Friday, January 29, 2010

Only you know what works for you

I’m Lydia, the Duchess of Debretts. You may call me “Duchess” or “Her Grace of Debretts” but never “Lady Debretts” - because that would just be wrong. As far as the English Peerage is concerned, there are hard and fast rules which should always be followed. However, not every aspect of writing is so inflexible – at least not in my opinion.

A few years ago I had writer’s block. A tragedy had befallen my family and I had a difficult time getting back into the swing of things. I headed off to the RWA Conference that summer, excited about a workshop on brainstorming. I figured that might get me back on the right track. Spark my creativity. Get me writing again.

Boy was I wrong.

Instead of getting something positive from the experience, I got a lesson in hubris, not mine. The presenter asked the audience by a show of hands how many of us were “pantsers”, and about half the audience raised their hands, as you’d expect in any group of writers. The presenter then went on to tell us that being a “pantser” was the worst possible thing you could do as a writer.

Wow.

I’m a “pantser”, but I didn’t take offense on my behalf. You see, it’s hard to tell me anything. I make up my own mind and don’t oscillate with direction of the wind. So, it wasn’t so much that I had been insulted, but I worried about how many other “pantsers” in the audience thought they were doing something wrong. How many of them went home and tried to change their process because a multi-published author told them to? That, in my mind, is unconscionable.

Every writer has their own process. Some plot. Some don’t. Some have to write with peace and quiet. Some need music. Some need to write X number of pages a day. Some just need to write one sentence. Some write when creativity strikes. Some type away on their computers for hours upon hours until they’re exhausted. Some are character driven. Some are plot driven. Some have index cards lined across their bedroom floor, the story all mapped out. Some use collages to inspire them. And others use absolutely nothing at all.

And every form is valid.

It drives me crazy to hear people say with all certainty that they have “the” way to do something. There’s not just one way. There’s a million. And my process might not work for you and yours might not work for me. I would never dream of telling someone they needed to write “my” way, and I’m not about to have someone tell me I have to write “their” way. We’re creative animals and we don’t fit into cookie-cutter molds.

To me, the most important thing in being a writer is to find what works for you and embrace it. You might take a class on plotting and realize, “Hey, that’s great. This is perfect for me. I never would have thought of it.” Then again, you might not. My suggestion to anyone starting out in this business is to keep an open mind, figure out what you need in order to write and then do it.

In the end, my writer’s block faded away and I was able to create again once my grieving process was over. I’m still a “pantser” and a rather successful one at that. I know who I am as an author. I’ve embraced my writing process and my style, and I wish the same for every other budding author out there.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Need Directions?

Writing without an outline is like driving without a set destination.

Larry Brooks – who by the way has an excellent blog to learn from – said, “We all start as pantsers. Only some of us, when we understand what elements and aesthetics a story needs to embrace before it will work, tend to adopt the habit of planning for it ahead of time.”

He also said you can write a story without planning it out ahead of time. You can. But... and here’s the kicker for me, how much easier would it have been had you planned it out so you wouldn’t write yourself into a corner and have to figure out how to get out of it?

So my question to you is this... do you want to be a prolific writer? One who can set deadlines and KEEP THEM? Do you want to finish more than one story a year or even finish one story and start a new one? And if you’ve been writing on the same project for over a year now, isn’t it time to try something new?

To tell the truth to you, this is a fairly new concept for me as well but it’s working. Last year I stumbled across two great sites that explained Outlining for me in a way I could understand it. It was simple. And easy for me. I fell in love with the concept and have now become an advocate for outlining. So what websites were they you ask? Holly Lisle’s How to think Sideways course. You don’t have to sign up for the course at all but can learn quite a bit about it just from the numerous articles she has on her site. Here’s the link: http://hollylisle.com/

And the other was Larry Brooke’s blog called Story Fix: http://storyfix.com/
Lots of info there too. So how exactly do you outline. I think it’s a personal choice honestly. Some people tend to outline to the detail and others give just the barest hint of information. I think I fall somewhere in between.

One of the lessons Holly discusses in her course is outlining with index cards. I do the same only on my computer. I break down how many chapters I’m going to roughly have, then take three scenes per chapter and come up with a total number of scenes. Normally, I have twenty chapters with three scenes at about six pages a scene. That equals about sixty scenes total. I give a one liner per scene that describes what’s happening. I know my beginning and my ending. My personal opinion is you need to know where you’re going so that you can write to it.

With that basic outline, I can stray from my original plan a little and still end up where I wanted to go. Since last year I have completed two manuscripts and am currently half way through my third. I don’t know if they will sell but they are definitely learning tools in my hand. If they don’t, I am certain I can move on and write something else and one day I know I will get published. Everyone needs a learning phase and if you rush it, then perhaps you aren’t learning all you can first.

So let’s debate this, are you a pantser or a plotter and why? And if you’re one or the other, are you willing to try the other for your next story just to see which way fits your life style better? Think about it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rejection Collection

An e-mail came across my computer last night that caught my eye. It was about a contest in my local writing group for rejections. Every time you receive a rejection this year, you put a dollar into the Rejection Collection pot. At the last meeting of the year, the person who has put in the most money wins the entire pot.

I was conflicted by this contest. At first I thought, no way will I enter that because who wants to win money for being the biggest loser? Then I considered it some more and realized I wanted to enter the contest for several reasons. First, when will I ever get to win any money again for not being published? At least this way, I will get something out of all my efforts. Secondly, I think being in this contest will inspire me to keep sending my manuscript to agents even if I am rejected. After all, I only have money to gain!

Entering this contest made me think how all of us who are working to be published or struggling with finding the energy and time to write our next manuscript sometimes really need extra motivation.

I just proposed a February writing contest to my critique group in which all of us put $5.00 into a pot, and the person who has written the most words by the end of February wins the pot. Now, if I can't pull myself away from Big Love to write for an hour and win some money then maybe I shouldn't be writing anyway!

I've read several ways writers motivate themselves. One writer has a glass of wine each night after finishing a certain set word count; another writer allows herself a manicure and pedicure at the end of the week if she meets a certain word count goal. I think these are great idea.

I dare you to step out of your box and set a challenge for yourself. Come up with a plan that will inspire you to write more, send out more queries or finally finish that blasted synopsis. Let me know what you come up with because I would love to hear your ideas. I might be able to use them for myself.

I'm off to write!
Julie Johnstone, The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It is a truth universally acknowledged,

that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Jane Austen.

Quote just half the first line of Pride and Prejudice and most historical fans could name where those words came from. That incredible first sentence sets the tone for the rest of the book, and most writers dream of emulating Jane Austen’s succinct wit.

