Wednesday, February 28, 2007

AMAZING GRACE


There is a new movie being released that I believe could be life-altering.

It's called AMAZING GRACE and it is the story of William Wilberforce and John Newton. (0fficial site is www.amazinggracemovie.com)

I saw the preview for this the other night on tv and instantly was on board because it stars Ioan Gruffudd, who is best loved for his role of Horatio Hornblower and sadly probably better known as Reid Richards from the Fantastic Four. I am a huge Hornblower fan, having all episodes on DVD and so yesterday I went to the official movie site.

Made by the makers of "RAY", the cast is stellar. Gruffudd, Albert Finney, Romola Garai, Rufus Sewell, Ciaran Hinds, Michael Gambon....just to name a few. And let me tell you, if you can go to the site, watch the video clips there and NOT need tissues, you have a cold, hard heart. I didn't even make it through the first trailer. By the end, when I got to the clip "The Story behind Amazing Grace" I was in a full-blown crying jag.

When Band of Brothers came out, it changed the way I not only watched television but the way I viewed the world. I think this movie could have the same effect. Wilberforce was often a lone voice in trying to stop the slave trade and Ioan was the perfect choice for this role. I am reminded of Horatio in the short clips I watched....he's young, principled, energetic, willing to stand up...yet always with this sense that he's feeling things quite deeply. This will sound strange but I am SO proud of him for taking on a role like this. I truly believe it is the role of a lifetime, not in box office terms but in relevance and the intricate richness of the character.

Based on the clips alone, Albert Finney should be in line for an Oscar. How anyone can not be touched by William's impassioned pleas, I don't know. When William says, "No matter how loud you shout, you will not drown out the voice of the people!" I lose it every time. And when Finney, as a blind John Newton says he knows two things: "I'm a great sinner and Christ is a great saviour", it is the stuff of legend.

It's not out here yet, but when it is, I'm absolutely going.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Streaking past....

Just a quick note because I'm in crisis management this week...hopefully all will relax by Thursday.

BUT, because I was shopping online for dh's birthday (which is Saturday, I know, I should have thought of this before) I ended up on Amazon.ca and Chapters.ca. And guess what. HIRED BY THE COWBOY is up with covers and everything!

It's so exciting seeing it up there. It's also up on the amazon.co.uk site. I simply adore this cover. Love it love it love it.

Ok...now I'm back to focus - I have exactly 2 hours to work before I have to be somewhere else.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Construction Zone - 7. Voice


Don't mind the empty cylinder - I'm in revisions which means at least part of my brain is running on empty.

OK...on with Voice.

At this point you've started your book. You know who your characters are, you know your basic plot, and you've begun crafting those annoying opening chapters that need to work SO very hard.

You will probably want to shoot me for saying it all doesn't matter at all without voice.

I should be working on revisions right now - they came yesterday - but I am writing this partially because of them, not in spite of. My revisions are fairly substantial, perhaps a little more than I expected, in some ways harder and in others, not so much. But even though I understand and even expected the comments made, it does not mean they are easy fixes. They make sense, but they are not changes I can make in a day or two.

Then, last night, I went to my local RWA chapter meeting and the topic was on voice.

What a difficult topic! How do you define it? The speaker read pieces that several writers had sent her. And each perspective was as different as, well, that person's voice! LOL. But perhaps the simplest definition I can give you is this...voice is YOUR personality, ON THE PAGE.

This doesn't mean your heroine is a copy of you. But it is a blend of many things. It's the way you see the world, your personality, the language you use, the rhythm of your language all rolled up into one package that is as individual as you are. When you read an author with a strong voice, you will recognize that voice over and over again. Some think that you need to let go of all the rules in order to let your voice shine through. Others think that you need to know craft before your voice can find the proper place in your writing. It's all very confusing.

I'll tell you what I think, and how it worked for me.

I think voice happens when you turn off your internal editor and you immerse yourself in your characters. I think you sometimes need to stop thinking so much about HOW to write the story, what the rules are, and just write it. That being said, I think you need to know the rules, be comfortable with the rules, and the boundaries so that unconsciously you can let your voice free without causing complete anarchy. :-) Your book is your child. Children thrive on structure...because then they are secure enough to take chances, explore freedoms. Interesting, isn't it!

