Many years ago, when I had published just one book, I attended an RWA conference for the first time. Of course I was awed by the many writers with long lists of books and awards, with the appropriate fame to go along. You know, the fan girl persona so many of us get at RWA events.
One of these star authors, a woman I admired for her novels and promotional accomplishments, spoke at an informal session, where several panelists were trying to define the ingredients of a good love story. Let’s call my celebrated star Fiona, in case she’d want anonymity. The conversation snagged on the lack of romances made into films.
“I know why,” Fiona said. “Because love happens in your brain. It’s no action movie theme.”
Then she broke into laughter. “Let me tell you a story,” she went on. “A few weeks ago, I needed to have a new computer connection installed in my office. The workman arrived and started crawling around on the floor under my desk. Then the phone rang, and it was an interviewer from a major newspaper. I didn’t dare ask her to call back. So I sat near my desk and answered her questions, all about the emotional side of love stories and how the brain is the primary sex organ. I finished the interview and hung up about the time the workman crawled out from under the desk, his tasks completed.
“’Listen, lady,’ he exclaimed, “I don’t know about you, but my brain is definitely not my primary sex organ!’”
The entire room of romance writers erupted in raucous hilarity. You can be sure I have continued to read almost every book Fiona publishes.
But this topic is still worth considering for every story we try to write. How does an author express her characters steps along the way toward that goal we all seek, a meaningful and reciprocal relationship? The inner dialogue, the outward evidences of passion, the evocative looks of concern…we must make them come alive in the mind of the reader. And it all happens in the brain! And must be related in words and reflected in conflicts that force those characters apart…to make life-changing choices that enable their love. And how are those choices made? Why, in the brain of course.
A few years ago, I read five or six novels in a row that used the word frisson (French for shiver, usually a thrilling one) to describe “that” feeling. By the third or fourth time I read it, the word just irritated me. But I think I used it once too, and I hope my readers didn’t have the same reaction.
I wonder if Fiona’s computer installer would describe the reaction of his primary sex organ as a frisson?
What do you think? Is the brain the primary sex organ in your WIP?
Victoria Hinshaw has been published since 1983. Her latest short story will be released soon in From Florida With Love: Moonlight and Steamy Nights, an anthology produced by the Southwest Florida Romance Writers, Vicky’s winter chapter. Visit Victoria at her website, at her blog or on Pinterest or Facebook at Victoria Hinshaw – Author.
Write what you know, right? Then it’s only natural I’d choose psychic phenomena to weave into a plot line.
I’m fascinated by weird stuff—those who foresee the future, life after death, reincarnation. I’ve savored several psychic reading appointments in my lifetime. I’ve experienced the ‘awe’ of Long Island Medium Theresa Caputto up close at Treasure Island Casino. I’m glued to her reality television show and take copious notes. On top of this, two friends in my immediate locale actually have a psychic gift. How lucky is this, huh?
I submitted the first fifty pages and the synopsis of Roll Over, Play Dead to a publisher for a critique that I’d won at auction at the Milwaukee WisRWA conference. She liked it. Really liked it, but commented from what she’d read, I had not written a romantic suspense but more of a cozy mystery. Would I be interested in reformulating my manuscript into a cozy?
With that nibble, I said yes! And then said to myself (and others in my Chippewa Falls chapter), exactly what is a cozy mystery?
From a little research, I found it’s similar to the old Columbo television show, or to Murder She Wrote. One main character (amateur) solves the crime. Clean language for the most part. No sex.’
Ack! What? No boy meets girl with interest in his eyes? Or a psychic medium that is attracted to a hunky male cop, but her life and her goal don’t work with his? No fun under the sheets? A cop who can’t say much more than ‘darn, we lost him?’ Not realistic in my mind. Not what I enjoy reading. Not what published author Ann Simas writes. Her books are the best.
Re-writes, Peggy. Back to editing this manuscript to hone in on the growing love relationship, adding more conflict and characters, more herrings and a little sex.
There’s gotta be a fuzzy genre publisher somewhere—or a market that offers the reader an amateur sleuth who gets entangled in romance along the way.
