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. :)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Fixing a Character

I just finished giving CAN THIS MANUSCRIPT BE SAVED to a Sisters In Crime Group. I love Sisters In Crime! Great writers.

Anyway, The issue of character likeability came up (as it always does) in the section on Words. Watching your words. Making sure your words are giving the impression you want them to give.

I like wisecrackers. I like banter. I like men confident in their sexuality who tell the heroine just how attracted they are to them.

Unfortunately, sometimes my wisecracks come across as arrogance or even meanness. My banter can sound childish. (Anyone's banter can sound childish.) And those sexy remarks my heroes make? Yikes. They can really get me into trouble.

So .. the fix?

First of all, if your H and H are bantering...make sure what they're talking about...well, fits. Your banter can be goofy as all get out, even immature, but if it fits into the scene and the story and has a purpose (even if that purpose is to prove how far each will go before they lose an argument...or how hard they'll work to get the last word) or is very sexy...then you're probably okay.

But if they are bantering in every other scene, maybe foolishly, perhaps without purpose, it may grow tiresome...or, worse, lose impact.

Second, if your hero is always telling the heroine what he wants to do with her or how he will someday get her into bed, he can easily come across as one dimensional. Hah. Didn't expect that did you? You thought I'd say something more like he'd come across as being an idiot (since that seems to be one of my favorite words).

The truth is to have a hero who is "real"...a "real" person, somebody we can relate to and be attracted to...he has to have more than sex on the brain. And sometimes it's those very scenes where he doesn't spout innuendos, flirt or try to unnerve the heroine that make him all the more sexy.

Third, watch your words. Don't repeat the same description. Don't repeat the same actions or reactions. And make sure the words you use are giving the right impression. I use the example of a friend who had her character use the word insurrection in the middle of a bar fight. Her intent was to show her heroine was educated...the actual impression she gave was that her heroine was a snob.

Words are our business. You should love giving thoughtful consideration to making sure the ones you use give the right impression and build the character, not create a confusing collage of mismatched descriptions, actions and reactions...Remembering, my lovelies, that reaction phrases tell a great deal about your character because reactions are automatic. If he's always scratching his armpit when confused...well, you get the picture. LOL

Happy Monday and Happy Reading...

susan meier

Monday, August 25, 2014

Your Character's Fatal Flaw

As you all know...I'm neck deep in two deadlines. So I decided to pull up an older post as this week's writing blog. I read through this and laughed. Just what I needed to hear myself!

I hope you enjoy Segment 2 of the RWA Nationals Workshop, Flaw ...

Happy Monday, and welcome back to our notes for the CREATING THE PERFECT HERO workshop I gave with Jenna Kernan and Deb Mullins at RWA 2011.

Today's segment is your character's flaw...Enjoy.

***

I don’t like the term fatal flaw. Because it sort of gives us the sense that our character should have a big, awkward, sometimes disgusting, flaw that prevents or precludes him or her from loving or being loved.

That can be true. There are plenty of successful “scar” or “wound” romances out there. But a huge flaw isn’t necessary for a successful story. A HUGE CONFLICT IS…but that’s our next segment.

For right now, let’s talk flaw.

What is a flaw? Something unique to your character that can be perceived as negative. A fear. A habit. An addiction. An attitude. A physical imperfection.

Why have a flaw?

Because no one is perfect. Seriously. I once heard a speaker tell a story of a book someone sent to her for a critique. The manuscript had been rejected by EVERYONE in the early 80’s when no one was getting rejected and the writer couldn’t figure out why.

The book begins with the heroine graduating from nursing school. She lands the perfect job. Finds the perfect apartment. Her landlords are a loving old couple who dote on her. She finds a great car, cheap. And the most handsome doctor in the hospital falls for her.

Sound interesting? Maybe. But is it a compelling story? Not even a little bit.

A great story is four things. Interesting, compelling, credible and consistent.

For something to be interesting it simply has to catch our attention. Credible…it only has to make sense. Consistent…if the guy is afraid of heights on page 12, he’d better at least shiver at the possibility of scaling a wall to save the heroine in chapter 12.

But for a book to be compelling, readers really want to be able to connect with and root for the main characters.

