`1` Romance worth killing for
Shattering Romantic Suspense
Author Websites
Elisabeth Naughton
Joan Swan
Linda Winfree
Author's Latest Releases

Coming Soon

AddThis Feed Button

Industry Blogs We Like
Agent Obscura
Anatomy of a Book Deal
Bookends Literary Agency Blog
The Bradford Bunch
Buzz, Balls & Hype
Jennifer Jackson, Literary Agent
The Knight Agency
Magical Musings
Mid-Willamette Valley RWA Blog
Kristin Nelson, Literary Agent
Jenny Rappaport, Literary Agent
Miss Snark
Murder She Writes
Paperback Writer
Romancing The Blog
Running With Quills
Working Stiffs
Samhain Publishing
Wine Country Romance Writers, RWA
Author Blogs We Like
Elisa Adams
Carol Burnside
Brenda Coulter
Tanya Holmes
Larissa Ione
Lydia Joyce
Elisabeth Naughton
Patti O'Shea
Edie Ramer
Kate Rothwell
Marissa Scott
Lynne Simpson
Amie Stuart
Joan Swan
Karin Tabke
Stephanie Tyler
Linda Winfree
Recommended Resources
Agent Query
Charlotte Dillon
Common Redundancies in Writing
Cop Talk--Karin Tabke
Crime in Mind
Cruisie/Mayer 2007 Online Workshop
Kiss of Death RWA Chapter
Publisher's Marketplace
Romance Agents
Romance Writers of America
Previous Blogs
February 2006
March 2006
April 2006
May 2006
June 2006
July 2006
August 2006
September 2006
October 2006
November 2006
December 2006
January 2007
February 2007
March 2007
April 2007
May 2007
June 2007
July 2007
August 2007
September 2007
October 2007
November 2007
December 2007
January 2008
What We're Working On Now

Elisabeth: Marked

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
33,126 / 95,000

Joan: Buried Secrets

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
68,000 / 115,000

Linda: Facing It

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
45,540 / 85,000

:~: Monday, February 27, 2006 :~:

When is Enough, Enough?

A very dear writing friend and I were chatting the other night before our local RWA meeting. She has a partial under consideration with an editor she met and pitched to at Nationals, and I was curious about where she stood in the whole submission process. When I asked her if she's finished her edits on the rest of the manuscript, she cringed and said, "Sort of. But I'm still . . . picking."

Hmmm. Do I understand that!

We're all guilty of "picking". At some point, though, you have to call it quits on a manuscript or you risk losing your mind in the whole edit/revision process. Its way too easy to keep "picking" away at something to make it perfect. I know, because I've done it.

All writers write differently. A common writing/editing strategy I've encountered is a five-step process. Write one fast first draft. Layer in plot holes in the second draft. Strengthen emotional conflict in the third. Add sensory details and descriptions in the fourth. Fix all grammar and spelling errors in the fifth. Call it quits and send it out.

Doesn't work for me.

I'm a perfectionist. I'll admit that right now. So when my dear friend said she was "picking", I totally got that, and I wanted to shake some sense into her and yell, "Stop the madness!!!" Luckily, I restrained myself, but it was hard.

I have picked a manuscript to death and then some. It comes from wanting something to be the best it could ever be, from pushing yourself because you know you can be better. But you know what I've discovered? Everything I write is better than the last, and at some point, if you don't stop and move on, you won't ever get better. You'll stay in the same rut, reworking the same story again and again. No matter what, a manuscript will never EVER be done. I've simply come to terms with that fact. There will always, always, ALWAYS be something you could have changed to make it better, stronger, more beautiful, no matter how great a writer you are.

So when is enough for you?

Having now been at this writing gig for several years, and with a handful of manuscripts under my belt, I've finally found a system that works well for me. I write a chapter, read it and revise, read again and edit, send it to my critique partners for feedback, edit again, and then call it good and move on to the next chapter. When I finish one chapter I'm pretty much done with it for good. By the time I get through a whole manuscript, my chapters are highly polished and all that's left is to tie loose ends together that may have been missed, make sure red herrings and clues make sense, and give it a final read-through for smoothness.

