RU Contributor and author Kris Bock returns with a post on story structure.
There’s no magic formula for writing a fabulous book. But there are formulas that offer guidelines for constructing a satisfying plot. Scriptwriters have long used the three act structure handed down from theater, with additional “turning points” as guidelines indicating when to include high and low moments and surprises.
Doug Eboch, a writer of the movie Sweet Home Alabama, scriptwriting teacher, author of The Three Stages of Screenwriting and The Hollywood Pitching Bible: A Practical Guide to Pitching Movies and Television (and my brother) says, “These ideas date back to Aristotle; they’re not some new Hollywood formula. Three Act Structure is really just a way to talk about literary concepts. So, for example, the first act is the section where we set up the character, their dilemma and the stakes; the second act is where the character faces increasing obstacles to that dilemma; and the third act is where we get the resolution.”
Following this format doesn’t mean the result will be perfect, but, “If you understand the concepts, they can help identify and solve problems in your story, or even prevent problems from occurring in the first place,” Doug says. “Think about acts and turning points as a way to organize your story and make sure you stay on track.”
Many authors find three act structure helpful when writing books. Cece Barlow, author of the comic team novels Plumb Crazy and Weird and Wonderful says, “I adhere to five turning points: the moment everything changes (in the first chapter), the decision that launches the adventure, quest, journey, search, etc. (in the third to fifth chapter), the point of no return (always at the mid-point), the darkest hour (70 to 80 percent in), and finally the climax (directly after the darkest hour).”
When to Think about Structure
Most writers don’t focus on structure at the beginning of a new project, however. If you are a “pantser” who prefers to figure it out as you go along, that’s fine. Follow your characters and see what happens. Write a few drafts to figure out what you want to say, what the story is about, and where it’s going.
Janet Fox, author of middle grade and young adult books including The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, follows this process. “I need to let my imagination soar and not be constrained by any kind of road map during my first and sometimes even second drafts. When I revise more deeply, however, that’s a different story. I really believe in the structure and in the importance of turning points, and need to impose that structure on my loose and random story. It helps to remind me that stories have universal elements that appeal to us all. Some of those universal elements are embedded in the structure.”
Story structure can be used earlier in the process as well. Personally, I like to thoroughly brainstorm and outline before starting. Matching scenes on the outline to traditional turning points is a way to identify weak spots or to discover when important plot points are happening too late in the story. This allows me to add complications or shift scenes around before I start writing.
Having an outline that includes turning points saves me a lot of time in the long run – at least two or three drafts. This was especially valuable when I first went from writing 35,000-word novels for word middle grade kids (written as Chris Eboch) to an 80,000-word romantic suspense (written as Kris Bock). I wanted to make sure I had enough plot action to sustain a novel that long, and the outline helped. By the time I came to the end of the first draft, I had all the elements in place for the book that became The Mad Monk’s Treasure.
Tools, Not Rules
Whether you start with plot structure or consider it only after a couple of drafts, checking your work for turning points can ensure the story feels well-plotted and satisfying. But that doesn’t mean you have to force a story to fit the “rules” precisely.
“It’s more important to understand the concepts behind the structure than to take a fill-in-the-blank type of approach,” Doug says. “Sometimes people focus on the idea that the act one turning point should happen on page 28 [of a screenplay]. But the reason we bother identifying an act one turning point at all is that it’s the place where the hero takes on the problem and gets locked into the story. Without that, there’s no tension because the hero could just walk away at any time. It’s far more important that the act one turning point fulfill those requirements than that it fall on a certain page.
“Similarly, the act two turning point is the place where the hero seems as far as possible from what the final resolution of the story will be,” he adds. “This is important because it creates suspense and unpredictability. That’s what drives the suspense of act three.”
As a scriptwriting teacher, Eboch has many chances to see what works and what doesn’t. “Many beginning writers get into their story too late. Often, they don’t introduce the problem until the act one turning point and don’t trap their character in the story until the midpoint.”
It’s not enough to have something happen, just because you need a turning point. “Many beginning writers have major events happen at the turning points that are unrelated to each other or even the main character.”
While turning points may seem simple on the surface, they are not a paint-by-numbers solution to plotting. Doug says, “All the turning points should be related to your main character and main story line and to each other. And each should be the result of the main character’s actions and choices. So even if the second act turning point involves the villain getting the best of the hero, the villain should be taking that action in response to what the hero’s done before. The turning points should grow out of what the character wants in the story and what obstacles stand in the way of that goal, including internal obstacles.”
Three act structure isn’t the only option, and even scriptwriting guides vary in how they list and explain structural turning points. Various resources identify and name turning points differently, but here’s a basic list of the most important ones:
Act 1 (the first 25%): Introduction of the character and situation.
The Inciting Incident/Catalyst (in the opening pages): Something that introduces a problem or goal for the main character.
Plot Point One/Act 1 Break (about 25% of the way in): The point of no return, when the character embarks on the journey.
Act 2 (the middle 50%): The character tries to solve the problem but faces escalating obstacles and rising stakes. – See my post on Maddening Middles
Midpoint (in the middle of Act 2): A moment of seeming success, but it may twist the story in a new direction or raise the stakes.
Plot Point Two/Act 2 Break (at the 75% mark): The moment when failure seems inevitable.
Act 3 (the final 25%):
Climax/Resolution: The big final scene where the character ultimately succeeds or fails. – See my post Before You Climax, on the crisis point or moment of failure that should happen right before the story climax.
Keep It Natural
Regardless of which structural template you use, or how you adapt it, the key is to understand the purpose of turning points and make sure they fit naturally into your story. Writers can get into trouble if they add random twists whenever they reach a turning point. Think of turning points and three act structure as tools you can use to build a better story, but don’t let the tools use you. Understand the purpose of these tools and how they function, and they can help you build a better novel.
Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder, is a screenwriting guide that covers 15-beat structure. The Save the Cat website offers links to blog posts, podcasts, workshops, and online tools.
The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler, explores the Hero’s Journey, another way of defining structure.
The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master, by Martha Alderson, and Alderson’s blog, explore plot structure.
Bio: Chris Eboch is the author of over 50 books for children. Her novels for ages nine and up include The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy; and the Haunted series, about kids who travel with a ghost hunter TV show.
Her writing craft books include Advanced Plotting and You Can Write for Children: How to Write Great Stories, Articles, and Books for Kids and Teenagers.
Chris also writes for adults under the name Kris Bock. Kris Bock writes action-packed romantic suspense involving outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. Her novels have been called “Smart romance with an Indiana Jones feel” And “Like Nancy Drew for grown-ups.” The Mad Monk’s Treasure follows a treasure hunt in New Mexico and Whispers in the Dark involves intrigue among ancient Southwest ruins. What We Found is a mystery with romantic elements about a young woman who finds a murder victim in the woods. Read excerpts at www.krisbock.com or visit her Amazon page.
Rayne Hall returns with another fabulous in-depth post. Her topic today: confessions.
When one character makes a confession to another, the emotional stakes are high. How will the other react? How does this effect the relationship between those two characters? It may even turn the listener’s whole world upside down.
The scene is a turning point in the plot, and it is potentially one of the most emotionally tense scenes in the novel.
My suggestions apply to any gender, although for readability I’ll assume that the confessing character is male, and the recipient of the confession female.
WHAT TO CONFESS?
He must tell her the truth about something that he has hidden or lied about until now. Here are some examples:
The husband confesses to his wife that he had an affair with his assistant.
