Spring Forward and Plot Your Next Story

Spring has arrived and the sun is finally shining in Portland. While some might feel compelled to clean their house and organize their life, I felt the need to gather with friends and organize my next story.
 
So I spent this past Sunday conducting my own personal think tank with 5 wonderful friends: Susan Lute (host), Nancy Brophy, Linda Mercury, Wendy Warren and Carolyn Zane. We gathered to exchange story ideas and figure out plot points. There is power in collective creativity with people from your “tribe”. It doesn’t matter if you write the same genre. Our stories ranged from heartwarming, cozy mystery, witches, and vampires, oh my! What matters is that there is a level of trust and support among the group.
 
For the past few months, my story has been stuck in the Winter Blues. I have an idea for a paranormal young adult story and love my main characters but I couldn’t figure out the villains. This is why you need your writing buddies. When you are hesitant to give drama to your beloved characters, other writers can help you create their worst case scenarios, almost too easily and with non-concealed glee.
 
After 6 hours of exchanging ideas, the room was buzzing. I felt exhausted and excited with equal measure. Sharing your story is like sharing a secret. For the first time I had to truly explain the ins and outs of a complex story that keeps me awake at night. I spent over an hour drawing pictures and lines to connect the dots. Then I waited for the rejection. I felt like Carrie looking up to see if I was standing underneath a bucket. Instead I just felt support and suggestions from talented writers who want me to succeed. They could see a sparkle to my story and they helped me look at it from other angles.
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My only regret is that I didn’t bring a tape recorder. Not just for the notes I don’t remember but to listen to the cadence of our voices. Writers love talking about their stories and you can hear it when they speak. In fact, many writers talk about their characters like they are real people. I’m glad we were in Susan’s home because a public location would have drawn many raised eyebrows with our conversations on how best to redeem a murderous villain or why certain children needed to be orphans for everything to work out in the end.
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I left the gathering feeling three things. First, I am extremely motivated to write this story by my self-imposed October 15th deadline. Second, I also can’t wait to read their stories when completed and I will help keep them motivated. Lastly, I am lucky to have found such great writing friends.
 
If you feel energized by collective collaboration, I encourage you to find your own writing tribe and get started on organizing your own potluck plotting sessions. If you don’t know where to start and you write Happily Ever Afters, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) has local writing chapters all over the country. Writing is a solitary task but you don’t have to do it alone.
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The coffee table books of a true writer!

April Showers…

lily valleyDo April showers bring May flowers? We’ve had enough rain last month, and on a personal note, many tears too. When the Janes gathered last month at the RCRW Spring Fling I had no idea the month would end in such heartbreak: less than a week ago my two-year old Bloodhound passed away  Whether it was an accident or intentional, he was poisoned

Though my “fur-baby” Angus is gone far too soon, I try to remind myself how fortunate I’ve been to have shared my home with not just one but TWO Bloodhounds. Each one magnificent in his and her own way.

So here’s hoping the rain wraps up, the sky clears, and the blossoming flowers in the coming days of May lift everyone’s spirits. IMG_5760

 

 

 

Rose City Romance Writers Spring Fling: Cecilia Tan by Linda Mercury

Linda

Cecilia Tan, founder of Circlet Press and pioneer of alternative erotica, was one of the featured presenters at the RCRW Spring Fling in early April, 2017. I was thrilled to attend her workshop, Mastering Sensuality & Seducing the Reader.

Ms. Tan stressed the most important reason to write fiction: it is the one of the few tools we humans have to create empathy. To get us ready to find our way to empathy, she played a writing game with us.

We had to write down something that drives us nuts about either reading or writing sex scenes (mine was how much I hate “traitorous” body parts. Own your desire!). Then we wrote down a single sentence sex scene or start to a sex scene. The funniest example was, “He closed the door behind them.”

