Tourist Tuesday

Last week I featured a charming little park in the middle of downtown where I live. It has lovely flowers, soothing fountains, red brick paths, and a charming gazebo. A place for romance – or – murder :-O

This week, I’m going to share a few other local things that spark my muse.

Welcome to my neighborhood….

Where there are ….

Things that go nowhere…

Things that lurk in the fog…

Things abandoned in the woods…

And a red waterfall….

What do you see in my neighborhood, I’d love to hear

 

 

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Writer’s Wednesday

I’m continuing my using/recycling a magazine into a writing prompt. Last week was vague as I just started to brain storm but this week I felt the story coming together some what. I came up with the character’s names. I narrowed the premise down a bit… Samuel(my hero) is catching Marchesa (my heroine). She’s running because she can’t trust Samuel enough to risk her daughter’s life. I haven’t really found an angle with Marchesa’s eyes that I’m thrilled with yet…

IMAG0210 (1)

There is a secret obsession which I haven’t developed yet but I fell in love with the idea… the rest I’ve talked about

IMAG0211

Time is going to be a major factor in this story. Marchesa’s time is running out… why I haven’t developed yet but she’s desperate…. she needs to make sure her daughter is safe and she bring herself to trust Samuel.

These pages followed the those of last week. Next week my goal is to do 4 pages of prompts. Now that I’ve developed some basic blocks, I’m excited to continue to use this as food for my plot bunny.

Writer’s Wednesday

Putting your story on a diet.
Sagging Middles
For the last three weeks, I’ve shared a few ideas on how to boost a sagging middle but what if your middle is sagging because well because of too many doughnuts….
Too much of anything is unhealthy, the same for your story. A few doughnuts are good and given the right amount of exercise you will still be able to fit into your jeans.
If your story is sagging, it may be time to cut the ‘fat.’ This thought makes every writer cringe. The characters are amazing, the events are awesome, so there is no way they are making the middle sag.
But…they could be. This goes against my second tip of adding a ‘what if’ scene and is proof there is no one secret to prevent a sagging middle.
To see if your story has over indulged in doughnuts, ask yourself the following questions….
(1) What is the one – yes only one – thing that has to happen to get to the rock your socks ending?
(2) Who are the fewest characters needed to make that one thing happen?
After you have answered these two ‘simple’ questions, take a look at what else you have going on. Does it add to the character arch or development? Does it provide a needed barrier to keep the characters from easily achieving their goal? Are the extra characters needed or mere crutches aka extra doughnuts?
Sometimes you will have scene you love…it’s awesome. The characters shine, the detail is spot on, and the pace is tight but it just doesn’t move the story. As hard as it is you need to cut it. Just because you cut doesn’t mean you can’t use it… maybe it would make a good promo for a blog tour – like the out takes at the end of a movie.
Other times you have scenes because you don’t want the reader to forget a secondary character. If the reader is going to forget the character without a doughnut scene then the character needs to be reworked and the scene cut.
Then there are times that too many things are going on. A subplot has become a wild child and is demanding way too much page space. Keep subplots on a doughnut free diet, they are to move the main plot along not compete with it.

Writer’s Wednesday

Behind the scenes…
Sagging Middles
This is part 3 of my sagging middle series. This week let’s look at some of the reason’s your middle might be sagging. Lack of suspense/doom/hardship is one reason, the secret is a good way to combat that sag. Lack of action is another major middle flab but the ‘what if’ can tighten that up like a 1000 crunches. But if your middle is caving because… well… because your characters are suddenly – BORING. You know they kick butt in the beginning and you have a rock the readers socks ending but right now they are lacking their bikini ready body because of sagging middles.

Here is a character builder that could tighten up the middle. Keep in mind this exercise is NOT meant to be part of your WIP. It’s a middle tightening exercise design to get those characters in shape for that rock star ending you have planned.

Your character does ‘stuff’ off the pages or before the pages begin. This exercise looks at those. Now even if you are one of those plotters who do ten page character sheets, chances are this exercise can help you discover something.

It’s an interview…not with the character but with two people the character interacts with off the page. For example, if it’s a small town setting interview the grocery store clerk. I was a waitress and a cashier believe me when I say I spent A LOT of time people profiling.

What would the cashier have to say about her moods? Is she happy? Does she say hi or ignore the cashier? Is she a weekly shopper, daily shopper, or monthly shopper? Does she buy a candy bar every time? Does she read gossip magazines while standing in line but puts them back when it’s time to check out?

