Plotting with your Characters

I don’t know about you, but I find plotting to be the most difficult thing about writing fiction.

But now that I write for a living, I’m required to submit a synopsis and/or detailed outline to my publisher well before I ever start a book.  And since my publisher pays me to do this, I have a huge incentive to pre-plot my books.

This being the case, I’ve developed a strategy for coming up with initial plot ideas.  I won’t say this is pain free, it’s not.  But it works for me.  And maybe it will work for you.  Here’s what I do.

I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my hero and heroine.  I don’t find this painful at all.  Usually my hero is handsome and hot.  He has a wound.  He has a troubled backstory.  Same thing with my heroine.  Since I’m a writer, which is synonymous with voyeur, thinking about my characters’ inner and outer lives is no sweat whatsoever.  Once I’ve gotten to know them I will try to answer two key questions about them:

1)      What does my hero/heroine want more than anything?

2)      What does my hero/heroine need to learn in order to fall in love?

The answer to question 1 is where the external plot line lives.  The answer to this question has to be something other than ‘My heroine want to fall in love.’  Here are some examples of acceptable answers: My heroine wants a family.  She wants a business.  She wants to land that client or that job.  She wants to run away from the bad guys or her parents or her family.

The answer to question 2 is where the love story lives.  Here are some examples of acceptable answers:  The heroine needs to learn how to trust.  She needs to stop trying to control everything.  She needs to learn the power of positive thinking.  She needs to see herself as beautiful.

If I can figure out a link between questions one and two that’s terrific.  But often I can’t.  Also, if I can put the hero and heroine in conflict with these questions that’s a plus, too.  But often I can’t do that either.  And really it’s not necessary at this point.  Just knowing what they want and what they need to learn is the most important part.

Once I have these goals and needs nailed, I take out several pieces of paper and I let my characters brainstorm around three important questions:

1)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out at least ten things that could happen that would make it harder for him/her to reach the story goal, or make the story goal more important than ever.

2)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out at least five things that could happen that would make his/her story goal mean more to the community at large, such as friends, family, community, co-workers, neighbors, the guys at the bar.

3)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out one or two things that could happen that would make his/her story goal so important or difficult that it becomes a life and death situation.

After I’ve gotten these lists I ask my both hero and heroine which of these events or situations would give them an opportunity to practice whatever it is that they need to learn in order to find love.  This inevitably makes my list even bigger and more detailed.

When I’m done with this exercise I’ll have a long list of potential scenes that might not be enough for a full book, but is almost certainly enough for a few turning points, which I will try to assemble into my recipe for a seven paragraph synopsis.

So now comes the fun part.  Today I thought it would be fun to brainstorm a plot using this technique.  Here’s what you need to know about my hero and heroine.  (By the way, this is not a book I’m writing or planning to write, I made up these characters on the fly for this exercise only.)

Hero:  1) Rick wants to quit his job as a CPA and open an Italian restaurant.  He’s the quintessential foodie who yearns to cook for a living, but is afraid to express this to his friends and family.  2) Rick needs to learn not to always play it safe.  He’s spent his life doing the “expected” thing.

Heroine:  1) Suzy wants to lose 50 pounds.  She has always been a big girl and she’s convinced that her “real life” will start once she drops the weight.  2) Suzy needs to learn that real life is right now and you don’t want to miss a minute of it waiting around.

Okay now it’s your turn.  Post comments telling me how Rick and Suzy’s goals are going to be a) difficult to achieve or become even more important to achieve b) become important to their friends, family, and community in either a positive or negative way, c) become an issue of life and death importance.  And don’t worry if the obvious things get listed very quickly.  The really interesting (and funny or emotional) stuff usually doesn’t come out until you’ve jotted down all the obvious (and clichéd) possibilities.

And to add a little spice one lucky commenter will win a copy of Inn at Last Chance, my newest release in the Last Chance series of contemporary, small southern town romances.

