Monday, October 20, 2014

On my way to Ninc

Ninc? What's Ninc?

Novelists Inc. The conference is in Tampa. I leave Wednesday. My capris are packed, along with my tank tops. LOL

So what are we going to do at the Ninc Conference?

Well, first ,you should know that to become a member of Novelists Inc. you need to have published at least two books. (Sorry, I know the rules have been updated, but I'm not familiar with the requirements pertaining to self-published.)

Because everyone in the group is multi-published, there are no workshops on "how to write." It's assumed we all know how to write. LOL Our workshops are on the industry.

And what an industry it is lately. LOL

There are speakers from Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Audible, Sourcebooks, Writer's Digest, Create Space, Audio Book Creation Exchange, Draft2Digital...not to mention agents, editors, publicists and best-selling authors.

We are going to hear some great stuff...some very technical stuff. So I'll be taking notes...in shorthand. LOL Because there is a lot I don't know!

A friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about using raffle copter to handle our giveaways. We talked about the ins and outs of it and suddenly paused. My friend said, "OMG, who would have ever thought we'd need to know this technical stuff?"

Well, none of us. LOL But the truth is we do need to know it.

So I'm away this week but I should have a doozy of a blog for you next week.

Happy Reading
susan meier

Monday, October 13, 2014

Never Say Never... :)

Many years ago, in the stone ages of print-only publishing, there were several nevers. Never write about a sports hero, an actor or a musician...the worst being country singers. Vampires were dead. (No pun intended.) Don't have anything supernatural in your book at all. Don't kill a dog. Don't mention God.

And don't even get me started about the "words" you weren't allowed to use. At. All. Ever.

Then pretty soon, the internet came along, and there was email, then Amazon, ereaders, epublishers, indie published writers and Konrath...and suddenly nothing was taboo. There are no sacred cows. There's no restriction on country singers. I'm reading a book about one now. LOL I've seen dogs killed and cats that talk. Witches and demons. Inspirationals and even, yes, Christian erotica.

If you want to write it...you can.

So the question becomes...should you?

The bottom line is money. (Drat.) Or maybe I should say the bottom line is your goal. Why are you writing this book?

If you want to change the world, have a story burning a hole in your heart, have a spouse who will pay the mortgage...you are free to move about the Internet.

If you want to earn a living, you're not going to have to pay attention to rules as much as you are going to have to watch what's selling.

Now, before you get angry and flick me off your screen...I'm not telling you to copy anyone's work.  You could be the trailblazer who writes the next big thing. There are a lot of us who don't follow the crowd. I was actually laughed at when I wrote my first baby book. I've made a living out of those squirming, peeing suckers.

The trick is, your book has to be worthy of attention to become a trendsetter. If you're not first (and, trust me, just about everything's already been done on the Internet) then you have to be the best. You have to bring an insight to the table no one's ever brought. Or a tone. Or a plot. Or a character.

And, really, it's not that hard. (Stop throwing old shoes.) All you have to do is follow a few rules.

What? I thought you said there were no rules.

There will always be rules. LOL But, seriously, I'm not talking about no country stars or sports heroes or demon daycare workers. I'm talking about rules of great writing. There really are rules about what makes a great book. They differ from genre to genre in some cases, but it's very easy to find a how-to book on basic structure.

And, yeah, like Picasso, you might be the author who bends the rules until they break, and become a grand success. But Picasso also said, "You can't break the rules until you know them." (And have perfected their use or some such thing...Can't remember the quote verbatim.)

So where am I going will all this?

I believe there is a market for every book. :) You can write crap (or I can write crap) and put it on the Internet and somebody will buy it. Maybe lots of somebodies.

But if you want to be great, if you want your books to be loved, to be remembered...you need to take your time, learn the rules of your genre, and write a great book.

Happy Monday

susan meier


PS I looked up the Picasso quote...“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Using Your External Conflict as a Vehicle


Since I promised you a serious, informative blog this week, I’m taking a lesson from a workshop I just did on writing the romance novel synopsis. Lots of good stuff in here…

Enjoy!

Using Your External Conflict as a Vehicle

The first three things an editor wants to see when she reads your romance novel synopsis are…

What gets them together?
What keeps them together?
What makes staying together difficult?

