Saturday, January 26, 2013

One-Paragraph Story Summary

I'm working on a new idea for Harlequin Romance. Every time I start a book I do it the same way. I come up with an interesting premise...Brand new CPA ends up working as an administrative assistant and isn't happy about it. Especially when she falls in love with her boss.

Kinda cute! A tad different.

But after that my brain says...okay now what?

I could tell the above story a hundred different ways. I could make it funny. I could make it sad. I could make it all sparkly and shiny with glittery corporate stuff...or glittery social life stuff...because let's face it. Her rich boss could take her to some fun places. Or he might want her to help him plan a big party. He could want to work at his beach house. He could fly her to Paris. She could be taking notes at a congressional hearing.

I won't know the real story until I run it through the one-paragraph story summary a few times, not just to narrow down the possibilities but to give me some structure. And also to help me figure out the story I WANT to tell.

So what's the one-paragraph story summary?

Your premise/hook: Boss/Assistant story where heroine doesn't want the position!

Coupled with the characters' goals, motivations and conflicts that result in a black moment...

Followed by a statement of growth that results in a happy ending.

I'll probably spend all day today and most of tomorrow pairing my premise with various goals, motivations and conflicts. Those goals, motivations and conflicts will tell me which character needs to grow, how that lack of growth results in a black moment and how that growth will result in a happy ending.

For me coming up with a story is all about doodling...or as one of my friends pointed out over the weekend...thinking.

But the truth is...thinking, pairing things up to see which grouping makes the most compelling story, for me is fun. Lots of fun.

And that's why I write for a living. I like coming up with stories. I like changing things out and looking for the story that hits just the right combination of humor, angst, lust, need, romance and longing, to create a compelling story.

Don't ever limit yourself to just "one" way to tell a story. Consider all the possibilities. And writing, especially coming up with new stories, will be a heck of a lot of fun!

Happy Monday!


Monday, January 21, 2013

Core Story Question

Core Story Question

I do a lot of teaching, especially online. And one of the greatest tricks I have found to help myself and other writers get to the heart of our stories is a core story question.

Like it or not, every time a reader picks up a romance, she expects certain things. Every time a reader picks up a thriller, she expects other things. Every time a reader picks up a sci-fi, she expects a totally different set of things.

And how do we know what readers expect from every book in the genre or subgenre currently popular?

Because at its heart every genre and subgenre has a core story question.

Every genre or subgenre has its own "signature" question that makes a book fit that genre. It’s a marketing tool for booksellers to know how to shelve books, but more than that it's also a tool that helps an author keep his or her book focused so it not only results in a tight book. . .it also ensures a book hits its market.

Some of you are going to rebel against this because you WANT to be writing mainstream. You WANT to appeal to a broad audience.

I agree. I applaud you, but don't turn away the tool that might jumpstart your story and give it enough focus that readers will love you.

For instance. . .

In CJ Lyons’ workshop, Thrills, Chills and Spills, How to Write the Modern-Day Thriller, she says, “The story question of a mystery is Who. Who done it?” LOL. The protagonist works to figure out who killed the cop, who murdered the mom, who blew up the bishop. Who done it?

The story question of a thriller is how? How will your protagonist save the world (albeit his or her own personal world) from the evil villain intent on destroying it?

That’s pretty obvious stuff. But how do YOU as author use it? How can it make writing your book easier? How can it make your book better?

To answer those questions, let’s look at the movie AIR FORCE ONE with Harrison Ford.

After the plane of the president of the United States is hijacked and most of the secret service agents on board are killed, it's pretty clear almost immediately that the president is going to have to save himself. So the question becomes how.

How will an aging military hero save himself when he's trapped on a plane, has no weapon, is outgunned and the villains are using his family against him?

Did you notice what I did there? I took the broad and general 'GENRE' question for a thriller (How will the protagonist save the world) and turned it into a concise story question for a specific story.

Because that's what makes your book unique. If you’re writing a thriller, the way you twist or turn or enhance YOUR version of the “how will the hero save the world” question is the way you make your book great, or different, or unique.

