Tag Archives: secrets

Themes and Memes

Thea Devine today, watching as the snow stops, the sun comes out, and ready to jump-start some new ideas. I created this list for a workshop I gave at several Chapters (including CTRWA), and I’ve had a few new thoughts since I distributed the handouts.

Maybe you’re looking for a theme, an idea, a spine, some motivating mojo. Maybe you need a break from the WIP and want to write something just for the change (like, in my case, Not Sex). Maybe you want to play around with some bigger ideas and plot points. Maybe this list will help.

Family, faith, community: I think these themes the most important today
Anything goes vs old time values
Hedonism vs. religious stricture
Good vs evil
Something profound – like failure – shapes and changes a protagonist’s life
Loss of friends, community, job: after adversity, struggling to make a new life
Impact of separation, divorce, death
The love that could not be
Rebellion and where that leads the protagonist
Old boyfriend returns and upends everything
Consequences of sexual attack (Steubenville)
Repercussions of cavalier sex
Rags to riches: heroine spirals down and out and climbs back to a better life
An unseen lurking threat
Haunting — by ghosts real or imagined, conscience compels actions
Objects of desire: the key to a crisis in the present is in the mystery code located somewhere exotic that will save the country, the world, the planet (I love this theme)
The government is out to get us
The government is out to save us
Child in jeopardy
Impact of random violence (wrong place wrong time)
Controlled threat (stalker, serial killer)
Apocalyptic event changes life as we know it
Hero/ine against all powerful cabals that seek to dominate everything

And then …
Peripheral characters tell hitherto unknown story of a historical figure of real person —
The Other Boleyn Sister, the Tsarina’s Daughter, The Paris Wife
Ongoing characters reader falls in love with: Stephanie Plum, eg.
Exotic locations in exotic times: Wilbur Smith and Barbara Michaels, ca 1920’s Egypt; Daisy Dalrymple mysteries (1930s)
Wounded hero (like Jesse Stone) solves small town mysteries
Impact of major historical event (9/11, Columbine, Newtown)
Beloved fictional characters — like Mr & Mrs Darcy solving crimes; Jane Austen parsing out mysteries etc.
Boomer characters — the Covington novels
“clubs” — book, knitting, quilt. Jane Austen etc.
Historical mysteries — Alienist, Dante Club, Anatomy of Deception

Need some motive power? characters could be searching for family, a murderer, a lost sibling, assets, heirs, vengeance, treasure, lost love, an abandoned child, a new life, another chance.

Or they could be running from a murder charge, an ex-spouse, a stalker, toxic relationships, their childhoods, the past, responsibility, secrets (see below).

Or they could vanish. People leave for any number of reasons: they committed an opportunistic crime, were in an accident, were kidnapped, just took off, eloped, escaped an abusive situation, were running from the law, were seeking to start over, committed suicide

Maybe someone’s hiding something: someone’s secretly …

An alcoholic
An Exhibitionist
A pill addict/drug addict
A gambler
A shoplifter
An extortionist
An embezzler
Covets her sister’s husband
Endures physical or emotional abuse in a loveless marriage
Did bad things out of jealousy and never got caught
Got pregnant by seducing a man who resembled her husband who couldn’t have children and passed it off as his
Has an irresistible impulse to kill
Is really a bad girl when family and friends think is so good
Did something bad just to see if she could get away with it
Had a secret baby she gave away
Thought she was adopted; finds she was her mother’s natural illegitimate child

That’s it, guys. What do you think? Any ideas to add to the mix? I’d love to hear them.

Thea Devine is working on her next erotic contemporary romance — and pondering a handful of other ideas.

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.

What Lies Beneath

Thea Devine today, thinking about families and secrets. One of my cousins passed away suddenly and very recently.  I didn’t really know her until we reconnected as adults: her family had moved away years before. As an adult, she became the one in the family who always knew what was going on and what everyone was doing, where and when,  She’d worked in finance, she was involved in local politics, and she was well-loved by those who knew her.  She was pragmatic, empathetic, a great listener, a wonderful friend, and a very very dear person.

