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Posts tagged with: Writer’s Toolbox

Just Contempt

Has this ever happened to you?

I read continuously. Sometimes two books at a time. This past week I took my grandsons to the library and even though I have hundreds of books sitting in my office and on my kindle that I’ve not read yet, I had to have another world to step into.  I picked up a book by an author who I recently heard of but never read before and dove in. That evening, after reading twenty odd pages, I closed the book and went to sleep, thinking it’s the beginning. It’ll get better. The author is a NYT best selling author. The book was edited and published by one of the big five houses. One of the two publishers I’d always dreamt of being part of their stable of authors. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.

After reading a third of the book, because I was really trying to give this author a chance, I went on-line and read the reviews for this story and was amazed that the majority of reviewers, like seventy-five percent of the people reviewing the story, felt the same way I did about the characters. We didn’t feel anything. Well, maybe contempt for taking up our value time.

I continued to read, skipping paragraphs at first and then pages, looking for some reason to like the characters and continued on, (I’m a determined Scorpio after all), but there was only more whining from the heroine and more one-track sexist thoughts from the hero. This was a suspense for goodness sakes. What about the murderer still at large?  What about some thought about saving lives? Other characters were dying.

At a little over the halfway point, I stopped.  Feeling totally disappointed and annoyed, I closed the book.  I was glad I hadn’t spent money on this book. Will I read this author’s work again? I’m honestly not sure. This wasn’t her first book. It was like her twelfth. If it had been her debut book, then I’d probably give her a second chance to win my loyalty.

I then picked up a book from my TBR pile. One that I’ve been meaning to read for years.  A classic time travel published in the nineteen seventies and within twenty pages I was intrigued by the main characters and the possibility of the plot. I even chuckled at a line. I’m totally enjoying it.

Stories are about people and what happens to them. And for readers to enjoy the story, they MUST connect with the characters. It’s that simple.  It doesn’t matter if the main character is an archeological professor in the 1940’s searching for treasures or an old man on a boat or the widow who inherits a football team.  Readers must like or become invested in them immediately. In order for you, the author, to pull this off, you must know your characters.

There is no right way or wrong way or one way to accomplish this.  My way is to first scan pictures and find physical forms for my characters. It’s easier for me to have conversations with them knowing what they look like. Then I figure out one trait about them my readers will admire and one thing that will connect the character with a large portion of readers by way of relation or sympathy (goals).  Why did I say large portion and not all? Because in the realm of things, humans have very few universal similarities. We all need air, food and water to live. We all have a lineage; ancestors but some of us could care less about our pasts.  Most humans need human connection, but there are those who do not. All of us believe in something, even if it’s not to believe in anything.  A majority of people want to help other humans and or other life forms, but again, there are those who could care less. None of us have live through the all same experiences. We are unique but we do still connect.

After I have those three character’s features, I begin to write my story.  At this point, I don’t know everything about my characters– I’m a hybrid pantser/plotter—but I begin to write the moment when their lives change. As I put them into situations they reveal their innermost desires and fears to me and usually by the black moment I know them like I know myself. During revisions, layering in everything I’ve learned in unique ways is a challenge, but so much fun and so rewarding.

How do you develop a character that readers will love?

Or tell us, why a particular favorite character stands out in your memory? How did the author connect you with him or her?

 

It’s All In The Past

I love a good action movie where it’s all about the ticking bomb, once in a while. However if the screen writer adds a character that touches my heart, the movie goes from good to great! When that happens, I can’t stop talking about it. I tell my family and friends. I chat about it at work and on social media. And I easily lay down my hard-earned cash for the next movie. Readers have the same reaction after finishing a book that left them feeling something for someone, the character.  And word of mouth is still the best advertisement. It will get you more returns than a pricey Bookbub ad and cost you nothing but the sweat and blood and tears you poured into your story. So how do we create characters that are memorable?

Most new writers think of physical traits when we speak of creating a character, but art is so much more. Certainly, features, abilities, or disabilities can shape a character’s perception of themselves or how the world sees them, so yes, picture them but go beyond the physical. Use the physical to create flaws for your character and thus emotional ties with your reader.  Just a few film examples that you might be familiar with which use physical attributes to create memorable characters are Princess Fiona (Shrek), Erin Brockowich, Raymond Babbitt {Rain Man} or Sherlock Holmes.

