Attempting to Plot

There are two main types of writers: pantsers and plotters. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants. Plotters plot out what’s going to happen, step by step. As Kipling said, “There are nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right.” I am a pantser, but I want to learn how to plot. I think it would improve my writing.

Every major character (not just the Main Character) needs Goal, Motivation, and Conflict.

Goal: What does the MC want?

Motivation: Why does the MC want this?

Conflict: Why can’t the MC achieve her goal?

Three step Oversimplification:

Problem: Something is wrong. The MC has a problem.

Struggle: The MC attempts to solve the problem, but fails.

Resolution: The MC solves the problem.

Five Plot-Point Outline

  1. Inciting Incident What happens to set the story in motion?

2. Plot-point #1: How does the MC react to the Inciting Incident?

3. Midpoint: Major obstacle that keeps the MC from resolution.

4. Plot-Point #2: What is the fallout from the Midpoint obstacle?

5. Climax: final outcome of overreaching obstacles

These are similar but not identical to Christie Wild’s Plot Like a Marathon System.

1, Sign-Up (before you can enter a marathon, you must sign up) What starts the action?

2, Starting Gun (the race starts) and the MC is in action

3, the Halfway Point (13.1 miles in a marathon) The MC has made noticeable progress toward her goal.

4, Hitting the Wall (exhausted, sore, ready to quit) The MC hits a major obstacle.

5. Crossing the Finish Line. (crossing the fiinish line) The MC lives happily ever after, or dies, or resolves the situation in some way.

.  The Signup Let’s say you’re not a runner and your coworker signs you up for the annual team charity 5k. Dang it! Now you gotta run the thing. I mean, you could back out, but you’d let everyone down.And a marathon? They won’t let you cross the start line unless you have a bib on. And the only way to get a bib is to sign up for the race. The only way to cross the finish line and get a medal is to register for the race. You gotta SIGN UP! In a novel, something always happens that changes the character’s world. It’s often an announcement, invitation, arrival, or a discovery.If you take this one plot point away from your storyline, the story would never have happened. You wouldn’t have a story.

2. The Starting Gun The starting gun goes off, the race starts.  You’ve started running the marathon.  Your main character (MC) has reached the point of no return.  His/her adventure has begun, and they must go on.  This usually begins with the MC doing something/taking action.

3.  The Halfway Point In a marathon, this is in 13.1 miles.  In a novel, it’s when the MC has made some progress toward her goal.  (Lots of wiggle room – not necessarily at the half-way point of the novel, but should be at least a third of the way thorough the book.)  Nine possible midpoints (others are possible)

A.  Discover important clue.

B.  Obtain important tool necessary to achieve goal.

C.  Meet an important person.  For example, Moana meets Maui.

D.  Arrive at important location.  For example, Dorothy arrives at the Emerald City.

E.  Get another person to agree to help.  Example, Maui & Moana, or the Cowardly Lion joining Dorothy.

F.  Receive help from another character.

G.  Fall in love.

H.  Escape from danger.

I.  Rescue someone else.

4.  The Wall.  Hitting the wall is that point of a race where a runner is convinced they can’t go any further.  They’re out of breath, their legs hurt, they want to quit.  The wall is the point where something detrimental happens to the MC, causing them to feel down & defeated, unable to go on.  Example, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, alone, abandoned by His disciples.

5.  The Finish Line is the climax of the story.  When the runner crosses the finish line, the race is over.  When the MC achieves her goal, the novel is over.  (There may be a few paragraphs or pages of cleaning up loose ends.)

The Lester Dent Pulp Fiction Plot Formula let Dent, the creator of Doc Savage, buy a yacht during the Great Depression. It breaks a story into four parts, not five. I’ve yet to be able to apply it to a story, but I reread it occasionally, hoping I’ll eventually suss it out.

A Little Gem

{image via Parallel Universes Publications}

As a short story writer, I don’t deal with reviews as often as novelists do. I repost all the “reviews are love” memes on Facebook, but since my stories are normally just one piece in an anthology of stories – one flower in a garden, I seldom have my prose mentioned specifically.

However, “Trolls are Different” in Swords and Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, Vol. 1 was favorably mentioned by both Jason Ray Carney and Craig Herbertson. Also by Richard Fisher.

