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?).
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.firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
“The internet is forever.”
Wrong. We’ve all heard this warning. I say it to my teenage daughter all the time. But this so-called helpful advice is not only not helpful to you, if you’re like most people, it’s probably detrimental to your success on social media.
Unless you’re talking about nudie pictures, (public service announcement: don’t post nudie pictures on the Internet) letting your social media strategy be guided by the fear that any of your posts will ever be fascinating to the whole world for all time is kind of like planning your three-year-old’s career as an NBA superstar. Sure, it happens to some people, but the odds of it happening to you are just so (to be polite) ridiculously small. And, in fact, your biggest problem is much more likely the opposite: getting anyone, anyone at all, to read and care about what you’ve posted.
My day job is social media marketing, and I spend a lot of time doing it. So, from my experience, let me suggest some better, more helpful advice.
by: Kristin Bayer
By night, Kristin is a playwright, and an aspiring romance author. By day she’s a digital marketing consultant and a mom. Find her at her website or on the bleachers at her kid’s game.
Ever have a deadline and have no clue how you’re going to meet it? That painful moment that seems to last ten years where your brain refuses to engage in thought and you’re left idea-less. I was there just minutes ago when I realized it was my turn to post and I had no topic and no clue what I’d write, so…
I decided to look for help. I googled ways to inspire creativity. Here are 13 ideas to jump start creative thoughts.
by: Mia Jo Celeste
Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English teachers, so it was no surprise when she chose to pursue both careers. You can find out more about her on her website or on Twitter.
No, I’m talking about a real burnout where everything seems to have run into a solid brick wall. You see, I’ve been writing constantly from the mid-nineties, and crafted some interesting stories, if I do say so myself. This time, even the characters were complaining. Nothing was working in the plot, and it didn’t make sense. I was trying to force it to get another book finished.
I took a deep breath, and decided to give writing a rest for a while. Taking the summer off seems to have rejuvenated me a bit. I was getting ideas on how I could rework the manuscript.
I hope this isn’t a permanent thing, but just a glitch of some sort. After all, I’m a few months away from seventy. Nothing on my body is working the way it’s supposed to.
If this happens to you, I would go with the flow. Maybe it’s your brain saying, “I need a vacation.” Ship your thoughts off to someplace else, like a good book, and kick back and relax.
by: Ilona Fridl
Ilona Fridl has eight books out with The Wild Rose Press. She is a member of RWA since 2002, and is active in the local chapter. Also a former student of All Writers in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She lives in Southeastern Wisconsin with her husband, Mark.
Registration for WisRWA’s Write Touch Conference opened on the 1st of October. Our biennial event promises to offer something for every genre fiction writer. No matter if you’re starting your 1st book or finishing your 25th book, we’ve planned a conference to meet all your wordsmithing needs.
From April 4th to Sunday April 7th 2019, we may have to brave the finicky spring weather in Milwaukee, but we’ll be able to enjoy the camaraderie of fellow writers from around the state and hobnob with literary agents and editors from around the country.
For me, enjoying Milwaukee comes naturally since I was born and raised in the city. I’m comfortable around lots of concrete buildings and bridges that wind over the Milwaukee River. I also happen to love the challenge of one-way streets when driving. Once upon a time, it was almost safe to walk barefoot down Brady Street.
In my humble opinion, Milwaukee is a beautiful city. It’s not too big. It’s not too small. It’s walkable. There’s a lot of good food, many fun happy hours and a rich history with its diverse community.
The Coincidence of Coconut Cake, by Amy E. Reichert is a terrific book that takes place in, you guessed it, Milwaukee. Ms. Reichert gives her characters the chance to explore the best of the best in Milwaukee, and readers can go along and enjoy the ride. It’s a sweet and delicious read that will introduce you to Milwaukee.
So let’s talk about Milwaukee…
I have a copy of The Coincidence of Coconut Cake that I’d love to give to someone. Just be the first one to comment about Milwaukee below to kick start the conversation and my copy will become yours to keep.
Bonus: The winner can get it autographed, since Amy will be at #WisRWA19!
Don’t forget to sign up for the conference. You can do so by clicking here. See you April!
Tricia Quinnies* writes contemporary romantic adventures. She sets her stories around Wisconsin to spin in her home state’s rich and quirky history. Her characters are known to walk the shores of Lake Michigan or the beaches of Lake Geneva. They dine in supper clubs, bowl in Door County and sip on a brandy old-fashioned, or two. Of course, the characters in Ms. Quinnies’ stories are Bucks, Brewers and Packers fans.
Just Desserts, Ms. Quinnies’ first book was published in 2014. It’s the first in a series and set her on a new adventure in self-publishing. She is a freelance writer. Her features about local families are published monthly in the Bayside Scene, a news magazine published by Best Version Media. She is a member of WisRWA (Wisconsin Romance Writers of America) and Red Oak Writers.