Beat Sheets: 2013 365 Challenge #204

Coffee Shop Catastrophe

Coffee Shop Catastrophe

Apologies to anyone who received yesterday’s post without the Claire installment attached. Technical issues were to blame (combined with crawling to bed last night without finishing my Claire Installment).

On a Monday I often write the remaining part of my post in the coffee shop (because Sunday night is the hardest time to write). I have some of the post scheduled to go live if all else fails. This morning was the first time (I think) that it happened, only because the internet was down in coffee shop I chose to visit. I’ve learned my lesson! (I spent the morning wandering round town discovering which businesses have free WiFi!)

Today I have been looking at Beat Sheets and other planning tools. Following on from recent discussions about how hard it is to plan a novel if you’re a Pantser, I’ve been doing more internet research, specifically around planning romance novels (although most things seem to be quite generic). I came across the most amazing collection of resources on the website of an author of Paranormal fiction: Jami Gold. Jami has even written a post called A Pantser’s Guide to Beat Sheets. Perfect.

Even Pantsers can have structure!

Even Pantsers can have structure!

The thing I love about the post, and beat sheets, is that they can be used against a first draft, rather than (or as well as) for pre-planning, as a way to see how well the draft is structured. I spent this afternoon trying to map Baby Blues against Jami’s Romance Beat Sheet, with mixed results.

It would seem that (as suspected) my climax and ending fit the right pattern, but my opening third is way off beat. I also am not entirely sure what my inciting incident or first plot point is. I searched around some more to get a real definition of these, but haven’t reached a consensus of exactly what they are or where they should come in the novel.

I see my inciting incident as Helen finding out she’s pregnant and then leaving Daniel (apologies about spoilers!). In the Romance Beat Sheet, it suggests the inciting incident should involve both protagonists. Except Helen doesn’t even meet Marcio until a third of the way through the novel. One of my Beta readers did comment on this fact, but I admit I like the first third for setting Helen on her journey without it being about Marcio. Maybe it makes the book more Chick Lit than Romance (which is how I have categorised it anyway) or maybe it’s just plain wrong. Interestingly, both Baby Blues and Class Act originally started with the meeting between lead girl and lead boy, but I pulled the action back so that the backstory didn’t become overwhelming.

Pillow Talk by Freya North

I am looking forward to using beat sheets to rebuild Class Act and, had I had something similar before I rebuilt Baby Blues, I suspect it would be tighter. These things are all about learning. If I had used the sheets, though, would I have invented Sharni and given her so much air-time? She’s one of my favourite characters and I would hate to lose her.

I seem to recall that I was reading Pillow Talk, by Freya North, at the time of redrafting Baby Blues, and the structure of that novel may well have had an impact on me (as there are super-strong secondary characters and the love interest comes later). If it’s good enough for Freya North, then maybe it isn’t so bad!

What’s your view? Can you have a Romance/Chick Lit novel where the lovers don’t meet until a third of the novel has passed? Does it give you a chance to understand why they’re made for each other or would you have given up on the novel before that point? They say to write the novel you want to read, but that’s only going to work if others want to read it too!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


Claire closed her iPad and looked out the hostel window. In contrast to the dark wood furniture in the dim room, the view that beckoned sparkled in the late evening sunlight. In the distance the sea reflected the blue of the sky, in a deeper hue. Behind the strip of water, a long barrow of land jutted out into the ocean. Claire could just make out fields falling into the limestone cliffs of the Jurassic Coast. Her research informed her there were several pleasant walks up from the National Trust car park near the Bankes Arms pub in Studland. If the sun continued to shine in the morning, she knew where she would be.

So far, her impression of Swanage matched Conor’s description. The faded seaside town showed glimpses of its former glory, in the amusement arcades and the long wooden pier. Rather than Victorian ladies promenading along its length, Claire met only blue-rinse grannies out for their afternoon constitutional. As she had driven around looking for the youth hostel, she had seen more signs for retirement complexes than B&Bs.

It would be a tough ask to increase tourism here. She knew that Purbeck included other towns, but Swanage was the main seaside resort.

There’s also a nudist beach, but I can’t see Jason signing off tourism promoting that particular asset.

She tried to imagine living in the town for any length of time. If she had envisioned an end to her wanderings, this didn’t seem the natural place. No Waitrose, no Starbucks, so mainline train, nobody under fifty. It’s not really selling itself to me. Poole or Bournemouth were marginally better, as far as she could tell as she came through. At least Poole had Waitrose and a Starbucks, as well as being the home of the Sunseeker luxury yacht factory.

