Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Last week I wrote about the first draft of a novel, and the work you then need to do before submitting it.

One good piece of advice I’ve read is to do nothing for a week or so. Catch up on all the housework you’ve been ignoring, go pull up some weeds from the garden, treat yourself to a lunch or dinner with friends – whatever will keep you away from your novel for a while. You’re never going to be completely objective about it, but after a break from the intensity of creating it, you can come back to it with fresh eyes.

What Next? You may already know where there are weaknesses in structure or characterisation, so the first thing is to get these right. Sometimes you need to incorporate an extra scene, or change one you’ve already written. I’ve also had to layer in (naturally and unobtrusively!) more details about a secondary character who ended up playing a larger part in the story than I’d first anticipated.
Another good piece of advice is to print it out, chapter by chapter, since the ‘technical’ errors (punctuation and spacing etc) and typos are often easier to spot on a printed page, rather than on your computer screen. Read it out loud too. This can often highlight awkward sentences and show where your word flow can be improved.

Watch out for inconsistencies and continuity errors. Have the hero’s eyes changed from blue to brown? Did the heroine arrive at work in the morning and half an hour later go off for dinner with the hero? In my current WIP, I know I’m going to have to double-check whether I’ve put the heroine’s ‘office’ at college on the first or second floor as I think I’ve changed its location half way through.

It’s so easy to miss very obvious errors. Here’s a paragraph from a best-selling author, (who shan’t be named but you may be able to guess!):
A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not move." On his hands and knees, the curator froze, turning his head slowly. Only fifteen feet away, outside the sealed gate, the mountainous silhouette of his attacker stared through the iron bars.
Spot the errors? Fifteen feet away is chillingly close? Can you freeze and turn your head slowly at the same time? How can a mountainous silhouette stare? These are the kinds of thing that ought to jump out at you as you re-read your work.

The next step is to look at your style. Check for clichés and find a different way to express them. Look at your spelling and sentence structure. Do you have a series of sentences starting with ‘She’ or ‘He’? Re-write them and vary the start of each sentence.

Delete unnecessary dialogue tags and/or too many synonyms for ‘said’. The word ‘said’ is hardly noticed by a reader, whereas a plethora of synonyms like retorted, exclaimed, gasped, muttered, ordered etc etc can distract reader from what the characters are actually saying. Find action verbs instead of using adverbs. ‘She said nervously’ can be replaced with an action like lacing and unlacing her fingers. Look for the times when you can show, not tell.

Get rid of redundant actions too. You know the kind of thing (Ana wrote about this on Monday). I just took my own advice and changed: Her phone rang again and she picked it up, then pursed her lips when she saw the name on the screen. Of course she had to pick it up to see the name. So and she picked it up has been deleted.

Be aware of over-used words and phrases. You probably already know the ones you use too much. In Word you can use ‘edit’ and then ‘find’ to hunt for them and change them.

The editing process can be time-consuming, but it’s worth the effort. There is plenty of other advice in books and on websites about editing, so I’ll end with one last point. Don’t over-edit! Know when to stop ‘tweaking’ otherwise you’ll never have that final manuscript ready for submission.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Endings—It’s More Than “The End”

For me, one of the most difficult things to write is the ending. There are so many endings within a story—there’s the ending of a scene; the ending of the chapter and the ending of the book itself. Figuring out how to strike just the right tone and satisfy everyone can be tricky.

In my head, I often think in scenes, which is great as far as adding to what the characters are going to do or say. It’s also great to be able to sit down and bang out a scene, rather than a few sentences at a time. But sometimes it can be difficult when it comes to moving the reader along. A beach scene will pop into my head, so I’ll scurry off to my computer and get it down. I can get my characters to the beach, show what they’re doing there, reveal what they’re thinking. Are they at the beach to swim or is this a chance to show their attraction to each other—come on, there are probably women in bikinis, attraction shouldn’t be difficult! Is it a sweet family scene, with kids building sandcastles or a couple having sex behind the dunes? Regardless of what’s going on, I can see it in my head, so I can basically get it on paper. My problem, however, becomes how to end the scene. Quite often, the ending that I have in my head is not the kind of hook that I’m told we need to have to keep the reader interested. Sometimes, a pacing requirement means that I can’t end every scene with an “OMG” kind of ending—there has to be time to breathe. Other times, there has to be a smooth transition between scenes, so that the story doesn’t look like a bunch of taped together moments.

I run into the same difficulty when it comes to chapter endings. My critique partner always marks up my manuscript if I end a chapter with a character going to sleep. Okay, I get her point, sleeping is not that interesting. It probably doesn’t move the story along (although it’s quite useful to show time passing) and it might make the reader decide to go to sleep herself, rather than turning the page to continue reading. But sometimes, the chapter just has to end and finding an interesting way of doing that can be tough.

When it comes to ending the story, my idea of where to end the story is often different from my characters’ ideas. I’m a pantser, so I write as the ideas hit me. I start to put my ideas to paper, and then my characters laugh at me and point me in the direction that they want to go. Quite often, the ending I planned at the beginning of the story is not the ending that I end up with. Sometimes, it’s even better than what I expected. Other times, it shows me that I’m not there yet, and I have to keep writing until I write an ending that satisfies both my characters and me (and hopefully, my readers!).

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Webster’s II New College Dictionary defines ‘Ellipsis’ as:
a) the omission of a word or phrase required for a complete syntactical construction but not necessarily for understanding.
b) a mark or series of marks [eg. …or ***] used in writing or printing for indicating an omission, esp. of letters or words.

In their book Self-Editing for Writers, Renni Browne and Dave King discuss a syndrome I have. Namely, feeling the need to describe every move a character makes. Every step she takes.

‘The phone rang. Geraldine walked across the room and picked it up. “Hello,” she said.’

Browne and King suggest editing this to: The phone rang. “Hello,” said Geraldine. Why? Because the reader knows we (used to) have to walk to a phone to answer it.

“When you fill in all the details and leave nothing to your readers’ imaginations, you’re patronizing them. It’s the influence of movies and television again—readers are used to jump-cuts from scene to scene rather than long traditional shots.”

