Monday, March 31, 2014

Digging Deep

I decided not to write this weekend. I needed to give my brain a bit of a break and to houseclean because...well, things were looking bad. :)

But, as always happens with a  writer, once I stopped thinking about my book, I began to get tons of inspirations. Enough that I constantly found myself running for a pen and paper (as I vacuumed and steamed the floors) and eventually I just put a notebook and pen on the kitchen table so I wouldn't miss a good idea.

What was coming to me so fast and furious?

Ideas about my characters. Not how they looked or the ping of sparkle that came to their gleaming white teeth. But things about them I hadn't realized last week as I was furiously writing toward my 3000 words per day goal.

For instance, Laura Beth, the heroine, is the third heroine of a three-book series about friends who graduate college and move to NYC to become big-time career women. Heroines 1 and 2 find themselves (where they belong in the career world) and love...leaving poor Laura Beth in the dust. This impacts lots of her decisions. But even after the decisions are made, she's still living with the sting of failing while her two friends have succeeded.

She doesn't want to return to Kentucky, so she takes a low level job in Italy that comes with room and board. At first she's so excited to be in Italy, on her own, working to get herself together in this low level job that feels like a reprieve, that she forgets her issues...but I can't! I'm the author. It's MY JOB to stir up trouble for her.

The hero was a foster child, whose wealthy father found him five years ago, just when he was breaking out as a painter -- not house painter, artist. :) Everything happened fast for him. His dad found him. He became famous. He became rich. He entered a whole new circle of friends, married a super model, built a big house...became accustomed to servants and jets and limos...

Then he discovered his wife was cheating on him right before she was killed in a plane crash. He didn't actually lose everything, but suddenly he wonders if any of it matters anymore.

I think you can easily see how his "big picture" troubles kept me from thinking about "the little things" that would give the story depth. There should be times in the story when the hero breaks down and tells the heroine about his foster child past. He should tell her that though he loves the father who finally tracked him down, he is angry that when his mother told his father about her pregnancy the wealthy old coot kicked her out of his office. Constanzo could have saved them a lifetime of pain if, for once in his life, he would have listened. I can't let his status as widow take over. There's more to this guy than just a dead wife. <3 p="">
And what about her? Why is it so important she succeed in New York? What happened to her? Olivia and Eloise, the heroines from the first two books had terrible pasts. Laura Beth comes from a loving family...why is she so driven?

Pausing to clean my house didn't merely cause these questions and realities to tiptoe into my brain, they made me think harder, dig deeper, find those things that will cause readers to gasp or to feel the characters' pain.

So if your house is neat as a pin, take a walk. LOL But take a pencil and paper with you. Because even when you think you know everything there is to know about your characters, a trip through their pasts might just net you that one emotional event or experience that can turn your story on its ear...or give you the connection you need to make with readers to give them a truly remarkable experience.

Happy Monday...And happy reading!

susan meier

Monday, March 24, 2014


I've been writing a workshop for the multi-genre writer's group, Pennwriters' annual conference in May. (See: for more info.) I'm doing two workshops. One on Characters and one on writing a 3-book series.

As I was working on the one for Characters, it struck me that well-structured character actions and reactions can make some of the most beautiful writing.

Nora Roberts is my favorite when it comes to writing that draws me in. I even use an example from one of her books VISION IN WHITE to show how actions can not just move a scene along; they can also get in description less clumsily.

Just as they reached the door, it opened. The man who stepped out wore an open coat, no hat, gloves or scarf. The wind immediately kicked the dark hair around his ridiculously handsome face. One glance at Mac had his well-cut lips curving and his sea-at-midnight eyes lighting.
   “Hey Macadamia.” He hoisted her up by the elbows, smacked a kiss to her lips...

What do we see there? 1. The person described doesn't react to cold. LOL 2. He has blue eyes and black hair and is handsome…yet never once does NR say…his eyes were blue…She gets those descriptions into action. 3. Subtext…he knows her. He likes her. He teases her…he calls her macadamia. A nut! LOL

Nora Roberts USES physical description and action to tell us a great deal about the character’s personality. But also to inform us about the relationship, even as she moves the story along.