Maybe I should ask a psychic.
A former reporter/editor-now retired-Peggy Strand is editing her completed romantic suspense featuring a psychic medium, a detective, and a ghost dog who gives clues like treats for humans.
I generally have a good handle on my characters before I begin their stories. But there comes a point during my writing and/or plotting that I’m looking for details about the character, something to help me focus their personalities or flesh them out. That’s when I turn to Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs and Love Signs.
Yes, they are astrological signs books. But, this article is not about creating characters based on their astrological signs. I simply find Linda Goodman’s descriptions inspiring. Often times, I even get physical features from her writings.
EXAMPLE: Linda describes Librans as being “full of curves, rather than angles.” Or they have a “bright lilting laugh” and “that Venus smile has enough candle power to transfigure even plain or downright homely features—literally, not figuratively.”
Descriptions like that inspire me. How about if you got a plain-Jane heroine? Now you have an idea how to make her beautiful.
Pisces she describes as having eyes that are “liquid, heavy-lidded, and full of strange lights” and “you’ll usually find more dimples than wrinkles.”
She writes that Scorpios have “husky voices” and Aquarians have a “marked nobility of profile”.
LOOKING FOR SOME CHARACTER TRAITS?
How’s this for a common romantic hero whatever his zodiac sign? “Don’t expect this man to bare his soul when he first meets you. Cancerians never confide in strangers, and there are certain things even their best friends don’t know.” Sound like a mysterious hero to you?
Check out a few more.
There’s an “inner core that belongs only to him.” “Love is not a strictly physical relationship with this man. He hears more, sees more, and feels more through his senses than others do. This man uses the word “if” like a smoke screen. “If I loved you, we could….” Your heroine will have to learn to “blot out the word if.” I don’t know about you, but I think I just fell in love with this guy.
Anybody got a character who goes around patching things up between others? Check out a Libra for details.
Is your heroine strong and independent? Might she have a secret regret that she wasn’t born a man? Don’t let that secret desire fool you. This girl has a slow seductive walk. She looks “seductive in jeans, jodpurs or baseball shoes. And she’s the one with the husky voice.”
BLEND CLASHING PERSONALITY TYPES?
Take a lesson from the Scorpion female who “can’t excuse weakness in a man.” She looks for “ambition and courage.” She “wants a mate who can dominate her and make her proud.” Pit her against a Pisces male sign who never “recognizes that the tide is at its flood even when it sloshes over [his] feet” and you’ve got trouble. It isn’t that he’s weak. “He may just linger too long on a fading, silver star, and miss the bright sunlight of success.” Yet, Goodman’s Love Signs book lists these two signs as a successful mating.
Why? The powerful attraction of opposites. They’re both generous to a fault, but he with everyone and she with only family and friends. She talks everything out. He’s not about to reveal anything until he’s got it all worked out.
Even though it will be hard for these two to be completely honest with each other, they will quickly guess each other’s games then pretend they haven’t guessed. Leaving something unspoken adds a mystical quality to their lovemaking.
NEED A PLOT POINT?
Surprise. The scorpion may come on strong, believing she can swallow this poor little fish…but whether in a contest of wills or one of surprise, the fish will spring the last surprise. Could this be a black moment?
Above all, these two characters are “infinitely aware of each other,” even when onlookers would swear the two didn’t notice each other. I consider that infinitely aware part the key to a sensual romance.
This is just a sample of how I use Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs and Love Signs to inspire me in my creation of characters I hope my readers will fall in love with.
Now, I encourage you to go forth and search out your own odd resources for fleshing out your characters.
Blessed with a vivid imagination, award-winning author Barbara Raffin creates stories and adventures where she can explore her love of words and the human psyche. Whether a romantic romp or gothic-flavored suspense, her books have one common denominator: characters who are wounded, passionate, and searching for love. Her current work is a contemporary/contemporary suspense series about the St. John Siblings and their friends.
I don’t know about you, but I read fiction for the characters and the adventure those characters go through. Like most readers, I want vivid heroes who draw me into their situations and, often when I don’t get into the main character, I put the book aside. But how do writers create those attention-grabbing heroes?