Questions 1 and 2, basically, should be your external conflict. But the answers to these questions shouldn’t just be “what” your external conflict is. It should show that your external conflict can drive your story.

For example…
In the first scene of my June 2012 release, THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHTER, (a Rita finalist btw) the hero and heroine meet accidentally in the lobby of the local hospital. Divorced for eight years, they haven’t seen each other since the night she left him. She doesn’t want to see him. He was an alcoholic who made the last years of their marriage miserable. But HE wants to see her. He’s in AA…and as part of 12 steps, he needs to make amends.

THAT’S what gets them together. The inciting incident. Meeting in the hospital lobby.

What keeps them together is the daughter who runs out of the elevator, innocently saying…Hey, Mom, Grandma wants to know if you’re making that coffee.
Hero takes one look at the little girl, knows this is his daughter and his good AA intentions to make amends go flying when he realizes she’s kept his daughter from him for 8 years.

Do you smell more than coffee brewing! LOL

Of course, you do. That innocent encounter is our first sniff of the conflict. But it’s not the internal conflict. It’s the EXTERNAL CONFLICT a situation strong enough to drive an entire book.

External conflict (in Susan Meier World…which is something like a theme park but not exactly) is the thing that draws the hero and heroine together and keeps them together, even as it puts them at odds.

Now that he knows about his daughter, both the hero and heroine know they need to get him into Trisha’s life (now that he’s sober) as seamlessly and safely as possible. That’s their external goal. But…wow, he’s not too happy she kept his child from him and she’s not too happy to be forced to let him see the daughter she’s been protecting from him.

That external goal also becomes the “vehicle” for them to be forced to interact, albeit unhappily. His seeing their daughter forces them to spend time together. Without that daughter, they could meet, have a short conversation and walk away. With the daughter, they are forced to interact.

That’s what an external conflict does. It KEEPS THEM AT ODDS.

But, in this case, his wanting to see his daughter is also a VEHICLE to keep them together.

Sometimes, though, the external conflict doesn’t work to keep them together and you need a vehicle.

In a book I wrote many, many years ago, ONE MAN AND A BABY, the heroine was promised the job as manager for her dad’s horse farm, but one day her dad up and hires the hero. When she confronts her dad, he remembers the promise (with a wince) and says, Okay, I’ll give the hero six weeks to train you to take over. If he thinks you’re good enough to have the job it’s yours. If not it’s his.

Well, duh! What’s in it for him to train her? LOL They are now competing for the same job … which is the EXTERNAL CONFLICT.

But if they are both only competing for the job …the external conflict…there’s no reason for them to interact. They could do different jobs on the horse farm, on other sides of the property, visit different vendors, work with the horses at different times of the day…and never once see each other.

Which was why we needed a vehicle, something to keep them together and force them to interact, and why I added the Dad’s directive that the hero TEACH her.

The order of her dad for the hero to teach her how to run the farm forces them to spend time together and to interact. Because it’s only through interacting that they reveal their secrets, their goals, their pasts…and only through doing those three things that they can fall in love.

External conflict…thing that puts them at odds.

Vehicle…thing that forces them to interact even though they are at odds.
Lots of times they can be the same thing…but sometimes you’re going to have to create a vehicle. J

Here’s another value of the vehicle…

If you’re having trouble with your story, if you can’t quite seem to figure out what should happen next…you might be missing a vehicle.

Lots of us try to manufacture vehicles for our stories…We decide to write about a heroine and hero who have an intense backstory and intense internal and external conflicts. Say they were married and he cheated and she’ll never trust men again and he may never trust himself again.

That’s intense and wonderful and meaty, but we can’t figure out a reason they’d BE TOGETHER…let alone spend enough time together to reveal their inner cores and heal those inner wounds?

So we decide to have them agree to chair the town fundraiser together. And though it ‘works’ to get them in the same space, it doesn’t always have the emotional impact or even the edge-of-the-seat tension that we need for a really great story. (Sorry to be beating up on fund-raising committees.)

You’re always better off to figure out an external story for your hero and heroine that springs naturally from their lives and encompasses their internal conflicts.

What do I mean by that?

Well, the dad telling the hero he has to teach the daughter springs naturally from the external conflict that they both want the same job. Forcing the hero to teach her adds another dimension to their fight. Even as it forces them to interact.

