How to Plot a Book
This is a transcript of an online chat about writing a scene for the book that eventually became Lessons in French. It’s so typical of how I plot that I thought I’d share.
[EK] quick laura, stop being entertaining - chas is reading
Laura goes off to horse sim for brief break
EK goes to catch up on email
[CharlesR] okay, dome reading
[CharlesR] Jeez, you can write.
[EK] of COURSE she can, she’s LAURA FRAKING KINSALE
[EK] FREAKING, even
[CharlesR] she darn sure is
EK loves her new tea-making thingy
[CharlesR] She should start signing her books Laura F. Kinsale
[EK] that would be the best
[Laura] oh you got the tea thing!
EK can’t stop laughing
[EK] I did!
[EK] IT’S FABULOUS
[CharlesR] I wish I had tea. After I move, I will start having tea
[Laura] thank you chas
[Laura] good idea. we can all have tea thingies
[CharlesR] when you two go to make tea, I will go to make tea
[EK] chas, you should get this tea thing - it’s wat fab and WAY easy
[EK] and it keeps it so piping hot, too
[CharlesR] You’re welcome, Laura. There was some great stuff in there
[Laura] oh good
[CharlesR] I got tickled when Callie was reading the magazine and you said Mrs. Fowler had benefitted the magazine.
[CharlesR] and there were some other good bits too
[CharlesR] I laughed several times
[Laura] lol at this point, i do need hand-holding
[CharlesR] so anyway, what do you want to have happen? do you want him to hide in her bedroom?
[CharlesR] It’s a cute idea
[Laura] yeah i do
[Laura] i just can’t think of how to make it seem natural instead of contrived
[CharlesR] okay, well it probably should come about as an accident
[CharlesR] she’s trying to help him get out of town
[CharlesR] and for some reason they have to go to her house
[Laura] well hold there
[Laura] he won’t leave town
[Laura] he said so
[Laura] so it has to be another reason
[CharlesR] yeah, that’s true
[Laura] that’s part of why the mom asks her to hide him, i figure
[EK] it would be the last place anyone would look
[Laura] ek true
[Laura] heh maybe they could be discussing options
[EK] reason enough, imo - if mom says “please, it’s the last place anyone would look” - they’d do it
[CharlesR] I was thinking maybe she arranges for some of his boys to come help distract the theif takers then gets him out on a wagon or something
[EK] yeah, see that’s what I said - need a distraction
[Laura] c is kinda exasperated and when mom asks what’s the last place anyone would look, she says, well my bedroom, but…
[Laura] and they all look at her
[EK] i love it!
[CharlesR] That’s good
[Laura] well ...
Laura looks a little dubious
[EK] why dubious?
[Laura] but i like it cause then i don’t have to set up some big distraction ;)
[CharlesR] well he still has to get out of mom’s house
[EK] well wouldn’t you need a distraction anyway, to get him past the theif takers?
[Laura] umm cause it’s the kind of thing that sounds good here but when i go to write it, it looks different ;)
[Laura] yeah, i wouldn’t have to write it
[EK] o ye of little faith
[Laura] it’s not important how he gets out of the house
[EK] but it could be COMEDY
[Laura] my pro-writer instinct tells me ;)
CharlesR will never understand romance novels
[EK] neither will /me
[Laura] well, yes it could, i agree
[Laura] i’ve already had about 20 scenes of that kind of thing
[Laura] so i think it’s getting a bit overdone by now
[EK] yeah well, it’s a comedy, no?
[Laura] how many times can Trev dress in a cow outfit?
[Laura] yes but that’s slapstick :p
[EK] doesn’t have to be elaborate
[Laura] we need romance
[Laura] well ok
[EK] as a reader, I need to know how he got outta there
[Laura] you guys are set on it
[Laura] yes i can see that
[EK] i really would be annoyed if alla sudden he’s just in her room, easy-peasey
[Laura] you’re going to make me work for this i see ;P
[Laura] he’ll have to go in by the tree
[EK] work! heaven forfend!
[Laura] so tell me how he gets out
[EK] how’d he get vpast the theif taker, is what I wanna know
Laura is out of ideas for getting out of houses
[Laura] maybe i could switch to his pov
[EK] hmm, okay who’s in the know? Callie and Trev and mom and T’s tuffs
[Laura] t has no toughs around now
[EK] anyone else know? the maids or anything?