Physical description is important in terms of making sure the character’s physical characteristics match their part in the story, but the way you present it can do double duty if you can tuck the description into an action or reaction. If your protagonist is ugly, for instance, people are going to react to that. If he’s handsome, same deal. If he’s average, the very fact that they don’t react can play into your story.


But also notice how Nora Roberts's paragraph flows. There's no story stoppage. (We interrupt this scene to give you an important description! LOL) Instead we are drawn in. We are in the moment with the characters.

That's good characterization and good writing. :)

Happy Monday...And happy reading.

susan meier

Monday, March 17, 2014

What to do when you're stuck

Yesterday, I woke, had coffee, watched some of the news...I can't function if I see too much bad news, so I monitor my daily intake. If I could do this with food, I'd be skinny.

Anyway, it was a normal day. I read through the first 2 chapters of a new proposal and loved them...just could have squeezed and hugged them, but when I read chapter three it fell flat. It shouldn't have. Everything was there. But it didn't read right. And suddenly I realized it wasn't the book...that chapter. It was me. My brain was so tired from everything I had done for PR for HER SUMMER WITH THE MARINE, that I could skim the first 2 chapters of my new project and pronounce them good (because I'd been over them 8,000 times) but the chapter I'd just drafted was mush because my brain was mush.

I immediately stepped away from the computer. Why? I didn't want to make things worse. I've been through this before and I know sometimes the worst thing to do is to push through when you don't have anything to give your story.

So what did I do...and why did I wake up feeling like writing today?

First, I considered my options. Work had caused the deadness of even if I worked on blogs or workshops rather than my book, it wouldn't heal my tired brain.

Then I considered housework. Menial tasks always revive my brain, but yesterday scrubbing the sink just wasn't doing it for me.

Then I realized I needed to do something for me. Something different. Something fun. So we rented CATCHING FIRE, bought popcorn and lazed around in our pj's all day, while eating popcorn.

But at the end of the day I also remembered something my trainer always tells me. Sometimes when you're emotionally or mentally exhausted you need to move. So I put on my new blueberry tennis shoes and went off to zumba class.

What are the takeaways?

When you are too tired to think, you can do your manuscript a great disservice. So ...

1. Step away. Get so far away from the computer that you can't even see it!
2. Give yourself options. Normally housekeeping is my go-to mundane activity to heal my brain. Yesterday, it wasn't cutting it. Why? I think because it was still part of a routine. And my brain wanted something different. My something different and your something different could be two totally different things. Some people like bubble baths. Some people shop. Some people eat out. There are lots of things you can do to rest your brain. Write a list of 20, give yourself choices so you really will rest your brain.
3. Once you've decided what you're going to do...throw yourself into it. Forget your book. (Buy the popcorn!)
4. Remember to move. My trainer is a very smart woman. She can take one look at me and know when I need to push physically to help myself mentally. If you don't belong to a gym and/or don't have lots of workout tapes, ride your bike, take a walk, run up and down your stairs! LOL Do something to get the blood flowing.

And most of all #5...don't be mad at yourself for needing a day off. I usually work six days a week. Lately, I've been working seven. How fair is that to my poor brain?

Taking a day off rather than pushing can usually reap the reward of a fully cooperative brain the next morning. It worked for me. :) Don't push yourself so much that you hit that wall that totally stops you...maybe for a long time.

Happy reading...

Oh, and don't forget HER SUMMER WITH THE MARINE will only be $.99 for one more week. Then it's up to full price. So get it while it's hot! LOL

susan meier

Monday, March 10, 2014


It's the day after the Oscars. I know. For you it's the week after the Oscars. But I'd already written last week's blog and didn't want you to miss it.

So for me, today is the day after the Oscars. :) 

I love the dresses. I love looking at the guys. (Sorry. I'll always be a fan girl.) But what I really like, what always strikes me, is the fact that everybody involved in the film industry from screenwriters to producers, directors, actors, lighting people... all talk about being storytellers...telling stories.  When they give their acceptance speeches they talk about falling in love with the "story" and wanting to bring it to life in such a way that the audience will see the beauty...That's storytelling.

