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Posts tagged with: writing tips

Character: The Heart of Great Story

Good stories are all about great characters, and great characters take work. Some writers develop characters through discovery/rough drafts while others create character notebooks with detailed charts, photos, interviews, etc.

Regardless of your approach to character development, here’s a fun and simple technique to help you write rich, complex, and compelling characters — Persona Poems. These eight-line poems are biographical in nature and are an excellent way to build and distill character. Persona Poems help you get deep into a character’s head and heart, which will power up your story. Case in point…

In 2008 I received multiple agent offers for my Golden Heart manuscript, THE BROKEN. The agent I eventually signed with thought we had a good chance of going to auction and sent the ms to senior editors at the (then) big six New York publishing houses. Within a week we had…six big NY rejections. I studied the rejections and discovered that five of the six editors had issues connecting with my main character. With the not-so-subtle hint, I spent the next few years studying and working on character. During this time, I discovered the Persona Poem concept from an elementary school teacher.

I eventually went back to THE BROKEN and wrote a Persona Poem for my main character, Kate Johnson. During this exercise, one of the four adjectives I used to describe Kate was “self-loathing.” The more I thought about that descriptor, the more I realized THIS was my problem. Do readers really want to read about a character who loathes herself? Ick! I changed the adjective to “scarred,” which provided me with a more gentle way to address Kate’s brokenness. With this poem on a sticky note attached to my computer, I tweaked Kate’s character, rewriting about ten percent of the manuscript. In 2012, the same agent sent out THE BROKEN to NY, and this time we got that auction.  🙂

Ready to give it a try? Here we go!

Persona Poem Lines

Line 1: first name/nickname of the person
Line 2: 4 adjectives that describe the person
Line 3: X of Y formula, describing an important relationship to the person
Line 4: 3 things s/he loves (think MOTIVATION)
Line 5: 3 things s/he fears (think CONFLICT)
Line 6: 3 things s/he wants (think internal/external GOALS)
Line 7: resident of…+ place/time/concept
Line 8: last name of the person

Persona Poem Example

Kate
Ambitious, fiery, on-the-run, scarred
Target of a serial killer
Loves the dark, motorcycle rides, old movies
Fears public places, mirrors, relationships
Wants to see the serial killer jailed, the road whirring beneath her feet, happily ever after
Resident of Smokey Joe’s spare bedroom
Johnson

Now it’s your turn. Write a poem about one of your characters. What lines were the hardest for you? How do you develop characters? Any character tips or tricks in your writerly toolbox? 

Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of mysteries, romantic thrillers, and novels for teens. Her debut thriller was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year, and her other novels have been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Best Paperback Original of the Year from the International Thriller Writers, and a Kirkus Recommended Read. A former magazine editor and restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at www.shelleycoriell.com and Twittering @ShelleyCoriell.

Using My Kindle Fire to Proofread

After a three-year hiatus (the reasons why will be explained in another blog post), I had finally finished the next book in the Vista Security series, Edge of Trust, Vista Security book 3, which released in December 2015.  And I wanted to share the way I discovered that I think makes it much easier to proofread or do a little copy editing. A way that doesn’t include printing out hardcopy or staring cross-eyed at the computer screen for hours. And yes, I used it as well, on my upcoming release, Nia, Be Mine, a Vista Security prequel (coming soon, I promise!)

I have always made it a habit of reading my work aloud in the final polishing. But by this point, I’m thoroughly tired of the story (interpret that as: sick to death of it) and I find myself forgetting to read out loud and before I know it, I’m skimming.

Christian Suspense writer and friend Dale Amidei suggested a text to voice program, which sorry, I can’t remember what it was called. Dale, if you’re reading this, you can add what the name of the program is and the link to it in the comments. I checked it out but decided against it when I realized I would have to be sitting at the computer for hours more. I was tired of sitting at the computer. But while investigating this program it occurred to me I already had something like this—on my Kindle Fire! Maybe you already know this, but to me, it was practically revolutionary.

Okay, the chick (or dude, I think you can choose male or female), sounds kinda robotic, but to me, that makes it all the better because I have to pay attention and read along. And what is more cool about the Kindle Fire (and I’m betting most e-readers have this function) is that I can highlight typos and make notes.