In MAID FOR THE SINGLE DAD the heroine agrees to work as a maid/nanny for the hero because she “owes” her boss a favor.

How does owing her boss a favor get her working for the hero? She was in an abusive relationship with a “rich” man and her boss helped her out. Not just out of the relationship, but out of her depressed, god-awful feelings about life that result from being abused.

So when the hero comes to the maid company, the heroine (who is running the company while her friend is on her honeymoon) doesn’t want to lose a client for the friend who has been so good to her. (Because none of the maids on their payroll have been trained to be nannies.) Especially since the friend’s new husband has been trying for a decade to get a foot in the door for the hero’s construction business.

So she takes the job as nanny, cook, and housekeeper for the client HERSELF, knowing she’s doing a good deed for the friend who’s done so much for her, and also to help the friend’s new husband.

The hero, however, is a much richer, much more powerful man than the heroine’s ex who abused her.  But he reminds her of her ex all the same. Except magnified. So when she moves in (as part of the job) all her old feelings and fears about relationships come tumbling back.

Now, I could have had them in a story where she’s trying to find him a nanny (since she’s the one running her friend’s maid service while her friend is out of town) and everybody she sends over fails and the two of them are in contact nearly every day. That would be a vehicle.

But…

Does that really give readers an intense experience?  Not really.

You want your hero and heroine together in a way that hits on their internal conflict.

Putting my heroine in the same house with a guy who on the surface is the picture of her abusive ex … really highlights her internal conflict.

Having her nervous, the way his unfaithful ex-wife was, puts him on red alert.

The scenario wouldn’t have the same impact if she was looking for a nanny for him. SHE had to be in HIS HOUSE for the two of them to clash and for the internal conflict to become the issue it needs to be.

A lot of stories don’t put the hero and heroine into a close enough situation that their real issues bubble to the surface. Then, the writer scrambles for artificial ways to get and keep them together, like seeing each other at the diner or drugstore.

Not that these aren’t viable ways to get them together sometimes. But a story comes with its own readymade opportunities, if you take your thinking a step or two further and come up with a great – emotional – external story.

Especially one with a great conflict like THE TYCOON’S SECRET DAUGHTER, where a heroine who doesn’t want to interact with her ex must spend oodles of time with him because she won’t leave him alone with their daughter because she doesn’t trust him. You can FEEL the tension in that even without reading the book.

Or the hero who is forced to train his replacement (in ONE MAN AND A BABY) when he doesn’t want to be replaced! Oy! That one came with tons of tension.

The real draw for readers in any book is tension. A reason to keep flipping pages.

So you want to use every tool at your disposal!

For your homework, check your ‘external’ conflict/situation/goal/vehicle which should be the answer to question 2. Do your hero and heroine have a real reason to be together…something that’s strong and realistic and makes their situation even more dire? One that highlights their internal conflicts?

If not, can you think it through to come up with something stronger?

susan meier

TWELVE DATES OF CHRISTMAS, 11/14 Harlequin Romance
CHASING THE RUNAWAY BRIDE, Entangled Red-Hot Bliss 11/14

Monday, September 29, 2014

On Vacation Last Week

And I didn't write. I didn't read a romance. I read a YA. :) I didn't look at email, except for a class I was teaching. I turned everything off, tuned out, vegged.

So I also didn't write a blog.

But the interesting thing was, yesterday as we were driving to my son's house (2 hours away) I got a spark of an idea. I quickly grabbed a notebook (all writers have notebooks in their cars, right?) and started scribbling.

By the time I was done I had 2 3-book series ideas.

That's the power of time off!

So...the next time you're truly burned out, consider unplugging for a few days or even a week. I was amazed at how good those new ideas were.

And meet me here next week when I swear I'll have a proper blog.

Happy Reading...

susan

Monday, September 22, 2014

Organization

I'm working on a proposal for a workshop for RWA Nationals...I won't tell you what it's on. The idea is just too delish. LOL But I will tell you that every time I turned around this past week (including while writing the workshop) I found myself talking about organization.

