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Posts tagged with: Hope Ramsay

Archetypes and Storybeats Part IV: Three Act Structure

Over the last three weeks I’ve blogged about the nexus between certain well-recognized Archetypes and the story structures that go with them.  I’ve reviewed the Hero’s Journey, The Virgin’s Promise, and the Sinner’s Redemption.  There are, undoubtedly, many more story patterns that fit specific archetypes.

But what if you’re writing a story about a protagonist that doesn’t quite fit the archetypal pattern of a Hero, Virgin, or Sinner? 

What if your main character is a Sidekick?  Or a Mentor?  Or a Networker? Or a Judge?  Or, the list goes on. . .  

In an earlier set of blogs, I wrote about using the positive and negative behavioral traits of Archetypes to develop character arcs, independent of the rigid structure imposed by the beat sheets of The Hero’s Journey, The Virgin’s Promise, and the Sinner’s Redemption.  For many authors, the detailed beat sheet is of no help at all in plotting or navigating through a novel’s story.  These authors need a structure that’s much simpler, more free-form, and in many ways more creative.

That’s where the classic three-act story structure is all about.   

You can find all kinds of writing and advice on three-act structure.  I’m a big fan of Michael Hague and his wonderful workshop on these topics in which he outlines the connection between story beats and character arc. 

In Hauge’s take on story structure, a story’s Main Character needs to move from his “identity,” which is the mask he shows the world in order to deal with a wound he’s suffered in his backstory, into his “essence,” which is the fully realized, authentic person that he needs to become.  Take a look at the video clip in which Hague discusses the Main Character’s “inner journey.”

If this sounds a lot like the Virgin’s Promise, or the Sinner’s Redemption, or even the Hero’s Journey, it’s not surprising.  All good stories tell a tale about a Main Character who changes because of the action of the story.  The Hero proves his manhood.  The Virgin empowers herself.  The Sinner sees the error of his ways.  So it’s fair to say that the detailed beat sheets of the Hero’s Journey, the Virgin’s Promise, and the Sinner’s Redemption all follow a basic structure, that’s usually presented in three acts. 

Now, here’s where I’ve added to Hague’s ideas by using behavioral archetypes to help define a character’s identity and essence. Since every character archetype comes with both positive and negative behaviors, I can use the archetype to develop an arc that takes a character from the dark side of his archetype to the light side. 

To give you an idea of this shadow and light quality of archetypes, here are a few:

A Liberator has the ability to free himself and others from outmoded forms of belief.  But a liberator can also impose his own tyranny over the very people he tries to liberate.  Could you write a story about a liberator who learns not to impose his will on the people he’s trying to set free?

An Engineer gives creative energy a practical form.  He has a talent for designing solutions to common problems.  But an Engineer can also rely on mechanical means, and have no regard for emotional consequences.  Could you write story about an Engineer who has to learn compassion?

An Athlete is dedicated to transcending physical limitations and developing personal willpower and strength of spirit, but an athlete can also misuse his ability for personal gain, or have a false sense of invulnerability.  Could you write a story about an Athlete who values money before the love of the game?

A Sidekick is loyal, unselfish, and tenacious.  But a Sidekick’s loyalty is usually be so large that he never moves on to find his own fulfillment.  Could you write a story about a Sidekick who becomes a Hero?

I hope you answered yes to all these questions.  And, just for fun, I’ve used the archetypal shadow and light behaviors of a Sidekick along with a basic three-act story structure to come up with a quick synopsis of a Sidekick story.  Here it is as a series of story beats.

Story Beat

A Sidekick Story

ACT I
Introduce the Main Character and his goal or problem.

 

INCITING INCIDENT
The story begins when something changes in the Main Character’s circumstances.  This could be like the Hero’s call to adventure.  Or the Virgin’s opportunity to shine.  Or the first messenger that arrives at the Sinner’s door.

We see Sidekick in his ordinary world, being the sidekick to the local Cowboy Hero.  He’s loyal and unselfish, but he’s also not moving forward with his life, because, well, he’s a Sidekick.  But suddenly the Hero comes down with the flu.

CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
For the first one-quarter of the story, the Main Character deals with the change in circumstances.  He may try to ignore it, he may refuse the call, he may miss the point.  While he dithers things get worse, until he finally makes a decision to do something.

Someone needs the Hero’s help, and the Sidekick dithers around feeding the Big Guy soup, but it’s not working.  Someone needs to rescue the Rancher’s Daughter, and the Sidekick finally decides that he’ll have to do it because the Hero is out of commission.

Act II
Through a series of events the Main Character learns about himself.  (Moves from identity to essence.) He must overcome obstacles and challenges using methods that are new and different for him.

 

THE FIRST PINCH
The Main Character faces a problem he must overcome. The problem is relatively easy, but it will require the Main Character to learn something new about himself.

The Sidekick goes to the neighboring town to talk to the Rancher.  The Rancher isn’t so sure the Sidekick is all he’s cracked up to be.  But with a little bit of fast-talking, and a mask, the Sidekick convinces the Rancher that he’s the real deal Cowboy Hero, here to rescue the damsel in distress.  During this encounter the Sidekick learns that he can be as charming and articulate at the Big Man himself.

THE MIDPOINT
The Main Character faces a much bigger problem in which he will have to learn something very important about himself.  Michael Hague would say that the character would have to move into his “identity” during this period.  The Hero gets the “magic elixir” here.  The Virgin is caught shining.  The Sinner meets the avatar of goodness.

The Sidekick tracks the bad guys to their lair and through a stellar display of cunning and bravery he rescues the Rancher’s Daughter. And he’s pretty impressed with himself because he did it single-handedly.  Something the Big Man can’t do since the Cowboy Hero always has a Sidekick – namely him.  Maybe the Hero’s success has been dependent on him from the beginning? 

THE SECOND PINCH
The problems facing the Main Character are getting more and more complicated.  He continues to learn stuff that will bring him further into his “identity.”  But the stakes are getting much, much higher.

Things get more complicated because the Rancher’s Daughter is cute and he likes her.  A lot.  And she’s smitten with the Sidekick who she thinks is the Hero.  Which is kind of a problem.  Nevertheless one thing leads to another and they make love.  In the heat of passion the Sidekick says something that the Rancher’s Daughter interprets as “I love you.”  (Of course a Cowboy Hero would never, ever do any of this, because, well, he’s a Cowboy Hero and always gets the bad guy but never gets the girl.)

ACT III
Something happens and even though the Main Character has grown as a person, he will still fall back on his old ways of thinking and reacting.  This will cause a huge crisis that he must resolve.

 

THE CRISIS
Something happens which forces the Main Character to forget everything he’s learned through the course of the story.  He reverts back to the person he was at the very beginning. (Hague would say he moves away from his essence back into his identity.)  From an archetype perspective this means he moves from the positive qualities of his archetype back into the negative ones.

The Sidekick returns home to find the Hero fully recovered from the flu.  The Hero is fine with the fact that the Sidekick rescued the Rancher’s Daughter, but when she arrives in town expecting the Hero to fall on his knee and propose marriage, the Sidekick is in deep trouble.  The Rancher’s Daughter discovers the Sidekick isn’t who he said he was.  And the Cowboy Hero feels betrayed because we all know Cowboy Heroes don’t ever get the girl.

