Shannon Stacey

Weekend Question: Charting your story

Okay, here we go! The first weekend question. Just as a reminder, this post will stay at the top through the weekend, and I also wanted to add one thing for any authors who want to chime in. If you know of a blog post or article, either your own or somebody else’s, that you think gives great information relating to the question, please feel free to share the link in the comments.

If you’ve got a question, email it to me at with Weekend Question in the subject line!

Without further ado….this weekend’s question:

How in the world do you come up with a storyline (vision) of your books? How? I can’t see past the end of my nose let alone the beginning to the end of a book. Where does it come from? Honestly?

5 comments to “Weekend Question: Charting your story”

  1. Jaci Burton
      · February 15th, 2008 at 11:35 am · Link

    Hard question. Not an easy answer. Or a short one. :shock:

    I start with an idea, or a character, or a scene, and I branch out from there. Keep in mind that every author is different. Some may start with the entire book fully formed. Others may have just the beginning, or just bits and pieces. It’s whatever works for you and in whatever way works best for you.

    I never have an entire book fully formed in my head when I start out. The first thing I do is start thinking about the story. Who are the characters, what is the plot? What do I want to happen and why? There are always questions that have to be answered, so I take out a notebook and ask a lot of questions, start developing my characters’ backgrounds. Why are they in this story? What do they want to get out of this? I develop their interactions, the romance, the exernal and internal conflicts.

    Then I write an outline, a synopsis of sorts, though it’s pretty loosely formed. I plan the entire story out, start to finish, and that story changes multiple times as I work the story through in my head. Some authors never do this part…they create as they go, letting the story unfold as they write it. Like I said, you have to find what works best for you as a writer.

    If you’re a beginning writer, the best thing to do is experiment. Work on a synopsis, or just start writing the story as you see it, and see where it takes you. If it’s your first book there are no rules. Think of it as an adventure and see where you go. You might end up with an entire book, or you might have a few starts and stops and delete the entire thing. Only you can know the road you’ll take from start to finish on a book, and the best way to do that is to…start. Every writer had to start somewhere.

  2. Karen Templeton
      · February 15th, 2008 at 12:29 pm · Link

    When I started out, that old adage “write what you know” came in very handy — the heroine of the first book was a wedding planner/salon owner; having worked in an upscale bridal salon for several years, writing about the bridal industry was easy as pie. Some twelve years and thirty books later, however, I’ve pretty much exhausted everything I “know”, so I’ve learned to find seeds for stories almost everywhere, even if many of them never germinate. A snippet of overheard conversation, a news article, real life situations, even other books (because you can take an idea from one story, turn it on its head and come up with a completely different story) — everything’s grist for the mill.

    Those seeds that do germinate are the ones that also evoke characters, because without characters there is no story — at least, not for me. Once one character begins to take shape in my head, then I play around with his/her other half (since I write romance), toying with possible obstacles to keep them emotionally apart (conflict) until I have a premise that, at this point, I’m pretty sure will work. Then I cobble together enough of a plot to show how the conflict becomes heightened, the Black Moment, and the resolution — much of which invariably changes as I write the story. :tomato:

    But then, I’m so not a plotter. So it’s not until I start actually working with the characters that the real story develops. Coming up with story ideas…piece of cake. Taking those stories from premise to finished book…not so easy. :roll:

    I think, however, that sometimes new writers feel inhibited because the entire story doesn’t come to them full-blown right from the get-go. It rarely, if ever, works that way (except, perhaps, for JK Rowling. :eyebrow: ). For most of us, once we get that premise, the rest is a lot of trial and error and retooling and just plain hard work, whether you’re a complete pantser (writing the whole book by the seat of your pants with little or no advance prep), or an obsessive outliner.

  3. Karen Templeton
      · February 15th, 2008 at 12:31 pm · Link

    Snort. Since it took me an hour and a half to actually finish the above (thank you, seven month old grandson :rofl: ), I hadn’t seen Jaci’s answer until after I posted mine.

