Yes, it’s Friday! Author Harrison Demchick has written several posts for RU. Today, we’re featuring his first post, written in 2015.
Let’s face it: You know when two characters aren’t clicking on the page.
This is true whether we’re talking about a romance novel or a romantic subplot, and for that matter whether we’re talking about someone else’s novel or your own. You have a guy, and you have a girl (or a guy and a guy, or a girl and a girl), and they’re going out on dates, and the words on the page say they’re attracted to each other, but for some reason it just doesn’t work.
We call this nebulous concept chemistry, but really chemistry has nothing to do with it. Neither does biology. These aren’t flesh and blood creations; they’re characters on a page. And that’s why what it really comes down to is characterization.
This means that there are some important questions we need to ask.
Question #1: What does she want?
Let me be clear here: I don’t mean in a man. We’re aiming for a more complete portrait than that. A strong character has a defined personality and established characteristics, and of course any human character has flaws as well, but what we should also see in any developed character in a novel is established wants and needs. Maybe your protagonist wants to graduate law school, but she also needs some happiness in her life outside her education. Or maybe we flip that around: She wants to find the right guy, but what she really needs is to be more secure in herself as an individual.
Whatever the specifics, these are the forces that drive our protagonist. They comprise her goals, both conscious and unconscious. And they need to be established if we’re going to answer the next question:
Question #2: Why does she like him?
One of the most consistent problems with romance in novels is the belief that two characters will like each other just because the author says they do. It doesn’t work that way. Sure, these are fictional characters, and the author does control them, but if there isn’t a reason for the attraction, then any romance on the page comes not from the characters, but rather from the hand of the author. And if it’s clearly the hand of the author pulling characters together, that same hand will push readers away.
So what do we do? We tie this back into our wants and needs. The romantic interest can’t just be some guy, or even just some rock-jawed perfect guy. He is also someone with the potential to help our protagonist achieve her wants and needs. In one way or another, he stands to provide what is missing in her life, whether it’s in enabling her to see her own worth or helping her understand what she really needs to be happy—or, of course, something else entirely.
In other words, it’s not about him. It’s about her.
But that said:
Question #3: What does he want, and why does he like her?
One of the other frequent problems with novel romances is that the guy or girl, the person of interest, is less a person than a paragon. He’s the perfect guy, right off the cover of the romance novel, unbuttoned shirt blowing in the wind. Or she’s the perfect woman, beautiful and understanding. He’s a confident and sensitive dream guy. She’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
And none of that helps you craft a convincing romance.
Don’t get me wrong: In romance, a certain amount of idealizing and wish fulfillment is inherent. It’s part of the genre. But don’t forget that the guy, too, is a character. Aside from whatever personality traits you’ve ascribed to him, he has his own wants and needs. You may not be writing his narrative, but he has one, and in order for him to achieve his own goals as a person, he needs the protagonist.
Which brings us to the other side of the equation. A guy who loves your protagonist just because she’s the hero of the story and that’s what he’s there to do is not convincing. But I see it a lot, especially in early drafts of romances. It’s clear why she likes him, but why does he like her? What makes her special specifically to him? How is his life better for her presence? How does she help him achieve his own conscious and unconscious goals? Maybe he’s achieved success, but lost purpose, and she’s the only one with the integrity to call him out on it. Maybe he needs the courage to walk away from a world where he isn’t happy, or maybe there’s a trauma in his past he needs her help to overcome.
It can be any of these things, or something else entirely. But without a clear, tangible reason for his feelings, the romance on the page will feel, and be, incomplete. And that leaves us with one more question:
Question #4: Why?
Why bother with all these wants and needs? Why do we need reasons? Isn’t attraction much of the time just about attraction? Isn’t it chemistry?
In the real world, maybe. But romance in a novel doesn’t stand alone. It’s part of a story, which means that story arc, character arc, and characterization are inevitably intertwined with romance. And when we step back from these questions and look at what we’ve created, we see why the questions needed to be asked.
Now we have two characters who, in story and character terms, genuinely need each other. They require one another to resolve their own issues. The forces that drive our characters are, in fact, driving them toward one another. And this is what, on the page, we interpret as chemistry.
It’s nothing mysterious or nebulous. It’s simply characterization. And when it comes to romance in fiction, there is nothing more fundamental than that.
Bio: Harrison Demchick came up in the world of small press publishing, working along the way on more than three dozen published novels and memoirs, several of which have been optioned for film. An expert in manuscripts as diverse as young adult, science-fiction, fantasy, mystery, literary fiction, women’s fiction, memoir, and everything in-between, Harrison is known for quite possibly the most detailed and informative editorial letters in the industry—if not the entire universe.
Harrison is also an award-winning, twice-optioned screenwriter, and the author of literary horror novel The Listeners (Bancroft Press, 2012). He’s currently accepting new clients in fiction and memoir at the Writer’s Ally (formerly Ambitious Enterprises).
Before the plague, and the quarantine, fourteen-year-old Daniel Raymond had only heard of the Listeners. According to his best friend Katie’s police officer father, they were deadly men identifiable by the removal of their right ears. But Daniel didn’t know for sure. It’s not until after the medical personnel have been evacuated—after weeks trapped inside without hearing from Katie, and days since Daniel’s mother left for toilet paper—that the Listeners arrive. Derek, the one-eared man with the big, soulful eyes, promises protection and hope, and a brotherhood under the watch of their leader, the prophet Adam. The Listeners, Harrison Demchick’s debut, is a dark and terrifying journey into loneliness, desperation, and the devastating experience of one young boy in a world gone mad.
With writing comes revisions and author Wendy Davies shares her process with us.
Usually, the first draft of any story is a journey of discovery. That’s why revisions are so important. It can make the difference between an enjoyable story and one you can’t put down.
Yes, revisions take time. And they can be frustrating and annoying. At the very least, revising your story should improve it and make the theme or central idea behind the story clearer to your target audience.
