Practical Plotting

Writing pal Bob is working on a new idea for a book, the first novel he’s written in awhile. Bob has published a bunch of funny and clever mysteries, but, as most writers find, every new book is another challenge. First you need an idea. Then you need to convince yourself it’s not boring. Bob sent a three or four sentence elevator pitch about the book in his head. It was not boring.

Bob moved on with a synopsis draft. Here he writes out exactly what the book will be about and who his characters will be and how the plot will turn. He has the story worked out in his head! Yes, Bob is a plotter. I find plotters fascinating. But this time, Bob has a problem.

“I’m writing a much longer summary than usual,” he said. I don’t see this as a bad thing, but being the helpful writing friend, I offered to send him a version of Jane Cleland’s Road Map, which I wrote more about here. I say “a version of” because after I diagramed the road map, and tried filling it in, I customized it to fit onto a notebook page. Here I’m simplifying it down to two lines of writer’s code.

Inciting Incident-SP1-SP2-SP1-Turning Point-SP2-SP1-Turning Point-SP2-Turning Point-All Plots Resolved

Inciting Incident: Where does the problem start? The point at which the story and character are headed into a mystery and there is no turning back. Start there.

SP stands for subplot. I like two. Introduce the first one about 30 pages in for a 300 page novel. (I write short novels). Another thing about subplots…if you don’t have, let’s say, a romance subplot, but an agent or your editor wants one, just write a love story for your character. Then you can piece it up and place it in 3 or 4 slots in the book. You can do both your subplots this way.

Turning Points need to escalate the drama, turn the heat higher. Lots of people call these Plot Twists. I think of them as going deeper into the mystery. There’s new information that changes everything the main character thinks they knew.

When the story hits the highest possible point of tension, the subplots braid together with the main plot. Each illuminates the other and all need to fit into the final resolution. I like to use one of the subplots to put a “sting in the tail” ~ just one final twist the reader never saw coming but also makes absolute sense.

Speaking of sense, I hope this made some. Questions or observations?

Mystery & Me


Blame it on Nancy Drew. She was my first love (but far from my last) in the mystery genre. In the 1960s, as a young girl, I collected her books and began a life long commitment to binge reading. Which led to writing, which led to writing a mystery. My first mystery, Love and Death in Blue Lake, releases worldwide today.

Love and Death in Blue Lake didn’t start out as a mystery. I’d written several romance and women’s fiction titles and I thought for sure this book, about high school sweethearts who reconnect, would be another in the same genre. But no. Stories often take unexpected turns as this one did when I wrote a gun into someone’s purse.


What began as a small subplot came to be an equal plot to the romance story. It constantly threatened to take over the book, but I had my heart set on writing a rekindled love story. Eventually I found a way to get the thwarted lovers to reconnect over the mystery and that’s when I realized that this book would be different.

Love and Death in Blue Lake is the third in my Blue Lake series, and brings back several characters from the first book, Blue Heaven, to expand and deepen their stories. I love writing a series…I just hope readers like the new direction mine has taken as much as I do.


To celebrate the season, I am giving away two autographed print copies of Love and Death in Blue Lake to commenters #2 and #5 in U.S. only. The first commenter, US or UK, will receive free Kindle editions of Blue Heaven and Love and Death in Blue Lake.

Update: I opened contest on Facebook too and added a few more books:) Contest now closed. Congrats to all winners and I will get your books out soon!


Contest winners: Anita Dawes, my U.K. winner, plus Lynn Cobb (from DWW!), Tom Edwards, Louise Martin, and Cindy Springer-Holsing, three Facebook friends. Love sending people books!