Does that mean it takes me longer to get through a manuscript than others? Maybe. On average about 4-5 months from start to finish. But when I compare that to other writers who may get a first draft done in a month, then spend another month on each "step", it tends to be about the same amount of time.

Once I'm finished, I put the manuscript away and try to forget about it. (Um, try is the key word here.) If I get a request or submit it somewhere, I give it another read-through to see what I may have missed, but I don't stress over it anymore. If I did, I'd make myself insane. (Been there, done that.) I do enough of that in the initial writing process, trying to choose the perfect words to make my story come to life on the page.

My fabulous friends here will tell you they do things differently. Both like to let a manuscript marinate for a while before revising. I find I can't move on to the next story until I have this one completely finished. If I'm tempted to think of it again, I can't possibly focus on something else. But unlike other writers, I can't work on more than one manuscript at a time, either.

So when is enough for you? And how do you know when it's time to stop "picking" at your work of art and call it quits? How do you handle edits and revisions? I'd love to hear what works for you, what doesn't and what you've learned along the way.

:~: Friday, February 24, 2006 :~:


The other day, I watched a student in my child's karate class practice his kata (a routine of moves, including kicks and punches). He eased through the complicated steps, spinning and even jumping for a kick at one point.

All this on a balance beam.

Some days we all feel like that kid, trying to make it through the routine of our lives without falling.

Wednesday, Joan blogged about what to do when you hit one of those rough patches we all hit with our writing. I've been in one of those rough patches for a while now (like, since August), for varying reasons. Of course, I've written some, but I simply haven't produced work as I had in the past. A worrier by nature, I brooded over not being able to write as I wished, looked for the cause, made myself (and my CP's) generally sick with my self-centeredness. Recently, I figured out what had gone wrong.

I lost my balance.

Actually, I didn't lose it. I gave it up rather willingly. A few years ago, I pinned my hopes on a goal, and I threw myself into achieving it. I found a way to fit the preparation for that goal into my already busy life. I nurtured the spark, delved into the work, obsessed over the nuances. You know what I'm talking about, right? Because we all do it. I threw myself into the writing, which is a great thing. The only problem is that I didn't preserve the balance of my life. I already had a successful, rather demanding career. I had two fantastic kids who were the center of my world. I had a marriage and a home and friendships.

No, I didn't lose the career or the marriage or the friendships. And yes, my life still pretty much revolves around those two Monsters.


I tied a lot of me and a lot of my joy into the whole writing business. I defined myself as a writer, which meant a lot of my validation as a person came in the form of feedback on my work. Even with small successes, I was living with a lot of failure. Along that way, that helped sucked the joy out of many areas of my life. Eventually, it sucked the joy out of writing, too. Putting words on paper and generating ideas became chores to be avoided, rather than an art to be relished.

(And by now, I've sucked all the joy out of your day, too. But wait! There is light!)

Finally, I gave in. I know, I know -- you're not supposed to quit trying. But I did. I let the work sit. I quit thinking about the current characters and plot. (I couldn't quite forget the work I have under consideration). I played ostrich. Along the way, I began to find my balance again.

I played with my kids.
I read a lot, mostly books outside my genre, books I'd been waiting to read.
I planned and began working through one hellacious whole-house renovation project.
I got to know the guy I'd married all over again.
I spent time with my friends.
I focused on being the best teacher I could be. (Hey, state testing is coming up. I needed that focus!)
I learned that writing, and even more specifically, becoming published, wasn't the end-all-be-all of my existence. It couldn't be, or I was in big trouble.

Slowly, the desire to write is returning. The characters are whispering again, and some days the plot calls to me. The weird thing is, I'm sorry for the writing time I've lost, but I'm not sorry I lost my balance and tumbled off the beam. It restored my equilibrium. It's been a long, hard lesson to learn, a long, hard climb back on the beam, but I'm getting back up there. And I appreciate the patience of my friends and CP's who've supported me along the way.

So, the question of the day is two-fold -- How do you maintain your balance as a writer? And what's the hardest writing lesson you've had to learn?

:~: Wednesday, February 22, 2006 :~:

Dry spells, rough spots & lead-in to my next post

Over the years, I've encountered my share of rough spots in writing. We all know them...those periods when you would rather clean your baseboards with a toothbrush than write, stare at that blinking curser with your blood pressure rising along with each blink, consider pulling your eyelashes out one by one because it would be less painful than wringing one more word from your soul (that idea courtesy of E).

