Exclusive Dead Ringer Content- Ask the Author: Mastering Plot Madness!

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"After all, she’s the dead ringer for a dead girl."


Ask the Author: Mastering Plot Madness – It’s no secret that DEAD RINGER is full of twists, turns, and endless surprises—talk about a nightmare to keep straight! Author Jessie Rosen dishes on how she kept track of it all (and kept her sanity along the way).

I count books like Gone Girl and Girl On a Train as some of my favorite because of their twisty, endlessly surprising plots. Naturally I wanted my own debut novel to attempt the same page-turning style. If only I’d known just how tricky a task it would be! DEAD RINGER took weeks to outline and months to write, but staying organized along the way in terms of the very layered plot is what kept me sane (mostly) and kept the story on track (totally!).

Here are the 7 tactics I used make it all work.

1. I reverse outlined similar books 

I know this sounds crazy, but I spent hours and hours reverse engineering Gone Girl into outline form. I wanted to see how many reveals Gillian Flynn chose to include in which chapters at what point in the story. The rhythm and flow of that book made it such a page-turner, and seeing it in outline form helped me understand why. All the work was fully worth the effort.

2. I decided where to place my big twist first 

I knew the big reveal would be the heart of the story, so I spent time deciding where to place that moment before I built the entire plot. It was important to me that the surprise came at the right time in the character relationships and pacing of the story. Figuring that out first helped me know how much story to place before and after.

3. I focused on my red herrings next 

Before I even decided how the book would start, I was thinking about the characters that would serve to distract from the big secrets. I knew those storylines would be incredibly important for hiding the truth, so I focused on building them into the plot early.

4. Notecards, notecards, notecards

Every time I thought of a big moment that I wanted to include in the plot I put it on a notecard. If the plot point involved to Laura it was a pink card, Charlie, blue, and Sasha, green. This helped me see how many moments I was assigning to each character and helped me make sure the story reveals felt balanced.

5. I created separate story outlines for each character

Even though the reveals are layered across all the characters, I had to make sure that each individual person had a clear story that tracked across time. Before I did the weaving I drew a straight line for each person. First Laura arrives at Englewood, next she befriends Charlie, after that she learns about Sarah’s death and so on. This helped me see if I was missing a beat.

6. I outlined inside an Excel document

Prepare for major nerdiness. I am a really visual person so I needed to see how the story was unfolding in picture format. An Excel grid was that answer. I used columns for each chapter and rows for the characters. Each box was a reveal or major moment. I used colors to delineate the various secrets. The CO mystery was yellow, for example. This helped me literally see where pieces of the puzzle sat and when they got attention. So if I saw zero yellow boxes across two chapters, I knew I needed another plot point for the CO storyline.

I know…really nerdy.

7. I reverse outlined once I had a draft

Naturally things change from the in-going outline when you’re writing the first draft, but I knew I would need a road map when my editor provided notes. I created a “real outline” of what actually made it into the book. This was critical because I could easily find the areas that needed to be adjusted for the second draft.


Now that it’s all done, I can say that all the crazy tactics worked, although at the time it felt like so much prep before finally plunging into the writing. But it’s like my grandmother the seamstress always used to say, “Measure twice, cut once!”

…And yes, I did have nightmares about plot twists until the entire book was done!

-Jessie Rosen


Read DEAD RINGER and take a look at Jessie’s very organized finished product! Buy it on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo or direct from the Full Fathom Five Digital store (direct purchases give Jessie more royalties!).





Huge thank you to Kayla from Full Fathom Five Digital and Jessie Rosen for stopping by and sharing this amazing insight into Dead Ringer!

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