Monday, February 24, 2014

Over similed...

You're right. Similed isn't a word. LOL But, oh, ye gawds, does the problem exist.

Like a car stuck in a snow drift, her thoughts couldn't go anywhere.
Excitement roared through him like an avalanche.

Nothing wrong with either of those, but put too many similes like that into a segment of prose back-to-back-to-back and readers will be dizzy from al the images you're throwing at them. Although, it was kind of me to stick with snow in mine! LOL

We live in a time in reading/writing history where readers want details. They want to feel everything the hero and heroine feel. (Which sometimes causes head-hopping but that's not why we're here!) And because they want to feel everything the hero and heroine feel, we find ourselves groping for images. Things readers can quickly identify with and process. That's good.

But when you overdo, your story begins to hit one note...or those carefully crafted images that make perfect sense begin to look cartoonish.

Okay...I just heard someone laugh out loud.  You just read a book like that, didn't you? Overuse of those whooshing, swooshing, roaring lust vibes that took you out of the story and did begin to feel cartoonish.

So we're on the same page.

The trick to preventing your beautiful similes and metaphors from becoming cartoonish isn't always to cut down on how many you use, though some of you might have to. (I say that with all the love in my heart.) The trick is to remember there are five senses. If you've overdone whooshing, swooshing, roaring lust (or tingles, or arousal, or need), remember your character doesn't just feel. He can also see, taste, smell and hear.

There's also action. Those whooshing, swooshing, roaring feelings are reaction. I LOVE reaction because I think those reaction phrases actually demonstrate character. But when you have too many, you run the risk of painting a bad picture (and losing your reader). It's also a sign that maybe it's time for action. Or time for your character to hear something -- which can ground a reader into the setting -- or see a glint of sunlight, reminding the reader that it's a beautiful sunny day.

Break it up. Shift it around. Give readers the whole experience. Don't just hit one whooshing, swooshing, roaring lust note.

And don't read that advice and think there's a formula. Action/reaction/hear a sound. Action/reaction/smell the roses. No. No. Writing is an art. Once you learn the craft end, it should flow. You shouldn't want a formula. You should want something that flows and breathes and feels like real life.

Your words should create an environment where your characters' actions catch readers by the hand and draw them into a new world. A world they can see and feel and taste and touch through your characters in the same way a real person sees and feels and touches. Not with similes on steroids. But in a way that draws them in so far they feel they're part of the scene, not reading.

Okay. Tall order. I get it. But read some of the greats. They don't over do. They wield those similes and metaphors like a sharp, effective sword.

Alice Orr once said that description and backstory are like seasoning. In the same way that you don't want too much salt or pepper, and you season your food as it needs it, you should sprinkle in backstory and description.

I'd say the same is true for the roaring, whooshing, swooshing feelings. Just like salt, you need those images for your story. But put in too much and you ruin the image, your scene and maybe even your character. :)

Happy Monday and Happy Reading...

susan meier

Monday, February 17, 2014

Memorable Stories

After really good posts on emotional intensity and layering -- good because they are things writers are interested in not because they were well written -- LOL! -- I struggled to come up with a topic for this week.

So let's see .... what tops emotional intensity and layering ...

Taking a story from great to exceptional...memorable.

Let's start with the obvious. Most of us don't even shoot for memorable when we begin writing. We focus on coming up with something that works. Not that we consciously think, "I don't care if it's memorable." LOL We are pragmatic because we need to know all the building blocks for a workable story/book are there.

Then we come up with wonderful characters, people who can do justice to our story and we write. We usually pour our whole heart and soul into our story because we're writers and that's what we do. :)

But does any of us ever stop and say...Hum. This is good. Maybe even potentially great. What would make it exceptional?

In category romance, we sometimes laugh about how many "tropes" or hooks an author puts into her story, but an ordinary nanny story can be made exceptional if her boss is a billionaire, rancher, or bad boy.

Which means "exceptional" for category romance might be something different than it is for single title...or paranormal...or thriller.