Not that I could afford one, even if I saved every penny they’d be paying me for a dozen years. Still, maybe I could hang out with the rich and famous at Sandbanks and hitch a lift.

Claire sighed and reached for her tea. One sip told her it was stone cold, and she replaced the mug with a bang on the dark wood table. Assuming Conor wasn’t exaggerating his ability to influence Jason, and I wouldn’t put it past him to do so, I will have a job offer to consider by the weekend. Two, if you include New Zealand. So why don’t I feel better?

She thought about the imminent trip back north to see Kim’s opening night. Butterflies reared in her stomach and she discovered at least one cause for her unease. It was more than fear of facing her erstwhile best friend, though. Normally she would have a gut feel for whether a job offer was the right one. Now, there was nothing. Only confusion

If only Josh were here, he would advise me what to do.

The thought took hold in her mind and grew. With a quick mental calculation, she worked out how many hours before she could call him. Without pausing to consider the wisdom of her decision, Claire gathered up her things and headed to her room to wait.


Panning for Gold: 2013 365 Challenge #112

Panning for Gold in New Zealand

Panning for Gold in New Zealand

We’ve had a great family Sunday today, taking the kids for a proper pub meal out in the sunshine before going to buy play sand at a DIY store. That’s what Sunday’s are all about.

I also spent a chunk of time in bed reading The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett because I’m still wiped. When I wasn’t reading I was sifting through my brain to locate ideas for my new novel.

I tried to explain the process to my husband and I decided it’s a bit like panning for gold. I throw a load of ideas, some mine, some influenced by books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen, into a big pan in my mind. Then I sift and sift until something sparkles. I know it’s a nugget because my heart starts to beat a bit quicker and I feel super awake, no matter how tired I am.

The thing I find hardest, however, is sifting out the real gold from the stuff that has been planted there. When we did Gold Panning in New Zealand on our honeymoon there was a vague chance of real gold, but the tour guides also put a tiny nugget in for us to find too. When I’m tilting and tipping for ideas sometimes the nuggets I find have come from another author.

There's gold in them there hills

There’s gold in them there hills

I never plagiarise deliberately, but I read a lot and I read within the genres I like to write. So ideas come that I think are mine, and as I look at them from all sides I realise they seem familiar. My question then is always, how much can you borrow before it becomes plagiarism? There are no new ideas in writing: there’s only so much you can do with 26 letters after all.

Today’s nugget involved my protagonist using books written by his father to investigate a strange place (I don’t want to give too much away as I haven’t actually written anything down yet!). Seemed like a new idea until I remembered Shadow Forest, where the children use a book to negotiate the monsters hidden in the forest. Now, is that close enough that I’ve stolen the idea from Matt Haig? Or is it far enough away that I can use it in my story?

When I wrote academic papers during my degrees I would cite references for everything because I was terrified of plagiarism. If only you could do that for novels: I didn’t mean to steal this idea but it was just SO good it sunk into my subconscious and came out as I wrote. Worst still is what happened to me in my dissertation: you write the whole thing and then you read a paper that has all the same arguments. I read a novel after writing Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes that had a very similar beginning. It looks like I’ve stolen my entire first chapter, even though I wrote mine first.

Does anyone else ever worry about inadvertently stealing stuff from other authors? How do you tackle it?


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


“Hey Claire, how’s tricks?”

“Kim! You read my mind. I’ve been meaning to call.” Claire tucked her feet under the duvet and curled up round the phone, prepared to enjoy a good gossip with her best friend.

“I should think so, you old trout. I haven’t heard from you in a month. I have to read your blog to find out more about your Aussie fella and getting mugged. What happened to ringing your mate?”

Claire flushed hot and glanced down to where Sky lay sleeping next to her on the bed, glad her niece couldn’t witness her embarrassment. “I’m so sorry. I feel like I’m living in a bubble. It’s easy to forget there’s a real world going on away from these infernal hostels.”

“So, you’re not really enjoying your challenge? The blog’s great. I’d love to meet your Aussie friend. He sounds yummy.”

“You’d have to go a long way to do that. He’s flying home with his wife and kids any day now.” Claire swallowed hard and hoped Kim wouldn’t detect the wobble in her voice.

