Friday, January 27, 2017

How to Add Tension for More Powerful Writing

In fiction writing, our characters are faced with challenges, setbacks, and failures on their way to meeting their goals.

These are the opportunities for us, as writers, to raise the stakes for heroes and heroines, but we often wimp out with weak phrases and modifiers that can dilute a dire situation.

Rather, we should express the current state of affairs bluntly and with no mercy.

A wonderful example I always think of - though it's a TV series rather than a book - is in Pride and Prejudice, the BBC mini series. Elizabeth, in the presence of Mr. Darcy,  has just learned that Lydia has run off with Wickham.

After Darcy makes his excuses and abruptly leaves, Elizabeth says, "I shall never see him again."

I beg pardon of Miss Austen, but this is so much more powerful than what she wrote which was that the couple would likely not cross paths again.

To over emphasize every emotion or reaction of a character is campy, melodramatic and/or hyperbole, so use it judiciously to punch up key turning points.

What the character is feeling or thinking is often not the truth, but the truth as they see it.

Below are sets of sentences which illustrate what I'm talking about. The first sentence is fine, while the second heightens the drama.

Fine: John's head pounded. He'd probably just blown the interview with his stupid comment.
Better: John's head pounded. He'd blown the interview with his stupid comment.

Fine: Jason looked at Alisa with such disgust, she imagined he was through with her for good.
Better: Jason looked at Alisa with such disgust, she knew they were done for good.

Fine: The fire lit up the night, roaring as it seemed to devour everything in sight.
Better: The fire lit up the night, roaring as it devoured everything in sight.

Fine: Colton signaled for the wagon train to halt. It would be tough crossing the raging river.
Better. Colton signaled for the wagon train to halt. It would be impossible to cross the raging river.

Fine: They ate the last of the food, and drank the last of the water. Karen wondered how they'd make it through the night.
Better: They ate the last of the food, and drank the last of the water. Karen knew they wouldn't make it through the night.

See if it makes a difference in your story.

Monday, January 9, 2017

How To Add More Depth To Your Characters

One of my favorite techniques for building a fictional character is also the most fun. Before I tell you what is it, I'll tell you how I learned it.

I wrote my first three books by starting with a good premise. It seemed enough, and although I'd heard of using an outline or storyboard, I wondered if they were too limiting.

But after I wrote myself into more than one corner in book three, I sought out "Prescription for Plotting" by Carolyn Greene, a sister member of Virginia Romance Writers. Her kit included worksheets to help you develop your plot, characters, events and turning points.

The take-away that has stayed with me is definitely Carolyn's tools for fleshing out your characters. You get a worksheet with boxes to fill in which describe your character's attributes, physical features, personality traits, favorite foods, pet, birth place, flaws, etc. I hadn't considered what "car" my hero would drive, especially when he was a Viking. But, ah! I researched more about his ship and it became a key element in my story. I learned that his favorite color was blue. (Same as most men.) And he loves to drink mead.

Like most research you'll do, you'll only use some of it. The one element I do include is that fun technique I mentioned: a character tic.

Go online and you'll find lists of character tic examples, but don't just have your heroine twirl her hair, tap her foot, or use a cute expletive. (And while I'm on the subject, please NEVER have your character bite her lip or chew on her lip. It's laughably overused.)

Instead, have your character's tic come from an event in their past, their profession, a deep need, or emotional wound. For instance:

She limps a bit on rainy days from the car accident when she was a child.
He jumps when he hears a distant siren.
She reaches for her stethoscope even when she's not wearing it.
He finger combs his hair, worried that the scar might show.
She pulls the hood of her cape low.

What are your favorite techniques for building your characters?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Find Out What Colorful Craft Inspired My Book Loveweaver

Discovering tablet weaving was the genesis of my historical romance, Loveweaver. The more I read about this ancient craft, the more interested I became. The idea for my heroine, Llyrica, a Dane tablet weaver in the 9th century, was conceived and my book began to take shape.

There is some debate on where tablet weaving began, but a partial loom was found at a burial site in Norway on the Viking ship, the Oseberg. It dates to around 850 AD.
Here's a great 5-minute video that gives you a great idea of tablet weaving.  Gosh, he's good!

At the time of my initial research (15 years ago) internet research was not what it is today, much less You Tube tutorials, so I learned to tablet weave via this book, Card Weaving. It taught me all I needed to know about building my little loom, how to make my "tablets",  how to read a pattern, and even how to create my own designs.
The design you see on the images of my loom is the design that Llyrica wove for Slayde, the hero of Loveweaver. It is a design that goes quickly since the tablets turn forward 4 times and backward 4 times to form one motif. There are designs where tablets are turned in groups in opposing directions and you really need to pay attention or things can go wrong before you know it.

Monday, January 2, 2017

These Valuable Books Will Make You a Better Writer

Goal, Motivation and Conflict by Debra Dixon

Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain

The Writer's Journey - 2nd Edition - Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler

When I decided to write a book, I just sat down and did it. There's a story in it somewhere, but the POV is all over the place, the plot meanders and the characters are all ineffectual. It's bad.

