Friday, March 28, 2014

My Dream Vacation


This is how it starts.  My dream vacation.  On Amtrak.

While many people would choose to fly, I want to see things along the way, not just clouds.  Driving would work.  That's the way it was done when I was growing up.  Our family vacations were often two weeks, and stopped at all kinds of places on the way.  My mother enjoyed waterfalls and caves.  We stopped at them all.  I swear we did.  After a while, one waterfall looked much like the last one, at least to me.  The same for caves, mountains, and the usual nature things.  But I did see a lot of this glorious country.  Looking back to those long ago decades, I wouldn't trade them for anything.

I want to do it by train.  I'll start out by travelling to Chicago, the real point of departure to my trip back into history.  With luck, I'll take my youngest daughter with me.  The others have responsibilities.  We don't.  Of course that isn't true, but they've had the advantage of being older and traveled some before baby sister was born.  It's her turn now.

After a quick tour of Chicago (I was there in 1999 and saw virtually nothing), we'll travel to Boston.  I already have a list of things to see and do.  In no special order:
  • Old North Church
  • Boston Harbor
  • Beacon Hill
  • Boston Athenaeum, the oldest, largest, independent, private library in the U.S.
  • Boston Commons
  • Boston Light, 2nd oldest lighthouse in the U.S
  • Fareuil Hall
  • Freedom Trail
  • Harvard
My oldest visited Boston a few years ago.  A work-related trip, she didn't get to see much.  In fact, it was so late and so dark, they weren't sure where they were.  Come to find out, the were behind Old North Church, where dog tags of veterans hang.  It took some time for them to realize that, and also to discover they'd also driven by Harvard Library.

After Boston?  We'll ride on to the Big Apple.  New York City.  I've been there twice.  The first time with my parents in 1964. I was a preteen and remember Radio City Music Hall, climbing the winding iron steps to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, the U.N.,and going to the 1964 World's Fair.  We stayed at the historic Plaza Hotel, across the street from Central Park.  My second trip was in 2003, and I can now proudly say that I managed to navigate the subway and even rode it on my own aka no friends along.  The subway took me from near the hotel where I stayed to Ground Zero and three blocks away to Harlequin NY Headquarters at the historic Woolworth Building.

This dream trip will include the following:
  • Empire State Building
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Grand Central Terminal (a given, since riding the train)
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Radio City Music Hall
  • Broadway & Times Square
  • The Neighborhoods of Lower Manhattan
  • The World Trade Center Site, because I saw it in 2003 when it was Ground Zero.
After NYC, we'll travel south to Philadelphia, the cradle of our democracy.  By now my feet will be hurting, but the things to see will far outweigh a few blisters.
  • The Franklin Institute
  • Liberty Bell Center
  • Independence Hall
  • Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church
  • National Constitution Center
  • Everything possible on Independence Mall

Last stop of the trip.  Washington, DC.  This is a can't miss.  I've been there twice, the first visit as a small child.  All I remember is the Lincoln Memorial, so the trip in 2000 with Kathie and Charlie DeNosky was a joy.  I had the opportunity on this second visit to break out of my mold of not straying at the RWA Conference hotel and do a little sightseeing.  I hopped on the Metro, but forgot my camera, with a zipped storage bag of momentos.  My destination?  The National Mall, and especially The Wall.  This dream time will include many, many more things to see.
  • The entire Washington Mall:  Vietnam Memorial, Korean War Memorial (an absolute must-see, breathtaking memorial), Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, WWII Memorial, Washington Monument
  • The Smithsonian
  • The Capitol
  • The White House
  • Every other memorial on the National Mall
  • Holocaust Museum
Then comes the trip home, and I haven't decided which kind of transportation we'll use.  That will come later.  Whatever it is, we'll need time to digest all the wonderful and historic places we've seen.

Do you see a pattern in my choices?  DC, Philly and Boston?  The places mentioned in those three cities were part of the movie, National Treasure.  I through NYC in there, because why miss something when you're that close?

Will we ever take this trip.  Yes!  I don't know when, but I do know we will.  But first we'll need to watch National Treasure and National Treasure 2 again, for a brush-up.  Then do some studying.  History will come to life.

