Writing Tips

Below are some writing articles. Hope the writers among you find them useful!

(Beware!  This page is under construction! I’m having link issues.)

Building Character
Growing an Idea

Building Character

How many times have you heard someone say, “Read this one–the hero’s a hunk”? But a romance hero is far more than his hunky appearance. We build heroes and heroines out of traits and behavior. Characterization.

Believable characters are born in deep-down impulses and flaws that provoke empathy. Characterization is often the motivation that drives our plots. Empathy for our characters drives readers to keep turning pages.

A lifelike character balances so-called good impulses and not-so-attractive flaws. A shy, but hardworking caterer heroine becomes more interesting when she picks up a rolling pin to protect her baby sister from burglars. Manly Mr. Alpha Hero can be so arrogant and autocratic he jars a modern woman’s teeth, but he hears a kitty mewing on his roof and something within him won’t let him rest until he shinnies up the drainpipe in the snowy night to effect a rescue.

What sends the hero onto the waving drainpipe? What circumstances formed this man? Was his father a traveling salesman who rarely came home during the week? Did his mom drop his dog off in the woods one day after it bit a neighbor’s pet? Did she try to persuade the hero the dog stood a better chance roaming free than with animal control?

And when he gets to the roof and finds himself at the caterer’s attic apartment window, what makes her wield her rolling pin rather than calling the police? Had she been abused by a spouse? Is that why she’s living at home with her baby sister? Did the police doubt her story?

How do you discover the incidents that have formed your characters? Try the Internet. You’ll find a character checklist on the “Learn to Write” channel on www.eHarlequin.com. Many writers also provide checklists you can use to create lives for your hero and heroine that place them in conflict with each other.

When our caterer sees the hero and his kitty, does she open the window or shut the blind? Does she live with her sister because her abusive husband killed her parents, but persuaded the police he was innocent? He’s whispered, “I meant to get you. Someone you trust will kill you.” She’ll never trust a guy enough–no matter how many kittens he’s clutching– to ask him in.

But our hero sees her fear and descends the drainpipe cursing her for all eternity even as he thinks she needs saving more than the scratching, hissing feline ever did. He can’t ignore a compulsion to discover why the caterer upstairs would rather let a man break his neck than give him safe passage.

This woman who refuses help and the man who can’t bear to see a living being in need, will be in conflict. She’ll resist any offer of assistance or protection, but he won’t be able to stop offering. Their lives have formed them into characters worth writing about. Just keep asking why they do what they do.

Growing an Idea

Ideas. They’re magical! They show up–we grab them, coax them, do battle with them. We writers have a working relationship with ideas.

Where do we find them? They find us–if we’re open to them. Read. Watch movies. Listen to music. Look in your newspaper. Eavesdrop on the guy you share a bench with at your daughter’s ballet class.

Is that cell phone attached to his ear because he’s embarrassed at hanging around dance classes? Is he too focused on work to pay attention to his daughter? Is he instructing an accomplice to hide the body of the client he murdered on his way out of his office?

Notice the questions above. Which interests you more? I want a client list, but maybe you want to know if this is a single dad finishing his day’s work on the phone so he’ll have time to share dinner and a good-night book with his daughter. The important thing is this: Dad showed up on the bench and we began to ask questions about him.

On a practical note, I hope you have paper and pen with you. Hey, you can find out what Dad has in his briefcase if you borrow a sheet of paper.

Write down your ideas. Puzzle out the questions that give Dad a story. Is he going to fall in love with the ballet teacher? Is he going to need a lawyer? Is he an agency operative who killed the supposed client to keep a secret formula out of enemy hands?

Ideas are magical, but they’re not sacred. If you’ve kept asking why, but your answers are growing convoluted–if you’re creating whole plotlines to make one small aspect of your idea work–step back. Listen to your gut.

If Dad’s actually a baker who murdered his blueberry supplier, and the only reason you have for this plotline is getting Dad together with the supplier’s daughter, the ballet instructor, you’re going to feel a little queasy. You’re going to try to skim over this part of your synopsis. Editors don’t skim. This part of the idea isn’t working.

Any time you have a problematic plot point, and your only answer to why is “because it’s a romance” or “because it’s a mystery” or my personal favorite, “because I like it,” consider reconsidering. These aren’t strong enough reasons to keep a plot point in a story.

It’s time to meet with a brainstorming partner, someone who’s willing to help you work out protagonists, believable conflict, and a resolution that bring Dad and the ballet instructor together in a smooth, seamless story.

Hooks and Transitions

Hooks and transitions turn your story in new directions. Hooks often provide an unexpected change. Transitions smooth the way into the next idea you want to develop. Consider the following:

“We’ve loved having you, girls, but Pansy has homework, and you do, too.” Grandma Pearl began to clear leftover snacks from the round kitchen table, her hair a white halo in the yellowish light.

Seven-year-old Pansy stayed in the thick of her friends as they all pitched in. Their happiness over shared chocolate chip cookies and hot cocoa felt like the warmest coat she’d ever tried on. After Grandma kissed each girl goodbye, Pansy walked the three of them to the front door. Her friends turned to wave at her grandma like they didn’t want to leave.

“Bye, Mrs. Blane.”

Grandma waved back, smiling, as friendly as the lady in the shop where she bought all her dresses.

“Thank you,” said Leah Davis. Her mom reminded her about manners a lot.

“See ya tomorrow at school, Pansy.”

Pansy’s best friend, Katie, grabbed her hand. “It’ll be all right,” Katie whispered, kinda loud.

“Hurry now, Katie,” Grandma Pearl said. “The other girls will leave you behind.”

Pansy tried to let her friend go. She couldn’t help holding on to Katie’s sleeve until the other girl had to yank to get outside.

“Pansy, baby, we’re heating all outdoors.”

Pansy shut the door and turned. Grandma was already headed for the pantry door. They didn’t use it as a pantry now. Back when Pansy first came to live with her grandmother, cans of food had been stacked on the shelves, and a big old bottle of oil stood on the floor.

She still smelled oil sometimes.

“I told you I wanted the girls to go home at four.” Grandma opened the panty door and looked at her watch. Pansy stared at the thin towel wadded into a lump beneath the lowest shelf. “Four o’clock was an hour and a half ago, Pansy.”

Keeping her mouth shut, Pansy marched into the pantry. Grandma shut the door. She hadn’t noticed yet that light got through the thin crack between the door and the floor. Pansy stared at the light while she carefully smoothed every wrinkle out of the towel and then laid down on it.

She curled into a ball. Grandma would be back, but if Pansy was really small the hitting didn’t hurt as much.

In the first paragraph, Grandma Pearl starts the action with an immediate transition–clearing the table. The girls help her, continuing the story’s action into the second paragraph, the stage where Pansy’s friends all start home, reluctant to leave her idyllic grandmother.

The story’s next phase starts with a hook. When Katie grabs Pansy’s hand, you start to sense something’s wrong. The oil provides a transition between normal life and Pansy’s world. The final hook–Pansy tries to make herself small, and the reader dreads Grandma’s coming back.

Use transitions to develop character movement as well as passage of time and story tone. Use hooks to make the reader curious about what happens next.

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