Brainstorming Anna

Maybe that should have been “wargaming Anna.”  That’s what Bob used to call it when we talked out a book, and it’s probably more accurate.  The thing I like about this chat is that it shows the value of a critique partner asking questions.  Bob offers a lot of suggestions that I don’t agree with, but every one of them makes me think while I justify my answers.  He doesn’t get mad when I say, “No, that’s not it,” he just hits me with something else.  The idea is that, as I explain it to him, I explain it to myself.  Then he read Part One and pointed out something I really needed to clarify (twin sets) and something I really needed to change (skinhead), so the guy is invaluable.

jenny  4:55 PM
I came prepared.  And early.  I have two conflict boxes, main plot and subplot, and a really long one sentence idea .

Where do you want to start, Bob? 

Bob Mayer  4:57 PM
The idea.

jenny  4:56 PM
You want to go first?

Bob Mayer  4:57 PM
Let’s see how far we get on one for now.

jenny  4:57 PM
I’m going to be out here all alone, showing how lame my beginnings are?  Fine.

One Sentence Idea: Anna has made a calm, safe life out of lying low, but a relationship implosion, a crisis at work, and a one-night stand in Vegas leave her exposed as her family’s criminal past comes to light, her one-night stand turns out to be an FBI agent, and her job gets her entangled with art crime, money laundering, a power struggle in museum management; and an unknown stalker who is probably trying to kill her; fortunately, there’s a lot more to Anna than just a librarian in a twinset.

Bob Mayer  4:58 PM
That’s a big sentence. More story than idea. The thing that catches my eye is the end– what more is there to Anna?

jenny  5:00 PM
I have this thing about “Can he protect her?” stories.  There are a lot of romances out there with Green Berets (sorry) and SEALS who save helpless beautiful heroines.  And I have an FBI agent hero who tries to go that way and then finds out Anna can protect herself since her mob grandpa trained her in survival skills every Sunday from the time she was six til she turned sixteen (then he went to jail).

I meant, I don’t LIKE “Can he protect her stories.” So this is my anti-can-he-protect-her story.  I like heroines who kick ass.

Bob Mayer  5:01 PM
Okay. But what did you start with? The plot or her?

I like the mob grandfather. Which could also give her a lot of good connections with some interesting characters.

jenny  5:02 PM
I started with her picking up a guy in Vegas.  It’s a romance.  I read a BookBub blurb about a woman going after revenge sex after her boyfriend dumped her, a pretty common romance premise, lotta cheating boyfriends out there, and thought, “You know, I could do something different with that” and I saw Anna in Vegas and just started to write.  The mob showed up later.  I was surprised.

Bob Mayer  5:03 PM
In Dennis Lehane’s Boston mysteries, the female lead is connected to the mob through family. Really good characters.

jenny  5:03 PM
Her mother is very interesting.  I keep thinking of the wife in Married to the Mob.  Not Michelle, the dark-haired loud wife.  She and her mother have a great relationship, too.

Bob Mayer  5:03 PM
Okay. But if the boyfriend dumped her, will he care about the revenge sex?

jenny  5:03 PM
The revenge sex, as she explains to her target, is for her, not him.  She also picks a guy who’s the ex’s worst nightmare, the kind of guy he really resents.  But it’s for her, not him.

Bob Mayer  5:04 PM
Revenge as a motivation is tricky. So– it’s not really revenge. It’s more she’s trying a new path.

jenny  5:05 PM
No, it’s revenge.  She has every intention of going back to her regularly scheduled life.

Bob Mayer  5:05 PM
So she has a one-nighter with an FBI agent. What’s the problem?

jenny  5:05 PM
Here’s the bit where she explains it:

“Exactly how are you going to show your boyfriend that you had sex with me?”
“Oh, I’m not,” Anna said, hastily. “He doesn’t have to know. I just have to know.”
“So no cameras.”
“Oh, god, no.” Anna tried again. “I just want monumental headbanging revenge sex. I have no diseases and I’m on the pill and I bought condoms.”

That’s not the story.  That’s just how she meets him. The story is their romance, and the subplot is the art crime/money laundering thing.

You want to see Main Plot and Subplot Conflict Boxes?