Ruby Tueday: Shea Berkley

Welcome, ladies and gents, to another edition of Ruby Tuesday, when we sit down and get to know one of our Rubies a little better.  Today on the hot seat we have the fabulous and talented Shea Berkley.  Take it away, Shea! Name: Shea Berkley 2009 GH Category & Title: I was in the Romantic […]

It’s Easy to Give Advice

So the other day after killing myself in Zumba class, I headed toward the exit of my gym. To the left of me is an area where several older people gather to have coffee and donuts (I know!) after they work out. It’s a busy area and they never fail to make me smile. Well, […]

Confessions of a Contest Slut

My name is Louisa Cornell, and I am a Contest Slut. Actually I prefer the term Contest Courtesan, but then I do write Regency set romances. I am not exactly certain how many contests one has to enter in order to reach Slut status. Rather like trying to decide at what point one goes from […]

Conference report: Wizard World ComiCon St. Louis

Earlier this month, I attended the local ComiCon in St. Louis, a gathering of pop icons, artists, authors, cosplayers and general geekery. I received a lot of compliments on my mandarin jacket. I figured I was going with an East meets West Firefly cosplay look. This was the second ComiCon in St. Louis and just […]

Guest Post: Comedienne and NBC writer Kerri-Anne Lavin on “Laughing all the Way to the Bank: Turning Yuks into Bucks”

I’m super-duper excited to host one of my high school friends today. I knew Kerri-Anne Lavin way back when she and I were Sparta Spartans (Spirit Fingers!) and we share many a crazy story from cheer camp. She was also always the lead in the high school musical, while I would do choreography. Fast-forward to today, and Kerri-Anne is […]

Thank a Librarian

This week is National Library Week, and in its honor, I think every reader everywhere should thank a librarian. Where did so many readers get their start? In a library. Where did so many of our favorite writers get their start? As a reader in a library. I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, then a […]

I’ve Manned the Halyard!!!

As a historical writer, I jump at any chance for research that gives me a first-hand taste of life in the past–so a couple weeks ago I snapped up tickets to sail on a replica 19th-century two-masted merchant trading ship. The best part was that they (literally) showed us the ropes, and let us “haul […]

“I Feel the Need…”

Mayday. Mayday. This is Tamara Hogan, The World’s Slowest Writer®, calling Mayday… Mayday. Mayday. Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, do you copy? I need your help. Earlier this week, in the aftermath of all the RWA/RITA + GH Awards hoopla, I looked at my WIP and came to a startling conclusion: I am not on track to […]

Clueless-The Rule of Six

For those of you who know me, you know that I spend most of my life in the state known as clueless.  For example I’m mystified by the need for daylight savings time and pantyhose and signs that say, “hand dipped ice cream” because what else are you going to dip it with?  But I […]

Marketing That Clicks: What Works On You?

I usually ignore Facebook ads that pop up in my newsfeed, but today, I saw one that made my heartbeat quicken. The ad was from the Facebook page of Bulgari, the maker of several perfumes I adore, announcing the release of a new Omnia fragrance. “Omnia Indian Garnet,” it said. “Click to Experience.” Indian Garnet? […]

Ruby Release: A Whisper in Time by Elizabeth Langston

Amanda Brice here, and I’m giddy with excitement. It’s release day for the second in Elizabeth Langston’s brilliant Whisper Falls trilogy, A Whisper in Time. I had the distinct delight of getting to read an advance copy and truly loved it. But don’t take my word for it. I have never been useless in my […]

Things My Mother Taught Me

My mother was a remarkable woman. I’m not just saying that because she was my mother, but because she really was an amazing woman. I’m so thankful to her for all the things she did for me and for my sisters, but more importantly, I’m grateful for the example she set for us. My mother […]

One Hell of a Journey

Happy 4th of April! Are you wondering if you’ve missed some obscure holiday? Don’t worry, there’s no need to remember this day unless it’s your birthday or like me, have some anniversary to acknowledge. Three years ago today, April 4th 2011, I woke up in a hospital room from surgery to hear, “I’m sorry, but […]

To Write or Not To Write?

To write or not to write? What do you do when life keeps throwing challenges your way? 2013: It was one of those years. Where the refrain from the Chumbawamba Tubthumping song keeps going through your head. Got everybody singing about getting knocked down and getting up again? You’re welcome. I’ve been knocked down before, […]

Inspired By Actual…

They say write what you know and part of that, to me, has always been accessing your own emotional truth and applying it to your characters.  We can draw from the experiences in our lives, the way those experiences made us feel, to give our characters a richer, more authentic emotional depth.  Not to mention […]

Amazon Acquires the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood!!!!