The bridegroom confesses to his bride that he already has a wife.
The father confesses to his daughter that she is not really his child.
* The employee confesses to his boss that he faked his references and has neither the qualifications nor the skills he claimed.
He confesses to the police officer that he committed the serial killings for which an innocent man was executed.
* He isn’t the person he claimed to be.
* The husband confesses to his wife that he only married her for her money.
It was he who stole the jewels – a crime for which her brother was hanged.
He confesses to her daughter that he has just sold her as a slave. (In some historical societies, a father had the right to sell his offspring.)
These are of course extreme examples. Other confessions may be relatively minor, but those won’t require a full scene for themselves. You can incorporate minor confessions into another scene, using the same techniques but toning them down.
WHY IS THIS CONFESSION SO DIFFICULT?
Make it as difficult as possible for him to tell her the truth. He knows that the truth will hurt her, that it will change their relationship, that it will destroy her trust in him, that he may lose her love, that she may leave him, disinherit him or report him to the police.
That’s why he kept the truth from her for so long.
Why is it this truth so devastating for her? Create several reasons, and make them as intense as possible, so the truth is unbearable.
Let’s take one example: A husband confesses to his wife that her miscarriage wasn’t an accident, but arranged by him. That is shocking and devastating enough – but you can make it worse. What if as the result of the miscarriage, she can never become pregnant again? What if this was her only chance of ever having a child? What if her childlessness makes her an outcast in a society where a woman’s worth depends on motherhood? What if she had loved that unborn child like she had never loved anything or anyone? What if that child, if born, had secured the succession to the throne and prevented the devastating war that cost thousands of lives? What if he is the figurehead of an anti-abortion campaign, and must now reveal himself as a hypocrite? What if he swore an oath – perhaps on his wife’s life – that it was an accident, and now he must admit that the oath was false? What if an innocent person got punished for causing the miscarriage?
Pile it on, and make it as awful as you can.
WHY IS HE TELLING IT NOW?
He hid the truth for a long time. The longer he kept the secret, the more difficult it became to confess.
So why does he confess now? There must be a reason for the timing. Here are some ideas:
Someone else is going to tell her, and he wants her to hear the truth from him, not anyone else.
He is getting blackmailed.
They’re about to a new stage in their relationship—for example, they’re getting married— and he wants her to know the truth before she commits.
He fears that she is about to discover the truth.
He is suspected of a horrible crime that carries the death penalty, the only way to prove his innocence is to provide an alibi for that night—which requires him to come clean about where and with whom he had spent the night.
He wants to prevent an innocent person going to prison for the crimes he committed.
He has embraced religion, and his new faith requires him to confess his sins.
He is dying, and wants to tell the truth while he still can.
He has changed, and become more honest and courageous.
He has gambled away the money she lent him to invest.
HOW DOES HE TALK?
Be aware of his emotions. What does he feel? What does he expect will happen? What outcome does he hope for? What outcome does he fear? How does he rally the courage to finally speak the truth?
In this type of scene, body language (posture, movement, gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice, visceral responses) creates reader emotion.
Describe the character’s voice as he confesses — does he stutter, speak in a low voice, or talk fast to get it over with?
How does he stand or sit? How does he move? Does he look at her while he confesses, or at the floor? What does he do with his hands?
To get his approach, voice and body language right, consider what he feels. He probably feels several different emotions during the scene such as nervousness, fear, determination, guilt, embarrassment, shame, regret and remorse.
HOW DOES SHE REACT?
Arrange it so the confession has an emotional impact on her. She doesn’t just nod and take notes. Instead, she is shocked and shaken to hear the truth. She struggles to process the information, and needs time to form an opinion and decide what to do.
During this scene, she will experience a vast range of intense emotions. These may include: apprehension, dread, confusion, shock, disgust, hatred, hurt, insecurity, disbelief, fear, jealousy, fury, resentment, hopelessness, resignation, depression, sadness, grief, unhappiness, despair.
If you write the scene from the confession recipient’s PoV, let the reader feel her visceral reactions. If the scenes in the confessing character’s PoV, show the other person’s body language.
Her reaction will come in stages, as she processes what he has told her. Her first response probably doesn’t reflect her final assessment and decision. Indeed, she may need several days to absorb the enormity of what happened, and to come to terms with it one way or another.
HOW TO END THIS SCENE
If the two characters are in a personal relationship, e.g. husband and wife, father and daughter, siblings, lovers or friends, good way to close this scene is with confession-receiver sending the confession-giver away. This is realistic. It can express her anger (“Get out of my sight!”), confusion (“Please go. I need to be alone.”) or any other emotion. It also keeps the emotional tension high.
If you use the ‘scene & sequel’ method of scene structuring, this ending will sequel neatly into a ‘sequel’ section in which the PoV character reflects, processes and plans.
On the other hand, if the confession-recipient has listened in a professional capacity (i.e. as a police officer, employer, judge or priest), the scene probably closes with the professional taking the appropriate action – arrest, formal dismissal from the job, sentencing or absolution.)
HOW DOES THE RELATIONSHIP CHANGE?
If the two characters had a personal connection before (being for example friends, colleagues, spouses, siblings or lovers) the relationship between the two will never be the same again.
Even if she keeps his secret, she will not feel the same about him. Now the confessing character’s true role or identity is revealed, it affects who is and how she treats him. Even more importantly, he has broken her trust by lying to her continuously. She won’t be able to trust him again completely, not for a long time. From now on, she will be wary of anything he says, claims or promises.
The relationship changes the moment the truth is out, and it will continue to change over the next scenes, as both characters come to terms with what happened, and learn to trust again. It is possible that for the next days, weeks or months he is on ‘probation’ before she decides whether or not to forgive him.
In the long term, the relationship may become stronger, because it is now based on honesty, and because there is now genuine understanding between them.
But the relationship may not survive. When she finds out the terrible thing he’s done, and realises how he has deceived her and that everything between them was based on a lie, she may break off the engagement or disinherit him. However much she loves him, she will sooner or later come to realise that the person she loved existed only in her wishful imagination, and that the real person does not deserve her trust.
Of course, these developments may not transpire until later in the novel, but you should lay the groundwork for them in this scene.
WHAT NOT TO DO
The recipient of the confession shouldn’t immediately forgive. That would be unrealistic, and it would miss a great opportunity for emotional drama.
Is there a confession scene in the novel you’re working on? If not, would a confession scene fit into the plot? Who confesses what to whom?
Why did the character in our story harbour this secret for so long? Why is it such a terrible thing to confess? Why does he choose this moment to confess? What emotions does he feel in this scene? Select several visible body language clues or visceral responses to convey these emotions.
Why is this revelation so devastating for the character who receives the confession? What hope and beliefs does this shatter in her? What emotions does she feel in this scene? Select several visible body language clues or visceral responses to convey these emotions.
How does the scene end?
Bio: Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series (Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and more) and editor of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.
She is a trained publishing manager, holds a masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.
Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian on the south coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. Sulu likes to lie on the desk and snuggle into Rayne’s arms when she’s writing.
To learn more about Rayne, visit her website or follow her on Twitter where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.
Author and award-winning blogger Anne R. Allen joins us today to discuss the merits of author blogs. Great to have you back, Anne!
I hear a lot of writers saying there’s no point in blogging anymore. They hear that blogging is fading and attention spans have shrunk so radically that Twitter is all anybody can handle. Or they’ve been told that Facebook is enough. Or that only nonfiction writers benefit from a blog.
