Plotting with Amy Laurens and Liana Brooks – Part 3 The Plot Session

FROM LIANA: Grab some popcorn, a really big glass of water, and something to take notes with. This is not a quick plotting session, mostly because this was Amy’s original NaNo novel and a lot of scenes existed just to make word count. There were beats missing, motivations missing, villains missing. And we could have done this on any of my novels too, we just happened to have Amy’s nearby and it made a handy sacrifice to the cruelty of the world.

Today, the climax this has all been building towards. A couple of weeks ago I was super excited to able to visit Liana in Alaska (!!!!), and while I was there, Much Plotting Occurred. We plotted 6 novel/las that week, I think, mostly mine, and plotting so many stories in such a short space of time was *really* beneficial for my plotting skills. As well as the simple repetition of skills, it was also amazing to stick everything up on post-it notes on the wall and conceptualise the whole plot at once. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a handy door/wall/vertical space to stick post-it notes on for extended periods of time (since my writing time is extremely sporadic during the school term) and so I’d fallen out of the habit.

Anyway, we were fifteenÊminutes into replotting How Not To Take Over The World (officially abbreviated to HNOT) when we realised that we were actually covering A LOT of stuff that would be really useful to other writers – so we stopped, set up the computer, and filmed the whole session for you 😀 It’s totally uncut (except the brief pause in the middle where we stopped to get water and snacks) and live and messy and glorious and we’re both in our pyjamas looking TOTALLY UNGLAMOROUS, but if you can deal with that, there is some really useful plotting information here. Plus, weird accents. Yay! 😀

Have fun!


Do You Need An Editor?


Every book is unique, and to keep the unique voice and dream of the book alive, you need a content editor who can catch the vision. A line editor is perfect for finding typos, but before that can happen, you need a content editor. You need someone who can fix the pacing, repair the plot holes, and do it all while keeping your dream alive.

Between now and November 1st I’m booking new editing clients for the months of November, December, and January. I edit sci-fi, urban fantasy, fantasy, crime fiction, and romance (all genres except erotica). For a dollar per page you get not just feedback, but an editing letter that will help your writing skills grow so you can build the career you want.

Spaces are limited, so reserve your editing spot today! liana.brooks1 @ gmail

Submission Packet Critique (synopsis, query, and first 5 pages) $25
First Chapter (up to 20 pages)  $50.00
First Three Chapters (up to 50 pages) $100.00
Entire Manuscript Critique $1.00 a page minimum of 200 pages.
Emergency Fee to Jump the Queue  $50
* all page counts are double-spaced, Times New Roman, size 12 font, formatted for Microsoft Word *

Plotting with Amy Laurens and Liana Brooks – Part 2 Beat Sheets

dust-it-off-white-swanFROM LIANA:
The instinct of a new writer is push back against the tried-and-true, and this is especially true with beats. I think there’s something hardwired into new authors that makes us want to try and break a genre by doing something new and radical. What we forget (or don’t know yet) is that each genre has their own music.

The readers are coming to the genre looking for a familiar melody, a familiar rhythm, and if you don’t hit the beats in the story right, the music is ruined.

But it’s hard to hit the beats of a story correctly, especially for new writers, and especially if you are a new writer who is pantsing a story. Trust me. That’s where I was in 2005 when I started writing fiction seriously. I was not born with a gift for hitting beats. Even after years of writing I make mis-steps. That’s why authors edit.

And it’s also why I took up plotting the basics of a story before writing.

Okay, so, yesterday I confessed to you my secret nightmare as a writer: structure. Not because I resent being constrained by arbitrary rules or whatever, but because actually, after reading a crap-tonne of new-writer stories in the last ten years, I have a healthy appreciation for a well-structured story and I’m *just* *not* *GOOD* at it myself. Which, URGH. I’m an English teacher and a writer and I have *experience* with these things and I read a lot and I know what good structure looks like, so why, why, WHY is this whole structure/plotting/pacing thing not more intuitive for me? Seriously?! Gnurgh.

Anyway. The turning point for me was the discovery of beat sheets. Beats are nothing more or less than those points you have to hit in a structure – like, there’s a call to action at the end of act one, a turning point in the middle, a climax at the end – that sort of thing. But those three or five or eight or twelve beats never seemed to be enough for me to keep up the pacing in between times, and not meander around in a way that left the conflict dragging. Oh, the scenes are FUN and PRETTY and SHINY and often also even WITTY, but they still… meander.