The basic tool we use to dig deep into our characters psyche is GMC. We’re all familiar with the acronym, right? Goals, motivation and conflict. Every character, including secondary characters, need to have goals. Behind the answer of what they’re goals are comes the question why is that their goal? What impels them to get up every morning and work toward that objective? Then why has that particular incident in their life affected them so deeply that years later they’re not going to let anyone stop them from reaching their objective? What is the emotional seed?

There is that word again. EMOTION.

Then comes conflict. Think of your own conflicts. Unless you live in a solitary world you have them. We have issues with the world events.  We have conflicts with others; Husband, wife, children, mother, father, the cousin who lives a state away and still seems to meddle in your life, a co-worker who rubs you the wrong way and pets. Don’t forget our furry or feathered friends. At times we have conflict with ourselves. Time can add conflict. Conflict comes in all sizes and most days from every direction. Do you recall days like that? Remember the raw emotion that coursed through you because of conflict. Hit your character with a ton of conflict.

The way your character reacts to conflict is part of their temperament. You can show their reaction to tough situations as a strength or a flaw. Characters need both. We all have both. Readers identify with characters through them and the emotional baggage that comes with them. Make a list of your character’s flaws and strengths. How did they come about? How can you show them? How can they show growth?

When I start a new story, I usually have glimpse of the opening scene in my mind. I have no clue where the story line is going to take me. The first thing I do is search for pictures of my characters. I know them as soon as I see them. (CRAZY RIGHT?) Then I start asking them questions about themselves. Out those answers, story ideas will begin to take shape.

My advice: Dig deep into your characters’ pasts even though not a word of it might make it on to the page. You need to know them.

How do you develop your characters? Please share your process.

 

 

                                                                                       LOVED BY DARKNESS coming MAY 8th, 2018

                                                                                                                Pre-0rder now!

READER CONNECTION: USING MEMORIES

Emma didn’t know what woke her— the excitement of the celebration to come in a few hours or the moonlight streams shimmering through the window, but something had.  Her heart, like an Olympic sprinter’s, drummed against her narrow chest as she brushed her bangs from her eyes.

BECAUSE OF SEASONS

If you’re thinking this blog is about setting, you’re totally wrong.  Maybe I should’ve changed the title so you wouldn’t have thought so, but after I started brainstorming ideas for a blog it actually fit.

My original idea was to write about two lessons I learned many years ago from my creative writing professor which, yes, would’ve pertained to setting, but then two of my Ruby sisters had also mentioned on our private loop that they planned blogs about the subject. Although I knew we’d approach the subject matter from different angles, I kind of figured our readers would say enough already.  So I’ll save my thoughts on setting for another time.

Anyway, going back to my creative writing classes— since I know you’re all dying to know what they were—the first one was free writing. We all know what that is, right? You just write whatever comes to mind without stopping for a length of time and the writing doesn’t need to follow rhythm or reason. It’s a way of freeing your muse. Thinking about that lesson helped me put a twist on the second lesson, which was setting sense and had to do with experiencing your world.

When we think of seasons we contemplate visions of spring, summer, autumn and winter and all the elements that make them unique. But for today, we’re going to think of seasons in term of our character’s lives.

People in different seasons of their lives have very different points of view on just about everything. I know I think differently than my children on many topics, including their view of texting to friends while talking to me as multi-tasking. I also have a different point of view than my parents on many subjects.

However, age is not the only factor that determines our mind set.  My views are not always agreed upon by friends who are my age. Everyone’s  POV has been shaped by many dynamics such as; their racial background, their educational level, the region in which they live, their talents, their experiences with others (job or social networking), past and present world events, handling health issues, religion, and their relationships with family members, to name a few.  To make characters really come to life we need to know which forces molded them—backstory.

A woman of ninety who has been totally blessed all her life is going to look at death differently than a girl of sixteen. And a girl of sixteen who has been blessed will face death differently than a girl who has been repeatedly abused by her father.

A man who has a family that depends on him for support is going to go to a job interview with a different mindset than a man who has no one but himself to worry about. And a woman is going to have a totally different mentality in the same situation.

Two homeless families will have a different outlooks on their future because of their relationship with each other and their faith in God.

Two men hear gunfire. One is a hunter. The other is a vet who has seen the worse side of humanity.  Each will react differently to the discharge.

A person who has never had a new car is going to feel differently about their new car than the person who buys a new Porsche every year.

Those are simply examples, but I think you get my drift.

I remember while cleaning for my grandmother I found dozens of pieces if cardboard maybe six inches in length. Each had many different colored threads spooled around them.  The threads were extras that came from clothing that had been undone.  She also kept sheets of used aluminum foil of all different sizes in a box. They were to be reused.  My grandmother lived through the great depression.  Many things she did all her life were based on the time she lived through.

