Your characters are the heart of the story, so you want them to be right. What do they look like? What do they wear? What is their occupation? What manners and mores are typical for their times?
When you decide on what time frame you have set for them, and where, it will tell us who they are. Much of the past, stations in life defined people. In your research you have to get to know your characters well. You have to find how refined people lived and contrast that with the merchant and artisans. Also, you have to study the servant and country laborer and, finally, the poor and criminal class. Most countries and times have these varied groups of people. Even though you may not include all these groups into a story, it would help for a well-rounded vision, to know about each and their attitudes about others outside their circles.
Depending where your characters are placed, there are standard racial characteristics in different parts of the world. There weren’t many blue-eyed blondes that met Columbus’s men in the new world. However, places along waterways that for centuries had been used as ports of trade between nations, may have people of many nationalities living there. Countries who waged war for land would often incorporate the population into their empire and some would be moved to the capitols as slaves. Here again, it depends on time and place where you set your story on what racial groups would be living there.
In many ways, this is similar to the racial descriptions. Where you are in the world you can see in the native clothing styles. For the average person, if you lived in the far northern climes, for centuries you would have used furs to keep warm. Europeans, most Asians, the Middle East, and North Africa developed weaving cloth out of animal hair and plant fibers centuries back. The rest of the world used animal hides sewn together or plant material strung together in various ways.
Class had a lot to do with what people wore. Upper class had the refined clothing with imported materials, embroidery, beading and jewels worked in. It was usually dyed different colors from exotic plants and animals. Purple, for example, was regarded as a royal hue because it came from the ink of the squid, which was difficult to get. Merchant and artisan classes had less money for the rare, but their clothes were of high quality and professionally made by the guilds. The poor had hand spun and woven materials that were probably made by the women of the family from the animals and fiber plants they had. They would be natural color or dyed by plant matter.
There is a wealth of information on clothing from the mid-nineteenth through the twentieth centuries with the advent of photographs and movies. If you look on the web or in the library, there is much devoted on clothing.
The earliest jobs were probably hunter, toolmaker, food gatherer, textile, and cooking equipment maker. I’ve heard about the world’s oldest profession, but I think food and shelter would have come first.
As the ages went by, people learned how to smelt metal into useful objects. Instead of gathering wild plants, people started farming plants and animals for food and material. Carpenters and masons were building shelter and business structures. Then you have the intangible jobs of government, clergy, and scientists. Storytellers and musicians were the entertainment arts for a long time. Somewhere in that time, servants and slaves were doing the menial tasks for the wealthy.
Things really started to change when people started to make machines to do labor for them. First harnessing animal power, then wind and water made jobs faster and easier to do. The Industrial Revolution, around 1800, changed many things with its steam and combustion engines. With that came many different jobs that tied into the traditional, as well. You can find what was going on and how people were working in many different time frames by looking on the internet and in the library for life in the countries and eras you’re researching.
It’s true, what was acceptable in manners years ago has changed and will change again. I’m sure you’ve heard the statement, “acting like a caveman.” Before civilization came along, people lived in natural shelters, ate what they could find, wore little or no clothes, and men grabbed any females they desired. If they needed something they didn’t have, they would steal or kill for it.
As people started living in cooperative communities, the necessity for rules and the enforcement of them became important. Out of all that came the manner of treating your fellow human being. With few exceptions, men became the lawgivers and enforcers and because if that, for many centuries, women and children were treated like possessions. In the middle ages, women who were born in noble families were pawns to raise a family’s status. The oldest son would inherit everything while the younger ones were led to the military or clergy. Merchant and artisan classes were surprisingly freer than many in the nobility, as they could choose their course within the township and amass a fortune if they worked hard. Here again, men were the leaders of the guilds and women could only help their husbands in the businesses. This was the norm until women started coming into their own in the twentieth century when women started getting the vote in different countries and working independently in jobs other than owned by the family.
