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.)

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Jeanne: Subplots

One of the things I struggled with when I was learning to write novels was subplots.

Category romances (those shorties you used to see in the supermarket) don’t have subplots. They deal with a single story line and pair of characters. But longer books get really tedious if all we hear about for 350 pages is one set of characters and one story problem.

In a book with subplots, here’s how it goes: your main character encounters an obstacle. She figures out a way to deal with it, only to discover her approach yields unforeseen consequences and she now must deal with them, too. Meanwhile…. 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: Liar, Liar, Page on Fire

Characters lie. They do it all the time. They lie to themselves when they convince themselves they’re after an external McGuffin when they’re really searching for love, or acceptance, or loss of everything so they can start over fresh. They lie to other characters in conversations, and give away the truth in their interior monologues and actions. Sometimes they even lie to readers, especially in the cases of the recently-popular, unreliable narrators in books like Hawkins’s Girl on the Train and Flynn’s Gone Girl.

But what happens when one of the leads in a romance story lies to the other lead? Will readers root for someone lying to our girl/our guy and still want the liar to get the HEA? How long can a character lie and still be considered redeemable? Are there circumstances that make this character choice more palatable?

These are the questions I pondered as I worked on the discovery phase of the next novel in my Harrow’s Finest Five series. This is Percy’s story, for those who have read the novella. And the story kicks off with our heroine (Finola) telling one whopper of a lie to get Percy’s attention and, ultimately, help.

I ran multiple scenarios about when, where, and how my heroine would come clean. I talked to readers. I reread stories I remembered with some level of deception between the characters. After all that, I have lots of thoughts, but my main take-away is that whether the lie is tolerable and forgivable all comes down to “why”. Continue reading

Michaeline: One More Thing You Need To Start a Story

A little girl offering root beer syrup to a young woman in black.

Older and wiser, but still obsessed with root beer. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

If you read Saturday’s blog post, you already know three elements you need to get your story started: a character, a setting/situation and finally, another character to play against.

The final thing you need to get the ball rolling is an inciting incident. You need the spark that sets the whole ball of wax on fire, and starts it rolling toward the finish line.

Yesterday, I talked about Rachel, who is producing illegal root beer on a spaceship. She is up against Ms. Pratchett, an atmosphere engineer who is disturbed by the sudden increase of carbon dioxide in the air – and she isn’t very fond of exploding bottles of semi-alcoholic liquid in the cabin next door. Plus, she hates the smell of root beer. It reminds her of an old Chinese remedy her mother used to force down her when she was under the weather.

In this case, the inciting incident is pretty easy to find. In fact, if you put your mind to it, I bet you could think of several. The first one I thought of was having the carbon dioxide detector go off in the middle of the night, awakening both Rachel, the fussy Ms. Pratchett, and the entire ship.

But hold on a minute! The first idea MIGHT be the best idea, but then again, it might not. It would be better to brainstorm at least a half a dozen ideas – things start to get very interesting around idea 12, they say.

So, here goes:
2. The captain calls Ms. Pratchett into his office, and orders her to investigate (strengthens Ms. Pratchett’s position, but a lot less exciting than an alarm going off).
3. A bottle of soda explodes, and Ms. Pratchett must investigate. (I do like a good explosion.)
4. Change the perspective: Ms. Pratchett is the hero of this story, and Rachel is an evil rule-breaker. (This is worth exploring: the villain is often the hero of her own story in a good book. This could deepen Ms. Pratchett’s characterization, and who knows? Ms. Pratchett, or Susie as we come to know her, might be the real hero.)
5. There’s no root beer yet. Susie Pratchett finds Continue reading

Michaeline: Part 3: Weddings Interruptus

I think that I have never read
A story as thrilling as a Reddit thread

Or in the words of the old cliché, truth is stranger than fiction. Over the past two weeks, I’ve talked about how a wedding can drive the action in a story for better or worse. Love, money, the desire to have one’s own way (a form of power) – and sometimes even elephants are included in the wedding, so it’s a ripe ground for conflict and trouble.

A young lady from the mid-1800s embraces a judge in a courthouse; at the foot of his bench, two lovers embrace, and there's a guitar on the floor, bedecked with ribbons.

Nothing like a courthouse wedding! Now with added flamenco guitar. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, let’s say that you are ready to write your own story. Of course, personal experience is the best source for good, truthful fiction. But sometimes you don’t have those sources. My husband and I were married in a town hall in early June to get my visa set up properly, then we had three different ceremonies/receptions in August. I don’t remember any particular drama, although I may have been oblivious at the time, and skillful at blocking the bad stuff out later. My sister’s wedding also went well. The only thing I remember is controlling my portions of delicious, delicious American food in order to fit into the dress she’d ordered for me. Otherwise, it was lovely colors, lovely flowers, and a very lovely bride. Great for a real-life wedding! But not very good fiction fodder.

However, the internet is full of wedding stories. I don’t think it’s coincidence that the term “Bridezilla” rose in popularity at the same time the Internet was growing quickly. First-person, third-person, tight and omniscient, all sorts of true-life stories were put on the internet to blow off some stress and gain a little cyber fame. Reddit, the site devoted to citizen journalism in all its amateur glory, is a gold mine.

So, here are a few ways from Reddit that weddings could be disrupted fictionally. (I take no responsibility for the truth or accuracy of Reddit’s reporting, or my reporting here. The point is to fictionalize for entertainment purposes.)

One fun way to distract during a wedding is through sounds. Have an ice cream truck drive by at the height of the ceremony. Maybe the bride (or groom) realizes they’d Continue reading

Kay: Quiz for Y’all—Should I Hurt the Dog?

Here’s Trouble! from mplsmutts.com

Ladies, I need your help. I’m at the end of my book. I have a big fight scene. My villain, Vlad the Assassin, has a tire iron, and he’s swinging it like a madman. He hits my hero with it, a blow that separates his shoulder and requires five stitches.

Then Vlad hits the dog, Trouble, breaking two of Trouble’s ribs. I need Trouble out of commission (that is, off the page), and I think the best way to do that is to have the villain hurt him, because then we’ll hate Vlad even more, right? If he hurts the dog, it’s abundantly clear that he’s No Good.

I did a little research on treatment for this kind of injury. Trouble’s lungs aren’t affected, so he doesn’t need surgery. He’ll recover much like a person would who cracked a couple of ribs. Trouble just has to take it easy, and in a few weeks he’ll be good to go again.

In the final chapter, my hero and heroine jet off for a few days to get married, leaving Trouble with his best friends, the neighbors, who will take excellent care of him and spoil him half to death. He’ll be fine. Better than fine.

But here’s my concern. I just recently read a blog somewhere where a commenter posted that she’d never read another book by a particular author because that writer had injured a dog in her pages. And then a bunch of other people chimed in and said the same.

Argh! Whatcha think? Would you read another book in the series if Trouble gets hurt, if the injury isn’t life-threatening, and if he makes a full recovery? Or is hurting a dog beyond the pale?