None of that is true.
What’s fading is the business blog—the blog that exists to sell advertising and is a direct source of income for the blogger. Especially business blogs about making a zillion dollars blogging about blogging.
That pyramid scheme has toppled.
But an author blog isn’t a business blog. As an author, you’re blogging for name recognition and publicity for your books, which means most of the blogging “rules” don’t apply to you. You’re not blogging for dollars. The money will come later when you sell your books and stories.
Only need to appeal to your target book readership, not vast hordes of consumers
Can be fun and entertaining and relaxed, not a hard-sell advertising machine.
Only need new content once a week—to build platform and provide a place to communicate with readers and fellow writers.
She’s no longer blogging for platform. She has a big fan base. And she’s blogging to communicate with them.
But for a newbie writer, platform is the #1 reason to blog.
Blogging for Platform
“Platform.” You near that word a lot. So what is it? Basically platform is what people see when they Google you. If 27 pages come up of all your articles, books, comments, reviews, blogposts, and mentions, you’ve got a nice, big platform.
If nothing comes up but the drunk photo of you dressed as a leprechaun at that St. Patricks’ Day party 4 years ago…not so much.
Whether you’re planning to self-publish or you’re going the traditional route, every author needs a “platform” sooner or later. Sooner is better.
You Need a Website—and a Blog is a Free Website
Sending out a query when you don’t have a website can be a waste of time—whether the query is for agent representation, a book review, or a guest spot on a blog.
If you have no website, you may get automatic rejection.
If you’re getting form rejections on a polished query, this may be the reason. Stop revising the query for the millionth time and start blogging.
You’ll hear a lot of people saying you need an expensive, self-hosted blog or website because OMG what will happen when you get ten million hits an hour and your blog crashes?
Don’t worry. It’s not going to happen. It’s an author blog, not the Daily Beast. So a freebie Blogger, Wix, or WordPress.com blog is just fine.
A Blog Gets your Name into Search Engines Faster than a Static Website
The more active the site, the more likely the search engine spiders will find it. A “spider” or “web crawler” is a software program that “crawls” through websites and reads information to create entries for a search engine index. Spiders begin with a popular site, index the words, and follow every link found in the site.
This is why commenting on big blogs gets you into search engines and builds your platform, especially if you have your own blog.
Your name on the comment will take the spiders directly to that blog. And then your blog will come up in a Google search for that subject.
I just had proof of this at a talk I gave recently. An author who has a big book deal, but is just starting to build her platform, discovered that her comment on my blog the week before was the first thing that came up in a search of her name. It was a good comment that linked to her website, so it helped her platform.
Interact with Other Writers and Attract Readers
A blog is a fantastic place to make friends with people who may later help you in your career.
I got both my publishers and an agent directly through blogging. And I met people who invited me to contribute to anthologies, well known magazines and publications including Writer’s Digest and Writer’s Market.
A blog also helps you find potential readers. If you’re blogging about a topic, historical period, or setting of your writing, you’ll attract people who’re interested in the place, period, or situation in your book. When you publish, you have a ready-made audience.
Other Social Media is Subject to Fads
Facebook has made it tougher for people to see your posts if you don’t pay to boost them. And social media platforms can disappear like RedRoom, Shelfari and we can’t forget MySpace…oops, I guess we already did.
Plus you might lose your account altogether. A few years ago, a lot of people found their Facebook accounts deleted because they used a “fake name” (even if the so-called fakery involved putting “Author” after their real name.) They had to rebuild their followings from scratch.
Control your Brand
A blog establishes and protects your “brand” — which is a jargon-y way of saying your name. “Stephen King” is a brand. “James Patterson” is a brand. People buy a brand because they know what they’re going to get.
Unfortunately, the Internet is infested with trolls, hackers, and spammers who can ruin your brand. I had a friend whose Facebook account got hacked by diet-drug spammer who DM’d all her friends calling them fat. There was a major unfriending frenzy before she even knew what happened. She got branded a body-shamer and people boycotted her books.
On your own blog, you can defend yourself, and there’s that nice “delete” button.
Remember “Freedom of speech” only applies to public places. Your blog is PRIVATE. You don’t have to let anybody mess up your blog with bad behavior.
You can also create your own look that will attract the kind of readers who are most likely to be interested in your genre.
It Establishes You as a Professional
A blog is your online calling card. Like your own newspaper column.
Plus writing for a blog teaches you to write in a professional way for the digital age.
When you have books to sell, you need to know how to write guest blogposts (one of the best free methods of marketing your book.) Practicing on your own blog, even before you’re published, gives you a big advantage.
Practice Improves your Writing
Blogging is writing. This is your medium. If you’re a fiction writer, you’ll learn to write nonfiction—which you’re going to need when you’re marketing your books.
Writing for an immediate audience is different from writing alone in your writer cave. Comments and shares give you the boost of adrenaline that actors get when there’s a real audience as opposed to acting in rehearsal. You get energy from readers in real time.
Having an author blog is fun and easy. You don’t need to blog more than once a week in order to get the benefits. Even if you’ve tried before, it might be worth it to give blogging another chance, and remember that most of the blogging rules you see out there are for business blogs, not author blogs, so you can break those rules with happy abandon.
What about you? Do you blog? Have you given up on a blog because you felt pressure to follow time-consuming blog “rules”? Have you met people through your blogging?
THE AUTHOR BLOG: EASY BLOGGING FOR BUSY AUTHORS: an easy-does-it guide to simple, low-tech blogging for authors who want to build a platform, but not let it take over their lives. An author blog doesn’t have to follow the rules that monetized business blogs do. This book teaches the secrets that made Anne R. Allen a multi-award-winning blogger and one of the top author-bloggers in the industry. And you’ll learn why having a successful author blog is easier than you think. Here are some things you’ll learn in this book:
How an author blog is different—and easier to maintain—than a business blog
What authors should blog about at different stages of their careers
Choosing the right blog topics for your genre and audience
How one type of blogpost can build your platform quickly
Basic SEO tips that don’t make your eyes glaze over with tech jargon
How to write headers that will grab the attention of Web surfers
How to keep your audience by learning the tricks of content writing
Bio: Anne R. Allen is an award-winning blogger and the author of twelve books, including the bestselling Camilla Randall Mysteries. Her nonfiction includes the new The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors and How to be a Writer in the E-Age: a Self-Help Guide, co-authored with New York Times bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde. Anne blogs at “Anne R. Allen’s Blog…with Ruth Harris,” named by Writer’s Digest to their Best 101 Websites for Writers.
Please welcome back ANN WARNER – I was intrigued at the way her “dreams” books grew into a series. Have you ever had a series evolve unexpectedly?
In general, novels with romantic story lines end when the two characters who have been dancing around each other for 200+ pages finally realize, like the reader has, that they are perfect for each other. Once they admit that to themselves and each other, we as readers and authors close the book with a sigh, leaving those characters frozen in that perfect moment.
But it’s possible that what comes next could be equally interesting, although I’ll admit, it didn’t occur to me to apply this thought to my books until one of my readers pushed me to think about it.
Up to that day, despite all the evidence that series are popular with readers and provide writers with built-in promotional opportunities, I never thought I would write one. I considered myself an author of single titles. Period.
Until I found myself writing my first series.
