NOT YOUR USUAL SUSPECTS

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.

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Julie Moffet . Clare London . Cathy Perkins . Jean Harrington . Daryl Anderson . Nico Rosso . Maureen A. Miller . Marcelle Dube . Sandy Parks . Lisa Q Mathews . Sharon Calvin . Lynne Connolly . Janis Patterson

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Plotting Wheel of Fortune: The Erle Stanley Gardner Method of Plotting


“It's a damn good story. If you have any comments, write them on the back of a check.”
Erle Stanley Gardner, 1889-1970
 
I was actually googling the answer to a trivia question when I came across these images labeled ‘Erle Stanley Gardner’s plotting wheels’. Intrigued I investigated further and will be giving a workshop this weekend at Florida Romance Writers on the topic. Why did Erle Stanley Gardner resonate with me so much?

I’ve hit a stage in my life where writing time is at an all-time minimal; I also find myself getting bogged down in research and plotting. Erle Stanley Gardner was a practicing trial attorney who set out to make a living writing and succeeded. How did he do it? After initially receiving a slew of rejections, he turned his mind into a plotting machine.

He broke down the components of the genre he wrote, created a very successful structure and set minimal word count goals for himself. Mr.  Gardner wrote 4000-5000 words a day, 100,000 words a month and a million words a year for nearly 10 years. Now at the time he got his start, it was the height of the pulp fiction market, and product was key to making a living. Does this sound familiar in this age of self-publishing? Product is everything.

As part of his process of learning how to plot, Gardner turned to plotting wheels. He purportedly had nine wheels for each story question, but the Harry Ransom Center of The University of Texas at Austin only has displayed four that I’ve been able to locate on line: “Solution,” “Wheel of Complicating Circumstances,” “Wheel of hostile minor characters who function in making complications for hero,” and “Wheel of blind trails by which the hero is mislead (sic) or confused.”

 Gardner’s speed was such that he wrote several books at a time; he would Theory of Plotting. The beauty of the system is the writer doesn’t latch on to the same old tired sequence in their writing.

For those who write romantic suspense, I think Gardner’s wheels can be adapted. I’m creating one for weapons and legalities for my legal thrillers.  For other genres, it’s a matter of listing the components of that genre. Writing a contemporary romance? The hostile minor characters could be a boss, a family member, an ex-boyfriend/girlfriend, a best friend and so forth. And what about the 12 Steps to Intimacy placed on a wheel? That can really shake things up.

Writing is writing, and I know I can learn from an old master who created the iconic character Perry Mason who was featured in 82 novels, on radio, TV and now is being brought to the big screen by Robert Downey Jr. After all, in a career that spanned five decades, Erle Stanley Gardner, 1889-1970, sold more than seven hundred fictional works, including 127 novels. Adding in four hundred articles and more than a dozen travel tomes, his overall creative total climbed past eleven hundred, embracing 155 published books in thirty- seven languages around the world.

Are you looking forward to Robert Downey Jr. taking on the iconic Perry Mason or did Raymond Burr put an indelible stamp on the character?
Carol Stephenson, writing as C.J. Stevens

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7 comments:

Elise Warner said...

Love the quote. Here's another: "You can't quarrel with success."

Anne Marie Becker said...

Oh, he created Perry Mason?! I love him already. And I love the idea of plot wheels - have never seen those! Thanks for the info. :)

jean harrington said...

Write your comments on the back of a check? Perfect.

Any links to these plot wheels Gardner used? I write mysteries and plotting is so important, the wheels sound like a clever device I'd find useful.

Rita said...

Plot wheels? Zowie. Very Interesting. Thanks for sharing

Marcelle Dubé said...

Plot wheels sound like fun, Carol -- I'd love to know more about them. Those old pulp writers sure knew what they were doing. Anyone heard of Lester Dent? He wrote many of the Doc Savage novels, and created the Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot (http://www.paper-dragon.com/1939/dent.html), which still works.

Carol Stephenson said...

Jean, here's the link to the images of the wheels:

http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/educator/modules/teachingthetwenties/zoom.php?urn=urn:utlol:american.txu-hrc-0209b&theme=modern&section=murder&pageq=2

J Wachowski said...

Yes! Carol, can you do an "I Spy" for us on Plot Wheels? That would be awesome!

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