THE RESOLUTION
All appears lost, but somehow the Main Character gets his act together, jettisons his fears, remembers what he’s learned about himself and fully embraces his “essence.”  When he does this he is able to resolve the crisis.

The Sidekick loses his job and the Hero’s trust, but maybe that’s not the end of the world.  After all, he could have the love of a wonderful woman, and he’s proven to himself that he could do the Hero’s job.  There are plenty of Western towns that need a guy like him.  And he could hire his own Sidekick.  So he jumps on his horse, catches the Rancher’s Daughter, professes his love, kisses her senseless, and they ride off into the sunset together.

The simple three-act structure above can be used to write any kind of story.  And if you combine it with archetypal behaviors that were first outlined by Carl Jung, you have some very powerful tools for brainstorming story and character arcs. 

I also think that this less rigid beat sheet is perfect for writing a synopsis or coming up with a brief outline, especially if you’re a seat of the pants plotter who doesn’t want to know every scene before you write it.  In fact, the story beats I’ve outlined above, if you put them in paragraph form, would create a very short, but complete, synopsis for this Sidekick story.

Even though I consider myself a tiny bit OCD when it comes to plotting stories, the truth is that I use the three act beat sheet way more often than I use any other story structure because I find that it’s the most fluid and liberating, and the best structure for synopsis writing.

Thanks for tuning in to this blog series.  It’s been fun to write.  Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. 

And if you’d like to learn more about this topic, I’ll be teaching the three act structure and archetypes at RWA’s convention this July in San Diego.  I’ll also be teaching a workshop on this topic for the Virginia Romance Writers in October.

Archetypes and Storybeats Part III: The Sinner’s Redemption

Over the last two weeks, I’ve discussed the story beats that make up the Hero’s Journey and the Virgin’s Promise.  Today, I’m going to introduce some original work on an archetypal story structure that I call The Sinner’s Redemption.

I don’t believe anyone has laid out the beat sheet for a redemption story, but I could be wrong.  I haven’t done an exhaustive literature search for this.  What you see below is a story beat sheet that I developed myself.

What is it about redemption stories?  We love them.  We tell them all the time.  And like any archetypal story structure, readers recognize the structure.  Classic examples of redemption stories include:  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Les Miserables, Crime and Punishment, A Christmas Carol (and the many spin-offs of it including It’s a Wonderful Life), as well as many sports comeback stories like Bad News Bears

Like the Hero’s Journey and the Virgin’s Promise redemption stories are perfectly fitted to a specific protagonist archetype.  Theoretically a redemption story can be told about any person with any kind of archetypal behavior system, but usually redemption stories involve protagonists who are Misers, Addicts, Rakes, Harlots, Thieves, Villains, Vampires, Shapeshifters, Zombies, or Biker Boys with Tats.   But for the purpose of simplicity, I’m going to call the protagonist archetype a Sinner.

In short, redemption tales usually begin with a protagonist who has already fallen from grace, or who, like the Ancient Mariner, commits a crime and falls from grace in the first few scenes.  Unlike the Hero who start his story in an “ordinary world,” or a Virgin who starts her story in a “dependent world,” the Sinner begins his tale in a “miserable world.”

Here are the story beats for a Sinner’s Redemption, using examples from the movies It’s a Wonderful Life and Electric Horseman.

Story Beat

Example: Electric Horseman

Example: It’s a Wonderful Life

THE MISERABLE WORLD

The story starts in one of two ways:

 

The Sinner has already fallen from grace and is living in a world that is cold, bleak, dark, and divorced from all things spiritual.  He is unkind, uncaring, craven, and values all the wrong things, just like Ebenezer Scrooge 
 

The Sinner falls from grace.  The Sinner is not a bad guy, but he (or someone close to him) makes a spectacular mistake that puts the Sinner into a miserable world. 

 

Sonny Steele is a five time all around rodeo champion.  At the end of his career he takes a job with AMPO, a giant corporation, to pitch their breakfast cereal.  Now he’s trotted out in an electric cowboy suit and paraded around at rodeos.  It’s a humiliating fall from his former glory.

George Bailey is a good man, but his bumbling uncle has lost the Savings and Loan’s money and a bank examiner has just arrived to audit the books. 

WEARING THE ALBATROSS

There are three possibilities for this story beat:  1) The Sinner will assume the guilt and all the responsibility for his fall from grace.  In fact he wallows in guilt.  2) He might be like Ebenezer Scrooge so far gone that he doesn’t even recognize how miserable he is, and he delights in being a real villain and ass, or 3) He will find himself in a state of utter despair.

Sonny is so humiliated by his life that he takes to the bottle.  He drinks all the time, and is often so drunk that he can hardly stay on his horse when he has to do personal appearances. 

George assumes the blame for the missing money.  He knows he’ll be sent to jail the next morning because he has no way to replace the missing money.  He despairs.

REJECTING THE MESSENGER

In redemption stories, there is a benevolent force at work behind the scenes determined to redeem the Sinner.  The Universe of Goodness will send the Sinner a messenger, designed to shake him out of his misery.  The Sinner usually ignores or misses the message the first time it’s delivered.  But like Scrooge encountering Marley’s ghost, the message often makes the sinner uneasy or angry.

At a corporate wide event in Las Vegas, Sonny is late to a press conference.  Reporter, Hallie Martin, out for a good story, asks him a question that pierces his armor.  He dodges the question, but it shakes him up.

 

 

George is beside himself.  He goes home to his wife and family only to discover that his daughter Zuzu is sick.  She is there to remind George of what he holds dear, but George misses the point, and instead, he yells at Zuzu’s teacher when she calls to see how Zuzu is feeling.  Zuzu gives George a token of goodness in the form of the petals from her broken flower.  He puts the petals in his pocket before he dashes out of the house desperate to find a solution to his problem at the bank.

THE VALLEY OF LIFE AND DEATH

About ¼ of the way through the story, the Sinner leaves his miserable world and enters into the Valley of Life and Death.  In some redemption stories, like A Christmas Carol, this is a paranormal purgatory where the rules of physics do not apply.  In other redemption stories, it’s a metaphoric valley.  This place may be divorced from society, or it may be more akin to a secret world.  Scrooge is allowed to visit his past and future life in a dream world.  The Ancient Mariner is stuck on a death ship with the souls of his shipmates.  In Les Miserables, the Sinner is sent to jail.

 

The PR department introduces Sonny to their new corporate symbol, a million dollar race horse named Rising Star.  The company has sedated the horse and done other things to it jeopardize its health and wellbeing.

 

Sonny, who has been happy to take money in return for being demeaned, is suddenly unable to let AMPO do the same to Rising Star.  So Sonny steals the horse and rides him off into the Nevada desert, a metaphoric Valley of Life and Death.

 

George tries to raise the missing money from Mr. Potter, who only points out that with George’s life insurance policy, George is worth more dead than he is alive. 

George enters the Valley of Life and Death by contemplating suicide. 

A GUIDE WILL APPEAR

The Sinner will not face the Valley of Life and Death alone.  He will either be guided through it like Scrooge with the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future, or the Sinner will journey with someone whose main story purpose is to make him review the choices he’s made during his life. 

