Writing Tips with Author, Sandra Carey Cody

I am thrilled to welcome author Sandra Carey Cody to my blog this week with a fantastic post about plotting one's novel. Sandy is an amazing writer and a wonderful person. I hope you'll enjoy this post and then check out some of her work!

Before we begin, here's a bit about your host:

Sandra Carey Cody was born and grew in Missouri, surrounded by a family who loved stories, whether from a book or told on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon. She attended Washington University in St. Louis, moved on to various cities in different parts of the country, and finally settled in Doylestown, a small town just north of Philadelphia. Wherever she's gone, books have been the bridge to her new community and new friends. 

She’s written six novels - five in the Jennie Connors mystery series and the standalone mystery, Love and Not Destroy. She is also the author of a number of short stories which are not mysteries - unless you consider (as she does) the day-to-day bump and jostle of ordinary life a mysterious thing. If you would like to know more about her work, you can visit her website: http://www.sandracareycody.com or her Amazon author page here

And now, here's Sandy!


For me, plot’s the … I was about to say the hardest part … but let’s be positive and call it the biggest challenge. What do I do when faced with a challenge? Break it down. Look at the basics. What is a plot? My trusty Webster’s defines it as:

“the plan of action of a play, novel, etc.”

Okay, now that we know what plot is, let’s break it down into manageable bits.

Come Up with a Plan:

It’s the planning that gives me trouble but, if I do a good job on the characters (a subject for another time), it’s a lot easier. I created these people. I know their secrets, what they’re afraid of, what they love and what they hate. So I should know how they will react in any situation, and those reactions are what move the story along. Sounds easy, right? All I have to do is give them something to react to, a problem to solve or a goal to achieve – and a reason to care about the problem or goal. Different characters have different goals - opposing goals. The antagonist (anti-hero) will do everything in his/her power to keep the protagonist (hero) from achieving his/her goal. This is the source of the tension that will drive the plot. When I know what problem the protagonist is facing, I’m ready to begin.

The Beginning - An Inciting Incident 

Something has to happen and it has to be strong enough to compel the protagonist to act. This is your inciting incident.  Place a major roadblock in your protagonist’s path, something that forces him/her to take action or make a choice. This is true not just for mysteries, which I write, but for all fiction. Think of your favorite half dozen stories in any genre. The first chapters may be wildly different, but they’re sure to have one thing in common: something happens or is foreshadowed as about to happen that will change life for the hero. He’s about to embark on a journey that will take him to places he never expected to go, to do things he never suspected he was capable of doing. In short, your protagonist is in trouble - facing a seemingly insurmountable problem. The plot is in motion. Things are starting to happen.

The Middle - Action, Overcoming Obstacles, Consequences, Cause and Effect
The middle is all about the hero’s response to the problem (the inciting action) placed before him in the beginning and the new problems resulting from that response. It’s about choices and the consequences of those choices. It’s about overcoming obstacles. By the middle of the book, the hero’s life is in chaos. Real life may be random, but in fiction, if the reader is to suspend disbelief, he needs to see the cause and effect behind the chaos. Events in the plot may (and at least sometimes should) surprise the reader, but once they occur, they should make sense. This doesn’t mean they are predictable. Your protagonist does something in response to the inciting action, expecting a certain result, but what happens is entirely different from what he intended. Things are worse instead of better. Someone (the antagonist) is doing his/her best to make sure the protagonist fails. So you need to write a series of scenes that show your character’s responses to the problems set in motion by the inciting incident and are linked by cause and effect.  Every time the hero responds to a problem, the anti-hero responds too, creating another problem for the hero to overcome. Forces of good and evil are at war. Your hero has new battles to fight, more obstacles to overcome. The battles become more intense, the stakes higher. Your protagonist has to become stronger, fight harder, to overcome them. These battles and the changes they create in the protagonist make up the middle.

The End - Resolution, Changes 

And, finally, after much travail and turmoil for both you and your hero, you come to the end. How is the problem resolved? How has the struggle changed your hero? Did he achieve his goal? Or come to accept that he could not and learn to live with it?  And, most important, have you been fair to the reader? Have you entertained him and made the time spent with your story worthwhile? That’s our goal as writers – always.

Check out some of Sandra's work on her Amazon page!


  1. She outlines it well! It does help to start with full characters. And if you do it right, there are countless new challenges that stem from the main one.

    1. I agree, Alex. You're right in that new challenges always stem from the main one. Once you start thinking about it, the possibilities are limitless. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Thanks for the tips. I especially love the emphasis on change. I try to remember to bring each character some sort of change- if even something small. All characters must evolve, right?

    1. Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth. I agree about change. If there's no change, what's the point?

  3. The best plotting guide I have come across is from John Truby's 'Anatomy of Story'. The core of the story is powered by the protagonist's wants, needs, flaws, and goals. All the characters within the story resonate with some variation of the main character's pursuit of closure for his/her psychological wounds.

    (Hi, Lisa, no relation!)

  4. I have read that book, but it sounds like it would be helpful. I agree with your statement about the protagonists's needs underlying every facet of the story. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Oops! Meant to say I have not read that book ...

  5. Good post, Sandy! Sometimes I think authors get bogged down in the details and forget the over-arching structure of the plot. A plan is a great idea to keep us on track.

  6. I agree, Karen. Once I get going, I usually deviate from the plan, but I need a direction to start.

  7. This post contains useful tips. I will keep your advice in mind as I am starting work on my next mystery.

  8. Thanks, Gus. I especially that comment coming from you. You wove a terrific story in Out of the Picture.

  9. Writing is such a close and personal encounter with your imagination that to lay it out in the open for others to read, criticise, and, hopefully, http://www.viralservice.com/understanding-a-good-seo-article-writing/


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