Here’s what some of my favorite writing experts have to say.
I love reading stories that feature intriguing characters and I hope these tips will help you when you write your next tale. Also, if you’ve found the suggestions useful, I hope you’ll consider checking out the resources quoted in this article for further study.
Mia Jo Celeste comes from a family of writers and English teachers, so it was no surprise when she chose to pursue both careers. Recently, her novel Other Than became a double finalist in the 2018 Prism Contest in the Historical/ Steampunk and Best First Book Categories.
Movie directors and cinematographers work with Image Systems to deliver a story and character that entertain and offer meaning.
For those of us writing novels, creative nonfiction, memoir, and short stories, working with an “image system” can “deepen” or improve crucial aspects such as Point of View, characterization, momentum, and theme. Some writers also use an image system as a plotting tool.
Image System tip 2: Create better and more accurate distance and visual perspectives, as well as sound and smell perspectives.
Image System tip 3: Contrasting textures signal emotions.
Image System tip 4: Interior versus exterior—create momentum.
Image system tip 5: Objects matter in every story and help you sell.
Christine DeSmet is a writing coach and instructor with University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies. She also teaches an online course in novel writing. A past Golden Heart winner and finalist (3 times), her books include three in the Fudge Shop Mystery Series (Penguin Random House) set in Door County, Wis., and the re-issued light romantic mystery novellas When Rudolph Was Kidnapped and Misbehavin’ in Moonstone (Writers Exchange Publishing).
Asking and answering “why?” brings layers to the story. It helps us dig deeper into our characters’ motivations and perspectives. It shows how the past impacts the present. It helps us understand a character’s choices, actions, motivations. It brings meaning to a physical object.
“Why” allows us to cut a beloved sentence or scene. It leads to those “ah-ha!” moments, the surprising moments when you discover something new, unusual, or shocking about your character. In turn, you now have the perfect environment to create a moment that’s completely unexpected.
Recently, a writer friend had me read part of her manuscript. She wrote, “If I leave now, I’ll be home by three o’clock.”
This sentence stood out because I didn’t understand why it was there. What purpose does it serve? Why is getting home by three o’clock important to the story? (She never answered that within her novel.) When I asked her, she said it really didn’t have any importance. She cut it! Do you have sentences like that?
MIT professor and award-winning author, Laura Harrington, said that every word you write in your novel must have muscle. If a scene serves several purposes, even better. Always pay attention to your whys?!
Me Before You author Jojo Moyes once told me that she never regretted anything she cut, only the things she didn’t cut. Think about it: Why is this scene important?
To help you with your writing, I’ve created a WHY list of questions. Good luck!
Liza Wiemer is an award-winning educator with over twenty-five years of teaching experience. Hello?, her debut realistic contemporary YA novel, is set in Door County, Wisconsin and was published by Spencer Hill Press, NY. It was named a Goodreads Best Young Adult Novel and was on Milwaukee County Bestseller’s List for four weeks. Paste Magazine called it “one the most original novels of the year.” In addition, Liza has had two adult non-fiction books published through Random House and Gefen Publishing. Several of her short stories were included in the New York Times bestselling Small Miracles series. A die-hard Packer fan and graduate of UW-Madison, she’s married with two sons. Find her on Twitter: @lizawiemer.
When I saw this quote late last year, I didn’t realize just how much it would affect my writing from that day forward. It has, however, now become the mantra I chant when I barrel through 5,000-10,000 words a day. That simple sentence changed the way I write… and I’d like to think it’s for the better.
The first novel I wrote took a few years of on and off dabbling. When inspiration struck I wrote a paragraph here, a sentence there, until finally I typed those two magical words. The end. The feeling I had when I finished was a sense of accomplishment unlike any I’d experienced before. I wanted to go back and do it again… to feel the rush of knowing I’d done it. I’d written a novel.
So I started a new one. Again, a paragraph here, a sentence there but always waiting… waiting for inspiration to guide my hand and craft the words into something beautiful. Hours could be spent staring at that damn flashing cursor waiting for that poetic sentence to come together. It was then I saw the quote.