Bob Mayer  5:06 PM
How does she get involved in the plot then?  

jenny  5:07 PM

This is going to be hard for you; romance is pretty much always your subplot.

Bob Mayer  5:09 PM
Isn’t he compromising his job by getting involved with her?

jenny  5:10 PM
Yes, but he doesn’t realize she’s just come out of the office, there are three other agents there and he’s not the one watching the office, so he doesn’t know she’s a suspect.  
And it’s late and they’re about to quit, so the one who sees her come out of the office doesn’t see him with her.
It really works out well because it means that once he finds her again, he can’t sleep with her because it would compromise his job.  So there’s a real barrier to the romance.

Bob Mayer  5:11 PM
Okay– you’ve got the antagonist as the love interest. I get it’s a romance. But it would seem the antagonist is the Russian mob. Nate and Anna can butt heads but ultimately have to work together to fight the Russian mob which is going to be a bigger threat than each other.

jenny  5:11 PM
Subplot antagonist is the Russian, I think.  I’m flying blind here as usual.  



Bob Mayer  5:12 PM
That’s just what I was going to write– their conflict will be his job, even after the one-nighter. So the sexual tension is twisted. Perhaps his team has been frustrated trying to break this case and she’s going to provide the key to it. Actually lead them.

jenny  5:12 PM
I am still way in the weeds on the action subplot. But that’s the subplot. The main plot romance is how are they going to get together.
And by part three, she’s really mad at him and her mother wants him dead, and he’s annoyed with her because she shoots somebody in front of him.

Bob Mayer  5:14 PM
Since you have the mob grandfather, I’d say that’s the subplot connection. He was involved, then went to prison. Whatever he was involved in could have died off, but then the Russians come in and revive it. In doing so, they hurt some of grandpa’s old friends.

jenny  5:14 PM
The romance conflict is that they had these idealized images of each other after the one night stand, and then meet each other back in real life and find out they’re very different people.  Still wildly attracted to each other of course.

Bob Mayer  5:15 PM
Maybe Grandpa went to prison because he wouldn’t rat on his old buddies, but now the Russians are making that worthless.

jenny  5:15 PM
I’m thinking Grandpa was just the way she got the skills that are going to make Nate crazy.  I think the Russians are using art to money launder.  Grandpa was a hitman.  He’s back story, although they’ll naturally look at that.

Bob Mayer  5:15 PM
Yeah– she pretended to be someone else for the one-nighter and so did he. But in real life they’re different people.

jenny  5:15 PM
They didn’t pretend to be anybody, they were honest with each other.  They just both knew it was a one-night stand, so they didn’t swap back stories and just made assumptions about each other.  It’s important to me that they’re always honest with each other. 

He thinks she’s a mild-mannered librarian (which to be fair is how she deliberately presents) who needs protected, casting himself as a standard romance hero.  She thinks he’s a rich trust fund guy. Then they find out that she’s a mob granddaughter who’s an ace shot (but only to protect herself) and he’s a Fed in the art crimes division trying to pin money laundering on her (he isn’t trying to frame her, but she assumes the worst).

It’s a solid romance plot; the art crime subplot is just there for fuel, as part of the premise.  He can’t leave until they’ve figured it out since somebody is stalking her. She keeps pointing out that she can protect herself from any stalker, witness the kidnapper she shot in a parking garage.

They fight crime.

Bob Mayer  5:19 PM
Nothing is a throwaway.

jenny  5:20 PM
Throwaways are for texture.
Like he sees that she has a maple leaf tattoo on her butt and later asks her what that’s from, and she says, “I lost my virginity in Canada.”  It’s just part of who Anna is, a throwaway line for character

Bob Mayer  5:20 PM
The plot flows out of backstory. I like the grandfather angle. Gives her a commitment to the subplot. An emotional stake.

You’ve got the characters down. But the thing that’s going to drive the story is the subplot of the Russian mob.

jenny  5:22 PM
Of course you like the grandfather angle, it’s your kind of plot.  ROMANCE, Bob.  Grandpa is just there to explain why Anna is lethal when attacked.  And why her mother is a few candles short of a cake.

Bob Mayer  5:22 PM
Already you’re stopping the story. How are you going to get an entire story out of these two butting heads? They misjudged other at first. Okay. And then?

jenny  5:23 PM
No, what’s going to drive the story is that Anna and Nate fall in love in spite of themselves, and having both spent their adult lives trying to live down criminal pasts by living inauthentic lives, destroy each other’s facades and start living as themselves.