Who wants to come along?
Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done. ~ Louis D. Brandeis

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Begin Your Dream, Then Finish It

Millions of people dream of writing a book.  In fact, it's said that in the U.S. alone, 200 million people want to write a book.  Only a small percentage actually do.

Maybe you're one of that small percentage who has actually sat down at a keyboard or held a notebook and pen/pencil in hand and started writing.  If so, I salute you!  It's the first step of making your dream come true.

But there's more to it than that first step of beginning.  The hardest part is to finish writing that story.

An idea springs to mind, and we start writing.  Before long, we lose interest, we hit a wall, we start to lose interest in our characters or story.  Or all of those things!  And then we quit.  We shove the story aside and wait for inspiration on a new story.

A few false starts aren't bad.  Nothing but starts isn't good.  How will you know if you're able to write a complete book, if you stop a few chapters into writing it?   Some authors do well with 80,000 to 120,000 word books.  Others aren't comfortable writing anything more than 50K to 75K   Some writers panic at the thought of anything over 30,000 words, while others enjoy writing short stories.  What do you feel is your comfort zone?

I'm here today to tell you that tossing it aside isn't always the best thing to do.  In fact, if you're a new writer, it's one of the worst things you can do.  I have everything I've ever written saved, either in hard copy or on computer (disk or whatever).  I became serious about writing with the hope of someday have my books published in 1996.  Because my focus then--and still is--romance, I joined Romance Writers of America (RWA) and went to my first National RWA Conference in July that year.  Kathie DeNosky and I had met briefly online, and we met in person at that conference.  Within very little time, we became friends with two other aspiring authors, Janet Lee Barton and Belinda Barnes.  The four of us eventually formed our own, small critique group.  It was Kathie who pushed me into entering writing contests.  My first entry, Contract for Love, placed Honorable Mention in the Love in Uniform Contest in 1996.

I entered more contests, each time with a finished manuscript.  After placing or winning in six more contests with three other finished manuscripts, I hit the jackpot in 1999's Georgia Romance Writers Maggie Award for Excellence and won first place with the first 30 pages of the book in the Unpublished Short Contemporary Category.  When the final judge, Silhouette Editor Mary-Theresa Hussey, asked to see the full manuscript of The Rancher and the Runaway Mom, it was written.  In April of 2000, I got The Call that Silhouette Romance wanted to buy my book.  (A short P.S. on this.  Every other book I'd entered in contests had been completely finished when I entered, except this one.  I was short less than two chapters when I sent in the entry, and I finished it, long before the finalists were announced.)

By the time I SOLD what later became Rachel's Rescuer, I'd written nine previous books.  Of the ten, including my first sale, half of them have been published.  Those other five?  I still have them, and plan someday to rewrite, revise, and polish.  The stories aren't bad, but they need work, and I've learned SO MUCH in the years since I first wrote them.  Cowboy Over a Barrel (original title) and published as A Saddle Made for Two, was my second Silhouette Romance.  The Cowboy and the Ice Princess (published as The Rodeo Rider, the first in what has become a 10-book series) was my second Harlequin American Romance.  Who knew they'd love cowboys as much as I love writing them?

If all that sounds like bragging, it isn't.  Admitting and patting yourself on the back or having others pat you on the back makes doing the hard work that much more special.  Kathie has by far surpassed me in the writing world.  She sold her first Silhouette (now Harlequin) Desire on my birthday in 1999.  Belinda sold in December of that same year.  Of the three of us, I came in third in April of 2000.  Jealousy never had a place in our friendships and never will.  Envy?  Yes, but along with that came admiration and Kathie kicking my backside to keep me going.  I have no room to brag.  Sharing the things I've learned (and will continue to learn) with others makes me hopeful that one smidgen of something I've shared might be the one thing needed to create an award winning book and author.

So now you know why tossing a beginning aside isn't a good thing, right?  But why?
  • Each book started as an idea.  Ideas grow into completed books, if you stick with it.
  • As a writer, each finished manuscript is a learning process.  You grow as a writer with each one.  If you're part of a critique group or enter contests, there will be people who are willing to help, to tell you your strong points and help with your weak points.
  • If a book doesn't sell, it might be perfect later.  Publishing tastes change.  Those tastes could be right up your writing alley.   
Here are a few tips I've learned along the way.  Whether you're just beginning or have been writing for much longer, but feel you're getting stuck and going nowhere with your writing, these are a few things to keep in mind and give some thought.