[Laura] and the drunk cook
[Laura] i think lilly knows
[CharlesR] He asks callie to have one of the low life pals come to mom’s house disguised as a dust man
[Laura] not the nurse
[EK] hm, so we gotta drunk cook and wily old maman
[EK] and callie
EK goes to put milk away and consider the possibilities
Laura makes tea
[CharlesR] hmm, what if sturgeon shows up and callie uses him to make a disraction
[Laura] i have a game dev meeting at midnight ;)
[Laura] i can drink all the tea i want!
[Laura] hmmm sturgeon
[Laura] i do want to keep sturg around, i was thinking he’d start getting really jealous of t
[Laura] if he gets wind t is in town, and esp if he thinks c likes him
[CharlesR] Like he heard she’d gone to vist mom and he swings by thinking he can maybe get points by acting concerned
[Laura] good ideda
[CharlesR] or he’s just suspicious
[Laura] also there’s a doctor coming unless nurse is stopped
[Laura] and mr rankin from innn
[CharlesR] yeah, maybe doc spoke to sturgeon
[CharlesR] they were at the club
[CharlesR] how could callie use that
[CharlesR] the theif taker is in sturgeon’s employ?
[Laura] t would have to hide if s showed up
[CharlesR] she could tell sturgoen he;d offererd her an impertinence
[CharlesR] the theif taker propositioned her
[CharlesR] Sturgeon would lay into the guy
[CharlesR] chaos ensues
[CharlesR] the constable runs to stop them
Laura doesn’t want to write chaos
[Laura] i really don’t
[CharlesR] trev goes away
[Laura] i mean, it’s easy to say “chaos ensues” but it’s not easy to write, heh
[CharlesR] see if they had hospitals, mom could fake really bad fit and they’d have to take her
[EK] see, I think you could do it, Laura
[Laura] yes, i could do it, but I don’t want to
[EK] just write the set-up ad then cut to T in C’s room
[Laura] i’m willing to do that
[CharlesR] if sturgeon drops by in a carriage, callie could ask him to drive her home and T could hise under the carriage
[EK] and she’s says “Boy.. THAT escalated fast.”
[Laura] hmm chas
[Laura] lol ek
[Laura] that’s quite interesting
[Laura] could be from T’s pov
[Laura] as they are pulling out, he just jumps on back
[Laura] ever the detail…
[Laura] there would be a coachman
[Laura] he couldn’t drive a closed carriage himself
[CharlesR] yeah, but the coachman couldn’t see the back
[Laura] c has long talk with S in the parlor or something
[CharlesR] I’ve seen Errol Flynn do it. heh
[Laura] and then goes hom with him
[Laura] and noticed that the driver is trev
[Laura] lol chas, has he/
[Laura] well in rl, anyone in a carriage would notice if someone jumped on the back, esp thecoachman
[EK] I like that, laura
[EK] that T drives
[Laura] (but you could prolly get away with it in fiction, chas)
[CharlesR] yeah, say Trev knew the driver. he was a gambler or something
[Laura] i don’t even think i’d have to explain it?
[Laura] people just assume he bribed him or something?
[EK] so - C is talking to Sturgeon as a distraction for T to get out?
[EK] and she picks a fight
[EK] and just whips it up and keeps going?
[Laura] she might not even be in on it
[EK] no, I can’t see her doing that
[Laura] me either
[Laura] he could call
[Laura] like chas said, to make points
[EK] yeah, and he gets all googly on her
[CharlesR] yeah, cause he’s smarmy
[Laura] so she goes down to parlor to tell him to go away
[EK] and she’s like “er, yeah, okay i’m a goddess, uh huh,keep talking”
[Laura] and yeah, they have some sort of talk
[Laura] hmmm, then why would she leave?
[CharlesR] his pride is hurt because she doesn’t desire to know him in a biblical sense
[Laura] w/o going back upstairs?
[EK] because it’s the proper thing to do, laura
[Laura] it is?
[EK] 15 minutes for a socil call is long enough
[Laura] maybe they do have something of an argument
[Laura] she’s mad at trev
[Laura] she might be trying to prove she likes S
[Laura] so she sends word back upstairs that she’s leaving w/him to go home
[EK] knowing that T will hear it
[CharlesR] or she just told the mom, “I’ll go down and get rid of him. I may have to leave as well.”
