Monday, March 7, 2011

Like Sand through the Hourglass

I was supposed to have this article finished for Savvy on Friday, but I waited until the very last minute to sit down and write it. Now it’s Sunday morning and I have about an hour to get it done. I’m pissy and agitated. Where’s my coffee? Why does my husband keep talking to me as though I’m not working? Why can’t my kids be quiet for five minutes? I’m seriously on a deadline here and I’m about to get out of this chair and open a can of whoop ass on the next person that bothers me.

At least the mayhem and looming deadline have given me this week’s article theme: time constraint and intensity, and why every book you write needs both.

Intensity blossoms under time constraints. Case in point – I’m stressed out now because I have about fifty minutes to get this damned article written. (That’s ten minutes less than I had in the paragraph above.) Time is flying and so are my fingers. Will I get this article done in time? Should I go back and edit? Just hit send? Delete everything and start over?

If you don’t have intensity in your book, what’s going to make the reader turn the pages? What’s going to push your characters to the edge and back? How are they going to grow and learn? Adding a time constraint to your plot will add stress to your characters’ lives and therefore ratchet the intensity level.

If I had started this article on Friday I wouldn’t be suffering from all this stress. I’m literally hyper because of my stress level. I have to get this done. I have no extra time. I’m only at three-hundred words. Son of a bitch!

We can all identify with time constraint in our personal lives. Adding this stress-inducer to our books is a no-brainer. You’ll create an instant page-turner. Remember, time constraint is in addition to your conflict – it is not the conflict itself. Time constraint amplifies the conflict and adds intensity.

Think back to the movie, Speed. Talk about a time constraint plot! First our sexy hero finds out there’s a bomb on a city bus. Then he finds out the bomb will go off if the bus goes below fifty-five miles an hour. Then he hits traffic, but can’t slow down. He finally finds a place where he can do a loop-de-loop to keep the bus moving but the damn thing is eventually going to run out of gas – oh wait – the bus starts to leak gas (adding more time constraint).

So let’s take a closer look at the time constraints applied in the film Speed.

Introduce the time constraint.

Howard Payne: Pop quiz, hotshot. There's a bomb on a bus. Once the bus goes 50 miles an hour, the bomb is armed. If it drops below 50, it blows up. What do you do? What do you do?
Jack: I'd want to know what bus it was...
Howard Payne: You think I'm going to tell you that?
Jack: Yes.
Howard Payne: Aha, very good. There are rules, Jack, and I want you to get this right. NO ONE goes off the bus. If you try to take any passengers off the bus, I will detonate it. I want my money by 11AM.
Jack: We can't pull that kind of money in time!

Time constraint leads to intense situations & stress.

Howard Payne: Good! Now you tell them that the drop point is Pershing Square. You drop the bags and leave. I don't show until all your people are gone. It's getting on to 11AM, Jack, and I think it's gonna be a very pretty day. [hangs up; Jack flips out]
Annie: Jack, stop it! We're really scared and we need you right now. I can't do this by myself! Jack, please?
Jack: [chuckles] We're gonna die.


Annie: What is that smell?
Jack: It's gas.
Annie: We're leaking gas?
Jack: We are now.
Annie: What, you thought you needed another challenge or something?

Intense situations and stress forces characters to make difficult decisions.

Annie: You didn't leave me. I can't believe it... you didn't leave me.
Jack: Didn't have anywhere to be just then.

Let’s sum this up (because I’m running out of time).

Time constraint leads to intense situations & stress which leads to character’s decisions which leads to revealing your character (and their heroic decisions)! Oh…and don’t forget about the HEA:

Jack: I have to warn you, I've heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.
Annie: OK. We'll have to base it on sex then.
Jack: Whatever you say, ma'am.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Have To Share Some Cover Love

These books caught my eye. I have NO idea why (yeah, right!). Anyway, click on the books and it will take you to the authors' websites. :) Both authors are auto-buys for me.
Happy reading!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Love is a Battlefield - Rockin' the Black Moment

Every great romance builds up to an intense moment in which the hero and heroine can see no way out. They’ll never overcome the obstacles holding them back. They’ll never have that white picket fence. No bouncing babies for them. They may even face death.

Writers have come to call this the Black Moment. If your book or novella doesn’t have it, make no mistake, you will leave reader disappointed.

