The chapter on Plotting the Christian Romance in Gail Gaymer Martin’s Writing the Christian Romance resource book is full of details and direction to creating a compelling plot. There is no way to summarize all that is included in this chapter, so I’m just going to highlight a few points to give you an idea of the depth of knowledge to be gleaned from a personal study of this chapter.
When plotting a Christian romance you must not only include the growth of the characters and their romance in the context of the story action, but you must also show the spiritual growth of the characters as well within the story flow. Gail Gaymer Martin suggests a simple system she calls the Five C’s of Plotting to help you get started on your plotting. If you include Characters (believable characters), Cause (motivation and goals), Conflicts, Commitment (both in romance and faith), and Conclusion (HEA with emotion) in your plot formation then you are well on your way to creating a winning story.
There are numerous styles of plotting. A few that are mentioned and described in detail in this chapter are: Synopsis, Chapter Outline, Index-Card Plotting, Seat-of-the-Pants (SOTP) Plotting, and the Three-act play structuring. No matter which plotting style the author adopts, or combination there of, their task is still the same, to create a compelling story with believable characters who have understandable motivation and goals and are thrust into compounding conflicts that keeps the reader’s eyes glued to the page even through the long middle of your book.
And just how do we writers do this? Well, Gail Gaymer Martin offers many techniques to achieve this goal. Some of which are:
Conflict: Include both internal and external conflicts throughout your story. Up the stakes with more and more difficult situations for the characters to overcome or traverse—it’s those building conflict-riddled scenes that holds the middle up.
Pacing: Create fast paced action scenes followed by gentle awareness scenes or sequels as many call them to give the reader a chance to breath and reflect on what just transpired. Emotional response can sustain the slower paced sequels, while action shoots us through the fast paced scenes. Think of the most thrilling roller coaster rides you’ve been on. Remember those slow climbs? The emotional response to a previous action-driven scene can be related to that slow climb. Add foreboding, internal dilemma’s, and/ or a sense of mystery during the reflective scenes and your reader will take the climb with anticipation for the next whirlwind of loop-d-loops that your fast-paced scenes are to deliver.
Holding Back: As the story progresses, you the author, should be leaving got-to-know-the-answer type questions in the reader’s mind. Don’t answer those questions right away, make the reader work to find the answers by reading onward. This technique is often found at the end of a chapter or scene, also called a cliff-hanger.
Subplots: Subplots can strengthen the long middles as well, just be sure they are related to the outcome of the relationship between the hero and heroine. If you can’t connect the dots to the main plot, then it’s not a suitable subplot for your story.
Ask “What If…”: When things seem to be getting too kosher, relaxed, consider asking what if questions to flesh out further conflict, dilemma’s for your characters. What if the hero’s ex-girlfriend showed up? What if the heroine gets in a car accident? Think of what means the most to your characters and then consider “what if they lost it or it was stolen from them or they were provoked into doing something they hate and despise?” Up the stakes by asking “What If …” questions and then make it happen.
Combine Characters: If your story is too congested with characters, consider combining some or purging others so that the reader doesn’t become overwhelmed with trying to keep track of your large cast. This combining technique can round out characters too and make them more interesting and three-dimensional.
Twists: Use your own personal who-would-have-thought experiences to create a twist from the usual types of plots. This will make it your own unique plot as will the individual characters you create.
These notes just touch the tip of what is offered in Writing the Christian Romance. Just remember that there is no right or wrong way of plotting. Each author must discover what works for him/her. But by being aware of various techniques to strengthen your plot, you may be able to fix a sagging middle without a whole lot of frustration, so be creative and come up with some unique situations for your interesting characters to endure and watch your story come to life.
Tomorrow we’ll be visiting the final topic of Gail Gaymer Martin’s Writing the Christian Romance. And that would be some tips on how to sell a Christian romance novel.
For a topic of discussion, let’s share our own plotting methods. Are you a three-act plotter, SOTP (of which I’m personally now calling An Intuitive Plotter, as Megan DiMaria taught me) or an Index-Card junkie, or Synopsis extraordinaire, or any combination of the above or more?