Originally published on MurderSheWrites Blog August 22, 2011. It’s a decade old, but it’s still true to how I plot and write.
HOW PLOTTING IS LIKE A FRENCH BRAID
I went to the mall yesterday, once again trying to find dinnerware I like at a price I can live with. Once again, I failed. But I did find a purple, two-piece bathing suit on clearance.
So I’m driving home thinking about the purple bathing suit. And sort of pondering the fact that I’m really not purple two piece bathing suit material these days. Even with the weight I’ve lost.
And then I started thinking about when I was younger.
Which naturally led me to thinking about French braids.
And from there, well of course, I began thinking about the fact that I way I write a book is a lot like a French braid.
You followed that, right? No? LOL! Okay, then I’ll explain.
Most women know how to braid hair. It’s a pretty simple concept: Separate hair into three even sections, and beginning at the top, weave the sections one over another, careful not to drop any pieces and to stay in the correct order.
It’s so easy even I can do it.
When I started writing, I thought it would be the same thing. Take three even pieces of story:
Weave them together in the correct order and without dropping any pieces, and viola! A finished book.
Bwhahahaha!!!! Okay, maybe if I’d ever been able to write a straight romance that might have worked for me.
But guess what? Once I was old enough to do my own hair, I never wore it in a simple braid. But one day, I saw a French braid and loved the sleek look. So I practiced on my hair. To do a French braid, you start with a top layer of hair split into three even sections and begin the braid.
And then it gets complicated. At this point, you must pick up a new layer for each section, and weaver that in. Without dropping hair. Without getting it too tight or too loose. On and it must be straight.
Then repeat the process again and again, picking up a new layer with each pass, until you are at the end.
If you make any mistakes, you almost always have to take the braid apart and start over. But if it’s right, then you must bring all the hair together in a tight little ending and tie it up.
And that’s exactly how I write books. I layer in so many layers of character, plot and conflict that one of my editors, Kate Duffy, once commented that as she read the book, she worried that I’d never catch all the balls I threw in the air. But she swore I pulled it off. That was for NINJA SOCCER MOMS, the third book in my Samantha Shaw Mystery Series. I’ve never forgotten that. Because, if I do it right, it comes out smooth and sleek like a French braid. While an editor might be able to recognize all the work it took to achieve that, most readers won’t. And that’s how it should be.
But unlike my old ability to French braid, I rarely get my books right on the first pass. Usually by the time I get to the end of my first draft, it looks more like a rat’s nest than anything resembling a braid. Then I take it apart, comb out the snarls, and weave it all back together until I finally have something close to a sleek and smooth story, just like a French braid.
And that’s my random musings on writing and French braids!
Although now I’m thinking that if I’m too old to wear a French braid, then I’m too old for a purple bikini. But what the heck, it’s only for my back yard pool…
And maybe I’ll French braid my hair too.