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.
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.
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.
Like most writers I know, I collect inspiring/encouraging quotes and keep them where I can see them in my office. Somehow, these quotes and thoughts are shortcut reminders of various attitudes and qualities we need as writers: determination, persistence, fired up creativity, the courage to dream big, making course corrections, and so on. You probably have a list of your own that matches what you need to make a life in the creative life possible.
Right now, I’m starting something new, a type of writing I haven’t done before. It’s all fresh ground to cover and explore. Because other books were ahead in line, I’ve let this old idea-project slide down on my list of priorities for years. No more! It’s time to put it in the top ten—maybe the top three. If I don’t get on with this book, which I believe in for all kinds of reasons, I am 100% sure I’ll regret it.
So, now is the time for Mark Twain to pay me a visit and give me a boost with a gentle reminder:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore…Dream…Discover.
Since I spent a lot of time sailing at one time in my life—decades ago now—the idea of “throwing off the bowlines” arouses something in me. A sense of adventure, a curiosity about what’s around the next corner, a feeling that something special is waiting for me to claim it. You know what I mean. But our friend Mark Twain was also right about regretting what we don’t do.
As for me, I wish I’d started writing fiction sooner. I was steeped in nonfiction, the source of my income, so it wasn’t like I was slacking off. But the longing was always there. Story ideas written in journals and spiral notebooks twenty-five years ago made it onto my to-do list and many are still waiting patiently today. Some one or two line notes eventually became Greta’s Grace or Girl in the Spotlight or any of my other books. One idea also became this new book I’m inching my way into.
I don’t want my new idea to be one of those “wish I’d done” projects. Pushing ideas under the rug, ignoring snippets and flashes, and delaying the start of a project costs too much. Mentally, I mean. When I used to ghostwrite books, the clients knew (or thought they knew) the price of procrastination. They measured it in lost income and delayed professional prestige.
We novelists usually can’t calculate a financial cost. Maybe we’d be better off financially if we took up some other line of work. Wait, I was only kidding. I hear you hollering at me at the very suggestion. Not every project is weighed the same, of course. I’ve let a few ideas shrivel up and die and that’s okay. They hadn’t merited enough passion to keep them alive.
My new project is different. If I don’t write this book, I’ll regret it and the characters will hunt me down and haunt me forever. That’s the only guarantee I have. So, I’ve sailed away from the dock.
What about you? Do you have one or two or ten of those book ideas that call your name—even in your sleep? So do you hear Mark Twain urging you on?
I’m grateful for my WisRWA friends for many reasons. They understand the way ideas grab me and why I can’t or don’t start them immediately. But they gladly turn into cheerleaders when I say I’m finally plunging in. And I’m here doing the same for them. The gifts we give each other are truly priceless. Let’s all sail away into great new writing adventures and see how far we can go!
A member of WisRWA since 2001, the same year she moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin, Virginia McCullough writes women’s fiction and romances for Harlequin’s Heartwarming line. A FAMILY FOR JASON, book one of her new series, Back to Bluestone River, is scheduled for an August 2019 release. Her award winning novels tell the stories of everyday people struggling with everyday life issues in settings that often include oceans, lakes, rivers—and boats. A past-president of WisRWA, Virginia has also enjoyed a long career as a ghostwriter and editor of nonfiction books and novels.
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
I have been writing for a long time. (My first history book came out in 1998) I have 27 books in print, am an award-winning, Amazon best-selling author. But I’ve been struggling lately. Struggling with all the things going on in the writing world, making me wonder why I do what I do – other than the fact that I love creating stories. And it seems each year things are getting worse.
First, we have to deal with Amazon taking down reviews, eliminating KindleWorld, changing the way we publish our books with them, and just plain making it difficult for authors to make a living.
Last year there was the whole “Cockygate” fiasco, where an author thought she should be able to copyright a word, with a couple other writers following suit. And some who think they can copyright an idea. Thankfully they didn’t win. But it was another hoopla taking us away from our writing.
Plagiarism has been around probably since the first and second writers put words or symbols to paper, rock, or whatever their medium was. Well-known authors have plagiarized other well-known authors. Unknown authors have done it. Authors who proclaim to write best-selling books, only to find out most, if not all, of them were copied from many, many authors and then blame it on ghostwriters. How can you even call yourself an author if you don’t even write your own material?
It has been said that we should be honored that someone thinks so much of our work that they want to copy it. Honored? More like angry. It’s our work, not theirs. Again, thanks to readers, they seem to always get caught. But it’s one more thing for authors to worry about. Are these words I’m putting together sounding like someone else’s? Is the story I’m writing too close to someone else’s? Is my title just like another, or several other ones? Will someone come after me because I’ve used the same character names in my books as in theirs? Will someone think I’m writing about them?