In Dreams for Stones, I had written a heart-breaking story of a man consumed by grief after witnessing his wife’s death. Alan is gradually pushed and pulled back to life and the possibility of loving again by his best friend Charles and the woman who will become his second wife. Once I got Alan to commit to a future with Kathy, I thought I was done. Not so, according to one reader. She wanted to go beyond the happily ever after, to see if Alan would continue to progress, and what happened when he had inevitable setbacks.
The suggestion wormed its way into my psyche, which luckily was not distracted at the time by another idea, and I decided to give it a try. I not only found it remarkably satisfying to carry on with these characters, but I also enjoyed delving more deeply into the character of Alan’s best friend, Charles. Charles, a man of mixed emotions and an uncertain future, added depth to Alan and Kathy’s story and helped provide a solid foundation on which a sequel could be written.
Dreams for Stones was published in 2007and the sequel, Persistence of Dreams, a year later, so imagine my surprise when a recent reader’s comment led me to revisit those two books and discover the possibility for a third book. This became Unexpected Dreams which was published early this year. This is neither a normal nor recommended approach for a series!
During the ten-year gap between Persistence of Dreams and Unexpected Dreams, I found myself writing a very different kind of book. A cozy mystery, in fact. And this time it didn’t take a nudge from a reader for me to recognize that I’d created an entourage of characters who could easily support more than one book. My Babbling Brook Naked Poker series now stands at three books.
Given these successes, it has crossed my mind to reconsider some of my other “standalone” novels in order to see if there are possibilities for continuing stories there. I suspect there may be.
At any rate, the reader nudge that led to my first series was one of the best happenstances to come along in my writing life.
So here is your nudge. Is there a series lurking in a book you thought was finished? If you’ve unexpectedly found yourself writing a series, how did that come about?
Raised in an Air Force family, Ann grew up to become a clinical chemist, toxicologist, and university professor. Until her life took an unexpected turn in 2001, when she began writing fiction. Her debut novel, Dreams for Stones, was a finalist for the Indie Next Generation Book Award in 2007.
Ann’s novels about strong characters facing interesting challenges take advantage of the many unusual settings she’s traveled to or lived in including New Zealand, Australia, Peru, San Francisco, Alaska, Colorado, Boston, and Puerto Rico. As well, her experiences as a toxicologist have added fillips of intrigue to many of her stories.
In Ann’s novels, the consequence of choosing to love or not to love is an underlying theme, as characters face crises and complications that force them to dig deep within themselves to discover their own resilience.
A man holding fast to grief and a woman who lets go of love too easily. It will take all the magic of old diaries and a children’s story to heal these two. Available as a free download in multiple formats. (https://www.annwarner.net/books/dreams-for-stones/)
Murder made to look like an accident, family secrets, interfering mothers, lovers in conflict, horses. All combine in a satisfying mix in this contemporary mystery.
The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club Series
The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club – Book One
A morose parrot with a reputation for biting perches in a small cage in the lobby of Brookside Retirement Community. For Josephine, a reluctant resident, he sums up the place which friend and handwriting expert, Lill, has dubbed Babbling Brook (in honor of the missing waterway and the more exasperating residents). However, Brookside turns out to be more interesting than Josephine expected, as it becomes the setting for art theft, other dodgy dealings, and…naked poker. Investigating the unusual events, Josephine and Lill befriend Devi Subramanian, a young woman Josephine tries to prevent from making the same mistakes she has made.
A painting worth millions, valuables gone missing, a game that is more than a game. And that’s only the beginning.
Book One is available as a free download in multiple formats. (https://www.annwarner.net/books/the-babbling-brook-naked-poker-club-book-one/)
About This Book
Josephine, Devi, and Mac’s story continues. Devi and Mac are falling in love, but a complication comes along in the form of Mac’s pregnant ex-wife. As for Josephine, with the excitement of unmasking the Brookside thief and Devi’s being shot now over, she’s finding Brookside Retirement Community (aka Babbling Brook) as dull as she initially expected it to be. Until, that is, she gets involved with a man who suspects her of being a criminal mastermind. Finding love at this late date is something Josephine never expected, and it’s her Edward Hopper painting that plays matchmaker.
Appropriate for all readers.
About This Book
Josephine Bartlett is back, joined by her partner in mystery-solving, Lill Fitzel, flamboyant ex-beauty queen, Myrtle Grabinowitz, former attorney/current novelist, Philippa Scott Williamson, Brookside’s thief, Edna Prisant, good friends Devi and Mac McElroy, and last, but not least, love-interest Norman Neumann.
When new resident, Lottie Watson, loses at Naked Poker, she tells a bizarre story about how years ago her husband disappeared in the LA airport. Josephine and Lill, intrigued enough to investigate, discover there may be more ominous goings-on than a simple disappearance…or are there? Meanwhile, Josephine ignores the mysteries of her own heart.
Welcome to Wayback Wednesday! Today we’re traveling back to September 9, 2011, when this post first appeared. Franzeca Drouin, the author of this post, will be joining us periodically, after she returns from volunteering at an animal shelter. RU founding member Tracey Devlyn introduced the original post:
“Please help me welcome researcher and editor Franzeca Drouin to the campus. Franzeca’s research and editorial skills are much in demand by writers of all publication levels. I should know. She saved me from a few historical snafus while reviewing my debut novel last spring. Sit back and enjoy Franzeca’s insights into traveling during the Regency period (think Jane Austen!).
The classroom is yours, Franzeca!”
One thing I’ve noticed in working with authors of historical romance is that we tend not to have an instinctive grasp of pre-mechanized transportation. The food, clothing, language that we use today are recent descendants of Regency times, and mostly manageable (with the exception of our casual reference to Freudian terms and modern psychology, which can be circumvented by careful language choices.) But our sense of travel and distance is so unlike the reality of 200 years ago that it’s often hard to get everything right.
You have someone on horseback who needs to speedily dismount. But you HAVE to do something with the horse—tie it to something, hand the reins to someone. You can’t trust that it will stay in place like a parked car. A coachman cannot descend and knock on a doorway for you for the same reason: someone has to stay with the horses. You cannot assure your characters of good roads, sound horses, indestructible carriages, and an absence of highwaymen, though any deviation from the ideal can provide excellent plot twists. We forget that people walked to their destinations, often many miles away. Remember Lizzie Bennet’s determination to walk to Netherfield to see an ailing Jane? We tend to dismiss the process of the journey as something negligible between two places, but it was a Huge Deal in early 19th Century Britain. Huge.
For reasons of space limitation, I’m continuing this discussion on my website.
Here’s a link to a recent question I had about travel times:
Here’s the bulk of my information about travel in Regency times, including where travelers could stay overnight. It’s rather long, sorry, and has a list of useful websites that also have information about 19th Century travel.
The thing I want to talk about most is the oldest and most expensive book in my collection of reference books. The sticker, still attached to the inside of the front cover, indicates it’s the 15th edition, includes eight maps, and costs 12 shillings. In the back, it advertises itself available in a “pocket size…for the convenience of travelers on horseback” and costs a mere four shillings. I bought mine a few years ago for £100 from a little bookstore in England, and I’m currently celebrating the 200th birthday of my copy of Paterson’s Roads. That’s what the gilt letters hand-tooled on the spine show, though the complete title is A New and Accurate Description of the Direct and Principal Cross Roads to England and Wales and Part of the Roads of Scotland, by Daniel Paterson, Lieutenant-Colonel and Assistant Quarter-Master-General to his Majesty’s Forces. I saw a photo of a first edition, from 1771, and already Paterson’s Roads was on the spine, the beginning of the AAA travel book of pre-railway Britain. University libraries frequently have a copy of the book, and I’ve seen that it has finally been reprinted, and is available on Amazon for considerably less. Interestingly, the reprint is also the 15th edition, which Sir Herbert George Fordham refers to as “the final edition of the original work.” Paterson himself was no longer associated with the writing or publication of the book after 1785, and lawsuits ensued as to whom actually held the copyright. The final, eighteenth, edition was dated 1826 and 1828, with undated copies printed in 1829 and 1832. So, Paterson’s Roads faded into the sunset just as the age of the railway dawned.