Authors too frequently talk about writing books and in that slight twist, we miss something important. Something that would hit our souls, would resonate with our souls...and make our books infinitely better: the fact that we are telling a story.

Anybody can write a book. All you've got to do is think up a plot, give your characters some arcs, divide it into scenes and get it into your computer, and eventually onto paper. But how many people do you know who really know how to tell a story?

In my younger days, I had a friend who was a joke teller. It didn't matter where we were, fifteen minutes into any party or wedding or even funeral, my friend would have a crowd around her. Laughter would spill out into the room and her crowd would grow. Because her jokes were good? Some were. But, really, her jokes were good because she made them good. She knew set up. She knew how to deliver a punchline.

In thirty seconds, she could draw you in and then hit you with something that would cause you to belly laugh.

That's storytelling.

I talk about this a lot...especially after I judge contest entries...published or unpublished...because I think a lot of us "get it" that we have to be craftspeople, but few of us realize that, somewhere along the way, our process has to involve that magical part of us that knows how to lift the mundane into the sublime.

That happened big time with HER SUMMER WITH THE MARINE, the book I have releasing today from Entangled's Bliss line. I have to admit, this release is as much fun as my very first book TAKE THE RISK.

Why am I as excited/nervous about this book as I was for my first? Well, it's different. It might not be what readers are expecting from me...But, then again, it is.

To have a great story, I believe a book has to have rich, strong characters. Ellie and Finn don't just have a past together. They are interesting people in their own rights. They have troubles. But they are both problem solvers. They are not the sit-on-the bench-and-hope-the-coach-calls-a-good-play people. They are the ones who go after the ball and make the play.

Because they aren't the sit-on-the-bench kind, the story's turning points don't fall from the sky. I don't say, What's the worst thing that can happen to these two...and then make something up. The plot evolves naturally, because there is a story here. These are two damaged people, trying to make the best out of life, whose decisions to solve problems and actions sometimes make things worse.

But isn't that life? Sometimes the harder you try to fix something the worse you make it. But isn't that also a story? Ellie and Finn are not bound to or guided by the plot...they affect the plot. They create the plot. They come up against their worst fears, and sometimes get beaten. But pick themselves back up.

As they fall in love with the least likely people...each other. Because they're old enemies. Rivals. People who don't just want the same thing. They need the same thing.

And it's the tug of war that causes them  to recognize and appreciate the best in each other.

I've done my best to tiptoe around the actual story in HER SUMMER WITH THE MARINE. I don't want to spoil it for you. But my point is...storytelling is an art. Yes, there's a science to it. But crafting should be a help, not a prison. And true storytelling should be for you, as a writer, the same as it was for my friend the joke teller. You should be so skilled that people gather around. That people stand with rapt attention, knowing you're going to satisfy.

There's no magic pill. There's no secret handshake. There's no formula. There's just something that bubbles up from your soul when you hit the mark.

That's why I do those one-paragraph story summaries that I preach about in my workshops. I don't let myself write until something "hits" me. I get a ping that tells me, "Yes! There is a story here. A great story! Something I can put together in such a way that people will want to sink into my world."

So don't stop short. Go the distance. Don't be a writer. Be a storyteller.

Happy Monday..and Happy Reading.

Go get a copy of HER SUMMER WITH THE MARINE. As I said, it's different! LOL And for two weeks it's only $.99!!!

susan meier

Monday, March 3, 2014

Just plain bad writing

Oh-oh...Get the chocolate. Some of you are quaking right now because I just said the words we all fear...Just plain bad writing.

What is bad writing? Our first thought is poorly crafted sentences, bad grammar. And that's true. But bad scenes, poorly written scenes, poorly structured scenes, scenes in the wrong order...are also bad writing. No matter how good your story, poorly written scenes will kill your book.

I'm reading a book right now that has a wonderful premise, a wonderful story. But the writer overuses similes. So much so that it's hard to get through a scene. It's like walking through knee-deep oatmeal.

But the problem goes deeper than that. Her information in the scene comes out oddly. There are times when I almost feel her stop the scene and say, Oh, wait! You need to know this. Had the scene been structured differently, or a different scene chosen that SHOWED US  that information, there would have been no unnecessary "stop the presses" scenes. The scene would have flowed...

