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Posts tagged with: craft

Just Contempt

Has this ever happened to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you develop a character that readers will love?

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

 

5 Tips to Creating Fresh Plot Twists

 

The title to this post should be longer. It should really read, 5 Tips to Creating Fresh Plot Twists that No One will see Coming and Will Leave your Readers Breathless and Begging for More.

Whew!

Before I get started on the tips, I want you to know something. I feel like I’m giving away all of my secrets here. I’m not a secretive person, so this is painful. I only have, like, two. I’m essentially giving away half of my stable of secrets.

So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get this party started!

  1. KILL OFF ONE OF THE GOOD GUYS

This is a technique that your readers may very well hate you for, but it does pay off in a couple of ways.

First, it’s unexpected. The death of one of your protagonist’s allies is always unexpected.

Second, it makes your reader realize no one is safe. Will your heroine be next? Probably not, and I definitely do NOT recommend killing off your heroine or your hero, but your readers no longer trust you as much as they did. You’ve put them on edge and a morbid part of them wants to know who is next. (Or is that just me?)

This technique is especially effective when it’s that very death that sets off the mystery/suspense/journey your protagonist takes.

HOMEWORK: If you haven’t already, watch the first season of Game of Thrones. You may hate me, but it drives this technique home to an alarming degree.

  1. USE AN UNRELIABLE NARRATOR

Gone Girl, anyone?

[AHOY THERE, MATEY! SPOILERS AHEAD! If you have not read Gone Girl or seen the movie, skip to number three, finish reading this post, comment because we love comments, then download the book today.]

Gillian Flynn gave us Amy, an unreliable and untrustworthy narrator, for the first half of her wildly successful book. Even though we only had Amy’s journal entries through the first half and we didn’t fully trust her, we were still stunned when we reached that pivotal point midway through the story. 

She also gave us Nick, who wasn’t much better in the reliability department. Did anyone else have trust issues after reading that book?

What Gillian did, however, was set up this incredible sequence of plot twists that kept us glued to the edges of our seats. Hats off to her and any writer who can pull off such a brilliant, layered plot.

HOMEWORK: Read, or at least watch, Gone Girl.

  1. PUT THE ‘MIS’ IN MISDIRECTION

There is an important concept I’d like to draw your attention to, and that is the concept of subtlety. Misdirection, red herrings, redirects, false clues, whatever you call them, make them subtle. So subtle that your reader doesn’t even BEGIN to suspect she has been misdirected. And yet, looking back after the fact, she will be astounded she didn’t see it.

Because it will make sense.

Because it is completely plausible.

I hate to use my own work as an example, but it popped into my head first, so here goes. In one of the Charley Davidson books, I have someone attacking people who can see into the supernatural realm. I have my main character make a mental list of those who are most likely to be attacked, those who have firmly established their ability in prior books.

What I oh-so-gently leave out is one particular character who has exhibited clairvoyant abilities in the past but that were subtle to the point of being almost nonexistent and easily forgettable. So, when that character is attacked en lieu of one that my heroine was keeping an eye on, the reader is (hopefully!) shocked.

The key here is plausibility. Your twist, like all twists, must be plausible. They can’t just come out of nowhere. They must have been set up, hinted at in some way, and backed by intrinsic and believable motivation.

If the villain threatening to kill your heroine is not her fiancé’s ex-girlfriend as the reader has been led to believe, but his secretary, you better have at least introduced her early in the book. You don’t have to do anything obvious. If you have the secretary curling her hands into fists every time your heroine comes into the office, that’s pretty much a dead giveaway. UNLESS it’s a redirect and it’s not her after all but her sweet mother who feels that the fiancé takes advantage of her poor, distraught daughter and has to pay for his evil ways.

Dun, dun, DUUUUUN!

In that case, again, you better have set it up beforehand, even if it’s just an awkward introduction to the mother accompanied by a fleeting narrowing of the eyes.

HOMEWORK: Watch Smallville, Season 4, Episode 9, Bound. Beautiful twist with a very familiar face.

  1. OPPOSITES ATTRACT

Eliciting emotion is the goal of any and all works of fiction and predictability will kill a story in its tracks. So, how to you achieve one without falling prey to the other? You do the opposite!

Okay, so your heroine just found her husband in bed with her best friend. What do we expect her to do? Scream? Throw things? Run to the kitchen for a knife? Yes, yes, and yes.

What DON’T we expect her to do?

Smile.

