August 31st, 2018

Plot, Character and…WHAT?

Laurie Schnebly Campbell

A quick note from your WITS blog mistress: I'm sorry for so many comments not getting posted as soon as we'd like. All four of us were out of town, and no one had internet access. (Two of us thought we would be able to approve comments, but we were wrong.) Everything is caught up now, though, and if you were waiting for your comment to appear, it's in the comment section below. We'll post the winner of Laurie's giveaway this evening--at the end of the comments section. Thanks for your patience!

We all know a great book needs a great plot and great characters, but those aren’t always enough.

What about the setting?

What about the theme?

What about the voice?

What about the emotion?

What about the action?

What about the dialogue?

 

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Those elements might very well be built into your characters and/or plot, but they can go well beyond that. In fact, when any of those elements is absolutely stellar it can make the difference between simply a “good book” and a keeper that’ll be:

       * Read again and again

       * Loved just as much every time

       * Recommended enthusiastically to fellow readers

       * An inspiration for the reader to seek out other books by this same author

So while plot and character are essential factors in building a book that’ll be considered at least a reasonably good read, it takes more than those two factors for a book to be remembered and treasured. It takes three powerful strands, braided together.

What’s the third strand? Genre.

Some readers might protest, “I never read genre fiction; it’s mindless.” Or “it’s trashy.” Or “it’s formulaic.” Or “it’s a waste of time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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For people who’d rather die than read a novel which didn’t make The New York Times Book Review, it usually comes as a surprise that genre fiction ISN’T mindless, formulaic trash.

Instead, it’s a guarantee of avid readership.

Whether the genre is mystery, romance, fantasy, or even literary fiction, the readers who love it are likely to always:

       * Have another book waiting on their bedside table

       * Pre-order every series title by their favorite author

       * Keep buying book after book after book because this particular kind of reading satisfies a deep need within them

What IS it those readers need?

Well, of course, that depends on the genre. In the classics like mystery, romance, fantasy and mainstream / literary, it’s pretty easy to define what readers expect when they plunk down their money for a new title.

 

 

 

 

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Mystery readers, for instance, want to see the puzzle solved and justice done (unless the bad guy gets away with murder and will need to be thwarted by the good guy in some future book).

Romance readers want to see a couple falling in love and embarking on a happily-ever after (or at least a life which shows these two people were meant for one another).

Fantasy readers want to explore a new but highly plausible realm (in which, win or lose) the challenges are far more enthralling than those of the everyday world.

Literary fiction readers want to feel like they’ve been encouraged to think deep thoughts about the meaning of life (whether or not the characters triumph at the end).

Sure, there are variations according to which TYPE of fantasy orromance or mystery or literary fiction they're reading, but you know that as long as you deliver the fundamentals of what people want from such a story, you're gonna leave ‘em happy and waiting for your next book.

 

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What do YOUR readers want?

You might know that already.

Or you might have never thought about it in those terms.

But the answers matter, because they affect how you handle a multitude of things within your book. The setting (time & place, yes, but also how you describe the society and the everyday details). The relationship/s (if there are any). The moments of nail-biting tension or emotional drama or staggering horror or uplifting inspiration or good vs evil or intriguing discovery or comic relief...to name just a few.

By way of illustration, what do readers love most about a cozy mystery?

* The multiple clues.

* The decision of whether or when to involve the local police.

* The descriptions of the people who might be suspects.

* The red herrings along the way.

* The protagonist's interesting hobby. 

 

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 prevailed.

Continuing the illustration, what do readers love most about a romance?

* The excitement of a growing relationship.

* The first meeting of these two people we know will fall in love.

* The moment when one of 'em recognizes the other person is someone special.

* The first touch and/or kiss and/or love scene. (Or the fourteenth.)

* The realization that "here's the one I love.”

* The resolution proving that once again, love has led to a happy ending.

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                                                      * The resolution proving that once again, truth and justice prevailed.

Different romance authors and cozy-mystery authors will place more emphasis on various aspects within their story, but all of 'em are there to keep the readers engaged.

Readers will certainly enjoy seeing surprises as they journey through the book. Yet at the same time they appreciate knowing that once they’ve reached The End, they will have gotten the kind of experience they wanted from this particular title.

Which leads to the trickiest question of writing a such a title:

How do you blend your plot, character and genre?

That’s not always as easy as it might sound. All three elements are crucial to a well-balanced story, but not every book gives equal weight to each strand of the braid.

The braid is where your artistry comes in.

Think about a literal braid. If you picture a fat strand and two skinny ones, it won’t look so good. Same if there’s two fat strands and a skinny one. Balance is crucial.

That’s what we’ll cover in next month’s class on Your Plot-Character-Story Braid at WriterUniv.com, and someone who posts about their favorite strand will win free registration. (Or a refund PLUS the class if you’ve already registered.)

I’d love to hear from you!

Which do you find easiest or most enjoyable: creating characters, devising a plot, or knowing the expectations for your genre?

