Saturday, November 10, 2012

Real Life Diagnostics: A Study of Plot: Looking for Cause and Effect in a Synopsis

Critique By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and I diagnose them on the blog. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.

If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines.

Submissions currently in the queue: Five 

REVISED TEXT: A revised outline is at the bottom of the post.

NOTE: It's a very different RLD today, but it looked like fun so I'm going to try it. The submitter has more of a plot question than a writing one (and felt others might be having the same issue, so it might make a nice teaching post as well), so the typical crit wasn't going to help her. Instead, I'm going to review a bit of her synopsis/outline to answer her question on cause and effect. Not sure how this might work out, but it could be fun to open the diagnostics up to new things. Love to hear feedback on this as well as answer the submitter's questions. (It's a little longer than the normal diagnostic due to the nature of the critique)

This week’s question:

I am revising the first draft of my NaNoWriMo '11 novel and I am concerned with the Cause and Effect for the plot and scenes.

Market/Genre: Young adult

On to the diagnosis…

Note: Since this is long, I'm going to skip the original text and show just my comments in the text.

This is the first book in a series about teens that have developed unusual abilities. How they struggle to live and find happiness while learning to control their gifts along with the side effects, and their quest to discover the origins. Origins that stretch back to an experiment near the end of WWII with ties to a current project that threatens all of them.

Book 1 is the story of Celia Ceifeiro, who runs away from home after killing a man by touching him. At sixteen, she is living in Florida, selling her artwork, and trying to stay off anyone’s radar by avoiding all but the most fleeting contact.

Prologue – [I believe this would be the Inciting Event for the whole story as opposed to the events in Chapter 1. Would you agree?] No, because this doesn't start the story, it's just her past. The big turning point in her life is when she meets Ali and Chase and X happens to her. (I'm guessing they're instrumental in whatever happens in the book)

While Cece is spending the afternoon at her best friend Amanda’s house, she sees Mr. Garrison, Amanda's stepfather, teaching Amanda a lesson and enjoying hurting her. Strong problem and conflict to start with right away. So she's 11 when this happens? (the next chapter says 5 years later)

Cece succeeds in saving Amanda but does so by killing Mr. Garrison when she gets angry and touches him. Fearing herself and the consequences of what she has done, she runs away from home. Nice consequence to her action. She wants to help her friend and ends up killing the friend's stepfather by using a power. Now she can't hide what she is and is forced to take action. Does anyone try to find her? How good is an 11 year old at running away?

Foreshadow - Cece's ability by a) showing that she doesn’t like Mr. Garrison without a concrete reason and b) showing her unease/feeling of impending danger when she touches Amanda before she goes downstairs. I get the sense there that she has some kind of sixth sense, and this could help add tension to the scene and a feeling that something bad is going to happen.

[I considered letting the reader discover the nature of Cece’s gift along with the character, Chase. However, considering back-stories, the specific detail regarding her gift, and clues to the origin of the abilities, I decided that I might confuse or lose the reader. What is your opinion?] Backstory at this point would lose the reader. Until they're sucked in and care about these characters, they won't be all that interested in the mechanics behind what they do. But in another sense, this prologue is backstory as well, so you might consider cutting it. I imagine the reason Cece is running and what happened to her would be a strong draw for the reader. If they know going in, then there's nothing for them to discover.

Chapter 1 – [Almost five years later on the beach in central Florida.]

Cece is eating lunch and selling some of her artwork but her plans are derailed by the arrival of Agent Daniels of the FBI, who is looking for her. Why? And how did he know where she was? She runs, he pursues. She succeeds in escaping but at the cost of her wallet, artwork, and most of her art supplies. I like this as your opening better, because this is the life that is changed in the story, not the prologue. It isn't until this happen that things change for Cece book-wise. (she lived for five years but none of that matters to the story about to unfold from a plot standpoint. This is when things change for her) This chapter does several solid opening things: It establishes Cece and her normal world, the things that matter to her, and that she's on the run and high-powered people are after her. How did the FBI know where she was? Has Daniels been hunting her long? Why?

