Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dear Readers...I haven't forgotten you!

I spend so much time in this blog giving writing tips that I think readers might think I've forgotten them. Exactly the opposite. I love helping writers get published and/or improve their craft because I'm also a reader. So when I help writers, I'm helping all of us who love to read! LOL!!!!
Lately, I've been bouncing back and forth between paranormals and Jill Shalvis. So this week, I bought a romantic suspense. Just for a change of pace.

But it's also the season for holiday books and movies. My son, who is a huge lover of holiday movies, has already begun taping and watching them. Home Alone started it. My husband and I can be sitting downstairs watching TV (with the volume up) and we'll hear him howling with laughter over that movie.

But we love that. Christmas is a season of hope and joy. And I think laughter's a part of that. In fact, I'm a big fan of laughing. I love to find humor in simple things and I just like to laugh. Not to stress.

So this holiday season, when things are getting stressful...maybe when you're shopping or trying to find a parking space in a crowded mall...find something to laugh about. Ask God to bless the person who sneaks into your parking space or in front of you in the checkout line. Don't let an insensitive lout spoil your joy! We all deserve joy. Keep yours! LOL

For the writers among us, scroll down...there are lots of how to write blogs.

And for my readers...Merry Christmas. Post a comment (a seasons greeting) in my November 24 blog and be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card!

If it strikes your fancy, buy a copy of my Christmas book KISSES ON HER CHRISTMAS LIST. That's definitely one of those laughing through your tears book. Finley, the hero's daughter isn't one of the kids on Santa's "nice" list. In fact, she doesn't believe in Santa or Christmas because her mom left on Christmas day and she hasn't seen her since. The heroine has a big job ahead of her getting Finley to believe again...what she doesn't expect is that in the process she'll fall in love with Finley's dad, the one man she can't have.

Happy Reading!

susan meier

Monday, November 28, 2011

How to Come Up With A Great Story, Part 2

Last week we talked a bit about ten-book syndrome (which might be 2-book syndrome or 12-book syndrome for you since all of our careers are different!).

I suggested that you keep your old synopsis and start taking notes on your editorial comments in order to springboard yourself into becoming a better writer more quickly.

But today, the rubber meets the road.

We're going to discuss the lowest common denominator qualities I have found in all great books, regardless of genre.

Story, theme and vehicle.

I discovered that no matter what your genre, you have a story for your book …

Like: Boss falls in love with secretary. Werewolves invade a small mid-western town. A widow learns to live again after her son dies. A shy engineer finds love when she uncovers her wild side. (I call this a one-line summary by the way. You can use this as an elevator pitch at conferences. An editor says...What's your book about and you say, A widow learns to love again after her son dies. Now, note, it's not high concept. For it to be high concept...Oh, wait. There's too much there for me to try to explain that quickly. We'll talk about that in another blog. Just know that editors and agents know that YOU know your story, when you can boil it down to that one line! And believe it or not that's about all they need to hear to know whether or not what you're writing would work for them.)

I'm sure you already know you need to have a story, but what you might not know is that in addition to your STORY you also need a THEME. (Yes, even for something small like a category romance.) 

Like: Forgiveness is hard. Or you won’t ever find yourself if you don’t take risks. Or sometimes you have to come out of your comfort zone. Love conquers all. Don't judge a book by its cover. Live and let live. (To just touch on a few themes...)

Why? Because themes unify. They give a story direction. And, as a writer, you will appreciate having a little direction! LOL

Then you need a VEHICLE. This is what most people refer to as an external conflict.

Like: A boss falls in love with his secretary when they are stranded in a cabin in a snowstorm.

Do you see how being stranded facilitates the hero and heroine falling in love? It’s the “vehicle” that keeps them together long enough that they stop and really notice each other.

How about: Werewolves invade a small Midwestern town and when the heroine is captured by the leader and used as their source of information to take over the town, she and the Alpha fall in love.

Her capture is the vehicle. It gets and keeps the heroine and the Alpha together long enough to fall in love.

How about: Learning to care for his infant half-brother the hero falls in love with his co-guardian.