One lucky commenter will win Laurie's Braiding Your Book class at WriterUniv.com. Read the comments for the announcement of the winner on September 1st.

Laurie, who’ll notifyLaurieSchneblythe winner privately tonight (if your post offers any clue on how to reach you) so nobody will have to stay in suspense through Labor Day weekend 🙂

 Bio: Laurie Schnebly Campbell always loves analyzing what makes a book work, so she's looking forward to starting a four-week class on Braiding Your Book at WriterUniv.com's http://bit.ly/BraidClass on September 3. Although she enjoyed braiding her own romances, including one that beat out Nora Roberts for "Best Special Edition of the Year," she enjoys teaching even more. That's why she now has more than 40 novels on her bookshelf from authors inspired by her classes.

113 responses to “Plot, Character and…WHAT?”

  1. Hi Laurie, it's always a treat to read your blog posts! I find characters come easiest to me. Right now I'm struggling with the genre expectations of my work in progress. I intended it to be an adult psychological thriller, but I've been told it reads more like a YA. I'm hesitant to go that direction, but I'm not sure how to get around it at this point. If you have suggestions, I'm all ears!

    • Alicia, what is it you want to get around? Has your publisher requested an adult psych thriller and refused to consider a YA, or have you envisioned scenes that'd work for adults but not teens, or...gosh, so many possibilities/1 But let me know what has you uneasy about writing a YA instead of an adult thriller, and I'll be happy to offer some suggestions.

  2. jrupp25 says:

    For me, I love the challenge of hitting those important beats in romance. I'm a romance reader and writer. There's nothing better than a book that's unputdownable. Yes, there's always a happy ending, but come on. We know the sun is going to set tonight. Does that make the day boring or predictable?

  3. My gosh that's a lot I've never thought of! The more I read the more I realized I'm not as ready as I thought to do a first book. Are there other things you've written that will help me fill in some of the blanks? (As well as the Braid course, of course...) Thank you!

    • Lisa, the best advice I ever heard about a first book was from mystery writer J. Carson Black, who said that the most important step you can take is to simply FINISH it. The reason is that you'll learn so much more by actually writing than you will be reading about writing -- and I cringe at saying that, because of course I want people to read my class lectures -- but actually completing a book makes the difference between a wanna-be novelist and a real one. Like Nora Roberts says, you "can fix anything except a blank page."

  4. Characters and genre expectations I can nail. Plotting drives me crazy. It takes me way too long and too many drafts to nail the plot. Like right now--I'm in the editing stages after fast-drafting my WIP. And of course the plot is on the messy side. No surprise there!

    • Terry Odell says:

      The closest I came to fast drafting was the ONE time I did NaNoWriMo. What a hot mess. I'm a "planster" and edit as I go. I agree that the "braid" is a good way to make sure you're not leaving things out, although I'm more of an organic writer. After 20 novels, it starts to show up on the page with less conscious thought, but those are the things I'll be checking for on my nightly edits.

      • I'm the same way! How awesome to meet a fellow planster. Yeah, I fast-drafted in two months. I'm not sure if this is the method for me LOL, but the first novel took so long as I edited as I went. So I thought I'd try fast-drafting for this one. I'm hoping to find my "method" as I keep writing.

      • Terry, I'm sorry I missed your comment earlier -- but it's a wonderful thing to have come up with a system that's served you well for 20 novels! And having your list of things to check for on nightly edits is a gold mine; life is so much easier once you KNOW what problems tend to come up over & over & over again and (even better) how to fix 'em without a lot of angst.

    • Maggie, I'm in the same boat as you -- plot has always seemed to me like the hardest of the three, and I'm awed by people who can zip out a plot in just a few minutes or even a few days. Characters, sure, those are cake, but plot? Ulp. So you've probably already tried coming up with your plot FIRST, because since you're good at the other two strands it'll be easier to fill those in next. And that way your plotting muscles get stronger with every book!

  5. Hermina B says:

    Hi Laurie! I love this concept of braiding and I could really benefit from looking closer at the genre part. I write high fantasy, and have been polishing character and plot on the first book of a trilogy. But isn't genre a tricky thing to nail down? Certain elements seems culture driven, as in zombies are in vogue one year, out of vogue the next. I'm not a fan of grim-dark, but current writers are breaking into (and staying) the market with that dark edge. Would your class address those kinds of trends in genre?

    • Hermina, you’re absolutely right that genres are constantly evolving. While the core stays the same (fantasy readers want an intriguing world, romance readers want true love, mystery readers want justice achieved, and so on), the culture-driven elements are always in flux. How to manage that? Extremely fast writers can jump on whatever’s trending hot, but the rest of us are better off sticking with what we love to write…because in an ever-changing market, it’s bound to turn popular at some point. And when that happens, there’ll be a whole arsenal of books that fit exactly what readers are looking for.

  6. Kathleen McRae says:

    Easiest by far is creating characters - and that’s just a recent revelation (for me). I even kinda know the plot (and literary elements like theme I want to explore). BUT I have a hard time creating an antagonistic force/character/situation! I don’t mind shoveling on the conflict. I have a hard time deciding what it is.

