Monday, May 26, 2014

Coming Up With Your Next Idea

I posted on Facebook, asking for a suggestion for this week's blog post and got this idea from Monica Tillery.

How do you come up with your next idea?

There are a few ways.

1. As you're writing a book, you can frequently get snatches of ideas, like themes you'd like to explore or characters who intrigue you...or even a secondary character tickles your fancy but you know you can't do much with him in your current ms...Write those down.
2. You watch a tv show or a movie that has a plot that's acted out in a way you didn't expect. YOU thought it was going to go in a whole different direction...Write that down. It might be your next book...or a piece of the puzzle of your next book.
3. You see people on the street or on the subway or in Starbucks and you did they get together (if you're a romance writer) OR what if he killed her (if you write mysteries or suspense) OR what if they're plotting to plant a dirty bomb (if you write thrillers).

Seriously, those are my 3 best avenues for "next books."

But I normally don't have a problem with what I'm going to write for HQ. Because they like trope or hook plots, I get urges to write some things over others. For instance, I have a marriage of convenience plot all ready to go. I love writing enemies to lovers stories. Single mom or single dad? Two of my favorite types of stories. Nerd who grows up to be gorgeous -- and rich...I could write that several times a year. LOL

So, if you write in a genre that repeats stories (and most of us do) once you choose your story, your big job is figuring out how to make it unique.

You do that through characters who have unique conflicts and unique personalities. Conflicts are the engines that drive stories; so if you come up with a hero/heroine/protagonist who has a real conflict, your book will create its own uniqueness. Also you must come up with a protagonist who is genuinely cool, not just a motorcycle-riding-sunglass-wearing cardboard character. Looks are important, but actions always speak louder than description. Never say, he was cool. Give him (or her) actions that DEMONSTRATE he or she is cool.

The second important thing to remember is that you don't let the plot drag the characters along. Instead, having made sure your characters match your story type, you can then let them work their way to the plot points organically. (Thus the term organic writing. Letting your characters act out the plot in the way they really would act it out.) This prevents those lumpy, bumpy stories where the characters are doing things they wouldn't normally do. It avoids reader, "Huh?" syndrome. :)

I'm reading a book right now that is mesmerizing. It is a typical trope plot -- bodyguard story, really. But the trope is virtually hidden because the characters are so good and the plot moves organically. When I read a book like this, a book that I fall into and never want to come out of, it inspires me to work that much harder on MY that they can act out the plot organically and I don't have to worry that my trope has been done a million times. Caught up in the unique characters, Readers won't see the trope. :)

And that's how you come up with your next book...

Happy Monday and Happy Reading

susan meier

Monday, May 19, 2014


I had a spot of trouble with my next Entangled. Not because I couldn't think of what to write, but because I had "too much" to write.

I yap and yap and yap in my CAN THIS MANUSCRIPT BE SAVED workshop about choosing the right scene to illustrate your character's journey steps. I talk and talk about keeping those scenes tight, combining journey steps to assure you have a really tight plot that readers are on the edges of their seats. So when I ended up with a huge lump of story and had to decide how to tell that story smoothly and efficiently, I knew had to to pick just the right scenes and use them efficiently or I was going to go over word count. LOL

So what did I do...

First, I divided the story into segments. I like Michael Hague's Six Stage Plot Structure...which can be found on He has tons of free articles (great articles) and lots of things like books and DVDs you can buy from his website. The man is a master teacher. And though he teaches about writing screenplays, his information about STORY is right on the money.

Anyway, so I divided my story into sections Setup, New Situation, Progress, etc., etc. (I really want you to go to Michael Hague's website and look this stuff up. You will be so glad you did) Then I made a list of things that HAD TO HAPPEN (to make the plot work) and I put them into the section in which they belonged. Then, because this is a series and it's also a story about a small town, I made a list of the things about the small town I needed to get in. But also, I made a list of little things I needed to remember...Like the H and H from book one might have left on their honeymoon in chapter 2, but they did have to come home sometime. LOL Then I slid those in where I thought they belonged.

With that guideline (which is a lot slimmer than you might think it is but still kind of meaty) I started writing. But I didn't just say, Okay, today I'm going to write the scene where he tells her he's not the father of the baby he was accused of fathering 12 years ago...I said, what TWO journey steps can be illustrated here.

Now...I don't do things like that willy-nilly. I looked for 2 things that seriously fit, and also enhanced each other. I chose journey steps that would electrify each other. :)

This story is going to be face-paced and exciting!

Why? Not just because I took the time to plan. But because I knew what I wanted to get in. And I'm not squeezing it in. Planning makes it possible for me to be clever. :)

So even though I know there are a lot of pantsers out there who groan when I talk about organizing, do it anyway...Or do it what I call the panster way. Maybe you CAN'T know your whole story, but can you "plan" 25 or 50 pages ahead...or in 25 or 50 page segments?