In order for this to happen, you have to write, and write a lot. And you might not understand voice very much until you find it and have that "aha!" moment! Now, just like there are some people who sell their first book, some people find their voice right away. But I think for the majority of writers this takes some time and practice. For me it was book 4. Now pay attention: my first sale was I believe, book 8. I hit a groove with book 4 and it was the first book that got a full request. The other thing that happened with book 4 is that I knew where I needed to be targeting my work - Harlequin Romance. I recognized the boundaries, the rules, and the style of my writing enough to clue in to where it probably belonged. It was also at the point in my life where I think I finally grew up enough to be comfortable with myself, and that confidence spilled over into my writing I think.

That book is cringeworthy now, IMO, but it served a huge purpose. My voice kept developing as my craft evolved and I wrote, wrote, wrote - until I got to a point where I was writing publishable material.

Let's put this in present tense now. I took some big risks with Home Fires. First of all, I picked a topic that's not so easy. Then I gave myself a difficult hero, very different from my first two cowboy heroes. I struggled with this ms from pretty much day one. And when revisions came, they were not unexpected, but they ARE fairly heavy.

I asked my editor a question about the ending which will be changing, and then proposed a new take on it. Her response was thanking me for running with the idea and making it my own. And she also said everything was totally fixable.

Which brings me back to something I said last night - You can fix everything, but you can't fix voice. Making it my own means making changes in my own individual way and it's something I'm learning I'm fairly good at. Thank goodness! The mechanics of the story can be fixed. The most important thing is to fix them in your own voice, with your own stamp of individuality so you don't edit that spark right out of your story.

As you're writing your current project, read it out loud. Does the dialogue sound comfortable to you? Do your words flow off your tongue, or have you used vocabulary you THINK you should, rather than what comes naturally? All that is part of your voice.

My editor's note, combined with last night's meeting made me feel so much more confident about making these changes. Because the changes are just mechanics. Who I am on the page? That's just fine. :-)

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Interview on Romance Junkies

I did an interview for Romance Junkies last month and it's up.

The questions were a lot of fun and I had a great time answering. To see the interview, click on this link.

I highly suspect that tomorrow at some point my revisions will land in my inbox, so the blog may be quiet while I get at those. Once they are handed in, and I go back to the Marshal, I'll start up The Construction Zone again with a new topic...not sure which one. There's pace, voice, sexual tension....which one would YOU like to hear about first?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Tagged! Sigh....

Kris is just doing this in retaliation for my vent this morning on IM, I know it. But I'll oblige anyway because I'm not in the frame of mind to do anything serious this morning.

Ten random things about myself....post who you're tagging and their names, go to their blogs and tell them they've been tagged and then to read your blog....

1. I put my scrambled eggs on TOP of my toast and jam.

2. I got caught for speeding 2 weeks after getting my driver's license, because I didn't want to miss curfew. I missed it anyway.

3. I can't sleep if my feet are cold.

4. I procrastinate by picking split ends off the bottom layer of my hair.

5. I've been stung three times in my life. Two of those times, it's been in my ass.

6. I've been a Jamie Bamber fangirl for three years. Ok, this one isn't so much a secret.

7. As a teenager, I had an unconscious habit of dating my best friend's exes...at least SOME of the time. :-)

8. I organize my alphabetized information BEHIND the letter, not in front of it. Drives my husband crazy when he looks for something in the recipe box.

9. I have ugly feet.

10. When I eat chicken noodle cup-a-soup I drink all the broth and strain out the noodles with my spoon - and then eat the noodles last.

I'm tagging:

Michelle Styles
Trish Wylie
Julie Cohen
Fiona Harper

Funny enough all these people are trying to meet a deadline right now. :-)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day, and a new look!

Ok, so yes, I'm having trouble focusing on a new WIP while waiting to hear the verdict on my latest offering. So I've been tinkering with my website and stuff and not learning as much about html as I'd like and perhaps too much about how I'm easily frustrated. Baby steps, I guess. One of the things I'd ultimately like to do is have my blog and website more unified...if not identical, then at least some sort of unity. This is my latest attempt - changing the look of the blog and colour scheme just a bit. Bear with me as little changes may continue until I'm happy. I do think, however, that the purple is here to stay. LOL

The good news is, I AM making progress on the new story, and I think it shows some promise.

