What Do People Want?

Answer: flat abs.

But since this is a site about writing, I’m going to have to rephrase the question to ask about readers. So, what is it that people want from a novel?

Maybe it’s a great premise: You’re waiting in line on Judgement Day and swap stories with those around you to see who is headed where. Or there’s an outbreak of a new disease like no one’s ever seen before. The one who holds the antidote won’t share it. My heart is already pumping as I wonder where these are going.

Along the same vein, some people have to have their roller coaster ride. “Give me cliffhangers or give me death!” In a book, you are often lucky enough to get both. Michael Crichton was a master of these. Miss you, Mike.

Or you could want the exact opposite. A little escapism is the perfect antidote to being stuck in a cluttered house with a pack of screaming toddlers. You can take a trip to a tropical island, all without leaving your sticky couch.

Maybe you need confirmation that you are not alone, or a reminder of how lucky you are. Fault in Our Stars anyone?

Or you might be in desperate need of a good laugh. Nothing like humor to save us from taking life too seriously. Bridget Jones’s Diary never lets me down.

Speaking of Bridget, who doesn’t love the feeling of falling in love? I have been known to use chocolate for this purpose, but a Romance novel is better for my waistline.

Perhaps you prefer stories that make you think, even if they bring up more questions than they answer.

What these all have in common is they elicit emotions in the reader. A good book will strike an emotional chord make it hum, all from the safety of your (possibly sticky) couch. It might even let you forget about the state of your abs for a while.

If you want an excuse to put off a round of sit-ups, enter your must-have for a good book in the comment section below.

Happy reading.

 

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Submission

Like many of the un-published writers posting to this blog, this is my first blog post. I struggled to develop an idea for a post. Okay, that’s not quite true. I pursued three separate ideas, but the resulting pieces left me uninspired. So I scrapped them. They were all based on good ideas, but upon reflection, the execution of each was lacking and the weaving of my words resulted in knots or holes.

If I want to submit anything, even a post such as this, I want it to be worth reading. I think that is what most writers want, isn’t it? To create something worth reading?

So, what to write? What is worthy topic for my first piece of writing available for public consumption?

The submission process.

Creating a piece is easy. Words flow, ideas merge and multiply and within a few moments, I have a beginning, middle, and an end.   

Then the challenge arrives – how to take the jumbled flow of thoughts and ideas and create a flow, magic; something worth reading.

Editing, as I have learned, is time consuming.  Reading, reviewing, and re-writing – these are my three R’s. Before I became serious about learning the art of writing, I thought editing was simple. All I had to do was check for spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and perhaps a missing word.  Now I have a much clearer perspective. Editing is polish; a chance to work out the kinks, to add a line, or remove several others. Some writers have only one or two revisions during this process. I tend to have many more, but I believe it is a good sign. I take care to review a piece of work and ensure that it is what it needs to be.   

After editing, I let my piece sit. I leave it be and after a few days or maybe a week or two I read it over one last time.

Then it is time to submit. The submission email is compiled, followed by one final check, to make sure that the grammar and spelling are perfect. With that, everything is complete and all that remains is the simple press of a button to send an email or, as in the case of a blog, post the piece to cyberspace.

However, if you are like me, pressing the button is the hardest part. Heartbeats increase in number and a well of excitement rises in your body. Then the nerves appear and doubt follows soon after. Is it good enough?  Will the submission be worthy of consideration? Did I forget anything? What if no-one reads it?

Or worse, what if no-one likes it?

That is the moment to press send. When the nerves are high, but before you ‘chicken out’.Remind yourself  of every bit of work that you have done to get to this point.

Submission. 

The piece needs nothing else. It is good enough. Someone will read it and someone will like it. In fact, someone will love it.

After submitting, the wait comes. Though I am not above checking my email repeatedly for a response, I would like to think that I’d use my time productively and work on a new project. But I really want to receive a response, to see one word in particular.

Accepted.

So here it is – my first Happy Authors Guild submission. Tomorrow, I am preparing my first submission to a publication and I guarantee that I will be reviewing that email several times before I finally press send.  I may even check my email frequently in the weeks to come.

I have to include a short biography with my piece. It may look something like this:

Polly J. Brown manages money and people, both at work and at home. She resides on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore with her husband, three children, and a geriatric beagle. She is currently working on her first novel-length piece.