Writing Books With Overlapping Timelines

Stack of BooksI’ve always been fascinated by the idea that the same set of events from the point-of-view of two different people can result in two completely different stories. So it shouldn’t have surprised me that I’d end up writing books with overlapping timelines—that way I get to explore the same events from multiple perspectives. But, the first time it happened, it was a complete surprise. I’d written what was supposed to be a standalone romance novella, but toward the end, the heroine’s brother made a surprise announcement that he was getting married. I wanted to know what had brought him to the altar so quickly, so I decided to write his story. And, let me tell you, coming up with a satisfying story arc that didn’t conflict with the events of the previous book almost killed me. So, of course, I decided to do it again.

After struggling through the overlapping-timelines thing with a second pair of books, I’ve come up with a few guidelines for myself, in case I ever decide to attempt this craziness again, and I’m sharing them with you here.

Minimize the actual overlap

Be conscious of which book A scenes include / are relevant to the characters from book B, because you’re probably going to have to show them (or at least mention them) in book B.

Let’s take a birthday party. If the main characters from books A and B both attend the party, it might seem strange to show the party in book A, but not mention it in book B. But if the scene was designed to move the arc of book A forward, it might not fit well with the arc of book B.

Catching CleoBecause it’s difficult to write scenes that move both stories forward, I try to make sure there aren’t too many of them. Books 4 & 5 of my Voretti Family series start with the same scene (from the perspective of different characters, of course). But, while book 4 takes place over the course of a few weeks, the majority of book 5 takes place months after book 4 ends. So, while I have a few scenes that you see in both books, the majority of each book is unique. Thus, I could design most scenes to move the arc of their specific book forward without worrying about the other book.

Plot it out

For those plotters out there, it might help to plot both books before you start writing the first. That way, if there’s something you have to change in book A to fit with the plot line in book B, you know about it before you’ve written hundreds of pages. I note the day that each scene in books A & B takes place so that I can tell if I have any conflicts or inconsistencies between books.

Just say no

Even with all the planning and plotting in the world, it’s still really hard. So don’t do it, Ava. Just don’t do it anymore. (Who am I kidding? I’m totally going to do it again. What can I say? I’m an addict.)

What about you? Have you ever written books with overlapping timelines? Do you like reading them?

Write On 2017! – Time Management

For the past eight weeks in our Write on 2017 series, we’ve explored ways to stay on course and on fire about our writing. Today we’re going to wrap up the series by discussing the most asked question I get when I give productivity workshops to writers, and that is, “How can I find more time to write?”

If you’ve already made writing a priority (remember this little clown?), it’s not a matter of finding time but better using the time you have. Here are a few quick tips:

1. Clock in for Business – While most of us do not have time clocks to punch when we start writing, there are a number of ways to “cross the threshold” into work. Sit in your writing chair and declare that your workday has begun. Put up a sign that says “Writer at Work.” Or create a writing log and sign in. The key is creating a block of time to write and then honoring that commitment. You wouldn’t cheat an employer out of an honest day’s work; don’t cheat yourself.

2. Minimize Distractions – Turn off all notifications on your phone. Disconnect your computer from the Internet. Tell your family or roommates that you are not to be disturbed unless there is a fire or flood. If it helps, pop in ear buds with the music of your choice or use a sound-streaming service such as Brain FM to improve focus and productivity.

3. Create to-do lists – Before your dedicated writing time, jot down everything you’d like to accomplish, things like number of new words you want to write or pages to edit. Planning ahead will keep you focused and provide a roadmap when you’re not sure where to go next.

4. Report to a goal or productivity partner – Every Monday I send an e-mail to one of my critique partners reporting what I accomplished in my writing world the week prior and what my plans are for the week ahead. She chimes in with praise or cyber hugs then shares her weekly writing update. We’ve been holding each other accountable for more than ten years, and I can tell you I’ve kicked out some pretty impressive word counts in the hours before our check-ins.

5. Tackle tough stuff first – If you’re struggling with a scene or a bit of research, get to it while you’re fresh. Tackling the tough stuff first will free up your mind and will most likely give you a boost of confidence.

