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Elisabeth: Marked

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33,126 / 95,000

Joan: Buried Secrets

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Linda: Facing It

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45,540 / 85,000

:~: Monday, October 30, 2006 :~:

Wham, Bam, Thank-You Ma'am. Now What?

There is a difference between writing sexy and writing sex. We all know it when we read it -sex scenes that fall flat for reasons we can't quite pin down. Then there are books where the consummation of a romantic relationship doesn't happen until the very end of the book, where nothing physical is going on, and the book's so steamy it burns your fingers.

What's missing in the books that just don't cut it? Simple - sexual chemistry. That initial attraction, the force that pushes the hero and heroine together. Sex, in my opinion, is boring to read about unless the build up is there, unless the author's written a compelling story fraught with sexual chemistry and sexual tension and the promise of a major pay-off at the end. Stick two characters in a room alone together who have no sexual chemistry, and your plot - no matter how well researched - is going to flop. In real life, you can have sexual chemistry without love, but in a romance novel you have to have that first spark that ignites a passion in two people, and that passion, in turn, is something they then struggle with through most of the book.

How do you know if your characters have that sexual chemistry? You feel it. Electricity flows when they're together. It comes across in the writing, it literally flies off the page. Dialogue is witty with clever undertones. The scenes where the hero and heroine are together flow and are (for the most part) easy to write. When you (or a critique partner) read over your chapters, the writing doesn't feel forced, the characters feed off each other, sexual tension builds from one point to the next. Have you ever started a book with a great plot and premise and then had it fall apart on you? What was missing? If it was a romance, probably the sexual chemistry between your two protagonists. Allison Brennan said when she wrote The Prey she got about 150 pgs in and got stuck. It was then she realized she had the wrong hero. It happens, and not always to unpublished writers.

If sexual chemistry isn't your problem but you're finding the romantic relationship dwindling later in the book, perhaps you're letting the sexual tension fall off. This happens a lot after two characters have gone to bed together. Everyone's happy, everyone's satisfied, the world is (for a few minutes) right. The key with a romance is to keep that sexual tension high even after the love scene. In fact, the tension should increase because of that love scene. The coming together of two characters should reveal something about one or the other that creates new obstacles for the romantic relationship. Separate them afterwards if necessary, have them each reflect on what happened, learn something they didn't know about themselves, and let that revelation impact the romantic relationship in a way that increases your tension again right away.

If you find your characters don't have anything else to get past, then consider moving your love scene back. Increase the sexual tension by delaying the love scene as long as possible. The longer you make them wait, the more tense the atmosphere becomes. Remember that you want your readers rooting for that moment as much if not more than the hero and heroine. Page turning sexual tension happens when readers can't wait to see what will happen next.

What are your tips for writing compelling sexual chemistry and sexual tension. And what authors do you think do a fabulous job at one or the other or even both?

:~: Friday, October 27, 2006 :~:

Having What It Takes

We all know it's about more than talent.

It's about hard work, determination, and motivation.

And it really doesn't even matter what "it" is -- a sport, an education, writing, life.

You can be the most talented person in the world, and if you don't develop that talent through practice, you might as well not have it.

I've been thinking about this article a lot this week. I originally pulled it to use with my High School Transitions kids, as I'm desperately trying to find ways to foster intrinsic motivation in them. In my head, it linked up to a review I read of Stephen King's latest work, a departure from his normal genre into more mainstream (and some say, romantic) literature. The reviewer made the comment that this offering from King showed what he'd been reaching for, something just out of his "formidable reach." The article talks about that, how it's not just practice that makes us better, makes us great, but practice that involves reaching beyond where we are now. This ties into something Joan always says (and I'm loosely paraphrasing), that if you're constantly writing but not learning from your mistakes, not growing and finding ways to get better, you're better off not writing. I think that's why she's so immersed in revising Safe In Enemy Arms -- she's learning. She's reaching, despite the frustration.