So, how do I go about revising?
Well, I take on two identities while I’m revising. The first is the most important one – that of the reader. And this means that I need a bit of time between finishing writing the story and reading it. Because separating my ‘writer’ identity from the reader identity needs space; so you can come at your story with fresh eyes. To do this, you’ll need to put it aside for a bit. That way, you are reading the words as they appear on the page, not what you think you’ve written.
The second is that of the editor. This involved analysis and dissection. It’s creative, to an extent, but not to the same calibre of coming up with the story and writing it. I take on the ‘editor’ identity after I’ve been the reader. In other words, I read the story just like a reader would before I start analysing and dissecting the story.
To start the editing process, I break my story down into a collection of scenes, like mini movies or episodes within the entire story. These scenes can be contained within one chapter or go over many chapters, but each one has a beginning, a middle and an end. Just like a complete novel does.
To help keep the analysis part of my brain at the forefront, I use an Excel spreadsheet to itemise these scenes, and answer some of questions I usually devise as I’m conducting the all-important initial read-through.
And you’d are wrong if you think I only did one revision of my story. Oh no. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve revised, rewritten and restructured my story. I even changed its name from “The Drover’s Rest” to Good Enough For Love because that title summed up the main theme. The one thing that Amber needs to discover – and know – is that she’s good enough for love.
Anyway, here’s a sample of the spreadsheets I used:
Characters in scene
Where is it set? What time?
What is this scene doing?
Upstairs renovations begin
A, Penny, Z, Butch, Dingo, Rufus
two weeks later, just before Z leaves for Canberra
shows the hotel being restored and allows A & Z to work together again, especially in a stressful situation
new scene – from Z’s point of view. Penny’s architectural firm are project managing the rebuild
Zach and the zombies
Later in the evening as Z is coming into town after being away for one whole month
shows Z’s character more and his feelings towards A clearer
small editorial changes. Remind readers that some time has gone past since Z was in town.
Zach takes a chance
Z, A, Freddy, Gordon, Mavis
evening, by the side of the road outside Willow’s Bend
expands on previous scene, shows Z’s character – how he deals with sudden uncomfortable situations, expands on Z’s feelings towards A
Include some texture about the night into the scene, ensure that each new character is clearly defined and outline the role Z and A will play in the movie (minor side story-not a big part).
As you can see, the things I wanted to address concerned the time/place and how many characters were involved in the scene. (One of the major criticism I’d received was that I needed to allow my hero and heroine more time on the page alone together, and that sometimes it wasn’t clear where and when the story was happening.)
In the actual spreadsheet I had a few more columns – numbering each scene; what chapter that scene appeared in; and the number of changes needed. (93 in the initial rewrite!)
I also colour-coded the spreadsheet so I could identify which scenes were in the hero’s point of view and which were in the heroines, just to make sure the story was evenly balanced between Amber and Zach. I also identified which scenes could be deleted (quite a number it turned out) and which ones were in the wrong place within the story. You might have noticed the first item in the above example is a new scene. I had a number of these as well, ones I thought I needed to make story more consistent and engaging. (Some of these ‘new scenes’ were removed in a later revision. Go figure.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t start at the beginning and methodically work my way through each change. That was a mistake. But this revision seemed a tad overwhelming, so I began with the “easy stuff” first, thinking it would make the massive rewrite easier.
In the end, it meant even more work because I then had to spend an enormous amount of time weaving the romance between Amber and Zach into a consistent whole. And fixing all the inconsistencies in the story that happened along the way because of my impatience. But hey, now you won’t fall down the same rabbit hole I did!
So, that’s how I do my revisions. Well, the major rewrites in any case.
Do you have a plan of your story before you start? And how many revisions do you usually do? Do you break down your story into scenes like I do or have you another method that works for you? How do you cope when faced with a major rewrite or major revision? And how do you know when to stop “fixing” your story and letting it go?
Renovating a country hotel challenges everything Amber knows … about family and about love.
When Amber Hutchinson inherits a country hotel, she wants to sell it and move on. The money she’ll earn will secure her future, even if living in the country while renovating a hotel never featured in her plans.
Zach Wentworth, a local sheep farmer, wants to do the right thing. When he comes across a woman stuck in the hotel window, he naturally tries to help.
Sure, Amber knows their sizzling attraction won’t last. It never does, because she’s never been good enough for anyone to love.
Without the hotel, Willow’s Bend is likely to die a slow death, so Zach does whatever he can to secure his town’s future. But doing the right thing might mean risking his heart.
With the town eagerly watching their every move, Amber and Zach must choose between protecting their hearts and taking a chance on love.
Bio: Australian Wendy Lee Davies began writing romances as a lark after leaving her communications and editing job of many years.
Wendy enjoys cycling, especially cycle touring which she did a lot of in her younger, some say more foolish, years. Now that she’s older and wiser, Wendy is wearing out the bike paths around her home town, making good use of her amazing pedal-assist electric bike. She’s also traversed most of the incredible rail trails available in Victoria, and one in New Zealand as well.
If she’s not writing or riding her bike, Wendy can be found enjoying a coffee in some cafe. Or taking landscape photographs. Sometimes she makes cookies or muffins. She’s even been known, on occasion, to annoy her writing friends with long, detailed editorial comments on their latest writing endeavour. But don’t worry. They get her back, tenfold, when it comes to critiquing her latest romance-in-progress.
You can catch up on her latest news via her website ( www.wendyleedavies.com ). She loves hearing from readers, so don’t be shy about dropping her a line.
Good morning! We’re kicking off the week with another keeper post by author Ella Carey.
Writing, for me is instinctive. It’s not something I think about when I do it, it is just something that I do. Writing and storytelling, for whatever reason seems to be part of me, and I it. And yet when I am asked to break this instinctive thing that I do down and talk about writing or teach aspiring writers to write in some way, my mind feels like it could explode with ideas. So much to tell you. So hard to know where to start.