I'm editing my WIP with this, and many other, craft caveats. So many swirling in my head. But step-by-step descriptions of mundane actions have become boring to read, and tedious to write. I'm happy to let ellipses do some of my work.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday Friend - Anna James

Please welcome Anna James. The second book in her Bradford Sisters trilogy has just been published by Sugar and Spice Press. Shattered Dreams is a contemporary novella about a newly wed, and newly pregnant, couple.

I posed the following questions to Anna, and here are her responses.

1. What sort of schedule do you follow for writing? I try to dedicate at least 30 minutes to 1 hour per day to promoting my books and at least two hours to writing.

2. What tends to get in the way and how do you overcome it? My job gets in the way, family obligations, life in general. The way I look at it is there will always be something that takes away from the time when I could be writing so I do my best to write as often as I can. If I miss a day I don’t beat myself up about it but I do try to write for a longer period of time the next day.

3. Did you plot or pantser your new release? Usually I am a pastser when it comes to writing. I don’t write sequential scenes and I let my characters dictate where I go with the story. In the case of Shattered Dreams – Book 2 Bradford Sisters Trilogy, I actually did some plotting.

4. Did you use any maps or sheets? Why or why not? I used a story outline. I’m not sure why I deviated from my norm. I just found it easier to write this story with an outline versus not having one.

5. Did you slip a real, personal experience into your new release? Not in this particular case although I have used personal experiences in past books.

6. Can you tell us what that was and how you changed it? In my book Isabella’s Dilemma, the hero and heroine, Jake McAllistar and Isabella Sheridan, go to San Francisco for a business trip. While they are there they go site-seeing. They see all the places I saw when I went with my family to San Francisco. I even use an incident that took place on my trip in the book. In another story, To Love and Trust Again (Melange Book Available January 2012 the heroine lives in Buffalo, NY which is where I grew up.

7. Do you have a favorite food or drink while you write, or as a reward for so many completed pages? My favorite sweet is chocolate and sometimes I reward myself with some if I get really inspired and get a lot of writing done.

8. How do you approach editing and revising? I usually incorporate the changes the editor requests. In my experience the changes they request usually make the story better.

9. Do you have critique partners or beta readers? I use my mother as a beta reader and a friend as well. My mother loves romance novels and writes as well so she is a good judge from that perspective. My friend is not into romance novels so if I engage her I believe I’m on the right path.

10. How long between submission to your publisher and acceptance? That can vary from publisher to publisher. I had one story (a short) that was accepted within 24 hours of being submitted and another (a short novel) that took over twelve weeks to be accepted. The novel took longer because the publisher wanted only the first three chapters with the initial submittal. I had to wait and see if they would request more. Luckily they did. But multiple submittals take time. Other things that can influence the amount of time it takes to hear from a publisher include the number of submissions they are currently reviewing. If a publisher is overwhelmed with submissions at the time when you decide to send a story in it usually takes longer for a reply.

11. Please tell our followers something about how they worked with you. Different publishers have different levels of involvement with the author. I have been fortunate in that my experiences with the two publishers I have worked with to date have been very positive. In each case the editors assigned to my stories worked with me to make my stories better – they were more polished. I also worked with the various cover artists to create covers for my books.

12. If you could spend an afternoon with anyone in history, who would it be and what would you do together? Sigmund Freud. I would love to pick his brain on male / female relationships.

Book Excerpt:
Reed walked into the house and found Natalie asleep on the couch. She is so beautiful; he thought and leaned down to lightly brush a strand of hair away from her face. It was pale. That meant she’d been sick again. He bent over and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. Her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled. “Hi, sweetheart. I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Natalie stretched and sat up. “What time is it?”
Reed glanced at his watch.
“It’s a little after five.”
“Oh no, we’re supposed to be at the house for the barbecue in less than an hour. Why didn’t you wake me?” she asked and stood up. “Oh, God.” She groaned and swayed then dropped back down.
“Honey, are you okay?”
“Yes. I’m just a little dizzy.”
“Don’t move. I’m going to call Max and tell him we’ll have to reschedule,” he said as he pulled his cell phone from its holder.
Natalie put her hand on his arm. “No, don’t do that. I’ll be fine in just a minute. I just stood up too fast, that’s all.”
“Nat, I’m worried about you.”
She smiled wearily. “I’m fine. Maybe if I eat a little something I’ll feel better. Can you get me some saltine crackers, please?”
“Are you feeling nauseous?”
“No, but I didn’t eat anything for lunch—”
“I thought you were meeting your sisters?”
“I did but they ordered fish and I got one whiff of it and had to run for the bathroom.”
“Were they surprised why you told them you were pregnant?” Reed asked and smiled.
“I didn’t tell them.”
He frowned. “Didn’t they wonder why you were suddenly sick?”
“I didn’t give them the opportunity to ask.”
“I thought you would have told them.”
“Why? You know I don’t want to tell anyone right now.”
Reed dragged his fingers through his hair and sighed. “I told Max this afternoon.”
“Damn it, Reed. We agreed to wait.”
“I know, I know but I really thought you’d say something and… Oh, Nat please don’t cry.”
“I can’t help it. I didn’t want to say anything. Not yet and we agreed. Why did you tell him? You know he’ll say something to Nicole and… Oh God,” she sobbed even
harder then turned and ran from the room.

Author Bio:
Hello, I, Anna James, am a romance novel junkie! In addition to reading romance novels, and I have read well over 1000 in my adult life, I love to write them. Specifically, I love to write stories that allow you take a break from everyday life and get lost in a world filled passion, drama and, of course, romance!

My first story was published in July 2010 and I five more published since that date.

Current titles available include:
from Sugar and Spice Press
Isabella's Dilemma
Guilty As Charged - Bradford Sisters #1
Shattered Dreams - Bradford Sisters Trilogy #2 Visions, a paranormal romance

from Melange-Books
Coming Home Christmas Collectibles - A Picture Perfect Christmas (anthology)
Coming January 2012 To Love and Trust Again

To read more about Anna, visit her website:
or Facebook:

Thanks for being here today, Anna.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

D is for Dinner

Okay, so obviously I have turkey on the brain today. Thanksgiving is such a great holiday. It has all the best things in, friends, and food! I for one can't wait to dive into tender, juicy turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, sweet, crisp corn, and spicy pumpkin pie.

But I digress...

Dinner, or any other meal, in a book can really add some depth to your characters and your story. Not to mention that it's a great way to include those five senses that are oh-so-important in writing. It's a great time to add meaningful conversation as your characters get to know one another. It's also such a normal thing to do it can make our characters come to life in a very real way.

