Sunday, December 27, 2009

New Year's thoughts

Only four days until 2009 is gone and 2010 is here. It's been a crazy year and I won't go into details but I'm glad to see it gone. The other day I stumbled across my 2008 writing goals. I didn't remember writing them down but there they were. I looked them over and realized that I did meet each one. Go me! :) Then wondered why I didn't have any 2009 writing goals. When I remembered that, with the downturn in the economy and publishers "griding their loins" (lol), I didn't make any goals and thought I'd wait to see what opportunities opened up. As it turns out I wrote two novels and completely rewrote a third in 2009. (No, I haven't sold them yet-see comment above about publishers. ) I managed to blog on my website nearly every day and keep this Sunday blog filled with writing advice and reviews. I also had a book released and did my first mini blog tour. Mr. Charming spent four weeks on the Wild Rose Press bestseller list. I added Twitter to my social networking/promo. I made bookmarks, book plates and eyemasks as giveaways. I judged several RWA chapter contests and I've set up a second mini blog tour for my next release Dream Man.
Plus, I started a Master's program in Writing Popular fiction. Wow- perhaps I should have goals in 2010 so I don't work so much. lol.
There were many writing disappointments in 2009. A lot of "close but sorry I must turn you away" notes from editors and agents. It is rough out there and yet, I managed to celebrate at least four friends who sold books in this tough, tough market. Giving truth to the thought that dreams can still come true when it feels as if all is lost. As writers, our job is to write and to rewrite, to polish and to query. To educate ourselves on craft and market and not be tugged into a swindle (such as vanity publishing.)
So when you sit down to look at the new year and resolutions and goals, focus on the things you can control. Create realistic goals for yourself and your dreams. Create goals that when reached will improve your life-not detract from it. Be open to opportunities and wary of to-good-to-be-true schemes. Make it your goal to relax-to breathe-to smile- to hug a family member or friend or pet. To let yourself off the hook when things go bad or don't go anywhere and to celebrate your accomplishments big and small.
I wish for you joy, good health, and a wealth of happiness in 2010. Happy New Year!!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Holidays!

With the commotion and fuss of the Holidays, I know you all are busy. So I'm using this space to wish you all Happy Holidays! I hope you are surrounded by love and warmth. And in case you didn't catch it on my daily blog, here is the book trailer for my next romantic suspense, Dream Man, available for pre-order now. Released January 8, 2010.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Setting and season creates mood

I got up this morning and looked out the window at the sludgy snow and ice, the bare black bleak branches on the trees and the weak winter light and it occurred to me that this would be a good time to talk about setting and seasons in our work. When you create a story do you take the time to think about the setting--besides whether it is set in a small town, or city or suburbs? Some stories need seasons for their purpose- example a Christmas story or a Valentine's romance. Halloween is good for a creepy horror story. But even better take a bleak setting for a joyful story or a warm lovely sunny day for a murder. It is the unexpected that draws the reader in.
I wrote a story once where the protagonist came home to ask her estranged father for help. She was desperate. It was the only reason she was even at his door. In the background a storm brewed and she stood staring at him in the pouring rain. They hadn't seen each other in 15 years and her father was a bitter man. She had no where else to turn. Lightning crackled. Thunder boomed. The wind tore at her clothing and rain drenched her back. I thought, wow awesome atmosphere. Will he take her back?
My editor's reaction was very different. She thought the whole thing was too melodramatic and cliche. Did I have something else?
Lesson learned. Contrasting setting lends itself to story questions, tension and suspense. It keeps the reader turning pages. Think serial killer who is a popular teacher at an elementary school. Scary, right?
How much different my story would have been if I set my desperate character facing her father on a bright sunny day at a church carnival with children laughing and running around them. Balloons and cotton candy smells fill the air. Her father could turn his back on her with no guilt. Play with the other children as if she didn't exist. The party atmosphere would have left her feeling isolated and alone and perhaps more desperate then before. She would have to beg in the sunshine in front of witnesses. The happy atmosphere in sharp contrast to her desperation.
Carefully choosing seasons and setting with an eye toward the unusual will create a story that is a fresh and vivid. Think about atmosphere that contrasts mood for a more sophisticated, realistic story. One that makes the reader look around and think--this could be here. It could be now. It could be me.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Building Character

One of the easiest mistakes a writer can make is not knowing who their characters are and why their story is important. Whether you are a plotter or a person who writes by the seat of your pants, as the author you must know your characters deeply. I've spoken about goal, motivation and conflict. I've spoken about starting the story in an interesting place. Neither of these things can be done if you don't know who your characters are. Very simply put, a story is about one thing, character growth or what is called a character arc. If the action does not change the characters, then there is no story--only a sequence of events.
So, before you begin, or even while in deep revisions, ask yourself. How does my character change? Who they were at the beginning of the story and who they are at the end must be different. Some formerly held principle in your character must change.
Many beginning writers will make these changes extreme. They will take a murderer or a prostitute and change them into a suburban mom who goes to church each Sunday. Then they wonder why the editor or agent didn't like their heroine. They say, "but I redeem her in the end." These kinds of extremes--while showing that the author is aware of character arc--are too blatant and leave the reader cold at the opening. Why? Readers like to be the point of view character. If that character is too cold, evil or calculating then a reader won't stay with that character to watch them grow. As an author you need to think of character arc in more realistic terms.
A simple tool to use is the W. Think about who your character is in the beginning and why the reader cares about them. Ex: Harry Potter-an orphan living with uncaring family. Now think of four turning points in their development. Keep them subtle. Ex: things go downhill for Harry with his family until the first turning point for his character-Hagrid from Hogwarts arrives. From there things get better. Harry learns he is more than a mere orphan. His adventure into a new life begins. But things can't stay wonderful or the story would be over. So then next turning point arrives. (Think W --down, then up, now down.) Harry realizes that he must believe in himself even when others don't if he is to help his new friends. The final turning point things turn up-but subtly. In the end Harry returns to being the boy in the closet, but he now knows he is more than that. And that carries him into the next phase of his life.
Each character in your story should have their own subtle W. Whether you plot or write by the seat of your pants, having character W's will help you build a better story.