To make matters more complicated, I have the bees’ knees of a collection of books on writing, to the extent that my bookshelves might one day, explode. I am committed to constantly learning, and to improving my craft. As a writer, I also read novels and watch films from the perspective of being a writer. In some ways, I hate that, but in others I love it as well. I am always torn between wanting to analyse a book or a film, while some part of me yearns to go back to that old feeling, of just being swept away.
So, to romantic fiction. I want to go into the nature of this idea of romance, and then attempt to share with you what I see as the tenets of successful romantic fiction, so that your work can be original and fresh, no matter how many obstacles you face when writing, no matter how many rules you want to break…
My books deal with love and the idea of love story, but they don’t fall directly into the romance category. My novels have been categorised vicariously as historical fiction, mystery, women’s fiction with an element of love story (which may or may not turn out well) and literary fiction, as well as literary romance.
But what is this romance? Why are you, as a writer, compelled to write novels about love? Love, after all, is one of life’s most difficult experiences, and it is one of our most difficult tasks. The conflicts that emerge from the pursuit of love and the challenges in resolving them to a satisfying conclusion are one of the most compelling things there are.
However, stories give difficult aspects of life a form, and they also help us to live- we recognise, then shape and experience a novel into something that is useful and worthy for ourselves when we read, or, of course when we watch films. Stories alleviate our sense of the chaos of life.
I would like to acknowledge Robert McKee here, who, in his love story seminars, tells us that our love stories are tremendously important because while love is the most difficult problem we face, it is also the greatest experience we have. McKee asks us to imagine life without love. Can you do that? It is impossible, because without it, in whatever shape or form it is in, life is meaningless.
In a romantic story, readers can actually experience romantic love, but from the safe distance of art. This is what you are trying to achieve.
The history of love is important too. The idea of romance first came into existence in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Troubadours would travel around Europe singing songs of passion and idealised love. Their songs were a reaction against the Christian idea of suffering in this life. This rebellious philosophy came from the Cathars and their idea that we should find meaning and beauty in this world rather than focussing so much on the next.
The notion of romantic love according to the troubadours and their chivalrous paradigm was that love was ideal, ethical and beautiful. Writers took this up in the following centuries: Donne, Shakespeare, Austen, Poe, Emily Dickinson and Pushkin. In the nineteenth century, Romanticism in writing, music and art was almost an intellectual reaction against the Enlightenment, and its idea that rationality was an explanation for life.
The Romantics developed this idea that we should have one true love, and that it is better to follow your heart than your mind. New thoughts spread, that we should marry not for money, but for love, because, particularly for the working classes, experiencing great love could alleviate the terrible things in life. Even the upper classes started to view, in some ways, love as a viable path toward marriage. Overall, in our culture, romance and love became a great motivation for living.
The idea of writing about love and romance seems heady, inspirational, vast. Where do you start? There lies the rub, because publishers of romance novels often want set conventions- sex or no sex, sweet romances, hot love stories, kisses by a certain chapter, certain types of men, even certain names are acceptable or not, the list goes on and on and you must have the ubiquitous holy grail- a happy ending where love triumphs over everything you throw in your characters’ way. You know the drill.
The idea of certain tropes being acceptable in romantic fiction can be a huge obstacle. I think writing romance novels to such set rules must be hard. And equally hard to do well. I don’t have these restrictions, but I have friends who do, and I know that it can seem impossible for the writer to pull everything together, and to feel that somehow, they need to impose such strident limits on a topic that is, after all, endless in its scope.
But isn’t the real problem how to make your romance novels fresh and original, when faced with the fact that it seems every story has been told before?
I love the analogy of creating something, building something that is completely your own. What if you thought of your novel as a house? What if you were to bring your reader into your own beautiful building, moving and transforming them by the way you weave elements of each room together into one shifting, yet in the end, satisfying whole.
Here is something from this room, now from another, until, ultimately, you take them to the destination they want to reach. But not in the way they expect. Keep your reader guessing. Push their limits, push your character’s limits. Play on everyone’s emotions… let’s go inside and take a look.
There are four rooms in your house. One is for character, one for the narrative, one for the writing (and in romance writing, you want to seriously think about what type of prose will fit your subgenre) and one room is for the setting.
But what about conflict? Where does that lie? That’s easy. It’s the foundation. Without conflict holding your story down, cementing it, your characters are never going to move forward if they are pursuing ultimate love. For some writers new to the romantic novel, it can be hard to understand how significant the role of conflict is in a love story. As the lovers push through every barrier, every level of conflict they meet to get to the ultimate ending, they will grow as people. And that is why conflict is integral to writing romance. Without it, your characters will stagnate. They simply will not grow.
So. How do you layer in conflict? Think of how it works, where it is, in every single scene. Draw on your own experiences. What irks you about someone, what would upset you? Write it down. You must have conflict between your potential lovers- things seem to only pull them apart. But just as importantly, your character needs to be battling internal demons at the same time.
Basically, you are sending them off into an interior and exterior war zone, often with an inadequate, if any, sort of sword. And little understanding of the internal demons that face them sometimes deep inside. Their demons will only be revealed as the story evolves. You need to make it seem as if the character will not conquer them- you need to make it oh, so hard.
They will do everything they can to risk being vulnerable, to stop themselves from breaking through their interior wall, that part of themselves that they have to let go of if they are to move forward in their lives. Internal conflict is about what is stopping them- what are they using to protect themselves from being vulnerable and falling in love? It’s about throwing to the wind the protective devices and the excuses your characters use not to live an authentic life.
I want to repeat deliberately that your characters will not understand some of their internal conflicts. Some of them are buried far too deep. So, explore them. Find about your characters’ pasts.