Each season of life as well as how much we have been seasoned influences our POV and fuels our motivation in doing everything. So it should be for our characters.

 

 

Autumn Jordon is sneaker-wearing Ruby who authors light-heart contemporary romances and seat-edging mystery/suspense novels.  Join her newsletter at autumnjordon.com and receive a free book and many short reads, available only to her subscribers. 

WE ARE ONE

NOTE: This blog might seem like a me blog but there are important lessons to learn.

If you would ask any of my elementary, junior high or high school classmates, or teachers for that matter, to describe in one word what I was like in school, you’d probably hear the words quiet, nice, shy, friendly, helpful. I was the person who got along with everyone; Nerds, Jocks, Wall-flowers, Artists, etc. etc. Everyone seemed to include me in their groups, but I always stood on the fringe of their social troupe.

At that time, girls like me graduated and went to work in the mills, or became secretaries, nurses, store clerks, waitresses, teachers or housewives. I didn’t long to be any of those things. I wanted to be a writer. Fortunately, my school had a newspaper so there was a possibly that I might try on the dream, but remember I was shy. Of all the groups I mentioned above, the wall-flowers were my groupies. Then something happened. My parents said, if you want a car you need to get a job to pay for the gas, repairs and insurance. This was the inciting incident that changed my future.

I did get a job, through my aunt, as a waitress. Now waitresses are not shy people. They can be quiet, but being friendly and open earns you much better tips and believe me I learned that lesson fast.  And the next year, I joined the school newspaper staff and even managed to ruffle some feathers with one of my articles. (If you read my current bio, you’ve read that trouble is my middle name. I believable this when it all started.)

Jumping forward; I remain a wall-flower of sorts whenever I enter a new situation. My stomach is still a bag of nerves. I still tend to pick a corner away from the action and scope out the happening playing out in front of me.  I still watch the people who walk in the door with their heads held high, flashing smiles, and who jump right into the conversations of others and I wonder how the hell they became that way.

I remember walking into my first writer’s meeting and first writer’s conference feeling a nervous wreck. But then I remembered my first day working as a waitress, and how nervous I was. Then I recalled the more confident person I’d become when I left that job to go college. It took steps to become that person. They were hard steps to take but the rewards were so great.

Over the years through my careers as a mom, professional volunteer (25 years in the elementary PTO plus other orgs.), national restaurant chain area supervisor, a corporate secretary, and as a writer, I’ve amassed a huge number of friends. I count a number of my writer friends among my most dearest. My Ruby sisters and my sisters of the Pocono-Lehigh Romance Writers (past and present) and others, have helped me through the darkest hours of my life after losing my husband to cancer and then my father a year later the same way. It was because of these relationships that I was forced to look up from the dark hole of depression and see the light of hope. Hope that joy could still be found in life.

Writing has always given me joy, but being a writer and having the gumption to step into uncomfortable situations and meet new people has been a blessing. So, you introverts who are heading off to RWA National next week, good for you for taking that step. If you’re thinking of going to a meeting, workshop or conference, do it. Keep my story in mind and start a conversation with other wallflowers. Start your own gang. Introduce yourself to others while in line or sitting next to someone in a workshop. Exchange business cards, like them on FB or tweeter immediately, join a newsletter or two of those authors who impressed you.  Most of all, be you. Be genuine. And have fun!

 

LAST DAY TO PREORDER!

 

Autumn Jordon is award-winning sneaker wearing Ruby. She writes both romantic suspense/mystery and contemporary romance filled with attitude and laughs. In fact, her fourth release in a Perfect Love Series, Perfect Fall, releases tomorrow July 18, 2017. Preorder today at a special price. She’d love to have you join her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com

What I Learned From Michael Hauge Part 2

Last week, I shared my notes on Michael’s opening comments and his insight into the Hero’s inner Journey during his Master Class. Today I’m sharing my notes on his six-stage Plot Structure and at which point the hero’s Transformation occurs.

 

If you’ve visit Mr. Hauge’s website, you can see his Six-Stage Plot Structure chart.

It’s broken down into Set-up, New situation, Progress, Complications & Higher Stakes, Final Push and Aftermath. In between each he’s labeled 10% Opportunity, 25% change of Plans, 50% Point of No Return, 75% Major Setback and 90-99% Climax.


Setup-Stage One:

We introduce are hero in his everyday life, the life he has lead for years. He is stuck.

During the intro we need to create empathy for the character and this must be done before any character flaws are revealed. The reader must like or sympathize with the character before flaws are shown.