The main thing to remember, though, is once dinner is in front of your characters, don't just leave it there. Make sure your characters are interacting with the food. Eating it is an obvious thing, (sipping the wine, biting into crispy, juicy fried chicken, savoring the last spoonful of ice cream from the bottom of the carton...) but there are other things that happen during a dinner scene that can be very telling.

Maybe the heroine is nervous, and no matter how good the food looks, she can't eat a bite.

Maybe she can't wait for dinner to be over (You know, so she and the hero can move on to, um (wink) dessert.) so she fiddles with her food instead of eating it.

Maybe the hero cooks dinner for the heroine. Or she cooks for him. What would they make for each other? Even preparing food can give your characters something to do; some action to counteract all of those dialogue tags.

And of course, food can be sensual...I wrote a scene once where chocolate figured prominently. One of my favorite lines from the whole book sums it up: Zach raised a disbelieving eyebrow. “Jess, I have you naked and covered in chocolate. Do you really think I care about the damn bedspread?”

Dinner can be elegant, casual, at home, in a restaurant, or on the go. Where you have your characters dine and what they eat can be an important part of the story. Have some fun with it. Just make sure it's part of the story, there for a purpose.

Until next time,

Happy Reading and Happy Thanksgiving!

Available now: A Christmas to Remember

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Phew, you got there! Hero and heroine have overcome all the obstacles you threw at them and they’ve reached their ‘Happy Ever After’ ending. Triumphantly you write (or type) ‘The End’ and get ready to send off your ms. to the publisher of your choice.

Whoa, hold on a minute! This is the First Draft – and there’s still a lot of work to do.

In this month’s UK ‘Writing’ magazine, one publisher says that most aspiring writers make their first error by submitting far too soon without realising how much re-writing needs to be done. He lists a ‘10-draft’ process: typing out a rough draft, tightening the structure, developing the characters, improving the dialogue, working on the language, restructuring some parts, adding layers of conflict, improving crucial opening pages, more work on character development and finally proof-reading for mistakes.

A pretty scary list, right? I’m not sure it would actually take 10 drafts, since some could be combined. But the important point is that a first draft is very much a ‘first’ and can’t be considered as a manuscript which is ready for submission.

Normally, even in my first drafts, I tend to agonise over language and dialogue, trying to get it right the first time. However, having just taken part in NaNowriMo, with the aim of 50K words during November, I’ve surprised myself by being able to abandon my ‘inner editor’ as I sprint-wrote the whole story (57,380 words) in 21 days.

Okay, so it was pre-plotted (unlike my normal pantser method) as I was trying a rewrite/updating of a novel I wrote in the 1970’s. It did require some serious updating, especially my style, and also some of the content, since the world has changed since the 1970’s. Cell phones and email probably present the trickiest problem in updating because it’s so much easier now for characters to contact each other.

Even so, I’ve been aware that it was what I call ‘lazy’ writing. I ignored my usual careful honing of words to convey the exact meaning I wanted, I let adverbs and speech tags slip by, I repeated my favourite words and phrases (probably ad nauseam), my heroine’s heart did so many jumps and jerks, she’s in danger of an imminent heart attack. I also ignored the detailed research which can often hold me up for a long time. My mantra became ‘I’ll fix that later.’

But, at the end of 21 days, I have a first draft. The hero and heroine finally got to their happy ever after ending. However, I know I’m nowhere near that ending.

Could I submit this as it is now? No way. It’s the first time I’ve ever written a real ‘rough draft’ and, believe me, it IS rough! I know I still have a HUGE amount of work to do. 10 drafts? Maybe that’s what it will need.

How many drafts do you write, and what do you concentrate on improving with each draft?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

(Character) Development--It's All His Fault!

This counts as “D, ” right? ;) I was actually going to write about deadlines, but as I started thinking about deadlines, I started thinking about the pressure of meeting them and the paralysis it sometimes causes. I’ve got a self-imposed deadline for editing my current WIP and I realize that one of the problems I’m having with meeting that deadline is not actually the pressure of that deadline, because really, self-imposed means I can change it (who’s gonna tell?), but rather the development of my character. In other words, it’s not my fault, it’s HIS!

I’ve got a hero who would be wonderful, if only I’d paid attention to that one detail, character development (for the purposes of this blog, this week, it will be referred to from here on in as “development”). Like a lot of my characters, this one is based, very loosely, on an actor I saw on TV. I liked the actor’s looks—not too perfect, but still good looking; approachable; great eyes; and based on the character he portrays on TV, a nice personality. The problem is, he’s pretty bland, especially if that’s all I’ve got.

I hear the mantra, “know your characters” all the time, but when it came time to actually developing him (his name is Nathaniel, by the way), I think I may have skimped a bit. Sure, I have character traits on my outline—I know he’s a single dad, he’s new to congregation (the story is a romance with a Jewish theme), he’s divorced, he likes Sam Adams beer and the author Dan Brown, he has slate-blue eyes, he’s a lawyer and he lives on the Upper East Side of New York. But that’s not enough.

I need to know why he does what he does. He doesn’t like being the object of gossip—why not? He doesn’t confide in people easily—why not? What are his hopes and dreams? What are his desires for his daughter? Does he like being a lawyer? Why did he get divorced? What attracted him to his first wife originally? What attracts him to the heroine now?

Without knowing those things, and more, I can’t possibly develop him into a fully rounded, three dimensional character that readers can respond to, relate to and about whom they can care. And without knowing my hero, I can’t possibly make my heroine someone he’d want to be with and give them the happily ever after they deserve, and readers want. Without developing him further, I can’t move the action along because I don’t truly understand how he’d react or, for that matter, what actions he’d cause.

So, instead of looking at my word count and going, “Uh oh, what other scenes can I add?”, I need to sit down and have a conversation with Nathaniel. Maybe invite him to Thanksgiving dinner to get to know him better. As long as he doesn’t eat the apple pie—I’m NOT sharing!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

I'll have one Dialogue, please

How does the following paragraph read to you? Is the order logical? Smooth? Does it feel polished?

"I'm sorry," Amy said. "I'm just not ready."
Her hand trembled as she stared down at the small, black jeweler's box.
Her mind raced through her now-familiar list of marriage pros and cons.