Cheers,

PJB

Find Your Reader: Banishing “I’ll never be a writer” Myths

In the blogosphere there are wonderful blogs, which discuss what fiction writing is, along with do’s and don’ts of telling stories. But if you’re just starting out writing, it may be helpful to clear up some beginner myths. Here’s three myths, I’m quashing for you.

1. If You don’t like Highbrow Literature, You’re not a Writer

Alfy

I used think I didn’t ‘get’ poetry.  I remember sitting in my sophomore English class reading Robert Frost. Wow. This guy is really smart and I am very stupid. I just didn’t get it. But I wasn’t alone in that room. All of my classmates tried desperately not to fall asleep, as our teacher droned on and on about snowy evenings. So I came away from this, hating poetry. This must be for smart people.

giphy2

But I was wrong.

There’s something out there for everyone

It took me a decade before I ever voluntarily picked up a book of poetry. I was certain I wouldn’t enjoy it, but peer pressure does work.  Everyone I knew talked about how wonderful this female poet was. I figured it was worth one painful read through. It was a best of Maya Angelou book.

You want to learn how to tell a story? Read her. I’m not talking about her often quoted poems, such as “Phenomenal Woman” or “Still I rise”.  My favorite is “They Went Home.” You can read it here. Before Maya, I never knew poetry could be sexy or heartbreaking.

I learned you don’t say “I can’t write,” because you’ve read one way of doing things. You’ve got to read a lot of different things, fiction, non-fiction, genre, literary. Even after that it’ll only represent one percent of the landscape, but it’ll be enough to imagine the possibilities of what kind of story you can add to the world.

 2. No One likes My Story.

I used to send a novel to agents. They always requested to read the full story. This was a good sign. After reading the full story, they always said no.  That was a bad sign. No matter how much I banged my head against the keyboard, I couldn’t figure out why. So I shelved the novel and came back to it a few years later, once I had a few short stories published.  I thought I could tweak it and send it out again. Wrong.  Here’s the cliff notes version of the story.  A girl’s father dies and the mother remarries. The stepfather moves them across the country. Their home is burglarized. THE END.

That’s not a story, that’s a really, really simple outline.

Writing a story is more than just writing the three act structure and making sure your grammar is pristine. You must contend with setting, description, plot, point of view and filter words.

Baby steps grasshopper. Before you can sell a story, you need to know what defines story.  I’ll be honest. Understanding story and storytelling, is like looking at a kaleidoscope.  The longer you stare at it, the more it changes on you. It’s an elusive rabbit, but brushing up on the basics will certainly help change an agent’s no to a yes.

3. But I can’t Write Well

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What’s that you say? You used to get all A’s in high school English literature. It shouldn’t be that hard to write fiction. It’s not, but you’re working from the wrong playing field.  High school English, is kindergarten for writers. Once you decide to start writing fiction, you’ve moved past simply communicating to painting with words. To paint, you’ll need a whole other set of tools.

I won’t bother making recommendations. There’s literally thousands of “how to write a novel” books. Go on over to Amazon and fall down the rabbit hole for three hours. You’ll come out, with a few you like.

Make sure you’re on the same playing field

I think Ben Yagoda explains it best. I picked up his book ,“How not to Write Badly.” It was perfect, since I know I write badly(smile). In the book, he points out a common problem writers face. Have you ever asked someone to edit your work and they take out things, you know your high school English teacher would frown on? Let’s say your friend removes the comma before and. You know it’s supposed to be there, because you received A’s in English. And it really behooves you to go back over your so called “editor’s” work and put them all back.

Well, Ben says they’re not wrong, they’re just working from a different style guide. What? Yep. Drop that MLA book. Move on over to Chicago. Most, if not all publishers use the Chicago Manual Style guide.

So it’s possible you do like poetry and you can write enough novels to call yourself the Nora Roberts or Judith McNaught of (insert sub-romance genre here). You just need to get rid of those expectations. They’re like stereotypes, they don’t apply to everyone. Go. Write a poem, a haiku, or erotic squirrel romance. Whatever, but no more of that I can’t, or I don’t know. The world needs your fiction. There might be another little girl like me, waiting to be touched by your story, so she can imagine the possible.

