This year I challenged myself to read fiction for a minimum of twenty minutes every weekday. (#20for2020) I’m LOVING this! I’m trying different authors, different genres, and best of all, I’m enjoying the stories. A few weeks ago I read a historical romance novel set during the French Revolution, and I’m currently reading a contemporary romance.
I’ve been reading romance novels since I was thirteen. Sure, some say that’s young, but I have no regrets. I would buy old Harlequin paperbacks at flea markets. They were typically from the 70s and early 80s–very clean and intriguing!
I was hooked. I still read a lot of romance novels, in addition to books in just about any other genre. What can I say? I love to read!
Here are some of the things I’ve learned about writing romance novels. The opening pages are important–vital, really–to establishing to the reader that the book is indeed a romance.
- Introduce the hero and heroine as soon as possible. Sometimes I pick up a book thinking it’s a romance, but when no clear hero and heroine have been introduced until chapter three, I assume I’m reading a different genre.
- Avoid too much early interaction with members of the opposite sex who aren’t the love interests. Romance readers instinctively root for the first woman and man who are introduced. This means you should avoid having the POV character interact with an opposite-sex character before their love interest. Chances are, the reader will expect the other character to be the hero or heroine!
- Hint at inner conflicts and what’s at stake. The hero and heroine should have clear reasons why they can’t instantly fall in love, the higher the stakes the better. Clue the reader in early–don’t make them wait until page 125 to worry how will these two ever fall in love?
- Set the tone. Setting details, introspection, narrative and even dialogue clue the reader in to the tone and subgenre of the book. A romantic suspense will be edgy and fast-paced. An Amish romance won’t be set in New York City (although, I suppose, it could be done!).
- Build Tension. Readers keep turning the page when they’re worried or curious. Keep them on edge. Leave questions unanswered. Create a sense of foreboding about unspoken issues. They’ll love you for it!
- Make the reader care. Characters coasting through life are boring. I’m sorry, but they are. Give your characters problems. They don’t even have to be enormous problems. We all have times when our worries crush us. Bring that intensity to life. Let the reader in on the anxiety your characters feel, and they will care enough to read to the end.
I’d love to hear YOUR tips on what’s important in the opening pages of a romance novel. Leave a comment!
And don’t forget, my fun giveaway is still going on! Click on HER COWBOY TILL CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY and scroll down for the easy entry options! US only. 18+.
In stores for one more week!
For purchase links and more, click HERE!
This post was originally published on November 28, 2011 at https://jillkemerer.blogspot.com/.
I recently read a novel but struggled to get into the story. Each time I put it down, I had no desire to pick it back up. Tempted to stop reading, I decided to forge ahead and figure out why it wasn’t grabbing me. I made a list of its strengths and weaknesses.
– Excellent writing. The author balances dialogue, thoughts, action, and narrative with ease.
– Modern, relatable characters. The hero and heroine (it’s a contemporary romance) are realistic and have believable conflicts and goals. Plus, I liked both of them.
– Logical progression of plot. The story arc made sense and proceeded in a way I would expect.
– Too many characters introduced in first chapters. This book is the second or third in a series, so extra characters should be involved, but too many too soon only confuses the reader.
– Sunday drive pacing. While the plot progresses logically, it does not progress quickly. There doesn’t seem to be any urgency.
– The hero and heroine do not share enough scenes in the first half. They are in scenes together, but they rarely interact. How are they supposed to fall in love if they don’t talk to each other?
Not every book is perfect, and the strengths in this one more than offset the weaknesses. However, I pinpointed one major area that needed work.
Each scene had a point, but the stakes were never high enough for me to want to read the next scene.
Jack M. Bickham discusses what an effective scene accomplishes in his excellent book, Scene & Structure. I’m paraphrasing here, but basically each scene should be told from one character’s viewpoint, and the character must have a clear goal, which is obvious from the beginning of the scene. The character will then experience conflict in reaching that goal until the scene ends with the characterfailing to meet the goal.
Summary of Scene Essentials:
1. Introduction of the viewpoint character’s scene goal.
2. Conflict threatening the character’s ability to reach goal.
3. Failure of character to meet goal.
But…the character has to win sometimes, right? Yes. This is why it’s important to be clear about the character’s scene goal. If the book requires your heroine to convince her coworker to attend a wedding with her, you might choose to split the section into two scenes. The first scene will be told from her viewpoint. She gets the courage to ask him, he puts up a fight, and the scene ends with him refusing.
