Wednesday, November 30, 2016

V is for Vicariously

Debra loves to step into other people's shoes in books.

One of the best things about books is they can take you to other places. Whether it's a galaxy far, far away, or a southern plantation in the throws of the Civil War, or a city under a near-constant cover of clouds in the Pacific Northwest, or a magical, enchanted castle in England...stories take us there. All without the hassle of passports or ground transportation or air travel. And while we're there, we get to live the lives of the characters who inhabit those places.

Which is why I tend to write small town/country feeling fiction. My bio says that although I live in a suburb of Chicago, I'm a country girl at heart. My stories definitely reflect this. With very few exceptions (three out of fourteen to be exact), my stories all take place in small towns. Where there are cowboys. And dance saloons. And tractors. Or at the very least a cozy Main Street filled with home-town shops.

I don't think I would ever in reality leave my life here, but it is fun to step outside of it and enter another world. Reading other people's stories and 'living' them is fun, but what's really exciting is getting to create my own world that I can play around in and live in my imagination. It gives me goosebumps to think about the endless possibilities.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


V is for Victim

Paula looks at the ‘victims’ in our stories.  

The dictionary definition of victim is “someone or something that has been hurt, damaged, or killed or has suffered, either because of the actions of someone or something else, or because of illness or chance.”

If we were writing crime novels, the ‘victim’ would probably be obvious, but if we look at the wider definition, we can see that characters in romance novels can also be victims.

They can, of course, be victims in an accident of some kind – a car crash, flood, or fire, or they can be victims of some form of physical abuse.

Other times a character can be the victim of anger, jealousy, lies, emotional blackmail, false accusations, or other ‘trouble-making’ by another person – an ex-lover (either the heroine’s or the hero’s), or someone with a grudge, or with their own agenda.

And, of course, characters can be the victims of their own inner issues e.g. self-doubt, misconceptions, false reasoning, lack of trust etc.

The important thing is that the hero/heroine are no longer victims by the end of the story. They have found a way to handle the victimisation and overcome it, or have developed inner strengths to deal with their own inadequacies. In this way, our characters will develop and learn more about themselves and other people.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

V Is For Voice

Jennifer uses Gilmore Girls as an example…

Every writer knows what “voice” is. It’s what makes you as an author distinguishable from every other author. It’s your way of putting words together, how you describe things, your pacing and your POV. Voice identifies YOU.

On Black Friday, or the day after Thanksgiving for those of you not in the U.S., my family and I binge-watched the return of Gilmore Girls. For those of you not familiar with the show, it was on for seven seasons several years ago and is about the relationship between a single mother and her daughter (and lots of other peripheral characters) living in a small town named Stars Hollow.

The show was originally created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and it was known for it’s snappy, fast-paced dialogue, comedy and touching moments. Due to a contract dispute, she left after the sixth season. The rest of the producers tried to keep it going for one last year, but Ms. Sherman-Palladino was disappointed with the way they ended the show. When she was given the opportunity to bring it back for a limited run—a four-episode arc that spanned a year in the life—she took it. She wrote two episodes, her husband wrote the other two.

Watching the show, I could immediately tell the difference between those episodes she wrote and those her husband wrote. The dialogue, while still snappy, wasn’t quite as polished or clever. The pacing was slower in her husband’s episodes. The characters weren’t quite as “on.” Even if I hadn’t seen the writing credits, it was obvious.

In this case, what made the show so enjoyable was Ms. Sherman-Palladino’s voice. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy her husband’s episodes nearly as much as I did hers, although they were still good. They just didn’t sparkle.

Variety in voice is essential. We wouldn’t want all stories to sound the same. Nor would we want someone else trying to imitate a voice. I can’t do Ms. Sherman-Palladino’s voice, no matter how hard I try. And I shouldn’t. I have my own, just as you all have your own. So don’t just write what you know, write how you are best able to do so.

Be you. You’re the only one who can.

Monday, November 28, 2016

V is for Variations on archetypal story themes

Ana muses: 

Christopher Booker, author of The 7 basic plots, distills all of storytelling to 7 basic archetypes that make up all of storytelling throughout history. 

1   Overcoming the Monster
2   Rags to Riches
3   The Quest
4   Voyage and Return
5   Comedy
6   Tragedy
7   Rebirth

Overcoming the Monster 
The hero must destroy the monster to restore balance to the world. In the real world, this story appeals to readers who are overcoming an addiction, fighting off a pervvy boss, debt, beating an illness or anything else that requires something to be defeated for the hero (your customer) to win.
Rags to Riches
A modest and moral but downtrodden character achieves a happy ending when their natural talents are displayed to the world at large. In the real world, this theme appeals to anyone with an undeniably incredible talent who wants to break through and be successful. This could apply to photographers, musicians, artists, and yes even bloggers.

The Quest
The hero, often accompanied by sidekicks, travels in search of a priceless treasure and must defeat evil and overcome powerful odds, and ends when he gets both the treasure and the girl. The Odyssey is a classic example of this kind of story.

