February 7th, 2018

A Simple Tip to Help Get Rid of Saggy Middles

 

Need to tone and tighten the middle of your WIP?

Have a saggy, lackluster character that needs work?

Feel like junking your half-finished, used-to-sparkle story?

Don’t.

Today I have a simple tip for you to brighten your character and/or your plot.

Go another way.

I first heard these words in reference to life’s struggles. You know, the ones that hammer you, and you just try to keep your head above water? Instead of encountering each challenge with my lance and sword, I was encouraged to try a different response. 

You’ve heard the definition of insanity: You keep doing the same thing, but expect a different outcome.

Well, if you keep fiddling with a character or a plot over and over, approaching it from the same perspective, you’re going to get the same probably-not-acceptable fix.

Go another way.

More specifically, have your character go another way. Have them do something that surprises or intrigues the reader to want to know more.

You’ve spent time building the layers of your characters and your plot through motivation, back story, dialogue, inner thoughts and emotions. Your readers know your character, know what makes her tick, know how he’ll react in given circumstances. What if your character responds to some stimulus in an unexpected manner?

I’m not saying to have her do something wild and crazy that will make readers throw your book across the room, but you can seed the necessary backstory or plot elements earlier, maybe in another character’s POV.

For example, in my debut book P.R.I.S.M., by the end of the book Jericho has fallen in love with O’Neill and asks her to marry him. She says yes, in a rushed setting, thinking that for the first time she’ll spend the night with him later. But during the day he discovers a secret that puts both of them at risk, making even his friendship dangerous for her. She doesn’t understand why he treats her differently and will barely talk to her. The end of the book is a twist that, I hope, the reader never saw coming, supported by a character acting a different way than he had for the majority of the story. In this case, his change was explicitly motivated by his discovery. And we see, and understand, his agony in dealing with his feelings as he tries to lessen the impact of hurt to O’Neill while acting as if nothing else has changed.

Not all instances of a character doing something, well, out of character, work best with well-defined motivation. Sometimes, you want the reader to question why your character said or did something. Or why they didn’t. In this case, you’ll slowly lead out clues to motivation or backstory. In fact, a character explaining why he did something can be a great opportunity to reveal a bit of pertinent backstory. But not too much…keep your reader wanting more. You’re the artist layering the paint on the canvas to create a more complex character, even if you allow other characters to wield the brush.

Going another way is a relatively simple way to layer emotion into your story as well. Nothing can cure a saggy middle like the impact of authentic emotion.

Perhaps one of your characters suspects the other of cheating. A normally easy dinner conversation becomes stilted, awkward, snippy. But the supposed cheater doesn’t know about the “evidence” and can’t figure out what’s going on. Anger and frustration would be natural on both sides, but it would take on a different spin, especially if the subject of cheating is never broached by the “injured” partner who is usually honest-to-a-fault when communicating.

You probably are realizing that you already use these strategies in your writing. But look at go another way differently. You can use it as a tool to strengthen motivation, plot, and character arc. Just like exercises that strengthen your core stabilize your balance, your character’s conscious—or subconscious—decision to go another way can strengthen your story in many ways.

Have you come up with a possibility that a character going a different way can take care of your WIP’s sagging middle?

Have you already used this technique and have something to add?

ABOUT FAE:

Fae 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 that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.

P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

When she’s not hanging out at Writers in the Storm, you can visit Fae at http://faerowen.com  or www.facebook.com/fae.rowen

 

February 5th, 2018

Some Hearts and Flowers Love – Pimp & Promote!

Valentine’s Day is almost here, and at Writers in the Storm, we’re marking the occasion with a little “Pimp and Promote.” Of course, this always costs us some money, because we have to go out and buy lots of books. But let’s go for it!

How does this work?