6. Writing Sprints – If you’re having a hard time getting started, set a timer for twenty minutes and write, even if it’s something like, “I don’t know what to write” or “This story is giving me fits”. The act of engaging your fingers and putting words on the page should loosen things up. In addition, knowing that you have only a set amount of time will motivate you to get something down. Check out the Ruby Sprint Schedule, which runs during our annual Winter Writing Festival.

7. Reward yourself – In a business where you don’t receive a regular paycheck, it’s important to recognize your accomplishments. Did you finish a particularly rough scene? Dip into your stash of chocolate. Did you meet your writing goals for the day? Walk the dog or watch the next movie in your Netflix queue. These little rewards go a long way in helping you make big progress.

Now it’s your turn!

Your Assignment: Identify at least one thing you can do to better manage your writing time. Write it in the comment section below. Then, DO IT!

This is Part 8 of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s series, Write On 2017! A Writer’s Guide to Prioritizing, Goal Setting and Time Management. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.

Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of mysteries, romantic thrillers, and novels for teens. Her debut thriller was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year, and her other novels have been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Best Paperback Original of the Year from the International Thriller Writers, and a Kirkus Recommended Read. A former magazine editor and restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at www.shelleycoriell.com and Twittering @ShelleyCoriell.

Tips For Writing Faster

Happy Monday! And Happy Release Day to the first book in my new Scottish Historical Romance, Highland Isles series! THE BEAST OF AROS CASTLE is about 65K words, and I wrote it in two months. I wrote the sequel in two months also, with Christmas thrown into the schedule.

Do I live alone, with only a fish to feed once a day, and eat frozen meals? No. I have three very busy kids, a hubby who works late, so I do all the cooking, and six animals that the kids said they’d look after. (Yeah, right!) I feed, walk, clean and love (okay, they help with the love) all six of those fuzzy creatures.

So how did I get 65K words written in two months without locking myself away?

One word at a time.

I’m not here to tell you it’s easy, although it is for some. I’m not here to tell you it’s crazy hard either. What works for me, may not work for you. As writers, we each must tap into our creative process in our own unique way. Although, there are some strategies that can help across the board. Here are my top five.

1. Identify if you are a long-stretch writer or a small-chunk writer. Do you like to go hours without interruption to get your words in? Or do you like to write in thirty minute increments and prefer taking breaks?

You would think that the long stretch writer would be the one who gets the most words in, but that’s not always the case. Often, the long stretch writers can’t get any words down because they can’t find an uninterrupted stretch of time. Whereas the small chunk writers will take every 15 minutes they can find.

I am very fortunate to not have to work outside the home, so theoretically I have large stretches of time to write. But I have found that I do better writing in small chunks, thirty minutes to an hour, and then I check FB or my e-mail or walk the dog. My mind and muse need a breather, even if it’s just two minutes.

Collage for CRIMSON HEART – 3rd book in the Highland Hearts series

2. Keep inspiration and information front and center. I’m terrible at remembering details like character eye color, the heroine’s horse’s name or where exactly the hero has that sexy scar. If I have to look it up in my manuscript, I lose at least five to ten minutes, searching, reading, editing, instead of getting those words down. So, I keep my book information close by, either pasted into a collage with notes written in, or on Notebook on my computer. I jot down those important details, knowing I’ll forget and need them again.

I also write out the theme of the book and the ultimate destination for the hero and heroine on a sticky note. It sits stuck to my desk where I can see it every day to help keep me on the right track. Otherwise, being more of a pantser than a plotter, I would wander.

3. Have a goal. Some days the words just don’t want to come. It’s like my muse has gone AWOL. A part of me wants to throw my hands up in disgust and yell “If my muse won’t show up, I’m not showing up,” and walk away. But I set myself a goal of 2,000 words minimum per day during the week. It helps me keep my butt in the chair. I took the advice of Roxanne St. Clair and decided I would not eat lunch until I had at least 1K words written.

If I’m editing, I set a goal of 2 hours minimum per day. I check it off in my tracking log when I make it, which is very satisfying to me. Now, if you are more of a free spirit, then set other goals like two days of brainstorming, one day of plotting, one day of writing, etc. But to get the words down, I find shooting for a certain number of words per day gets you there faster, whether it’s 500 words or 4K words.