Learning to care for the infant is the vehicle.

How about: Investigating the murder of his brother the hero and heroine fall in love.

Investigating is the vehicle.

You can’t have a great story without a vehicle…something that gets them together and keeps them together. Without a strong, worthy vehicle, your book will read as episodic.

Now, reading those examples above, any one of them could be a category romance. How would we turn them into single titles?

By having enough threads connected to the vehicle.

Let’s take: Werewolves invade a small Midwestern town and when the heroine is captured by the leader and used as their source of information to take over, she and the Alpha fall in love.

To make this a single title, you could show his pack becoming disgruntled as he goes soft on the heroine, and mutiny when he officially makes her his mate.

You could also add that her father organizes a search party to find her…because he has an agenda of his own.

You could also add that the town bartender knew the werewolves were coming and wants to join the pack now before the townspeople find out and he becomes a liability.

Do you see how those threads take a simple, one-note story and turn it into something richer, more textured?

Now, you can’t just add threads willy-nilly. Notice how all of the above threads connect to the main story of the werewolves invading town? That’s how you keep a story tight and connected!

And one final point...the vehicle for a mainstream or thriller or straight suspense or science fiction or women's fiction doesn't act as a way to get and keep the hero and heroine together so they can fall in love. Rather, the vehicle in books other than romance is the "thing" that tosses your protagonist into the story in the first place.

Like: When faced with bankruptcy after her son is killed, a widow is forced to get a job at a daycare and learns to live again.

Getting a job at a daycare is the vehicle that helps her to learn to live again. (Going bankrupt is the inciting incident.)

Or: When terroists take over Texas (sure, why not? LOL), Colonel Art Mongtomery faces not just an unexpectly terrifying threat to the world but also his own personal demons when he's the one charged with taking back the state.

Being charged with the job of taking back the state is the vehicle that not only introduces him to the bad, bad terrorists, but also forces him to face his personal demons.

So there you have it.

Coming up with story ideas might be a very natural thing for you at the beginning of your career. But learning how to sort through them and pick the best ideas is a skill you need to acquire. It’s also wise to do a little analysis in your genre or subgenre to see what elements make the most successful stories successful.

And it doesn’t hurt to learn how to build an idea! You may not use the story, theme and vehicle model. You can create your own model for making sure you have enough elements to write a strong, rich, textured tale.

Happy Monday! 

Oh! Don't forget to scroll down to my Thanksgiving greeting and add a comment. I'll be chosing a person from those who comment to receive a $25.00 Amazon gift card.

susan meier

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Holiday Greetings Blog!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I wish you a blessed and happy holiday season. I love Thanksgiving. I really have been blessed.

I also love all the weeks leading up to Christmas. I love shopping and drinking hot drinks at Starbucks with friends, talking about the gifts we're buying our kids.

This year, I have a book KISSES ON HER CHRISTMAS LIST released on December 1, which will make the whole holiday season sweeter for me.

Because I'm feeling so lucky, I'm having a contest. To thank you all for a great year, I'm giving away a $25.00 AMAZON GIFT CARD. Post a comment to this blog...wish me a happy holiday, Merry Christmas, Happy Thanksgiving, Seasons Greetings, Happy New Year...anything...just post a comment and you'll be entered to win A $25.00 AMAZON GIFT CARD.

Happy Holidays...Seasons Greetings...Merry Christmas...Happy New Year!

Comment to be entered to win!

Winner will be drawn December 15.

susan meier

Monday, November 21, 2011

How to Come Up With A Great Story, Part 1

I have a lot of writer friends. Lots. LOL

One of the saddest things I’ve seen most of us go through is what I call ten-book syndrome. The inability to sell that tenth book.

Now, lest you miss my point, ten-book syndrome doesn’t have to happen exactly at book ten. But it happened to me at book ten. It also happened to most of my friends either right before (book 7 or 8) or right after (book 11 or 13) book ten. And it will probably happen to you too.

So what is the reason for this hellish, horrible torment I call ten-book syndrome?

Lack of a good idea.

