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.
Do you ever feel uncomfortable as you stare at the cursor on the screen or the blank line in your notebook? I do ALL the time!
Here’s the thing. I love writing. But before each writing session, I struggle with discomfort.
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!
Are you making your list and checking it twice? No, I’m not talking about your Christmas list–I’m talking about your writer’s wish list! And you can make one whether you’re naughty or nice. *wink*
As we reach the end of another year, I like to take inventory of the practical (and a few impractical!) items I use on a regular basis. I also weigh in on if it’s time to try something new, upgrade existing equipment, or switch services. Sure, I replenish necessary supplies as needed throughout the year, but the once-a-year wish list gives me a valid excuse to spend a few hours thinking about how to improve my productivity.
Here are some of the items on my writer’s wish list, and, yes, I have categories!
- Pentel EnerGel pens with purple ink. What can I say? I’m a pen nerd. I’m down to two pens, and that’s not going to cut it, my friends.
- Black and red Pilot G2 pens. See above–I’m picky about pens, and I like to have a variety of colors. I tend to blow through these G2s like they’re toilet paper. I should buy a fifty pack and call it good.
- Copy paper for printing. I buy a case at a time when it’s on sale, and, oh look! I’m down to only one full package left.
- A new office chair. The left arm of my current chair has lost its padding and the finish on it is crumbling. I lean on it a lot. The right arm seems fine. Sadly, this means I have the worst posture on the planet. I’m working on correcting how I sit. But in the meantime, a new chair has been added to the list.
- The PERFECT day planner. I have yet to find it, but the hunt is on and, my friends, the quest is real.
Last year, I stocked up on tape, staples, index cards, paperclips, mailing supplies, and manila folders, so I’m set on those for a while.
Believe it or not, I have nothing on this list at the moment. I know, it’s shocking.
I bought a new laptop last year. My black-and-white laser printer is only a few years old. Last year I paid for plugin I’d been wanting for my website, and I hated it, so, thankfully, I have no stars in my eyes for other plugins at this point. I switched newsletter services a few years ago and am very happy with my current provider. So…I’m good. For now. Check back with me next year–this list will likely have something on it.
Oops, spoke too soon. Our internet provider is on my list to deal with. Our rates keep going up, but we have dead spots in our house and a lot of slow internet times. Guess I’ll be making a call soon. *sigh*
- Gift cards for coffee shops. When I see a deal on them, I snatch them up. I love getting away for a few hours to explore ideas, and it’s less painful on the wallet when I can use a gift card.
- Pretty notebooks. I can never have enough.
- A super comfortable chair with an ottoman for my office. This is a long-term goal. I would love a comfy chair in my office to red-line my drafts, research, and dream. Someday…
- Hand lotion. Winters are dry where I live, and I keep a tube of thick hand cream on my desk. My hands thank me for it.
- Cardigans. I love cardigans or any garment that will keep me warm while I’m working. I bought a cape this fall to keep in my office. It’s easy to throw over my shoulders and it keeps my hands free to type.
- Candles. Lighting a candle makes the room pretty and it smells good.
- Candy. I can’t help it. Afternoons make me crave caramels. One or two can’t hurt, can they? Don’t answer that!
- Books on the writing craft. There are always books to be purchased!
- Online classes. I recently found Udemy. Thanks, Kristina Knight and Tina Radcliffe, for sharing it with me! You can find tons of classes on a variety of subjects. The one I’m taking isn’t graded, and I can work on it at my own pace. It suits my needs perfectly.
- Magazines. I enjoy buying a variety of magazines throughout the year. They always give me ideas, inspiration, or motivation.
I’m sure there are tons of other things I could add to my list, and I’ll be jotting them down as I get more ideas.
What’s on your writer’s wish list? I love hearing about your ideas and favorite items!
Have a terrific day!
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!
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.
What are your secrets for researching a setting without traveling? Please share!
One thing I love about internal conflict is that a character recognizes she is emotionally protecting herself from something and thinks she knows why, but as the story progresses, she realizes the reason goes deeper. Until she’s willing to be vulnerable and admit the emotional walls she’s erected are stifling her, she won’t be able to emotionally grow.
Does it matter if she grows?
YES! When I’m reading a book, I fall in love with characters. I WANT to see them succeed. I want them to become their best selves and live full lives. If a character ultimately stays the same and shows no growth, I’ll be disappointed.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the character starts off with massive flaws that turn everyone off. No one will stick around long enough to read about her growth!
