Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Guest Blogger - Anita Clenney

My name is Anita Clenney and I want to thank Mayhem and Magic for having me guest blog today. I write Paranormal Romance and Romantic Suspense. Mysteries and romance are my favorite reads. I grew up on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, then moved on to Harlequin. But I never considered writing until four years ago, when a big light bulb went off in my head, and I thought, “You dodo bird. You’ve been making up scenes in your head since you were a kid?” Duh! Anyway, once I figured what I should’ve been doing with my life, I made up for lost time in the only obsessive way I know how, and crammed a good eight years of writing into four, and here I am. If only I’d plotted my life better, maybe I would be rich and famous….
Nah. Probably not. But speaking of plotting, that’s our topic today. What makes a good plot? What gets you on the edge of your seat with your toenails digging into your cozy slippers, ruining your nice pedicure, goose-bumps crawling over your arms?
Whether you crave a good murder in a quaint English village, a tough detective pitting wits against a serial killer, a funny heroine who walks into trouble like other people walk through doors, an emotional romance, or you just want to be transported to far away worlds where imaginary creatures battle to survive, plotting is at the heart of any story. Right there with the characters who will live and breathe this plot. Take Janet Evanovich and Harlan Coben. Both very successful, and both favorites of mine, but very different writers.
So how do we successfully design a story that will leave the reader thrilled and wanting more? How do we combine action, suspense, emotion, compelling characters, a great mystery or puzzle to solve and make it magic? Larger than the page? I think some people are born storytellers and others have to work hard at it. I work at plotting. It’s my favorite thing about writing. I lie in bed at night, or drive in my car, brainstorming, talking to myself, creating worlds and characters to my heart’s desire. There’s just something euphoric about building an entire story from start to finish, and adding in the twists and surprises.
My Modern Day Highland Warrior Series started with a dream. In the dream, my car had broken down and my young son and I were forced to go to this castle for help. A man opened the door and graciously invited us in and offered us lunch while we waited. We were eating while we waited on a taxi, and I saw this look pass between the man and woman and my heart just died. The look was so evil, so full of anticipation. I knew we weren’t just going to die. We were going to be entertainment. I can’t explain the horror of that dream, knowing I had to get my son out before they realized that I knew we were in danger. I pretended to take him to the bathroom so we could sneak out, and of course I woke up as we were trying to escape. The dream was so disturbing, I tried to go back to sleep so I could successfully escape, but no luck.
That dream stuck with me and the story was born. It’s changed some, doesn’t have the broken-down car or my son, but I still have the castle and the evil man hiding behind a pleasant face. The series is about a secret clan of warriors appointed by the Archangel Michael, who have to protect humans from demons hiding among us, and the quirky historian who stumbles upon them. Sounds dark? Not really. If you’re interested, you can learn more at www.anitaclenney.com.
Anyway, I’m always curious how others plot. Where your ideas come from, what makes them grow? Those tidbits of mayhem and magic that make your stories work. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Or as a reader, and most writers are, what kind of plot gives you thrill and chills?

13 comments:

  1. That dreams send shivers down my spine!

    Terri

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  2. Great post, Anita~

    I usually have a scene pop in my head and then have to write a book around it. With Too Hot to Handle, my heroine wakes up with a stranger who just happens to have an amazing likeness to her dead fiance (with some minor but funny differences). That stuck in my head and I had to figure out who this guy in bed with her was...

    Now that I'm writing a series, using characters from past books makes it more difficult. With my last two books, I didn't have the first scene in my head so beginning the book was difficult. Now I'm getting used to it.

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  3. Chilling dream, Anita! I can see how it would inspire a story. And yours sounds fantastic! I consider myself a hybrid pantser/plotter. I get the germ of a story idea which pops into my head, the scene plays out. And then I have to figure out who these people are, where they've been and what's going to happen to them. This is where brainstorming comes in. I love twisty, turny plots.

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  4. It's funny that you mention scenes, Robin. Most writers say they have stories in their heads. I've always had scenes in mine. Whether dreams or daydreams. Not stories, just scenes, then I let my mind go and build on it.

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  5. I'm with you Nicole. I love twisty and turny too. Have you read Harlan Coben? He's so good at them. Anyway, this dream was chilling. Just scared the you know what out of me. Of course I can't fully capture it here. I don't think I can even capture that element in the book. It happens to me a lot. I have the most vivid, frightening dreams. If I could bottle them, I'd be rich.

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  6. Whoops, signed in with wrong account. Didn't even know I had two. I'm Nickname unavailable in posts above.

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  7. Anita, your Archangel Michael stories sound very interesting. The idea of a protector whose skills are put to the test is a great plot idea, one I use myself. I have vague ideas that develop as I write. To me, that's most of the fun of writing, that "AHA!" moment. If an idea tickles me, I know it will please readers. Best of luck with your writing!

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  8. Anita,
    My stories usually start out as a thought or a dream as you say and escalate from there. I enjoyed your blog it was a good read.
    Warmly
    Neecy

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  9. Anita -- Good post and fascinating and chilling dream! Sometimes my stories start with a character (or characters), and sometimes they start with a "what if" scenario. Either way, they never come with enough information. But the fun part is figuring the rest out . , .

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  10. Thanks, Pat. I love the "aha" moments. Except when they come in the middle of the night and have to crawl out of bed to write it down because you forgot to put the digital voice recorder nearby and you know you won't remember it in the morning.

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  11. Thank you Neecy! And Yvonne, just like the "aha" moments, I love the "what ifs" too. It's so much fun to take an idea and twist it or just run with it. I hope I'm still this entusiastic after I've been published a few years.

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  12. Anita, I've known you for a while and this is the first time I've heard that dream!! Spooky. I hate when I wake up before I can resolve something bad.

    As far as writing goes, I'm definitely a plotter. Like everyone else, my stories start with an idea. Ducks In A Row, the first book of the Casserole Lover's Series, came about when my agent asked if I could write a cozy about food. Since I grew up in a huge family eating lots of casseroles and I HATE fancy food, I knew I could never pull off a gourmet story.

    Again, great blog, Anita. And guys, her debut release, Awaken the Warrior, is awesome.

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  13. Thanks Liz. You know I love you. I have some really spooky dreams. Speaking of your new series, I need some good casserole recipes. I'm not the greatest cook. You need to pass some on.

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