Clue: Hint at her addiction to caffeine when she is on the beach and hint at her adversity to touch.
I like, as this sets up some reader curiosity

Foreshadow – How their need for caffeine plays into the change in their physiology. I also like. A fun way to play with addicted to coffee.

Cause and effect: I like how this works. Cece is living her life, but her past intrudes and she's forced to run. During the escape, she loses the things she needs to make a living. The one question I had was, "what is her goal moving forward?" Things happen, but what's the hook to make the reader turn the page? This made her run, now what?

Chapter 2

Fleeing inland, Cece stops in a small town when her emergency fund is almost exhausted. She only intends to stay long enough to make money to replenish her art supplies and her traveling fund. Her goal is to find a job while avoiding drawing attention. I like. She has to make money to live and has to risk exposing herself. She fails by drawing the attention of Chase Thorp and his sister, Ali, separately. How is this a failure to her goal? She hasn't had caffeine in several days and has only eaten peanut butter crackers since the night before. By early afternoon, Cece is dizzy and has a headache. When Ali sees her outside the restaurant, she is concerned and approaches Cece. The meeting leads to her success in finding a job but this first interaction snowballs. This feels more like the inciting event. This action snowballs to the bigger plot.

Clue: Show her addiction to the caffeine and show her adversity to touch.

Cause and effect: There's less drive in this chapter because there doesn't seem to be any conflict. Cece needs a job, she gets a job. I imagine her relationship with Ali and Chase will turn into something, but there's no problem stated by the end of the chapter. What will make the reader want to turn the page? What's at stake?

This could be a spot where you play up her past a little. If you cut the prologue, Cece could be very freaked out about being touched and Ali's compassion could be something that could be Cece's undoing. It could get her exposed again, or she fears it could cause trouble again. She might fear Ali and the possibility of friendship (which I assume she misses and longs for?) and think she's a danger to other people. If she thinks about her past (don't give it away just yet, but hints that something terrible happened) then readers will be very curious what happened to make her this way.

Chapter 3

Cece goals are to find a job while avoiding attracting attention. She succeeds in finding a job but learns that her boss is going to have a heart attack and die. Though her precognitive abilities? She must decide if she wants to try to prevent it and risk drawing attention to herself or do nothing. Letting someone die isn't a very nice thing to do, so perhaps shift just a bit so her conflict is how to help without giving herself away? From a cold-hearted standpoint, why does she care if he dies or not? How often does she get these flashes? Worry over this dilemma causes her to become careless while entering the detached garage of a house under construction where she is sleeping which Chase sees. This makes him more curious about her. I like that he's curious, but this seems like an easy problem to fix and has no stakes. She's homeless, she's a runaway. Believable excuse. Her real fear is someone learning the truth about her and what she did, right? Them calling the FBI? Perhaps Chase 's more curious about how she knew the boss was sick? That puts him in direct conflict with her goal to keep her abilities secret. (He can still see her in the garage, but it feels like it needs more to create conflict)

She decides to try to help her boss. She lies when she tells his wife she has seen several of the warning signs but is surprised to see the town doctor drop by to look in on her boss. She knows that her boss was going to die but when he doesn't, she questions what made his future change. I'm not sure she'd question how. She acted to prevent it. More likely she'd realize she has the power to change the future. What might that mean? And is this the first time she's ever done this? Surely she's tried to help someone before? If not, then why now?

Cause and effect: Not as strong as it could be. She wants to save the boss and she does, but nothing comes of it to drive the story forward. But there's good potential conflict by having Chase curious about her. I'd suggest making it about how she knew the boss was sick and what she did, not why she's sleeping in a garage. Use her secret to hook the reader and make them just as curious.

Also, there's a "plot told me to" vibe starting. There's no clear reason why Cece decides to help the boss. I assume this isn't the first time this has happened. And if it is, then she wouldn't know enough to act on it. Also, there's no reason for Chase to be following Cece.

Clue: Show her ability to see the death of someone. Show her adversity to touch.