Bob Mayer  5:23 PM
Okay. But don’t you get bogged down halfway through every story?

Every Romance has something pushing the story, even if its background noise.

jenny  5:24 PM
No, because the story is the romance.  Although that’s actually why there are so many Big Misunderstandings in romance, I bet.

You start with two people who are apart and bring them together.  For the romance reader, that’s where the juice is.  How do these people overcome their differences and find their way to each other.  That’s the story arc.  If the story ends halfway through, it’s not halfway through, that’s the end.

Bob Mayer  5:24 PM
Okay. But every romance I know of had a story alongside the romance.

jenny  5:24 PM
Bet Me doesn’t.

Anyone But You doesn’t.

Bob Mayer  5:25 PM
Then what are you wondering about?

jenny  5:25 PM

Bob Mayer  5:25 PM
I was just giving a start point and an end point for tent poles

jenny  5:26 PM
Look, if the romance is based on the Russian mob story, then when they solve that, their relationship story would also be solved.  And it wouldn’t be, solving the crime doesn’t change that they have personal problems.  They need to work through the relationship problems to get to commitment, which in their cases mean giving up safe lives.

BobMayer  5:27 PM
Both happen concurrently. Otherwise you’re complicating things with the Russian mob story.

jenny  5:27 PM
The Russian mob plot is the complication of the main plot.  That’s the subplot, the money laundering plot, not the romance plot.  It’s there to support the romance plot, not to be the plot.  Yes, they happen concurrently.  But one has to be the main plot.  If you were writing this, it would be the Russians because that’s the concrete, action plot.  I’m writing the romance plot.

Bob Mayer  5:27 PM
I agree.
So the climactic scene is?

jenny  5:28 PM
I have no idea what the climax is, but they end up together and happy because this is a Crusie.  Possibly they get a dog.

I just started this Friday, I only have about 15,000 words done. [Note: I’m over 20,000 now.] I’m still writing to see what I say.

Bob Mayer  5:29 PM
Okay– you’ve got them hooking up. And then realizing who each other really is.
And they can’t hook up again. So there’s conflict.

jenny  5:30 PM
Being forced back together and realizing the mess they’re in.

Bob Mayer  5:30 PM
That they like the real person more than the person they hooked up with

jenny  5:30 PM
I think the conflict is that they’re still attracted even though they’re mad at each other, but they also realize right away that they can each destroy each other’s safe worlds.

No, they really liked the people they hooked up with. They just realize those weren’t real people.

Bob Mayer  5:31 PM
I see how she can destroy his. How can he destroy hers?

jenny  5:31 PM
He’s a Fed and he’s investigating the place where she works and her and that’s going to bring to light her mob past and endanger her job and her relationships. She and her mother have built a non-mob life, and she wants to keep it that way, more for her mother than for her.

Bob Mayer  5:32 PM
Hmm. Not seeing him as that much of a threat to her unless she’s living a lie.

jenny  5:32 PM
Of course she’s living a lie.

Bob Mayer  5:32 PM
Okay. So she’s protecting her mother.  So that’s more conflict.

jenny  5:32 PM
And herself.  People think she’s a mild-mannered librarian.  Until she opens her mouth.  She has a safe, calm life, even though it’s not her nature.

Bob Mayer  5:33 PM
Does she want a safe, calm life?

jenny  5:33 PM
Yes.  She’s wrong, but she wants it.  Did you ever see Moonstruck?  Brilliant romance conflict.  Loretta wanted a nice safe life with Johnny, but she got what she needed, passion with Ronnie.

Bob Mayer  5:34 PM
Yes. So her arc is realizing the safe life she thought she wanted isn’t what she really wants.

Why did her BF dump her?

jenny  5:34 PM
Anna caught her boyfriend doing the museum head’s secretary and before she could rip his head off, he dumped her.  Which REALLY pissed her off.

Bob Mayer  5:35 PM
Okay. I see what you’ve got. Seems like it’s pretty solid. Do you know the turning points or are they ahead?

jenny  5:35 PM
I think the plot arc is her life breaking around her and her trying to adapt and save what she can, but everything that happens just brings out the real Anna, so finally in Act 4, she just goes full crazy and becomes who she’s supposed to be.  Because of Nate.  And the subplot.

