On Plot (Baseball Games and Beauty Pageants)

Mindy KlaskyMindy Klasky
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Welcome back to my ramblings!  This week we’re going to talk about plot, specifically as it applies to romance novels.  As I mentioned last week, romance novels tend to have the same general plot:  people (usually two, often-but-not-always one male and one female)  meet, fall in love, face some great barrier to staying in love, conquer that barrier, and end up in love.  Therefore, the challenge in plotting a romance novel is to make that basic plan seem fresh.  That challenge is even greater when one is writing a series of romances–say, for example, a series of nine short, hot contemporary romance novels, like my Diamond Brides series.  I’ll use the first volume, Perfect Pitch, as an example.

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Here’s the back-of-the-book-blurb for Perfect Pitch:

Reigning beauty queen Samantha Winger is launching her pet project, a music program for kids. All she has to do is follow the pageant’s rules—no smoking, drinking, or “cavorting” in public. That’s fine, until D.J. Thomas—God’s gift to baseball—throws her a wild pitch.  He slams her in an interview, and the video goes viral. Sam’s no shrinking violet. She parlays D.J.’s apology into a national T.V. appearance—and a very unexpected, very public kiss.

Soon, paparazzi catch the couple in a steamy make-out session, and Sam’s music program is on the block. The blazing hot relationship is threatened even more when D.J.’s son begs to trade in Little League for music class. Can Sam and D.J. sizzle past the sour notes and find their perfect pitch?

That’s pretty much the plot.  And look.  This is a romance.  There’s no such thing as a spoiler when it comes to a romance — Sam and D.J. end up together at the end of the book.

So, how do I make the plot of Perfect Pitch different, interesting, exciting?

First, I tie the key plot elements into the characters.  D.J. isn’t just a pitcher, and Sam isn’t just a beauty queen — those professions are the very reason they meet.  More than anything else, Sam wants to launch a music program for kids and more than anything else, D.J. wants his son to be a baseball star — those desires cause conflict when D.J.’s son wants music more than baseball.  

Second, I make the external plot (D.J. fights for his best season record ever; Samantha fights for her after-school music program) mirror the internal plot (D.J. and Sam fall in love, face conflict, overcome the conflict, stay in love).  At the moments when the external plot is rolling along — D.J. is pitching the best innings of his life; Sam is making the strongest business contacts of her career — the internal plot is going well (D.J. and Sam are meeting, flirting, and falling in love.)  When the external plot reaches its climax (will D.J. pitch the game of his life the night his father is watching?  Will Sam succeed with her music program before her reign ends), the internal plot also reaches its peak (the “Black Moment” of a romance novel — when all goes wrong and the relationship appears to be irrevocably destroyed.)   When the external plot resolves (okay, I won’t tell you exactly what happens), the internal plot resolves.

This pairing of internal and external gives a proper scaffolding to the story.  The novel works because all of the stresses — internal and external — are pulling in the same direction at the same time.  Tension is maintained, and readers turn pages.

Of course, the best plot in the world won’t help an author if she can’t sit down and get the words on the screen or page.  Next week, we’ll continue our discussion, focusing on the nuts and bolts of the writing life.  But for now, you can tell me which plots you’ve enjoyed, where the characters’ very nature drives the plot?  What about plots where the internal conflict and the external conflict proceed hand-in-glove?

You can buy Perfect Pitch here.

You can follow me on Twitter, or friend me on Facebook, or read my blog.

Formal Head Shot SquareMindy Klasky learned to read when her parents shoved a book in her hands and told her she could travel anywhere in the world through stories. She never forgot that advice.  Mindy’s travels took her through multiple careers – from litigator to librarian to full-time writer. Mindy’s travels have also taken her through various literary genres for readers of all ages – from traditional fantasy to paranormal chick-lit to category romance, from middle-grade to young adult to adult.  In her spare time, Mindy knits, quilts, and tries to tame her endless to-be-read shelf. Her husband and cats do their best to fill the left-over minutes.

Many thanks for stopping by!

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10 comments to On Plot (Baseball Games and Beauty Pageants)

  • Cool stuff, Mindy. And I love the multiple meanings of your title — baseball, music, romance. It works very nicely. I think another way to get at the internal/external dichotomy is to talk about narrative arc and character arc. They are not the same, obviously, but they ought to work in tandem, so that the tensions of the narrative arc (the external plot) coincide with and complement the tensions of the character (or internal) arc. This is the way I think about it — it’s actually quite similar to your approach — it carries me to pretty much the same place — but it’s the phrasing and conceptual framework that I use for my own work. My point being that these internal and external tensions you describe are fundamental to good storytelling regardless of author, of genre, of terminology.

  • That management of arcs and tension is something I really need to practice on in my writing. A lot of times I get focused on only one tension point and the others suffer. Thanks for talking about it and I hope to read more to help me overcome my shortfalls.

    P.S. – That book sounds wonderful!

  • I’m actually writing an epic fantasy romance trilogy–an incredibly tall order no matter how you look at it. I’m kind of breaking the rules because I’ve been told that normally each book should center around 2 new characters and their love, but I didn’t want to do that. The story is always going to be about the original characters. I can’t just switch to 2 other characters in the second book, so I’ve gone the typical epic fantasy approach and just went with more character perspectives. It was funny though. While I was editing book 2, I was reading some romance blogs and saw a lot of people posting that they wanted to see more works follow the same two characters, so I may have something here. Then again, I’ve never been one to follow the rules. ;) In book 1 the main heroine and hero fall in love. The focus characters are still the the main focus in book 2, but you find out that the other two characters with them have loved each other for a long while and are finally allowed to marry (two different clans, basically). Meanwhile, the brother of the heroine is slowly falling in love with a woman he finds in the burnt out city after Boggans attacked. After the magic returned, she was one of the ones that gained the ability to use it and…well…it wasn’t pretty. Book 3 will have that love finally realized and also the mother of the heroine and the duke will rekindle the love they once had. All of it while bringing three nations together to destroy an evil that’s spanned aeons and…well…I shouldn’t spoil the rest of it. Fun fun. ;) I love epic fantasy. :D

  • I kinda already knew this, but I love the way you explained it here–both the internal and external need to match up as you go through the ups and downs of the story. You’re making me think, which is good except that right now I have to get back to the day job. Grr.

  • DavidBCoe – I’ve been thinking a *lot* about genre fiction, and where my work fits into it, and what I want to do next, and, and, and… And one of the major things I’ve realized is that for commercial fiction, most of what we do is the same, regardless of genre. Internal and external plots are vital for any commercial fiction — romance or SF or fantasy or mystery. (Probably for a western, too, but I haven’t read many of those!) It’s compelling storytelling that matters.

    Mark – It *does* take practice, but it can be learned. (It can be really helpful to review books that do it well, breaking down in detail what they do and how they do it.) And thanks for the kind words about PITCH!

    Daniel – There’s a trend in romance writing to write multiple books about the same characters (thank you, TWILIGHT. Thank you, FIFTY SHADES.) But there’s also a group of scholars in the romance field who say it can’t be a romance if it doesn’t end with a “Happy Ever After” — and if it has an HEA, then you can’t have additional books in the series!

    SiSi – Ha! My work here is done!

  • Yep, I’ve heard that too. But I’ve never been one to necessarily follow the rules and do things the easy way. ;) I’m thinking of it more as an extended story arc where the HEA comes at the very end. They’ll just have to keep reading to get to it. ;)

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