Very little is known about Paterson, other than the dates on his tombstone. He was born 1738, and became a commissioned officer in 1765; I presume he purchased his commission. He spent his entire career attached to the Headquarters Staff at the Horse Guards, and never did active service or regimental duties. He retired as an Assistant Quartermaster-General of the Forces at the end of 1812. He was then named Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, a post he held until his death in 1825, at the age of 85. The post was apparently a sinecure, as he never went to Canada, and the duties were probably neglected or performed by poorly-paid deputies in Canada.
The book itself is a wonder, the cover still square and sturdy. The hand-made (?first mechanical paper presses in England were installed in 1803,) paper, all deckle-edged, the elegant type, in different sizes to indicate different information, roman, bold and italic, all hand-set. I like to think that Lizzie Bennet and the Gardiners had a copy they used to locate the sights and gentlemen’s residences they visited during their tour of the Lakes.
The main part of the book is a listing of roads, mostly from locations (posting inns?) in London, to various cities all over England, Wales and some of Scotland. And each list carefully names each hamlet passed en route, the direction of each crossroad, the distance between each named settlement, the distance from the starting point of the journey (in London), which towns have a posting house where fresh horses can be obtained (if there’s only one posting inn, the name is given) and the market day for that town. Running parallel to that are various description of sights, natural and architectural, to be seen in the area, gentlemen’s homes to be visited, and historical factoids.
In the back of the book is an index to all the country seats, by name of house or estate, or gentleman proprietor, occupying 50 pages. There’s a table giving the elevation of various hills and mountains encountered on the route. Next, there a list of all the towns where the post coaches stop, including the time of their arrival and return on their circular routes. (No need to give the departure time, as that will be mere minutes after the arrival.)
At the end is a very interesting schedule of the packet boats that take the British mail overseas, though the asterisk attached to the schedule for Holland and France noted “except in time of war.” I wrote to the British post office about this, and they confirmed that, indeed, mail delivery continued sporadically to France during the Napoleonic Wars. Packet boats also went to Ireland, the Channel Islands, North America, (via Halifax, except during the winter, when it went straight to New York,) Prussia, and the West Indies. I couldn’t find out if they took passengers, though I would think they would have room, and like the post coaches, it would be a good revenue source.
So, yes, give your Regency characters a copy of Paterson’s, and send them on their way. They’ll have a splendid adventure.
RU Crew, how many of you have a favorite rare book you’d like to share? Have you ever considered writing a Regency historical? For our readers, did you know so much had to go into writing a Regency-set (any historical-set) novel? Franzeca is an expert at all-things historical, so if you have a burning question, please feel free to ask.
Franzeca Drouin has worked as an editor and/or researcher on more than forty books. She is very much looking forward to having her wicked way with the next forty. In her spare time, she cooks, gardens in tiny spaces, sings, loves cats, and struggles with sudokus. You can find more information about Franzeca at http://franzeca.wordpress.com.
I move so often it’s practically a hobby. I’ve been in Chicago almost six years and now we’re bracing for a cross-country trek to Eugene, Oregon. So, once again, I’m emptying bookcases in an attempt to organize (and pack) my gazillion books. The hard part is trying to find some books to give away.
Books are heavy and when you’re a bookaholic like I am, it means books multiply like rabbits around here. In our last move, we were downsizing from a big house to a two-bedroom condo. This move will put us back into a house, but one we’ll be sharing with both of my kids and my grandkids. There will be room for books, just not ALL of them. Hence: sort, stack and, whenever possible, give some away.
The fun part of this program is that unpacking bookshelves is like digging up buried treasure. I have layers of books on each shelf, and I don’t often work my way back to the first layer. The newer books tend to be at the front, so the treasures at the back go waaaaay back to my early days of reading romance.
I’ve been hooked on romantic suspense since my high school days but I didn’t become a hard core, loud-and-proud romance addict until I was living in London in the mid-1970s. There was a small street market in Grays Inn Road, just down the street from the venerable building that (back in the day) housed the London Times and the Sunday Times. I had a long commute on train and bus, so every day at lunchtime, I would pop out and restock my paperbacks. As I recall, you could get 10 books for one pound Sterling, and a full bag of paperbacks for not much more. The bookstalls were packed full of Mills and Boon books, the British equivalent of Harlequin, and I soon had a two-book-a-day habit.
When I moved back to the U.S. in December 1981, one of the first things I did was subscribe to Harlequin, Silhouette, Candlelight Ecstasy romance, adding new formats as they were created. So…Harlequin Presents, Silhouette Special Edition, and then Blaze, Desire and so on arrived in my mailbox often enough to feed my habit.
Rereading those books, which now almost qualify as antiques, is like going back in time. I almost hear the wheels of the train rolling into Charing Cross station as I zip through the worn Mills and Boon copies. I paired up tiny baby socks while trying to read the latest Special Edition or Presents at the same time.
I read my way through all fifty states (and then some) with Janet Dailey. A literary scandal led me from Janet Dailey to Nora Roberts, and I read all of her books, too. I enjoyed discovering series authors like Patricia McLinn and Jessica Bird (who is now better known as J.R. Ward). Then, as now, I collected books by my favorite authors and those authors’ names fill me with good memories.
In recent years, I’ve been thrilled to find many familiar authors from my early days of romance reading on Facebook. Those authors helped me adjust to being a stay-at-home mom, and they saved my sanity when my son suffered with colic all those years ago. In my mind, they are literary legends. I still have more bookshelves to go through, but I thought I’d share some of the treasures I’ve unearthed. What drew you to these “category” books, and what keeps you coming back for more?
What authors first hooked you on reading romance?
Becke joined the RU team in January 2011. She moderated the Garden Book Club and the Mystery Forum at BN.com until the forums were discontinued. Prior to that, she was a writer and instructor at B&N’s Online University and for two years she wrote a garden blog for B&N. During Becke’s twenty-plus years as a freelance garden writer, she wrote six garden books and one book about ‘N Sync, co-authored with her daughter. Becke also used to blog at Michelle Buonfiglio’s Romance Buy the Book blog. Writing as Becke Martin, she has three short stories in the HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS anthology published by the Ohio Valley Romance Writers Chapter.
In the distant past, Becke sold advertising for the Chicago Sun-Times, the London Sunday Times and the Daily Herald. She has two adult children, two awesome granddaughters, one fabulous daughter-in-law and three cats. She has been married almost 47 years and lives in Chicago’s Hyde Park.
Welcome back Damon Suede with another fabulous post and an announcement about his NEW BOOK! SQUEE!
So as fate would have it, next Monday (12 March) I have a new book called Verbalize on characterization and story craft coming out inspired in part by posts I’ve done here at Romance University and conversations I’ve had in the comments. One of the techniques the book tackles is way events can amplify characterization and simplify structure.