 “Trolls are Different” is not conventional sword and sorcery but nevertheless a compelling tale about defeating enemies via “poisoned hospitality.” J. R. Carney, on

“Trolls are Different” by Susan Murrie Macdonald, is a little gem involving a head village lady in some subtle diplomacy to sort out the bad guys. The tale departs some way from a conventional fantasy tale but loses nothing by this. C. Herbertson Parallel Universes Publications Blogspot

“Trolls are Different” by Susan Murrie Macdonald

Foreign soldiers are invading. This typically leads to theft, murder, and rape. But Marana has a bold plan. It will take cooperation from everyone. Can she reason with a battle hardened army? Richard Fisher, on

I am personally consider “Trolls are Different” my best story so far. I intend to be shamelessly immodest and nominate it for next year’s Darrell Award. If you belong to SFWA (I don’t yet, maybe in a year or two), you have my permission to nominate the story fora Nebula Award, if you feel so inclined. (I don’t expect that to happen, but I won’t complain if it does.)

“Trolls are Different” was inspired by Mercedes Lackey and Tarr Troll [Jennifer Haskell, author of Swamp Tales and Swamp Stars]  Lackey is, of course, the best-selling author of the Valdemar series and the Elemental Masters books.  Jennifer is a nice lady in Louisiana who dresses up as a swamp troll for Louisiana Renaissance Festival and the Mid-South Renaissance Faire.  Lackey once had one of her characters refer to a hedge-witch she’d known who used weak power well, more effectively than a powerful sorceress used her vast power to less effect.  Thus I came up with the story of a hearthwitch, who was also a village headwoman, who teamed up with a troll shaman to defeat an overwhelming enemy.  The story was originally written with Sword and Sorceress in mind, but being a painfully slow writer, by the time I finished the story, Sword and Sorceress had gone to an invitation-only anthology, and although Sword and Sorceress #30 was my first sale at professional rates, they have not issued me an invitation to resubmit to a future volume … yet.

Most of the stories in SWORDS AND SORCERIES: TALES OF HEROIC FANTASY, VOL. 1 are very Robert E. Howard-ish. If you like traditional sword & sorcery, suggest to your friends and family that this book would be welcome beneath your Christmas tree. It would make me, my fellow authors, and my editor very happy if you bought a copy for yourself and/or for gifts for friends and family.

Susan Murrie Macdonald at Castle Gwynn, Tennesse Renaissance Festival {photo credit, Ian Macdonald}

My Stories So Far

§ “Black Agnes,” posted on Celtic Nations Magazine, posted November 2020

§ “French Cooking and Fibs,” Under Western Stars, published by Western Fictioneers, October 2020.

§ “Trolls are Different,” Swords and Sorceries, published by Parallel Universe Publications, September 2020

§ “Dick Dibble’s Birthday,” Space Force: Building the Legacy, published by Midland Scribes Publishing, April 2020

§ “Mighty Huntress, Itty Bitty Writing Space, published by Browncoat Publishing, 2019

§ “The Lung-Ma’s Tests,” posted on Sirius Science Fiction, posted October 2019

§ “The Narwhal” and “Sir Tristan the Brave,” Wee Tales, #8,  published by Golden Fleece Press, June 2018

 §  “Gremlins,” Cat Tails: War Zone,  published by WolfSinger Publications, March 2018

§  “Tell Me My Story,” The Caterpillar, issue 20, Spring 2018.

§ “The Kissing Bridge,” posted on Paper Butterfly, posted February 2018

​§ “Donald, Where’s Your Taxes,” More Alternative Truths, co-written by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, published by B Cubed Press, November 2017

§  “Erzabet and the Gladiators,” Heroic Fantasy,  published by Flame Tree Publishing, July 2017

§ “Freckles and Long Neck,” Bumples issue #43,  co-written by Ian Macdonald, published by, June 2017

§  “As Prophesied of Old,” Alternative Truths, published by B Cubed Press, April 2017, a Darrel Award nominee

§  “Captain’s Claim,” published by eSpec Books, October, 2016

§  R is for Renaissance Faire, published by Highland Heather Press, May, 2016

§  Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid, published by Highland Heather Press, Jan. 2016

§  “The Piper’s Wife,” Sword & Sorceress #30, published by MZB Literary Trust, Nov. 2015

§  “Two Princes” and “Vixen’s Song,” Barbarian Crowns, published by Horrified Press, July 2015