Book pirating has been around since e-books came into being. It was only a matter of weeks after my first romance came out, that I was told by a reader that she’d seen my book on a site for free. I was shocked. How did this happen? Why did it happen? What can I do about it? Thankfully, this book was a traditionally published one and my publisher handled it. But, once again, it showed up on another site. Dealing with it as an indie author is another whole matter.
One book pirate recently said he was doing authors a favor by offering up our books for free, since if a reader likes a free book, they may then purchase your others. How does that work when all our books are on pirated sites? And it’s not just us unknown authors this is happening to. Nora Roberts, Christie Craig, Linda Lael Miller, Kat Martin, just to name a few. Even Michelle Obama has been pirated.
It seems as soon as you request your books be taken down and they’re removed, they pop back up again. Or if a pirate site is removed, another one is created by the same person. It’s frustrating, irritating, and outright stealing by readers.
On one site, I have one book listed, on another two, and those the ones I know about. The one book has been viewed 652 times. It doesn’t say if it’s been downloaded that many times, but let’s say it has been. I figure I’m out over $2,600. I don’t even want to think about how much I’ve lost from other sites. And think about someone like Nora Roberts. Almost her entire list of books is on one site. She must be out millions.
I can’t understand why people think it’s all right to steal these books from us. I’d never, ever take money from their pocket or paycheck, yet that is what they are doing.
I’ve been thinking about what to do to keep my spirits up and keep writing. I have to remind myself that I love, love, love creating plots and putting characters in interesting situations. I have to remind myself how far I’ve come since I started this journey.
I have a bulletin board in my office where I have a lot of sayings, pictures, awards, etc. posted. Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I started reading some of the sayings. Here are a few of them:
“Don’t let someone who is no longer in your life, continue to run your life.”
“You are never given a dream without the power to achieve it.”
“It’s always too early to quit.”
“Every day is a good day…some are just better than others.”
“Some succeed because they are destined to. Most succeed because they are determined to.”
“To thine own self be true. Write every day.”
“A professional writer is one who didn’t quit.”
These are good reminders to keep going. Never give up, no matter what outside forces are against us. Keep writing, my dears.
by: Tina Susedik
Tina Susedik is an award-winning, Amazon best-selling, multi-published author with books in both fiction and non-fiction, including history, children’s, military books and romances. Her favorite is writing romance stories where her characters live happily ever after. Tina also writes spicier romance as Anita Kidesu. She lives in northwestern Wisconsin where winters are long, summers short, and spring and fall beautiful.
If you’ve ever experienced the heaviness of writer’s block, you know you’ll never want to stare at a blank page, without an idea, ever again, period.
Let’s learn from the bad times and turn them into something good. Here are a few tips I use to build an idea factory, when writer’s block may hit again.
Collect ideas as they flow. You may be on vacation, at a restaurant, in bed at 2 a.m., and plot ideas, conversations, scenes, and characters are falling at your feet. Write them down right away! Grab a pad of paper, record thoughts on your voicemail, send yourself an email or text. Don’t let those great ideas slip away. You’re a writer, those ideas are interesting to you, they will be interesting to your readers.
For example, I was filling my soda cup at a fast food restaurant when a young girl stepped up next to me. The way she moved with grace and confidence reminded me of the main character of a story I was working on. I went back to my table and recorded my observations, her hair color, the way she moved, how she dressed.
Here’s another example. I was at an art museum and a strange exhibit captured my attention. The folk-art I studied that day became the background of a story. I hurried to the museum coffee shop to write down the essence of the exhibit. What attracted me to it. How I felt about it. How it looked. Then I searched websites for more information. I still have those notes and refer to them as I edit.
Eavesdrop. When you hear an interesting conversation, tune your ear to the cadence of the discussion. Everyone knows that one person who uses unique turns of phrase, or thinks differently than anyone else. Channel them the next time you are stuck in a rut and need to add new patterns to your dialog.
Seek your characters in magazines, newspapers, or the internet as you move through your day. Cut pictures of your characters out of department store ads when you find them. Download photos. Hang them on a wall where you write, along with their bios. When you need inspiration, take a good long look at the pictures again.
Watch for situations that are stranger than fiction. What happened to your co-worker, neighbor, children? Does your friend have a litany of stories about her bad dates? Ask her if you can borrow some for your next book.
Immerse yourself in research. Search websites for more information about the setting of your story. If it’s set in a Victorian era home, tour one near you. Record your impressions.