Let me share with you some of the great first lines I found in my keeper shelf of regency set historical romance:

It was a hell of a night for an elopement. Karen Hawkins, The Abduction of Julia (2000)

“And last, to my cousin Anthony Elliot, the estimable Earl of Greyley, I leave the sole care of all my five of my beloved children.” Karen Hawkins, An Affair to Remember (2002)

As you can see from the above first lines, the author shows us the situation. She sets up the main characters, and hint at how sticky the situation might become for them. Both styles, using dialogue or narrative, are good ways to start.

~*~

As Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, stared at the young woman who had just barged her way into his London residence, it occurred to him that he might have tried to abduct the wrong heiress last week at Stony Cross Park. Lisa Kleypas, Devil in Winter (2006)

What was a caricaturist to do when she ran out of material? Anne Mallory, Masquerading the Marquess (2004)

These two are quite different in length yet they give a back-story for the main character: a failed abduction; the other, a current profession. Both hint strongly that the character still needs to accomplish their goals.

~*~

The Boscastle-Welsham marriage would have been the wedding of the year - if the groom had bothered to put in an appearance. Jillian Hunter, The Love Affair of an English Lord (2005)

The late Dominic Breckland, Viscount Stratfield, was returning to life in a sea of women’s underwear. Jillian Hunter, The Seduction of an English Scoundrel (2005)

These two strike me as particularly vivid. They give a hint of back-story, future conflicts, and the situations are humorous.


But not all published books have great first lines. A flick through my keeper shelves only produced a dozen with stand out first sentences. I’m not saying the other hundred were inferior stories, but only a handful really hooked me on that first line.

The first line, the first pages of a novel, have to hook the reader but before your work even gets to them, it has to pass the gatekeepers of publication, the agent and the editor. An author must make any reader curious enough to keep going and forget the world around them. I’ve spent many a late night (ok early morning) turning “just one more page” because a clever writer hooked me early and kept me in their world.

Everyone has favourite books, and my keeper shelves could do with some new additions. (DH wouldn’t actually agree with me on this though) So, have a look at your shelves, and your e-book files, and get back to me with titles containing great first lines. I’d love to add them to my to-be-read pile.


Monday, January 25, 2010

That was then, this is now...

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I took a much-needed break from our newborn and went to see Sherlock Holmes at the movie theater. We both loved the movie and can't wait to see it again! As a result of loving the movie, we decided that perhaps we would enjoy reading Sherlock Holmes and therefore placed our order for Volume 1 of the complete collection on Amazon.

As soon as it arrived, we cracked it open and Eric began reading aloud from the beginning of the first book. Wow! How very interesting to read what is considered a masterpiece, a piece of important literature, with the eyes of a modern-day author. I can pretty much guarantee that if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were trying to get published today, it would be an uphill battle. And I'm pretty sure that if he joined a critique group, he'd be ripped to shreds. Why?

Well, the first several pages of the book are entirely backstory. Just a long, drawn out, droning detail of Watson's background: his years in the military, how he became a doctor, etc... I could just hear comments from the critique group, myself included, saying, "Great start, however, you might want to consider revising. This is all backstory, and I fear you're going to lose your audience and probably have trouble getting it past the slush pile with an agent/editor. Maybe you could open with an action scene - perhaps show us, rather than tell us, the scene where the orderly rescues him after he's been hit by the Jezail bullet. You might really benefit from xyz class about Show vs Tell." Sound familiar???

However, here's the thing . . . I actually liked the opening of Sherlock Holmes. Despite the fact that we were aware of all his "mistakes" (Hah!), we didn't stop reading. We got quite a bit further into the book before our daughter woke us for her next meal time.

So what's my point, you may ask? I'm not sure that I have one, actually. I just find it fascinating that what was once considered a masterpiece (and still is, actually) would most certainly be rejected by a modern-day publisher. It also makes me wonder what people a hundred+ years ago would have thought of what we write today. If Doyle had opened with an action scene, would a Victorian reader have asked, "But who is this man? What are his credentials? Why would I want to read about someone whose background is but a mystery to me?" Hmmm . . .

Now it's your turn. Are there books/authors you love that you know for sure would never be published today? And would the absence of said books be a tragedy? I certainly think it would have been a tragedy if Sherlock Holmes had never been published . . . how could Hollywood have made such a great film without it?? (Just kidding about that last part, of course ;))

Friday, January 22, 2010

CRIT FRIDAY OPENING #6 Adam McClelland




Member critique:

AMY: This is an intriguing start. However, the flow didn't quite work for me in that you start off with him remembering her in photo and end with the old man either dead or seriously injured. I would almost take out the beginning and start with "A half moon . . . " and put the beginning after "The old man saved his little girl." But, with so few words to start with it is hard for me to tell where this is going so that may not work with the rest of the chap. Great descriptions.

MELISSA: Put the picture in his hand. Let him hold, see it, to bring it into real time. If this is a flashback as both Amy and I think it is, give it substance. Make it real by letting him hold the object and not just remembering when he held the object. I'm intrigued though, definitely a good hook. I would check your ing words and shorten the first couple of lines. Break up those sentences to increase the pacing. For example: Adam McClelland held the newspaper clipping. The photo of the sultry woman with the sizzling come-hither gaze and parted lips caught his eye.

Beautiful description btw, I can see the moon, hear the gravel. Very well done. That is definitely your strength. Work on those few things and I would say you've got a winner here! Excellent job.

HEATHER: Thanks for joining us.

First sentence: The beginning really confuses me because I’m not sure where I am. Am I in the present looking at an old picture or am I in flashback? Consider revising.

The magician’s son ran Carly off. That means she’s gone but the next line contradicts that.

Consider moving “Looks real bad, Adam...” closer to Sheriff Jeff Olestra greeted Adam. The dialogue seems misplaced. This is another I'd really like to read again after changes.

SAMANTHA: First of all, you have a beautiful way of writing. I could really see the setting. Great job at world building.

I was confused by the first line, too. From what I take from the scene, the magician is dead, probably a victim of a crime. What I don't get is the connection between the crime and the newspaper clipping. Or is it the girl who is dead? I'm thinking not, because then why would the sheriff say he knows they are close. However, confusing beginning paragraph or not, I would like to read more.

JERRICA: "A metal bumblebee." I love that! However, I have to agree with the others - I'm a bit confused by the opening and what's going on. I like vague, but this might be a little too vague. A little clean up and it'll be a stellar opening! Well done!

PHYLLIS: This opening was very interesting. I agree with the others that the first part didn't pull me in, but once I kept reading, then it became intriguing. Your writing is good, so I know you'll be able to fix this with no problems!

JULIE: You do a superb job of world building. However, the flashback in the beginning really confused me. I read your entry twice to make sure I understood who was dead. Perhaps he could see a quick snap shot of the body to clue the reader in with just a word or two before the scene move forward. I would definitely read more of this story though, so I'd say you have done a nice job with the hook.

