I’m here to talk about a very serious subject — comedy writing. In writing, getting the comedic balance right is tricky. Years ago, a contest judge said my entry read like a series of jokes. Unfortunately, this was not intended as a compliment. What s/he meant was a novel shouldn’t come across like a stand-up routine. My challenge? Concentrate on the plot and narrative, and let the funny flow naturally. (Contest Judge, I hope I’ve done you proud!)
As you might have guessed from my debut YA’s punny title, This Is Your Afterlife is on the lighter end of the grayscale. That’s not to say there aren’t dark moments — the story revolves around murdered high school football star Jimmy Hawkins. It’s just his death is treated with a touch of humor and hope. Here’s an excerpt:
“Aren’t you psychic?” he taunts.
“Being psychic would mean I could see into the future.”
“Then what do you call this…this thing we have?” He gestures at the space between us.
I frown at that space. “You have what is called the afterlife. I have what appears to be clairvoyance.” Grandie was pretty clear on the distinction. “Psychics see the future. Clairvoyants and mediums see dead people. And argue with them, too, it seems.”
How did this even happen to me? Last time I checked, I didn’t have the Gift. I haven’t been struck by lightning, haven’t taken any hallucinogenic pills or eaten magic mushrooms. My sixteenth birthday would have been a prime time for spirits to make an all-singing, all-dancing debut in my world, but that day passed quietly three months ago.
Unless there were signs I missed. But what counts as a sign? Randomly sensing Grandie’s lavender perfume in the Bugle office? Could it be that she was trying to communicate then?
What bugs me is that I’ve been invisible to Jimmy for years. Now that he’s dead, he finally sees me. There is no justice in the world.
One of my favourite movie quotes is from Crimes and Misdemeanors, in which Alan Alda’s character says, “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” I’m not known for my love of mathematics, but this is one equation that makes a lot of sense to me.
Here are a few key ways to inject a dose of fun into your work:
Clever turns of phrase; flip an expression, observation or cliché on its head.
In terms of characterization, think of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. We expect lions to be courageous and majestic. But this lion, when we first meet him, is far from brave.
Use the rule of three. Create an element of surprise by starting off with an ordinary list and topping with something unexpected. For example: Harriet wanted nothing more in life than a comfortable pair of slippers, three-ply yarn, and a hot young Scottish laird. (Okay, that wasn’t my best example. It’s hard to write funny! Perhaps Harriet has plans involving the laird and the yarn?)
Take a real-life situation, even a serious one, and give it a humorous twist.
Puns are so punny! But they can get unfunny pretty fast. Don’t overuse them.
Physical comedy. Be careful of turning it into slapstick.
Absolutely. Again, like puns, alliteration can become absurd if overused. Some people look at alliteration as an abomination that should be axed altogether.
Keep in mind there are contraindications for each of these. Use sparingly. Always stay true to character. You can’t have a supreme court judge cracking wise at the bench. Unless she’s Judge Judy. But it’s okay for her because caustic wit forms part of who she is.
How do you know if you’re writing funny? It’s a promising sign if people constantly tell you, “Say, you’re really funny!” Or if they laugh with you, not at you. Like anything, humor is subjective. What’s hilarious to one reader might be tedious or even offensive to another. Test it on CPs and friends. Grab someone off the street and feed them a line. If you get hit with rotten tomatoes, or worse, don’t raise a chuckle, you may have missed the mark. Do your comedic situations make you, the writer, laugh? They say if you cry when writing a sad scene, it’s likely your readers will pick up on all that emotion you poured into it and cry, too. So I think the same goes for humor. Go ahead, LOL at your own jokes.
Tell me, when was the last time you laughed out loud? Got a favorite funny author or movie?
You’ve been a great audience. Thank you and goodnight!
Time. It’s rarely a friend, often in short supply, and likes to change things—not always for the better.
Adages about it abound: Time heals all wounds (or wounds all heels, depending on the circumstance). Things will work out in good time. Time waits for no man (or woman). A stitch in time saves nine. Time lost is never found.
Yes, I could go on, but you get the idea. Time is relentless, unfeeling, and inflexible. It has no care for your ambitions or desires. It will turn fruit juice to wine, then, a blink, a pause, a miscalculation, and sweet wine becomes acidic vinegar.
Thus, I’m pretty sure you’re wondering why I called this blog Celebrate!
Nope. Not kidding. Insanity is the only possible answer.
Think about your excitement when you first started writing. Oh, the plans, the cloud castles built high in the air. How could your story not sell? NYT and USA Today lists, here you come. Everyone will know your name, your work. You’ll be famous!
