Elizabeth: What do you stand for?

img_1219If you’ve been paying attention to American politics recently, you’ll have noticed that there are a lot of people taking a hard look at what they stand for, what they believe in, and what they are willing to do in support of those beliefs.

People who have never participated in a march have marched.  People who have never called their elected representatives have made calls.  People who may have thought of politics as something that just sort of happens have started to realize that it’s a participatory process.

All good things.

Deciding what you stand for has its challenges, especially if what you stand for is in opposition to what someone else believes.  Even if you believe the same thing as someone else, you may have different or possibly conflicting ideas about how those beliefs should be addressed.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Continue reading

Elizabeth: Characters and Christmas

2008-xmas-dsc_0498As I mentioned in last week’s post, I spent a few days recently at the Happiest Place on Earth (Disneyland), taking a digital break and doing a little mental refresh.  The weather was good, the fireworks were spectacular, and it was great to disconnect for a little while.  Now that I’m back and the holiday decorations are up (mostly), it’s time to work on my manuscript.

Though I don’t have a daily word goal this month like I did in November, I’m trying to follow Jilly’s advice and to make sure my story doesn’t get lost in the holiday / year-end crush.

Right now I’m focusing on getting to know my characters a little better. Continue reading

Nancy: WU UnConference Lesson 2: The Decoder Ring

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Portals of the Past, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco CA

Last week, when sharing some of the great wisdom imparted to me during the early November Writers Unboxed UnConference, I discussed the importance of theme as the heart of your book. This week, I’m going to discuss another essential element of your story: the decoder ring. Heart and a decoder ring. Makes sense, right? Er, perhaps I need to elaborate.

As Lisa Cron said many times during her workshops at the UnConference, when it comes to the story you are writing – the story your main character is telling – the character’s past is the decoder ring to the story. Quoting William Faulkner, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” OK, he wasn’t talking about your story or mine, in that case, but the famous line has been applied to the craft of writing by many writing teachers.

So how does this idea of the character’s past being part of the present-day story jibe with the admonition to stay in the now and not bog down your book with the dreaded backstory? Paraphrasing Lisa Cron, it’s not backstory that’s the problem; it’s poor usage of backstory. In fact, she argues, we not only want the pertinent parts of your characters’ backstories, we need them to understand who the characters are and why they react and behave the way they do. But how do you include backstory without throwing the reader (or the contest judge, in Jilly’s case) out of the story? Continue reading

Justine: Slow Burn in Romance

11347342 - burning candle. an ancient candlestick, a dark background

This past Sunday, Jilly brought up a “blunder” with her recent contest entry. She’s writing a romance, but the relationship between her H&H is a slow burn. However, she got dinged by a few of the judges because there was little evidence of romance in her story (at least the first 50 or so pages) and none in her synopsis, yet this was a contest for romance writers.

I find it coincidental that Jilly got this feedback recently, because I’ve just read two books by Sarah MacLean (in her new Scandal and Scoundrel series) and one by Lenora Bell where there isn’t much evidence of romance right off the bat, either. Yet Continue reading

Justine: Foreshadowing, Part 2


About a year ago, I wrote this post about foreshadowing. My husband had started watching “Sons of Anarchy” and from the get-go, I knew who the bad baddie was going to be. I wasn’t much interested in watching the show, but I was even less interested when the obvious became TOO obvious.

I was disappointed again this weekend (there have been lots of disappointing Continue reading

Jilly: Backstory Break

 BackstoryHow much backstory do you like with your fiction?

I have to confess, I’m a fan. It has to be well done. I don’t like honking great paragraphs of infodump or entire sub-plots set in the past (my cue to skip, even if it’s a favorite author), but I do love to know where the characters have come from and how they have been shaped by their past experiences. If the story is mostly in the now, without being anchored by deep roots, it seems to slip-slide through my brain without making a lasting impression.

I wonder if it’s a British thing? I used to work for a Frenchman, and we spent many a happy hour teasing each other about our national characteristics. He said that whenever you ask a Brit a question, the first thing we’ll do is to put it into its proper historical context. Magna Carta, or Oliver Cromwell, or Winston Churchill. Ahem. I hate to admit it, but he might be on to something.

Continue reading

Kay: The 10 Essential Elements of a Great Escapist Hero

The SuperHeroStuff official company logo by Brian Welch

The SuperHeroStuff official company logo by Brian Welch

I’ve been reading Julie Ann Long’s Pennyroyal Green series on the advice of Jilly, and they’re terrific books, even reading them out of order, which is what I’m doing. Currently I’m on The Legend of Lyon Redmond, which is the last book in the series. I had to put it down recently when the heroine and hero got into an argument, because their pain and anger made me too sad and upset to go on.

I wish I could write emotion like that. My critique partner has a completely justified and yet irritating habit of noting “more emotion!” at the end of way too many paragraphs, and I’ve been trying to improve my execution in this area. I’m working on my hero, an alpha male (of course) who wants to get the heroine more involved in his life, which she’s resisting. I’ve been trying to figure out not just what he feels but what he does—and how his actions reflect his feelings—to get what he wants. Basically, I want to write someone who’s bigger than life, the way Lyon Redmond is. Continue reading