Inside she may be about to pass out or throw up or shatter into a million pieces, but how much more powerful would it be to have her smile instead? To have her level an unflustered stare on her husband, smile, and say, “Leave the key by the door on your way out.”

Not only is that WAY more powerful, but it leaves the reader dying to know what she does next.

The point of this tip is, whatever your reader expects your character to do, have him or her do the exact opposite.

HOMEWORK: Watch anything by Joss Whedon, but especially watch the INCREDIBLE episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called I Only have Eyes for You, season 2, episode 19. There are two very powerful twists in that show that are beyond brilliant.

  1. FRENEMIES

OKAY, WRITERS!

THIS IS IT!

THIS IS THE BIG ONE!

THIS IS THE ONE THAT WILL LEAVE YOUR READERS STUNNED YET STRANGELY SATISFIED AND IT WORKS 100% OF THE TIME! (I just made up that number.)

What do 9 out of 10 blockbusters have in common? (I just made up that number, too.) They have the best, most emotional twist a writer has in her toolbox, and that is the ally-to-enemy/enemy-to-ally twist that we all know and love.

You know the one I’m talking about. Where a dark figure is following our hero who has been getting death threats. He is cornered in a parking garage where one of his colleagues is pointing a gun at him. At this point, the dark figure jumps in to save the day and we find out she is with the FBI and has had him under surveillance to keep him safe. Aka, enemy-to-ally.

That is just one of several types of ATE-ETA (I just made that up) techniques. It’s even more powerful when we are vested in the characters. When the one to switch teams was either totally beloved or terribly hated before their transformation. Those kinds of twists are always fresh and will leave your readers stunned and, yes, begging for more.

HOMEWORK: Try to identify this type of technique in the next few books you read or movies you watch. It happens more often than you realize and you will learn to recognize it instantly. Think Professor Quirrell in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Cypher in The Matrix, Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi.

Remember, like writing itself, creating fresh twists is a skill. It can be learned. Some of my best twists come about quite organically and I have a LOT of them. Not every one is planned. I am a diehard plotter, but if I had to put a number to it, I’d say about 75% of the twists in my books pop up as I’m writing. (Yep, made up that one, too, but it’s probably very close to the truth.)

The key is to be aware of the vast opportunities to add freshness in the form of twists and take advantage of every singe one. Once you learn to be consciously aware of how to freshen up your prose with twists, you will get better and better at it and they will come easier and easier.

SO, WHAT ABOUT YOU?

Have you come up with an awesome twist even you didn’t see coming? Share in the comments! (And, no, not because I want to steal it. I would never! *cough, cough*)

It’s All In The Past

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

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

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

There is that word again. EMOTION.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

                                                                                       LOVED BY DARKNESS coming MAY 8th, 2018

                                                                                                                Pre-0rder now!

Building Worlds

World building is the creation of detailed settings for out characters. Think – “giant terrarium” where we, writers, get to play God! It’s one of my favorite parts of being a writer. A story’s world is more than just a setting. Setting, like the two-dimensional background on a stage, lacks depth, history, emotion and all those other imperative aspects to a great book. World building goes beyond a date and location. It surrounds the reader, sucking them into the world’s society, culture, and the characters’ baggage.

If you can pick your characters up and skip them to another century or planet, and the story reads just fine without major changes, your world hasn’t been developed enough. It should be so intertwined with your characters that moving them would be like ripping them from a woven web of details and trying to stuff them into another. It just doesn’t work if you’ve built your world well. 

We all know how important world building is to SciFi and paranormal books, and even historical books, but it is equally important to contemporary books. If your hero is an FBI agent, he needs to speak the correct slang and understand the proper procedures (even if he doesn’t follow them). Where did he grow up? Does he uphold or fight against the dictates of the FBI code? All of these details, woven into external and internal dialogue, builds this character’s world, the world that may (and hopefully will) clash with the world of the heroine.

Young adult writers must build a world from the point of view of a teen. Knowing and using current slang, gestures, pop culture, world views, and technology are imperative to building a YA world. YA authors must put in the research, just like historical authors must check to see when vocabulary words, slang, and everyday items were used in centuries past.

Jumping from century to century, in historical books, also requires research to create a realistic, believable world. Details that impact character discussions, prejudices, beliefs and behaviors include:

local and national government,

religion,

economics,

celebrities,

superstitions,

social and family rolls,

daily habits,

health issues of the time

Society can change even decade to decade. I remember this every time I try to find pictures of my three kids. My nineteen-year-old’s memory box is full of prints of her as a baby. My eleven-year-old’s box has only a few prints because the rest of them are saved as digital pictures on my computer. So even over the course of eight years, life has changed.