Now we were all warmed up and ready to talk about writing (not having) sex. Most participants said their trouble was mainly with what other people would think. Cecilia told us we had to block out the expectations of other people – not an easy task, but a necessary one. She suggested beginning with accepting your conditioning and programming about what is appropriate and what is not. Our own inner conflicts about sex are the magnifying glasses that allow us to discover our character’s own demons.

Next, we got down to the nuts and bolts of the craft of seducing the reader.  She discussed setting the reader’s expectations. After all, if you go to a restaurant called Giuseppe’s with red checked tablecloths, candles stuck in empty Chianti bottles, and ropes of garlic from the ceiling, you’d be pretty surprised that they served sushi. Know your audience and know yourself.

Feelings and emotions are the most important part of any love scene. You evoke emotion by choosing the words your character might use. Does this person use clinical language (pudenda, clitoris, etc.) or gutter words (cunt)? Slang (vajayjay) or something flowery (garden of desire)?

From there, think about your point of view (POV). Sex scenes are almost always in an internal first or third POV. Occasionally, second person is used in choose your own erotica or in short stories.

The POV leads to how you use dialogue and monologue. Characters are rarely silent. What do their inner and outer conversations reveal during sex? Love scenes are about being cut open and vulnerable emotionally. The through line of confession emotions pushes and draws the plot along. This is how you integrate the emotions into sex.

Emotions lead to the body language and blocking. Action will logically follow how they feel. If she is feeling shy, she will look away and blush. If he is uncertain, he will rub the back of his neck. The blocking leads you who will take the lead and what the subtext is. Also, the emotions will lead to variation in your writing – not just sexual variations like in a chair or on a horse (!) – but how long your sentences will be and how the language gets used (will he start off prim and then get more raunchy?). She pointed out, though, that feelings are more important than the action. When you write, ask the important questions: Did he make her feel good? Does she like him? Why did he lick his partner – because he wanted to? Or because of some internal quid pro quo?

The sex scene, like any scene in a story, is about change. What are the emotional changes in the characters?

All of these tools answer the most important question of a love scene: is hope sparked or crushed by the lovemaking?

***

See Jane Publish would like to thank Linda Mercury for her guest blog.

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Linda Mercury left behind varied careers as a librarian, art model, and professional clown to pursue writing.

Writing is by far my favorite! Librarians never get to read the books they manage, art models get cold, and clowns wear funny shoes.

My other passions include Middle Eastern History, reading, organizing, cooking, hand-made silk Turkish rugs, and the Nike of Samothrace.

Creating believable characters

LAST CHANCE! Don’t forget to enter my favorite romance writing contest of all time, the Golden Rose. This is the contest that got me published, but even before that I received wonderful feedback from judges who wanted to help me succeed.

Continuing the Janes roundup of the Rose City Romance Writers‘ Spring Fling Writers Conference, I’m sharing the highlights from Amy Liz Talley‘s workshop on Authentic Writing: Creating Characters & Worlds Readers Love.

Because I tend to be a plot-driven writer, I’m especially (even painfully?) conscious of the need to make sure my characters are always working as hard as they must to engage readers. Liz talked about four keys to creating believablity.

1. Flaws, secrets, and vulnerability

No protagonist should be so bad that she’s irredeemable or so good that she’s insufferable.* It’s the flaws and the need to keep secrets that make a character vulnerable and cause conflict as she tries to protect herself. And it’s also her vulnerability that makes her able to ultimately change for the better. (Hey, these are romances. Of course they change for the better!)

2. Past influences and backstory

Threaded through the on-page revelation of the character, old wounds and triumphs going all the way back to childhood — or even further into family history — help explain why a character does what she does and make her more than just a two-dimensional leaf blown anywhichway on the plot wind.

3. Consistent behavior

Faced with the twists and turns of the plot, the character should act in a way that internally consistent with the driving forces of her flaws and backstory. She’ll behave as she always has right up until the plot forces her against the black moment at the end where she must finally change.