These dry spells can extend for hours, days or weeks. Of course if you let them, they can spread into months and even years. *Shudder* The reason that thought scares the crap out of most of us is because we all know we're capable of getting to that edge and how little it would take to push us over.

I'm not having one of those moments now. In fact, I was going to write on a completely different topic, but I couldn't make it comprehendible without going through this first.

So, I'm going to share some of the ways I get over those rough spots, and hopefully, you'll share some of yours. Together, maybe we can put together a comprehensive list that can really keep us all writing!

Exercise: For me, only walking allows me to think through my plot, my characters, or whatever I'm stymied by at the moment. Running, swimming, lifting weights...none of those work; they require too much thought, attentioin or effort. But walking frees my mind up for a steady flow of thought, allowing me to link plot points and flesh out character issues. Walking is also toted highly by Julia Cameron the author of The Artist's Way. (Great book -- definitely worth picking up for inspiration on the writing life.)

Movie break: I picked up the habit of going to the movies several years ago. And I particularly love going alone in the middle of the day. The ultimate escape--two solid hours of adventure or fear or love or laughs, led by a group of creative gurus--actors, directors, producers, composers, etc. I always emerge from that type of field trip refreshed and ready to face my own writing again.

Book break: I have to admit, I'm not a big reader. But this was a great tip given to me by E: If you're struggling with a particular type of scene (i.e., love scene, dream sequence, action shot), pick up one of your favorite author's books from your keeper shelf, find that type of scene in their work and see how they handle it. That way you're not distracting yourself for the length of time it takes to read the entire book, just a scene or two, and you've got a fresh perspective on how you might (or even, might not) approach your scene.

Sleeping on it: I believe in the power of the subconscious mind working 24/7/365. And putting it to good use is absolutely painless. Before you go to bed, focus on an element in your WIP that's really stumping you. Either think about it while you're drifting off to sleep allowing it to turn in your mind, or write it on a notepad, develop some questions you haven't found the answers to and go to sleep. While you may not have the answer in the morning when you wake, don't be surprised if a remedy pops into your head at the oddest time over the next few days. (My Dad used to tell me that if I fell asleep saying my rosary, the angels finished my prayers for me. I think the angels work on my plot problems, too.)

TV: As a rule, I don't watch television, but I do have a few exceptions: Court TV, National Geographic Channel, TNT, A&E, History Channel, and a few other choice documentary channels. When your exhausted from either writing your little fingers off or hours of trying to solve a troublesome plot issue, vegging in front of the latest episode of Texas S.W.A.T or Forensic Files may give you the perfect solution. Worst case, material for future works will be embedded in your brain. An intriguing episode of North Mission Road or The First 48 will get any writer's sinister plotting juices flowing.

Research: There is nothing like some serious web surfing or a long, quiet visit to your local library to put your procrastination and avoidance to good use. When you're hurting for conflict, pick an element from your character's background (say a hope or dream) and check into it, search for some element you could add to toss more conflict your character's way. When you need to freshen a tired plot, choose a concrete element from your WIP (say the character's career) and see what information you could take, twist, and blend into the story to keep them from reaching their goal. I find that some of my best conflict, sometimes an entire subplot, comes to me during my research. In fact, Nora Roberts has said very much the same thing. (Of course, I could have gotten the whole idea from her.)

Worksheets: I often hit a rough patch for a reason--I don't know my characters well enough to make a scene flow right, or I don't have enough information on their backstory to justify their emotions, or I can't see how an element of my subplot is going to tie into the main plot by the end of the book. And when all that information is tied up in prose, the elements gets tough to pull apart and analyze. Even if you're not a plotter, even if you hate structure, filling out a worksheet can really clear up the issue. Sometimes, just the idea of filling out a worksheet can kick your brain into gear. Choose from character questionnaires, plot outlines, conflict sheets, scene cards...the list is endless. Check my website next week. I'll have some I've developed and others I've used available for download in the Writer's Corner.

