Category Archives: Mary Pletsch

Money Where Your Mouth Is

Anthology with story from Mary Pletsch

Many writers benefit from the camaraderie of National Novel Writing Month.  Writing is often a solitary pursuit, whether as occupation or as hobby.  Knowing that there is a vast network of people out there going through the same things you are creates common ground.

Whether on formal NaNoWriMo boards and hashtags, or just on your own social media with people you know who are also doing NaNoWriMo, you can find people to vent to, people to talk to, people who understand.

But beware…

If you’ve been reaching out to a writing community–taking part in a writer’s group, going to cons, networking, attending launch parties, anywhere writers tend to gather–you will already know the people who like “the writer lifestyle” more than the actual writing.

These are the people who love to talk all about the plot and characters for their novel, even though they’ve been talking about the same story for years and still haven’t finished their first draft.  These are the people whose book is on its 39th draft, but they’re considering changing the main character in a heavy rewrite.  These are the people who say they want to be pros, but act like hobbyists.

If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo, will you be spending most of your NaNo time writing a novel, or will you be spending it on social media or at in-person gatherings talking about your story, writing in general, how your day is going, what coffee to order…instead of actually writing?

If this has been you in the past, ask yourself what you really want.  Do you want to complete a novel?  Or do you want to hang out with people you think are cool and talk about your ideas?

There’s nothing wrong with writing as a hobby, and there’s nothing wrong with finding friends to share your hobbies.  But if completing a novel is a secondary goal, be honest with yourself.  Spend time with like-minded people and support your friends who are working hard to finish their books.

Conversely, if completing a novel is your primary goal, be wary of how you spend your time.  The bulk of your NaNo time should be spent accomplishing that goal.  In-person gatherings can be fun, but if you’re more productive on your own, make a choice that supports your goal.  Online updates can be motivating and online venting can provide you with support, but social media posts do not count towards your word limit.

Finally, you may have a challenge if you are serious but your friends are hobbyists.  If they are true friends, they will understand how important your goal is and support you as you work to reach it.  However, you may have issues with acquaintances who resented the time you spend on writing, as it takes time away from mutual brainstorming, character-building, plot-creation “hobby” time.  If your friends are angry because you are working on your book instead of proofreading the 39th draft of their novel, drawing art of the new character they’ve created for their story that they’ve been writing for the past five years, or just hanging out with them in the coffee shop, then your “friends” are more interested in what you can do for them than in your success.

Fortunately, NaNoWriMo events can help you connect with new people who are as serious about their writing as you are, so even when you are putting the bulk of your time into writing, you can know that you’re not alone.

Happy writing!


Cause and Effect in Outlines

In the past year I reviewed story pitches for a small publishing house.  Prospective writers were asked to provide an outline of their story, including protagonists, antagonist/conflict, and a brief summary of the plot.

Most writers were able to adequately describe their heroes and the challenges they would face, often from villains/enemy characters, sometimes from nature, circumstances, or their own old beliefs.  But several writers didn’t show cause and effect in their outlines.  Often, these were the same writers who ran into trouble while creating their stories.

“My hero is captured by the enemy king and put in prison, but she escapes…somehow.”

“My hero”s sidekick finds out…somehow…that his ex-boyfriend is in trouble and decides to go help him.”

You’re writing away, following your outline, and you’ve successfully gotten your hero thrown into prison…but now you’re stuck, because you don’t know any way to get her out without resorting to cliches (look!  a loose brick in the back of the cell!) implausible coincidences (the guards all get the Spotted Pox and are too sick to pursue her) or power creep/god-moding (it’s fine because my hero is tough enough to beat up all 20 guards at once!)

Meanwhile, your hero’s sidekick is riding to his ex’s rescue, leaving your readers wondering why anyone would put their entire lives on hold to go haring off after a former lover, or how he even knew his ex was in trouble to start with. You’ll explain it later (like, perhaps, when your editor points it out?)

Getting stuck during the writing process, and weak spots in the story, can be avoided if cause and effect are worked into the outline.

