Home of Ane Ryan Walker, Teller of Tall Tales, Writer of Short Stories

Tag: romance writing (Page 2 of 4)

Gimme a Hero…

As soon as you open your novel, on the very first page, in the very first line…what your character does and says will make or break him/her –and by association, you–as a writer.

You only get this one chance to gimme a hero. He/she must be unique but ordinary, courageous but  vulnerable, strong and weak at the same time. This is the hat trick of writing a great opener. You need to show me and to tell your readers in so few words, the hero who can be real and storybook perfect even while flawed. Get it? Not many writers do. Those that do get it, find themselves in great company and consistently on the coveted “lists”. You know, the NYT, USA Today, and in line for prestigious awards, consistently.

We want the characters we love to be “real”, and what we mean is for them to be just like us. Ordinary people with whom we can identify. But we also need them to be heroes. The fictional characters who allow us to believe that we can step outside the box of “ordinary” and become the guy who saves the life, the child, the day.

So really, what we want is for you to make your characters, less and more at the same time.

Got it?

The most important thing for you to remember now, is that human beings hard-wired to resist change, even when it is for their own good. Your story, if you really have one, is about change.  Change is what brings conflict you cannot avoid. Sounds like a catch-22, doesn’t it? No, its story perfection at its best. It is everything you need to make your story great.

As humans we don’t like change and we don’t like conflict. But for story people, the well-rounded characters that induce others to read your books, conflict and change is excitement. It’s the adventure we seek without having to leave the safety of our living room, reading nook, or our comfy bed.

Again, it is conflict that drives your story forward.

Because the hero needs to grow, to change, to evolve he needs an arc. Show your reader how he meets the challenges your story provides, overcomes the obstacles, or recovers from his defeats, and grows in spite of his hardships and shortcomings. We grow when we win and when we lose.

What’s it all about?

There are people who want to tell you how to organize your story. Sadly, writers are individuals. Every writer has, or will have, their own method for telling a story. But two things are essential to storytelling. Plot and structure.

First of all let me tell you that you can take this statement to the bank. Writers are rarely born, writing can be taught, and truly, most writers simply evolve. This evolution is known in the common language as “learning the craft”. Storytelling, like writing, is a craft. Most of us work hard to learn the craft. Of course, every story needs a start. So start with the basics, Plot and Structure.

Plot is simple: P is for the plan, what is going to happen in your story. Don’t start a story without a plan. L is for the lead, the character who will take the lead in your story. O is for objective, the thing your character most desires, what he/she believes that they cannot survive without. T is for the termination, since every story must come to an end. You need to know the end of your story since you will want to have a goal to aim for, like a dock when your ship is adrift. It’s a place you will want to go. Agents and editors want to know if you know the end of your story. Make sure it is satisfying.

Some critics will tell you a story is Plot Driven or Character Driven. While in their minds, or on the surface, this may seem to be true, I will tell you to tread carefully here. Plot is not enough to carry a story without a dynamic character. By the same token dynamic characters who operate without a goal, are people adrift like those who live under a bridge begging for scraps. They go nowhere, and are uninteresting.

Structure is the framework that holds your plot together, with the characters, their emotions and interactions–their growth, if you will–comprising scenes, sequels and the overall story structure such as the three acts, which will effectively show us your story worthy characters and their foray into literary life.

Each of us, writer or not is familiar with three act structure. The beginning, middle and end. The structure is not only simple in its elegance, but solid in its strength. A character is presented with a problem, he/she struggles with it, and finally is either defeated or defeats the problem.

Mythic structure is also a popular template for storytelling. Joseph Campbell explains (and many others have contributed to) the template which provides specific patterns for the course of any story. Be advised, even this mythic structure is based on a three act template.

Just remember, whether you use simple three act structure or mythic journey for your story, the engine that drives it forward is conflict.

Next time: Conflict.

 

 

Trust

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.”

― Walter Anderson

This post speaks to the issue of sharing your work with others. I know, I know. You write for the satisfaction of having created something from the sheer fabric of imagination. You want to see what materializes from the vapor of pure imagination, and if the story burning in your heart and mind can be told, understood, and shared.

Unless you take the leap of faith and share your story with others you will never know. Remember, it is a leap of faith. As creators of fiction we are timid in sharing our story for fear of our “baby” being deemed ugly. And keep in mind, not every one will love your story. Some may even dislike it. But the stories we write are not for others, but rather for ourselves and those who can identify with the story we need to tell.

