Mommy, tell me a story?

October 4, 2007 at 10:51 pm | Posted in creativity, imagination, Meg, story, storytelling | Leave a comment

My son loves books and stories. When he was younger we’d sit in the rocking chair and I’d create fantasies of his exploits with superheroes, dinosaurs and Peter Pan. His begging and whining for more kept him up long past bedtime so I had to create a story to limit the stories.

That is how Sagabell came into our lives. Sagabell is Tinkerbell’s sister and the Fairy of the Story. In the magic tree in Neverland, she weaves elaborate tales of mischief and fun. Each night she flies to our home and if my son is fast asleep, Sagabell leaves her handiwork in our magic story jar. If she finds him awake, her tiny wings fly her home and we have no adventure to ‘read’ the next night. And since she’s so small, she can only bring three stories to us. Then it’s lights out and off to sleep as fast as can be.

Believe it or not, this worked every night. Bedtime was a joy and we both looked forward to seeing if Sagabell came. He took his stories out of the magical jar, told me who was in them and listened attentively. Of course, he often tried to convince me Sagabell had snuck in an extra small account of life on Neverland and sometimes she did. That pixie couldn’t resist his excitement and cute freckles (or fairy kisses) anymore than I could.

Unfortunately, Sagabell no longer visits us. My son has outgrown his nap and falls asleep too quickly at bedtime for a story. Believe me, I’m not complaining, but sometimes I miss those moments when we escaped into a magical world where he battled Captain Hook or when Timmy the T-Rex moved into the neighborhood.

I loved that time for many reasons, one being that it reminded me how important the story is. You can have wonderful characters gifted with the ability to fly, but without having something for them to do, they just hover in the air. The story is in the action. The verbs we use to tell what’s going on. The answer to “and then what did he do?” Or “then what happened?” And “why?” That was how Sagabell came about- the ever present why in a toddler’s vocal repertoire.

Me: You can’t have another story tonight.
Son: Why?
Me: Um, because there aren’t anymore to tell.
Son: Why?
Me: (insert pause as I scramble for a good enough answer to stop the inquisition) Because the story fairy didn’t bring anymore last night.
Son: Why?

If you’ve ever been around a toddler in this phase, you know what I’m talking about. And I’m sure you had a limit on your creativity and finished with “Because I said so!” Unfortunately, in writing, we don’t get a “Because I said so!” We have to take the story to its end, even when we have no idea what to do with flying heroes. And when you’re stuck, use a toddler to prompt you with that wonderful “why” or “and then what does she do?” (I don’t recommend a real one in case you have limited patience- pretend or ask a grownup to help you). You’ll be amazed how quickly you get to the root of the story arc when pestered. Then you’ll have something exciting for the flying hero to do, something unique and attention grabbing so the reader will want you to put another story in their jar.


Story Serendipity

October 3, 2007 at 6:40 pm | Posted in Bria, Fast Draft, story, storytelling, writing, young adult | 3 Comments

I did a read-through of my YA Fantasy and shocked myself. There were moments of brilliance that had nothing to do with my conscious brain — moments of Story Serendipity.  

The final page of the manuscript is concerned with the return of the heroine (lots of under-story there, so bear with me.) In a show of humility, she kneels before the prince submitting herself for punishment or forgiveness. 

I remembered writing the scene. I love the scene. I love the end of my manuscript, it ties a lot together. It shows her growth as well as his new knowledge of himself.  

What I didn’t remember, even though I was consciously trying to run their lives in parallels, was the prince, when he rebelled against his bounds, returned home to ask for forgiveness and acceptance. He did this, in the same room, during the same meal by kneeling before the king. 

I knew I wanted the two stories to echo one another. I knew having similar experiences was the only thing that was going to over come the hurdles the two characters faced. 

What I expected to happen was to write two scenes and — with my luck — fall in love with both of them. Then, in attempt to weave continuity, I would pick the one that worked the best and throw away most of the other. 

But then I did my read through and thought “Wow! This is going to work.” One is a Prodigal Son story and one is a Coming of Age story. They are told in different ways — one we’re there and one we’re told about —  but they work together perfectly. 

I’m a huge believer in playing the “What did I learn” game. And here is what I learned writing my story AND plot: I live it. It’s in my head and it’s so real that things I didn’t know existed come to the surface – especially when Fast Drafting (Candy said it would, but hey, I doubt me not her.) The telling becomes something close to recounting a trip to a friend – I was there, I know what happened. 

So, Story Serendipity — it happens to all of us.  When did it happen to you? Let me know, then Go Write


All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men

October 1, 2007 at 8:52 am | Posted in Jessica, plotting, story, storytelling, writing | 1 Comment

What does story mean to you?

“Call me Ishmael.”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .”

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“It was a dark and stormy night . . .”

“Once upon a time . . .”