My last Scottish historical series, The Highland Isles, features Highland warriors from the early 16th century. This was a time when King Henry VIII was interfering with Catholics in both England and Scotland, but he still celebrated Christmastide. Move forward to the late 17th century (the setting of my upcoming Highland Roses School series), and Scotland was so against Catholicism that they outlawed Christmas celebrations, calling it a popish (Catholic) holiday. Even when the official ban was lifted, Christmas wasn’t reinstated as an official holiday in Scotland until 1958 (400 years of no Christmas!).

 

 

Every great story must have a rich, color-packed world, which is more detailed than a pencil-sketched setting. However, be sure to sprinkle the details in as needed. Dropping in large amounts of world detail can bore a reader like a large background dump. Even in SciFi books, the details of the world must come naturally, using literary vehicles such as dialogue and interactions with the different aspects of the world.

If your story takes place outside of normal history (steampunk, SciFi, paranormal), you need to define what makes your world special. Capture it in notes or on a collage of pictures so you can refer to it while writing.

I’m a very visual person, so I make collages of my characters and the basics of their world. I keep them near me while I write. I also create a soundtrack for my book’s world and listen to it while I write. I’ve even gone so far as to drink my character’s favorite drink and light a candle (for that flickering candlelight) while writing because it helps me to step into my created world. My goal is to really understand where my characters are living and, therefore, what my characters are feeling and thinking.

What worlds have you created? How do you ensure that you’ve included enough detail?

For more information about me and my worlds (books), drop by my web site. While you’re there, sign up for my newsletter to be the first to know what worlds I’m currently creating.  https://www.heathermccollum.com/

 

I WORKED ON MY MIDDLE IN DIAPERS

We’re three weeks into the Winter Writing Fest, and whether you’re writing, plotting, or editing your middle could be a bit dull.
Let me tell you what I know about story middles.

They can be expanded into a huge massive saga and not hold one ounce of story muscle. Or, they can be elusive and cause the author to stare at the muse-sucking blinking cursor. Yet, they can be so wonderfully written and with every page the reader is drawn into the world you’ve built, and slowly, they become emotionally attached to your characters.

Writing the middle can suck, if you don’t know where your story is headed.

I’m a devoted panster. (Right hand held over my heart) I have been since the day I picked up a Crayola crayon and put it to my Bugs Bunny coloring book, my mother’s grocery list, the wall. (Yes, Bill Gates and I were wearing cloth diapers then.) I made up my stories as I went, drawing pictures and telling my story to my younger sister, who couldn’t talk yet. I’ve tried over the last ten years to get serious about plotting ahead, but in the end my story goes off in a totally new direction (damn characters). However, I have learned I MUST know several things before I start a new story, which helps my middle from becoming boring. What are they? Read on to learn how things work in my mind.

First, I need to learn my characters’ dreams and what drives them to go after those aspirations. (Everyone fantasies about obtaining something but not everyone is willing to do the hard work to succeed.) In order to learn my character’s most intimate desire, I dig deep into my hero’s, heroine’s and my antagonist’s hearts.

Why the villain’s? Because his/her desires are going to conflict with the hero’s or heroine’s dreams.

Okay, it’s a recognized fact that everyone wants love. So, if you said love, you’re grabbing the easy answer. You need to dig deeper. What kind of love and love for what. Love has many forms. The heart-wrenching or warming love between to people. They love for something bigger than any of us: God, nature, the universe. The love of money or power over others. Or the love we feel when we do something; helping someone, drugs, alcohol, creating something, achieving something no one else ever has, or the moment your character sees life slip away. What does you character love? And what are they willing to do to feel that love.

Next, I know the inciting incident that will set my hero on a path. That is my beginning. I’m going to use the movie Apollo 13, since many have seen the movie, as an example. (This where your character is an astronaut in the line-up for a flight into space in years to come. Then the guy in front of him, breaks his leg and suddenly it’s his time. His love is to walk on the moon just became real.)

Then, I decide what is going to make my hero change. (An explosion causes severe damage to Apollo.) At this point Jim Lovell, realizes what is more important to him then walking on the moon; His wife, children, family and friends back on Earth. And the lives of his crew.
Finally, I decide how my story ends. Of course, I always want an HEA. If you haven’t seen Apollo 13, I’m not going to spoil it for you.

Okay, now how do you keep your middle from sagging. ( I’m keeping it simple.)

