Thursday, July 17, 2014

Connect Those Dots

Danger in Deer Ridge by Terry Odell
Every now and then, there's a scene that absolutely refuses to get from opening to closing in a straightforward fashion. When I was working on a scene for Danger in Deer Ridge, I had my starting plot points, there were only two characters in the scene (and one was asleep for most of it), and I had a reasonable idea of where it should end.

As I worked on it, however, it was more like a connect-the-dots picture, but without any numbers telling you where the next dot should be.

This scene happened to be one of my few ventures into the villain's POV. It's only the second time he's been on the page, so I wanted to show what kind of a man he was in a little more depth, as well as reveal some points that would heighten the tension. And, as I was writing, it turned out he was a lot nastier than I'd first thought.

My plot points for this single-scene chapter:
Bad guy is having an affair. He's thinking about breaking it off. He's looking for something he thinks his wife (who's our heroine, and is supposed to be dead) took with her before she left him. He's hired someone to investigate. Bad Stuff will happen if he doesn't find it.

Seems simple enough, especially since the foundation for these points has already been established. But that creates other problems—like how much is adding depth, and how much is just plain repetitive. Since this guy's POV scenes will be several chapters apart, a few reminders to the reader might help.

But for some reason, the details to expand each of those plot points kept hopping around. There was no flow. My system of asking "why?" seemed to create more questions. I couldn't find the next dot.

Starting the scene was easy enough. He's in bed with his mistress in the hotel room. He's the villain, so I saw no need for showing the actual sex.

Why a hotel room? Why not his own home, or hers? How much detail should I show for the mistress? How much back story is needed to explain the affair. I needed to show that it had started while he was still married. How much more? Why is he still in the room? Why doesn't he get dressed and leave?

How much is he thinking about the relationship, and how much about his dilemma? How much to reveal about exactly what it is he thinks his wife took? Do I try to layer in a red herring? Could someone else have taken it?

Eventually, I think I got all the information on the page exactly where it needed to be so it flowed smoothly. I think it works. But I had a few surprises along the way. In one of the first versions, this came in the opening paragraphs:

He stood in the doorway and watched her sleep, her red curls splayed over the pillow. Not a natural redhead, he'd discovered early on. One way or another, he figured he was paying for her hair color along with her wardrobe.

However, after two days of juggling plot points, this paragraph moved down to the end of the second page, and this is what happened to it:

He paced to the doorway and watched her sleep. A dim glow filtered through the curtains, highlighting her red curls splayed over the pillow. He stared, transfixed, at the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. His gaze wandered to the pile of bed pillows strewn about the floor. How easy to creep in, pick one up, cover her face until her breathing stopped. His shoulders bunched, and he rubbed his neck.

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.


  1. Your villain certainly sounds villainous! When I get stuck I ask: why is this scene here? How does it move the story forward? Will the reader care one way or the other or will they flip past it? Give them a reason to stick around and find out what happens.

    1. Yeah, I didn't know he was that nasty until I started writing his scene. Since I don't usually write a villain's POV (most of my books don't have 'traditional villains), I'd never needed to get that deep into their heads. I thought he was just going to be a creep, and he wanted something the heroine had, so I stuck in a few scenes from his POV, adding a bit of suspense.

  2. I like the way the scene evolved. I do write in the villain's head in most of my books, hence the blog post on villains yesterday. I like to get into their heads. I've had scenes lately like the one you described and just sat there and looked at the computer with nothing in my head, no way to move the scene, and no thoughts on where to go to make it work. It's very frustrating. I usually leave it and come back to it. Then, for some reason, it becomes clear. Who knows how the mind works? Not I.

    1. Yes, I enjoyed your post yesterday. But my villains tend to be groups, like terrorists or cartels. I can focus on some individuals, but only if they're needed in a scene. Danger in Deer Ridge was the first time I moved into the villain's POV, and you're right--sometimes you have to let the process evolve, and trust that it's in there if you'll give it a chance to surface.

  3. Your revision of this tiny scene is much more of a hook with its added insight into the villain's thinking. Probably the reader would have turned the page with the first version, but absolutely that will be the case with the second. Based on just that small, revised bit of info, I want to know what happens next -- and I haven't read any other part of the manuscript. Great post, Terry!

    1. Thanks, Linda -- and you can buy the book and read the whole thing any time!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post. It beautifully demonstrates that if you hit a writer's block, digging into the deep structure will help you tunnel through it.

  5. Debby - yep, writing is a JOB, and it's showing up at the office every day and digging in. Some days will be better than others.


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