By the time I conceived the idea for my next book, I was involved with the Virginia Romance Writers and started attending meetings and workshops. Whoa, was there a lot I didn't know!

Some fiction writers are born with an innate ability to craft a story. The rest of us need some help honing our craft and discovering what our process will be. I started out as a "by the seat of my pants" writer,  but then found I worked better by starting with an outline.

Whether you're one or the other, I still highly recommend the books listed above. They've all been around forever, but the basics don't change, and each of these books in its own way reveals the secrets of telling a successful story.

Marketing your books is a different subject, but do start with writing a good book.

I even found that these books made me a better reader AND a better movie-watcher.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Five Practical Steps for a Promising New Year

It's the time for resolutions, for goal-setting in the new year.

I used to be an all-or-nothing kind of girl. I was either creative or not, fit or not, happy or not, kind or not ... you get the idea. If I tried real hard at something, but then failed, I figured that *something* was just not for me, just not in the cards.
For example, if I started a new workout routine, kept at it for two weeks, but then got off schedule and missed a day, I gave up completely! Yes, it was ridiculous. The same thing would happen with a diet, a goal to keep a daily journal or my goal to learn to speak another language.

Thank goodness over time, I gained wisdom, patience and endurance. I understand that I can have and keep a goal, and achieve it even as life and set backs intervene in the process.

Here’s what I’ve learned about accomplishing a goal.

1. Be very clear about your goal. Be sure to NAME it. For example: Run Marathon in November, 2017. VISUALIZE what you’ll feel like as you cross the finish line. Know WHY this goal is important to you. Some people create vision boards, some write the goal on a piece of paper and stick in on the refrigerator. Figure out a way to keep your goal fresh, joyful, alive and important.

2. Know that your goal will be achieved in BABY STEPS. Do one or more things every day or so that you will progress you toward your goal. Perhaps all you’ll do is take a walk around the block, create a schedule, read an article on a successful marathoner, shop for shoes, or research an affiliated fund-raiser.

3. You HAVE to do the work. Realize that it won’t be easy, but that’s okay. Make friends with discomfort. We set goals to make ourselves better, stronger, smarter, wiser, and kinder, and changing is a challenge. If you stick to #2 BABY STEPS, your hard and easy days will be interspersed as you move closer to the end results.

4. Don’t be obsessed with your goal. Keep it important but not urgent as you maintain BALANCE with all of the other events and activities that make up your days, weeks, months. This goal of yours is meant to enhance your life, give you a new purpose, expose you to enriching experiences and even add something to your social sphere.

5. I now come back to my opening comments about being all or nothing. Please hear this: If you miss a day, or two, or even a string of days, that doesn’t mean it’s over. Pick right back up where you left off and get back on track. Don’t wait until the following Monday or even after vacation. Start again tomorrow, or even today. Recall when you first set your goal, review the reasons and your vision. Remember that breakthroughs often happen just when things seem the toughest and you want to quit.

I practice all of these steps with all of the goals I have for this coming year, and also for long range. At the end of each day, I am thankful for the little things I managed to accomplish toward succeeding, am compassionate toward myself for where I “fell down” a bit, and reset my determination for what I can do tomorrow.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Focus Your POV For More Powerful Writing

In the world of writers, a lot has been said about POV - Point of View. This refers to which character's "head we’re in”, whose thoughts we're privy to at any given moment.

My personal rule of thumb for novel writing is stay in one POV per scene, or better yet, per chapter. I even prefer this in what I also read.

I have enjoyed classic literature that fully embraces the omniscient POV in the same way I would enjoy hearing a narrator tell a great story. But other than that, I find “head-hopping” so distracting that I can’t concentrate on what I’m reading.

Many years ago I came across a scene in a book written by a famous author. It went something like this:


      Sara read the French wine list and held back a gasp when she saw the exorbitant prices. Over the top of his menu, Ben watched Sara, hoping he had impressed her with his choice of restaurant.

      The waiter arrived with the couple’s water, noting the expensive watch on the man’s wrist, and silk dress the woman wore. “I’ll give you two a few more moments before I take your order.” 


Three sentences, three points of view. Crazy, right?

The scene goes on like this for a while and then out of nowhere we no longer know what Ben is thinking. Apparently the author suddenly needed to withhold some info from us. It was a cheap trick, arbitrary and amateurish. I read no further.

I vowed to never head-hop. Yes, if I’m writing from the hero’s point of view, I can’t tell the reader right then what is also on the heroine’s mind. The hero gives us some clues as he observes her, but otherwise I, and the reader, will need to wait until the next scene or chapter to fully find out what the heroine is thinking.

Writing from one POV takes more time and patience, but it builds tension and gives impetus to the story

How important is POV to you as a writer? As a reader?

Bookfever Names My Heroes Among Her 2016 Book Boyfriends

Bookfever not only listed The Maiden Seer as one of her 10 best books of 2016, she named Slayde of Loveweaver, and Konnar of The Maiden Seer among her top ten 2016 book boyfriends.

Thank you, again Stephanie for being such a enthusiastic supporter of my books, and books in general!