  1. READ!!  What type (genres and sub-genres) are your favorite reads?  Which of those do you feel you are best at writing?
  2. Study and know your market.  Always keep in mind that what's selling now may or may not be hot in the future, but it's worth a try.  Yes, some writers make it big with something completely different, but it's rare.
  3. Hone your skills.  This includes grammar, spelling, and all the mechanics of writing.  Editors (if traditionally published) will love you for this.  Readers (if you're self-publishing) will, too!  There's not much worse than trying to read a good story, while bad writing keeps pulling you out of it.
  4. Learn to plot.  It doesn't have to be scene by scene, chapter by chapter, but have a solid idea of how and where the story begins, turning points, hooks, black moments and resolutions (aka Happily Ever Afters).  If you don't understand those terms, check out some of my older blog posts and especially check out the blogs, books, and advice of other authors!
  5. Your non-writing friends and family can be a part of your pep club, but they will always love your writing, no matter what.  Get outside that circle t learn.  Join a writing group, a critique group, or enter contests.
  6. Keep learning.  Always.  Nothing is better than knowledge, not even talent.  Without knowledge, even the most talented will struggle.
  7. Don't give up!!  I was lucky enough to find writing friends who wouldn't let me do that.  Throwing in the towel was something I often considered, but they kept me from doing it.  My mantra became, If you quit now, the next book probably would have the THE ONE. Who wants to tempt fate that much?
  8. Enjoy writing, but also enjoy life, yourself, your family and friends.
  9. WRITE!!  Each time you sit down to write, whether it's been an hour, a day, a week or months, you'll learn knew things.  If something isn't working, try thinking about it from a different direction.
  10. FINISH THE BOOK!!  Because an unfinished book will languish.  Until you finish writing that first book, you'll never know the wild exhilaration of writing THE END.
One more special hint and the reason I'm blogging about this.  Write on, don't edit.  I hear a lot of "But...but..." out there, so here are two great links I found today, which led me to write this blog post.
Read them.  Think about them.  Ask yourself if you're brave.  Maybe next week we'll look a little closer at what these two blogs/articles have to say.  Why?  Because it's important.  Write on!
Never give up; for even rivers someday wash dams away. ~ Arthur Golden

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What Happened to Monday?

Let's just call this Thoughtful Tuesday, because that's all I have.

To be honest, what happened to Monday is that it was such a blah day, I didn't care if anything got done.  No, not a bad day or even a down day.  It was simply BLAH.

Somewhere, as Monday finally wound down---or would that be up?---the blah moved on.  Blame it on spring break coming to an end and life getting back to normal.  My normal.  Maybe it was watching the WSU Shockers lose in the NCAA tournament, which didn't especially hit as hard as would have expected.

No, it was just Monday, and I vetoed every hint at being productive.  Not that I've been especially productive lately, but  really, I should have gotten life back on track.  I simply didn't want to.

So here I am, late, as has become my habit.  Those who know me understand that late thing.  I'm notoriously late with a lot of things.  I blame it on having four children, who managed to suck up every second of time I built into anything.  Get up an hour earlier to get them up and ready for school?  Never worked for me.  Start getting ready to go somewhere two hours early, when it should really only take an hour?  Nope.

But back to Mondays.  From that vantage point, the weekend is only something in the far, far future.  Does anyone like Mondays?   If you do, it must be your day off.  Let's just leave it at yesterday was my day off, especially considering what an off day it was.

So I'm at Tuesday and decided it was time to forge ahead.  Not that there's been much forged.  I did clean off half of my desk, put papers in folders, and...  Um, okay.  Not a productive day quite yet, but it's getting there.  A touch of spring fever?  Yeah, that's a good excuse.

I have managed to get a few other things done.  I was behind so many episodes of Parenthood, that I watched three in one night, then two more last night.  I'm also behind on Castle.  Believe me, it's not as if I watch a lot of TV, but there were more important things to do, and I stopped watching everything.  Did I really miss anything?  Probably not.  It's nothing but entertainment, but I've been needing a huge dose of entertainment.  It could be because it really isn't yet spring, and it isn't still winter,either.

