Monday, August 25, 2014

How times change

There was a time when RWA (Romance Writers of America) was an inclusive, educational place to be for people who aspired to be published.

Not so much anymore. The IRS is leaning on them (and other organizations, presumably), to make sure the voting members are only those who are "career-focused romance writers" (define career, to start with, I dare you). This is more in line with what MWA (Mystery Writers) and what the Science Fiction writers group does (sorry, don't know the acronym for that one).

According to MWA I'm not published, although I have 25 books out and nice royalties, thank you. That's a different beef I have, but related to the one I have with RWA. The unpublished masses are what keep the chapters afloat for RWA. I see a lot fewer chapters if these kinds of rules go into effect.

Life is change, of course, and it's amazing to me how much has changed in the 10 years since I set out to become a published author. I'll be curious to see what the landscape looks like 10 years from now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

First Draft Checklist

Larry Brooks posted recently a check list of essential story elements that an author should have defined after completing his or her first draft.

I revised them to check my romance WIP, now that words are flowing more easily again, and got a boost of confidence. I checked off every point.

1. What the protagonist wants, what she needs, and why for both.
2. What strong external antagonism or antagonist blocks the protagonist's path.
3. If all sub-plot threads are resolved by the end.
4. The first plot twist, aka the turning point that sets the protagonist on his or her story quest. (Story quest is defined by the story's core dramatic question.)
5. A strong dramatic story arc.
6. The main character's story arc that shows emotional growth and ultimate change.
7. A strong midpoint that energizes the second half of the story.  No sagging middle.

A story needs these to be elements. You might not get all down pat in the first draft, but IMO, no one can finish a good final draft without them.

Monday, August 18, 2014

How to write a good love scene

A couple years ago, I attended a fantastic presentation by Angela Knights on how to write a good sex scene.
Here is more or less what Angela said—I hope I got it right, Angela.
 Love scenes illustrate the development of romance. They reveal the way people feel about each other.
A love scene reveals characters, enhances the conflict, and develops the romance.
Love scene and the characters:
 How does it reveal the hero? The hero must be experienced. Don’t ever write about a virgin hero! Mention his romantic and sexual history before the first sex scene.
Show how his attitude toward the heroine change in the course of your story.
Show how the heroine helps him develop his strengths and overcome his weaknesses.
The love scene should reveal how he makes love to the heroine, how he finds her different from past lovers, and how his way change toward her by the end of the story.
Before a love scene, we should also know the heroine’s romantic history: how does she feel about sex? In historical romances, a love scene is a big conflict for the heroine who is usually not experienced. Give the heroine good reasons to trust the hero enough to sleep with him.

Picking up a hero in a bar and making love with him is dangerous and borderline erotica.
Is she sexually confident?
How does making love to him change her?
Does she gain confidence in them as a couple?
Let the heroine take the lead in some scenes.

Love scenes make them both grow. A love scene is always a turning point. You develop the plot with a love scene. You also develop the conflict with a sex scene. To intensify the conflict through a love scene you can make him dominant if she doesn’t like an alpha hero. And then make her reaction to him strong and dramatic. Let one character turn the tables on the other—heroine dominates the hero.

 Logistic of a love scene: 
A hero can’t go directly to kissing before a few steps of touching that establish trust.
You have to create the environment of trust for her to accept his kiss.
Love scenes should complicate the situation: A love scene is a critical turning point. What problems does it cause? How does it change the way the characters view each other now?
To know if your love scenes make sense read them back to back by themselves and see if the romance grow and develop through these love scenes.

Love scene pacing:
 Where does the love scene fall in the romance? What kind of emotion do you want to communicate? The love scene can intensify the mood: We are at our most vulnerable when making love. This is a perfect time for drama. Taking off clothes is a big act of trust.
Or it can lighten the mood: for example it will keep a romantic suspense or a thriller from getting too dark.
Watch your timing: Characters who are supposed to be hunting the bad guys can’t waste their time making love. Don’t follow a gruesome murder with a love scene.

Love scene construction:
Don’t rush. You need at least five pages for a satisfying love scene, for emotional impact. Don’t cheat the reader
Set the scene with a sensual environment: sharp vivid emotions with five senses.
A long pre-scene is acceptable but stay clear of purple prose.
Who makes the first move? Stay within characters.
More interesting when there is more than one objective to the love scene.

Sexual roles of hero and heroine: The heroine sets the sexual pace. She decides when characters make love because she’s the one who has the most to lose.

Concentrate on sensual details. Focus on sensations that characters feel. Use lots of sensual details, smell, touch, taste. Reader doesn’t want to guess.

It’s always better to be in her point of view. Don’t shift POV in the middle of a sex scene.
Use a lot of emotion to give love scenes their power.
Use dialog during a love scene.

Pillow talk: remember blood doesn’t go to a man’s brain when it rushes elsewhere. So keep dialog lines short and sexy. Moans are not considered dialog!!! Use sense of humor but keep tenderness to the last chapter otherwise your story is over.
Keep sex language appropriate to time and characters.
Keep heat levels corresponding to your readers’ comfort. Trade paperback and ebooks allow sexier content than mass market in terms of language and erotic details.

Look at other books in the same genre to decide what you can get away with.
Happy Ever After: Readers want to know what it’s like to find HEA with a sexy hero. Capture that experience with passion and imagination.

