Category Archives: conflict

Killer First Lines

PJ Sharon here, chatting today about “Killer First Lines”. So what constitutes a great first line? Is it action-packed? Does it evoke emotion or imply conflict? Maybe it sets the scene or reveals the tone of your story. Or does an awesome first line combine all of these elements and more in order to grab the reader and compel them to read on? Consider these first lines:

1)      It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

2)      It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

3)      I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

4)      You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. —Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)

5)      If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. —J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)

6)      Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. —Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (1850)

These classic first lines might seem antiquated in terms of today’s genre fiction standards and rules, but they remain powerful examples of compelling prose. They say something about the author, expressing their unique voice, and setting the tone for what’s to come. They inherently ask a story question and open the eyes of the reader to a new world in which the author’s imagination comes to life on the page.

I spend a good deal of time contemplating first lines. I want my first line to pose a question to the reader—a question that compels them to read on and keep turning pages until that question is ultimately answered at the end of the story. In my current WIP, PIECES OF LOVE, the first line is, I’ve heard it said that it takes twenty-one days to make or break a habit. Hopefully that makes you wonder what habit our teen character must break. Maybe you’re asking what good habit she would like to adopt, and why she would be concerned about making or breaking a habit in the first place.

Here are a few more first lines. These are from more recent books and by authors some of you will recognize. Analyze each of them, not for what they say, but for what they tell you about the author and the story.

1)      The day Honor Grace Holland turned thirty-five, she did what she always did on her birthday. She got a pap smear. Kristan Higgins, The Perfect Match, 2013

2)      My fingers drum into the desktop, beating out the rhythm of my hammering thoughts. TL Costa, Playing Tyler, 2013

3)      The Garretts were forbidden from the start. Huntley Fitzpatrick, My Life Next Door, 2012.

4)     He lifted the limp body out of the trunk, wrapped the girl in a woolen blanket, and tossed her like a rag doll over his shoulder. PJ Sharon, Savage Cinderella, 2012

5)      I’m a liar. I know it. I hate it. And I can’t seem to help myself. PJ Sharon, On Thin Ice, 2011.

Yes, I realize those last two are mine, but they are, nonetheless, decent examples of first lines that hopefully compel readers to read on. Notice the tone in each of the above first lines. With Kristan Higgins books, you know you’re in for some laughs and you can bet that every reader who read that first line had an instant smile plastered on their face. TL Costa’s book, PLAYING TYLER, puts you squarely into the mind of a teenage boy with ADHD. You can hear the noise in his head as he struggles to find focus. And in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s contemporary YA romance, you can feel that you are in for heartache and conflict based on this enticing first line that immediately makes you want to know the Garretts.

Savage Cinderella FINAL 200x300

The opening line of SAVAGE CINDERELLA gives you a chilling look into the calculated actions of a serial killer and makes you instantly care for that little girl and wonder what happens to her next.

And in ON THIN ICE, teen readers are faced with a mirror into their own lives. What teenager can’t relate to the ever-tempting desire to lie?

on thin ice front cover jpg

Look at books you love. Analyze them for how that first line makes you feel. Does it propel the story forward? Does it grab you and pose a question that you have to know the answer to? In my opinion, as long as the first line makes the reader a) think, b) care about the story/character, and c) read on, the author has done their job.

Have you written any fabulous first lines you’d like to share? Can you think of any books you’ve read that had a killer first line?

Pot smoking teens and other family dramas

Hey readers,

PJ Sharon here on a lovely autumn day in the Berkshires. I’ve actually seen a few patches of yellowed leaves on the trees and the star-filled nights here are getting cool.Crane This crane will likely be taking flight to warmer climes soon enough.

It’s also the time of year for the spreading of colds and such.*sniffle…sniffle*

I guess I can’t complain. It’s the first time I’ve been sick in a few years and it gives me some needed downtime to rest and reflect…and write.

As I swim through the murky middle of my current work in progress, PIECES OF LOVE, I’m reminded of my own teen dramas and those of my many siblings. You see, I grew up in a pretty crazy, dysfunctional family. Lots of alcohol, a dash of mental illness, secrets, lies, some seriously scary and frequent catastrophes, and lots of drama! Yes, we all loved each other in our own way, but each person in that house of seven children and three adults, was flawed. As we all are. It’s what makes us human. It’s also what makes us interesting to paint into the canvas of a story.

