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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Quotation marks

Ana searched for rules about punctuating deep POV and found more useful advice.

In my go-to book on editing (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers), Browne and King have a chapter called Interior Monologue. They write:

"So what's the right amount of interior monologue? Sorry, you're on your own with that one. The balance you hit depends on what your characters are feeling, how important their feelings are to the story at that point, how you want the scene to flow, and, especially, how evident their feelings are in other ways.

"How do you handle your mechanics so that the interior monologue reads smoothly and professionally? As with dialogue mechanics, the sterling value is unobtrusiveness. And there is one actual rule.

"Never, ever use quotes with your interior monologue. It is not merely poor style; it is, by today's standards, ungrammatical. Thoughts are thought, not spoken.

"Also, it's rarely a good idea to have your characters mumble to themselves or speak under their breath. It's almost always going to come off as a contrivance.

"And whether or not you are writing with narrative distance, it's not a good idea to cast all of your interior monologues in italics. Since long passages in italics (or, indeed, any unusual typeface) are a pain to read, you can only use this technique effectively for passages no longer than a short sentence or two. Even this brief passage is too long, don't you think?

"...frequent italics have come to signal weak writing. So you should never resort to them unless they are the only practical choice for self-conscious internal dialogue or the occasional emphasis.?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday Snippet: Miriam's Surrender by Jennifer Wilck

The line from Casablanca flitted through Josh’s head. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world...” He fisted his hands at his side and closed his eyes.
This morning, he’d hurried to work for a meeting with a new client. He’d worked on the presentation for weeks—a structural redesign of an Alumni Club for a local private school. It was different from most of the projects he had worked on before, and it sparked his creativity. They’d been awarded the contract and this morning’s purpose was to meet the client’s daily contact, the person Josh would work with throughout the span of the project.
He’d walked into the red and black conference room of his architectural firm and froze. Sleek, black, flawless coiffed hair. No way. Ramrod straight posture. It couldn’t be. And as she turned and approached him, she’d glided. Oh crap. Miriam.
His blood pressure rose and his head throbbed. She’d stuck out her hand and met his gaze, the picture of calm—confident, assured, as if she were in charge—while he had all he could do to keep it together. He’d swept his gaze from the perfectly straight part in her hair, past sparkling amber eyes, and over flawless, pale skin. He had lingered a moment at the v- neck of her sweater. Its deep gold made her skin glow.
After a moment, he’d met her eyes. They were unreadable. Her features expressionless, like a marble statue, she nodded and deferred to her boss.
He’d welcomed the diversion and focused on her boss, Tom, a stout, middle-aged man with thinning blond hair and a nervous habit of blinking, as if he couldn’t focus on what was in front of him. But based on Josh’s previous encounters with the man, he was sharp as a tack.
“Josh, this is Miriam Goldberg. She’ll be your liaison for the Alumni Club redesign. Miriam, Josh Lowenstein is the lead architect on the project.”
She gave no hint they knew each other, and his response that they were well acquainted remained unsaid. He wanted to know why she kept it a secret, but he never had a chance to ask. The meeting was short, filled with lots of information about the project, and there wasn’t time for any small talk. She’d taken charge, asked questions, offered suggestions, all of which led Josh to think she was lead project manager. Regardless of her intelligence and the validity of her suggestions, he burned with irritation.
He stomped back to his office and threw his pen across the room. It sailed in an arc over the two sleek black chairs on the other side of his black marble desk, banged against the dove grey wall and landed behind the steel and black credenza. A splotch of ink, resembling a Rorschach pattern, marred the once perfect wall. He swore to himself and ran his hand down his face. Of all the ridiculous, unbelievable, annoying coincidences, this one was the worst.
He swung around in his chair and stared out the window of his Manhattan office. Marvels of steel and concrete filled his view, and as an architect, he often found solace, inspiration and satisfaction from looking at them. A little pride, when he identified ones he’d helped to design. But today, he didn’t see them. He saw her face and he clenched his jaw in aggravation.
The last time he’d seen her, he’d watched her sashay out of his office, as if on wheels. Her sleek, black hair had whispered across her shoulders, somehow moving without getting a hair out of place. Her wool jacket had not hidden the shape of her backside or her trim waist. He’d stared, infuriated, aroused and intrigued.
She’d stopped by to defend her sister, whom she thought he’d wronged.
“Have you apologized to my sister yet?”
He remembered how her question had first annoyed him, and afterwards, angered him. His argument with Samara wasn’t her business. But she was like a pit bull and wouldn’t give up. She’d just repeated, “You need to say you’re sorry.” The phrase echoed in his mind. As did the image of her smooth, glossy hair swinging back and forth like a curtain of silk. Despite his anger at the time, he’d wanted to run his fingers through it. He’d tried to distract himself with a glance at her lips, but they had been lush and red and such a contrast to the irritating words pouring out of them. Her voice had grated in his ears. She’d been assured in her duty, confident she was right and he was wrong. His blood pressure rose as he remembered their argument, and how she’d glided out of his office before he’d had a chance to respond. That was a year ago.  
It was stupid to still be angry with her. After this long, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d thought about their argument. He was no longer in love with her sister; in fact, he’d never been in love with the woman in the first place. He had accepted and eventually approved of Samara’s relationship with Nathaniel. What’s more, Miriam had been right. He had needed to apologize.
He was tired of her bossing him around. He didn’t like not knowing what was going on, and he didn’t like how he felt off-kilter at their meeting. If she thought he would put up with it, she was mistaken. He was a respected architect; clients begged for him to take on their projects. He controlled what went on around him. He led the projects. He knew what clients wanted often before they did. He didn’t need her meddling in his vision. One word to her boss and she would be thrown off the project.
He brushed his hand against the computer mouse and his calendar popped on screen. Their next meeting was Thursday. He would be prepared. He would take charge. And she would never know what hit her.

