There are many things I love about writing books. Plotting is not one of them.
The Divine Meddler began with a question born out of my near brush with jury duty for a capital murder case. What if, instead of capital punishment or a life sentence in prison, a person is executed in every way but physically? As far as the state and society is concerned, that person is dead. Spouse can remarry, estate is probated, no more contact with the outside world by phone, TV, internet, or mail. Food, shelter, and clothing are provided, and the person must work within a cloistered environment. The “keepers” would be either spiritually evolved and empathetic, or sadists who can torture, maim, or kill the walking dead with impunity.
And that was the seed of my plot—the great “what if?”
Creating the Story
From there, I moved on to create the location for most of the action. By the time I added the ingredients to make the place, I had created a cloistered, medieval monastery, smack-dab in 21st century Texas. It was filled with monks, or at least men in monk robes. Saintly or sadistic?
I needed a protagonist, bad enough to warrant execution, but sympathetic enough for readers to care about and root for. I needed to create his back story, even if only part of it appears in print. I created enough life history so he could come alive in my heart and mind… and the readers’.
Things happen. People interact. Characters respond to each other and to events on physical, emotional, societal, and spiritual levels. My monastery came alive with monks and murderers. Frankly, it was very real to me.
A String of Events Does Not a Plot Make
My book needed a theme, an over-arching story through which my protagonist changes. Will Lou Skalney face his demons and win? Will he ever escape from the walled-in monastery?
There are three kinds of conflict, which is the life-blood of any story: man against man, man against nature, and man against himself. Lou fights against his inner self and the monks who keep him imprisoned. Now I have two conflicts out of three. Not bad. But still not a page turner. There needed to be events and other characters that create on-going, page turning tension. And that in a cloistered, controlled environment. It seemed like a tall order. I mean, what’s duller than a monastery?
The story cried for events or conflicts that would keep readers turning pages throughout the entire book. I had the help of a secondary character, Rudy Kowalski, a newspaper reporter and Lou’s best friend, who proved invaluable and endeared himself to me. I added a paranoid sociopath, serial killer, and a few other interesting prisoners and monks who moved the story along until the big event leading to the climax and denouement.
Events occur, people do things, for a reason. Unless the story progresses logically, readers will not buy into it. If this happens in Chapter 20, did I plant what was necessary for it to happen back in Chapter 10? Even “walk-on” characters useful for only for event(s) to move along, must look their part and behave accordingly. No way can I make something happen just because I want it to. Sometimes, I had to “kill my darlings.” I had a sentence or paragraph I just loved, every word a gem, but I had to delete it because I could not make it fit realistically into the scene. I had to kill a few of those darlings. Collateral damage.
Finally, plot cannot exist without characters, and characters need a tale in which to live. Sometimes characters will drive events, other times, they may refuse to go where the author wants. When that happens, I know I’ve created relatable characters, and frankly, pretty much trust their judgement.
I tell you, plotting is a wild ride.
Used with permission from Susan LeDoux.