This is part two in a three-part blog about my writing process. Here's the link to The Process, Part I, where I discuss how my stories originate.
Once or twice a year, I get together with friends and fellow authors Christina Dodd, Emily March, and Susan Sizemore for what we call plot group. We meet for three days. Before we get together, we send each other lists of our upcoming projects and we set up a schedule of what we want to plot. This is when I pull out my idea file. I might send the others an email along the lines of, "I'd like to plot a new Royal Scandals book. Here are the characters I have in mind..." and I'll send along what details I have. I'll also say, "here's what I have so far on the book" and include several plot points I've fleshed out from my idea file.
|Plot group in Sonoma, California, with (l to r): Christina Dodd, Emily March, Susan Sizemore, me|
When we get together, we take turns brainstorming each other's books. Now, this isn't WRITING each other's books...far from it. It's talking through them aloud, discussing different possibilities for the plots, fleshing out the reasons characters might make certain choices, and anticipating problems. Each of us have written books that are part of series, and we're familiar with each other's works, so sometimes we'll be discussing a plot point and someone will say, "If you do X, won't it be in conflict with what you wrote in the third book in the series, where Y happened?"
In the end, we come up with major plot points. Often times, the finished book will deviate greatly from what we plotted. The purpose of plot group is to help each author brainstorm different ways their story could be written. I can't tell you how many times I'll read a book we discussed at plot group and discovered that it's nothing like what we discussed! On the other hand, I can usually see how the finished product evolved from the concepts we tossed around, which is fascinating.
We do have a few rules for plot group. First, the author is the arbiter of all. If the author whose story we're discussing doesn't like what we're brainstorming, or the direction feels wrong, out the window it goes, no matter how great the idea. I've frequently said, "That would make a killer book, but the character I have in mind wouldn't do that. Instead, I want to explore this direction...." Second, if a story idea isn't working, we put it aside for another day. We frequently start discussing a story, get stumped, then discuss it again a few hours later and have several solutions to the earlier problem. Third, we need good food. When we're together, it's work, not social hour, tempting as it is to kick back and shoot the breeze. We need to feed our brains to be productive and focused.
During breaks, we each hide out in our rooms and write. We tape record our discussions and listen to them, either between sessions or on our flights home, so we can get back to each other with questions. At that point, each of us is on our own to put meat on the bones of the story.
Next, in The Process, Part III, I'll tackle the hard part: producing pages and editing.