Creating the black moment is like walking a tightrope three hundred feet above a concrete parking lot with no safety net. You lean a little toward the left and rush through the black moment, you’ve cheated the reader. They’ve followed the characters through their journey, flipped the pages in anticipation of that Big Bang at the end of the book, always wondering what will happen. Will the hero and heroine make it through the Petrified Forest and survive the field of ghouls waiting for them? If that field of ghouls ends up being a few slobbering, easily-defeated monsters, then you’ve just fallen off the tightrope.

If you lean a little too far to the right and drag out the black moment, you have a reader whose ready to put down the book due to over-stimulation. I know you’ve read a book like that -- a battle that goes on and on and on, until you want to kill the characters yourself just to end the suffering (theirs and yours).

And don’t get me started on The Misunderstanding. That plotting fail deserves a blog post all its
own. I’ll just say this: if your hero and heroine can solve everything with a simple conversation, you haven’t just fallen off the tightrope, you’ve incinerated the damn thing.

So how do you know what your black moment should be? Most plotters will know the black moment before they begin writing chapter one. Plotters can work their way to the black moment, sprinkling in some foreshadowing and teasers since they know exactly where they’re going.

Creating the black moment can be a little harder for pantsers. Just ask yourself this question when you get close to the end: What are my characters working toward? What will bring them to their knees? What would destroy their very WILL TO LIVE?

Your character’s goal is the KEY to your black moment. So…your heroine has to get through the Petrified Forest in order to save her daughter who’s being held in a castle (Her goal). The hero is there to help, of course. He’s the King’s son – an outcast who knows that dangerous forest like the back of his hand. He’s determined to claim his kingdom now that his father has passed (His goal). Their SOLE MISSION: Get through the Petrified Forest alive. Their ULTIMATE MISSION : Save daughter/Become king.

What possible black moment can we whip up from this?

Let me introduce you to the beauty of the black moment = SACRIFICE.

Sacrifice can lead to heroism. Heroism comes from making a difficult choice, but deciding the outcome is worth it, which leads right back to sacrifice. As Jack from Meet the Parents would say: “This is the circle of trust.” The reader TRUSTS you to deliver the sacrifice aspect in the black moment. You don’t want to merely finish the book, you want to finish strong. Some authors think the black moment is when everything comes falling down around the characters – which is true. However, if a sacrifice hasn’t been made, what have the characters given up to achieve their goal? Don’t just hand the characters a HEA, make them work for it.

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. ~ Joseph Campbell

Did you think the ghouls at the edge of the forest would lead to the black moment? I guess it could. But let’s take the black moment a little further. After battling the ghouls the hero and heroine are absolutely exhausted and wounded. They still have to save the child.

What if saving the child meant the hero would never become king? Sacrifice – check.

What if saving her daughter meant certain death for the heroine? Sacrifice – check.

You can play around with What Ifs all day long. There are so many great outcomes, which is what makes reading a book so wonderful. You never know what’s going to happen, because each author would take a different route or create a unique twist on the black moment of any given plot.

Just remember that the black moment is a *temporary* disaster that must be overcome to achieve the HEA if you’re writing a romance, and too little or too much will destroy the equilibrium of the plot.

Happy writing. :)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Writing a Paranormal, Fantasy or UF Novel?

Write a Paranormal, Fantasy or UF Novel Using Existing Myths for Worldbuilding ~ SavvyAuthors will be offering this course starting on March 7th. The instructor is Marcy Weydemuller. Here's a little about the course (Copied from the site):

Do you have an interesting twist on an old myth or mystical world?Do the worldbuilding elements take over when you write and you lose the story?Do you want to learn how to better incorporate existing mythology into your worldbuilding?

Join us for this Masters Level course where you will learn to better incorporate existing mythology into your worldbuilding. Build better worlds based upon existing myths and history as you spend a year exploring your world and writing your novel with hands-on help from Marcy Wydemuller and your peers.

Through reading, writing and analysis of literature surrounding their novel's myths and history, participants will hone techniques to produce the type of myth-based novels that speak through metaphor, symbolism, allusion and echo. Excerpts from novels and movies will be deconstructed to provide workable models for your own research and story.

Writing produced during the course will be critiqued weekly in small peer groups. In addition to daily instructor feedback to lectures and assignments, authors will post a full chapter or scene weekly with professional edits during the first three quarters. A personal analysis will be returned to the student only. Once a month, the middle Wednesday, there will be an open class discussion online. During the final quarter, each student will have a private one hour, one-on-one with the instructor regarding their novel and any specific questions they may still have regarding final polish and marketability.