“Oh dear. You fell for a married man, didn’t you?” Kim’s voice was a perfect blend of sympathy and censure.

“I didn’t know he was married when I met him.” Claire spoke without thinking, before realising her hot words amounted to an admission of guilt. Not wanting to analyse the emotions pumping through her chest, Claire sought to change the subject.

“I’ve got my niece with me at the minute.” Sky stirred beneath the covers and Claire lowered her voice, not wanting to wake her. “I’m looking after her for the Easter holidays.”

“Oh.” There was silence.

“What is it Kim?” Silence was not a normal state of affairs when Kim was on the phone. Normally the challenge was squeezing a word in sideways.

“Jeff and I were thinking of coming to see you, that’s all. From the blog we gather you’re in East Anglia still. Be nice to have a day or two away. The rehearsals are fun, but a girl can only be Puck for so long.”

Her voice was light, but Claire could tell her friend was unhappy. “When’s opening night? I hope I’ll be able to come and see you perform.”

“Oh, not for a few weeks. Yes, do come.” There was still a chill. Part of Claire felt irritated. It’s not like Kim and I are the kind of friends who call every week. She wondered if there was another reason for her friend’s call, but a day spent with Sky had left her drained of all energy and emotion and she didn’t have the strength to delve behind Kim’s words.

“So, when are you and Jeff thinking of coming? We’re in Wells at the moment but we’ll be in Hunstanton for the weekend.”

“Sunny Hunny. Lovely. Why don’t we come and stay there? If we can’t get into the hostel we’ll book a B&B.”

“Are you sure you and Jeff are up to socialising with a six-year-old?” Claire realised how ungrateful that sounded. “Not that I won’t be delighted to see you both. It’s just she’s, well, quite full on.”

Another silence drenched the line. Claire’s tired brain tried to pick through the possibilities; for once her radar concerning her friend felt way off beam.

“That’s fine. Jeff likes kids.” Kim’s voice sounded strained. Claire wondered if her friend had guessed the cause of her own break up with Michael. That must be it. She doesn’t want to talk about kids and relationships because she knows it broke mine.

“Okay then, hun. Send me an email or text once you know what your plans are. If Jeff loves kids he can entertain Sky while we have a proper natter.”

“Thanks. I’d like that.”

As she hung up the phone Claire couldn’t shake the feeling that Kim was holding back. I’m probably imagining it. I’m so tired nothing makes sense anymore and I’m jumping at shadows. Nothing bothers Kim; she’s indestructible. She tried to think it through but her eyes refused to stay open. Even though the iPad cheerfully informed her it was only 9pm she ignored it, glad none of her erstwhile colleagues could see her hitting the sack when they were probably only just leaving the office and heading for the bar.

I’d take twelve hours of Boardroom bullying and office shenanigans over keeping up with a six-year-old any day.


Planning and pesky characters


Artwork by Amber Martin

I don’t write plot plans or outlines and this blog explains why.

If you follow regularly you’ll know I’m rubbish at planning what I write, preferring instead to let the story develop as the words (hopefully) flow from subconscious to computer screen.

However after writing my post about the Chicken House / Times children’s book competition, I decided to write a plot plan for my young adult novel, Dragon Wraiths. I had an idea where the story was going, haven written half of it, so it seemed a safe, logical thing to do, particularly as I haven’t got long to draft and redraft before submission in September / October. I hoped that a plan would help me get all the continuity right first time and save some long-term pain. All good.

Except the pesky characters won’t do what they’re told.

I’m two chapters into my ‘plan’ and already I’ve added a whole new section to the novel, extending it from 3 parts to 4. I’ve changed a good character into a barrier and rewritten the whole ending. Twice.

So far my adherence to the plan resembles my children’s colouring: The lines are there only to be scribbled over. As a parent I have tried to let my kids colour how they like, seeing it as too controlling to tell them to colour inside the lines. Am I giving a free-rein to my own creativity by scribbling all over my own plot plan, or am I just scatty?

I have also discovered that, while I find it almost impossible to summarise a chapter into one line, it is easy for one line of planned plot to become two or three chapters.

I have written 7,000 words today and covered only two lines of plot plan.

They find the missing girl and she agrees to help takes no account of how hard it turned out to be to find the girl or the fact that she was rude and uncooperative when they did find her. My whole story depends on the girl being helpful: I didn’t expect her to have a mind of her own. In twenty words of dialogue, written while walking the dog, she has destroyed my whole plot outline with her rudeness. Grrr.