The police and Ampo are on Sonny’s tail, but they have no clue where he’s gone.

 

Hallie, the reporter, is way smarter.  She talks to Sonny’s cowboy friends, learns something about Sonny’s past, and goes off to find him.

 

When she finds Sonny, Hallie discovers that he plans to release Rising Star somewhere out in the wilderness.  She talks him into letting her tell his story.  Hallie and Sonny team up and begin a trek across the wilderness together.  In this redemption story, both Hallie and Sonny will review their respective lives while they travel cross-country on foot.

 

Heaven sends Clarence, an angel-in-training, to stop George from killing himself.  Clarence who knows all about George’s past, decides to show George what the world would be like if George had never been born.  Together they take a tour of an alternate Bedford Falls, where the villain, Mr. Potter, is in charge of things.

MEETING THE AVATAR OF GOODNESS

While the Sinner is wandering in The Valley of Life and Death being forced to review his life and the choices he’s made, he will encounter at least one Avatar of Goodness whose fate rests in his hands.  Scrooge had Tiny Tim.  Jean Valjean had Cozette.  Often this Avatar of Goodness is innocent, naïve, and even Christ like.

As they trek across the wilderness, Hallie digs deeply into Sonny’s past life.  She meets some of his friends along the way and comes to realize he’s a better man than the drunk she first met.  Sonny learns a lot of about Hallie ,too, and makes her reevaluate the reasons she wants Sonny’s story. 
For Sonny and Hallie, their Avatar of Goodness is Rising Star.  As they tend to the horse, he gets stronger, and their motivations for setting him free gets strong as well.

George Baily encounters himself.  Oddly, in this redemption story, the Avatar of Goodness is the protagonist, whose life and choices have changed the course of history in the small town of Bedford Falls.

HE SEES THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS

At the close of the Sinner’s journey through the Valley, he has come to see how his past choices may not have been good ones.  And he wants to save and/or help the fate of the Avatar of Goodness. 

For a while it looks as if AMPO and the police are going to get the drop on Sonny, because, early on, Hallie gave them information about the place Sonny intended to set Rising Star Free. 

 

But at the last minute, Sonny reveals the release point for Rising Star, and its hundreds of miles away from where the cops think it’s going to be.  Together Sonny and Hallie release the horse, and agree that the true location doesn’t ever need to be disclosed. 

George is shocked and horrified by what Clarence has shown him.  He comes to understand that his life means something.  Suddenly George finds himself back on the bridge where he’d been thinking about ending it all.  He reaches into his pocket and finds Zuzu’s petals.

REPENTANCE

It’s not enough for the Sinner to see the errors of his ways.  Only an act of true repentance or forgiveness will allow him to move on.  Scrooge wakes up from his dream and immediately buys a turkey for Tiny Tim and his family.

Hallie comes to realize that there are some stories that are not worth telling to the world.  She gives up her story, and she asks for Sonny’s forgiveness.  Sonny forgives Hallie, and as she gets on a bus to return to New York, we know that Sonny’s days of selling himself to corporate America are over.  He’s ready to face the penalties for having stolen a twelve million dollar horse, and he’s moving on with his life.

Even though George is facing prison time, he knows the answer isn’t suicide.  He must go home and face his problem head on and accept the punishment.

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE MUNDANE

The Sinner’s world remains the same as it always was to everyone living in it except the Sinner himself.  When the Sinner sees the error of his ways and repents, his miserable world is transfigured and becomes holy.  The Sinner emerges from the Valley of Life and Death into a world that is as close to heaven as any world can get. 

 

Hallie has seen things a girl from New York never knew existed.  Her view of the world has radically changed.  She sees beauty in things she never saw before.

 

Like any good Cowboy, Sonny heads off into the sunset with his head held high.  He’s no longer a puppet of corporate America, but even more important, he’s preserved a piece of sacred nature by releasing Rising Star into the wilderness to run free.

George runs through Bedford Falls like a mad man, even though he knows that tomorrow he’ll be charged with bank fraud.  It’s almost as if George is seeing the town for the first time.

 

When he arrives home, he discovers that all the people whose lives he’s touched have banded together to raise the funds George needs to replace the missing money.

 

So there you have it –The beats for the Sinner’s Redemption.  I can think of many other stories like this:  Crime and Punishment, The Family Man, The Shawshank Redemption, The Mighty Ducks.

A Christmas Bride By Hope RamsayAnd – wait for it – the first book in my new series, A Christmas Bride, that will be available this coming September.  In that story, a widower is living in a miserable world, no longer able to hear the messages that this eight year old daughter is trying to send him. . .until the his deceased wife’s best friend returns to town, gets all up in his face, and forces him to take a good long look at his life and the mistakes he made during his first marriage.  Sound familiar?  Yeah, it’s a redemption love story, set during the holiday season.  And it was during the writing of this book that I realized that most redemption stories have a structure to them that is repeated over and over again.  And while the character arc for my heroine is probably more of a Virgin story, the much bigger character arc of the hero in this book is definitely a Sinner’s redemption.  In fact, the first comment my editor made in her revision letter, was “wow, the hero’s arc is the biggest one you’ve ever written.”

Yeah.  Because it’s a redemption story.

Next week, finding the story beats when your story isn’t a Hero’s Journey, a Virgin’s Promise, or a Sinner’s Redemption.

Archetypes and Storybeats Part II: The Virgin’s Promise

In last week’s blog  I discussed the Hero’s journey and the nexus between certain character archetypes that are so well-recognized that they come ready-made with their own set of story beats.  The Hero’s Journey as interpreted by Chris Vogler in his book on screenwriting (The Writer’s Journey), has been so widely read that it’s often offered up as the only pattern for stories.

But anyone who writes romance knows that the hero’s journey isn’t a good fit much of the time. It’s hard to see how Cinderella, or Sleeping Beauty, or Belle from Beauty and the Beast fit the Hero archetype. None of these protagonists go out into the world for the purpose of proving their mettle. None of these protagonists have battles with villains, although they all face antagonists. None of these protagonists assemble a group of allies. And even if we go beyond fairytale protagonists, it’s hard to see how Jane Eyre or Elizabeth Bennett fit the Hero archetype, much less the main characters from movies like Sleepless In Seattle or While You Were Sleeping.

Not surprisingly all these protagonists are women, and although it is possible to have a female Hero, there is something quintessentially male about the hero’s journey. Perhaps that’s because the hero’s journey is based on the study of myths from largely male-dominant cultures.

It should come as no surprise that Joseph Campbell–a male– had a blind spot in his research. He studied myths but he ignored fairy tales — told by women for millennia and equally as pervasive in the human experience.

virgins PromiseA few years ago Kim Hudson undertook an effort to develop a set of story beats that fit the uniquely feminine stories that are found in folk tales and fairy tales.  Her book The Virgin’s Promise is a wonderful counterpoint to the Hero’s Journey.

The Archetype she uses is the Virgin – a person (not necessarily female) who is inexperienced and dependent.  The Virgin’s story is one of empowerment.  Unlike the Hero, who leaves the comfort of his ordinary world in order to test his meddle and eventually save the world, the Virgin is living in a world that’s holding her back from her true, authentic potential as a human being.  She doesn’t leave her world and come back changed.  The Virgin’s story is all about how she empowers herself and thereby changes the world she’s living in. 

