Tag Archives: writing fiction

Creating Romance #amwriting

Normally people don’t look too romantic. On weekends they hang around the house in comfy clothes and only get cleaned up to go somewhere. Come Monday, they dress a certain way to go to work–dressing in whatever is suitable for their business.

However, no matter how they dress for work, people always dress in their fanciest clothes if they’re going out nightclubbing, or to dinner in a fancy restaurant, or going to a party. People want to look their best, especially if they are single and hoping to find love.

The point is, no one looks good all the time in real life. In many novels, the events and action leaves them dirty and disheveled for a large portion of the story, which in real life isn’t that pretty. But what if you want to give these unkempt, stinking heroes a romance? When it comes to injecting romance into an action adventure story, the author’s task is to make the protagonists ignore the dirt and seem attractive no matter what the circumstances. There is a bit of escapism in all readers. A grand adventure with a good romance is the sort of story I will gravitate to in a heartbeat.

I love an author who manages to take her heroes and heroines through rough adventures and still make the romance between them special. Sure, let them get dirty and sweaty, and make their lives hard. That makes them feel like real people.

Just please, make any romance between them a part of the story that advances the plot.

Writing romance into a scene and not going off the rails requires skill.  Do we keep it restrained or get graphic? Would my characters really get graphic? And how much graphic is too much graphic? When do we cross the line of writing fantasy and venture into erotica?

I don’t really see myself going into that area of writing, although I understand there is a large market for it.

As for what is too much, it depends on what story I am trying to tell. In my current work in progress, innuendo and allusion are the means to convey the deeper story. In my novel, Huw the Bard, a certain amount of graphic detail was required to advance the plot, although not as much as in many other authors’ books. Because these scenes were such a small part of the story but were defining moments in his life, the romance scenes of Huw’s book required many revisions to get right. They had to be important, but couldn’t overshadow the larger story.

For me as a reader, there is a fine line between enjoying an erotic scene and feeling like a voyeur. It’s easy to write graphic details, but are they romantic? Quite often they read like the assembly instructions for a set of bookshelves from IKEA—insert tab A into slot B.

Certain words repel me, especially if they are applied with no finesse, emerging from the prose with force of a jackhammer.

The lead up to romance is critical. Are you going to have them together forever? If so, make the road to happiness difficult. We must show longing, wondering, hoping, and there must be roadblocks to instant happiness. A trail of hints and innuendo creates a sense of growing connection between two characters. Each tiny connection between two characters raises the emotional stakes, and emotions are the key to a real romance. The chase is the story—‘happily ever after’ is the epilogue.

If the romance is a brief moment of respite in a sea of chaos, a long chase is not needed. With that said, the romance between two characters who are not destined for each other must be central to advancing the plot. Whether you choose the ‘fade to black’ method (which I usually do) or get graphic (which I have done on occasion) is up to you. You must consider your intended reader and what they will expect.

When I contemplate how to portray a love scene, I want the reader to feel like it was worth the time they took to read it. I want them to care about what happens next in that couple’s relationship—if anything does. Just as in real life, sometimes true love is not meant to be.

I want to be able to stretch myself as a writer and learn more skills at telling a good tale. I try to do that by finding the works of other writers that moved me and discovering what it was about a scene (regardless of whether it involved romance or not) that made me glad I had read it.

When I write, I’m like every other author—words fall out of my head, some good and some not so elegant. And if I have written something awkward, my beta readers will graciously (or bluntly) tell me so.

Being an author isn’t always roses and wine. Sometimes it’s weeds and pickle-juice.

Writing something worth reading is hard work. It’s striving to meet the expectations of people you’ve never met, which is not easy. By working closely with a circle of trusted author friends, I have gained a better ability to step back and see my work with a less prejudiced eye.

If they don’t see the charm that I do in a certain passage, I ask myself why. Sometimes, the answer lies in the fact they don’t enjoy the sort of work I do, but very often the answer is that what I wrote was not ready for someone else to read it.

That ‘proud child’ urge to display your work in its raw stage is one we all combat. Nevertheless, for me, having the opportunity to do this full time is living the dream.

Credits and Attributions:

Galadriel and Celeborn, by Araniart [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons|Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Araniart – Galadriel and Celeborn.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Araniart_-_Galadriel_and_Celeborn.jpg&oldid=262862472 (accessed April 1, 2018).


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#amwriting: The strong novella vs. a weak novel

via buzzfeed

Sometimes we find that our work-in-progress is not really a novel after all. We get to the finish point, and that place might be only at the 40,000-word mark (or less).

In some circles, 40,000 words is a novel, but in fantasy, it is less than half a book. A short novel that has been read to shreds is far better than a long, boring book ending its days as a doorstop.

I recommend not trying to stretch the length if you have nothing of value to add to the tale. It’s better to be known for having written a strong novella than a weak novel. So, now at the end of the rough draft, your book must become a novella.

In the second draft, you will weed out many words and cut the unnecessary repetitions. The manuscript is going to both expand and contract, but when the final ms is complete, it may be only 35,000 words. But why do I think this?

I have experienced this very thing. Sometimes, when I was just finishing the rough draft, I discovered that besides the four chapters that had to go since they don’t belong there anymore, 3 more chapters were mostly background, rambling to get my personal mindset into the story. That sort of background doesn’t need to be in the finished product, other than a brief mention in conversation. Often, when I go in and remove large chunks of exposition, I’m able to condense those chapters into one passage or scene that actually moves the story forward.