“My hero’s sidekick finds out from his ex’s sister, a prison guard at the king’s palace, that his ex has signed on to a dangerous scouting mission.  She begs the sidekick to go with him and keep him safe.  He agrees, on one condition:  his friend (our hero) has been thrown into the king’s dungeon for speaking out against government corruption.  If the sister helps him break our hero out of prison, both of them will go to assist her brother.”

In summary, knowing what happens is only half of what you need….you also need to know why and how it happens.  If you’ve pre-planned why and how, you’re less likely to get stuck during the writing process.  You’re also less likely to feel tempted to resort to cliches, coincidences, and over-powering your characters just to keep the story moving forward.  And your manuscript will have a lot fewer weak spots, where a character seems to psychically know some crucial bit of knowledge, or a glitching machine will suddenly start working properly again, or some other event occurs “because the author needed it to” rather than because of any in-story chain of cause and effect.

Fill your outlines with why and how.  Show cause and effect–how one event leads into another.  You’ll have an easier time writing and end up with a more satisfying story at the end.



Have you been swimming in Fossil Lake?

Be careful if you do.  There’s something in the water…

…and it’s got teeth.

The first two Fossil Lake anthologies explored the beautiful horrors of Fossil Lake.  The third, Unicornado!, mixed fantasy, disasters, and terror.  Now, for the fourth, we’re back at the Lake and it’s now hosting some very toothy critters in its depths.

Sharkasaurus! draws inspiration from monster movies, Jaws, and Jurassic Park to take on our fears of what lives in the dark water.  Proving that gory and funny aren’t necessarily opposites, my story, How to Make a Monster, puts a new twist on the old mad-scientist character so often responsible for The Brain That Terrorized The City…

A female academic, taking the fall for ethics violations, moves to the tropics and tries to rebuild her life to the tune of Jimmy Buffett songs.  But when the land sharks start mawing down on tourists, and her old co-worker shows up to track down who’s responsible, this mad scientist has to say, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em….

Plus thirty-six other weird works of fiction prose and poetry.

You can catch your own Sharkasaurus in print on Amazon or in ebook on Smashwords.

Lies – But Only From One Point of View

When is a lie not a lie?

Characters holding different points of view often have different ideas of what constitutes a lie.

Different people will have different, even contrasting, memories of the same event.  Some people’s memories will fixate around the particular things they noticed during the event (for example some people will remember sounds; others won’t remember sounds at all).  The brain fills in “missing information” to create coherent narrative—if two people saw a bad guy on the roof and then on the ground, one person might say the bad guy climbed down the fire escape and another might say the bad guy jumped.  One—or both—of those statements is untrue, but each will seem true to the person saying it.

If your character is an atheist, he will consider the statement  “There is a God” to be untrue.

If your character is a practicing Muslim, she will consider the statement “There is a God” to be true.

If your character is a practicing Hindu, he may respond to the statement “There is a God” with “Actually, there are many gods”—ie, the statement is an incomplete truth.

Or think about politics:  “The best candidate to run the country is….”  Supporters of various political parties will argue passionately about whether the statement is true or false depending on whose name is used to conclude it!

In cases like these three, nobody is telling deliberate falsehoods or trying to deceive anyone.  Rather, people’s perspectives are leading them to make judgments of “truth” or “falsehood” based on their own experiences, beliefs, and understandings.

Sometimes the character may be proven wrong.   The person who thought he saw and heard the bad guy making his way down the fire escape may be shocked when he sees the security footage of the bad guy jumping from the roof.  He may question his own sanity or his eyesight.  But he hasn’t deliberately lied.  He’s had a (very common) mistaken perception.

And sometimes the characters may never find out whose version is the truth.   Maybe the character who believes in the paranormal is sure she saw a ghost and the character who doesn’t believe in life after death is sure she didn’t…and the story ends without anyone ever finding out if the ghost was “real” or not.  In this case, the plot of the story—the story arc—is focused on something else, and whether or not the ghost is real doesn’t matter.

Contrasting points of view can create tension and mystery, cause conflicts between characters, and drive the story forward—and they can be done with everyone involved certain they are each telling the truth.