About The Author

E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by Black Cat Press and S/tick Magazine. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label—Will Records. She has a B.A. and Master in Communication and is currently working on her first romance novel.

Inspiration From the Most Unusual Places

The first time I remember being inspired for a story I was eight years old. An episode of “Family Ties” had left me completely crushed and begging that the story couldn’t end that way. Ellen Reed had agreed to marry her boyfriend, leaving Alex P. Keaton full of despair. Why an eight year old was so tore up about a sitcom romance, I have no idea. Maybe I’ve always been a romantic?

The experience filled me full of questions about how the writers could do that to poor Alex. What was going to happen? Would she still be on the show? It just couldn’t end that way. So, that night I remember “righting” the wrongs of his heart. I did the same a season later after everything was fixed and she took an opportunity and went to dance in Paris.

From that point on, inspiration seemed to come from everywhere. I created these characters that still live with me today, in part from combining inspiration I’ve found through books, television, movies, music, art, games, and real life occurrences. My sister and I would even play out some of the scenarios with our Barbie dolls and small toys. I remember my characters being trapped on a camping trip and spending a couple of hours making a rubber band chain that could stretch across our room for them to travel across to safety. My mother wasn’t always thrilled with the mess we created but our minds were rich with creativity and innovation as we played out our tales.

As I grew older, I often processed my emotions through story. My characters would face a similar feeling in a personally created scenario, and they would work through it with me. It’s often in a much more interesting way with many more obstacles and resources. It was a way to refocus and helped get me through my emotional teen years.

Adulthood has been interesting. Daydreaming is kind of an odd thing to do once you’re past the age of fourteen. I remember many times watching out the car window on a road-trip and my mind wandering to characters with a more exciting reason for exploring the destination. Other people’s lives lived in my head, and that’s kind of tricky to explain. An odd gas station trip, a favorite scene in media somewhere, or a random song would keep them going and they would expand as my experiences did.

Now, I call that wandering mind of mine writing. It sounds much more official with a title, though I often find people curious about why I spend so many hours with it. It seems that if you’re not officially getting paid or it’s a true assignment, it’s frivolous. I have a feeling whimsical thought will be with me for the rest of my life. So whether it’s called childish, silly, daydreaming, pretending, playing, wasting time, or writing, it inspires me. As life does, from everywhere. Even in the most unusual places.

Five Firsts.

This is my first blog, my first online presence. Not a unique situation I know, but I am a very private person and prefer to remain under the radar.  However as a writer in the 21st century, published or otherwise, we communicate and this is an admirable, if not desirable thing. For me, however, it is a bitter sweet experience. Bitter because I will be putting myself out there, sweet because the wonder of technology provides us with the opportunity, and I get to interact with lovely people from all over the world.

So that got me thinking about other bitter and/or sweet first experiences of my life.

My First Self-Administered Injection

Administering a sub cutaneous injection is not that difficult. You pinch up some fatty skin and jab it in fast. Easy, I thought, seriously what was all the fuss about?
I connected the needle to the plunger, withdrew the liquid from the vial, and swiped the alcohol wipe across my thigh. I was good to go, just had to stab myself in the skin. But my hand wasn’t getting the message from my brain and remained frozen mid-air. It took twenty heart-pounding minutes to persuade my hand that it was a good idea to attack myself with a two-inch needle. It was over in seconds and by the time of my final injection twelve months later I was a pro.

My First James Bond Film

For some reason this is an event many of us remember. For me it was Live and Let Die, starring Roger Moore at the Liverpool ABC Cinema in 1974. The cinema is no more, but a powerful fictional hero will live on and there will always be something reassuring about the consistency and predictability of a good Bond film. (Favourite James Bond actors anyone?) 

My First (and only) Radio Broadcast.

Fresh out of university and unemployed, I started helping out in an administrative capacity at a local hospital radio station. One of my jobs was to do ward rounds and collect song requests. I took a bundle up to the broadcasting studio one evening and found the presenter had stepped out on a bathroom break during the 8-minute long Stairway to Heaven. I got talking with the volunteer Tech Guy and we were suddenly aware of silence. The record had ended and the presenter hadn’t returned. 
A microphone was pushed in front of my mouth. I grabbed the first slip of paper I could find and stuttered out a request for Sailing by Rod Stewart while Tech Guy cued up Hello by Lionel Richie. Two songs later an unwell presenter returned and valiantly finished his slot.