Last night on a rerun of Castle, about 2/3 of the way through the hour, the police thought they'd solved the crime. Castle said, "But it's not a good story." And Beckett replied, "It's real life. Sometimes the story isn't good. It's obvious."

Not accepting that, Castle dug a little deeper and realized they had the wrong person in custody. The neat and tidy resolution they'd found to the crime was so neat a tidy to him (and his writer poker buddies) it looked like a frame-up.

When Castle dug deeper, and convinced the police to help him, they realized the victim's brother was bankrupt, and stood to gain millions of dollars when his dad died if his sister was out of the picture, so he killed her and framed an easy/obvious suspect. If they'd stopped at the easy answer, the wrong person would have gone to jail.

Is that what we do to our stories? Look for the easy answer? The easy black moment? The easy conflict? The easy characterization?

Do we ever think, like Castle, "But it's not a good story..." and dig just a little deeper?

Sometimes digging a little deeper simply requires asking the question "What if?"

But other times it takes a list of 20 or several lists of 20. Find twenty answers to How can I make this book exceptional? Or how can I make this hero sexier? Or how can I make this heroine more likeable? And before you know it, you'll have lots of choices for ways to make your book better than your original idea.

Happy Monday and Happy Reading...

susan meier

Monday, February 10, 2014

Emotional Intensity

Another question in January's class dealt with the rejection of a manuscript because of lack of emotional intensity. The class attendee asked exactly what that meant.
Here's my answer...
Emotional intensity comes in many forms...It manifests (usually) in those reaction phrases we discussed.

Remember when we talked about the difference between a character reluctantly agreeing and straightening her shoulders, looking the villain in the eye and getting into his personal space?

Don't you feel the emotion? The reluctantly agreeing 'hits' the reader one way. The shoulder straightening, looking the villain in the eye, getting into his personal space 'hits' the reader another way.  A more intense way. It tells us about character, even as it puts the reader into the story...feeling that emotion.

That's what you want.

So emotional intensity can be words. Your editor's comments can stem from the fact that you don't have any reaction phrases in your ms...but remember...use reactions sparingly. You don't want your characters overreacting either! (Making the story melodramatic instead of dramatic.)

Second, emotional intensity comes from stakes. If we know the hero's goal is to find the man who murdered his son, and he comes across the guy in the coffee shop...readers are going to gasp. Is he going to shoot him? Is he going to stalk him? What's he going to do?


If the heroine needs to marry a duke to get her inheritance, and she learns the duke she secretly loves ran away and got her getting that news and her reaction. Especially when she then realizes her only choice now is to marry the bad duke who is always drunk and gambling. And then she has to go to the gambling hell (? I think that's what they called it) and propose to him in front of the entire town -- when no one knows she's only marrying him to get her inheritance which adds to her humiliation ... That's a totally fictitious scenario that might not be possible in a regency romance LOL...but just a way to show you how you use actual events playing out, raising the stakes, to demonstrate emotional intensity.

Third, when we talk about stakes, those stakes have their 'roots' in the past (so to speak). If our regency heroine who must marry a duke is afraid of men because one of her father's friends raped her when she was twelve, then having to marry at all will terrify her...because she equates sex to fear and it brings up all kinds of bad memories...upping the stakes and raising emotional intensity.

So...Your characters have to want things, like a marriage, but have conflicts to getting those things, like loss of the man she wanted and a rape in her past that makes her fear men and sex, but the character must NEED THOSE THINGS SO MUCH that she (or he) is willing to face their greatest fears to get them.

THAT'S emotional intensity.
I thought that was a good enough question and response to share!
Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!
susan meier

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Once again...if you're looking for the "writing" blog...just scroll down! :)


Hey, everybody...DARING TO TRUST THE BOSS is finally available. It has to be one of my favorite books that I've written. Partially set in beautiful Italy. With a billionaire. And a woman very determined to make her own way in life. It was a blast to write. And I'm told it's fun to read! LOL

The magic of the Mediterranean…
When accountant Olivia Prentiss joins Tucker Engle's company, she's unceremoniously demoted—to stand in as his PA! However, Tucker's not in for an easy ride. Olivia's worked hard to get where she is now, and refuses to bow to her gorgeous boss's commands—however fearsome his reputation.
But soon Olivia begins to see there is far more to her boss than meets the eye. And on a business trip to Italy, she sees straight through Tucker's hard and proud exterior to a man with a far more vulnerable edge….