Chapter 4

Cece is feeling guilty about doing nothing to help her boss. Didn't she just save him?

Chase Thorpe sees Cece at the local Starbucks looking troubled. So it's his POV now? He wants to meet her Doesn't he know her already? It says she drew his attention in chapter two. I'm a little confused and find out why she was in the garage. Before he can approach her, two young men from school begin to harass her. His school? Is this in the summer? Is her not being in school a red flag? She tries to get them to leave her alone; they persist. He tries to get to them before it escalates but doesn't. Isn't he pretty close? If he can see them, he can't be that far away. When he gets there, he finds the girl Cece? holding a knife. If the boys are just giving her a hard time, a knife seems excessive. Why doesn't she just leave, or go inside where the adults would chaser them off? Another man in a wheel chair heard the altercation and approached from the other direction. Chase treats Cece as he would one of the large animals from the veterinarian clinic where he works, with caution and a low calm voice. After a few tense moments, she puts the knife away. Cece doesn't strike me as a knife girl for some reason. Also, if the boys didn't back down when Cece drew a knife, I find it hard to believe Chase can talk them down.

He finds out that the guy in the wheelchair is a military vet because Cece noticed his dog tags and the military insignia embossed on his wallet earlier. So? What does the vet have to do with anything? She has drawn the vet while she was sitting there. Unsure about this. She's on the run and the FBI is after her. Military probably equals bad, so wouldn't she shy away from all things military? She gives the vet the drawing and he leaves. Why? Doesn't she sell her art? Why do this for free? And why not leave the second she could? Chase tries to engage her in conversation but she is reticent until his sister, Ali, arrives. Why? Just coincidence? She opens up a little. Why? He is surprised to find out that his sister already knows Cece. He gives up for now and leaves with his sister.

Clue: Show her guilt and indecision about helping the doctor. Hint at past incidences. Show her reluctance to use her gift even to defend herself. Hint at the vets ties to Cece and his purpose for being there. Show Chase's calm nature juxtaposed to Cece's difficulty in controlling her volatile temper(?). Hint at Cece's desire for a normal family life through her art.

Cause and effect: This feels like setup and explanation, not story-driving plot. There are no reasons for anything to happen in this chapter except that they need to to show some aspect of the character. It doesn't really change the story any, and in fact, logical repercussions are ignored. If someone pulls knife at Starbucks, cops will be called. It also doesn't seem to fit what's already happened. I got the sense that Chase met her in C2, and that she saved the boss's life. There's also nothing happening here to drive the story forward. If this chapter was cut, it doesn't seem like the story would change any, which is a big clue it's not adding to the plot.

I'd suggest mixing in the garage with the attack if you want to show she doesn't use her powers to defend herself. Maybe Chase sees her going into the garage around this time instead, and sees some hoodlum characters following her. Maybe Cece is trying hard not to hurt them, which would seem weird to Chase's eyes. He breaks it up, and she's worried about why he was there and what he might have seen. Perhaps even let her use her powers a teeny bit to help herself (if she has that ability). I'm just not seeing a plot point to this chapter.

Chapter 5

After Chase and Ali leave, Cece decides to try to help her boss, despite the risks.

Once her mind is made up, she leaves to go to the house she found for rent on line but finds it occupied. A house? If she's sleeping in a garage and has no money, a house seems really excessive. A cheap room feels more plausible. And if she's on the run, why is she looking to rent a house? She notices a truck similar to one she saw in town and thinks someone might be following her. What truck? I feel like I missed things. If these are important, perhaps weave them into the previsions chapters. She takes her bike where did she get a bike? through several yards and gets away but still has to find some place to sleep. If she can afford to rent a house, she can afford a cheap room to sleep in. She eventually finds shelter in a barn loft for the night, which is okay except for the mosquitoes. Barn loft? I'm very confused by the setting revealed in this chapter. I hadn't gotten the sense that this was a rural area. Central FL is pretty touisty.