To quote the genie in Aladdin, “There are a few provisos, a couple of quid-pro-quos…”

  • Pimp out somebody else’s work – this can be a favorite author, blogger, post or book you’ve read, a wonderful teacher or just someone who had profound influence on you as a writer or a person. Please limit your comments to one work.
    AND
  • Promote one of your projects that you’re excited about – a hobby, a blog, a book, or a new direction your writing is taking you. You decide. Just tell us about it in the comments! (Please restrain your enthusiasm to just one of your WIPs.) The rest of us will jump in and “ooooh and ahh” at you, and likely promote your project even further because we’re just so darn excited today.

We’ll start things off by doing some P&P with the gals here at WITS…

Fae Rowen      

Pimping: Sol Stein’s books have helped me edit, plan, and “fix” my books. They are all great.

Promoting: P.R.I.S.M.:Prisoner Relocation Internment Security Management, my debut YA speculative book with romantic elements. I’m working on the second book in the series for a summer 2018 release.

 

 

 

 

 

Julie Glover

One Stop for Writers LogoPimpage: Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi, known for their thesauri collection, host an amazing subscription service with online tools for writers — which I now consider a must-have. Check out One Stop for Writers!

Promotage: If you’re in the Chicago area, or just want to come for a great conference, I’ll be at the Chicago Spring Fling Conference on April 20-21. Come hear a workshop on grammar that I promise you’ll find interesting and useful — dare I say it, even fun.

 

Jenny Hansen

This is rough, because I love what these other ladies are pimping – particularly Julie’s stuff…I heart One Stop!

Pimpage: I’ve learned a lot from Jeff Goins, Margie Lawson and AWAI over the last several months. I have classes I’m self-studying my way through from all of them. I look to Jeff Goins for information on building a solid brand. I depend on Margie’s lecture packets for great examples of body language and strong writing. And AWAI has helped me get up to speed on copywriting and how to find paying clients for my web content and social media services.

Promotage: If you’re in the Orange County area, particularly Fullerton, on February 10, stop into the Orange County Chapter of RWA meeting on the Cal State Fullerton campus for an amazing session with Lisa Cron. I’ll be there, helping the meeting run smooth, and I’m so excited to see Lisa speak again. She is amazing!

 

Laura Drake

Pimpage: Colleen Story has a great book out to help writers! Overwhelmed Writer Rescue! 

Promotage: I teach classes! The most recent was ‘Your First Five Pages’ at Margie Lawson’s Writer Academy. Check out my schedule for the rest of the year here: Laura Drake Events.

 

 

 

 

 

 

See? Easy-peasy. Only one of us wrote this, but all of us are represented — that’s the spirit of P&P.

Don’t be shy — tell your pals! 

We are open for as many entries as you want, and you’re welcome to send anyone who reads great stuff our way. We want to hear about it! Be sure to peruse the comments. You might find a few things you like in the plethora of pimping that’s about to ensue.

Thanks again for making WITS one of the top writer’s blogs. We appreciate you!

~  Fae, Jenny, Julie and Laura

February 2nd, 2018

5 Writing Lessons from Groundhog Day

Groundhog DayToday is Groundhog Day, when people all over the United States wait to hear if groundhog Phil’s shadow in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is visible.  We’ve been doing this since the 1800’s even though it’s an incredibly weird thing to depend on a rhodent’s shadow to predict when Spring will begin.

Still, when a writer hears about “Groundhog Day,” most of us think of the 1993 movie with Bill Murray. Did he play the best curmudgeon weatherman in that film, or what? For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, Bill Murray (Phil) is trapped in the time warp of reliving Groundhog Day over and over again…until his character stops being so sour and self-centered and learns how to love.

People magazine did an article on life lessons from Groundhog Day that inspired me. The movie isn’t just about reliving your days on an endless loop of sameness, it is also chock-full of writing lessons. 

1. Write as authentically as you possibly can.

The movie examines the question: How would you act if there were nothing beyond today?

What if this was the last day you were ever able to write? Would you want to know that you stared at the page, afraid to let out what was in your heart? Wouldn’t it torture you to think that you angsted over those words, instead of spilling them forth with joy and gratitude?