Ask questions. When you find someone knowledgeable about the subject of your book, like that historic home, talk to them. When they go on a tangent, follow it by asking questions. They’ll likely bring up a tidbit of information no one knows about, but it would be perfect for your story. Maybe there was a secret tunnel that used to connect a barn to the home’s cellar. Is that the way your main character snuck into the home on that fateful night?
Now that you’ve got raw material to work with, peel back the onion. While your ideas are still fresh, ask yourself why the person in the ad captivates you? Is it his stormy eyes, his wavy hair? What part of the old house interested you most? The hand carved furniture? The exquisite fireplace mantel? The patterned wallpaper? What would it be like to crawl though the secret tunnel?
Take time to write down details as they appear in your life. Don’t let them go. Save them so that the next time you experience writer’s block, pat yourself on the back. You now have an idea factory ready to propel you forward.
by: Laura Dritlein
Laura Dritlein is a former freelance reporter for local newspapers and magazines. She is currently working on editing two novels with the goal of publishing them. She is constantly in search of new characters and story ideas.
As the new year begins, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. One of the toughest things about becoming a writer is discipline. We all know a book doesn’t write itself and no matter how much praying we do, the words don’t always come. I have been writing a long time…well, sort of. I spent the first five years of my writing career talking about writing, researching, taking classes, attending conferences, perfecting my first three chapters and a synopsis, but I never finished a book.
I used to blame my lack of productivity on my day job, my family, my dog, the neighbor’s dog, anyone and anything, instead of myself. Slowly, but surely all the writers in my critique group became published authors, while I kept on pretending that someday I would write a great book. Even after publishing seven books and having others manuscripts looking for a publisher, I still struggle with sitting down to write.
Often what keeps me back from writing is fear of failure. I’m a sensitive sort and every time someone gives me a bad review or a rejection letter lands in my inbox, I crawl in my closet (literally) with my favorite candy (right now it’s peanut M & M’s), but the key is: I always crawl back out. And that’s the answer.
God says in the Bible we should not fear anything. (I write Christian fiction, so yeah, you’re going to get some God from me.) Not everybody is going to love me or embrace what I write, but that’s okay. If you put yourself out there you will be rewarded. Maybe it’s becoming a contest finalist, an email from a fan, a publishing contract or a hug from your hubby or the kids. Whatever it is, remember your talent is a gift. So use it!
Tips on how to finish a book:
So stop reading this post and go write!
P.S. I’d love to hear your favorite writing strategy, email me at Oliviarae.email@example.com
Olivia Rae is an award-winning author of historical and contemporary inspirational romance. She spent her school days dreaming of knights, princesses and far away kingdoms; it made those long, boring days in the classroom go by much faster. Nobody was more shocked than her when she decided to become a teacher. Besides getting her Master’s degree, marrying her own prince, and raising a couple of kids, Olivia decided to breathe a little more life into her childhood stories by adding in what she’s learned as an adult living in a small town on the edge of a big city. When not writing, she loves to travel, dragging her family to old castles and forts all across the world.
Olivia is the winner of the New England Readers’ Choice Award, the Golden Quill Award, and the American Fiction Awards. She has also been a finalist in many other writing contests, including the National Readers’ Choice Awards and the National Excellence in Romance.
Co-writing is not for everyone. Char Chaffin and I have been friends since 2011, when we both came on board Soul Mate Publishing with our debut novels. We got to know each other virtually, and by the time we met in person at our first romance conference—Atlanta in 2013—it was as if we’d known each other forever. Soon, we both became acquiring editors with Soul Mate, cementing an already strong friendship.
During RWA Atlanta, we’d tossed around writing something together, and after one frenetic brainstorming evening came up with our first co-written book, Rodeo King, which debuted in 2014. We were thrilled when Rodeo King finaled in the 2016 Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Awards.
We had so much fun writing together, we decided to keep doing it, and agreed a pen name was in order. CiCi’s first name was easy, since both our names start with ‘C.’ All we needed was a last name. Eventually, we came up with ‘Cordelia’ which means ‘heart,’ and our tagline is ‘Writing From The Heart.’
Co-writing is an exciting adventure, but it also comes with challenges, and is not for the weak at heart. Mutual respect and compromise is the key to a successful co-writing partnership.
Char and I talk on the phone frequently; everyday if we’re working on a project. I’ll bring Char in here and we’ll discuss our writing processes and how they combine seamlessly into our works as CiCi Cordelia.
We’ll answer some of the questions we routinely receive regarding our partnership:
How do you combine your voices?
Since Char’s a heavy plotter, and I’m a total fly by the seat Pantser, it works really well. I’m able to continue with my usual creative process while Char keeps us focused. Plus, I’ve learned to at least outline each chapter which has improved my writing. I just can’t plot too far in advance or I lose the spontaneity of the story.
