Plotting Hell

Greetings from Hades. Last week I figured out that the villain in mess-in-progress isn’t working right. This week it’s been back to the drawing board: reexamining motivations, themes, figuring out what changes need to be made to the external plot (fortunately I think the romance is working).

I’ve been brainstorming but though I’ve come up with a bunch of ideas none of them is clearly a winner. It’s a natural phase in brainstorming but right now I’m more confused than I was when I started. Ugh.

I will not whine any more because I’m not half witty enough about it! I’ll just leave you with a few questions and some comic relief.

How important do you think villains are in a romance? Does a weak villain make or break a story for you? (Not that I’m going to let myself off the hook here!)

Fellow authors, do you ever find yourself in plotting hell? How do you escape (or do we ever)?

And now for the comic relief. My friend Therese Walsh from Writer Unboxed sent me this link to a Mitchell and Webb sketch on the trials of authorhood. Luckily, I’ve never had a real editor like this one. Except for the one in my own head, that is!


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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Georgie Lee
15 years ago

Research is one of the tools I use to get out of plotting hell. I usually find something that sparks some inspiration. I was in Yorktown last week and I was grilling the interpretive guides about surgery. The information I received from them made me realize that I needed to rewrite my surgery scene and keep my hero conscious. Also, I need some vinegar on hand, not to sniff but to clean the wound. Ick.

15 years ago

I saw that video. My BFF sent the link too me. I laughed until I fell out of my chair. For the most part because I have arguments like this in my head! Hmmm. The villain NEEDS to be a strong threat, I think. His character can be weak if he is still stupid, crazy or desperate enough to be a threat. The threat has to be very real,I think. Oh, and God, yes, I have been in plotting hell before and it is no fun. Of course on one WIP I killed off and entire branch of the family and got out of hell. First time killing a family did that, I’m sure!

Cara King
15 years ago

Vinegar! I knew I needed vinegar for something. πŸ™‚

How important do you think villains are in a romance? Does a weak villain make or break a story for you?

I don’t think romances need villains, but they can have them — and when they do, I think a poorly written villain can certainly weaken the book, though I suspect rarely “break” it… The best villains, IMHO, are three-dimensional and have reasons for what they do…

Fellow authors, do you ever find yourself in plotting hell? How do you escape (or do we ever)?

Yep. Umm…I guess I just take extra effort, or get people to help with brainstorming, or take time away…or abandon the ms… πŸ™‚

BTW, SCARY video! Not Jaws, not Jaws, but…Jaws, yeah?


Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

I don’t think villains are necessary to romance, and I’d certainly rather have no villain than a tacked-on mustache-twirling threat who appears at random every few chapters. I mean, not everyone has a Mortal Enemy. It depends on the story, but if there’s no good reason for a truly deadly villain, I’d rather see the protagonists deal with garden-variety troublemakers than a capital-B Bad Guy.

As for plotting hell, my instinct is always to be too nice to my characters. They’re such nice people, and I like being a benevolent god who has a WONDERFUL plan for their lives. But therein lies poor storytelling. So whenever I’m in doubt, I just ask myself What Would Joss Whedon Do?

Tracy Grant
15 years ago

I totally agree that romances don’t necessarily need a villain, but that if you have one (and your plot may call for it), he/she needs to be a three-dimenseional person and a believable threat. And it has to be believable that the hero and heroine can’t thwart the villain easily.

I’m well acquainted with plotting hell :-). I’m lucky to have a great group of fellow writers to brainstorm with. Sometimes I’ll email my dilemma off to them. Sometimes I’ll call up my critique partner and talk through the problem over lattes (or drinks, if it’s really difficult :-). Sometimes I’ll brainstorm jotting down possible scenarios on paper, the crazier the better. That often frees up my mind and I settle on something workable. What would Joss Whedon do? sounds like a good way of thinking!

Diane Gaston
15 years ago

uh, Elena, isn’t all plotting hell? I hate to plot.

I do see it as a process, though. You just have to keep at it until you know you have the story you want to tell.

I agree with Cara that villains should be multidimensional. I’ve had the criticism that my villains are one dimensional (, and I think that has been a weakness. Now I try to give villains some redeeming qualities and their own GMC’s (Goals, Motivation, Conflict).

Cara King
15 years ago

So whenever I’m in doubt, I just ask myself What Would Joss Whedon Do?

Sounds good, Susan! Though I fear if I asked myself that a lot, I’d end up with far too high a body count. πŸ˜‰

uh, Elena, isn’t all plotting hell? I hate to plot.

Hm. I kind of like to plot, Diane! When I was a kid, my brothers and I would always plan what we’d do if we won a sweepstakes. (First thing: build a pool! Never happened.) Anyway, it was lots of fun, full of “hey, we could do THIS!” and “wouldn’t it be cool if we did THAT?”

And for me, plotting can kind of be like that. πŸ™‚

Though when it’s not going well, it can be more like losing a fortune. “No, I don’t want to give up this, or that, or that, oh, but I love this other thing too — argh, whine, whine…” πŸ™‚


15 years ago

Obviously a novel needs conflict of some kind, but it doesn’t have to take the form of a villain. If it does…it somewhat depends on what else is there in the book. In some comic novels, some of the comedy comes from having a villain who is incredibly inept. πŸ™‚ (I remember a couple of Barbara Metzgers that used that device.)

On the other hand, if the villain is supposed to be tough and smart and scary, but comes across as wimpy and incompetent, that’s a bit unsatisfying. So I guess my answer is “it depends.” πŸ™‚


Elena Greene
15 years ago

Thanks for all your replies!

Some of my earlier stories had what I’d rather call antagonists than villains. People who aren’t inherently evil but who are in conflict with hero/heroine for other reasons. In this case I need a stronger villain.

Anyway, the whole thing is starting to come back together. I’d already gotten some ideas from research and a session with a writing buddy yesterday helped me hone in on the ones that work best for the story and how they might fit together.

It. Just. Might. Work. πŸ™‚

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon
15 years ago

I concur with pretty much everyone that a villain isn’t really necessary in a romance, and sometimes having one can actually hurt the story if he’s unmotivated and not really much of a threat. The good thing that a villain can do is unite the hero and heroine in a common cause, no matter what their internal conflicts or external conflicts with each other.

Megan Frampton
15 years ago

I love really nasty villains, but not ones that are single-mindedly nasty; I think they should be as interesting and fleshed-out as the hero and heroine, at least in the author’s mind, or you’ll end up with an Uber-Villain who’s not believable.

Elena Greene
15 years ago

Thinking about what Cara said… For me plotting can be fun, when I’m just starting to develop a story. Now it’s painful because the structure is there and I love parts of it. I’ve also invested so much time in it that it’s hard to do the surgery.

I wish I could get the plot right ahead of time. It would solve a lot of problems! But so far I have to work at the scene level so I can get a feel for my characters. So I think I’m stuck doing some back and forth between plotting and writing and re-plotting.

15 years ago

I like it when Cara plots, too, because she often bounces ideas off me, which is cool. But then I become impatient for her to write the book so I can read it! πŸ™‚