Now if you’re writing a suspense maybe the stalker uses one of these character ticks to spook your heroine. For example, say your heroine buys a 3 Musketeer every shopping trip. It’s the only time she eats the bar, it’s her reward for enduring the shopping trip. The stalker leaves a 3 Musketeer bar in her car. Or a copy of the magazine she read in the line. Now if the stalker isn’t after your heroine because she’s the one protecting the victim these could be used as a ‘scare’ tactic. ‘Leave my intended victim alone or I’ll hurt you because I know what you do.’

If you don’t write a suspense, the interview can be used to amp the romance. The cashier knows the hero, she tells him that the heroine has a thing for 3 Musketeers and gossip magazines. The hero then makes a ‘I know you’ basket and includes these things. Aww, what a guy. 🙂

The idea here is by looking at your character through a different set of eyes, you’ll learn things about her/him you didn’t know before. Things that will add depth to your deflating character and boost your sagging middle.
Next week I’ll talk about interviewing someone from the character’s life before the pages started.
I’d love to hear if you have used these types of interviews.

Writer’s Wednesday

Last week I started a series on boosting your sagging middle with several examples of different spins you could put on the ‘I got a secret’ technique. This week it’s the “what if” question. This works great for those middles where you know you have solid key events, you just need a little shot of caffeine to get you through.

The key to the “what if” technique is to unleash the muse. Don’t limit the possibilities. Sometimes the wilder the “what if” the better it works. For example, let’s say I need a distraction for my serial killer, something that gets him out of the house away from my victim because I have a great scene but the killer has to walk in. I could just have him ‘leave’ go into the black hole known as a scene break. Which isn’t bad but it slows your pace and a slow pace equals a saggy middle.

What if... they all had doughnuts and lived happily ever after?

What if… they all had doughnuts and lived happily ever after?


So I list the “what if” possibilities for my serial killer. If I had limited myself, I would have never came up with the birthday party. My serial killer has a twin sister, who he happens to love. So I started to “what if” possibilities that included her. I decided she has a child. A child with special needs. My serial killer feels for the child because he knows what it’s like to be a ‘freak.’ He realizes that it’s the child’s birthday. He’s torn between killing my heroine and attending the party. In the end, he goes to the party. This was unexpected and it gave my killer another layer besides a crazed lunatic. The scene was intense because he kept bouncing back and forth between wanting to be there for the child and his sister and the need to return to his victim.

Common questions to ask the “what if”…
-there is a family illness not life threatening (remember you’re looking to boost a sagging middle not change the plot)
-there is neighbor event (block party, bomb scare – a false alarm)
-someone makes an unexpected request (mom calls and HAS to be taken to store)
-It’s an anniversary of an event that means something only to the character.

****Key with the “what if” technique. The purpose is to boost the middle NOT change the plot. Sometimes you might stumble across a “what if” that does change the plot of the better BUT I can’t warn enough about using caution with this. The “what if” plot bunny is a slippery fellow, he often leads down a dead end tunnel.

Do you use the “what if” technique to boost a sagging middle? If so what are some of your favorite “what if” questions?

Writer’s Wednesday

The Middle –

While donuts are awesome to eat they are every writers nightmare. A story that circles around an empty hole

While donuts are awesome to eat they are every writers nightmare. A story that circles around an empty hole