Below you’ll find the story beats for the Virgin’s Promise, but a word of warning.  Virgin stories are not like Hero stories.  A Hero story moves from one beat to the next in a logical order.  Virgin stories don’t necessarily do that.  Because they are stories of empowerment, and because they are uniquely female, they are less linear.  But each of following story beats is usually present in a Virgin story. If you’re creating a beat sheet, you do not have to put the beats in the order I’ve listed them below.

Here are the story beats for the Virgin’s Promise, using Cinderella and the movie While You Were Sleeping as examples.

Story Beat

Example: Cinderella

Example: While you were Sleeping

DEPENDENT WORLD

The Virgin is living in a kingdom in which she is either dependent on someone for her well being or so lost to herself and her inner dreams that she’s sleeping through her life.  

Cinderella is an orphan child who has been reduced to the role of servant in her father’s house.  She is dependent on her evil step mother for her survival.

Lucy is a toll taker on the Chicago Subway.  She dreams of traveling, but she never goes anywhere.  She dreams of a true love, but she’s alone.

THE PRICE OF CONFORMITY

Because the Virgin is dependent, she must conform to the rules of her world or face the possibility of losing something important to her.  It could be a roof over her head or the love of her family.  The bottom line is that the Virgin is living a life of servitude, in which her kingdom tells her what to do and who to be.

Although her stepmother and stepsisters are mean to her, Cinderella does their bidding because if she were to stop, she would lose the roof over her head.  (In addition, Cinderella wrongly believes that if she works hard enough she will earn her step mother’s love.)

Because she has no family, Lucy is always the one who has to work on holidays.

OPPORTUNITY TO SHINE

Something happens that gives the Virgin an opportunity that she wouldn’t ordinarily have.  This opportunity is like an escape hatch out of her dependent world.

The Prince is having a ball.  All the single girls are invited.  That includes Cinderella.

On Christmas Day, Peter, the man she’s been fantasizing about, falls to the train tracks.  Lucy saves his life but his fall has put him in a coma.

DRESSES THE PART

The Virgin will change her appearance in order to take the opportunity that has been offered.  She might dress like a boy.  She might take off her clothes all together.  She might work on a dress for the ball.

Cinderella dresses for the part in two places.  First she begins to alter one of her mother’s old dresses in order to attend the ball.  And, of course, after her step mother ruins that dress, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother give her a new, much more magical dress, that allows her to go to the ball. 

A mistake is made, and the hospital thinks that Lucy is Peter’s fiancé.  Lucy figuratively dons a mask.

SECRET WORLD

Emboldened by her suddenly awakened dreams, the Virgin creates a secret world in which her dreams can thrive.

Cinderella continues to secretly work on her ball gown, dreaming of what it might be like to go to the ball and dance with the Prince.  After she meets the Prince she also dreams of marrying him.

Peter’s family arrives at the hospital and immediately embrace Lucy as his fiancé.  She plays the role and pretends.

NO LONGER FITS WORLD

By spending time in her secret world the Virgin is empowering herself.  She begins to see possibilities that weren’t there before.  She tries to juggle both worlds, it becomes clear that she must make a decision, but she’s angst-ridden over it.  She may become confused or reckless or attract unwanted attention to herself.

Cinderella begins to believe that she has a right to go to the ball.  And despite the extra work her step mother piles on, she continues to work on her dress.

Lucy goes to dinner and a holiday celebration at Peter’s parent’s house, where she falls in love with Peter’s family.  But the next morning Peter’s brother, Jack, arrives and he’s immediately suspicious.  Juggling the lie becomes difficult as Jack tests her. But Lucy begins to fall in love with Jack.

CAUGHT SHINING

Reality intrudes, and the Virgin must face the fact that she can’t keep her two worlds separate.  Her secret world and the real world collide with the feared consequences.  Also, the Kingdom is not happy to discover that she’s dared to dream.

On the night of the ball, Cinderella puts on her party dress and expects to go with her stepmother and stepsisters.  But, of course, her stepmother is furious to discover that Cinderella dared to dream that she was good enough to go to the ball.  So her stepmother rips up the dress.

Peter wakes up.  He can’t remember being engaged to Lucy.  Everyone thinks he has amnesia. 

 

His godfather encourages him to love Lucy.  Peter agrees and asks Lucy to marry him.

GIVES UP WHAT HELD HER BACK

A major turning point, in which the Virgin sacrifices some part of her past in order to move forward toward the future.  She recognizes that she’s been paying a price for conformity that is way too high, and comes to realize that she is entitled to more.

Cinderella has a low point after her dress is destroyed.  But her Fairy Godmother arrives on the scene and tells her that she is entitled to a night at the ball.  She dresses the part again, and goes back to her secret world, dances with the prince, and begins to harbor another secret much more dangerous.  That she could be a princess.

Peter’s marriage proposal changes everything.  Lucy could choose to tell the truth and go back to her world taking tokens and being lonely, or she can say yes to a handsome and rich man.  She agrees to marry Peter.

KINGDOM IN CRISIS

When the Virgin changes and demands something better, a ripple goes through the kingdom that throws everyone into crisis.  Not just the Virgin, but everyone around her.

Cinderella leaves the ball at midnight when the magic wears off.  She’s back in her dependent world, but she left the glass slipper and a lasting impression on the Prince,  who throws the kingdom into chaos because of his desire to find his true love.

But Lucy doesn’t love Peter.  She loves his brother.  And Lucy’s impending marriage to Peter throws Jack’s world into chaos, because he loves Lucy.

WANDERS IN THE WILDERNESS

The Virgin, as much as she would like to stand up and leave her dependent existence, is suddenly afraid.  She’s not sure she can make it on her own.

Cinderella goes back to her life of servitude. And while the prince is running around trying on the glass slipper, she allows herself to be locked away.  She momentarily accepts the fact that she will never have a chance to try on that shoe.

Lucy is determined to go through with the wedding, but there are several moments when she gives Jack a chance to profess his love.  He doesn’t, because he’s loyal to his brother.  But this hurts Lucy.  She’s more determined than ever to marry Peter.

CHOOSES HER LIGHT

The Virgin will finally decide to trust herself and pursue the dream that’s she’s been nurturing.  She knows this will upset the order of things, but she’s no longer willing to maintain order at the expense of her own fulfillment.

Cinderella defies her step mother and asks for a chance to try on the shoe

The day of the wedding arrives.  Lucy is all dressed up in her white dress.  She goes down the aisle, but she can’t go through with it.  She tells Jack she loves him and she tells the entire family the truth about the mix-up at the hospital.  She has lost the family she’s grown the love.  But she has chosen to trust herself.  She’s going to go traveling.  On her own.

THE KINGDOM IS REORDERED (Rescue)

The Virgin has claimed personal authority over her life.  The Kingdom must: a) recognize her value when she’s fulfilling her dream and b) reconnect the Virgin to a community.

The shoe fits.  The Prince asks Cinderella to marry him.  She goes to live in the castle.

But before Lucy can leave her job, Jack and his family arrive at the toll booth.  He professes his love and asks her to marry him. 

THE KINGDOM IS BRIGHTER

In the end the world has changed.  Evil has been overturned.  And the world is brighter because the Virgin is now living a true, authentic life.