We’ve got an amazing announcement today that’s been brewing for months now, but we couldn’t announce it officially until today!! We can hardly believe it ourselves, but they literally  made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: has just purchased the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood!!!! Yes, Dear Ruby Readers, as of the end of this month, […]

“Heathers” 25th anniversary…or why I write YA

Dear diary, my teen angst bullshit now has a bodycount. Those immortal words were like (what’s the opposite of Kryptonite?) to me. I wasn’t quite 12 when Winona Ryder’s Veronica Sawyer uttered them, although I was probably at least 14 (or maybe even 15) when I first heard them. Still deep into my 90210 obsession, and […]

Consolation Day

I was robbed! They don’t know what they missed!! This totally blows!!!!!!!! Whatever the reason… you didn’t make the cut this year. Sadness and woe, and a piece of chocolate cake on the side. But trust me, you aren’t alone. A good many people did not make the cut this year, and a good many […]

Welcome, New Golden Heart and Rita Finalists!!

WELCOME, 2014 GOLDEN HEART and RITA FINALISTS!!! And welcome, also, to everyone who didn’t final THIS year. And thanks to everyone who joined us yesterday—with the new RWA rules and reshuffling or elimination of categories, that was a crazy, all-bets-are-off day, ending with HUGE numbers in some categories (EIGHTEEN in Contemporary Romance!!) and shockingly tiny […]

Live Blogging the GH/RITA Announcements

LET THE ANNOUNCEMENTS BEGIN… It’s time for our annual live blogging event of the 2014 Golden Heart/Rita announcements ! If you entered RWA®’s Golden Heart or RITA contest, then you’re likely hovering over your phone today as you await THE CALL. So why not hang out with all the other hopefuls (many of the Rubies […]

Ruby Tuesday: Elizabeth Essex

Welcome, ladies and gents, to another edition of Ruby Tuesday, that day when we take a moment to get to know one of our Rubies a bit better.  Today we have a special Release Day edition! (With a giveaway!!!)  Join us as we welcome 2012 RITA-nominee and historical romance maven Elizabeth Essex and celebrate her […]

Cover up: Creating a cover for I Wish

I Wish is a special book for me. It finaled in the Golden Heart in 2009 (YA), making it the reason I am a Ruby. It’s the manuscript that caught the eye of my agent. And it sold in 2013. I Wish will be my fourth book and releases in November! Today’s post is about […]

10 Ways to Kill Time Until the Call… GH, RITA, or THE Call

The following post is a bit tongue-in-cheek. It’s a Ruby Reprise from March 23, 2011 (with some minor updates), but the tips are still valid…especially the chocolate one. 10 Ways to Kill Time Until the Call… GH, RITA, or THE Call It’s almost here!  March 26th.  A day that will always be significant in the […]

Golden Heart Finalists Tell All – 2014 edition

Six days from today, calls and emails will be going out to a select group of 2014 Golden Heart and RITA entrants that will change their lives. That sounds like a cliche, doesn’t it? Can one simple call really have that much impact? I finaled in 2008 (shoutout to the Pixie Chicks!) and again in […]

Subscribe to the Blog


Coming Soon on the Blog

Newsletter Signup

* = required field

Find the Rubies

The Rubies don't have any appearances scheduled. Please check back soon!

Since the GH Call in 2009...