Char: Writing with someone else opens up a whole new world of compromise. ::grin:: For me, I had to write more on the fly than ever, and Cheryl found herself dealing with my incessant need for outlining. Part of why CiCi succeeds is our ability to meet each other halfway.
Cheryl: True dat. Since I started writing with Char, I’ve learned to plot, just a bit. We do a general outline,so we can stay on track. But the stories never turn out the way we originally plotted them, so there’s still a lot of pantsing going on.
Who writes what chapter?
One of us writes a chapter, then sends it to the other for edits. We usually have two or three editing rounds before the chapter is polished enough to move on. Then the other one writes a chapter and we repeat the process.
How do you work out disagreements?
Char: We are both strong writers with strong opinions, so obviously we sometimes come at our basic plot incompletely different ways, whether or not we’ve already set down an outline. We’ve never not been able to talk it out and find common ground we can both accept. I think that’s because we do know each other very well and consequently know when it’s better to cede rather than argue. Also, we understand when a project won’t work for us, the same as we instinctively know when we have picked a winner that will benefit from what we both bring to its creation.
Cheryl: This is where compromise comes into play. Char and I are fortunate that we love the same type of books and don’t often have disagreements. But, we’ve had a few. It’s a delicate balance because usually we are both right, it’s just that we’re having a difference in where we see the story leading. So, we carefully and respectfully work through it, until we agree upon the chapter, and where it’s heading. The best thing about co-writing is that this process leads to a better read, in my opinion.
How do you both settle on genre? Characters? Titles?
Char: It depends on whether one or both of us have an idea that won’t leave us alone, or whether we’re just chatting on the phone and brainstorming occurs. We both get so excited when we start talking plotting and characters, that often the genre and our hero/heroine creates themselves.As for titles, those can be toughies, but again if we just talk it out together, we find what’s right for our work.
Cheryl: Yeah, what she said . . . ::smile::
Do you use an outside editor and cover art services for your co-written works?
Char: Since we’re both editors, we usually edit each other during the creative process. Cheryl is a great developmental editor, and I’m punctuation-crazed and grammatically anal. Both of us are strong characterization editors. Cheryl handles all the cover artwork, either creating it herself or working with a cover artist to come up with a selling cover.
Cheryl: We edit each other and that seems to work well. I do have a handful of critique partners I run my work through, and they catch a lot of stuff. By the time we finish our stories, they are pretty clean.
Does your writing partnership affect your working relationship as acquiring editors at Soul Mate Publishing?
Cheryl & Char: That would be a yes . . .but only in a good way. Sometime in the fall of 2015, we were chatting as usual, and started toying with the idea of a long-range book/series project we could develop together as editors, written by thirteen different Soul Mate authors. When we presented the idea to Soul Mate Owner and Senior Editor Debby Gilbert, she fell in love with the premise and gave it her professional blessing, and The Soul Mate Tree Series was born. The first book was written by us, under our pen-name, CiCi Cordelia. So, we not only co-write together, we co-edit.
We are currently working on a three-book historical western series, and our co-writing grows stronger with each book.
What advice do you have for those thinking of co-writing?
Char: First and foremost, you need to trust your co-writer. And it helps if you work with an author whose writing is similar to yours. I believe you should go at co-writing for the right reasons. Cheryl and I co-write because we love writing together and we believe the books we create together combine the best of both of us. As mentioned before, compromise is key. You’ll have to find common ground through every aspect of the process and you’ll need to leave your ego at the door, too.
Cheryl: As Char mentioned above,make sure you like and trust your writing partner. That’s key. Then look for someone who complements your work. It’s important to find a writer who makes your own writing stronger.
I do believe Char mentioned she’s anal . . .lol. True. I, on the other hand, am not. So I’m always rushing, wanting to get to the exciting part. That sometimes means leaving out details that would make the scene stronger. And Char sometimes writes with so much detail I find my mind wandering. So I edit her down, and she edits me up, and the pacing of our stories is the better for it. So don’t just look for someone who writes ‘just like you.’ Look for someone who melds with your own writing style to make a great story even greater.
But most of all, have fun!
Cheryl Yeko is an award-winning author and writes Steamy Romantic Suspense with protective alpha men and strong heroines. She also co-writes Sexy Historical Westerns and Hot Paranormal with her BFF, Char Chaffin.
She lives in Wisconsin with her husband Patrick. She loves to read, play piano, and spend time with family and friends. She belongs to several writing groups, including Romance Writers of America (RWA), Wisconsin Writers Association, Wisconsin Screenwriter Forum, and Sisters in Crime.