    Sooooo...there’s a class for that...? I am so IN!
    Thank you—great topic!

    • Kathleen, when characters come easiest that can often make it hard to choose a conflict...because you know these people SO well, it's tougher to decide whether they'd be more threatened by (just for example) a divorce next door or a murder across the street. You know all about what'll challenge them the most, and if both those options are equal what are you supposed to do? (Hint: it's not "make them face BOTH those things.) And I'll look forward to seeing you in class. 🙂

  7. jayjhicks says:

    Hi Laurie. I’m a plantster - so for my current novel I got a story idea and then sat with it. The characters grew as the dramas arrived scene by scene. Great fun for first draft. You’d guess I didn’t have a genre nailed either. Historical? Family saga? Commercial? Women’s? Yes to all. It hasn’t been the easiest ride as far as anxt over how I would put it all together, but I’ve arrived at a cohesive whole and am really happy with the organic way my story has fallen into place. I would love to win your course - I’m sure your concept would save me considerable time. Thank you. Jay.

    • Jay, it's wonderful when a story falls into place as a cohesive whole organically -- and for many writers, there's no other way to work because that process resonates so strongly with them! If you like the idea of saving time, though, that IS a good reason to look at ways of speeding up the process with a bit more planning up front. Not the whole book -- there's no point in turning plantsters into plotters -- but just enough to make the story come together at a faster-than-snail's pace.

  8. jayjhicks says:

    Hey Laurie. I clicked on my name and the link has fizzled, so I can be reached at jayjhicks60@gmail.com

  9. Cheryl says:

    First off, hi Laurie, I can't wait for this class! I have the easiest time with character, although I'm getting much better at the variables, the voice, the setting, the little extras that fall into genre. Having said that, I'm a pantser, and plot is my nemesis. I will give myself credit, I'm improving. In the past I have sat down to write a novel with little more than aren't these two characters great, and wouldn't they be great together, I'll just come up with a plot as I go along. While it can be done, what a editing nightmare! (I'm working through one of those editing nightmares now--opens new document and starts again.)

    • Oh, Cheryl, I love your concluding "stage direction" -- and I'll be even MORE impressed anytime you manage to send in a homework assignment, knowing that you're working through that editing nightmare. Meanwhile, if you ever wind up in charge of coming up with sayings for rueful writers' mugs, that line about "sat down to write a novel with etc." would be the perfect slogan. 🙂

  10. Adite says:

    Hi Laurie. Great point about braid and balance. I have a new story for which I have some interesting characters but am not so sure about the genre. I'm thinking more on the lines of a story about three women friends -- kind of a mature chicklit. Perhaps it will have a bit of romance too. But right now it's all up in the air. Braiding it all together into a cohesive story is going to be a challenge.

  11. sandraleesmith says:

    Hi Laurie, You always have such interesting information. Your definition of literary is the best I've seen and it actually makes sense. I prefer to read romance though. And when writing it, my favorite part was the planning. I'm definitely not a pantster, but some of my best work was when I did pantster a a scene. LOL I think we all use and need both methods. I love the concept of braiding the elements together. Thank you for sharing.

    • Sandra, I’m right there with you in preferring romance to literary — the guaranteed happy ending is so comforting! For a planning fan to pants a scene is a nice change of pace, and I’d be willing to bet that having planned SOME of the book gave you the ability to enjoy the freedom because you already knew there was a solid core!

  12. Adite, I'm always impressed by your versatility in moving among genres so easily...writers with that ability are the envy of all the rest of us who feel proud of having grasped even ONE. So it'll be fascinating to see how your three-women-friends story evolves -- I'm rooting for Women's Fiction, but you're right in recognizing up front how many valid options there are!

  13. Steph Bochenek says:

    Hi, Laurie. Once again, you've given me a lot to think about. Characters are my first love. Many times they show up and introduce themselves. So fun to meet them. I'm a panster through and through. I've tried to plot and there's nothing there until I sit down and write. I'll look up your class next month.

    • Steph, you totally nailed your style of writing — I can’t imagine you sitting down with a plot chart; it just wouldn’t suit the kind of stories you’re so good at. And when you have a system that WORKS for you, there’s absolutely no reason to consider changing it…well, unless you get bored and feel like playing around with something new. 🙂

  14. schmelzb says:

    Glad to find your blog post on FB thanks to a satisfied class participant! Would love to win a place in your "Braid" class. My question is: what do you do when you read mentor texts in your genre and find another author has used your premise at least as a subplot?

    • Beth, it depends on how unusual the premise is. If it’s a recently released book with such a bizarre premise that nobody could believe you didn’t simply lift it from the other book (regardless of who imagined it first), finding a publisher might be tough. But if it’s a more general premise, just enjoy knowing that readers evidently LIKE that one so they’ll be even more likely to enjoy your book as well.