Whatever is inside you, just write it. Stop worrying about how it sounds, if it’s good enough, what your mother/brother/spouse would think of your words. Write the story that only you can write. The world needs our stories.

2. You’ve gotta have a tribe.

At the beginning of the film, Murray’s character doesn’t exactly love other people. Getting trapped in the same spot, with all the same people, forces Phil to get to know all the people he’d otherwise shut out of his little world. 

A lot of writers are introverts, which means that a lot of “people time” wears them out. You don’t have to wade into a crowd to build your tribe. You can find them one-on-one online, or you can join a critique group. There are smaller conferences available if the bigger ones scare the introverted pants off of you. But wade in, even if it scares you, and find your tribe.

Maybe you’ve already found a tribe by hanging out here at WITS, or some other blog…but do you comment and engage? (If that answer has been a resounding “no,” why not change that to a “yes?”)

3. Tell people they’re important to you.

One of the greatest journeys for Murray’s character is realizing what a great person he has in his producer Rita (played by Andie McDowell). But for him to tell her she’s important to him? Fuggedaboutit.

Most people have trouble being vulnerable…but we’re writers. We live our lives vulnerable. That’s why we are amazing Emotional Ninja Warriors. So, if you haven’t told your tribe lately how important they are to you, today is a good day to do that.

4. Ignore stupid rules.

This goes back to Lesson #1. If you are living and writing authentically, you are bringing your entire self to as many of your day’s moments as possible. You are stretching your brain and your emotions and your ability so you can “bring it” to the page. Don’t let the “shoulds” and “can’ts” and “what ifs” block you. 

Ignore them. Those three bozos stop a heck of a lot of writing.

Ignore the inner critic who tells you how bad you suck. Ignore the naysayers who tell you a book can only be done a certain way. It’s not their story, it’s yours. Write it the way it make sense to you and worry about the “shoulds” some other day.

5. Don’t give up.

Groundhog Day examines the life metaphor: “Most of us have at some point been trapped in a situation where no matter what we did, we couldn’t extricate ourselves from some endless cycle of lameness.”

Sometimes it’s tempting to give up this writing gig. If we’re not selling or earning or writing — or whatever it is that’s not working out well — we think about the benefits of spending our time on less frustrating pursuits.

It’s okay to entertain thoughts of doing something else. Go ahead, entertain it for a second. We’ll wait.

[If you liked that giving up fantasy a bit more than you expected, amble over to Colleen Story’s amazing post on the power of giving up.]

Now think about the eternal frustration of having all those characters in your head, with no conduit onto the page. You are the conduit. Something about this crazy writing gig feeds your soul. You were put on this planet to give all those characters a voice, so giving up isn’t really an option, even though we all entertain it on the crappy days.

Finally, a shout out to all of you here at WITS. We appreciate that you walk this writing road with us. It’s a journey that none of us could ever undertake alone. Get ready for our first Pimp and Promote of the year on Monday!

What writing lessons were the hardest for you to learn? What things make you want to quit? Did you watch “Groundhog Day?” What lesson did you take away from the movie?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 18+ years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, or here at Writers In The Storm.

January 31st, 2018

4 Tips for Engaging International Readers

Colorful map of the world

Shana Gray

My book Working Girl has been translated into five languages, with a sixth to come. First published in English, it’s now available in Portuguese, Spanish, French, German, with Dutch coming this April. It’s difficult to know how well the book has done in the different countries, but even a year later, my book is in the top 30 for the publishing house in Brazil!

That’s great, but how do you reach international readers, aside from your book just turning up on shelf or in Amazon or, as in Brazil, Skoob?

Tailor social media

As each new translation came out, I created a Facebook page for each language, with the exception of German. I was advised not to create a German page because translations are so much tougher and could give the wrong impression with any errors. And that was the last thing I wanted to do!

In my previous life as a marketing specialist, I was in charge of creating a whole new set of promotional brochures which needed to be translated into Portuguese and Spanish. I learned quickly how bad translations can be—especially if it’s technical or engineering base.