Synopsis: Man, nothing fleshes out plot and conflict issues like a synopsis. I'm not the type who can write a synopsis before I've started the manuscript. I have to have a good idea of where I'm going to get it pulled together. And, in my opinion, it's the most painful way to go, but when all else fails, and your writing psyche in serious need of tough love, try putting your synopsis together. You've got to do it anyway, and it could really help you focus on your book's roots.

The old standbys: Of course everyone's heard write by hand if you usually type, or type if you usually write by hand. Or try starting a different scene, one that's really gnawing at your brain and go back to the point where you're stuck later. And the one that feeds into my fear if I stop I'll never start again--taking a break from writing all together to recoup and regroup.

Indulge in another creative outlet: This is my last suggestion/hint/idea, whatever you want to call it. Most writers' are creative people at heart and take on other creative endeavors as hobbies. I'd have to say that all my other creative endeavors ultimately led me to writing...but I digress. My craft of choice when my manuscript feels dry or my characters balk is knitting. All I do is straight knit...no pearling, no patterns. It's completely mindless, allowing my my hands to stay busy while letting my mind bliss-out, and with each stitch, I untangle another knot in my story.

But, more about that next post.

Share with us...what are your tips for getting through the rough spots?

:~: Monday, February 20, 2006 :~:

The Dreaded Word Count

I'm there.

Okay, I'm not all the way there, but I'm at that point

You know the one . . . that point in the WIP where you look at your word count, and you look at your plot list or plot board and think, "Crap! I am never gonna get all of this in here and stay within word count!"

Oh . . .that point!

Yep. That's the one.

After a fairly productive weekend writing, I find myself at 70K words with a whole series of events that still need to happen before I hit the 100K mark and, hopefully, the end of the book. But now, after looking at where I'm headed and where I've been, I think it's safe to say there's no way that's gonna happen.

This always happens to me. I'm long-winded. I like long books. I like getting deep into the characters and situations. And I always go over. Always.

Luckily, I can cut in revisions, so going a little over is no biggie. (As someone once said, every book can be cut by at least 10%, and I'm learning that's true.) But going over by 20K words is a biggie to me, and unfortunately, it's something I've done on more than one occasion. If I had my druthers I'd write a 100K word first draft and be completely happy. (If a girl's gonna dream, she might as well dream big, right? While I'm at it, I'll dream about a publishing contract and a six-figure advance.)

I am always flabbergasted when I meet a writer who writes under word count or has trouble reaching their word count target. How is that possible? Can you teach me to do that? Holy cow, that's got to be easier than killing your darlings, right? Ah . . . not. In fact, after speaking with said writers, I think it might actually be harder. Adding scenes into a book that's already done just to stretch it is like adding extra sugar into an already-baked cake. A grueling process that makes my propensity to go over target not look quite so bad.

I think it's safe to say word count is a biggie with unpubs. Get on any writers loop and you'll hear over and over again that you will never sell a single title book that is over 100K words if you are a newbie. Never. Ever. Happen. And we all know it does. It just depends on the book, the author, the voice, the plot, the characters . . . on and on. However, I think it's true that it's the rare first book that goes drastically over that mark. A lot of agents won't even look at work by unpubs if they're over 110K words. (I know because I've received several of those "This sounds great, but it's too long. If you could cut it to 110K words I'd take a look" letters.) They figure you haven't discovered that small but essential craft element of 'editing'.

So what do you do when you get to this point? When you're staring at the WIP and all you have left to do and know you'll be either over or under? Are you able to write without any concern for word count and then hack and slice later? Or are you more like me . . . slowly watching those numbers creep up, wondering how you'll ever hit that mark, and what the hell you'll do when you go shooting past it?

:~: Friday, February 17, 2006 :~:

Feedback, Commentary & Evaluation

Current reading: Training for Georgia Performance Standards, Day 7: Feedback, Commentary & Evaluation

What does that have to do with writing, you say?


I'm reading in preparation for a workshop I have to teach tomorrow. (Normally, I teach aliens with raging hormones . . . wait. I teach teenagers. Same thing. Some days I get confused.) But tomorrow, I'm teaching other teachers. It's a little disconcerting, because many of them have been teaching longer than I have or possess higher degrees than I do, even though somehow I ended up as the department head. The workshop revolves round evaluating student work and providing feedback and commentary on said work.