And this is where I think authors truly need the power of a good editor. They see those "stop! I need to tell you this!" paragraphs, and instruct the author to pick another scene, one that gets the information in seamlessly.

Writing a first scene is like inviting someone into your house. When they're on your porch, they aren't inside. If you make them stand in the foyer, they see some things...maybe everything, if you have an open floor plan, LOL, but they aren't inside.

If you say, "Come in," then invite them to sit on  your sofa or a stool at your breakfast bar, they are truly inside.

That's what a good scene should do. Invite them inside. Not leave them in the foyer while you EXPLAIN or tell them that you have a kitchen. The scene should bring them inside so they can SEE your kitchen.

Most of us don't know how to cut to the chase. To get our characters off the porch, or even into the foyer. We dance around with action or backstory (and btw Harlequin Romance readers love to get tons of backstory in the first three pages...I think we might be the exception to this rule! LOL)

Anyway, we dance around with action and backstory and description and leave readers on the porch or in the foyer, looking in....knowing there's a kitchen or a living room, because we tell them there is one...but not quite able to experience it for themselves.

So how do you get your readers off the porch or out of the foyer? You invite them in.

And how do you invite them in?

Once again...there isn't a "formula" but there are some first scene, first chapter things you can do.

The most important is ...Figure out the real PURPOSE of the scene.

I've jabbered on and on about journey steps in these Monday morning blogs. So most of you know the first scene should manifest the first journey step. That step or scene needs to start an action that sets off a chain of events, introduce the characters -- who they are at the minute the book opens so that readers can see the progression of change to who they will be at the end of the story -- and tell people CLEARLY what kind of story you're writing.

That last one sounds simplistic, but have you ever read a book that stared with a cute meet of a hero and heroine only to have it be a straight suspense...with no romance in the book? Or a book that begins at a murder scene only to segue into a romance?

That's such a no-no there aren't a lot of them around! Editors know better! But also readers judge books by the first five pages. If a suspense reader flips open a book to find a cute meet, they'd don't buy that book...That's why your first scene must clearly SHOW readers which kind of book they are getting.

Anyway, I'm losing focus...

My point is...You need to choose an opening for your book that does all three things and does them in such a way that the actions flow and make sense. If you have to over explain, you're not flowing.

Which all boils down to KNOWING THE POINT of that first scene. Why did you choose that scene to open your book? What ACTION really starts this story?

In THE BABY PROJECT, I start the book with the heroine and her dad talking. He isn't just her dad. He's also her boss, and they're about to read the will of the father of three brothers, who don't like each other because they all have different moms. But the heroine is also in the will as guardian for a fourth brother, a baby, that the original brothers don't know about. Why start it there? BEFORE the will reading and not DURING the will reading? Because the heroine had a baby who died and her father isn't sure she can handle being guardian of a baby, living with him, caring for him. Dad needs to know BEFORE he drags those older brothers into the situation, that she can care for this child.

And she's not sure she can, but she can't admit this to her dad, who had threatened to send her back to therapy. She's tired of everyone thinking she's just shy of crazy, but also knows her dad is right. If she can't do this...there's trouble in her life that she has to deal with. She has to handle this.

Not only do I not have to explain this poor heroine is still grieving her child because her dad pins her to the wall and says, "Can you handle this?" but also I don't have to explain that this baby, a fourth brother, is going to cause trouble. So when those brothers walk in, everybody's on the edge of their chairs, knowing we've got a tense revelation coming up and also feeling for the heroine who has to be part of it.

From there, the book flows.

If you choose the correct scene to start your story, you won't have to worry about flow or bumps or too much explanation necessary to show readers why something is happening...your scene building blocks will line up just fine.

So if you're having trouble making your first scene work, if it doesn't flow, if you have to keep going back adding in explanations, consider the purpose of your first scene...

Introduce character
Tell us what kind of book we're getting
Start off a chain of events with action

If your book's not flowing, if you have too much explanation, (which really translates to telling) you might have chosen the wrong scene.

Happy Monday and Happy Reading...

susan meier