Elizabeth: Help Me Out Here

Since reality has been laced with so many inexplicable plot twists and an overabundance of conflict that has me seriously wondering about the Author’s ability to wrap things up in a satisfying, happily-ever-after way, I’ve turned to fiction for solace and distraction.

Like many others, I’ve been comfort-reading old favorites, predominately Golden Age mysteries where truth prevails, the bad guys always get their just desserts, and everyone is smartly dressed.  Much as I’ve enjoyed the distraction, I do have an appalling number of unread books waiting for me to give them a chance.  As a result, I recently implemented an every-other process where I alternate between re-reading a comfortable favorite and randomly picking a new book from one of the teetering stacks of unread books leaning against the walls of my library (virtual and physical).

Last week, Kate Clayborn’s Love Lettering was one of the new books that finally made it off the pile and into my hands.  Technically I guess you could say it made it “into my ears” since I listened to the audio-version of the book.  I had heard good things about the story and remembered positive reviews from some of the 8Ladies, so I  was looking forward to an enjoyable story, which it both was and wasn’t.

Perhaps I should explain.

The story, for those who aren’t familiar with it is told from the perspective of the main character, Meg, a twenty-something who has built a successful career as a hand-letterer in New York.  The author did a wonderful job giving the story a sweeping sensual feel, making the descriptions of the lettering and signs almost visible to the reader.  As the story starts, Meg has a goal–she is working on a portfolio of work for a job she is trying to get.  In the past, she designed wedding-related items (which apparently included hidden messages on occasion), but she has now moved on to lettering high-end custom planners.  She is also in the midst of a bit of a creative block.

So far, so good. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Living the Conflict Box

“May you live in interesting times.”  That’s a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it, but there is no doubt that now we are indeed living in interesting times.  And they don’t look likely to take a turn toward the ‘boring’ any time soon.  While watching the news this morning, I couldn’t help but feel that we’re all trapped in some author’s crazy story or maybe a long-running Twilight Zone episode.

In storytelling, creating a strong central conflict, and backing that up with escalation along the way, is how you get a compelling story.  That can be a real challenge and many first drafts are lacking in that aspect.  To establish strong conflict, your characters need clearly defined goals that are in opposition to each other, backed up with believable motivations, and tried by challenges throughout the story.

One of the things we were taught in the McDaniel program (that I have to re-learn every time I start a new story) was the conflict box.  It’s a great way to really get clear on what your characters want and what each of them is doing to thwart the other during the course of the story.  Whether your characters battle it out to a “winner takes all” conclusion or join forces mid-stream to tackle a bigger conflict, they need to have goals.

A plan doesn’t hurt either. Continue reading

Jeanne: A Body in Motion

I just finished reading a first chapter for a friend who’d been wanting me to critique for her. (Note: I’m pretty sure this falls under the heading of “Be Careful What You Wish For”).

Her writing is solid—clear, grammatical, easy to follow—and the character she introduced was sympathetic and likable. Great start.

The problem I had with the scene was that nothing much happened. And not only did nothing much happen, but the character in question didn’t even move around very much. He got out of his car, climbed the steps to someone’s front porch, dodged a bee, and knocked on the door.

That’s not a lot of activity for eight pages.

After I fired off my response email, suggesting she incorporate more action and present conflict, I hopped on Instagram, where I came across a meme on “8 Reasons Your First Scene Isn’t Working.” They were all good points, but the list didn’t include lack of action.

One of the things we learned at McDaniel was that readers judge characters, not by what they say, or even think, but by what they do.

All of that made me think about the motion/energy/activity level in my own new first scene. My scene has conflict, but there’s still a strong aura of “talking heads” about it—just two characters standing around yapping at each other.

Which, now that I’m aware of it, I can fix.

What are your thoughts on this? Is it okay with you if the first scene in a book is just people talking or thinking? Or do you want to see some bodies in motion?

Nancy: Will They or Won’t They?

When we read romance books, we know that, by definition, the couple will get a happily ever after (HEA). The joy isn’t the destination; it’s the journey. Not the what, but the how and, as Lisa Cron would remind us, the why.

But one thing I’ve been pondering as I finish my final round of revisions on the next Harrow’s book (Two Scandals are Better than One) is whether part of that journey should be the sense that this couple’s obstacles are so great, they just might not make it. Two Scandals doesn’t have that burning question. One of my beta readers listed it as a problem, although she liked the overall story. And as the writer/god of this story universe, I can thank her for that input and then choose to ignore it. But that bit of critique has stuck in my brain, because I think she might be onto something. Continue reading

Kay: The Plot Thickens

Photo: The Harris Poll

It’s always something. Just a few days ago, Jeanne talked about how she used enneagrams to clarify who her characters are, because she thought they weren’t behaving consistently. I usually have a pretty good grip on my characters right from the start—that’s almost always why I write a story to begin with. Somebody out there speaks up.