That night I started typing. Fast. I had the story in my head and the characters were off running. Rather than trying to find the perfect words to describe their every move and feeling, I just started pouring words onto the page like a court reporter transcribing everything I saw. I was amazed at how fast the story was unfolding, and how many more layers I could see, smell, and hear when I wasn’t distracted searching for the perfect word. Instead, I was standing inside my story in the middle of the action just scribbling as fast as I could to keep up.
When I was done that night I had typed 11,000 words. There were errors galore. The grammar police would have locked me up and thrown away the key. That road to hell paved with adverbs? I was skipping down it with a grin stretched wide across my face. But even with all the ugliness, I had created something quite beautiful. A story… or at least part of it.
The next day I did the same. Then the next, and the next. In under two weeks my entire novel was done. It wasn’t beautiful… but it was done. The skeleton and skin were laid and now it was time to go back and slap some hair and makeup on that motley looking creature. I was Professor Henry Higgins and my novel was Eliza Doolittle. Charming, but in need of a lot of refinement.
With the story sorted and the scenes set, I was shocked how easy it was to rework my sentences and find those perfect words quite effortlessly that I struggled with before. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t trying to create a story and a sentence all at once. The story was done, now I just needed to add some flourish to it.
Since changing my approach to writing, I am now writing faster than my publisher can keep up. I finished a new novel before they even had time to read the previous one. My “get ‘er done” writing style is not only more enjoyable for me since I get to throw myself into the story, but it has made me much more effective. With this new system, writing a novel is no longer a daunting mountain to climb, but more like small hills I need to jog up and down several times. It’s still the same distance in the end, just broken up into much more manageable pieces.
When I am in a scene, I’m trying my best to write sentences that flow and won’t leave me cringing when I come back through sporting my editor hat. However, when I get tripped up over a word or a phrase I ask myself “Do I need to know this right now or can I come back and figure this out later?” If it’s the latter, which it usually is, I slap down an adverb or an ugly sentence and keep on trucking.
After a particularly long stretch of writing my latest novel, I was in a fight scene and didn’t want to lose my rhythm. When I wasn’t sure how to describe my villain, I threw a sentence in that said “He’s ugly as hell. Work in ways to describe him.” That’s a direct quote. From my novel. Well, it was a direct quote before I went back and edited it to work in a very appropriate description. The point being, rather than lose my momentum by stopping to word-craft, I followed the energy of the story and came back later to pretty it up.
If you find yourself struggling to complete your manuscript, I encourage you to try this technique. Focus on writing the best you can without slamming on the brakes to obsess over what words best describe the color of your hero’s eyes. Just call them blue and move on. Later you can send us swimming in cerulean pools frozen beneath winter’s breath. Just write. Let your story unfold and follow it without delay. When you reach the finish line, take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and then sit down in the sand you just shoveled and start building those sandcastles.
Katherine Hastings loves love. It’s why she writes romance novels. Getting lost writing a romantic adventure is one of her favorite past times. When she’s s not on an adventure in her mind with her characters, she can be found at her home in Wisconsin snuggling her husband, two Boston Terriers, and the world’s naughtiest cat. Two things make Katherine want to leave her happy home these days…going for rides on her dressage pony or floating at the beach in her big inflatable raft. Writing her novels while floating in the lake is one of her ultimate pleasures…that and Fried Wisconsin Cheese Curds, of course.
Valerie J. Clarizio, Virginia McCullough, Kira Shayde, S.C. Mitchell, Lisa Romdenne and Mary Grace Murphy will be at UntitledTown presenting a panel entitled A Look at the Romance Genre and Women’s Fiction – The Genres that Outpace Themselves Year After Year.
Before sending their manuscript out into the world, some writers choose to have their work reviewed by a freelance editor. There are several advantages to having an editor join you in the revision process.
Whether you plan on self publishing, pursuing a traditional publisher, or seeking to find an agent, hiring an editor to polish your story is a powerful tool to help present yourself in a professional manner.
After authors dedicate large amounts of time and effort to their manuscripts, it can become hard to see much-needed changes.
