Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What Are You Reading?

Growing up, I was a huge reader. I was the kid who went to the library weekly and carried out a stack of books taller than I was, only to return the following week to do it all again. I think I actually read all of the young adult books they had in their stacks (or at least, what passed for young adult at the time) one summer.

As an adult, I read less, but I’m still an avid reader. I tend to stick to what interests me in the moment, rather than going for the popular “book club reads” or the ones that everyone has read and are now being made into movies. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, I just have to be in the mood.

The more stressed my life gets, the more I want to read romance. I need that happily ever after and the emotional highs and lows that come with it, in order to get myself out of the funk that the stress brings.

My problem with reading now, though, is that I am constantly noticing author mistakes. I’m not sure if I’m exposed to more new authors by belonging to writer groups and hearing about releases on social media pages, or if I’m more cognizant of editing and writing problems.

I know I’m certainly not perfect. I make mistakes that embarrass myself constantly and no matter how hard I try or how many times I proofread, something slips through. But there’s a difference between something slipping through and writers who don’t have a basic grasp of English grammar. And unless their story is so compelling that I just can’t put it down no matter what, I start and don’t finish many, many books.

To an avid reader like myself, who was taught to give the book a chance and keep reading because you don’t know what you’re going to miss, it kills me to have to hit “archive” on my Nook or Kindle (I can’t bear to erase the book completely). But my time is limited and I don’t have the patience for some of the problems I see.

I’ve also decided that because I can’t possibly read every single friend’s book (as a writer, I know a lot of other writers), I don’t tell people if or when I’m going to do so. If I read it and I enjoy it, I’m sure to tell the person. And I have quite a number of friends’ books on my TBR list. But the TBR list is long and it’s going to take me a while to get to it. Plus, I have a lot of friends who write wonderful books, but in genres that just don’t appeal to me.

And, despite knowing how much writers love reviews (myself included), I write very few of them. It’s awkward doing so for friends and I only do it if I think the book is spectacular. I’d much rather send the friend an email saying how much I enjoyed their book and let them quote me in their own publicity.

Currently, I’m reading a boxed set that I saw somewhere, probably Twitter, called Ten Brides for Ten Heroes. The name sounds a little cheesy, but the first book is fun and seems to be a very quick read. We’ll see how it goes.

What are you reading?

Monday, May 4, 2015


Ana shares an editing prompt that helps her to not rue her writing.

R.U.E. stands for Resist the Urge to Explain. It's a helpful editing prompt from Browne and King, authors of Self-Editng for Fiction Writers.

Telling your readers about your characters' emotions is not a good idea. Showing the emotions through dialogue and body actions is preferable most of the time. This lets the reader experience the story.

The challenge, obviously, is to write "some original bit of action or interior monologue that shows the emotion you want to describe.

When they are editing, Browne and King suggest simply cutting the explanation of the emotion. "If the emotion is still shown, then the explanation wasn't needed. It the emotion is now missing, rewrite the passage so that it is."

Adverbs ending in -ly almost always "catch the writer in the act of explaining dialogue--smuggling emotions into speaker attributions that belong in the dialogue itself." An exception is an -ly adverb characterizing the word 'said,'  as in 'said softly' or 'said clearly.'

Another prompt I use all the time when writing (so I don't have as many to catch when editing) is F.A.D.  This stands for Feeling. Action. Dialogue. Passages will make the most sense if you write how the POV character feels first. Then s/he does a physical action. Then speaks. I watch for this a lot  when writing and critiquing, and have found that the FAD order is the best arrangement most of time.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sunday Excerpt from Paula's 'Changing the Future'.

