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

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

Michaeline: The Benefits of Goofing Off on the Internet

A woman with a pen in her hand contemplating a blank sheet of paper.

Think, think, think. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, long story short: my friend and I were texting this morning about various womanly complaints, and she said Amazon has now got a sparkly menstrual cup on offer. It’s the kind of idea that hits you in the middle of the forehead with a solid slug of “Why?” and then slaps you on the back of the head with a good, “Why not?” The things are becoming more popular, and I suppose there’s now a market for sparkly menstrual cups. (Note: I can’t actually find such a thing on Amazon now, but now that it’s out there, it seems like it should be an idea.)

But of course, this reminded me of the Glittery Hoo-Ha, and Jennifer Crusie’s post about it. HER friend, Lani Diane Rich (aka Lucy March and other names) had brought up with half-serious literary theory about why the hero loves the heroine and only her – even though she is a diamond in the rough, or in this case, even though he’s a man who enjoys women and enjoys have sex with many, many women.

You’ll have to read it, and the comments (and the second page of comments when there so many that the blog broke), but the gist is that once he has dipped his wick in her glittery hoo-ha, no other hoo-ha will do for him. He’s in love, and ready to be faithful.

This random summer surfing came at a great time: I’ve got some empty hours coming up this week, and I’ve been thinking about the multiple problems of my work in progress (WIP). Right now, the conflict box is pretty weak. (Conflict box a mystery? Let’s raid Jenny’s blog again, with a fabulous explanation of Michael Hauge’s conflict box here.) My heroine’s goal is Continue reading

Justine: Fiction Fundamentals, Part 3: Conflict (2nd Installment)

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 9.09.18 AM

Conflict? Mmm…perhaps. (Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin in “The Princess Bride” (c) 1987 Act III Communications)

Welcome to Part 3 of Fiction Fundamentals. In Part 1, I discussed character goals. In Part 2, I covered a character’s Motivation…the “why” of what they want to do in your story. Last time, in the first of a two-parter, I talked about the Big Enchilada that ties it all together and makes for a good read: Conflict.

This week, I’m delving a bit deeper. I’ll discuss scene- vs. story-level conflict, the difference between conflict and trouble, and those pesky “misunderstandings.”

Scene-Level (or “Mini”) Conflict

Let’s be clear about one thing: conflict must be in each scene in your book. Every. Single. One. However, that doesn’t mean the conflict had to be between your protag and antag relative to their goals, nor does it have to be massive, big-stakes stuff. It can be smaller. Call it mini-conflict, or that which does not directly affect your character’s goals. Said another way:

The conflict in each scene doesn’t have to be directly related to the protag or antag’s stated goal.

Here’s why: Continue reading

Justine: That ‘Ol Conflict Thing Again

Okay, I will admit that Christmas vacation and having the kids home from school totally screws up my sense of what day it is and I thought today was Monday. Obviously not. Since I don’t usually plan my blog posts ahead and I doubt I could come up with something original this morning with two kids running around, a husband who’s home, and two parents (mine!) who I need to get to the airport in about 30 minutes, I’m going to repost something from last year’s series of craft-focused posts, New Year, New Writer. Today’s topic is my old nemesis (and the nemesis of a couple of the other Eight Ladies):


It’s relevant to me as I start thinking beyond Three Proposals to the next book(s) I want to work on.

Happy reading and I promise to have my act together next week (after all, the kids go back to school next Tuesday!). Continue reading

Kay: New Year, New Writer — But Still Lousy at Conflict

YoungWomanWritingAtDeskThe eight ladies have been writing to a theme this week, and the theme topic is “New Year, New Writer.” I panicked,  because, hey—nothing like a little pressure to be a new writer in the new year. When I stopped hyperventilating, I decided there’s no rule that says I have to be new. So here’s my theme within a theme:

New Year, Same Old Writer.

To my classmates who have had transformative experiences with their writing in the McDaniel program, I salute you. I wish that I, too, could say my writing has been transformed. But it hasn’t.

Continue reading

Michaeline: New Year, New Writer — Revision

Revision is not what I thought it was.

It's about taking a look at the deep structure.

It’s about taking a look at the deep structure.

When I started the romance writing program at McDaniel College, I thought I had a basic grasp of what it took to write a novel. I had several thousand words, all lined up in a way that made a crazy sort of sense, and I fondly thought that it would be a matter of cutting a few plot threads here, tying up a few lines there, and polishing the words that I had chosen in a NaNo rush.

I wasn’t thinking revision – I was thinking proof-reading.

The biggest thing I learned is that story is only loosely related to the words on the page — at least in a first draft. I know that sounds bizarre, but what I mean is that the story can be told with a million different word choices. It can be told with these characters or those characters. Point of view, tone of voice, time, date and place . . . all are choices that can be made to tell the story. And of course, some choices work better than others. But there are many good choices out there. Words convey those choices, but they aren’t the whole story.

It just about killed me that I had to Continue reading

Justine: New Year, New Writer — Conflict

conflict, GMC, tension, writingWhen I started the McDaniel program over a year ago, I came in without any formal (or informal, for that matter) instruction about writing fiction. I’d neither taken a creative writing class, nor studied the basic elements of good fiction. In other words, I was a blank slate, which is great in some respects because there weren’t any bad habits/knowledge I had to purge from my brain. But it’s bad when my instructor tells me to identify the goal, motivation, and conflict for my protag and antag…I was left saying, “Huh?”

Of all the things we covered at McDaniel, conflict was one of the topics that tripped me up the most. (Well, okay, so did goals and motivation, which go hand-in-hand with conflict.) I thought I knew what conflict was. I mean, I read romance novels, right? Those books are chock-a-block full of men and women arguing about something or other. So okay, identify the arguments between my characters and I’m set.

Oy. Continue reading

Nancy: Secondary Characters Are People, Too

Humans are (for the most part) social creatures. We live, work, and interact among other people every day. To be believable, primary characters in our novels should live in worlds with other people, as well. Hence our need to build worlds for them that include secondary characters.

But filling out our stories with secondary characters isn’t as simple as randomly dropping in the wacky best friend or meddling mother or curmudgeonly boss. Secondary characters aren’t window dressing to make the primary characters’ lives look well-rounded.

Secondary Characters - Why Am I Here

Like every other aspect of a book, they should serve the story. We should be able to answer the question, why is this character here? In addition to looking pretty, or ugly, or menacing, each secondary character should do something: enhance the plot, underscore the theme, complicate the protagonist’s life, all of the above – something that wouldn’t happen if that character were taken out of the story. So what happens if you’ve created a convenient friend or foe or foil for your protagonist, but other than convenience, that character accomplishes nothing in your story? Continue reading

Michaeline: Where “One” Becomes an Imaginary Number

One of my biggest misconceptions about writing a novel was that I thought “first draft” meant one coherent all-the-way-through-to-the-end draft. I thought that after I sat down and wrote that, everything else was crunchy snacks and tweaking word choices.

And perhaps some people’s first drafts are like that, but my first draft was 44,000 words written during the 2010 National Novel Writing Month . It *was* coherent, in that one event followed each other in a logical fashion. But I was nowhere near the snack-time, word-futzing stage. After my manuscript’s encounter with the conflict box in our McDaniel’s class, the story was better and stronger, but almost all of the words were gone. A few random “the”s and “stalagmites”s survived, but that was it. Continue reading