§  “Thank You, Thad,” Supernatural Colorado, published by WolfSinger Publications, Jan. 2015

These are the stories I have published thus far. Some are semi-pro, some are professionally published. I have two others that have been accepted, but not yet published. “The Lizard-Men from Outer Space” in B Cubed PressTales of the Space Force and “The Silkie Who Loved Buttermilk Biscuits” in Tales from OmniPark from House Blackwood. Like many female SFFH writers (Rosemary Edghill, Lois McMaster Bujold, Leslie Fish, et al.), I started with fanfiction and “came up through the cargo hatch.” For legal reasons, I am not linking to my fanfic stories at nor AO3.Those stories were written for my own pleasure, based on character and situations I do not own, nor have any legal right to use. I have also had a handful of filk songs in Lee Gold’s Xenofilkia. I also write articles for Krypton Radio’s website: as “Morbid Minx,” I am KR’s obituary specialist. My editor and I would be pleased if you Followed Krypton Radio, listened to our music, and read my articles. We would be ecstatic if you donated to Krypton Radio’s Patreon Fund. (Information about Patreon is in the little blue box at the bottom of most Krypton Radio articles.) For myself, I would be happy if you bought, read, and reviewed some of the anthologies containing my stories.

Upcoming projects: I am currently dividing my attention between a science fiction novella called Captain’s Claim, an expansion of the story of the same name listed above, and a Regency romance novel, working title Twenty-Five Pounds a Year. When one or the other is finished, I’ll blog about it, tweet about it, heck, I’ll yell so loud they’ll hear me across the river in Arkansas. I hope you’ll buy those, too.

I Voted Today

My father would be proud of his grandson today. We had to run a few errands – returning library books, picking up some paperwork, so we made it three errands and went to the polls for Early Voting. My husband, son, and I voted. My daughter is out of the county, living in a college dorm, and will be voting by mail.

In the 2016 election, more people didn’t vote at all than voted for Trump or Clinton. Voting in any election is important, but voting in this election is especially important.

My father said if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. He also recommended voting the straight party ticket for federal and state elections, and vote the person in local elections. My father, RIP, was a yeller-dawg Republican; he’d vote for a yellow dog if it ran on the party ticket. As much as I miss him, I’m glad he didn’t live to see what Donald J. Trump did to this country and to the Republican Party. My family have been Republicans since Fremont ran for the presidency in 1856, before Clan Trump even emigrated from Germany to the United States.

Like George Takei, I firmly believe that DJT is not only an incompetent president, but a danger to this nation. However, Trump vs. Biden is not the only race in this election. There are senators, congressional representatives, state legislators, mayors, aldermen, school board elections.

Research the issues, research the candidates, register to vote and then actually do more than just complain abour politics on social media. Actually vote.

Open Call: Alternate Deathiness

I have the privilege and honor (honour for our British and Canadian contributors) of being a slush pile reader for Alternate Deathiness (working title, quite likely to be changed).

B Cubed Press is pleased to announce an open call for Alternative Deathiness.  A fun filled romp into the concept and nature of Death.

Seriously what the hell is death, big guy with bones and a sickle? An ominous Tarot Card?  Or is it simply the passing of one thing for another.  A change in phase. Or, it is the ending of you, and just you, a personal FU from the universe that say oopsie, you’re out of here? 

So be prepared to look hard at this topic, its rituals, its layers.  Have fun.  May as well,  considering the end comes for us all.

This book will be edited by Bob Brown and Irene Radford, the team that brought you the best selling Alternative Truths.

If you wonder what perspective the editors bring just remember, we’re old.  Our friends are old, our families are old.  Death is beginning to feel more like a roommate than a concept.  So?  Let the stories rip, show no deference to religion, ritual, or sensitivities.  For God’s sake, we’re talking death here!

And don’t try sneaking zombies and ghosts and vampires in to get around death.  Oh we might buy one or two REALLY GOOD Ones, but that isn’t the focus.

Does this mean we will not accept sensitive looks at this from a more popular perspective?  No, but it means that it will be tested against the criteria that the writing be good, and carry an explanation of the nature of death. In terms of what we are looking for, think openly about the concept of death and life, can’t have one without the other.  The setting is open anywhere in time and space. 

