Tag Archives: Plot Tip

Can We Go Home Again? – Riverton Road Monday

High School ReunionEvery story is a conversation with myself as the author and myself as a person. I usually don’t recognize what that conversation is about until I’m at least halfway through the writing. Or maybe not until after I’ve typed The End.

In A Wrong Way Home I knew all along that Kara’s dilemma has been my dilemma for decades. Can we go home again? Can we return to the place that birthed us and nurtured us? Or – as is the case with Kara – the place that failed to nurture us.

The answer is more difficult when we’ve had a hometown experience like Kara’s – the non-nurturing kind and the hurtful memories that go with it. For Kara those deep dark memory pits have to do with two things – her family and her past relationships with men. She doesn’t want to fall into either of these pits again.

Yet she can’t seem to stay away from one of those men even though she knows for sure that seeing him again will mean heartache for her. Matt Kalli is like the sore tooth we can’t keep from flicking with our tongue. Maybe we do that to make certain the pain is still there.

Isn’t that true of most of us when – for example – we can’t stop ourselves from signing up for the high school reunion. We shop long and hard for the perfect outfits to display ourselves at our best advantage. We have our hair styled. We struggle to lose weight. At my age we wish we could afford a facelift.

We’ve got unfinished business back there. Battlefields we didn’t conquer the first time around. The mean girls. The lost boys. The warm friendships that went cold. We long to write an alternate ending to those stories.

“Look at me,” we’d like to say. “See how special I am now. Don’t you wish you’d been nicer to me back then? Sorry. You’re too late to make up for it now.”

That’s the best case scenario. What will the real scenario be? We can’t resist finding out. We can’t keep our tongues off that nagging sore tooth memory. So we clean up as pretty as we can get and trek back home again.

I’ve gone to two high school reunions. One was a disappointment – no closure to be found. The second was very different. Why? Because I stayed away from the mean girls and boys I’d lost and the bad friends. I hung with the folks who’d been my true besties and I had a marvelous time. I also took my husband. He cleans up nice too.

Like Kara I found out that we can go home again. We just have to choose our stopping points wisely. We have to do that choosing with our warm hearts instead of our broken ones.


 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 12th novel and it’s all about going home again.

 Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com


Nobody Wants a Sagging Middle – Ask Alice Saturday

Question. How do I keep the middle of my story moving at a fast pace?

Answer. The struggle in your story is the drama of your story. That struggle must begin at Casablanca - middleyour dramatic opening and continue forward without letup. The course of the struggle is the course of your plot. The more intense the struggle – the more intense the plot.

That’s all there is to writing a page turner story. Escalate the power – intensity – drama of your main character’s struggle and you’re in the winner’s circle. Until you get to the middle where you might find a muddle. Because the middle is where the story line is likely to sag.

When your story loses momentum in the middle you must make a crucial assumption. You need to know more about your characters. You need to ask three crucial questions.

  • What hidden relationships could there be between your characters?
  • What further conflict lies beneath the surface of their relationships?
  • What further secrets do they have and why have they kept them from you?

In “Well Begun is Well Done” my blog post about the Dramatic Opening I used the classic film Casablanca as a story example. Let’s continue with that.

At the dramatic opening we found Rick – played by Humphrey Bogart – bitter and disillusioned. But we’re well into the story before we learn the source of his bitterness. Near the opening there were hints at the problems in Rick’s history but we still don’t understand what’s up with him. Then beautiful Ilsa arrives – played by Ingrid Bergman – and Rick reacts.

We would say he overreacts because we still don’t know what’s really going on inside him. Ilsa is with her husband Victor so we don’t get an explanation until she returns later to the closed café where Rick is alone. Now we find out about Paris and the love affair between Rick and Elsa that sent him soaring then smashed him back to earth.

We are hooked as the suspense plot becomes a love story too. We’re hooked in the heart even more deeply than our adrenaline was pumped by the danger. We’re also at the middle of the story and there’s no sagging anywhere. Because we’ve learned more about the characters. Hidden relationships – deep conflicts – secrets that had been kept from us.

