Plotting while Coloring Fish

Have you ever had one of those moments when you just don’t know what comes next? That moment when you have a plot outline, you know where you are going, but it is not coming together. The moment when you realize a character’s storyline is signaling something is out of whack.

For example, one of my main characters in Pay Back, Laury Cooper, was stuck in the Honolulu Airport for months. Just stuck. Wouldn’t leave, didn’t want to, just sat in a seat waiting for me to send him on his fateful way to Saigon before April 29, 1975. Part of the problem was probably fear of facts; historical fiction can do that, accompanied by images of readers throwing rocks at your books or cursing your name for a truth they don’t accept. Like many topics, Vietnam has that effect on those who lived through the era. The other problem was me; I knew once Laury left that airport, I faced writing his scenes like a fiend in a semi-frenzy, possibly without bathing, until his part of the book was drafted.

It held up the book’s publication. So, recently when one of the main characters in my new historical series started balking about his storyline in book two and refusing to leave another main character’s pantry, it began to impinge on the publication date of the first book in the series. This led to my discovery of plotting while coloring fish. Had I known the technique earlier, poor old Laury Cooper (Pay Back: The Cooper Quartet) would have been on his way from Honolulu to Saigon and the book published on time.

How did I discover the wonder of plotting while coloring fish? I downloaded an online coloring book to my phone for something to do while standing in lines, etc. Quite by accident, I discovered the Zen of it all. With my hands and eyes occupied finding numbered colors, my brain began to noodle over my plot predicament, working it out with each color, my eyes locked on the screen, my senses engaged in the picture filling in before my eyes. Any scientist will tell you that one time is not proof, so the next time I was stumped, I did the same thing, and again, the plot resolved itself, enabling me and the characters to move on.

Which is wonderful, but unless I grab a notebook or run to my computer, my thoughts are lost in the ether even if repeated out loud seven times. I used to be one of the notebook people, spiral-bound notebooks in different colors with the book’s working title written across the front in indelible ink. The troubles with that method are the following: which notebook is the note in, where is the notebook (never where I am), and on which page are the glorious words that take the plot from mediocre to the heights (I tended to write on the backs of pages, up the sides, and in no particular order).

I now have my ReMarkable2 ( at my elbow, not a notepad, not a notecard, or a sticky note. When inspiration strikes, I scribble my brilliance on a page in my ReMarkable, name the file so I can find it, file it under the appropriate book, and keep coloring or keep scribbling depending on where the flow is best, comfortable that my genius has been captured. When I do get to the computer, I prop my ReMarkable on a bookstand, open the appropriate file, and have my thoughts, new direction, and any new text at hand as I write.

I can hardly wait to color each morning. It gets my juices flowing, allowing me to revisit where I left off writing the day before and resolve any outstanding issues before applying the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair and succumbing to the discipline of writing.

And if I get stuck, I can always color fish or birds or flowers or . . .

5 thoughts on “Plotting while Coloring Fish

  1. A very clever idea, and I loved coloring when I was a child. Maybe that’s why it works–it unlocks our uninhibited childlike view of life and its problems. Thanks for sharing that.


  2. I love how peaceful and easy your method is for finding plot problems. I’ve found when I need to let my brain free, I mop, wash windows, drive a tractor. If my mind is free (doing labor) it tends to discover fresh new ways to move my books forward. Good post!


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