifts to. And I’m going to have to deal with it for at least three more years.

Chortling with glee? No, I don’t think so.

Sixty minutes, I tell myself. It will take one hour to write, one hour to bring his world to an ugly place. Will he rise up? Of course he will. Will he find a new core? It wouldn’t be much of a story if it didn’t. But it still hurts. And it will, for three years because of¬†sixty short minutes.


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coffee shop rule

My editor reminded me this week about the coffee shop rule. You can have a conversation in a coffee shop, but only one per book unless it’s a reoccurring, fully realized setting that is so developed it’s almost a character in itself. Yep, I got lazy.

So-o-o-o-o I took my licks with the wet noodle and then spent the night mulling where I might shift the scene to. I even made the mistake of asking my loved ones for their advice–which is a bad idea because they all think their first idea is the best and stop looking after they come up with it. Even worse, they feel hurt when you shoot it down for a reason that makes no sense to them even when you explain why a museum or bowling alley or bookshop won’t work. (sorry, guys)

Mulling in the back of the mind isn’t always a fast prospect, but I’ve gotten better at it, and dude, there’s nothing like the feeling of sitting at your desk at 7:30 am, gritting your teeth in the knowledge that a big chunk of the fun stuff you’ve spent the last month adding is a lot of tell, not show (because of page constraints) and the almost magical realization that maybe you can bring one of those tells into the show with the right new chapter setting, and THEN realizing there’s the potential here to use that show to flesh out the relationship between the two characters in exactly the right way–one scene shift solving an issue of show don’t tell, character development, world building, and yes, not breaking the one-coffee shop rule and making my editor and me happy.

Yeah, that thing.




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Same time tomorrow

I had a really difficult time this morning finding my groove. It was all I could do to not give in to other things pulling at me. But I opened up my work file instead with the sentiment that I could at least put out a chapter of dialog, no matter how lame. And after five minutes of pain, the idea I wanted to share showed itself.

The point being, if I hadn’t sat down and opened it up, the idea wouldn’t¬†have evolved and tomorrow I would have been at the same point I was this morning.

Moral of the story? Just put down one page of work when you’re stuck. Then walk away if you have to, but don’t walk away until you put down one page. One page for your mind to mull over, one page to have something to spur more thoughts. Or nothing changes.


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