Man and woman meet. They like each other – a lot. They decide to give it a whirl. SOMETHING happens. They deal with the SOMETHING. SOMETHING almost rips them apart. The SOMETHING is resolve. They happily ever after.
That’s the ‘basic’ formal to every good romance from a pantser point of view. And I know many plotters who follow the same formal only with pages and pages AND pages of details. One thing that pantsers and plotters have to deal with is the ‘SOMETHING’ or sagging middle.
It doesn’t matter if you have to come up with the ‘SOMETHING’ at the plotting stage or when you are staring at the words Chapter Five. It has to be done.
So how do you write a ‘SOMETHING’ that does sag? That hasn’t been used 2 million times? You want a ‘SOMETHING’ that will keep your reader engaged. A ‘SOMETHING’ that is worthy of the awesome characters you’ve created.
One thing that will determine the answer to these questions and shape your ‘SOMETHING’ is the genre and length of your book.
For example, I write suspense romance. So my ‘SOMETHING’ is going to deal with murder. But still I don’t want my ‘SOMETHING’ to be a serial killer who had a bad mom…. I want a bigger ‘SOMETHING’ – a better ‘SOMETHING’ – a ‘SOMETHING’ that make my reader go “oh shit, I so didn’t see that coming.”
I have 7 techniques I use to try to amp my ‘SOMETHING’ up to make rock my reader and make my characters shout ‘you’re the boss.’
The first one is – Keep Secrets.
While this one is used heavily, the key to make it work is have the secret be totally unexpected.
Today let’s look at the secret child. Your hero and heroine have a history and there is a child about the same age of when the heroine left. Your heroine tries to keep the child a secret. Why? She doesn’t know how to tell the hero that it’s his…I’ve read some great books using that standard idea.
BUT
‘SOMETHING’ different
The child is his sisters. The heroine and the hero’s sister were best friends. The sister was raped by her boyfriend – a real creep but one that has money and power. The sister begs her best friend to take the child after it’s born and leave. This opens a bag of gummy worms…
OR
The child is the hero’s only it’s by another woman. The heroine leaves to seek a career. Only a year later her best friend shows up with a baby in tow. She hooked up the hero after the heroine left but his heart has been and always will be with the heroine. Now the mother is sick – dying sick – so she ask the heroine to take the baby. This is a jumbo bag of gummy worms….
I’d love to hear of any of the secret child ones that you’ve read love or wrote.

Read It Tuesday

While how to write – in the morning, in the afternoon, at night. In a secluded place, in a coffee shop. On a laptop. On a desktop. Varies – A LOT – from writer to writer. It is generally agreed there are two ways to become a better writer, in general – write every day (or as close as possible) and read – A LOT.
There are no other steps. No certain type of pens, paper, or computer needed.
While most will agree with the first – write many question the second. In Stephen King’s On Writing: A memoir to the Craft – he says if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have to write.

Why Reading Makes You a Better Writer…. or so I think 😛

Books are a uniquely portable magic ~ Stephen King

Books are a uniquely portable magic ~ Stephen King

I’ve been an avid reader since childhood, and I would submit that most good (and especially great) writers could say the same. What we probably didn’t realize was that our trips into the fantasy worlds of these books were actually training us for our future careers. I’m glad I didn’t know — it might have taken a bit of the joy out of it.
Reading is the perfect escape – no jet lag, no calories, and no limits. A good book captures your imagination, compels you to read more, tells you a good story, creates wonderful characters, and builds new worlds.
But beyond reading for pleasure, a good writer also reads with an eye for the writing. Maybe not all the time, but at least some of the time. And many times that writer doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.
What we learn as readers, we use as writers. Maybe we don’t always do the best job at putting that knowledge to use, but that just takes practice. Over time, our writing becomes in some ways a compilation of all the things we’ve learned as readers, blended together in our own unique recipe.

As a writer what do you enjoy reading? And why?

Writer’s Wednesday

Clean shirt, new shoes
and I don’t know where I am goin’ to.
Silk suit, black tie,
I don’t need a reason why.
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
coz every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.
From ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man

Sooo what is a ‘sharp dressed hero’? Yeah, I know …“Nothing…” 🙂 But what about when the hero isn’t in bed?

The problem is your hunk and mine might not be the same. Do you want your hero in blue jeans or a three-piece suit??

Jeans....

Jeans….

A uniform???

A uniform???

Or a suit

Or a suit

Of course, we’re not talking only about clothing. What our heroes wear is simply one way to characterize them. I have entire section in my character notebook for clothes (male and female).
When we meet a hero for the first time, what he’s wearing leads us to make certain assumptions about his character. Blue collar or white collar? Slave-to-fashion or don’t-give-a-damn? Certainly a rich hunk could wear a pair of tight fitting jeans and a construction worker can dress up in a suit and tie, but what he wears tells us a lot about him.
Clothes are a lot like a setting – they set the mood and add another layer to the story.

 

So what have some of your favorite heroes wore? As a writer how much though, do you put into developing a wardrobe for your characters?

Writer’s Wednesday

I’ve blogged a couple of times about the importance of settings. While I think we as writers talk a lot about settings it still is the most under used element in writing. To write a story with a ‘vague’ setting is like writing a romance without ever describing your hero. As I talk to few writers, I often hear that they don’t want to use a place they aren’t familiar with. Now while I agree that it can be a challenge, I also think the internet has open the entire world to writers.