To communicate on these pages, I use Google to translate from English. Then I transfer back between the two languages to see if any huge oops has happened —and yes, I’ve had a few! Then I have to play with the words to get the correct message. It’s not easy to maintain integrity in translation, but I keep trying. I’ve been assured by others that the attempt to communicate in a foreign reader’s language is appreciated. So I hold on to that note.

One of the first readers I met when A Entrevista (as Working Girl was retitled in Portuguese) released in Brazil was an avid reader and bookseller—Flavio. Having a local contact has made a big difference. He’s helped me with translations, understanding what certain words meant, and correcting any mistakes.

Personalize Amazon pages

Amazon Author Central pages aren’t important only in the United States. I’ve created Amazon pages in the countries with translations as well.

I make sure I have my bio there (translated, of course) and a profile picture. By doing this, I hope that when a reader in that country goes to Amazon and finds my page, they feel a little more connected to me.

Earth globe with talking bubbles coming out from various places on the map

Include foreign language in your newsletter

For my newsletter, I try and have at least a few words in each language that Working Girl has been translated into. Just to show appreciation for those readers. It’s kind of like when you go away on vacation and muddle through asking for a beer in Spanish. You get the smiles and the giggles, but they appreciate your attempt.

When I was in France last Spring, I was afraid to try and speak any French. But one a day when a couple of authors and I went out exploring I decided to speak a little more. And that led to more and more, and then I suddenly felt almost Parisian! Well, far from it, to be honest. But I did try and drew on what little I remembered of my high school French, and it gave me more confidence.

I’ve also learned that different cultures appreciate different things in the book. One loves a particular aspect, and the other not so much.

Always be genuine

Overall, trying to be genuine with foreign readers is the best thing. A foundation with these readers is important for when you have more books translated. It might be none, or just one now, but there could be more coming down the road.

It is a big wide world out there full of readers. And trying to communicate with those readers is obviously a challenge if you don’t speak the language. I know there are some languages I could never even begin to try and learn or translate, like Korean. One of my Harlequin books was translated into Korean, and I was thrilled to get a copy.

But love and romance crosses all barriers! Even language. So cheers to our worldwide readers and writers!

How have you connected with international readers? Or with authors who speak a different language?

About Shana

Author Phot of Shana GrayWorking Girl Book CoverShana Gray is a hybrid author who was first published in 2010. She has written contemporary erotic romances for multiple publishers including Harlequin Blaze, Random House, and Headline and is also an indie author. Her stories range from scorching quickie length to longer full-length novels. She’s the author of international top seller Working Girl, which has been translated into six languages. Shana’s passion is to enjoy life! She lives in Ontario, but loves to travel and see the world, be with family and friends, and experience the beauty that surrounds us. Visit her online at shanagray.com.
Twitter @shanagray_
Facebook: Shana Gray
January 29th, 2018

Evaluating Sexual Tension on the Sentence Level

Angela Quarles

Several excellent posts have already been written here on how to increase sexual tension—the key to writing romance no matter if it’s a sweet romance or erotic. These tips are also helpful for those in other genres who have a romance subplot. If you haven’t read these, definitely start here:

Understanding these concepts and tips is one thing, but applying them in our writing can be a challenge if we’re not used to it yet. Too often we think we have what’s in our head on the page, but do we really?

Young couple holding hands sensually on red silk bed.

Photo Credit: ©bluebeat76

First, analyze what you might be missing on the page

Below are elements that too often can be either too sparse, or missing altogether in scenes where a writer is either trying to increase sexual tension or is writing a sex scene. If you’re missing these elements, your scene potentially is all action. While that doesn’t sound bad for a sex scene, it can make it sound like IKEA sex. Avoid IKEA sex.

Do you use the senses, especially touch?

Go through your scene and mark anything that calls up one of the senses, either by circling it or making a note in the margin. Do you have any at all? How much depends on your style, but no matter how much you regularly use, use more in sensual scenes.

