August 5th, 2015

Golden Lines from RWA 2015

For those of you who couldn’t attend, every year I share the best, the “golden,” writing tips and industry advice from the workshops I attend at the Romance Writers of America conference.

Golden Heart Finalist Julie Glover at the FF&P costume party

Golden Heart Finalist Julie Glover at the FF&P costume party I attended at RWA National in New York.

Joan Johnston:

  • To ramp up tension, skip some of the Twelve Levels of Intimacy. (Not familiar with the twelve levels of intimacy? Read Jenny Hansen’s post here.)
  • Precise word choice enhances physical description and conveys “hidden” meanings, like “sharp”nose, hard jawline, ice blue eyes to show a hero may be dangerous or a naked overhead bulb in a bedroom setting.
  • Show the physiological response of characters

Sherry Thomas:

  • Subtext: When you notice something really interesting below the surface. 
  • Subtext drives conflict and character arc.
  • Good subtext is invisible.
  • When you give crucial information about the character up front you give readers a Rosetta Stone to your characters.
  • Use symbols throughout your book. Example: He fell in love with her when she was wearing a red scarf. He’s apart from her, but when he sees a flash of red, he looks, hoping it’s her.

“Mistakes we Made” Group Panel:

  • The stronger your market brand, the more books you will sell.
  • Make your bio personable.
  • “Ad stacking” sells books. (“Ad stacking” is small ads “stacked” during the same week.)
  • Publish and distribute directly where you can.
  • Join Kindle Boards before you publish.

Julie Cupp and Christy Reese, on self-publishing:

  • Right now, before you publish, establish an online presence and start building your e-mail list.
  • Get a professional head shot. (On my To Do list!)
  • Hire a professional editor who is comfortable with your genre.
  • Hire a professional cover designer.
  • Have a proofreader read the book at the end of the editing process.

Jennifer Crusie on Metaphor and Motif:

  • Two of the most effective tools for subtext are metaphor and motif.
  • Motif is any element (word, symbol, sound) that is repeated at least three important times in your book.
  • Motif can be a line of dialogue that is repeated at least three times in your book, especially good if it changes meaning during the story.
  • A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses a concrete image for an abstract idea.
  • Never make their meanings explicit! 

Kristan Higgins on Secondary Plots:

  • Secondary plots layer your book and make it interesting.
  • They help with saggy middles. (You can read Fae’s blog about fixing a saggy middle here.)
  • Secondary characters get away with things your main characters can’t do.
  • They demonstrate attributes and flaws of your protagonist in a hands-on, palpable way.
  • Make your secondary characters and plots just as multi-faceted as your main characters and plot.
  • Don’t shove in a character because he’ll get his own book later.

Madeline Hunter on Taking Your Writing to the Next Level:

  • Raise the stakes to improve your story.
  • Cut 10-15% of your word count when you edit.
  • Your dialogue should matter and create plot points.
  • You must engage in the emotional content of the story.

Michael Hauge on Identity to Essence:

  • Any good story is a before and after picture.
  • Conflict must elicit emotion in the reader.
  • More than half of the obstacles for your character need to come in the last half of your novel. They should come closer and closer together.
  • To create empathy with your hero, make her the victim of some underserved misfortune.
  • Good story-telling is about manipulation. There is a problem if the reader sees the “strings.”
  • Our identities are who we believe we are. If you strip away the identity, you have the essence, the potential of what the character can become if she has the courage.
  • Your characters can not achieve the outer goal unless they move out of identity and into their essence.
Don't blame Fae. Laura added this!

Don’t blame Fae. Laura added this!

Laura Drake on submitting your book: You know, Fae, you can’t sell a book if you don’t send it when someone asks for it.  Okay, Laura, I sent the first book off yesterday morning. Book Two will be sent by the end of the week. By the way, I love your cheerleader outfit!

Some of the workshops were two hours and contained much wonderful, useful information. If you want more information about any of the “lines” above, let me know in the comments and I’ll add some brief clarifications.

Willing to add your Golden Lines from RWA 2015 or a conference you recently attended? Share the wealth in a comment. And don’t forget, we all have our own golden lines of writing wisdom. We’d love to see yours.


Fae RowenFae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak.  Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present.  As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.

Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.

A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at  or

15 comments to Golden Lines from RWA 2015

  • You always pick great snippets of information. It was lovely to meet you in person! One question: why is joining Kindle Boards important? I’m Indie publishing my first book soon and am curious.

    • Fae Rowen

      It was great to see you, too! And you got me with your question. I was writing so fast, I didn’t get that reason down. Sorry. Can anyone else chime in here?

  • This is fantastic – thank you, Fae! I’m a Scottish author who hasn’t managed to an RWA conference (yet), although I go to the UK RNA one. Since a few of my books also sell to the US online market (as Romy and Rosemary), I love to get such insight into ways to improve the writing and characterisation and I love the way US authors approach the whole business of writing and publishing. Will keep these tips handy.

  • Hope you don’t mind the photo, Fae!

    For me, the two hour Michael Hague workshop was a revelation. For more detail – he said he asks people who he consults for, WHY the two people have to be together. Hint: the wrong answers are: chemistry and love is unexplainable.

    They need to be together because they see past the others’ identity (the mask they show the world) and love the essence (who they really are).

    He said this works in a love triangle, too. Which puts the finger on the weakness (IMHO) of Twilight – neither guy she’s her essence, which is why we don’t know who to root for.

  • Fae Rowen

    Too early for the laughs from the added photo, Laura! Thanks. And thank you for adding more info from the Michael Hauge workshop. It was worth the price of admission to the conference.I had eight pages of notes, and it was hard culling them down. to just a few lines.

  • Susan Dunn

    Hauge sounds as though he gave basically the same workshop as in Anaheim. Yes, that is true about the identity. This woman is the only one who sees that! This is the only man who understand what I’m all about. xoxo
    Fae, maybe Laura will introduce me at @RWA2016 San Diego. Pretty pls, Laura. 🙂

  • Susan Dunn

    Best of luck with the submissions, Fae

  • We went to a lot of the same workshops! And they were terrific!

    • Fae Rowen

      Yes, Jeanne, there was a lot of great information–if you got there early enough to get a chair so you could take notes!

  • Great stuff here, Fae! Um, and thanks (I think) for the pic of me dressed as Batgirl. Ain’t my family proud?

    I just finished typing up my RWA workshop notes yesterday, and here are two of my favorite golden nuggets of wisdom!

    with Kristan Higgins and Tracy Brogan: “We laugh because we’re surprised—the unexpected. We don’t plan to laugh.”

    RIDING THE WAVE: FINDING, FOLLOWING, AND CREATING TRENDS IN YA with Tera Lynn Childs, Tracy Wolff, and Sophie Jordan: “Finding a trend isn’t about what’s selling with books, but what’s happening in society.”

  • carrienichols

    Thanks for the gems from these workshops! I loved Virginia Kantra’s EMOTION:MORE THAN WORDS workshop.

    I came away with several gems including “Don’t write the emotion but the trigger and make it universal (for the reader) but also unique to the character.” and “Use significant, specific details because that’s how we’re meant to be in the world–present and in awe.”