The article also talks about the amount of "reaching" practice it takes for someone to achieve greatness -- ten years. That resonated with me, not because I'm in my tenth year of writing, but because I'm in my tenth year of teaching . . . and this is the year that I'm finally feeling everything I've learned in those ten years falling into place. In terms of writing, I have tons of reaching practice yet to do -- and I haven't put in much time there the last year or so. I've been more focused on reaching practice in two other key areas: teaching and parenting. Many Fridays, I feel like the world's biggest fraud, blogging here about writing, because I'm not putting the time and practice into it that the way Joan and Elisabeth and so many of my writing friends are. I'm not sure when I'll be putting that kind of practice into it again. I know I need the practice -- one of the reasons I haven't written is that in the back of my mind is this little niggling voice, not of doubt, but of certainty, whispering that there's more to found, more to be done, just more to my writing that I should be getting out of it, that I'm not.

Right now I can't satisfy that little voice. There are louder voices clamoring for me to devote my time and talents to those other key areas. I don't have what it takes to do all three well right now, and two of them are too important to let down. However, I can't completely let go of the writing, of the dreams, and I'm still listening to that little voice, trying to pin down exactly what defines that more in my writing.

And you know what? Being here, thinking about writing, writing about writing, keeps those dreams and that little voice alive.

So if you have time this weekend, take a look at "What It Takes to Be Great" and share your thoughts with us.

:~: Wednesday, October 25, 2006 :~:

Tool time - Versatile Outline

If you've ever tried to make significant revisions to a 400+ page manuscript numerous times (like 30 or so), somewhere along the way you realize how limited your brain power is. What happened in that chapter? That scene? Am I repeating this here? Did I follow that thread through there? What day am I on? What was the weather like? Who's pov am I in?

And on and on and on...

If you're writing deep plot with various twists, if you've created complex characters with various internal and external conflict...you need a tool to keep track of all this information as you go back and integrate changes.

Additionally, if you're writing romantic suspense, you need to keep track of both the plot line (increasing tension) and the romance line (increasing attraction/sexual tension).

There are numerous methods of tracking your story. I've tried scene cards, storyboarding, and too many charts to mention, but nothing worked for me on the complex level I needed.

I think I've finally created a functional model--at least one that fits me and my style of writing. It amounts to a watered down version of several techniques and sprinkled with my own ideas to fit my specific needs.

One of the best features of this method is its adaptablity to your needs, your writing style--track what you want to track according to your unique novel, your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. If your manuscript utilizes weather as an antagonist, you can track weather changes. If you have a hard time keeping your timeline straight (one of my major challenges), this will clear it up for you at a glance.

It can be as simplistic or complex as you choose to make it. It can also be used as a pre-plotting outline to give yourself direction.

Here's my tool: (I've posted a Word version of this on my site which you can download/edit/utilize/etc.)


Chapter #:

Number of pages in chapter. Beneficial to see what chapters are long, which are short, and how you might move things around to alter that without having to page through your ms over and over.

Scene #:

Day #:
Great information to make sure your timeline is in order. Color and bold font for information at a glance.

Pages included in that scene.
See length of scenes, use to locate page numbers to administer changes.

POV Character
: Track frequency of pov between characters. Essential when trying to split your ms equally between hero and heroine or sprinkling in villains and secondary characters. Color change according to character ID. Bold font for information at a glance.

Plot point:
The main plot element that occurs in this scene

Romance Element:
Tracking the romance development through the novel
This could also be utilized to track tension development and/or mystery development, etc.

Elements that exist in your ms that need to be changes during revision. (If you change plot point 3 in chapter 2, you'll have to change several other plot points deeper into the novel.)