4. Research

This is less about the characters and more about the creator. I’m not a huge fan of research — I love Wikipedia! — mostly because of how lost I can get answering an otherwise simple question about what sort of ionized gas is emitted from a black hole. But Liz had a great example: Since she was speaking in Portland, Oregon, in the spring, she noticed all the plants she doesn’t have where she lives in Louisiana near the Texas border. And they don’t have tulips in the spring! Too warm for the bulbs to overwinter. To create a believable world, a writer needs to know what springs from the very dirt of your creation. No pressure!

Spring is a great time for creation. And since Oregon is having one of its wettest rainy seasons on record, I’m getting a lot of indoor computer time. Hope you are finding inspiration from our Spring Fling recaps!

* Obviously, these are guidelines, not “teh rulz”!

A finalist in both RWA’s prestigious Golden Heart award and RITA award, Liz Talley has found a home writing sassy contemporary romance. Her stories are set in the South where the tea is sweet, the summers are hot and the men are hotter. Liz lives in North Louisiana with her childhood sweetheart, two handsome children, three dogs and a mean kitty.

You can visit Liz at www.liztalleybooks.com to learn more about her upcoming books, including her most recent ALL THAT CHARM, the latest in a series about best friends who are each bequeathed the chance to make the most of their lives and love.

 

For the Love of Sticky Notes – Lessons from Farrah Rochon

All the Janes from See Jane Publish recently attended Rose City Romance Writer’s annual Writing Conference. This year the presenters were Allyson Longueria, Farrah Rochon, Amy Liz Talley, and Cecilia Tan and we decided that each of us would write about our lessons learned from each class. It’s my privilege to share with you my admiration for Farrah Rochon and our mutual love for Sticky Notes.

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(Left to Right) Jessa Slade, Farrah Rochon and Jessie Smith

Farrah’s presentation was called “For Serious Plotters Only: How to go from an idea to a fully-developed plot before you ever type Chapter One”. As a reminder, there are generally three types of writers:

Pantsers: People who write by “the seat of their pants”. They don’t outline their stories. They feel like if they know where the story is going, it’s not fun to write it.

Plotters: People who like to plot out their story before they begin to write their story. They enjoy the security of knowing exactly where their story is headed on the pages.

Both: People who do a little of both methods. They do some plotting to jumpstart their stories but leave gaps for creative inspiration.

The way people write their stories is part of their own personal process and there isn’t a specific method that works for all types of writers but there are some universal tips to help train your brain to bring out your best story. In Farrah’s presentation, we learned about the power of post-it notes. With my Type A personality, I was immediately drawn to the idea of color coding my thoughts to double check that my storyline and character arcs were fully developed and left nothing unresolved for the readers.

Farrah walked everyone through her process of taking an science project tri-fold heavy-duty poster board, which would naturally break-up the white space into 3 sections and create chapters with two different color notes, one for the heroine and one for the hero. This gave her an overall view of her story and allowed her to make sure both characters were active participants in their happily ever after. I had seen this process before and it was within my writing comfort zone.

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My ah-ha moment was her other example. When she was under a tight deadline, she did the opposite process. After she wrote the story, she used the post-it process to make sure she covered all her bases. She went beyond a two color system and even used different shapes to cover certain subplots and additional characters.

The post-it note plotting process can be used to create your story and then validate that authors included all the necessary elements. I love plotting stories and the fact that I can do it twice made my heart happy. Of course, there is a danger is that I will spend too much time plotting and not enough time actual writing but for now, I am having the time of my life covering my wall like a television detective trying to solve a homicide.

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Now for those who are still following me down the rabbit hole, there is a whole new level of plotting for the extremists.  Did you know that there is actual dry erase paint? You can paint an entire wall with a material that will allow you to write from base to ceiling with dry erase markers. I feel like I have found my summer home improvement project. If you have already done this to a wall, please share your experiences with us.

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