Do we root for perfect people? Sometimes. But they don’t resonate with us. We don’t connect to them because most of us have flaws, quirks.

But if you have a hero who longs to be understood after a past riddled with mistakes – lots of readers can identify. If you have a straightforward, strong, smart hero who drinks (like Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone) and can’t quit his addiction (thought he manages it) you have a character who intrigues us. Especially those of us who aren’t alcoholics. We’re curious about what makes this guy tick. Why would he risk everything for the contents of a bottle?

A flaw can be something as simple as someone who hates spiders (adding interest or maybe humor to a story) or something as intense as Jesse Stone’s alcoholism. But whatever you choose, the flaw needs to fit the story.

A hero with obsessive compulsive disorder like Monk’s on the TV show Monk, added humor but it was also the reason he was the great detective that he was. He saw things others didn’t. Because he was always looking.

But flaws don’t always have to be something you can use for good. Sometimes they are part of what the main characters have to overcome to achieve their happily ever after.

Whitney Ross in my book THE BABY PROJECT could not move beyond her husband’s suicide because he also killed their child. She had to overcome that. Jesse Stone’s alcoholism interferes with his life. And though he can’t seem to overcome it, he manages it.

So your character’s flaw has to have a purpose.

The purpose we see most often is the one where the hero (or heroine) has a flaw they have to overcome to save the heroine (or hero) from the villain.

The fear-of-heights hero who must scale the wall in chapter 12 to save the heroine – proves his love.
The hero who quits smoking for the heroine, proves his love.

But those kinds of sacrifices also demonstrate character growth…one of the biggest bugaboos for beginning writers.

Every editor, every agent…every reader…whether they know it or not, wants to come away from a book with the sense that the hero and/or heroine have grown -- that LOVE makes us more. Makes us better. Or if you’re not writing romance, that our challenges make us more…make us better!

Correction of little flaws can be used along the way in a book to show the hero and heroine adjusting to each other or their situation. Committing to each other.

Because we cannot resolve the CONFLICT that keeps them apart, (or the book would be over) these smaller steps of flaw correction throughout the story can demonstrate the hero and heroine becoming committed to each other.

I just read a book wherein the heroine was a workaholic. The first time she skipped out on work to see the hero, we all knew she was seriously falling for him.

Now, she didn’t totally correct the flaw. But she took a step. A big step and that spoke volumes.

So don’t give your hero a limp just to satisfy one of those things on the list of things every romance novel must have.

THINK THROUGH YOUR FLAWS. Think about how you will use them. Think about what they will say about your character. Think about how they will affect plot. Think about what purpose they will serve in character growth.

And think about what it will mean if they don’t correct the flaw. Will it be more important for the heroine to accept the hero’s flaw? Sometimes rather than fix it, the heroine’s acceptance will be the greater plot point!

Which takes us to incorrect core beliefs.

***

We'll talk about incorrect core beliefs, or internal conflict, next week.

Until then...Happy Writing!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Scenes

One of my favorite lessons in the CAN THIS MANUSCRIPT BE SAVED workshop is the lesson on scenes. I believe scenes are the place writers have the biggest opportunity to shine. They are the building blocks of story. So it's in scenes that you get to SHOW the romance, or scare readers, or fascinate them, or demonstrate the vagaries of life.

Your characters can't exist without scenes. Oh sure, you can put your characters in a sentence, but without the action of a scene, they're just words on a page.

Your story is nothing but an idea until you divide it up into scenes.  Scenes, their length, their order, create pacing. Scenes determine whether your story will be a breathless adventure or ... well, a journey walked through knee-deep oatmeal.

The unsung heroes of storytelling, scenes are like the organized assistant behind the successful businessman. They do most of the work in your book but get very little of the credit. LOL Characters hog it all.

Scenes blow me away. They are so full of power and potential.

So today, when you sit down to do your day's writing, don't just think about hitting your word count. Think about your scene/s. Think about the purpose of the scene or scenes you're going to write. Think about the best length for maximum drama. Remember, you're showcasing character through action. Remember that a scene poorly written slows down a book. Remember that the order of scenes determines how exciting, emotional or intense a book is.

Pause before you write. Think about the power of your scene.

And have a happy Monday. :)

susan meier