Many of the social manners started in the eighteenth century that we’re familiar with. Treating a lady with deference and respect lasted well into the twentieth century. You can find old rules in etiquette books from the time you’re working on to get some idea on how your characters treated each other. And remember, different countries had other social rules. So to be accurate you’ll have to check that out, as well.
by: Ilona Fridl
Ilona Fridl was born in the Los Angeles area of Southern California, where she lived the first twenty-one years of her life. In high school and college, she took Journalism and Creative Writing. She moved with her family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where she met her husband, Mark. They started a locksmithing business and raised a daughter to adulthood. All the while, she dreamed about being a writer, but she hated typewriters. In the nineties, they purchased their first computer, and she never looked back. With some articles and short stories under her belt, she started her first novel. The eighth book is just being released by The Wild Rose Press. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, and a student of AllWriters in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
Iron & Aqua by Amy McNulty
From time to time, I take a moment to reflect where I’m at in my life and where I want to go. During one of these reflections, I read about habits of successful people. You should know I define success not only as financial stability, but also about our journey as individuals and what we give to the world.
As I read, I became aware how discovering what my ten rules for success are, also complimented my journey as a writer. It takes a strong determination to reach our goals as writers. We have days where our “real” life takes over our writing times or days we feel like giving up. Or how about the days you feel as though you’re just spinning your wheels in your writing career. It’s easy to become frustrated if you feel you’re not meeting the milestones you thought you would have already reached.
A technique I developed over time to combat this was to pick out a small or big goal each day to take a step toward my ultimate goal. By breaking up the larger task into smaller chunks, it helps me feel more successful when before I know it I’m able to cross things off my list.
We all reach milestones at different paces and need to forgive ourselves if we feel we should have been farther along our writing path. Taking time out periodically to reflect also helps me keep moving through what I fondly refer to as “my writing adventures”. After all, we have to protect the reason we started down this writing path in the first place. We love to write romance with happily ever after endings.
The following are my 10 rules for success which I follow to keep myself on track.
Life has a way of pulling us off track and I have found these rules help me keep moving forward toward my goals. What are your 10 rules for success?
Lisa Romdenne is a member of RWA (PRO) since November 2014 and WisRWA member since September 2015 (served as WisRWA President 2016-2018). She writes western romance under the pen name Lianna Hawkins and is presently working on a historical western romance series. THE BOUNTY’S CATCH, book two in her Runaway Outlaw Series, won the historical category in the 2019 Utah RWA Great Beginnings Contest.
Let me start out by stating the thought of going to a three-day conference, by myself, without really knowing anyone else scared me silly. I’m relatively new to WISRWA, having moved from the metro Detroit area four years ago. But…I’m so happy I stepped outside my comfort zone and decided to make the investment in my career and go!
For me as an author, this year has been spent focusing on developing my craft and marketing. I found the sessions at the Write Touch Conference gave me a huge boost toward my goals.
On Friday (the first official day of conference), after arriving at the beautiful Hyatt Hotel in Downtown Milwaukee, I stepped into my first session with Agent Courtney Miller-Callihan. She provided insight into the romance market from an agent perspective. My big take-away from her session—Walmart is a big influence in the romance market, as they are the largest retail purchaser of romance. My next session was with Kimberly Brower, another literary agent, who presented information on what makes a good ‘hook’.
After a quick walk to the Public Market to buy lunch, I attended Mel Jolly’s newsletter session. My author newsletter was pretty much non-existent until Mel’s session. I’ve already put into use a lot of the information and tips I learned.
The day ended with an interesting Q & A with a panel of guest agents, authors, and editors. Dinner was held in the Vue, providing a beautiful view of the skyline of downtown.
Saturday morning was spent learning about emotional wounds from Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. Yes, we all feel bad emotionally wounding our beloved characters but those wounds make for interesting and layered stories. I own their book, The Emotional Thesaurus. Attending a session with them in person was so educational. I really learned a lot from their presentation.
After lunch, I had the opportunity to pitch to an agent and editor. Both requested more material. I’m still waiting on replies but whatever the outcome, I felt the opportunity to meet one-on-one with them was a great experience.
Once my heart rate slowed back to a normal rate after my pitch appointments, I sat in on Lisa Cron’s Anatomy of a Scene. I purchased her book, Story Genius, and am currently in the middle of using it to create a deep profile for the main character of my next book. I highly recommend Story Genius if you don’t already have it in your writing tool box.