A couple of years (and dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections) later, the cloud castles have revealed their true nature, dumping periodic deluges, commonly called tears, battering hail, usually comprised of those (choke) words that will never hurt you, and heart-stopping flashes of unintentional (it’s to be hoped) cruelty in the form of thoughtless critiques. Your plans have been worked and reworked beyond recognition, and still, you can’t make the grade.
Inevitably, you get introduced to the three Ds: Discouragement, Disillusionment, and their big brother, Depression. Nasty fellows. Yet, you persist, taking classes, entering contests, writing the next story, drafting the next plan, potentially setting yourself up for more of the same.
If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is.
Good news! You can defeat the three Ds. Insanity? That’s bit iffy—some consider it a necessary component of a writer’s toolbox—but you can keep it from oozing into other parts of your life.
Celebrate every milestone, large or small. Celebrate the fact you haven’t let those devilish Ds defeat you. Celebrate victory for just sitting down to write every day despite the scars from what’s been thrown, blown, hurled, flung, and whizzed at you.
How you celebrate depends on you. Despite our penchant for chocolate and coffee, food isn’t usually a good choice unless it’s a celebratory dinner at the end of a long haul. (Your health is important. Those Ds are the ultimate opportunists, and poor health is an open door. Lock it. Reaching your goals too sick to savor the accomplishment would be the pits.)
In the short term, despite the money issues prevelant these days, a manicure or pedicure after a week or two of making your word counts shouldn’t break the bank. Or you could share a celebration at a wee get-together with your critique partners or other writing friends. This comes with the added bonus of mutual encouragement, and the boost you’ll get prior to diving back into the frey is beyond price.
Of course, get-togethers cost a few pesos, but monetary rewards always motivate, so motivate yourself.
Put a cup or jar where you work. When you complete your day’s production, drop in a quarter or a dollar. Add a coin for each 100, 200, 500 words until you reach your goal whether it’s $20 for drinks with friends (you can’t get too hammered on 20 bucks these days), money for a designer bag, dress, or shoes, a spa day, or a conference fee.
Okay. I admit, these types of ideas would motivate me. How about you?
How do you celebrate? What tricks have helped you keep the 3 Ds at bay?
Writing is lonely, demanding, and difficult. Writing well is even more so. You deserve to celebrate and be celebrated. And don’t forget Elisa is giving away a $25 gift card as part of her Hour-A-Day Challenge. Instant motivation.
What are you waiting for? Let’s get writing so the celebration can begin!
Your book is written, polished and edited. Now comes the moment when you need to hook an agent, editor or buyers on your book in a few short lines. After spending months writing your story, you might be knocking your head against the wall trying to decide how to condense everything wonderful about your work into what, approximately one-hundred words.
You’re not alone.
Writing blurbs commands a different mindset. Instead of adding layers we need to get out the filet knife and cut away all the fat and end up with the juiciest part of our stories, because that is what the readers really want know about. Those juicy tidbits are what makes them buy your book. But how do you whittle down to the wonderful stuff? I’ll share my process.
I write romance, so I begin with a one-line story premise and then the GMC of both my heroine and hero—or as I like to refer this portion, my characters’ mini-bios.
Here is how I began to write my blurb for my new release PERFECT HEARTS which is the second book in my Perfect Love series.
Fourteen years ago, two geeky teens became best friends and their romance was sabotaged by the town’s diva sending them on different paths.
Carrie returns to Black Moose, Vermont to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love, and family, but the ratio of female versus eligible bachelors (under the age of thirty-five) is like 50 to 1.
Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann, who has made it known to all the women on the mountain that he is her future husband.
After I’ve that step is completed, then comes the slicing and dicing to make the blurb entertaining, because fiction books are entertainment. And we have to add back in our voices. So the next step is to add that hook—that wonderful first line that will draw the reader in and make them want to read more.
Back to PERFECT HEARTS:
Block-buster movies picture it. Platinum records are composed based on it. Stories and poems are written because of it. Every breathing soul searches for it, including Carrie Shultz. Good grief, her livelihood depends on love.
But like all first lines they need to be tweaked and reworked and sometimes scrubbed. So we work some more. And we tweak our characters mini-bios again, adding in interesting story details and hooks.
Blockbuster movies show it, platinum records praise it, great literature lauds it…every living soul searches for it. Good grief, Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. Everyone in Black Moose, Vermont seems to be in love or in hot pursuit of it. Their bliss only reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when two geeky best friends became first loves—until heartache sent them on different paths.
Carrie returns to Black Moose, Vermont to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love, and family, but the odds are stacked against her. However, her luck is about to change. As she contemplates the merits of becoming a spinster, a game of chance brings her back to the man she’d walked away from years ago.
Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann. But when Carrie shows up again like a lucky penny, he’s got more to think about—including why she left him in the first place.