The character must be put into jeopardy. Not necessarily life threatening, but in danger of losing something of importance to character

Character must be likeable. Good hearted toward others.

Or, there should be humor. Character has the courage to say what we would not.

Also, we need to show that hero has the skills to overcome what will stand in his way.

 At 10% mark: Hero is stuck in his identity.

Opportunity happens (1st turning point) and creates an immediate desire to enter new situation and a need to react. This is not the main goal for the character. It is a primarily goal that sets him on a path. It can be either a curse or a blessing.  

New Situation-Stage Two: opportunity forces character to react while keeping in his identity. However, in reacting he gets a glimpse of his essence. He could get a glimpse of his essence from the point of view of a secondary character.  (Hero reacts and secondary character states, “Man that was so cool. I can’t believe you just did that.”)

 At 25% mark: Change of Plans

Your hero starts his journey, believing he will remain in his identity, which actually forces him toward his essence. This is where the outer motivation begins. The Hero defines his success.  In Braveheart, it’s the moment his bride is killed.

Stage Three: Process

Our hero starts to take on elements of essence. He defines a plan to accomplish goal. During this stage he wavers between identity and essence. He feels vulnerable in essence and retreats to identity.

At 50% mark: Point of No Return

Something must happen to make our hero totally commit. At this point, they let go of their identity and accept the change and move forward. Example in romance, their declaration of love.

In Pride and Prejudice, it when Mr. Darcy reveals his love for Elizabeth. In Hunt For Red October, it’s when Jack Ryan jumps out of the helicopter and into the sea, determined to save the world from a nuclear war.

Stage Four: Complications & Higher Stakes

Our hero steadily evolves toward essence. He makes a promise to someone or vows to himself. “As God as my witness. I will never go hungry again.” Scarlett in Gone With The Wind.

The ticking clock gets louder. Obstacles get bigger. Pace quickens. More conflict is add.

At 75%: Major Setback

Something has to happen that makes the hero stop dead in his tracks. He retreats to old life/identity and discovers that you can never go home again. The truth he’s been searching for comes out.

During this section of the story a secondary character will come to the hero and say “Why are you not acting like you?” In Notting Hill, it’s the scene where Will is sitting with his friends and has told them about Anna baring her soul to him and Spike enters and states, “You draft prick!” It the wake up moment for Will.

Stage Five: Final Push

Your hero must pull up his bootstraps and go for the goal. No holding back.

In Independence Day, Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum get on the alien ship and take off to destroy the mother ship.

Depending on your story, between 90% and 99% the Climax will occur.

The main goal will be resolved. He wins the girl. He defeats the villain. In You’ve Got Mail, It’s the moment when Kathleen and Joe meet in the park and she realizes her on-line friend has been Joe the whole time.

Stage Six: Aftermath

We see our hero in his essence enjoying his new life. Again using Notting Hill, it the end of the movie where we see Will participating in Anna’s world and both of them comfortable in their new roles.


And there you have my notes. I hope I’ve helped you in understanding story structure.

 

His Witness To Evil

Autumn Jordon is the award-winning author of romantic suspense-mystery-thrillers such as her Golden Heart Finalist and Golden Leaf winner His Witness To Evil. After her family business was comprised by The Russian Mafia and the FBI investigated, she grabbed her note pad and pen and went on to interview the agents. Join her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com and be privy to upcoming releases, sales, and events. Also, you’ll receive free reads and be entered into her monthly contest for great prizes

What I Learned From Michael Hauge – PART 1

If you’ve read my blog on February 27, you know I believe in a writer’s continued education. Last weekend, The Greater Lehigh Valley Writer’s Group of the ABE area in Pennsylvania hosted the renowned Michael Hauge. Mr. Hauge is known for his Story Mastery concept of screen-writing. Over the years, while attending RWA conferences, I tried to get into his sessions, but they were always filled to capacity and now I know why. The man breaks down story telling in a way that makes complete sense. So when this opportunity came up, I jumped to learn from him. I jumped on the opportunity to learn from him.

Because of the volume of notes I took during the class, I’m going to break this blog topic up into two sessions. Today, I’ll convey Mr. Hauge’s opening comments and then I’ll concentrate on his information for a character’s inner journey. On April 3, next Monday, I’ll share what I learned about his Six-Stage Plot Structure. Again, I want credit Mr. Hauge and state again these are my notes.


Mr. Hauge started the day with this statement: A writer’s job is to create emotion in the reader. Character, desire and conflict are your story’s core.

