dianne salerni author
dianne salerni author

Say what now? No plan for the climax?

Yup. That’s me. Facing the climax of my WIP and wondering, “What’s going to happen?”

I know it makes me seem like the worst sort of pantster, progressing 5 months and 56k words into a story and still not knowing what’s supposed to happen in the climax. Believe me, I’ve been beating myself up over it for weeks. How can this story have any sort of cohesiveness if I don’t even know how the conflict will be resolved – or what form that resolution will take?

Luckily, I have the history of my other, published works to remind me that this is all part of the process and if I give myself the head space and time, I will work it out.

The climactic scenes of The Caged Graves came to me all at once in the shower one day, just as I was about to launch into a completely different climax that was, by comparison, lackluster and unsatisfying.

Entering the climax of The Eighth Day, I had no idea how the good guys were going to defeat the bad guys. They were out-manned, out-gunned, and about to be sacrificed at the top of a pyramid, for pity’s sake.

I expected the climax of The Inquisitor’s Mark to be an all-out, guns-blaring battle between Riley’s clan and the Dulacs. Instead, it turned into a battle of wits for the custody of Jax.

In The Morrigan’s Curse, I knew going into the climax that Jax, Dorian, and one of the bad guys would perform certain actions. But where this would happen, how to get them to that point, and what everyone else would be doing remained a mystery to me right up until I was writing it.

So, I guess it’s not so bad if the current plan for my WIP’s climax is: The Big Bad appears and wreaks havoc (of what kind, unknown). The protagonist learns something startling (this part, at least, I do know), and this ends up (somehow) being the key to defeating Big Bad.

I can work with that. Right?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my scribbling notebook this month.


This is the place where I work out plot problems. Some people use white boards, some use index cards or Scrivener. For me, working it out visually and long hand is the way to go.

I hang on to my notebooks after the book is written. It’s reassuring to remind myself that, even with some of my most successful stories, I didn’t know what I was doing at the time but eventually figured it out. For example, here’s the thought process that led to me deciding who would rescue Riley Pendragon from his cell in the Dulac basement in The Inquisitor’s Mark.


Some lessons I have learned from my scribbling:

  • The obvious path is the least interesting. Complications and reversals make for a better story.
  • Cut the things that delay information getting to your characters and readers.
  • Whichever path provides the most pain and trouble for your protagonist is the one you want.
  • Sometimes I’m asking the wrong question, and that’s why I can’t move forward.
  • The thing I thought was going to happen next is the wrong thing to do, and my subconscious knew that all along, which is why I ended up in the scribbling notebook in the first place.


What’s your brainstorming method?

Saturday was a glorious day for a book launch party at the Hockessin Book Shelf in Hockessin, Delaware! I was thrilled to see so many friends, former teaching colleagues, fellow writers, and young readers come to celebrate the release of The Morrigan’s Curse. I even got to see a friend from high school who I haven’t seen (except on Facebook) since our 5th class reunion. (Which was only a few years ago — HAHAHAHA!)

Here are a few photos:

Books and Crow

Me with Cake

With Nancy and Rebecca

With Beth

signing for Matt

As I was getting ready to write this post, I remembered writing a similar one at the beginning of February 2015 for the launch of The Inquisitor’s Mark. Then I got a little curious about what I was blogging about in previous Februarys … and I took a little time machine tour, via the archives, to find out.

* Engage the machine that makes everything swirly*

2015 — Celebrating the release of The Inquisitor’s Mark.

2014 — Housebound by an ice storm. Using the opportunity to write 9000 words in The Morrigan’s Curse, specifically the first draft of the climax.

2013 — Finishing up the first draft of The Inquisitor’s Mark and getting ready for pre-release promotions of The Caged Graves.

2012 — Thinking about leaving my comfort zone to attempt an urban fantasy about a secret day of the week, even though I considered myself a historical fiction writer. Wasn’t sure I was going to do it. (!!!!)

2011 — Bemoaning the fact that I was feeling my way through the first draft of a WIP like I was playing Blind Man’s Bluff. (Interesting, since I’m doing that again this year …)

2010 — Alternately ranting about standardized testing and posting historical tidbits related to We Hear the Dead that nobody read because my blog was brand new and I didn’t have any followers.

*Let’s swirly ourselves back to the present*

An interesting trip! And a bit scary, since I’d forgotten how close I came to NOT writing The Eighth Day, which, as you can see, consumed my next three years.

I wonder what I’ll be blogging about in 2017?



  • Next Monday, school starts for my children and for my former teaching colleagues, but not for me. This is the first time I haven’t started school in the fall since I was a kindergartner. To distract me from this major life change, my husband suggested I do something I wouldn’t normally be able to do, and I said, “Yes!” (I’ll tell you about it next week.)
G&G 2014

Both my daughters will be in high school this year. How did that happen?