And again, we cut, we add and we polish until the finish blurb seems perfect.
Blockbuster Movies show it, Platinum Records praise it, great literature lauds it…every living soul searches for it. Good grief, Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. Everyone in Black Moose, Vermont seems to be in love or in hot pursuit of it. Their bliss only reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when two geeky best friends became first loves—until heartache sent them on different paths.
Carrie returns to Black Moose to emerge from the shadows of her parents’ stardom and find a normal life, love and family, but the odds are stacked against her. However, her luck is about to change. As she contemplates the merits of spinsterhood, a game of chance brings her back to the man she’d walked away from years ago. He’s even more kind and sexy than he was fourteen years ago, but can she trust him with her heart again? Luke McQuire is a man with two things on his mind: building his electrical business and evading the town diva, Olive Ann. But when Carrie shows up again like a lucky penny, he’s got more to think about—including why she left him in the first place. He’s a damn good electrician, but can he make sparks fly with the one woman he wants—the one woman who was able to resist him?
And from that polished back cover blurb I can pull a shorter blurb to be used in other advertising venues.
Blockbuster movies, platinum records, and great literature laud it. Every living soul searches for it. Carrie Twines’ livelihood depends on it. In Black Moose, Vermont, everyone seems to be in love. Their bliss reminds Carrie of what she lost as a teen when heartache sent first loves on different paths. However, a game of chance brings back the man she’d walked away from years ago. Luke’s even more kind and sexy than he was fourteen years ago, but can she trust him with her heart again?
I want to thank my Ruby-sisters Anne Marie Becker and Rita Henuber and my editor Pat Thomas for their help in brainstorming and tweaking with the final blurb. Sometimes we’re so close to our work we can’t see its best features, so it’s always a good idea to have a fresh set of eyes reviewing it.
That is my process for writing blurbs. Sisters and readers do you approach blurbs differently?
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.
How do you write in the snow? Bundle up and wrap your computer in plastic.
I am almost to the point of doing just that in order to get in my words for the day. You see – I have three kids and I live where we rarely have snow and ice. So a few inches without sand trucks and plows paralyzes my town, and we’ve just had four inches with more coming down.
The first snow day is a blast! Kids jump around like the dog chasing its tail, just for the sheer joy of seeing those fat, white flakes. Dreams of snowmen, sledding and hot coco even make my heart race. I drag out the gear, realize none of it fits anymore, and use my still exuberant mind to rig up alternatives to keep my kids somewhat warm and dry. They head out and I cup my warm mug of chai latte with a smile. Yay! A snow day!
Five minutes later, the 7yo stomps in crying because 13yo brother threw snow in her face and it’s running down her neck. I de-ice her, yell a warning to my son and send her back out into the pristine white. I sit down to write with the soft flakes falling outside my window. Ah… peace.
Fifteen-year-old daughter runs downstairs. “Five girls are coming over in half an hour to watch a movie. Don’t worry they’ll bring their own food.” She smiles like that solves everything. I nod and turn back to the computer to type my second word of the day.
Thirteen-year-old son runs in, tracking clumps of snow through the foyer. “Can Nathan come over?” He has somehow heard about the girls coming and needs to make certain life is fair.
Seven-year-old daughter runs in needing a carrot, coal (who has coal?) and licorice for a smile (my licorice is with my coal). I improvise with a small bell pepper, broken candy cane, and two black Legos I found in the couch last night. She runs back out, and I sit down to write. I re-read the first two words of the day and type two more.
The girls show up in a babble of teen talk and laughter. I pop corn and make hot coco, because somehow a Super Mom cape sprouted from my shoulders. I warm my chai latte, re-read my four words and finish the sentence. The 7yo runs in covered with snow. I help her change, throw wet clothes in the dryer and make her some hot coco (dang Super Mom cape). She calls a friend and suddenly I count ten kids in my house.
I check e-mail, make it half-way through a response, and jump up to referee a squabble between my 7yo and 13yo. I step in a melting puddle of slush and must change socks, sending me upstairs. I realize my laundry has become a ten-foot high mountain of wet clothes and towels. I start laundry and return to my WIP, no my e-mail, oh shoot, I have to write a blog post for the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood site!
“Mom! Can you bring me an apple juice so I can make a snow cone outside?” yells the 7yo as she and her friend shrug back into their still wet snow pants. I zip them both up, but tell my daughter to find her own apple juice. After all, I have a blog post to write now! I sit down and type the first sentence.
15yo – “Mom, how do I work the popcorn machine? We need more.” “Can we make brownies?”
13yo – “Mom, can Nathan spend the night?” “Do we have anymore gloves? I lost one.”
7yo – “Mom, I can’t open the apple juice!” “Mom? Just making sure you’re still there.”
