Monday, January 26, 2015


I got a book recommendation a few weeks ago and immediately ordered it because the topic was Characterization. One of my bugaboos. Sort of. After you've written sixty books, you know how to do everything. But I'm still seeking refinement. I will ALWAYS seek refinement. :)

Anyway, I bought this book expecting to be wowed or at least enlightened, but before we were out of chapter one, the author/teacher said something like...a great plot doesn't make a great story. It's only when characters' goals and motivations drive the conflicts associated with the plot that your story really comes alive.

Well, duh.

Romance writers have known this forever.

It's why we focus on goal, motivation and conflict. It doesn't matter how crafty your twists and turns, if they don't significantly impact the CHARACTERS and somehow raise the stakes...Romance readers say, "Meh." Whatever.

I used to laugh at how blatant action/adventure movies were with their motivations...We must steal 60 cars in one night or our leader's brother will be killed by a gangster. Or "You killed my wife...I'm coming after you." Or...Let's not forget TAKEN. Daughter kidnapped. Daddy goes after her.

The movies spend most of their time on the shoot 'em up, car chases and fist fights with kicking and head butts. But my husband buys into the premise every time. "Well, yeah. I'd be pissed if someone took Sarah." (Our daughter.) He puts himself into the shoes of his action heroes because he understand their matter how cliché. LOL

Your reader wants to do that too. She wants to believe your hero's reasons for not wanting to commit and your heroine's reasons for not wanting to fall in love again. She wants to feel them fall in love. And feel them fight it because their experiences have taught them that love can be painful.

She wants to believe your sleuth when he can't walk away from the murder he investigates. She wants to believe the motives of your mainstream heroine or hero. She wants to believe.

And the only way you can make her believe is by creating strong goals, motivations and conflicts. Characters who have a real journey. (Let that last line sink in. Think about it. Do your characters have a REAL journey?)

So don't just come up with a "this happens, then this happens, then this happens" plot. Have your plot evolve logically from your characters, their hopes, their dreams, the barriers to those hopes and dreams, and the actions they take. And you will have a much better...dare I say compelling...story.

Happy Monday


Monday, January 19, 2015

Structure, structure, structure...

What is three-act structure?

Simply put, it's the beginning, middle and end of your story. (BTW, don't get too complicated with how you think about things and they'll be a lot easier to understand!)

But the three acts aren't even. The first act is like a setup that ends with a decision or an action that turns the story on its ear and usually gets it going in another direction. It's usually one-tenth of the story. In a category romance, about thirty pages. In a bigger book, about forty. (YIKES) But it can be longer or shorter. There are no structure police. :) You will not go to jail if your setup takes longer or doesn't take as long.

i.e. In THE BABY PROJECT, the hero and heroine are made co-guardians of his half-brother in act one, which ends with them deciding to live together for the baby's sake. We also find out in act one that the heroine had a baby who died and she worries about her ability to care for another baby. Not because she's not competent, but because holding a baby brings back memories that devastate her. The hero doesn't know how to care for a baby either...but they don't yet have a nanny and two people really would be better than one.

So we end chapter one on a turning point...They decide to live together.

Act two is all about the results of the decision/turning point at the end of act one.

In THE BABY PROJECT it's what happens when the hero and heroine live together.

But in act two we also have the story's mid point...That's another turning point. In a lot of romances, the hero and heroine sleep together at the mid point and that changes how they feel about each other and also changes their circumstance.

From there it's a sort of tumble to the black moment which is usually the end of act two.

Which means that act three, like act one, is short. Misery without each other. Decisions. (Should I go back to my old job, my old life, my mom's basement? Or maybe should I leave this two-bit town and find my real destiny?) Followed by a point where the hero or heroine realizes (because of something that happens) that they made the wrong decision in dumping the hero/heroine...and then a happy ending.

Some people dress up act 3 with a Hollywood ending. A great/grand gesture made by the party in the wrong to win back the party in the right.

Other publishers like a more emotional ending. I done you wrong, but I am back, please don't shoot me...Love me.

Suspense authors have a whole different thing going on in act three. They have to solve the suspense problem (sometimes by killing the villain or rescuing somebody the villain took hostage); they have to fix the romance; and they have to debrief.

But essentially that's structure.

Why was/is that so hard? It isn't. Not if you use it. LOL But if you don't know about it, or if you let your characters runaway with your story...Yikes. You can have a mess on your hands.

Does structure ruin the free flow of your story? Read what I wrote above. I didn't give you the iron hand of the law that would make your characters puppets. Structure is just like a spine or a framework. Or maybe a tour guide. It doesn't boss you around. It just shows you the way to keep your story tight and on track.