  15. Hi Laurie,

    I'm a huge fan of your classes, as you know. You have been very instrumental in my craft perfection over the years. This looks like a great class that I haven't taken, but with you as the instructor, everyone is sure to get a wealth of information to guide their writing!

    • Aw, thanks, Emma! I'd swear neither of us is any more than three weeks older than we were when we met, but that makes it hard to explain how much we've covered together. It was all just instant infusion, right? 🙂

  16. Debora Dale says:

    Oh, Laurie, reading this post felt like coming home. I took this class with you a couple of years ago and not only loved it then but still use the techniques you taught me. For the braid elements, I would say the one I find easiest is knowing expectations of the genre. I write romantic suspense so the expectations become their own plot points for me - the exciting meet between hero and heroine, a challenge neither of them expected or believed they could live up to...danger, suspense, sexual tension...and an ending that shows the quest met, the romance solid, and the reader (hopefully) sated. All of this forms the foundation for the story and, once set, frees my muse to play with the plot and all its twists and turns, while gaining a deeper understanding of the characters. My braids are rarely perfect, but then I find imperfection kinda sexy. 😉

    • Debbie, I love your phrase about coming home -- what a lovely way to look back on a class. And I'm delighted you're still using the techniques you picked up way-back-when; it's nice to know they're still working for all those elements of your story foundations...not to mention offering the opportunity for (hmm) sexy imperfection.

  17. Patricia Yager Delagrange says:

    Loved your post. It was like taking a mini-Laurie class! You ask: Which do you find easiest or most enjoyable: creating characters, devising a plot, or knowing the expectations for your genre?
    I love creating characters. There's always a plot and I know what I like in women's fiction, so for me "making" believable people s the most creative and fun part of writing. I think of the idea for the book and then create characters to flesh out the idea, in a women's fiction way. Thank you for your always-interesting posts, Laurie.

    • Patti, what a cool concept for a mini-class...next time I sit down to write a blog post, I'm going to take that as my mantra! And, boy, I'm with you on enjoying the creative fun of "making" believable people -- hmm, I wonder if we actually started doing that back in grade school when making up stories for our paper dolls? Food for thought.

  18. Laurie, the blog post is great. Of late I've been struggling with the dreaded black moment in story ideas that pop into my head. Like why can't this couple be happily together? I once sent out a question to some of my long-time readers asking what they liked best in a story. Almost all of them said they liked feeling the story characters were real. A feeling that put them squarely in the story. Love the idea of braiding the various areas together.

    • Roz, it sure CAN be hard to find a reason why the couple can’t be happily together. When real-life people often do achieve that, it sometimes seems contradictory if realistic story characters have a lot of trouble doing the same thing. My favorites are when they both have a perfectly good, kind, sensible belief system that flat-out contradicts the other person’s…like YOU’ve shown in some of the books on my keeper shelf. 🙂

  19. Laurie Wood says:

    Hi Laurie I loved your post! My genre's romantic suspense and you'd think that would make plotting easy but I still struggle through coming up with plot twists the reader won't see coming. I love this genre because you can bounce the two plots off each other and use them to up the conflict. Characters come the easiest to me and they usually pop into my mind saying "helloooo????? write me!" But I'd love to plot faster and find a way to come up with really evil and bizarre plot twists my readers will never see coming. That's my long-term goal. If my link doesn't work my email's lauriewood23@shaw.ca 😉

    • Laurie, it's always such fun to meet another Laurie! (At one point we had FOUR in my local RWA group.) And I like your twin goals of coming up with bizarre -- but completely plausible for readers who've been following the story -- plot twists AND getting the whole thing done faster. Especially when those twists fit the characters demanding to be written.

  20. Kay DiBianca says:

    Hi Laurie,
    I love your description of braiding a well-balanced story. I've written one novel, a cozy mystery. Since the genre for cozies is pretty well-defined, that was the easy part. The characters were second on the difficulty scale, but there were a few surprises when a character began behaving in a way I didn't foresee!
    Like so many others who have commented here, I'm a plantser. (Do you suppose we're all related?) The overall arc of the plot was okay, but the details, clues, twists and turns were the hard part. However, working through the story was a delightful process of discovery, and I actually enjoyed the months of rewriting to refine and polish the manuscript. So I guess I would say the plot is the hardest, and yet the most rewarding, part of writing.
    I'm working on a sequel now, so the characters and genre are once again pretty straightforward, but the plot is still a mystery to me. 🙂
    Thanks for the great blog post!

    • Kay, the nice thing about a sequel is that at least by that time you KNOW the people and backstory, and usually the setting as well...which leaves you a lot more time to focus on the most rewarding part. And it's great that you're enjoying the whole (mysterious) process of discovery from beginning to end!

  21. heathmccrady says:

    I'm a long-time Pantser, though I've recently begun experimenting with outlining for the simple reason that my writing time is so limited that without *some* kind of frame I start forgetting things between writing sessions. So right now, coming up with characters is easiest for me, with genre expectations a close second. Getting those characters into and through a story is the part that's consistently defeated me.