Sometimes the most difficult people to trust with a story is our family and friends, who may feel compelled to tell us  our  stories are wonderful.   The people we love, and who love us, often feel compelled not to criticize, even in a constructive way. They don’t want to hurt our feelings when we truly desire to hear their thoughts in hope of finding our way onto the path of success. So who do we turn to?

Sometimes we need to approach and engage strangers to help us judge the merits of our work. We need to be selective in the approach, seeking out readers who will and can give constructive feedback.  This method will more likely ensure assistance in a forward motion rather than annihilate our hopes and dreams.

Beyond that we need to listen. Often, authors who are overly sensitive complain of being unfairly criticized. “They just didn’t get me.” “No one understands what I’m trying to say.”  Do we stop to consider that we, as writers, aren’t making our intentions clear? That editing, and possibly re-writes are in order?

Not every writer is fortunate enough to have a mentor. Not every writer can approach a critic–and every potential reader is a critic–and find the help her/she requires. We have to trust sometimes that the criticism we hear, especially commonly repeated criticisms, are true. When these criticisms are repeated, we need to assume they may be true. Trust your judgement.

 

Making Progress

   “ It is important that we forgive ourselves for making mistakes. We need to learn from our errors and move on. ”

― Steve Maraboli

Almost everything I’ve ever learned about writing I learned from making mistakes. Most of the time, the mistakes don’t hurt anyone but me. Often they come from a failure to plan the work. If you’re working from a plan, you can always adjust, backtrack, or take a new direction. You have plenty of leeway to turn and twist, and head off in a new direction. But you always do well to start with a plan.

The focus keeps the task at hand…at hand, so to speak. Early on in writing, but never early enough, a good friend and a prolific author told me “never sit down to write unless you know where you’re going.” This in fact, is the best advice I’ve ever been given.

When I first learned this, I still worked full-time and had a lot of responsibility at home. Since my husband and I owned a business, I had a lot on my plate. The first hour of daily writing was wasted on the guilt trip how I could better spend the time I was “wasting” on writing. Not published at the time, I took time-wasting very seriously. I thought I should be doing things or paperwork that was business related: bookkeeping, ordering, organizing, or selling new accounts.

I wasted about an hour guilt tripping, then procrastinating, and agonized later that neither task was productive. I didn’t get the bookkeeping, selling, organizing or the fiction writing done.

When I learned to end the writing every day (according to the time allotment) I marked the end of the session with a plan for where I would go next with my story. Eureka!

Thus the new guideline became, don’t start writing unless you know where you’re going with the story. In other words, plan just a little bit, such as the next scene, the next chapter, or up to the next pinch point or turning point. Not too far ahead, but just enough to keep you going. Kind of like headlights on the road in the dark. You only need to see so far ahead, not enough to be considered a “plotter” but enough to keep you on a steady course for accomplishing something productive.

This kind of progress keeps you on track without letting you write a hundred pages you’ll need to rewrite later. Of course, we all realize there will be re-writes later. But still, we’re making progress.

 

 

Sheeple

The greatest fear in the world is of the opinions of others. And the moment you are unafraid of the crowd you are no longer a sheep, you become a lion. A great roar arises in your heart, the roar of freedom.

― Osho

 

So if you start this year making promises to yourself, stand up –or sit down if you’re writing –and tell your story, your way. The most productive thing you can do, is to keep the promises you make to yourself.

If you’re going to keep promises, you should make an effort to be your true self all the time, especially when you are telling your story. Remember to tell your story your way. After all, isn’t that what being true to your self is all about?

I know plenty of people who don’t do this, and that’s a major contributing factor to their downfall, or to a failure to launch.

Sadly, when we begin pursuing a writing career we are hellbent on pleasing everyone who gives us advice, and anyone kind enough to offer any type of direction. When this behavior is coupled with the personality type which attempts to please everyone else instead of oneself, disaster ensues. First chapter writing contests are a major offender. Many times writing contests sponsored by writing groups who claim to be able to help you with that introduction to an agent or editor are major offenders in this area.

These writing contests send your unattended story off to many non-trained people to offer a critique of the introduction to your work without regard to the level of writer giving the critique.  Critiquing is in itself an art form, and is not an experience to be shared with anyone you do not trust. Often harsh words and poorly thought out comments sabotage many aspiring writers, especially those with fragile egos or a lack of support at home.

In spite of all that, many aspiring writers acting as “sheeple” dutifully make the changes suggested, no matter how outrageous, and pony up another $25-$35 for the next round of ill-advised potential to “get your work in front of the editor or agent you want to impress”.  The writers who win these contests know it’s often left to the luck of the draw. Their writing is usually spot on, but first they were lucky enough to get first round judges who were looking at story, not hunting a simple misplaced comma.