1. She asks coworker to be her date for wedding. (Goal)
2. He gives lame excuses. (Conflict)
3. He refuses. (Failure)
But…he has to agree. It’s a vital plot point. Okay, no problem. The next scene will be in his point of view, and his scene goal will be to get out of the wedding invitation. But the heroine is very convincing, and he finds himself saying yes when he wants to say no.
1. He must not agree to this wedding invitation. (Goal)
2. She has lawyer-like convincing skills. (Conflict)
3. He accepts. (Failure)
If we ignore the scene essential of the character failing, we waste an opportunity to keep the reader on edge. We could have written the previous scene in the heroine’s point of view and had her ask the hero to the wedding. He could still put up a fight, but in the end he agrees. The problem with this is that the heroine wins.
As readers, we like to watch our heroes and heroines suffer. We love that gnawing feeling in our gut when things go wrong. We need the hero and heroine to fail repeatedly for us to keep turning the pages. If they only win, what’s the point of reading more? Our goal as writers should be to provide a sense of urgency–regardless what genre we write–and have the reader constantly ask, what comes next? How is the main character going to handle this? I’ve got to find out more!
How do you keep readers on edge? Share your tips!
I’ve been eagerly anticipating Cal Newport’s new book–Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. I finished reading it over the weekend, and it lived up to my expectations.
Basically, the book underscored what I already know to be true–social media, various phone apps, online browsing and being available 24/7 have decreased the quality of my life.
The instant I feel a twinge of boredom, I reach for my phone.
Scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and various news sites often eat up precious evening hours. And I couldn’t tell you what I’ve gotten out of all the mindless scrolling!
Another problem I have? If I’m working on my laptop and check in on Facebook, I feel anxiety over unanswered private messages (I don’t use Facebook Messenger on my phone and only get private messages from my laptop). Ditto for unanswered emails–even if I get them at 10pm!
What happened to my free time? I willingly give it away and get nothing in return.
In chapter one, Cal Newport spells out how the technologies we rely on (texting, social media apps, online news sites, etc…) are designed to trigger our addictive behavior. Yes, he cites studies and sources. And it all makes sense. The longer we’re “on” or using a site, the more ad-revenue the site can potentially make. These sites/apps are designed to keep us there.
Scrolling through Facebook or Snapchat or Instagram feels harmless, but it isn’t. Our phones and apps have an addictive pull, keeping us from exerting the energy to do activities we deeply value and enjoy.
We signed up for these services and bought these devices for minor reasons–to look up friends’ relationship statuses or eliminate the need to carry a separate iPod and phone–and then found ourselves, years later, increasingly dominated by their influence, allowing them to control more and more of how we spend our time, how we feel, and how we behave. – Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism
The book provides a solution, and it makes sense.
Basically, we can choose to minimize our digital life.
- The first step is to do a 30-day digital detox where you cut out all non-essential apps/sites/services and set rules around the ones you consider essential.
- At the end of the experiment, you decide which of these you want to keep and set rules for how you’ll use them.
- During the detox, you commit to aggressively fill your time with high-value activities. Think hands-on projects, actually being social (coffee dates, visiting friends), reading, returning to a hobby or starting a new one, even watching television or movies is fine as long as you’re enjoying them and not just zoning out.
Why is this important?
We only have one life. Our time is valuable. Using technology to relieve boredom can drag us into an unsatisfying cycle where we no longer have the “time or energy” to do things that add meaning to our lives. When we invest in activities that are meaningful to us, we’re less likely to feel unsatisfied with our lives.
What am I doing about it?
I haven’t started the 30-day detox, yet. But I already set rules around my cell phone usage.
- I deleted about half the apps on my phone–many of them were there by default anyhow.
- I also set times (and limits) when I could check in on my favorite sites.
- I have an auto-reply set up in Facebook Messenger to let people know I don’t check my messages after 5pm or on weekends. They’re welcome to email me, though.
