Amanda Grange

My recent books

Harstairs House Cover       Knightley Cover      LDSpb Cover


Some people plan every scene of their book before they write. Some people just sit down and see where their book takes them. Whichever method you use, you will find it easier if you take a few basic decisions about your book before you begin.

1) Decide what your plot will be.

If you're not sure what type of plot to use, read some of your favourite modern Regencies - Regencies written in the last three years - and write down all the plot elements. Different publishing houses have different styles, so it's important to read the books of the publisher you want to write for. It's also important to read single titles, rather than books that are part of a series, as series books include a lot of information about characters from other books in the series. This kind of 'extra' information about minor characters would be out of place in a stand alone book.

Most books will have a major plot - perhaps the hero and heroine are involved in tracking down a blackmailer, for example, a theme I use in The Silverton Scandal. Or perhaps the hero is tracking down a gang of smugglers. Perhaps someone is murdered, and the hero and heroine have to find out who the murderer is. Perhaps there is a spy, a theme I use in A Most Unusual Governess.

2) In addition to this major plot, there will usually be an emotional plot

This is often referred to as 'internal conflict', to separate it from 'external conflict' with spies etc. For example, the hero may have been hurt in the past and will therefore be unwilling to love again. Perhaps he married a woman who revealed she'd only married him for his money, and after her death he vowed never to marry again. Or perhaps his fiancee was unfaithful, leaving him with a sour view of women.

Perhaps it is the heroine who does not want to fall in love. Perhaps she likes her freedom and thinks a husband would curtail it. Perhaps her sister has an unhappy marriage and so she thinks, 'That is not for me.' Perhaps she fell in love with a man who went away to war and came home with a wife.

The emotional plot will allow for hostility between the hero and heroine at the start of the book, and will allow you, as the writer, to set up a number of scenes throughout the book that show the hero or heroine they can fall in love. It will give the reader emotional satisfaction reading the book, and it will give you, as the writer, something to write about!

3) Once you have decided on your plots, then try and make sure every scene pushes one or other of the plots forward in some way.

At the start of the book you will be setting the scene. Later on, the reasons for the hostilities will come out. DON'T tell your reader everything at once.

Read these two examples to see what I mean.

Emma was about to turn back when she saw another horseman close by. What was he doing on the estate? Ever since she'd been attacked by a man three years before, Emma had been wary of men. A gentleman had mistaken her for a farm girl when she'd been visiting her grandmother, dressed in old clothes, and he'd thrown her down on the floor. She'd only managed to get away when her grandmother had come looking for her. She'd never told anyone about it, but that was why she'd sworn never to marry. She turned round and rode home.

The above example gives far too much information at once. The story's told, and you're only on Chapter 1! It's also telling not showing, something covered more fully on the Style page.

Now read this.

Emma was about to turn back when she saw another horseman close by. Her hands were suddenly clammy. She wanted to pull off her gloves and wipe them on her skirt, but she could not move. She could only sit there, watching him, and pray he did not come any closer. Her prayers were in vain.

He began to ride towards her, his large black horse closing the distance between them at a walk. To Emma, it seemed a frightening speed. He lifted his hand as he drew near and she flinched, as though expecting a blow, but then she saw that he had lifted it only to touch his hat.

'Good morning,' he said.

She tried to turn her horse and gallop away but she was frozen. She could not move.

He looked surprised when she did not reply, but continued, 'It's a beautiful day.'

She finally found her courage and, wheeling her horse, she rode away.

The second example is far better than the first, for a number of reasons.

a) It is showing the reader something is wrong, instead of telling them.

Showing is always better than telling, because it's far more interesting for the reader, and it gives the writer more scenes to write.

b)It's intriguing.

The reader will want to read on in order to find out why she behaves like this. This is good for you as a writer - you want people to read on! In the first example, the reader doesn't need to read on to find out why the heroine reacts like this. She already knows. She is therefore likely to put the book aside, bored.

c) It will intrigue the hero.

It will give him something to think about and something to talk about. For example, you could have a part of the next scene with the hero talking to his friend, and asking about the heroine. He could describe her and try to find out who she is. 'Why are you so interested?' his friend could ask. The hero could shrug. 'No reason.' But then he could think to himself, 'But there was some mystery about her, and he was determined to find out what it was.'

This would then give him a reason for seeking her out, and would provide a number of gripping scenes. If he tries to dance with her at a ball, how will she react? Think through her personality. She is afraid of men, therefore she will not want to dance with him. Will he take no for an answer? Will he grab her hand and pull her on to the floor before she knows what's happening? Will a family friend say,'That's an excellent idea,' so that she has no choice but to accept? Will she run off? Exactly what will happen?

How will she feel about it when she reflects on it later? Will she think 'He's just like other men?' Or will she be surprised to find herself enjoying a dance with him?

4) As you plan, ask yourself as you think of each idea, Does the idea have legs?

This is a common phrase in the writing world, and it means, will your idea run on for more than one scene? Learning how to tell the difference between an idea with legs, and an idea without legs, is a matter of experience. If the idea leads on to five or six scenes, like the idea above, then it's a good idea to stick with. If not, then think of another one.

Examples of ideas without legs:

  • The heroine goes to Grafton House to buy some material for a new dress. This doesn't lead anywhere.