CRIT FRIDAY OPENING #5 The Collection


Member critiques:

GAIL: Wow. The opening line is fantastic. For a moment, I thought I was reading a paranormal. When I realized it was a police/murder story, I immediately knew it was so much better than your standard "just the facts ma'am" story. The title's great, the writing's great, and I am completely hooked. I just know I'm going to see this at the B&N someday... and I'll buy it too. Good luck with your writing career.

AMY: I agree with Gail, this is a great opening and you grabbed my attention immediately. I wish I could keep reading.

MELISSA: It is a great opening. My suggestion to strengthen your opening line is this: Back among the dead, (insert character's name here to give us a clear view of who's pov we're in) hated seeing the horror and innocent victims. He wished it would end. (When you put too much into one line, the point get's lost somewhere, so break up overlong sentences- especially in action scenes. Shorter equals faster pacing.)
I would also start the second paragraph with: The body lay there, blood surrounded her and splattered on the wall, almost as high as the painting.
I would also suggest you go through and check your ing words. Too many make for weaker writing. Change just a few and you'll be surprised at how much stronger the writing ends up. Great opening though, it's definitely a good hook and the ending hook with the oils is phenomenal! Brilliant btw. I loved it.

HEATHER: Thanks for joining us.

Great first line – but start with Nate not He.

Suggestion: But no, there was just one corpse this time. She lay there, blood splattered up the wall, high enough to drip from a gilt picture frame.

You have great opening paragraphs here and I would love to read more.

JERRICA: Very well done start to a novel! I immediately thought "DaVinci Code" (which I loved, by the way.) I don't have much to say, but as Her Grace of Grammar, I just can't let this go. Before "Nate looked closer," change the period to a comma and it'll be perfect :) Well done!

PHYLLIS: I will agree with the others. AWESOME opening! Pulled me right in. The only thing I could suggest is you add a little action to it. For the moment he's just thinking and moving his gaze. Have him do more. That's all I suggest. lol Great job!



Samantha: I find this opening intriguing. The only thing I would suggest, and it is very minor, is tweaking your third paragraph a little so it flows better. The part where he says he wished he was outside with his partner is immediately followed with the line, "She'd gone outside willingly." I think you could just say he wished he was with his partner before this line. What I really loved about this scene is the pairing of the murder and art. It makes me wonder if this is perhaps a theme. I definitely would keep reading.

JULIE: This is a great opening paragraph. It hooked me from the start. I love action and intrigue and you seem to have both here, so I would willingly read more. I like that you show the hero's vulnerable side immediately with the simple line, his stomach clenched. It gives me a nice window into his personality. Keep me posted
on your wip, I would love to read more.

CRIT FRIDAY OPENING #4 July 7, 1777, Hubbardton, Vermont


Member critiques:

GAIL: I like your setting and I liked the soldier's banter in this passage. I'm not sure if it works as a hook for the opening of a book. First, because you already told us where they are, so there's really no mystery about that for the reader. Second, if this is a romance, I'm not sure the average romance reader is going to be enticed by images of bloating rotting cows. I do love Revolutionary War stories so I hope you have great success with this one.

AMY: I would take out the location in the set up and just give us a date. I read that first and then the opening dialogue/question. It had already been answered for me. I do think you used good description through this and painted a picture of the scene, or at least what they had seen. One thing that did read awkward to me was "—and one of Granger’s dark eyes staring sideways at him." I am not sure why, it just did.

MELISSA: I am of a differing opinion about this than Gail I guess, sorry Gail lol. But I love that you're not afraid to get real in action! Excellent example as I mentioned in my action blog! Yay! I love the banter between them, (the mouth of hell) Great line btw! I'm completely hooked which is your first goal. I would only suggest the wandering eye line just needs a little tweaking and you're set! Great job!

HEATHER: Great opening and descriptions but you lost me a little at the mention of carcasses. Suggestion: Even through the thick linen tied across his mouth, the heavy stench of death tainted the air. He’d never gotten used to the scarlet wool of his …

I found the beginning of your story really interesting - thanks for letting us critique your work.

JERRICA: I'm with Melissa on this one! I loved this opening! Superbly written, first of all, and the description brought me right into the scene, regardless of how unpleasant it may have been ;) I wish I had more to say, but I think this was darn near perfect!


PHYLLIS: My thoughts are you should open with using "The mouth of hell" in your sentence. That was an awesome description. But I agree with the others and I don't think that makes for a good enough hook.

JULIE: Take out exactly where they are to leave some mystery. The opening is good to me. I like the action and the dialogue is very well written. I do think you may automatically turn some off with the vivid descriptions of half butchered, fly infested cattle. I might just move that description for a little later once the reader is hooked and unwilling to put the book down. Great beginning. Best of luck.



SAMANTHA: I really like the opening, and although I don't generally enjoy half-butchered carcasses, I think it is very telling. It transports me to the life this soldier is living, and I feel empathy for him. It isn't a pleasant image, but it isn't gratuitously detailed. I don't feel it is included for shock value. And the writing is fanatastic!

CRIT FRIDAY OPENING #3 Marcie adjusted


Member critiques:

AMY: Interesting set up and I liked the dialogue right off. You set a good pace but it slowed with the description of "The second day . . ." The description was great and I could visualize where they were, and I see where it is necessary, but for some reason it slowed your pace. Maybe if you took out some of the back story about "hours earlier . . . .photo albums . . ." to tighten this section and keep with your quick and intriguing pace.

MELISSA: My first concern in this: You set this up with Marcie in your first line but we are in Serena's pov. My initial thought was that we were in Marcie pov and she was the main character. If you could re-phrase this so that Serena is in the first line somehow, it would probably clear that up. I would also add to re-write and put in real time. Limit your flashbacks. Maybe: After a lazy day of lounging on thier second day of celebrating, the mood had changed. Just a suggestion though. Love the banter btw, it's great dialogue!

HEATHER: Thanks for joining us at Lady Scribes

I did have some suggestions for your first line until I worked out Marcie wasn’t the viewpoint character. Suggest you start from Serena saying, for example, “No, you can’t have him.” and then tweak the rest to fit.

FROM: On the second day… TO: warning? I would alter most of this into dialogue with Marcie and expand their conversation. I think Marcie might be a bit of a handful to take on holiday. LOL. I do like how wicked she sounds.

SAMANTHA: I actually liked the word greased in your wip. It painted a picture for me. I could see the coconut scented oil glistening on her skin. I vote to keep it.

One thing that threw me out of the story, as odd as it might seem, was the foreshadowing of the sea gulls sounding a warning. It wasn't quite subtle enough for me, but as you can see from the varied comments, this is a very subjective process. And I love the sound of gulls. I associate them with relaxing on a beach. I don't think I would ever think of them as sounding a warning, so maybe that's why it seems a little forced to me. Now if it were crows, that would be a different story.

I agree with my fellow lady scribes that starting with Marcie made me think she was your heroine.