In spite of my blah Monday, I found something to share.  Instead of adding a quote, this is my gift for today.  Read it, think about it, and try to incorporate it into your life.  That's what I'm going to do.  No more blah days!

P.S.  Writers beware!  I found some excellent "stuff" and will share it tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Settings Make a Difference

Where you set your story is a major factor when writing.  Sometimes your characters or the story itself will automatically tell you where your story is set.

Is your story set in a city or a small town?  Is it rural?  Is it set in the present, past, or future?

After choosing where to set your story, the first thing you need to do is to familiarize yourself with it.  

This morning I saw a book on Amazon that I thought might be a good one to buy and read.  I have a habit of checking reviews.  I don't usually read all of them, but I do read some from each rating.  4 and 5 star ratings tell me what other readers liked about the book.  3, 2, and 1 star ratings tell me what readers didn't like.  This time I was looking for something specific.  The story was set near a town I've visited.  The author's bio said she's lived all over the world.  Wonderful!  But did she 'know' about the area where she'd set the book?  The answer, thanks to a thoughtful and honest but fair review, came from someone who knows the location.  The author's setting was wrong in many ways.  My curiosity satisfied, I didn't purchase the book.  Huge things like wrong setting will pull me out of a story almost as quickly as poor grammar, punctuation and writing style.


It really does help to be personally familiar with your setting.  That doesn't mean you had to spend most of your life in a specific city or state, or even a foreign country.  Much can be learned from others and from research.  Details can be broad, instead of specific.  But a child's party set outside in February in northeast Kansas probably won't work.  It snows in Kansas in the winter, and February is known for its snow here.  Sometimes, especially in that area, quite a lot.

I've set books in a variety of locations.
  • A ranch in Montana
  • Rodeo arenas in different areas of the country
  • Small and large ranches in different states
  • Kansas City
  • A dude ranch in the Hill Country of Texas
  • A casino in Bosier City, Louisiana
  • Small town Oklahoma and Kansas
Sitting in my drawer are manuscripts that may not see publication, and these, too, have varied settings.  A tropic island, the mountains of Colorado, Maine, a large city and more.  

I've been to Montana and know other people who live there.  I have friends in Texas and Oklahoma.  I've traveled to 48 of the 50 states, and I've been in a casino.  Twice.  I was a baby the first time and was asked to leave. ☺ I've lived in a larger city, a small town and on a farm.  I haven't been to Paris or London or Tokyo, but I could find enough information to set a story there, if I really wanted to.

If your book is set in the past, you'll have more research to do about locations, society, mores, transportation, dress, and...  For a book set in the future, you'll have more leeway.  Still, if it's set on earth and not a galaxy far, far away, you'll need to know what has changed and why.


Back in high school English class, we studied many of the classics.  We were given several books by different authors to choose from.  Somehow that I don't remember, my author was Thomas Hardy.  Did I choose Tess of the d'Urbervilles or Far from the Madding Crowd?  No, I chose Return of the Native.  I wish I could say I remember the story.  I don't.  What I do remember is plunging into the book, wishing I'd chosen anything else.  Well into it, our teacher gave us a hint:  Skip the first 50 pages or so.  It's nothing more than a description of the landscape of the moors.  Go back and read it after you finish reading the rest of the book.  Well, duh!  By then, I was well into the book and understood very well why skipping those pages might be a good idea.

We're different than the people who lived during that time.  Our lives have become hurry-up-and-get-there, and we want to read stories that have beginnings that don't bore us.  We also don't care for long, tedious descriptions of anything.  In one book I read, years ago, the heroine took the hero on a tour of her house.  All the furnishings and knickknacks were included.  I didn't get far with my reading.  I didn't really care about all her things.  I really don't enjoy a description of what each character wears each day.  Well, I might, if the character's taste in clothing is a bit odd, but keep it at a minimum, please.

On the other hand, giving a reader an idea of the tastes and likes of a character can be important.  A two-story ranch house.  A log cabin in the woods by a lake.  An upscale townhouse in the city, with every conceivable amenity.  If the tub is sunken, say so.  Is the house light and airy or filled with antiques?  Antiques?  Beautiful!  But don't describe every time in each room.