My problem is plot. And conflict. Which, if I had enough conflict, I’d have more plot. It’s a vicious cycle.

A few months ago, when I was ready to start a new project, I didn’t have any new ideas. Nobody spoke to me, demanding to be put on a page. The girls in the basement didn’t send anybody up. So I decided to write a story that’s been noodling around in my brain for a few years. It would be the continuation of a two-book FBI series, of which the second book was finished in 2012. Continue reading

Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. Continue reading

Nancy: Goals and Conflict, aka Everything Old Is New Again

This might or might not be an accurate depiction of me upon realizing I’ve done it again.

 

I like to say that I can be taught. That I can learn from my mistakes. That writing, like life, is a process, and part of that process is continuous improvement. Yes, I like to say I’m getting better, but then I do things that make a liar out of me.

Case in point: I’ve been working on the next book in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Three Husbands and a Lover, for those of you keeping track at home. This is Percy’s story (Captain Lord Granville), who is the group cut-up, thrill-seeker, and all around flirtatious cad. But I knew, from the inception of the series, that all his light frivolity was hiding a dark inner life. This is crunchy stuff, the kind a writer likes to sink her teeth into. But it took a few bites for me to get there.

In the pre-discovery phase of the book, which is when characters with some vague motivations, snippets of conversations, and partial scenes float around in brain, untethered from each other and any kind of story logic, this was a very different story from what it is today. And that’s fine. That’s why I do discovery work – to excavate and sift and reveal a few tiny gold nuggets per metric ton of crap.

Turns out our heroine, Finola, had a goal in the initial story iteration. It was a good, strong, “close-your-eyes-and-you-can-see-it” goal. But it didn’t have anything to do with Percy, who didn’t yet have a raison d’être of his own beyond “get Finola in bed.” Continue reading

Jeanne: One Goal to Rule Them All*

Recently I read and reviewed a contemporary romance. The setting was unusual enough chaos-724096_640to be interesting without being so weird it distracted from the story and it had likable main characters, each of whom had a solid character arc, but the book left me feeling out of sorts. It wasn’t until I wrote up the review that I realized what hadn’t worked for me: the protagonist had three different goals.

  1. She’d just graduated from college and wanted a job using her degree.
  2. She was involved in organizing a charitable event to which she was deeply committed and she wanted it to reach a certain dollar figure in revenue.
  3. She had recently broke up with a boyfriend who took ruthless advantage of her giving nature and she was determined not to date for a while. (That’s a negative goal. If you’ve been reading Eight Ladies for any length of time, you know that’s a no-no, but it’s still a goal.)

Continue reading

Jeanne: The Complexity of Romance

muffins-2225091_640Romance may be the single most complex genre of fiction there is.

A romance author has to juggle five different arcs:

  • Story (plot) arc
  • Character arc for the heroine
  • Character arc for the hero
  • Relationship arc
    • And within that relationship arc, both the emotional arc and the physical arc of the romance

That’s at least double most other genres, which have a plot arc and character arcs for only one or two characters (and sometimes no character arc at all).

To make things even tougher on the romance writer (though easier for the reader), some of those arcs should line up, sharing common turning points.  Let’s do a hypothetical example:

Our Heroine wants to open a bakery in the perfect location in her little town. She has a character flaw, though. She hates confrontations and backs away at the first sign of conflict.

Our Hero wants the same spot to open a mobile phone franchise. He’s a good guy, but he’s very competitive. Continue reading

Michaeline: Young Romance Conflicts

Issue one from Young Romance, featuring a sister-sister rivalry romance

Image from Wikimedia Commons

I suck at conflict, both in the real world, and trying to foment it in my fictional worlds. What I like is building up a world with all sorts of rules, and finding a character or two to turn loose in it. But the fact of the matter is, if my characters don’t run into conflict pretty darn soon, the whole thing goes ka-flooey. It gets boring for me as a writer.

This coming week, I’m going to be experimenting with some methods to introduce a conflict into my current National Novel Writing Month project, but for now, I’ll explore some more intimate conflicts.

My order from Amazon brought me Young Romance #2, a serial comic from 1947 (you can see the cover of Young Romance #1 over on the right). “Fifty-two pages of real life stories”! And that comes with five comics, one prose story AND the classic Charles Atlas ad about the bully who kicks sand into the face of the skinny weakling, who in seven short frames manages to build his body and become The Hero of the Beach. Let’s take a look at a couple of those conflicts!

“Boy Crazy” pits an orphaned niece against Continue reading