Your story will be tighter. You will find fewer threads left hanging. And you will love the end result.

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!

susan meier

Monday, May 12, 2014


I've been focusing a lot on characters recently because I'm doing a one-hour workshop for the Pennwriters' conference this weekend. And, as happens a lot, when I'm practicing my workshop, timing it to make sure I get all the good stuff in, I surprised myself.

Love/hate when that happens. First, there's the are-you-nuts factor. How can you surprise yourself? LOL Then there's the...well, after-sixty-books-shouldn't-you-have-known-that-already?

Hum...I'll think about that one later.

The thrust of the workshop is turning out to be connecting character to story.

What started me thinking along these lines was the total failure of Tom Cruise to bring the Jack Reacher character to life. I'd never read any of the Lee Child's Jack Reacher books, but as I sat in the theater, watching the movie, I kept thinking...why does this feel off to me?

I could not connect to that character.

Afterward, when I mentioned it to friends, a few told me that in the books Jack Reacher is a big, intimidating guy. Try as he might, Cruise isn't intimidating -- at least not to me. He can be angry. He can be scary. But he isn't "naturally" intimidating. So though he had the same tough-guy lines that made the book (and character) so great for my friends who read the books...he didn't quite bring the character to life the way the character blossomed in the books. (At least for me.)

Which just goes to prove that you can't arbitrarily "lose" a piece of a character and still have the same character.

Whew. That sounded like double talk, but I think you're still with me.

The important point here isn't for you to begin thinking about casting your book as a movie. LOL It's for you to think your character through and look for those disconnects.

I used to call them character inconsistencies. And some are. A woman who is terrified of her ex-boyfriend who accepts his invitation to have supper with him, alone, at his house, is asking to be tied up in duct tape and held prisoner in his basement. Yet we see this all the time in romance novels. Pundits call it too stupid to live. Ranking right up there with the woman who goes into the basement knowing there's a serial killer on the loose in her neighborhood. Authors who have their characters do things like this defend it by saying that "deep down" the heroine knew she could trust the hero...Yeah, maybe. But it's just easier to have characters act consistently so readers don't find themselves saying, "Huh?"

But the other kind of disconnect is bigger than that. It's what I call character fail. It's a man of diminutive stature who can't quite pull off the tough guy lines of a six-foot-eight, three-hundred-pound former Army Ranger.

Writing a truly great book is all about the connection of character to story. If your story needs a rough and tumble tomboy heroine, she can have a girly habit or two she does in secret...but if you give her much more than that...aren't you muddying the waters in readers' heads? Confusing them about who she is? Maybe even giving the character such a dichotomy that she isn't much of a character at all, but a mishmash of confusing parts?

Your job might be to create someone interesting, but you also have to create someone readers believe in the role you're creating. And you also have to create someone who flows naturally, organically (if you will) into the story. If your attempts at creating someone unique constantly create bumps in the road for readers, you will lose them...or your story will suffer.

You don't have to do crazy, nutty, oxymoronish things to create a great character. You don't have to think outside the box. The box is the box because what's in it works.

Character consistency is one of the ways a smart author not only draws in readers, but also guides them along on the trail of her story.

So don't confuse readers. Don't muddy the waters. Think smart.

Happy Monday

susan meier

Sunday, May 4, 2014

11 Things Certain To Ensure You'll Fail

I saw this article on Facebook...I gave it a bit of a new name. :) The real title is 11 Things You Are Doing that Will Always Make You Fail. I like the word ensure better.

Anyway...the link's at the bottom of the page. I want you to read this blog before you read the article.

I was shocked to see that I have a problem with two of them. #3 I chase perfection and #9 I spend money foolishly.

Who'd have thought that chasing perfection and spending money foolishly would cause me such grief. LOL But then I thought about it.

The authors of this article aren't saying that my love of goofy things on the internet will make me a bad writer. They are saying that foolish spending habits may prevent me from being rich. I can take that hit in the chin. It's probably true. God knows our mailman isn't happy with me lately. Not only do I get a lot of packages in the form of foreign copies of books...but now I'm ordering flavored coffees and low cost boots...But I digress.

The comment about perfectionism really slammed me. I thought...What now? I'm not necessarily trying to be "perfect" but I have standards. Are you telling me that working to get a scene "right" is a bad thing.

Yeah...Sometimes. I spent the last 2 weeks on 40 pages. That's not good when you have 2 books due before July 1. LOL  But it's also not good because I know that if I'd let myself get further along in the book, the answers to some of the questions bedeviling me about those 2 1/2 chapters would probably be answered.  So sometimes it's actually better to move forward when you still have a question or two. :)

Not because you don't intend to come back and solve them, but because wasting time isn't good.

So I printed the article. I intend to remind myself that no one is perfect and that I have deadlines. (And I'm hoping if I hang in on my monitor I also won't buy anymore silly things...)

Happy Monday

susan meier