Tracking word goals in my bullet journal

4. Think Ahead. If you know there will be a snow day, and your kids will be clamoring for hot cocoa and playdates instead of leaving the house quiet to go to school, get up at the normal time and write while they sleep in. If you have to take kids to sports practice or you have doctors’ appointments or a long hair appointment, take your lap top or notebook and write during the waiting times. If you are not a short-chunk writer, just jot down notes about plot or characters, or a snippet of dialogue to use when you have a longer stretch of time to write. But use the short bits of time wisely.

5. Write every day. I read a fabulous quote:

“Write until not writing makes you anxious.” During NaNoWriMo, I made sure to write every single day. After two weeks, I noticed I was writing faster. I was emerged into the world of my book so that I could hop back in each morning. By the end of the first month, I was able to reach my daily 2K goal before lunch. And sure enough, on certain days when writing was impossible with holiday happenings, I felt…off, like I hadn’t had my morning cup of tea or hadn’t done my daily yoga. Something that was part of my happy, normal routine was missing. So, the next day, I sat down to my book and relaxed back into it.

Those are my top 5 tips for reaching THE END as quickly as possible, without losing your mind. Of course, I still needed to edit, but as Nora Roberts once said at a conference I attended – “You can’t fix a blank page.” So, get the words down first, and then go back and mold them into a masterpiece.

Do you have any tips for getting your books finished?

For more information about me or my new release, here are places where I can be found. Have a fantastic day! Heather

Website: www.HeatherMcCollum.com

Face book: https://www.facebook.com/HeatherMcCollumAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/HMcCollumAuthor

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/hmccollumauthor/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/heathermccollumauthor/

P.S. I’ll be taking part in the It’s Raining Dukes and Earls Release Party on FB tomorrow, Tuesday 2/21. Stop by for fun and prizes! 

 

 

 

Write On 2017! – Goal Setting

Today we’re getting to the heart of any writing plan: Goals. Goals drive us, inspire us, frustrate us, but ultimately transform us from dreamers into doers.

If you’ve joined us for the past three Wednesdays for the Ruby’s Write On 2017! series, you developed an inspiring mission, created a forward-focused vision, and took a candid look at your strengths and weaknesses. You are now ready for the serious and empowering work of goal setting. 

Up first, SMART Goals. These are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.  YOU control these goals. In the bookish world, there is so much we can’t control: rejections from agents and editors, bad reviews, Amazon algorithms. With SMART goals you have the power. Embrace it. Celebrate it. Use it! Some examples:

Not-So Smart Goal: Get an agent.

SMART Goal: Send out five agent queries every month. 

Not-So Smart Goal: Make $10,000 with my self-published series.

SMART Goal: Make the first book in my self-pub series perma-free.

Now on to Long-Term Goals. For our purposes, these are Big Dreams or goals that spark or fuel your writerly fire. They do not have to be SMART or within your control. They are often lofty and speak to people, places, and ideas beyond the writerly self. An example of a long-term goal: Be a keynote speaker at a major writing conference or reader event. 

Your #1 Assignment: Determine your SMART goals for 2017.

We’re not looking at weekly word count goals or to-do lists. With this assignment I want you to put some serious brain cells into determining what you want to accomplish by the end of the year. For some of you, that might be a single line:

  •  Finish MY NOVEL (70,000 words)

Those of you who like check boxes and are motivated by completing tasks might have gloriously long lists that address everything from productivity to promotion to professional affiliations. Your lists might look something like:

  • Revise NOVEL #3 (80,000 word historical)
  • Query NOVEL #3 to 10 first-tier agents
  • Write and self-pub NOVELLA #1 (35,000 word cozy mystery)
  • Write short story and sub to online magazine
  • Fast draft NOVEL #4 (60,000-word young adult) during NaNoWriMo
  • Hire development editor to edit NOVEL #2
  • Renew writer association memberships: RWA, Sisters in Crime; SCBWI
  • Blog once a month on group blog
  • Enter NOVEL #3 in two writing contests
  • Attend San Diego State University’s Writers Conference  or RWA National (writer event)
  • Attend Tucson Festival of Books or Romantic Times Convention (reader event)
  • Take on-line class on How To Write Believable Characters
  • Give mini program at local RWA meeting
  • Read and apply one craft book: Donald Maass’s THE FIRE IN FICTION
  • Revamp website to make mobile responsive
  • Increase newsletter subscribers by 10 percent
  • Go on writing retreat with critique partner
  • Find three beta readers
  • Create marketing plan for NOVELLA #1
  • Whew…but you get the idea!