I have a notebook for the 3-book series I'm working on for Entangled. Not because I forget the truly memorable heroes and heroines, but because this series takes place in a small town and ... well, small towns have people and people have parents and brothers and sisters and eye color, hair color, cars and jobs. If I mention it in a book, it gets recorded in the notebook. So that when they pop up in book 2 and 3, I can easily find them and get all the facts correct.

I also began creating a cheat sheet of important events and plots points. I wrote down the chapter and sometimes even the page number of important events in the story and the plot points/turning points. When revising, I found myself saying...has he told her about his grandfather yet? And all I had to do was flip open the notebook to the important events/plot points pages, and voila, I had my answer.

I'm careful about how I name my documents in my computer. I like the date, but sometimes I'll add a marker. Like: June 10 2014 version took out the lettuce fight. (I really didn't take out the lettuce fight. It was too funny.) But when I'm looking for a specific version of the draft (like if I realize I need to put the lettuce fight back in...I know to look before that draft.

I'm also a stickler for folders in folders in my saved documents. I belong to a group called the Chocolate Box Writers. (Thanks for that smattering of applause. We are a fun group.) I manage our newsletter. We're only on our second issue, but in my documents section of my "big" computer, I have a file folder marked Chocolate Box, a subfolder for the newsletter, a subfolder in the newsletter subfolder for covers to go into the newsletter and a subfolder for text.

That might seem nitpicky, but if you need to find someone's cover really quickly it's easier to dig through 3 files than 14 items in a folder.

I do the same for my books. Because I like to write series I have a series folder...Donovan Brothers...Book 1, Book 2 and Book 3 each gets a subfolder. Within each book's subfolder is a proposal folder, along with a chapters folder (which is where I store the actual book). After I get comments I create a revisions subfolder.

I have blog folders...my own blogs and guest blogs...so that if I ever need to reuse one I can find it quickly. I have a folder of biographies. I name them 100-words, 2 paragraphs, long, light hearted, serious. LOL So that when someone asks me for a bio, I can find the one they want quickly. I can also see when they were last updated...and know if I need to read it over before I send it.

Life is just so much easier when you're organized, if only for ease of finding things. And, really, organization takes a second...sometimes looking for something can takes days or hours...if you ever find it at all.

So, do yourself a favor. Buy a spiral notebook for every project, albeit a series or a standalone book. Keep track of your characters. Keep track of your plot points. Keep track of everybody's hair and eye color. You will be so glad you did.

Happy Monday...From the Beach! Yes, I actually did get that vacation!

susan meier

Monday, September 15, 2014

Still Crazy After All These Years

There are two debates that run almost constantly in my head. Debate #1 is...

If it's a surprise from a character that makes a book click, why do I plan any of it?

Seriously...At some point in every book I say, oh for heaven's sake! That's why the heroine believes that. Or I never knew the hero felt that way. Or what a scamp he is! Or, wow, that surprise just took the whole book to another level.

So if it's the "surprise," the unknown element of the story, belief of a character or behavior of a character that makes a story...why do any planning? Why not just write?

Why not?

Because you have to have structure. Just as you have to have a diving board to get to that point where you're in the air (able to contort your body) for your dive, you have to have  springboard for characters to begin moving, talking, displaying their true selves.

It's also kind of convenient to have the fence of plot. "Nobody moves beyond this point!" keeps your characters from taking the story in a direction you don't want them to go.

Also, you probably have some marketing constraints. Even if you're writing a single title, if you're writing a single-title small-town story, your characters can't decide to move to the city.

So planning gives your characters a story, a playground, some avenues...and a fence. From those spring (hopefully) a really great story.

That's why I plan. (No matter how many times my internal plotter grumps about why she plots at all when my characters just mess everything up. LOL)

What's the second question I debate all the time?

Why do I bother with promotion?

LOL! Seriously! I do tons and tons and tons of stuff to "get myself or my name out there" yet there is no change in my sales ##s from book to book.

Like a good story, I firmly believe good promotion is self-perpetuating. I believe that after reading my book, a reader should tell her friends about it. :) Or she should go to my Facebook page and write something nice. Or write a review on Amazon or Goodreads.

So if the best book promotion is dependent upon the actions of a reader (which of course is dependent upon me having written a GREAT BOOK)...why do I have to do any promotion. (And btw, I'm not asking out of laziness or overwork...though the overwork thing has really been a battle lately, I'm asking out of genuine curiosity...You know how I love to analyze.)

