For Readers & Writers

from Susan Dennard

February 5, 2016

What's in this heart-to-heart?


Recent Goings On:

In the Writing Zone

I've been on a much-needed social media break since I got home from tour. Not because I don't like social media but because I like it TOO MUCH. I will literally spend all day on Twitter, pretend it's "work," and then wonder why I haven't made any progress in my manuscript.

So I've been reestablishing my daily routine. Blocking out BIG chunks of time where the internet is Not Allowed. And, lo and behold, the words are flowing!

I'm not the only author who relies on routine, either. All of my dearest author friends stick to a strict daily schedule because...well, reasons. Good ones.

For the Mislanders:

Galentine's Day! + San Diego Signing

I have a few awesome events coming up that are separate from the epic #TruthRider Tour with Veronica Rossi.

First up, Galentine's Day with fantastic friend and fellow fantasy fiend, Sarah J. Maas! (Like what I did there with that alliteration? Yeah. High school english, baby.)

Can't make it to the event? No worries. Good Choice Reading has you covered.

The second upcoming event is for all you San Diego starlets!

On February 19, I'll be signing at the awesome Mysterious Galaxy store. Signing and shenanigans start at 7:30! Learn more here.

For the Daydreamers:

#FBF 2 — Emotional Dominoes

As mentioned in my last newsletter, I'm traveling so much over the next few months, I thought I'd toss in a few #FlashbackFriday posts -- i.e. share some older, popular posts that NEW readers might not have seen before.

This week, I'm sharing a post that I actually read recently for inspiration: "Simple Tricks to Unstick Your Plot: The Domino Effect" (from November, 2013). It's Part 1 in a 2-part series about unsticking your plot (read part 2 here).

Note: I have updated it slightly, so even if you've read it in the past, it might be worth checking it out again.

I tend to have a lot of false starts when I’m drafting. Or I write my characters into inescapable corners... Or I just don't know what happens next.

I mean, matter how meticulously I might screenplay a scene or how freely I fly by the seat of my pants, I always get stuck at some point. Maybe what I’d thought should come next (and what I had written on my pretty Scrivener corkboard) no longer feels right, or maybe I’ve just completely stalled out on new ideas.

No matter the reason for getting stuck, I do always manage to get the story moving once again. Eventually. Sometimes it only takes a few hours, and other times it takes a few days…Or months (in the case of the Notorious Windwitch). No matter what, it takes time for my subconscious to unknot the characters and the plot and the world.

Of course, oftentimes the subconscious needs a bit of nudging, and there are a few go-to methods that I rely on.

Today, I’m going to talk about the first trick I use:

Figuring out where the dominoes will fall.

You know how people line up dominoes in elaborate patterns and then knock them over to watch them successively fall? I once heard someone compare scenes in a book to dominoes -- our inciting incident sets off the domino chain, and each scene is a direct result of the scene before.

But it’s not necessarily the plot that follows a domino effect. Sometimes we don’t want our chain of events to be linked. Sometimes, we want things to occur that are out of our protagonist’s control.

For example, if the character has to take a chemistry test the night after she joined a witch coven…well, there’s no clear connection between those two story events.

But how our character does on that chemistry test will be a direct result of the night before. If she’s on an emotional high from summoning magic powers she didn’t even know she had, she might traipse into that test and cavalierly fail. Which in turn might lead her down a new path (toward studying with her cute lab partner, perhaps?).

So the dominoes don’t represent specific events so much as our protagonist’s emotional journey through the events, and the dominoes also represent how events shape/affect the primary goal.

Each new scene will show our character reacting in some way to what happened before.

Example: In Something Strange and Deadly, the book opens with Eleanor going to meet her brother at the train station. But instead of Elijah showing up with a smile, a zombie with a hostage note arrives instead. When Eleanor gets that note, she’s FREAKED OUT (as she darn well should be), and so in the next few scenes, she is dealing with her FREAKOUT.

Perhaps most importantly, Eleanor's original goal of reuniting with her brother is no longer an option. She needs to adjust her goal accordingly. Yet event-wise, she goes from hiding in the train station to chatting with her mother to suffering through a fancy dinner. None of those events are connected, but how Eleanor behaves through them is.

Remember this: Every emotional beat in your story must be a direct result of what happened before, and it must lead to a shift in either what the character wants or how the character plans to get it.

To go back to Something Strange and Deadly, Eleanor knows she needs to find her brother and she doesn’t think she can possibly do it by herself. So she plans to foist the job onto a ghost-fighting team that’s visiting town. But when her plan falls through (the Spirit-Hunters don’t want to help her), her emotions shift from “I’m scared out of my mind” to “I’ll just do it myself, then.”

But keep in mind that it takes many scenes for Eleanor’s emotional dominoes to fall and eventually lead her in a new direction.

So what does all this explanation of dominoes and goals have to do with unsticking your plot? It’s quite simple, really.

When you get stuck, look at your most recent emotional dominoes.
Do your last few scenes (or maybe even your last 20 scenes—sometimes I have to go pretty far back to see where things begin unraveling) logically connect? Do the emotional beats actually progress in a way that fits with the previous scenes? And does the character’s goal shift according to his/her emotional shift?

Check all of your dominoes. Make sure that when each one falls, it will actually hit the scene that’s after it. It’s very possible you missed something. (This is also an EXCELLENT thing to analyze when revising!)

Honestly, there are SO many times when I didn’t properly deal with a scene's emotional consequences (usually because it’s so hard to write the intense emotiona stuff) and as such, my story will have derailed because no one is behaving as they really ought to. They’re all happy and bantering instead of fighting/sobbing//reacting like they should given the previous scene.

So if I go back to where the emotional beats went wonky and try again, I can usually smooth out the issues and get my story moving again.

An example: I wrote a Windwitch scene with Iseult 2 days ago. But I was REALLY struggling to write the next one. Everything just felt wrong and every word was agony. So I paused....and thought for a while. Then it hit me: the emotions in the previous scene were WAY too light. Too easy. I had Iseult just casually going through a new location when instead she should be on her guard, borderline hostile with the locals, and constantly thinking/planning ahead.

I made the needed changes to the previous scene, and ah. Unclogged. The next scene came out much easier because I now had Iseult in the proper mindset.

Sometimes, though, the dominoes are correctly lined up...but I'm still stuck. In this case, I simply need to think really hard about what domino would logically come next. What emotions would evolve from the ones in my most recent scene? What new goals should my characters organically be making?

I'll make a list if I have to. Or talk it out with my dogs (they're excellent listeners). Either way, enough thinking usually offers a solution.

And there you have it: emotional dominoes and how I use them. I hope you find it as useful a trick as I do!
Upcoming Events:


Galentine's Day
Barnes & Noble at Neshaminy Mall
Bensalem, PA
February 13 @ 6PM

Schuler Books
Lansing, MI
February 17 @ 7PM

Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
February 19 @ 7:30PM

Books & Books
Coral Gables, FL
February 24 @ 7PM

Asheville, NC
February 25 @ 7PM (MY BIRTHDAY!!)

And of course, check out the #TruthRider tour dates here! I hope to see you all somewhere across the US!

(And for all you amazing people who keep asking if I'll come to the UK: no plans yet, but MAYBE ONE DAY. Perhaps if we bug Tor UK enough, they'll make it happen. 😎)


photo by Emily Rae Photography

Copyright © 2016
Susan Dennard
All rights reserved.

110 West 40th St., Suite 2201
New York, NY 10018

I'm a misfit, a daydreamer, a fangirl, an animal-lover, and a (now gluten-free) cookie-eater.