What? Lack of a good idea? Preposterous. I have three million ideas. I have notes. I have workbooks. I have slideshow presentations of all the great ideas I'm coming up with!

No, you don't. (LOL) Right now you have three million ideas jumping around in your head. But as you write them, and editors criticize them and reject some of them, you will come to see that some of the ideas you have aren’t really good. They don’t work. Or some of them are partial ideas. Maybe good enough for a novella, but not whole books. And some might even only be good as story threads or secondary romances in better stories.


A good idea has to be strong enough to sustain an entire book.

If you’re writing a category romance, that means the story of how your hero and heroine fall in love has to have a conflict strong enough that readers won’t be sure these two can have a happy ending for at least 50,000 to 75,000 words.

If you’re writing a single title romance, there must be a bigger, broader story added to your romance, with enough story threads to create a rich, textured tale of around 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Now, tack onto this the fact that readers (and editors) expect you to become a better writer (better with words, better with scenes and better with plot) with every book and you will see that an idea that might have worked around book #3 might not work as book #11 because it’s not as strong as it needs to be to sustain the reader expectation that you’re going to get better with every book.

Sheesh! It’s no wonder so many people flounder and fail.

You bet it is.

So how do we get around this?

Well, the easy answer is to learn what it takes to have a great idea.

I know readers of this blog come from several different genres and write for multiple publishers, so no one answer that I give you will fit all.

But I can tell you this. After writing for awhile, most of us get a sense of “how much story” we need to have for whatever publisher, line or genre we're writing. So most of us are pretty good with that.

But how do you know the “better” stuff? How do you figure out what it takes to make your next book “better”?

Two tips...

1. Keep all your synopses. I didn’t do this and I was sorry. When I struggled, my then agent, Alice Orr, said, Go look at your last synopsis. See what you did. See what they liked.

And, well, I didn't have that old synopsis. (This was back before I had a computer!) So I was stuck!

The purpose of keeping your synopsis is to see what book 2 looked like, book 3, book 7…book 22. See what you did at a glance…and, suggestion…if you didn’t end up with a good synopsis…write one. Just two pages. That way, you can go back, review what you did…see if you are getting better, and your books are getting stronger. But more than that, see who you were as a writer. What you wrote. And also see (be honest) what you could have done better.

Because, remember, your goal is to be getting better all the time!

2. Start taking notes on your editor comments. I took a bundle of notes when I fell into ten-book syndrome and those notes became my most popular workshop CAN THIS MANUSCRIPT BE SAVED. I focused on editing as I was working my way through 10-book syndrome because that’s the angle I was getting from my [then] editor.  She wasn’t helping me come up with ideas but was helping me to “fix” my stories. But even those glory days were over. She wanted me to be able to work more independently. (I hang my head in shame that it took me that long to realize that! LOL)

So I took tons of notes of what she was telling me I was doing wrong, what needed to be beefed up, what wasn’t working, and the next time I hit a bad spot in a book, I figured out why myself!

But more than that, I boiled the qualities of a great book down to story, scene and word, and, later (because I kept studying!) I discovered the lowest common denominators of a great story. Not lowest common denominators for what makes a great “category romance” but lowest common denominators for a great story. Because at their hearts great books do have a few things in common (no matter what the genre). And, again, I got a workshop out of it. STORY, THEME AND VEHICLE.
But that's where we stop today. We'll talk a bit about those lowest common denominators next week!

By the way, if you're one of my regular readers and you want to thank me for being so candid about could pre-order KISSES ON HER CHRISTMAS LIST! [LOL...not really shameless self promotion...just an honest request...since I do need to pay my mortgage! :)]
Happy Monday!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Are You Having Trouble With Your WIP?

Several of my friends are doing NaNo. Also, I was lucky enough to teach a class called Prepping For NaNo and some of my students are reporting back to me.

Actually, the ones reporting back are the ones who are having a great time writing because of all the prep work we did last month. Which makes me smile.

We can't go into all the things I taught last month. But there are two tricks you really should try if you hit a brick wall.