[Laura] maybe he arrives and sends up word that he’s there to escort her home
[Laura] so they know that’s his intention
[Laura] i think maybe I can make this work, timing is a bit tricky
[Laura] and then either
[CharlesR] sounds good
[Laura] as the carriage leaves, we switch to 3rd person pov and see a figure swing up on the back of carriage as it pulls out
[Laura] c looks up at driver and sees its T
[EK] why’s she have to know until they get to the house?
[CharlesR] see how it looks whne you get there
[Laura] i dunno if i can make myself do a 3rd person switch
[EK] she just gets in the carriage, the end
[Laura] hmmm ek
[Laura] that’s another option, but
[EK] then she goes up to her room, and there’s T, taking off his boots
[Laura] the problem with him being the driver, i see now, is that when they arrive, he’s visible
[EK] she has a heart attack
[EK] he - hmm
[Laura] if he got on the back, he coudl just jump off somewhere
[Laura] course if he got on the back, the theiftaker could see him too
[EK] wouldn’t they notice him jumping off, tho?
[Laura] we’re all thinking about trains and western movies and stagecoaches ;)
[Laura] i can see the driver thing, he just pulls hat down low
[EK] can he just grab a tree branch and swing up as they come lowly up the drive? Would that work?
[Laura] and it would be a hired carriage
[Laura] lol ek
[Laura] now i’d have thought chas would think of that ;P
[Laura] thing with this is
EK is flattered. :P
[Laura] has she agreed he’ll hide in her bedroom?
[Laura] i can do this from his pov maybe
[EK] yeah sure, reluctantly, I thought
[Laura] at least the last part
[Laura] maybe when S sends up word, they’re in the midst of talking it over
[Laura] she’s protesting but just said something that kinda soundlike ok
[CharlesR] how about she really did say it as a joke. “You’d hide in my bed chamber I suppose? That would be the last place someone would expect to find a man.” and then he does
[Laura] yeah chas
[EK] hee perfect!
[Laura] i’m thinking she says that, just before knock on door and she ahs to go down
[Laura] so, next we have his pov
[Laura] i’ll give that a shot
[EK] fab idea
[Laura] i like it better than chaos ;)
[CharlesR] hey we’re nothing if not adaptable
Laura hugs both of you
[Laura] i knew you’d think of something
[CharlesR] it’s more in the light nature of the book anyway
[CharlesR] though I do likes me some chaos. Yessir
[Laura] heh well
[Laura] it’s not that i’m against it
[Laura] i just kinda don’t want to take the story that way right now
EK doesn’t feel like no genius.
[Laura] would rather have something short and clever and a little diff, like this
[Laura] and get to the ROMANCE :P
[EK] yay nookie!
[Laura] we’ll have some chaos later maybe
[Laura] lol ek
[EK] chaotic NOOKIE
[Laura] we still have Mrs. Fowler and all that
[Laura] and god only knows how he WILL actually hide in her bedroom
EK needs lip balm
[CharlesR] I’m related to some fowlers
Laura hates servants
[EK] she has to order the maids to stay away from the room
[Laura] history was crawling with servats
[EK] need a good reason
[EK] you know laura, that’s what I always say is the biggest challenge of writing historical romance
[Laura] maybe she puts around the rumor that there are rats
[Laura] yeah! getting around the servants!
[EK] finding a way to get the h/h ALONE together. It’s like the whole society was geared to keeping them apart or at least surrounded by flocks of people
[Laura] some servants wouldn’t say anything
[Laura] well it was
[Laura] i mean, readers think they were all prissy
[Laura] but heck, there was no birth control
[EK] being callie she should sy she’s nursing some sick rats or sumpin
[Laura] parents and everyone were desperate to keep hot teens apart
[Laura] lol ek
[Laura] and they had their reasons, too
[Laura] but mostly i think that people who wanted to have affairs just bribed the servants
[Laura] maybe T would do that
[Laura] he’s already got lilly eating out of his hand
[Laura] so, c will say, eek, you can’t stay here, what about the maids?
[Laura] and he’ll say, i already gave them a guinea or something
[EK] oh gads and will she be mortified to hear the servant thinks she’s having an affair right there in the house
[Laura] heh yeah
[Laura] oh! lol
[Laura] the rumor could get around
[Laura] but nobody believes it
[Laura] lady shelford is like, hahahah
[EK] the rumor: that Lady Callista is having a torrid affair with a hackney driver!