My First Paying Job

Potato picking. This involved getting up at the crack of dawn on a cold October morning and trundling off to the farmer’s field to meet up with other village inhabitants of all ages. A tractor ploughed the field to bring the potatoes up to the surface, and we lumbered through the heavy, cloying mud in our wellies, bucket in hand to pluck the potatoes from the ground.
Aged 14, mud had long since lost its entertainment value, and I gave up after 2 laborious days having earned the princely sum of £6.

My First Blog

This brings me full circle. All that’s left is to hit the send button and hope my hand doesn’t freeze above the keyboard. Then it’s done and I have finally put myself out there.
Or have I?
One of the above is fictional.
I’ll leave you to figure out which one.

I C Summer Blog Tour – “Navigating the Writing Path: From Start to Finish”

Having a bunch of busy writers keep to a schedule is really difficult. So now and then, holes open up in the space-time continuum into which we must shove something to keep the universe from imploding. Luckily, at the same time we discovered a gap on the horizon, Cayenne Michaels asked if someone wanted to follow her post in the blog tour. Heck, no, I said. Let’s get ALL the authors at Happy Authors Guild to answer, all at the same time!

Cayenne patted me on the head and gave me back my pacifier. Yeah, out of the dozen or so writers here, only four were available to answer. Partly because so many had already done the tour on their personal blogs. Here’s the great job Cayenne did with the tour: http://cayenne1976.wordpress.com/

But four is pretty good, and so without further ado:

The Players.

Polly J. Brown. She likes reading, writing, running, participating in triathlons, and mud runs. She writes contemporary Romance.

Lizzie Hermanson. This crazy lady likes Jane Austen. Need I say more? Oh, alright, she is also writing contemporary Romances.

E.M. Youman. Not an N. Sparks fan, but very creative and funny. And just to be different, she’s writing contemporary Romance!

T.L. Taylor. A great conversationalist, she likes pushing the boundaries of conventional ideas, even her own, but especially yours. She writes flash fiction and short stories, but has one novel in the works.

Here are the Questions:

1. Share how you start your writing project(s). For example, where do you find inspiration? Do you outline? Do you jump right into the writing? Do you do all of your research first?

E.M: Story ideas come anywhere at any time, it’s more about training yourself to be tuned in for the story. Carrying a pen and paper to catch the ideas are crucial. A lot of times, I’ve gotten the inspiration to write when I’m stuck in a hot car.

I start all of my writing projects as free writes. This means I either grab a pen, or my laptop and write whatever comes to mind on the story. It’s often a bunch of jumbled scenes, but’s it’s enough to tell me where I want to go. After I’ve got the dirtiest rough draft possible, I make an outline. This is to organize the jumble of scenes. Then I make a list of assumptions. These are the things I don’t know anything about, but I’ve included them in my story like I know them firsthand. I research those assumptions. First instance my current work in progress features a scene about Tigers. I’ve got them hunting in the day time, but I’ve discovered they mostly hunt at night. That’s a big detail.

Once the research is done, it’s time go into edit mode. There are several stages. First there is the developmental edit. At this point I’m using my research to correct assumptions. Then the scene edit. This is where you cut the fat. Does your main character really need to spend three pages telling the reader about sweater manufacturing? Finally the copy edit. That’s where I work on fixing the grammar. This usually takes me several passes and I don’t always do each step in an orderly fashion.

PJB: I used to jump head first into writing and see where the story took me and many times that path lead to a dead end.  For my current story, I took a different approach. I set up a rough outline indicating what each chapter would be about, breaking out chapters by scene if I was able.  I created character descriptions for each of my main characters and developed a good sense of their motivations. I found that this approach gave me enough guidance to write a draft without having many creative blocks. It was flexible enough to allow me to add or delete scenes as I needed and I was able to jump between scenes if I didn’t feel like writing in chronological order. 

L.H:I’m not a planner. I work out the internal and external Goal, Motivation and Conflict for the hero and heroine and go from there. I usually do the research later when I see what I’ve got on the page.