There are guidelines to follow when writing action - reaction so sequences are logical and smooth. Evan Marshall simplifies it to F-A-D = feelings/thoughts, action, dialogue.

A heroine's feelings or thoughts come first. This may need a paragraph or a page, or she may have a split second flash.

Then she reacts to what she has felt (or thought) with a physical action. She freezes. She smiles. She looks around frantically. She throws her arms around her lover's neck. The action is justified by her just-stated inner state.

Then she speaks. What she says will advance the story because it will invite a response reaction from whoever is in the scene with her.

Based on F-A-D, the opening pararaph would read:

As she stared down at the small, black jeweler's box, Amy's mind raced through her now-familiar list of pros and cons. Her hand trembled. "I'm sorry. I'm just not ready."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Friend - Rosemary Gemmell

Romy Gemmell’s first historical novel, Dangerous Deceit, set in Regency England, was published by Champagne Books in Canada in May 2011. Her first tween novel, Summer of the Eagles, which is set in Scotland, is being published by MuseItUp Publishing in Canada in March 2012 (as Ros).

Her short stories and articles are published in UK magazines, in the US, and Online, under her full name, Rosemary, and her children’s stories are in three different anthologies. One of her short stories was included in the fundraising book, ‘100 Stories for Haiti’ in 2010. A historical short story was published in ‘The Waterloo Collection’, launched by the late professor Richard Holmes in April 2011. She has won a few competitions and will be a short story adjudicator at the annual Scottish Association of Writers’ Conference in March 2012.

Romancing History

Thank you very much for having me on the lovely Heroines with Hearts Blog – love the name!

A while ago, I changed my Regency blog to the title of Romancing History as I thought it a better indication of its contents since I’m not sticking to Regency fiction, either as a reader or writer. The other reason was because I write historical romance (sometimes) and not serious history books. Does that mean the historical facts don’t matter? Of course not, but perhaps we are allowed to romanticise them a little in using our creative imagination.

We can never truly know what it was like to live in any particular era apart from our own, as “the past is a foreign country” according to L.P. Hartley. So we thoroughly research our period and try to depict the setting, background and everyday life as accurately as possible.  But, wait, we’re writing romantic fiction, therefore surely the characters and their stories are far more important than anything else? Absolutely, but if that were the only consideration, then the story might be transferable to any period of history and still make sense.

So it follows that one of the most important aspects of historical fiction is making sure a particular story and characters could only work within the bounds of their own time. It means grounding the novel in the culture and history of its era, checking that real events actually fit into the time span of the story, and making sure the language is appropriate for the period. That means being very careful to check for anachronisms – words and phrases that would not be in existence at the time. Nothing throws a reader out of a story quicker than reading a 20th century expression in a novel written about a previous era. It’s easy enough to Google a linguistic question, as long as you check the answer with at least two sources.

I love to mention real historical figures if possible when writing about the past, as it is another way of grounding the story in reality. Again we can research historical figures and find out lots of facts about them fairly easily. But part of the fun is taking those bare facts and bringing the character to life through the dialogue we give them when interacting with the fictional characters. For instance, I’ve given words to Lord Byron and Robert Burns in two different novels, and the Duke of Wellington in a short story, while trying to remain true to what is known about them.

One of the pleasures of historical fiction is being transported to another time and place, exploring the lives and loves of particular characters. Hopefully, we might learn a little history on the way, even if it is a romanticised version of the past!

Thanks so much for this, Rosemary. As a former history teacher, I can endorse everything you say!

You can find out more about Rosemary/Romy/Ros at

General writing/information blog:

Historical writing blog:
Children’s writing blog:
Twitter: @rosemarygemmell

Dangerous Deceit is published by

Thursday, November 17, 2011

C is for Country Music

It might sound overly dramatic to say Country Music defined my life, but in a sense it's true.

Growing up, my folks listened to country music. I hated it. Although, my first concert-going experience was to a Kenny Rogers concert. We all got dressed up and the whole family went.

Inevitably, almost as a sign of rebellion, I found a different outlet for my musical taste. In junior high it was Rick Springfield and then in high school the advent of the 80s hair bands had my sister and I going to a different 'metal' concert almost every month. We had a blast. I was definitely an 80s head-banger. It even continued into college where, much to my roommate's chagrin, I had a life-sized poster of Jon Bon Jovi on my closet door. (Jon Bon Jovi still does it for me!)

After I graduated from college, I happened to take a trip to Texas to visit a high school friend who was going to school down there. It was then that country music came back into my life. And there it stayed.

From then on I was hooked, and it led to so many other things, which really did lead me down a certain path in life:

I met my husband at a country bar. We learned to dance together. And fell in love. He's my best friend in the whole world and I owe it all to the music I listen to. (The bar eventually became the setting for my first novel: This Time for Always.) We made friends at the bar (which sadly is closed now) that we still keep in contact with today. Some were even in our wedding. Some of our most memorable moments while dating came while at "Country Thunder", a multi-day outdoor concert/camping experience.

I really do think John Deere tractors are sexy thanks to Kenny Chesney.

Most of my books have somewhat of a country feel. Their corresponding soundtracks are always country. If my hero isn't a cowboy, or something else close to it, he at the very least drives a pick-up truck or wears boots. Certain country songs have sparked ideas which have turned into complete stories.

I even work out to country music most of the time: Toby Keith and Eric Church can rock with the best of them.

And I've learned to love all of those old country classics my parents used to listen to.

There are many folks out there who don't care for country music, but as for me, without it, I wouldn't be who I am today.

Until next time,


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Critique Partners

For NaNoWriMo (the annual National Novel Writing Month) I’ve been rewriting a novel which I first wrote in the 1970’s. In those pre-internet days, I’d never heard of critique partners. I did have what is now called a beta-reader but she was a non-writer friend who read my chapters and helped me brainstorm ideas for the development of the story.

I hadn’t even looked at this particular novel for years; now, having read it again, I’ve realised how much it needed the help of a critique partner. Okay, it was published exactly as I wrote it (without any editorial input), so maybe the style of my writing was ‘normal’ at that time. Now it simply makes me cringe!

I started writing romance again about five years ago and know I was still writing in my ‘old’ style to start with. I only have to look at my first ‘fan-fiction’ stories and the first novel I wrote to realise that. Then I started to change my style.