    -There's a young man who has nightmares - the kind that attack other people. (The character is absolutely clear to me; so is his world. I've started probably a dozen different plots with him, and none of them quite seemed to work.)

    -There's a dragon who can't get heroes to stop attacking him; his horde is about 80% captured adventuring equipment, and he plays cards with the local witch (retired) and her wife (former marauding warlord, also retired) once a week. (This is the one I recently plotted out, so it might actually get written.)

    -There's a magical construct who just wants his master to stop commanding him to do horrible things to people. (I have a pretty clear idea of plot and theme for this one, I just need to put the time in on it.)

    Really looking forward to this class!

    • heathmccrady says:

      Argh! Wrong user account. Please delete.

    • Michael, no worries about the name you're posting under -- your voice comes through clearly even so. And it's a mixed blessing to have all these situations & characters figured out, with very little time to write them...like that Twilight Zone episode where the guy who craved time for reading was finally alone on a destroyed planet with a massive library and his glasses broke. (Which, hmm, sounds like a story you might write.)

  22. Andrea Koehler says:

    Hi Laurie, thank you for your advice on a well balanced braid. The thickest strand in my braid is plotting. I adore mystery fiction, so I love a tangle of threads woven into a story. But I also love empathy for the character untangling those threads, but it is a challenge.

    • Andrea, the fact that you adore mystery fiction speaks well for your genre strand -- knowing and loving mystery novels gives you a big advantage when it comes to familiarity with what readers expect and love and disdain and crave. Besides, you can curl up with a good book anytime and announce truthfully, "I'm busy doing research." 🙂

  23. M. Lee Scott says:

    Laurie, I always love to read your no-nonsense-right-to-the-point posts. Inspiring to say the least. Ditto on your classes. I've come up with great characters and the first three or so chapters flow, but after that I'm a mess. I would love to label myself as a die-hard plotter, but that isn't the case. So I guess I'm a plotster. I've got the genre down and the characters. I just need to know how the plot progresses! The hardest part for me is creating the conflict that will tear my h/h apart and then find the glue that promises their HEA. Marcia

    • Marcia, I'm so glad you like the posts & classes -- and you're sure not alone in finding Plotting to be the hardest part. Creating conflict for characters you love can be a really hard thing to do, because most of us hate to see the people we love suffering...so it sound like a few more worksheets might help you get over that hurdle.

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  25. carrienichols says:

    Laurie, as always a wonderful and thought provoking post! I have read extensively in my genre (romance) so I know the expectations and I love creating characters. They come to me and tell all about themselves only to disappear when it comes time to plot out a story for them. I've taken a lot of classes, including yours, and am slowly getting better at plotting. And braiding is what I have to do since I don't write linear. Your classes have helped me become a published author. Thank you!

    • Carrie, you've come SO far in your writing -- it's been a treat to watch. And you're a great example of a non-linear writer who always winds up getting the strands together in the end...if it weren't for that pesky plot thread, just THINK how much easier (but how much less satisfying in the end) the whole process would be!

  26. Anna says:

    Laurie, although it would be wonderful to win the class, I have already learned so much from this column. My first novel is mostly in my head, and some opening scenes are actually on paper (unbelievable!) -- about 20 pages. As for genre, a writing buddy has called it literary, but I call it mainstream. I started with a premise, added some characters (one borrowed from an earlier short story that never satisfied me), and sketched out the plot. I think I am paying too much attention to plot and need to know my characters better so they will speak and act in plausible ways, and let the plot go from there. I know what happens at the end, but not the emotional reasons for it and the effect on the characters.

    • Anna, coming in after the fact, I’m impressed at how well you summarized the above post below (where I posted a longer answer). And I like your later addition of why it’s so important to know the characters better…you totally nailed that. 🙂

  27. Leslie Ann Sartor says:

    I thought after 7 books that it would be intuitive by now to have the 3 strands be of equal weight, but as I read your post and the reread it, I realized that is what I’m missing from my first draft! And while I use your other tools regularly in preparing the story, this is not part of my toolbox...yet. Thanks for shedding light on this missing piece of my story creation.

    • Leslie, I'm sorry I missed responding to your post earlier -- it's staggering how many things floated past the radar! But I love that you have a potential new tool for your box...and it'll be cool to see the results of how it works the first (or first few) times you use it.

  28. Nan McNamara says:

    Hi Laurie, thank you for this great post. Such a clear overview of each genre. I’m going to bookmark it for reference and use as a checklist to remind myself of the writing path ahead! Thanks again.

    • Nan, it's always handy to have a checklist when embarking on a new project -- some people might think of it as a crutch, but I think of it as a very useful tool. It seems like most of our lives, we try out new tools here & there and gradually stock a toolbox that works in most situations...but occasionally need to throw out an old one that rarely gets used and pick up something new, which is always a fun process. And sometimes shiny. 🙂

  29. Heather Jackson says:

    Creating characters to go with plot is the easy part. Deciding which genre to emphasize so that's it's a recognizable strand of the braid is harder. My current WIP for example could be a sci-fi with romantic elements (the current way I'm playing it), but with a change in emphasis could just as easily be a sci-fi romance. The romance is essential to the story, so it has to stay, but how much airtime it gets can change the genre. It's part of the reason I had such a hard time deciding what to call it. I almost feel like my story has four strands to the braid since the sci-fi and romance seem to each have their own strand.