Some other items you may want to include in your outline might include:

  • Time of day
  • Setting (weather/clothing/etc.)
  • Weather
  • Plot twist
  • Foreshadowing elements

Some other items you could track with this technique could be:

  • Tracking character emotions/development
  • Tracking character arc
  • Tracking tension escalation

With this format I can get a quick visual idea of novel structure: chapters, chapter length, number of scenes per chapter, character presence, placement of romantic elements. I can also follow the plot points to eliminate holes and assure a smooth escalation of events.

Here's a two chapter example from my ms Safe In Enemy Arms:
Note: I've used the outline to include Linda Howard's 12 points of intimacy here to aid the tracking of romantic development (i.e., eyes to body)

Note: I've shown both romantic development and character arc development in the romantic element here. You could separate those out if you want more detail.

That's it!

Hope this helps some of you through that twisted test of revising.

:~: Monday, October 23, 2006 :~:

That Irritating Little Thing Called: Real Life

It seems posting late is the name of the game around here. If you're like me - anticipating updates or blog posts or emails - that bugs you. And it especially bugs you when you are the one to blame.

It's almost 6PM here on the West Coast, and I'm just now sitting down to blog. Why? Real Life got in my way today. A hectic morning of errands followed by a preschool field trip that took up more time than I expected, an afternoon of overly-rambuctious kids and a DH who wanted to chat about his day. When I got home this afternoon I sat to compose a professional email and found it took me over an hour to get anything coherent down because I was constantly interrupted by, "Mom, can I have this? Mom, I need this. Mom...mom...MOM!" It's enough to make a woman insane.

Looking back, I'm not so sure the email I sent made any sense at all. Score one for chaos. Sometimes, real life sucks.

We are all pulled in a thousand different directions, a hundred million times per day. The distraction of life as I know it is the reason I don't write during the day. I usually (today seems to be the exception) can email, blog, even crit chapters between the insanity that rules my world, but never write. And when I don't get that time in the evenings to sit and put fingers to keyboard, I feel bad. It also really grates on me when I have obligations (like this blog) and I can't get to them. Why? Because I view this writing gig as my job. My career. And I always want to give it 110%, even when I can't.

Balancing writing and life is something I'm constantly working on. I know there are things I can't control. A houseful of small kids being first and foremost. Learning to roll with the punches and knowing when to accept the small defeats is something I continually struggle with. And I know it's something I will toss around throughout my writing career. Because, let's face it, most of the time, I'd much rather sit and write than do anything else.

Since I'm frazzled tonight, I'm not going to drone on and on like I normally do. (Aren't you thrilled?!) I'm simply going to ask: What strategies do you use to stay sane when real life gets in your way?

:~: Saturday, October 21, 2006 :~:


With the advent of October comes scary movie after scary movie on television. Along with that comes my nine-year-old waking up with a bad dream about once a week -- he doesn't even have to watch the films in question, merely catch a glimpse of them on commercials. The same child who loves anything military, devours war movies and historical novels on any war imaginary can't handle Disney vampires, ghosts or witches.

I swear he gets it from his dad, who the entire time we've been married (closer to two decades than one!) has had nightmares stemming from his most personal fear (which I am not disclosing here).

My eldest son usually sleeps undisturbed -- no bad dreams there. I think he gets that from me. However, I do have nightmares at two specific times of year -- right before school starts and in mid-fall. Why? Well, I have teacher nightmares in early August, the ones where I'm standing before a group of chattering teenagers who won't shut while I'm trying to teach. That's right: my worst nightmare is having no classroom control.

I had the second worst nightmare last night, again. I've been having it, in various versions, off and on for the last two weeks. As the competition date for One Act play grows closer, it gets more frequent. I dream that my kids set the stage up wrong. I dream they get up and completely adlib. Last night? I dreamed that the stage was surreally warped, and I kept sliding off it, along with student actors and our props. I don't have to be Freud to figure this one out -- I'm feeling insecure about our performance as we approach our single competition.

Oddly enough, I've never had a writer's nightmare. I'm not sure why, although I've heard of other's nightmares that deal with all things writing?