In my upcoming August Harlequin American Romance, The Cowboy Meets His Match, the heroine asks the hero for a brief tour of his home.  They'd known each other as children, but it's been many years since they've seen each other.  The hero now owns the ranch that had belonged to his uncle.
   “This really is a beautiful house,” Erin said, taking in everything as Jake gave her a tour. “I don’t recall ever being in it when we were growing up. Are these your uncle’s furnishings?”
   “Some,” he said, “but I’ve made a few changes.”
   She didn’t remember him being all that interested in things like colors and decorating. She hadn’t been, either, and she wanted to learn how much he’d changed over the years they’d been apart. “Show me.”
   As they walked down a wide hallway, the heels of her fancy shoes clicking on the polished wood floor, he pointed out several paintings. “I picked these up at different places, here and there. Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada.”
   She studied the beautiful landscapes hanging on the walls, and turned to him. “You traveled around a lot?”
   “A little. I worked at four different ranches over the past…well, I guess it’s been about thirteen years. I learned something new at each one, so it was worth it.”
Those paintings were a quick way to convey information about the hero's past to the heroine, without getting into a long and complicated explanation or saying 'you've been gone a long time.  What did you do?'  A little later, and another small detail:
   (snip) He led her back to the living room, where she put the glasses on a large, low table.
   He poured the champagne into the glasses, and she took the one he offered. After setting the bottle aside, he took her hand and settled her on the long, red sofa, then sat next to her. “Comfortable?”
A small thing, here and there--a few paintings, a red sofa, and maybe a gleaming wood floor, give the reader an idea of the space where the character lives.  And it can all be scattered throughout the scene in bits and pieces, both in internal thoughts and dialogue.

Or maybe it's clothing.
It's clear from the beginning that my heroine isn't a frilly, girly-type girl.  A former barrel racer, now working on a ranch, she wears jeans and T-shirts, boots, and a hat nearly all the time.  Her choice of clothing is only randomly mentioned...until she wears a dress to formal dance.  Long, black, sleek, with a low neckline and a back that dips down to her waist.
   Erin stared at her reflection in the antique cheval mirror. The dress Glory had insisted she buy had her wondering if she’d lost her mind. She’d never worn anything like it.
   Standing behind her, Glory smiled. “It’s beautiful, Erin. I knew that dress would be perfect.”
   Pressing her lips together, Erin’s gaze met Glory’s in the mirror. “You’re sure it’s not too much?” She smoothed her hands down the black fabric that fit like a second skin. “I mean—”   "Perfect"
Later, from the hero's POV:
His gaze lingered on the low neckline of her dress.
And again:
“Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?” he asked, rubbing his thumb on her bare back. “And where’d you find this dress?”
There's no detail by detail description of the dress.  Give the reader the basics, and then let imagination fill in what isn't described.

Use sensory details, when possible.  Using smoothed her hands shows the fabric is sleek and soft. The low neckline of her dress, mentioned later, tells the reader a little more detail.  And rubbing his thumb on her bare back finishes the description, because a man's hand while dancing is usually placed in the middle or lower back of his partner.

The same small descriptions can be used with anything.  Because settings are integral in our story, especially at the beginning when we want to set the stage, descriptions will do that.  Make it special.  Try for an opening hook and set that stage.
Trish Clayborne sat in the warmth of her car at the stop sign, blinking away the tears filling her eyes.  Home.  She was almost home.
Obviously the character is feeling emotion.  Sad or happy?  We don't know.  Yet.  And it must be cold weather, if she's in the warmth of her car.
From the intersection of the county road and the main street of town, Desperation, Oklahoma, resembled something out of a foggy dream.  Colorful, twinkling lights draped the storefronts, and giant red and white candy canes adorned each of the street lights.  A misty haze, caused by the remnant of the dusting of snow that barely covered the ground, created halos around the lights and gave the deserted street an eeriness that contradicted the friendliness of the town and its inhabitants.  ~~The Lawman's Little Surprise (HAR July 2010)
 The intersection of the county road and the main street of town, plus the stop sign in the previous paragraph, shows it's more than likely a small town.  The name of the town is given, and we now know the location: Desperation, Oklahoma.  We know it's near Christmas because of lights draped on the storefronts and especially the red and white candy canes.  We learn about that foggy dream, by a misty haze, and what causes it--a remnant of the dusting of snow that created halos around the lights.  The town (street) appears deserted and eerie, yet it's a contradiction of the friendliness of the town.  We now know it's a small town, probably late at night and near Christmas.  Your first thought after reading that paragraph is that it's a good place to live.  It's home to the character.  So why is she crying?