Make this a word to the wise; not all advice is good advice even if you’re paying for it.

Take the time to ask questions. Make sure you are getting what you pay for, in terms of writing advice. Are the contest judges trained to give a reasonable and helpful first chapter critique? Do they offer insight to writing “mistakes” and a method to assist you in correcting the mistakes and thereby learning new skills? Is your story improved by the input you  received?

While asking for feedback from an independent source is scary, remember you pay a tribute to receive the criticism. Use the advice you get wisely, and remember it’s always your story, your choice.

 

 

 

Goal Setting

People with clear, written goals, accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.

― Brian Tracy

Happy New Year!

Time to make some resolutions, right? Wrong. We generally as a species don’t change things even when we plan to change. We are all, on some level, resistant to change.

It’s that time of the year when we need to reflect, reevaluate and sometimes even reinvent ourselves. So this year instead of wasting time and energy on making promises you are not likely to keep, why not reflect and reevaluate with a goal for the future that you might actually accomplish?

Reflect on your behavior, attitude and experience in 2014.

What did you learn?

Did you take a class? Perhaps you attended a conference? Read a “How To” book? Or maybe the opportunity to learn from life experience presented itself in one of life’s more awkward moments? This year I learned to practice what I preach the hard way. In one of those priceless lessons from the universe I slipped and fell at the gym and couldn’t return to working out or even get around very well for more than a month. This gave me the opportunity to slow down, and reflect.

What did you do?

Did you take a class or achieve an instructors level in a  life long subject you’re passionate about? I have two friends who each accomplished  life long goals of doing things for themselves. These women have spent many year nurturing others and at long last, they each achieved instructor level proficiency in subjects near and dear to their hearts. One became a Yoga teacher and the other a certified Padi diving instructor.

What is your big dream for 2015?

Most of us, at some point or another in our lives assemble a bucket list. The simple list of things we hope do not become a legacy of regret. The way to avoid regret is to spend your valuable time taking your dreams from the dream state into reality by making a plan. Planning your future is always a good thing. Make sure those benchmarks to achieving your dreams are measurable, specific, and realistic.

Well, mostly realistic.  Sometimes you need to go for the moon in order to reach the stars. Plan big.

 

Giving Back

True generosity is an offering; given freely and out of pure love. No strings attached. No expectations. Time and love are the most valuable possession you can share.

― Suze Orman

Today I want to bring attention to a particular group of writers who impress me with their willingness and ability to give back to the group that nurtures them. I have been a member of RWA for more than nine years. “Romance Writers of America is dedicated to advancing the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.”  The statement taken directly from the home page as their mission statement. This hasn’t always been true with individual chapters. Sometimes, once they become successful, the published authors lose patience with aspiring authors and do not like to share space, much less expertise.

Every chapter is different, and I’m the first one to celebrate differences. Gone are the days when I have to worry about who will be offended when the “experts” don’t want to be bothered with the “newbies”.

The women who lead and nurture my group of local aspiring authors are the most generous and hardworking women I have ever met. Don’t get me wrong, I have had several mentors who helped me along the way and I’ve mentioned them here, singing their praises and touting their generosity of spirit.

I was blessed the day I found Sunshine State Romance Authors.

This is the first time I have ever encountered a group so totally dedicated to helping others, both individually and as a group, on such a consistent basis. Every time they are asked to help, they step forward to offer advice, expertise and assistance; whatever is in their power to help is there for the taking.

How refreshing to find no disdain for the “unpublished” author.

How inspiring to know you will be assisted rather than ridiculed for what you don’t know.

How comforting to know that no question is considered foolish.

How empowering to know the help you need is there for the asking.

How successful these men and women are because they pay it back and pay it forward on an ongoing basis. They do embody the mission of RWA. Sadly, not every chapter can make this claim. Now I’m sure there are other chapters who believe they do this, but are you really sure? Examine your next chapter meeting and make sure you welcome new friends, assist the aspiring author when you can and share the knowledge you’ve acquired over your career.

Real writers spend a lifetime working on their craft, and know there is always something new to learn.

Truly successful people have the generosity of spirit to share with others and nurture those who seek their assistance, without judgement.

 

http://sunshinestateromanceauthors.com/

 

Feeling Anxious?

Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.

― Charles Spurgeon

Hold that thought. Really, I mean literally, hold that thought. Sometimes we fail to realize how our environment affects us. The other really big thing we often ignore is how our attitude affects others.