Course Objectives:

* to complete a draft of your novel with daily and weekly goals.
* to apply mythic impact appropriate to your narrative.
* to create a fully developed believable world for your genre.
* to deepen analytical skills through study and discussion of various myth-building techniques through assigned readings and movies.
* to develop critique instincts and revision skills in peer groups.
* to create a polished submission package.

Masters Level – Will cover topics in detail, with the assumption that the student has more than a basic understanding of the craft elements of writing fiction.

WHEN: Mar 7, 2011 - Feb 18, 2012


I've been thinking about writing an urban fantasy lately, and this course caught my eye. I used an existing 'myth' for my paranormal series, so I know how difficult some aspects can be. Remember, this is a master's course, so keep that in mind if you choose to sign up.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Crash Course

In the past four years I’ve read countless articles on writing. I’ve attended conferences and panels at both the Romantic Times Convention and the RWA National Conference. I’ve bought enough craft books to sink a small rowboat (Make a Scene, Creating Character Emotions, GMC by Deb Dixon, Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies, Revision & Self-Editing, to name just a few.) I’ve interviewed NYT bestselling authors, spoken personally to industry professionals, and blogged myself stupid.

After all of this information overload it’s a wonder that I can still craft a sentence, let alone write a paragraph or a chapter. There are so many rules and suggestions floating around in my noggin, it’s amazing that I’m still sitting at my desk and not stuck in a fetal ball.

Let me give you a sneak peek to what’s in this writer’s mind. I’m putting it all in one paragraph so you can *feel* the insanity. Make sure you’ve had your coffee, because this is going to be a wild ride.

HIGH CONCEPT, HIGH CONCEPT, HIGH CONCEPT. If you can’t break your story down into a single sentence, you don’t know your story. RESEARCH. Do too little and you’ll regret it. Do too much and you’ll be starting your book sometime during the next ice age. PLOTTER VS PANTSER (or, as some like to call it, ORGANIC WRITER). Should you outline? Storyboard? Start typing and hope for the best? Well, whatever you do, always start with an INCITING INCIDENT, and end each chapter with a CLIFF-HANGER. DO NOT drop back-story into chapter one, for God’s sake! If you do that you’re either a newbie who knows NOTHING or Sherrilyn Kenyon – and you, my friend, are no Sherrilyn Kenyon. HERO. Is he a bad boy? A rake? An alpha? (Are there any other types right now?) HEROINE. Is she quiet? Strong? Is she kick-ass? (Are there any other types right now?) SETTING. Some say this is just another character. Just do your homework and make sure it doesn’t talk. WORLD-BUILDING. Make it fresh. Make it original. Good luck with that. NARRATIVE. Too much can dull your manuscript, unless you’re Christine Feehan. DIALOGUE. Listen to people talk and do your best to emulate that. Go easy on the Scottish brogue. POINT OF VIEW. Stay in one point of view for each scene. Only the best can get away with head-hopping. ACTION VS REACTION. Are your characters just reacting to all the bullcrap that’s happening to them, or are they DOING something about it, which leads to CHARACTER DRIVEN VS PLOT DRIVEN. Do events drive your story, or are your characters moving the story forward through decisions and action? There are times the two combine, and that separates the good books from great books. Again, good luck with that. GMC. What is your character’s goal? What motivates your character? Is there any CONFICT in your novel whatsoever? INTERNAL VS EXTERNAL CONFLICT? Yes, there are two kinds of conflict. Deal with it. VOICE. What is it and where do I find it? Hint: could you ever read a paragraph from one of J.R. Ward’s Brotherhood novels and mistake it for another writer? I think not. DEEP POV. You’re not writing about your character. You ARE your character. Let the reader see what’s happening through the eyes of your hero and heroine. PACING. 2 slow or 2 fast for 2 long = not good. ADHESION. What keeps your hero and heroine together throughout the book? FLAWS & QUIRKS. Just because your heroine is a size two with fair, unblemished skin and long, shiny hair doesn’t mean she’s perfect. That goes for the hero, too. Give him a quirk or flaw to go with his washboard abs. SEXUAL TENSION. Doesn’t matter if Satan himself is tracking your hero and heroine by chapter two, they’d better want to hump each other by chapter three. EMOTION. Visceral emotions. Live them, love them, include them in your book. AVOID CLICHES. I’m trying to think of a cliché to put here, but I’ve trained myself so well I can’t come up with one. SEX SCENES. Remember, this isn’t your mother’s romance novel. (Even though those historical bodice rippers were OFF THE HOOK. Ever read one? And they say our books are hot. Whaaaat?) SUSPENSE. Romantic suspense isn’t the only genre that needs it. BACKGROUND. Little like back-story. Don’t bore the reader with the details, but tell us how your hero was tortured and why the heroine is afraid of bald men on rollerblades. SECONDARY CHARACTERS. Better make sure they add something to the story. Otherwise readers will be skipping some of your scenes like they do with the Lessers. (I didn’t just say that.) (Yes I did.) BLACK MOMENT. The climax. The time when the hero and heroine realize they are going to DIE. They are going to LOSE. There is NO future for them. (Until the next chapter, of course.) RESOLUTION. Time to wrap up everything that happened up to this point. Hopefully you took some notes while you were writing. HAPPILY EVER AFTER. I luv you! I luv you, too! I can’t quit you! You’re my destined mate, my one and only, my future and my life, my soul mate. THE END.

