Things I Learned About My Writing Style

St. Patrick's Day shamrockI went to a St. Patrick’s Day dinner last weekend at my church. While this isn’t something I’d usually drag my husband to, a friend of ours invited us and we figured, why not? In attendance were several other couples our age plus around fifty or so people over the age of seventy. Yup, it was like having a party with my parents and grandparents. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to have had a good time. We were placed closest to the bar (yeah!) and the food.

What struck me as interesting was the couples who danced. Very few of the younger men danced with their wives (my hubby included). But the majority of the older couples danced all types of dances I couldn’t even name but have seen my mom do plenty of times. It was sweet watching them swirl each other around the floor.

In particular, was one couple I see in church every week. They’ve always caught my attention because they hold hands and are generally “cute” together. Seeing them, I wondered things like whether they’d been married long and if they had kids. Could a couple their age possibly be in love so much that they still hold hands and look at each other like starry-eyed teenagers?

Isn’t that we’re looking to achieve as we weave our plots and work to bring our hero and heroine from point A to point Z? The happily-ever-after. The way each of us accomplishes this is unique. When I started writing, I didn’t have much of a style. I had a basic idea and just went with it. I didn’t understand about a hook and POV. Through taking classes, attending conferences, and getting educated, I learned things I was doing wrong and have continuously worked hard to correct them.

I’ve tried different approaches to plotting my story and blended a few together to make my own. I use the Conflict Grid I learned about from attending a class hosted by NEORWA. It’s based on Kathy Jacobson’s A NOVEL APPROACH It taught me about understanding your characters’ personality type which drives their goal, motivation, and conflict. It helps you map out the plot by comparing the GMC between the H/H and helps define why they generally rub each other wrong way at first. Through this process, you can uncover what has to happen in the plot to bring them together. I also use a matrix from Debra Dixon’s book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. While it’s somewhat similar to the Conflict Grid, there are elements (like internal and external goal) that the former didn’t have. These two items along with my character chart are my tools to getting started.

I use Excel to plot the chapters across the top (columns) and the scenes along the side (rows). As I plot each scene & chapter, I capture the main characters in the scene and the setting, followed by a brief explanation of the scene. I color-code the POV to make it easy for me to see. This helps me balance out the POV and make sure I’ve given enough attention to both the heroine and the hero. Above each chapter heading, I capture the month in order to help with the progression in time. This is especially helpful in writing multiple books in a series. If a woman just became pregnant at the end of one story, you don’t want the next story to pick up a month later and she’s ready to deliver.

I usually outline the first few scenes from chapter one, and then develop more of the storyboard as I go along. I’d plot more and then write. With NRW’s JeRoWriMo and March Madness writing challenges, I found myself flying by the seat of my pants. More often than not, I wrote the scene and then filled out the storyboard. Sometimes using this approach made it difficult and I was stuck with no idea what came next. When this happened, I had to step away and clear my head before attempting it again. As I went through my daily activities, I’d think about the direction of the story and usually have some idea of where to go after spending a day internally plotting. There was also one evening when I met my writing partners for dinner and was lucky enough to figure out the end of my story after five minutes chatting at the bar. Thanks, Michele! Talking it out with someone definitely helped.

What’s your writing process and how has it evolved as you’ve developed your writing style? Were you once a pantster and now find that you’re a plotter?

Leave a comment


  1. Jenna Blue

     /  March 13, 2013

    Maria, there’s an elderly couple that lives near me that I always have my eye on. They walk to town together holding hands (about a 30 min walk) and it makes my heart so glad to see them. Lately I have seen only the woman–and so I’ve been worrying about her husband…hope I seem them together again as soon as spring hits. As for my writing process: a mix between pants and plot! Like you, JeRoWriMo was a different experience, but regardless, the plot I work out never quite holds and I’m constantly reassessing! : )
    Thanks for the great post!

    • Hi, Jenna. It’s cute to watch them hold hands. I hope that woman’s husband is well.

      I’m definitely a mix between plot and pants and have moved more toward the pantster side lately. And you’re right about constantly reassessing. Every time I think I’m done, I go back weeks later and find things that need obvious changing.

  2. Like both you and Jenna, I think of a couple, maybe not quite elderly, but older…Gavin MacLeod and his wife, Patti. I worked with Gavin in the 90’s, when he played Honore in the stage production of “Gigi” at Paper Mill Playhouse. Gavin is a lovely man (you probably remember him as Captain Stubing of The Love Boat), and we would spend hours talking in his dressing room. His love for his wife always struck me. On matinee days, he and Patti would walk into Millburn holding hands, to grab a bite to eat between shows. Their devotion to each other (especially after divorcing and then remarrying) was wonderful to behold, and it’s a picture that has stayed with me for over fifteen years.

    As for your writing process…wow, you are organized! I wish my plotting technique was even half as ordered as yours! It would certainly help in keeping the order of events in place. That’s something that can stop me dead in my tracks, if I have to go back in my manuscript to check when something happened.

    Thanks for sharing your process! I need to take a page from your book!


    • Oh, how I loved The Love Boat. That, along with Fantasy Island and SNL comprised many of a Saturday night for me. I was of baby-sitting age and was glued to the tube.

      Every once in a while, I’ll print out my storyboard and mark it up. It gives me a more visual view of my story without the cards. I change my mind, I’d constantly be writing and re-writing cards. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Wow, Maria — you put my organization to shame! I used to wing it, but then learned to slow down and figure out the tent poles. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I find that writing the synopsis really helps me. I can figure out how the main points of the story are going to weave together, make sure the plot is believable, etc. Maybe that’s just the way my brain works?

    My parents are one of those adorable (sickening?) older couples attached at the hip. They met in high school, married at 19, and never looked back. They’ve weathered some rocky times but always together. My mom once told me, “It’s always been him and me against the world. He’s my best friend.” And yes, they can jitterbug up a storm.

    • Starting with the synopsis is a good approach. Once you have that nailed, it will be easier to flush out the scenes. And then, you will have one less thing to worry about once the MS is done!

      Wow, high school sweethearts. That’s truly wonderful. My parents got married young, too. I think my mom was around 19 as well. It’s great to see relationships that last. One of these days, I’m going to learn how to jitterbug. My mom’s tried to show me, but I’m a bit hopeless. I’m a much better independent dancer.

  4. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  March 23, 2013

    Hi Maria,

    We have a similar process for getting started. I use an excel file for tracking the story too in a similar way. I’m a plotting pantser. I usually see the big moments first – black moment and turning points and then write to them. One thing I discovered during BIAW and JeRoWriMo is that I am an auditory writer and need to talk it out like you did. It’s great to have people that will talk through the difficult plot points with you! Congrats on your progress and the discovery!



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