So reading this training manual started me thinking about the feedback, evaluation and commentary I've received as a writer.

The most obvious, of course, is in the form of rejection letters. Come on, admit it. We all scour those things, even the horrid form letters, for the tiniest tidbit of feedback. Is my conflict too weak? My heroine too whiny? Do I have too much plot, not enough romance? As writers, we hunger for validation and guidance, and we're willing to find it where we can get it. And whether we discard those letters or keep them in a file or paper the walls with them, those nuggets of evaluation stay in the depths of our writer's mind and we draw upon them every time we sit down at the keyboard.

And we become better writers.

My CP's, the contest-winning mavens, have received excellent commentary from their contest wins. Although I'm not much of a contest person, I did glean some excellent advice on writing the first three pages of a manuscript from the one I did enter.

I became a better writer.

Probably the most prevalent form of commentary and feedback I deal with comes from those same CP's. Their willingness to read and slash my chapters, to say the hard stuff even when they know it will hurt, has pushed me to a higher level as a writer. (Here's where you refer to E's post about plot braiding -- let's just say that hard stuff has kicked my butt for months.) Even if I don't always want to hear what they say, when I don't want to rewrite that darn chapter for the fourth time, when I want to discard the suggestions and go my own way . . . well, you know what? I may not apply the ideas to that chapter or manuscript, but you can bet I'm thinking about them, filing them away for later use, on another chapter or manuscript.

And I become a better writer.

Share with us. What was the best feedback, commentary or evaluation you received, positive or negative?

:~: Tuesday, February 14, 2006 :~:

Finding time to write in today's chaotic world

One of the most common questions I get asked as a writer (after "Are you published?" and "Where do you get your ideas?" oh, and my personal favorite "Romance? You mean smut novels?" but that's a whole other topic) is where do you find time to write?

I am a mother of two girls, 13 and 9. Between the two of them, they participate in the Tae Kwon Doe, soccer, basketball, softball, tennis, horseback riding, guitar lessons, Girl Scouts, and school dances.

My husband is a Fire Captain for the California Department of Forestry and is often sent all over the state to fight fires. As I write this, he has been gone two weeks, hopping between a fire in Los Angeles and the threat of fire in San Diego. His profession renders me a single mom at least 2/3 of the time.

I work two part-time jobs. My first as a sonographer at a clinic near my home, and the second as a glass artist making and selling both glass beads and jewelry.

And then there's my writing. I average 5 hours of writing a day, 7 days a week.

Here's how I do it: routine, flexibililty and delegation.


Anyone who really knows me is now laughing his or her ass off. If there were an antonym to 'Joan' it would be 'structure'. But when it comes to writing, I've developed a great pattern-every morning after I drop the girls at school, I go to my neighborhood McDonald's, get breakfast and write.

(Anticipated snickers from the audience here)

There's something about writing away from home. No phone calls, no unsolicited visitors, no washing machine beeping to remind you that you've got clothes to dry and fold, no chores pulling at you as you take a bathroom break... "Oh, I should really sort those bills, check my email again, make my bed, get on that treadmill, etc." I also find the quiet hum of activity in the restaurant soothing, like white noise. I slink into a corner booth where the sun doesn't reflect on my screen and just melt into the woodwork for two solid hours.

Okay, maybe not solid. After a couple years of this, I have joined the ranks of the other "regulars", all of whom are above the age of 65, and all of whom looooooove to chat. But they also give a lot of encouragement, and it's the nicest feeling to walk into that restaurant in the morning and have them smile and wave and ask what I'm working on now, or how the revisions on book four are coming or whether I've heard back from my agent this week.

And this, I believe, is the key to any routine-finding joy and comfort in the situation to make it stick. So whatever works for you, whether it be a lunch hour at your favorite bistro or curling into the sofa during the hush of your baby's naptime, make sure that the time around your writing involves something nurturing for you. If writing acts as replenishment to your reserves and nourishes your soul, you'll look forward to it everyday instead of avoiding it like another chore.


I have a laptop. I don't see it as a luxury, but as a necessity.