There’s a reason that I write YA dramas that touch on  taboo topics that encompass everything from grief and loss of a loved one, to teen pregnancy, bulimia, the effects of war, and even sexual abuse. I draw as much as possible from personal experience and from all that I have seen to be true in the human condition.

So when I began PIECES OF LOVE, I wanted to make sure to give Ali’s plight its due. Not that I’ve ever lost someone to an alcohol overdose or been arrested for marijuana possession, but I’ve certainly seen my share of these kinds of family dramas to draw real emotion and conflict from them. Understanding the motivation behind why people do what they do is a key element in making your fiction believable. As is sharing accurate and interesting detail to utilize your setting to enhance your character’s journey. Since I’ve been on a Mediterranean cruise, I have lots of insights into how Ali sees the world anew with each port she visits. It’s been fun and interesting to revisit the places I went and relive it all through her eyes, watching her transformation from self-centered, immature teen trying desperately to avoid dealing with the painful realities of life, to a young woman who learns to appreciate the people in her life who love her.

Here’s the blurb for PIECES OF LOVE:

Sixteen year-old Alexis Hartman wants nothing more than to smoke pot and play guitar. What’s the point in planning for the future? Her world is shattered by her sister’s accidental alcohol overdose at college, and she is arrested for marijuana possession a second time. Her mother’s breakdown is the final straw that forces Ali to spend the summer with her Grandmother in Malibu.

But problems aren’t so easily dismissed. After Ali steps over the line one too many times, she’s certain her life is over and that she’s destined for juvenile detention. Her ‘Malibu Barbie’ grandmother, Maddie, takes desperate measures…a Mediterranean cruise…for seniors. If overwhelmed and motion sick Ali needs further torment, Maddie has decided that her granddaughter’s childish name could use an upgrade and renames her Lexi. Can a new name and a French haircut fix everything that’s wrong with Ali’s life? Maybe when Ethan Kaswell says the name.

Eighteen year-old Ethan, the poster child for being a good son, who is stranded on the cruise when his famous heart surgeon father is kept away by an important consultation, finds Lexi irresistible. Although he’s smart enough to see that there is no future in falling for a “vacation crush,” Lexi’s edgy dark side and soulfully sad eyes draw him like an anchor to the bottom of the sea. As she spirals out of control, will she bring him down too, or was he already drowning? Maybe by saving her, he can save himself. 

Greece2011 224 (2013_02_16 18_14_38 UTC)Visiting such ports as Portofino, Italy; Palermo, Sicily; and Rome. From the Greek Islands to Tunisia, North Africa; and Barcelona, Spain to Dubrovnik, Croatia; you’ll see the sights and walk on sacred ground with Ali as she learns about herself, her family, and what it means to love someone–even when you have to let them go.

Infusing our own experiences, we can create flawed but redeemable characters who are on a journey of self-discovery. The more vividly we can paint that portrait, the more we bring the story to life with their color, depth, and the rich texture of emotional reactionary drama that makes us connect to them in an intimate way. When the character’s fatal flaw forces them to face the consequences of their actions and choices, and we see them grow, it’s satisfying and uplifting. Readers heart’s are touched. It’s what all writers strive for and is so challenging to do, and do well.

One thing I’m sure of is that we can’t shy away from addressing tough issues when writing for teens, but we have to be willing to step fully into their shoes to get it right. Knowing that “pot” is now mostly referred to as “weed” and other such specifics, are important for authenticity, and can only be known if you hang around teenagers and ask questions. It’s been my experience that they are most willing to share their opinions and ideas when I tell them why I’m asking. They seem to appreciate that I’m willing to have an open dialogue and that I’m not interested in judging them. I don’t think any of my teen library group kids are “potheads,” or “stoners” as they call them, but they are fully engaged in the youth culture in a way that I am not.

I’m hoping for the book to be ready for release in the first part of 2014. A cover reveal and the ability to pre-order the book through Smashwords should be coming up at the end of November. I’m also working on recording a theme song for the book–possibly two, written by yours truly!

So if you’re a writer, write what you know, ‘they’ say. I agree. Either draw from your own experiences, or find a way to walk in someone else’s moccasins for a mile or two. Your characters will be so much richer for it! Just be real, and let your characters take the story where it needs to go. You might even experience some healing as you create/or re-create a painful real-life event that still holds you back from being the best you can be–just like your characters.

I often have to remind myself that ‘do-overs and make-believe are not only allowed in fiction writing, but encouraged.’