Other things happening this week are Liz Fielding's Q&A on the Fractured Family at e-harlequin, and this month is the Romance Launch Party on the Pink Heart Society yahoo loop! A huge contingent of Harlequin Romance authors are present and talking about the exciting merger which blends Silhouette Romance with Harlequin Romance into one super-duper line!

And let's not forget, today is Valentine's Day. Are you doing anything special? My husband and I tend to keep it low-key. Although I confess to sneaking a note and a small treat into his lunchbag today when he left for work! :-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Your Questions Answered - Part Two!

Ok Janet...here goes! First your question, then my response.

Donna, when you slip snippets of character backstory into chapter to give your writing a contemporary feel is it best to a)show it in dialogue eg: Character A says to h: 'I really worry about you. Eveyone one needs to relax every now and then...etc'Or b)have the author add it in a very short piece of telling: Since splitting up with X, h's life had been one long round of work. She'd kept telling herself it wouldn't be forever but somehow...etcOrc) have the character think it eg: yes, her life was completely dictated by her work. So what? Being a brain surgeon was a dream come true..etc

Well, Janet, you’re going to hate me for this, but I’m going to say all three.

After all, if you use only one method, things are going to be kind of boring, aren’t they? LOL

Part of this answer also depends on your voice. My local rwa chapter is having a talk on voice next week, so I think I’ll blog about it after that. Because voice is hard. But I’ll tell you a secret I realized while drafting Home Fires. My paragraphs have a rhythm. A way that I structure them, blending dialogue with emotional and physical beats and narrative. They have, I hope, a balance. That’s not to say in some bits there’s less of some and more of another…for example, you are naturally going to have areas that are snappier, heavier on dialogue and others that are thicker with narrative…that ebb and flow of pacing (ah yes, another topic!).
Vicki Hinze has a great article on backstory. In it she explains that you should blend the background with the action, and to choose details that bring a desired response to your reader, in other words, something that helps the reader relate to your character and understand their motivations. So that we know that even if they are doing the wrong thing, they are doing it for reasons that makes sense to them.
I’ve rustled up an example for you. In looking at it, I realize I use the dialogue to set the tone between Grace and Mike… from the WAY that she speaks to him, we realize they have a history. The emotional beats are her thoughts, and this makes up most of it. Her thoughts are tied to narrative…because we are firmly in her POV at the beginning.

These are the first few pages of Marriage at Circle M….and I’ve bolded the spots where I added in backstory. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if I should bold or not…and I think that’s a good thing because the backstory should blend in as seamlessly as possible.

When Mike Gardner came walking up the path in just that way, Grace knew she was in trouble.

And when he stopped at the foot of her stepladder, hooked his thumbs in his jeans pockets and squinted up at her, she gripped her paintbrush tighter so as not to drop it. Mike was all long, lazy strides and sexy smiles, and despite her best intentions, she’d never been able to remain immune to his charm. Not since she’d hit puberty, anyway.

“Mornin’, Grace,” the words didn’t exactly drawl, but were drawn out just enough to give that impression.

Grace straightened her shoulders and did her best to look nonchalant as she swiped another stripe of white paint over the window trim. “Hello, Mike.”

Great. Now why in the world did those two words come out all breathless, anyway?

She had to remember that it wasn’t all that long go that she’d made a fool of herself where Mike was concerned. It had been years since there had been anything between them. But she’d had a little too much punch, there’d been a little too much giggling and she’d blurted out one very ill-thought out sentence. She still felt the heat of her embarrassment and every time they met now, she did everything she could to assure him – to assure herself, even, that Mike Gardner was completely resistible. Lord knew he didn’t need her fawning over him the way the rest of the female population seemed to. Without thinking, she tucked an errant strand of blonde hair back behind her ear, leaving it streaked with paint.

“You’re up with the birds,” he commented, a lazy smile creeping up his cheek as she chanced a look down at him.

And you knew I would be, or you wouldn’t be here so early.” She pointedly checked her watch. “It’s seven-forty-six.”

“It is?” His chin flattened ever so slightly. “I’m sorry, I thought it was later.”

“You’ve likely been up and done chores already.”

“Yes.”