[Laura] and S is like, hmmmm
[Laura] this is food for thought
[EK] yes but right now you know what you gotta write
[CharlesR] Yeah, for now just write the part you know
[CharlesR] we’ll panic again later
 Posted by laura kinsale on 01.08.2010
All opinions are welcome, positive or negative, but civility and polite language are required for comments to remain. Political or religious references are not allowed, unless directly related to a Laura Kinsale book under discussion. I do answer questions but I seldom give interpretations about my books or characters, because I enjoy hearing what readers see in them. These comments and discussions replace my old forum at The Terrace. (Note that the spam captcha is an english word interspersed with a number—this may help you tell a letter from a number. If it’s still too hard to see, reload the page for another one.)
 Posted by Ruth Setton on 01.15.2010
Laura—I absolutely love this. Wish I had my own EK & CharlesR to brainstorm with…. It actually sounded a lot like my inner monologues when I’m discussing the story with my self, arguing, making myself laugh, frustrating myself with obstacles & roadblocks, trying to avoid chaos but plunging right into it, characters taking shape as I draw them in (erasing, shading, adding…), driving my story off the road like a drunken coachman, bribing servants (helpers, threshold guardians, friends of the hero & heroine) to do what the hell they’re supposed to do, but them never listening & me in the end sitting in a heap grinning & reaching for my pen.
This also gives me hope. Your books are so gorgeously plotted, layer upon layer, twist after turn, complications & textures expertly interwoven, as intricate as a magic illusion… that it’s a sigh of relief to see that it doesn’t come that way all planned & wrapped in a bow. It’s also fun to see the Wizard(s) behind the scenes, transforming jumble & panic & the kaleidoscope of ideas & images into what seems so right, as if it could never have been any other way….
 Posted by laura kinsale on 01.15.2010
EK and Chas rock. I laugh constantly, and I’m very lucky to have them as friends. I’m going to see if I can talk them into a chat with me and readers some time during this Grand Opening week.
My husband also helps me plot, and claims he goes away thinking he knows what to expect, then when he reads it, it’s entirely different. You never can tell!
 Posted by Shanna Price on 01.17.2010
You guys are hillarious ... wishes she were a mouse watching from a corner of the room during TEA sessions. I can almost hear sudden voice impressions from Charles ( wink) So…. now I have to see if my Barnes and Noble has it because now I have to HAVE TO go read it!! I just finished re-reading one of yours now I will have fresh musings. And after seeing the awesome job on the site I almost want to have someone make me one for my art! Congratulations it is absolutely breathtaking!
 Posted by Louisa Cornell on 01.17.2010
This sounds a lot like my CP and I. We go off on tangents, crack each other up, come up with the wildest things imaginable and then get back to business. It is a crazy process, but hey most of the time it works!
 Posted by Rachael Neukirch on 02.18.2010
I’ve been a fan since For My Ladies Heart came out, and the local bookseller forced me to read it. Being a Shakespeare devotee, the language was easier to acclimate to than I thought. That book remains my favorite, but I have treasured each and every one of your books since. This one also, it is a gem. Thanks for coming back to publishing, I’ve really missed your books.
P.S. I have been a fan of teas for 20 years, What a great Love.
 Posted by laura kinsale on 02.18.2010
Thank you Rachel! I think I’ll have a cup of tea right now!
 Posted by A R on 03.29.2011
The first book of yours I read was “Flowers In A Storm” and it still haunts me, but I couldn’t make myself read all the way through the stuff above. Guess I’ll just go and try to write something I like enough not to ignore it after I write it.
 Posted by Margaret on 07.04.2011
Totally fascinating! I’m curious about how much writing do you do with the door open (by which I mean exploring ideas with other people like this) versus door shut? This looks like a fun approach!
 Posted by laura kinsale on 07.05.2011
That’s a good question, Margaret. Basically I write until I get stuck, then I thrash around a lot on my own, and when that fails, I go looking for EK, Chas and/or my DH and then we all flail around until somebody hits something I think I can use. ;) It’s all pretty darned unpredictable.
 Posted by shantal on 04.17.2016
I JUST discovered you and read Flowers from the Storm in three orgiastic reading sessions. Wow, what a fabulous book! A romance with Euclid in it. . .
I’m looking forward to reading the rest of your oeuvre and am going to have to force myself to do it slooooowwwwwlllly.
Thanks for the beautifully written book!