The next morning she lies when she tells her boss's wife she has seen several of the warning signs but is surprised to see the town doctor drop by to look in on her boss. She knows that her boss was going to die but when he doesn't, she questions what made his future change. She is glad that it has but doesn't understand how since he never went to the doctor's office or the hospital. But the doctor stopped by to see him. Duplication, but I think this is just revision smudge. Pretty common in a synopsis.

Meanwhile she is trying to dodge the attention of Chase, who has stopped by her work to ask her to lunch. Her boss's wife thinks it is amusing and intends to meddle but Cece doesn't find the situation amusing. The boss and the wife seem like bigger characters than Chase and Ali (they affect Cece's life more). Are they?

Clue: Hint at the doctor's gift and possibly at his suspicion of how Cece knew there was a problem.

Cause and effect: It looks like a lot of things were added here that haven't been mentioned in the earlier chapters. I like that someone is following her, as that adds to her conflict and whether or not she stays or runs. She has some good reasons to stay now, so running would be hard.

It looks like things got moved around, so there's some duplication, but overall, there's some strong potential here. However, the cause and effect isn't quote moving the plot yet. I'd suggest taking more advantage of what you're setting up to really heighten the tension and the mystery and use that to drive your plot. My thoughts:

1. I'd cut the prologue. It'll probably serve you better if the reader doesn't know why Cece is on the run and why she doesn't want to touch people. That'll add suspense when Chase starts trying to figure her out. The reader won't already know, so his scenes will have tension to drive them.

2. Chase is a great vehicle to drive her "can't expose my secret" aspect. He likes her (I'm guessing), and the closer he gets the more her uncovers. She doesn't want him to know her secrets. (conflict) If there's a future romance there, it adds even more. It also gives her another reason to stay if she likes him back. She's got to be lonely if she's been on the run this long.

3. Ali is a great symbol of what Cece lost. A best friend. It also reminds her of Amanda and what happened, so even though she's drawn to Ali and wants a friend and a life (I assume), she fears the same thing happening here that happened to Mr. Garrison. You might even consider adding to this, by making someone in Ali's life a danger to her. Really play up the parallels so Cece is facing the same basic situation. Someone she's come to care about is in danger, but if she acts she could expose herself. Yet if she doesn't act, a friend could get hurt.

Crazy thought, but is it possible to make the boss related to Ali? Her father or uncle? You could have a really nice mirror there if Cece decides to help a friend's father where she killed a friend's father before. Show her desire to atone for what she did. Redemption for a past mistake is a common theme in these types of stories, so it fits the genre. If she wants to stay here and make a life for herself, then the stakes go up. She doesn't want to leave and staying might get her caught. It also fits the "Cece wants a family" idea since the boss and his wife seem to be playing a rather large role in Cece's life.

4. The FBI pursuit. Being on the run for murder is pretty bad, but I suspect there's more to it than that. The murder is the public excuse to go after Cece, but her powers are the real reason. (A guess, but it feels right if there's a secret project dating back to WW2) These are the stakes, so I'd suggest letting them play a stronger role in what Cece decides to do. I'm not getting a strong sense of stakes yet after she escapes. If she gets worried, there's nothing to stop her from taking off again. There's no sense of consequences if she does get caught.

5. Motivations. People act, but there's not a strong sense of why they do. (could be there in the book however) Cece doesn't want to draw attention, but why? I assume because she's hiding from the police, but it's been 5 years, and she ran away when she was 11 (I'm guessing based on the notes). How did the FBI know who and where she was? I like them chasing her, but it's unlikely a small child would have been able to escape the FBI when she first ran away from home. So if they were called in when she was 11, then why haven't they caught her yet? And if they weren't called in until later, what made them go after her? How do they even track her?

I'm also not sure what Cece wants. Immediate goal is to escape and avoid capture, but what's her bigger need? What's the one thing that is going to make her decided to do X (this will likely be the core conflict of your novel) despite the risks? Is she tired of running and wants a normal life with friends and love? Is she angry at what was done to her and wants answers? Is she on a quest to figure out what she is? When she's not running from the FBI, what is she doing?