JERRICA: This is what I get for chiming in so late, but I have to agree with what everyone else has said. They covered all the suggestions I would have made. I will say, though, that the tone/subject matter hooked me right away - it's definitely something I would enjoy reading. It could just use some polishing to make the opening stellar! Great job!

PHYLLIS: I was a little confused at the beginning whose pov we were in. You jump right into dialogue, which is good, but still it wasn't enough of a hook. Keep working on it, because the premise is very interesting!


JULIE: The heroine sounds interesting, and her story intrigues me. However, as previously stated, starting with Marcy confused me. I think you should start with Serena talking then Marcy going into her dialogue. Maybe Serena could ask Marcy why they are floating by her ex-husbands house and then Marcy could say "speaking of men." I think the long paragraph in the middle should be broken up and filtered into the convesation and story. Otherwise, it reads like an information dump to me even though pain some nice descriptions. Good luck!

CRIT FRIDAY OPENING #2 Nothing Ventured



Member critique:

AMY: Another great opening line. Also, great closing line because now I am wondering. You grabbed my attention.

The "She smiled. Generous mouth." read awkward to me. Otherwise, I enjoyed the exchange and knowing his thought process.

SAMANTHA: Intriguing. I like that it starts with action right away. I also think the short sentences convey that Eric is (1) a man and (2) a busy man who is accustomed to crushing people's dreams. Is he an agent? ;)

One thing I feel could enhance this scene is to describe the setting. What I mean by that is inserting sounds, scents or some visuals within the scene. So, maybe something like this: "Mr. Berenger, I have a proposition for you." The woman's soft voice barely broke through the rumble of simultaneous conversations around the vast room. Okay. I'm winging it here at 11:00 pm, so I'm not claiming it's brilliant. But hopefully this serves as a good illustration. As the wip stands now, I can't tell if they are alone or where they are? Is he sitting with colleagues? Is he standing and packing his briefcase? Are there food smealls since it is a lunch? I think filling in the details will help to build a world to draw in your readers.

MELISSA: Excellent hooks! Both beginning and end. Excellent action, perfect example of using short sentences and short paragraphs to keep the pace fast! Way to go. You've hooked me and I want to read more. Good job. My only suggestions which probably isn't a good suggestion at all considering this is only the first 200 words and you probably do this later but like Michelle I'd like to see where we are. I'd like to get a sense of the time and setting as well. But agian you probably do this later in the scene. Other than that, great job!

HEATHER: Great opening line – made me smile.

Suggest you delete: Comes with the territory, though.; albeit not exciting (Chamber of Commerce luncheon already sounds dull); *Good*. Those changes would improve flow.

The remaining lines were great. Thanks for letting us critique your work.

JERRICA: This seems like a fun read! I'm going to go ahead and agree with Michelle, though. It would be an even better opening if there were a few more details dabbled in. Best of luck with it!

PHYLLIS: Great opening line! Pulled me right in...as did the last line. Personally, I couldn't see any problems with this at all. I agree with Heather when she said you delete (or rewrite) "Comes with the territory, though.. etc" That part I stumbled over.

JULIE: I am curious right away as to what the propostion is, so I would definitly read further. I like the short sentences. They keep the action moving and show me he thinks quickly as a business man would. The last line of the second paragraph should be re-written. You could add two short lines of blocking, setting description, in front of the dialogue, "Thank you Ms. Noland" and "Do you have a few minutes?" This blocking would place the reader in the scene because as it stands now, I'm clueless as to what is around them, and I want to know. Although I like the last line, once again, I would add blocking, but this time I would add an aciton of hers that hints at her personality. Good luck!

CRIT FRIDAY OPENING #1 Finding Caleb


Member Critiques:

AMY: Loved the first line. Great grabber.
I had to read the following sentence a few times and it slowed down the flow of the reading for me. "What had been even more galling was that the brute had dared to grab her calf then continued to grace her with the most twisted smile his loosed jaws were capable of."
Great description in the second paragraph and it flowed well.

GAIL: I agree, the opening hook is great. Then you go straight into a flashback, and that makes me wonder if you're starting in the right place. All those 'had's' get a little bit cumbersome. It might be better to show the scene in real time. I love your spitfire heroine and I'm interested in seeing how this story ends. Good luck with it.

SAMANTHA: I really love the first line. It grabs my attention right away and makes me want to read more. I also like your descriptions, and I can empathize with your heroine right away. All of these are great strengths in your wip. You know, I agree with Gail about showing the scene in real time. I'd love to see Evie whack him with the tray, and with your ability to write description, I think you could put me right there cheering her on. Nice work.

MELISSA: I would go so far as to say start the second paragraph with Seven days ago... that way your initial line has more impact: Evie Gallahan was going back to jail. No exclamations btw, it should read as a statement and exclamations should be used sparingly. If you decide to go back and rewrite in real time to show us the action, check out my blog on action, I hope it'll help. But I definitely agree I would stick to using real time versus flashbacks. Excellent job, good luck with it.

HEATHER: Thanks for joining us. The first line is good but then you delve into a lot of back-story. I think it would read better if you teased this information out during some action. You need to get the reader into the setting and the story. I’m not in your story yet but I would be interested to see any changes you make.


JERRICA: I have to agree with all the others - you've got a great opening hook, but the flashback immediately slows things down and takes us out of the action. I would say to either start with the scene she's describing and give it to us in real time OR drop the backstory in while she's being carted off to jail. The writing is definitely good, so keep at it, and good luck! :)

PHYLLIS: I have to admit, "Campbelltown" had me grinning like a fool (since that's my last name), and so right away I was going to love this entry. lol The first line really hooked me and reeled me in. Although I have to agree...doing a flashback in the opening of chapter one should be avoided. It slows down the pace and that's something you don't want to do.

JULIE: The opening line hooked me right away. The next line confused me. It was hard to read, and I went back and re-read it three times. I think the story could definitley start in the scene where she hits the man grabbing her, and then she is carted off to jail. The heroine seems spunky, and I love the hints of her personality you drop with phrases such as, "There had never been a prouder moment in her life" and "A better dish he'd never been served indeed." The bit you have shown us is intriguing and promising.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Plot Thick.. Um, thick... Darn, I'm Drawing a Blank!



I am a planner. I make lists. I set goals. I read maps. I like to have an idea of where I’m going before I leave my house. I'm baffled by people who can't give directions and ready to string up anyone who gives bad directions. Not really. Well, some days. ("Are you familiar with the area?" "No." "Well, you know where the old Bently home was? It was torn down in 1810, but there's this rock by a tree..." "Please, just point in the general direction.")

If I have errands to run, I quickly access my mental map and plan my route to insure the most efficient use of my time. I realize I'm sounding a bit inflexible, and perhaps a lot impatient, but I'm not. At least I'm not inflexible. I am impatient.

