Plotting Myself Through #SelfIsolation

Living in Central Pennsylvania, my family and I have been in self-isolation for about a month. At first, I found myself struggling to find space for writing. My head was full of anxious thoughts, I was trying to take three residential courses for Penn State and suddenly translate them to online courses, and my children were negotiating what it meant to be home from school and still learning. It was a hard transition.

And yet, a few days in I found myself thinking of a story.

My novels often serve as a vehicle for me to explore my own fears. Looking back on A Flash of Red, It Was Always You, and the recently released The Anniversary, I can see themes of my personal struggles buried inside characters and between pages. Writing offers a creative catharsis for many of us, and perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that the story forming in my head over the first weeks of this quarantine was of a family forced into similar circumstances.

The Anniversary--Cover


If you’ve read my novels, though, you’ll know that the connections to my own life are often subtler than the main plot points of my novels. My life isn’t abounding with psychopaths, sweethearts with ill intent, or self-destructive friends. For my current work in progress, the same pattern is playing out. My family is in self-quarantine, but we don’t live in a mansion on a huge plot of land in the Northeastern wilderness like the characters in this new novel do. Although we absolutely get annoyed with each other, no one is harboring any malicious plans to steal the family fortune or to usurp familial power as the world burns.

I write every morning as part of the #morningpages practice, and I find that as my story evolves and my characters progress in their devious acts, my own worries lift. It’s a relief to escape into a world where I control every piece of the terrifying puzzle. At a time where we often feel out of control of the events that swirl around us, it’s a great comfort to escape to another one where we have absolute choice in what happens next.

If you find yourself working on a new project during this pandemic, especially a thriller, you might want to check out my recent article for New Lit Salon Press where I share my own techniques and tips for plotting out my novels.

And here’s a short video where I detail how I went about plotting The Anniversary, with living room table and Post-Its in full force!

Happy reading, happy writing, and stay safe and healthy out there!

Plotting Your Next Thriller

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Watch the video here  


#amediting: Summiting Edit Mountain

There’s that moment, indescribable but sought after by any writer, when you enter that last period and type in the words ‘The End’ in act of triumphant satisfaction.  You finished!  Your story is complete, the character arcs and plot lines all tied up neatly and any dangling ends snipped into a tidy bow with the soft clicks of your keyboard.

Or . . . Not.

Just as writers know how gratifying finishing the first draft of any work can be, they also know that what lays ahead for them is the twisting, long, and sometimes treacherous road of editing that first draft into a final draft.  Sometimes, it can be such a daunting process to set out on that we writers will avoid it, spending our time conjuring up ideas for our next manuscript or browsing online for a little splurge to mark the occasion of another story ‘finished.’  I know, because this is exactly where I am right now in my work.

Having completed my first draft and begun the editing process on my second manuscript, I find myself at Base Camp 1 on the high peak of Edit Mountain.  Not to fear, though—I have a plan.  As I trudge through grammatical crevasses and my crampons plunge into misplaced modifiers, I’ll be trying the following to help bring myself to the summit peering out from the misty distance: Final Draft.

1) My first goal in editing this manuscript is to go through and fix any spelling and grammatical errors.  I set this as my first goal because it will inevitably reacquaint me with parts of the manuscript that I may have mislaid in my mind while also offering a very objective and finite task.

2) Next will be to go through the manuscript and use the commenting function of my word processor’s Review tab to denote any important plot points, foreshadowing, or character traits.  Likewise, since this manuscript has quite a few locations and the last names of some of my characters evolved as I wrote further into the work, I’ll also be looking for and correcting inconsistencies in these basic facts of the novel.

3) Only then will I go through and examine the plot arc, foreshadowing elements, and character consistencies throughout the story.  I feel this can be the most difficult part of editing, but having gone through the story with the previously outlined steps, any issues with these more fundamental aspects of the manuscript should be readily apparent and I should feel ready to address them.

4) Finally, if all goes as planned?  Open the bubbly and send it off to my wonderful beta-readers for feedback.

And my ultimate hope?  That compartmentalizing my editing process will make it manageable and, dare I say, even a little fun.

I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, though, #amediting.