Darn him. She couldn’t just stand up on the stepladder like an idiot, carrying on a conversation that was barely holding its own. Besides, she was all too aware that his height, paired with her distance up the ladder put his line of vision right at her backside. She sighed, put her brush across the top of the paint-smeared can and took a step down – and her dew-slick sneaker slipped on the metal step.

His hands were there to catch her.

“Whoa, there.”

She shrugged off his touch. It felt far too strong and too good. “I’m not one of your horses, Mike.”

He laughed. “No ma’am. You sure aren’t.”

It wasn’t fair. She’d had a thing for Mike since she was fourteen, but he’d always treated her like a kid sister. An annoying one. For a brief time, when she’d been in high school, they’d been more. But that seemed a lifetime ago. For him to flirt now…weeks after she’d made a complete idiot of herself, it was too much. That one little slip of the lip was the only time she’d ever come close to telling him how she felt, and at the time he’d only laughed at her.

She was older…and far wiser now at twenty-seven.
There was no room in her life for schoolgirl crushes. She planted her hands on her hips and stared him down. “Look, you obviously didn’t come around for idle chit-chat, so tell me what’s on your mind so I can get back to work.”

Mike had to turn away to hide his smile. She was good and irritated, he could tell. And besides that, she looked wonderful this morning, almost too good. Her blonde hair was tucked into some sort of strange clip, and little pieces tangled around her ears. Her eyes flashed at him now, icy blue with annoyance. Looking up that stepladder at her slim, tanned legs had almost made him forget why he was here. And steadying her with his arms as she’d slipped had wiped his brain clean of any other thoughts whatsoever. He liked the feel of his hands on her skin.

He stepped back, ignoring her jab, instead turning to survey the small yellow bungalow she called home…(I cut some description because it got line edited in the final version)

“You’re painting.”

She kept her eyes front as if refusing to look at him. “Your powers of deduction astound me. What tipped you off?”

He ignored that bit of sarcasm too. She had to be tired, after all. The drips down the side of her paint can were fresh; she’d obviously been at it a while before he showed up. And he knew for a fact that she’d been up late last night, because her lights had been on when he’d been on his way back from town at nearly one o’clock. He wished…he wished she didn’t have to work so hard for everything. But he was the last person who could make things better for her. At least for right now he was.

“How do you find time to do everything, Grace? Every time I see you you’re busy at something.”

By getting up at five a.m., she thought. Instead she shoved her hands in the pockets of her shorts. “It keeps me out of trouble.”

“Then I sure hate to ask what I’m about to.”

Mike was serious, she realized, pushing away the urge to use sarcasm as a shield against him. Normally he said nothing at all or what he did say was disarming and funny. But Grace had known him long enough to know when he was troubled. And the tone of his voice right now told her something was definitely going on. When he merely stared at her house longer, she wrinkled her brow and went to him, gently placing a paint-splattered hand on his forearm.

What’s wrong?”


I hope that helps, Janet. The odd sentence here and there can keep your pacing going, give the correct information, and avoid information dumps. FWIW, I got rid of a few dumps in this story upon revision…not pages and pages, but trickling it in as beats and thoughts works much better than a long paragraph of straight narrative. It comes down to showing it rather than telling us what we need to know.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Your Questions, Answered! (Part One)

Before I move on, I'm going to address a few things that have come up in comments.

First of all, Allison, you are very welcome. I'm glad you've found the series helpful in some way. Sometimes I wonder if my ramblings make ANY sense to anyone other than myself. :-)

Janet is FULL of questions and good ones too! First of all, we'll hit the "plot" question. She said, "Spotting unnecessary plot contrivances is quite difficult. Any thoughts on what questions we could ask about the event to help us decide if it's a contrivance or not?"

The easy answer is...is the event the direct result of something that's already happened. If no, look at it again. In other words, is it something that is happening TO your character causing a REACTION instead of PROACTION. Reactive characters...ones that react to WHAT is happening instead of being PROACTIVE (using their motivations) can be the death knell to your ms finding its way to publication.

Is the event out of the blue? Is everything going on swimmingly and then BAM! something happens? This is what I call monkey wrench syndrome. If you don't have enough conflict for your characters, you feel the need to throw a complication in their way...a monkey wrench into the works. I'm guilty of it. And these things are spotted a mile away, trust me.