How great is that statement? In two lines, he conveyed the essence of story-telling.

Hauge made us work, filling in templates based on our stories. The three words that he repeated throughout the day and especially as he listened to participates who read from their templates was “KEEP IT SIMPLE”. Don’t over think or make it more complicated than it needs to be was his message. Describe the elements in as few words as possible.

He then went on to describe the outer journey as the story of accomplishment and he listed five outer motivations which create conflict.

  1. To win something. In romance, it’s to win the love of another character.

     2. To stop something bad from happening.

     3. To escape; to get out of a bad situation.

     4. To deliver something of value from point A to point B.

     5. To retrieve a value object.

 

The inner journey he said is the transformation of character from living in fear to living courageously.

Structure he described as where the story takes place. He also stated to move the scenes to where they have the most impact. When he said this, I recalled how my editor for His Witness To Evil had me move a scene to later in the book because of this reason. Often we’re too close to our own work that we don’t see how we can improve it and that is why editors are important.

 

The Hero’s Inner Journey: The transformation. The Character’s Arc.

Mr. Hauge stated you need to answer these questions for each of your characters.

What does the character want? A longing is something he will express (outer desire). A need is something he will not (internal hidden desire).

What is their wound? A wound is the unhealed source from the past. No one gets out of adolescence unscarred. The character feels that they’ve moved on, but it still affects their actions.

What is their belief? We form a belief of why an event happened. Beliefs grow out of the wound. They’re always logical but never true!

What is their fear? This should be a move or change that goes against character’s belief.

 

He then gave us two terms; Identity and Essence.

“A character’s identity is a false-self she presents to the world to protect her fear that grew from the belief that grew out of the wound long ago.” It’s her emotional armor. It is who they believe themselves to be and all they can be. They feel safe in their identity.

While in the identity they can have what they want but to get what they need their identity must die and they must move into their essence.

The essence is the character’s true self. It’s who they really are. It’s who they can be, if they find the courage.

The Character’s Arc is the journey from the false-self to the true self without losing their admirable traits. In other words, the character will let go of the past wounds, fearlessly grow in their strengths and become someone they never imagine they could be.

Your character can NEVER achieve outer goal while in his identity. To achieve the goal he must be in his essence. Either they can feel safe and be unfilled, or you can be scarred and gain what you need.


Okay, I think I’ve given you enough to think about today. Work on your characters and next week I’ll share my notes on the Six Stage Plot Structure and how your character’s arc fits in.

 

 

His Witness To Evil

Autumn Jordon is the award-winning author of romantic suspense-mystery-thrillers such as her Golden Heart Finalist and Golden Leaf winner His Witness To Evil. After her family business was comprised by The Russian Mafia and the FBI investigated, she grabbed her note pad and pen and went on to interview the agents. Join her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com and be privy to upcoming releases, sales, and events. Also, you’ll receive free reads and be entered into her monthly contest for great prizes

Always

I’m a firm believer that you should never stop learning. On my last day walking this earth, I intend to learn something about this world, or the world I’m about to enter, or myself.

I wince when I hear people say they don’t need to know this or that. Why won’t you want to know something about everything?

Since this is a blog for writers and we focus mainly on the craft of writing and publishing industry and elements related to both, I’ll speak to the authors reading this. Never stop studying the craft. Never turn a deaf ear to information that relates to your small business. Never stop learning about humanity and the world, because they feed your creative well.

No moment in time has offered us so many venues in which we can expand our minds. We have the ability to fly to the other side of the world in a day and experience cultures our forefathers never heard of. We can open a window to the worldwide web and learn about every uncover stone in history, and steps that will change our world today, tomorrow, in years to come.

We are friends to people all over the globe and share our daily lives, hopes and dreams, having never met them face to face.

Since the majority of information shared is through written word, we have a responsibility to humanity to never stop educating ourselves and share what we’ve learned, be it through poetry, screenplays, non-fiction or fiction, but the majority of us, on government income tables, qualify as starving artist. So how can we continue to learn, to improve ourselves as artists?

There are so many avenues that cost little or nothing. Here are ten ways.