The evil stepmother and step sisters are thwarted and must live in a world in which Cinderella is no longer a servant but a princess.

Lucy marries Jack and she becomes a member of the family she has come to love.  Jack takes her to Italy on their honeymoon, fulfilling one of Lucy’s biggest dreams.

A Virgin’s Promise story lies at the heart of many romance and women’s fiction novels as well as romantic movies.  This is a uniquely female pattern because it’s a story of someone caught in servitude who breaks her chains and becomes the person she was fully meant to be.

Next week, we’ll discuss redemption stories, a story beat structure that’s essential to know if you’re writing Christmas stories or sports stories.

It’s Never Too Late to Learn Something New

I’ve been writing novels for a long time now. I can say that I’ve learned how to write a novel and I’ve learned how to meet a deadline.

But I get stuck. I lose my way even though I have an outline. I have to rewrite. I struggle sometimes with imagery and just plain bad writing. And I sometimes lose confidence. I have accepted that these things are just part of the job.

I’ve also discovered over the years that when I’m feeling doubtful about my writing it helps to go read a book on writing craft, or storytelling, or character development and try out new techniques or new processes. Going back to basics and/or learning something new frees me from self-doubt and the writing doldrums.

So, since we’re in the midst of the Winter Writing Festival, and I figure lots of you are struggling with self-doubt, have lost your way, or are stuck on a scene, it might be helpful to provide a list of great books on the craft of storytelling and writing.

Below you’ll find a list of my favorite books on the craft of writing. Some of these books changed my life. Others are used all the time as I plot or troubleshoot.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition by Christopher Vogler

The book discusses mythic structure and the hero’s journey as first outlined by Joseph Campbell. My take: This was the first book I ever read on story structure and it was an enormous eye-opener. It probably should be on every novelists shelf. But, a word of caution, romance authors will be left scratching their heads. The hero’s journey explains a lot of stories out there, and a lot of popular movies, but it doesn’t work for romance novels.

 

 

The Virgin’s Promise: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual, and Sexual Awakening by Kim Hudson (with a forward by Christopher Vogler)

This book discusses fairytale structure and can be viewed as a companion book to the Writer’s Journey. My take: I’ve been waiting for this book for years. It was published in 2010 and it discusses stories that don’t fit mythic hero’s journey structure (like romances!) If you’re writing stories about characters learning to live a fulfilled life, then this book will help you understand that structure. I truly think every romance author should own this book and study it.

 

Scene and Structure (Elements of Fiction Writing) by Jack M. Bickham

This book discusses scene and sequel structure. My take: This is a book that will help you improve pacing, regardless of what kind of genre you may be writing. The book focuses on thrillers and suspense novels, but romance authors can get a lot out of it as well.

 

 

 

Goal Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

This is a seminal book that provides hands-on help in crafting three-dimensional characters and understanding what people mean when they talk about conflict in a story. My take: This book changed my life. Seriously. I had no idea what conflict was, and I kept writing stories that got rejected with the words “no conflict” written all over them. If you have been told that your manuscript is lacking in conflict, you should read this book.

 

 

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maas

Written by a well-known literary agent, Donald Mass’ workbook provides advice and exercises to make your novel stand out in a crowd. My take: The exercises in this workbook are so useful, whether you are trying to fix a scene you’ve already written, or plot a novel from start to finish. The exercises are also very useful during brainstorming sessions with other writers. A lot of the questions I ask during the WWF brainstorming sessions on Wednesday mornings come right out of this workbook.

 

Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story by Ursula K Le Guin

Beloved author and poet Ursula K. Le Guin provides her take on the craft of writing. My Take: If you’ve ever read one of Le Guin’s books, you know that she writes beautifully. Her book on writing craft (including such issues as comma placement) was utterly liberating for me.

These are my go-to books when I’m looking for inspiration or when I’m stuck. What books on craft or storytelling are on your shelves?

Writing Fearless: A Christmas Tale

I admit it. I am guilty of studying tropes and trends, because I know that readers like them and my publisher expects them. And also, being familiar with tropes and trends is helpful.

But early this year, when my publisher asked me to write yet another Christmas novella for the 2015 holiday season, I was less than enthused. Honestly, if I had to write another:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/5/5f/The_Gift_of_the_Magi.jpg

 

 

a) Retelling of the Gift of the Magi (I did that in my novella I’ll be Home for Christmas),

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.sheeplaughs.com/scrooge/scrooge_stewartDVD.jpg

 

 

b) Take on Scrooge (I did that in my book Last Chance Christmas), or

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://thegirlbehindthereddoor.com/assets_c/2014/12/nativity-thumb-500x321-3681.jpg

 

c) Baby in a barn story (I did that in my novella Silent Night)

 

 

 

I. Would. Scream.

(Did I mention that the publisher made this suggestion in January, right after I was thoroughly Christmass-ed-out?)

http://www.dialogtech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/grinch-thumb-525x325-23201.jpg

I expressed these negative feelings to my husband on our daily commute. I railed against Dickens for having written the quintessential Christmas Novella of all times. I ranted about Scrooge — about how he is such a powerful icon of the season that he’s everywhere, in every story you read.  I mean, even It’s a Wonderful Life and How the Grinch Stole Christmas have Scrooge archetypes messing up Christmas for everyone.

“Not gonna do it,” I said.

Then my husband said, “What if you wrote a story where Tiny Tim was all grown up?”

And I said, “Okay, if Tiny Tim is a grown up, who’s Scrooge? A little kid?”

And he said nothing.

Did I mention that he’s a whiz at knowing when to shut up?

The next morning, this idea of turning Cindy Lou Who into a tiny-sized Grinch was still rattling around in my head. So I Googled the words, “Kids who hate Christmas.”

I got the usual listing of posts about greedy kids, even greedier grownups, and people ungraciously mouthing off about Christmas gifts they hated. But once I got past all that crap I stumbled across several heartbreaking and utterly inspiring articles and blog posts about and by parents whose children either have autism or who are on the Asperger’s spectrum.

For many of those special kids, Christmas is a nightmare. For their parents, Christmas can be a difficult obstacle course that requires love and patience and even more love.

A story began to form in my mind, but I didn’t think I was courageous enough to write it. The courageous ones are the parents of these special kids, and I didn’t feel as if I had any authority to write about them.

I put the story idea aside. I worked on a dozen other ideas all of which had some well-worn Christmas trope that failed to inspire. I dithered. I procrastinated. I complained.

And then I sent an email to my BFF and critique buddy, Caroline Bradley, who just happens to be the mom of a child on the Asperger’s spectrum. I didn’t contact Caroline to seek information about Asperger’s– not at first. At first it was just to have a conversation about whether I was brave enough to take on this topic.

Bless her, Caroline was more than enthusiastic. She told me that if the story had captured my heart, then it shouldn’t matter whether I was qualified to write it (that’s what research is for) or whether it was the usual trope (sometimes you have to stop listening to the marketing people). In short, she told me to be brave, write fearless, and tell a good story – words I hope to continue to live by.

I started by asking a lot of questions of a lot of parents and siblings of autistic kids.  I did my research. And then something magical happened, when I had finally stopped telling myself that this story was beyond me, I discovered that it was actually inside me.