First, write a one-paragraph ditty stating what your book is REALLY about. Don't say details. Just give yourself a straight-as-as-arrow rundown so you can see your story.

i.e. The hero and heroine must catch a killer, but she's already been arrested for the crime and he's the DA prosecuting her.


Driving back from Vegas, where the heroine ran when she realized she couldn't marry her fiance, the hero and heroine are incredibly attracted. But she's the boss's daughter and he's a total stranger to her, and when push comes to shove, the hero also realizes he can't get involved with another woman who's already committed to a man. Because no matter how much she seems to like him now, when they get home, she could see her distraught fiance, decide she really does want to marry him after all, and the hero will be the one with the broken heart.

Reading either of those could get and keep you on track when you're at a loss for what to write. You all probably like the second one better because it drops in a few plots points. But when you're in a tizzy after having written 33,000 words and your brain is sort of mush, either one would remind you of the heart of your story and help you to refocus.

Another reason we get off track is that we get too picky. You've written 17,500 words that you believe are golden, but the next day everything you want to write seems trite.

So you stall.

The answer to your problem is to let your brain go. Since you don't want to spoil the WIP with its golden 17,500 words, don't write a a could, might, must and should list.

This could happen.
This might happen.
This must happen (to make the plot work).
This SHOULD in a romance the hero and heroine SHOULD kiss and maybe even make love a time or two. The conventions of your genre need to get into your book too.

Anyway, make this "list of scenes" for the remainder of your book. The scenes that could happen, the scenes that must happen, the scenes that might happen (but you're still vetting them), the scenes that should happen (get those genre conventions in).

Let your brain go wild. Come up with ridiculous answers. Come up with trite stuff. Come up with anything you feel like. Why? Because you're not going to use all the scenes in this list. It's really only a list of suggestions for you to look at and ponder to wake up your brain.

So go nuts. Give your brain lots of potential scenes to look at every morning. Some days you really will pick 2 or 3 of them to write. But other days that list of scenes will serve merely as a way to wake up your brain. You'll say, "Yeah, that could happen ... but wouldn't it be better if..." And guess what? You're writing.

And isn't that the point? ou're looking for ways to get yourself into the story again...and if that one-line/one-paragraph ditty about your story doesn't work, then the could, might, must and should list certainly will.

Happy Monday


Monday, November 7, 2011

Organic Writing

A few years ago, a lot of us were stumped by the term organic writing. Editors began showing up at conferences saying, "What I'm really looking for is organic writing." Or "I want the plot to flow organically."

And, in the audience, writers were saying, "Huh?"

Simply put, organic writing is when the actions of your characters flow naturally -- organically -- because the story is being driven by the character/s. Not dragged along by the plot.

The need for the concept of "organic writing" came about as a result of so many writers coming up with four or five high points (plot points, if you will) for their stories, then struggling feverishly to "hit" those points.

That's one (of many) reasons I don't like to set out my four or five plot points as if they are something special. They are. (I know they are.) But I don't let myself make too big of a deal out of them.


Because I don't want my characters racing ahead, working to get to those points or lagging behind for fear of hitting a high point too soon. I want the story to flow naturally.

That's why I use (and may have made up) Journey Steps. I like to see an action, followed by a reaction, which causes someone to make a decision and as we all know decisions lead to actions.

Journey Steps are ALL the steps your character takes to get from who he is at the beginning of the book (the terrible trouble, inciting incident, day/moment everything changed) to who he is at the satisfying conclusion.

Notice how if you see your entire book as a journey of growth, those four or five points will still fit, but your perception of the book as a journey helps you to see things more ... dare I say it? ... organically ... flowing from the character as he or she grows and changes.

Actions lead to reactions which lead to decisions which lead to actions which lead to reactions which lead to decisions...

That nice little train can be a magic formula for plotting, but it can also be a way to assure that your writing is organic...or stemming logically from characters' true behavior.

If you're working on a scene and it feels like you're doing a heck of a lot to manipulate your character into doing what you're probably not writing organically. And you may want to go back to your synopsis, storyboard or outline and ask yourself...what do I need to set up early on so that the actions/reactions and decisions of my characters flow naturally to those four or five high points of the story.

Happy Monday