Tag Archives: conflict

Top Seven Things I Learned At Debra Dixon’s Book In A Day Workshop

Hello, my lovely Scribelings! Suze here. First off, a bit of news. My cozy mystery, FETA ATTRACTION, will release from Berkley Prime Crime on January 6, 2015! I’ve had a sneak peak at the cover and, just like all the Berkley artwork, mine is just gorgeous. I’ll show it to you as soon as I can. FETA ATTRACTION is the first book in the GEORGIE’S KITCHEN MYSTERIES and I hope you’ll love the village of Bonaparte Bay and its residents as much as I do. When it’s available for preorder, I’ll let you know.

So you’d think, with a traditional contract and two books in the series written and the third one about to be started–as well as a few partial manuscripts living under the bed with some unsatisfied dust bunnies who may or may not ever find out what happens at the end of those stories–I’d know everything there is to know about writing a genre fiction novel. After all, I’m also a freelance editor (www.crazydiamondediting.com), so I work with other authors on their manuscripts too.

GMC[1]HA! SNORT! (Hang on a sec while I get myself under control) OK, I’m back, still giggling. The answer is Not by a long shot. Producing these two manuscripts drove home the fact that I have a lot to learn.

So to help me become a better writer, I signed up for Debra Dixon’s Book in a Day Workshop, presented by the New Hampshire Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Along with some of my best writing buddies, I spent the weekend in New Hampshire with Writing Goddess Debra Dixon, whose book Goal, Motivation and Conflict (available in ebook and hard cover) has become standard material for anyone seriously pursuing a writing career, no matter what kind of stories you write.

So here are the Top Seven Things I took away from the workshop:

1. You can do anything you want, as long as you do it well. This means that you can break the “rules” as long as it’s  beautifully executed. However, and this is just my personal, more conservative opinion, if you’re trying to break into genre fiction, start out following the rules so later on, when you’re more experienced, you know what rules you can and can’t break.

2. Force your character make choices–and make those choices Sucky and Suckier. Most of us have probably heard the basics of story structure broken down like this: Put your character in a tree. Throw rocks at the tree. Get you character out of the tree. So what Ms. Dixon means is that in the rock-throwing phase, put your character in a situation where she cannot win and force her to make a choice: should she save the child, or save the man she loves? Whichever choice she makes, she is changed forever. Powerful stuff!

3. Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) can be summed up in five words: Who, What, Why, Why Not? Who is your character? What is the situation the character finds herself in? Why does the character behave as she does and want what she wants (this is often a function of backstory, and most of that backstory will not make it onto the page)? Why Not–Why can’t the character have what she wants? There should be both external reasons (the bad guys are throwing rocks at her while she sits in a tree, so she can’t physically get to the child who needs her or the man she loves) and internal reasons (she has a paralyzing fear of heights because she saw her father fall off a cliff to his death, and she couldn’t save him). She can’t see any way to get out of the tree without jumping, whether or not the bad guys are there.

4. What is fun for you, the author, is not necessarily fun for the reader. While you might gleefully kill off your main character, your readers might see that as not playing fair. Related:  Give the reader the candy you promised them. Don’t withhold critical information and spring it on the reader at the end. They’ll feel cheated, like they’ve been sold a bill of goods, and might not read more of your work. You must play fair with the reader. This is especially true in a traditional cozy mystery where the clues should be planted early on, and it’s only later that the sleuth figures out what they mean.

5. Every character in the book must have GMC. A minor character’s GMC does not necessarily need to be spelled out on the page, but there has to be a reason for the presence of every character.

6. We root for the underdog. Cowards make great heroes/heroines. The reader can relate to underdogs and cowards. It isn’t satisfying to have a character already be at the top of his game unless you bring him down and change his goal. And your character must have fears and insecurities that make it difficult or nearly impossible for him to make the choices necessary to move ahead.

7. Every scene must have at least three reasons to be present in the story, and at least one must be Goal, Motivation, or Conflict. Goal: The scene illustrates your character’s progress toward the goal. Motivation: The scene provides your character with an experience that strengthens or changes his motivation. Conflict: The scene brings the character into conflict with opposing forces. The best, pivotal scenes will encompass all three elements.