The story arrived fully formed in a matter of days and needed almost no revision.

This experience has convinced me that when I dig deep, stretch my boundaries, and tell a story from deep inside my heart, the writing is never a problem. It’s when I back away from the hard stuff – that’s when the writing becomes impossible.

midnight clear coverA Midnight Clear, a Christmas story of a single mom with a special needs child goes on sale today. Here’s an excerpt.

So, tell me, have you ever had a story present itself that you thought you weren’t brave enough to write? Did you write it? What happened? Was it hard or did it turn out to be easy?

A Visit From My Muse

Dirty_dishes‘Twas the night before deadline, and all through the place
The dust bunnies were mating and taking up space.
The dishes were stacked in the kitchen in piles,
While crumpled up notes filled the circular file.

My lovers were nestled all snug in the bed,
With nary a conflict to mess with their heads.
And the villain in his wisdom, had gone to the coast
For a nice long vacation and a good Christmas roast.

My outline was there on my Scrivener screen
While my eyes were wide open, high on caffeine.
With Kitty in her basket, and I in my sweats
Was just thinking about having my last cigarette.

simbadeskSmallWhen there on my laptop appeared a strange sight
That at first I mistook for a bad megabyte.
“Windows I hate you”, I said in a wail
“Why did you wait for my deadline to fail?”

But the blue on the screen of my Sony Vaio
Gave the feeling that failure was certain, you know?
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature goddess in a gown oh-so-sheer,

Made of fine silky fabric, in sparkly bright hues,
I knew in a moment it must be my muse.
More comely than starlets in movies was she
But she snorted and grimaced and pointed at me.

Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry

Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in my head
The voice of my muse as she whispered and said,
“Your villain’s a wimp, he’s a really big goof,
And, honestly, honey your hero’s aloof.”

“Your heroine’s almost too stupid to live,
And your plot is so holey it looks like a sieve.
But I’ve got some ideas that might get you on track,
If you’d feed me some coffee and a chocolaty snack.”

So up from my desk I sprang with like a flash,
Pulled open my drawer for my M&M stash.
And I fed her a snack that was wickedly sweet.
And she gobbled it up. She was not even neat.

She spoke no more words, but went straight to her work,
And filled all my plot holes, then turned with a smirk.
And smiling a smile that was full of good cheer,
She nodded her head and then disappeared.

I ran to my story, and gave a big whistle.
All my problems had flown like the down of a thistle.
So I wrapped it all up, mailed it far out of sight.
“Happy deadline to me, and at last a good-night!”

* * * * * * * *

Leave a comment in haiku, rhyme, or some other poetic form to be eligible to win an autographed copy of A Christmas to Remember.  Christmas Carol parodies would be most welcome.

And to all the readers of the Ruby blog, I wish you the brightest and merriest of Christmases.  And a prosperous and happy New Year.A Christmas to Remember cover

Gravy! (And a Book Release)

Turkey Gravey

Photo by Amy Chan

Thanksgiving is almost upon us and I have a book release today with the appropriate title of Last Chance Family.  It’s got an orphaned girl, a confused gambler, a golden-hearted veterinarian, and lots and lots of cats.  You can’t go wrong with cats and orphans and vets when it comes to holiday books — let me tell you.  I’ll get around to telling you more about the book, but this is Thanksgiving week after all and there are more important matters at hand — like cooking. 

So, I thought I’d bypass the usual book hype and get down to something important, like giving y’all a lesson in gravy-making. You’d be surprised how much a writer can learn from the process of making gravy. Let me elucidate:

Step 1: Plan ahead. Making gravy takes all day. It’s not a flash in the pan sort of thing. You start your gravy by throwing a lot of random (and mostly uneatable) stuff it in a pot and simmer it for a long time. You take the giblets and neck from the bird and put them in a saucepan and cover them with water. Put them on a low simmer and cover. The stock you make by doing this becomes the body of the gravy. Be sure you make enough of this stock, otherwise you’ll end up with not enough gravy for your Thanksgiving crowd.

 Step 2: Take the bad stuff out of your gravy. About the time the turkey is ready to come of the oven, you’ll need to strain the stock and remove the neck and giblets. Throw the neck away. No one wants that stuff in their gravy. If you like giblets, dice up the liver and heart and return them to the stock, otherwise, throw that stuff away too. You only want the good stuff in your gravy. This is important! Pour your stock in a liquid measuring cup so you know how many cups you’ve got. Put the stock aside for a moment.

Step 3: Add the secret ingredient: You’ve come to the secret part of making good gravy. You need grease. Grease is to gravy is what conflict is to story. If you don’t have enough grease, you get crappy gravy. So, for each cup of stock you’ll need two tablespoons of the turkey drippings from the bottom of the roasting pan. Make sure those drippings are really heavy on the grease. The grease is what keeps the gravy from getting lumpy. Put the right proportion of grease into a skillet.

Photo by Amy Chan

Photo by Amy Chan

Step 4: Thicken the plot. . .er stock: You need to turn up the heat on this gravy and add flour, which is the stuff that thickens your gravy sort of like a couple of good plot twists. For each tablespoon of grease, you’ll need two tablespoons of flour.

Step 5: Screw up your courage: Now comes the hardest step in making gravy. You must cook the roux made of grease and flour until it is almost burned. It will undoubtedly stick to the bottom of the pan, and start to smoke, and you’ll be absolutely certain that no one in their right mind will ever want to eat this gravy. And you’ll be sure that this whole roux-cooking exercise is taking way too long. But have no fear. The trick to making gravy is to be utterly fearless when it comes to browning the roux. If you chicken out, your gravy will be pale and uninspiring.

Photo by Amy Chan

Photo by Amy Chan

Step 6: A Big finish. We’ve come to the flash in the pan moment. This is where you take all that grease and flour and combine it with your stock. When the roux is really dark brown, pour the stock into the frying pan. You should have a very long spoon when you do this, and stand back, because the stock hitting the hot skillet will make a big whoosh of steam. It’s mildly terrifying when this happens but incredibly satisfying.

Step 7 Let it simmer for a while: You’ve done all the hard stuff, now you just need to reduce the heat and simmer for a while, stirring occasionally, until the gravy is thick.

  I hope this helps y’all with your holiday gravy-making. And while you’re enjoying the holiday, I highly recommend my latest book, Last Chance Family. Here’s the blurb and cover.

 * * * *

Last Chance Family cover_lo resMike Taggart has always been willing to take a gamble. But these stakes are just way too high – there’s no way he’s prepared to become a legal guardian to his five-year-old niece. His only option is to head from Las Vegas to Last Chance to sort things out as quickly as possible. Problem is, he arrives to find an inconsolable little girl, her sick cat, and a gorgeous veterinarian he can’t get out of his mind.

Charlene Polk has two talents: healing sick critters and falling in love with the wrong men. Mike has trouble written all over him, but she can’t leave him in the lurch. And the more time she spends with the sexy high roller, the more she sees that this ready-made family is the best stroke of luck they’ve ever had . . .

 

 

Check into the Inn at Last Chance

I have three brothers.  They taught me much as I grew up.  How to kick a soccer ball.  How to climb a tree.  How to bait a hook.  How to score a baseball game.