Our topic this week is a timely one for me because as I try to tear apart the book I just finished (with the intention of somehow putting it back together again) and try to brainstorm the pieces for the next book I want to write, I am struggling with the whole idea of story.

And oddly enough, Jessica Faust, literary agent from Book Ends, recently posted an entry on her blog that gets me at the heart of my issue: What’s more frustrating? A story with a weak plot but is well written or a story with an amazing plot but has weak writing?

For the new book I feel as though I have a great concept. I have gotten the new Chapter One down on the page. I think I even have a decent hook. But once I get the quick particulars out of the way then catapult the heroine into her new world, I am just not sure what to do with her. I feel weak when it comes to the actual conception of the story, and I am scrambling to get my hands on any information that will help me clear this frustrating hurdle.

The Tameri Guide for Writers web site has an excellent web page on Plot and Story, which I highly recommend as a place to start.

Another helpful resource I’ve delved into is Robert McKee’s popular book, Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting. This book has given me a great chance to sit back, catch my breath, and really think about what story means to me.

In my haste to self-medicate, I also took and am finishing up a Killer Instinct class on How to Grow a Story Spine being taught by the talented writer and teacher, Sylvie Kurtz. Sylvie presented the individual lessons in a straightforward and succinct way and taught us some great things. But one of the best things I took away from the class was her advice to think about those stories that have really moved me or spoken to me or evoked strong reaction in me then study those stories and break them down into their smallest parts.

So over the next few weeks, I look forward to curling up with some of my favorite stories and most memorable characters, and revisit them to discover what it was about them that made them stay with me long after I left their worlds.

My hope is that in doing so, I will understand and have these important elements ingrained in my writing repertoire. With practice, my some-day goal is offer that stay-with-you kind of story that makes and remains on your keeper shelves – to create something that will endure.

This week, my wish is to take all those pieces and find a way to put them back together again . . . and in a way that gives me satisfaction – which, for me, would result in a very happy ending, indeed!

So, go write! It’s what Humpty Dumpty would have wanted. Really.


What’s in a name?

August 31, 2007 at 9:40 am | Posted in character, Meg, storytelling, writing | 3 Comments

My niece was born this week! So exciting! Of course I’m biased, but she’s truly beautiful. So adorable all swaddled up, sleeping away the day, when I visited her. I can’t wait to spoil her and teach her all the annoying habits my brother taught my kids. Revenge is sweet!

Anyway, why did I get so personal and share this wonderful news? She does have something to do with writing, I promise. Probably one of the most important aspects of writing fiction. So bear with me.

For the last nine months, my sister-in-law and brother have struggled with the ups and downs of pregnancy. They found out the gender of the baby early on and created a relaxing, inviting nursery. Almost everything was ready for this new addition, except for one thing. They couldn’t decide on a name!

A name. Two or three words that can determine a child’s future, relationships with others, possible temperament and character. My sister-in-law finally decided on the name when she saw the tiny, screaming face and just knew she wasn’t an Emma or a Brianna (early name choices). Although we haven’t viewed her personality yet, my niece has the perfect name for her.

So as writers, what do we do when we can’t physically see our characters? Do we choose names according to meaning? Nationality? What they represent for us? Based on people we’ve known with the same name? The personalities we’ve created for them?

Naming a character can take me forever, especially an important one. I struggle with just the right tone, meaning, and significance. I’ve changed names numerous times as I suddenly realize the character isn’t so much an Estelle, but is more of an Abby (recent name change in current manuscript- Abby was grateful, no offense to any Estelles out there). I’ve also based whole character developments on a name because I liked shortening it- like the hero in my first ms, Cav. He was short for Cavalier. His sister was Elly, short for Elegant. (Yeah, the ms isn’t much better, but these names emphasized their hippy parental heritage.)

The best character naming cheat sheets come from those well-trafficked baby websites. Here are a few:

  1. At Baby Name Network you can search by origin, first letter, meaning, etc.
  2. Social Security Administration keeps a list of popular names for each year
  3. Baby Center has a ton of names, lists of most popular names dating back through 1880 (great tool for historical writers), a baby name finder tool, and naming trends.
  4. And the Baby Zone gives you a way to invent a name (great for fantasy/ sci-fi writers) and highlights some celebrity names.

So whether you go with John or Jacob or Jaeger, a name is an essential part of character development. I hope these sites help you out the next time you’re stuck with naming a character, or perhaps your own bundle of joy!


Go to the dictionary…

August 24, 2007 at 8:39 am | Posted in career, Meg, romance, storytelling | 2 Comments

When I started looking into ‘professionalizing’ my writing (joining writer’s groups, submitting to agents/editors, etc.), I realized how little I knew about the jargon associated with writing romance. I sat at my first RWA chapter meeting with a deer in the headlights look as people described their writing genre- single title, contemporary, regency- huh?