There it is – the condensed version of rules and suggestions that run through my mind every time I sit down to write. Maybe that’s why most of us wear headphones and rock to our favorite music while we write. If we thought about all the rules, plot points and must-haves when writing, we’d never get anywhere close to the HEA.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Blizzard Aftermath

As you can see, that's a lot of snow, or as we like to call it in my town, a lot of bullshit. It didn't take long for everyone to dig themselves out and clear their driveways. I think people from South Dakota are accustomed to this type of weather. I'm not. I was just happy to sit inside and write. :)

I've lived in a lot of places. Northern and Southern California, Italy, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida and Illinois. Every place I've been has its own flavor. In Italy it was all about the food. Michigan was downright beautiful, and I lived two minutes from the beach in Southern Cali. Here? It's peaceful. And cold - don't get me wrong. I've never been in weather like this before. In the summer it's storm after storm. Thankfully we only had one tornado warning last year. In the winter it's freezing and white. White as far as the eye can see. LOL But I'll take it, because my kids can run around this little town and I don't have to worry.

So there you have it. My blizzard pics. I took more, but you get the jist of the situation. ;) Lots and lots of snow.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

This picture was taken BEFORE the blizzard that swept through my town yesterday, dumping seven plus inches of snow. Unbelievable. Having been raised in sunny California, I'm simply speechless. This is my second blizzard in two years. It totally wrecked my plans to drink in the new year. :P

Speaking of...Happy New Year! I didn't make any resolutions for 2011. I think I've learned my lesson at this stage in the game. From losing weight to writing more, I've tried nailing down every typical resolution under the sun. Not this time. However, I did find an awesome horoscope for my sign today. :) I think I'll take it.

Year 2011 Career

This is the year to build your resources, fatten your savings account, and stash money away for some of your bigger dreams. Don't be afraid of spending either. Money has a way of finding its way right into your humble bank account, especially this spring. You're not used to such an effortless cash flow and may unconsciously attempt to sabotage your own good fortune. Tell yourself a thousand times a day that you deserve the riches that are coming your way, because you truly do.

You've got to take your talents more seriously, Pisces. No more undercutting yourself and humbly accepting crumbs when you're worth gold. Take an honest assessment of all of the gifts you bring to the table and you'll quickly realize that you have been shamefully underpaid. But let any residual false modesty be a thing of the past now that 2011 has come to bring you the big bucks you so deserve.

When Jupiter leaves your money sector in June, in order to keep the cash flowing you'll have to work those networking skills. Make sure you've got a strong online presence and don't be afraid to revamp your image and make yourself more visible. You have a tendency to keep yourself invisible. But once people see you and all that you have to offer, they will be all over your talents. Stop doubting yourself and letting that legendary Piscean paranoia interfere in what promises to be one of the most successful and lucrative years of your career.

Nice, right? Anyway, I didn't read all that much last year. Unfortunately, I didn't write as much either, as I was getting familiar with a new job. I couldn't nail a favorite book down for the year. I had two.

I really can't say which book I enjoyed reading more. I LOVED Rehvenge, and the gritty tone of the book. John Mathews novel nearly topped my list, but thinking back on the two books made me realize I enjoyed the tone of Lover Avenged a little more.

And who wouldn't love the demon Malkom? As a writer I was enthralled with the way Cole handled a hero and heroine who couldn't communicate through most of the book.

These two authors remain auto-buys for me.

As they say, on to bigger and better. I hope everyone has a great year. :)