Her sister sent me, and other cousins, an Hermes scarf in its original box, mine with a Revolutionary War motif as a momento.  It was rather a puzzling thing.  The cousin I knew just wasn’t an Hermes scarf type of person.  Another cousin and I discussed it quite a bit — what to do with these obviously expensive and highly decorative designer scarves, and why the sister had chosen them as something for us to remember our deceased cousin by.

Long story short:  at the memorial service, it was one of things most talked about by her friends and family —  our cousin’s well-known love of scarves and how she collected and wore them as her signature accessory.  And that too seemed startling and totally out of sync with the woman I knew.

But it made me think about it in terms of the characters we create.  What lies under the skin that we don’t initially know, that we discover later on to have major impact on the story (or a life)?  A man who resented his late mother’s influence on his father, always feeling she’d held him back and that his father had resented it, discovers his father actually needed her plain practical common sense to keep him grounded.

Because the hero had discovered in his father’s bedroom a drawer full of his mother’s things, redolent with her scent, including her wedding gown that his father kept all these years.  And why?  Because despite of all their fights, disagreements,  and the-on-the-surface disdain for each other, his father really loved his mother deeply, a conclusion that turns the hero’s world upside down.

Another scenario:  a rich playgirl takes a local country girl into her glamorous hedonistic set, ostensibly because local girl had saved her from drowning. As the heroine is more and more both seduced and corrupted by the playgirl’s lifestyle, she never considers there might be something else propelling all that generous gratitude.

What subtle clues do you leave?  The playgirl’s gratitude is beginning to become too extensive and intrusive, leaving the heroine no choice  but to accept all that she offers.  How could she say no?  And yet —

The heroine starts to feel wary when she’s convinced to leave an internship and become the playgirl’s personal assistant.  How close can they get?  What ‘s really going on?

What does the playgirl really want from someone she would normally consider a “nothing” in her world?   Or does the playgirl have plans for the heroine?  The heroine is in love with the man she wants, and the playgirl will corrupt her to the point that that she will be rejected by him. If that doesn’t succeed, the playgirl has a more drastic plan.

What secrets are your characters hoarding, like silk scarves in a dresser, to be taken out judiciously and worn discreetly, and eventually coming  to light to reveal what at first seemed to be hidden?

What was there about your character all along that we never consciously saw, never considered?  What indeed lies beneath?

Do you have someone in your life or fiction who surprised you by an aspect of their personality about which you had no idea?  Are you the one with secrets under the skin?

Hermes, scarf, writing, craft, clues protagonists, characters, clues, personality

I Was A Freelance Manuscript Reader

Thea Devine here, with a true confession:  Long ago in a publishing landscape far away (and over the course of the next twenty-five years),  I read manuscripts for several mass market publishing houses, back before electronic transmissions, back when we were writing 500 pp. books on real paper.

I read historical and contemporary romance, romantic suspense, women’s fiction, mysteries, sagas, fiction for reprint, and non-fiction, agented and slush.  And I assure you every proposal was looked at, no matter what form it arrived in — single spaced, cursive font, unchaptered, block paragraphs, handwritten, buried in popcorn. strangled in rubber bands.

And there were always manuscripts;  just the number of conferences across the country on a weekly basis assured that.  But after National — the deluge.

During those years, I never had an editor tell me what to look for, what they didn’t want to see.  Nothing was culled before it landed on the reader’s shelf.

But really — it was always about the story.  Those grab and go opening pages still grab editors..  And they really do know it when they see it..

But what the editor told me when she hired me was, don’t be afraid to be wrong.

Think about that.   Don’t be afraid to be wrong.  Because what if you passed up another Gone With The Wind or DaVInci Code?  What if the manuscript you loved was shot down and rejected by the editor and then became a best-seller for another publisher? (It happened).  What  if … in the fragile world of publishing as it was then, and is now, so dependent on the subjective opinion of reader and editor.