T.L.T: I just get ideas. Tons of them. They roll around in my head and mash together like a swirl ice cream cone.

I get a lot of my idea’s from dialogue, actually. I’ll be watching a TV show, or a movie or even eavesdropping on a strangers conversation, and I’ll hear something that grabs me and makes me go “Whoa! I need to write a story around this idea.”

For example: I was watching one of my fave shows, a medical drama. And a doctor was explaining to her patient that patients on transplant lists are clocked in to the second. So when an organ becomes available, it goes to the first person on the list. In this case, the patient missed receiving the available organ by 17 seconds. The person ahead of him on the list was clocked in only 17 seconds sooner.

I started thinking about short spans of time and all the life moments that can and do occur in those moments. I tossed around different lengths of seconds to see what seemed most plausible for the normal things of life to occur within. I came up with 11 seconds, and wrote a story about a young girl. It’s flash fiction which is really brief, and follows her from the moment her parents split to the moment she has her first child. Each blurb is an important and life-changing episode in her life that transpires in just the span of 11 seconds.

I loathe the outlining process. I just need to get in there while the idea is fresh and new and exciting and follow the little creative burst and get it on paper. Once I have a first draft and am ready for revisions, I may do some slight outlining in my head or a note or two for future reference but that’s as organized as I get.

I tend to do research as I need it for the scene I’m writing. Otherwise, I’d get bogged down and never get to the good stuff — which is the writing of the story that is waiting impatiently to burst forth.


2. How do you continue your writing project? i.e. How do you find motivation to write on the non-creative days?

E.M.: Sometimes I just stop writing. But I don’t stop working on the story. If I can’t write then I read. If I don’t feel like reading, then I go to my favorite online writers group (Scribophile) and critique others’ work. If I’m in a real funk and dreaming about hitting the delete button, I’ll stop working on the story and write poetry. Weird, yes, but it works.

PJB: I would love to keep to a schedule for continuing my writing project. However, my biggest obstacle is finding enough time to work on it.

I am the type that prefers to work uninterrupted- once thoughts start flowing, I need to put them to paper (or screen) as soon as possible or I’ll lose them. However; in my household, it is wishful thinking. Most of my writing occurs after the children have gone to bed. I take my laptop to the basement and work distraction free for a few hours. 

On days that I truly don’t have time, I make sure that I have done one thing, no matter how small, to improve my writing. Simple things such as jotting down a new story idea, reading an article about writing, doing research- anything counts. 

L.H.: I always have 2 stories on the go so that when I get stuck (which is most of the time!), I can switch. I also read through some of my writing craft notes and hope to find inspiration.
Do you keep to a schedule?

E.M: I try and some days I succeed more than others. I find my most productive times to write and edit are in the morning. I give myself an hour of reading and an hour of writing every morning. When I can, I try to write before I go to bed as well.

T.L.T: I never have a schedule. I don’t do well with most deadlines and I’m not disciplined well enough to self schedule. When I hit a slump, I stop and wait and look for inspiration. Sometimes I’ll read or work on another piece or talk through my stumbling block with someone. But, I don’t push through very much. To me, it hinders my creative process. I want to turn out something good in my first draft. I know it’s going to need improving but if it’s complete crap, the process of polishing it up and turning it into something usable is way to tedious. I’d rather wait until I have a handle on what to write next. So, if I put it aside for 3 months, then I do. I can do that because there’s no publisher breathing down my neck at the moment. If there were, I’d have a different writing process, LOL!

 

How do you find the time to write?

E.M: It feels like a magic trick, but when writing becomes an important part of your life, you find the time. I write when I wake up, sometimes before I go to bed and I take a pen and paper. I often write while I’m in the doctor’s waiting room.

Thinking about a story is still writing. If you haven’t got time to write thinking about that next scene will make that hour you can squeeze in more productive.

T.L.T: I’m blessed. I’m a stay at home wife and mother with a tween that I home educate. She’s self sufficient so I have all the time I need/want to write. I actually spend tons of time with her and stick to writing while she is in dance class 4 days a week for 2 and 3 hrs at a time. I’m also a night owl, so once everyone is tucked into bed at night, I’ll disappear into a fantasy and whoop it up until the wee hours of the morning. It’s saner, safer and cheaper than hanging out at the local bar. Also, my whole immediate family writes, so frequently we can be found spending time together, each working on our own pieces.