But, backstory? It lurks in the attic. Once you are writing your story, you don’t want to go in there too often or hang around. It’s dusty up there! It’s the past. Just throw in a few titbits now and then. The attic is important, but go up there with care. In some ways, it shouldn’t exist. But the problem is, all that clutter in there is holding your character back. A few crumbs of backstory, a few hints at the opening then, and one big reveal as you move toward the dark point? A wicked twist that throws the whole potential outcome for your lovers on its head?
Your character needs to be in conflict with the larger world too. What else is going on in your character’s life? Problems at work, families who won’t let go, people who manipulate, social problems, friends who hate one of your lovers- the possibilities are endless but may be limited or directed by the rules of your subgenre. How do these external conflicts stop your character from finding the love that will transform them? How do these external conflicts form a bridge with interior conflict and how can you develop and dramatically worsen the conflict between your characters to hold the outcome back? Can you weave this into a succinct whole? How will you build these conflicts up as the story progresses?
All conflict needs to be almost impossible to overcome. Almost. Give your protagonist a tiny chance so the reader keeps going. But only a tiny one…
In terms of the writing, of the language and the words that you use, I heard an editor recently liken editing your finished first draft to pulling away the scaffolding surrounding a building. Writers put scaffolding up all the time. In broad terms, and I don’t have time to go into specifics here, delete all the extraneous words to get to the beauty of your prose, to the raw building underneath. This, I think is the art, or the foundation of good editing, and if I could give you one truth about crafting words into a form that works, this is it.
As for character, the one thing I would say is that you need to feel a strong emotional connection to your protagonist. When I’m writing, I want the character to be tugging at my heart. I want the visceral response while I work. I want to feel her story. That’s it. If it’s not there, then don’t write the thing. Start again. Character creation goes back to being instinctive, for me this is where the whole story starts. You want your reader to feel such a connection to your character that they become immersed in his or her world. They want what she wants. They almost become the protagonist. They own the story. If you don’t feel that connection to your character, your readers won’t either. That connection with character, for me is fundamental in anything I write.
With regards to my third room, in which the story lurks, you can let that unfold as you please- go with it as you write, or as we all know, you can plan it out scene by scene, digging into the heart of it before you write, in a way that is ultimately creative, before you type the first sentence or two. But when crafting your story, above all, when you write a romance novel, as well as conflict, think about the stakes. What happens to your characters if your love story does not work out? Ultimately, do your characters return to the place they were in the beginning of your book, to that place which would be unendurable, where they will be stuck in a mire and usually in some form of pain. If this journey and this need to move forward, to find love, is in your characters, it becomes the lifeblood of your story, but the conflict is there like a rock that seems impossible to shift, and you need to ensure that it would be untenable for your characters to return to the emotional landscape in which they roamed at the beginning set up of your book.
As for the setting. I try to have as vast a knowledge of the places I write about in my books as I can. For THE THINGS WE DON’T SAY, I flew to London and Sussex from Australia. For a week. Before I went, I read everything I could about the background to the novel, and when I was in the UK, I lived and breathed my characters’ world for seven days, I walked where they walked, I found real houses that inspired their houses, I saw how and when the birds flew in the sky above the places where the story played out. In being where my characters were, I could feel and sense what they felt. I was in the place where their experiences happened. When I wasn’t absorbing, I was in cafes. I wrote journals in my character’s voices. I sat in those cafes and wrote my characters’ reactions to the places which I had sought out for them. If you can’t do that, if you cannot travel to your locations- read, read about the places your characters inhabit and get into their heads.
In order to render your story, your characters and your setting as real and vivid and startling as they can possibly be, everything in the world you create needs to be as complex, elusive, and beautiful as the stars are, all at once. But use filters, only put in what is relevant into the story. And you must decide how your love story, that most difficult and wonderful of experiences, is going, ultimately, to end.
A beguiling painting holds the secrets of a woman’s past and calls into question everything she thought she knew about the man she loved…
Nearly sixty years ago, renowned London artist Patrick Adams painted his most famous work: a portrait of his beloved Emma Temple, a fellow bohemian with whom he shared his life. Years after Patrick’s death, ninety-year-old Emma still has the painting hanging over her bed at their country home as a testament to their love.
To Emma’s granddaughter, Laura, the portrait is also a symbol of so much to come. The masterpiece is serving as collateral to pay Laura’s tuition at a prestigious music school. Then the impossible happens when an appraiser claims the painting is a fraud. For Laura, the accusation jeopardizes her future. For Emma, it casts doubt on everything she believed about her relationship with Patrick. Laura is determined to prove that Patrick did indeed paint the portrait. Both her grandmother’s and Patrick’s legacies are worth fighting for.
As the stories of two women entwine, it’s time for Emma to summon up the past—even at the risk of revealing its unspoken secrets.
Bio: Ella Carey is the international bestselling author of four novels published in the US- Paris Time Capsule, The House by the Lake, From a Paris Balcony and Secret Shores. The books are published in twelve countries, in ten languages and Secret Shores has been shortlisted for an ARRA award in 2018. Ella has degrees in music, majoring in classical piano, and in Arts majoring in nineteenth century women’s fiction and modern European history. Ella’s fifth novel, The Things We Don’t Say, is set for release in the UK, Australia and the US on July 1st, 2018. Ella is working hard on her sixth novel. She writes full time. She lives in Melbourne with her two children and two Italian Greyhounds who are constantly mistaken for whippets.
Normally, I struggle to read through posts that are just a long list of links – unless those links provide useful information. Things I didn’t know, but wish I had. I will sometimes keep those pages open in my browser for days, until I get through all the links and bookmark what interests me. Hopefully, you’ll do the same with this list.
Most authors have their own website (or should!) and they blog about books, reading, writing and even favorite recipes. Are you into blogging? If so, like us, you’re always looking for fresh images to make your posts POP! Unfortunately not all of us can afford a stock photo membership to fuel our needs, so I’m giving you some links to attribution free resources to spice up your blogging life. Please note that website owners and photographers can change their minds at a moment’s notice, so please read the attribution rules carefully.