And look: I’ve nothing against meandery books. I like lit. fic., or at least as much of it as I do most genres. I appreciate character-driven, wandery sorts of stories. But I also know that you have to be a really good writer to pull them off in a way that makes them accessible for public consumption, and I’m not ashamed to admit that my primary goal here is to write stories that people actually want to *buy*. I write for myself, because if I didn’t I’d get so twisted up in anxiety that I wouldn’t write at all (why hello there, 2012-2013). But I want the end results to be accessible for other people to *enjoy*. There’s that saying, right: I write for myself and revise for my readers. Yup, good idea right there. Except thus far my revisions have always been nightmarish slogs of retrofitting structures and proper character arcs to Really Broken Drafts, and quite frankly, that process sucks. If I can learn to do my structure/pacing/plotting/character arc right the first time, I’ll save hundreds of hours in revision – and once you know the rules, THEN you can choose to break them at will.

Hence, beat sheets.

First came Save The Cat by Blake Snyder, a book on writing screenplays that delves into structure and the different ‘genres’ that movies actually fall into. I highly recommend the book, if only for the reconsideration of how genre applies to stories, and how knowing what genre you’re actually writing can change the way you look at the book – and you’ll be surprised by the genres and their definitions, too, because it’s not about the trappings and cosmetics and setting of the story, but rather the plot/character arc and the beats that the story needs to hit.

Secondly, Jami Gold’s amazing free beat sheets, based on the information in Save The Cat and another book I haven’t read, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I’d tried to make something like this for myself years ago and failed, so when I found these I was super excited.

And finally, something I wrote up myself based entirely on Jami’s beat sheets just recently – while I was visiting Liana, in fact. I got sick of using the calculator in Jami’s sheets to calculate when things were supposed to happen, and on the basis that I was pretty much aiming for a 40-scene, 80k novel or a 20-scene, 40k novella each time, I wrote up this beat list, which tells me which scene number each thing is supposed to happen in. As you’ll note, nearly every scene has a specific job, and knowing that has made a HUGE difference to my ability to keep the pacing of the story on track.

By way of experiment, I also used the novella sheet to plot out a novella while I was with Liana. It made the whole plotting process just like putting together a jigsaw, and while I’m sure there will still be things to fix and tweak, it’s the first time I’ve delivered Liana a plot and had the tick of approval with only a minor tweak or two. YAY ME I AM LEARNING THINGS WATCH ME LEARN. You can evaluate the success of this process yourself hopefully next year – this novella is one in my Puricorn (Age of Unicorns) universe (see short stories here and here) and I have a cover for it ready to go… I just need to write and edit it >.< 😀

Anyway. I hope that some of these resources are useful for you! Feel free to share some of your favourite plotting resources in return, and tune in tomorrow for an epic case study: How Not To Take Over The World!

Plotting Session 1: Structure

Plotting With Amy Laurens & Liana Brooks – Part 1

Back at the end of September I dropped off the grid for a week and was posting pictures of this other person, that was because Amy flew from Australia to Alaska to visit me. We’re basically twins, except we don’t share parents, genes, nationality, or birthdays… but we do share a brain.

We started writing fiction around the same time and met on Critique Circle (which I highly recommend to anyone who needs a critique group and support). Over the years we’ve both been published, but we’ve taken different career paths. Amy is a full-time teacher in Australia (where they pay teachers living wages) and most of her time is spent teaching the basics. I’m a full-time work-at-home-mom who spends more time writing my own stuff than editing (usually). This means she’s better at using commas, and I’m better at making a plot work. And all because we’ve spent different amounts of time on different things.

While Amy was here we spent a good chunk of time plotting out all her upcoming projects. Partially so we didn’t have to talk it out on Skype, and partially because I wanted to show Amy the technique I’ve been using this year. Eventually we hit the point where we realized that what we were doing would be helpful not just for Amy’s classes, but for our blog readers as well. Amy typed it all up, and at the end of the series (if we fix technical difficulties) there will be a video of us revising the plot of Amy’s old NaNo novel, HOW NOT TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD.


20160928_152822FROM AMY:
Being an English teacher is good for my writer ego. I used to think that probably I was just *stupid* for all the beginner mistakes I made – but going on seven years of high school* English teaching where students usually have to complete one creative response per semester, I’ve marked over 1100 creative responses that have been predominantly written by ‘new writers’ – and I’ve learned that my mistakes weren’t actually mine after all, they were just ‘new writer’ mistakes. Woohoo. Go me. Etc.