    Coulda saved myself the trouble and just said “Ditto.” :nod:

  4. Shannon
      · February 15th, 2008 at 1:32 pm · Link

    I don’t visualize a book from beginning to end, but rather in fragments of scenes, all out of order. It’s honestly as though somebody took a DVD and set the scene selection to “random shuffle”. Instead of trying to discipline myself to forge through from start to end, I write the scene that comes to me, then try to fill it in later.

    I usually start with a fragment of a scene, quite often a line of dialogue, which will get me as far as the first, sometimes second, chapter. And one of the nice things about romance novels is at least we know where we have to end up. A couple random scenes might come up and then it’s time to start bridging them together.

    So let’s say my heroine is the target of a serial killer and her high school sweetheart is assigned to protect her. (Not going for originality points here. *g*) I’ve got the opening and she’s fending off an attack and we see him being assigned to protect her and their reunion. And we know the villain will die, the heroine will live and the two will live happily ever after. So what do I need…

    In random order as scenes might come to me:
    *I need to know why they broke up the first time around.
    *The first love scene.
    *After the love scene I need the conflict to escalate to a new level.
    *A scene introducing their “right now” internal conflict as opposed to the high school one.
    *A “breather” scene so they can explore their feelings, enjoy one another.
    *The serial killer gets her.
    *The hero saves her.
    *A scene in which the heroine shows her own strength, even though the hero saves the day in the end.
    *The first kiss.

    And so on and so forth. Once the list of scenes I need are simmering in the mental stew pot, often the scene I need will pop into my head while I’m washing dishes or driving, and then build from there. After scene F, I know I need a scene G (for instance, escalating the conflict after they make love). I work outward from there as the scenes come to me, bridging the gap between the ones I already have.

    I can use a plotting chart or write a synopsis, but quite often it’s the necessary building blocks disguised as scenes. “Jack and Jill make love for the first time, but their newly rekindled passion is interrupted when the serial killer’s threats begin to escalate.”

    Stuff like that. Sounds like a story, but there’s no scene for it. Just a spaceholder for a part of the character/conflict arc I know needs to be there.

    It’s kind of a messy way to do it, but it works for me most of the time. Sometimes I wish I synopsize in detail from start to finish like some authors do. This is, honestly, one of aspects of process in which “whatever works for you is the right way” is most apt, though.

    But the most important thing, in my opinion, is this—don’t feel that if you can’t visualize your story from Chapter One to The End you’re not ready to write the book. Even authors who synopsize and plot chart their books in detail have to discover the story, they just build their blocks ahead of time. Just jump in. Experiment.

  5. Natalie J. Damschroder
      · February 15th, 2008 at 11:21 pm · Link

    Well, what they said. :)

    But also, I don’t think any writer just has a vision of their story. I don’t think even J.K. Rowling did, though that’s how it felt to her. I’ve felt like I had an entire story blow into my head, only to find out later I hardly had any of it. What they get is a framework, and they have to work hard to develop the full vision.

    OR, it’s all there, but lurking, waiting until it’s time to come out.

    My process is like mercury. Or, if it’s been too long since you’ve been in the chem lab, like the gooey Terminator in the second movie. I get little drops of ideas that slowly meet up, one drop to another, then another, until they’re all racing together to form a big puddle. Even then, most of the time I can’t see the end of the story until I get there. The book my agent is shopping now, I didn’t know which guy the heroine wound up with until they did.

    So it’s very okay not to be able to see past the end of your nose. :) What’s right in front of it is most important at any given moment, anyway. Good luck!

  • Get my latest news straight to your inbox!

    I'll only be sending newsletters when I have news to share, and I'll never share your information. You'll receive an email asking you confirm your subscription (so please check your spam box if you don't receive that). You can unsubscribe at anytime.


  • Affiliation

    Shannon Stacey is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of

    If you purchase a book listed on the site from, she’ll earn a small commission. Thank you!