So I am ploughing ahead without worrying too much about the plan. It is still useful as a guide for key plot developments, particularly for the sciency bits that are not my strong point. As for the rest, even I don’t know if the darn woman will help out in the end, or finish up being written out of the book entirely.

That’ll show her.

Gardening and Planning

The garden after much levelling and grass-sowing

Last Thursday afternoon I took some time off to tame our feral garden. The sun made an unexpected appearance and I couldn’t miss the opportunity.

We’ve been faffing around inexcusably regarding what to do with bits of our lawn. One large section is a mess, after we had a boat standing there for years (a long story). We sold the boat a few months ago and since then the whole area has been an eye-sore and child-trap: full of bits of rubbish, holes the dog dug under the boat and many vicious weeds.

Husband wanted to fill the holes with top-soil, roller it flat, make it as gorgeous as a cricket pitch. I want somewhere the kids can play without getting stung or covered in mud or breaking their ankle.

In our family, husband is responsible for all things outside and DIY, while I do all things indoors and domestic. I have recently taken over lawn mowing while husband has been away with work, much to my 3-year-old daughter’s bewilderment.

The first time I dragged the lawnmower out of the shed she looked at me as if I’d grown horns.

“Mummy, that’s daddy’s job.”

I couldn’t figure out how to get the mower started and after twenty minutes I was sweating and cursing. Her response was:

“Better leave it to daddy.”

Needless to say she had a quick lesson in woman’s lib and not giving up and I was given the motivation required to approach the task more calmly and find the dead-switch.

As well as mowing this Thursday I decided to tackle the ugly-eye-sore spot. First thing was to shift a giant tarpaulin and wood pile, trying not to scream too loudly when I uncovered a nest of tiny mice. (I covered them with a plant pot and they were later relocated by their mummy.)

As I was moving planks, filling holes, scattering grass seed and generally trying to reclaim half my lawn for the kids, I got to thinking about writing (as I often do when my hands are busy but my mind is not.)

I see metaphors everywhere; it was easy to get distracted by what it symbolised to leave baby mice safely hidden, only to trap them later when they venture into our house, or the futility of planting grass seed for the birds to eat. Maybe the wasted effort of reclaiming lawn when it hasn’t stopped raining for three months and the long-term forecast isn’t much better.

In the end what stuck in my mind the most was the conflicting lures of planning versus getting stuck in. When I write, I generally just get stuck in, and the ideas follow (hopefully) one upon another as I type. I’ve often thought I should plan more. One writer I know sketches every scene before writing anything and has a prescribed number of chapters in a book and so on.

That fills me with awe and terror.

Awe because I can’t write like that and terror because I feel I probably should. How can I call myself a writer when I stumble along hoping a story comes to me as I type?  Except I recently read that even well-known published authors occasionally have the same approach.

Looking at our garden my conclusion was it’s okay to just get stuck in, although a little planning doesn’t hurt. If I had got stuck in at the beginning of summer, without worrying about a plan, we’d have lawn by now. A lumpy lawn, full of weeds and holes, but a lawn nonetheless. In this case planning equalled procrastination (to be fair, mostly it was due to my husband being just too busy). However I did lose an hour of gardening time on Thursday having to go buy grass seed, so some planning might have helped. The main thing is, when I look at the flat seeded area now (see photo) I am filled with a huge sense of satisfaction and progress, no matter how uneven the end result.

I have reached deadlock with my Young Adult novel, Dragon Wraiths, because I have to create a new world and a history. I am dealing with two planets and two timelines, and planning really is essential to keep it all straight.

But I hate planning.

I don’t like reaching the end of a day with no increase in word-count. There is no sense of satisfaction, just a growing confusion, and sense that I could probably plan forever and never be fully satisfied. My creativity doesn’t function unless I am actually writing. I may as well be doing school essays.

Reading what I’ve written so far I realise that lack of planning hasn’t held me back from writing some good stuff.  I mostly know where the story is going, in my mind, I just don’t always know how it is going to get there until I start writing it down.

So, I could fart about worrying about the details of my world and have no story to enter in the Mslexia competition in September. Or I could break a dozen rules, just keep writing, and add the history in the second draft.

Maybe sometimes you just have to get stuck in and not worry if it’s lumpy and full of holes. After all you can’t edit a blank page any more than you can mow dirt.