This book will be part of the best-selling Alternatives series.  We will be accepting stories, poetry, and essays from now through March 1, 2021.

Story length for our books average about 2200 words but have ranged from 100 to 7500 words. However, we only use one or two stories over 5,000 words and our advice is to keep it under 5K, unless we communicate in advance.  Reprints are accepted, but we hold them to a higher standard and limit them in number.

Pays $.02 a word upon publication, plus a share of the profits. As always a share will go to charity, usually ACLU, but that can be changed to something else by agreement with all the contributors. Collaborations will earn 1 share to be split between contributors. 

Submissions should adhere to SFWA formatting guidelines It’s always good to make an editor happy. As an ex-teacher and a freelance proofreader, you’re likelier to make it past this slush pile reader and up to the editors’ attention by remembering the 3P Rule of the Internet: please proofread prior to posting. Or in this case, before submitting.

For the first time we are using Moksha, submissions are accepted at

Alternate Deathiness will accept stories, essays, and poems. As Sir James Barrie said and J. K. Rowling, CH, repeated to die would be an awfully great adventure.

B Cubed Press has three open calls, starting today: Protest Diaries, Alternate War, and Alternate Deathiness (working title – likely to be changed).

Protest Diaries: Stories from the front lines of revolutions throughout history.

Alternate War: War shapes the world through technology, borders, and norms. What will come next?

Alternate Deathiness: Death brings so many options.

Open October 18, 2020 through March 1, 2021

Should you have any questions, please contact editor/publisher Bob Brown at

Personal Note: I’ve been proud to be part of the B Cubed stable of writers almost from the beginning. Although they don’t pay much per word, my Darrell Award-nominated story, “As Prophesied of Old” in Alternate Truths was my first story to pay royalties. So far, all of B Cubed’s books have earned royalties for their authors. Not every publisher can say that. Bob and Irene are good people to work with. Sorry, good people with whom to work. I look forward to seeing your story.

Comparing Writing Guilds

{image via Pixabay}

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to join SFWA (the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). Now that I am in spitting distance of achieving that goal, I am rethinking whether or not joining SFWA would be worth it.


Membership Qualifications: three stories sold at professional rates, or one novel.

My qualifications: “Erzabet and the Gladiators,” Heroic Fantasy Short Stories; “The Piper’s Wife,” Sword and Sorceress #30

Benefits: networking, newsletter, really great parties at SF cons, voting on the Nebula Awards, assisting in mediating between members & publishers.

Cost: $100


Membership Qualifications: 3 books, 20+ articles, stories, or poems, or 3 screenplays

My qualifications: “French Cooking and Fibs,” Under Western Stars, possibly Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid, possibly “The Lung-Ma’s Tests,” Sirius Science Fiction

Benefits: networking, newsletter, voting on the Spur Awards

Cost: $75

RWA Romance Writers of America

Qualifications: One complete original work of romance fiction of at least 20,000 words, multiple complete original works of romance fiction which combine for a total of at least 20,000 words.

My Qualifications: “French Cooking and Fibs,” Under Western Stars, “The Kissing Bridge,” Paper Butterfly

Benefits: networking, health insurance, voting on the RITA Awards

Cost: $99

SCBWI Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators

Qualifications: Open to those whose books, articles, poems, stories, illustrations, photographs, films, television or electronic media for children have been published or produced.

My Qualifications: R is for Renaissance Faire; “Freckles and Long Neck,” Bumples issue #43; “Tell Me MY Story.” The Caterpillar, issue 20, Spring 2018; “The Narwhal,” and “Sir Tristan the Brave,” Wee Tales #8

Benefits: Networking, newsletter, marketing assistance.

Cost: $95


As I’ve said before, I am a stroke survivor. This means I am A, embarrassingly deeply in debt due to medical bills, and B, unable to work to earn money. This means I have the motivation to try harder to write and submit whilst simultaneously lacking the mental concentration and focus to write well (plus reduced typing speed from typing one-handed).

I am one sale at professional rates away from qualifying for SFWA membership, but under my current financial status I can’t justify spending that much money on club membership, especially when the main benefit of the group (in the opinion of the people I’ve asked) is really great parties at SF conventions. When I can afford cons, I go for the panels, not the parties. Unfortunately, most of my sales are to semi-pro markets.