Friday, April 24, 2015

P is for Painstaking

Margaret talks about the painstaking process of re-writing first drafts.

Writing the first draft of a novel is the easy part! Did I really say that? Nothing in writing is easy. If readers think we sit down and write from beginning to end without any head-banging then they’re mistaken. Even first drafts are hard. But the really hard part is going through it and finding out our carefully written words do not entirely convey what it is we’re trying to say. So we work on it some more. We re-write, we re-write again, and maybe again, until finally we are happy.

So what do we feel when we read through our first draft?  Firstly that it’s not the masterpiece we thought it was.  Secondly, it’s going to need a lot of hard work. And maybe even a complete re-write. But do we feel downhearted? Maybe initially, but we know our first drafts are no more than that. They’re the first blocks in the building process.

By this time we know our characters inside out, how they react, how they think, and although it’s time-consuming (and maybe we’d much rather be working on another book, it’s an essential part of story-telling. The hard part is that each altered scene or conversation has a knock-on effect and before we know it we’re re-writing whole chapters.

My stories are short by some standards, hovering around the fifty thousand word mark, so my headaches cannot possibly be as bad as authors who write much longer books. Not that it seems like that to me at the time. But at least I know at the end of the day that my book is the best I can make it.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

P is for Page Count vs. Word Count

Debra has changed the way she keeps track of her progress.

I was always a page counter. When I wanted to track my writing progress, I'd tally up the number of pages I'd written. My RWA chapter promoted this as well. We'd do check ins each meeting and record the number of pages we'd written since the last meeting.

With my last project, I started doing word count progress instead of page count. And I'm liking it. Mostly because recording in this way makes it seem like I'm making greater strides. This, of course, is all in my head. I'm still writing the same amount whether I'm counting pages or words. But since counting words allows for bigger numbers, in my mind, I equate that with more progress.

For example, if I were to write, say, one page, that's about 250 words (give or take). It's a no brainer than writing down progress of 250 is more motivating than writing down progress of 1. At least for me.

Right now, I can't tell you what my page count is for my WIP, but I do know the word count is 4,929.

I don't necessarily set a goal to write a certain number of pages/words each day. My goal is to simply sit down and write. Tracking that progress on a hand-written list gives me a boost and is a nice little 'atta girl' at the end of each writing session.

My last several projects have been novellas, which has been nice since I simply write until the story is finished. When I write a full-length novel, I have to have a certain amount of words if I want it to be available in paperback. This is another reason keeping track by words rather than pages will be helpful. (We had progress meters on this blog for a while, and it was nice to see how far percentage-wise I was with each project.) The tricky part for me is setting a word-count goal for novellas. Most of the time I don't know how long they are going to be until I'm finished. Setting a word count goal with a novel is much easier. I know where I need to be by the time I type 'the end'.

Maybe word count really is a better way to keep track, or perhaps it's just that I needed something new for myself personally. Anyone have any other ways they track progress?

On a completely unrelated note, I'm blogging with Robyn Bachar today. It's always nice to 'see' a friendly place. Click HERE to pop over for a visit.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

P is for Perspective

Paula looks at how we ‘see’ our stories.

Does a scene play out in front of you, as if you are watching it on a stage?

Or are you performing a role in that play?

The perspective from which we write our stories can be crucial to how our readers relate to the characters and scenes we create.

If we write what we see and hear on that stage e.g. who walks where and who says what etc, our readers may be able to relate to those actions and words, and even to the emotions of the characters. However, we (and they) are one step removed. We’re in the audience, watching from a distance.