Today’s unlocked secret: Infuse your personal experiences into your writing to create vivid, authentic, and memorable characters. Don’t be afraid to tackle the tough problems, and keep it real.

I’m heading back to bed for more rest. I have to be better for my trip to Nashville and New Orleans later this week, where I’ll be at my step-son’s wedding and doing some research for book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. I hate getting on a plane and being THAT person who gets everyone else sick. I’m also thinking my sinuses aren’t going to appreciate the flight…uggh!

To happier thoughts and my original statement in this post, I really do love it here in the hills. Our town has the cleanest air on record in Massachusetts, and has one of the healthiest ecosystems. I routinely see lots of wildlife, including a host of various birds here. Although with hunting season commencing, and flight of the migratory bird populations, that will likely be less now. Blue heronI am so grateful to live where I live and feel blessed to be part of my small community.

As such, I’m participating once again at the Granville Harvest Fair coming up Columbus Day weekend (October 12-14). I’ll be hanging out in front of the library signing books with a few other authors. If you’re in North Central CT or Western MA, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. There’s tons to see and do. I swear, we have one of the BEST harvest fairs in New England!

Do you write what you know, or rely on a mix of research, empathy, and experience? I’d love to hear from you about your process and how you make your characters authentic.

Starting Over

Welcome! It’s another steamy Tuesday in the Berkshires. My garden is well in bloom and loving the sunshine, warmth, and afternoon thundershowers.Garden

PJ here, and I am about to embark on another journey–both on and off the page. I’ll be leaving next week for Atlanta for the National Romance Writer’s Convention. I look forward to filling you all in on the action while I’m away (check out tweets by following me @pjsharon and using hashtag #rwa2013, or catch up with me on Facebook @pjsharonbooks for pics of who’s who and what’s happening). Although I’m looking forward to all the workshops, networking, opportunities, and fun with my writer buds, what I’m most looking forward to is a boost of enthusiasm to dig into my next project, book three in the Chronicles of Lily Carmichael trilogy. Though conferences can be exhausting, I always come home energized and raring to write, so the timing couldn’t be better.

Most writers will agree that the happiest words we write are “THE END.” At the same time, I think many will also agree that the most daunting words we write are “Chapter One.”

It’s hard to believe I’m starting over yet again. I can honestly say it’s still as bitter sweet and anxiety provoking an endeavor as I have ever faced. Sitting in front of a blank page can be the most exciting moment for a writer, or the most terrifying—usually both in equal measure for me. So here I find myself having to put another 80,000 or more words on the page in some semblance of an entertaining tale. Being that this will be the final in a trilogy, I have a lot riding on making this my best story yet. As added pressure, I need to write it and publish it in the next nine months so as not to lose readers who are awaiting the final installment, and to meet the general standards of the publishing industry. It’s tough out there, and to compete in such an overcrowded market, I have to continue to produce quality fiction in a timely manner. That’s the business woman in me speaking—the grown-up.

But when I break down the details of all that needs to go into making that deadline, I immediately want to take another week off and rest up a bit more (my inner teen in total rebellion). “It’s summer vacation,” she whines. “All work and no play…,” she cajoles. I let her have her way for another day and then my inner mom grounds her and takes away her TV until she gets that blog post done and starts outlining her scenes. It’s hard being the grown-up, but somebody’s got to do it.

Since I can ignore the publishing/promo part until about 3-5 months out from deadline, I can focus just on the task of writing the book. Easy-peasy, right? I’ve done this a few times before. A thousand words a day and I’ll have my first draft done in three months. That leaves six months for multiple edits and all that goes into polishing a manuscript before it goes to print. I don’t know about you guys, but each book has been a completely different process for me. Hopefully, my process has evolved enough that this time it will be easier. Of course, this is my first trilogy so that makes it more complicated…a lot more complicated.

I have tons of loose ends to wrap up and have to find ways of weaving bits of backstory in so readers aren’t totally lost if they missed something in WANING MOON or WESTERN DESERT. I have to up the stakes, force my characters to face their demons, and carry them through their arc to completion in this book. They must overcome their fatal flaws, win out over the villain, and find their hopefully ever after, maybe even saving the world while their at it. I could easily stretch this into a series of four books, but since I marketed a trilogy, I’m stuck, LOL. So a lot of what I’ need to do in the planning is narrow my focus to what absolutely has to happen in this book. There will be NO tangential literary diversions!

