Kay: The Plot Thickens

Photo: The Harris Poll

It’s always something. Just a few days ago, Jeanne talked about how she used enneagrams to clarify who her characters are, because she thought they weren’t behaving consistently. I usually have a pretty good grip on my characters right from the start—that’s almost always why I write a story to begin with. Somebody out there speaks up.

My problem is plot. And conflict. Which, if I had enough conflict, I’d have more plot. It’s a vicious cycle.

A few months ago, when I was ready to start a new project, I didn’t have any new ideas. Nobody spoke to me, demanding to be put on a page. The girls in the basement didn’t send anybody up. So I decided to write a story that’s been noodling around in my brain for a few years. It would be the continuation of a two-book FBI series, of which the second book was finished in 2012.

But I remembered the characters clearly, and I had this plan. It was a good one: my plot would loosely follow the real-life Silk Road case, one of the first so-called “dark web” crimes. Silk Road was a marketplace for drugs and other contraband, written by a bright, young libertarian guy (“free your life through pharmaceuticals,” more or less) who, it is estimated, brought in more than $1B in two years. The chronicling of this case is detailed and extensive.

I planned to conflate this with the LavaBit email case. LavaBit was an encrypted email service that Edward Snowden used to release his files. The FBI went after the LavaBit guy and all his customers in an effort to find Snowden, and in a brilliant legal twist, the LavaBit guy protected his customers and still evaded arrest.

So my heroine was going to be the LavaBit person, and the Silk Road guy was going to be the villain, and my FBI hero was going to find out that the Silk Road guy was using LavaBit to communicate drug deals. So then he’d have to arrest his love interest. Is everybody still with me?

Good, right? Fireworks! Conflict.

Yeah, no.

It turns out, even with a dang blueprint in front of me, I can’t write conflict and plot to save my life. My first problem: I have to carry over into this current book three the unresolved elements of book two. So, my heroine less than a month ago (in book life, at the end of book two) adopted five sexually abused siblings who don’t speak English.

Talk about a game changer, right there.

I always knew those kids were going back—her returning them to grandparents was supposed to be her emotional arc for the next book, whenever/if ever it got written. But now that storyline is taking too much time away from the central plot.

And my hero has a murdered brother, who Just. Doesn’t. Go. Away. The dead guy is sucking most of the air from the Silk Road plot, which—I know this is hard to believe—is sort of okay. My hero is looking for answers, and by the end, he’ll find some, none of them good. But that means the hero and heroine aren’t connecting. No romance! No conflict! Nothing!

And to put someone in danger, I had to change the libertarian Silk Road guy into a Mexican cartel, so that someone will eventually threaten someone else with a gun. And it’s really boring to have the heroine sit around and find clients for her encrypted LavaBit email service.

So the WIP’s not going that well yet. I’ve already written enough words for a whole book, but I’ve deleted almost all of them. I’ve rewritten Chapter 1 five times. I’m up to Chapter 7, but I’m not holding my breath that any of it holds together yet.

I take some courage from the fact that other authors (I’m thinking of Jenny Crusie, who taught our McDaniel class) crack a lot of oysters before they find the pearl.

So far, what do I have? Sand. A lot of sand. A sand dune, in fact.

Howzit by you?


4 thoughts on “Kay: The Plot Thickens

  1. I got nothing. Dayjob is sucking me dry right now. Although, my Reddit conversations are starting to take weird turns with leaked dragons and GMO viruses infecting bad guys.

    Your new story does sound exciting! I will say that with a romantic series, it’s OK to have a book or two where the romance plot just doesn’t move forward, as long as interesting stuff is going on and the couple are on a plateau. It can reassure the readers that these two have a great future together if they can work together on other things. (Or at least support each other through thick and thin.)

    I think it’s better to let the romance side of things rest for a little bit rather than do stuff like 1) have an interval of 15 books where the heroine is dithering between two different guys, or 2) try to force the relationship to grow when there’s a ton of stuff going on.

    In the Vorkosigan series (one of my favorites), the hero gets to have two or three starter relationships that are amazing, before he meets the future Countess Vorkosigan. Then, Bujold uses one book to get rid of Ekaterin’s husband, another book for a wild courtship (and overcoming the past), a short story for the actual wedding, and they get to have a developing relationship over the next book (and a lovely cameo in his mother’s love story, which is sort of a bookend to the whole series).

    So, maybe I’m taking that as a subconscious model. I’ve written about one of Jack’s starter relationships, and I’ve got a couple more in mind before he meets his True Love. I’ve written their meet-over-conflict, and I’ve been trying to write about the section of the relationship where they shift from “Oh, gosh, I’m in love” to mutual commitment.

    I should just pick a lane and get writing.

    • For me, it’s a vast distance between knowing I should get busy and actually making it work. In this series I have ideas for books through book seven, which is when they get married., But getting it on paper is a whole other matter.

      It sounds like the girls in the basement are working for you, though! I hope you do write that series . I would love to read it.

  2. I second what Michaeline said–your book sounds amazing (and so does hers)! I’ve been stuck on page 150 of what was to have been Book 3 of my Touched by a Demon series since November. One of the things I realized from Linnea Sinclair’s inner conflict class was that I started getting my H/h together way to soon. So, I’m planning to go back and set them up to be Not You! Not Now! Or Ever! which should fuel the romance a lot better than the drivel I’ve got now.

    In the meantime, I’ve been playing around with external and internal GMC’s for the 4 main characters in The Demon Goes Hungry. and I think I have them worked out. So I may switch tracks for a while.

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