Regardless of the number of SMART goals, these goals must SERVE you. To that end, review them at least quarterly. In addition, don’t be afraid to tweak or obliterate your goals, especially if you have significant personal or professional shifts.

Your #2 Assignment: Determine your long-term “goals”.

Have some fun with this one. Dream and plan big. Unlike SMART goals, long-term goals might not change every year, if ever. Here are a few examples taken from my personal Long-Term Goal list:

  • Use my writing to travel and meet new people and go new places
  • Support my editor and agent in pursuit of their professional goals
  • Inspire my three daughters to follow and fight for their dreams

In the comment section below, list some of your writing goals for 2017. I’d LOVE to see some of your lofty, dreamy Long-Term Goals. Write on!

This is Part 5 of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s series, Write On 2017! A Writer’s Guide to Prioritizing, Goal Setting and Time Management. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of mysteries, romantic thrillers, and novels for teens. Her debut thriller was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year, and her other novels have been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Best Paperback Original of the Year from the International Thriller Writers, and a Kirkus Recommended Read. A former magazine editor and restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at www.shelleycoriell.com and Twittering @ShelleyCoriell.

Write On 2017! Your Mission

Picture of frog

Have you heard the phrase, Eat the frog first? It references Mark Twain’s famous quote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” When  I worked in the corporate world, this phrase essentially meant do your toughest work first, and the rest of the day will be a breeze.

Today I’m here to help you craft a writing plan that will help you stay on course and on fire about your writing throughout 2017 (Write On 2017! Worksheet). And it all begins with the Mission Statement. I’ll be honest, IMO, this is the single hardest task we’ll cover in the next seven weeks as we craft writing plans. It took me a week-long retreat in Mexico with some writing friends and a couple of margaritas before I finally got my head around my mission statement.

Simply put, a mission statement is a formal summary of your aims and values. It’s the heart of who you are and what you do. Above all, your mission should INSPIRE you.

Missions are short, about twenty-five words or less. Management guru Peter Drucker suggests your mission be short enough to fit on a T-shirt. Missions are broad; they don’t box you in.  Missions should withstand the test of time and changes in your writing and the industry. Finally, missions are realistic (practical and workable) and easily understood.

Corporate America has spent millions of dollars crafting mission statements to inspire and guide. Here are some good ones:

  • To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. (GOOGLE)
  • To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. (NIKE)
  • To make the world a more caring place by helping people laugh, love, heal, say thanks, reach out and make meaningful connections with others. (HALLMARK)
  • To spread ideas. (TED)

Your Assignment: Craft your mission statement.

As I mentioned, crafting my mission statement took me a couple of whacks. The task felt so big…so important. But when I reminded myself that missions are about that little nugget, the heart of who I was as a writer, the task got much more manageable. So what’s at the heart? You, your product, your aims, and your audience. Here is a quick exercise to get you thinking about these factors.

  1. List 3-5 words or phrases that describe your writing
  2. List 3-5 words or phrases that describe your ideal image from READERS’ POV
  3. List 3-5 words or phrases that describe your ideal image from YOUR POV

With these words/phrases in mind, take a crack at writing a mission statement for your writing. Start with MY MISSION IS TO…

Here’s mine: My mission is to tell great stories…that capture the hearts and entertainment dollars of a loyal and ever-growing reader bse.

Feel free to post the above exercise and/or your mission in the comment section below. Write on!

This is Part 2 of the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood’s series, Write On 2017! A Writer’s Guide to Prioritizing, Goal Setting and Time Management. Part 1 here.

Shelley Coriell is an award-winning author of mysteries, romantic thrillers, and novels for teens. Her debut thriller was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year, and her other novels have been nominated for an RT Reviewers’ Choice Award, Best Paperback Original of the Year from the International Thriller Writers, and a Kirkus Recommended Read. A former magazine editor and restaurant reviewer, Shelley lives in Arizona with her family and the world’s neediest rescue weimaraner. You can find her at www.shelleycoriell.com and Twittering @ShelleyCoriell.