    Is it possible that stories that cross genres might be more like mine with more than one genre strand?

    • faerowen says:

      I understand your dilemma, Heather. As a science fiction with romance author, I’ve had trouble explaining where my books should be placed on shelves. I’ve settled with science fiction, since most of my standing-in-front-of-shelved research showed me it was rare to find an SF book in the romance section.

    • Heather, it's sure possible to have a genre strand containing two different genres -- we could say that about Harry Potter combining paranormal with coming of age, or Hunger Games combining dystopian with YA, or all kinds of other great books. (As well as some not-so-great whose titles we'll never know.) Such books are harder to market, but when they catch readers' attention they can become superstars because there aren't many others like 'em out there!

  30. faerowen says:

    What a great craft post, Laurie! Thanks for sharing this technique

    • Fae, you’re very welcome — and you’ve done a great job of determining which genre to go with; there’s nothing like studying the book actually SELLING to see which placement will give you the best chance for reaching readers. 🙂

  31. Laurel Greer says:

    Romance promises are WHY I read romance - I love those moments so much. And when each of the romance promises (other than the happy ending) deepen the conflict and cause problems for the characters, it makes for a spectacular read. I learned a ton from this class when I took it.

    • Laurel, I'm trying to remember which book you were on when you took the class -- but I sure remember how much I've enjoyed watching your series unfold! And a big part of that is how well you deliver on the romance promises...because you're right, those are the core reason most of us romance readers love the genre.

  32. Lois Dyer says:

    What a great post, Laurie - and it comes at the perfect time as I'm participating in a plotting group meeting next week. Thanks!

    • Lois, what a fun meeting that’ll be! I wish I could be a fly on the wall; your group always sounds SO entertaining…and I love the idea that one of these days (okay, maybe more like months) I’ll get to read at least some of the results.

  33. Denise Barker says:

    Great post. Love Laurie's classes and this article is wonderful, finding that "it" factor for our books. Thanks, Laurie.

    • Denise, thanks for the endorsement! And I like your description of the “it” factor — that really nails the premise, and in a much quicker way than anything I’ve come up with. Now I’ll have a handy new phrase to use in class. 🙂

  34. Anna says:

    My comment this morning never made it through, so I'm trying again in an attempt to win. My first novel started with a premise, acquired some characters, and is still mostly in my head although I have managed to produce a few dozen pages, to my astonishment. As for genre, a writing buddy has called it literary, but I think it's more mainstream. I've sketched out the plot and know the ending, but I need to know the characters better so the narrative will be compelling and the ending plausible and satisfying.

    • Anna, good for you on having started the process of moving your novel from your head to paper…that’s an enormous first step. And you and your writing buddy can both be right; there’s not always a big difference between mainstream and literary (except mainstream tends to sell better). Since that genre gives you the most freedom, you’re smart to be focusing now on how your characters affect the plot as well as how they’re affected by it — good luck with the next steps in your book!

  35. Hi Laurie,
    For me it's all about the characters. They feed the plot and determine the setting. Not sure my braids are always even, maybe closer to lopsided (like me!) but I heard practice makes perfect, so I'm working on it 🙂

    • Jacquie, it's totally okay if a braid isn't even -- readers love all kinds! My favorite example is the James Bond books, where we don't really see much in the way of character development but see fabulous plot twists & turns to satisfy action-adventure genre fans. Those braids aren't evenly balanced, but nobody objects. But if you DO want an even braid, you're already right on track with the practice-makes-perfect work. 🙂

  36. Meg says:

    It's fascinating how much of your explanation can apply to nonfiction as well. I tend to write for, and about, a specific genre of people, rather than specific content, usually determined by who's paying me, and/or what interests me at the time. So character and genre are pre-determined, and plot is...well, challenging. There's a problem, and steps toward a solution, and the challenge: hope for the future.

    • Meg, I like your practicality in choosing a genre that’ll satisfy who’s paying you — writers who don’t take that into consideration might find great creative satisfaction but have a harder time finding financial satisfaction. 🙂 So all that’s left to address is the plot, and it sounds like your outline of problem / steps / hope is a process that suits your genre perfectly.

  37. Catherine Holliss says:

    Hi Laurie -- is it crazy to say that I struggle with all three? Or perhaps I could reframe that and say that I love the chase of trying to nail down all three strands. (Genre might be the easiest but since I am working in Paranormal Romance I find myself both trying to satisfy reader expectations while adding in enough meat that the world is fun and fresh, does that make sense?) In my present WiP I have been working on one strand only to find it impact and shift the next -- so that has been an interesting journey. Every time I think I have it nailed, I take a slightly closer look, say, at character and find the plot has to reweave. It has been fun. Since I am working on a trilogy I am also thinking it might be important to take your braiding class to begin to shape the second book -- as that could impact the plotting of the first, if trends hold.