I also jotted down a list of activities I can replace my scrolling with. This will be the hardest part for me–sticking to things that require more effort than a quick swipe of the phone. One particular chapter in the book really stood out to me, and it was about physical work. It’s convinced me to add 30 minutes of cleaning, baking or organizing on weeknights. I hope I get the satisfaction promised!
If you’re at all conflicted about your digital life, I urge you to buy the book. It’s terrific and timely and needed.
Have you gotten sucked into the digital life? Are you conflicted about the way it’s changed your free time?
By the way, the fourth novella in the RESORT TO ROMANCE SERIES launched yesterday!! Try Moonlight Match by Kristina Knight!
Our mega-giveaway is still going strong! If you haven’t entered yet, go to my HOME page and scroll down for the easy entry options!
It’s the final Wednesday of January! Where did this month go? Well, around here it was buried under snow and negative temperatures, but I’ve whined enough on social media sites, so I’ll shut my mouth!
I’ve been writing a first draft, and first drafts are the hardest stage of writing for me. I love plotting–adore plotting! Revising? Challenging, but I enjoy it. Polishing gets me excited because I know the book is THIS close to being finished. But the writing itself…
It would be terribly easy for me to get writer’s block. Every day. I wish I was kidding! For me, getting started is the tricky part. Thankfully, there are a bajillion writing blogs out there, and I’ve experimented with various tips. Here’s what gets me back into my story each day.
2 Ways I Prevent Writer’s Block
- At the beginning of each writing session, I read through the previous scene.
- At the end of each writing session, I sketch out the next 2-3 scenes.
If I didn’t do these two steps every time I sat down to write, I would stare at the screen for hours.
Reviewing the previous scene jogs my memory and gets me back into the story quickly. And since I have the next 2-3 scenes outlined, all I have to do is review my notes to pick up where I left off.
At the end of the writing session, I’m usually really tired. I’m always tempted to skip my prep work for the next day. But I don’t let myself. I know from experience if I don’t spend 5-10 minutes thinking of the next scenes, I’ll regret it. I’ll end up wasting time and creating more work for myself. No thanks!
**Update: 10-28-2019** Jerry B. Jenkins has a terrific article with plenty of other tips to help with writer’s block. You can access it here, “How to Overcome Writer’s Block Once and For All: My Surprising Solution.”
Here’s the companion video if you’re interested.
How do you prevent writer’s block? What gets you back into your story quickly?
If you’re dealing with the bitter cold like I am, try to stay warm! If you’re in warmer climates, I wish I was there!
Scenes build stories. How you begin and end them can mean the difference between a reader finishing your novel or tossing it aside.
When you’re writing, it’s fine to put down whatever comes to mind so your brain can push through and get the draft on paper. But when you’re revising, it’s wise to analyze each scene’s hook and ending to make sure they’re pulling their weight.
Here are my “rules” for how to start and end a scene.
1. Don’t bore the reader.
Madeline slathered butter on the bagel. Stan had really crossed a line.
Whoop-dee-doo. Does any reader care if Madeline has butter on her bagel or not? I don’t think so. And while the second sentence gets more to the heart of the matter, the first sentence is what counts.
She wanted to chuck her bagel at Stan’s head. The nerve of him, treating her like a five-year-old in front of her boss.
2. Give transition details early in the scene.
Readers need to know how long it’s been since the previous scene, whose point of view we’re in, the location, and any other pertinent setting information. Don’t make them guess!
She wanted to chuck her bagel at Stan’s head. The nerve of him, treating her like a five-year-old in front of her boss. Madeline peeked out of the break room but saw no sign of him. Good. After this morning’s humiliating meeting, she hoped he crawled back to corporate headquarters where he belonged.
3. Tease the reader at the end of a scene.
Stan handed her the report. “Verify your numbers with this.”
Stimulating. I, for one, don’t get excited over a hero handing a heroine a report and telling her to verify her numbers. YAWN…
“Verify your numbers with this.” Stan’s tone was as icy as his blue eyes. She snatched the report out of his hand.
She’d verify them all right. And if he questioned her expertise again, she was taking the other job offer, even if it meant a cut in pay. No job was worth this.
4. Check scene hooks and endings.
A quick and easy way to make sure these openings and closings are doing their job is to copy/paste the first and last sentence in each scene in a separate file. When you have them pasted one after the other, it’s easy to spot the duds. Try it! I always find a few that need punching up.