I get the sense that right now she's just waiting for plot to happen, which is making her feel more reactive than proactive. What can you do to put her back in the plot driver's seat? She's after something, and the FBI is trying to keep her from that. She's trying to keep her secret, but Chase and Ali and trying to uncover it. Which puts her at risk to the FBI. I suspect it's all there, but you might consider looking a little deeper to further develop some of the whys.

I hope this was helpful. An interesting experiment with a new kind of diagnostic. Let me know how it went.

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress, not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

Revised Text:

Chapter 1 – (POV - Cece) After spending the morning on the beach drawing, Celia Ceifeiro is selling her artwork when she has a chance encounter with an FBI agent who recognizes her. She runs, he pursues. She succeeds in escaping but at the cost of her wallet and most of her art-work and art supplies. Without her art supplies, she must find an alternate way to earn money for food and replace her supplies while staying ahead of those chasing her.

Clue: Hint at her addiction to caffeine when she is on the beach and hint at her adversity to touch. Hint at her longing for family, friends and a home.

Foreshadow: How their need for caffeine plays into the change in their physiology.

Goal: Cece wants to get as far away as possible before she has to stop to find work.

Cause and effect: I like the setup, but the goal focus feels just a tad off. She seems more concerned with supplies than the FBI chasing her. Perhaps have her goal to be getting away and leaving town, and the complication be that she doesn't have any money to do that. If she loses her wallet, does that mean she also lose her ID? Does she have an ID? Why can't she just hitchhike? 

Chapter 2 - (POV - Griffin) Griffin calls his boss to advise him that the FBI agent is checking art stores for leads to Celia Ceifeiro. He and his partner will do the same hoping to find her first. How does he know to check art supply stores? I'm not yet sure about how he's connected to her. I'm also not sure you need this POV

(POV - Chase) Chase Thorpe is heading home late one night when he sees several drunken boys harassing a girl. One of the boys collapse before Chase and a patrolling officer can intervene. The police officer asks Chase to escort the girl home. Is Chase a cop? Does he know the officer? If not, then why doesn't the officer escort her home?

The next morning he stops by the house where Cece said she lived only to find that it is vacant for renovations. He wants answers. I don't understand how this fit into Cece's problem or how these two know each other. Perhaps add Chase to the opening scene so him trying to find her later makes sense?

Clue: Hint at her ability with the boy who collapses but has no obvious injuries and with Cece’s comment about killing him. Show Cece's distress over the fallen boy's condition and her nervousness around the police officer. Show her distressed state when she gives her real name when questioned.

Goal: Chase wants to help the girl being harassed by the other teenage boys, and then is curious about what happened to the boy who collapsed. The next morning his curiosity is heightened when he learns that no one is living in the house that Cece claimed was her home. Before he can satisfy his curiosity he must find her again.

Cause and effect: His motivations right now seem forced because there doesn't seem to be any real connection between him and Cece and why he'd do this. This also doesn't track with Cece or her goal of trying to get away/find money.

Chapter 3 - (POV - Cece) Hungry and experiencing caffeine withdrawal, Cece has a headache and is feeling faint and dizzy. When a young girl touches Cece's shoulder to offer help, Cece has a violent reaction to being touched and hits her head. In her distressed condition, she is momentarily thrown by the girl's superficial resemblance to a childhood friend. When Ali finds out that Cece is looking for a job, she sends Cece to the produce stand in town.

Clue: Show her addiction to caffeine and her adversity to touch. Hint at why she doesn't want to be touched. Hint at her past. Show a flash of her ability to sense when someone is going to die. Show some of the physical side effects of her ability but mix them in with the effects of her illness and her injury.

Foreshadow: Cece’s role in Ali getting hurt. How Ali’s future is shrouded because of Cece’s possible future decisions.

Goal: Cece is looking for a job but is hampered by caffeine withdrawal and hunger. When a young girl tries to help all Cece wants is to get away but the girl won't leave her alone and wants to call for help because Cece is ill. The girl eventually gives Cece a lead on a job.

