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Amalie Berlin on her Plotbook and Giveaway!

Please help me welcome author Amalie Berlin today and she has a post on how she comes up with ideas. And she has a giveaway going on at www.amalieberlin.com

And there is a fantastic opportunity for medical romance writers or all writers wanting to try their hand at medical romance. You will get feedback within 24 hours. Read here.

Amalie's latest release is UNCOVERING HER SECRETS and she has an autographed paper copy for one commenter! She's also running a raffle until 4-28-14 at www.amalieberlin.com
Amalie's Website       Facebook     Twitter

Over to Amalie now on how she comes up with ideas...


I write category romance, Medical Romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. Every different line that Harlequin offers has certain things that the readers expect to find in the stories published in that line. This is where you hear the discussions about your stories being inside-the-box or outside-the-box.

Confession: My story ideas? I never have any idea whether I’m really inside that box. I try to get inside it. And I sure as heck sit down in the box when I get there. I just don’t actually know if I fit in that box once I’ve sat, or if my butt has burst one of the corners open and now my tail and fluffy feline backside have sprawled all over the place through the unseemly corner of the broken box(You’ve all seen pictures of cats and funny-sized boxes!).

I know, that’s not helpful advice for anyone.
What I am hoping is helpful is sharing how my idea generator works so you can run out and generate unconventional ideas that you maybe can figure out how to get into the box. Or not, maybe you have no box but you just want to come up with fresh(er?) ideas.

This part is no secret. Every writing book on the planet will tell you that the key to plotting a good story is asking What If?. I do not disagree. I ask What If? too.
The bit I disagree with is the format for asking this question.
When you’re trying to get the creative juices flowing, structure is not your friend. Lists? Lists are left-brained activities, and that thwarts the creativity IMO.

What I do is more like mind-mapping than list making.  My PlotBook, which is where I do my scribbling to dream up stories, is a sketch book. A nice hardback sketchbook(graphic arts monkey here, I have a sketchbook fetish), lots of different colored ink pens(black is usually bad for me), and highlighters. My What If? Brainstorms are very visual.  Harnessed chaos. I write as fast as I can, I draw lines to connect ideas that appeal to me, I don’t shut down any idea of thought that comes to me. No editing during the brainsplosion!
Later, after my dominant right brain has barfed up disconnected ideas all over the place, I go through and start making connections, allowing the left brain to start building the narrative. This generally involves highlighters. Sometimes stickers and more colored scribbles. And it always spawns more brainsplosions on clean sheets of paper.

I’m including a bunch of photos snapped from my Plotbook for Uncovering Her Secrets. Not all ideas on the pages are used, not all the ones that look official and highlighted are used. They are just the starting point, building blocks of story that I wanted to use when I set out to write this book. These were done over a couple days. Sometimes you hit a wall and have to put something down so your brain can make connections when you are busy doing something else. When you start having brainwave again, drop everything ASAP and run back to the Plotbook. You have to harness inspiration when it drifts by. 

So, at the start of these storms, I had two thoughts. 1) My editor asked me to write a story set in an urban hospital(She kind of needed to know I could write something normalish). 2) I have hurt myself more times than anyone besides STUNT PEOPLE… and have had some insane Emergency Room experiences – So my only thought was Urban Hospital for Doctor’s Who Got C’s. You could start one step back from that and go with tropes, or character archetypes, or settings, or time periods, awesome inventions, terrible crimes… whatever strikes your fancy. You don’t have to have any spark to start brainsploding. You just have to have paper and writing implement… and the ability to let the wild beast called creativity run free.
(And I really really recommend colored ink and paper without lines. If you want to color outside the lines, don’t start off with lines you have to conform your writing to.)



Hospital for Drs Who Got Cs












Hero Exploration













Heroine Exploration.


Betrayal Exploration





Messing Things Up



Miscellaneous Ideas 

55 comments:

  1. Very interesting to see the thought process and all the diagrams, I could never be a writer, I lack imagination and creativity!

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    1. It's always hard for me to believe when people say that :) Everyone has a spark of it at least, but it's like any muscle -- you have to exercise that creativity or it gets wimpy(or possibly flabby. My metaphor is breaking down!).

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  2. Thank you for hosting me today, Kelly!

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    1. Thanks for this great post and welcome Amalie!

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  3. You're better organized than I am, Amalie. I usually start by asking myself questions on a piece of paper and answering them myself, writing down every single step of my thought process.