“Will this snow day ever end?!” 43yo mom who’s Super Mom cape is now limp and tattered by 12:35 PM.
A roar of glee rises from the family room. “It’s snowing again! And they’ve already called off school tomorrow!”
Sigh…another snow day.
With the winter of 2014 creating lots of snow days, those parents working at home need to figure out creative ways to get their work done. Here are a few tips for writers I’ve learned over this snow week.
Write early or late. By evening, my mind is mush, so if I must write while the kiddos are sleeping, it better be early in the morning. If the schools are closed, still get up at the normal time and get in your word counts before everyone rises.
Lock the Super Mom cape in your closet. If you must provide goodies, when you hear the snow prediction stock up on snacks that can be pulled from a bag. Freezer items, which can be thrown in the oven, work too.
Hide! This works well if you have a lap top. I have learned to write up in my room with the door closed. The walk in closet works too if your kids are good at hide and seek.
Join a writing sprint. The focused 30 minute time intervals help keep your butt in the seat, so when that Super Mom cape escapes and tries to get you in the kitchen baking brownies, you’re strapped to the chair instead. Tell yourself that once you meet your word count goal, you can fly in and be the best mom ever.
Put on a movie. Now this only works if you have kids who will watch a movie and kids who can agree on a movie. But it’s worth a try. Then you employ Tip #3.
If you just can’t settle down for very long to write, do other “writer” things that don’t require the concentration of creating witty dialogue and flowing narrative. I have been taking pictures for future book trailers (my first one can be seen at SIREN’S SONG Book Trailer). So when the snow came falling, I took the camera and went snapping.
You can also update your web site, tweet, and Facebook in quick bursts of productivity. Even editing can be done between interruptions easier than writing fresh words.
Don’t beat yourself up. Snow days are hard on productivity. When our routines are turned inside out, it is just really hard to get things done. Do the best you can and definitely take some time out to have hot coco with your little ones. They grow up fast, too fast. One day, snow days will be calm and productive, and I bet you will miss the days when they were not.
What are your tips for keeping up your word count during snow days?
I realized from the beginning writing dual timelines was going to be a challenge; I’d never before attempted to interweave past and present storylines into a single novel. Yet due to the nature of what would ultimately become my latest release, The Pieces We Keep—in which a boy’s dreams are mysteriously linked to family secrets from WWII—I decided it was definitely worth a try. Among my greatest concerns, however, was that one storyline would outshine the other.
When I myself have read novels with dual timelines, frequently I’ve had to fight the urge to skim the present-day chapters to return to the historical ones. Granted, in large part this is likely due to my personal passion for tales of the past. But I also find that high stakes involving life and death are naturally inherent in most historical settings—from revolutions and world wars to times of slavery and civil rights—and can therefore easily dominate when placed directly beside current-day conflicts of familial or romantic relationships.
To overcome this obstacle, I tried to imagine which scenarios would be as devastating to me, or my character, as the harrows of wartime. My answer, as a mother, came without pause: losing my child in a tragic death, or perhaps in a battle for custody. Obviously there are many other situations that can ratchet up tension and maintain a high level of suspense, no matter the era in which they’re set.
Another challenge I encountered came from my choice to alternate the two timelines with every chapter. I am personally a huge fan of short chapters, finding it nearly impossible as a reader to put down a book when the end of the chapter is “just a few pages away,” but I realized it would be important to find a way to prevent jarring the reader. Also, since links between the two storylines in The Pieces We Keep are fed out gradually, I wanted to suggest a connection early on, without (hopefully) giving too much away.
To address both issues, and in hopes of creating a feeling of fluidity, I opted to start every chapter with a sentence that in some way echoes the last sentence of the preceding chapter. For example, one chapter would end with: “He left no proof of existence—save for the missive in her hand.” While the next chapter would begin: “A half hour later Audra sat alone on a stranger’s couch, the slip of an address still in her grip.”
Finally, another goal of mine was to immediately ground the reader in whichever era they were reading, never wanting them to feel “lost.” Date and location stamps were an obvious choice, but with more than 70 chapters in my novel, I felt these would be cumbersome and redundant (and perhaps even make the book 50 pages longer, ha). Fortunately, my publisher allowed me to use two different fonts, one for each chapter/time period. As a result, this required me to merely state the dates and locations at the start of the first two chapters. I’ve also seen this done in other novels to great effect when clarifying changes in points-of-view.
Needless to say, the tactics I’ve mentioned might not work for every book featuring dual timelines, but perhaps they’ll at least serve as options to consider while you’re brainstorming ideas for your own interwoven story!
Thank you, Kristina, for this intriguing glance at your process.