    • Cath, you raised a great point about the importance of satisfying reader expectations while ALSO giving them something fun and fresh! That makes an enormous difference in how much they’ll love any book or series, and it’s why publishers so often say “we want new twists on classic favorites.” You’re right, too, in thinking that having a plan for the second book before completing the first is a handy thing — no point boxing yourself in when you’ve got the opportunity to figure out the whole trilogy at once!

  38. dholcomb1 says:

    I hope I'm braiding correctly

    denise

    • Denise, as long as your readers are happy with the balance of plot material, character material and genre material in your book, you absolutely ARE braiding correctly! But if you're not sure from their comments whether that's the case, it can be handy to look at how you integrate the items in each strand.

  39. Anna says:

    Something is weird. I left a comment this morning. It got lost, so I left a similar one again. Then I saw that both comments (with full text) were awaiting moderation. Now both of them are gone. Have I been voted off the island? I did not say anything remotely offensive in either comment. I give up!

    • Oh, Anna, I get your frustration -- it’s so awful to find things not working! Friends were emailing me that they’d posted and nothing appeared, and since commenters normally expect to get word of a response within a reasonable time frame, I hated thinking other people might imagine “hmph, this blogger doesn’t care about replying.” I’m hoping everyone will read the Perfect Storm explanation up top, but suspect some will just decide “Laurie Schnebly is a jerk.” Aaaack!

  40. Janet Ch says:

    Hi Laurie,
    I find creating characters most enjoyable and use that to create the plot. but I struggle with those type of short category romance novels that have all the focus on the hero and heroine hardly any external plot---- because when I try to analyze the successful ones it's so hard to spot the turning points when they are all emotional! (I wish the stories would go back to having a bit more plot like they used to.Sometimes the books read like one long conversation.)

    • Janet, I wonder if you might rather be writing short category romances that have a BIT more external plot? It seems like the action / emotion ratios are always swinging back and forth, and if you wind up writing more plot than is currently popular, you'll be in great demand once the pendulum swings back that way!

  41. I read literary and genre fiction (primarily mystery and historical romance.) I was a literature major. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that genre writers have an edge on "literary" writers when it comes to consistent quality. With few exceptions most literary writers, included Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners only seem to be able to produce 2 or 3 works of top quality. The remainder of their works are of lesser quality and some are downright awful. And yes, this includes Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. On the other hand, top notch genre writers generally are able to produce many books of excellent quality. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps the discipline of the requirements described above helps keep the genre writer on track.

    • Ruchama, what a fascinating idea! I like the premise that meeting genre requirements makes it easier for writers to keep producing quality fiction over the long haul — and that’s sure an empowering premise for anyone who worries that genre fiction isn’t as “good” as literary fiction. I’m going to remember this for future classes; thank you!

  42. Susan Stone says:

    A character takes hold of me and won't let go. She (sometimes he) talks to me, and fusses or even yells at me when she (he) doesn't agree with what I'm saying. The plot, which may be sketchy at the beginning, slowly evolves from what this character tells me. Genre is easier; historical settings, literary with romance and/or mystery, interest me the most. The process is both painful and exhilarating.

    • Susan, what a great description -- "painful and exhilarating" sums up the writing experience beautifully, at least some of the time, for just about every writer on earth. It sounds like genre details come pretty naturally once you've chosen the best setting for a particular story, while there's ALWAYS the question of whether to pay more attention to the romance or mystery or both.

  43. Luna Joya says:

    Laurie! I came here before class today because some of my favorite people hang out here and I found you. Guess I need to go check on the Alpha Females next. Thank you for all your help these two weeks and now for the braid analogy. I got a bit sentimental just reading the romance genre req's. Always been my catnip. (Amanda) Luna Joya

  44. Amanda, what fun to see you in two separate venues today -- don't you love what a small world the writing community is? And your description of the romance genre as catnip is priceless...gotta appreciate something that can make so many readers so happy so consistently. 🙂

  45. Hi Laurie, great post! I’m sure it won’t surprise you to hear that character is my strongest strand, and plotting my weakest (which is why your PvM classes are such a godsend!). As a category author my readers have very specific expectations, so the genre strand is hugely important and I have to make sure I deliver on every aspect. Plenty of pressure, but lots of fun too! 🙂

    • Ange, you're right that I'm not surprised -- but I love how you've kept your strong strands in place while building up the weaker one. There's a lot to be said for knowing exactly what your readers expect, which is probably more true in category than any other genre thanks to lines for each type of preference...and that sure DOES make it fun.