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    1. I don't know if it's organized so much as I am just very forgetful. If I write down all my ideas on something, then I have a record later if I find out what I've decided on doesn't work, I can go back and look at my other ideas which might fix the idea... or I can go from there to try and come up with something new. There's actually very little of what I brainstormed in the above pages that made it into the story. This was pre-pitch to my editor, and she didn't want me to have a hospital that wasn't cream of the crop :D So there had to be more brainstorms to fix that element. Lines kill me though. And black ink makes it all harder to let go... because it feels Official. You sign legal papers with black ink! :) It has to be right the first time!

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  4. I love the pictures! Very cool way to outline a story. I love seeing how everyone's creative process is just a little different :)

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    1. I love to see how others work too. And every now and then I see something someone else is doing that might work for me, and I steal it!(colored ink, which isn't much on this set of scribbles, has made it into my process big time. All the stories I've plotted since then have come with a myriad of colored ink) :)

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  5. Amalie's post is so funny and so insightful. I have notes and progression trees like that, but mine look like chicken scratches with things crossed out and other things written sideways! Take care, Amalie, and stay out of emergency rooms! :)

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    1. I should have apologized for the messy writing, but it's not as bad as it can be in these. I dunno why. Some days it's way illegible! :) And writing sideways is a good thing!

      (I try to stay out of emergency rooms, but I'm pretty sure I'll get mutant superpowers if I ever have to have another XRay done)

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  6. What a really neat idea on how to brain-map an idea! Congrats, Amalie!

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    1. After I figured out that what I do is like mind mapping, I got the book on Mind Mapping, and it's actually been really helpful to me in other areas... I don't know how I got by in school without this tool! (And thank you!)

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  7. I wonder if you've tried Scrivener Amalie? There is the corkboard for the ideas and characters etc...I'm on a discovery road now!

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    1. I do use Scrivener! I only started using it this last book, but I did my scene cards that way as opposed to by hand and it was awesome. I also revised the heck out of the last book before sending it in to my editor... and drag-drop the scenes to get a new order was awesome. I still had to rewrite for coherence, but it was super. I'm a total Scrivener convert(And using for current book). But I still have to do a lot of the pre-writing stuff by hand.

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  8. Great tips! I usually write stuff down on post-its and snippets that I save in my email, and then I'm running around trying to track it all down. Of course, I do have a corkboard, but I've saved it for pretty pictures, lol! A big flip pad like you have here is a good idea, though.

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    1. (I do that after I get past the plotbook stage. That's when I start losing everything!)

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  9. I do the same thing, but have never thought about getting an actual spiral sketch notebook. (all my crazy brain-map boxes are just on regular white paper). Thanks for sharing and for the tip! :)

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    1. I am a sketchbook geek. I also have lined paper for the actual writing, but it does box me in a bit! I have thought about getting one of those big rolls of white paper they use in schools? So I can just roll it out across the table and then tack it up on my wall in my office and have it all there at a glance... but then I'd have to throw it away afterward... and I like my lovely hardback book full of WORK to show that I have been working! (Also, it's got lots of random ideas and other doodles and stuff in it. Apparently I can't even dedicate the thing to brainstorming alone haha)

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  10. Love your sketch book idea - although sadly it's still a little linear for my brain! Probably why I keep it in my head until the story is ready to explode onto the paper. And probably why I do so many rewrites :) I'll have to try it!

    Don't enter me into the giveaway as I've already enjoyed my own copy of the story! :)

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    1. It gets way more orderly when I go back and start making connections. At the first stage, it's mostly just blobs of text in various shaped boxes... somewhat grouped... Later I try to make sense of it with the lines and the highlighters.But it's all a process.

      Thank you and super glad you enjoyed the story!

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  11. Love this! The colored highlights make it even better. Yes, I'm a big nerd for thinking that. ;)

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    1. It's okay if you're a nerd for office supply products. This is a safe place to confess your love of highlighters(and maybe colored paperclips and various sized index cards).

      Also? Stickers make the whole thing better too. Whatever kind of sticker you happen to have. I like stars and hearts. Because I'm a big dork.

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  12. Congrats and best of luck to Amalie!

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  13. Wow! Thanks for sharing. I love your planning. It's how I imagine I'd plan too if I was an author. I wish you many successes with your awesomely fab book :)

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  14. I think your editor has a not of faith in your ability, Amalie. Your storyboarding is very impressive. Reminds me of a class I took with Alex Sokoloff years ago. Best of luck.

    Hi Kelly!

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    1. Thanks, Joylene. I'm with a new editor now, but my first editor(this was the last book we worked on together) really had her work cut out with me. This book had 2 big rewrite/revisions before it was officially accepted. I learned a lot from her.