Lisa was laughing at her friend’s account of her kayaking efforts during the Easter weekend when Millie said suddenly, “Hey, look, Fiona Hall’s found herself a new man.”
She glanced at the two figures on the path leading diagonally across the lawn towards the Charlton Building. Even from a distance, their colleague Fiona Hall was unmistakable; immaculate as always, in a tight-fitting green skirt and jacket.
As her gaze moved to the man walking with Fiona, she frowned. There was something familiar about the tall, slim figure—the way he walked, and the way he tilted his head as he listened to Fiona.
Don’t be stupid, she told herself, but still couldn’t take her eyes off him. As the gap between them lessened, her blood started to run cold. It wasn’t—it couldn’t possibly be…
The man lifted his hand to flick back a stray strand of light brown hair from his forehead and she knew it was Paul.
For an insane moment, she wanted to run towards him, be scooped up in his arms again, see the laughter in his blue eyes, feel his soft and sensual mouth against hers.
Stunned by her reaction, by feelings she thought she’d totally suppressed, she stopped abruptly. Another thirty seconds and they’d come face-to-face. Panic made her heart thump against her ribs.
“I-I’ve just remembered—er, I need some—some class lists.” Without waiting for Millie to reply, she turned and quickened her pace back towards the Old House.
Dimly she heard Millie call out something about coffees in the cafeteria. The whole world had receded and she was aware only of the painful pounding in her chest. Shock mixed with incredulity. Paul here at Hillside? Her mind simply refused to believe what her eyes had seen.
When she reached the Old House, she went straight to the ladies’ room. To her relief, no one else was there. She didn’t dare think, didn’t dare allow herself to feel anything. Not until she’d managed to control the trembling which was shaking her whole body.
Had she really seen Paul Hamilton again? She rested her hands on the edge of the washbasin and took a few deep breaths. Maybe she’d imagined it, maybe it hadn’t been him at all, simply someone who looked like him. Walked like him, tilted his head in the same way, pushed back his hair with the same mannerism.
Her shoulders sagged. No, of course it was Paul.
Bringing her hands up to her cheeks, she shook her head as she tried to think. Why on earth was he here in the Lake District? It was light years away from their apartment in North London, her job with the BBC and Paul’s high-profile research at London University. Light years, too, from the life of love and laughter they’d once shared, until it had all gone wrong.
She bit her lower lip as memories constricted her throat. Then she swallowed hard, took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She could handle this, she really could.
There was absolutely no reason for her to be nervous. He was the one who’d wrongly accused her of having an affair and left her. She had nothing to be ashamed of. Except… A cold finger of fear ran down her spine. Except she’d never told him about his son…

'Changing the Future' is in the Spring Sale at Amazon, 99 cents / 99 pence
Lisa Marshall is stunned when celebrated volcanologist Paul Hamilton comes back into her life at the college where she now teaches. Despite their acrimonious break-up several years earlier, they soon realise the magnetic attraction between them is stronger than ever. 
However, the past is still part of the present, not least when Paul discovers Lisa has a young son. They can’t change the past, but will it take a volcanic eruption to help them change the future?


Friday, May 1, 2015

Q is for quagmire

Margaret talks about digging yourself into a quagmire

What do you do if you dig yourself into a quagmire, a big, murky bog from which there seems to be no escape? I’m guilty of having done this myself on occasion. I guess it’s a case of not plotting properly. But as I’ve said many times before I’m not a plotter.

So – do I get a shovel and dig myself out? Metaphorically speaking, yes I do. I carry on writing until I’m back on firm ground, and then get rid of the slush. It’s not an ideal way of writing. I wouldn’t advise it. But it’s my way and I cannot do it any differently.

I’ll give you an instance. In one of my books my heroine had an interesting back story and I made the unforgiveable mistake of putting it all in at once. Fatal! It’s something beginners do. I should have fed it in in bits and drabs before digging myself into this deep hole.  Naturally there was a lot of re-writing to do, time wasted if I hadn’t made that elementary mistake.

But, you know what they say, we all learn by our mistakes. How about you? Have you made many mistakes? Has it taught you a lesson? Do you do things properly the next time?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Q is for Quintessential Moments

Debra takes a look at the important parts of a story.

“There are several quintessential moments in a man’s life: losing his virginity, getting married, becoming a father, and having the right girl smile at you.” Kirby Keger - St. Elmo's Fire

For me, here are the quintessential moments in a story:

First meeting (or reunion if the characters have been apart).