I attended another wonderful dinner in the company for some great authors, along with representatives from Literary Services, and enjoyed the keynote speech given by Maya Rodale. After dinner and enjoyable conversation, I did what most other introverts/bookworms would do and returned to my hotel room, looked over the cute gift basket I won at the auction, opened a bottle of wine, and read for a few hours before going to bed.
On Sunday, I ate a quick breakfast, packed my suitcase, and headed home, my spirit renewed. For the following week, I felt the lingering buzz of excitement from spending time studying my craft and meeting fellow romance authors.
I can honestly say the experience was such a great value. The cost wasn’t cheap, and I really debated if spending the money was a wise investment.
My conclusion—yes, yes it absolutely was! I made great new friends and learned from some of the best in our industry. Thank you to all the people who worked hard to make The Write Touch Conference such an amazing experience!
by: Laurie Winter
Laurie Winter is the award winning author of The Warriors of the Heart series, set in Wisconsin and Texas. Inspired by her dreams, she creates authentic characters who overcome the odds and find true love.
When not lost in the imaginary world of her stories, she enjoys time with her family, who are scattered between Wisconsin and Michigan.
Congratulations to the following WisRWA members on their new releases this month.
The Innocent Wife by Cici Cordelia
Saved Between the Sheets (Mutiny’s Rebellion) by Lina Jubilee
Everywhere I looked, a potential story scene loomed. Who was she meeting in that corner room? Why is she rocking out in front of everyone with her happy dance? That’s what attending the Write Touch Conference did to me. It inspired me to be creative and share my tales through the power of the written word. To paraphrase conference speaker and author Lisa Cron, we are wired to share stories.
I attended the Write Touch Conference to become a better writer. Like a sponge, I soaked in as much information as I could. I learned about story beats and crafting a scene. Marketing tips flowed freely from the speakers. Personal stories from beginning and accomplished authors on their path to publication uplifted me.
Being a novice, I’m still learning the basic elements of writing a novel. So, I’m plunging headfirst into romance novel plot points, using the #writetouchconference as my guide. With the plot structure adapted from Priscilla Oliveras‘s Gale Online Course, I’ve developed a story outline that incorporates some of the conference highlights.
Conrad Hastings. He graduated from college a few decades ago, never took a creative writing course, and fell asleep numerous times reading Wuthering Heights. An unlikely romance novel writer.
Ms. Write Touch Conference. Teacher extraordinaire, romance professor, and connoisseur of fine wines. Heroine of all heroines. Motto: Dare to be Decadent.
Tara Fischer. Nicer than the girl next door, she wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. The logical love interest for Conrad, she won’t get in the way between a writer and his muse.
Reaching his mid-life crisis at full throttle, Conrad must write an entertaining novel to impress Tara or risk losing her to the sexy Scottish Highlander literary heroes (once she’s gone kilt, she’ll never come back).
Romance Plot Outline
“It’s not you, it’s me.”
Conrad has heard that phrase before, but it especially stung when it came from his friend Tara. A voracious reader, she could not look into his eyes. He’s asked her for an honest review of his novel, but he sensed her hesitation to tell the plain truth. He knew. He’s known all along. His writing sucked and he needed help.
Tara slid her smart phone across the restaurant table, opened to the WisRWA conference web page. No words were needed. He realized he has to attend.
Conrad cautiously stepped through the Hyatt vestibule, his senses overwhelmed with the busy lobby. But there she was – she could not be missed. Plastered on placards and a large wall, Ms. Write Touch Conference welcomed all writers.
Conrad nearly jumped out of his shoes from the slight tap on his shoulder. He turned around to gawk at the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.
“Welcome,” Ms. Write declared with a large grin, “I’m so happy you could attend.”
More enduring than advertised, she promised to guide him throughout the day. She suggested attending both writing and publishing/marketing events. Conrad was already smitten before the conference sessions even began.
Development (Intimacy Grows)
Day One lived up to the hype. Literary agents Courtney Miller-Callihan, Kimberly Brower, and Laura Zats talked about the current state of publishing and offered insights into new trends and possibilities. Editors Jennie Conway and Madeleine Colavita and Author Becca Puglisi offered constructive criticism to authors wanting a fresh and resplendent start to their novels. Authors Angela Ackerman, Mel Jolly, and Angie Stanton provided ideas to find his audience and connect with them. The indelible and genuine Lisa Cron taught an all-day, intensive writing course on crafting the irresistible novel. Conrad felt his confidence grow, knowing even published writers had obstacles to conquer on their journey to success.