Luckily, I have a lot of tools to get me started and keep me on track. Casey Wyatt has outlined her method, which appears very straight forward and doable. I am anxious to try her approach, although I’ve learned from so many other great teachers in this business that my process will surely be a hybrid of hers, theirs, and mine. A quick breakdown of my plan looks like this:

1) Summarize the story/create tag line- I totally agree with Casey on this one. It is really helpful to understand the bare bones of what your story is about before jumping in. It saves a lot of writing in circles and editing later.

2) Identification of characters-I know Casey likes a very superficial view at this point, but since I’ve already written two books about these characters,  I’ll use this step to update and add details to my Series Bible (a notebook I developed to keep character traits, appearance, weapons, and world building details straight). I will also take time during this step to begin working on my character grids (outlining each character’s internal and external goal, motivation, and conflict, the inciting incident, fatal flaw of each character–what they must overcome within themselves to find their HEA). By now, I should know my characters well enough that these questions shouldn’t be too hard to answer.

3) Three Act Story structure-Like Casey, I learned the three act play story structure that outlines the beginning, middle, and end of every story, but after taking a Michael Hague workshop several years ago, I had the opportunity to delve a little deeper into how to progress through those three acts. His technique helped me to better understand the structure behind the stories we create. He breaks  it down into stages consisting of SETUP, NEW SITUATION, PROGRESS, COMPLICATIONS & HIGHER STAKES, the FINAL PUSH, and the AFTERMATH. He also taught me that pacing is controlled in part by appropriately placed turning points (a sure cure for the sagging middle). The first turning point, he describes as the OPPORTUNITY (aka: inciting incident), followed by a CHANGE OF PLANS (aka: call to action), POINT OF NO RETURN (about half-way through), MAJOR SETBACK (Dark Moment), and CLIMAX. Working this all out on index cards, a poster board, or in an outline combines Casey’s step four (the meat and potatoes of plotting), and step five (scene development on index cards).

Being a pantser by nature, all of this plotting, planning and prep work requires a bit of self-discipline and a tight rein on my inner rebellious teen, who would like nothing better than to jump in and write willy-nilly in complete denial of the consequences (such as dead ends, tangential diversions, and lots of unnecessary editing later on), but it’s a good thing that grown-up me is in control, right?

Hmmm…maybe I’ll just wait to get started until after I get back from Atlanta. After all…it is summer vacation and all work and no play…well, we all know what that does. I hope to see some of you at the conference!

I’d love to hear your feedback on my plan. Any tips, suggestions, or questions are welcome.

Cliffhanger or happy ending?

PJ Sharon, here to hang with you on a rainy Tuesday morning. And speaking of hanging…I thought I would pose a question to you, my faithful readers, writers, and book connoisseurs.

When reading a trilogy, do you like the second book to end on a happy note, satisfying our endless appetite for romance, or do you prefer the cliffhanger ending that leaves you breathlessly awaiting the next book?

For me, a good cliffhanger gets me every time. Don’t get me wrong. I love romance and I live for the HEA endings that are a hallmark of all my favorite books. With a trilogy, however, I expect my HEA to make its appearance in the final installment. In books one and two, I want to be led on the merry chase. I want suspense! Will they get together, or won’t they? Will everyone survive, or will someone be killed off? I think there can be–and should be–a complete story arc in each book, but the over arcing theme of the trilogy requires phases that bring your characters one step closer to their happy ending–just not too soon. Each book in a trilogy needs its own goal, motivation, and conflict, and we expect some resolution to come at the end of each book, but how much resolution is enough to be satisfying, and how much should be left open for book three? These questions are for professional research, of course. I’ve rewritten the ending of WESTERN DESERT, book two in The Chronicles of Lily Carmichael, four times! I so want to get it just right before I release it on the 24th of this month and dive into book three.

The word famous novelist hard at work on his next bestseller!
The word famous novelist hard at work on his next bestseller!

How do you all feel about it?

Billionaire Brides–An Interview With Ana E Ross

Hello, loves! Suze here. I’ve got an extra yummy treat for you–no, no more cookies like last week!  But something just as good, and not at all fattening. The fabulous Ana E Ross is with us today, and I can’t wait to introduce you if you’re not familiar with her work. The second book in her Billionaire Brides of Granite Falls series, THE MOGUL’S RELUCTANT BRIDE, just released and it is selling like crazy. I’ve read book 1 (THE DOCTOR’S SECRET BRIDE), and I’ve got THE MOGUL queued up on my Nook to read over the upcoming long weekend. 

