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.