Are you prone to nightmares? And if you write, do you suffer from writer's bad dreams?

:~: Thursday, October 19, 2006 :~:

Golden Heart 2007

Sorry for the late post...this week got completely away from me!

I was reminded of the entry deadline for the Golden Heart (and Rita) in this month's RWR, and I've been trying to decide whether or not I'm going to go for it again this year.

Hiding in Plain Sight finaled in the 2006 Romantic Suspense category, which was exciting.

But looking ahead to 2007, it's a little daunting, a little scary. It feels a little like I got an A on the first test of the year and now there's no place to go but down. (What a pesimist, huh?)

What if I don't final this year? Does that make last year a fluke? Does that make Hiding in Plain Sight a better novel than Safe in Enemy Arms (the manuscript I will enter *if* I enter)?

Then again, what if I did final again? What if I won first place this year? Does that mean I'll sell? Does that mean...?

What exactly does that mean? Either way?

Does it mean anything?

And if it doesn't mean anything...why enter?

How many of you will enter the Golden Heart in 2007? How many of you have entered in the past? How do you feel about the contest? How do you feel it's different from other contests?

:~: Monday, October 16, 2006 :~:

That Wild and Crazy Girl

When I first started writing, I was green. Very green. I'd hear other writers in person and online chatting about their muse, and I'd think, what the heck are they talking about? What was a muse? Did I have one? If so, why didn't I know about her? Where had she gone? What was she doing? Eating cheetos in the basement with three hunky guys? Wow. That sounded like someplace I wanted to be. Forget getting myself a muse...how the heck did I just become her?

Now, before you go thinking I'm a complete idiot (which sometimes even I admit to being), I'll have you know I'm a big Greek Mythology buff. So yeah, I knew - even back in my neon green days - that the word muse most likely referred to the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who presided over various arts: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene (tragedy), Polyhymnia (religious music), Terpsichore (dance), Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy). But the concept of giving a name (ie, Muse) to the inner part of me that writes and creates characters and plots and other worlds was new to me. I always figured I was the writer, hence, I wrote.

However, the more engrossed in the writing world I became, the more enticing it was to blame my writing woes on this mysterious creature whom - according to other writers - could come and go as she pleased without warning or explanation. Not able to write a single page for weeks at a time? It must be The Muse's fault. You're definitely not doing anything wrong. Writing fifty pages in two days and unable to stop even when the baby's screaming for his bottle and dinner's burning on the stove? Oh, it's not you...it's your Muse. She's really going.


There are mysteries in this world that cannot be explained. And I will never understand how the human mind works. I do know there are days when I can't bleed out a single sentence, others where writing five pages is as painful as pulling my fingernails out one by one. And then there are days - like this past weekend - where I write like a wild and crazy girl. Fifteen pages one day. Ten the next. Is it the mysterious Muse finally gracing me with her presence? Or is it simply me, at last cooking and excited about a certain scene or chapter? I don't know. And frankly, I don't care.

Good days and bad days will always follow me in this business. I could blame a lot of my non-productive days on the Muse and call it good, or I could take responsibility for them, reevaluate what I do the next day, and put my butt in the chair and write. One is passive, one is active, but only one will get me where I want to go. The one thing I have control over - the only thing I'm ever sure of in this business - is the writing. The more I write, the more I will write - with or without a muse.

So tell me...who's to blame when you just can't write, you or your muse? And how the heck do you get (her) back to work?

:~: Friday, October 13, 2006 :~:

Looking For Inspiration . . .

I know, I know . . . I promised a post about plot braiding and To Kill a Mockingbird. You'll get it, I swear . . . I'm just still trying to get my mind wrapped around the intricacies of that book and what I want to share.

Instead, I thought I would share this week about one of my surefire places to find inspiration -- music.