 

3. How do you finish your project? i.e. When do you know the project is complete?

T.L.T: Honestly, when the I run out of words. I’ll be writing along and all of a sudden … nothing. I know when I’m stuck or uninspired and I know when I’m done. When the words stop, it’s like turning off a faucet. I sit back, look at the last sentence and nod and say, “That’s all there is folks, there ain’t no more.”  

Do you have a hard time letting go?

T.L.T: Not so far, not really. But I write mostly flash pieces and short stories. I have one mosaic novel I am currently working on. Those characters have been with me for 3 years now. When I finish their story, I know I’m going to go through a grieving process. Their story has always been with my, unfolding, with I enjoy them. One day, it will end, and I already know I’ll be devastated.

 

Do you tend to start a new project before you finish the last one?

E.M: Yes, but not before I have completed the rough draft for the first story. Once that rough draft is done, my other stories clamor for attention.

PJB: It is tempting to start a new project before finishing the last one and I admit I am guilty of getting sidetracked on a regular basis. For example, right now I am down to writing the final chapter of my current story. A full draft is less than a week away from completion and instead of devoting my time to finish it I’ve been working on short stories.

New ideas are fresh, exciting and can break up the monotony of editing, but the downside to starting new projects is that the older ones may never get completed. Flirting with temptation is fine in small doses, but I would not start writing a new novel length piece until the current one is finished. Instead I write scene outlines, dialogue, sentences, character names or anything else that comes to mind in a notebook that I carry in my purse. When the time comes to start a new project, I will compile all of my notes and be ready to go.

L.H.: I find finishing incredibly difficult. I usually have the end written before I get half way through, but that dreaded middle section is always difficult to complete.

T.L.T: Dear Lawdy, so guilty! I have no less than a dozen works in progress and a folder of about 50 ideas that have no work on them yet, just a sentence or two of ideas. I’m never at a loss for something to work on, and still sometimes I’ll fuss and say, “I have no good story themes.” It’s kind of like when your fridge is full of food and you purposely left all the snack stuff in the store. and you go to see what you can munch on while everyone’s in bed and you’re reading a great book, and … nothing but carrots and celery! LOL


4. Include one challenge or additional tip that our collective communities could help with or benefit from.

E.M: If I had one tip it would be to let your mind wander. Have you ever had a moment where you’re on the phone and you pick up a pen and start doodling? You don’t know what picture you are drawing, but it’s appearing right before your eyes. Writing is a lot like this.

PJB: Never stop learning. Read. Ask questions.

L.H.: The Margie Lawson colour coding system:

  • Buy yourself some highlighters–four different colors, at least.
  • Take a book from your keeper shelf.
  • Highlight Emotion (visceral responses only) in pink, Dialogue in blue, Internalizations (including narrative, exposition, backstory, flashbacks, or narrator’s comments) in yellow, Tension and Conflict in orange, Setting and Description in green, and Nonverbal Communication (including dialogue cues, action, body language, and senses) in red.
  • Ideally, there should be a nice representation of all the colors on every page.

 

T.L.T: I’ll be honest. The challenge is also the tip: LISTEN TO THE FEEDBACK! We all want to think we are creative geniuses from the start of the gate. But, if we can’t hear what other people are saying to us about where our pieces work and where they need some polishing, then we deceive ourselves. Often, I initially blow off all my feedback with a sigh and a shrug. I let it sit for a few days, then go back and review it again. The second time, I see what they are saying, almost without fail. I keep my feedback until I am completely finished with a piece because you never know if it will be the 5th or the 25th time you read a comment that it will spark something in you that turns the whole project around for the better. So please, mull over your feedback, even when you’re sure you and your project has been completely misunderstood. And to that end, give honest and constructive feedback, that is meant to give the author a leg up and help with the polishing of a piece until it shines.

 

This has been fun to pull together, and I really wish I had a blogger to hand this off to. If someone volunteers in the next day or two, I’ll update this page. Have a great week.