So right off the bat you need to know what genre you are writing so you know how to direct your story, but once you know that, you can manipulate the question with your story facts and make your story the best it can be.

The core story question of a romance seems to be:

How will the hero and heroine get together?

But that isn’t really a romance because there is no mention of conflict. And as we all know, conflict is at the heart of most great romance novels. So we need to show our conflict in that story question, which means we have to take that question one step further.

The real question is: How will the hero and heroine get together in spite of their external differences, and the intense internal conflict that separates them?

Without the distinction of conflict in your core story question, the answer to "How will they get together?" could be that a neighbor arranges a date and they have seven more dates and, boom, they get married.

You'd still have a book, but you wouldn't have a romance novel because your story wouldn't be rich or deep in the way that today's romance novels are. So adding the conflict into the core story question reminds you that you must have a conflict that keeps your novel focused.

Let’s take a look at the core story question for my book SNOWBOUND BABY, an oldie but a goodie for Silhouette Romance.

The heroine is a single mom who needs a commitment. Her parents stayed together for her sake, but the moment she turned 18 they divorced and then basically abandoned her so they could start the “new” families they’d always longed for.

The hero is the middle brother of three who were left to fend for themselves when their parents died . . . and run the family construction company. Because the oldest brother was 20, he became the “parent” to his younger brothers and didn’t do such a bang up job. In fact, the brothers got into a ripsnorter of a fight, and our hero left. His name is Cooper by the way. The heroine is Zoe.

So what’s the core story question?

How will an abandoned single mom who needs a commitment and a reclusive rancher who wants nothing to do with people ever get together when 1) they are stuck together in a cabin in the woods in a snowstorm; 2) he’s antisocial; 3) she believes she’s unlovable; and 4) as soon as the snowplow goes through they’ll never see each other again?

That question gives us a very strong sense of the book. Especially the conflict. She needs love and people in her life. He's antisocial. We can almost hear the banter! And the discomfort that would result. But by adding #4, we can also sense that once they do open up there's a ticking clock of sorts. They seem doomed!

And that's a great sense to have in a romance novel. You want your characters' romance to appear totally unattainable. It's a great way to have your characters longing for something they can't have and keep readers on the edges of their seats!

Any questions on the core story question? I’ll be happy to answer them.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Link to Can This Manuscript Be Saved

CAN THIS MANUSCRIPT BE SAVED is by far my most requested workshops. I'm giving it TWICE this year. Once LIVE for the So Cal Conference and once online for WritersOnlineClasses.

WritersOnlineClasses version begins February 1. Deadline to sign up is January 31. If you've ever wanted to attend this class...this is your chance. :)


Monday, January 14, 2013

Extra Content

I read an article this morning that discussed the benefits of extra content. "Extra content" being informational things you post on your website that connect you to readers.

Besides more work, what does this mean to you?

Well, probably nothing.


Because as wonderful as it is to have extra content on your many people actually go to your website?

More than that, though, how many books do you have AVAILABLE? Right now? If it's under ten...actually my current research is showing that if it's under 20...your time is better spent writing.

Or learning to write. Which is probably why you're here on a Monday morning. LOL

So, if I'm telling you extra content is WONDERFUL as long as it doesn't interfere with getting lots of books out there to satisfy your rabid fans, I should give you a bit of writing advice. goes.

I very rarely talk about subtext. Most of us have trouble getting our "text" to work. LOL So we shy away from even thinking about it. But subtext weaves its way into our work whether we want it to or not. LOL Mostly because subtext is a part of showing not telling.

What do I mean? Well, if your hero says, "Let's get back to the hotel," and slides his hand intimately down the heroine's back to the small of her back....we pretty much know what he's got on his mind. If we're in his POV and we hear her say, "That sounds like a great idea," but she stiffens, we know she is either afraid of what he has on his mind or disagrees with what's on his mind.

That's subtext...the what's really going on the scene.