Monday, February 3, 2014


At the end of the workshop I taught in January, I allowed readers to ask any question they had about writing...any question at all. LOL A question came in about layering...the attendee had sent a book to a category publisher and the editor had told her her submission wasn't "layered" enough. She asked what that meant...and here's my answer... 

Many, many, many years ago, I wrote a book for Sil Romance called THE BOSS'S URGENT PROPOSAL. The story was simple: heroine had been in love with her boss for the 5 years she'd worked for him, but he never noticed she'd decided to throw in the towel and move back to Georgia and forget him.
She turns in a notice, which he doesn't acknowledge -- because he never even looked at it. So on her last day of work, he's shocked that she's leaving. He 'urgently' asks her to give him the weekend so she can show him the ropes of what she does...and she reluctantly agrees...She agrees reluctantly because she's already moved out of her apartment and has nowhere to stay for the weekend and she's not sleeping her car. He invites her to stay at his house.
So, I have boss/secretary, a long time crush, close proximity and a ticking clock.
Mary Teresa Hussy, who was standing in for my editor for a reason I can't remember, called me late on a Friday night and said, his character needs more layering. Oh, and can you have it done by Monday.
I didn't have a lot of time. (Understatement) So all I could do was add a line here and there of him remembering his deceased fiancée.
That book was my first book to be an RT top pick. They "loved" the layered storyline. LOL 
The trick to having a layered character is to give him an interesting, difficult, or jumbled up past, something that kind of collides with the heroine's story and affects both of well as the romance.
In Daring To Trust the Boss, the hero was a former foster child, who was almost obsessive compulsive in the way he dressed and behaved, not wanting ever to look like someone who didn't fit into the billionaire world he'd edged his way into.
The heroine had been sexually assaulted (she got away before she could be raped) by the town rich kid, who, of course, was never prosecuted. She embarrassed and humiliated herself by coming forward, then the people of her little town harassed her saying she'd lied about him attacking her and was only trying to extort money from him.
So we have a 3-tiered hero. Former foster kid, who isn't comfortable with who he was, and who isn't sure he (the real "he") fits anywhere.
And a harassed heroine, determined to make her way in the world...but also very determined to be herself, the real person she is, because if she doesn't, then the old boyfriend wins.
He's hiding behind a façade. She's "out there."
Notice how many layers there are to that. And also notice that they all relate to things that happened in their past. He grew up believing he had to be perfect and never really discovered who he was.
You don't "tell" readers that on page one. There are enough conflicts that this last one can slowly reveal itself. Then being around her, he begins to long to be himself, to be with her because she likes the person he is underneath all his polish. But he fears letting go.
Do you see how "layered" that is? How slowly revealing these things makes his character more complex? 
She, at first, doesn't trust him. Then once he lets her take over a big project and she gets a taste of the freedom of having the money and authority to be the business person she always knew she could be, she soars. Because she's ready. And that only makes him want what she has -- that confidence and freedom -- all the more.
Now...All that is a very long way of saying that a book is about steps...Journey Steps (I call them...even do a workshop about it) of two characters going from who they are at the beginning of the story to who they are at the end of the story.
Your book could be set up like my Sil Romance was. A cute premise, close proximity, banter, flirting, sex, conflict ...but if you don't have those layers of character that come from things that happened in their pasts, then the story really is only a surface story.
What your editor wants is for you to go from the cute meet, set up, cute premise, banter, flirting story to one that has something in the characters' backgrounds that takes readers deeper and involves them in the characters' lives in a real, genuine, personal way.
Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!