They also handed down their books to me.  Books like: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein, and I, Robot by Isaac AsimovI never read a Nancy Drew story in my life but I did jump feet first into all twenty-three volumes of the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Book 1 - A Princess Of Mars (1)

 

When I was eleven or twelve I would take one or two of these hand-me-down books on summer vacations to South Carolina.  Until the year my Aunt Annie put her foot down.  I believe the book in question was A princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Annie had no idea what was between the covers of this book, she simply objected to its cover.

Not to mention the fact that I was reading all these hand-me-downs from the boys and I was missing out on the good stuff.  Or so she claimed.  I personally thought four armed green guys with tusks were pretty cool.  Annie didn’t agree.

So that summer she took away my Edgar Rice Burroughs and handed me Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  I reluctantly cracked the book, sure that it would be filled with icky, sissy, not very interesting stuff.

 

And then I met Mr. Rochester and . . . *sigh* . . . I’ve never been quite the same since.

I think I’ve re-read Jane Eyre at least twenty or thirty times and I never get tired of it.  It was the gateway drug for many other reading addictions including my love of Jane Austen. 

Anyway, I knew when I started writing about the Last Chance, South Carolina book club that they would eventually get around to reading Jane Eyre.  And that’s precisely what they do in my newest release Inn at Last Chance, which went on sale this week.

Inn at Last Chance cover_hi res2X3This book is an homage to Jane Eyre.  My heroine, Jenny Carpenter, is a modern take on Jane.  She’s a former school teacher who dresses like a little mouse and who has decided to embrace her spinsterhood.  Her plain outsides mask a deeply emotional and passionate woman.  My hero, Gabe Raintree, is Mr. Rochester in spades.  He’s moody, dark, tortured, not entirely honest, and keeps lots and lots of secrets which make for fun plot surprises.  He even has a mastiff just like Rochester, only the dog in the story is named Bear and not Pilot.

There’s a creepy house.  And a ghost.  And lots of gothic goings on.  Of course I’ve blended all of this with the usual matchmaking church ladies who are determined to match Jenny up with the new Preacher in town, Tim Lake, who bears a resemblance to St. John Rivers.

I had a blast writing this book.  And I know I shouldn’t have favorites, but it is probably my favorite of all the Last Chance books I’ve written so far.  That’s how much I love the hero of this book . . . and Jane Eyre.

So here’s my question for all of the readers (and authors) who are dropping by today: What was the book that turned you on to romance, and why?

One lucky commenter will win an autographed copy of Inn at Last Chance.

* * * *

Back Cover Blurb

Jenny Carpenter is the unrivaled pie-baking champion of Last Chance, South Carolina’s annual Watermelon Festival and the town’s unofficial spinster. With her dream of marriage and children on hold, she focuses on another dream, turning the local haunted house into a charming bed-and-breakfast. But her plans go off course when the home’s former owner shows up on her doorstep on a dark and stormy night . . .

Mega-bestselling horror writer Gabriel Raintree is as mysterious and tortured as his heroes. His family’s long-deserted mansion is just the inspiration he needs to finish his latest twisted tale, or so he thinks until he learns it’s been sold. The new innkeeper proves to be as determined as she is kind, and soon Gabriel finds himself a paying guest in his own home. As Jenny and Gabe bring new passion to the old house, can she convince him to leave the ghosts of his past behind-and make Last Chance their first choice for a future together?

* * * *

Excerpt

The coals in Mr. Raintree’s fireplace must have been hot because the wood he stacked on the andirons caught fire right away. He looked down and poked the log a few times. The fire’s glow lit up his stony features, softening them in a way that made the breath catch in Jenny’s throat.

Just then, he looked up at her across the bare, almost sterile room. “You’re staring at me. What is it? Are you checking me out? Please don’t tell me that you think I’m handsome.”

“No,” she said without thought.

He chuckled. And the sound seemed to warm the room by degrees. “You’re a piece of work, Jenny Carpenter. You look exactly like the kind of conventional woman who hands out platitudes. And yet every time I speak with you, you surprise me. Don’t you know that southern women never speak their minds directly?”

The room suddenly felt tropical. Her mother had scolded her dozens of times for speaking her mind. She needed to watch it, now that she was an innkeeper. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I was too blunt. I should have said something about how what’s on the outside doesn’t matter much.”

He snorted a laugh. “I’m glad you didn’t. I like honesty. The truth is I’m not even remotely handsome. I never have been. Unlike…” His voice faded away, and he turned to look at an empty corner of the room.

“Unlike who?”

He shrugged. “No one.” He turned back to the fire, and the muscle along his jaw flexed. “I need to get back to work.”

* * * *

Buy it at Amazon

Buy it at B&N

Plotting with your Characters

I don’t know about you, but I find plotting to be the most difficult thing about writing fiction.

But now that I write for a living, I’m required to submit a synopsis and/or detailed outline to my publisher well before I ever start a book.  And since my publisher pays me to do this, I have a huge incentive to pre-plot my books.

This being the case, I’ve developed a strategy for coming up with initial plot ideas.  I won’t say this is pain free, it’s not.  But it works for me.  And maybe it will work for you.  Here’s what I do.

I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my hero and heroine.  I don’t find this painful at all.  Usually my hero is handsome and hot.  He has a wound.  He has a troubled backstory.  Same thing with my heroine.  Since I’m a writer, which is synonymous with voyeur, thinking about my characters’ inner and outer lives is no sweat whatsoever.  Once I’ve gotten to know them I will try to answer two key questions about them:

1)      What does my hero/heroine want more than anything?

2)      What does my hero/heroine need to learn in order to fall in love?

The answer to question 1 is where the external plot line lives.  The answer to this question has to be something other than ‘My heroine want to fall in love.’  Here are some examples of acceptable answers: My heroine wants a family.  She wants a business.  She wants to land that client or that job.  She wants to run away from the bad guys or her parents or her family.

The answer to question 2 is where the love story lives.  Here are some examples of acceptable answers:  The heroine needs to learn how to trust.  She needs to stop trying to control everything.  She needs to learn the power of positive thinking.  She needs to see herself as beautiful.

If I can figure out a link between questions one and two that’s terrific.  But often I can’t.  Also, if I can put the hero and heroine in conflict with these questions that’s a plus, too.  But often I can’t do that either.  And really it’s not necessary at this point.  Just knowing what they want and what they need to learn is the most important part.

Once I have these goals and needs nailed, I take out several pieces of paper and I let my characters brainstorm around three important questions:

1)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out at least ten things that could happen that would make it harder for him/her to reach the story goal, or make the story goal more important than ever.

2)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out at least five things that could happen that would make his/her story goal mean more to the community at large, such as friends, family, community, co-workers, neighbors, the guys at the bar.

3)      I ask both hero and heroine to list out one or two things that could happen that would make his/her story goal so important or difficult that it becomes a life and death situation.

After I’ve gotten these lists I ask my both hero and heroine which of these events or situations would give them an opportunity to practice whatever it is that they need to learn in order to find love.  This inevitably makes my list even bigger and more detailed.

When I’m done with this exercise I’ll have a long list of potential scenes that might not be enough for a full book, but is almost certainly enough for a few turning points, which I will try to assemble into my recipe for a seven paragraph synopsis.