Pixabay.com – my personal favorite. All the images are attribution free. Register (again for free!) and you can download however many images your blog post requires.
Unsplash.com – Most of the images are a high resolution and can be used for commercial and personal use. Great selection, easy to use.
Kaboompics.com – One of the few free stock photo places that lets you choose landscape or portrait and also lets you choose by color. Fabulous if you’re doing a post on your favorite color. (orange!)
DesignersPics.com – Not a huge database of images, but what they have is unique from many of the other stock photo places.
Picjumbo.com – Beautiful photos! High quality, easy to use. I immediately grabbed the “wonderful spring blooms”. Pretty. For $15 you can download every free image in one zip file. 10GB!
Ivorymix.com – Classic, beautiful photos designed by a blogger for bloggers. What more can you ask for?
If you are more into vector or illustrated images rather than photos, here are a few places to find images for those as well.
Clker.com – From flamingos to cats, you can find almost any type of clipart here. BUT they also have a clipart maker. Free! Upload an image and let Clker do it’s work.
Openclipart.org – Need a clipart sword or compass? Pop over to openlipart.org.
And sometimes you just need something EXTRA…something SPECIAL for your blog.
Make an infographic. Canva lets you make your own inforgraphic, for free!
So does Infogram.com – they provide templates, you fill out the information. Voila – instant Instagram!
Want to make your own meme? Who doesn’t???
Imgflip – offers a meme generator…you can use your own image, or pick one of theirs.
And here’s another at Makeameme.com – sorry, just lost an hour making memes to send to my friends….=) (sorry friends!)
And there you have it..a list of items to help you make your blog posts fun, exciting, and memorable.
Ok Ru Crew! Let’s have your list of favorite sites for free images and more fun things to add to your blog posts!
Bio: Carrie Peters writes smart ass romance. She belongs to Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers Online and was a former Girl Scout. Her badges included Collecting, Leadership and the coveted World Trefoil Pin. Carrie works as a restaurant manager, bookcover and website designer, and is learning how to use a flat iron. Her claims to fame include: lifting 50-pound bicep curls, stirring up a mean Mai Tai and concocting an even meaner Long Island Iced Tea. She lives in rural Iowa with four cats. For more about Carrie, head over to http://cheekycovers.com
Join Ashlyn Chase for a fabulous post about street teams! Go Ashlyn!
“What’s a street team and how do I get one?” That’s an author speaking.
“What’s a street team and how do I join one?” That’s the reader’s line.
I’ll start by answering what everyone wants to know… What’s a street team?
A street team is a group of readers who are super-fans of a particular author. By joining the team, they are agreeing to do whatever they can to promote their beloved author.
And it goes both ways. The author gives their team goodies that nobody else gets. Whether it’s special gifts, free books, or a contest prize just for them… An author owes their team something special. And most authors are so grateful they love rewarding them!
*This is important* A street team member is qualified to deliver the most effective advertisement of all—a word of mouth recommendation!
Now, to answer the rest of those questions—and some you may not have thought of yet:
How did I start my Street Team?
I put out a call on my facebook fan page as well as my yahoo fan group. My original intention was to have 50 members, one in each state. Well, I have 60 members and about 45 states represented. A few states have 2 members. I just couldn’t find a fan in some of the less populated western states.
Why name it, and what is my street team called?
Ashlyn Chase Champions is the name of my team. Hey, if you’re a team, you need a name right?
What do I do for my street team?
I send my Champions physical promos to hand out as icebreakers, books to review (if they’re willing,) plus I hold a contest during promo heavy months for a gift card. I also send each member a holiday card and gift each year.
What does my street team do for me?
I ask for tweets, facebook and other social media shares when I have something special to tell the world. Some members review my books and post those reviews on their blogs or consumer review sites. They all join our facebook secret group, and they support my writing efforts.
What are the pros of having a street team?
Besides (hopefully) increased sales, I like getting to know my die-hard fans. I give them a little more personal glimpse into my life and career and let them know me a little better too. Some of us have become dear friends.
What are the cons of having a street team?
Other than the cost of postage, I can’t think of much. I guess there are risks, although I haven’t experienced any (that I know of.) There’s always the chance of piracy with any advanced review copy, or having personal information shared on social media, but I can’t imagine why anyone would join a street team if they didn’t want to help the author.
What is my most effective promotion?
It’s hard to say. One of my street teamers has a regular booth at a swap meet and her local Comicon and offers my promos to thousands of attendees. You can’t buy that kind of exposure!
How much time does it take to manage my street team?
Very little “management” happens in any part of my life. LOL During release months I post to our secret facebook group, asking for social media shares. I have an assistant who keeps team members stocked up on promo items if they ask for more. She’s a local gal, so we meet at Barnes and Noble and I can hand her bookmarks, pens, postcards, signed paperbacks…whatever I have on hand.
Advice to authors just starting up a street team:
I’d suggest you decide on the number of members you can handle and start small. At some point you’ll lose one or two who become too busy, but you’ll gain more every time you put out the call for new members. Say you have X number of openings, so you don’t get overwhelmed. I keep a waiting list and I don’t have to put out the call to get more volunteers very often.
By the way…if you love my work and would like to promote it, I do have a couple spots open on my street team—especially if you live in the Dakotas, Montana, New Mexico or Alaska! Those are the states I’m missing, and I really want all 50!
RU Readers..are you part of a street team?
Bio: Ashlyn Chase describes herself as an Almond Joy bar. A little nutty, a little flaky, but sweet, wanting only to give readers stories that leave them smiling.
She worked as an RN for 20 years, but now writes full time. She’s a multi-published, award winning author of paranormal romantic comedies, represented by the Seymour Agency.
She lives in NH with her true superhero husband Mr. Amazing (who looks like Hugh Jackman if you squint.)
Ever thought of putting your book to audio? Linda Nightingale gives us some helpful hints!