Branding Your Novel As Yours

Sometimes inspiration begins from the silliest places or in the quietest of moments marking the beginning of an irresistible, unforgettable love story. Have you ever been somewhere and when you least expect it, an idea pops into your head? Maybe see something or someone in a situation causing an array of ideas like a flashing neon sign. No matter what you’re in the middle of, the world stops for you to grab something out of your purse to jot down the idea so you won’t forget. I’m guilty of all the above and scribbled on old receipts, the back of bank deposit slips, junk mail and when all else fails the back of my hand. Thankfully I found the note app on my phone so I can stay a little better organized.

Inspiration lit a fire and the fun (ahem), I mean work begins.

Where do you go from there? Do you keep the plot going without having a visual of the character? I have to get an idea of who they look like, before I can help them behave and misbehave. I can’t be happy with them, cry with them or chastise them if I don’t have a visual. The internet provides a wealth of resources, but I also use Pinterest among others. . .magazines, commercials and sometimes people watching. No, I haven’t gone up to anyone and asked to take a picture. Although, not because I haven’t thought about it. Have you ever been in the mall and some piece of eye candy is in the men’s department shopping for a new pair of shoes. . .and you itch to take a picture because he’s the perfect guy for your character. My daughter is usually with me shopping and she would probably disown me, LOL!

Whenever you find inspiration, embrace it. Brand it and make it yours.

I love angst, an emotional roller coaster ride and make my characters go through hell before they find their happiness. I sometimes wonder what draws me to the gut wrenching scenes. Being an avid reader, I love when a book makes me laugh, drains me emotionally and makes me squee when they overcome whatever impossible hurdle stood in the way. . .That make’s an unforgettable romance for me.

When in the madness do you name your characters? When I hear one I like, I add it to a list (yes, I keep a list of names. . .don’t judge me). Once my idea takes off, I pull my file and see if I have a name on my list that compliments my MMC or FMC. What’s in a name? A lot. It possess characteristics representing being strong, alpha, sweet, sassy, or bad-ass. This is one of my favorite stages of branding my story.

Sometimes I outline my plot, but it’s always subject to change. I’m more of a fly by the seat of my pants gal. In my current WIP, Crazy Beautiful Lies, I’m having the time of my life bringing my characters to life. I knew from the beginning how it was going to start and end, but all the in between comes to life as I type. Oh, I outlined it alright, but changed every single subtitle along the way.

This brings me to my next question, do you title each chapter? I love them. I think it adds a little extra.

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed my style of writing tips. . . It’s the way I brand my story as my own.

XOXO,

Kathryn L. James (KJ)

Fruit trees in Alaska, bolus insulin and the elusive clouded leopard – and they told me to write about things I know

Write about the things you know.

I’ve heard and read that phrase so many times, and since I’m not writing a crime story or a fantasy novel, I planned to stick to it. I had that advice as my mantra, and stuck it onto the iMac screen written out on a orange post-it note. No, I’m lying, I didn’t actually stick it there because the glue was all dried up, but you get my point, right? Or not…?

Let me spell it out for you: I was going to write about the things I know because (and this is an important addition) I didn’t want to do any kind of research, not even small stuff. I’m a sloth camouflaged in a human body, and it would require too much effort. But more importantly,  I didn’t want to be like Bambi on the ice. If anything required research it would imply that I didn’t know what I was writing about, and it would take me out on the (potentially) slippery surface of ignorance. I pictured myself sprawling all over the place because my readers would see through me and realize I don’t know anything at all, really. I’m just trying to write a story.

So I was determined to write about things I know. And I did, until my characters began to put obstacles in my way, making life difficult. You’d think that a product of your own imagination would have the courtesy to be fairly obedient and manageable, wouldn’t you? Nope. Somewhere along the way they develop their own quirks and crazy ideas. They turn into that bunny…what’s his name again? Thumper, that’s the one. Continue reading

TWINGES: TINY SEXUAL IMPULSES – TOO SOON?

As a new romance writer, I am naturally interested in all opinions of what makes a pleasurable read. While there are numerous ingredients in a successful romance, the one that seems to draw interest from my critics is pace; not pace of the plot or pace of the romance, but pace of physical attraction. Specifically, how soon should the female and male main characters (FMC & MMC) get that um…twinge for each other?

Most would say it depends on the circumstances.

I agree, so let’s take an example.