For those who want more information, Kristina will be stopping by periodically to answer your questions, and in true Ruby fashion, will be drawing the name of one lucky commenter (Shipping costs limit this to US residents only) who will receive a signed, trade-paperback copy of The Pieces We Keep. Of course, you can find all of her books at various retail outlets including Amazon and Barnes & Noble
Kristina McMorris is a critically acclaimed author published by Kensington Books, Penguin, and HarperCollins UK. Her works of fiction have garnered more than twenty national literary awards and appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. Inspired by true personal and historical accounts, her novels include Letters from Home, Bridge of Scarlet Leaves, and most recently The Pieces We Keep. Prior to her writing career, Kristina worked as a host of weekly TV shows since age nine, including an Emmy® Award-winning program, and has been named one of Portland’s “40 Under 40″ by The Business Journal. She lives with her husband and two young sons in the Pacific Northwest, where she is working on her next novel. For more, visit www.KristinaMcMorris.com
I’ve shared this post with y’all last year, but it can’t hurt to hear it again. If you’re like me, you struggle to sit down with your work in progress during the busy, busy holiday season. So I thought it would be fun to share some coping strategies once more. I’ve added my 2 cents worth for 2013 near the end. Happy Holidays, everyone!
It’s December, and we are currently knee deep into the annual holiday season. As women, we are usually the ones responsible for the planning and plotting that goes into holidays, even if they aren’t being held at our house. The same is true for me—I do the planning, my hubby does the inviting (usually without telling me until the last minute). We end up with a house full of family and friends who eat, talk, laugh, and play games all Christmas day. That’s after a month full of other parties, family celebrations, gift buying, etc. Something I enjoy with a heart full of gratitude.
But all this partying makes it tough to get any writing done. The list of things to do can extend to infinity sometimes (or at least feel like it). All this extra party planning can really cramp my writing style. I’m sure even you non-writers find time short during this busy season. So what’s an author to do? Here are a few tips: 1. Up your word count on the days you CAN write.
I know this sounds like it will take even more time, but when you do get uninterrupted writing time, do your best to up the amount of your goal. My usual goal for weekdays is 750 words, but for December I’m aiming for 1250. This way, I can manage a few days off during the month without guilt or getting really behind. So push yourself to do more, and enjoy your reward later. 2. Take it One Small Step at a Time
It can be overwhelming to sit down and face a 1000 word goal, but how about 250 words? Oftentimes, I don’t write my whole goal in one sitting. I can’t, because I have very few uninterrupted chunks of time in my day. So here’s how I approach it: During my morning break at work, I plot out the scenes I’m going to work on that day. Then on my lunch break (30 minutes) I type on the Alphasmart. I also have 1 hour set aside for writing directly after dinner. I try to keep that sacred (doesn’t always work, but I try).
Then thirty minutes while the kids do homework or clean their rooms or 30 minutes while the hubby watches a television show. Just 30 more minute before bedtime, then I can sleep. You’d be surprised how much easier it is to tackle any large project in smaller steps. 3. Be Prepared
For plotters, this is much easier. But it is also doable for pantsters too. Before putting down your pen for the day, take a few moments to write out the first few sentences of your next scene. Make sure your notes on the coming pages are complete and you have a decent map for where you are heading. This will make jumping into the next session much easier (no staring at a blank page wondering what the heck you were thinking to have them break into the warehouse so soon…) and your writing will flow more quickly from the start.
I find a To Do list essential for big projects and my writing is no different. This way, I can see how much time I have, then jump into whatever task I have time for, without worrying I’ll forget what else needs to be done. 4. Utilize the Buddy System
Find a writing friend who needs to accomplish as much as you do at this time. Vow to keep each other accountable. Daily emails require you to send in those totals, even if the sum is 0 (and embarrassing enough to force your hands to the keyboard). Set up times for write ins (getting together for the sole purpose of writing—bookstores are great for this).
And don’t forget a reward. Plan an outing to get your nails painted or a massage when all the hard work is done. A night out to dinner with some girlfriends. Or form an accountability group where everyone pitches in $10, and the top three performers during the holiday season get to split the pot for After Christmas shopping! This will give you a tangible reward, other than the relief you’ll feel when you see all those words on the page. Addition: New Thing I Learned in 2013
One of my goals in 2013 was to learn to enjoy life in the midst of chaos. I have a full time day job, write at least part time, have 2 kids and a very supportive husband. I felt like I worked from the moment I forced myself to roll out of bed in the morning. About halfway through the year, I realized I wasn’t really LIVING. So I’ve tried different approaches to try to remedy this. Here’s 1 for the holidays: Don’t feel guilty when you aren’t writing. I know it sounds counterproductive, but guilt is only going to bog down your writing, not help it in any way. When you are at a party, or chillin’ with your family, enjoy it. Don’t spend it feeling bad about what you’re not accomplishing. Oddly enough, when you get back to the page, you’ll be MORE refreshed and productive without all that negative emotion hanging around. So there’s my 2 cents worth for this year! My hope is that you’ll be able to be as productive as I hope to be this holiday season. We’re all busy. I know that. But you can still manage something (this is me giving ME a pep talk here). So tell me your best advice for getting writing (and other holiday tasks) done during this busy time. (because I need all the help I can get!)