In the first half of your middle, you write scenes that will show case your heroines trek to achieve his dreams. He will do anything to feel that power of love. He will also need to come up against challenges and make decisions that don’t sit well with him, because they go against his moral compass. He does them out of selfish love. Jim Lovell makes such a decision concerning his best friend during training.

In the second half of your middle, you’ll write scenes showcasing how heroic your hero really is. He now has a clear vision of who he truly is and what he really wants. You, the writer, should throw everything you can at him to make him fail. The universe threw everything at Jim Lovell, his crew, and the men and women of NASA, until the final black moment. (Again no spoiler.)

From there, it’s happy ending for me.

Okay recap:
1) Know your characters.
2) What is the incident that starts it all?
3) Write scenes where hero works toward achieving his dream. Make it a roller coaster ride, with scenes of achievement and scenes of conflict and defeat.)
4) What is the incident that occurs which makes your hero realize his true self, or love?
5) Write scenes showing him/her as the hero working toward his goal. Challenge him until the moment he triumphs. Write lines that personifies your character. (“Go ahead. Make my day.” No need to tell you who spoke that line.)
6) Write a satisfying ending.

Much of what I’ve said here today comes from the teachings of Michael Hauge. I took his workshop last year and it was like a light bulb went off over my head. I recapped my workshop notes here:

What I Learned From Michael Hauge – PART 1

And here:

What I Learned From Michael Hauge Part 2

Hope Ramsey also did a wonderful blog on middles here:
http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/writing-to-the-middle/

 

I think it’s so important for writers at any level to read different author’s POV on craft subjects. What clicks for me, might not click for you. And reading about craft helps us better our skills. So, has anyone learned about middles from another source?

 

 

READER CONNECTION: USING MEMORIES

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

I’m Not Your Prop

 

If you don’t think secondary characters are as important as the main characters of any story, you would be completely wrong. They are not simply props. They play many important different roles; The side-kick, The Tempter, The Skeptic, The Driver, The Mentor, and The Mixture to name a few. I’ve listed definitions of these roles below.

Often, SC (secondary characters) disclose bits of backstory (truths) which exposes our hero’s motivation for championing a cause. They can unmask aspects of personalities which our characters (not necessarily the heroes) are determined to keep hidden from the world. They can explain why characters make the choices they do. They can do all this in a few words.

 

Sometimes, secondary characters remind the main character of their humanity, shifting their decision in championing a cause and thus changing the plot’s direction.

They remind the cast of characters why the hero’s quest is important, especially when the hero has given up hope.

They can reveal to the reader unseen forces that add to the plot’s mystery or suspense. Or their can throw in a red-herring depending on their own motives.

 

SC can offer the reader hope when none seems possible.

They can hold a memory or essential information and be the key to the hero’s success.

They can offer different perspectives and change the plot, or add another story line. (Sequel?)  

They can be the one whose death exposes the hero’s heart and changes his direction.

Secondary characters have power and authors should take as much time to develop them as they have their heroes.  You should know their backstory even though it’s not be revealed to the reader as much as your main character’s history. Their backstory is what drives them which effects the storyline. Knowing it makes them real and thus gives their words and actions validity. Give them substance!

Don’t confuse secondary characters with extras.  Extras are those characters who walk into a book once or twice. Extras certainly need a voice (not cliché’, unless intended to be so) but their backstory is non-exist to the reader.

Every character is important to the story. They all hold threads to the plot. They all add texture to the overall story.  Take the time to make each as real as possible. Your reward will be a keeper book.   

 

 

The Sidekick

This character represents the faithful friend who always stands by the protagonist.

The Tempter

This character is the right hand of the antagonist. It’s a secondary character that can help you create new subplots and obstacles the protagonist will face throughout the story.

The Skeptic

Although the role of the secondary character who complicates the achievement of the protagonist’s goals is usually taken by the tempter, it doesn’t always have to be like that. Sometimes there are characters who help the antagonist by standing in the protagonist’s way without having anything to do with him.

The Driver

The role of the driver is to make the protagonist act in order to set the plot in motion. When the protagonist has doubts about whether to take a path or not or gets stuck because he doesn’t know what decision to make, it’s the perfect time for the driver to take part in the story. It’s not necessary for the secondary character to solve all of the protagonist’s doubts. It’s much more interesting if the hero only receives clues that lead him to decide which path to take. It’s just a little push because the final decision should rest with the main character (if it didn’t, he wouldn’t gain knowledge from experience).