Now..that's not to say you can't have ANY external plot. Something has got to put these two characters in the same place at the same time. And you CAN get away with a spot or two. It can add drama. I'll give you a cryptic sort of example, because I don't want to give away the ending of Hired By The Cowboy. But I do have an external event close to the ending and it brings things to a nice emotional pitch, I think. However, a few chapters earlier, I had to rewrite an entire scene, because it, added in with the other, made for too much external conflict. That scene changed so that what happened came from WITHIN my heroine, not from her REACTING to something else that happened. My editor was very astute making me change that.

I hope that helped.

Tomorrow I'll tackle Janet's next question which deals with my post on beginnings!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Construction Zone - 6. Beginnings


I didn't choose this picture randomly.

Beginnings are one of the hardest things to get right. I bet if I surveyed a pretty wide swath of romance authors, they'd say that they spend more time on those first three chapters than at any other point in the book. They will probably also admit that those three change more than any other section as well.

Why? My opinion is that it's because those beginnings are the foundation upon which your book is built. Weak foundation...boy, are you going to be doing a lot of patch-up work later. But you make your opening chapters solid, and even when things go wrong, you have a solid foundation to go back to.

Already I am having to backtrack - and I just finished the draft of chapter one. And you know what? This is another reason why KNOWING YOUR CHARACTERS is so important. Chapter one was flat. I knew it, my CP confirmed it. Motivations are missing, especially for my heroine. Now...I thought for a while, considered a suggestion she made, and it started taking shape in my mind. My heroine now has a whole other level of backstory. Boys and girls, I was only 14 pages in and already I'd made a pretty big mistake.

But this is what opening chapters are for. You learn right away whether or not your conflict will be sustainable. You gather more insight into motivations as you "meet" your characters, not only in your background work but as they interact with EACH OTHER. You get the foundation down. Then after the whole book is drafted, and I do the layering, I know a lot more than I did at the beginning. So most of my layering happens in the front end - I'd guess probably chapters 1-6.

Laying a strong foundation isn't easy. You need to introduce your characters. You need to have them TOGETHER. You need to show them feeling attraction and also introduce your conflict. You have to add in elements of backstory. But it's early days. So you have to do all of this carefully...while keeping the PACE going. It's one huge balancing act and that's probably why we spend so much bloody time on it.

I send my partial mss to my editor now with a caveat: "Here it is, but I'm sure it'll change by the end." I don't mean rewritten, but layers will be added. As I go through, there will be more depth. Sending the partial means if there are any gaping holes or serious flaws, they are brought to light right away. So far I haven't had that happen, thank goodness. I credit most of that to my CP, who has a great eye and points out those things right away. Like she did this morning. So now I'm off to revise my chapter and move forward into chapter two, knowing that first building block is a lot more solid.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Construction Zone - 5. Plot


I wasn't going to talk about plot at all, but I will touch on it briefly since it will tie in to my next topic, which is going to be BEGINNINGS.

For Harlequin Romance, (and I emphasize this because as I stated before, other types of writing demand heavier plots)this is my rule: External conflict: BAAAAAD. Internal conflict: GOOOOOD. The book I sent them BEFORE Hired By The Cowboy sold, came back as relying to heavily on external elements. It's what I guess you'd call "contrived situations". Don't throw external monkey wrenches in and have your characters react. Let the conflict come from within.

Of course, not all external conflict is bad. You DO need to have a plot. But you know, plot is minimal. In thinking of the Bella Brides series, each book has the underlying plot of the Valentine restaurants "directing" things. And each book has its own hook that gets the ball rolling. But is that the focus of the book? Nuh uh. First and foremost, as always, the characters and their internal conflict drive the book.

Even is there is an external element, it all comes down to the STORY being about how the characters deal with it. For example, in Hired By THe Cowboy, Connor is about to lose the family ranch. The reason why is external. How he deals with that information, though, forms the crux of his conflict. Alex is pregnant and alone. She is running out of options. External. But how she chooses to deal with that, the way her character thinks and feels as she goes on her own journey through the book, is what carries her character.

I think I'll summarize my thoughts on plot with this...WHAT happens in the book is simply a platform for the characters to fall in love, to grow, to get to their HEA.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Construction Zone 4. Setting


I've read lots and heard many writers talk about setting at length. And you know what? It doesn't really intrigue me. That sounds awful, I know. But I don't let setting have too much power. For me, the focus needs to be on my protagonists and the rest need to support that. Supporting role ONLY.