Want even more momentum? Make another crucial assumption. The hot water you’ve put your characters in needs to get much hotter. Now you must ask three more crucial questions.

  • What additional misfortunes can happen to your characters?
  • What potent dangers surround your characters?
  • What can happen that will jolt your main character?

Casablanca has the mother lode of misfortune and danger – World War II and Nazis. And a potent villain in German Major Strasser. Nothing accelerates story tension better than a truly evil bad guy. There are high stakes too. Ilsa’s husband Victor must be smuggled to neutral territory or be captured and tortured and his heroic anti-Nazi work will end.

The jolt to main character Rick comes via the Letters of Transit. They are what Alfred Hitchcock called the Macguffin. The thing everybody in the story wants for good or evil reasons depending on who they are. Rick has these letters. They will decide Victor’s fate. They will also decide the fate of Rick and Ilsa’s rekindled passion. Da Da Da Dum!

Drama – high stakes – an uncertain outcome. The middle of Casablanca provides all of this and more. Make your story middle do the same by digging beneath the surface of your characters as you see them now. Excavate your own mother lode. When you find it all sign of sag will disappear and never return. Plus – you’ll always have Paris.


 My latest story is A WRONG WAY HOME – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Series – Book #1 – Matt & Kara’s Story. Available at amazon.com/author/aliceorr. This is my 12th novel and the middle doesn’t sag. The same is true of A Year of Summer Shadow launching May 15th.

 Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com


Sleeping with Cheerios

The angels are in the details. And the more specific those details – the sweeter those angels will sing. Nobody knows that better than Stephen King.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-cheerios-cereal-background-image28465937When a refrigerator opens in a Stephen King story we don’t just find ketchup on the shelf. We find Heinz Ketchup on the shelf. Heinz Ketchup is a cultural icon for most of us. We see the dark red through the glass – the white crest shaped label – the metal cap that’s hard to unscrew.

King understands our mental associations with the objects of American life – especially brand name objects. Evoking these iconic associations makes a scene feel more real no matter how outlandish other elements of that scene may be. And we do know Stephen can get outlandish.

Here’s an example from the Stephen King novel Carrie. “The explosion of Toni’s Citgo on upper Summer Street had resulted in a ferocious fire that was not to be controlled until nearly two o’clock in the morning.”

He could have said “the explosion of the gas station.” But “Toni’s Citgo” is much more real. We are right there on upper Summer Street seeing and believing. However incredible the events of Carrie White’s life may be – the specificity of Toni’s Citgo helps us suspend our disbelief.

In another Stephen King example from his novel The Shining Wendy Torrance is terrified of her husband Jack as usual. She “paws through her purse and comes up with an Anacin” after complaining timidly of “a really bad headache.”

“’No Excedrin?’ Jack snaps back. He saw the small recoil in her face and understood.” We understand too and wish we could offer her a Xanax and a ticket out of there.

My personal example resonates more privately. Except maybe if you’ve had a beloved relative in pain and peril and were beside yourself with overwhelming feelings of grief and powerlessness.

This relative was my precious granddaughter and she’d just gone through radical back surgery. I was at her parents’ house exhausted after hours at the hospital. But I couldn’t sleep because I was miserable and afraid. I needed something sweet at a bitter time.

I prowled the kitchen trying not to wake anyone but all I could find was a box of Cheerios. I spirited that box back to my granddaughter’s single bed where I was sleeping – or supposed to be sleeping – while she was hospitalized.

I stuffed dry circles into my mouth as tears wet my cheeks. I woke the next morning with those circles crushed underneath me. I’d been sleeping with Cheerios. If I ever write that full scene – how much less real and resonant will it be if I say I’d been sleeping with cereal?

Find my books at amazon.com/author/aliceorr.

Alice Orrwww.aliceorrbooks.com