Tag Archives: craft

What John Said

I’m going to tell you what John said. John is the calm waters next to my endlessly churning hurricane.. John is orderly, logical and precise. I am way on the opposite side of that. So John keeps me sane during these crazy publishing times.

Arguably, every time in publishing has been a little crazy, so this is one thing John said to me when I was suffering my huge writer’s block year. He said, books get written one page at time (a journey of a thousand words?). One page at a time. If I didn’t write that one page, there wouldn’t be a page 2,3 or even page three hundred.

That was very comforting. I mean, who can’t write one page, even if it’s gibberish. But you know this writing secret – whatever you write, it’s not gibberish and it may be the start something wonderful at some point.

Or it may not. But putting words on paper is so satisfying in and of itself that it’s worth galvanizing yourself to write that one page even when you think the water’s muddy and the well is dry.

And, as it turns out, the well is never dry. The creative waters may scrape the rocks at times, but — as John said when I was reluctant to use an idea in my current WIP that I was saving for another book — there’s always another idea. Seriously. He said he’d rarely seen me run out of ideas.

Really. There IS always another idea. Aren’t our antennae always out, searching for the snippet of conversation that could be a head-snapping opening line, the thing in the news from which we can invent a high concept novel, the personal experience we can spin into an inspirational romance?

Aren’t you talking to people everywhere, listening to conversations, asking questions, reading everything, studying your husband who has had your number all the years you’ve been married?

Aren’t you trying really hard to fit a plot around the fire at the pharmacy? Are you writing everything down?

If you had to plot in 100 page chunks? That’s daunting. One page — focusing on what the reader needs to know? No problem. Only that and nothing more. Okay, got it done. Oh wait, you have to keep going — you can’t stop there. You seeded the first page with all kinds of things you need to carry forward. Keep going — page two and three, four, five … and then — maybe — the magic starts to happen.

Or not. But you’ve got a nugget you can save for another day, another plot, another WIP.
Remember what John said: you write it one page at a time, and there IS always another idea.

Thea Devine really loves John. She’s working on her next erotic contemporary romance.

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.

Never Do What They Want

TGIF! Casey here.

This is a continuation of last week’s topic – When in Doubt Throw in a Flying Monkey or Three. I guess I have monkeys on the brain. Or it could be that I’m in the next phase of editing – clean-up!

And it got me thinking of some very excellent writing advice from Orson Scott Card (and I’m paraphrasing here) – never take the reader where they want to go.

At least not until the very end.

What a wicked web we weave.
What a wicked web we weave. . . .

As a writer, I like the way that rolls off the tongue. It makes the Author Goddess inside of me delirious with happiness. It means I have the freedom to do what’s necessary to my characters (like send in the flying monkeys).

And readers love it too. Doing the unexpected is what keeps the reader turning the pages. That’s why many chapters end on hooks or with uncertainty. Just when you think the hero or heroine has found happiness, a sudden wrench in the plot sends them into disarray.

Deliciously evil if you ask me. Wonderful too! So how do you accomplish those twists and turns?

1. Be receptive to wild ideas. I’m a plotter, but, I’m always ready to write something crazy (like the flying monkeys). I have also found this comes with practice. The more stories you finish, the more willing your mind becomes.

2. Trust your characters. They can help you find those twists and turns. Again, even plotters can do this by letting them off the leash once in a while.

3. Be mean to your characters. If they are cruising along, getting what they want all the time, that is a huge red flag. Remember, like the readers, they don’t get to go from point A to point B. They have to get lost. A lot!

4. Never end a chapter at a natural break. Think back to television shows - end with a Yarntwist. The old advice: don’t end a chapter with a character going to sleep is true. The reader might stop and not pick your book back up again.

5. Follow through. Don’t forget to eventually tie up all loose ends. So, it’s fine to dangle the reader from the edge of a cliff or leave them with an intriguing puzzle, but by the story’s end you’d better tie it in a bow. Either solve the mystery, provide that happily ever after or create suspense for the next book (if there is one) or your reader will walk!

These are just a few ideas. What are your favorite ways to ensure the reader keeps turning those pages?

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.

“It Does What I Want It To”

Thea Devine today, romanticizing perhaps, a long ago moment that’s stayed with me all these years.  My husband and I were in the living room and my youngest son was at his father’s desk fiddling around on my portable IBM Selectric (yes people, there was a portable Selectric back in the day, complete with canvas carrying case).  He must have been four or five at the time, just pounding away, when he suddenly looked up, his face all lit up, and exclaimed: “It does what I want it to!”

Even after all these years, I just LOVE that idea — because it could have meant the machine, or it could have meant (I prefer to think) the words.

Words did what he wanted them to.  As in, he chose the words, put them together and they expressed what he wanted them to.

Words do what WE, the authors, want them to.

When we let them.

How often we don’t.

When they scare us to death because they mean commitment and we’re not ready for that long-term relationship with a particular WIP.

When we’re facing a blank screen and the prospect of filling four hundred more of them with what, how many words??  Or there are still three hundred and fifty empty I-can’t-think-of-a-single-plot-point pages to write.

I know this:  if you’re staring at a blank screen, you can always write something, It doesn’t have to be for your WIP of the moment. It can just be.  But you always have words, even if sometimes it feels like they’re out to get you.  Or it may feel like they’re fighting you — and winning, and that you can’t write a grammatical sentence to save your life or a description in fewer than fifteen pages.

Well, everyone — this is a call to action.  People, take control!  Re-assess those soggy sentences, wrangle those restless verbs, slice and dice those irritating adverbs, show those pushy participles who’s the boss, and you will finally and happily make those wayward words  do what youwant them to.

