Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Plotter's Process For Writing a Novel - Part 1

by Madelle Morgan

On deck is the third in my contemporary romance series Hollywood in Muskoka.

This is the seventh time I've started a new novel. From countless workshops and craft books over the years, I've distilled a story development process that works for me.

In my March and April posts I decided to share what I put together before I type Chapter 1 on that blank page. It's the most creative and fun part of writing for me. I imagine and reject many possibilities before deciding on key elements of the book such as...

Who, What, When, Where

I nail down a target word count, the romance sub-genre, a setting, the time of year, the hero and heroine's names, ages, professions and appearances, and a title (which might change anytime before the cover is final).

Whose Story is it?

Which of the two protagonists has the most to win or lose? In a romance, is it the hero or the heroine who has the greatest character growth? I can't start writing without answering these two questions.

Hero/Heroine's GMC

I'm indebted to Debra Dixon for her book G M C: Goal, Motivation and Conflict, which I've reread so often I practically memorized it. She proposes that an author create a summary sentence for each character's internal GMC and external GMC:

H/H wants (goal) because (motivation) but (conflict).

I customized Debra's summary sentence by adding a "C" for consequences. That is, what bad thing will happen if the hero or heroine does not achieve the goal?

H/H wants (goalbecause (motivation) or else (consequencesbut (obstacles/conflict).

Either the hero and heroine's external goals have to be in opposition, or, if they have a common goal, their motivations conflict. Recall the film Romancing the Stone. The heroine and hero both want the jewel, but the heroine wants to use it to save her sister, and the hero wants to buy a sailboat.

What happens when GMC is not in a book's back cover blurb or online description? The prospective reader has no idea what the book is about. Here's the description for Caught on Camera, the first in the series. It's the heroine's story. Rachel has the most to win or lose - a career in Hollywood.

To achieve her dream of working on Hollywood film sets (motivation), star struck chambermaid Rachel Lehmann (heroine) needs $35,000 for film school tuition (goal) by the end of the summer (time pressure). 

When she's asked to fill in for a missing bridesmaid at a movie star's wedding, it's her big chance to take candid photos and sell them to the entertainment media. 

Then groomsman Mickey McNichol, agent to the stars (hero), sweeps her off her feet. 

Mickey's bitter experience (wound) is that everyone in show business fakes emotions. When he falls for the stand-in bridesmaid, he thinks he's finally met a beautiful woman he can trust. But if Rachel betrays his celebrity friends' privacy, Mickey will ensure she never works in Hollywood (conflict).

In "imagineering" the hero and heroine, I identify for each:

  • External GMCC (basis of the main plot)
  • Internal GMCC (basis of the romance plot)
  • Wound - what's stopping the character from committing emotionally
  • False persona (who s/he believes herself/himself to be, or pretends to be)
  • Character Arc to Essence (his or her transition to the true, best self)

I learned about the concept of essence at screenwriting teacher Michael Hague's workshop. It was the craft keystone I didn't realize I lacked. The hero and heroine fall in love with each other's essence - his or her true self. The romance plot is a journey to heal wounds and become the whole person the other falls for.

I also develop an external GMCC for each important character other than the protagonists; e.g., the antagonist/villain, and the characters in the subplot.


My interpretation of theme is that it's the emotional/moral thread underlying the plot. The main plot and any subplots should illustrate different aspects of the theme. In Caught on Camera, I used "deception leads to heartbreak". In my debut romantic suspense, the theme was "betrayal". Note that each reader's interpretation of a story is unique, and the reader may connect with a different theme from the one the author intended. That's rich, layered storytelling!

Whew. All that prep and still not a word on the page! 

Finally it's time to imagine what happens in the story. In Part 2 I'll describe my plotting approach using the screenwriting Three Act Structure.

Authors, how does your story development process differ? What do you add?

Readers, do you consciously look for a character's GMC in the description before deciding to read a book?


Madelle's debut romantic suspense,  DiamondHunter, was turned into an action/adventure screenplay by screenwriter Marie Lilly. The novel is available in ebook format on Amazon and Kobo for $0.99 USD and £0.99 GBP.

Madelle tweets and posts about Hollywood, film-making, the settings for her stories, and, of course, writing. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to her blog at MadelleMorgan.com .


Maureen Fisher said...

I absolutely know my characters' GMC before I write a word. After all, I took your excellent GMC workshop.

Madelle Morgan said...

Thanks, Maureen. We owe it all to Debra Dixon!

Susan Chapek said...

It's way too late for me to do this before writing a word of my current WIP--but I know I can use your templates to keep on track while revising. Thanks!

Judith Ashley said...

OMG Madelle = I'm very impressed with all you do before you write a word. I must confess I don't do any of it - at least not on paper or computer or even consciously. I don't look for a character's GMC in the blurb before buying/reading a book. And I was on the fourth or fifth book in my own series before I realized an underlying theme was 'trust'. Looking forward to your April post and learning more about how you put your fabulous stories together!

Diana McCollum said...

I guess I missed this post! Just read part two, but had to come back and read part one first. Great information!