  • Vivi Andrews: Vivi has written over a dozen paranormal romances for Samhain. Her new release is the paranormal romantic comedy Naughty Karma which was named a TOP PICK and nominated for  Reviewer’s Choice Award by RT Bookreviews!
  • Vanessa Barneveld: Vanessa’s debut paranormal YA novel, THIS IS YOUR AFTERLIFE, will be published by Bloomsbury Spark in Fall, 2014. HarperCollins Australia published an anthology in 2012 featuring Vanessa’s short story, THE TWEETEST THING, which was inspired by a Duran Duran concert.
  • Anne Barton: Anne’s Golden Heart-winning debut novel, WHEN SHE WAS WICKED, released earlier this year, and she has two more sexy Regency romances coming out in the fall: TO ALL THE RAKES I’VE LOVED BEFORE and ONCE SHE WAS TEMPTED. Visit her at
  • Anne Marie Becker: Anne Marie writes romantic suspense, including the Mindhunters series. ONLY FEAR, AVENGING ANGEL, and DEADLY BONDS are available now. DARK DEEDS releases 3/17, and ACCEPTABLE RISK 5/5. Find out more at
  • Tina Joyce Beckett: After her 2009 Golden Heart final, Tina went on to double final in the same contest in 2010. Since then she has sold ten books to Harlequin Medical romance and one romantic suspense to Carina Press. Her latest book for Harlequin, Her Hard to Resist Husband is out in January 2014.
  • Liz Bemis: Since the 2009 GH, Liz finaled in the 2010 GH, filed and WON in the 2012 GH, completed manuscript #17 and has developed more than 75 websites as the creative director of Bemis Promotions. She also got married, had a baby and is currently desperately looking for five minutes in which to write!
  • Shea Berkley: Shea Berkley has sold her 2010 Golden Heart finaling manuscript, Shattered, to Entangled Publishing in a three book deal.  The Marked Son (aka Shattered) is available in stores now and the second in the series is due to hit stores June 2013. She sold her Epic Fantasy story, Torrein: Age of Fear, to Variance Publishing, which is available at your favorite bookstore. Go to for more details.
  • Jennifer Bray-Weber: Jennifer has published her 2009 Golden Heart manuscript now titled Blood and Treasure on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords. The second novel  of her Romancing the Pirate series, A Kiss in the Wind, was released by Carina Press in March 2012. Her third novel, The Siren’s Song, is scheduled to be released through Carina Press in May 2012.
  • Shoshana Brown: Shoshana has sold two short romance stories to Woman’s World magazine.  She’s also a finalist in the YA category of the 2011 Golden Heart with UNDERHANDED.
  • Shelley Coriell: After six consecutive Golden Heart finals, Shelley sold her debut young adult novel, Welcome, Caller, This Is Chloe (May 2012, Amulet Books) and Goodbye, Rebel Blue (Fall 2013, Amulet Books). She also inked a three-book deal with Grand Central Forever for The Apostles, a dark romantic suspense series about an elite but maverick FBI team coming in Spring, 2014.
  • Sharon Fisher: Since she was named a finalist in 2009, Sharon has sold her finalist manuscript GHOST PLANET and two others (THE OPHELIA PROPHECY and ECHO 8) to Tor/Macmillan. She has been named a Golden Heart finalist three times, and in 2013 GHOST PLANET was nominated for an RWA RITA Award.
  • Addison Fox: In addition to writing about her Zodiac warriors (her Taurus, Quinn, is going to get his comeuppance come May of 2011!), Addison is hard at work on a new contemporary trilogy for NAL set in Alaska. The first book - BABY IT’S COLD OUTSIDE - will be out in November 2011.
  • Rita Henuber: Her 2009 Golden Heart nominated book, Guardian Angel, was published by Carina Press with a new title, UNDER FIRE, and released August 22, 2011 in ebook and audio format. The second book, Under Fire:The Admiral, about another extraordinary woman and the man she loves  is currently available.
  • Tamara Hogan: Author of the award-winning Underbelly Chronicles paranormal romance series, Tamara published TOUCH ME, an Underbelly Chronicles novella, and TEMPT ME, Bailey and Rafe’s full-length story, in  2013. Book #4, ENTHRALL ME, is scheduled for a late 2014 release.
  • Darynda Jones: In addition to the Charley Davidson series, Darynda also has a YA series out with St. Martin’s Press called the Darklight Trilogy. She has won numerous awards for her books including a prestigious RITA, a Golden Heart, and a Daphne du Maurier.
  • Autumn Jordon: Autumn Jordon kills people for the right reason, and only on paper. She writes both award-winning romantic suspense and contemporary romance.  Her new romantic series (C.U.F.F.) featuring yummy US Marshals debut in July 2012 with the release of Seized By Darkness.  It’s available on Amazon and B&N. Follow her on FB and on tweeter as ajordon.
  • Cynthia Justlin: Since 2009, Cynthia has published three romantic suspense books: Her Own Best Enemy, Intrusion, and Separation Anxiety (a novella). Her latest release, a dark romantic thriller, Edge of Light, is available from Carina Press.