  • Blogs like the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, where experienced writers who published, both traditionally and independently, and are willing to share their journeys and help guide others.
  • Many authors have writer related archives on their websites where they share articles on craft.
  • Local or National writing organizations. There is nothing like being in a room with other writers, even if the group is small.
  • On-line writers groups. Check RWA for info on on-line chapters.
  • Craft books. Buy used if on a budget, or trade off with other writers.
  • Industry related magazines. Check for on-line magazines also. Many are free.
  • Conferences or workshops. Many conferences are breaking down their venues and offering the purchased of one day, two day or entire conference packages, making attending more affordable to some.
  • Conference workshop recordings. If you can’t attend the event, this is the next best thing.
  • On-line classes. I, and several other Ruby Sisters, love Margie Lawson classes (margielawson.com). Intense, but worth the time and money! And I’ve taken Master classes from James Patterson and Arron Sorken through masterclass.com. I review classes constantly. Michael Hauge also offers a lot of information on his website, storymastery.com.
  • Reading. You can learn about the craft just by studying your favorite authors’ works. Whether you write every day or not,  reading, learning, every day should be a priority.

 

There are more venues to help you on your journey and I know some of the sisters will jump in and offer them up, but if something has helped you, please share in the comments below.

 

Autumn Jordon is the award-winning author of romantic suspense-mystery-thrillers such as her Golden Heart Finalist and Golden Leaf winner His Witness To Evil. After her family business was comprised by The Russian Mafia and the FBI investigated, she grabbed her note pad and pen and went on to interview the agents. Join her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com and be privy to upcoming releases, sales, and events. Also, you’ll receive free reads and be entered into her monthly contest for great prizes.

 

 

 

Is Short The New Long?

Writing a great short story used to be the training ground for writers. Hemingway started his career by writing them, as did Stephen King, and many renown others.

For many years, the appetite for short stories, nearly disappeared, cutting the number of magazines that included them substantially, and leaving only classic short stories on the book shelves. However, I believe the tide is changing among today’s readers. Their time is limited and there are times when they just want something worthy and short while they’re waiting in a doctor’s office or school parking lot.

Also, many are now reading on their phones, and reading a short story is more feasible on the small device.

This month, I dove into the short market with a novelette titled Perfect Moments. It released on February first. I was nervous about writing it because shorts have a totally different writing style than a full length novel. It was a learning experience, but after receiving emails from readers requesting to know whether Elizabeth and Bob Kincaid (from Perfect) made it home from their overseas duty, I decided to give Elizabeth and Bob their story. Their short.

Another reason I decided to try my hand at writing a short story was because today’s reader wants more product from an author, and quicker. I’m comfortable writing a full length novel in a year, sometimes nine months. But to write quicker, I know the quality of my work would decline. I want to continue to improve my craft, not hinder it. So to feed my fans cravings, writing short stories might be the way to go.

 

I asked my Ruby Sisters their thoughts on writing short stories.

 

Rita Henuber said she wrote her short stories because, “I have many stories bumping around inside my skull. Characters screaming at me to tell their story. Some are absolutely not full length novel material. All but one in my collection of short stories began with an experience of mine. I had to write them.”

And Jeannie Lyn said, I actually LOVE shorts and think they’re a great way to pack a punch in a short amount of space as well as introduce writers to your voice. The last short story that I wrote was meant to be an introduction to my steampunk world for new readers and a little bonus for existing readers.”

Ruby sister Ava Blackstone stated she wrote a short after reading an article in her RWA chapter’s newsletter about writing for Woman’s World. “I decided to give it a try. I found that short stories were great palate cleansers when I was sick of my main WIP. I also liked the freedom to experiment with different writing styles without worrying that I was wasting months on something that might not work.”

And Vivi Andrews stated, “I’ve always written short stories for anthologies, usually with open submission calls that provided the opportunity to get my writing in front of more readers.  My little gateway stories to lure readers into my world. 🙂  This spring I’ll be participating in the 2nd RWA Anthology.”

I then asked the sisters if they found writing shorts difficult? I know I found it challenging not to add more conflict, more points of view, more of everything.

Vivi said, “Actually, I don’t find them difficult at all.  I was nervous initially about stepping out of my comfort zone, but I wound up loving the opportunity to tell more compact romances.”

 

Rita stated, “Not at all. I enjoyed writing the shorts and the side benefit of stopping those people in my head screaming. I view shorts as a moment in time. A snapshot event giving the reader something to ponder.”

 

Jeannie started writing shorts before she wrote novels. “I have a totally different mindset when I switch back to writing shorts. They’re not just shorter novel storylines — the way I plot and present a short story is entirely different than what I do in a novel.”

 

Ava said, Writing that first short story definitely required a paradigm shift. I had to come up with a much smaller-scale conflict than I was used to writing so that I could wrap things up realistically in 800 words. It helped me to think about it as though I was writing a scene instead of a novel. So then it was just a matter of coming up with a compelling scene that could stand on its own.”

