This month I’ll be presenting at my first writer’s conference! And have to admit, I’m a bit nervous.



I’m teaching a breakout season on plotting, which is definitely my favorite part of the writing process.

Below is the outline and talking notes for my class.

Click here for the PowerPoint Plotting Is Fun!

Syllabus: Plotting is Fun! How to keep your story from getting hung up somewhere between 300 pages of eloquently worded sentences and what might very well be the next Great American novel.

Plotting is fun! In fact, I think plotting so much fun, if there were a Chinese character for it, I would have it tattooed on my body somewhere. Except that I hate needles and anything that’s permanent, so . . . And because I think plotting is so much fun, I often have other writers come to me with plot dilemmas to which I find myself offering the very same advice, over and over again.

You’re making it too hard. Too complicated.

Obviously, we want our stories to have twists and turns, to make our readers ooh and ahh over the genius of what they never saw coming. But the genius doesn’t come in the intricacy of how we get from one twist to the next turn. That part, we need to make simple. When we ask ourselves, what is the easiest way to get from this twist to that turn? Miraculously, all our troubles just drift away.

Let’s give it a try. Do it right now. Think about a place in your story where the plot is hanging up (better known as the dreaded “writer’s block”). Now think about the simplest way you can get your character from where he or she is right now to where you want them to be.

Too simple, you say. My readers will get bored, you say. Not true. Isn’t it true that we can be doing the most fun thing in the world (a wedding, a trip to the beach, a party, Disney) but the minute we make it complicated, the less fun it becomes?

It’s the same with writing.

The wow factor for our readers comes in our delightfully quirky characters, our snappy dialogue and our concise but eloquent descriptions.

That’s what we are going to focus on today. Keeping it simple so it can be fun.

Discovery Writer or Meticulous Outliner. Every writer must plot.

Meticulous Outliner: The Meticulous Outliner lays their entire story out ahead of time. They plan all the pitfalls their characters will fall into and determine which chapter that will best happen in. They research and know all the intricate details of whatever it is they need to know intricate details on.

Discovery Writer: Takes a fly-by-night approach to writing. Sit down in front of the keyboard, set your fingers on the keys, close your eyes and just let the story flow down from your brain, out your fingers and on into the computer.

I like to think of myself as more of a hybrid. I outline in order to have an idea of where my story is going so I’ll have an idea of how long it will take me to get there. If the book has a time line—say I want to story to wrap up by Christmas—I need to plan so I know what month I’m in. Are there leaves falling? Is it cold? Etc. But not much more than that. Then I like to just let it flow. Sometimes the story takes me in a direction I hadn’t anticipated and I have to go back and re-outline, which is no big deal. Allowing the creativity to flow is more fun and more important than being bothered by occasionally having to re-plot.

First: Every great story is made up of a set of compelling chapters.

Four basics that every chapter needs:


bookI typed up my notes from the May writer’s conference I attended and thought y’all might be interested to share in the great advice I received from editors and fellow writers.

Revising Beyond the First Draft

  1. Print the Manuscript and Read Aloud

Search for Plot Holes

Timeline Problems

Characterization Details

Feedback from Beta Readers

  1. Analyze

Outline Again

Cut. Is this Scene/Chapter worth $300,000?

Does each chapter move the plot forward? Add tension id needed.

Enrich Characters

Provide Necessary Information

  1. Search for Pet Words

Quickly. Small. Little. Groan. Walked. Sigh. And. Was. Just. So. Then. Very.

  1. Search for Words that are NOT Necessary

That. Adverbs. Character Names.

  1. Use Search Tools such as Scribner and to track over used words.

Suspense Cycle

First Chapter: Reader is thrust into the plot line.

  1. Start novel in the middle of the first chapter
  2. Minimum amount of information engage the reader.
  3. Brief introduction to characters (Reader should never have to ask: Why do I care?).
  4. Inciting incident within the first five pages. Better within the first three.
  5. Character should be moved to action.
  6. Hook embedded in the reader. Once hooked, no escape.
  7. Chapter ends in cliffhanger.

Meat of Plotting/7 Point Plot System (**This can be used as an Outline for Synopsis)

  1. Hook: Starting State.
  2. Plot Turn 1: Introduce the conflict, meet new people and discover new conflicts.
  3. Pinch 1: Apply Pressure. Introduce villain. Something goes wrong. Forced into action.
  4. Mid-Point: Characters begin moving from one state to another.
  5. Pinch 2: Apply more pressure until the situation seems hopeless/situation can’t get worse.
  6. Plot Turn 2: Move the story from mid-point to end.
  7. Resolution: Everything leads to this point.

Important Elements for Suspense

  1. What is at stake? Does this come to mind easily or do you have to think about it? Psychological as well as physical.
  2. Create Questions your Readers want answered.
  3. Foreshadowing: Hint but throw in a twist.
  4. Suspend Disbelief.
  5. Hard Choices with gray area. Decide between two equally good/bad choices.
  6. Create a hero/heroine who deserves to be called a hero.

book editing


Big Picture

  1. Can I Combine Scenes?
  2. Pacing

Mid-Picture: Scene Level

  1. One sentence test. Can you describe a scene in one sentence?
  2. Is there action? Internal/External.
  3. How many characters are on stage?

