Posts Tagged ‘john hartness’

John Hartness is…well, I’m just going to say it…he’s a character.  No, wait, I’m thinking CHARACTER should be in all caps, maybe even in bold.  If you’ve ever met him in person or sat down with him for a drink, maybe for one of his Literate Liquors talks, you’ll know exactly what I mean.  So I’m pleased to have him here talking about his “What If?” method of plotting.  But before I let John run away with my blog – and he will – I want to note one more quick thing: New York Times bestseller Chloe Neill is running some awesome contests in celebration of Halloween and her upcoming Chicagoland Vampires novel HOUSE RULES that you might want to get in on.  Check them out here.

And now, take it away, John.

“What If?” Questions and Plot/Character Development 

Hey y’all, I’m John G. Hartness, author of the Black Knight Chronicles from Bell Bridge Books and creator of the self-published super-series Bubba the Monster Hunter. Go buy my stuff, particularly the Black Knight Omnibus, which features three full-length novels in a revised, “author’s preferred” format with a badass cover. It’ll give you clear skin, clear up cellulite, lower taxes and take care of that embarrassing rash you haven’t told your doctor about.

Not really, but it might make you laugh.

I promise that’ll be the last (and most shameless) plug of the post, but I figured I’d go ahead and get it out of the way now. Lucienne asked me to join her “Men of Urban Fantasy” pinup calendar, so I figured I’d talk a little about how I build characters and plots.

You see, I’m a redneck. I grew up in a little bend in the road called Bullock Creek, SC. Don’t bother going to Google Maps for that one, because all you’ll figure out is that it’s an hour from Charlotte, and an hour and a half from Columbia, and close to a bunch of other stuff you’ve never heard of. As a redneck, we sit around a lot tellin’ stories.

We’ll sit on the front porch watching the heat lightning on an August afternoon, right about that dusky time of day when the first brave fireflies are flickering to life, and tell stories. We’ll sit on the tailgate of the pickup truck drinking cheap whiskey and Coke out of a Solo cup at the end of a long day of work watching the sun go down while the sweat finally dries on the back of our necks, and tell stories. We’ll sit on the banks of a little pond that might have three fish in the whole thing, smell of honeysuckle wafting through the air like Grandma’s Sunday dinner, and tell stories.

You get the picture? Well, all those stories start one of two ways. They either begin with “You ain’t gonna believe this shit!” Which means the story is 100% true. Or they begin with “What if?” Which means they might be as much as 20% true.

Well, that’s kinda where I get my plots and my characters from. They’re almost all “What if?” questions. With The Black Knight Chronicles, I started from the question of “What if there were a couple of uber-nerd vampires that were the good guys?” I had been reading some huge best-selling vampire books, and all the vampires were sexy. And they were all either badasses or tortured souls. So I wondered “what if the given circumstances were skewed, just a little?” What resulted was a series of books with funny characters that (I hope) make monsters more relatable to normal people.

With Bubba the Monster Hunter I thought “What if a psychotic cupid got loose in a nursing home?” Actually the first question was probably more like “what if the nursing home got Viagra mixed up with the blood pressure pills?” But you get the general idea.

“What if” questions are fun. They open you up to some wild flights of fancy, and can send you down some plotline rabbit holes if you’re not careful. That’s one reason why I’m a plotter, not a pantser. If I were a writer who could just “wing it” through the plot of my books, my love for “what if” questions could send me off on tangents that I might never recover from. So I have to exercise discipline in my exploration. I only allow myself to think about “what if”s when I’m beginning the book, working on the outline, or when I get stuck.

And that last bit is where “what if” questions can be really helpful, because if you’ve trained yourself to do a certain amount of brainstorming already, kicking into that mode when you’re stuck is a lot easier. And you’ve probably got a ton of crazy ideas all rolling around in your head just looking for a chance to get out, since you’ve been suppressing them since the outline!

So there’s a little tip from me on where I get plot and character ideas. I ask myself “What if?” And whenever I think of something else crazy I want to try, I ask myself “Why not?” It’s all worked out pretty well so far! See y’all in the funny papers!


John G. Hartness is a writer, actor, teacher, lighting designer, theatre consultant, raconteur, knight-errant, Panthers fan and drunkard from Charlotte, NC. Part of the Magical Words blogging team, he can also be found online at or @johnhartness on Twitter. He finds himself far too amusing for his own good.

Before I go on to wish Beth Cornelison and Karen Whiddon happy book birthdays, I want to mention a post on Magical Words that I thought made a lot of really valuable points, “How Not to Get Published – One Editor’s Opinion” by John Hartness.  If you know anyone who can benefit from this advice, you might want to send them this way.

