Nancy: What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

Years ago, when I was in my previous life and profession and was using a white board for something other than character arcs and plot progressions, I kept a question on my board at work. It was, “What keeps you up at night?” This is a question used in sales in marketing to remind sellers to think about what the customer wants/needs/stresses about, NOT about the widget or service we want to sell.

Then about five years ago, I read an article that argued (rather convincingly) that we should stop asking what keeps our customers up at night, and start asking, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Do you see the shift from negative to positive? I brought that to the teams I managed with the goal of writing our business proposals with a different spin. We still needed to write about knowing the customer’s pain and how to solve it. But I started pestering my teams (and the business development execs who interacted with the customers) to learn about customer’s bigger-picture visions. I wanted to expand our message to say, “We support solutions, but also aspirations.”

By now you’re wondering, WTH does this have to do with fiction writing? I’m so glad you asked! 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: Telling Parallel Stories

Like Jilly, I have been spending time judging contest entries lately. Unlike Jilly, some of rails-3309912_640mine have been pretty good. One, in particular, interested me because the story paralleled the romances of three different couples, which is what I’m trying to do with my third demon book, The Demon Wore Stilettos.

I was especially interested because every time I tell other authors what I’m working on, they say, “That’s way too complicated. You need to get rid of some of that.”

And it may come to that, but I really want to keep all three stories, so I was happy to see someone else had tried the same thing with, I thought, some success. Her stories were all set in the same small town and used the marriage-of-convenience trope for all three.

Mine are all set in Minneapolis-St. Paul and all revolve around the second-chance-at-love trope.

Where I thought the contest entry could have been stronger was in cohesion. The stories run along side-by-side like train tracks, never crossing, never even approaching each other. In mine, the three couples are, respectively, demons, humans and angels. All three couples have had past romantic encounters and all are now, for various reasons, no longer in those relationships. Continue reading

Nancy: Clearing the Decks

As I mentioned in my last post of 2018, New Year New Writer – Zen Edition, in 2019, I’m working on balance. Balance between extreme fitness goals and creature comforts, online life and IRL friendships, work and play. One of the things I need to do to before I can even think about balance, though, is whittle down my to-do list du jours.

Some people might suggest not writing a to-do list every day. To those people I would say What is wrong with you? And when I’d recovered from my shock, I’d politely point out our brains must work very differently, and I’d spend the rest of the day wondering how anyone functions without a to-do list. Continue reading

Jilly: Give the Girl a Goal!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week judging contest entries.

We’re talking genre fiction, not literary works. I’ve been judging as a reader. Clean, smooth prose is good, but it should be a delivery vehicle for strong storytelling.

Many of the pages I’ve read have been thrilling. The heroine has a strong, active role – she’s a bodyguard, or a firefighter, or sniper, or a PI, or whatever. The world-building has on the whole been convincing and the writing sound.

So it pains me to say I would not have bought any of the stories I read, nor even bothered to read on if the author had given them to me gratis.

The problem, I think, was that not one of these strong, active heroines had a goal. They had expertise, they were parachuted into action-packed scenes, and they responded as they had been trained to do. They saved themselves, children, cute puppies and even hunky heroes. Things happened to them, and they reacted. Boom! Pow! Continue reading

Elizabeth: What’s Your Alligator?

As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, it’s the beginning of a whole new year.  As is traditional, we’ve been talking here on the blog about our plans for the new year – whether they involve rigorous SMART goals or the more inspirational Word-of-the-Year.

For those who have been reading along, my 2019 word is Happy, which so far has meant Sunday mornings snuggled under cozy flannel sheets, afternoons curled up with coffee and a favorite book and, much to my surprise, putting about 5,000 new words on the page.

Well that was unexpected! (Not that I’m complaining.)

At Ye Olde Day Job, this time of year is both a time for nailing down yearly goals with their detailed measurement criteria as well as a time to indulge in the latest training to “be more positive!”, “increase productivity!”, “work smarter, not harder!” and the like.

Whether it’s “Eat That Cookie” positivity training; “Eat the Frog” productivity training, or “One Minute Meditation” stress-reduction training, every year seems to bring a new method with its associated book.  I’m not sure how much positive benefit we actually see from the exercises, but at least the authors of those books are benefiting. Continue reading

Jilly: 2019 In A Word

Can you believe it’s Twelfth Night already?

I feel rather late to the New Year’s Resolution/Goal Setting/Watchword party, but it’s been interesting to read about everyone else’s approach, from Jeanne’s specific, measurable, time-limited SMART goals to Elizabeth’s ultra-flexible pursuit of happiness.

There are still 51 weeks of 2019 ahead of us, so I’m going to join in the fun 😉

For the last few years I’ve picked a watchword to epitomize my approach to the coming year. It’s less prescriptive than a set of resolutions. More of a theme, in the sense of “an idea that recurs and pervades.”

My word for 2018 was TRIMMINGS, courtesy of Michaeline. On 30th December, 2017 she said:

We live in a time where we can get online support and critiques, buy the best organizing tools ever, and even publish ourselves with only our own Inner Censors as the sole gatekeepers of our work. Or we could get a pencil and paper, and then publish pictures of our handwritten pages on Instagram. It’s all trimmings. What really matters is the happiness you get from writing.

TRIMMINGS turned out to be a useful word, but not for the reasons I’d expected. A couple of weeks after I wrote the post, my mum died, my best-laid plans went up in smoke, and I had a sharp lesson in focusing on the things that really matter.

I didn’t do any more writing until April, and then I sat down with a blank sheet of paper to think about how I wanted to spend the rest of the year. I decided the best way to get my mojo back would be to take on a new self-contained project or two that would get me into my happy writing place again and carry me in the right direction but without too much pressure.

Continue reading