Confused as well? As we all heard as children, when you don’t know a word, go to the dictionary. Or for the twenty-first century, go to for all your romance subgenre needs.

So within this realm, what can’t or won’t I write? Is it lazy to say ‘ditto’ on what Jessica said? Yes? Damn.

Well, to sum up, I don’t know my Elizabethan age from my Marie Antoinette world (or even if I have them in the same ballpark) so you most likely won’t find my name in the historical section. And don’t look for me in the erotica part of your bookstore. At least not until my kids have grown. I have no problem with love scenes, but it’s hard to get into a highly sensual scene with little voices around me begging to play Star Wars. Lastly, within romance, I don’t think inspirational is my genre for many reasons, least of all being that my current heroine swears on the first page of the book. Oops.

Then, outside of romance, I can’t do thrillers. At least not the suspenseful plotlines I come up with in my head. We’ll talk about writing superstitions in a future blogweek, but here’s one of mine: if I ever wrote and published a thriller, I fear having someone copy it in real life. Some of the serial killers in my head are sick bastards (see I can’t even write an inspirational blog!). I don’t think the world needs them out there.

So I haven’t mentioned paranormal, have I? A few months ago, this would’ve been on the list, but a new series involving teens and witchcraft has invaded my psyche. I’ve enjoyed researching spells (Scott Cunningham has numerous titles) and Wiccan beliefs and hope to incorporate all this into my next project.

The important lesson to know is you might not want to limit yourself to specific genres forever. While I won’t or can’t write the above categories right now, who knows what the future will bring.


Can’t . . . or Won’t?

August 20, 2007 at 11:04 am | Posted in Jessica, romance, storytelling, writing | 1 Comment

In thinking and talking amongst ourselves about our writing careers, we wound up, one day, issuing a challenge to one another – what is it that you can’t – or won’t – write? And then one of us (not me!) took the challenge one step further and tossed the truth-or-dare out there as a suggestion for one of our weekly blog topics.


Honestly, I am still trying to figure out what I write . . . just what the best venue is for my voice and my ability. So, I really hadn’t a clue how to approach this week’s blog session. But it turned out to be a much better exercise for me than I anticipated because the more I thought about it, the more I started to narrow, mold, and shape the contours of my comfort zone.

For example, I know I can’t write what I don’t read. Forgive me for those of you gifted with a passionate pen – I know that erotica, romantica, and erotic romance are all wildly popular and successful aspects of the romance genre. I have friends who write in one or more of those categories and they love it. Thrive in it. And I am so glad that the market has exploded with possibilty for these very talented writers.

When reading, I like a sometimes hot and steamy scene that enhances an overall story, but a book where the majority of the work concentrates on sex isn’t why I read. So for me to try to write such a thing wouldn’t work all that well. Nor would it be riveting or authentic enough to sell.

So erotic romance, can’t write it.

It hasn’t been until recently, when we at the Purple Hearts went on a major J.R. Ward binge, that I read my first paranormal romance. This woman is an amazing world builder. And while I may not have understood the whole vampire fascination early on, I 100% completely and totally and emphatically get it now. Just when I thought I had found my favorite Brother, I fall in love with a new hero in each book. (Book 5, Lover Unbound, hits shelves September 25!)

Whenever I come to the end of one of her books, I am overwhelmed by how good they are. And when I read the work of someone who is as good at world building as JR Ward is, it humbles me as a writer. I am not saying that I won’t ever write a paranormal romance, but at this stage of my writing skill I am not sure that I can.

So for now, I’ll scratch paranormal romance off my list of possibilities, too.

There is another kind of book that would be difficult for me to write, and that is the Regency or historical romance. I do enjoy reading a good historical. I love the manners and the chivalry and the true love in a historical love story. But I am horrible with the details. I like reading about the clothing and the accessories and the customs, but I do not have a good enough command of any of them – or the actual, historical facts – to write a believable historical. And fans of Regency and historical romances know their stuff, and a fraud would be exposed before the ink dried on the paper.

So, I’m afraid, at least at this moment, I couldn’t do a Regency or historical much justice either.

So where does that leave me in terms of what I can or will do? Well, it’s somewhere in the contemporary realm, perhaps with a little murder or a little mayhem, a bit of banter thrown in and hopefully some serendipitous love along the way. All I can say for sure, whether it be to myself or other writers, is be true to yourself. If you don’t love or know or believe in what you are writing, chances are your readers won’t get on board with it either.

As an aside, I marvel at authors’ abilities to reinvent themselves. In this industry, it has almost become an imperative to be willing and able to try new things. In this post, I can only speak to my current skill level. In time, I hope to be able to morph like the pro’s!

This week, may you discover what you can and will do, and make both work for you!