Now, I’m willing to accept there are others who are perfectly content with exploring whatever path lies in front of them. They are open to adventure. They want to see where the path leads and what wonders they will discover along the way. As a writer, they are called pantsers. Not being a pantser myself, I have a hard time understanding how anyone can start with nothing, have no idea where the story is going to end up and still produce a story. Yet, there are writers who seem to be able to do this easily.

For me, I need a starting point and destination. I start with who my characters are, how they meet and what puts them at odds. I also know how the story will end. Granted, all of this is sketchy and subject to evolve along the way, but I have something to go on.

Everyone has to find their own way of writing that works for them, but I often wonder if there are pantsers who find they rarely finish stories. Maybe they have a great idea, start writing, find themselves stuck and set it aside, only to repeat the process with another story. While they are exploring different pathways, perhaps they are gaining self-knowledge, building their craft or simply satisfying a need for creativity. There may be lots of value in doing these things. However, it isn’t producing a product – i.e. manuscript – and isn’t that the goal of being a writer?

When I find myself stuck on a story, I try to problem-solve. I make a tentative outline of major things I want to have happen then I start writing, trying to get from one major event to another. I don’t necessarily know what scenes I’m going to write or what my characters are going to do or say, so I get some element of surprise, but I know they are going to do something and why.

Again, not every technique works for every writer, but if you are stuck, I challenge you to try something different, whether you are a plotter or pantser. And don’t stop writing. Creativity and writing skills are like muscles. If we stop using them, they grow weak. Not every word you write has to be perfection, but even writing bad sentences is better than not writing at all.

I would love to hear what techniques you use to keep your stories going, or how you defeat writer's block, so please, tell me NOW! Oops. Sorry, about that. Take your time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Find a Great Critique Group

If you follow me on twitter, you know how much I love my critique partners. Rarely a week goes by that I do not feel the need to tweet to the world about how brilliant and helpful they are. Invariably, this brings the response, “You’re so lucky! How did you find them?”

Well, I actually have two wonderful critique groups, this one for historical romances, and another for my contemporary novels. But before I found them, I bounced through several other groups that weren’t a good fit. Along the way, I learned a few things about how to find a good critique group/partner.

5 Keys to Finding a Great Critique Partner:

1)Take an honest look at your own writing.
Before you go looking for a critique group, stop and think honestly about your own writing habits, and what you want to get from this relationship. How much do you really write? You want to have someone who writes about as much as you do. Do you want critique partners who write the same genre? When writing historicals, it’s a big help, because you can share research. And last but not least, think about your steam/gore level. If you’re Penelope Prude, you might have problems critting Steamy Sue’s erotica.

2) Looking Local or Online?
This too is a matter of personal preference. For sheer volume, nothing beats online. There are plenty of Yahoo groups for writers. Many of the online RWA chapters, like Hearts Through History or Kiss of Death, have crit groups. Even if your chapter doesn’t, you can always post a message looking for other members who want to start one.

Local groups, which meet in person, are harder to schedule, but more likely to grow into lifelong friendships. Again, your local RWA Chapter is a great place to start, even if you don’t write romance. Search online for other local writing groups meeting in your area. Libraries and independent bookstores often have bulletin boards where writing groups can post notices. So do colleges, or any other place where you might find a writing class.

3) Don’t Dismiss the Newbie.
You might think that the ideal crit group is full of brilliant, published authors. But published authors are really busy people on tight deadlines. So you want to have some reliable unpubbed’s in your group. People who have time to brainstorm with you and read your revisions. A new writer might not know all the tricks of the trade, but they can tell you what a reader thinks and they may be more honest than your experienced writing friends who know how hard it is to hear that your hero's a jerk.

4) Check the Rules.
Once you’ve found a group you’re interested in, check around for a list of rules. The bigger the group, the more likely you need some. The important thing to look for here is the exchange rate. How many critiques do you have to do before you can submit your own work? Do you decide how often you submit, or is someone else making up a schedule for you? How are the critiques given, in writing or read aloud?

5) Love them, Love their work.
The most important thing about joining a crit group is finding people you can like both as writers and as friends. You’re going to be spending a lot of time with these people, reading thousands of pages they’ve written. I can honestly say that I get a little thrill every time one of my crit partners submits a new chapter or starts a new book. Published or not, they’ll always be my favorite authors. And that’s what makes a great critique group.

I would love to hear your experiences. Where did you find the perfect crit group/partner? And what do you think is the most important factor in forming a great critique group?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Historical Accuracy - Important?

How important is historical accuracy in a historical romance?

I think with some things it is very important and for others, not so much.

Take bathing for instance. To say people didn’t bathe during the Middle Ages would be accurate. In fact, a person may have only bathed a few times a year. While people had various reasons for avoiding it, the practice is foreign to modern readers. I’ve read several novels where the hero or heroine often luxuriates in a bath of warm water. This is unlikely given what we know of the period. But, we like our characters to be clean and smell nice. We are writing romances and having your hero note that the heroine smells of lilacs on a spring day is much more romantic than comparing her scent to the fertilizer beneath said lilac bush, and doesn’t have that whole eeeeeeewwwww factor attached to it. Thus, we are more willing to set aside what we know is not true for the sake of romance

But how far can an author push the bounds of historical inaccuracy before we put a book down? One particular book comes to mind for me. I am not going to give the name of the book, author or when it was published. It is not the point of this post and I would never do that to another author. Besides, it was a long time ago. This author used an item, in a manner it was never used, and years prior to its invention. Maybe other readers never caught it, but I just happen to know about this particular subject. And, perhaps I was the only reader she almost lost. Still, one reader is one reader.

Fortunately, one of my critique partners kept me from making a similar mistake by commenting on a quill I used in a story. I made an assumption and didn’t research. She happened to know about quills. Another critique partner pointed out that my heroine baking bread in France wouldn’t have worked because I put the story at the beginning of the French Revolution. After I double checked my timeline, I realized my date was off by a few years. But, would anyone else have noted it or known there was no grain for flour while my heroine was baking her bread? Additionally, is it all that important if the story is good? You tell me?

So, in your opinion, where is that line for historical inaccuracy in a romance? I am interested in hearing your thoughts.

Amy De Trempe

Friday, January 15, 2010

CRIT FRIDAY OPEN

The day has arrived for our first Crit Friday. Post the first 150-200 word OPENING PARAGRAPHS from your work in progress as a comment for a free critique.

The first twenty (20) comments will be collected and reposted to the blog on the next Friday with critiques by our members.

The important dates:

Friday 15th January 2PM (US central time) post OPENING PARAGRAPHS
(or Sydney Australia - Saturday 16th January 7AM)

Friday 22nd January (US central time) critiqued paragraphs added to blog with feedback
(or Sydney Australia – Saturday 23rd)

This is NOT a contest - there are no prizes - just honest feedback delivered in a nice way.

Authors will remain anonymous, and we will use comment moderation to insure that no inappropriate remarks can be left after critiqued pieces are posted.

Remember to come back next Friday 22nd January to see the reposted intro's.

Good luck.