Ah, writing long…I’ve become most familiar with the idea (and in my head I’m accomplished at it).When I sold my first Superromance, the word count was a doable 65K. That particular length is perfect for writing a tight single storyline romance. Secondary characters can make appearances and there can be plenty of internal and external conflict. I loved my first several Superomance books for this very reason. No need to weave a secondary plotline or allow prose to get too fanciful or wandering. Dream up a heroine, grab hold of a hero, giving them something to keep them apart and sit back and let the fireworks happen. The reader can gobble this sort of story up on a Sunday afternoon making it a satisfying length.
But then, my line upped the word count. 75K was still a good length. Now I had time to add a little more voice and have my secondary characters interact more with my primary characters. I could even introduce a secondary character’s point of view as long as I kept the conflict manageable.
And THEN there was the jump to 85K. Okay, I admit, at first I was baffled at how to write a tight story with good movement adding 10k to the plotline. I mean, 75K just worked ideally. No meandering, no drawn out throw away scenes readers hate, but I had to admit there were times I skipped over a scene I thought added some depth to the story. Now I had room to really punch up the secondary plotline, giving more a stake to these characters whose story developed just as much as the hero and heroine over the course of the book. Suddenly there was a lushness to the language, a beautiful layering of emotion that allowed the reader to connect to characters beyond the primary characters. With a larger canvas, came the challenge to paint a picture that didn’t crowd or make the story too fussy and ornamental. So here are a few tips for writing longer:
Liz’s tips for writing longer:
* add a third point of view from a character who has a stake in the action and/or can manipulate the goals and motivations of the hero or heroine.
* use deep third person point of view to create depth
* try same scene, differing point of view
* consider multiple goals for each point of view characters (this can lead to more motivation and conflict)
So after expanding my word count by 20k, I then faced a new giant…that was, well, a short giant. I got a call from Harlequin regarding writing a short story that would be featured on the Harlequin Community site. It was great exposure for readers who might not have tried one of my books but could now check me out through the free online read. I agreed. Sure, I could do that…uh, until I actually had to sit down and, ahem, do that.
It wasn’t easy.
That first short story – The Nerd Who Loved Me – is a bit like the first novel I ever wrote (except you can actually still read this one – the other is in my virtual “under the bed” file). I chafed a bit at the constraints and found injecting voice, which I felt was a hallmark of my writing, was very difficult with a tiny canvas of 11K. All of my cute scenes had to be tossed (painful!) and the GMC had to be tight, tight, tight. There wasn’t room to fully develop my characters, so I ended up feeling like what could have been a really lovely story got stifled by the shorter word count. Was the story bad? No. Was it something I wish I had a do-over on? Ehh…maybe.
I could have given up on writing short after that less than stellar experience. After all, my bread and butter fell with writing “SUPER,” so why expend any more time on writing short?
Because the “market,” aka reader, likes a shorter story. Hello! That’s why so many authors are doing novellas. Raise your hand if you’ve written a novella. Ah-ha! I knew there were a lot of you. And it’s the same reason why I’ve taken up the torch and examined ways to make a short story “pop” and give the reader a satisfying read that feels bigger than the word count indicates. Currently, in between my bigger books, I’m writing novellas and short stories, so I’m focused on honing my shorter story writing skills. Here are a few tips for making your writing short and sweet (or sexy or suspenseful or whatever else you need it to be).
Liz’s Tips for Writing Shorter:
* consider a reunion story. This eliminates much of the “getting to know you” necessary for intimacy (at least in most books :))
* write shorter scenes (no more than 5 pages in each point of view) and shorter chapters to keep pace quick
* be thrifty with secondary characters
* be economical with your words. No double adjectives, decrease the compound subjects and verbs.
* Keep GMC simplistic
* no secondary story lines
Okay, I profess that I’m not a pro on writing short (or even long for that matter), so I want to open the floor to those writers who have considerable experience at writing shorter. I’m sure I missed some good tips. So let’s spend Monday talking about what makes a good short story/novella. And feel free to offer tips and make suggestions for writers who’ve done this well.
