Create a Plot for Your Novel Out of Thin Air

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One thing I’ve always wanted to do is document my writing process from start to finish. I get a lot of emails asking for advice and although I do my best, I always feel like I have more to say. I’ve been writing novels for over a decade now and the whole process is still fascinating to me. At this point, I feel like I have a pretty solid process, but there’s always room for growth.

(Also, I feel like I’ve used the word “process” nineteen times now, but there’s really no better word. Looks like my editor hasn’t completely broken me of my dirty repetition habit. 😂)

So first, let me say that I’m a plotter and a pantser. I’ll explain as we go. Because I’m a Virgo, I have a thing for organization, but I’m also a big believer in letting the characters and novel lead the way. I’m a control freak but in my writing I’ve accepted that I’m not really in charge.

Very rarely do I ever actively craft a plot. It pretty much always lands on me. Actually, it’s usually more like a character is born in an instant and everything else falls into place. This is the first time I’ve ever purposely hunted an idea and then created characters.

If you’ve been reading my books for a while, you know I tend to write about heavy subjects and balance it out with “a prevailing sense of hope,” as my friend Robin calls it. This is mostly because writing is my therapy; it’s how I make sense of my world. I’ve been wanting to write a more conventional, light romance for a while now. Turns out this is actually really hard for me.

My plan was actually to finish writing the South of Forever series and then finish up the Comes in Threes series before I started anything new. I stumbled through SOF #3 but finished it. Then I had to start the fourth and final book, and I kept freezing. I know what I want for that book. I know the main character almost better than I know myself. And I know that I need to write her story. It took me a while to realize that I just need more time.

In the meantime, my therapist challenged me to write a light romance. (Side note: Even if you have no mental health issues, therapists make excellent career coaches.) Since this is completely new territory for me, I started off by researching conventional romance tropes. I knew of them but had never really used them; though my previous work has a lot of romantic elements, it’s all character driven. The love story was always a secondary plot.

I started off by writing down all of the tropes I enjoy as a reader or that sparked something in me as a writer. After giving my mind some time to percolate, I went through my list and added stars to the ones that I thought might work well together. Then I gave it more air. I’m a big believer in not forcing things. I found my mind occasionally drifting to it, and let it kind of simmer on the back burner while I worked on the re-release of The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos.

I didn’t have names for any of my characters yet, but I knew from the beginning that the POV (point of view) was going to alternate between my heroine and hero. Little details occurred to me while I did mindless tasks like washing the dishes: heroine has some sort of conflict with her family, moves out of state to go to college and start over; hero becomes the head of his family at a young age, unknowingly steals heroine’s dream job. Slowly I was able to shape these things into a plot.

This is my working blurb:

Rowan isn’t just having a bad day—she’s having a bad life. She left home to escape her awful family, but when her aunt—the only one who was ever kind to her—passes away, she returns for the funeral. It’s bad enough that she has to deal with her family, but on top of it, the guy who stole her dream job shows up.

Matthew only wanted to attend his boss’s funeral. He wasn’t counting on Rowan, the girl whose job he stole, showing up. She’s been living out of state for the last few months, but now it looks like she’s about to be his new boss. If he loses his job, his mom and little brother will be homeless, so it looks like he’s going to have to suck it up.

Forced to work together, Rowan and Matthew discover they have even more in common than they thought. It doesn’t take long before they realize they’re attracted to each other. It’ll never work, though. No way.

What do you think?

Next up: I’ll talk about naming characters and developing them into real people.

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Elizabeth Barone

Elizabeth Barone is an American novelist who writes contemporary romance and suspense starring strong belles who chose a different path. Her debut novel Sade on the Wall was a quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. She is the author of the South of Forever series and several other books. When not writing, Elizabeth is very busy getting her latest fix of Yankee Candle, spicy Doritos chips, or whatever TV show she’s currently binging. Elizabeth lives in northwestern Connecticut with her husband, a feisty little cat, and too many books.

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