I love music, all kinds. I don't make soundtracks to listen to while writing, as some writers do, but I do tend to have songs that trigger scenes or emotions or even whole books. While writing Hold On to Me, which will release sometime late next year, I must have listened to Gary Allan's "Songs About Rain" a million times. Throughout Truth and Consequences, I allude to the songs of Johnny Cash, which link thematically to the hero's situation. Many of my book titles come directly from songs that are linked to the ideas behind the stories -- Hold On to Me, What Mattered Most, His Ordinary Life, Anything But Mine, Memories of Us.

My latest play list for inspiration?

1) "Before He Cheats" -- Carrie Underwood
2) "Baby, You Save Me" -- Kenny Chesney
3) "On Again Tonight" -- Trent Willmon
4) "Crash Here Tonight" -- Toby Keith
5) "Best I Ever Had" -- Gary Allan (okay, ANYTHING by Gary Allan . . .)

I have an entire idea that I don't have time to write right now spinning off "Before He Cheats" and "Baby, You Save Me." I am making notes, though.

Does music work as a form of inspiration for you, or leave you cold? What songs lead you to story or scene ideas?

:~: Tuesday, October 10, 2006 :~:

Has anyone else noticed...

...how prevalent violence has become in media over the last year or so (or more)?

This may seem like a strange subject for me to cover considering I write romantic suspense and have been focused on creating the eeriest, coldest, evilest villains my good-little-girl brain can come up with. But, I've been noticing my own intolerance for gritty violence more and more lately.

I picked up a book CD at the library a couple days ago--Darkly Dreaming Dexter. It's about a serial killer who kills serial killers.

Damn. Why didn't I think of that?

The idea intrigued me. I wanted to see how this author made it work. I wanted to see how a serial killer protagonist would turn out. I wanted to see how many rules the author broke and chuckle to myself with knowing chagrin when I could identify every one.

I figured it would be pretty good considering the reviews and comments on the container, and it lived up to my expectations--which, now-a-days, is pretty dang hard to do. Writing has ruined me as a reader (although I still read and am trying to read more often).

If you don't mind a sick and twisted read, I'd recommend it. Entertaining, dark humor, three dimensional characters, even a protagonist who's part villain, one you have to both root for and admire all while realizing he is one sick bastard.

And while the book was quite graphic, stomach-turning in places, it wasn't as overdone as it could have been.

Then recently I saw this advertisement for a series on HBO--Dexter. They made this premise a series. Dexter is, by profession, a blood splatter expert working in a police lab--only one ironic twist of his character. I could see how this would easily become a series. As I felt I already knew Dexter better than my next door neighbor, I was sure I'd want to watch the series.

Then I saw the previews. And even knowing what I knew, having read what I read, I found them disturbing. There is something very different between reading about crime and viewing said crime. The previews were based on acts performed in the book--it was depicted accurately from what I could tell. But infinitely more explicit.

Yesterday I saw the new movie, The Departed. Again, very intriguing. Again, very violent.

It all solidified something that I've been struggling with for a while now--graphic violence as entertainment.

How can that possibly be healthy? What does that say about us as individuals, as a society? And, more importantly, how is it shaping the next generation? Deep, disturbing questions with few answers. At least, few positive answers.

With the prevalence of forensic-related television, detective and police shows, violence in the news, increasingly graphic movies, it seems to me we've become desensitized. Because we know more, because we've seen more, it takes more to reach us, move us, jolt us, scare us, give us a thrill.

In other books I've read recently, I've noticed the villains are scarier, colder, bolder, angrier and overall, more screwed up, even more hopelessly screwed up.

You've read the reviews of best-seller suspense. Chilling is the word that comes to mind--and this is touted as a good thing.

Maybe I'm reading in the wrong genre. Worse, maybe I'm writing in the wrong genre.

I don't know.

What I do know is that keeping up a good edge-of-your-seat suspense without all the blood and gore is one hell of a bitch. IMHUO, a story filled with violence is much easier to write. It's plot heavy, characterization light. There has to be just enough characterization to justify actions, but it's that action, that next ambush, that next murder, that next beating that holds the audience's attention.