Bob Mayer  5:35 PM
Is TP #1 when she finds out who Nate really is?

jenny  5:36 PM
No.  The first part of Act One (6500 words) is the Vegas hook-up, part as friends never to meet again.

The second part of Act One (5500 words) is Nate finding out that Anna is a suspect and going with his partner to NJ to question her, which is when she finds out who he is.

The rest of Act One (working on that now) is the two of them struggling with consequences and then realizing at the turning point that they’re going to have to work together in spite of being really annoyed with each other and reality.

Bob Mayer  5:38 PM
Okay– so a big chunk is they’re stuck together because of the external threat. Maybe they have to go on the run?

jenny  5:38 PM
I don’t know, I have to write it before I know what it is.

This is like collaborating again.  You wanting things like plot,
Remember how you’d outline and I’d wander off?  Good times.

Bob Mayer  5:40 PM
Yeah—they’re together for safety. Except he thinks he’s keeping her safe, but she’s really keeping her life safe, her mother, and him too,

jenny  5:40 PM
Well, he’s figured out by the end of Act One that she can protect herself, but he still has knowledge and skills she needs and she has knowledge and skills he needs, so it makes sense to work together.

Bob Mayer  5:42 PM
I’d say the first turning point is when he figures out she can protect herself.

jenny  5:42 PM
He sees her shoot a guy at about 12,000 words.  I don’t think that convinces him that she can protect herself, just that she’s dangerous, but I’ve got another 20,000 words in that act to do that.

The problem with “He sees that she can protect herself” is that he’s not the protagonist.  She is.  So the turning point has to be about her, “She sees that . . . .”  I think it’s when she realizes that she’s not going to be able to low-profile her way out of the mess and agrees to work with him.  They’re still mad at each other and still in conflict, they’re just stuck with each other.

Bob Mayer  5:44 PM
I think agreeing to work with him is farther down the line.I think them forced together, each thinking they’re protecting the other is first TP.

jenny  5:44 PM
Can’t be farther down the line.  Working with him keeps them together and arcs the romance.  Oh, wait, farther down the line is the first TP?  Yes.

Bob Mayer  5:45 PM
The next act is them realizing who the other really is.

jenny  5:45 PM
The whole book is them realizing who the other is and falling in love.
It’s a story arc.
But they get the big picture in Act One.
Oh, wait, you’re right.  They’d get the details in Act Two.

Bob Mayer  5:45 PM
They learn who the other really is. But neither really know who they are themselves.

jenny  5:46 PM
The rest of the story is learning to compromise and get over their issues.
That’s part of the romance plot.  You can’t really commit to somebody else until you know who you are.  You can’t have a relationship that lasts if you’re pretending to be something else.

Bob Mayer  5:46 PM
Ultimately though, he is going to have to sacrifice something for her, right?

jenny  5:46 PM
I think they both have to be willing to sacrifice.
I think that’s act three, although I am not sure.
Actually, they’re both going to sacrifice safe lives for each other.  

This is good, Bob.  Now I remember why I liked writing with you.

Bob Mayer  5:47 PM
Since she’s the protagonist, doesn’t it lean more her way?

And the mother is a complication.

jenny  5:48 PM
If she’s the protagonist, she’s the one to make the sacrifice.  It’s her story.
Her mother is comic relief.  And back story in the now.

The thing is, I don’t know most of this because I haven’t written it yet.

Bob Mayer  5:49 PM
And knowing too much, sometimes, is a problem. I tend to go with the flow more now.

jenny  5:49 PM
Jo Beverley used to say that writing a story was like driving through fog, you can only see a little bit ahead, but you keep going and eventually you get to the end.  I really can’t outline up front.  I mean, even the stuff I’ve told you will probably change.

Bob Mayer  5:50 PM
Yep. I like the opening.

jenny  5:50 PM
Have you read the opening?

Bob Mayer  5:50 PM
No– what you told me.

jenny  5:50 PM
Oh, thank you.  It was fun to write.  I really like both characters.

The second part isn’t as clean, but then I’m getting into the art fraud stuff so I’m just making it up now.