Often "Quest" stories make our hero(s) encounter a variety of challenges that are all seemingly unrelated. In the real world, this is very much the story of every beginning entrepreneurial journey.
Voyage and Return
Stories of normal protagonists who are suddenly thrust into strange and alien worlds and must make their way back to normal life once more. Examples of this are Alice in Wonderland, or Cast Away. 

Not in the "Haha" that's funny kind of way, but more in the Shakespeare kind of way. The plot of a comedy involves some kind of confusion that must be resolved before the hero and heroine can be united in love.
As a rule, the consequences of human overreaching and egotism. Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet etc... Stories from this category are usually very self evident. 
This story archetype almost always has a threatening shadow that seems nearly victorious until a sequence of fortuitous (or even miraculous) events lead to redemption and rebirth, and the restoration of a happier world. The best example of this is "A Christmas Carol" where Scrooge much change his ways in order to not be hated and have a much better impact on the world around him. 

Do you agree with this categorization?

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday Friend: Jessica Lauryn

Heroines With Hearts welcomes back Jessica Lauryn...

Ever since seeing The Phantom of the Opera for the first time I’ve wanted to write a series about musical theater.  I was 21 years old when I went to see the play and back then writing was merely a dream, not something I’d really dabbled in or worked at in any capacity.  But the story of Christine Daae and her angel of music stuck with me.  The music in the play was so romantic that I found myself internalizing it and singing it whenever I was alone—in the car, in the backyard.  Phantom was one of the first stories that clued me into the fact that I was a die-hard romantic and so naturally, when I got to brainstorming for stories and plots of my own the thought of writing about a theater was particularly appealing to me.  To date, I’d published five stories and I’d felt as though my writing skills had been honed to the point that I was ready to write a series set in just such an atypical setting.  Only to date, all of my stories had involved scenarios I was familiar with.  

They say, write what you know, and that’s exactly what I’d always done—created characters who bared a resemblance to the people I knew, created scenarios in which the hero and heroine could interact in a setting, or take part in an occupation I’d actually worked in myself.  My experience with musical theater was limited to a handful of trips to Broadway, spread over the course of my entire lifetime.  But I wanted to write a series about theater—the voices inside my head were insisting upon it.  And when you want something badly enough, you make it happen.  So I began writing a series about something I loved, but had only a limited understanding of.  And doing so has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I’m getting to write about an enchanting world I’ll very likely only be a part of through my stories.  And along the way I’m learning, not only what it’s like to work in a theater, to own a theater and to act onstage but how to write about a topic you’re not directly familiar with.  

There are a number of suggestions I could provide you with to ease the experience of writing about that which you do not know.  Here are just a few of the tricks I used to familiarize myself with the unfamiliar.

1.      The internet is your best friend.  In a world where we used to have to go to the library and check out four or five books to reference as resources for a school paper, I am constantly amazed by how much information can be found on the internet.  Typically, I can find the answers to almost any question I have about any particular topic within seconds.  Theater, thankfully, has been no exception to that rule.        
2.      Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Though I’ve never worked in a theater myself, I have friends who have, who’ve been there as a resource to answer the questions that personal experience best answers.  People love to share their knowledge, particularly with regard to a profession they love.  Utilize these resources, which can be invaluable when writing about a topic that extends outside of your own realm of experience. 
3.      Hire, or attempt to work with, an editor who is familiar with your chosen topic.  Though I did not expect or plan to do this, I learned during the editing process for A Passionate Play that my editor had worked in a theater in a past life and she was able to help me identify points in the manuscript that needed to be addressed.  I got lucky, but don’t follow in my example.  Purposely seek out an editor who’s familiar with your subject matter, to guarantee that the eyes checking your work will provide you with the critique and assistance you need to produce the best manuscript possible. 
4.      When in doubt, dance around an unfamiliar subject matter.  Though Rabourn Theater is the major setting for my series, only a small portion of A Passionate Play actually takes place inside the theater.  Though this trick will not help so much as I get into the later stories, which are heavily focused inside the theater, setting the first book elsewhere allowed me to get my feet wet gradually as I studied up on the world that is musical theater.  As a bonus, dancing around your subject matter in the first story in a series can provide you with the opportunity to introduce your fictitious universe gradually and it just may give you an idea for a story or precursor story that never occurred to you at all.  

Writing about that which we do not know may seem intimidating.  But when you love a topic enough to explore it for an entire book (or 5!)  don’t let a little thing like unfamiliarity scare you off.  Get to know the topic any way you can.  Who knows?  The story you have always secretly wanted to tell, and never thought you were qualified to write, just might pop up right before you, onto your computer screen.  Happy writing!   

