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

Elizabeth: Learning with Others

Sometimes mastering a new skill is a breeze; other times it’s like trying to swim through quicksand.

– – -Beats?

– – -Scene escalation?

– – -Conflict lock?

Mastering those basic concepts, especially in terms of my own stories, has been like trying to swim through quicksand in a full suit of armor.

We’ve blogged about all of these concepts multiple times here on the blog, I’ve attended numerous RWA sessions on them, and of course we covered them in our McDaniel romance writing classwork.  Sadly, my grip on them has been decidedly tenuous, with hit-or-miss implementation.

According to a random article I read on the internet today, the problem may not be that these concepts are beyond me, it may just be that I need to find a different learning style.  There are, according to the aforementioned article, seven styles of learning: Continue reading

Michaeline: Wake-up Call with a North Korean Missile

Stylish 1950s matron riding a rocket over a radio station while her male co-host tumbles in her wake.

Crushed by world events? Don’t be! Ride them to writing nirvana! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Of course, it happened on a Tuesday. I hate Tuesdays. I was in that drowsy, half-state between dreaming and wakefulness, when the alert went off at 6:02 a.m. “Earthquake!” I automatically assumed as I fumbled for my phone, but instead, it was something I never imagined I would see.

“Missiles launched. Missiles launched.”

My Japanese is not great, but I could read that. “A missile from North Korea has been launched (something). Please evacuate to a something-strong/OK building or underground.”

It didn’t matter that my Japanese wasn’t perfect. Knowing that a missile (or missiles – Japanese is very vague on the whole singular/plural thing, and you know that I was imagining a whole murder of black missiles flying through the skies), anyway, knowing that a missile had been launched was enough. I called my daughter who lives near her high school, and started texting loved ones before coming to the conclusion that maybe the bathroom would be a safer place than in front of our bedroom window.

I’d managed to make myself decent enough for a quick period to my existence, and then it was all over. By 6:12 a.m., the all-clear alert showed up on my phone, and I re-texted loved ones to let them know we were okay. No fiery death on this particular Tuesday.

I could tell you all the feelings I had, and all the plans I spun in the next 48 hours. Some people shut down when they get scared. I go full-on Robinson Crusoe. I made Continue reading

Elizabeth: Conflict Conundrum

ConflictWe’ve talked about conflict a number of times here on the blog including Jilly’s post here, my Back to Basics post here,  and Justine’s recent Fiction Fundamentals posts here and here.

“Let’s be clear about one thing: conflict must be in each scene in your book. Every. Single. One.”  ~ Justine

Jenny Crusie also has a great set of posts all about conflict on her Writing/Romance blog, full of details and examples.  With all of these discussions, along with our McDaniel class notes and presentations, I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the role conflict plays in building a strong, engaging story.

Conflict is a specific struggle between two people, the escalating action of which moves the story forward.” ~ Jenny Crusie

But . . . 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

Michaeline: Evita’s Structure and Conflict

Official portrait of the Perons in evening dress looking very happy.

Eva Peron doesn’t look like an action hero with agency, but oh, how she hustled. She moved half a continent by the time she died. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, I’ve been plowing through snowstorms in the car while listening to the soundtrack of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, Evita. It’s perfect music for when you are crawling along at 35 km per hour (what is that in miles? I’m not sure, but I’m afraid it’ll sound even more dreadfully slow). There’s a warm Latin beat, and the white-hot chronic anger of the heroine fueling various project. It makes me feel cozy in my little rolling deathtrap.

I don’t think anyone would deny that Evita works. According to the Internet Broadway Database, it’s been performed 1,567 times, and according to Wikipedia, it took award after award in 1978 and 1980. And I love it. But the heroine’s goal is a little fuzzy, and there isn’t a single overarching conflict lock that unites the story.

Evita is the story of a young Argentinian girl who goes to the capital at the age of fifteen, then proceeds to get modelling jobs, movie jobs, radio serials and finally the heart of a military man and through him, the reins to control the country. And then she dies, because . . . Continue reading

Elizabeth: Back to Basics – The Conflict

Stories Yet To Be WrittenIn last week’s Back-to-Basics post I talked about the characters in the new contemporary romance, tentatively titled Second Chances, that I’ve been working on (when I need a break from working on revisions to The Traitor).

Thanks to a variety of character worksheets, some free-writing, and a fair amount of staring off into space, I have a (reasonably) good idea about who my characters are and what makes them tick. So, to continue with my plan to put a strong foundation in place before starting to write, rather than just winging it and hoping everything will work itself out by the end of the book, it’s time to move on to the next story element.

This week my focus is on: Conflict Continue reading