Yet, he did not have Ms. Write’s full attention. She guided other aspiring and veteran writers through the smorgasbord of conference offerings. Night One’s special: An Evening with Daring and Decadent Girls. He wished he could be there to share in the fun, but family commitments came first. Will missing the evening adventure derail his novel?
Day Two was just as dazzling as the first day. Authors Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi, Valerie Biel, Mel Jolly, Amy Reichert, Lisa Cron, Angie Stanton, and Bobbi Dumas discussed novel writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. Keynote Speaker Maya Rodale spoke about writing the right story. He was given the tools to be successful. It was up to him to apply them, but fortunately inspiration was as close as the titillating glass elevator. He now had the perfect setting for writing a sex scene.
Guilt washed over Conrad’s face, stuck on the outside, looking in. There Ms. Write was again, center stage in the best restaurant with the best view, basking in glory as the sun set upon downtown Milwaukee. He had to go home early, while she regaled the writers with Daring Dialogue and Decadent Prose. Does she even miss him?
Misery or Big Black Moment
Why did he even want to write a novel? A great friend, Tara will always like him, even if his head-hopping scenes and verb conjugation made her dizzy. Ms. Write was there to provide the tools for a successful career and to provide guidance, support, and encouragement for his writing journey. He’s got the support, but he searched for motivation.
It’s simple – he wanted to share his stories and donate any proceeds to his favorite charities.
At breakfast, in-between sharing bites of bacon with his dog, he realized he does not have to be jealous of Ms. Write. She favored no one, but supported everyone. She wanted all authors to succeed.
He made a promise. In two years’ time, he will reconnect with Ms. Write Touch Conference. She will be impressed. So will Tara.
By T. Ganfield
Tom Ganfield is working on his first novel, Chasing Chestnut, with younger versions of Conrad and Tara. As a dog lover, he is trying to position Chestnut (the dog) to steal scenes and the hearts of his characters (and maybe the readers?).
Imagine this scenario. A young woman has been asked out, repeatedly, by the same young man. Whenever she bumps into him in their small town, he asks her out again. She keeps saying no. He’s pressed her for a reason, and she’s told him that she just isn’t interested in dating him. She doesn’t want to hurt his feelings, but she isn’t attracted to him and his continued advances make her uncomfortable. He keeps bothering her, again and again. One night, she is crossing a bridge on her way home and meets the guy again. Is it really a coincidence? Has he been following her? He asks her out again; again she says no. So he climbs over the railing of the bridge and leans over the edge. The water beneath him is shallow and rocky. He tells the girl that if she doesn’t agree to go out with him, he’ll let go. He even releases one hand to show her how serious he is. Scared and with no other choice (other than to let him fall off the edge), she says yes.
Stories like this are becoming disturbingly common, especially among young people. On social media, we see stories of “crazy” guys pressuring girls into agreeing to go out with them, sometimes with wild ultimatums. Say yes, and he’ll stop harassing and threatening you. Say yes, or he’ll bring a gun to school. Say yes, or he’ll kill himself. We all know that there is nothing romantic about forced consent. Consider the story above. It’s not romantic. It’s creepy. This isn’t what love looks like.
Or is it?
The Notebook is arguably one of the most popular romance movies of our time. Reconsider that opening scene, and keep The Notebook in mind. This is oddly similar to the hero of The Notebook, who refused to take no for an answer and even went so far as to hang off a Ferris wheel to convince the heroine to date him. Of course, it was all okay because he was the hero and we knew he had good intentions. He wasn’t a creeper and they were soul mates. We find this story sweet and endearing… or is that what we’ve been taught to think?