These seven items were my big takeaways from the workshop (which also encompassed the Hero’s Journey model for story structure). I would highly recommend that anyone who has not done so take this course. As I sat through the workshop, I thought about my own characters in different ways–and I already feel like a stronger writer.

My only regret? My third book did not actually get written in a day. Sigh. Well, BICFOK–no, that’s not a dirty word. It means Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard. This book ain’t gonna write itself (although, how awesome would that be?).

Have you seen Debra Dixon speak? Have you read Goal, Motivation and Conflict? Are you conscious of the concepts as you write?

How Do You Cope With Two Type-A Males?

Thea Devine today, shaking my head over the never-ending battle between John and Joey, my two resident type A’s. This time, it was over the tufted rocker in the living room. Joey just loves to grab that space away from John — like he has some kind of radar that alerts him when John is about to sit down.

John is majorly tired of Joey’s demands and the way he takes swipes at him. Nor was he as crazed as I was that time when Joey stayed out all night. Plus Joey invariably has a lot to say that John has made abundantly clear he doesn’t want to hear. And Joey eats enough for two people — how do you control that?

They both want what they want — and they’re always at a stand-off. Joey invariably wins — emotions don’t get in his way. But I’ll tell you — when Joey decides to be nice, he’s really really nice. Even to John. When they fight, neither gives an inch.

It’s a beautiful thing to watch — man vs. orange tabby cat, each one determined to stand their ground.

The thing is Joey (for Joe diMaggio) isn’t our cat — he’s my younger son’s, adopted from a friend who took him from a situation where he was being abused. So he has issues. That kind of excuses everything as far as I’m concerned. If Joey swipes at one of us, well — he has issues. Or he’s trying to get our attention (I really believe).

Also, I like to think he’s trying to fill the space left by the death of our beloved doxie. Maybe he remembers that Midgie was always next to me on the couch. Maybe he knows somehow that I occasionally look over as if I expect to see her there. I note that he comes on the couch more often than not now. He cuddles up when he naps, either against me or John on the opposite end. And with all that, he’s become the sweet cat that my eldest son believes him to be.

Still, the type A growling goes on. Maybe the thing is that John and Joey both need to exert control over their territory. And maybe that’s just something that goes with the territory and it’s not for me to parse it all out.

Maybe my job, as always, is to observe and write it all down. But I bet if he could speak, Joey would probably tell me to mind my own business

Do you have any type-A animals in your house (human included)?
How do you cope? Or do you cope? Maybe we should just leave them all alone.

Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She’s the author of twenty-seven erotic historical and contemporary romances, and a dozen novellas. She will be speaking at NJRWA’s Put Your Heart in a Book conference in October.

Things Could Always be Worse!

Welcome to another Friday! Casey here.

I’m happy to report that Mystic Hero finally crossed the 60,000 word mark. That means IMG_2249the end of the first draft is in sight! Unlike the previous books in the series, Devlin’s story is a bit different.

He’s got issues. Big ones. And just like in real life – everything that can go wrong, does. We Scribes have mentioned a few times the importance of being mean. And I totally agree with that. The most satisfying tales always involve some emotional pain and the eventual triumph over that pain.

Normal people generally steer clear of conflict. And most people don’t enjoy watching others suffer. At least not in real life (and I know the glut of reality shows probably says otherwise), but I think the big exception is in entertainment. Movies, TV, books – they would all be booooring if there wasn’t some kind of challenge to conquer.

And really, in fiction, we have to be extra tough on our characters. One of the things I realized so far about Devlin’s journey is that I wasn’t being hard enough on him emotionally.

Sure, it was easy to throw bad guys his way. Since I write paranormal, they are often extra weird or super creepy. But I also realized that I was shying away from his substantial internal demons. And that is short-changing the reader. I know when I pick up a romance I want to go on an emotional ride with the hero and heroine.

How does one overcome this problem?

1. Don’t let your characters have what they want. At least not until the very end. Dangle the prize in front of them and take it away a few times. Again, think emotional stakes. What will they lose if they don’t change?

2. Make them earn the payoff in the end. This means, the character has to suffer. They have to doubt themselves, question their choices and reach a low point (or two or three) before they can transform.