 

 

 

 

So why write shorts? I’d heard shorts help with sales on other books, especially if their part of a series. Perfect Moments just released, so I don’t have a track record to share, so again I questioned my sisters who had published short stories.

 

 

Jeannie stated, I actually have found it helpful bringing in new readers with shorts. Since my settings and worlds are not so mainstream, I think readers find shorts an easy way to get a feel for me without having to commit to a novel. Short stories with direct tie-ins and characters from other series are the best way to go in terms of hooking readership. Teaming up with other authors in anthologies is a also a great strategy for getting that first look.”

Ava had a different use for her short story. I give it away to readers who sign up for my mailing list, and it has worked great as an incentive to drive signups. I’m planning to write another short to go along with my next Ava Blackstone book.”

 

 

 

 

If you’re considering writing a short story, I have some advice.

  • Read short stories. There are many; The International Thriller Writers have released collections titled Face Off. And, I know the Mystery Writers also release an annual collection. Then you have classics like William Faulkner’s That Evening Sun.
  • Pick your story’s moment or moments that really matter and write about them.
  • Stay with one main character.
  • No subplots.
  • Write more words than you need and then pick the words that show don’t tell, show character’s change, and that moves the story forward.
  • Go through the same editing steps as you would for a novel.

 

 My sisters also offered advice or suggestions?

Rita said, “I go by what I love to read. IMO a short story is for a reader’s experience. I will also say I think there is a difference between what is considered a short story to a novella. With a novella, because of its larger word count, I expect story structure, GMC, story resolution, the whole enchilada. Shorter stories can certainly have all that good stuff but I think of them as a bite of the enchilada not the whole thing.

Vivi offered this advice, “I didn’t take any online courses or read any books on the subject.  I will strongly recommend that anyone looking to write short consider the kind of conflicts that can be resolved quickly.  If you give your characters more than they can reasonably solve in a short format, you’re going to have some very grumpy readers.”

Jeannie recommended, Rather than craft books (which I normally love), the best way to learn for shorts is to read how others do it. I think there’s MORE of an art to writing short than writing a novel. The good thing is that they’re short. 🙂

Some authors I love:  Ray Bradbury (for voice, tone, memorable setup and hook). If you can find it, read “A Laurel and Hardy Love Affair”.  Edgar Allen Poe (check out his word choice and how effective his opening lines are)

For romance, these authors’ shorts are actually novellas,  but they establish character and emotional stakes in a relatively short amount of time. Courtney Milan – The depth of characterization is amazing. They feel as emotionally complete as full novels. And Ruthie Knox – She sets up emotional tension wonderfully between hero and heroine

Thank you, sisters for sharing your experiences in the short story market. 

Please ask any questions that you might have and we’ll try to answer them for you.

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Autumn Jordon is an award-winning author of romantic suspense/thrillers and contemporary romance.  Join her newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com. And don’t forget to check out Perfect Moments.

Ava Blackstone is a winner and two-time finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest and has five short romance stories published in Woman’s World magazine. She is currently hard at work on the next contemporary romance in her Voretti Family series. You can find her on the web at: http://avablackstone.com  PRETTY IN INK

Jeannie Lin is known for writing groundbreaking historical romances set in Tang Dynasty China starting with her Golden Heart award-winning debut, Butterfly Swords. Her Chinese historicals have received multiple awards and starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. SILK, SWORDS, AND SURRENDAR

Rita Henuber; I’ve always had stories in me and now I’m sharing them. I married a Marine, a man I’d known since I was fourteen. I’m fortunate to have lived many places and traveled to the states and countries I didn’t live. I moved back to the barrier island in Florida where I grew up and now spend time writing, weaving my experiences into my stories. My first books have heroes and heroines in the military or government service. But, I’ve started on a new series of books with collections of short stories. LET ME TELL YOU A STORY

Vivi Andrews is a Golden Heart winner & 2-Time RITA finalist. As Lizzie Shane she writes contemporary romance with a pop culture twist, and as Vivi Andrews she writes paranormal romance. ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Star Or Shooting Star. It Begins.

Next week, during the Ruby Winter Writing Fest, we begin the quest to bring our imaginary friends to life.

Reading that line, I’ll bet some of you immediately had this mental picture of yourself sitting at your favorite work spot, downing carafes of coffee or tea (or in my case, Diet Coke) while drilling the key board, writing an entire novel, and within six weeks, finishing it with ‘the end’. Good for you. You have a goal.