Why? Because I found two great critique partners. I've never met them - I'm in the UK and they're in the USA, but during the last couple of years, we’ve worked together (and become friends too).

Writing, as I know from when I was writing my early novels and knowing no other writers at the time, can be a lonely job, and it’s good to have a friend who is prepared to read your work and give you his/her honest opinion. The word honest is important. I don’t want just positive feedback with a few ‘nice’ comments, although a comment of ‘Great, this really worked well’ does wonders for one’s confidence. But at the same time, I want a genuine opinion and, if necessary, hard-hitting comments.

A good CP can help you to improve both your storyline and your writing style. They can highlight your word or phrase repetition, overuse of passive verbs and adverbs, and telling rather than showing. I was guilty of all of these but didn’t actually realise it until my CPs told me. I’m sure they could list plenty of other errors too!

Sometimes (often?) we can get too close to our own story and characters. A critique partner comes to it with fresh eyes and can point out the things that you may have overlooked. They can look at the big picture and tell you what is working and what isn’t, where the plot holes or anomalies are and whether the pace of the story is too slow or too fast. They can also help you to brainstorm when your story runs into a sticky patch.

It works both ways, too. Critiquing someone else’s work has the double bonus of helping yourself as well as (hopefully) helping them. I have learnt a lot about what works and what doesn’t from critiquing.

Now I’m going through the process of critquing my own 1970’s novel, and the errors I made in the original are jumping out at me. Before I worked with my CPs, I doubt I would have noticed any of those errors.

So this is a tribute to my critique partners – with a million thanks to them both for their help, support, encouragement and friendship!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Characters—Who’s Driving the Story?

There are all different ways to drive your story, but for me, it’s the characters. I love character-driven stories. They have characters that are three dimensional and memorable. They make the story “why” based, rather than “how” based.

Martha Alderson, an international plot consultant and the founder of Blockbuster Plots for Writers., describes it this way:

Broadly speaking, writers who prefer writing action-driven stories focus on logical thinking, rational analysis, and accuracy. Action-driven writers tend to rely more on the left side of their brain. These writers approach writing as a linear function and see the story in its parts. Action-driven writers like structure. They usually pre-plot or create an outline before writing. Action-driven writers have little trouble expressing themselves in words.

On the other hand, writers who write character-driven stories tend to focus on aesthetics and feelings, creativity and imagination. These writers access the right side of their brains and enjoy playing with the beauty of language. They are more intuitive, and like to work things out on the page. Character-driven writers are holistic and subjective. They can synthesize new information, but are somewhat (or more) disorganized and random. They see the story as the whole. Right brain writers may know what they mean, but often have trouble finding the right words.

While I don’t think I’m disorganized or random, I do agree in general with what Alderson says. My stories start out with the characters—who are they, what do they do and think, why do they do and think that, what would happen to them if I did this? I tend to develop scenes around a particular thought or emotion given by that character and then string those scenes together to make a story. Sometimes it works, and I end up with a complete manuscript. Other times, I have a great scene, but that’s about all.

I like to delve into the psychological reactions and reasons for what my characters do. What are the obstacles that are preventing the hero and heroine from getting together? For me, those obstacles are usually not tangible, external conflicts, but rather emotional or internal conflicts. I enjoy figuring out what they are and how to solve them—and it’s so much easier solving a fictional character’s neurosis than my own! J

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Shhh. It's Confidential.

A main character's confidant can be a best friend, kindly neighbor, grandparent, or business partner. This character listens to the hero as he ticks off reasons why he has to shoulder the blame and go on alone. The confident can supply information or try (unsuccessfully) to stop the headstrong hero.

A confidant offers advice even when it's not wanted. When the heroine proclaims she could never love that awful hero, the confidant helps the her talk though her feelings. The confidant always helps the heroine achieve her goal.

For a writer, a confidant is an ideal tool. With the interaction between a lead and his or her confidant, active dialogue replaces what otherwise could be long passages of introspection.

Donald Maas says, "The best kind of confidant is a character who is already part of the lead's life and would naturally play [the role of sounding board,] but who has reason to exist in her own right."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Friend - Jane Richardson

Please welcome today's Friday Friend, Jane Richardson.

Scots-born Jane Richardson now lives on the coast in the south of England.  After a couple of fantastic careers, the last of which was her dream job as a DSM in professional theatre and opera – where she met her husband - she’s now a home-educating Mum to two gorgeous kids. When she gets the chance, she loves to write, read, listen to music, walk in the sunshine and the breeze, paddle at the edge of the sea, and cook and share food, chat and good times with family and friends.  She’s also fond of lemurs!

Read Right – Write Right!

Thanks Paula and everyone at Heroines With Hearts for having me here! 

I’ve been thinking about something I heard a writer say the other day – how she often found it very difficult just to read for fun, now that she spends so much time writing.  She found it hard to suspend her judgement, or take off her ‘critique hat.’  The things that were ‘wrong’ with a piece of writing tended to jump out at her more than things that were ‘right,’ and this was spoiling her reading pleasure.

Hmm.  Well, I sort of know what she means, and I bet there are lots of writers who’ll say the same thing – how they find it hard to enjoy books that don’t meet up to their ‘high writing standards.’  Is it really the case that when we become writers, our ‘reading standards’ suddenly change?  Perhaps up to a point they do, though I’m afraid I’ve never ever really been one to give a book more than a couple of chances anyway.  So many times I've started a book with high hopes only to drop it in disappointment before end of first chapter. 

Call me impetuous, but I’m afraid I tend not to keep reading in the hope that the book will improve – it invariably doesn’t, and it gets quietly dropped to one side while I go to the next one in the TBR pile.  Too many books, too little time!

But you know that old thing about making lemonade out of lemons?  Well, you can use that here.  Use your reading time as a valuable learning resource.  We can use identify what works or doesn’t work in a story, and why, and incorporate the positive things into our own writing.  This doesn't mean copying a style or another author's voice, not at all – it means sorting the good stuff from the less good, and using that experience to focus in a positive and honest way in your own work, and change what needs changing. 

Very often, and most telling of all, a lot of these things can be spotted in the first few pages.  As writers, we need to take note of that - after all, if I’m prepared to stop reading a book in the first chapter, I have to accept readers might do the same with my writing, unless I work very hard to make absolutely sure they want to keep reading!