Last month, in my Crash Course on Being a Hooker Part I, I discussed the importance of using hooks in your writing. I promised to finish today with Part II—pointers on crafting that all important first page. Please, allow me to apologize in advance for how long this post is. My only excuse is these tips should help in polishing your Golden Heart entry so that it’s just as dynamic as the great openings we’ve seen this past week the Ruby’s Make it Golden contest
However, before you follow any of the 15 upcoming tips, my first piece of advice is to finish writing the damn book before you worry about how great your first page is. Many authors get so caught up in rewriting and polishing the opening to their book they spend a week crafting hooks and rewriting passages that might eventually need to be deleted or changed once the novel is finished. Anyone who’s ever written a complete book knows how often the story changes and how frequently the first scene needs to be reworked.
TIP 1Have a specific purpose for choosing a particular style of opening for your book.
One might think standing on a corner to support my writing addiction for thirteen years helped make me a better hooker, but it really didn’t. Only writing every day did that. However, my part-time job as a crossing guard did provide lots of time to brainstorm.
It’s that time of year again, when hundreds of writers are finishing and polishing entries for RWA®’s Golden Heart® contest. As a seven-time finalist and two-time winner of the GHt® award, I’m frequently asked what elements I believe sets a winning contest entry apart from the rest. Naturally, my answer is, “Talented writing and an intriguing premise.” However, if you’ve ever judged the GH, you know there are lots of entries with those qualities that never make the cut.
To give a manuscript the best chance of becoming a finalist (or to be successful with readers once it’s published), I believe the most important thing is for an entry to make a good FIRST and LAST impression.
It only makes sense that a positive first impression will leave judges and readers anticipating an enjoyable read, and they will therefore be more forgiving if they find something slightly negative in your entry—whether it’s a typo, minor characterization flaw, or overuse of a purple word. As a result, it will take a much more glaring problem to change their opinion for the worse.
At the same time, if you have a typo in your first sentence the reverse will be true. The judge will probably start looking for additional problems, so creating a bad first impression can put an otherwise great entry at a big disadvantage.
This is why hooks are so important in writing contests and in attracting buyers for your book once it’s published. You need to snag the judge’s or reader’s interest from the beginning and continue reeling her in all the way to the end. Then finish with a great hook that will leave her with a positive overall opinion and screaming for more.
What’s a HOOK? a newbie might ask.
A hook in publishing is anything that will catch a reader’s interest and lure her into—buying a book, reading it, continuing to read it, or buying the next book. Hooks are utilized as marketing tools, which can be anything from a high concept plot, a catchy title, a book cover, back cover blurb, to an author or reviewer’s endorsement.
Authors use hooks in their writing by including passages designed to grab the reader’s attention and keep him/her turning the pages. An effective hook will attract, intrigue, and entertain by teasing the senses, adding humor or wit, raising questions (make the reader want to know more), or evoking emotion (shock, horror, compassion, the ability to relate, etc.) It should make the reader feel something or react.
A good opening hook should reflect the genre and subgenre and establish the tone of the book, which can be funny, thought-provoking, insightful, action-packed, suspenseful, spooky, dramatic, emotional or poignant, lyrical, reminiscent, or evocative. I’m sure there are other tones that escape me at the moment.
And lastly, an opening hook should foreshadow and set up reader expectations. This is how the author makes promises that had better be fulfilled by the end of the book, or he/she will end up with a lot of unhappy readers.
Before writing that first compelling line to draw the reader in, you need to bait your FIRST hook. Real ‘hookers‘ use revealing clothing, make-up, and come-hither glances to tempt and attract men. (My alter-ego, L.L does that too, but we won’t discuss her.)
If you recall, I mentioned that, in the publishing industry, the bait or initial hooks for a book are very similar—a provocative title, an eye-catching cover, and a compelling back-cover blurb that leaves the consumer eager to read the novel. Unfortunately, in unpublished writing contests, the author only has her title to lure the reader and make that first impression.
Think about it. What’s the first thing you do when you receive a group of entries to judge? If you’re like me, you scan the titles and probably start reading the most appealing one.
From my numerous years as a finalist, I recall several fellow GH sisters who I suspect had a slight edge in the Golden Heart because of their great titles. Here are several examples of those I found especially memorable:
The Naked Duke, by Sally McKenzie
His Majesty, the Prince of Toads, by Delle Jacobs
Claiming the Courtesan, by Anna Campbell
The Education of Mrs. Brimley by Donna MacMeans
First Grave on the Right, by Darynda Jones
A Most Improper Gentleman by Elisa Beatty
The Proper Miss’s Guide to Bad Behavior by Anne Barton
If you study RWA®’s Past GH Winners list, you’ll see what I mean. You’ll notice most of the titles that won are highly provocative, witty, humorous, emotional, or intriguing. That’s not to say they weren’t also damn good books, but so are a LOT of GH entries that never get nominated. By the way, most of these books were published with their original titles.