So now comes the fun part.  Today I thought it would be fun to brainstorm a plot using this technique.  Here’s what you need to know about my hero and heroine.  (By the way, this is not a book I’m writing or planning to write, I made up these characters on the fly for this exercise only.)

Hero:  1) Rick wants to quit his job as a CPA and open an Italian restaurant.  He’s the quintessential foodie who yearns to cook for a living, but is afraid to express this to his friends and family.  2) Rick needs to learn not to always play it safe.  He’s spent his life doing the “expected” thing.

Heroine:  1) Suzy wants to lose 50 pounds.  She has always been a big girl and she’s convinced that her “real life” will start once she drops the weight.  2) Suzy needs to learn that real life is right now and you don’t want to miss a minute of it waiting around.

Okay now it’s your turn.  Post comments telling me how Rick and Suzy’s goals are going to be a) difficult to achieve or become even more important to achieve b) become important to their friends, family, and community in either a positive or negative way, c) become an issue of life and death importance.  And don’t worry if the obvious things get listed very quickly.  The really interesting (and funny or emotional) stuff usually doesn’t come out until you’ve jotted down all the obvious (and clichéd) possibilities.

And to add a little spice one lucky commenter will win a copy of Inn at Last Chance, my newest release in the Last Chance series of contemporary, small southern town romances.

Ruby Release: Last Chance Knit & Stitch by Hope Ramsay

k&SwshadowIn celebration of the release date of Last Chance Knit & Stitch, I asked Ricki Wilson, a long time resident of Last Chance, South Carolina, and the day shift waitress at the Kountry Kitchen Café, to join me on the blog today.  Ricki knows more about what’s going on in Last Chance than just about anyone, except perhaps Ruby Rhodes, who as y’all know is the proprietor of the Cut ‘n’ Curl.

Me:  Welcome Ricki.

Ricki:  Hey, y’all.  I can’t say I’m a regular reader of your blog, since I have no desire to become a writer.  But I do love the books y’all write.  I’m afraid that these days my love life is pretty much lived vicariously.

Me: Why is that?

Well, I’m made a bunch of bad mistakes when I was young and stupid.  I could have married Clay Rhodes after we ran off to Nashville together, but I dumped him for my ex, Randy, who turned out to be a no-account loser who embezzled a bunch of money from the Music City record company he worked for. He left me flat broke with nowhere to go but back home to east nowhere South Carolina.  I arrived just in time to see Clay make a fool of himself over Jane Coblentz.  Now he’s a married man with a baby on the way.  And all I can do is feel sorry for what I lost.  My only fun is going down to Dot’s Spot on Wednesdays and Thursdays to listen to Clay play fiddle.  I know I shouldn’t be doing that.  But, you know, it’s hard sometimes to be alone.  Course, the older I get the harder it is to wait on tables all day and try to line-dance with the boys at Dot’s on a Wednesday evening.  You know what I mean?

Me: I guess being a waitress is a tough job, huh?

Ricki:  You have no idea.  If I don’t get tips I don’t make ends meet.  And to think that once I used to buy all my clothes at designer stores in Nashville.  Now I wear a uniform to work.  ‘Course all of the money Randy supposedly had never did buy me love.  I know in my head I’m better off alone.  But in my heart, maybe not so much.  Like you said in your nice introduction, there are some up sides to being a waitress.  I hear a lot of gossip before anyone else does. 

Me: So what’s new in town?

Ricki: Simon Wolfe has come home.  Do you know Simon?  He’s the former place kicker for the 1990 Champion Davis High Rebels– the one who won the big game for us with his boot.  Well, anyway, he left town 18 years ago after a big ol’ row with his momma and daddy.  I don’t really know what the fight was about, only that he never again set foot in this town until just a couple of days ago.  He’s back on account of his daddy’s death –Ira Wolfe keeled over right there in the showroom at Wolfe Ford.  I tell you, I heard that Ira’s business is in deep trouble.  Folks are saying the dealership might close down altogether now that Ira’s gone.  And I don’t expect Simon to have any interest in keeping a car dealership running.  I’ve heard he just wants to settle his daddy’s estate and get on back to California where he’s been living all these years.  But I heard Thelma Hanks say that the estate is in such a mess that Simon’s gonna have to stay for a while to untangle things. 

Me:  Anything else going on?

Ricki: Well, aside from Ira’s death, the only other gossip in town is about Pat Canaday, the owner of the Knit & Stitch yarn shop.  She’s up and run away from home.  She left home while her husband was on a fishing trip with his bass-hole buddies.  You won’t believe this, but she put a  note on the front door of the yarn shop telling everyone in town that she expects her daughter, Molly, to take things over.

It’ll be a cold day in July if that happens.  Molly’s a mechanic working for LeRoy down at Bill’s Grease Pit.  She and her best friend, Les Hays, are restoring an old Shelby Mustang they’re planning to auction off.  Molly never was a girly kind of girl, you know?  So if this is Pat’s way of trying to force Molly become a girly girl and give up her car business for the yarn shop, I think it’s going to fail. 

Course the knitters of Last Chance are up in arms over this.  They aren’t going to let the yarn shop close without a big fight.  Molly’s going to have to figure something out.

She’s also got a big real estate problem.  Simon Wolfe’s leased the old abandoned building right up the street.  I heard he’s using the place as studio space for his painting — he’s some kind of fancy artist or something.  But Molly wanted that building for her car business and with the Ira’s dealership closed Molly doesn’t have any place to work on that Shelby Mustang.  Molly is fit to be tied about this.  I’ll tell you what.

I predict the sparks are gonna fly between those two.  Not that I’m predicting anything matrimonial, you know.  I’m just saying that you’ve got two bull headed people fighting over one abandoned building.

Me: Speaking of forecasts has Miriam Randall handed out any advice recently?

Ricki:  No, ma’am.  Not that I know.  I sure do wish Miriam would give me a forecast.  I’m tired of being alone, and it seems like all the really good-looking men in town are either married or too young for me.  I tell you what, that Molly Canaday should treat Les Hays a lot better than she does or she’s going to lose that boy.  I only wish I was young enough to make a play for him, myself.  That is one nice looking man. 

But, you know, I reckon every single waitress in the world sings the same blues.  We’re all just waiting on the day when Prince Charming comes waltzing through the doors, sits down, and orders a cup of coffee. 

And there’s no chance of that happening.  So, I reckon I’ll be reading a lot of romance books late at night.  Charlene Polk suggested that I get a cat, to keep me company.  But, to be honest, I don’t really like cats and I don’t see myself as a crazy, single cat lady.  Maybe I should get me one of those cute little dogs you can dress up.  That might be fun.   What do y’all think?

Me: I’m a cat person Ricki.  But maybe some of the Rubies have ideas for you on what kind of pet would be right for you.  And in the meantime, I wouldn’t give up on Prince Charming just yet.  You just never know what’s going to happen in Last Chance.  Things have a way of working themselves out in your little town. 

Ricki I sure do hope so.  And I do thank you for having me here today.  Y’all take care now, and come on by and visit at the Kountry Kitchen if you’re ever in town.

* * * *

One lucky commenter on today’s blog will win an autographed copy of Last Chance Knit and Stitch. 

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