The Mentor

This secondary character requires special mention. Apart from giving the protagonist a key to solving a particular conflict (which is also the role of the driver), he also has the function of guiding the protagonist (for a longer period of time than the driver) and sharing knowledge at crucial moments in order to return him to the right path.

The Mixture

Not everything is black or white, and the secondary characters we’ve mentioned don’t have to be exclusively limited to their role. Sometimes we can mix different types of characters to create new roles and add depth to the story. The role of the pseudo-villain is a clear example of how mixtures work – the tempter (or helper of the antagonist) redeems himself towards the end of the story and becomes a driver or sidekick who helps the protagonist achieve his goal.

 

NO HOLIDAY IS PERFECT, UNTIL….

IT IS. PERFECT,

The Same…But Different: Using Popular Tropes to Make Your Romance Novel a Familiar Favorite With an Exciting Twist

Romance novels are all about the tropes. What’s a trope? A premise / plot device so popular a bajillion (that’s a scientific term) books have used it. Like an accidental pregnancy. Or a woman who falls for her brother’s best friend. Or a secret baby.

Maybe this is one of the reasons people sometimes criticize romance novels for being formulaic. And, sometimes, they can be. I’m a total sucker for a good brother’s-best-friend story, but I don’t want to read the same brother’s-best-friend story over and over. I want the same trope, but a different story.

As writers, it’s important to make sure that, if we’re using a familiar trope, we’re putting a unique spin on it. But how do we do that?

There are all kinds of strategies, but here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Take a familiar trope into a new time period, location, or world.
    • Example: The Selection by Kiera Cass
      •  The Trope: A Bachelor-style competition where a prince will choose his wife
      •  The Twist: Make it dystopian
  • Turn the trope on its head: 
  • Blend two (or more!) tropes together:
Free Falling in Love by Ava Blackstone

How many tropes can I fit into one romance novel? Let’s see: (1) Mistaken identity, (2) Opposites attract, (3) Friends to lovers, (4) Office romance

When I sat down to plot Free Falling in Love, the fifth book in my Voretti Family series, I knew I wanted the hero, Alex, to switch places with his brother Matt. Because—come on. They’re identical twins. You didn’t expect me to write an entire book featuring a hero who had an identical twin without the two of them switching places a couple times, did you?

The problem was, I watched waaaay too many versions of The Parent Trap growing up, so the idea of Alex and Matt deciding to switch places felt predictable and stale.

Not to mention that, over the course of the previous four books in the series, I’d given Alex, a responsible, color-inside-the-lines personality. Why would this Type-A rule follower choose to switch places with his unreliable twin?

He wouldn’t.

Time to scrap the whole idea?

Not quite, because putting the twin-switch trope together with Alex’s rule-following personality gave me an idea. I could make the twin switch an accident. So, through a combination of a flat tire and bad timing, Alex’s coworker, Nikki, mistakes him for his twin. And he doesn’t realize what’s going on until after she blows his mind with the Best Kiss Ever.

Poor Alex.

Don’t feel too sorry for him, though. He gets the girl in the end.

What about you? What romance novel tropes have you used in your books? How have you made them your own?

BECAUSE OF SEASONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Suspense Or Mystery 101

When I began to write romantic suspense, I tossed out several reams of paper. Why?  Because no matter how I tried I couldn’t keep my villain hidden. He kept voicing his POV and writing his own chapters. I nearly ripped my hair out by the roots fighting with him to stay silent. Then I read a wonderful book, How To Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat.  Ms.Wheat set me straight and confirmed what my villain was telling me all along.

Is there a Who-dun-it in suspense? Of course there is. When the villain is revealed, among a few other elements, that makes suspense different from mystery. In a mystery, an act of violence begins the story, but most times the action is set off stage. The reader is invited into the dilemma and introduced to an already seasoned hero who solves the crime logically and through scientific methods. There is a small circle of suspects, clues and red herrings. Information is withheld from the reader and the said reader is kept in the dark two steps behind. The hero grows very little during the story. The story is all about who killed X? The villain is not exposed until the last scene and the end result for the reader is an intellectual satisfaction.

A suspense novel starts on even keel, showing the everyday life our hero or heroine. Then BAM, a nightmare occurs.