So what is it that keeps us reading, and stops us from hurling a book aside with great force to ricochet off the wall and land face-down in the nearest bin?  I’ve picked out just a few of my likes and dislikes to illustrate what I mean, and called them Dodgy Moments and Learning Curves.  I’m sure you have lots of your own, so please do feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section!

Dodgy Moment 1 – Does the writer open the story by setting the scene quickly and launching me on a forward journey from the get-go?  How many times have you read on to a second or third paragraph where the writer has felt the need to start explaining the story, when all a reader wants to do is read the story?
Learning Curve 1 – opening with explanation or backstory can deal a killer bow to you story.  You rarely need it, and it’s certainly not appropriate in the opening sections of a book.  Trust your reader to fall in step with you as you move forward – you’re taking them on a wonderful journey, and if they trust you, they’ll go willingly.  If you feel your story simply won’t stand up without some backstory, then you might want to consider if you’ve started the story in the right place.

Dodgy Moment 2 – now that the story’s moving, does it keep moving?  Or did I have to go back and re-read sections again, before I understood what the writer meant?
Learning Curve 2 - a story has to flow.  A reader might be prepared to re-read a section once, but twice is pushing a writer’s luck, and three times is way too much to keep a reader interested.  This is where good, honest feedback is invaluable to a writer in the early stages of a manuscript.  A good critique partner should be able to spot this for you, and when they do, get rid of it.

Dodgy Moment 3 - ‘It was a dark and stormy night….  I’m talking about those dreaded clichés.  Has the drowning writer grabbed the cliché straw with yet another ‘ruby liquid’ or a ‘defiant chin?’
Learning Curve 3 - one cliché is one too many.  Use all the clichés you like in your first draft, especially if it gets you out of a hole at the time, but you absolutely must go back and get rid of them before you put your story in front of a paying reader.  If they feel they’ve read it all before, why on earth would they want to keep reading?

Dodgy Moment 4 – can you tell the characters apart from the way they speak, or do they all sound the same?  Do they all use perfectly constructed, grammatically correct sentences?  Into the same category comes accents and dialogue – are you being asked to read an awful of of words you just don’t understand, or work out what a character is trying to say by trying to make sense of a bagload of peculiar spellings?
Learning Curve 4 – think about each character’s individual speech pattern.  The rhythm of a person’s speech, as well as the words they choose to use, is far more effective than worrying about whether or not their grammar and syntax is correct, or whether you’ve ‘written out’ an accent phonetically.  Rhythm and word choice is also a very effective way of highlighting your characters’ individuality, especially when you have a lot of characters in the same scene or chapter - use their individual assets to make them shine.

Dodgy Moment 5 - when we’re first introduced to the characters, are they too good to be true?  Too nasty to be true?
Learning Curve 5 – think about just how realistic your character’s behaviour is, especially if you’re trying to portray someone initially as less-than-perfect.  In contemporary times in particular, women are less likely to give arrogance a second chance, but will either respond to it or not bother with the guy again.  Even if you’re aiming for a misunderstanding between characters or a mistaken impression that will be corrected later, a baddie with roots in Victorian melodrama belongs in Victorian melodrama and nowhere else!

Those are just a few of my thoughts – I’d love to hear yours!

Thanks, Jane, for such a lot of interesting points to think about!

Jane’s latest release is a short story called Edinburgh Fog, published by MuseItUp Publishing. 

You can read more about Jane and her future projects at her blog Home Is Where The Heart Is -

Thursday, November 10, 2011

B is for Bull Riders absolute favorite kind of cowboy!

I'm not sure what I like best. How his Wranglers accentuate the swagger in his step. The well worn boots. The Stetson pulled low to shade his brooding eyes. The chaps that outline his perfect butt. Or just the fact that he's willing to face off against a 2,000 pound beast and finds the danger exciting and exhilarating. He's the sexiest bad boy around, but he's always the perfect gentleman, which is why the ladies can't resist him.

That being said, there was no doubt in my mind that one day I'd write a book with a bull rider as the hero. I've been working on it for a while, and this summer I polished it up, sent it to my editor at Wild Rose, and waited.

Yesterday I heard back...ahead of schedule (the editor had promised to get back to me by December).

At first I was bummed. She felt the story needs some tweaking before it's ready to be published. Now don't get me wrong...I'm always looking for ways to improve my writing and make it better, but when someone tells you your baby isn't good's a little heart-breaking.

But the more I thought about it, the better I felt. This will give me the opportunity to make this book the best it can be.

I'm confident that someday, Jake's story will be out there. It might not be as soon as I'd hoped, but it'll get there.

Plus, in the meantime, this gives me the prefect excuse to watch more bull riding on TV in the name of research. Or maybe catch some local rodeos live and in person at county fairs. (Which is where I took these pictures.) What more could a girl ask for?

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

Now available: A Christmas to Remember (from TWRP)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Books - real or digital?

Last April I wrote a blog, as part of the A-Z Challenge, about real books versus e-books. I declared very firmly:

“I’ve been firmly in the ‘real books’ camp for a long time. I love books. All the shelves in my home bear witness to that. I haven’t counted, but there must be several hundred.

Most of them I’ll never read again, but I hate parting with them. If I take a bag of books to the local charity shop (simply to make some room on the shelves), I agonise over which to put into the bag.

I like a real book in my hands. I like the look, feel and smell of it. I love browsing in bookshops, both new and used, studying titles and authors, reading the blurb, sometimes dipping into a few pages.

I was convinced I wouldn’t succumb to an electronic book reader. Quite apart from my love of real books, I don’t particularly enjoy learning how to cope with ‘new’ technology.

But then my daughter showed me her ‘Kindle’ and demonstrated how easy it was to download e-books. My interest was kindled (pardon the pun!)

I started thinking of the almost-two-inch thick tome I put in my suitcase for holiday reading last year. How much easier to take a slim e-reader instead.

I started thinking about the American-published books by many of my internet friends. How much easier to download these instead of waiting for them to be mailed (and paying extra for postage and packing).

I started thinking of no longer having to clear some room on my shelves to make room for new books.