In lieu of action and violence, you need deep, meaningful characterization. Your cast has to be powerful and flawed, sympathetic and courageous. They have to have big problems, inside and out, and they have to have the tools, or gain the tools, to overcome them. They have to have a lot at stake and those stakes have to continually rise until there is either success or death--not necessary literal death, but a death of some kind, of something invaluable to them.

What is your view on the rise of violence in the media over the past few years? Of graphic violence in books, in movies? Do you see a trend? How do you feel about that trend? How do you handle violence in your own writing or reading?

:~: Monday, October 09, 2006 :~:

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together

Joan recently asked me, "How's the book coming along?" A harmless question really, to which I gave a very detailed and lengthy answer, one I won't bore you with here. I am going to give you the gist of my response though because it relates to my post here today. Basically, I said, "It's going places I never expected."

I'm not a plotter. You all know that. I am the lone pantster in our RWKF group. I take an idea and go with it. When I start a book I have a good visual of the characters, I know the setup, some of their backstory, the basic plot, and usually the end - to both the romantic thread and the suspense thread. Everything else is a mystery. The book I'm working on now, however, is directly linked to the last book I wrote. Not a series per se, but connected in a variety of capacities, least among which through the characters. The main characters were secondary characters in the last book, and they were secondary characters I never planned on writing about. But when I finally gave in to their demands for their own story, I thought writing this book would be easier than others I've started. Why? Easy. I already knew my characters so well.

Boy, was I clueless.

My heroine did not have a POV scene in the last book, and so getting into her skin has required more work - which I knew going in. But I assumed when I got to the hero - who played an integral part in both the suspense thread and romantic thread of book one - things would really pick up. What I've found has been the opposite. My heroine has been easier to get to know, and my hero - this man I thought I knew so well - has thrown me for a complete loop.

Why, you ask?

Let me tell you. He's got layers. Lots of layers. And some serious issues I didn't realize when I started writing his book. Those issues came out in his first POV scene. Things I hadn't planned. But as soon as my fingers started clicking and the words began to fill the page, he came to life. In every sense of the word. Suddenly, things I'd alluded to in book one made gobs of sense. His actions, his reactions, his thoughts and to some extent, other characters' perceptions of him, grew clear. Did I instinctively know him when I wrote book one? I never would have thought so, but maybe I did.

This is one of those mysteries about writing I absolutely love. When things "click" without you consciously realizing they're clicking, without you, the writer, spending hours conceptualizing the link between point A and point B. And for me, it's one of the reasons I don't plot. The few books I've sat down and plotted from beginning to end never work. Aside from making my brain feel like it's going to explode, and aside from the fact plotting in detail makes me lose enthusiasm for a book, when I plot in excessive detail, I lose the magic that brings it all together. I lose those moments where I slap my hand against my head and yell, "Aha! So that's why he did that in chapter 3!! Now it makes perfect sense!"

Is winging it easy? Heck no. Sometimes I think knowing everything in minute detail would be way easier when it came right down to writing, but inevitably when I take that magic out of my writing, I lose the intangible quality that makes me love what I do.

My dear friend Lisa is going to show me a new plotting method she learned at last weekend's Emerald City Writer's Conference. I'm excited to hear what she learned simply because I love learning anything new related to writing. Will I follow it? I won't say no, but odds are probably not. However, I'm always open to new things, especially when I know there might be something useful I can take and incorporate into my own unique head-plotting/pantstering method that works for me. That's what writing's all about - finding what works for you, taking bits and pieces of the knowledge others pass on to you and using what you can to bring your writing to life. Sometimes you hit on a fabulous new method, and sometimes you don't. And sometimes when things really click, you're left quoting George Peppard as Hannibal in that old 80's hit, The A-Team:

"I love it when a plan comes together."

What's the best writing tip, method or strategy you've learned in the past six months and how have you incorporated it into your own writing?