Cause and effect: This doesn't seem to connect to Chase's chapter. Cece also seems to fall into a job and doesn't do anything to get it. Does she ever consider just stealing a Red Bull or box of No Doz? Random thought...what if Cece meets Chase in the opening chapter and she's flirting with him to get him to buy her caffeine or food? I'd imagine someone on the run her whole life would be pretty good at coning people or getting what she wants.

Chapter 4 - (POV - Cece) Early Monday morning. Cece dreams of Amanda, she hears the snap of a bone like she sensed when Ali touched her. Cece wakes up. She gets ready for her first day of work, thinking about the dream. Where is she sleeping? Cece is determined to earn enough money to leave town quickly I'm having some trouble with her trying to raise money to leave town. I like it as a goal, but why not hitchhike? Or take a public bus as far as she can (which is pretty cheap and begging on the street could probably get her that)? so that she doesn't have to see Ali again and be reminded of Amanda or 'him'. [Brief flash of Mr. Garrison.] Once she is dressed, Cece goes to the produce stand where Mrs. Kimmer introduces Cece [Fake Name], the alias that Cece gave Mrs. Kimmer, to Chase Thorpe. Did he catch the name she gave to the cop? If he did, what will he do about it? Chase feels very coincidental to the story so far. He's always there, but doesn't seem to have any reason to be. If he works there, perhaps have the job issue come up first chapter? I'm looking for ways to tie all these random events together so they flow plausibly. If these two people are going to be connected, perhaps find a way that's more proactive and adds to the conflict.

Clue: More clues to Cece's past. Who Amanda was and that something bad happened to her and hint at Mr. Garrison.

Foreshadow: Cece’s role in Ali getting hurt.

Goal: Cece wakes from a dream of her past just wanting to do what she needs to do to get out of town. When Mrs. Kimmer introduces her to Chase using the fake name she gave, she is afraid that he will say something. She has to find out if he noticed and what he will do if he did. She is also confused by what her senses are conveying about Chase’s future.
This isn't really much of a complication because she can always say she lied because she was scared and didn't know who he was.

Cause and effect: I'm not getting a sense of plot advancement yet. What if you start with her getting a job at the produce stand and have the FBI show up later? Establish who she is and her connection to these people, so she has more reluctance to run. If she thinks Ali is in danger, she'll feel compelled to stay to help despite the risks to her own freedom.

Chapter 5 - (POV - Cece) Cece spends the morning working, constantly aware of Chase watching her. Cece considers getting out of town but it's really not an option as she has exhausted most of her funds. She could rob the cash register and run, so this doesn't feel like a strong reason to stay

Chase invites Cece to lunch. Cece doesn’t want to have lunch with him but agrees in the hope that she can learn what he knows and what he will do with that knowledge. The goals feel a little thin through here.

(POV - Chase) When the relief help arrives, Mrs. Kimmer tells Chase and Cece to go next door to a burger place to get lunch. While they are at lunch, he starts to steer the conversation but, his friend, Matt, shows up with his girlfriend, Hayley and Chase's ex-girlfriend, Britt. Chase and Britt have a confrontation. Afterward Chase tries to get answers but while her explanation sounds plausible they just don’t ring completely true.

Clue: Show the first hint at Britt's instability. Use Cece’s drawings to hint at how much she misses having a home and a family.

Goal: Cece needs to learn what Chase is going to do with the information he has and decide whether she needs to get out of town. The FBI is still a threat right? Then she does need to get out of town.

Chase wants Cece to tell him the truth but she doesn’t have any intention of doing so.
How does he know she's lying? And why would he care?

Chapter 6 - (POV - Griffon) Telephone conversation between Griffon and his boss. He and his partner have been checking the art stores but there has been a new development. The boy, Remo, who's Remo? has showed up. Griffon will follow the boy and his partner will continue to check the stores. Griffon believes that the boy will lead them to Cece. His boss agrees and will pull one of the men looking for the geek to help. I still don't understand why he's chasing her.