Internal conflict starts with a deep emotional need. This need has been complicated by previous experiences. The character has convinced herself the need will not be met because of the past complications. Throughout the story, this belief is challenged until she chooses to be vulnerable enough to have the ultimate need met.
Here are some questions to dig deeper with internal conflict:
- What happened in the character’s past that caused him to erect emotional walls?
- What reason does he give himself to emotionally protect himself?
- What deeper fear underlies this explanation?
- How can the plot further challenge and develop his conflict?
- How do other characters force him to question if he needs to continue to protect himself?
- What will be the catalyst for him to acknowledge the deep fear keeping him from living his best life?
- What decision will the character make to tear down the emotional wall for good?
Let’s take an example. We’ll look at Lauren’s internal conflict in my book, Hometown Hero’s Redemption.
- A former social worker, Lauren feels she failed to protect the two boys she’d been assigned.
- She can’t forgive herself and doesn’t want to work with troubled kids ever again, lest she repeat her failure.
- As a former foster child, she was shuffled to different homes and as a result, grew a false belief that she had to be perfect to be loved.
- She is asked, refuses, and is finally convinced to babysit a kid who has been emotionally devastated. Being around Wyatt challenges her beliefs–at times she feels like she’s failing him, other times she knows she’s helping–and it confuses her.
- Drew, Wyatt’s guardian, thinks she’s amazing. And as they grow closer, she opens up to him about her regrets. He helps her see herself in a more accurate light, and as she spends time with him, she starts to realize her emotional walls aren’t just because she failed the boys. She unpacks her childhood and sees how she’s equated being perfect with being worthy of love.
- Wyatt vanishes. In Lauren’s mind this proves she was right–she should never have worked with a troubled child. And it reinforces her fears that this is the proof that will drive Drew away. He’ll see she’s not perfect. She failed him and Wyatt and is not worthy of their love. She pushes Drew out of her life.
- Lauren comes to terms with the fact she’s not perfect, never will be, and doesn’t have to earn anyone’s love.
Internal conflict is rooted in fear. The character doesn’t want to face this fear and often tells herself a half-truth to explain it. But as the plot progresses and her beliefs are directly challenged, she is forced to acknowledge the real fear holding her back. And ultimately, she chooses to be vulnerable, allowing this deep emotional need to be met.
How do you deepen internal conflict? I’d love to hear YOUR best tips!
Have a terrific day!
Last Thursday was a bad writing day. After lunch, I threw my hands in the air and suppressed a scream. I knew where the story needed to go, but I wasn’t sure how to get there. I had several scenes to write before my next “sure” scene. Everything inside me wanted to open a browser and get lost in Pinterest or Facebook or my Twitter feed, but that’s a no-no during my writing time.
I sat there. My eyes glazed over looking at the blinking cursor.
I will NOT have a soggy middle. I’m not going to write something boring just to meet my word count goal.
Soggy middles…I shuddered.
What could I do to tease the reader to continue reading?
What story questions remained unanswered?
I swiped a piece of scrap paper and jotted down all the story threads I hadn’t wrapped up at that point in the manuscript. There were a LOT of loose ends, but I couldn’t tie them up yet or the end of the book would be ruined.
So I popped a butterscotch candy in my mouth and thought for a while.
Real life is messy. We don’t always get neat answers tied up in a bow. Instead we make impressions based on information we gather. Why shouldn’t it be the same for my characters?
I quickly brainstormed ways to provide the characters with answers that weren’t necessarily true. Two scenes jumped in my head to introduce misinformation to one character while conflicting information was presented to the other one.
Not only were the scenes fun to write, they make the book more fun for readers. They know two different answers exist for the same story question, and they can come to their own conclusion. This teases them to keep reading…to find out if they were right.
If you’re slogging through the middle of a story and not sure how to get from one major plot point to another, think about the story questions you’ve introduced.
- Can you make the characters think they have a problem figured out while giving the reader clues the characters are wrong?
- If you answer one story question, can you introduce another immediately?
- If you’re not ready to answer a story question, can you lead the characters to believe they’re close to having the problem solved even if they aren’t?
How do you tease readers to continue your book? And how do you combat the dreaded soggy middle? I’d love to hear your strategies!
Happy Valentines Day!!