CLOSED TO NEW POSTS

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pen. Paper. Action!


Hi I'm Melissa Dawn Harte.
Just call me Miss Adventure. As you can tell, I was the tomboy following my brother and his friends around while they played. I had my helm, the jersey was my armor and the fly swatter was my sword. I love a good adventure like Pirates of the Caribbean or National Treasure. Some of the classic adventures will stay with me forever, like Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone. I remember I wanted to be just like Indiana Jones!

Books have a way of bringing that excitement to our fingertips. Written well, they can bring you inside the action, up close and personal, zooming the camera in so close that we can hear the panting breath in our ears, the clang of swords and thunder of the storm as it rolls across the sky. We can see the fear in a character’s eyes as sweat pops up across their brow only to trickle down the temple to the chin. We can even feel the cold blade as the villain runs the dagger across our hero’s neck.

One of my biggest pet peeves in a book is when the author sets up an action scene only to ruin it for me. I will then take said book and fling it across the room. So I’ve made up a little list for you: How to ruin an action scene in ten ways.

10. Dumping back-story into an action scene. Nothing infuriates the reader more than when an author decides to dump a ton of back-story into an action scene after setting them up for a great adventure. They’re ready for the chest heaving, sweaty palms, edge of your seat action and everything comes to a complete halt because you have to describe why cousin Joe hates aunt Helga and has decided to make a scene at the dinner party. We want to see the fight! We want to see Cousin Joe drop Aunt Helga on her tush in the middle of the pea soup, not listen to how the feud started ten years before because Aunt Helga snubbed Joe at his own wedding. Take the time in the previous chapter to set up the necessary information drops ahead of time so that when the ball gets rolling, there’s nothing to stop its descent.

9. Slapping a ton of description in an action scene. What?? I don’t want to see how long and flowy the heroine’s hair is billowing about her shoulders while the action is on ship’s deck and the hero’s pinned down next to the main mast fighting three foes at once! Give me action or give me death! Keep the long descriptions to the appropriate scenes like love scenes.

8. Shorter sentences! This is the time in your story when you can clip your sentences in half and get away with it! Nothing is more exciting than seeing short clipped sentences that say more with two words than you could with ten. Shock the heck out of the reader and get her to sit up straight, hold her breath and make her heart race. Now that’s action.

7. Shorter paragraphs! Action is all about pacing and to keep up a fast pace you not only need to shorten your sentences but shorten your paragraphs as well. Now is not the time to insert flowery prose.

6. Stronger verbs! I cannot abide someone who will use the word hit when strike or pound would paint the picture so much better.

5. Use your senses but use them wisely, young padawan. Know when your character would hear something, don’t just randomly insert sounds or smells. Make each sense count! It should make the scene clearer, and keep the action moving forward.

4. POV! I cannot tell you how many books I have read and thought to myself, this scene would’ve been much better in the other character’s pov. Make the pov count. Stick the character with the most to lose right smack dab in the middle of the action and let him/her react to it.

3. Realism! Biggie with me. One of my favorite authors would have to be Marsha Canham. She writes it like it is. You see the blood splatter! You feel the tear of the flesh, the sting of the eyes. Don’t be afraid to GET REAL.

2. Keep it simple, stupid! Don’t try to write difficult un-choreographed scenes without first reading it out loud. If it doesn’t make sense to you, chances are it’s not going to make sense to the reader either. So keep it simple.

And my number one reason for flinging a book across the room during an action scene has to be this:

1. Know your research! Please, please, please get your research right on weapons, ships and battles. It is so frustrating when you, the reader, know something the author didn’t bother to look up. How many times have you read something and thought to yourself, this person has no clue what they're talking about. So take the time to learn what the difference between a flail and a Morningstar is. Take the time to learn the battle strategies of the era and exactly when each weapon would be used and by whom. Foot soldiers more often used pole arms and knights were mounted with broadswords. During the middle ages a man’s weapon often signified his rank. Keep that in mind as you outfit your characters.

So there you are, How to ruin an action scene in ten ways. If you keep to these basic outlines during action scenes and do your homework, you will find them easier and easier to write. Now, ask me about how to write a love scene and I'm lost. I believe I’ll leave that one to some of the other ladies.

So tell me what can completely ruin a book for you?



Miss Adventure

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The First Line Is Everything.

Hi, All.  I'm Julie Johnstone the Marchioness of Mayhem.  I write historical romances littered with action and suspense.  As a romance/suspense writer, I always want to start my books with a bang.  I recently read an interview in the November 13, 2009 issue of the Wall Street Journal titled How To Write a Great Novel. 

One particular author Orhan Pamuk said something that caught my full attention.  He said that the first line of the book is the most important line of the whole book.  He was quoted as saying he often re-wrote the first line 50 to 100 times.  I wholeheartedly agree that the first line of the book is the most important.  I once had an agent tell me that if the first line did not capture her attention then she quit reading.  My friends, this is a well respected agent in the industry, and her statement made me gulp, but I also sat up and took notice. 

I labor over the first line of my books.  I edit those suckers until they are so shiny they blind me.  The other day, I was in the shower, and I got an idea for the first line of my new book.  I was so excited that I jumped out of the shower dripping wet and slipped my way through the bathroom to my bedroom where I scrambled to write down the line on paper, so I would not forget it.  By the end of the day, I had re-written that line at least twenty times.  After writing my first line, and thinking about what Pamuk had said in his interview, I started recalling books that had captured me with their first lines.  I wondered what made me love those first lines, and I raced downstairs to pull some books off my shelf and look at their beginnings. 

I can't share all the lines I love with you, but here are four first lines that made me unable to put the book down.
1.  From Gai-Jin by James Clavell (passed away in 1994) - The panic-stricken girl was galloping full speed back towards the coast, half  a mile ahead, along footpaths that led precariously through the rice swapms of paddy fields. 
2.  From Ransom by Julie Garwood - Bad things always happen during the night. http://www.juliegarwood.com/
3.  From Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett - The small boys came early to the hanging.  http://www.ken-follett.com/
4.  From The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory - There was a scream, and then the loud roar of fire enveloping silken hangings, then a mounting crescendo of shouts of panic that spread and spread from one tent to another, running up guy ropes and bursting through muslin doors.  http://www.philippagregory.com/

Each of these first lines had me at the end of the period.  They made me want to read more, they had questions spinning in my mind, and they brought the book to life for me immediately.  With all of this said, I think first lines are crucial to getting an agent, making a sale, and winning readers.  I do not think all agents stop reading after the first line.  I think some do.  But if I were trying to get published, get an agent or just stay hot in this business, I would not be willing to take any chances on losing anyone.  My first line is always going to get some gritty work from me. 

What do you think about the importance of the first line of a book?  Can you recall an unforgettable first line from a book you've read?

