Writing Books/organization


Hello Cathy, I have read several of the queries to you and your answers. I feel you are an intelligent lady and you know what you're talking about. I'm from Canada and grew up reading comic books. I've read countless books and have always loved the spellbinding fantasy such as Robert Jordan and more recently Christopher Paolini. The depth with which they write is astounding. I'm a perfectionist and my computer and several notebooks are full of idea's, and i feel i am ready to put it all together. I just would like some advice on organizing a stable plot and how to write out something to the extent of a brainstorming web. Now i did very poorly in high school and as a result never took the time to learn many of those simple steps that most writers use. I use correct spelling, and punctuation for the most part but am sorely lacking of several basic writing skills used for idea generation and organization. Any assistance you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks Gabe.

Hi, Gabe!

Congratulations on taking the next step toward writing. If you've got several notebooks full of ideas, I doubt you lack for idea generation. :)

Organization is key, though, to any good novel. It's a tricky thing to teach, however. Mostly what I do is define the goal of the book. I'm a fan of the GMC method of organization. That's "goal", "motivation" and "conflict." You like fantasy, so, let's take a typical fantastic situation as an example.

A magical dragon is attacking villages in a systematic fashion and needs slaying. But the book is set in a time and place where magic is sorely lacking except by a very limited few. That's your goal. Kill the dragon.

Your hero/ine is one of the "few." But, what's the motivation? Well, it could be that his village is next in line for attack and people are frantically trying to get out of the way, or have their collective heads in the sand and refuse to believe dragons even exist. Your hero/ine's motivation has to be clear to the reader and compelling enough that it's obvious why s/he can't simply walk away and let someone else handle it. Altruism is fine, but there's the level of opening a door when a stranger's hands are full, versus leaping into the dragon's maw to save people you don't know. So, make your motivation clear.

But, your hero/ine has no idea how the dragon's magic works, why it's killing or what it's immune to. So, he (we'll go with a hero) has to find out more information. Often what happens is the hero finds there's a REASON why the dragon is attacking. It's under another's control or the dragon is trying to cleanse the earth of humans. There's your conflict. Something or someone is going to try to stop the hero.

You see where this is going? For every goal, there must be a conflict. For every motivation, there must be a goal. Etc. Now, this doesn't always apply to subplots (if you think of a novel as a moment in time in the hero's life, then a subplot is the hero's life intruding on the goal.)

Organizing the novel is a version of Murphy's Law. "If something bad can happen, it usually does." If the hero is tripping merrily along toward his goal, finding out all the information he needs, then something's wrong. It's never that easy. So, make something bad happen to him that pulls his attention away. The best subplots complicate the hero's life, but in a way that's easily resolved later in the book. It can be a romantic entanglement, or a loved one being sick or in danger, or the hero's horse mysteriously dying so he has to find other transportation. Etc., etc. You see how it goes?

Does that help any?  Feel free to write back if there are still some things unclear and I'll help out as best as I can.  Oh, and you might pick up a copy of the book, Goal, Motivation and Conflict. I'd try interlibrary loans first. I think it's currently out of print. But here's a link if you want to try to buy a copy.


You'll find it wonderfully helpful. :)

Good luck!


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Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

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