Friday, August 19, 2011

Morgan St. James on How to Use Fate to Develop a Great Plot

I'm pleased to welcome Morgan St. James to Immortyl Revolution.  Morgan is the third L&L Dreamspell author in the feature I've been running. 


Morgan St. James

Fate is one of those “tricks of the trade” that can work in any genre and produce heart-thumping terror, boundless joy, romance, hatred or any number of emotions. Some believe in it, like me, and others say it’s just something that happened. But think about its value when writing fiction.

When I conceived the idea for my Twist of Fate series, I decided that even if every book didn’t have the same protagonist, “fate” would be one of the main “characters.”

A chance passing of apparent strangers and the world turns upside down. What would have happened if two people who shape the chilling conclusion of a book each arrived at the fateful door a few minutes later or earlier? Nothing. Would they each have gone on their way without incident? Would they meet at some other time setting off the same firestorm? Using fate, it becomes the author’s choice.

A car hurtles around a dangerous blind curve and slams into an oncoming car traveling in the opposite direction. They crash and one driver’s life changes. A few minutes or even seconds earlier or later and they would have missed each other and continued on their route. I know—it happened to me in 1983. But for that accident many events and the directions my life took would have been radically different. For one thing, I probably wouldn’t have been writing advice columns for authors, a “how-to” book and mystery novels. I would have been designing model homes—that’s what I did.

When the author is plotting, all of the forks in the road must be considered. What events follow if a certain thing happens? What events follow if it doesn’t? This is the fun part where you as the author shape fate and more or less play “God.” You alone determine the protagonist’s life pattern.

Fate is a powerful tool. It allows the author to map the plot like a chess game, always looking ahead at the options. If Event A happens, it sets off a chain of events. If it doesn’t, life goes in another direction. At each milestone there are one or more choices that shape the story in the direction the author chooses.

Take this example: The robbery is carefully planned, everything is in place and has been checked and double-checked. It should go without a hitch. Then there is momentary electrical short, it sets off an alarm and it all goes wrong. Who could have anticipated that? It’s one of those moments. A great example of this is Donald Westlake’s “What’s the Worst Thing That Could Happen?” where a chain of unanticipated mishaps resulted in a hilarious story. When asked how he plotted it, he said, "I bet...I bet if this had happened, then that wouldn't have happened; that sort of thing.” He claimed to have the same line of thought when writing “Somebody Owes Me Money.”

Fate is a very popular device in romances. How and why do the strangers meet? Take “Sleepless in Seattle.” It is filled with these moments and that’s what makes the story work.
There is a technique called bubbling where you start with a protagonist and/or event in the main bubble. Then take all of the offshoots. For each plot point draw a circle radiating off the main one and enter that action. Then for each of those draw four or five circles leading back to each event and think of an action that could be triggered. Continue as far down that path as you choose. Now take your protagonist on the fateful journey you have mapped. Happy writing!

A very big thanks to Morgan for her insight! You can find out more about Morgan and her books at her website and blogs.

She's just launched the new Writers' Tricks of the Trade blog and monthly Newsletter, filled with tips, techniques, and experiences of myself and guest contributors in various facets of publishing. There is a Brag page for subscribers, conference listings, etc. The link for the Newsletter is in the right-hand column of

Here is some information on Morgan's latest books:

Vanishing Act in Vegas

"Vanishing Act in Vegas," published by L&L Dreamspell, is the third book in the Silver Sisters Mysteries, was released this week in eBook, Kindle and paperback. The 4th book, "Diamonds in the Dumpster" is currently in work. The two previous books were "A Corpse in the Soup" (Best Mystery Audio Book 2007-USA Book News) and "Seven Deadly Samovars."

Join the zany sisters, Beverly Hills advice columnist Godiva Olivia DuBois, her twin sister--over the hill Alaska antique shop owner Goldie-- and their feisty 80 year old mother and uncle (former vaudeville magicians) as they try to solve the mystery surrounding Sin City's beautiful magician, Mara the Magnificent.

Filled with twists and turns, Vegas kitsch and a few backfires, this new Silver Sisters adventure is sure to delight.

Here is what reviewers are saying about the Silver Sister's Mysteries:

Morgan and Phyllice manage to incorporate just the right mix of tension and humor to keep it lively and interesting page after page. If you like the warm, friendly amateur detective mystery then this is one you should get. Sid Weaver, Reviewer and Wannabe Sleuth,

Morgan St. James and Phyllice Bradner are as entertaining as Nick & Nora Charles or even better. If you like the late Anne George's Southern Sisters Series you'll love these two crime solving quirky characters who know how to create merry mischief and it's in their blood. Pamela James/Reviewer Mayhem & Magic website .

Writers Tricks of the Trade

"Writers Tricks of the Trade," published by Marina Publishing Group, was released over the past two weeks in eBook and Kindle-paperback will be available by the end of the month. Suitable for every fiction writer from novice to published. Here are a few of the blurbs:

"Regardless of genre, writing can be a mystery. In these 'Thirty-nine Steps' for aspiring scribes, Morgan St. James makes the conundrum far less daunting. Great, real-world, career-tested tips within these pages!" ~Megan Edwards, author of Roads from the Ashes: An Odyssey in Real Life on the Virtual Frontier

"Writers' Tricks of the Trade is one of those, rare books that you can read over and over. Read it through once, but keep it handy whenever you are blocked. You can open it to any page at random and find inspiration." ~John Brantingham, Professor of English, Mount San Antonio College, Walnut CA


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Morgan and Denise,

As always, Morgan, you present ideas very useful to all of us who write. Fate is a very important factor in real life and therefore is important to plot development.

Congrats on the new book!

Pauline B Jones said...

You're bringing some fun posts to your blog, Denise. Most interesting and thought provoking, Morgan. Congrats on the releases!

Betty Gordon said...

An insightful interview, Morgan. Fate is important to explore whether one believes in it or not. The ideas of 'what if" can open many doors in plotting.

Denise Verrico said...

Morgan, again, thanks for being here. Thanks for your comments, ladies. I'm happy to host such interesting and talented writers like Morgan. Plot is something we haven't really talked much about here, so I was happy that Morgan submitted this piece.