Wednesday, August 12, 2015

2 What If: Overcoming A Story Slump With Caroline B. Cooney

Have you seen our Red Light, Green Light Top 25? Check out the current entrants here, and get ready to vote for your finalists next week!

We're so excited to have Caroline B. Cooney on the blog today. Caroline's recent release No Such Person has been described as "Cleverly plotted . . . rooted in suspense . . . fully satisfying." Today she's answering "what if?" a technique she uses to overcome a slump or to get her story moving again. 

My little red cottage was perched on a bluff over the Connecticut River, which in summer was busy with motorboats, kayaks, sailboats, and tugs pushing or pulling oil barges. One day I saw a boy in a small speedboat playing chicken with a barge the size of half a football field. I thought, You could murder a water-skier that way. Tow him in front of the barge, ease up on your speed, drop him in the water, and here comes the barge. Now, there’s a story.

I think the easiest way to plot a story is the “what if?” technique. You see or imagine an event. You want to add suspense and fear and tension to your story, and of course, love.

So what if you helplessly watch that barge murder happen when you are standing on your deck? You are absolutely sure it was murder, but everyone else is calling it an accident, and they crowd around the poor boat driver, offering sympathy. And what if your sister begins to date that young man and not only refuses to believe your theory that he is a murderer, but hates you for saying so? What if you don’t even like your sister very much? Do you still have an obligation to try to save her from a person who would do anything, anything at all, if he feels like it? Is family love is deeper and wider than passing judgments or scornful remarks?

No Such Person was very exciting to write. It’s a double narrative, with each sister in a separate but overlapping nightmare. I’ve written more than ninety books, but I don’t think I’ve ever written one in the present tense before. It’s very exciting, but also very confining. It was work.

Aspiring writers often ask for suggestions about what to do if they’re stumped and the going is slow. First, print out your story and switch to using a pencil. You think differently with a pencil than with a keyboard. It helps to pretend you’re the editor instead of the author, because you can be ruthless and sometimes that’s what a story needs.

I often write a pretend letter, like “Dear Aunt Helen, I’m writing a story where there are two sisters but I don’t know what to do about the parents. I need them offstage. How should I do that? Where should they be?” My experience is that writing the letter will produce the solution, because I will give Aunt Helen a list of possibilities and sure enough, one will be good. Even after all the books I’ve done, there seems to be an element of anxiety when working on a real chapter that doesn’t exist when working on a pretend letter, and thoughts flow more easily.

About the Book:

No Such PersonFrom the author of the multimillion-copy bestseller The Face on the Milk Carton, this riveting new thriller, set against the backdrop of a bucolic summer town on the Connecticut River, will have readers guessing until the very last page, as a seemingly innocent sibling rivalry and newfound young love turn into something much more devastating than anyone could ever have imagined.

Miranda and Lander Allerdon are sisters. Miranda is younger, a dreamer, and floating her way through life. Lander is older, focused, and determined to succeed. As the girls and their parents begin another summer at their cottage on the Connecticut River, Miranda and Lander’s sibling rivalry is in high gear. Lander plans to start medical school in the fall, and Miranda feels cast in her shadow.

When the Allerdons become entangled in an unimaginable tragedy, the playing field is suddenly leveled. As facts are revealed, the significance of what has happened weighs heavily on all. How can the family prepare for what the future may hold? 

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads 

About the Author:

Caroline B. Cooney is the author of more than 90 suspense, mystery, and romance novels for teenagers, which have sold over 15,000,000 copies and are published in several languages. The Face on the Milk Carton has sold over 3,000,000 copies and was made into a television movie. Her books have won many state library awards and are on many booklists, such as the New York Public Library’s annual teen picks. 

Caroline grew up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and spent most of her life on the shoreline of that state but is now in South Carolina near her family. She has three children and four grandchildren. She was a church organist for many years, accompanied the choirs at her children’s schools, and now plays keyboard for musicals.  

Janie Face to Face, the fifth book in the Janie series, which begins with The Face on the Milk Carton, came out last year. Other recent titles are Three Black SwansThey Never Came Back, and If the Witness Lied  and The Lost Songs. No Such Person, a thriller, will appear in the summer of 2015. She is currently researching the exciting, terrifying, and completely unexpected story of the children who will one day sail on the Mayflower to the New World.

~ posted by Jen Fisher @cupcakegirly


  1. Thanks for posting this article by Caroline Cooney--what an insight into her creative process! My girls grew up reading her books. :) Look forward to reading this newest book!

  2. P.S. I couldn't find "No Such Person" on Goodreads. Anyone know why? And second P.S.-- I interview my characters when I can't figure out what happened to make them act/think/feel the way they do. Glad to hear I have great company in doing this!


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