I’m happy with 15,000 words in five days, though.

Bob Mayer  5:52 PM
I would be too.

Was just reading the opening.

jenny  5:52 PM
Oh, you found it?  Or did I put a link?

Bob Mayer  5:52 PM
You sent the link

jenny  5:52 PM
I can wait while you read, but it’s over 6000 words.

Bob Mayer  5:53 PM
Okay. Scanned it. It’s solid Crusie. I think the thing is now to not let the subplot take away.

jenny  5:54 PM
Yes.  That’s what I was looking at.  It’s not a book about money laundering.

Bob Mayer  5:54 PM
I’d skim the subplot stuff and focus on the romance. Can always go back and frame the subplot to fit. Figure out what makes the main plot work.

jenny  5:54 PM
I love the Moonstruck plot because he destroys her life utterly and sets her free.  I want to do a double plot like that.  I think it’s that they both tear down each other’s inauthentic lives.  That’s where the action has to go.  At least, that’s the theory I’m working on.

Bob Mayer  5:55 PM
Yes. So like I said, don’t worry about the art stuff and all that.

jenny  5:55 PM
You’re right.
Do you want to do your book now?

Bob Mayer  5:56 PM
Why don’t we do mine next week? This will give people plenty to chew on. Hard for me to shift my brain like that.

I want to ruminate. I plan on driving the Blue Ridge Parkway starting tomorrow.

jenny  5:57 PM
That sounds good.  I like the idea of giving you the whole chat since you gave me an hour.

Bob Mayer  5:57 PM
It will take several days. So Scout and I will be out in nature.

jenny  5:57 PM
Excellent.  Veronica and Mona and I will be in the side yard.

Bob Mayer  5:58 PM
I should be back on Saturday or Sunday. But I’ll have internet and all that good stuff.

jenny  5:59 PM
I’ll go ahead and post this, and meet you back here on Tuesday at 5.

Really excited to see what you’re working on.

Bob Mayer  5:59 PM
Sounds good. I like this idea. Especially since it’s straightforward.

jenny  5:59 PM
All my ideas are straightforward.

Like me.

And Anna.

Bob Mayer  6:01 PM
All right– push forward.

jenny  6:03 PM
Good night, Bob.  Say hey to Gus for me.


6 thoughts on “Brainstorming Anna

  1. Great stuff! FYI That Jo Beverley line is from E. L. Doctorow:

    “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”


  2. Love this so much! And the juxtaposition between the two types of books that you each write being driven by the different ways you both think is just fascinating. Jenny is fixed on the people and relationships, Bob is fixed on what is going to drive the action. I can see why you both irritated each other while writing as well as why Agnes and the others were so strong because each of you brought different viewpoints and writing types to the table. I’m wondering now if there are/were other joint efforts like this where the two authors were from different genres. I’m also wondering if many authors use critique partners from different genres to better see / explain their stories than if they had just used a critique partner within their same genre. I’m not even sure how to research that, but I’m off to try. Thanks!


    1. You know, we didn’t get that irritated about the collaboration. Bob was really open-minded and great about thinking outside his genre box (helps that he writes in several genres) and I’d like to think I was but probably wasn’t. It took us most of the first book to find each other’s writing rhythms, and then Agnes was the point where we had it figured out.

      But the different genres really did help both of us widen the way we saw story, not to mention the different genders.


  3. I’m loving the Anna creation analysis so much! It’s fortuitous because a few weeks ago, I decided to start with a weird but fun short Christmas story I wrote for the Eight Ladies blog a few years ago and turn it into a contemp action & adventure romance. (It was going to be a novella but is morphing into a short novel instead.) Because for me half the fun of writing is the planning stage, I have fewer words than you but oodles of spreadsheets :-).

    Re: Moonstruck, while Ronnie tore down Loretta’s safe boundaries and set her free to step beyond the comfort zone of her big, crazy family, she tore down his anger and allowed him to reconnect with family. Kind of coming from opposite poles to meet in the middle. I’m wondering what Nate’s journey will be and if it will somehow be a mirror image of Anna’s that way? (I know, I know, discovery draft! But you’ve sucked us in and we want to know all the things.)

    Also, now must rewatch Moonstruck for the zillionth time.


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