Remember that your first paragraph sells your book and your last paragraph sells your next book.
{more details in A Guide To Write Erotic Romance by Angela Knights}
 The four books in my box set, Foreign Lovers, follow Angela Knights’s advice. They sizzle with sensual tension and offer you memorable love scene.--99 cents.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A day spent roleplaying

One of the reasons this post is late is that I spent most of the day at a friend's house playing a role-playing game. This was something I used to do more often but like many things, stopped when I got busy with other aspects of my life. It was nice, just spending time with people, creating a character that lived out of a few traits the game master had given, drinking diet soda and eating candy between rolls of the dice.

It was something different, taking a break from the writing. And it was a lot of fun.

Which brings me to why this is also a post about writing. Lately building characters in my head to put onto a page hasn't been the kind of fun that I had today. It isn't just that I could come up with something totally wacky, like my super heroine Maxi Rubber Maid, whose superpower consisted of shooting liquid latex at objects. That might not sound like much until you realize you can totally cover that sand floor with a rubber sheet and keep the sand worms from eating your companions, or when the super villain gives you too much static you can gag him with a rubber ball in his mouth.

There are a couple reasons it was fun making up my heroine. First of all, I didn't have to create her to appeal to a wide audience. She only had to make sense to the six people at the table, all of whom were friends. Her entire purpose was to amuse me and them. This is unlike the characters I write in my books who are subject to criticism by a wide range of people, who are frequently pretty nasty in their comments. This is much more like what I used to enjoy when working on my books, where the only person I had to please was myself. Back then coming up with a character was fun.

I've kind of stopped having much fun when I'm writing a character. That might be why it's gotten so hard.

Second, this wasn't a character that I'd ever tried to work with in the past and the people I'm dealing with today already exist in previous books. I already know them and am actually kind of bored with them already.

Starting tomorrow I'm going to work again on my WIP and see if I can't find a way to make those characters as much fun to spend time with as Maxi Rubber Maid was today. Maybe I'll give each of them a superpower and then somehow translate that into something that works in the book.


Thursday, August 14, 2014


We’re sitting on our boat in Ketchikan, Alaska, waiting for the waters to calm down so we can ‘take’ Dixon Entrance, a wide spot in the ocean that can cause big trouble for our 45 foot boat, INTREPID.  Now, you should know that our Kady-Krogen trawler is built to handle rough seas, even without stabilizers.  It’s a trawler, built to circumnavigate the globe, and she’s done exactly that with former owners.  But my husband and I are cautious about taking open seas.  When we have to cross them, we watch the weather predictions carefully, preferring ‘light’ conditions, and at the most, 10-15 knot winds, looking for winds flowing with the tide.  We’ve waited for a whole week in a port for the seas to subside.  Luckily, we don’t have a schedule to keep so we don’t need to grit our teeth and go when the weather report is less than ideal.  What’s more, our boat is slow, so some of the large expanses of water take two days to cross.  Not easy to cobble two calm days in a row, let me tell you.

Yes, I can ride the gigantic waves coming at me as a writer and marketer of my novels, but let me have flat waters when I’m in my boat.  I was a high school principal, for heaven’s sake, opening a brand new high school.  Lots of rough seas in that job!

What’s the difference?  Why can I take on huge challenges in life, yet look askance at six to eight foot waves?  I think it’s the feeling of helplessness one gets in big seas.  The waves keep coming and coming and despite what you might think, they AREN’T even.  A six foot sea may turn into a ten foot sea in certain areas, where seas converge of where it’s shallow.  Sometimes, for no reason at all, the waves grow ‘short’, meaning less space between waves.  In such conditions, the boat actually bangs up and down.  And the wind can change so that you might be cruising along with the wind kindly traveling with the current, and suddenly you’ve got white caps crashing into your bow because the wind turned against the current.

So it’s the helpless feeling, the inability to plan ahead, and the portent of physical danger make boating tricky.  Believe me, when I was a high school principal, I felt helpless and surprised often, but worry about my physical well-being was rarely on my mind.

Okay it’s time for you to share the places that make you fearful.  I will add to my list: small planes, zip lines and floating raging rivers.  Sigh.  I’m not very brave, am I?  Are you?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Productivity revisited

Janet mentioned in one of her posts that she was having trouble feeling productive. Boy, do I know that feeling. There have been projects this year that just dragggggggggged and made me feel like my hands were in quicksand.

Now I'm working on a new project and I feel so productive. I'm totally in the world I'm creating, and I'm totally in tune with my characters. This is a 9 book series I'm crafting, and it requires a lot of world-building and complex plot shifts, so I'm actually plotting and trying to map out what happens from book 1 to book 9, and within each book and within each trilogy. Character arcs, book arcs, volume arcs, series arcs.

All fun because I adore these characters. These are people I want to spend time with, I want to be in their world. I enjoy my other characters (Molly, for example, is one of my BFFs and Jane is such a crazy lady I would love to sit with her all afternoon).

But the people in this book are my family. They're friends and their town is my town. They've been with me for years. I've done multiple drafts of their story and last year I decided, "enough already. Sit down and really write it." I take 6 months of every year to be with them and every time I come back, it's like coming home.

For me, that's what productivity is all about. Finding that sweet spot and enjoying it. I get it with my other books, don't get me wrong. But it doesn't come as fast and as deep as this series I'm doing. Savor it when you have it and don't sweat it if it's gone. It'll come back. Just give it time.