(In this post, I linked to some of the specialty chapters in RWA, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the screenwriting chapter – Scriptscene – especially since I’ve blogged about screenwriting a time or two. I hope you will check out the chapter’s dazzling new web site!)

Make Every Word Count

August 6, 2007 at 9:29 am | Posted in Jessica, movies, storytelling, writing | 2 Comments

In Friday’s blog post, Meg mentioned how much she loves this week’s blog topic – dialogue. My book-length fiction has had plenty of dialogue in it but it hasn’t been until now, when I have broached the idea of writing my first screenplay, that I have considered the weight and measure that each word of dialogue has to carry.

With an average of 120 pages per script, screenwriters must employ an economy of words to execute their ideas . . . and do so in a way that is memorable for their audience. What we say matters.

Absolutely every word must count. And the best phrases stay with their audience, in some cases so much so that the string of words becomes part of our everyday speech.

    “If you build it, he will come.”(1)

To help me frame my thoughts, I consulted Bob Mayer’s The Novel Writer’s Toolkit and its section on dialogue.

    Dialogue can reveal a great amount of information about your characters.
    “Well, I believe in the soul, the c—, the p—-, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”(2)

    Dialogue can reveal motivations…
    “Show me the money!”(3)

    You have to consider whether what a person says is the truth.
    “That guy is tense. Tension is a killer. I used to be in a barbershop quartet in Skokie, Illinois. The baritone was this guy named Kip Diskin, big fat guy, I mean, like, orca fat. He was so stressed in the morning…”(4)

    Make sure the voice of each character is consistent.
    “My Momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna’ get.'”(5)

    Dialogue also advances the plot.
    “I’m gonna’ make him an offer he can’t refuse.”(6)

    It can sharpen the conflict between characters.
    “You can’t handle the truth!”(7)

    Dialogue can give expository information.
    “The Master of the Revels despises us all for vagrants and peddlers of bombast. But my father, James Burbage, had the first license to make a company of players from Her Majesty, and he drew from poets the literature of the age. We must show them that we are men of parts. Will Shakespeare has a play. I have a theatre. The Curtain is yours.”(8)

Each of these movie quotations used just the right words to convey intended meaning, and in a way that resonated with audiences. To have that kind of effect on consumers just goes to show the power of word choice.

Wishing you all a great writing week – go out and make every word count!

    “Hasta la vista, baby.”(9) “May the force be with you.”(10)


(1) Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams (2) Kevin Costner as Crash Davis in Bull Durham (3) Cuba Gooding, Jr. as Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire (4) Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kent in Usual Suspects (5) Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump (6) Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather (7) Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan Jessup in A Few Good Men (8) Martin Clunes as Richard Burbage in Shakespeare in Love (9) Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator in Termintaor 2 (10) Harrison Ford as Han Solo in Star Wars.

What makes a superhero super?

July 19, 2007 at 2:07 pm | Posted in character, hero, Meg, storytelling, writing | Leave a comment

The other day, I had three bonafide superheroes battling bad guys in my backyard. Now, before you think I’m nuts, I should admit something. I’m a mom.So as a mom, I tend to multi-task and as I supervised the activity to ward off any major injuries, I thought about the heroes topic and took advantage of the situation. I interviewed the costumed boys and asked the question: What makes a superhero great?

Spiderman 2 said: super powers
Spiderman 3 answered: he fights the bad guys
Teen Titans’ Robin shared: his weapons

I thought about this and wondered how it relates to creating a heroic character in romance novels. And decided these kids could teach a workshop on character development.

Every hero should have super powers. These are different from his weapons, which I’ll explain next. Super powers are the positive innate qualities bestowed upon him by his creator that make him larger than life. They can be a sense of humor, kindness, joie de vive, sensitivity, intelligence, etc. These super powers attract the reader and tug at the heart.

The weapons of a literary hero can be viewed in two ways. First, there are the weapons he uses to woo- money, dimples, his cute dog that chases down the veterinarian heroine. Then there are the ones that cause the ‘boy loses girl’ conflict. These include his sarcastic wit, misconstrued flirtatious behavior, prior relationships and baggage, etc. The hero uses his weapons to save or destroy depending upon the stage in the story.

There is a reason for these super powers and weapons. They empower and aid the romantic hero in battling whatever stands in the way of the heroine’s happiness. Or at least he helps (my feminist influence tends to have the hero as more of a sidekick). His role is to use his powers and weapons for good, to battle whatever evil keeps him and the heroine from happiness.

So the next time you are stuck as you try to create a male character women would fall in love with, think of these three aspects of the superhero: his positive qualities, potential destructive flaws and essential role in the heroine’s life. Rent the latest superhero movie and dissect these aspects. And if you’re still stuck, don a superhero costume and battle some bad guys in your backyard. The giggling factor alone is worth it.


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