My daughter then bought me a Kindle for my birthday last August, and I have to say I am totally hooked! Not just for holiday reading (although I did take it with me on my recent trip to Italy), but for other times too. Times when I probably wouldn’t have taken a book with me, such as when I was meeting up with a friend – and managed to read a few pages while I was waiting for her, the time I was waiting at the doctor’s for my flu-shot, and the time I sat in the supermarket’s coffee shop while my daughter went off to do some shopping.

Any ‘waiting’ time has now become reading time for me. Another bonus is that I’ve been able to read books  I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to obtain here in the UK, and also books which are only available as e-books.

Having said that, I still like ‘real’ books, especially my own. There is nothing to beat holding your own book, with your own name on the cover, in your own hands!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Books, Books, Books!

What books have inspired your reading or your writing? I’m not talking about writer’s craft books, although those are important and every writer needs a library of them. No, I’m talking about authors and books you love to read.

I read a lot (although sometimes sporadically, and currently obsessively) so narrowing my list down could be difficult. But everyone has books that speak to them. If you’re  a reader, there are certain books that you can’t do without. Think “stuck on a desert island” kind of books, the ones that no matter what happens, you’re going to buy those books, read and re-read them and nothing is going to make you get rid of them.
If you’re a writer, there are books whose style or imagery or characterization or POV you appreciate. The ones you dog ear or underline so that you can go back to them later and remind yourself of the best way to write something (no, I’m not talking plagiarism).  

For me, there are several books that have inspired me to become a writer. Julia Quinn is an expert at dialogue and changing POV mid scene. She teaches workshops about these topics and if you’re ever able to take one, I highly recommend it. When I first started writing, I couldn’t write dialogue without it sounding stilted. By reading authors who are experts at this, Quinn included, I’ve been able to practice that skill and make characters sound like real people in their conversations.

Lynn Kurland writes wonderful time travel and historical books. I love them as a reader, but as a writer, I love to study how she creates her characters. Her conflicts are agonizingly believable and she pulls emotion from you like no one else can. I dog-ear her books and when I’m trying to get just the right amount of emotion from my character, I often find that going back to her books and seeing how she does it helps me to do it better.

Robyn Carr creates a small town that I’d give my eye teeth to live in, but she also shows how to write a series using existing characters who populate that town. The structure is great and if you’re planning a series, check out her early Virgin River books.

Although I write contemporary romance, I don’t exclusively read that. The Beach Trees by Karen White is a wonderful book for readers and writers. Chapters switch between two female characters, and even without the subheads telling you which character is speaking, you know by how well developed both Julie and Aimee are.

We all have skills we’re good at and skills that need more work, and we can learn so much from each other and from other writers. What books are on your “must have” list?

Sunday, November 6, 2011


While I was writing the first and second drafts of my WIP, I was sure I needed to open with a prologue scene that showed my heroine’s childhood. I felt the reader needed this information to empathize with her present situation. But I’ve been learning some rules:

Backstory belongs only where it explains what’s important for the reader to know at that moment. In other words, sparingly and so it doesn’t interrupt the pace of the story.
The longer essential information is withheld, the better. It’s best to reveal backstory before the midpoint. Never insert at the end; your ending will seem contrived.
Don’t repeat backstory information. Readers have good memories.
Backstory can be presented as action. It can be incorporated as dialogue, or revealed through short inner thoughts. Or a combination of these.
If you need a flashback, write it as a blow-by-blow action sequence that ends in disaster for your main character.

I have deleted my opening chapter and the first half of chapter 2. As I edit, I’m watching for repetitious backstory information.
I have three backstory passages. One is part of an action scene. The second is a short, essential nightmare. The third is draft 2’s version of my original prologue. I love this scene—it is where I defined my heroine, but I’m now sure it doesn’t serve the story.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Friend: Linda Rettstatt

Please join us in welcoming Linda Rettstatt, our latest Friday Friend. Linda Rettstatt likes to know what makes people tick, and she loves a good story. The combination sparked her interest in creating stories and characters that seem real and engaging. Her books have finaled four times for EPIC eBook Awards. A Pennsylvania Yankee, Linda now resides in Mississippi where she is permitted to share an apartment with her cat, Binky, (as long as she continues to bring home the Fancy Feast.) Her work is published with Wings ePress, Class Act Books, and Champagne Books.

Write from the Heart

“Sometimes you just have to lose your mind…and follow your heart.”
~ Beth Rutledge in The Year I Lost My Mind

When I wrote these words for the character of Beth Rutledge, I didn’t realize how much they meant to me. But these words capture for me the process of writing fiction. As an author, my goal is twofold: to create characters that are engaging, regardless of whether they are ‘good’ or ‘evil’, and to tell a story that resonates on an emotional level with my readers. I firmly believe good fiction comes from the heart more than from the head.

Sure, we have to know the basics, the technical aspects of writing, and the rules for story construction. I liken the process to building a house. I’ve been in houses, and then I’ve been in homes. Houses are carefully constructed, functional, and provide shelter. But a home has warmth beyond its functionality. That’s the way I view writing. I want my books to do more than entertain. I want the characters to come to life and make my readers care about them. I want to tell a story with which the reader can identify, in which she can find some element of herself and her own story. I want my book to be more than a house. I want it to be a home.

Most authors will tell you they have a file somewhere loaded with potential book ideas. Now, I’ve learned that not every idea makes a good book. An idea for a book generally comes to me in the form of a ‘what if’ question in my head. As I explore that what if, I’ll know if there is a story to be told that will be worth reading. How? Because that story will make my heart pound. It’ll make me breathe faster. It’s like falling in love. You want to be with that ‘other’ constantly, without distraction.

I’ve heard other writers suggest, “Write the book of your heart,” as if there is only one. My problem—they’re all books of my heart. I don’t know any other way to write and, if I try to take an idea and force it into a story, I’m doomed to fail. I will run out of steam and lose interest. The writing will be stiff and emotionless. As a reader, I can tell the difference between books that are written perfunctorily and books that flow from the writer’s heart. Those are the books I have a hard time putting down.

And, so, when I sit down to start a new project, I take Beth’s advice. I lose my mind…and follow my heart.

Linda Rettstatt

Back cover blurb:

M.J. Rich is about to breakup with her boyfriend and seeks the comfort of her family’s familiar traditions for Christmas in Pittsburgh. Brady Cameron plans to spend the holiday alone at a Pennsylvania ski resort, drowning his sorrows. They meet while stranded by a winter storm in the Philadelphia Airport and agree to share the last rental car available, since they are both heading west. But a blizzard forces them off the highway, and Christmas turns out to be nothing either of them expects.