Instead of sitting in a comfortable seat in the auditorium, I think we need to get up on that stage ourselves and – yes, get into character, just as an actor does.

If, for example, we’re in the heroine’s POV, we need her perspective on everything that is happening. We’re not listening to her words, we’re saying those words ourselves. We’re looking at everything through her eyes, and, perhaps even more important, we’re feeling everything she feels. This, to me, is going much deeper than simply writing from a character’s POV about what she does, says, thinks, and feels.

Once we adopt this perspective, the reader’s perspective will also change. He/she will no longer be watching from a distance, but will become a part of the scene, and will feel involved in the actions, thoughts, and feelings of our characters. So get up on that stage, and ‘become’ your hero or heroine.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pantser, Plotter or a Little of Both?

As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m a pantser, not a plotter. I don’t work from outlines; I don’t plot out every detail of my story before I write it. I sit down, look at a blank page and let my characters talk to me.

Hopefully, they’ve started talking before I get to the computer. I get some of my best ideas, and hear my characters talking the loudest, right before I fall asleep. I’ve learned to keep something by my bed to take down notes so I don’t forget what they’ve said the next morning.

But lately, I’m not hearing those characters talking as much as I usually do. It could be that I’ve been busy editing one completed manuscript and writing another. It could be other stressors in my life. It could just be a dry spell. We all get them. It’s not a big deal. I find the best way to work through them is to just relax and let it pass on its own.

However, it has gotten me thinking. I’ve been thinking I wish I was a plotter. I’m not. I can’t write off an outline to save my life. But I have taken some of those techniques and adapted them to my writing life.

After I write a first draft, I outline what I wrote. At least, I do when I remind myself to be organized. It’s helpful to find my way through the manuscript, to know where I put what, and to recognize areas that need to be further developed. It’s also helpful with timelines, which I’m notoriously bad at developing. And it’s great for writing a synopsis.

I’ve also started keeping character sheets to remind myself what each one looks like. You wouldn’t think it’s so hard to remember, but for some reason, I find it hard to keep eye color and hair color and other characteristics straight. Creating a document with everything on it makes it easier.

So I think at some point, I might become a combination plotter/pantser. For now, I’m doing whatever works and making an effort to be more organized. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Monday, April 20, 2015

P is for Premise

Ana studies how to write a premise line, which can be defined as:  [When] some event sparks a character to action, that [character acts] with deliberate purpose [until] that action is opposed by an external force, [leading to] some conclusion.
Clause #1: When Clause
Take your sense of the first two components of the core structure and try to combine them into a “when” clause.
When … some event provokes the protagonist to act (not react)
You have a sense of a character. Now is the time for dimension. Who is the character? What sparks him or her to action? Some call this the inciting incident; maybe you don’t have that clearly in your head yet. That’s OK. What else might push the character forward (or backward)? What happens to this person that gets him or her to act and begin an adventure? The when clause is asking, “When something happens …” – what’s the “something”?
We’ll use the novel Jaws, by Peter Benchley, as an illustration how this might play out in execution:
When: … a doubt-filled, fearful, big-city cop moves to a small coastal town dependent on tourism …
Here the character is clear: He is constricted with fear and doubt, and there is a sense of the spark that broke his inertia, i.e., he moved from the city to the coast.
Clause #2: Character Acts Clause
Take the next two components of the core structure and combine them to give you the next clause in the premise line.
Character Acts … the protagonist joins with one or more people acting on some desire with purposeful intention
This clause captures the sense of a tangible want and defines the relationships involved, especially the core relationship (if any) that drives the middle of the story. Now is the time to give a clearer idea of what the character wants and who is moving through the story with him or her. This should also give a sense of the motivation for the desire, not just the thing that is desired (i.e., “with purpose”). Using Jaws, once again, we get the following:
Character Acts: … he teams with an oceanographer and a crusty sailor to Convince the doubting, money-grubbing Chamber of Commerce to close the beaches because a giant man-eating shark is lurking just offshore…
The protagonist wants to catch the shark and he’s doing it with his buddies (later the oceanographer becomes more defined as the key buddy). There is deliberate purpose in this and a clear, tangible desire.
Clause #3: Until Clause
The next two components of the core structure combine to give a clear statement about the opposing force acting to upset the story’s trajectory.
Until … the protagonist’s actions are met by some external force that generates disorder and/or chaos – the adventure
This is the big-picture jeopardy of the adventure and the central opposing force acting against the character’s action. For Jaws we have:
Until: … the shark terrorizes swimmers, threatening the survival of the town …
The writer identifies the nature of the “serious pushback” and the chaos that will ensue, including the final outcome if the pushback wins. Here is the force defined, as well as the tendency toward disorder, in a clear and dramatic statement that fits perfectly with the idea as a whole.
Clause #4: Leading to Clause
Leading to … the dénouement – an evolutionary change for the protagonist
The chaos component of the adventure crosses the third and fourth clauses due to the nature of crisis: It spreads and is messy and is often indistinguishable from the resistance it creates and the change it generates. In this final combination, we see how chaos leads to resolution, the order implicit in all chaos. This finds its expression in Jaws as:
Leading to: … forcing them [the town] to allow the cop and his buddies to take on the monster mano-a-mano, during which encounter the cop faces his fear and saves the day.
Finally, the writer expresses the change that is at the end of all disorder and chaos, as well as the change that is personal to the character from the “when” clause. There is a coming full circle in a sense; the beginning, middle and end all tie back to the first and most fundamental step of sensing a protagonist and a personal story.
This is how the final premise line would look:
Final Premise Line: When a fish-out-of-water, big-city cop moves to a small, coastal town dependent on tourism, he must team with an oceanographer and a crusty sailor to convince the doubting, money-grubbing townsfolk to close their beaches because a giant, man-eating shark is lurking just offshore, until the shark strikes, forcing the townsfolk to allow the cop and his buddies to take on the shark mano-a-mano.
Here you can see the entire structure of the story in a single sentence. As stated earlier, two sentences are fine, but shoot for one – brevity forces cutting the fluff. In Jaws you know the protagonist, the focal relationship (in this case made up of three men) driving the middle of the story, you get a sense of the adventure itself and see the opposition structure that feeds into the final ending. It all fits, it all flows and it is a metaphor for a human experience resulting in evolutionary change; it is a story. Armed with this premise line, you can confidently move forward to writing, knowing your story’s armature is strong.
Jeff Lyons is the founder of, a professional services company offering story development and consulting services to authors and screenwriters.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Snippet from Ana"s WIP