:~: Thursday, October 05, 2006 :~:

What Lies Beneath

"Subtext is content of a book, play, film or television series which is not announced explicitly by the characters (or author) but is implicit or becomes something understood by the reader / viewer as the production unfolds."

Recently, Joan has been sharing what she's learning from different workshops and classes. When I read her posts or talk with her, I'm always amazed by what I still haven't learned about the craft of writing.

Then I step into my classroom, where I teach literature and writing, and everything I still haven't mastered gets hammered home again. (I'm sure y'all get tired of hearing about my students and everything we do in my classroom! I swear, it's all I ever talk about here.)

See, I thought I knew all about including subtext in what I write. I'd even naively written an article on how to use dialogue to build subtext (I never subbed it anywhere or even put it up on my website, but I wrote it).


I don't think I really had a handle on how subtext should be layered through a book. One of my favorite examples for teaching subtext or talking about how to write "hidden meaning dialogue" comes from Arthur Miller's The Crucible, Act 2, Scene 1:

Proctor: You ought to bring some flowers in the house.

Elizabeth: Oh! I forgot! I will tomorrow.

Proctor: It's winter in here yet . . .

Simple conversation between a husband and wife, right? Sure. Except Proctor's talking about more than the lack of flowers when he says "it's winter in here yet." Lurking beneath his words is the idea that Elizabeth remains cold to him because of his own infidelity. The simple exchange builds to the later confrontation in the same scene when Elizabeth realizes Proctor has been alone with his former mistress and not told her. The subtext here heightens the tension of that later exchange.

I'd used this and what I'd seen lurking beneath the surface in other plays to convince myself I really "got" the use of subtext. But, oh, was I wrong . . .

This week, my 11th graders and I have been taking apart Kate Chopin's The Awakening. It's a novel from the late 1800's about a woman trapped by societal strictures and an unhappy marriage. Chopin is a Realist, which means she tends to give an objective view of events -- almost like a snapshot of what's going on, basic details on the surface, with the reader left to interpret what's going on beneath the action and dialogue.

And, trust me, there's a lot going on.

So far, Chopin has this working beneath the surface: details of an unhappy marriage, the husband's control freak and passive aggressive nature, the burgeoning desire between the protagonist and another man, the protagonist's growing self-awareness as well as the perfectionism that tortures her.

My students tend to read on the surface, looking at plot and maybe character. Sometimes, I think as a writer, I get stuck in those surface items -- do I have goals and motivations and conflicts for each character? Do I have enough conflict? Does each event further or resolve said conflicts? Because I think I have those elements mastered and present, I forget there's a completely different side to my story -- what goes unsaid.

Joan is going through detailed edits on her MS. I'm looking at a WIP (which has been in progress for way too long), trying to figure out if every scene furthers the underlying meaning of my novel. It goes back to tightening, I think -- does every word, every sentence, every scene underscore that underlying meaning? Am I showing what lies beneath the basics of plot and character?

The vastness of what lies beneath the basics of craft scares me, simply because I know I'm nowhere near mastering a fraction of it. I wonder if I ever will. I wonder if anyone ever does.

Have you considered what lies beneath your own story? How do you highlight that? Which books and authors make great examples of the skillful use of subtext?


Next Friday -- What I'm Learning about Plot Braiding from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

:~: Tuesday, October 03, 2006 :~:

How Do You Edit?

Did you know that Dean Koontz averages FORTY PASSES per page during edits?

I learned that in Margie Lawson's Deep EDITS course last month (September). That's how he makes the International Bestseller List. His commitment to writing craft. His commitment to excellence.

I don't happen to be a Koontz fan--too dark and gritty for me--but I can admire his work, his craft. Apply the principles to my work.

I had taken Margie's Empowering Character Emotions course several months ago and was amazed by the amount of information I took away. It really took my writing to a new level. IMHUO

And, interestingly, I had just taken a course with Ashley Grayson who said, "To be a master of your craft, master rhetoric." just days before I started Margie's class--in which she teaches...among other things...21+ different rhetorical devices.

