LUCY BURDETTE: With each of the mysteries I’ve written and had published (15 so far*), I've been required to turn in three chapters and a plot synopsis to my editor toward the beginning of the contract. (Except for the first book ever, which I had to write to completion.) And it has never failed that my writing comes to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle because I don’t know what’s happening next.
“What does your synopsis say?” my husband always asks.
“Nothing, it says nothing! I’ve got nothing!” I moan in reply.
Then I try all my tricks—whine on Facebook, brainstorm with writers group, attempt to start at the end and work back to the point where I’m stuck. Eventually the ideas do come and the book gets written and this mid-book agony fades.
Since I have all those books under my belt, my agent and I have been hoping that I could provide the same kind of material for a new book, even though it’s in a slightly different genre. The idea would be that she’d try to sell this proposal while I write like mad.
So I sent her 94 polished pages and a 10-page synopsis that I thought was in pretty good shape. Excellent, in fact. The best so far! Compelling! Full of plot twists and deep character change!
As we had planned, she is sending the proposal around, and I continue to write, referring to the synopsis as needed. I’m broken-hearted to report that the same thing is happening with number 16 as happened with number two: I'm 100 pages in and I’ve run out of plot. The synopsis, it turns out, was a summary of the first 100 pages and the ending. I’ve got precious little to fill the empty space in between those two points…
I'm trying not to panic, trying to follow the characters wherever they take me. After all, Hank and Rhys and Hallie never know quite where they're going with a book in progress and they've done pretty well, right? I even signed up for an online class sponsored by our New England chapter of Sisters in Crime, mostly because Susan Meier, the teacher (who is terrific by the way), promised a technique for generating plot ideas when all the natural ideas have run dry. One of her many good suggestions was pinpointing a plot question, and then giving yourself a very short (1-2 minutes) time to generate a list of possible answers. The thought is that the first few will lack freshness, but as you force your brain to work, some wild ideas are bound to surface. And some of them might even work! Here, let’s try…
Suppose I want to write a suspense book about a psychologist who has had her license to practice suspended. (Then I might imagine moving her to Key West where she might volunteer in some way in the local jail and get in some major trouble.) Of course, I will want the reason for her suspension to echo in the plot later. So in this example, one question is why did the ethics board suspend her license? Here are the first few possibilities I came up with—you can see they aren’t very imaginative—yet…
1. She slept with her patient
2. She bought drugs from her patient
3. She sold drugs to her patient
4. Her patient killed himself and his family has filed a negligence complaint
5. He pretended to kill himself and persuaded…as above
6. She stalked her patient
7. She created false records of patients and billed for them
8. Her patient is able to persuade the review board that she did sleep with him (though she didn’t)
So you get the idea…I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet because while I want her to be troubled in some way, I also want her to be appealing. I know the answer is out there. Somewhere. Anyone want to try?
*I couldn't resist lining them all up for a photo opp:)--aren't they pretty? Though in the night I heard them squabbling over who got the best cover artist....