When I was writing my books that are now in audio, I didn’t think that they would one day be in audiobook form. Movies are a different thing altogether because you can see the actor, know who is speaking and whether the character is male or female.
As I listened to the audiobook, usually submitted to the author chapter-by-chapter for proofing, I came to a ‘bump’ in the narration when the line of dialogue wasn’t tagged with either action or a ‘he said’ or ‘she said’. Most times, it could be determined from an exchange of dialogue but was not always clear who was speaking. This can be made worse if the narrator isn’t dramatizing the changes in voice to indicate whether the character is male or female and can be a problem for the reader. The more the narrator can distinguish between the character’s voices, the better!
So, I guess my advice to writers is that you take into account your book may be released as an audiobook one day.
Talking about tagging dialogue, I much prefer an action tag:
“You thought I was dicing Julia’s heart to feed to the dog?” Gripping the knife, he paced her retreat. “I do believe you’re afraid of me.”
The action tag, of course, is Austen pacing her retreat. Instead of the action tag, I could have simply said, ‘he asked’, but I like to present images. If nothing else in my reviews, I usually get good marks on imagery.
Do you get any imagery from the following simple group of sentences?
The belt slipped, and Austen’s robe parted to his waist. The man’s body would tempt a nun. She retreated. He advanced.
Did your imagination supply what her view was? TeeHee. Did the words stimulate any images? I didn’t describe his body. I left it to your imagination to supply what handsome meant to you. I like to describe the character in infinite detail, but I am beginning to refrain from doing so to give my readers the opportunity to visualize for themselves within a loose framework of descriptions, like with Austen—tall, dark and handsome.
This is my tidbit on writing, and I hope it will find its way to that writer needing whatever small counsel is offered.
RU Writers…have you thought of putting your books on audio?
Bio: Born in South Carolina, Linda has lived in England, Canada, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Atlanta and Houston. She’s seen a lot of this country from the windshield of a truck pulling a horse trailer, having bred, trained and showed Andalusian horses for many years.
Linda has won several writing awards, including the Georgia Romance Writers Magnolia Award and the SARA Merritt. She is the mother of two wonderful sons, a retired legal assistant, member of the Houston Symphony League, and enjoys events with her car club. Among her favorite things are her snazzy black convertible and her parlor grand piano. She loves to dress up and host formal dinner parties.
My latest audiobook is Gambler’s Choice, and you’ve met the hero, Austen, above. Here’s the blurb:
Becca McQuaid came to England to find the perfect horse but instead met a darkly mysterious challenge in Austen Heath, Baron of Hampton. She’s determined to buy Austen’s stallion Gambler’s Choice. He’s determined not to sell, but the rivals are thrown together by an accident that leaves Austen with a broken leg and the threat he’ll never ride again.Austen Heath has the title, heritage and manor house…but not the fortune. Becca is wealthy. Her charms are irresistible, but he believes she’s shopping for a Ladyship to go with her money. He has another reason to hold the sexy blonde at arms’ length—the unexplained disappearance of an old friend everyone thinks was his lover. When her body is discovered on his property, he becomes a suspect in her murder.
While writing my debut novel Grace’s Turmoil I did little in the way of planning/plotting/outlining. But I did create a Character profile and a Character Interview (Q&A) for my hero (Alf) and heroine (Grace).
Whether you are a planner or not I recommend my approach to you. It certainly meant that I was able to create a complete background story for both characters. So, I was able to develop an extensive backstory for each of them, whether the information would be used in the book or not.
Each backstory gave me the opportunity and the means to create characters who would feel like real people to me (and hopefully to my readers). Using this method, I could compare the likes/dislikes and strengths/weaknesses of the hero/heroine and see where there was potential for a romantic relationship or what opportunities might exist for conflict.
The profiles start with the character’s name, a basic physical description and where/when they were born. They include details of their fictional families (alive or dead) and give background history of a character right back to where/when they were born. They detail childhood or work traumas, incidents etc that enable each character to come alive, to BE. These can be personal, family, work related, and as the profile evolves if sometimes needs to be changed as I get to know the character, their families, friends, and careers etc. This information can be used to lead me in character development and/or give the reader an insight into the character and explain their behaviour.
It includes references to school/college/university if these help to paint a picture of the characters and their personality. Then the profiles move on to work/career details and successes or failures which can enable me to envisage how they would react and possibly speak in certain scenarios. Then I tried to weave this information into the plot.
I included information about how the character got on with the opposite sex in their life to date. This covered any failed relationships and why/how they had failed. This helped me picture how they might cope with future relationships, how their emotional baggage would affect/dictate the type of person they might be attracted to or want to avoid.
Although I’m not a believer in day-to-day astrology advice I do believe that one’s star sign can influence the sort of person you turn out to be and the type of work/career you would be suited for. So, I endeavoured in Grace’s Turmoil to find star signs that would make my hero and heroine compatible and what things within them could be potential points of conflict.
Then I listed the positive and the negative characteristics of the hero/heroine within their star sign, in effect their strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to be consistent within a star sign so that the character would always behave in a manner appropriate to their sign. The idea was also to find a way to mention their star sign so that anybody well up on astrology might empathise with them.
I also like the profiles to lay out the character’s ownership of and familiarity with modern technology and social media etc. to once again let people feel they are real. And of course, this gives opportunities for the hero/heroine to bond over some things/technology but fall out or disagree over others. For example, the hero (Alf) of Grace’s Turmoil loves technology, mobile phones (cell phones), computer games, PlayStation4, and CD’s or digital music. His heroine (Grace) is a technological dinosaur who doesn’t own a mobile phone, hates electronic games, and still has a vinyl record collection.
It can also be useful for the portrait to include reference to their financial acumen (or not) and their financial situation. This gives an opportunity to dictate how/why they do or don’t do certain things and explain their lifestyle and social life or lack of it.
