Writers often talk about plotting. Even way back, it sounded boring to me. Too similar to an outline.
But when I sat down to write my recent novels, the first, Joe the Dreamer: The Castle and the Catapult, published in 2013; The Lady Fugitive, 2014, and The Peach Blossom Rancher, 2016, I discovered plotting a story is an almost wicked activity. There’s nothing boring about it. Why?
A writer plots against his characters.
I always give my main character a big problem or almost unattainable goal. Then throw in complications.
John Lincoln Parks already has a ranch in ruin he’s trying to restore to the beautiful horse and peach ranch his father had before he died. But because his late uncle, murdered in the last book, didn’t take care of the ranch John has a massive job to do and not nearly enough money to restore it.
John wants a wife, too, now that he has his own home, and Valerie MacDougal, the woman he has his eyes on, moves to Boston where she is distracted by one of her father’s law associates.
What would this law associate dangle before this gal’s eyes? Three patients at the state asylum: a talented young doctor, institutionalized because of one seizure; an award-winning teacher, paralyzed in a logging accident; and an adorable boy, about age twelve, who is a victim of Down’s Syndrome.
The law associate, Archibald Forsythe, believes that these three people and perhaps many more are held in deplorable conditions at the asylum are not imbeciles. Valerie agrees and joins Archie in a plan to take the asylum’s management to court and prove it.
Why would I allow my delightful characters, ready to fall in love, to be affected by an asylum—and take the reader there too? And why would I also create a neighbor who thinks she’s in love with John, the rancher?
It’s part of the plot. But don’t blame it all on me. From my point of view, the interesting, amazing characters I created are partly responsible. But some of the blame goes to the newspaper I reported for, The Pueblo Chieftain. When I worked in Lifestyle I did several stories at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. When I transferred to the news side, the former asylum was part of the medical beat, and I worked that beat seven years.
You could also blame the person who gave me a 1909-10 report from the board of lunacy commissioners on the “form of insanity” of people were held for — seizures, paralysis, Down’s, and such things as grief, rheumatism, grippe, and jealousy.
Yet, when my characters got together, I had story that kept readers reading at night, but also joyous at the happy, wonderful ending.
Ada Brownell has been writing for Christian publications since age 15 and spent much of her life as a daily newspaper reporter. She has a B.S. degree in Mass Communications and worked most of her career at The Pueblo Chieftain in Colorado where she spent the last seven years as a medical writer. After moving to Springfield, MO, in her retirement, she continues to freelance for Christian publications and write non-fiction and fiction books. Her brand is “Stick-to-Your-Soul Encouragement.”
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