* That’s Years 7 – 12 in Australia.

However. There’s one issue that really *ought* to be a new writer mistake that I’m really struggling to break myself from in my writing. I know better – by golly I do – and I even know the solution. But I’m only *just* getting to the point after ten years of seriously attempting this writing thing, and about a million words of fiction (whoa, I hit my million some time 6 – 12 months ago, that’s cool! I only *just* figured that out right now, for this post!), where I can remember that this is a problem I need to proactively fix *before* I write my story – because MAN, retrofitting this problem SUCKS.

So what’s the problem, then?


(This is the #1 reason you still haven’t seen my novel Sanctuary, despite me talking about it off and on for, you know, my entire previous life >.< The character arc started about a third of the way in, the structure meandered, and OH MY WORD trying to retrofit a proper character arc and structure into the thing is giving me FITS. *FITS*, you guys. **FITS**.)

I remember clearly my university writing professor saying to the whole class of us: “There’s no doubt you can all string a pretty sentence together, but can you tell a *story*?” He was talking about structure, because although we had things to say and could say them in pretty ways, almost the entire class of us – and most of my students – struggle to put things together in a way that builds a correct story AND character arc at the same time.

If my big problem was structure, why am I calling this series ‘Plotting’? Because the two are intrinsically linked; if you know structure, your plot will flow more easily and resonate better as a complete, satisfying thing with readers.

So with that in mind, here are some Structure 101 resources 🙂

This is a powerpoint I walk my students through that goes through the basics of structure and provides a few different options – three act, five act, 8-point and hybrid.

And this is a worksheet on the Hero’s Journey structure with prompt questions for each stage (see also this thread for an excellent discussion on the western-male-centricness of the hero’s journey concept).

Plotting Session 2: Beat Sheets



The ARCs (advanced reader copies) of DECOHERENCE have arrived and that means it is time for some giveaway fun! Are you ready?

Now, the big event is going to be November 1st. One lucky winner will get a complete set of the Time and Shadows trilogy, autographed and personalized. But, since I have advance copies, two lucky winners are going to get signed copies of DECOHERENCE before it’s available at the store. That’s right, October 25th I am picking a winner, taking the winner’s book to the post office, and mailing you that book so it arrives before November 1st (the weather and the US postal service willing) so you get to be the first to read the print edition.



How do you enter to win? Simple: sign up for my newsletter. You can pick between the New Release Newsletter so you only get notices when I have a new book out or the Semi-Monthly Newsletter (sign up form below) that includes cover reveals, sales, and other fun stuff.

Already signed up? Then you’re already entered to win!

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Want an extra shot at winning the coveted ARC? Sign up for the Impulse Buy and every Tuesday you’ll get a hot new book whose e-edition is $5 or less!





Impulse Buy Book of the Week: MYSTIC’S TOUCH by Dena Garson

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00018]Danet is a simple servant-turned-physician with one too many voices in her head. How she ended up being able to speak to the royal Prince with only their thoughts is beyond her but their unusual connection may end up saving his life.

After his father’s death, Prince Ceros was poised to assume the throne until he fell victim to a mysterious illness. He may be a glorious example of male perfection, but he also holds the power to expel Danet from the kingdom if her extraordinary gifts ever come to light. Gifts she may need call upon in order to heal him.

The laws of man might stand the test of time, but destiny is a force to be reckoned with, and true love will not be denied.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | ARe | Kobo | iBooks

dena1227_reduced-squaredDena Garson is an award winning author of contemporary, paranormal, fantasy, and sci-fi romance. Her sixth book, Mystic’s Touch, won the 2015 Passionate Plume for Futuristic/Fantasy/Sci-Fi as well as the 2015 Reader’s Choice Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Time Travel. Ghostly Persuasion finaled in the 2014 Passionate Plume and the 2014 Reader’s Choice Award. Your Wild Heart finaled in the 2016 Passionate Plume for Paranormal Romance.

When she isn’t writing you can find her at her jewelry workbench playing with beads. She is also a devoted Whovian and Dallas Cowboys fan.

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The Best Time To Query

There are very few secrets to publishing. There really isn’t a secret handshake or a way to dodge rejection. Every author starts with an idea, writes the book, and has to jump the hurdles to find the right place to publish their book.