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  15. I love your sketchbook pics. I usually do the 'what ifs' until I'm bored to tears. I love how organized the unorganized parts seem.

    Thanks for sharing

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    1. Ahh the illusion of organization that highlighters provide :D

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  16. What a creative post, Amalie. "Brainplosion" is the right word for it... but I wish I could be as organized about pulling together all those thoughts that seem to run amuck in my brain! Thanks for the tips...will definitely try your method! :)

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    1. I'm a firm believer in trying new things to see what clicks. I even have a blank GMC chart from Deb Dixon's book carefully drawn on one page where I occasionally swap out tiny post-its when my narrative is not emerging from the brainsplosions... or when I am having a hard time nailing down motivations. So whatever works! Hope it works for you :)

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  17. AAh! You've just given me a lightbulb moment- and it was so simple but I hadn't seen it. TURN THE BOOK ROUND!!! Ah-ha! and use blank paper. I start off my stories much like this- but I write long hand and miss connections- your way is great!

    I always transfer to scrivener which I ADORE when it's time to write. And then I always edit in Word- strange I know. But that's my process. Thanks for the tips- so fun to see how someone else's brain works.

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    1. Wow, I triggered a lightbulb moment? THAT'S NEAT(and a first for me, I'm pretty sure!).

      My process is pretty much the same as yours. Step 1: By hand, Step 2: By Scrivener, Step 3(editing): WORD!

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  18. Wow, this is amazing. Thanks for sharing your process. How helpful!

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    1. Thank you :) And you're welcome(I've been threatening to do it for a year on my blog but then never actually did it haha).

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  19. Thanks for sharing Amalie. Congrats on the new release!

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  20. LOVE the sketch book idea. I either have a ton of random notes that fall out of a file folder and make me crazy, or I cover the guest room wall with a big piece of butcher paper and a whole lot of post its. But then you have to save this big chart if you want a record of your work and that is awkward. Going to try this for my next book! Thanks for sharing!

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    1. That's what I was worried about Re: butcher paper and postits. Plus, the postits fall off after a while, am I right? They fall off my charts and things before a book is even done being written!

      I should let the folks at Strathmore and Canson know where to send my commissions :D

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  21. I'm late to commenting but just had to say hi to Amalie :)...and that I love this! I love the term 'brainsplosion' lol...and I do so almost the same way you do! I'm very visual too. Best wishes to you!

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    1. Thank you, Rula :) I'm glad I'm not alone in this. Other folks are so organized with character sheets and I'm like... all over the place haha

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  22. Hello Kelly! I wish I knew enough medical stuff to write a medical romance. Congrats to Amalie. Love the cover too!

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    1. Thanks, Denise! I love the cover too. It's very striking.

      And I'm not a medical person. I have to do research on medical stuff for the bulk of anything medical related in my books. It's work!

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  23. Wow! That is some brainplosion!

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    1. (the funnest part of being a writer: Making up crazy words.)

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  24. Yikes! I'm loving those notebook pages. Must be the fact they're made of paper--like real paper. (Beneath the pixels.)

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    1. Thank you, Crystal. Though I always feel bad for the trees... I love the rasp of pen on paper. Something about it gives me insane focus.

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  25. This is awesome! I love sketchbooks, too. I am definitely going to give this idea a try. Plus, I like to draw to help me write- so I could include those too. Thanks for sharing! Wishing Amalie the best of luck (and of course, less visits to the ER). :)

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    1. Thanks, Jess. So far, so good. No ER visits all week :D And I'm all about drawing and doodling to make things work. Especially if I'm being too logical and not creative enough in my brainstorming. But I could probably do a whole other post about how to shut down your left brain for a while...

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  26. Love the cover! I'm not much of a diagrammer/plotter. I'm a "pantser," as they call it! But that means I always have a lot of cleanup to do in revisions.

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    1. Thanks, Stephanie. It sounds like you are totally a pantser if you go in with no ideas at all! I think I'm like... 70/30, because I have ideas, I have to have them or I can't write... but several times a book even when I go in with my ideas, my writing takes me somewhere else, my plot goes off the rails and I have to stop and rework the beasty.

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  27. I love the idea of brainsplosions – not sure I’ve ever had one of those, so maybe that explains why I’m not a writer!
    Lovely post, thanks for sharing it.

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    1. It sounds messy, doesn't it? Like something you'd want to do outside with the hose ready... and maybe a bucket of bleachy water :)

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  28. Winner selected! It's official, Random Name Picker loves Sherry Ellis best. :) Yell at me via http://www.amalieberlin.com/contact.html -- I'll get the paperback into the mail immediately!

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