And now on to two people who are doing everything right!  Virtual confetti to Karen Whiddon and Beth Cornelison (see how I switched the order here so as not to play favorites?) for their exciting new releases:

COLTON’S RANCH REFUGE by Beth Cornelison

Ex-soldier Gunnar Colton’s only focus is shaking off the horrors of war in his remote cabin—until a murderer abducts another victim from the neighboring Amish community. Now the Colton code of honor kicks in and it’s his duty to protect the eyewitness who’s the next likely target.

Treating sexy, spitfire actress Violet Chastain as just another assignment is next to impossible, though. There’s more to her than Hollywood and the hurt she’s hiding. The minute Gunnar lets the starlet and her twin baby boys into his home, the guard around his heart starts to crack. One taste of passion shows him the future he could have with Violet—if the threat closing in doesn’t claim them both.

About the Author

Award-winning author Beth Cornelison has been writing stories since she was a child. A University of Georgia graduate, Cornelison worked in Public Relations before becoming a full-time writer. She has won many honors for her writing, including the coveted Golden Heart, awarded by the Romance Writers of America. She lives in Louisiana with her husband and son. For more information, visit her website at

THE WOLF PRINCESS by Karen Whiddon (with bonus Pack novel ONE EYE OPEN)

Trouble. Princess Alisa senses it instantly when she first meets Braden Streib, the mysterious specialist her parents summoned from America to stimulate her shape-shifting cycles. At first—and unlike her many suitors—this confident, swarthy outsider in dark sunglasses seems indifferent to her royal status. But Alisa’s essence soon whispers to Braden, a Halfling, of untamed talents that could prove devastating—as well as impossible to resist. Her abilities, if properly aroused, might be her kingdom’s only hope. For amid the pomp and secrecy of the court, Braden and Alisa are about to confront an extremist enemy—and an unexpected passion beyond their wildest imaginings….

About the Author

Karen Whiddon started weaving fanciful tales for her younger brothers at the age of eleven. Amidst the Catskill Mountains of New York, then the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, she fueled her imagination with the natural beauty that surrounded her. Karen now lives in north Texas, where she shares her life with her very own hero of a husband and three doting dogs. She divides her time between the business she started and writing. Check out her website,

Things have been crazy-good-busy with work these past couple of weeks and something’s had to give.  Unfortunately, it was the blog.  So, herewith, a quick catch up on some new and exciting goings-on, some pics from Dragon*Con and a few links.  Universe willing, I’ll finish posting the glorious Hawaii pics very soon and get back to blogging as usual.

So, Vamped, the first book in the series of the same name, is currently specially priced at $1.99 for Kindle.  That’s right, all that snark for half of what a fancy coffee will cost you, and it’ll last a lot longer!  If you’ve liked Clueless or Legally Blonde, if you’ve liked Buffy (and who hasn’t?), this might be for you.  At best, you love it.  At worst, you get to feel all superior to me because you can write circles around me.  Isn’t the not-knowing killing you?

Also specially priced are new digital releases from Faith Hunter and Vicky Dreiling!  Have Stakes Will Travel, Faith Hunter’s new set of stories from the Jane Yellowrock world, includes an exclusive preview of the first few chapters of DEATH’S RIVAL, coming October 2nd!  Vicky Dreiling has a new e-novella A Season for Sin out from Forever Romance, introducing the sinful scoundrels that will be featured in her upcoming series.  I love a good rake, as long as I’m not expected to use it on the fall foliage!  As if that isn’t enough, Forever has specially priced Vicky’s RITA Award nominated Regency romance, HOW TO MARRY A DUKE at $2.99.  If you haven’t read it already, now’s your chance!  Heck, even if you have…books make great gifts!

Huge congrats are in order for Karen Whiddon’s romantic suspense THE COP’S MISSING CHILD debuting at #94 on Bookscan’s Romance bestseller list and for Christie Golden’s new World of Warcraft: Jaina Proudmore: TIDES OF WAR hitting the New York Times bestseller list at #13 and a USA Today at #119!  You go, gals!

I wish I had time to post an entire wrap up of the enormity and crazy wonderfulness that is Dragon*Con, but suffice it to say that I got to put an arm around James Callis and Jamie Bamber (and see them drinking at the bar the following day), snap a picture with a zombie-hunter Beaker, sell out of my urban fantasy BAD BLOOD (murder, myth and mayhem, oh my!) and spend a wonderful few days with incredibly talented writers David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson, Faith Hunter, Kalayna Price, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Michelle Belanger, Diana Peterfreund, C.L. Wilson, Jennifer St. Giles, Deidre Knight, John Hartness, James Tuck, Elaine Isaak, and Tracy Akers.  I also wrote a post over at Magical Words on Con-etiquette, partially inspired by the con.  Here are some snapshots for your viewing pleasure.

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