Events are instinctive. Every story’s power emerges in moments of collision. Characters collide as they confront obstacles and opponents in pursuit of happiness, and these intersections change everything. Each collision between your characters releases energy, much like nuclear fusion or fission, as they reveal their internal struggle in the face of external challenges. How much energy your story accesses depends entirely on your ability to tap their essential nature via actions and reactions.
Your audience reads to experience a satisfying emotional ride. Your entire job as an author is to provide that experience as seamlessly as possible. Everything happening in your story doesn’t mean squat unless the reader feels something entertaining and satisfying.
For a story move anyone, characters have to make your readers care.
Each collision releases more mojo into the story’s world, disrupting the circumstances, unleashing disasters, and forcing characters to make high-stakes choices. Whether these clashes are internal or external, public or private, intentional or impulsive, these moments in the story become events…pivotal, irrevocable shifts in the flow of the character’s options.
An event is any significant disruption of the status quo…
Events create tangible effects on anyone party to them because they inherently alter the story’s progress and the character’s choices from that point forward: arrivals and departures, blessings and curses, decisions and disasters, revelations and reversals, lies and confessions, accidents and jackpots, assignations and departures,.
As Henry James said, “What is character but the determination of incident, what is incident but the illustration of character?”
Events force the characters and the readers to stop everything and pay attention. They are watershed moments because they mark points of no return for one or more characters. Smart writers tend to show events happening for the first or the last time because the irrevocability alters the character and shifts the plot.
Instinctively, most people who enjoy books, movies, games, or comics gravitate toward events. They are the fabric of pop culture and most showbiz spirals around them inexorably: ramping toward each event and then navigating the fallout before lurching toward the next dramatic crest. Think about the ways your favorite s entertainment is structured: promises, fights, reunions, confessions, disasters, makeovers, betrayals, seductions, confrontations, redemptions. By definition events scramble the options available to a character, altering their options and then forcing them to choose.
The schlockiest mass media revels in shameless event-mongering. Small wonder: events require no explanation and attract instant rubbernecking from most humans. The average viewer can tune in and find themselves unable to touch that dial…because their monkey mind wants to know what happens next…after the wedding, funeral, promotion, birth, bonus, arrest, etc. They’re audience bait coasted in superglue.
Events create instant, fascinating context.
Wise writers learn to think eventfully, because those dramatic collisions motivate characters, galvanize audiences, and anchor any story. You want your characters to do things that matter, that have a meaningful impact, then you need to start thinking about the kinds of impact possible for those characters before you put a word on the page.
I always tell my students to look for the WHAM. Events erupt from a stories steady rhythm anytime two opposing viewpoints slam together: goals, ethics, beliefs, philosophies, opinions. Everyone in the story’s world sits there safe and sedated until—WHAM—the ex-husband moves in next door or your car starts to levitate to the in-laws deep-fry your kid for lunch. Your protagonist just bumbles along until—WHAM—she sprouts fangs or inherits a castle or catches bubonic plague. The delicious rub between what characters expected to happen, and how things turned out sucks the audience into the narrative. That contrast draws our attention and the ironic tension rewards us for noticing the disparity.
An event is contrast turned into context. Like a caffeinated truth serum, events force characters to confront their illusions about the world and the reality they’ve been ignoring. First they show you what’s going on and then they kick your butt until you do something about it.
Even better, because characters can cause events or simply deal with events caused by other characters, they must make terrible, beautiful choices that have fascinating consequences. Their conflict becomes character growth in front of our eyes and in our hearts…because we live the choice alongside them. And because this happens in a book rather than our real lives, we get to experience impossible decisions at a safe distance. All of the emotion with none of the direct danger to our safety. Yay, genre fiction!
Thinking eventfully will save you from writer’s block and ramp up the emotional punch of any project. One easy way to tackle events is to think of them in the context of a movie trailer… look for the highlights:
What three or four moments would fans of your story want to see on screen in 30-second preview?
What characters would receive the most screen time and how can you give them something fun and physical to do that conveys character?
How can you signal your vibe, voice, and subgenre clearly in these preview moments without explanation or exposition?
What details or elements help these events cohere so that they obviously come from a single story?
How can you make these big events stand out from every other event of their types in your genre and subgenre?
If you had to cut one of these preview moments from the trailer, which one would you ditch and why? Weigh what makes this the weakest event in the list to see if you can improve it.
Whether pantser or plotter, noob or veteran, you can gather rough events almost like a mise en place… assembling the components to create a dish. You may not use all of them but you can compile the tasty options. Look for the fun possibilities, the surprising depths, the startling reveals that might crack your characters’ (and audience’s) emotions wide open. Consider the events native to your subgenre… rom-com loves meet cutes and makeovers, historical thrives on social sparring and scandal, erotic romance revels in fresh trespasses and transformative firsts. When you’re weighing an event, look for opportunities to give readers what they want in a way they couldn’t have expected.
As director Sydney Pollack once said, trashy pulp fiction teaches us a valuable lesson in the power of bold choices. Events set you free to explore the limits of your story. Whenever you stall are stray, just ask yourself what the worst possible event would be and then MAKE IT HAPPEN. How do characters react to that impossible collision or make that impossible choice?
And for any of you pantsers out there blanching at the idea of preplanning events…fret not! You can wander and improv to your heart’s content, but wandering towards and away from pivotal, critical events will help you steer that story even when you aren’t sure where it’s headed.
Remember: what the audience wants from you is an unforgettable emotional ride. The events are the big structural posts that let you build a thrilling roller coaster for all those hearts. Or is that feel overwhelming, keep it simple: list the critical moments guaranteed to happen in your book and build from them. Dwight Swain once said that all you need to write a book is three or four big events and a satisfying resolution. Even before you know the particulars of character and context, the events can help you lay the tracks.
Whenever you feel the story sag or characters stagnating look to the event(s) before and behind them so you know where they’re headed and how they got there. Events will help you track your character’s path and perspective as the story changes them. Use those events to crack them open like a piñata so you can shower the readers with candy.
Think eventfully and every story will become an unforgettable event of its own.
Comment below for another chance to win Damon’s new book!
Bio: Damon grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen almost three decades and just released his first craft book: Verbalize, a practical guide to characterization and story craft. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him on Twitter, Facebook, or at DamonSuede.com.
Welcome back to Tessa Shapcotthere with another fabulous post – what kind of editor do you need? A great one of course!
There is a myth that a good writer doesn’t need an editor. I’d challenge that and then some. A good writer not only needs an editor but deserves a great one.
So, how do you know your editor is great for you and your books?
Of course, there are different types of editor, each of whom will be involved in the various stages of your novel as it travels towards publication. The developmental editor (AKA the commissioning or acquiring editor) will work with you in depth on the structure and content of your book, helping you to develop your characters, storylining and plotting and to enhance your storytelling abilities. Line editors take over from the developmental editor, looking at the manuscript as a whole, to fix issues such as continuity, language, sense and style, ensuring readability. The copy editor becomes involved at that next stage, as the person who dots the ‘i’s and crosses the ‘t’s by checking facts, grammar, punctuation and spelling. Finally, the proof-reader takes care of the typeset or formatted version, watching out for glitches and catching anything that was missed (and despite all the eyes involved, things can be).
Whatever stage you are at in the publication process, it’s essential that you feel confident and comfortable with the editor to whom you’ve entrusted your ‘baby’. Unfortunately, there are bad editors out there. Like all creative professions, the role attracts its share of poseurs and wannabees! But there are also many brilliant editors too. So here is a list of qualities to look for when either you are assigned a new editor by your publisher or you hire a freelancer that will help you to know when you’ve found a gem.
