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I got some wonderful responses from everyone about my 8,000 words a day experiment. But now I have a big problem. All I want to do is play with my new toy, this huge, unwieldy mass of creative stuff. There are characters I never heard of, I have to find out what the hell they were doing in that scene, who sent them there, and what do they want?

There are locations to figure out and how characters got there, what is the overall timeline and how is the murderer going to get away with this? I have my big, I mean big, 18 inch by 24 inch sketchbook where I’m working out the main plot line. As it is a murder mystery, not only do I have to work out the sleuth’s timeline and how and where she picks up the clues she needs to solve the puzzle, I also need to know what the pesky murderer is doing to cover his tracks once the body has been found. There are also backstory elements and several other “antagonists” in the sleuth’s life and working out all of their subplots.

plotting and scheming in diagram form

And, just for fun, this weekend I attended the Solo Workshop conducted by the amazing Mark W. Travis. This workshop is designed for writers who wish to shape stories from their own lives into what could become an autobiographical one-person show. Mark has been traveling to Hawaii and teaches this workshop once a year. I was fortunate enough to take the first workshop that he offered here back in 2001. He has been one of the most important influences on my writing career. Although he main area of expertise is as a feature film director, he has a unique insight into the storytelling process. If you are ever able to attend any of his workshops, run, I tell you run out and sign up. You won’t regret it.

Mark W. Travis and Me

One lesson that he has taught over the years, which I learned back in 2001, but finally understood this year (yeah, I’m a slow learner) is what I think becomes the trap for many writers who use outlines to create complex plots, such as mystery writers. You create a plot line, knowing what has to be accomplished in each scene. Say for instance, you have a scene where your sleuth is going to interview a possible suspect. In your big picture, you know that this suspect didn’t do it, but that he has a key piece of information that the sleuth needs.

Now, you might have envisioned the scene, you’ve picked a setting, a place the sleuth doesn’t know, so the sleuth is already on edge, and meeting someone she’s never met before, so there is potential for conflict. And you’ve figured out that particular nugget of information that the sleuth is going to weasel out of this low-life. But here’s the thing, if you are writing in first person, or in limited third person, all from the sleuth’s point of view, she really doesn’t know how the scene will turn out. She’s in the middle of it. Where as you, the author, you do know. The trick now becomes, how to capture that unease and doubt within the point of view character, if you can do that well, you’ve just added another layer of tension, what Donald Maass in his books describes as micro-tension. One second, she could feel really confident that she’ll get what she wants, but in the next second, she could be thrown by what the other character says, and she experiences a new emotion, while still trying to show to the suspect that she has her act together.

And it’s that back and forth between the two characters and within the point of view character that creates the tension that as readers we love. That is the push and pull, the emotional highs and lows we crave in good writing. We want to be there, in the scene, as it unfolds, feeling all of those emotions with our hero.

For some of you, this may sound like “well duh” of course that’s what you need to do. But I know myself, when I am the all-seeing-all-knowing author mode it is easy for me to forget what it is like to be the naive character that is experiencing something for the first time.

Does this make any sense to you? Please let me know. I realize there is a great debate between “outliners” and “pantserts” so I’d like to hear from all camps. The more the merrier. Thanks again for stopping by, you are the best!