Peggy Eddleman On Building Plot

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can come to us like a lightning bolt, through the lyrics of a song, or in the fog of a dream. Ask any writer where their stories come from and you’ll get a myriad of answers, and in that vein I created the WHAT (What the Hell Are you Thinking?) interview. Always including in the WHAT is one random question to really dig down into the interviewees mind, and probably supply some illumination into my own as well.


Today's guest for the WHAT is fellow League of Extraordinary Writers member Peggy Eddleman, author of the MG series SKY JUMPERS, the first of which is a Texas BlueBonnet nominee this year.

Ideas for our books can come from just about anywhere, and sometimes even we can’t pinpoint exactly how or why. Did you have a specific origin point for your book?

I had a very specific origin point for Sky Jumpers. I was on an airplane, sitting by the window, staring out at the wrong side of the clouds for 3 ½ hours, imagining how fun it would be if I could jump into those clouds and have them slow my fall, then set me more gently on the ground. It was an idea that was so exciting to me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I started asking myself more questions about it. 

Like What could’ve happened to our world to make a fifteen foot thick layer of air that was dense enough that if you went above it and jumped into it, it would slow your fall? 

Then I asked, What if, instead of looking like clouds, how would things change if it was invisible? 

And then, the question that changed the story the most—What if that air was also deadly? Because if it was deadly, not only would it change how people felt about it, but it would become more of a player in the story. Something to cause more conflict.

Once the original concept existed, how did you build a plot around it?

It was actually figuring out the setting that led to the plot. I’d decided that I wanted a post-apocalyptic world, 40 years after the green bombs of World War III wiped out nearly all the population and all of technology. So when I thought about where to have Sky Jumpers take place, I chose the open plains in Nebraska—a place where the landscape would’ve been as barren as the population. But they needed to be near mountains to be close to the Bomb’s Breath, so I put their town inside one of the massive craters left behind by one of the green bombs. I realized how safe and protected they’d feel there. After all, they had the Bomb’s Breath above them to stop any bandits from coming over the mountain and into their town. And if they felt all nice and safe and protected, of course I had to threaten that security. And that’s when the plot was born.

Have you ever had the plot firmly in place, only to find it changing as the story moved from your mind to paper?

I plot the main story points, and those don’t change. I never plot out how they are actually going to get to those points, because that’s when the magic happens. I have to get into the story—really be working closely with it during drafting—to figure out all the details that can only be figured out when you’re that intimate with the story.

Do story ideas come to you often, or is fresh material hard to come by?

Fragments of ideas come to me all the time—things about characters, setting, plot, random ideas, inciting incidents, concepts. I put them into an ideas file to look at later. Ideas that quickly morph into a full story idea come much less frequently.

How do you choose which story to write next, if you’ve got more than one percolating?

Many times, when I’m ready to start a new story, I’ll go through my idea folder and just let things bounce around until one awesome idea collides with another and then another until a story begins to take shape. Usually more than one story starts to get enough ideas colliding that I have to stop and decide which to write. I start fleshing out both (or all three or four) stories and writing synopses along with random idea parts. When one starts to really grab me more than another, and I find myself thinking about it the most, that’s when I stick with it and start developing it even further.

When it comes to naming characters, I just rest my hands and let them tell me what their names are. What’s your process?

I do that sometimes, too! Other times the right name doesn’t just come. I have a names document that I add to whenever I come across a name that really speaks to me in some way. It has hundreds of names now. When I’m naming a new character, I go to that file first. Many times, I find just what I’m looking for. When I don’t, I usually have a sense of what letter their name starts with, so I look at online baby name books, starting with that letter.