Plotting: Scenes and Revelations

Scenes and RevelationsWelcome to round three of “How Emilie Plots Her Novels.”

Note that I didn’t simplify that first sentence and call this series “How To Plot A Novel?” Remember, we’re exploring my way. If someone tells you their way is the right way? I’d take that with a block of salt. Some writers have no idea where a book is going until it gets there. I’m just not one of them.

So where are we so far?

Last week I gave you choices for the way our pretend book might proceed. Please remember, this is a pretend book, an example of how to plot. I’m not writing this story. You’ll never see it in print with my name on the cover. That means we can cut loose and have fun.

We’ve changed the story dramatically from the initial idea prompted by a conversation I overheard at breakfast, so read the last two blogs to see where we started and how we moved forward.

Here’s a recap of what we know so far: Tyler Ferguson, a successful surgeon, discovers that a child, Rory Wilmington, who nearly died in his operating room, is actually his son from a long ago affair.

I asked you to help me

  • Decide how, why and when the affair took place.
  • Figure out Tyler’s life and marriage before Rory’s existence is revealed.

Thanks to all of you who considered this and took the time to give your opinions, especially my Krewe of Review who are always there to help when I need them.

Out of four possibilities to explain the affair, the vast majority of you chose this one:

Tyler and Jan had an affair in college, then he moved away to start medical school where he met Marilyn. Before Jan could tell him she was pregnant, he wrote her a Dear Jan letter (ouch) telling him he’d fallen in love with someone else. She was too proud to tell him the truth.

One reader suggested a slightly different version, which I liked very much.

Tyler and Jan had an affair in college. She fell in love with someone else and broke off the affair. When she realized she was pregnant, she wasn’t sure whose baby it was. She married the guy she left Tyler for letting him think the baby was his. Maybe it is/maybe it’s not?

Since there was such overwhelming support for the choice with the Dear Jan letter, we’ll go with that one. For the record? I probably would have chosen #2. You can look it up in last week’s post, but I wanted the affair to be extramarital to increase tension, and I liked the possibilities of Jan hiding the affair and the parentage of “their” son from both her husband and Tyler. I thought it would be interesting to sift through that particular train wreck.

Our of four possibilities for Tyler’s home life we had a tie. You were evenly split between:

Tyler and Marilyn have a solid marriage, but their only son is autistic and a constant challenge. Tyler is a good dad, but he sometimes wishes he had a son he could really communicate with.

Tyler has saved the life of countless people and is almost revered in the community and at home. His affair (no matter how/why it happened) haunts him, and he’s grateful every day that nobody’s discovered it. He doesn’t know that Marilyn, who seems to adore him, is tired of being married to a hero and has nearly fallen into an affair herself.

Since you’re split–with a few excellent additions in your comments–we’ll combine these two, taking the extra comments to heart, and go with:

Tyler believes he and Marilyn have a solid marriage, despite their son’s autism. He believes Marilyn is completely devoted to him and their son, despite the burden his frequent absences create for her. He doesn’t know that she has begun to explore the possibility of a life away from him, possibly with another man who appreciates her as a woman, not just as a wife and mother. 

You’ll note that while I combined a few things, I had to leave out Tyler’s guilt over his affair. It’s unlikely he would be haunted by a normal relationship that ended before he met Marilyn, his wife. Unless, of course, he’s still a little bit in love with Jan?

Scenes and Revelations.

Of course there would be so much more we’d need to do to plot this novel, but it’s time to move on.

We’ve been concentrating on the story’s background, not action that happens during the book. This is where my list of “Scenes and Revelations” comes in. Usually, after I’ve figured out the story up until the book begins (the background, setting, characters, etc.), I use what I know to create scenes that need to happen or could happen to move the story forward. I also list revelations that are either spoken out loud or evolve in the character’s minds and hearts.

At this point I pull out my legal pad and begin to imagine this story unfolding. Later I can put my scenes and revelations in order, and I do before I begin my synopsis and outline. Scenes and Revelations is true brainstorming. Anything that comes to mind, good or bad, anywhere in the chapters, is included because later on an unused idea is easy to delete/scratch out/send twirling through my new shredder.