Don’t be afraid of rejection.  Because the editor could be wrong.  And if the editor could be wrong, then a rejection doesn’t t mean you wrote the worst book ever.  It just means this book didn’t move the editor or it didn’t fit into a particular marketing slot.

That still holds true.  The market itself will judge a book, in this new publishing milieu, if not an editor in a publishing house.   All you can do is write.

Some writing secrets from the reader:

It’s the story. It’s always been the story.  It’s how you get into the story.  Get your characters moving.  Make sure the inciting incident is critical, grabs the reader, and requires your characters to do something.

Conflict.   Your protagonists can’t want the same things (his family stole her family’s business;  she wants to get it back; he wants to give it back), even though they can want the same thing (an object of desire — like the Grail in Indy 3).

Pile it on.  The more obstructions, obstacles and problems you present your protagonists, the harder it will be for an editor — or reader — to put your manuscript down.

Grammar counts.  Sorry.  No dangling participles.  Subject and verb must agree.  A line edit takes forever on a manuscript that needs a lot of work.

Motivation.  Why exactly did your heroine go into the burning mine when everyone specifically cautioned her not to?  There are always reasons why your characters do what they do. Make sure your reader buys into it.

Make sure the ending holds up after all the build up.

Have you ever been rejected?  How did you handle it?  Do you think a publisher using readers is a good thing or bad?

The unlocked secret of a “smellavision.”

Blessings to all on this rainy spring day. My lilacs have begun to bloom and the sweet scent permeates the air as I sit on my front porch, a balmy mix of moist earth and new life filling my senses. The smell of lilacs instantly brings me back to my youth, when the blossoming shrub outside our kitchen door made the beginning of May a time when my mother’s spirits seemed unusually high. She loved her lilac bush and went to great lengths to make sure she took advantage of the lavender blossoms by clipping them and placing them in every room of the house. Those few weeks in May were bittersweet, passing by much too quickly.

So what do lilacs have to do with writing, you ask? Today, I’d like to talk about using your senses when writing to engage readers. We all love to describe how things look and feel, but what about sound, taste, and smell. Of all of these, I think the sense of smell is highly underrated. Perhaps because it is so difficult to describe how things smell, and do it in a unique way. We easily revert to clichéd phrases like our hero smelling “musky” or “woods-like”. Finding new ways to describe scents is challenging, but that’s what makes for a fresh voice in writing.

Smells are powerful and can bring rise to emotions we didn’t even know we had. I call them “smellavisions.” You know, the image that comes to mind when you think of chocolate chip cookies straight out of the oven? We all have those “scent triggers” that can bring forth a memory, a feeling, or an image. A well-placed and vivid “scent” word or phrase can also add depth to your character by bringing their memories and emotions to the surface.

Fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series will probably never forget Jamie Frasier’s violent response to the scent of lavender, a residual effect after having been tortured by the sick and villainous Black Jack Randall who apparently doused himself in lavender water, not uncommon in the eighteenth century. But Jamie’s visceral response is powerful and evokes extreme emotions even from readers. Certain scents, described vividly and accompanied by powerful verbs can bring your reader straight to the heart of your character’s experience.

Take this line from HEAVEN IS FOR HEROES.The crack of gunfire exploded in the air…once…twice…three times. I flinched with each pop, the smell of gunpowder thick in the warm mist raining down over the cemetery. What emotion does this evoke? Does it paint a clear picture and put you right into the character’sexperience? It’s the first line of the book and you already know so much about what’s happening based on this one vivid “smellavision.” Use “smell” words to create a mood, set a scene, or evoke a certain emotion from your character.

Today’s unlocked secret: As writers, we have the power to create an experience that readers will remember. But in order to do this we must use all the senses, use them wisely, and use them to their fullest effect by pairing them with vivid descriptors and powerful verbs.

Can you think of a paricular “smellavision” that stands out in your mind from a favorite book? How do you describe smells?