Writing From The Heart

photofunia-1474731087

 

Why do readers read? They want to escape their world. But you knew that, because you are also a reader.

The greatest writers through time have said that the best fiction takes a reader through a fact finding journey and also on an emotional journey. The emotional journey is what connects you and the reader. Without it, you’re just relating what happens in your characters’ lives. Bonding with the reader is the most important job you have as an author. But how can you do that? There are many ways, but today I want to discuss two.

First, recall emotions, especially those you’ve buried. Buried emotions are the best because they affected your heart. Recall a time you felt hurt or happy or lost or found. Allow yourself to experience the emotions again and write them down. By writing them down, I don’t mean just the term. Write the dialog used during the conversation and the reactions both physically and mentally you experienced. Be honest with yourself. The more you peel away the layers of your psyche, the more powerful your writing will be.

Here is an example as I recall my first taste of love. I’ve changed my hero’s name to protect him.

     My first kiss happened in my family’s barn. The barn had been in my family for five generations. It was old and leaned slightly. Closing my eyes, I feel the cool air against my warm skin- the barn is built into the hillside. I can see the wood planks, turned gray from time and wear, just a few feet above my head. Bridles and lead ropes hang from pegs hammered into road milled posts nicked over years. Large rocks make up the foundation walls. My sorrel gelding is in his stall watching me, and dust mites float in the sunlight pouring in the door behind the boy who had chased me inside.

     I can smell a mixture of summer sun, feed and manure. I hear the munching of hay as the cattle fed and the sound of my horse’s neigh and snort. There is a dip from the nozzle near the shaft to the silo. I also hear the whispered alto voice of the boy with the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen, as he declared his affection for me. His gorgeous cobalt eyes were magnified behind glasses: dark framed like Clark Kent’s. Eric was my hero and always would be. I’d love him until the end of time. what-song-did-you-hear-during-your-first-kiss-1-20559-1393340859-0_big1

    My heart thumped against my breast, knowing Eric really liked me while my toes wiggled in my boots as if telling to run because if my dad found out about the kiss that was about to happen he would kill the boy and ground me for a month.  My spine stiffened and my step was defiant as I cut the distance between Eric and myself, committed to take my chances.  Looking up at me, because he was about two inches shorter, Eric’s eyes widened before closing as his lips met mine. For a brief few seconds, we entered an unknown world, a world we knew we’d entered again, in due time.

“Will you go to the movies with me on Saturday night? I can meet you there,” he said in a rush.

I simply nodded, afraid my voice would crack.

***

Writing the memory down gave me tons of ideas of how to write emotion into any first kiss scene, no matter what the age of the characters.

As an exercise in your comments, write about your first kiss. What do you recall?

Second point: Everyone has experienced a first kiss. Using that scenario immediately connects you to the reader. But what happens when you’re writing beyond your experience? Research is the answer. Say you’re writing a scene where the characters have experienced a fire and have lost everything. You’ve been fortunate enough not to have that disaster happen to you, so what you can do is ask someone who has. I did this and I’ll never forget the two of the responses I received.

One woman she said she always looked at her husband as the rock she could count on, but the day they lost everything, her husband fell to his knees literally and was lost. She took over the responsibility to shoulder their way through rebuilding their home and lives. That catastrophe made her stronger than she thought she ever would be.

The second woman told me she felt guilty after suffering the loss of everything. Her guilt was over her family’s heirlooms for which she had been entrusted. For generations the treasures from England had been kept safe and passed down. She was the one to fail to do so. She was ashamed of herself. It took her a long time to come to terms that the lost was not her fault.

Both are very unique outlooks on a tragedy that can connect you with many readers who’ve had the same experience. And for those readers who have not, we have a better insight into the depth of emotional upheave that a fire can cause.  

So show your readers your passion. Reveal your heart and the heart of others.

 

aj-2016-2

About the author 

I began my writing career at the age of nine and sold three handwritten copies of a twenty page story. I’ve always wanted to be a writer and follow in the footsteps of my favorite authors, the ones who took me away and inspired me. Many years later, here I am.

I’ve earned the nickname of trouble from family and friends. Okay, I admit I do stir up things now and then, but in my defense I’m usually the one called on to champion a cause. 

