Thursday, April 9, 2015

April Theme: Catching Raindrops
By Marcia Thornton Jones

I’ve published 133 books, and the seed sprouting each was unique.

·         VAMPIRES DON’T WEAR POLKA DOTS started with a bad day I had as a teacher.
·         CHAMP started with a freewriting scene about a kid trying to do something that he’s not good at.
·         RATFINK started with two kids in the front row of an author talk that were pestering each other.
·         WOODFORD BRAVE started when I heard a kid Double Dog Dare another kid in one of my classes.

The process for completing each was equally diverse. Many were tossed back and forth between Debbie Dadey and me in our version of hot-potato writing. Some developed organically while freewriting scene after scene. Others were written from loose outlines.

“What I need is a better process,” thought I at one point.

So I studied plot structure with the goal of developing a more efficient process—
something nice and neat and easy. A few of my favorite resources include:

·       NEGATIVE TRAIT THESAURUS by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
·       GOAL, MOTIVATION, & CONFLICT by Debra Dixon
·       FIRE IN FICTION by Donald Maas
·       BOOK IN A MONTH by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D.
·       SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder

Fast forward to now. I’m starting a new mid-grade novel. The seed for it started with a character’s name and historical era. Funny how things like this just pop into a writer’s mind and won’t go away!

“Perfect!” thought I. “I have a character and setting. Now all I need is her goal, a negative trait, a flawed belief system, a worthy opponent, an inciting incident and key event, a few plot points, a B-story, the temporary triumph, a reversal, and a really good climax during which my character’s transformation is revealed.”

Easy-peasy, right? (That’s a rhetorical question—I know you know the answer.)

Getting a firm grasp on a plot fit for my character has been about as easy as catching raindrops in the palm of my hand while huddling under an umbrella.

In other words: Damn near impossible.

The thought of giving up occurred to me. But giving up means my character will cease to exist. Can’t have that! Instead, I’ve decided to try not to try quite so hard! First, I’m going to immerse myself in the world of my character by freewriting.

·         Who is my main character? What makes her unique? What does she think about her family? What kinds of friends does she attract? What kind of enemies? What does she want me to know? What does she think about in the middle of the night? What does she believe? What lies does she tell people? What lies does she tell herself?
·         What is the story world like? What’s happening in the big wide world? In her town? In her neighborhood? What’s happening at school? In her friends’ homes? In hers?
·         What themes keep popping up? What universal lessons does my character embody? What’s the point of the story?
·         What kid events could embody the themes of the times? What kid conflict might illustrate the universal lesson in action?

While I’m exploring with freewriting, I’ll also soak up details by researching the era in which my story takes place—noting what resonates for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a tidbit I find fascinating. Maybe it’s something that reminds me of the character. Maybe it’s just a fact that makes me stop and say, “Well, hunh!”

After I’m thoroughly drenched with ideas and scene snippets, I’ll dip my toes back into those books on structure; straining the ideas to see which could be plot elements, which might develop into a scene, which illustrate theme. And the ideas that don’t fit the story? I’ll dump them back into the rain barrel and save them for when my muse is thirsty again.

Evidently, the process for this story is about learning how to rekindle writing joy by splashing around in puddles for a while. After all, it’s a lot easier to catch raindrops in an upturned umbrella than in the palm of my hand!


  1. Love the image of having to splash around in puzzles to find your characters and your story. Like you, whenever I try to do WHAT WORKED LAST TIME, I make a mess. Each book demands it's own process......

  2. Plotting would be so much easier without those ornery characters wanting to go their own way.

  3. That is a beautiful piece of art for your topic photo, Marcia. Your words are inspiring, and I'm ready to flip my opened umbrella upside down and see how many 'raindrops' I can catch.

  4. I love the artwork, too, Marcia! And I'm also planning to check out your book list - thank you!

  5. It's good to know I'm not alone in my mud puddles, Laurie!

  6. I know, Ben. But I love it when my characters take over!

  7. Thanks Barbara and Tamera. Writing isn't the only way I enjoy making messes on paper! I'm glad you found the reading list is intriguing, Tamera. Would love to see other writers' favorite resource books!

  8. I know exactly what you mean about going through periods when you need to rekindle writing joy. (The best thing I ever did for myself was get Scrivener. It makes drafting far less painful.)