If you stop thinking of subtext as being some big, evil thing you have to learn and just start showing reactions and actions, subtext will take care of itself. :)

Happy Monday


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Perogi Making Day!

I'm sort of Slavish. I say sort of because I'm half Irish. And given my red hair and freckles (and gift of gab) the Irish part seems to get more air time. So sometimes I neglect the Slavish half of my heritage.

But when it comes to cooking the Slovaks have it hands down. If it's doughy, breadlike and/or has cheese they have a version that'll make you fall to your knees and thank your maker.

For generations my husband's mom's family had a tradition of eating peroghis on Christmas Eve. I'm not much of a cook, so when his mom got too old to make the peroghis, he learned how. And let me tell you, he is a master.

So last month when my sister came over to help me make nut filled cookies to give as Christmas gifts, we decided to meet again in January to make peroghis. My husband will be our instructor and I will bring the wine.

We're hoping to make a tradition of "cooking once a month" because we both work from home. In the winter, working from home can be lonely! You don't realize how much you miss other people and inane conversation until there are none in your life. LOL

So today we're getting together to do a little cooking, share a bit of wine, and chit chat about our kids. Janette's girls both live away and my son and daughter also moved about a hundred miles away. The Johnstown area isn't famous for having jobs. :) We'll tell each other stories of Christmas and our kids' jobs and school work. And we'll both come away with a nice haul of peroghis. Not a bad deal.

Next month, I'm suggesting gobs -- whoopee pies to some of you. That's another thing people love to get as a gift. They freeze well and they taste divine.

So I'm off to cook. Wish me luck...

Oh, and, btw, my February book THE BILLIONAIRE'S BABY SOS is up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It's the last book in the Larkville continuity series for Harlequin Romance. When Clay Calhoun dies, his daughter finds a letter from his FIRST WIFE, a wife his kids didn't know about, telling him she's pregnant with twins, and they realize they have two half siblings. The stories center around bringing these two families together. One's from Texas. The other from New York city! Tons of fun. I hope you'll check it out.

Happy something fun today! Call your sister. Make some peroghis!


Monday, January 7, 2013

Writer's Resolutions...I mean goals. (And a workshop starting today that you may want to get into!)

Now that a week has gone by and most of your resolutions have gone to hell in a ham sandwich, let's talk about what you really should make for the new year...Goals.

I love goals. I talk about them all the time here. I even give a goals workshop. But someone recently attended my workshop and told me she'd *hoped* I'd tell her what to do. LOL She thought the title "goals for writers" actually meant I give everyone goals.

I don't. I like attendees to think for themselves! LOL

But this is a blog, and it's my blog and I make the rules so maybe we'll give that a shot. Me, telling YOU what goals you should have as a writer.

Okay. First, set a per "writing session" page goal.  Now, why do I say writing session instead of "day"? Because people with day jobs and kids can't always write everyday. Figure out how many days per week you can write, including Saturday and/or Sunday, and then decide how many words you want to get done in each session. Push yourself, but don't go overboard. Setting the bar too high is actually the greatest cause of procrastination. So know yourself. Figure out the days you can write. And set a per-session word count.

That'll be your first goal.

Goal two...Get out of your shell. Set a goal to enter a contest, go to a conference, join a writer's group. You'll be surprised what you can pick up from other writers over a margarita or in causal conversation at a conference. Get yourself out there!

Goal three...learn a new writing skill. Can you write a great synopsis? No? (I'm shocked.) Buy a book or attend an online class. (Scroll down to see the one I'm starting today...and check my Coming Attractions section on to see the great lineup of workshops I'm doing this year.)