And my conclusion to the whole promotion debate?

Just as the way characters need the fence of a planned-out plot, readers need a place to find you. Facebook, twitter, a webpage, a blog have to be created as places where a reader can go to find out a little bit about you, so that if or when she wants to tell her friends about you and your books, write a review or even comment somewhere that she loved your last book, she has somewhere to go. And you've been there enough that she's comfortable with you and comfortable writing something.

It's a strange correlation, isn't it? Stories and characters need a platform the same way you, as an author, do. Or maybe my brain is a bit off, oxygen deprived from deadline blues? But a lot of life is like that. A circle. You can't get a book without characters and characters can really screw things up without the fence of plot. And you can't have a strong readership without readers (LOL!) but they can't tell the world about your book without a platform.

So...even though it frequently feels worthless...create a plot before you start writing your book. (Even if it is just a one-line idea.) And have a Facebook page, a Facebook launch party, a twitter account, a website, a Goodreads presence so readers have somewhere to go to tell the world they loved your book. :)

Happy Monday...Happy Reading

susan meier

Monday, September 8, 2014

What Can We Say on a Monday When I Have Revisions Due?

How About...Get your butt working!

I am working. I'm working really hard. I just paused for a bit here on Friday night because I was thinking about a conversation I had with my sister this week. I've been successfully dieting for three weeks. I say "successfully" because technically I've been unsuccessfully dieting for an entire year and not losing any weight. But a few weeks ago my trainer weighed me. Yes. Faint, right? She weighed me. And there we were in that little room with her seeing my real weight.

Shudder

The goal is to lose one pound a week, so by God, when the next week came and I had to step on the scale...I intended to be down a pound. I was. Actually, I was down three. The next week I was down two. This week I hope to continue my downward spiral and I'm pretty confident I will. Why? I 'm not merely motivated. I have a system. No kidding. I eat weight management oatmeal for breakfast, a weight watchers frozen meal for lunch and a light supper. I can eat weight watcher's ice cream for snack and these little packets of snacks I buy from an online company called Graze. In order to lose weight and save face, I DO NOT DEVIATE from that plan.

I do the same thing with writing. I have systems. I have schedules. I get up at six thirty, drink my coffee, read my emails, take my son to Starbucks and when we return I go upstairs with my laptop and no one sees me until after eleven. Noon, if I don't have an appointment with my trainer that day.

Most people believe having a system is a good way to assure your productivity. But the effect of the system actually runs deeper than that. Come eight o'clock my brain is awake and working. Because that's what it does everyday, I have it trained to start working at eight. If Mikie happens to take longer in Starbucks than normal, my brain begins writing as I'm waiting in the car.

Systems for things like figuring out characters, plotting, getting to your desk every day at a certain hour and working for a specific amount of time don't just work because they get you working...they work because your brain likes them.

Just like a little kid, it likes to be told what to do. It also likes to be reminded of the neuropathways to take for things like creating a character, filling in a storyboard or writing a synopsis. When you pull out a chart or an empty storyboard, it says, "Oh, yes, I know this." And it gets to work.

Now, just in case your brain becomes too familiar with your tools and starts coming up with the same kinds of stories...or in case your brain shuts down when it sees charts and graphs, there's always the list of twenty. What are twenty DIFFERENT ways I can open this book? What are twenty NEW plots I haven't written?  Give your brain a clear question and good soldier that it is, your brain will come up with 20 answers.

You might not be able to use them all. :) In fact, I can guarantee about three-quarters of them will be silly putty...But really? Who's going to turn down FIVE new openings? Or FIVE new plots?

The value of the list of twenty is immeasurable because the number of questions you can ask is as high as you can think up questions...That's a bad sentence, but it's Friday night and you get my drift.

So if you're having trouble writing, set a schedule and don't deviate. Train your brain to come alive at eight (as mine does...even in church...which is why I carry a pen and small tablet to mass, much to my husband's dismay). Give your brain a chance to have fun by using the list of twenty. And USE the fact that your brain likes schedules and likes to be guided with tools like storyboards, character charts, instructions for how to write a synopsis. And have fun!

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading...

susan, the scheduled. :)