Another thing to watch for when you are in the second draft, are areas where you may have repeated yourself, with a slightly different phrasing. These are hard for the author to pick out, but they can be found. Decide which phrasing you like the best, and go with that.

Also in the rough draft, we use a lot of words we can cut or find alternatives for, words and phrases that weaken our narrative:

  • There was
  • To be

We change these words to more active phrasing, and sometimes we gain a few words in the process.

In conversations especially, it’s good to use contractions. ‘Was not’ becomes ‘wasn’t,’ ‘has not becomes hasn’t,’ etc.

It’s amazing how many times we can simply cut some words out, and find the prose is stronger without them. Many times they need no replacement.

Sometimes we use what I think of as “crutch” words. You can really lower your word-count when you look at each instance and see if you can get rid of these words. These are overused words that fall out of our heads along with the good stuff as we are sailing along:

  • so,
  • very,
  • that,
  • just,
  • literally
  • very

The fact is, you must be willing to be ruthless. Yes, you may well have spent three days or even weeks writing a chapter you are about to cut. But now that you see it in the context of the overall story arc, you realize it is bogging things down, and NO–Sometimes there is no fixing it. Just because we wrote something does not mean we have to keep it in the story.

But do save it in a separate file, as you may be able to use it later. I always have a file folder labeled “Outtakes.” Many times those cut pieces become the core of a new story.

I strongly feel that no matter how much you like the prose you have just written for a given chapter, if the chapter or passage does not advance the story, it must go.

Pay close attention to the story arc. Large chunks of exposition flatten it, pushing the plot point back, and the reader may give up. Once you have your rough draft complete, measure the tale against the blueprint of the story arc.

  • Where does the inciting incident occur?
  • Where does the first pinch point occur?
  • What is happening at midpoint? Are the events of the middle section moving the protagonist toward their goal?
  • Where does the third plot point occur?

short story arc

It’s not important to have written a novel. Whether you write short stories or 700-page doorstops, you are an author.  It is, however, extremely important to have written well. A powerful, well-written novella can be a reading experience that shakes the literary world:

  1. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, by Truman Capote
  3. Candide, by Voltaire
  4. Three Blind Mice, by Agatha Christie
  5. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson
  6. The Time Machine, by H.G, Wells
  7. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
  8. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
  9. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
  10. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James


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#amwriting: the point of no return

Epic Fails memeIn life we often find ourselves boxed into a corner, frantically dealing with things we could have avoided if only we had paid attention and not ignored the metaphoric “turn back now” signs.

Imagine a road trip where you are sent off on a detour in a city you’re unfamiliar with. Imagine what would happen if some of the signs were missing, detour signs telling you the correct way to go, and also a one-way street warning sign.

At some point before you realized the signs had been removed, there was a place you could have turned back. Unaware of the danger, you passed that stopping point by and turned left when you should have turned right, and found yourself driving into oncoming traffic on a one-way street.

That safe place where you could have turned around before you entered the danger zone was the point of no return for your adventure. Fortunately, in our hypothetical road-trip no one was harmed, although you were honked at and verbally abused by the people who were endangered by your wrong turn. You made it safely out danger, but you’ll never take a detour again without fearing the worst.

In literature what is the point of no return? Scott Driscoll, on his blog, says, “This event or act represents the point of maximum risk and exposure for the main character (and precedes the crisis moment and climax).”

Epic fantasy, which is what the novels in my Tower of Bones series are, generally features a plot driven by a chain of events, small points of no return, each one progressively forcing the protagonist and his/her companions to their meeting with destiny. These scenes of action form arcs that rise to the Third Plot Point: the event that is either an actual death or a symbolic death, but which forces the hero/heroine to be greater than they believed they could be.

For me, in a gripping story, the struggle may have been fraught with hardship, but the actual point of no return is the event that forces the ultimate showdown and face-to-face confrontation with the enemy.

What if you aren’t writing epic fantasy? This series of “arcs of action” driving the plot comes into play in every novel to some degree—the protagonists are in danger  of losing everything because they didn’t recognize the warning signs, and they are pushed to the final confrontation whether they are ready for it or not.

During the build-up to the point of no return, you must develop your characters’ strengths.  Identify the protagonist’s goals early on, and clarify why he/she must struggle to achieve them.

  • How does the hero react to being thwarted in his efforts?
  • How does the villain currently control the situation?
  • How does the hero react to pressure from the villain?
  • How does the struggle deepen the relationships between the hero and his cohorts/romantic interest?
  • What complications (for the hero) arise from a lack of information regarding the conflict, and how will he/she acquire that necessary information?

800px-Singapore_Road_Signs_-_Temporary_Sign_-_Detour.svgCalamity and struggle create opportunities for your character to grow, so it is your task to litter your protagonist’s path with obstacles that stretch his/her abilities and which are believable. Each time he/she overcomes a hair-raising obstruction, the reader is rewarded with a feeling of satisfaction.

It doesn’t matter what genre you are writing in: you could be writing romances, thrillers, paranormal fantasy, or contemporary women’s lit—for all fiction, obstacles in the protagonist’s path make for satisfying conclusions. I say this because the books I love to read the most are crafted in such a way that we get to know the characters, see them in their environment, and …uh ohh…. Calamity happens, thrusting the hero down the road to divorce court, or trying to head off a nuclear melt-down. Sometimes our hero finds himself walking to Naglimund, or to the Misty Mountains with nothing but the clothes on his back.

Calamity is the fertile ground from which adventure springs, and most calamities are preceded by a point of no return. Identify this plot point, and make it subtly clear to the reader, even if only in hindsight.


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