M.J. elbowed her way to the departures board where flight after flight flashed a bright red Canceled. She turned her attention to one of the overhead TV screens to see a news alert: a winter storm had swept in from the northwest, dumping several inches of snow in its wake. Currently, Cleveland experienced blizzard conditions, Chicago had already been crippled with more than a foot of snow, and the storm was bearing down on the Pittsburgh area. “Oh, no.” M.J. let her shoulders drop in defeat and her purse slid down her arm to loop over the handle of the laptop bag.

From overhead speakers, Burl Ives sang, “Have a holly, jolly Christmas…”

“If you’re headed west, you may want to get to the car rental counter as soon as possible,” a male voice whispered in her ear.

Startled, she turned and looked up. “Excuse me?”

“There’s going to be a rush on car rentals. You may want to consider the option.”

“Oh. Where is the…”

He pressed a finger to his lips. “Follow me. Casually, but quickly, before everyone else gets the same idea.”

She smiled and fell into step behind him. Sandy brown hair tapered neatly at his collar. Below the leather bomber jacket, worn jeans hugged a very nice backside. She redirected her eyes to his back. He turned left and she followed, noting the signs indicating the Car Rental. A line had begun to build at each of the rental counters. Her rescuer motioned toward the shortest line and picked up his pace.

As they inched forward at the rental counter, he turned toward her. “You look familiar. How would I know you?”

“I’m on TV in Charleston, South Carolina.”

“Really? What show?”

“The news on WCL.”

“WCL, huh?”

“You know the station?”

He hesitated. “I must have seen it when I was in Charleston on business at one time or another. I’m Brady Cameron. And you are?”

“M.J. Rich.” Well, at least he remembered her face, if not her name.

“Are you headed home for the holidays?”

M.J. nodded. “My family is in Pittsburgh. You?”

“Seven Springs Resort. Holiday skiing.” He glanced toward the windows. “Too bad I don’t have my skis with me now. Looks like they might come in handy.”

She gazed out at the steadily falling flakes and her heart sank. “Oh, no. I have to get to Pittsburgh tonight. If the storm’s coming from the west…”

Brady grabbed her hand and tugged her up to the counter. “We need cars,” he said to the clerk.

“You each need a car?”


The haggard-faced man shook his head. “I’ve got one left.”

“We’ll take it.”

“What?” M.J. asked. “What ‘we’?”


Reinventing Christmas – a sweet contemporary romance
Coming December, 2011 from Champagne Books

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


When I was at school (a long time ago!), my English teachers insisted we used lots of adjectives to make our writing more descriptive.  In contrast, writers are warned against the overuse of adjectives.

Various reasons are given for this: too many adjectives give your novel a ‘purple prose’ tint, or clutter the text with unnecessary modifiers, or give the impression that the writer cannot quite find the right word.

Mark Twain said: "As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out."

The question is – which adjectives should you strike out?

First there are the redundant adjectives – the tiny kitten (aren’t all/most kittens tiny?), the large mountain (ever seen a small mountain?), the narrow alley (an alley IS a narrow passage), the cold snow (if snow wasn’t cold, it would be water!). Omit the adjective if the noun is self-explanatory.

Secondly, there are the adjectives which, with their nouns, can be replaced with a much more descriptive word e.g. ‘a downpour flooded the streets’ instead of ‘heavy rain flooded the streets’, or ‘the witch cackled’ instead of ‘the witch gave an evil, sharp laugh’.

There are also some adjectives which have become almost meaningless and should be avoided (except in dialogue), including wonderful, lovely, pretty, stupid, foolish, pleasant, comely, horrid – and the obvious one, nice.

However, a story without any adjectives could end up as very clinical and dry. As with most things, moderation is the key. We are not advised to avoid adjectives altogether, but to avoid overusing them.

Eliminating all adjectives would be as big a mistake as overusing them. Adjectives can clarify meaning and add colour to our writing, and can be used to convey the precise shade of meaning we want to achieve. We should save them for the moments when we really need them and then use them selectively – and sparsely. Too often we feel the need to beef up our nouns in an effort to get our point across.

Compare: The dark, dreary house had an empty, suspicious feel to it, the thick air stale and sour with undefined, scary kitchen odors. Are all these adjectives necessary?

A tighter, more dramatic description would be: The house had an empty feeling to it, the air stale with undefined kitchen odors.

Use adjectives only to highlight something the noun can’t highlight. We’ve already seen that the ‘narrow alley’ has a redundant adjective, but what about the ‘dark alley’ or the ‘filthy alley’?  Not all alleys are dark or filthy so in these examples, the adjectives are adding something that isn't already shown by the noun.  This is the main reason for using an adjective.

And now I’m off to take my own advice, and look through my ms. for redundant adjectives!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


“A my name is Abby and my husband’s name is Adam. We live in Alabama and we sell apples.”

This popular children’s rhyme/jump rope song tells the simplest of stories. It identifies the characters, tells where they live and what they do. But it doesn’t provide any action or character development.

As writers, we need to illustrate a story arc. Our plot has to go from point A to point B. We can’t just write about “nothing.” In contemporary, mainstream romance, that story arc is usually girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, girl and boy face some conflict that separates them for a while and finally, girl and boy solve the conflict and live happily ever after.

In addition to story arcs, there are character arc. Our characters have to progress, to change, to develop. Similar to the way our children develop, but in warp speed. Is our heroine selfish? Why? What made her that way and how can we show her to become more selfless, less selfish by the time the story ends so that she and her hero can end up together? Is our hero commitment-phobic? Why? What made him that way and how can we show him change his attitude in a believable way so that he and the heroine end up together?

In order to have an arc, we have to know the “why.” What makes our heroes and heroines tick? What motivates them to become better people? What was in their background that makes them who they are? There has to be a reason for our plot as well. As real people, we may plod along in our lives, but no one wants to read about that. Readers want our plots to move forward so that they can be entertained.

By combining our character motivation with our plots we can hopefully tell a compelling story. By making sure our characters progress, that they identify and solve a problem, we keep our readers engaged. That’s what makes a good story.