(POV - Cece) Cece meets the boss’s husband after he returns from his trip. She senses that he is going to die soon. This concern pushes her worry over what Chase knows to the back of her mind. Since she just met him, why does she care? Though I like that there are more reasons for her to stay to add to the conflict, so perhaps make this relationship a little older? She knows these people and likes them.

Cece is trying to decide how to help without drawing more attention. She isn’t sure that Chase believed her story. Brittany confronts Cece about Chase and warns her to stay away. Britt strikes Cece. Cece is angered and comes perilously close to striking back with her gift. The Britt subplot feels like it's muddying up the story. Cece wants to stay away from Chase so what's the problem?

Clue: Hint at Remo’s gift and that Cece isn’t the only one for whom this group is searching. Show that Cece can tell when someone is going to die. Hint at Britt’s instability.

Foreshadow: Remo’s prior run in with this group, that it didn’t end well and that one man is angry about it.

Goal: Griffon wants to follow the boy to Cece but Remo is extremely observant.
I don't know who this is so it's hard to care about him. I like that there are more out there and Cece isn't the only one being hunted.

Cece wants to save Mr. Kimmer but needs to figure out how to get him to see a doctor without alerting him to how she know he need to do so.

After her confrontation with Britt, she wants to leave town but can’t. Two close calls and she feels more out of control of her ability than usual.
The "leave town" goal is wearing thin to me because I don't feel she means it. She's had access to cash and could have run at any time.

Chapter 7 - (POV - Cece) After spending the afternoon working with Mr. Kimmer, Cece tells her boss she observed signs of an impending heart attack. Her boss calls the doctor. Why would he believe her?

Cece gets paid so she goes to an art store in the next town. She's trying to get money to run, so spending it on supplies feels implausible. If she truly wanted to leave, she'd buy a bus ticket. One of the men searching for Cece sees her going into the store and lies in wait for her. His trap backfires when he startles her and he is hit by a car trying to avoid her touch. Feels contrived.

Clue: The man who tried to grab Cece knows something of her ability.

Goal: Cece wants to know who the man was, how he knows about her ability, and what he wanted with her but can’t hang around to find out. This latest development makes it imperative she leave this area.

Chapter 8 - (POV - Cece) The next morning Mrs. Kimmer tells Cece that her brother, the doctor, has work for her if she is interested. Cece jumps at the opportunity to earn extra money and only later finds out that Chase is also helping out. I find this hard to believe. She was just almost captured and put an FBI agent in the hospital. She'd have run at that moment and not gone back. She has no reason to stay and every reason to leave.

Cece meets the doctor. When she touches him, the doctor sees her reaction to the knowledge that he is dying and knows. How could he know this? This is a huge leap. The doctor tells Cece that the only way she could have known about Mr. Kimmer was if she was gifted like him. So he's one of them, too? That feels too convenient He believes that she is a healer like him. Cece scoffs at the term gift. She tells him she isn’t a healer but a killer. The doctor offers to help Cece learn to control her gift. The "wise mentor" has become a cliché, so you might consider doing something else. She also hasn't spent any time worrying about controlling her power, and seems to be doing just fine with it.

Clue: Show the doctors gift. Show how Cece despises her ability. Hint at the depth of her belief that her ability makes her evil.

Goal: Cece must decide whether to risk staying in town and accepting the doctor’s help or leave and risk losing this chance to learn to control her ability.

I think there are still some issues with this plot. It feels like this is going to great lengths to keep Cece in town when there's no reason for her to stay there. If she truly feels her life and freedom are in danger, she'd run. She has access to money and likely even a car (she can steal someone's car keys at the produce stand, or ask to borrow it and run). The only thing keeping her from leaving is because plot says she has to stay.

If you want her to stay there, I'd suggest finding plausible reasons why she would. She has a backstory about saving a friend from abuse, and she meets a young girl here who might be abused, so that could be a strong enough reason to stay. If she thinks Ali is in imminent danger she might stay to protect her. If she's trying to get Ali away from danger, that would also give her a goal and a reason to act. She might even consider going to the authorities or calling protective services, but that would expose her just as much so she changes her mind. There's great potential for conflict there, and reasons to stay that feel more credible.