No matter what your particular writing bugaboo there's an online class for it. So hunt around. Find the classes you need and take at least one. Then really "take" the class. Do the assignments, read all the lessons, truly learn the material. And this time next year you'll be so much further ahead than you are now that you'll write me a private email and thank me. :)

Goal four...Read. Seriously, I want to smack writers who tell me they want to publish but never read anyone else's work. Or someone who has targeted a publisher but has never read any of that publisher's books. An hour reading a day will net you over 50 books a year. If you don't have an hour every day, take an hour on Saturday and Sunday and you'll read a book a month...12 books a year, which is pretty good for someone who doesn't read at all. And you won't just get bragging rights. You'll become a better writer. Your ideas will be sharper and more interesting. You may just cross the line from unpub to pub...or from pub into the PUBLISHER or line you really want to write for.

So, those are the four most important goals for every writer. Set a per session word count. Come out of your shell. Learn a new skill. Read.

You do those, consistently, and you'll be much happier this time next year. :)

For those of you interested in taking a workshop...Today I start the LET CONFLICT TELL YOUR STORY workshop for the Maryland group. Here's the link

Here's the blurb

Good books are about people. Great books are about people in trouble. Not just external trouble, but real, gut-wrenching, soul-hurting trouble. Most of us can give our characters believable external struggles and even get them beyond those struggles, but what about that internal struggle? Can a leopard really change his or her spots? And if so how? What do editors and agents mean when they say your character has to grow? Join Susan Meier for LET CONFLICT TELL YOUR STORY FOR YOU. Learn the basis for every internal struggle and how to achieve believable character growth that can carry your whole story and give your characters a real happy ending.

This class is tons of fun. But also, I meant what I said when I told you to set the goal of learning a new skill. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Or, as some motivational speakers put it, you won't get a new or better result until you learn a new skill.

So get thee to some online classes.

Happy Monday


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Good books are about people. Great books are about people in trouble. Not just external trouble, but real, gut wrenching, soul hurting trouble. Most of us can give our characters believable external struggles and even get them beyond those struggles, but what about that internal struggle? Can a leopard really change his or her spots? And if so how? What do editors and agents mean when they say your character has to grow? Join Susan Meier for LET CONFLICT TELL YOUR STORY FOR YOU. Learn the basis for every internal struggle and how to achieve believable character growth that can carry your whole story and give your characters a real happy ending.

THIS WORKSHOP starts Monday, January 7.

There's still time :)


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Dear Reader Wednesday

Happy New Year!

I hope your holidays were as happy as mine were. Things are going to change at in 2013...I just don't know how yet! LOL

But I did realize that in blogging so much about writing, I've been neglecting readers! But that's partially because I share my somewhat silly life on facebook.  I'd love to have you join me at if you're interested in my life...or if you're interested in reading about my writing news.

For those of you not on facebook, let me catch you up...

My son got married last year. He and his fiancée eloped and were married in Aspen, Colorado. It was one of the most fun experiences of my life. Not only did we travel Independence Pass (shudder) but also Aspen is gorgeous. And the wedding was unique and fun. We're thrilled to have Alexis in our family.

Our cat Fluffy has a thyroid condition and now eats six times a day. :O He went from being 18 pounds to 12 pounds...even eating six times a day!

I received wonderful comments from readers on the two books I had out In 2012 THE TYCOON'S SECRET DAUGHTER and NANNY FOR THE MILLIONAIRE'S TWINS. They also reviewed very well...for which I am very grateful. I have three books out in 2013 THE BILLIONAIRE'S BABY SOS, A FATHER FOR HER TRIPLETS (about a heroine who bakes wedding cakes and has triplets...this one was tons of fun to write) and THE FAMILY CHRISTMAS SHE ALWAYS WANTED (working title). But I'm also doing the eHarlequin story in May. Which will be a free read at eHarlequin. And to top it all off I'm in an anthology with Shirley Jump, Barbara Wallace and Jackie Braun, three of my favorite writers. We decided to do four connected stories about a dog who continually runs away from his billionaire owner to match-make our unsuspecting heroines. It's cute and funny and with writers like Shirley, Jackie and Barbara, I think we have a real winner! LOL

So get ready for some fun this year! As soon as I figure out how to change the site, I'll let everyone know.

And I leave you today with my wish for a blessed, prosperous and above all happy 2013!