We’ve all heard that young boys pick on girls because they like them, teaching us that if a boy is mean to you, it’s because he likes you, not because he’s a jerk. (He’s Just Not That Into You, anyone?) In romance novels, we love a persistent hero who won’t give up. Young girls are taught that guys should chase them and that girls should play hard to get. If he doesn’t give up, he must really love you, and then you fall in love and live happily ever after. But in writing stories like these, are we part of the problem? Are we teaching young ladies that it’s okay for their “hero” to treat them badly because once they fall in love, everything will be okay? Are we teaching young men to do whatever it takes to get a girl to say yes, even if she doesn’t want to? Are we teaching young people that “no” doesn’t really mean no—it means “keep pushing until I give in?”
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but as we sit down to pen our next romance, hopefully these are things we’ll all take into consideration. Are you writing a story where your hero acts like a jerk, but it’s excused because he’s the hero of the story? Are you writing a story where the heroine is helpless and trapped, pressured by the guy who says he loves her? Or are you writing a story that models a good relationship for young people?
Food for thought.
by: Kayla Bain-Vrba
Kayla has been living in daydreams ever since she was a little girl and writing about them for as long as she can remember. It was her discovery of m/m romance that jump-started her adventure as a published author in 2010. When she’s not writing—or is procrastinating writing—Kayla enjoys spending time with her other half, crafting, and planning things to a tee.
I’d just finished reading a passage of my WIP to my writing group, and one member was like, “Wow, Dave, it’s amazing to see you write a book with no sex or swearing.”
And I was like, “Hell-o. My Fairy Dogmother.”
And then everyone in the group was like, “Oh, yeah.”
The experience illustrates a problem any writer who doesn’t stick strictly to one genre is likely to encounter. The previous four books I’d brought to my group were snarky novellas about a horny, potty-mouthed, screw-up witch. The WIP has all the snark, horniness and blue language of a Hallmark Christmas movie. But so did My Fairy Dogmother, which I wrote before The Incompetent Witch Series.
So what gives? Am I daring or just stupid? Is it wise to write spicy and sweet, Paranormal and Regency, Romantic Suspense and Romantic Fantasy?
Writing guru Kimberly Grabas says that exploring multiple genres “equals more work (and often) less income. It’s hard to build traction in one genre, let alone several. Switching or jumping genres leads to building multiple smaller audiences instead of steadily building a larger, more engaged fan base. Momentum is your friend, and sticking to one genre and writing books in a series (and releasing them back-to-back) is more lucrative, and builds a readership faster, than diversifying.”
New York Times Best-Selling Author Rebecca Zanetti kinda sorta disagrees, arguing that indie publishing has changed the game. “A few years ago, conventional wisdom dictated that an author should only write in one genre—at least until becoming well established. With the advent of ebooks, many authors have published across genres quite successfully. What’s fascinating is watching how readers committed to one genre will follow an author into another imaginary realm just because they enjoy that author’s work.”
The takeaway might be that writing in multiple genres could be either daring or dumb, but nobody knows until you do it.
My first series falls under the heading Contemporary Romance, the most popular genre when I wrote it. It’s set in Hollywood, so there’s plenty o’ carnality and cursing. The second series, listed as Humorous Supernatural Romance, was originally published in the Kindle Worlds program as a spinoff of books penned by a very successful Amazon author. The audience for those already existed, so I had expectations to meet.
Meanwhile, My Fairy Dogmother and my WIP are targeted toward much different readers and their expectations, and I intend to use both to test the trad publishing waters.
The marketing gurus—including Gabras, Zanetti and multi-platinum author HM Ward—say is that it’s not bad to write in different genres, but suggest a few things to keep in mind if you do.
In addition, keeping up on marketing trends can help. “Branding,” Grabas says, “isn’t nearly as corporate or commercial as it’s believed to be. It’s your style, your unique voice, and the combination of recurrent themes, character types, settings, and ideas that make up the familiar elements characteristic to your writing.” It includes things like your website colors, logo design and tagline and social media presence and the tone of your newsletter.
Zanetti notes that having the right cover design and book descriptions go a long way in telling readers what your books and series are about, lest they become confused and buy a book they’re likely to despise. On the other hand, Ward says that many readers might be willing to explore a genre they never considered just because they like you!
And then, there’s this: Tastes change. Contemporary Romance fell out of favor for a while, so it probably wouldn’t have been a great idea for me to keep flogging that horse. The supernatural Kindle Worlds books sold pretty well until Amazon killed the Kindle Worlds program—and I had a lot of fun writing them.