  • Don’t forget the Back 2 School YA Giveaway. One winner gets ALL 8 books. CLICK HERE.
  • When I wrote about outlining with the Snowflake Method last week, I was surprised how many die-hard pantsters responded. I’m a pantster at heart, too. Outlining is more like an exploration of an idea, to see whether or not I really want to write it. I learned something important, though. Step 1 was to write a one-sentence summary of the book. I couldn’t find a way to make my main character the subject of the sentence without having it sound passive. I suddenly realized: I chose the wrong main character for the story!!! This is someone else’s story — and I need to re-envision the whole project!
  • On the subject of being a hopeless pantster, I’d like to share with you a favorite line I wrote for BRANEWORLD last week:

Regrettably, the only viable plan would require using her favorite human as bait.

What I love about the line is this: I have no idea what the plan is! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! (I hope the details are shared with me soon …)

  • One of the vice presidents of my husband’s company bought 5 copies of The Eighth Day, which he then gave to his son and his nieces and nephews. (Wasn’t that a nice thing for him to do?) Last week, his son went into school to take Accelerated Reading tests for his summer reading credit and discovered The Eighth Day was one of the AR tests available. Awesome! And he passed. Even better!
  • And for my final bullet point: A reader sent me fan art. Fan art! Is that not the most awesome thing ever?
Eighth Day fan art by Kat

Jax, Evangeline, and Riley ~ by Kat






snowflake-imageIf you read Monday’s post about my struggle with my WIP, you might not be surprised to hear I’ve been looking at strategies for outlining. However, if you’ve followed me for any length of time, you’re probably shaking your head, saying, “Again? Dianne, you know that never works out for you.”

I’ve tried all kinds of planning techniques in the past: bullet points, character interviews, three-act structures, detailed scene notes. Once, I even outlined a story backward – from the ending I planned to the beginning I wanted — by asking myself, “What would have caused this?”

(I did write that manuscript, but the only parts that resembled the outline were the beginning and the end! Everything else changed!)

I’m not outlining BRANEWORLD. I’m still trudging through a dark forest on that one, with only a dimly conceived destination in mind. But I want to have something waiting in the wings if, no when I finish the draft. So I’ve decided to do preliminary work on a completely different project, a historical mystery along the lines of The Caged Graves, except set in 1930s Hollywood.

This time I’m trying The Snowflake Method, which you can check out HERE.

It keeps me busy and out of trouble while I wait for my editor’s revision letter on The Eighth Day #3. And it keeps my mind off everyone going Back-to-School – which, for the first time since I was 5 years old, does not include me. <Sigh.> I’m a little conflicted about my feelings on that.

However, I can celebrate the arrival of fall with a Back-to-School giveaway! Come back on Friday to learn more about THIS:



On Monday, Vicki Tremper posted a link to an article by LibbaBray that I really, really needed to read this week. If a rock star like Libba Bray can struggle so much with a book – and a sequel, at that – and if she finds outlining strategies and worksheets as unhelpful as I do … well, it restores my faith in my own creative process.
I’m going to revisit this picture from SharkNado, because as many bloggers commented last week, it really embodies the heart of writing by pantsing – or even writing with an outline, as far as I’m concerned.
I thought Scrivener might help me plot out the third book in my series. So far it’s been helpful for keeping all my random notes, bad ideas, and research information in one place. It also gave me an excuse to comb the internet for photos that look like my characters and paste them into character charts. Wasted two whole evenings on that!
But I know in my heart that my process is to discover the story as I go. Scrivener can’t help. The Snowflake Method can’t help. Only writing will help.
I did have an outline for the first book. Well, plot points, anyway. I recently read back over that “outline” and laughed. The big plot points are all still there, but ALL the details have been changed – even the names of most of the characters.
I had an outline (list of plot points) for the second book, too. And again, those events are still in the current draft. But I realized, right before I hit SEND and zapped the manuscript to my editor yesterday, that my favorite parts of Book 2 were never in the outline at all.
I had a new character sharing POV with my MC, but I didn’t know anything about his personality or motivation when I started writing. I didn’t discover it until halfway through the first draft, and the revelation, when it came, required the addition of a new subplot.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is an episode that was never planned. I remember the idea hitting me in the middle of the school day. I spent my lunch break researching two specific things that would allow a pair of adolescent boys to secretly get down from the fifth story of a city apartment building without the use of the stairs or the elevator.
Then of course there was the climactic action scene. That was plotted out right before I needed to write it – at a restaurant in the Pocono Mountains during a ski trip. “Listen everybody,” I said, commandeering all the forks and knives and a few condiments to make a diagram on the table. “I need to know how these people can fight this creature in this confined space. And since there’s an exit right over here, why don’t they just run away instead?” My husband and daughters were nonplussed by this demand. My daughter’s friend looked kind of surprised, but also vindicated – as if she suspected all along that Gabbey’s writer/mom was a nutjob.
A brainstorming session, complete with the best Italian food in the Poconos, ensued. (Papa Santo’s in Blakeslee, if you’re wondering.) We talked about who was trapped and needed rescuing, how smoke alarms and fire extinguishers and cattle prods and broken steel beams played a role, how magic was used, and how not to accidentally knock the whole building down on their heads. (Thank heavens my husband is an engineer.)
So, am I ready to jump into the shark on Book 3 yet? No, but I have re-affirmed to myself that all I need is a few more plot points to get started. As long as I take my chainsaw with me, I won’t worry about how to get myself from point to point.