A group blog featuring an international array of killer mystery, suspense, and romantic suspense writers. With premises and story lines different from your run-of-the-mill whodunits, we tend to write outside the box. We blog several times a week on all topics relating to romantic suspense and mystery, our writing, and our readers. We welcome all comments and often have guest bloggers. All our authors can be contacted separately, too, using their own social media links.

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NOTE: the blog is currently dormant but please enjoy the posts we're keeping online.

Julie Moffet . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A Miller . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson . Vanessa Keir . Tonya Kappes . Julie Rowe . Joni M Fisher . Leslie Langtry

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When the Story Just Doesn't Work

There are few things I find more painful as a writer than discovering a story I’ve been writing doesn’t work. If I’m lucky, this happens before I’ve written too much of the book.

In truth? I’m usually not that lucky. My deleted scenes files tend to end up being an average of 100,000 words.

Sometimes it’s the characters that I can’t get a handle on.

Sometimes it’s the plot.

Many years ago, I came up with an idea for what I thought would be the first book in a new series to be set in West Africa. I really loved the hero, Rico, and the heroine, Jane. I came up with a bunch of dangerous situations Jane and Rico had to escape from. I had fascinating secondary characters who had interesting interactions with Jane and Rico. But I couldn’t get the overall story to gel. No matter how much constructive feedback I received and no matter how many times I tried to fix it, the character arcs and plot just wouldn’t meld together into a powerful story.

I think I have at least two or three completed rough drafts of that book, all with different plots. On top of those, I probably have several dozen openings and first acts. I tried so hard to do those characters justice, but in the end I had to admit defeat and put the book aside.

Years later, I had another idea for a book set in Africa. This one involved a heroine who was a primate researcher, a hero who was a reporter, and some extraordinarily intelligent gorillas.

I had a lot of fun writing an opening sequence where the gorillas helped the heroine and hero fight off some poachers. Unfortunately, after reading it over, I realized that the gorillas were acting too human, putting the story closer to science fiction than romantic suspense.

Now, I’m not afraid of bending reality. After all, I’ve created an alternate history and geopolitical structure of West Africa for my WAR series. And in the SSU series I pushed the mad-scientist-creates-superhuman-soldier envelope to the edge of science fiction.

But there was something about those gorillas that just felt as if I’d be crossing a genre line I wasn’t ready to cross. So I threw out that plot.

Now, why didn’t I just downgrade the intelligence of the gorillas? Because in my mind those human-like aspects of the gorillas were set in stone. Once certain aspects of the story become “real” to me, I can’t change them. That’s just the way my creativity works.

At least this time, I’d only written about a third of the book before I set it aside.

After a lot of brainstorming, I eventually came up with new characters: Emily is a former prima ballerina and Max is a rogue black ops agent. But yeah, it took a while to find the correct story for these two, as well. Their story is WAR: Disruption, the first book in the WAR series.

To my surprise, while I was writing the second book in the WAR series, one of my characters made a comment and I finally realized why I’d had such trouble with Rico and Jane’s story. I hadn’t understood that Rico was undercover.

I renamed Rico to Rio, because I didn’t want him rhyming with Niko, the hero of Vengeance. Rio then became a point of view character in the third book in the WAR series. Not only that, but Rio and Jane will finally get their story in book six in the series. I’ve written snippets of their new book and there’s almost nothing left of the original idea.

Funny how my subconscious was able to work all that out.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I frequently struggle to find the right characters and plot for each book. It doesn’t matter if I outline ahead of time and do extensive character development sheets, or if I just jump in and write with little to no preparation. Either way, I still end up sending a ton of writing to my deleted scenes file. I’m not happy with the time this takes, but I’m grudgingly beginning to accept that it’s just part of my process.

Still, is it any wonder that after struggling so much to get my story right my muse makes things go terribly wrong for my characters? You know what they say about payback.


Vanessa Kier writes action-packed romantic thrillers with an edge. She’s set her latest series, WAR, in West Africa, where she lived for a time. She also coaches writers in Scrivener and other tech.

You can find her at: and


Sandy Parks said...

I felt like you were talking about my writing process at times in your article. So many rewritten scene, putting in new characters because the old ones were just wrong, or hoping to go one direction with the plot and it just didn't work. Sigh. Your books are likely all the better for it, but it sure makes writing fast go slow. I like that you have chosen an exciting less traveled location for your WAR series.

R. Marvin said...

All, I’m going through this now with my MS, So this was really timely and helpful!! In writing mysteries, is it as important that the H/h have their meet cute in that first chapter? I’m debating whether to cut chapter one and two completely, or condense it into a prologue since they have so much of the heroin’s family background. They especially cover her relationship with her sister, which Is a portion of what drives the plot. If I cut them, I will need to definitely rework it in.
Would love your input ladies! Thank youbin advance!

Vanessa Kier said...

LOL, Sandy! I'm sorry that you suffer the same way I do. But I guess we just have to accept that's the way we are, huh? It would be nice to finish faster, though.

R. Marvin, I'm not one who likes hard and fast rules about when certain things have to take place in the book. However, I do always keep in mind what the reader expectations are for my genre.

If you're uncertain how early your hero and heroine need to have their meet cute, then maybe take a look at some writers who write reader-favorite books in your genre and see if there's a pattern regarding how soon the characters meet.

Joni M Fisher said...

I buried one manuscript in Louisiana just to let it go. It was unpublishable, but it's hard to let go of so much effort even when it isn't working. I've heard authors say you have to write five novels to learn how. Like other art forms, writing takes practice. When my older brother was learning to play the violin, it was painful to hear. To lessen the pain of removing scenes from a manuscript, I move the deleted scenes to an outtakes file.

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