As you noticed above, I only write for two hours in the morning. Then I either go to the clinic and work, or to my garage and sit at the torch making beads. When those are done I shift into Mommy mode, picking up the girls after school, getting them to their activities, helping with homework.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, I write in the car while I wait for the girls to get out of Tae Kwon Doe. There's 1-2 hours of solitude with the radio playing softly in the background, just me and my laptop. (I have both an additional battery and an extended life battery to allow me even more flexibility.) On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I do it again during my youngest's basketball practice and/or my oldest's tennis lesson. Fridays I find an extra hour while the little one is tooling around the ring on a horse.

You've got to take it when you can get it. For example, just yesterday, my last patient at the clinic came in early, which allowed me to finish her scan early, and I jammed out of work to grab a late lunch and spend an unanticipated hour on the synopsis for Love Sketch (my wip).

In the evening, my bedroom is always the hub of activity, and I can kiss my desktop computer goodbye. My oldest is doing research or writing a report; my youngest wants to play internet games. And while I give them time limits to keep the peace, I'm not frustrated because I've got my laptop, allowing me to get in another 2-3 hours of writing before bedtime.

But don't let the technology of a laptop hinder you. Many writers swear by their Alpha Smart. Still others thrive with pencil and paper, which I sometimes resort to for brainstorming or outlining. However you do it, if you've got kids, if you work outside the home, you have to be able to take your writing with you. ((Just a little aside, I've purchased my last two laptops on eBay for under $400, and they've both been awesome. eBay also sells Alpha Smarts. But know your prices before you bid or you could end up paying more than you would buying it outright from the manufacturer.)

Delegation and Letting go:
This is a non-negotiable element for me, and I urge anyone who wants more sanity and serenity in their lives to try it.

I've been married to my DH for 15 years. He's been a fireman for 24+. I learned very early my life could go one of two ways: 1) I could do everything for everyone else, get burnt out, resentful, and depressed, or 2) I could delegate and let the little stuff go.

The whole perfectionist-supermom syndrome went out the window first, and a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I found I could actually live my life instead of worry about it. My house is not always clean and/or organized, I don't cook elaborate meals (in fact I rarely cook, period), and I don't hit the gym every single day. But I'm one hell of a lot happier than I was before I shed the burden of those expectations (others and my own) . In fact, my kids and my husband are also happier because I'm happier and easier to live with.

My daughters have learned to cook-they are great pasta makers, quesadilla creators and can whip up a mean bowl of oatmeal. They've learned that if they mess it up, they'll be the one's cleaning it up and amazingly enough, aren't quite as messy as they used to be. And when DH is home, I do my best to lever things off my shoulders and onto his.

In today's world, with all the incredible demands on our time, creativity and flexibility are essential to carving out time in our day to do what we love.

Think about your life and where you might utilize your time better, multi-task somewhere to fit more writing time into your day. And share your secrets with us...we could all use a few fresh ideas.

:~: Monday, February 13, 2006 :~:

Romance? Suspense?

Wow! The first "real" post. I have chills.

Welcome to Romance Worth Killing For! Before I start, I have to toss out big kudos to Joan for designing this wonderful site. J, you are truly talented! It looks maaaahhhvelous, darling.

Okay, on to the meat of the post.

I think it's safe to say I struggled with the topic of this first post. I mean, ugh, the pressure of being first. It's like that scene from Pretty Woman where Kit (Laura San Giacomo) is chatting with Vivian (Julia Roberts), and she's trying to come up with the name of someone who's gotten their happily-ever-after. I feel just like that, pounding my fingers against my forehead . . . "Argh. The pressure. Of a . . . topic."

Actually, it wasn't that bad, but I did toss around a bunch of different ideas and only finally decided on one after chatting with Joan last night. The conversation went something like this:

Joan: You know, I'm beginning to think I write suspense romance, not romantic suspense.

Elisabeth: Why?

Joan: I keep reading how the romance has to be the focus, how the external plot only comes into play as it affects the romance, but that's not how my books work. The external plot typically throws my hero/heroine together. It's typically the instigator and the driver to get these two to look deeper into themselves.