Sentence Level

  1. Keep it simple.
  2. Don’t show and tell at the same time.
  3. Specificity. Strong Nouns. Strong Verbs. Strong Adjectives. Don’t use long strings of any.
  4. Cut Down. How can you say it in one word? Just use verbs. Get rid of: that, the, of, would, etc.
  5. Duh Sensory. Sniffed with his nose. Wore a big grin on her face.
  6. Watch for Adverbs. Cut 90%. Look for “was,” cut and reword.
  7. Qualifying Absolutes: unique, essential, fatal, perfect, true, big, small, etc.

Punctuation Matters

  1. Comma: If addressing a human being always use a comma before his/her name. Who or what is doing the action.
  2. No Comma: simultaneous actions that can’t be done at the same time. Example: Lighting a candle, she settled beneath the covers=dangerous.
  3. Cut Out: there are/there were/there is. There was nothing in her personality that hinted…
  4. Preposition and Prepositional Phrases: location or direction. She climbed up out of the box. She sat back down onto the chair. Looked back down at his hands.

Garbage Words: very, really, a bit, immediately, suddenly, any, well, just.

Malapropos: Wrong Word/Wrong Form.

Define It/Define That/Define This: Be Specific.

Using The/A

  1. The=implies an item we already know about.
  2. A=implies a generic item.

Comma Splices: Can Both Parts be Independent?

  1. Make two sentences.
  2. Use a conjunction (and, for, not, yet, but, so).
  3. “Then” is not a fix. Have to use “and then.”
  4. “Then” can be used if not connecting two independent clauses.
  5. Semicolon for closely related ideas. I’m not a poet: I cant’ write a love letter.


  1. That=specific or needed.
  2. Which=after thought/additional information.

A Seasonal Message

This post was taken from my first published online magazine article:  They made a few changes to make it more denominational neutral. But I like my original version better.

In a nation of Christians, many of whom are avidly engaged in preserving this country’s Christian heritage, why do we often feel so desperate during the holidays to invent creative ways of feeling closer to Christ? It’s almost as if the sudden appearance of twinkling evergreen boughs, brightly wrapped packages and a jolly, present-wielding elf suddenly clutters the mind, veiling from our hearts the “reason for the season.”

As Christians we believe that having faith in Christ will free us from the worries of this earthly existence. Through His sacrifice we can find peace. So during the season when we celebrate the Savior’s birth, why do we feel the most exhausted, troubled, and find ourselves searching aimlessly for the one eternal being we wish to celebrate?


Every now and then I’ll hear a writer—generally an unpublished author—say that plotting is his/her least favorite part about writing a novel. Okay first of all, “novel” and “plot” are nearly synonymous. Without a plot, there is no novel, no story. So technically, if a writer doesn’t like to “plot,” said writer probably shouldn’t be wasting his/her time writing a novel. In my opinion, just because a person enjoys writing doesn’t mean he/she must become a novelist. There are so many other ways one can express his/her self through the written word—columns, editorials, poetry, blogging, etc.

And second, maybe the reason so many writers have a hard time plotting is because we as a society have become too dependent on technology doing our thinking for us. We don’t memorize phone numbers any more because all of our contacts are stored in our cell phones. We don’t have to think about how to spell because Word and even our phones do that for us as well. I’m showing my age here but I remember when telephones still had party-lines and TVs were black and white. *Gasp* Viewers had to actually get up and turn a knob to change channels. (Currently, I don’t even know where the on and off switch is on my TV much less how to change channels without the remote.) And when I started college, students were still using typewriters for term papers and libraries to do research. Ah, I do miss the days of riffling through the card catalog . . .


A little while back I was lamenting with a fellow writer over my frustration with publishing. I’d finally finished my fourth manuscript, a project that had taken me nearly eighteen months to complete, and had just been rejected by my publisher. My editor had said that the manuscript was too long and too slow and in her words, “not quite ready yet.” And after taking another close look at the manuscript, I had to agree. Then the next day, I received word that I was a finalist for a Whitney Award, which somehow only made things worse.

But then what could I expect. Throughout the time it had taken me to write the latest manuscript my life had taken a few dramatic turns including my husband’s serious motorcycle accent. Also during this time, I’d released three novels that included editing and promotions, one right after the other. With all of that going on it was a miracle, I know, that I was even able to complete a fourth manuscript. And probably explains why I’d overwritten it by approximately 50,000 words. You heard me, 50,000. Yes that’s right, in essence, practically another whole novel. Then after cutting as much as I’d thought I could, I’d sent it to my editor and the rest is, as they say, history.

Consequently, there I was, three novels under my belt, exhausted, rejected and wondering if all my angst was worth it. And my friend, Melina, being encouraging, had said, “But look what all you’ve accomplished. There are thousands of people out there with dreams of being published who would kill to be where you are right now.”

And so then I started  wondering, why is that? Why are there thousands of folks with dreams of being published?