When Blade woke and opened one eye, the ranch house was oddly quiet. It was well past sunrise. By now, pots usually clanged in the kitchen, and the early risers talked in more than nods and one-word whispers. Stretching, he reached for Stormy.
She was gone, probably seeing to a personal need.
He couldn’t remember a time when he’d felt happier. Before he’d drifted off to sleep a few hours ago, she’d turned onto her side, back to his front, and he’d put his arm around her like a husband with his wife. Today, after he asked Zed, Brownie, and Running Bear for her hand, he’d have everything he’d given up— a home, a family, and a woman to love.
A simple letter to his family could share his good news and instruct Jared where to send his money. The first thing he’d do is pay off Stormy’s note to Vance—a surprise gift for his amorous bride-to-be and her fathers. Eager to find her, he dressed and walked downstairs.
The house was deserted. Stepping outside, he scanned the ranch yard. The buckboard wasn’t back.
Blade smiled. From what he’d seen at the dance, Zed was sweet on Ginny Dunn. Running Bear attracted lots of attention, and Brownie certainly deserved a sleep-in morning.
Stormy, bless her heart, was seeing to the morning chores. He’d ask her what she wanted for breakfast. Then with soft kisses on the side of her neck, he’d entice her back into bed. Practice making a Blade Junior or a sweet freckle-faced girl they could name Flora, after her mother.
He was about to enter the barn when he spotted the cow already grazing on the pasture. A quick check of the barn showed it was empty.
Shouting Stormy’s name, he ran to the outhouse. To Running Bear’s tipi. Back into the house, searching room by room for a note saying what she’d gone to do.
Zed, Brownie, and Running Bear had trusted him to take care of her. Once they learned he’d bedded Stormy, would they believe she’d slipped out while he was sleeping? Did she run off because he’d disappointed her last night? When he asked her to marry him, would she say no?
A worse thought struck him. The ranch was huge. If she broke a leg, or split open her head, it could take hours to find her.
Heart pounding, he whistled for Belinda.
His mare trotted up with the other ranch horses—except for Odin. The gelding’s leg was healing nicely, but…
Damn her! Stormy must have taken Odin out for a ride this morning.
Angry now, he saddled Belinda and galloped toward the big black walnut tree. As soon as he reached the top of the hill, he looked in every direction. When he saw nothing but hills and grass, he sat very still, hoping Belinda would sense something.
His mare sniffed the air. Her ears turned this way and that. Then she dropped her head and reached for a mouthful of grass.
His mind raced over his mental picture of the ranch, trying to fathom where Stormy might have ridden and why.
A high-pitched, mournful moo drifted in from the west.
Hair rose on the back of his neck. Brownie had mentioned broken wires in the west pasture.
Blade charged Belinda back to the yard, ran into Running Bear’s tipi, and found the big man’s carbine. Thank God it was loaded.
He sprinted back to his mare. With one toe on the stirrup, and fear constricting his chest, he shouted, “Run!”