If you don’t have any, look at any action taken and see if there’s an opportunity there to draw the reader into the sensations of the moment. The goal is to ground the action in a sensation, making the reader feel like they’re right there experiencing it. Especially touch. Or look at your dialogue tags and replace them with an action tag that employs one of the senses.

Example

Before:
She smoothed her hand up his side, and his breath grew more ragged.

After:
She smoothed her hand up his linen-clad chest, the tight weave—warm from his skin and the last rays of the sun—skim-skim-skimming across her palms. (Must Love More Kilts, by Angela Quarles)

What was added:

  1. Specific and concrete details. linen-clad chest instead of ‘side’
  2. Senses evoked. Here it’s the sense of touch with the sensation of warmth from his body on her palm as well as the weave of the fabric skimming along her skin

Note: His breathing didn’t get cut out, but it became part of a new paragraph, so I left it out in the ‘after’ example.

Do you have push/pull?

Go through your scene, this time marking anything that is conflict, or a push-pull dynamic, or denial. Underlining or drawing a box around it works well. There should be some kind of conflict in your scene, especially if it’s one of the 12 stages of physical intimacy being reached for the first time.

Example

Before:“All in all, this is better than I expected,” she said, looking at Robert.

After:
Katy plopped onto the narrow wooden bench and stuck her hands before the fire. “All in all, better than I expected.” She studiously avoided looking at the bed. Oh God. Did it have to be so alluringly unusual? (Must Love Chainmail, by Angela Quarles)

What was added:

Besides taking out the dialogue tag and the stage direction that really doesn’t add much to the sentence other than to say where she looked, in the revised version a small sliver of push-pull was added in the form of internal dialogue and the stage direction switched to what she wasn’t looking at. Why? Because this is a highly charged moment—for the first time they are in a bedroom together. And there’s a bed. It’s in these small moments that you can increase sexual tension. Don’t overlook these moments.

Do you have evocative adjectives and power words?

Don’t discount the power of an evocative adjective, even though some writing advice will tell you to eschew adjectives. Go through and circle any good adjective or power word. Do you have some in every paragraph? If not, look at your action sentences and see if you can judiciously pepper in some of those puppies.

Example

Before:
Then his breath was stroking her cheek and then her ear, and a shiver coursed over her. Then his lips—those lips—grazed her jaw and then the soft part below her ear.

After:
His warm breath, smelling of clean spice, stroked her cheek and ear. A thrilling shiver coursed over her, the wound on her arm only a minor sting. Then his lips—those full, sensuous lips—grazed her jaw and the soft spot behind her ear, the hairs of his beard brushing her sensitive skin. Her shivers locked her muscles tight. A bolt of tantalizing heat shot down her center. (Must Love Chainmail)

What was added:

  1. Evocative adjectives and power words. warm, thrilling, full, sensuous
  2. Senses evoked. Smell and heat of his breath stroking her, the hairs brushing sensitive skin
  3. Response to the stimulus. In the first version, she didn’t have a reaction after the lips grazed her.

Do you have an emotional response?

Make sure there’s an emotional response that shows where the POV character is now coming from as a result of the encounter. For every moment your characters reach one of the twelve stages. Eyes clashing across the room doesn’t quite get there if you don’t know how the POV character responds to it emotionally.

A young woman in a bed is giving thumbs up

Photo credit: ©LoloStock

Example (immediately after sex)

Before:

He collapsed next to her, and they both fought to catch their breaths. The chill air caught her attention first, which made her realize she was coated in a thin sheen of sweat. He stirred first, grabbing one of the furs and wiping her stomach clean.

He then pulled another fur over them and pulled her to nestle up against him, his tunic a barrier, though, to his hot skin. She snuggled up against him and let her mind thump back softly into a drowsy blissfulness.

After:

He collapsed beside her, and they both fought to catch their breaths.

Wow. Just…oh my, wow.

Her heart pounded with her first taste of abandon. Why had she ever denied herself this? This was raw. This was primal. This was real.

The chilly air caught her attention first, which made her realize she was coated in a thin sheen of sweat, another first. He stirred, grabbed one of the furs, and wiped her stomach clean.