For the story as we know it now? A quick list might include:

  • Jan tells Tyler that the boy he just operated on is his son.
  • Tyler refuses to believe it and demands to know what she really wants from him.
  • Tyler calls his attorney.
  • Tyler goes in to see Rory, who is recovering, and realizes how much he resembles his legitimate son, Brad.
  • During Tyler’s time alone with Rory, he realizes what an intelligent and well-grounded boy he is. Tyler doesn’t know what to say when Rory thanks him for saving his life and says that his mom knew Tyler would be the best person to do this surgery.
  • Tyler, an emotional wreck, goes home and has an encounter with Brad, our first realization that Brad is autistic.
  • When someone from the billing department arrives to inform Jan that her insurance will only cover a small portion of Rory’s bill, she realizes she has to demand that Tyler step up and pay his share. She’s angry at Tyler for not believing that Rory is his, and that spurs her on.
  • At home Marilyn leaves for a class and insists that Tyler stay home for once and take care of their son, despite his protests that he has work he needs to do.
  • Tyler tries to deal with a bad situation with Brad, and he finds himself thinking about Rory, who even in pain found the grace and courage to thank him. Tyler feels guilty for comparing the boys and wishing Brad were a “normal” child, too.

Okay, that’s just a smattering of possibilities, using the ideas you liked best.

Want to plot with me?

Using the information we’ve agreed on, can you suggest more scenes or revelations to tell this story? Remember, they don’t have to be in order. If you can see a scene way down the road, perhaps a touching moment between Brad and Rory who are getting to know each other, then tell us what you see.

If you come up with a scene or more than one, tell us in your comments.

I may run out of cute pug photos, so I’m expecting to wrap this up very soon. Of course I expected to wrap this up during my first post, and look what happened?

Remember, no idea is too far-fetched to mention here. Sometimes the most far-fetched ideas are exactly the ones that make a story soar.

Have fun and have at it.


  1. Martha O'Quinn on November 15, 2017 at 8:30 am

    Good morning Emilie. I’ve enjoyed this particular bit of wisdom into how you, as a successful author, might proceed when “plotting” your books. Educational and fun! Two “out of left field” thoughts come to mind: first, I know you will not publish this pretend book because of “The Swallow’s Nest. Two, one of the top-rated TV shows, “The Good Doctor,” features an autistic surgeon. This blog and the previous ones in this thread would prompt that storyline quite well. Tyler would do well to recognize both sons and support each through to their ultimate potential.

  2. Nancy Lepri on November 15, 2017 at 3:26 pm

    My twisted mind would have Marilyn accepting Rory as Tyler’s son, but then she gets angry because he warms to the boy and spends more time with him…much more than he ever spent with her or Brad. But, Brad and Rory bond and Rory helps Brad come out of his shell. Marilyn is at loose ends and decides she needs to get away from the family to sort out her feelings and decide if she wants to stay in the marriage.

  3. Marjorie Roberts on November 16, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    For my mind to cooperate, I would like to know the ages of everyone. Rory is probably in his late teens since the affair happened when Jan and Tyler were in college. I am guessing that the parents are all in their mid to late 30s. I believe it would make sense to have Brad be about 10.

    That aside, Tyler insists on a DNA test, which proves positive.

    Jan doesn’t have enough insurance and insists that Tyler help out. Tyler, behind Marilyn’s back, gets his insurance to pay the balance owed.

    Brad has a meltdown when Tyler attempts to take care of him while Marilyn goes to class. She is becoming closer to one of her classmates. They share their family problems with each other and have become good friends. She has become a bit fed up with Tyler’s busy schedule. To increase the time away from Tyler and Brad, she goes out with him to a local pub for a bite to eat after class.

    Tyler gets closer to Rory while treating him, but doesn’t want Marilyn to know about him just yet.

    When Marilyn finds out about the insurance coverage for Rory, there is no choice but for Tyler to tell her about Rory and Jan.

  4. Joni on November 17, 2017 at 5:50 am

    After the successful operation Tyler goes to check up on Rory as he’s walking to his room he overhears the accounting department speaking to Jan about the balance of the account- when Tyler walks into the room and looks at Rory’s features he just automatically knows it’s his child.
    Tyler makes Jan tell him the truth and then he lets her know the balance of the bill will be taken care of
    Tyler then goes home and tells Marilyn we need to have a long talk

  5. Kate on November 17, 2017 at 3:48 pm

    Rory is going to need some rehab, which Jan’s insurance won’t cover, on top of the hospital bills.
    Tyler has told Marilyn about Rory, and although she understands why Tyler wants to pay the hospital bill, she doesn’t want to meet either Jan or Rory.
    However, we find out that before Brad was born, Jan was a physiotherapist, and through her contacts at the hospital, she hears about Rory’s need for physio, and lack of insurance. Will she step in and offer to help?

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