Some people, Michael Hague, for instance, will give you a little bit more of a guide or a fence. I love his stuff! He's at Get his plot template. You will love it.

The trick to this is realizing that you don't have to hit exact pages with things like turning points or act endings. You just have to be in the ballpark. :)

But trust the will be glad because you will have a clear, readable story.

Happy Monday

susan meier

Monday, January 12, 2015

Second week in January...Do you know where your New Year's resolutions are?

I stopped setting New Year's Resolutions when I discovered the power of goals. The interesting thing about a goal is that you have more of a chance of reaching a goal than powering through a resolution. Why is that?

Well, for one thing, goals should have a deadline. I will finish the draft of my book before May 1 is more of an instruction (which motivates) then the vague resolution ... This year I want to draft a book. Or this year I resolve to draft a book. You can procrastinate all year and suddenly find yourself face to face with December and nothing written on your book. Goals give you a deadline.

I will polish my draft before June 1 is much better than...I resolve to polish my draft.

Goals must be specific and time bound. In other words, a goal has to be stated clearly enough that you have no trouble understanding what you are to do. :) Time bound means you give yourself a deadline. Because a goal without a deadline is only a wish. (And if you see this quote online attributed to somebody like Oprah...Know that I came up with this about 20 years ago. LOL)

The same is true with ... I resolve to lose weight this year. Really? How much weight? By when and how do you intend to accomplish this?

Contrast I resolve to lose weight this year with ... I will lose 12 pounds by April first by going to the gym three times a week (with my trainer...) and using the lose-it app to track what I eat.

You can easily see which one will actually get results.

I gave myself 3 months to lose 12 pounds...a pound a week and I gave myself a plan: Work with trainer, use lose-it app to track what I eat. (There's nothing like accountability!) And I fully expect to see those pounds gone. Not by magic, but because I have a deadline and a plan...but I also know exactly what I am to do. Lose 12 pounds. :)

Or how about...I resolve to be happy. Yikes. How do you measure that? What's your deadline? And what are the specifics? How do you define happy?

Contrast that with...I will play golf with my husband and our friends once a week from May 1 until the end of September.

What does playing golf have to do with being happy? Well, it makes me happy to be with our friends and especially happy to spend time with my husband!

You could also add: I will take the third week of August off and go to the beach with my husband.

That's another goal that's more concrete than resolving to be happy. Going to the beach makes me happy. So I set the goal of going to the beach with the end result that I will be happy. :)

But notice something else...Specific goals help me to plan my year. If an editor says, How about if we make your deadline August 25, I can say, I'm going on vacation that week. Our deadline either needs to be the week before or two weeks after.

Do you get the picture? Goals have served me very, very well...especially last year when I had to write almost five books.

So take those resolutions that are making you feel either confused or like a failure and language them so that they are specific, measurable and time-bound.

And see if your year doesn't become more productive!

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!

susan meier

Monday, January 5, 2015

Now that the holidays are behind us

Now that the holidays are behind us, we all need to get back to work. Actually, I got exactly 3 days off. And not back to back. Too many deadlines, too little Susan to go around.

Anyway, what are my tips for getting back into the swing of things after a bit of a lull?

1. Read your synopsis! Don't try to go back to work without knowing what you're working on. I've done that. I've written tons of pages I had to cut because I thought I knew my story but I got ahead of myself in the action or took the story in a wrong direction. Don't do that. Read your synopsis.

2. Be ruthless about your schedule. Set a starting time and stick to it. Habits are your best friend when it comes to getting things done. Figure out the best time of the day for you to write and get your butt in the chair and create the habit of getting your butt into the chair at the same time every day. Before you know it, you will automatically walk to your computer at your scheduled writing time and you will be ready to write.

3.  Let yourself go. Now that you've read your synopsis and know the direction of your story, don't be a stickler for perfection. Give yourself permission to write an awful draft. Or, if you're like me, write an awful scene or two that  you can polish the next day before you write that day's portion of dirty draft.

4. Give yourself some deadlines. Wow. Deadlines served me well last year. Knowing that if I missed one deadline my entire schedule would fall like dominoes, I scrambled to always get things in on time. Especially proposals. Proposals can (and usually will) be changed. Editors will have comments. The story might have gelled more fully in your brain by the time you actually sit down to write your book. So do your best work, but also don't over-think. Give yourself deadlines for finishing your proposal, your draft, your first polish, your final draft and you will get where you want to go.

It doesn't matter if you're a full-time writer or someone seeking to write her first book, these four things will get you back to work at top speed in no time.

Happy Monday...and Happy Reading!

susan meier