We'll talk about Hired By The Cowboy and Marriage at Circle M first, as they are my first 2 Harlequin Romances and are set in the same place.

When Connor and Alex meet, it's in the city, and they are strangers. It's a very different world from the ranch, and when Alex first goes to Windover Ranch, Connor suddenly seems to make sense. The pace is different. The space is wide open and isolated. The setting for the book isn't so much Sundre, but Windover. And the house itself serves not only as a setting but as a symbol to Alex. It symbolizes a life she's never had before, a life she wants but one that is still just beyond her reach.

Use your settings to enhance your characters and storyline.

I used the same setting for Marriage at Circle M, but the feel is different. For one thing, Mike is building his OWN house on Windover land. There is a little more of the small town.

Choosing the right spot for your story to take place, and getting little details right to enhance your story, adds another vivid layer and will contribute to making your book come alive. Yet there's one aspect of setting we haven't talked about yet, and that's WHEN your story takes place.

This is even more important to me, I think. Choosing what time of year my story takes place is central. Could you write the same story in another season? Think about it. If you did, would it be the same story? What is it about the season you've chosen that makes it the RIGHT time?

I set HBTC in early summer. The timing was perfect, IMO. Spring was over, the days were unseasonally warm (as often happens here in May/June). Things were blooming to life...the hay, the garden, Alex's baby was growing inside her...their feelings were blooming too. Then, the rodeo is always late June, so May/June/July were the perfect months for the story to take place.

Marriage at Circle M, on the other hand, wasn't about blooming. It was about wooing and healing, and I used the mellow, golden warmth of autumn. Lazy sunny days and cool nights. It also fell over Thanksgiving (Canadian, which is early October) which added another element. Could I have set it in spring, or winter? Maybe. But I honestly don't think those seasons would have blended with the characters and their development the same way that using the fall did. In fact, I'd wager that if I wrote the same book over, using the same characters and setting but changing the season to late winter, I'd actually have a different book.

Think about books you've read, written or the one you're currently writing. Is the setting in the foreground or background? Is it subtly working over time? Which season are you in...and how does that enhance the plot/character development? For me, working on setting is as easy as being aware of it. If I work too hard at it, it takes over. If I'm merely aware of how it SHOULD function, it seems to find its proper place in the balance of the book. I use the 90/10 rule like I do with research. 90% of what I know stays out. The other 10% goes in and does its job.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Construction Zone - 3. Research



Today's post won't be super long, because IMO you shouldn't over do research.

Did that get your attention? I hope so. Because research IS necessary. And it can be annoying and tedious or great fun. Or a blend of both. For sake of familiarity, I'm going to stick with research for what I write - contemporary romance. If you are writing suspense, you need to research things like forensics. Procedure. Possibly even profiling. And ask my crit partner Michelle Styles about research for historicals. I for one, don't know how she does it. But contemporary is different.

The bulk of any research I do is based mostly on two things. 1. Where the story is taking place, and 2. The professions of the characters. My theory is you will do all your research and approximately 10% will actually make it into you story.

Setting: This can be fun or an utter drag. And since I'm going to tackle setting in a future post, I'll give you the lowdown on what you need to know. If you're creating your own town, you need to model it after something in the nearby area. If you're setting your book on the US East Coast, things are going to look a little different than they do in, say, the midwest. Once you have the basics, though, you can create whatever you want to go in your town or city.

If you're basing your story in a real place, however, you need to be a little more accurate. My first 2 Romances are set in and around the town of Sundre in Alberta. I know much more about Sundre than ever makes it into the book. But little details...for example, the main drag is actually Main Avenue and not Main Street - those all add authenticity. And researching the town was fun. It's about an hour and a half away, so I made a few visits, visited the museum, talked to a lady at the town office, and took my kids on a picnic. :-) I also visited the town website and googled Sundre, looking for interesting pictures and happenings. I kept my description of the rodeo vague, but there IS a pro-rodeo there every June. Those are researched details that made it in.