Final_1_small_ringsI hear there might be a giveaway, so be sure to leave a comment! Here’s what Ana has to say:

Tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I was born and raised on the Caribbean island of Nevis—which also happens to be the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton.  I come from a large family of ten boys and two girls, so you can just imagine how crowded and loud it was on a daily basis.  Anyway, an aunt—with whom I lived for some time started me reading at a very early age—3 years to be exact—and I used reading as a way of escape from my rowdy brothers.  I grew up on Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, Hans Christian Andersen, and many of the other children’s story authors. When I was a teenager, I fell in love with romances.

More recently:  After teaching English Literature and Writing for several years, I quit teaching in January to write full-time. I felt as if it was something I needed to do.  I cashed in my retirement and that’s what I’ve been living off of for the past few months.  I had to take a chance on me.  If it turns out that writing is not as financially rewarding as I hope, I’ll return to the classroom.  Time will tell.  But at least when I lie on my deathbed, I will be able to say that I took a chance on me, followed my dream, and die without regrets.

What was the first romance novel you ever read?

Wow, I wish my memory extended that far back, but unfortunately it doesn’t.  However, the first romances I read were Regencies and Mills & Boons, Harlequins, Silhouettes, and a vast number of historicals.

Did you sneak it out of your mother’s underwear drawer, like I did (SHANNA, by Kathleen Woodiwiss, for me)? 

This question made me chuckle, because I know my mother never read a romance in her entire life.  My parents were very religious and the only material they read were the Holy Bible and Christian related material.  Actually, I had to hide my romances from my mother; my aunt didn’t care though, which was a blessing since I spent a lot of time at her house.

ProfileHow long have you been writing?

I started writing in high school—short stories mostly, and then I transitioned into poems—many of them obviously on the theme of love.  I didn’t start writing romances until about twenty years ago. I’d just finished a romance and didn’t like the ending and thought I could write a story with a much happier ending.  And thus my writing career began with The Doctor’s Secret Bride.  The title has been changed several times over the years, but the premise of the story is the same.

Your newest release, THE MOGUL’S RELUCTANT BRIDE, is selling like hotcakes and has gone as high as number 245 on the Kindle paid list and is holding at number 1 on several sublists. As of today, it’s at number 341, and the first book in the series, THE DOCTOR’S SECRET BRIDE, is at number  924. Other than the fact that these are beautifully written, wonderfully hot reads, why do you think they are so popular?

I would like to think that those two titles are doing well because of the high level of sensuality and hot sex.  Seriously though, probably because of the themes of the stories—forgiveness, redemption, closure, healing, and definitely the strong bond of love and passion between the main characters.  Also, I love to torture my heroes, put them through the ringer—make them earn the heroines’ love.  The fact that they have to fight hard for their HEA make them more appealing it seems.  Readers have commented that they like the roller-coaster rides and that they feel the myriad of emotions the characters go through. They laugh, cry, scream, and cheer along with them.  So strong emotions must play an integral part in the success of the series.

How many books do you have planned for the Billionaire Brides of Granite Falls series?

There are four books in the series.  But since many readers have enquired about a story featuring Robert and Yasmine—Michelle’s brother and her best friend—I’m thinking of writing a spinoff of The Doctor’s Secret Bride where Robert goes off to investigate their father’s story.

Do you keep a series bible to keep the characters and the details straight?

Oh, yes, I definitely have to do that, especially since the characters make appearances in each other’s stories.  Granite Falls is a small town and they are bound to run into each other.  Also because of the bond of brotherhood between the heroes, I have to keep their physical and emotional characteristics straight.

What form is that in? (electronic, 3-ring notebook, index card box?) 

I keep electronic bibles with timelines, first meetings, birthdays, marriages, dates of conception, births, etc.  The four books take place over a four-year period, so I have to pay attention to the details, or my readers will call me out on inconsistencies.  I also created a map—both electronically and poster-size—of the town of Granite Falls with specific landmarks, streets, etc., and since the heroes are billionaires, I make plans of their homes as well.  I keep the poster-size plans and maps on the wall over my desk and I consult them while writing.  They keep me focused and help me to bring my characters to life.  I can really see them interacting with each other.

What type of marketing and publicity have you done/are you doing for your books?