About A Passionate Play:

On the heels of a major performance theater actress Alicia Coleman is attacked in an alleyway. She is struck over the head with a pistol and the blow causes her to lose her memory. Injured and afraid, Alicia struggles to remember the details of her life. The only person who appears to know who she is, is her presumed abductor, a man she fears may also be her attacker.
In the midst of several failed attempts to escape, Alicia comes to know the man whose home she awoke in and realizes that the two of them share a complicated past. Though Nick refuses to tell her much beyond her first name, a series of dreams, in which she and he are sharing a lot more than the second story of a secluded mansion, cause Alicia to suspect the most outrageous of possibilities—that the man holding her prisoner may actually be her lover. Surrounding threats, including that of a midnight intruder, cause Alicia to realize that proving her theory true may be her only chance of keeping her attacker from coming after her a second time.

A Passionate Play Excerpt:

“I mentioned to you that we’re in Mohegan Lake,” Nick said some time later, “in Westchester County, New York. Does the name of the town, the county, or the state sound at all familiar to you?" 
“Not really.” Alicia racked  her brain. “Should they?” 
He shrugged. “Only if you think they should. So you really don’t remember anything about your life, your friends or your career before waking up in this house?”
“My career?” Alicia dropped her empty glass onto the table. Having felt a sensation comparable to an electric shock when he’d said the word career, she asked, “What is it that I do, exactly? Am I a lawyer? Do I perform surgeries alongside of a team of brain-surgeons?”
“Something like that,” Nick answered with a secretive smile.
Furious that he refused to tell her whatever he knew about her life, Alicia said, “You must be holding out on me because you’re familiar with my work and the knowledge of my success makes you feel completely emasculated.”
“I never said—”
“Understandable. Considering that you appear to spend the majority of your time hiding out in the woods, collecting the latest editions from Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn.”
Failing to offer anything in the way of a response, Nick grunted. 
“I may not remember what I do for a living but there’s no doubt in my mind that I’m capable of doing a lot of interesting things.”
“Are you now?” Her companion gave her a thoughtful glance. Coming to his feet, he extended his hand and said, “How about sharing a dance with me?”
Alicia’s face became as hot as the candle flames. Looking from Nick’s open palm to the empty room around them, she swallowed and said, “There’s no music.”
“Well, I think we can do something about that.” Nick wandered across the floor to the area behind the curio cabinet. There was a stereo there that Alicia hadn't noticed before.  He pressed a button, causing the room to fill with soft, romantic music.
Nick extended his hand once more as he came toward her. His smile was cool but also insistent and it contained a hint of danger. Dark brown eyes looked into hers, willing her to trust, to comply with her very mysterious and yet compelling desires.
Allowing herself to operate on pure instinct, Alicia slipped her hand into Nick’s. His warmth surrounded her and she felt a hint of anticipation as he urged her gently forward. Nick led her into the middle of the floor. Placing one large hand over her waist, he drew her against his powerful, broad frame. 
They began to move and Alicia swayed in unison with her partner as though they had danced together a thousand times before. In her mind she was in the arms of a stranger, but her body reacted as though he was anything but, as though he were someone whom she knew intimately. Nick’s eyes, his scent, the very feel of him seemed familiar to her and as his hand slid from her hip to the small of her back she realized that she ought to be telling him he was getting too close. Except she didn’t want him to back away—it felt good, being close to him like this. 
As her partner drew her closer still Alicia felt chills, yet at the same time she began to let go of the tension she was holding. She was encased in a blanket of heat and as that blanket spun her around and brought her back against its softness she was taken into a realm of comfort and dreams. Dancing with her captor felt right to her and in a strange way, safe. Nick had gone out of his way to make her happy tonight and she got the feeling that wasn’t something he did every day. Letting her eyes fall closed, she inched beside him and when he didn’t resist she rested her head against the cushion of his shoulder. 
Nick’s arms enveloped her and Alicia became aware that he didn’t only smell of soap and pinewood but of something darker, something she couldn’t quite define. She sensed a degree of rebelliousness in this man and for some strange reason the idea of that intrigued her. Strength seemed to emanate from every part of him and she wondered what it would be like to taste that strength. Filled with the strongest desire to do just that, she settled her hand against the back of his neck and tilted his head so she could just about feel what she wanted to so desperately. 
“Kiss me,” she insisted, lifting her chin.
Nick stilled but didn’t comply. She opened her eyes to find his lips were looming above hers.
“Alicia, I…”
The music had stopped playing as if on cue. Nick held her, not quite letting go but not doing what she’d asked him to, either. After a long moment, he released her. He cleared his throat and shifted his eyes, making sure that she was steady on her feet before backing away. He paced the length of the room.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better.” Stopping in front of the table Nick said, “I’ll get this cleaned up. You ought to get back to bed. You’ve had a hell of a day and even though you slept a good bit of it you still need your rest. I’ll be up to check on you in a few hours. Good night, Alicia.”
Turning to hide a face that was surely as red as it felt, Alicia walked to the door. She offered a cool smile along with a wave before slipping soundlessly from the room. 
Alone in the foyer, Alicia placed one hand over her trembling mouth. She released it a moment later, body braced against the wall as she said to herself quietly, “Good night, Nickolas."