Creating Fresh Plot Lines by Renee Bernard

Today I’m thrilled to host a friend of mind, bestselling author Renee Bernard. I first met Renee back in 2007 when she gave me an interview for TIME TO WRITE.  She gave some great advice for the book and in her blog post today, she gives great advice again, this time on how to create interesting and fun plot lines!

One lucky commenter or questioner will win a free audio copy of A Lady’s Pleasure!

Creating Fresh Plot Lines

By Renee Bernard

Hello, all!  I know the smart guest blogger leads right off into telling about her latest and providing juicy hints on her next big release…but when Kelly said we could talk craft, I’m going to admit, I was amped.  Then I was nervous.  Because let’s face it, I think I could be decades into this journey and still see myself as more of a student than a teacher.

But I wanted to share the latest battle of the page as I like to call them on the off chance that it might help someone else with theirs.  There’s a lot of advice out there aimed at character development which is always fun but today, let’s crack at plot lines.  Because to be honest, I think it’s where a lot of less experienced writers struggle.  That sexy hero comes to them in complete perfection and they can describe him down to his toes…but then he gets plunked into a story line that—well—is lacking.

A good rule of thumb is that if someone can see where it’s going, then you need to change directions.  Here’s a fun game to play with a Very Trusted Critique Partner.  Ask them to listen to your “pitch” or a brief description of your plot.  If at any point they think they know what’s going to happen, they raise their hand.  If they’re wrong, you get to keep telling them the story.  If they’re right, and if they’re right repeatedly, and if they can see how you’re going to solve that big problem and achieve that HEA before you tell them, then take a deep breath and get ready to work it out with a re-write.

The last thing you want to put your name on is a story that is like the movie we’ve all been to, where in the first ten minutes, you know exactly what’s going to happen, few surprises, etc.  (Remember?  That movie where when you got up to go to the bathroom, you were really confident that you weren’t going to miss anything because there wasn’t anything to miss?)

This is Romance, we’re talking about.  Every reader expects the boy to get the girl, lose the girl and then get the girl.  We all have a fairly firm idea about what an HEA looks like and as a result, we can generally see them coming.  If you let us!

Try not to let us.

Twist it.  Turn it.  Get creative.  And when in doubt, let your characters point you in the right direction.  After all, if you’ve got a villain in the mix, then let them give you some ideas of what a really good villain can do to ruin a hero’s day.  Make sure your obstacles are substantial and when possible, as tightly connected to your main characters as you can manage.  Turn the plot upside down and shake it.  See what falls out and what sticks.  Ask your secondary characters how it appears from their vantage point and see if they can’t make it more interesting for you.

(I’m sorry.  Is it becoming a little too apparent that I have a lot of people in my head that I *gulp* talk to?)

Don’t be afraid.  Readers want you to surprise them.  Remember.  You aren’t fast food cranking out the same meal every time.  Every book is a feast to make us widen our eyes when we say, “Wow! I did NOT see that coming!”

But let’s open it up.  Any questions?  Seriously.  Any.  Even if it isn’t about plotting, I’m shamelessly thrilled to answer any and all questions you might have about writing, publishing, how to negotiate with the voices in your head so you can finish a book on time, you name it!

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4 Responses to Creating Fresh Plot Lines by Renee Bernard

  1. Hi Renee!

    Thanks so much for being with us today! I know my readers will have lots of questions for you.

    I like the idea of making sure the plot is unpredictable- I definitely enjoy books and movies so much more when I’m surprised. One problem I sometimes have is making the characters “comply” with my idea of the plot- characters often have their own ideas of how things should work out. How do you balance the two?


    • Great question! Kelly, if characters are digging in their heels, they tend to win. And they win for a very good reason. For example, if you’ve described a character as witty and brilliant but you need them to just “forget” a key clue or miss something to further the plot, they’ll refuse. Why? Because they are witty and brilliant and YOU said so and why would they suddenly not be those things?! If there’s pushback, I tend to take about three steps off, look at the board from their perspective and then ask “Can I achieve my goal another way? Can I get to that destination without making this step that my hero/heroine isn’t interested in taking?” The answer is usually, yes.

      The good news is that if a character is giving you grief about a plot point, then you probably have created a really good, realistic character. So don’t get mad at them. Use the debate to your advantage.

      And let them win. They’ll always make it a better story. I promise. :-)

  2. Judith Laik says:

    Good post, Renee. I think one reason for so many predictable plots is that sometimes as writers, we’re strapped for any plot. As you said above, those characters come to us fully formed, but they don’t usually tell us too much about their story. We’re so grateful just to think of something to say about them that we don’t look any deeper. But we know when something’s wrong there, too. We find ourselves forcing our characters to go through the motions, but they’ve lost their spark — what made them so alive and so real in the author’s mind. Then you have to sit back and say, ok, you tell me, what do you want to do? (to the characters.) The answers can be surprising!

    • Yup! You have it, Judith! One of the best tricks of the trade is to look at that great character and focus on what would give them the most grief…what would challenge this person? What would break them? What would drive them mad? And then, because there is a streak of cruel in every author, you build that into their love interest. I mean, truly, you hardwire it in. Now you have more than just “oh, she’s attractive!” in the soup. Now, you’ve made sure that he cannot survive, be happy, get what he needs without going through her/hurting her/keeping her in hand, etc. ((whatever the dynamic of your plot))

      Don’t make that a choice for the characters. THEN it’s fun. (for example: Hero hates villain. Doesn’t know villain’s identity. Meets beautiful woman who makes his blood heat up. And then finds out that she is the younger sister of the villain he has Vowed to Murder. yikes!)

      See? The conflict is the characters. Half your plotting battle is not only done, but the best fireworks are built right in! Ta da!

      I will say, I have a few too many crazy plots in my head at all times, so it’s the opposite problem. LOL