Has your child ever said something that struck you as being relevant to writing?  Do you feel mocked by that empty screen?  If you felt you had control of words, would that help or hinder you?

Thea Devine is the USA best-selling author of twenty-five erotic historical and contemporary romances, and is just finishing Beyond the Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart to be released by Pocket Star April 2013.

The Russian Coat

The Russian coat is packed a plastic bag, still on the floor of my office because I have no idea what to do with it.  For one thing, it has a history.  Back in my older son’s senior year of high school, the class, in conjunction with a course in Russian literature, travelled to Russia during spring break.  My son left wearing a blue ski jacket when he boarded the plane.  When he arrived back at the airport a week later, he had this thick woolen brass buttoned military coat: the Russian coat.

That coat went with him to university in Chicago, it and he enduring four years of minus zero degree winter weather (and how glad I was he had it) and then it came back home and into the hands of my younger son who wore it for the last two years of high school and beyond.  At that point, my older son was working overseas, we were on the cusp of moving to CT, and as we were cleaning things out, I thought maybe it was time to donate the Russian coat.

My eldest was adamant that we shouldn’t. The Russian coat had a story, it was his story, his history;  it  was part of his growing up. We had strict orders not to donate the Russian coat.  By that time, it was in pretty bad shape:  it needed a really good going over, repair, and a major cleaning.  Was it worth all that if it was just going to be packed away and nobody was planning to wear it ever again?

As I’ve written previously, my mother was born in Russia; my grandparents emigrated here in the 1930’s so I’m not without some sentiment on this matter.  I feel that pull to keep some connection to a history that’s in my blood if not in my consciousness.

But maybe there’s a different story about the Russian coat that I, the granddaughter and daughter of those immigrants and romance author, have yet to excavate from its tattered remains. I mean, this could be my Doctor Zhivago moment if I’m ever bold enough to grab it.

Until I’m certain of it, though, I’m feeling, fatalistically, that the Russian coat just might be with us forever.  So it sits, a victim of inertia, bundled up, on the floor of my office and I nudge it every once and while, and wonder what to do with it. I try to imagine that moment my son actually came into possession of it, and wonder whether actually having the object is necessary if you’ll always have the memory.  I wonder if this is how we all get stuck with the objects of our memories that we just can’t bear to relinquish.  And if the reason we hold onto objects is to hold on to our history in order to assure that our children and grandchildren know and remember that we were here.

How many things have tethered you because of memories?  Are they inspiration or clutter? Are you someone who can easily let go of objects?  Or do you hold onto things forever?  Is your house as cluttered as mine? What would you have done with the Russian coat?

Thea Devine is nearly finished with Beyond The Night, the sequel to The Darkest Heart, to be released April 2013.  She’s pleased to announce the reissue of His Little Black Book in October.

“The story starts here.”

If you’ve ever heard the words, “the story starts here,” you know what every writer eventually learns. The first few chapters of a manuscript are likely not where your story begins. This concept is not new to me. Over the years, I’ve heard these words from contest judges, critique partners, and even as feedback from agents and editors on submissions.

I shouldn’t have been surprised then, to hear it from my editor on my current WIP. When I got my first round of edits back last week and she said get rid of your first two chapters, my jaw dropped and I immediately wanted to argue. But what about setting the scene? How will my readers know that we are in a dystopian future and how we got there? What about all that lovely description? After I took a few deep breaths, poured myself a glass of wine, and contemplated leaving the country, I turned around and looked at my story board and had a good laugh. Among the pink sticky notes I’d posted, briefly outlining each chapter, there was a bright yellow sticky signifying chapter three. It said, “INCITING INCIDENT-story starts here”.

Well, crap! That yellow sticky note not only validated that my editor was right on the money (isn’t she always?), but that I knew where my story began and I had ignored my better judgment. I also realized that I had taken the easy way out. Instead of skillfully weaving in backstory, description, and setting, I had laid it all out in those first two chapters like a newbie.

You’d think I would know better by now, but I fell prey to what most writers do without being consciously aware—I “told” my readers what I thought they needed to know. In all fairness to myself, I recognize that this is part of my process. Those first few chapters are necessary for me to clearly set the stage for the story to unfold—at least in the first draft. During revisions I should have caught this and fixed it. Given more time and the opportunity to work with critique partners I’m certain it would have been.

If I had to pick my greatest weakness as a writer, I would have to say it’s that pesky “showing”, and knowing how and when to deliver back story. It’s a tricky business finding a balance between narrative, dialogue, internal thought, and description. Sprinkling information through a story without “dumping” or taking short cuts via prologues, journal entries and other overused devices is hard work. Normally, I wouldn’t use the word “lazy” to describe myself, but when it comes to “show don’t tell,” I’m afraid I take the easy way out every time until someone points out that I’m “telling” too much. For those of you who aren’t sure what I mean, let me give you an example.

Zeph challenged Sam’s authority at every turn.

Rather than saying this, I could easily show Zeph arguing with Sam. In other words, don’t state the obvious. Whenever there is telling, it takes the reader out of the story and into the narrator’s voice instead of staying in the character’s head. In my opinion, one of the reasons Kristan Higgins’ books are so good is because she is a master of the show don’t tell rule.

As I continue on with my edits, I’ll have to find creative ways to weave in the back story, setting, and descriptions that will bring the story to life rather than drag the reader along by the nose. Wish me luck; I have my work cut out for me.

What about you? Do you have trouble with information dumps and giving too much backstory? How do you know how much to tell the reader and when?