First kiss.

First love scene.

Internal I love you moment. (When either of the characters realize he/she loves the other.) This could coincide with the internal I love you moment.

Second love scene. (If applicable.) Characters are in a different place emotionally with this one.

External I love you moment. (When those three little words are said out loud.) This could coincide with the external I love you moment.

Obviously, this is extremely simplified, but I think it hits the major turning points and emotional zingers in a story.

Would you add anything else? Take something away? Depending on the 'heat' level of your story, the loves scenes might not apply.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Questions - and answers

Paula tries to answer an interesting question about questions!

I was asked a question recently about how much information a character should give in answer to a question, which really got me thinking! Having a someone ask a question and someone else answering is a useful technique for giving your readers some important information, either about the character or about a plot development. However, there are pitfalls to watch out for!

Have you ever read a novel where a character asks a question, and is then given a long complicated answer, so much so that you’ve switched off half way through the paragraph, or in some cases, the whole page?

I’m thinking of one novel I read where the symbols expert (there, I’ve probably revealed the book I’m thinking of!) goes into lengthy explanations about symbols and history. We are treated to what almost amounts to a dissertation when, in fact, most of the answers the expert gave could have been condensed into a few concise sentences. I was left feeling that the author simply wanted to show off how much research he had done and therefore bombarded the reader with a lot of detailed  (and unnecessary) facts.

Similarly, I’ve read ‘backstory’ presented in a similar way, following questions such as, “What have you been doing since we last met?” or “Why did your grandmother (or aunt or whoever) bring you up?” The character then proceeds to tell all in lengthy detail.

In both these cases, the author is using the question and answer as an information dump, either to reveal his/her detailed research or to tell the reader about the past life history of one of the characters.

What should authors do instead?

In the case of the research information, yes, it is tempting to include the mass of details you have scribbled in your notebook - but only if you want to bore the reader to death! When I was writing ‘Changing the Future’, I did a lot of research about volcanoes, but probably only used about one percent of it in the story. I sometimes tell people that you have to research the other 99 percent to make sure your one percent is correct, but you only include what is absolutely necessary for your story.

With backstory, it is far better to ‘drip-feed’ it into the story at appropriate times. Any huge chunk of backstory, either in dialogue or in the inner thoughts of a character, inevitably breaks into the ‘present’ and slows the whole story down.

In most cases, with questions and answers, ‘less is more’. Don’t spell everything out in your characters’ questions and answers, don’t beat your readers over the head with lengthy explanations or descriptions, and don’t use ‘contrived’ questions and answers to dump information or advance the plot.

Instead, credit your readers with some intelligence and imagination, keep your questions and answers short and to the point, and use the ‘drip-fee’ technique to reveal information as and when it is necessary. Far better for the readers to formulate some questions in their minds, than to give them all the answers too soon!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Jennifer asks questions...

What happens next?

Why is he or she doing this?

Where did that come from?

Is this any good?

Will anyone read this?

Why do I bother?

These questions flit through my head constantly as I write. Okay, some of them stay in my head for longer than the amount of time “flit” implies (for the English bloggers here, the American version of this word means to move swiftly).

I take some of those questions more seriously than others. I’m constantly asking myself “What happens next” and making sure my characters’ answers to that question will actually work. As I write, I’m focusing on my characters’ motivations and making sure they are consistent with their actions. And like many writers, my characters surprise me frequently.

But the other questions, the ones about me, sneak in when I’m least expecting them to do so and I have to remind myself that self doubt is part of being an author, as much as hearing voices in my head is.

That’s why finding two articles yesterday reaffirming the value of romance authors was so heartening. The first article was an old interview with Nora Roberts, the queen of romance. What I liked best about it was her pro-feminist stance. You can read the article here:

The second article stuck up for romance writers, and talked about their value even when the writing industry typically doesn’t. You can read that article here:

So the next time those questions flit through my head, I’m going to remember the articles and the female authors who have come before me.