Most books now don't start with long description.  We're told that a story needs to start when something happens and everything changes.  Starting with dialogue works well, as do internal thoughts.  Don't take my word for it, or even my examples.  Read some of your favorite books by your favorite authors and see how they do it.
Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s. ~ Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Life Changes with Learning

Quicky Hail Storm March 15, 2014
It's been a crazy winter for everyone.  Because of it, we've all learned a new term: Polar Vortex.

Now, I'm sure this isn't something weather people suddenly came up with, but in all my years, I can't remember ever hearing it.  Yeah, that many years.  And now I sound like my mother. *grin*

As I posted on Facebook this past Saturday, I heard the rain, thought one of my car windows was down a couple of inches, and ran outside to roll it up.  I'd just opened the car door to climb inside, when the hail started.  Hail?  Oh, hail, yes!  And it was coming down hard and heavy.  Aha!  It's spring!  Well, for a while.  We had snow flurries during the night.  Or at least I heard we did.  Just a touch of winter to remind us that it's only March.  Don't get your hopes up.  Temps of 78 or so for a day don't mean anything.  Mother Nature enjoys teasing the mortals.

That's the micro version of life.  That's the kind of thing we notice.  But later that night and thanks to a friend on Facebook, I sought something much bigger.  Something macro.  Something huge, enormous, gigantic, (fill in your own adjective) that boggled my mind.  Yes, boggled.  I watched the first installment of Cosmos: A Space-time Odyssey.

Yeah, me, watching a science show.  That, in itself, is mind-boggling.  Before entering 6th grade, I loved
 science.  I loved it so much that I begged and pleaded for a microscope, which I got for Christmas when I was 11.  All the neighbor kids offered fingers for bloodletting, so we could see it on a slide under the microscope.  We found dead bugs and checked out their legs.  Bits of leaves and flower petals were scrutinized.  My life goal emerged.  I wanted to be a research scientist.  Jump forward to a year later, and I had a science teacher who totally burned me out on science.  I've never had the tiniest bit of interest in science since then.  Don't believe it?  Fast forward to July 20, 1969.  Does that date ring a bell?  The first man walked on the moon.  I remember leaving my bedroom and walking through the living room, while my parents, watching TV, asked where I was going.

"Out," I answered.  "Down to the park.  Wherever."
"Aren't you going to watch Neil Armstrong (and Buzz Aldrin) walk on the moon?"

I have no idea what they said after I closed the door behind me.  I'm sure there were sighs and the shaking of heads, followed by the bemoaning of what would become of me, more than likely.

My dad worked at Boeing for just short of 25 years (mandatory age 65 retirement) and was a part of that company's involvement in the Space program.  As a person who had only received a 7th grade education, he broadened his mind and learned more than I ever have with reading.  He knew a lot about a lot of things.  One of his favorite things to read was Carl Sagan's Cosmos.  That and National Geographic Magazine were his mainstay.  He loved to learn new things.

So there I sat on Saturday night,  watching a show on my computer that I wouldn't have dreamed of watching all those years ago, my eyes wide with wonder and astonishment.  Age and maturity sure do make a difference.  Afterward, I told my daughter how amazing it was, so she found it on TV, and we watched it together.  The second in the series aired on Sunday night, and we were there again, fascinated by everything we saw.  And we'll continue to watch.

I'm not going to debate the Bible vs. Science.  For me, the two can easily be interwoven.  For those who don't agree with that and would avoid watching Cosmos?  You're missing some of the most beautiful images ever produced by God, nature, and, yes, even man.  (P.S. It's on the Fox Network.)

Give it a try.  Check it out.  More information and previous episodes can be seen via computer at Let me know what you think. ;)

That deep emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God. ~ Albert Einstein

Friday, March 14, 2014

Building Character(s)

Basic (romance) Characters

No GMC today.  Instead, we'll take a look at characters before getting into the goals, motivation and conflict of our characters.