Happy Writing My Friends,
The Marchioness of Mayhem

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Valuing Critiques

Hi, I'm Heather Boyd, Lady Wicked, and I'm addicted to the regency era. I had the idea that I should introduce myself at the start of my first blog but now I read the above, I sound like I have more than a few problems. No need to bother you, I'll keep them to myself in favour of today's topic.

Every author needs feedback. We want occasional (ok, this can vary) validation that our writing is worth reading and at times, a set of fresh eyes to help show us our work in progress from new angles.

Feedback can be great, good, or occasionally awful, but it's how you react that determines whether the experience is useful. No one likes criticism but if everyone who read your work found nothing to suggest, no lines that jarred, or punctuation to correct, you would not grow as a writer. You’d wasted time, and time is a valuable commodity.

I joined our online critique group just over a year ago and I’m a little geographically removed from the other members. Ok, its more than a little, I’m in Australia and my American crit partners laugh at my Aussie expressions but I know that without their friendship and support, I probably wouldn’t still be writing.

Good critique partnerships must consider the feelings of the others. Honest feedback, served up tactfully, and with explanations, is an incredible gift that a writer can use, or as we often remark, lose. Acting on feedback is totally optional.

I’ve had three memorable occasions where the advice I received made me react.
The first was feedback on the first story I’d ever shared. Very tactfully, one crit partner wondered what the conflict was between my hero and heroine. I remember being upset – I actually walked away from the computer. It took me a day to read the feedback again and eventually I worked out what she meant, and learned how to fix it. Like lots of newbie writers – I’d made my characters life perfect. I’ve since learned to create chaos.

The second was from a writer I really admire. A scene revealed my heroine’s knowledge of the hero’s bisexual nature. I shocked my friend with the past actions of the hero. Simply because of the negative reaction I perceived, I immediately changed the situation to be less confronting. That might not have been the correct thing to do and with the story still in edits, I may just change it back.

The third piece of advice I ignored. A story had an assault scene and when I wrote the first draft, I skipped over the detail. A critique partner suggested I should write it instead of glossing over. I ignored her suggestion for six months, telling myself that I didn’t want to write violence. When I did write that scene, the story was better for it, and it supported the growing romance between the hero and heroine.

My point, and I do have one somewhere, is to take any advice you get with a grain of salt. Look at it, dismiss it if you want, but also stay true to your own vision for the story. If someone suggested, “this is nice but it needs more sex and a vampire”, it wouldn’t be the best choice if you were aiming for the sweet market. Are there many vampires in sweet romance? Not to my knowledge (and I'm totally ignoring Twilight).

There was a fantastic article in the November 09 Romance Writers Report about writing on the dark side by Larissa Ione. While I don’t write gritty pieces, the point that really came across to me was that I shouldn’t hold back. I shouldn’t try to be the next Julia Quinn or whoever is most popular in my sub-genre. I should just be me – with maybe a little more attention to the mechanics of good writing.

It is very easy to allow others to sway you but you must retain your own voice and authenticity. The limit of your story is only your imagination. Get the real story out of your head, share it with others, but don’t compromise on your originality.

Embrace it and get back to writing.



Monday, January 11, 2010

The Importance of Being Punctuated

Hi all! I'm Jerrica, Her Grace of Grammar, making my inaugural post here! I figured I should start off discussing the topic that is nearest and dearest to my heart: grammar. I know, I know...you're probably wondering how a person can be so passionate about something so tedious, but I just can't help myself! Even in school, my favorite days in English class were not the days that we discussed works of literature, but the days that we talked about Past Participles and the proper uses of the comma or semicolon. Now this by no means indicates that I'm perfect or that I know all the rules regarding grammar. There are way too many rules for one person to know, not to mention there are about a hundred different schools of thought when it comes to punctuation.

One of my favorite books on the topic is Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynn Truss. This is a very fun and pithy guide to proper usage of English grammar. But even in this book, Lynn talks about James Thurber, who wrote for New Yorker editor Harold Ross in the '30s and '40s. They had extreme opposite views on how the comma should be used:

According to Thurber's account of the matter (in Years with Ross), Ross's 'clarification complex' tended to run somewhat to the extreme: he seemed to believe there was no limit to the amount of clarification you could achieve if you just kept adding commas. Thurber, by self-appointed virtuous contrast, saw commas as so many upturned office chairs unhelpfully hurled down the wide-open corridor of readability. And so they endlessly disagreed.

I don't know about you, but I find this bit of information highly comforting. Though there are some absolutes when it comes to grammar, there's clearly a bit of subjectivity as well. Whew!

I considered elaborating on those "absolutes", but it would take way too much time to type them all out. So instead, I'm going to offer my advice: 1) Pick up Eats, Shoots and Leaves - it's a fun and informative read, and you'll never look at a sentence the same way again! 2) Pay attention to the specific publisher(s) you're aiming to write for. When you're reading books by their authors, take note of how they use commas; do they use semicolons, etc...?

Now I know many might say, "But that's what copyeditors are for! Why do I need to know grammar?" Well, maybe you don't, but I do think submitting the most polished version of your work to agents/editors is a good idea. It will make you look more professional and hopefully make the agents/editors take you more seriously. Will it land you a contract? That I can't guarantee! LOL!

Happy Writing!


Friday, January 8, 2010

CRIT FRIDAY

Getting a fresh set of eyes on your work in progress can be a challenge. If everyone you know has read your work the frustration can be intense. Given that our blog members are a bunch of nice critters, we are offering a chance for ROMANCE writers to have part of their work in progress critiqued each month.

To start off we will look at OPENING PARAGRAPHS.

How it works:

Next Friday we will post a CRIT FRIDAY OPEN message. When you see that, post your first 150-200 word OPENING PARAGRAPHS as a comment. Comments will go to moderation and the first twenty (20) will be collected and reposted to the blog on the next Friday with critiques by our members.

The important dates:

Friday 15th January 2PM (US central time) post OPENING PARAGRAPHS
(or Sydney Australia - Saturday 16th January 7AM)
Friday 22nd January (central time) critiqued paragraphs posted
(or Sydney Australia – Saturday 23rd)

This is NOT a contest - there are no prizes - just honest feedback delivered in a nice way.

Authors will remain anonymous, and we will use comment moderation to insure that no inappropriate comments can be left after critiqued pieces are posted.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Muse is on vacation...oh, the stress of it all!

Hello! I'm Phyllis Campbell...Baroness of Brazen. Why, you ask? Read any one of my stories and see how I love to write sensual stories - and I love to tease!