Other than enrolling Book One into Amazon’s Select program, I didn’t do any marketing or publicity when it was first released.  I was just blessed I guess, and I didn’t worry about it so much since I had a full-time job.  However because I had a lot to lose with Book Two, (my retirement was running out), I had to get a marketing plan in place.  I advertised on numerous promotion sites, some free, some paid.  In addition, I re-enrolled Book One into Amazon’s Select program and used my free days before, during, and after the release day of Book Two.  During 3 free days, I had 27k downloads of Book One, and it’s still selling well.  The freebies definitely helped with the blowout sale of Book Two.  I hope that most of the 27K downloads for the first book will generate into sales for the second.  Again, only time will tell.

Why did you decide to indie publish?  

After umpteen years of trying to sell these two titles the traditional way with the big six—well big five now, I finally decided that enough was enough.  I had to make my own dream come true.  I was inspired by Ruthie Cordello’s success as an indie publisher.  Ruth and I met in 2010 at another romance author’s summer garden party and we were in the same boat with trying to sell to Harlequin.  She went indie the next year and made the NY Times Bestseller List in months.  We wrote similar books, so I thought I’d try my own hand at indie publishing, as well.  I’m so happy for all those wonderful rejections from New York.

final-the-doctors-secret-bride-600x800-copy[1]Other than the actual writing, what parts of the process do you do yourself, and what parts do you hire out?

I hire out the cover design, editing, and formatting portions.  But I just enlisted the help of my twenty-three-year-old daughter who just graduated from college and moved back home to help with finding free promotion sites and handling my newsletters.  She did a great newsletter to announce the launch of Book Two, so we entered a kind of quid pro quo—as long as she continues to help, I make her car payments until she finds a job.

How long does it take you to finish a book? 

It depends.  I’ve written a book in three months, but I think if I want a book to be great, I need about five to six months to fully develop the characters and strong emotions that a lot of readers say they love in my stories.

Do you reward yourself when you type “The End” or put a book up for sale?  Yes.  I take myself, and my daughter out to a nice dinner.  I do indulge with a nice bottle of wine and some chocolate, too.

What are you working on now?  When can we expect it?

I’m working on The Playboy’s Fugitive Bride  – Book Three in the series. I hope to have it on the selves in September 2013.

What’s your junk food of choice?

I love strawberry cheesecake and buffalo chicken wings.

Any pets?

No pets at the moment.  I used to have a cat, but she died of old age a few years ago.  I plan to get another in the future.  I love cats and watch “The Big Cat Dairies” over and over again.  Actually, Massimo, the hero in Book Three owns a big cat named Jabari.

You can connect with Ana here:

www.anaeross.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ana-E-Ross/221431434575148?fref=ts

https://twitter.com/anaeross: @anaeross

Here’s Ana’s Amazon page where you can buy her books: http://www.amazon.com/Ana-E-Ross/e/B006UNSSD2/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1369273073&sr=1-2-ent

Who’s got questions for Ana? She’s giving away copies of her book to 3 randomly chosen commenters, so don’t be shy!

Rest in Peace, Duchess

Hi, Scribettes and Scribes. Suze here.

Jeanne Cooper 1928-2013
Jeanne Cooper 1928-2013

I was going to talk about my recent trip to St. Louis today, but yesterday’s news made me think about something else. Jeanne Cooper, the matriarch of my favorite soap opera, The Young and the Restless, has died. I don’t know if the part will be recast. On one hand, no one can replace her. Jeanne Cooper was Katherine Chancellor (on screen, anyway), and I for one would have trouble accepting anyone else in the role. On the other hand, the longest-running storyline is the feud between Kay Chancellor (her son Brock always called her Duchess) and the wonderful, scheming Jill Foster Abbot, and that’s always been the pivot point on which the whole show turns. Without Kay, we’re going to feel lost for a while until we get our bearings and see which new direction the show will take.

As writers, we can learn so much about plot and character from the soaps. One of the brilliant things the writers of Y&R did in the beginning was to give Kay some pretty big and scary demons. Her husband was in love with a much younger woman (the aforesaid Jill); Kay became alcoholic; she killed her husband in a deliberate car wreck where she intended to kill herself too, but instead survived. This formed the basis of the conflict between Kay and Jill, and although there have been times when they’ve reconciled (at one point, it looked like Jill was Kay’s daughter given up for adoption. This was later proven false), that underlying hatred of each other was always there. And when things got bad for Kay, the writers could always make it worse and send her back to the bottle so she’d have yet another internal/external struggle.