In conjunction with the character portrait I produce a character interview using a template I have created. Some of the information is the same as in the profile but as it is laid out in Q & A format it is easier to find specific facts if I am checking or reminding myself about basic information, like their eye colour. So, it’s great for maintaining continuity. The questions are about background, where the character grew up, their marital status, hopes & ambitions. Also, their goal(s) in life and their motivation for achieving them. Their personal values are also detailed for use in the right part of the plot, which I won’t know until it suddenly hits me between the eyes. Qualifications, education, and current employment (if any) are also recorded as these will certainly influence what sort of person the character will be.
Other points worth having in the Q & A are religion, dress sense, hobbies/interests, favourite food/drink etc. All help to paint a picture of the character and ensure they eat/drink/behave consistently. They also provide opportunities for the hero/heroine to empathise with each other or end up in conflict.
Of course, no Q & A would be complete without asking the character their positive and negative traits, their sense of humour, and how they would describe their temper.
Well that’s how I approach characters before I start writing. But, what about making characters memorable and different from each other. I try to have individual dress styles, mannerisms, speech styles, etc. What do you do to make your characters both memorable and individual?
Divorced and emotionally damaged, artist Grace Stollery wants nothing more than to spend her semi-retirement painting and let time heal her emotional scars.
But when dashing widower Alfred Nobel moves into her retirement village he turns her life upside down and her heart inside out by awakening feelings she wants to keep dormant.
Alfred quickly sets out to woo Grace and slowly she warms to him. But the village’s resident femme fatale wants him for herself. Will she succeed in driving a wedge between Alfred and Grace?
Bio:Peter Perrin was born in Romford, Essex, England, in 1944. He joined the Royal Air Force (RAF) when he was just fifteen and during almost fifteen years service served in the U.K, Aden, Madagascar, and Singapore. Post RAF he worked in Saudi Arabia for a year. Since then he has worked mainly in Engineering, but was also a Purchasing Manager for many years.
He has been retired for eight years and lives with his wife of forty years in Swindon, Wiltshire, England. He is a father and grandfather.
Peter has come to writing late in life, at the age of seventy-three, and writes sweet, seasoned romances. His plan is for his debut novel, Grace’s Turmoil, to be the first in a series called Not Too Old for Love, where all the characters will be aged at least sixty. He knows that older people can still have fun, romance, and even sex. And as there is a growing demand by romance readers for characters who are aged thirty plus and have life experience and emotional baggage he wants to help them get their wish.
Apart from writing, Peter’s interests are Carp Fishing, and PlayStation games.
His favourite quote is “Youth passes, but with luck, immaturity can last a lifetime.”
Last time, we defined the romance genre. (You can find that post here.) We talked about the:
difference between romances and love stories
heroes and heroines
This time, we’re going to dive deeper into the plot.
Okay, pantsers, before you get upset, I’m not saying you have to outline or write beats or use any kind of planning method. I personally think it helps, but that’s how I work. You may be different. I say work in the way that best suits you.
Plotters: use this structure before you write, then follow the plan.
Pantsers: use this structure as you write as a checklist or benchmarking tool.
Three-Act Structure and the Romance Novel
Act One (first quarter of novel)
The meet. (Hook. Make it memorable.)
Obstacle surfaces that will keep them apart. (This is the inciting incident.)
Act Two (second and third quarters of the novel)
Interest blossoms between them.
Secondary conflicts emerge and are resolved. The primary conflict is not resolved, although there is mention of it or foreshadowing about it.
Positive turning point in relationship resulting in emotional intimacy. (This is the midpoint. In non-sweet titles, this is accompanied by physical intimacy in some form.) Things change after this.
More obstacles are in the way and must be overcome.
Raise the stakes. Be sure to foreshadow the upcoming black moment.
Act Three (last quarter of novel)
Black moment happens. It seems all is lost.
(The pinnacle of the story when all is resolved.)
(Wrapping up threads. HEA is attained.)
Remember, this is a basic structure. It doesn’t include subplots, secondary characters, or necessary backstory (woven in organically and not dumped in chunks as exposition in the beginning). The better you understand story structure, and the better you understand the romance genre, the easier it will be to seamlessly incorporate these elements.
Character and Conflict
Remember, with the romance novel, it is critical that the hero and the heroine have a conflict that must be overcome. Romances give you a unique opportunity for the conflict to be love-related. Here are examples noting the subtle differences in non-romance versus romance novels.
Two companies vying for a business contract. Root for the hero.
Man and woman vying for a business contract. Root for the couple to get together and work together.
A killer is after a woman and the cop must stop him. Root for the woman’s safety.
A killer is after a woman and the cop must stop him. Root for the woman and the cop to get together and stop the killer.
A man’s mother has a mysterious illness. Root for the doctor to save her.
A man’s mother has a mysterious illness. Root for the female doctor to save her and the son and the doctor to come together in the process.
Secondary characters (when done well) always enrich a story. Think about the wise mentor, the doting parent, the villainous boss, the stalwart best friend, the snarky sibling. Secondary characters allow the author to advance the plot because they are sounding boards or guides.
In romance, they also serve a secondary purpose.
Heroes and heroines may not be able to see the good points in their love interests because they are mired down in the negatives.
He’s trying to ruin my business.
He’s trying to take my freedom.
She’s taking risks at the expense of my mother to make a name for herself in her field.
It’s the secondary characters that have the benefit of distance. They aren’t enveloped in the situation, so they can point out what the protagonist can’t see.
You both want the same thing. Why not work together and merge your companies? (And isn’t he hot? I think he likes you.)
He’s only trying to keep you safe. Who cares if he puts you in protective custody if he manages to arrest the killer and save your life? (And isn’t he hot? I think he likes you.)
Her research may get printed in a medical journal, but she’s only testing her theories because you begged her to try something different. (And isn’t she hot? I think she likes you.)