  • The hero buys a commission for the heroine's brother. This might give you a scene of gratitude, but gratitude is not a particularly gripping emotion in a romance, and besides, if it will only give you one additional scene, then it's not going anywhere and the reader will be bored.

    This is not to say that these ideas can't be used as throwaways, in and amongst a more compelling plot, but they do not, by themselves, give you a plot.

    5) Minor conflict

    As well as your two plots, most of your scenes you will need plenty of conflict, ie your hero and heroine will need to disagree about things. This is because disagreement is more interesting to read about than agreement. You don't need to fill your pages with shouting matches, but if your hero and heroine have different ideas on how to go about solving a problem, and if they argue their cases, it will help you to create sparky scenes of dialogue that will keep the reader turning the pages. Give them both a good reason for thinking they way they do. DON'T have one of them simply arguing for argument's sake.

    harstairs House Cover

    This is from Harstairs House

    Deciding to return to the house, she retraced her steps until she reached the cliff path. She slipped once going up, but her worn boots helped her regain her footing and she was soon at the top. With a last look at the ocean she turned inland, crossing the cliffs and walking back to the house.

    As she approached the garden, she saw a figure she recognized coming from the stable yard. It was Oliver Bristow. She had an unaccountable desire to turn aside, but telling herself not to be so foolish she carried on her way. What did it matter if she met Mr Bristow?

    'Good morning,' said Oliver with a bow, as the two of them converged. 'Have you been exploring?'

    'Yes. It was such a beautiful morning I couldn't bear to be inside.'

    'Did you go far?' he asked, falling into step beside her as she carried on her way back to the house.

    'Down to the beach,' she said.' There's a path down the side of the cliff, leading into the coves. They will be lovely in the summer time.'

    'I would advise you not to go there too often,' he said. 'The sea looks pretty, but it wouldn't do to underestimate it. It can be deadly.'

    He stopped walking and stood looking back at the water.

    'How so?'

    'The tide comes in very rapidly.' He turned back to look at her. 'It would be better if you stayed in the gardens round the house.'

    'What? Never go down to the beach? It's one of the best parts of inheriting Harstairs House!' she protested. 'I mean to hold picnics there in the summer.'

    'In the summer, yes, but in the winter the coast is treacherous, and only one of the coves has access to a path. The others are completely submerged at high tide.'

    'But there would be time to get back to the path?' she enquired.

    'Not always, no. If you were in the next cove, then perhaps, but the water comes in very quickly and not even that would always be possible. A slip on the rocks and a minute lost can make the difference between life and death.'

    'Is the tide really so quick?' she asked in surprise.

    'It is. Unwary people are often cut off, and several people have been swept away since we've been here. Their bodies were not found for weeks, and when they were, they were so badly eroded by the tide they were unrecognizable.'

    'You are trying to frighten me,' she said.

    'To warn you,' he replied.

    His whole attitude was a warning. Although he was standing casually, she felt an air of tension coming from him, and she noticed that his muscles were bunched beneath his breeches and coat.

    'Very well,' she said hesitantly. 'I will take care.'

    He nodded. 'I am not trying to spoil your pleasure in your inheritance, but it's as well to know about these things.'

    'Do you have a table of the tides?' she asked. 'If there are other fine days I would like to go down to the sea again, even if I stay in the cove at the bottom of the path, and it should be safe enough at low tide,' she said.

    'No, I'm afraid I don't.'

    He spoke abruptly, and Susannah wondered for a moment whether he was being honest with her.

    'It can't be so dangerous,' said Susannah musingly as she quickened her step to keep up with him. 'I found a boat in one of the coves, so Mr Harstairs must have gone out from time to time. I must try and find the rowlocks. They had been taken away, but they must be stored somewhere in the house. I didn't find them in the attic, but it is not surprising as they would be in constant use over the summer months. Perhaps they are in the kitchen.'

    'No, they are not,' he said, as they reached the house and went inside. 'The boat doesn't belong to Harstairs House. It belongs to me. I brought it here hoping to use it, but the currents are so strong that I only took it out once. Fortunately, Edward was with me, and it was all we could do to get back to shore safely. Even with both of us rowing, the tide almost carried us out to sea. Believe me, it is better if you keep away.' His eyes looked down into her own. 'If you want to go down to the shore then I can't stop you, but please, take care. I would not like any harm to come to you.'

    He took her hand as he said it, and she felt her heart skip a beat. The skin on the palm of her hand grew hot where he touched it and as he kissed her hand she felt suddenly restless. Her eyes were drawn to his and what she saw there made her eyelids droop. But just before her eyes closed, she caught sight of his mouth, and saw with a jolt that his smile had changed. It looked almost cruel. Shaken, she opened her eyes wide, but the cruel look had gone, and she thought she must have imagined it.

    'It's a wild country,' he said, as he dropped her hand. 'You are not used to it, but you will become so. Don't underestimate the dangers all around you.'

    Then making her a low bow, he headed for the back of the house, leaving her alone in the hall.

    Dangers, she thought as she returned to her room to remove her outdoor things. Perhaps the sea was dangerous, but she had the alarming feeling that Oliver Bristow was even more dangerous. He seemed to unsettle her whenever he was near, and she was not sure how he managed to do so. On the surface he was everything that was polite and charming, but underneath the surface something wilder lurked.

    This is an overview of basic planning. For more detailed ideas, see Advanced Planning

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