Elisabeth: That means they're interconnected. In a good romantic suspense, it's the external plot that throws them together. A romantic suspense is supposed to be woven...meaning without the romance, the suspense doesn't work, and without the suspense the romance doesn't work.

And that got me thinking, and remembering. At Nationals last summer I took a fantastic workshop by Roxanne St. Claire about plot braiding a romantic suspense. (If you have the chance to take it this summer in Atlanta, I highly recommend it. Even if you don't write RS.) A lot of the course detailed how she plots out a book - which, if any of you know me, you know I'm not a big plotter - but the one part that struck a cord with me was this whole idea of braiding your romance and suspense together. From her article, "The Twists and Turns of Romantic Suspense Or What I Learned From Playing Barbies", St. Claire writes:

Romantic suspense is exactly like braiding. With every scene, the writer must interweave three or four strands of story lines so neatly that the reader never even realizes that she is moving from one to the next. As she journeys from murderous suspense to developing romance to family reconciliation to light subplot, she should be lost in the beauty, simplicity and utter elegance of the braid. One that starts with three or four disparate strands but ends with a neat twist, tied up with the perfect bow. In essence, it should be impossible to pull out one strand and maintain the overall effect. All along its flowing length, the lines twirl and loop with no stray hairs sticking out at odd angles and no single strand ending too far in advance of the others.

And isn't that our goal . . . in any book? Weaving subplots with the main plot is a struggle for all writers. Making sure your subplots add depth and impact your main plot in a way that pushes the story forward. Doing that without pulling your reader out of the main plot is the ultimate goal. And while this makes perfect sense to me, it was the next part of her article and lecture that stuck with me:

Once I applied that braiding concept to my manuscript, I no longer wrote scenes that didn't take the story forward. I no longer felt that I was "stuck in the romance" and nothing was happening to propel the suspense. And I realized with tremendous clarity that romance and suspense alone are not enough. If they were, all you would have is two overlapping and twisting strands, not the beautiful intermingling that results from the weaving of three or more separate threads.

How simple is that? Reading that, hearing it from her was like a Bingo! Light Bulb! moment for me. How many of us know it, but haven't actually put it into words? Each subplot is dependent on the main plot. The suspense plot is interwoven with the romance. Without one, the other doesn't exist. Readers keep reading because they want to see how all those little threads tie together in the end with that one perfect bow. If you could extricate one simple plot element, you wouldn't have a romantic suspense, you'd have a mystery or thriller or a straight romance. If that's what you're writing (or reading), then great, but if romantic suspense is your goal, then braiding your subplots and main plot together is what will ultimately hold your book together.

Joan: I never thought of it that way, and it's a great way to make sure you're staying on track. I think there's a lot of that rumbling around in my head...stuff I know but I'm not conscious of.

Well said, J. As with most craft "aha" moments, it's there, we just haven't thought about it in that one special way that turns the light bulb on for us. Anytime that happens, be it in a packed room at Nationals, or in chat, it's a good thing.

Go read all of Roxanne's article. It's a good one.

How many of you use plot braiding in your writing?

:~: Sunday, February 12, 2006 :~:

Just in time for Valentine's Day...


The title was a problem, as one of our members, Linda Winfree, is a high-school English teacher. And, well, everyone knows ending a sentence with a preposition is a big no-no. A real rule breaker.

Perfect! We'll keep it!

Together, the three of us have over 8 years of collective writing experience (seriously speaking) and make up a solid team. Combine all our strongest traits and you've got an obsessive-compulsive optimist. Linda is the obsessive one, Joan the compulsive one, and, of course, Elisabeth is our optimist.

We will be discussing any and all writing-related topics here on the bog, so we hope you'll join us for shoptalk at least three times a week. And if you have topics you'd like to discuss, let us know. One of us would probably enjoy picking up the subject for a round table.

Our tentative schedule puts Elisabeth up first (whoop-whoop-whoop, go E!), and she will post on Mondays. Joan's up next on Wednesdays, and Linda will round out our week on Fridays. But check back in between as one of us may post an important musing or revelation off-schedule...just to keep everyone on their toes. We may even entertain the idea of guest bloggers on those "off days". Who knows? We're wild and crazy around here and we'll do anything to create ROMANCE WORTH KILLING FOR!

Hasta manana chicas.