“You will be the death of me, woman.”

He pulled another fur over them and nestled her up against him, his shirt a barrier, though, to his hot skin. She snuggled up, grateful he still had his wits, because she sure didn’t, and let her mind thump back into a drowsy blissfulness. (Must Love Chainmail)

What was added:

  1. Internal dialogue. To show where her head space is afterward
  2. Physical response
  3. Emotional response

Do you have a stimulus for every response?

I doubt Dwight Swain had sexual tension and sex scenes specifically in mind when he wrote Techniques of the Selling Writer and counseled writers to make sure that every motivation (action) had a reaction. But it’s crucial, especially in a sex scene, to make sure that each stimulus has a response. If he does something to her, have her react, etc. And I like to take these reactions and ground the POV character physically into the environment. This is where you can layer in one of the senses as well. Too many times I’ve read sex scenes where one does something to the other, and…they keep doing stuff…and doing stuff…and their partner isn’t reacting at all. That stuff can appear to be “hot” or “erotic,” but it’s not really if the other character isn’t reacting to it that way. And this isn’t just for the POV character. The non-POV character needs to be reacting too. It’s a delicate dance.

Responses can take the form of action, or an emotional response, or a visceral response.

Next, Dig Deeper

Evaluate your action sentences. Look. At. Each. One. Sometimes a sentence can seem like it’s an action, but it’s not really something you can see. Or you can see it, but it still might not be enough. Can you feel it? Sometimes writers can make a mistake in writing something that can be visualized, and a sensation can be inferred, but it can be broken down into a more detailed action that evokes a sensation.

An example
He kissed her neck and nibbled on her ear lobe.

This is a pretty generic action we’ve seen loads of times. Nothing wrong with it, but it’s also not doing the author any favors. If you were evaluating this, you might think it’s an action, and so is not telling, and move along to the next sentence. Stop. This is an example of an action sentence that seems like an action but isn’t fully. Sure, we all know what a kiss feels like and we can visualize this. But do you feel it?

How about:
He dragged his lips up the soft skin of her neck and gently nipped her ear lobe, sipping on the soft flesh. (Must Love Chainmail)

Notice how in revisions, I took the action of the kiss and made it into something the reader can feel along with the hero.

What was added:

  1. Power words. Dragged, nipped, sipping, flesh
  2. Dug deeper. Instead of just ‘kissed her neck,’ the action was described
  3. Senses evoked. Here it’s the sense of touch with the sensation of his lips dragging across her skin.

Another example
We reach the first landing, and he palms the small of my back again, the solid tips of his fingers settling into the dip along my spine, steady and sure. (Earning It, by Angela Quarles)

See how the action of the hand at the small of the back is amplified slightly by showing the fingers settling in, and then giving a little hint as the attitude/competence/confidence of the man palming her back?

Finally, evaluate whole scene

Make sure it’s grounded in their personalities and that the scene moves the plot and character ARC forward. Sex can’t be just sex; it needs to change their relationship to each other, or how they think of their situation now that they’ve had sex. If it’s not the first time, then making sure this scene has a reason to showcase their emotional turning point in the story. Find out if there’s any emotional conflict happening that can be highlighted here.

What about you? Do you have some tricks to share, or have any questions? Let me know!

About Angela

Angela Quarles headshotRisking It Book CoverAn avid reader herself, Angela Quarles writes books she’d like to read—laugh-out-loud, smart romances that suck you into her worlds and won’t let you go until you reach The End. She is an RWA RITA® award-winning and USA Today bestselling author of contemporary, time travel, and steampunk romance. Library Journal named her steampunk, Steam Me Up, Rawley, Best Self-Published Romance of 2015, and Must Love Chainmail won the 2016 RITA® Award in the paranormal category, the first indie to win in that category. Angela loves history, folklore, and family history and combined it with her active imagination to write stories of romance and adventure.

Website: www.angelaquarles.com
Latest release: Risking It