For those who think the big presses are the best fit for their novels (meaning the novel will appeal to a large audience of mainstream book-buyers and that the author would like some money up front for advertising), then there are a few open secrets that you might have missed. These aren’t new or revelatory, you can probably find them on any book blog (I’ve published them at least once I’m sure). These are just the tidbits that everyone in the industry takes for granted and assumes everyone knows.

1 – Literary agents close for several months of the year so always check their websites to see if they are open to queries right now.
2 – Summer is con season and, on Fridays, the agents and editors leave work early. If your deadline falls on a Friday, make sure the manuscript gets in early.
3 – Between Thanksgiving (American) and Groundhog’s Day, publishing is slow and full of NO. Everyone wants to clear their desk for the new year and empty their inboxes so agents (and editors) are quicker to say no this time of year.

That means February is one of the best times to query. Everyone is back from their holidays. Everyone is over their “no booze” New Year’s Resolution. Everyone is excited about the coming spring and in the mood to say YES!

And now it’s time for the shameless advertising… If you want your book (or query, or opening chapters, or whatever) edited and ready to go by January, now is the time to book an editor for November and December.

This isn’t the time to schedule your 2016 NaNo novel for an edit (there will be a special for NaNo winners in mid-January). This is the time to get the novel you spent all 2016 working on edited so it’s ready for the 2017 query season (and, with a little luck, publication). For self-publishers, this is the time to schedule your Valentine’s Day releases. Give me your meet-cutes and holiday murders!

So, send me an email and let’s get editing!

Editing Ad 3

The Gift of Failure

Originally published on Savvy Authors in 2015.

The Day Before: A Time And Shadows Time-Travelling MysteryBack when I had just started writing with the intent to publish, around 2006, I printed out a copy of my very first novel and shared it with a friend who had a good taste for books. She was the kind of friend you have in your twenties: flaky, insincere, and negative. In your early twenties you think any attention is good and you let a lot of negative people to clutter your life. Or at least I did. Still, at that point I trusted her opinion and I shared my first novel with her.

“You realize,” she said, “this will never get published. Getting a book published in New York is nearly impossible.” And she handed back the four hundred pages I’d printed at home.

Those pages sat by my bed with a red pen for months. I wanted to edit and send them to an agent, but I was afraid she was right. What if no one wanted my book? What if… perish the thought… I failed???

I couldn’t bear the thought, so I tucked the novel under my bed and started a new one. I researched the publishing industry. I read every single blog post on the new defunct Miss Snark blog. I joined an online writing group. I wrote the next novel and shared my favourite scene with the writing group.

They hated it.

They shredded it.

They didn’t understand my vision or how poignant and awesome this scene would be with the right mood lighting and an epic soundtrack. Or maybe I was just a young, raw writer with a big imagination and not enough practice telling a story well. Either way, the manuscript was dropped. I quit writing it and moved on.

Several more novels died in the same fashion, murdered by a combination of high hopes and rejections.

What changed everything was an off-hand comment to my critique partner when I handed her novel number I-wasn’t-even-counting. “What happens if this isn’t The One?” she asked.

I shrugged. “It’s fine. I have two short stories out and I’m almost done with another novel. It doesn’t matter if this one fails or not.”

And that was the magic trick. Although the novel wound up under the bed for other reasons, it didn’t die of rejection because I had a plan for failing.

The secret I didn’t know when I started writing was that failure is a part of success. Failure isn’t a setback, it’s a stepping stone. It isn’t the end of the road, it’s a curve in the path. Once I started planning for the inevitable failures and rejections my whole process changed.

Watching other writers over the years I realized we were all falling into four groups based on failure.

First there were the people who had a dream but no idea of how to achieve it. They were the ones who talked about writing, but never wrote anything down.

Then there were the people who had dreams and, like I had in my early years, shied away from any perceived failure. If it wasn’t perfection, it was failure. Any poor review was a failure. Any rejection from an e-zine was the end of the world. The people in the second group either outgrew this phase, or quit writing in despair. This isn’t a place you can build a career in.

The third set of people are able to deal with slight setbacks. They know rejections happens and they accept the occasional bad review, but if they’re agent quits, editor leaves, or publisher rejects their next manuscript they fall apart. Not without reason. Those are some pretty major setbacks.

But the smart authors fall into the fourth category, they plan to fail. They know no plan survives first contact with the enemy and before they even query their novel they know exactly what they will do in any contingency. They have a small press back up plan for their Big Press novel. They know how to self-publish if they need to go that route. They know which publishing option is right for their book, and they know how to market any book in any situation.