What are you tricks to start and end scenes? I’d love to hear them!
Have a great week!
Are some mistakes beyond redemption?
When former NFL star, Chase McGill, invites Courtney Trudesta, the widow of his former teammate, to spend Christmas with him and his son in Lake Endwell, he simply wants to repay her for the weekly letters she sent while he was in prison. He didn’t expect to fall for her.
Chase regrets his past and knows it will take more than sugarplums and wishful thinking to heal Courtney’s lonely heart. But with a dose of small-town charm and plenty of Christmas cheer, they might have a second chance at happiness…with each other.
Sugarplums and Second Chances is only $0.99 on Kindle. Purchase HERE!
Commas. Where do they go? Why did I throw one there? Does this phrase need one? Are seventeen commas in one sentence too many??? (Yes.)
I consider myself at intermediate level when it comes to comma placement. No matter how much I edit, I always find spots where I’ve misplaced them.
Are you a comma master?
Since I’m in the line-edit phase of a project, I’m overthinking the whole comma thing. Yesterday I got out my cheat sheet, a grammar book, and a CMOS style guide. I still had to look up specific examples online!
Let’s tackle the basics (thank you, Jan R., for graciously sharing these with me years ago!).
- before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses.
- after introductory phrase, especially if dependent.
- between items in a series.
- between coordinate adjectives.
- on either side of a nonrestrictive word group.
- to set off parenthetical expressions.
- in dates, addresses, titles, etc…
- where there might be confusion without one.
For a more thorough breakdown of comma usage, are a few sites I’ve bookmarked.
How are you with commas? Do you have any tips, sites, or books to recommend? I’d love to hear!
It’s been a tad busy here with summer baseball still going strong and a few deadlines I’m hurtling toward, so I’m keeping this short.
Last Saturday at writer’s group, we discussed various three-act plotting beat sheets. I thought you might enjoy them, too.
Michael Hauge has a fantastic Structure Chart to print out and keep handy.
If you need help understanding the terminology in the structure chart, Janice Hardy broke down the stages in this excellent post.
Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat has a fantastic take on the three-act plotting structure. I’m a big fan of Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheet. I’ve found two terrific resources about it.
- Read Tim Stout’s “The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (aka BS2)” here.
- Find Jami Gold’s take on Blake Snyder’s beat sheet (with scene and page breakdowns) in her Worksheets for Writers section here.
Finally, it’s easy to burn out as a writer. I loved this practical article by Beth Wangler (via Hannah Heath’s blog) with nine ways to avoid it.
How is your June going? What advice have you gotten lately that resonated with you?
Have a great weekend!
I was at the library last week–shocking, I know–and came across a delightful book in the new nonfiction section. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff Vandermeer has an engaging, whimsical cover, and I had to pick it up. With stunning graphics, author essays, and entertaining chapter subheadings, Wonderbook was sure to be right up my alley.
I haven’t had a chance to dive into it in depth, but I’ll be taking it chapter-by-chapter until I finish. I have a feeling this will be one I buy for my writing-craft shelf. One of my goals this year is to consistently study and apply writing craft techniques. This spring I brushed up on several chapters of Donald Maass’s The Fire in Fiction, a book I’ve read more than once. It’s really good. And I’m excited to find other craft books to return to again and again.
One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is that more nonfiction books are being printed on thicker, glossier paper with ample photographs and illustrations. I’m drawn to these books. Visual aids always help me! Anything that breaks up the text keeps me engaged–bullet points, subheadings, graphics, charts, you name it. Wonderbook is full of them.
Here’s the cover of Wonderbook.
This all-new definitive guide to writing imaginative fiction takes a completely novel approach and fully exploits the visual nature of fantasy through original drawings, maps, renderings, and exercises to create a spectacularly beautiful and inspiring object. Employing an accessible, example-rich approach, Wonderbook energizes and motivates while also providing practical, nuts-and-bolts information needed to improve as a writer. Aimed at aspiring and intermediate-level writers, Wonderbook includes helpful sidebars and essays from some of the biggest names in fantasy today, such as George R. R. Martin, Lev Grossman, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Catherynne M. Valente, and Karen Joy Fowler, to name a few.