  • Diane Kelly: Sold 4 more books in the Death & Taxes series to St. Martin’s Press!
  • Elizabeth Langston: Elizabeth’s debut YA novel, Whisper Falls, will be available from Spencer Hill Press in Nov 2013.  Books 2 and 3 in the Whisper Falls trilogy will release in 2014.
  • Kim Law: Signed with an agent, and accepted a two-book offer from Amazon Montlake. Debut novel was released Oct 2012, SUGAR SPRINGS (her 2009 GH book) was released Dec 2012, and has published 3 other books and one novella since. Currently has her Sugar Springs and Turtle Island series ongoing.
  • Diana Layne: Diana Layne made her first sale to The Wild Rose Press.  Pirate’s Proposal is the first book in the Tales of The Scrimshaw Doll, a series created by the collaborative effort of a group of OKRWA writers (although Diana is a Texan, she loves her fellow OK Outlaws.) Diana’s book The Good Daughter, a Mafia suspense story, received a TOP PICK from RT Book Reviews!
  • Gwynlyn MacKenzie: Since 2009, Gwyn has become a Mom-mom–twice–finaled in the 2011 and 2014 GH, and is currently hard at work on the third manuscript in her Merlin’s Prophecy Series.
  • Heather McCollum: My latest Historical Paranormal Romance, TANGLED HEARTS, released at the end of January 2014. TH is a cross between The Tudors and The Pirates of the Caribbean. And I’m very excited about my first YA Contemporary Paranormal Romance, SIREN’S SONG, coming out in March 2014!
  • Kate Parker: Kate finaled in the 2011 Golden Heart in historical romance again, and then switched to cozy historical mysteries with a dash of romance. Signed with Jill Marsal of the MarsalLyon Literary Agency. Her first Victorian Bookshop Mystery, The Vanishing Thief, will come out December 2013 from Berkley Prime Crime. The second in the series, The Counterfeit Lady, will hit the shelves August 2014.
  • Bev Pettersen: –Since 2009, five of Bev’s books have hit the shelves: JOCKEYS AND JEWELS, COLOR MY HORSE, FILLIES AND FEMALES,  THOROUGHBREDS AND TRAILER TRASH, and HORSES AND HEROIN. She is a three-time nominee in the National Readers Choice Award including Jockeys and Jewels for Best First Book.
  • Hope Ramsay: In February 2010 I made my first sale to Grand Central Publishing/Forever Romance in a four-book deal.  The first book, Welcome to Last Chance will be released on March 1, 2011.  The Second Book, Home at Last Chance will be a September 2011 release.  Last Chance Beauty Queen will be released in April 2012 and Christmas in Last Chance will be released in October 2012.
  • Sara Ramsey: Sara Ramsey’s latest book, THE MARQUESS WHO LOVED ME, came out in February 2013. She’s currently working on the fourth book in the Muses of Mayfair series (THE EARL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE). You can find Sara in San Francisco, alternating between writing and drink fabulous wine/eating even more fabulous food.
  • Cate Rowan: Her critically acclaimed fantasy romance Kismet’s Kiss (a two-time Golden Heart® finalist) received a Best Fantasy and Best Debut of 2010 nomination from The Romance Reviews. She expanded the Alaia Chronicles series with The Source of MagicSwords and Scimitars and Sword and Lute and then published the standalone short story Flirting with the Fireman and the time travel novella Kiss That Frog. Another Alaia Chronicles novel, The Soul of Magic, is on the way, and she is “BIC-HOK-TAM” at her Colorado mountaintop abode.
  • Joan Swan: FEVER, Kensington Brava, April, 2012 BLAZE, Kensington Brava, TBD, 2012
  • Liz Talley: Since finaling in the Golden Heart, Liz Talley has sold sixteen books to Harlequin Superromance, including her upcoming series The Boys of Bayou Bridge which is about a central Louisiana family where the delicious Dufrene brothers find a  sister they thought to be dead very much alive. Liz is excited to write about shrimp creole, Mardi Gras and LSU football…some of her favorite things. All three books plus another Christmas book will be out in 2012, starting with Waters Run Deep, May 2012
  • Dani Wade: In August 2012, Dani Wade received the much anticipated “Call” from Harlequin Desire! Her first Harlequin release is scheduled for August of 2013. Until then, she has stepped into the Indie publishing arena with her first sexy suspense novella, Snow Bound, debuting in November of 2012.
  • See where we were one year after the GH!

From Twitter

  • Time for check-in #2 of the Winter Writing Festival! Share your progress to be eligible for prizes! 3 months ago
  • On using language to paint a vivid picture: 3 months ago
  • Time to check in for the Winter Writing Festival! How did you do? Let us know! We’ve got prizes! 3 months ago
  • What is the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood? Check out this blog post to learn more about who we are and how we came to be! 3 months ago
  • Haven’t trued our writing sprints? Now’s the time to come out of lurkdom & jump in! A quick guide to get started: 3 months ago