The bulk of my research is professions. Being a farm girl, the ranch thing wasn't too difficult. But with the book I just handed in, my hero was a former sniper in the Canadian Military. And this is where the internet community comes in really handy. I had questions ranging from uniforms to rank to equipment...and after putting out a call on e-harlequin, was contacted by a WONDERFUL resource who answered all my questions. In fact, I wasn't completely sure how the book was going to end until I brainstormed with Doug. But I ran into a problem. I really wanted to get the details right, so I read several articles on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I read a book on Peace Keeping and another on the Friendly Fire incident a few years back in Afghanistan. Plus all my e-mails back and forth to Doug and his wife. And there were times that the details simply just started to take over. The whole idea was so fascinating to me that I got carried away, and I simply had to stop, cut some things, rediscover my focus.

The good news is that I learned a lot from the draft of Home Fires. Mostly about what NOT to do. Just ask my CP, I worked her like a dog. Now, I'm starting a new story and this one is a US Marshal. I have a research source again - a friend who is a Marshal in the States. But while getting the information is wonderful and frankly really interesting, I know I have to use a much lighter hand in the new book. And that leads into the topic of focus, which we'll discuss once we get into the actual writing and the meat of the thing.

On a side note....I don't have time to find my ticker thingy but I lost 4 lbs in January. Slow, but steady I guess. At least it's going in the right direction.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The Construction Zone 2. Know Your Characters!


First of all, there's a new review up for Almost a Family at RRT today.

Secondly, Janet asked a question in my comments section on yesterday's post, and because I want to answer, I'm going to talk about it today and save research for another day.

She asked, Donna, do you do all that goal motivation and conflict thing (outer and inner charts as advised by Deb Dixon) or do you just start exploring your characters' situation and see where that takes you?

That's a really good question because Goal, Motivation and Conflict are what keeps your story going. You can have two characters but not care a jot about the story if there's no conflict. I don't do charts, in fact I don't even really sit down and say, "OK, what's the GMC for my hero/heroine?" I'm more a "explore the character's situation and see where that takes me."

But it's not that simple, not at all. It's more than a situation. And that's where I have the most fun. Characters need to be full people to me, with a past, a present, and a future. If you do the legwork, the GMC will smack you in the face! Or it should. If you know your characters inside and out, what makes them tick...then you're going to know what they want. (Goal) You're going to know WHY they want it (motivation) and you're going to know exactly what the opposite character is going to do to get in the way of that (conflict). Delving deeper into conflict, you might know reasons why what the character wants is in conflict with their greatest fears (internal conflict). And when you look at your basic plot, you're going to have other elements that will serve to keep them apart (external conflict).

So it all comes down, for me anyway, to knowing your characters.

Now, this might not work if you're writing something longer than series contemporary. Or what if you're writing romantic suspense? Let's face it. Romance as a line is a character based line. There's not a lot of room for external plot, and I'll tackle plot on another day. We'll just leave it now with the recognition that some genres/subgenres are more reliant on external plot than others. But even so, you STILL need to know your characters. I recently read The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. I enjoyed both, and probably should have read Angels and Demons first because I learned a lot more about Robert Langdon in that book. Still...I felt both books were short on character development.

When you know your characters, you not only know what they want, why, and what's going to stand in their way, but you know little things. Perhaps things that they've said, or how they'll react to a certain situation. Tiny details like their favourite colour or food that aren't necessarily important but can add that little extra bit of SOMETHING to your story. Helping it move from ordinary to vivid, rich and personal. It helps make your characters memorable. And it's important to remember that even after doing all that work, sometimes your characters will show you things about themselves that you didn't even know. For example, in writing the last few chapters of Marriage at Circle M, my hero, Mike, realized something about the heroine that totally threw me for a loop - but made perfect sense and added another layer of conflict that brought SO much together.

So how do I go about meeting my characters? Some people do interviews, but that's not really worked for me. I start with an image - hence the casting yesterday - and then I use a worksheet straight from Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. Questions like What do they have that they value most in the world? What trait do they most want to keep hidden from the world can be really illuminating. And many of your answers may never see the light of day in your manuscript. But YOU know, and if YOU know, it'll come across in your story. Then as I go along, my critique partner will ask questions. Tough ones. Each one I think about makes my character more rounded.

Your characters won't just be on the page, but they'll LIVE. And for me, that's the whole point.