I might qualify for RWA or SCBWI, but again, funding is a problem. I looked into RWA once. There was a monthly meeting at the library two towns away (I no longer drive, but public transportation in my county is abysmal.) You were allowed to go to one meeting free, but had to join if you wanted to attend the second meeting.

Some western juvenile biographical essays might help me qualify for both WWA and SCBWI.

If you belong to one of these groups, do you consider it worth the membership fee?

Kickstarter Revived

Tales from Omnipark needs your help.

Tales from OmniPark started out as a thirteen story collection. Now it’s up to twenty stories. Visit this amazingly complex Wiki to get a peek at the glory of OmniPark, the educational, entertaining theme park that never was. Once you’ve visited the Wiki, you’ll want to read the book.

“This universe is yours to explore.”

I know Kickstarters and GoFundMes are usually for medical bills, but this one is for Literature – for a unique shared world anthology by some of the best up-and-coming writers of Speculative Fiction in North America: Professor Brian Evenson, International Horror Guild Award Winner & Sunburst Award Winner Gemma Files, Editor Ben Thomas, novelist Jesse Bullington, Orrin Grey, Darrell Award Nominee Susan Murrie Macdonald, and more.

If you are interested in Role-Playing Games (RPGs), OmniPark would make a wonderful setting for a GURPS Weird game, or a Texas-based campaign of Spies and Superheroes. If so, you might want to consider donating $40 to get not only the book but the park map.

If you enjoy fantasy, especially horror, slipstream, and Weird Fiction, donate a dollar or two to help this fun book come to life, or donate $20 to guarantee a copy of the book. Tentative publication date is Spring of 2021.

If your eyes are young enough to read e-books, a $15 donation will earn you a digital volume.

This is like Pledge Week for PBS. The more you donate, the larger the thank-you gift. If you can’t afford to donate $20 at this time, any donation is gratefully appreciated and accepted. Four farthings make a penny, six pennies make a sixpence. Two sixpence make a shilling. Bit by bit, it all adds up. Help us make it happen.

Children’s Books You Should Check Out

There are few things more important to parents and teachers than good children’s books. With so many schools going Virtual and more and more parents becoming teachers, good children’s books are especially important.


R is for Renaissance Faire Since you can’t go to a RenFaire during this dreadful plague, go to one vicariously, from A is for Archery to Z is for Zany.

Swamp Tales and Swamp Stars might be fun. They’re written by Arr and Tarr Troll, stars of the Louisiana Renaissance Festival and the MidSouth Renaissance Faire.

Guaranteed fun (especially if you’re doing a thematic unit on fairy tales) is Jane Yolen’s Sleeping Ugly, about a prince who finds an enchanted sleeping maiden beautiful on the inside, ugly on the outside. Actually, I recommend any children’s book by Jane Yolen.

Both Jane Yolen and Mary Pope Osborne have retold and edited many traditional tales and myths.

Moving from medieval and Renaissance to modern day superheroes, have you read Superheroes are Everywhere by Senator Kamala Harris? Or Even Superheroes Have Bad Days by Shelly Becker?

Of course, THE children’s book about bad days is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by the inimitable Judith Viorst.

Highly recommended children’s authors include the late Pat Hutchins, Jane Yolen, (for the very young) Joy Cowley.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin and John Archambault is a great way to teach the alphabet – and a lot of fun.


Dog Wants to Play by Christine McDonnell is fun for pre-K kids and their parents.

The Winter Barn by Dorothy Ripley is a relaxing book, perfect before naptime or bedtime.

Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown has been popular for years. Maybe your parents read it to you.


For the slightly older young’uns: I recommend the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books, by Betty MacDonald (no relation), Double Trouble for Rupert by Ethelyn M. Parkinson, the Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol, and Heidi by Johanna Spyri. (Some may find Heidi too religious. I didn’t notice it when I was in third grade, but rereading it as an adult I found the religious aspects overwhelming.) Also Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio is being made into a movie again. If you only know the Disney version, the Collodi book is very different – and not recommended for the very young.


If you want your children to excel in social studies, encourage them to read Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House books. These juvenile adventures will introduce them to history, geography, and legends. (It may lead to them reading Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books when they’re older.)

If you want your children to excel in science, encourage them to read the Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole.

For math, read One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes.

Buy these books through Amazon, or your local bookstore, or visit your local library. A home library is a wonderful thing to encourage a child’s mental growth and happiness.