As a writer (going on 16 yrs now) I have found quite a few times when my muse wants to take a break. Sometimes it's when my life has turned upside down and my creativity needs a break, too. I remember four years ago my 16 year old daughter was giving us grief. She ended up pregnant, dropped out of school, then ran away because we wouldn't let her marry the boy. Finally, we gave in and let her marry him, but he was abusive, stole money from his friend's bank account, went into the Army and went AWOL right after graduating basic training...then took daughter and six week old grandson and left the state without a word. Oh...and he stole our car! Needless to say, my muse did NOT want to work after that. That's okay, because of what was going on in my life, I didn't want to work, either. lol

Now daughter is 21, divorced, has two kids, and...back in my house because she's having problems with her landlord. (groans) Guess what? My muse is wanting a break, again. But, considering I had NINE books published in 2009, and had written three full length novels as well...I think maybe my muse going on vacation is overdue. lol

Now that you've heard my story...tell me yours. What makes your muse go on vacation?

~Phyllis~
www.phyllismariecampbell.com

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

No Soup For You!

Hello! I'm the Countess of Whimsy, but you may refer to me as my lady. Uh, I mean Samantha. My title is a testament to a very important life lesson handed down to me by my dear old dad. While aging is unavoidable, maturity is completely optional. I love laughter, fun and bringing a smile to others, especially in my writing. But enough about me. Let's talk about lunch.

There is this great little coffee shop in my area that makes the most fantastic soup. Whenever I have the opportunity, I love to stop for a quick lunch. Invariably, the same woman waits on me, and I get the distinct impression the simple fact that I’m breathing irritates her. (I suppose in the Midwest, people would call her stoic, although I’ve seen many people of stoic descent smile without their faces actually cracking. There really is nothing to fear, so flash those pearly whites.)

Still, I go back to the coffee shop despite this lady's obvious disdain. Why? Because the soup is awesome! In fact, I would allow her to hurl insults at me first, and then pay double just to get a bowl. It is that good. Which got me thinking about Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. NO SOUP FOR YOU!

Whether you were a fan of the show or not, you have to agree, the characters are memorable. True characters are what I love in television, movies, and especially in books. I don’t care for perfection. Yawn! Novels with perfect heroes and heroines tend to become like one of those insert name type of things like where your voicemail system makes you record your name.

Bored and slightly hostile employee’s voice: Flubberhead McGee* Chipper computer voice: is on the phone. Please leave a message.

What I mean by this is you can’t tell one character from another, aside from them having different names.

To me, memorable characters are infused with unique qualities and wrestle with issues like real people. I bet if you followed the show Seinfeld, you could easily name at least one defining characteristic about each main character, and some secondary ones.

Jerry: Neat freak. Loves Superman.

Elaine: Bad dancer. Says, “Shut up!” and shoves people. Kowtows to authority figures.

George: Cheap. Controlled by parents. Serial dumpee.
Kramer: Unpredictable. Mysterious. Eats Jerry’s food.

The same thing should be true of the well-written romantic hero and heroine. If you make a laundry list of your main and secondary characters, do they each have at least one or two unique qualities? If not, perhaps the character could use a little more depth.

Think about a favorite character in literature,a movie or television that stands out in your mind. What makes that person memorable? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


* Only dh, our kids and I have a true appreciation for old Flubberhead.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

How to Choose A Writing Contest

Hi. I’m Gail Zerrade, aka The Countess of Controversy. My writing partners gave me that title because I tend to wander into topics that stir up loud debates. If you want to rile up romance writers, ask them about their experiences with writing contests.

Recently, I was discussing 2010 writing goals with some of my critique partners, and several of them mentioned that they would like to enter more writing contests, but didn’t know which ones to enter. As something of a contest addict, I’ve entered a wide variety of contests. Stephie Smith has a wonderful chart listing all the major RWA chapter contests here. With so many choices, here’s how I decide which ones to enter.

  1. Decide what you want to get out of the contest. Your choices will be different depending on whether you hope to final, are just looking for unbiased feedback on a new idea, or need to have that all-important query letter/synopsis critiqued.
  2. Cost: Writing contests are one place where you don’t always get what you pay for. Some of the most expensive contests offer the least amount of feedback. So check how many first round judges will be commenting on your entry. Then look at the final judges. Some contests, like the Lone Star Writing Contest, will have both an agent and an editor look at the finalists. If cost is a problem, look for free contests on writers’ websites. An example of this type of contest is the Chase the Dream Contest by Leigh Michaels and Rachelle Chase. Or consider entering a contest that only looks at those crucial first pages. I‘ve had good luck with The Dixie Kane Memorial Contest and The Great Beginnings Contest.
  3. Look at the Score sheet: Most long-standing RWA chapter contests will post their score sheets on their website. Go through it line by line and make sure it’s a good match for your manuscript. Some contests have different score sheets for each category and that can work to your advantage. You don’t want to send your coming of age story to a contest that only judges sexual tension.
  4. Categories: Make sure there’s a category that suits your work. A romantic suspense will probably do better in its own category than lumped in with all the other contemporaries. It’s all about judge’s expectations. If the judge is looking forward to a secret baby story, and you show up with a serial killer in the prologue, you’re probably not going to do well.
  5. Judges: Perhaps the most important element in choosing a contest is the judges. Check out the first round judges. Who are they? Are they trained? The Great Expectations Contest is one example of a contest that goes to great lengths to train their judges. The final judge is equally important. Is it an editor who acquires what you write? Or an agent you would like to work with? You may not expect to final, but chances are, if you’ve come this far, you’re better than you think you are. Plan to win and enter accordingly.

Contests change from one year to another. If you enter enough of them, you will eventually have horror stories to tell: The one that lost your entry, the judge who gave all zero’s on a scale of one to ten, or the judge who swore she would personally make sure you were never published in the United States or Canada. But there are also those favorites you come back to year after year, looking for good feedback and hoping to catch the eye of a top notch final judge.


I would love to hear your contest stories. Which ones are your favorites? How do you decide which ones to enter?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Welcome to Lady Scribes

This is the first official post to Lady Scribes, and I’m thrilled and honored to be the first poster of what we hope will be a fun spot for writers of all stages in their careers. As the information on the sidebar explains, we are a group of historical romance writers that came together as an online critique group. Two of us were looking for better feedback and we were quickly joined by others. Some were already published authors and others, just finishing the first draft of a novel. Together we have learned and grown as writers and critiquers. We’ve studied the craft, attended conferences, entered and judged contests. We each have our own strengths and weaknesses, and as a whole we are a pretty knowledgeable group of ladies, or at least I believe so.

You may be wondering about the titles. We choose our titles to match our writing personalities and strength. Mine is Duchess of Decency. In addition to writing Georgian and Regency romances, my novels are either Christian Inspirational or Sweet. However, you will find the temperature levels in this group run from sweet to hot. Another title that could be assigned to me was Countess of Content because as a critique partner, my strength is assessing the content of a story. I will rarely note a grammatical error, or notice if a title is incorrect, but if a story doesn’t flow or make sense, I will be the one asking questions.

One strength we all have is a focus on historical romance. So, if there is a topic you would like us to address, please post it in the comment section below. We are a new blog and will always be open to ideas.

Thanks again for joining us.

Amy De Trempe
Duchess of Decency