3. Bring them to their darkest place and throw in their worst fear in for good measure. And I don’t mean lock them in a dark room. Not unless your hero or heroine has a phobia of the dark and the only way to save the day is to overcome that fear.

4. If you get stuck – ask yourself again – how can I make things worse for this character? Never better. At least not until the very end

One caution  - There’s a fine line between being too sappy or preachy (no one wants to read an ABC After School Special – at least I know I don’t!) and creating an emotionally satisfying and believable experience.

What are your tips for character “bashing”? And what books do a great job of torturing the poor hero and heroine?

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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?

The Change Exchange

Long ago, in a publishing landscape far away — does it seem like I’m beginning too many posts this way? I bet you can tell it’s Thea Devine posting today. In any event, Casey’s post a few days ago about flying monkeys called to mind a conference I ran many years ago where I’d invited not only industry people, but also the gentleman in charge of programming at Lifetime TV (seemed like a natural fit, romance and Lifetime), and a producer from USANetwork. I don’t remember anything from any of the workshops I attended (it was a looong time ago) except this: the USA producer talked about writing TV drama and the key to moving the story along.

He said, at the end of each act, something must change.

Extrapolate that for novelists: At the end of each chapter, something must change.

Think about it. Every little shift and setback, a small emotional moment, a big get out of my face statement — and something changes. It can be subtle or monumental. It can be something someone says, or something your heroine sees, or realizes, or theorizes (rightly or wrongly). It could be someone setting your protagonist on the wrong track. It could be a disappointment, a revelation, a decision, an apology, a resolution, an action, or taking no action. It could be something that’s not what it seems or someone’s hidden agenda.

Any of those changes (or any you could think of) should send your protagonist off in a different direction which will lead to more changes, more ramifications and more consequences.
In essence, you’re programming: if heroine does this, then this could happen. Or that. If she says something, someone could be affected negatively, or someone could overhear and spread gossip about it. If she chooses to leave, she will feel free, or she will feel as if she were falling into a black hole all alone. If the hero confesses everything he knows, he would be breaking a childhood code of silence, and therefore implicating his friends in a long ago unsolved misadventure … but he’ll win back the woman he loves.

Each of these moments of change has consequences which then raise the stakes in each succeeding chapter, almost like you’re climbing steps from one complication/change to the next until everything is tied up at the end.

So ask yourself at the end of each chapter: what changes? What can change? If something changed, what would shift? What would send the heroine in a different direction? What if it did? What if it didn’t? What if she wants to stay in place when even when she has choices? What if someone gives her an ultimatum? Or challenges her? What if she walks away from everything? And then wishes she hadn’t. Or is ecstatic that she did?

What happens next?

I leave that to your imagination, your tolerance for change, your aversion to or embrace of risk — in fiction and in life.

Thea Devine’s books defined erotic historical romance. She is the USAToday best-selling author of 25 erotic historical and contemporary romances and a dozen novellas.. Her 2008 erotic contemporary romance, His Little Black Book, was reissued in October. She’s currently working on a new novel.

When in Doubt, Throw in a Flying Monkey . . . or Three!

Happy Friday everyone! Casey here.

Right before Christmas Day I swore that I would finish edits to Mystic Storm so I could send it to my first readers. This book really challenged my resolve. Unlike my other books, it’s taken me all year (on and off) to complete the story.

Part of the problem - I knew the story was missing something. I wasn’t exactly sure what was missing or how it should be fixed. Silly me, instead of following my own tried and true advice – keep going and look back later – I stopped.

Then I was snared, snarled, in a quagmire – take your pick. I was stuck. I even wrote another entire novel (Misfortune Cookie) under the belief that time would solve the problem. You know, a little perspective and time apart and the solution would present itself.

Well. . . no. That didn’t work.

Instead, I had to suck it up and finish, word by gruelling word. Because, by golly, I was finishing Zephyr’s book in 2012. So there.

As a result, this year, I skipped NaNo and finished the first draft. Finally. Problem solved right?

Again. No. The something was still missing. Not a big something, but a more subtle element was needed earlier in the story. By this time, as you can imagine, I was really, really sick of Mystic Storm. Zephyr and I were barely on speaking terms at this point.