So, as you can see, it’s not much of a leap to go from any plot outline to a romance plot outline. Focusing on the characters and their motivations will make all the difference in establishing the genre.
Have you ever taken a non-romance plot and turned it into a romance? Do you have a question about establishing the conflict between your characters? Let’s talk about it.
Staci Troilo writes because she has hundreds of stories in her head. She publishes because people told her she should share them. She’s a multi-genre author whose love for writing is only surpassed by her love for family and friends, and that relationship-centric focus is featured in her work.
For those of you with experience writing romance novels, this will be a refresher. Maybe I’ll mention something you’ve forgotten. Perhaps I’ll touch on something you know on some level but never think about anymore, and now you can explore it further. For those of you at the beginning of your journey, I hope this post answers a few of your questions.
What is a Romance Novel?
The terms “mommy porn” and “bodice rippers” have been applied to the genre, and while there’s a grain of truth behind the insult, that’s an unfair assessment applied by literary snobs or commenters ignorant of the genre. Others have stripped so many details away, they simply call it a love story. But that’s not fair, either.
A romance novel has two requirements. Only two.
The budding romance must be essential.
The novel must have some form of a happily-ever-after ending (otherwise known as HEA) where the couple is together. They don’t have to be married, engaged, or even cohabitating. They just have to be an official (happy) couple.
Love stories, like romances, have a will-they/won’t-they aspect to them. Some well-known examples of love stories are:
Romeo and Juliet
Gone with the Wind
Bridges of Madison County
So what’s the difference between a love story and a romance? Love stories have a lot more going on in them than the relationship. The relationship is only a vehicle to transport a message to a reader. The relationship is not essential. That message could have been conveyed another way.
What are these stories really about? What’s the core message?
Romeo and Juliet — vengeance costs
Gone with the Wind — perseverance over seemingly insurmountable obstacles
Bridges of Madison County — the importance of family
Titanic —transformation into a strong, independent woman
None of them has an ending where the couple gets their HEA. And all of them could have used a different vehicle to teach the lesson. The romance is interesting, but it doesn’t carry the story. None of these was really about the couple and their relationship at all.
In a love story, we want to see how it ends because we want to see the protagonist win. And if the protagonist loses? It’s still satisfying (albeit heart-wrenching) because the theme is completed and a lesson is learned.
In a romance, we want to see how it ends because we want to know how the couple gets together. And we know they will get together. It’s not a question of will-they/won’t-they. It’s a question of when, how, and at what personal sacrifice. Any other story message (and there can be other messages, but there doesn’t have to be) is secondary and dependent on the subgenre.
One reason romance novels are so popular is that people inherently love “love” and root for happy endings. That’s the gift inside the box. The wrappings, on the other hand, depend on what the reader likes.
My daughter is an athlete. I wouldn’t wrap her presents in pink sparkly paper or tie it with big lace bows. My mother is a traditional lady. She would enjoy lavender paper with flowers. My grandmother is a feisty 100-year-old who loves life. I’d wrap her gifts in bold colors and maybe add some bling.
And that’s how we should think of subgenres. The gift — the romance — is inside the box. But the wrappings — the subgenre — is how it looks on the outside. And there are a lot of subgenres. (Please note: this list covers a lot, but it’s by no means exhaustive. Publishers have their own defined niches, and bookselling venues have particular categories, too. For example, you can find Amazon’s breakdown here.)
Creatures (vampires, shapeshifters, etc.)
UK (any historical period)
Note that there are crossovers and mashups. You could have a comedic historical romance set in the colonial US with a paranormal element of ghosts. There are, however, some rules that can’t be violated. You couldn’t combine fetish elements with a Christian romance. You can’t have explicit sex in a sweet romance.
Heat levels vary widely, and there are many different scales with many different tiers. Here’s a good one from RomCom.com (click the link for their definitions):
Now that you understand the definition and the subgenres, you need to consider the story you want to tell and the readers’ expectations. If you’re certain you want to write a romance novel and not a love story, you have to craft the perfect romance characters.
Other than staying true to the time period (you can’t have a regency heroine working as an astronaut), there aren’t many rules to consider. In the “bodice ripper” era, heroines were virginal damsels in distress who were overwhelmed (and often saved) by experienced men. Today’s heroine is self-sufficient. She’s strong, capable, resourceful. She may or may not have a sexual history; heck, she might be divorced and have kids or be an unwed mother. She can have any job, any socio-economic status. She might be very young or not. She can even be older than the hero. All these things will be determined by your plot. But there are three “rules” for the heroine that shouldn’t be broken:
She needs to be likable.
She needs to be the perfect match for the hero.
She needs to be someone female readers relate to and can imagine being.
As with the heroine, there aren’t many rules to follow when writing the hero. His age and his job are immaterial, as long as they are plot-appropriate. He can be an alpha male (physically-strong and action-oriented) or a beta male (emotionally-strong and nurturing). Either way, there are three unbreakable rules (and I bet you know what they are):
He needs to be likable.
He needs to be the perfect match for the heroine.
He needs to be someone female readers are attracted to and can imagine being with.
The Couple and the Character Arc
These aren’t “rules” per se, but they are norms that will help you as you craft your story.
The hero and heroine meet each other as soon as possible.
They should share the page as often as possible.
The meeting should be memorable.
There has to be an initial reason why (they believe) they should be apart.
Something must keep throwing them together.
A moment in the middle should result in emotional intimacy, changing both of them.
One of them should retreat after that moment.
The other helps them break down their emotional walls.
I hope this gave you a better understanding of the genre (or a reminder). Next time, we’ll get further into the plot structure. Until then, are there any questions so far? Did you realize love stories and romances were different? Do you have any questions about the definitions for the genre? Let’s talk about it.
Staci Troilo writes because she has hundreds of stories in her head. She publishes because people told her she should share them. She’s a multi-genre author whose love for writing is only surpassed by her love for family and friends, and that relationship-centric focus is featured in her work.