Because as writers we are in the position of being “solitary” in our work, the social impact of workplace drama is often lost on us. As individuals, we lose the resonance of dealing with social groups on a daily basis. It certainly does not affect those who still remain at the day job, but for this purpose, as aspiring writers we suffer in our solitary confinement.

During our office/daytime hours we learn to deal with the interaction and drama of the group and to minimize (or not) the effect it has on us as individuals and as it relates to our work. When the drama quotient is high we learn to protect ourselves by mirroring or reflecting the temperament of others as is necessary to each situation. It is often referred to as survival instinct. Through this type of behavior we absorb the energy of others and often adopt the temperament of others in our shared situation. This is also possible when we interact with our writing groups.

In these shared situations we need to pay attention to how we are seen by the people around us who we influence with our words, our behavior and our actions. When the value we project is not consistent, the message we send is not only confusing but often misinterpreted.

When we take the time to “adjust” our attitude for the task at hand (writing /working) we have an opportunity to assess how we are perceived by others, and if the encounter is a positive or a negative to the others involved in the encounter. To do this affords us the opportunity to see ourselves as others see us. The value here is simple, if you took the time to share a smile will it lighten someone elses dreary outlook? Will a reassuring pat on the hand be the touch that ignites a spark of kindness multiplied as it is passed on? We fail to realize that sometimes a simple word of encouragement can transform bitterness to hope.

That transformation is a writer’s gift.

 

 

Success

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.

― Vince Lombardi

I think he knows what he’s talking about. I had the will and I found a way, and YES! I succeeded at NANO! Count me in for the Winner’s Circle!

If you think I’m celebrating too early, you would be wrong!  I know it doesn’t end until the drop dead date of November 30th, but since I make my living at writing and I do write every day, I hit the 50,000 word count early.  But no worries, I’m still right here writing with you. The truth is for professional writers, we are never done. If I had three additional lifetimes I would still not have enough time to execute all my story ideas.

There is nothing like success to make you feel good about your self.  The joy of knowing you made a promise to yourself and you kept it.

The most important thing to remember is that choice, not circumstance, is what determines success. If you’ve stayed at it, if you continue to work hard you will finish, if not the book itself, at least then the 50,000 words.  And that’s a heck of a start in anyone’s estimation.

Hard work and determination should see you through this last week of writing.  I know, I know, sometimes you just think none of this makes any sense at all and why are you still here?  Because you made a commitment to yourself, and if you don’t keep the commitments you make to yourself, how in the world can anyone count on you to keep promises made to them?

You can do it! Just keep writing. Focus your full attention on what you want, (getting the novel first draft done) and head straight for the finish line.

I’ll be there waiting for you, with bells on.

What’s your number?

It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.

― Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Do you think about your age as just another number?

Have you decided you are too old to pursue your dreams?

Started on that “Bucket List” yet?

The truth is there are a lot of things that you can do to make your dreams come true at any age.  In fact, age is just a number and is irrelevant to many pursuits. The way to achieve a goal is to make a plan and try to stick to it.  Note, I said try to stick to it.  We don’t always achieve the goals we set for ourselves but people who plan are 40% more likely to succeed.

So, how do you go about forgetting your age and pursuing your dreams?

Go public with your intent.  Many times I was told growing up that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, but setting your intentions and sharing them with others is more likely to help you stay on track towards your goals.

Some of us let things go not for lack of planning, but because we bite off more than we can chew with setting unrealistic goals or attempting to fix too many flaws at one time. Baby steps when you begin a self-improvement project,  step at a time.

Remember the planners, the one’s I told you were 40% more successful? They stuck with it, beyond the initial excitement of trying something new. They generally approached it one day at a time.

Did they expect to succeed or fail?  Good question. Mostly, I’ll bet they expected to succeed, but they also had realistic goals. In other words, they knew they could not be perfect all the time.  They knew pursuing your dream to the exclusion of all else in your life was a set-up for failure, so they expected a little backsliding.  Mostly, they were human and accepted it.

Since most of the successful people are in it for the long-term, they don’t pursue the goal and when they’re done plan to have success engraved on the tombstone.  They reward themselves along the way, because they’re in it for the journey, not the destination.

They were also successful because they realized early on that things take time, and they gave their dream the time required to make it happen.

But when we come to the end of the day, and we each of us knows this in our heart, mind, and soul; they had a plan. They worked the plan and made it happen, even while they enjoyed the journey.

 

 

 

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