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?

cast of thousandsA couple weeks ago, I lent my husband one of the adult science fiction books I read last month. To my delight, he enjoyed it as much as I did.

“It had a lot of characters,” he said, “which usually frustrates me, but the author did a great job of introducing only one at a time. That made it easy for me to get to know them and keep them straight.”

Then he gave me the look.

And I sank down in my chair.

‘Cause I know I have a problem. I’m a New Character Addict. Why bring in one new character when I can have three? Or five? It’s a problem that runs rampant through all my first drafts, and it’s definitely attributable to my being a pantster at heart. (I bet people who outline don’t have this problem.) But when you’re making up the story as you go, with only the barest glimpse of your target ending, a lot of unexpected and uninvited characters turn up along the way.

Some of them end up being important — maybe even show-stoppers — so it’s essential that I let this process run its course, even if it’s frustrating to my CPs. I try not to worry because I know in later drafts I’ll put on my Grim Reaper robe, get out my scythe, and start slashing characters.

Sometimes, I see the solution even earlier than that. For instance, last week I wrote a chapter in which three new characters appeared – a mother and daughter we’d heard about before – and a scientist. It occurred to me afterward that if the mother was also the scientist, three characters could be reduced to two. Now that I’ve seen the solution, it’s hard for me to go on writing this soon-to-be-merged-with-another-character scientist, but I feel compelled to do so for my own first-drafting brain, as well as the sanity of my CPs. He’s doomed, but he’s part of the first draft.

What sins do YOU commit in your first drafts?

Birds Attack

Me: *Stares at WIP on screen.*

SNI #1: Psst. Dianne.

Me: Go away. I’m busy.

SNI #1: It’s me. Your manuscript, XXXX, that you shelved two years ago. I was thinking, what if you changed me from YA to MG?

Me: That would be a major change. I’d have to practically gut the story and start over.

SNI #1: But it would address some of the feedback you got. All of the feedback, really.

Me: That’s a really interesting idea, but I’m working on something else right now.  *Stares at WIP. Types a comma. Deletes the comma.*

SNI #1: While you’re stuck, why don’t you make up a side-by-side outline – my chapters as they are now, and what you would have to change to make the story MG.

Me: I’m not stuck. You’re bothering me.

SNI #1: Okay. I’ll go. But think about it.

Me: *Decides to re-read the chapter-in-progress so far. Changes three words.*

SNI #2: Hey, Dianne, weren’t those two articles you read last night pretty cool? The one about gravitational waves and the other about turbulence and Van Gogh’s The Starry Night?

Me: Who are you?

SNI #2: You know who I am. Put the ideas in those two articles together and you get …

Me: You.

SNI #2: That’s right. Remember those 4 awesome adult science fiction books you read while you were laid up? If you were to write down your favorite thing about each of them, put that list together with gravitational waves and turbulence, you’d probably have a really cool plan for a new story.

Me: But I’m busy with this other project right now.

SNI #2: Really? Doesn’t look like it.

SNI #3: And what about me?

Me: I remember you. I outlined you.

SNI #3: And then you never wrote me.

Me: You were boring.

SNI #3: Maybe I wouldn’t be so boring if SNI #2 wasn’t hogging all the good ideas. Put the turbulence in my book! I want the cosmic turbulence!

Me: Look, I don’t want to write you now. *Points at WIP.* I like this one. My critique partners like this one. This is what I need to work on right now.

SNI #3: So why aren’t you typing?


Good question! Why aren’t I typing?

Maybe because my mind looks like this inside?

Starry Night

Word count goals don’t usually work for me, but I’m thinking I need to set some this week. (And not allow myself any Netflix time if I don’t meet them!)

Go away, SNIs!

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?


Yeah, I was thinking about quitting. Or at least taking a hiatus.

For the past couple months, I’ve had trouble coming up with blog topics. I started wondering if I had already covered every writing topic I was qualified to write about. I’ve been falling behind in reading blogs, too. My Feedly list is kinda long.

And I was a little bit grumpy this weekend because the latest chapter in my WIP was falling flat. I didn’t know exactly what was wrong with it — just that what should have been an exciting chapter had turned out trite and remote. As if the the MC was keeping his distance from the reader.

In an effort to avoid the problem, I opened Feedly … aaaand there was that long list of neglected posts waiting for me. Too much guilt! My cursor hovered over the Mark All As Read button. Then I spotted Marcy Hatch’s post Building Better Characters. I thought, why not?

West of ParadiseMarcy’s post on finding a third level of emotion showed me what was wrong with my chapter and what I need to do to fix it. Blogging wins again!

Together as writers we have a wealth of information, strategies, and insights. Giving up blogging just because I’m struggling a little for post topics right now would be silly. Today, one of my best blogging friends gave me two things I needed: an insight into what was wrong with my chapter — and a blog post.

Go read Marcy’s post.

While you’re at it, buy her book!

West of Paradise


Gabbey stuck


If it’s crossing your mind that I’m writing this post because I’m stuck … then, you’re right. Or at least, it feels like I’m stuck because the answers aren’t coming to me as fast as I’d like.

And yes, that IS my daughter in the picture (16 years ago). And yes, I did extricate her –AFTER I took the picture.

When you are stuck – on a first draft, during revisions, or even in the planning stages – here are 7 things you can do that have helped me get unstuck:

1. Open up Twitter and/or Facebook and stare at the feed. Refresh lots of times. This is not procrastination. It’s surfing for ideas. Sometimes the most random comments, links, or videos suggest something to you. One night a couple years ago, someone posted a video of a flooded stream busting across a two-lane road, breaking the road into chunks that are swept away in the flood — in less than a minute. You’ll be reading a scene just like that in The Morrigan’s Curse.

2. Write a long email to one of your critique partner explaining the dilemma – what you need to do but can’t do and why you can’t do it this way and why it won’t work that way. Then delete the email when your lengthy explanation of the problem produces its own answer. Be sure and send thanks to your CP, because without him/her, you wouldn’t have written the email.

3. Draw a flow chart of possibilities. If you take the story in THIS direction, what will be the consequences? The positive benefits to plot development? The roadblocks to making it all work out? Now try a different direction? What will be the consequences, benefits, and roadblocks to doing it this other way? Which path serves your story?

4. Lie on a pool float staring at the sky and let the randomness of your journey around the pool jar ideas loose from your mind. A hammock or a swing also might work, although it’s not quite as random a movement and doesn’t have the same effect (for me).

5. Ask a CP who’s read your manuscript to write questions for the character most responsible for your state of stuck-ness. Answer the questions from that character’s POV and find out what’s going on in his head. Yes, you could write the questions yourself, but you’re stuck, so how will that help? The point is to get an outside person’s perspective on your plot, your character, and your problem.

6. Seriously consider that you’ve made a mistake – not at this point in the manuscript, but earlier. Back up to the last point where you were really sure about the plot and look at where you went from there. Did you take the wrong path? Present things in the wrong order? Have your character behave in a way that doesn’t make sense? Your DELETE key may be your solution.

7. Go read a book in a different genre and audience from the one you’re writing. If you’re struggling with a MG contemporary fantasy, go read about an adult book about an assassin in a steam-powered society on an alien world – or zombies on the Titanic. If the book holds your attention (in spite of your preoccupation with your own stuck-ness), figure out WHY, then figure out how you can do something similar in your own genre and for your audience.

And please don’t judge me for taking that picture. It was the third or fourth time she had inserted her head through those bars and gotten it stuck there. Really, was she expecting a different outcome this time?