A great editor is passionate about books. Try to get her chatting about fiction, what she likes to read, the authors she admires. If she bubbles over with enthusiasm, knowledge and joy, those are very good signs.
She has a business head. She possesses strong market knowledge and sound commercial judgement; she knows what sells and has her radar switched on for the trends she sees happening now and coming soon.
She communicates promptly and professionally, always keeping you, the writer, in the loop.
She loves and understands authors. She knows what makes you tick; what to do when the words aren’t flowing, when and how to run with you when they are, when to listen and when to chivvy. She always makes time for you and is your best writing buddy.
She has respect for the author’s voice. She climbs into your characters with you, living and breathing them too. She never micro-edits, but instead quietly keeps the train on the tracks by using her skills to coax you, and develop and enhance your narrative, leaving your unique style intact.
She is always eagle-eyed and consistent. She has the stamina and steadfastness to keep a keen eye on the ball and maintain the rhythm the whole way through the manuscript, holding all the strands together until the ends can be tied.
She can deliver criticism with objectivity, diplomacy and optimism. If revisions are needed, the author should be left feeling fired up and inspired for the task ahead, not daunted and overwhelmed.
She never outshines her author. She supports you to be the best you can be and is ready to praise you publicly without claiming the limelight for herself.
Are there any other qualities that you feel are important? Have you had good or bad editor experiences? Please do leave your thoughts on the thread below―we’d love to hear them.
Join us on Friday for Damon Suede!
Bio: Tessa Shapcott is a freelance fiction editor. She also writes romance as Joanne Walsh.
Welcome back to Lesley Vos who is sharing an important and sobering message about depression and writing.
Once upon a time, depression settled at my place. Well, I should have thought that it always lived there; but this time it came out of hiding, and manifested itself at its best.
Depression was beautiful. For the first little while. Its romantic, sad, and mysterious image seemed magnetic. A vulnerable soul, I wrote romance narratives about broken hearts, breakups, inner turmoils, and in vino veritas. Depression appeared the only condition I needed for writing my magnum opus.
But time passed by… It lured me into the abyss of despair. Doctors, stimulators, anti-depressants that didn’t help… Both physical and mental health went down. It looked like I was falling to the rabbit hole, so deep and dark that it left no hope for escape. And to add insult to injury, it hit me: masterpieces of many great writers were born under the same condition.
Does it mean we need a depression to write stories? Or, are we prone to depression more than other people for the sole reason that we are writers? Or both?
Though some researchers insist that writers have depression more often than non-writers, they don’t have any firm statistics on that. However, there are several reasons – logical enough – on why knights of the pen might be prone to this state:
Some writers need it for work: they feel unable to describe sufferings of a character captivating enough without experiencing similar trials themselves.
Some choose long periods of isolation for writing: a lack of light, exercise, and social interaction may lead to depression, too.
Some writers are too sensitive to critics from editors, rejections from publishers, and comments from peers. Worrying about what others would say about our works, we feel stressed.
Also, we writers read a lot, learn a lot, and think a lot. There’s a theory saying that better-educated people are unhappier in life: spiritual reflections, future considerations, and thoughts on purpose may trigger blue mood.
There’s also a hypothesis about the creatives’ brain working differently if compared to average people: while the precuneus (the area of the brain linked to self-consciousness and memory retrieval) of an average person is active at off-work time only, it works continually for a creative. Unable to focus on one thing, a writer makes associations between the external world and his internal experience, which leads to manic-depressive conditions.
Depression has no gender, but women writers are generally thought to be more susceptible to it. Emily Dickinson, Sara Teasdale, Marina Tsvetayeva, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath – they all have fallen victims to depression, followed by death. Ernest Hemingway – a male victim of the Sylvia Plath effect, by the way – once referred to depression as “the artist’s reward.” But can we agree with him, bearing in mind the consequences of this mental illness? A reward for what? Wouldn’t “a fee for success” be a more precise metaphor here?
“I don’t want to die but live dying.”
These are words Marina Tsvetayeva, one of the Russian most depressive poets, used to describe her condition. The theme of death, eternal suffering, and hopeless despair permeates her works. And though she tried to find a cure for her depression in love, which affected her romance lyrics, Marina could not cope with the disease and, eventually, hung herself in the last summer day of 1941.
“I Shall Not Care” by Sara Teasdale was wrongly considered her suicide note because of its depressing undertone. But still, the poet suffered from her personal “great depression,” related to toxic relationships with ex-husband, married lover – who had committed suicide himself, by the way, – and female objects of her affection. In 1933 Sara overdosed on sleeping pills.
Anne Sexton locked herself in the car, started the engine, and ended with carbon poisoning. The same happened to Sylvia Plath: she put her head in the oven and suffocated there. Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the river near her home…
Certainly, far from all consequences of writer depression are so terrible. Carrie Fisher, Anne Rice, and J.K. Rowling struggled with this monster, too, and won.
Anne’s daughter died of leukemia, and the writer sank into a severe depression: together with her husband, they drank heavily but were able to overcome the problem after her son’s birth. Some call Joanne the most famous depressed writer of today, as she suffered from clinical depression before and during writing the Harry Potter series: they said, dementors pictured her condition best – bleeding the authoress dry. Carrie Fisher struggled with bipolar disorder, characterized by depression episodes, but didn’t give up and conveyed the powerful message through her works: “there is no shame in a mental health diagnosis.”
Do you see any signs of depression in your writer life?
The first and the foremost advice most give to depressed people is “get a grip.” The irony of irony is, the depressed hate this recommendation but admit that it works. In his article for Joanna Penn’s blog, Mark O’Neill shares thoughts on the topic and delivers tips on how to overcome this health problem. I hope both Mark and Joanna wouldn’t mind me paraphrasing the tips here:
Organize your daily routine to do everything at the same point of time: wake up, eat, have a walk, write, go to bed, etc. Even such common activities are challenging for depressed people to overcome, so motivate yourself a bit: Mark recommends to get a dog, but it’s up to you to decide if you’re ready for a new member of your family in the house.
Don’t concentrate on word count. Many writers, including Stephen King who suffered from depression himself, shares productivity hack: maintain a daily word count. It works, but not for those in depression: you would feel even worse if didn’t get through your set word limit.
Join writers communities to meet like-minded people and feel their support.
Read more positive books, watch humor TV shows, and consider funny movies. They don’t just influence your mood but also might inspire to write your next masterpiece.
Do you agree with the hypothesis that romance writers are prone to burnouts, fatigue, stresses, and depression more than others? What are your recipes of dealing with these monsters, if so?
Or, it’s not writers who become depressed but depressed people who become writers?
Join us on Wednesday for Tessa Shapcott!
Bio:Lesley Vos is a seasoned web writer, guest author of 200+ articles on copywriting and marketing, contributor to the blog on plagiarism-free content, ghostwriter, and bookworm. In love with coffee, inspired by Jane Austen, and dreaming of visiting Australia one day.
I’ve known P. C. Zick for several years now. We “met” each other online over the mention of “Pittsburgh” (her then-home and my former home). We hit it off and became fast friends. Then I learned she’s a darn good author, too. It’s my pleasure to introduce her here today. Let’s give her a warm welcome.
Five years ago, I never imagined writing romances, and I vowed never to write a series. My vision of myself as a writer held a narrow view of writing serious important literature. Then with little warning, my vision morphed and shifted in life’s funhouse of wavy mirrors.