We hear so much about GMC–Goal, Motivation, Conflict. Well the Kay Chancellor storyline (click here for the Wiki article, if you want to read a synopsis) illustrates that beautifully. And as for plots, of course they’re outrageous. That’s why we love the soaps! But notice how every single episode ends on a hook, and there’s a bigger hook on Friday’s show to bring the viewer back on Monday. While your plots might not take the crazy twists and turns of a soap story, every chapter should end on a hook, big or small. Every book should end making the reader satisfied but wanting more (your next book). And if you ever need inspiration on how to throw rocks at your characters (remember the classic advice: Run your character up a tree. Throw rocks at her. Get her back down.), nobody throws rocks like the writers of soaps. Abducted by aliens? Secret babies? A long lost twin back in town and bent on revenge? Why not?!

So tell me. Do you love the soaps? What’s your favorite show (whether or not it’s still running)? What character keeps/kept you coming back for more and why?

But wait …!

This is the TVholic’s strategy for sagging middles

Hi everyone. Thea here today, but really, as you read this, I’ll be in KC at the RT Booklovers’ Convention and not in my usual position, rooted at the end of the couch, with tv on and WIP at the ready. So forgive me if I’m not posting an immediate response. (Full report on the conference to come, of course.)

So I want to talk about sagging middles — the kind you delete with a key stroke (oh, if only — ). I’ve said during workshops that “what if” is your single most powerful writing tool. Anything can happen in “what if.” It’s no-commitment plotting. It frees your mind. You can let go, make lists, let them take you to the most improbable plot places.

But wait …! It would be even more productive if at the moment when the plot seems to be chugging along, you stop yourself with those words. But wait …! The juicy incentive used by telemarketers to make you buy (can you tell I watch too much tv?). But wait — maybe your reader isn’t buying a smooth, unfurrowed plotline. Maybe your reader is waiting for something juicy to happen.

But wait …! What if your characters are afraid of losing something? (Love, fame, fortune, respect, family secrets, inheritance, friendship …) Make them lose it. Ask what lengths they’ll go to to get it back. What they’re willing to risk.

Because the more they risk, the more that stands in their way, the more conflict, the greater desire they’ll have (at greater cost) to reach their goal, and so, the richer the plot.

In the simplest terms: Get them in trouble and keep them in trouble. Keep throwing in obstacles, complications, repercussions and don’t let up.

But wait …! What if you don’t know exactly where the plot is going?

Write the NYTimes log-line. That hones it down nicely to two or three lines: Danny Jones has everything he wants, until a secret from his past threatens everything.

Or write the cover copy. That will focus you on the set-up, conflict, and what drives the plot.

But wait …! What if it’s still not working?

Make the problem personal and current. Someone is out to destroy Danny Jones and make sure he never is elected to anything.

Give the protagonist two villains and a moral choice. A childhood friend and his own brother are separately threatening Danny Jones. No matter what decision he makes, he will lose everything, including his friend and his brother.

Up the ante. Not only does a secret from his past
threaten Danny Jones personally, but also his burgeoning political career, his marriage, and his inheritance from a famous relative which comes along with a list of moral stipulations he may not be able to meet.

Add suspense by turning “what if” into “if only.” What could his enemy have against him? If only, all those years ago, he hadn’t — but then there was this other moment when — But nobody knew about that, did they?

Give your protagonist a moral dilemma that forces her to compromise either her beliefs or her values. If Danny Jones is up front about his past, then he will never ever be able to run for office, he’ll lose the love of his life, the inheritance from his famous relative, and he’ll never be able to see his children again.

Try reversing things. Make the hero the heroine and vice versa. Danny is Danielle, a powerful CEO who is courting politics and who has a secret she thought was buried deep in the past. Lovers? Liars? Friends? Family? Who is plotting to betray her?

Keep the reader guessing. For Danielle any of those people associated with her could be her enemy; any one of them can say or do something that would lead her to believe she is on the verge of losing everything. She has too much at stake. She has to be careful not to rock the boat. What is she going to do? (I love this; I think it works even better!)

But wait …!

But I can’t. I have to go. But you can. What juicy incentives would you add to the list to entice your readers to keep reading?

Thea Devine is currently working on a new erotic contemporary romance, and enjoying the release of five of her backlist titles, Reckless Desire, Ecstasy’s Hostage, Relentless Passion, Montana Mistress and Angel Eyes in Kindle editions.