If our MMC, a fireman, is traipsing through a burning building hanging onto his hose, his fire hose, and he spots a scantily clothed woman faint with smoke inhalation lying on the floor, he doesn’t get a twinge does he? I mean…he doesn’t, right? That’s not a rhetorical question. I really don’t know.

We all hope he doesn’t, at least for the woman’s sake. But what if he does? What if for one insane second before he scoops her up and dutifully delivers her to safety, a little voice in his head unpremeditatedly asks, I wonder if those are real?

And what about the victim? As she’s being carried, nauseated, gasping for one tiny breathe of fresh air, recognizing her near loss of life, does she squint open an eye and think, God firemen really are sexy. Just put me down anywhere, that mattress over there will do?—that last part, as she fades into oblivion, is simply an unconscious yet conditioned response to having had so many twinges in her life—at least according to critics.

Regardless of real life thought processes, as writers we can have our characters think anything we want whenever we want, and hopefully their thoughts will be reasonably realistic.

Realism is the first part of the issue: Could the fireman have actually had that thought followed by an ever so slight electrical impulse sent to his libido? The same question goes for the female victim.

And the second part of the issue: If they did have those instantaneous thoughts, should we really tell the reader?

In an attempt to address both parts, here is a more specific example:

When our FMC and MMC meet, they both recognize the constraints and conflict in their situation: ethically they should not get involved in any way outside of their main purpose for being together.

This is the Romance genre—they are going to end up together. It’s the law of the land.

The question is when does each think the other is attractive in a sexual way; so not just faces; they’re ogling body parts. This kind of thing:

He thinks:

God she’s got a great butt. And she was showing just enough cleavage today to make it interesting.

She thinks:

I’m glad he’s removed his jacket; I can see the definition of his pecs. I bet he’s got a six-pack to match.

All pretty tame, right? Sounds realistic enough, in our current day.

So let’s look more closely at the setting:  A hostile takeover; the MMC is an attorney for the aggressor company; the FMC is Chief Financial Officer of the swallowed up company—her father’s company. The two characters will be working together for perhaps weeks (though not every day) in her company’s boardroom where documents will be reviewed and meetings with company principles will be held. Is the environment clear to you?

Keeping realism in mind, at what point, after how many days of interaction, do the characters have their randy thoughts? after 1 day? 1 week? 1 month?

Everyone’s different, right?

One couple, after three months of working together could bid each other a very formal “nice working with you” goodbye, sans any sexual impulses, conscious or otherwise; while another couple might feverishly shove board books, spreadsheets, and laptops off the conference table and share a little “afternoon delight” by lunchtime on the first day.

But I’m asking for some sanity here. What’s normal? What’s believable? What’s realistic? Probably somewhere in between.

So, in the above setting, how long would it take for the average woman to forget about the very serious task at hand and focus on the guy’s physical appeal? According to some of my critiques, within the hour. What companies, what offices, what hospitals, where in the world are all these twinges occurring? And more importantly, is any work getting done?

Regarding the second part of the issue, once you’ve decided when the guy and girl realistically get that first sexual impulse, when do you tell the reader about it? Seriously. If the fireman plausibly had that sexy little thought, would you rat him out to the reader? I once had an MMC who had bad breath, but I didn’t tell the reader about it.

We want readers to love our characters, so how much do we really want to tell them? Does knowing that the fireman and the victim had these thoughts, elevate your opinion of them…your caring for them?

And there it is. That’s what I don’t know.

Does the reader really want to know that in the middle of a board meeting a man noticed a woman’s blouse gap as he was introduced to her? Maybe in real life, the pig…I’m sorry, the idiot…I’m sorry, the guy, actually did notice it, but do we really want to tell the reader that about our MMC, our Hero? He’s a guy. He noticed if she had a panty line before she got two steps into the room.

Make no mistake, my MMC‘s are very virile men. Don’t think for one minute they don’t get twinges by page two; I just don’t tell anyone about them until page thirty.

But seriously, remember, there’s no liquor involved, just two sober, rational, non-sex addict adults who are faced with some type of ethical conflict or constraint. She’s not a nun, but she also didn’t just get out of prison.

Realism and character likability:  When it comes to twinges, what timing sounds real to you, and does being told about them make characters more, or less, likable? Just how much interaction should there be before characters experience these sensual thoughts? Please—I’d like to know.

Inspired by AB