What’s a writer to do?

Throw in the flying monkeys. In my case, I did that – literally. Sorry, you’ll have to wait for the actual book to find out how.

The point here is this – conflict is king. If you don’t have it, you don’t have anything. I had clearly defined goals and motivation (internal and external) and I had some conflicts but I needed more of the right kind of conflict. The kind that moves the story along. Never, never throw in a flying monkey (or whatever conflict you choose) just because. It has to serve a purpose or your reader will know you are padding your word count.

Once I solved the “Case of the Missing Something”, I made those edits and now the book is in the hands of my trusted first readers (who are actual readers and not writers). If it passes their reader instincts then I know I’m good to move onto the next stage – more edits!

Whew!

Who knew that some flying monkeys could bring my hero and heroine closer together. Funny how life works isn’t it?

Fellow writers, how do you solve for the missing something?

THE BOOK I HAVEN’T WRITTEN

Thea Devine today.  I’m working on a variety things, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the book I haven’t written.  We all have one of those, the one you started, wrote, rewrote, set aside, tackled again, fell into a rut long before the middle, and packed away because you knew you were absolutely going to finish it — someday.  I think mine is buried in the attic right now just because I’m itching to get my hands on it and of course, Murphy’s Law, I can’t.

I started this book back when I was working for that big multi-national advertising agency I wrote about previously.  In fact, nearly everyone in the copy department, when they weren’t working on copy, was writing a book.  I had no idea what I was doing — I was maybe twenty-three or four.  I just loved to write and the intermittent stabs I made at writing advertising copy petered into one interesting idea one of my bosses used in a tv commercial she pitched which ultimately got shot down.

So definitely not copywriter material (remember I was very young).  But a book … that was a whole other story.

There was small branch library across the street from where I worked, and there I came across a pictorial history that piqued my interest.  From that I devised a scenario with an unconventional heroine,  her male friend, a missing family member (little did I know then that I had one too), an ambitious father, a prim and proper older sister, the daughter of a family friend who comes to stay with the heroine’s family, a housekeeper with a mysterious past, a stranger in town who falls for the heroine, and the town madam.

Sounds promising, right?  I had NO idea how to write it.  I started with the heroine and her male friend on an adventure, but that seemed to go nowhere.  I wrote a prologue with the missing family member, a brother, which made more sense, but then what?  Okay, so what about the daughter of the family friend?  Or better yet, what about the interconnections between the families, and why was the old friend’s daughter even there?  Yikes.  Now I had to go back and account for that somehow, but if I did that, I’d throw some other plot points off kilter.

So — send the family friend daughter back to her father.  But then, the only ones the heroine is at odds with are her sister and her father and maybe the housekeeper.  I also had the mystery of the long-gone brother permeating everything, because the heroine wouldn’t let go of the hope he’d return someday.  Well, okay.  But what if he didn’t?

Put the mss aside for a bit.  And then — start the story with the stranger coming to town who will fall for the heroine.  How do they meet?  Should they meet?  What’s his business in town anyway?  Is he a good guy or is he dangerous? Did I really have to know all that before I started writing about it?

You bet.  And worse, as I continued flailing along, the daughter of the family friend started taking over the story. She was beautiful, greedy, outspoken — that girl could have been the heroine but that wasn’t how I envisioned the story. I wanted unconventional girl to be the heroine.  She flouted conventions.  She was at odds with her family.  She had more at stake.  Wait — what did I mean by that?  So time to put the thing down and think about it some more.

So I thought about it some more — like, oh, 40 years, and now, even though there are days I don’t think I know what I’m doing, I do think I finally know how to write this book. I think it could be pretty good.

I could be wrong.

I still haven’t found the original mss pages I wrote, but I do remember the plot points.  I’m thinking I should just start all over, divef in and see what happens. We all should start all over and see what happens.

After all, we all know how to write it now.

Do you have a book you haven’t written?  Or you want to write?  Or never want to tackle ever, even though the idea of the story haunts you?

Thea Devine is working on her next erotic contemporary romance (and peripherally the book she hasn’t written).  Her sequel to The Darkest Heart. Beyond the Night, will be a September 2013 Pocket Star release.