Boredom drove me to enroll in an online group, Romance in a Month, just for fun. Nothing more. But the more I studied the romance genre, the more intrigued I became with creating a fictional world where my characters could live and love. My first exercises in the class brought me into a fictional town with dysfunction as its slogan. Within the community, I designed the Victory Tavern, a central location for those characters to gather. And my first romance, Behind the Altar, came to fruition within a month of starting the process.
In the ensuing four years, this first romance grew into the other thing I never envisioned. I began to write a series. And from there, I wrote a second series in a different town but with equally troubled souls. Last year, I began writing another series in yet another town with a family who appears to have it all, but of course, no one ever does. And in the process, I learned the life of a writer is a fluid thing, which can change at any time. I found that romance doesn’t need to be simply fluff, hearts, and roses. And I also showed myself that the process of revision is the art of once again looking at the words on the page and making them better.
As I delved into writing Behind the Altar, my sixth novel and my first romance, I relaxed more than I ever had in my writing. In some ways, writing romance taught me more about writing fiction than the other genres. It’s a process that must be followed, and with its rather streamlined form, the elements of plot are on display. Do it wrong, and the readers are displeased. Dialogue, plot happenings, the HEA—all of these must be done with finesse.
When I finished Behind the Altar, I missed the town and the characters, so the best friends of the hero and heroine became the focus of my second romance. In Behind the Bar, the characters all return—along with a few more added to create more complications. When I finished, I once again found myself not wanting to leave Victory, the fictional town I had created. Thus, Behind the Curtain came to life. I now had three novella-length romances with stand-alone plots, and characters intertwined with one another.
Readers who read the first three books kept asking me to do one thing. They wanted the sexy minor character in all three books to have her own story. She interfered in relationships, yet it was clear she was misunderstood. And behind it all, she was a nice person. I kept putting it off. I thought I’d run out of things to write about everyone. And I didn’t know if she was a character who could sustain a novella, let alone a novel.
When sales slowed on the first three books, I consulted a marketing expert who advised that I lengthen the first three books into full-length novels and write a fourth book in the series. I’d never gone back to one of my novels before except for minor editing. I’d never considered doing a major rewrite with the objective of lengthening the story. But then again, I’d never thought I’d write a romance or a series of romances.
Suddenly, the story of the misunderstood sexy barkeep of the first three books came to me. I did know her better than I had thought. Simultaneously, I went back to the others, and re-visioned them into deeper and lengthier full-length novels. Those months of creating and re-creating represent some of the best writing hours of my twenty-year career. I immersed myself in the work and lived and breathed Victory and its mishmash of misfits who all fit together into one perfect family of choice.
Changing gears and plunging into romance recharged my writing batteries. And here I am four years later with seventeen novels, and I’m still learning
As I worked on the four books in the Behind the Love series, I learned another lesson. Romances can contain a social consciousness. I found I could weave real-life issues and solutions into the plot of the romantic novel while still giving readers what they want from the genre.
Romances don’t have to be bodice-ripping pieces of silliness, but that’s the reputation in the minds of those who don’t read many romances or have only been exposed to that type of formula romance. It’s one of the reasons I stayed away from writing a straight-up romance for the first sixteen years of my writing career. Without realizing it, my romances grew into more than boy-meets-girl. I had created characters with flaws born of dysfunction. Issues of domestic violence, child abuse, alcoholism, broken families, homelessness, mental illness, and the PTSD of wounded veterans play major roles in the conflict, growth, and resolution of the characters and the chaos whirling around them.
The dysfunction of all their lives allow them to connect. And when they do, they create a different sort of family made up of others who’d grown up with negligent parents, alcoholic fathers, drug-addicted mothers, wife beaters, child abusers—all bad examples for forming relationships. But the novels aren’t dark because all my plots contain elements of hope—hope for a better life, hope for unconditional love, hope for forming lasting relationships.
It may be a cliché, but the adage of “never say never” resounds as tangible proof in my Behind the Love series. I learned to loosen up and take myself less seriously, but in the process, I still managed to touch on issues I find important, and I created characters who carry the universal traits and wounds and badges of a life lived well.
The first romance turned into four. And before I knew it, I created a new world for my Smoky Mountain Romance series with another band of characters drawn together by love, wounds, and goodness. I’m currently working on yet another series, Rivals in Love, but this time the characters come from one big happy family, which allows me to explore the intricacies of six siblings and the dynamics of power and self-worth in the struggle to find love.
A multitude of lessons fell into my lap when I decided to challenge myself to try something new, which brings me to my next project. A paranormal time-travel romance awaits in the wings. And maybe I’ll finally finish the Pittsburgh sports series I began several years ago when I wrote Third Base.
But nothing says I can’t go back to the literary fiction where I began my journey twenty years ago because I know better than to limit myself by defining who I am as an author. It’s never too late to take another look at what I’ve written to show me that the biggest limitation to my writing career had been sitting at my very own desk—me.
I would love to hear about your experiences. Have you ever broken away from your writing vows and strayed into something new? Or have you ever gone back and revamped a novel or series? What were the results?
Bestselling author P.C. Zick describes herself as a storyteller no matter what she writes. And she writes in a variety of genres, including romance, contemporary fiction, and nonfiction. She’s won various awards for her essays, columns, editorials, articles, and fiction.
The three novels in her Florida Fiction Series contain stories of Florida and its people and environment, which she credits as giving her a rich base for her storytelling. “Florida’s quirky and abundant wildlife—both human and animal—supply my fiction with tales almost too weird to be believable.”
Her contemporary romances in the Behind the Love series are also set in Florida. The novels in her most recent series, Smoky Mountain Romances, are set in in Murphy, North Carolina. She is currently working on a new romance series, Rivals in Love. Join the Crandall family of Chicago as the siblings find love despite their focus on successful careers. All her books are stand-alone reads, even if they appear in a series.
Her novels contain elements of romance with strong female characters, handsome heroes, and descriptive settings. She believes in living lightly upon this earth with love, laughter, and passion, and through her fiction, she imparts this philosophy in an entertaining manner with an obvious love for her characters, plot, and themes.
Leah Bryant lives a quiet life helping others. When her future mother-in-law, Geraldine, threatens her causes, she’s left confused by the hypocrisy and befuddled by a stranger who roars into town on a Harley.
Dean Davis never wanted to return to his hometown. But when his father dies, he knows he must return and faced his mother, Geraldine, and his ugly past. When Leah discovers the stranger is the brother of her fiancé that she’d been told was dead, she’s drawn to him and furious about the deception. Both are bowled over by an intense attraction to one another. The magnetic pull draws them into a passionate embrace within minutes of meeting.
Leah’s controlled life and Dean’s emotional barriers both shatter and force them to examine their lives. Leah must choose between her safe engagement to Dean’s estranged brother, Jacob, and a dangerously passionate affair with Dean. And Dean must confront the demon from his childhood, his mother. Dean’s fear of loving and Leah’s need for security pull them together, rather than apart.
But none of it will matter if they can’t stop Geraldine, an unhinged woman on a destructive course to abolish everyone who opposes her thirst for power. When Dean and Leah, along with Jacob, threaten her, she goes on a rampage to destroy them all.
Behind the Altar is the first novel in the Behind the Love contemporary romance series that features sizzling attractions, dramatic confrontations, and intertwined and complicated lives. Set in the fictional small town of Victory, Florida, friends fight and love and form families of their own choosing.