My novella, Taking a Risk, is sit in the Amazon. Never been there. But afternoon spent viewing travel sites, nature sites, and cultural sites, I felt I could write a story there. I made a list of some of the native wildlife, the temperature and general weather conditions for the time of year my story, and some of local history. I bookmarked sites I felt I would I return to as I was writing.
Also don’t overlook social media as a great reference source. I’m friends on Facebook with fellow writers from all over the world.
I’m not saying every book needs to take place exotic place. Remember the setting is a character. The ‘real’ tooth fairy has no place in a romance. Taking a Risk needed to be take place in the Amazon. The jungle was as important as the hero or heroine.
As a pantser the only ‘planning’ I do before beginning a new WIP is start pulling pictures from my character notebook. The setting is included in this skeleton list I start off with. I have to know where my story takes place.

As with certain characters, settings have some stereotypes….

A small town adds quaintness but it can also amp up the suspense. A secret everyone knows about but refuses to admit. What will they do to keep their skeleton in the closet? The Inheritance takes in a small rural town. Beth (my heroine) doesn’t know where to turn when things start to get ‘creepy’ – everyone seems to be a part of the conspiracy. Beth also has to deal with one grocery store that doesn’t carry kale which she needs for her morning smoothie. Now while this doesn’t play into the suspense it does add to her frustration.

Or maybe the cold harshness of a big city works better with your story. The chaos of urban living adds a barrier to your hero seeking a peaceful evening to seduce your heroine.

Of course, I love to take a setting and twist it into something unexpected. For example isn’t this garden beautiful? A wonderful place to sit and read…or so one of my heroines think. But in reality a serial killer selects his victims from this park.

Lacey spends hours reading here unaware a serial killer watches her - planning her torture and finally her death

Lacey spends hours reading here unaware a serial killer watches her – planning her torture and finally her death

An oasis in the heart of a city

An oasis in the heart of a city

flowers the color of blood

flowers the color of blood

Don’t overlook the power of a setting. Also don’t be afraid of it. Let your muse run wild with a place, what unexpected things can happen in a place?

Writers Wednesday

Who’s Talking?

Sometimes it may seem that all the characters in your story are shouting - This is my scene!!! I want the POV!!!!

Sometimes it may seem that all the characters in your story are shouting – This is my scene!!! I want the POV!!!!

Since I have never written a story in single POV or from first person, I have to decide what character is going to reveal what information. Often it’s fairly easy to determine what POV will be used for each scene. The general rule of thumb is whoever has the most to lose is whose POV should be used. BUT sometimes it’s just doesn’t work.

For example in The Inheritance when Beth is kidnapped and Duncan comes to the rescue – because he’s a good hero ;p – I had to write that scene several times. My first thought it would be from Beth’s POV. Her fear for herself, her shock when she realizes who has her, her relief when she sees Duncan, her fear when Duncan has to fight the ‘bad guy’ (can’t reveal the name), and her struggle to push through all these emotions and free herself. Sounds like a great scene huh? Well…. Not so much. It was very flat and felt overused (like you read one of these in every suspense).

What??? Of course this is my scene. Don't steal my POV!

What??? Of course this is my scene. Don’t steal my POV!

So I tried it from Duncan’s POV. His anger at seeing Beth tied up. His surprised to see who has her. His decision to rescue her instead of calling for help. His struggle with the bad guy. Still didn’t work.

I just couldn’t get the edge I wanted for this scene. Everything seemed cardboard. Over done. There is third POV in The Inheritance. He is actually the most removed from this scene – or so I thought. But once I started writing the scene in his POV it popped with tension and sizzled with surprised.

It was totally unexpected from his POV. The reader knew Beth had been kidnapped but not by who. So it was expected to have the next scene in Beth or Duncan’s POV.

Also if I’m struggling with a pivotal scene being flat, I write the same scene from all the characters present even if they don’t have a POV in the story. This lets me see how ‘everyone’ views what is going on. Then I can what ‘key’ elements needs to be included from the character’s POV that the is scene is being written from.

For example, in the kidnapped scene in The Inheritance, I would make three list. One for Beth – what does she feel, what does she see (setting and people), what does see she smell, and how does she reaction. One for Duncan and the kidnapper listing the same things. These are done in telling form, I just want to get an idea of what I want to pull in.