As an author, if you are gearing toward establishing a writing career, then working with an editor is a great step toward building a solid foundation to grow from. Not only does an editor polish your work, but you learn as well throughout the editing process.
I had the privilege of interviewing Judy Roth from Custom Editing. Judy opened the doors for business in 2012. She has been writing and editing for over 20 years. With a New York publishing house background she currently works with a large and diverse group of authors covering most genres of fiction and nonfiction, publishing both traditionally and independently. She takes very seriously the privilege of working with such talented writers—novice and bestselling alike. She is also a conference and writing group workshop leader and thinks she has the best job in the world!
In this article, I have asked Judy some questions about the editing process.
Why is it important for writers to hire an editor to review their manuscript before showing it to the world?
An editor has a practiced eye. She is unbiased and works for you. She has the time, whole days of it often, to devote solely to your work. She has the experience to tell you if something is or isn’t working in a constructive manner and offer concrete examples of how it can be improved if need be. An editor is on your side. She wants you to succeed, and it is her job to help you do so.
What are the most common mistakes you see in a manuscript?
Aside from basic technical errors, I think it’s less about mistakes and more about honing our craft. It’s an ongoing process—an adventure—and a good freelance editor guides authors in this process while respecting authors’ artistic vision.
At what point in the writing process is it a good idea to hire an editor?
The traditional answer is when the manuscript is as done as possible. (When that is, is an entirely different question.) But the beauty of hiring a freelance editor who works for you is that is not always the only answer. An author might want the editor to look at the first few chapters to see if the manuscript is on the right track plot wise and/or style wise. Or, returning to the question of how the writer knows if the manuscript is finished, an editor can help determine that and if need be give suggestions for how to take the story to the next level.
This is an individual process depending on many factors. In any case, it’s important to remember the editing process is as vital as the writing process. With that in mind, try to budget enough time to ensure larger developmental edits are implemented consistently throughout and sentence and paragraph structures are varied and move the story forward. Try to avoid getting bogged down by holding on to something that isn’t working. It could be a plot point that’s dear to you but just feels off in this story. It could be that one perfect sentence that makes you laugh and cry and think deep thoughts, but you’ve moved it to ten different places, and it just no longer works. Let it go—hit delete. It’s actually quite liberating, like cleaning the basement, very satisfying once it’s done, and nine out of ten times we never miss our favorite coat from high school or our kids’ first bikes. And here is the coolest part, it’s no risk. You can hit Undo. If you take it out, you can put it back. It’s your manuscript. And a tip: Keep a separate folder for those wonderful words you have deleted but don’t want to lose. I call mine Hidden Gems. Who knows, those words may come in handy in the next story, or if not you can still go visit them, laugh and cry and marvel at your genius, whenever you want. They are your words!
What advice would you give authors going through the revision process?
Try to keep an open mind and be true to yourself. It sounds obvious, but it’s dang hard to do both at the same time, especially if you are receiving critiques.
And one very practical piece of advice is whenever you make any revision, even as small as a comma change, be sure to read not only the full sentence the revision is in but at a minimum the sentence before and after it as well.
What services do you offer authors?
I edit most fiction and nonfiction. I work with authors who want to publish independently and those who want to spruce up their manuscripts for submission. I offer several different packages of full developmental edits, line edits, and proofreading. I also offer coaching services. And I love talking with writing groups, big and small—always a blast.
What is your favorite part of being an editor?
Oh gosh, I love my job. I meet such talented writers, learn something new every day. I get to look up the most outrageous things on the Internet. Chat with authors about body fluids, who wore breeches, pantaloons, or trousers when, and the merits of an em dash—love ’em. I’m a mamma bear and being an editor I’m able to nurture without ever having to send anyone to timeout, no one gets hurt, and when all is said and done authors actually say, “Thank you.” What could be better than that?
Lisa Romdenne has been an RWA(PRO) member since November 2014 and a WisRWA member since September 2015. Currently, she serves as President of WisRWA . She writes western romance under the pen name Lianna Hawkins and is presently working on a historical western romance series.