  46. awordgeek says:

    Laurie: For me, writing my story is the easiest, if any part of writing a book is easy, which is debatable. But the hardest part is the plotting, because of the myriad of details inherent in mysteries. A good one has to have all the normal plot structures plus the red herrings (hidden fairly well, but not TOO well), the steps of the investigation, and the solving of the puzzle. It's a lot of detail and continuity to keep track of. The characters are the second easiest, as for some reason while I write my brain and heart kick in to create composites of people I've known throughout my life and aspects of myself. It happens with some of the plotting, too, in that I find sometimes long-forgotten events in my life pop in and weave themselves into my plot right where I'm missing something. But then again, sometimes, they don't, and I'm back to the lack of continuity thing!

    • Sarah, your line about “if any part of writing a book is easy, which is debatable” made me smile — I’ll bet every writer in the world has thought that more than once. And you’re right about the details inherent in mysteries; I’m always amazed by writers who can keep track of those without a giant spreadsheet. And when they’re also juggling elements of romance, like you are, the task gets even more mind-boggling. Whew!

  47. Laurie Adams says:

    I love to delve into the plot, but I also like to see how the characters are affected by their surroundings and circumstances. It’s a kind of braiding that way, because thry’re Woven together, and if you do it right, the reader doesn’t see the different parts. Great blog!

  48. Laurie Adams says:

    Sorry about the typos. I was on my phone. 😳

    • Laurie, I'm impressed at the quality of your typing while on the phone -- that's a much better job than I could do! And I like your observation about how the reader doesn't even notice the different parts in a well-woven braid...all they come away with is a feeling that this story WORKED for them. For a reader, it's hard to think of any greater experience.

  49. Great post. I find creating characters easier in the pre-writing stage than figuring out the plot elements. But often once I get going, the plot does take over. Genre expectations are there in my mind, but I'm not sure I give them enough weight.

  50. I always start with a general idea for characters and their personalities become refined as I plunk them into the plot. Until today I hadn't consciously thought of genre expectations. Now, I'll go back into my work-in-progress and make sure those elements are present. Interesting blog.

    • Linda, I’m betting once you have genre expectations in the forefront of your mind — even if only in the pre-writing stage — it’ll be a lot easier to make sure they’re worked into the story. And just going back through your work in progress, a single scan will very likely be enough to show whether you need to add anything and if so, where. 🙂

  51. ebedigian says:

    Hi Laurie,
    As usual, this post is a lively read, and so are the comments! I'm just another planster--who knew there were so many. I'm trying something new--for me. By first creating a logline and Blurb, I had to first so some THINKING before diving into writing my story. (Big-time Pantser here!) But now, I have a fairly decent roadmap to keep me on track while I write. Learning to braid the three strands was worth the struggle--and it was a struggle for me, though well-worth it. Your classes always are. Thanks for that, and for the many other lessons I learned through your patient teaching.

    • Elaine, you're so right about the comments -- isn't it amazing watching how well writers can put thoughts into words? (I suspect blogs about mechanical engineering aren't nearly as entertaining.) Good for you on going through that process of creating the longline and blurb before starting your braid...and I'm glad you still feel like the struggle was worth it. 🙂

  52. tnturner10 says:

    Hi Laurie

    Always so much to consider in your posts. Love how the braided plot concept enriches the story by showing the multiple changes that occur for my heroine as she falls in love and becomes empowered. This is so helpful for women's fiction.

    Thanks Tracey

    • Tracey, your braids always have those extra threads in the genre strand which make women's fiction so rich...there are all these fascinating undercurrents in addition to the main plot & character strands, even when falling in love is a major factor in the overall story. And the exotic (to most readers) setting is like frosting on the cake!

  53. JUST WAITING FOR A FEW MORE POSTS which various people mentioned leaving yesterday but which haven't yet made it through the moderation process...I don't want to do the prize drawing until I know how many virtual slips to feed into random-dot-org.

    But I'll check back tonight (after a day with my mentee and dinner with college friends who gather three times a year) and, even though the official announcement won't appear until Monday, I'll alert the class winner privately!

  54. Regan Walker says:

    It would be characters for me. Plot is a challenge since I don't plot (many of my readers think I do, judging by their reviews). Weaving the three together, braiding those "strands" is a new way of looking at it!

    • Regan, it's so cool that your characters write their own plot smoothly enough that reviewers think YOU did it -- gotta love it when they know their job so well. 🙂 And I'm so sorry I didn't see your post until Sunday afternoon; somehow I thought I'd answered 'em all this morning and was startled at a new one in the box...here's a long-overdue thanks for stopping by!

  55. I'm so sorry it's been an offline day! Replies are coming tomorrow for Anna, Beth, Cath, Denise, Fae, Hermina, Leslie, Linda, Lois, Meg, Roz, Ruchama, Sandra, Sarah, Steph and anyone else whose post didn't appear yesterday.

    But I did feed all the names into random-dot-org, which announced that the free Braiding Your Book class at WriterUniv-dot-com goes to #18, Laurie Wood. Congratulations, Laurie, and email me directly at Book Laurie gmail com for the details of getting you on board.

    Now, back to the college-friends dinner and I promise, tomorrow after church will be totally free so I'll reply to everyone I missed...sorry for the delay!

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