Yet, I’m sure some of you froze at the word begin because the choices you have to start your story are limitless. The question where do I begin? haunts you. Which one start should I pick? Is it the right place?  Fear not, I have some advice for you.  

Every writer knows the importance of the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, the first chapter. Failure to immediately gain a reader’s interest is the vilest death to your story. Your work is like a shooting star that speeds across the sky and disappears without a big bang. The dreams and hopes pinned to such a star are gone in one quick moment. It’s far better to be that twinkling North Star.  So today, we prepare to start our masterpieces.

     #1 Great beginnings are the hard work. Rarely do they come easily and quickly and without dozens of rewrites. Sometimes they appear freely in later paragraphs or even chapters. We only need to recognize them when they do. Know that fact. Owned it.

     #2 First impressions are the most lasting; Proverbs.

A magnificent first line must be lean, powerful, and provide the reader with a question or promise. Here are some examples of great lean and powerful lines.

It was a pleasure to burn.  ‘451 Fahrenheit’ Ray Bradbury

All children but one grow up. ‘Peter and Wendy’  J.M. Barrie

There was a bloody man walking down the road. ‘Discovering You’ Brenda Novak

 Brilliant. Each of those lines not only asks questions but they also laid the foundation of book’s theme or its characters’ persona.  Knowing your story’s theme is important. Try outlining ahead of starting your story to learn the theme, but if you finding outlining is not your thing, don’t sweat it. The theme will come to you.

     #3 Ground your readers as quickly as possible in time and place. However, settings should be shown in small bits and either add to the conflict or become a character itself. Examples:

On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.  ‘The Light Between Oceans’ M. L. Stedman

It was a cold, bright day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 1984 George Orwell

ONE HOT AUGUST Thursday afternoon, Maddie Faraday reached under the front seat of her husband’s Cadillac and pulled out a pair of black lace underpants. They weren’t hers. ‘Tell Me Lies’ Jennifer Cruise

 

     #4 Write the first chapter as if it were the entire story, with its own escalation of action and conflict. And let it end with mystery and unanswered questions. Mystery demands answers. It propels readers to read on. Do not tell all. Exposition kills drama and backstory is boring.

     #5 Write tight. Write fast. Let your voice ring true. Voice is what is truly unique about your story.

      #6 All the boom, boom action or fast paced dialogue will not keep readers flipping pages unless they care about the characters. A great story is an emotional ride. A reader must connect with the characters and care what happens to them immediately. They don’t necessarily need to like them (leads to character growth) but they must understand the character’s actions and feel for them as a human being. Establish your hero/villain goal, give him/her a familiar quality, and then add a ticking bomb. 

     #7 Dialogue is action. It’s fast paced (quickly drawing a reader farther into the story) and it’s an excellent way to show character and conflict. Here are a few great examples.

“Your title gives your claim to the throne of our country, but men don’t follow thrones. They follow courage.”

William Wallace in Braveheart.

“It’s not the broken dreams that break us. It’s the ones we don’t dare to dream.”

Will Schuester in Glee

“The problem is not the problem. It’s your attitude about the problem that is the problem.”

Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption   

Wow! Wow! Just wow!

     #8 Big or little, internal or external, conflict is a reader’s addiction. Add it where ever and whenever you can. You hear me. Big or little. Internal or external. Pile it on!

     #9 In order to understand a character fully, we need to know the world he came from. Show the character in his or her world in an interesting way, but make that world change quickly. He can be making toast, but why not have make toast over the gas stove. His method of making toast is interesting and says something about his character, doesn’t it? 

     #10  The most important bit of advice on making your first pages awesome I saved for last. Have faith in yourself that the story ahead will be adventurous and fulfilling and go for it!

 

Anyone else have advice on producing great starts? 

 

Autumn Jordon, one of the sneaker Rubies, is an award-winning author who writes Romantic Suspense, Thrillers, and Contemporary Romance under the same pen name. Join her newsletter at Autumn Jordon.com

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The Latest Comments

  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: LOL. Thank you, Darynda! 😀 And yeah, that buzzer is a tricksy beast!
  • Darynda Jones: I AM SO PROUD OF YOU, VIVI!!! That was the coolest thing ever, seeing a sister up there kicking ass...
  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: It’s certainly tricky, but I did indeed have a blast! 🙂
  • Kate Parker: Wow, Vivi, it sounds like you had a blast. congrats on doing so well. That buzzer sounds like a demon.
  • Vivi Andrews/Lizzie Shane: Thank you, Anna! I tried to give ’em a fight to the finish! 🙂

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