I love it when things dovetail together that way. It makes me think of higher powers, karma, fate and destiny. For a minute, anyway.

At first, Deep EDITS felt overwhelming. It's so all-encompassing, so...well...deep. But once I got into it and started applying the principles to the manuscript I'm currently editing, Safe In Enemy Arms, and it all seemed to come together.

If you ever get the opportunity, I highly suggest either or both of those courses.

It's a lot of work, no way around that. She advocates analyzing your manuscript word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, scene by scene.

So, based on her instructions and my own style, this is how I edit:

  • Print whatever portion of the ms I'm going to tackle. I work one chapter at a time.

  • Go through the ms and highlight:

    ~Red-non-verbal emotion
    ~Pink-visceral emotional effects
    ~Orange in margins-tension
    ~Purple in margins-sexual tension/romance build

  • Circle the last word of every sentence, look for ways to backload that sentence (and often find places I need to reword/restructure/rewrite).

  • Make notes in the margin for changes, additions, deletions, etc.

  • Make changes on the computer, do rewrites.

  • Print it out.

  • Read it aloud and make notes on any additional changes.

  • Make changes on computer.

  • Move on to next chapter.

That's where I'm at. Chapter 4. Slow. Relentless. Tortuous.

And worth every minute.

How do you edit?

:~: Monday, October 02, 2006 :~:

The Thrill of Victory, and The Agony of Defeat

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When I was a kid, Saturday afternoons were ABC's Wide World of Sports days. My Dad was a sports nut, and since we lived in the country and winters were often hard, we'd inevitably find ourselves huddled around the TV watching whatever happened to be on that day. I enjoy sports, but I've never been a live-or-die-by-what-team's-playing type person, although I always loved WWS. The intro used to capture me - over and over and over again. Whether it was the athlete sprinting across the finish line or the ski jumper losing control and whipping a three-sixty in a cloud of powder, I was always awed.

I have known those same emotions the past few years. Not because of sports, but in my quest for publication. The agony of defeat in this business can be overwhelming. The first few times I got rejections from my top agents - agents I was sure would love my work - I was devastated. I knew just what that skier on the intro to WWS felt. Although mine wasn't a physical pain, it hurt just the same. We've all had those letters - the ones that say, '...not right for me at this time', or '...there was much here to love, but...' or, my personal favorite, '...I didn't love it enough, but someone else may feel differently.' No matter the wording, it always boils down to one specific point. You can practically read it through the lines - You just aren't good enough.

The agony of defeat. It can be crippling if you let it. If you don't develop a thick skin, it can make you question who and what and why you're here. The key is not letting it get to you. Whenever I got one of those letters, I always read the lines and heard in my head - you aren't good enough. And I always, always added one more word - "yet". I wasn't good enough yet. But if I worked hard enough and was persistent enough, things would change.

Little things have kept me going over the past few years. Small accomplishments, what I like to call my thrills of victory, have counterbalanced the rejections and heartache. An agent emailing me after reading my partial and asking for more ASAP. A beta reader telling me they love my hero. My critique partner commenting on a particularly well-written section. My friends and family, more excited about my publishing prospects than sometimes I think I am. My agent saying she's more excited about pitching my book than she was when she signed me or my mom, who doesn't even read in my genre, telling me over and over how proud she is of me. Those are the small victories that carry me from rejection to rejection, and they are the ones I will treasure forever.

I am not a naive writer who thinks publication is going to solve all my writing problems and make me a big star. I know there will always be rejection, that there will be many moments of defeat in my future. For me, the little thrills will buoy me from one success to another, even when that success may simply be a good friend laughing and asking me how the heck I have all those ideas floating around in my head.

How do you stay inspired amid the rejections? What's your secret for staying motivated and not giving up?