So before entering your manuscript in a contest (or submitting to an editor), find a group of creative people to help. Brainstorm together to come up with the best possible title for your book that is extra witty, cute, sexy, emotional, or whatever you would like to make it unique—with emphasis on the EXTRA. Titles need to be a little over-the-top to get attention. It’s best if they reflect the ‘high concept‘ of the book.
Here’s a funny story. My hubby and I were brainstorming titles with my CP and her spouse for her sci-fi romance that involves interplanetary travel. We came up with some real doozies. In the end, my hubby won the prize when he suggested the most unforgettable title of all. Starship Bootie Call. Unfortunately, the book isn’t a comedy so my CP couldn’t use it, but we still laugh about it. I still think we should collaborate and write a spoof with that title.
Okay, back to our crash course in hooking.
After you’ve come up with a title that will really grab the judge’s or reader’s attention, you need to really HOOK ‘ER—not just with the first line, but with the entire opening page. I always try to position a great hook in the very last line of the first page so the reader develops extra enthusiasm to continue reading. Once you’ve promised an entertaining story, you naturally need to deliver, but creating the anticipation of greatness is half the battle.
Come back next month for PART II of this Crash Course on Being a Hooker, which will offer tips on crafting that all important first page.
Now I have a favor to ask of you that will be a big help to me. A lot of my readers who loved The Parent Pact have been e-mailing me, requesting a story for three of the secondary characters in that book—Sabrina, Luke, and BJ (a/k/a Ben). I hope to release this “love triangle” novel by November, but I need a kick-butt title for it. I don’t want to use a Christmasy title because I’d like the option to market the the book the rest of the year with a matching non-holiday cover, much like I have with No Exchanges, No Returns. In November, that cover will go back to red and green and the baby will be wearing a Santa hat again.
I have a couple of good ideas what to call my next release, but I won’t share them because I don’t want to send you down the same track my train of thought is already running on. Here’s the high concept, blurb, and cover to fire your creative process. Please feel free to comment on each other’s suggestions if you think one is particularly good. And keep in mind my author brand is Steamy Heartwarming Romantic Fun!
On her wedding night, Sabrina will share the bridal suite
with one of her brother’s best friends. Which one? She has no idea.
Sabrina Fitzpatrick helped plan her dream wedding last year—for her brother and his wife. Now, she wants her own Christmas Eve ceremony. She’s tired of waiting for commitment-phobe, Detective Luke Marino, to realize she’s been crazy about him since puberty. Consequently, when Luke’s billionaire friend asks her to marry him, she’s compelled to accept BJ Elliott’s proposal, especially after he suggests their impending marriage might induce his idiot pal to finally step forward. Unfortunately, a week later, adrenaline-junkie Luke risks his life again and ends up temporarily confined to a wheelchair.
BJ would love to give Sabrina an unforgettable wedding night, but he fears she’ll never be happy with him if she doesn’t resolve her feelings for his buddy, first. Therefore, even knowing he could lose her, BJ persuades her to become Luke’s live-in nurse—offering her one last chance to convince the man she loves to take BJ’s place at the altar (which BJ doubts his friend will ever do). If nothing else, he hopes Love’em and Leave’em Luke can convince Sabrina he’ll make a lousy husband.
Luke has two secrets not even his best friends know. The first is he aches for Sabrina with every fiber of his being. The second is he loves her enough to spare her the heartbreak that being his wife would undoubtedly entail. Much to Luke’s dismay, his resolve to resist his buddy’s fiancée is tested after Sabrina steps in as his nurse and starts prancing around in nothing but his threadbare T-shirt. If he surrenders to her seduction, it may destroy his relationship with BJ. And, worse still, if he gets a taste of loving Sabrina, how can he ever stand by and let her marry his friend?
I can’t wait to read all of your ideas. On Sunday night, I’ll do a random drawing from all of the suggestions and the winner will win a digital copy of my box set containing The Memory of You and A Little Bit of Deja Vu, which are the Prequel and Book One from my Return to Redemption Series. If I decide to use your inspired suggestion for my new book, I’ll send you a free digital advance copy of Sabrina’s story right before it’s released.
Laurie Kellogg is a two-time winner and seven-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® award, the winner of Pacific Northwest Writers Association® Zola award, and a Romantic Times® American Title I finalist. She began writing to avoid housework and has since resorted to naming the dust-bunnies multiplying as fast as real rabbits while she plots love stories that are Steamy, Heartwarming, Romantic Fun! Laurie also writes red-hot romantic comedies under L.L. Kellogg, which she’s branded as A Little Naughty and a Lot of Fun!