All that life reveals is fair game to a writer.

Join my newsletter at www.autumnjordon.com to learn more about me and my works, including my Christmas romance Perfect.  photofunia-1474731871

Writing Romantic Suspense

In Romantic Suspense there are two distinct stories. The suspense and the romance.

RWA defines romantic suspense as a romance novel in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

You need a strong suspense story and a strong romance. Then you weave the two together perfectly. Today I’m only going to talk about developing quick physical and emotional relationships.  

In this genre the action moves fast and the story takes place over a relative short period. I write contemporary thriller/action adventure and the stories take place over a couple of weeks. BIG PROBLEM. An author has to weave in a plausible romance and bring it to a satisfying conclusion (don’t forget part of a romance definition is the HEA) in short timeframe.  Not easy.

If your characters are meeting for the first time on the pages of your story how can that plausible relationship develop so fast? What about the sexual aspect?  Characters getting under the covers fast is crazy tricky. Of course if the characters have a history, good or bad as long as they have a touch point of familiarity and knowledge, it’s less complicated.

If you plan on writing sex for a hero and heroine who just met it is important you know yourself and your own boundaries.  Know what YOUR comfort zone is. If you can’t conceive of, or don’t agree with characters getting hot and sweaty together fast, for goodness sakes don’t do it.

For example I’m not comfortable with a 24 year old woman meeting a man,  two hours later being in bed and two weeks later being in a happy ever after relationship. Nor am I comfortable with someone that age knowing the man she’s just met is the one that fast. It would be impossible for me to give her the experiences that would allow her to make these decisions. Let me be clear here. I am NOT saying someone that age is incapable of making that decision, I’m saying I can’t write it to happen fast.   

Ergo, I write with heroes and heroines over 35. They have experience. To my way of thinking—my comfort zone—they are more capable of making a decision about going into a sexual relationship after a short time and handling any blow back. A 36 year old woman who has been around and experienced a lot in her life knows the ramifications of a hook up.

You MUST know your characters.  What they will and will not do and why. I mean the down deep why.  While these issues are vital in every story, it is even more important in the fast pace RS genre.  You must know what circumstances will drive your heroine to hit the sheets quickly.  BTW I say heroine because I firmly believe she is the one who makes the decision as to the when and where sex happens.

In my first book the H&H go home together after they first meet. I totally knew my heroine. What event formed her values and beliefs and was behind all her decisions. The day the H&H met, she suffered two huge setbacks in her story goal. Going with him that night breaks all her personal rules but she decides to console herself with some sexual healing. Give in, just once, to her own needs and the reader knew this. She leaves his bed before he wakes thinking she will never see him again. In a few days this comes back to bite her. It also begins the resolution to her story goal. 

As for the HEA in this story, these two people were NOT looking for a relationship but found something in each other that filled a void they didn’t know existed. As the author, I knew it did. Knowing your characters inside and out allows you to understand what they fear, what they want, and what they need. You use it to get them to work out their problems together and rapidly establish a bond. With each other’s help they face their fears, they change, and are rewarded with love and in the suspense novel get the bad guy in the process. This is an over simplification but I hope you get what I mean. 

When the H&H have a sexual history getting them into a speedy relationship is always easier. In my third book, two experienced intelligence officers from different agencies have an affair that lasted more than a year. He broke it off for his own misguided reason. They come together again working to find the same bad guy. With their history, the sexual tension lasts for only so long before they give in. Their HEA is very complicated. Again, I know them completely.

Another way is to use what some call survivor sex. After two people share a near death experience sharing the life affirming act of sex is always a possibility.  As an author, you can put friends, detective or business partners, who have worked together for years and know each other completely into that death experience and life affirming sex after. The act changes a relationship to full blown love and HEA. On the surface this looks to be the easiest choice. Honestly it’s the most difficult for me to write. To get a good balance of conflict you really have to know your H&H.

I can probably come up with a hundred more scenarios but this is already too long.

Bottom line

  • Dig deep
  • Know yourself
  • Know your characters inside out.

What do you think?

Check out my Romantic Suspense Books.

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Archetypes and Storybeats Part IV: Three Act Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story Beat

A Sidekick Story

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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