Even Villains Fall In Love: Heroes and Villains Book 1Planning to fail means these authors don’t waste time moping and wondering what to do next. They can switch gears in a few minutes and move forward with the other plan.

The expectation also provides a much needed emotional buffer. Authors tend to be emotional people. We need to be. Empathy and compassion allow authors to write characters with real emotion that draw out sympathetic emotions from readers. While that’s a boon while writing, it can result in a hot mess when reading reviews. But only if the author is expecting nothing but paeans of praise. If they’re already mentally prepared for the inevitable bad reviews they don’t hurt nearly as much.

Parallel to all of this is a plan for success. Every author daydreams about being the next JK Rowling or Stephen King but few can even articulate what that means.

An author who wants to build a successful career is going to plan ahead, accept failure as the gift it is, and always be ready for the next turn in the road. Publishing no longer moves at a glacial pace. You can go from unagented to agented-with-a-three-book-deal-to-a-major-press in under three months. You can go from unheard of aspiring talent to sensation overnight. If you don’t want those changes to ruin your life, you’ll make a plan for every scenario.

With luck, all you’ll ever need is the plans for major successes. But, if failure comes in any form, you’ll be prepared to tackle the problem and turn a rejection into another stepping stone to acceptance and success.


Impulse Buy Book of the Week: COUNTERPART by Hayley Stone

counterpart_stoneThe high-intensity sci-fi thriller series that began with Machinations continues as reincarnated insurgent Rhona Long faces off against the one enemy she can’t outwit: her own clone.

The machines believed their extermination of the human race would be over as quickly as it began. They were wrong. As the war against extinction intensifies, people are beginning to gain the upper hand.

Commander Rhona Long understands survival better than most. Killed in combat, she was brought back to life using her DNA, and she’s forged a new, even more powerful identity. Now the leader of the resistance, she’s determined to ensure the machines are shut down for good.

But victory is elusive. The machines have a new technology designed to overcome humanity’s most advanced weaponry. Despite Rhona’s peacekeeping efforts, former nations are feuding over resources as old power struggles resurface. Worse, someone inside the resistance is sabotaging the human cause—someone who, from all appearances, seems to be Rhona . . . or her exact replica.

Purchase your copy of Counterpart today! $2.99
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo
And don’t forget to add it to your Goodreads!

Praise for Machinations:
“A tension-filled story of loss, loyalty, and forgiveness, with abundant Terminator-style shoot-em-up scenes and a snarky, kickass female warrior. I inhaled it!”
Jennifer Foehner Wells, bestselling author of Fluency 

“A SF techno-thriller with heart and soul.”
Alex Bledsoe, author of The Hum and the Shiver 

Machinations is an action-packed SF thriller loaded with fantastic characters and gut-wrenching emotional twists. [. . .] The prose is stunning, the action is non-stop.”
Linnea Sinclair, RITA Award-winning author of Gabriel’s Ghost 



hayley-stone_author-photo_1-resizeHayley Stone has lived her entire life in sunny California, where the weather is usually perfect and nothing as exciting as a robot apocalypse ever happens. When not reading or writing, she freelances as a graphic designer, falls in love with videogame characters, and analyzes buildings for velociraptor entry points. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in German from California State University, Sacramento. Counterpart is her second novel, and a choice for Amazon’s Best Sci-fi and Fantasy Books of the Month for October.

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Impulse Buy Book of the Week: HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD by Lexie Dunne

lexie-dunne_-savetheworld-coverIn the third book of Lexie Dunne’s sensational Superheroes Anonymous series, Hostage Girl returns one last time to save the world.
Gail Godwin—once so famous for being kidnapped by supervillains, the media still calls her Hostage Girl—is done with superheroes and their shadowy schemes. She’s got a cute boyfriend, a great roommate, and she’s even returned to her old job. For the first time in years, life is exactly what she wants it to be.

But when a figure from her past resurfaces, he brings with him a plague that changes the game for every superhero and villain out there. Now Gail must team up with both friend and foe to help save the world she thought she had left behind.

Amazon | HarperCollins | Barnes and Noble | Google Play | Kobo

lexie-dunne_author-photoLexie Dunne is a life-long winner of the coveted trophy for participation and author of the SUPERHEROES ANONYMOUS series. By day a mild-mannered technical writer and by night a writer of masked crusaders, she hails from St. Louis, home of the world’s largest croquet game piece. HOW TO SAVE THE WORLD is available from HarperCollins on November 1, 2016 . Follow her on Twitter @DunneWriting.