You might also consider combing a lot of these chapters and situations. I don't think you need to have her lose her stuff or be chased by the FBI at the start, as that doesn't really do anything to drive the plot. You could easily start at the produce stand with her working for people she likes, which would give her a reason not to want to leave. Ali could be a customer she sees a lot who she discovers is in danger. Chase can be a budding love interest. All good reasons to not want to run.

The vision of the boss's spouse dying could come later and be something that makes Chase start to become suspicious, and come at a time when Cece begins to start acting weird, because maybe she sees the FBI or hears they're looking for her. Knowing what she looks like feels a bit farfetched as well if she ran away at 11, How did they get a photo of her? A drawing that's been aged and looks a little like her to make her worry could work though. Although you'd want to find a plausible reason for the FBI to be hunting for her there.

If controlling her gift is a problem, then perhaps she gets attacked and defends herself, uses her gift and hurts/kills someone, but runs off before anyone knows she did it. She sees the report about it and worries it'll draw the FBI after her, but she isn't sure and she likes where she lives so she risks staying put. But her behavior starts getting odd and this starts Chase wondering what's up.

Overall, I'd suggest thinking about the plot from Cece's perspective and not from the story plot perspective. What is she looking for from life and how does that life unfold? What is the problem that risks that life? Her acting by accident to draw attention to herself feels more plausible than people hunting her for 5 years and not catching her. If she was that good at evading the FBI, she'd have been gone the second one saw her.

Trying giving her reasons to stay, and then complicating that with reasons to leave, and force her to make a choice.


  1. this was massively helpful! Def would like to see more of these types of diagnostics. Also, this story sounds great, type of book that's right up my street :)

  2. This was a cool new diagnosis.

    I like what Janice said about goals and stakes. Very good reminder for one of my projects.

  3. This was extremely helpful! It's so much easier to understand these principles when they're applied to a real story.
    I think this story has great potential, but like others I really think the protagonist's goal needs to be clearer/more defined(and maybe it is in the actual manuscript). Good job writer!

  4. I really liked this diagnostic, Janice! This is exactly what I always need help with - the figuring out how to make the plot work strongly!

  5. Thanks Janice for you help with this. Getting general advice on writing and plotting is helpful but can be difficult to apply to our own work effectively. I'm happy to see that other are finding it helpful also.

    You are right about the precog ability but it is only by touch and she avoids that as much as possible.
    I am going to take your comments and go back over the chapter synopsis.
    Also from your comments it is obvious I need to work on knowing what to include in a synopsis. ;-) You point out details that you interpreted correctly but should have been included or came to erroneous conclusions because my synopsis wasn't clear.
    One example: You thought she was looking for a house to rent. She isn't. She finds empty houses that are for rent or in foreclosure to sleep in whenever possible.
    Once I revise, should I submit that as an update?

    Thank you very much for your insights. This was the best Veteran's Day present this vet could get.

  6. Janice, in reading over your comments you asked at the end of Chapter 1, "what is her goal moving forward?" Did you mean besides getting out of dodge? Like in short order she will have depleted her emergency funds and will need to stop moving to earn money for food and supplies but this will conflict with her need to keep moving to stay ahead of the people hunting her?

  7. Love, love love this version of the RLD! Like many others who have commented, plot is proving to be a challenge for me. This cause & effect edition was very useful in helping me
    think through some issues in my own WIP. Thank you!

  8. Very cool, glad folks liked it. I can see doing this more often. I really enjoy the brainstorming process.

    Deborah, you can submit a revision if you'd like. As for C1, it says she evades him, so I was wondering what drove the story from there. Did you mean she evades him in C2 and is still running in C1? Getting out of Doge is the goal at the end of C1? If so, evasion would work as a goal. If not, what is she doing now that she got away? I do like she needs to resupply as a goal. Juggling how long to stay vs the risk Daniels will catch up. A nice ticking clock, and an aspect of fugitive stories you don't often see.