So, even if I’m being stupid, I have no regrets. And, who knows, maybe someday the discussion will be about genre-hoppers and niche-specialists, much in the way “outlining” and “pantsing” are now both recognized as legitimate approaches to writing a first draft. It may just come down to who you are and/or what you’re writing at the moment.
by: Dave Thome
Dave lives in Shorewood, Wisconsin, where he and his wife Mary Jo run a writing business. An automotive news writer by day, he’s penned several screenplays, including a few that came this close to being made into movies, and has indie-published several novels under the name DC Thome, including the Fast Lane Romance Series. He’s currently republishing The Incompetent Witch Series, which originally appeared as Kindle Worlds books
Wisconsin Romance Writers of America is pleased to announce the finalists of the 2019 Write Touch Readers’ Award Contest!. Winners will be announced at the Write Touch Conference in Milwaukee, April 4-7. Congratulations to all our finalists, and a big thank you to all our participants, judges and volunteers!
**denotes WisRWA member
Contemporary – Short
Contemporary – Mid-Length (tie for third place)
Contemporary – Long
Romantic Suspense (tie for third place)
Young Adult (tie for third place)
The Write Touch Conference is “Write” Around the Corner.
April 4th-7th, talented writers from all over the country will be heading into Milwaukee to hobnob at WisRWA’s Daring and Decadent Conference.
We’re excited to show off some of Wisconsin’s home-town writing talents!
Amy Reichert, Valerie Biel, Angie Stanton, and Bobbi Dumas will be presenting sessions at the conference and they are all proud to call Wisconsin their home.
Author Amy E. Reichert’s 1st book, The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is often used as a guide for Milwaukee visitors! Amy is a true fan of our terrific city so it was only natural for her to give it a starring role in her book. Set in Milwaukee, her story highlights the Brewers, Milwaukee’s food scene with its array of terrific restaurants, the summer festivals, custard, the scenic lakefront and the amazing Calatrava. Before dinner Friday April 5th, Amy will be welcoming conference attendees to Milwaukee. On Saturday April 6th, Amy will work with writers on their editing skills.
Since “Coincidence” was published, Amy has penned three more books: Luck, Love & Lemon Pie, The Simplicity of Cider and The Optimist’s Guide to Letting Go. All are placed in or around our great state of Wisconsin. Get to know Amy here: www.amyereichert.com
Once upon a time, Valerie Biel graduated from the University of Wisconsin with degrees in journalism and political science. Now she lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband and children, and writes…a lot. Her debut novel Circle of Nine – Beltany was honored as a 2015 Kindle Book Award Finalist and has won other awards.
#WisRWA19 is excited to have Val present a workshop on Saturday April 6th .
If you’re attending the conference and looking to self-publish your book baby, Val’s workshop, Indie Publishing Blueprint: 1st Steps to Publication, is perfect for you.
Learn more about Valerie Biel here: http://www.valeriebiel.com/
Angie Stanton lives in Madison. Her 1st career plan was to be a Rockette, but living in the Midwest, dancing didn’t quite work out. So she took her daydreams, perfected them into stories in her head and started to write them down. Even though she never made it on a stage to kick up her heels, she’s still, a huge fan of musicals. Her latest book, If Ever, takes readers on a dream ride from a reality dance show to a Broadway musical. Angie will be presenting two workshops at #WisRWA19. She’ll guide you through the publishing process when your book baby is first born and she’ll help you create another revenue stream for your book with an audio version. To find out more about Angie go here: https://www.harpercollins.com/author/cr-107475/angie-stanton/
Bobbi Dumas lives in Madison, WI and we are excited to have her join us in Milwaukee at #WisRWA19. Bobbi is a freelance writer, book reviewer, and a huge romance advocate. Bobbi founded Read-A-Romance Month and writes about books and romance for NPR, The Huffington Post and Kirkus. On Saturday April 6th, Bobbi will be presenting an interactive workshop to help writers get to, “Know Thyself!” She’ll work with writers and guide them through the often twisty journey that comes along with being a writer. Bobbi loves to talk about books and writing and will share it all with attendees at #WisRWA19! You can read Bobbi’s latest Kirkus review here: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/features/author/bobbi-dumas/