Purchase a paperback copy of Wonderbook: Amazon
Since my laziness factor can get REALLY high, especially in the summer when beach reads are calling my name, I schedule study time. If a craft book has long chapters, I will tackle a portion of a chapter per session (I aim for three sessions a week). If the chapters are short, I study a chapter at a time. I write out notes on paper then type them into a digital notebook (I use OneNote) for easy access. Sometimes a book doesn’t grab me, and I give up on it, but most of the time, I get a lot out of the craft books I read.
One nice thing about Wonderbook is that it has a dedicated website with gobs of extras. You can find out more at www.wonderbooknow.com.
How do you study the writing craft? What are your favorite resources? Please share!
Have a terrific day!
Jill Kemerer is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
On Saturday I gave a presentation at the Researching the Romance academic conference (#BGSURomCon18) hosted by the Browne Pop Culture Library at Bowling Green State University, which happens to be the official repository for Romance Writers of America (RWA). It was an amazing conference. I learned so much from professors, university librarians, archivists, grad students and others who traveled from all over the country. And, guys, Beverly Jenkins was the guest of honor. She blessed everyone with her insight, wisdom, graciousness and humor.
Since researching settings can be difficult, I thought I’d share my topic with you. Here it is!
Researching Contemporary Settings Without Traveling
A novel’s setting is important because it shapes the story and influences the characters’ thoughts and actions. Ideally, a writer will be able to visit an area before writing about it, but there are two big reasons why authors don’t always travel to research a setting. Time and money. We don’t always have time to jet off to Paris or drive to Georgia, and traveling can be expensive. But with the right tools, we can be confident we’re getting the setting right for our readers.
I take a three-pronged approach to researching setting–Internet, Print, People. This method goes from big picture to small details.
I usually have a general area or town in mind when I’m deciding where to set a new novel. The first thing I do is spend time on the internet and start gathering basic material.
- Print out a map of the area.
- “See” it through Google Earth/Google Images. Verify the images have been tagged correctly. Some images are clearly not what they say they are.
- Gather and print a year’s worth of weather data. It’s important to know typical highs/lows and precipitation.
- Find out what economics drive the area. Is it a dying town? Thriving? What are the demographics? What are the typical jobs? How much does it cost to live there?
- Read a brief history. Who settled it? What interesting facts emerge?
- Browse through travel guides/visitors info. What are the local attractions? These might trigger plot ideas.
- Check out homes through Realtor.com. What are the preferred styles? How much do they cost? Can I use this information as an area of conflict for a character?
- Search for blogs set there. For instance, when researching my Wyoming Cowboys series, I searched for “Wyoming ranch life” and found several blogs, full of pictures and rich details.
- “See” the area by searching YouTube—people GoPro everything!
At this point I have a good idea of the setting basics. I’m ready to narrow my research down to get “the flavor” of a place. So I move to print materials.
2. Print (Purchase or borrow from library)
- Memoirs set in the area (or general vicinity) will give you a more complete picture and plenty of details to make your setting come to life.
- Magazines. Regional magazines (Midwest Living, Alaska, Sunset, etc…) will give you fun facts and pictures.
- Ask librarian for help. Librarians know where to look beyond the travel section for information on specific places. Ask them!
- DVDs–documentaries and travel specials can be fun to watch!
Now I’m getting ready to write, but I usually have a list of picky questions I can’t find answers to. Example: How young is too young for a child to start riding a horse in Wyoming? Answer: Many children ride as soon as they can walk! How did I find this out? I asked people who live there (Thanks, Bree!!). How did I find these people? Social media.
3. People (Ask questions)
- Social Media. Get on Facebook, Twitter or even Google+ (there are communities for just about anything on G+) and ask specific questions “Hey, is anyone from X? I’m writing a book, and I’m wondering about Y.
- Put the word out to friends that you’re trying to find information about your setting. Chances are someone you know has a cousin/best friend/uncle’s first wife’s boss who lived there. Find out if they would be willing to answer a few questions. You can set up an interview (email, video, or phone) to pick their brains about the area.
Researching in person is ideal, but when finances are strained and you have no time, you CAN accurately reflect a setting if you work hard and DO sweat the details.