 

Excerpt from His Witness To Evil:

Stephanie masked her sigh of exertion while lifting the Coleman cooler she’d borrowed for their trip. She lugged the container to her old SUV. She knew how her son felt. She wished she had the money to take them away on exciting excursions like their friends had this summer. To places like Disney World, but she couldn’t even afford a day trip to Hershey Park, America’s chocolate capital. Em’s special diet, because of her allergies, took up a third of her take-home pay. After paying the mortgage, utilities, car insurance and miscellaneous expenses, she was lucky to save a few dollars a week.

She chewed on her bottom lip. Hopefully, next week Bobby and his friends would be off on new adventures, their summer vacations a distant memory.

The howl of a diesel engine jerked Stephanie from her musing. The squeal of brakes, crushing metal and shattering glass made her spin around.

Other basics of a suspense: All action is on stage. The protagonists’ world expansions. There are surprises. The villain can be revealed to the reader immediately and can have a POV.

Yeah! This made my villain happy. Information is given to the reader but withheld from the heroes. In other words, we know what could happen if the wrong path is taken by our hero.  The reader sits on the edge of her seat, screaming at the heroine and hero not to go there.

 

Excerpt from His Witness To Evil:

“I don’t want to kill no kids, Victor.” Mac danced in place ready to dodge Victor’s wrath.

“You will do as I say,” Victor snapped.

She looked at the dead driver. His lifeless stare pleaded to her for justice.

“Don’t trust her,” Sheriff Morse ordered, turning his gun on her.

Stephanie refused to flinch under Morse’s scrutiny.

Gene moved in front of her. “Frank, what the hell are you doing? You’ve known Stephanie all her life.”

“There is too much at stake, Gene. She saw me kill that guy. I’m not going to jail.” Morse’s tongue skimmed his lips. “Why the hell are you trying to protect her anyway? You two have been fightin’ like junkyard dogs for years. You complain every day she’s milking you dry. This is your chance to be rid of your mistakes.”

“Steph was never a mistake to me,” Gene’s voice rose in response. Then it softened. “I was hers.”

Tears threatened to blur her vision and she blinked them away. She squeezed Gene’s arm and glanced at her ex-husband’s profile. He remained focused.

“Touching,” Victor said. “But, sorry, no. They must die here.”

 

The suspense story is all about the hero or heroine prevailing. Emotional satisfaction is what the reader gets from a suspense novel. And since I write romantic suspense, love also must be found.

 

Excerpt from His Witness to Evil:

After a week, her touch was familiar. His heart melted. He grabbed her hand, holding her in place as he turned and smiled down on her. Her nipples pushed against her white T-shirt. He gently brushed a knuckle across one peak. “No. It was hell without you.”

“Mmmm. Same here.” She pulled back and lifted his arm around her, curling into him.  Looking out over the lake, she sighed. “I could stay here forever, if you’d let me.”

“I wish we could.” He gathered her closer and kissed the top of her head. “But eventually Bobby and Em would have to go to school.”

“I could home school.” Her chuckle was strained.

He felt her pain. He smiled while his heart wrenched. He would like nothing more than to forget about the world and stay here with her and the kids. But they couldn’t. “Sooner or later Ben will call. We’ll have to go back.”

“I know.”

Steph moved away. A cold void took her place.

She drifted to the other porch column. Leaning against it, she folded her arms across her chest. Her lips pressed together as if she was forming the right words behind them. “I know I said that our time together here was going to be enough to last me a lifetime, but—” Tears brimmed her lids. “I was wrong.  A lifetime won’t be enough.”

 

John stepped toward her. “I don’t know what—”

“I know, you don’t know how we can be together. So, Ben will call. We’ll go back, and I’ll identify Victor. You’ll toss him in jail and throw away the key. You’ll drive off in pursuit of the next bad guy and me…Well, I’ll go home and wonder where you are. Wonder if what I felt was love.”

The woman knew how to make a guy feel like a heel.

John pulled her into his arms. She buried her head in his chest and cried softly against him. He kissed her head and smoothed her hair. “Steph, I didn’t think I’d ever love again,” he whispered softly, cupping her chin and tilting her face up until she looked at him. “Like a bomb, you dropped into my life. Every defense I’d put up to protect myself from ever being hurt again came tumbling down. You opened up my heart. As much as you don’t want to live without me, I don’t want to live without you. I love you.”

He kissed her gently. Her arms wrapped around him and held on.  “Somehow, we’ll figure this out. I promise.”

Evil’s Witness, now titled His Witness To Evil, was my 2009 Golden Heart Entry and Golden Leaf Winner.  To learn about my more recent releases please visit my website www.autumnjordon.com  Don’t forget to join my newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without the expressed permission of the author, Autumn Jordon.

 

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