Let's face it, characters are what make a book. If you don't have strong characters---and I don't mean the kind that lift weights---your characters and your story will fall flat.  And so will you.

Characters can have many traits.
  • Physical: hair color, eye color, height, body type, etc.
  • Overall physical: Handsome, beautiful, plain, scarred, etc.
  • Occupation: Doctor, nurse, cowboy, spy, mother, secretary, CEO, business owner, cowgirl...
All of the above make up our basic idea of a character.  But a character isn't only what s/he looks like and does for a living.  A well-rounded character will have other character traits, just as we real people do.  These are what we call personality traits.

If you've ever taken a psychology course in school, you've learned about personality traits, those thing that make us who we are.  The term "strong characters" refers to the strong personality traits of a character.  No one wants to read about a one-dimensional character.  Even a walk-on character often has certain personality traits.  Sometimes that's why one book will branch off into a second book, a third book, or even a multi-book series.  In some books, a secondary character already has a story within the story, written as a subplot to the main plot.

Building a character means knowing a character even better than you know yourself.  Many times writers find a bit of themselves in their characters or perhaps the opposite of themselves.

If you're a new writer and don't understand about characters, there are tons of websites where you can learn about characters and personality traits.  If you're beyond the new writer stage and are struggling with creating a new character, those same websites and others can help you can jump-start your character.
  • The Myers & Briggs test can teach you about basic personalities and how they affect each of us.  In addition to the Myers & Brigss website, there are other websites you can visit for more information on it. is a good one, and there are many more.
  • The Enneagram Institute uses 9 different personalities.  You can take a test to try it out.
  • Books for writers, such as the one I mentioned last week by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, Sue Vider.  The Complete Writer's Guide to Heros & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes has an interesting take on characters for an even different take on personalities.
  • Still a little confused?  You can download character sheets to get a handle on who and why your character is.
  • Don't stop there.  More information is available by doing a search online for fictional personality traits or character description in fiction.  Or think up your own!
The above could keep you busy for quite a long time.  Learn what you can, then think about it when you're working on your current or next story.  You don't have to be exact with your characters. You don't have to give your readers every, single detail about your character.  Be careful to show and not always tell who and why your character is who s/he is.  Sometimes a little pre-writing can help you get a grasp on your characters.  What does your character say?  What is your character thinking?  Is body language involved?  An excellent source for that is The Emotion Thesaurus (The Bookshelf Muse Descriptive Thesaurus Collection).  While that blog has moved to a new location, Writers Helping Writers, there is still a propensity of information about characters, especially how to show, not tell.  If you find either of these helpful, I advice getting the book at Amazon or B&N.

Choosing characters wisely is a huge part of what creates their goals, helps with understanding their motivations and builds their conflict.  And you thought writing was easy!  Most of the time it isn't difficult, but knowing the things that will help will put you on the road to stunning and memorable characters and their stories.

I'll be moving my topics to different days next week, so look for Writing Wednesday on...Wednesday next week.  Do opposites attract?  And just how opposite do they need to be?  Sort of a prerequisite to GMC. :)
The most important aspect of any story, to me, is character. ~ Nora Roberts

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Another Step Back

1915 Library
I honestly can't remember a time when I didn't read.  I don't necessarily mean literally read.  My much younger days, even before learning the alphabet, included a large stack of Little Golden Books.  Although I only have a couple of them left, I remember the drawings in them, if not the words.

But it wasn't only those cardboard and colorful children's books I read.  There were trips to the library.

The other evening, a friend and I were talking about the big library downtown.  She never went as a child.  I went quite often.  I loved going to the library.  Not only for the books, but because of the atmosphere.  Walking up the stone steps to the door always gave me a flash of excitement.  Stepping through the door, the scent of books, the sound of footsteps on the marble floor, and the sight of the John Brown mural would come together to remind me that, once again, I'd be finding a story that would take me into another world or make me live as another person.

Library reference desk
In 1876, local business owners funded the establishment of the library. It became a Carnegie library in 1912.

Inside the doors and ahead was the main section of the library, with its hexagonal reference desk.  To the right, marble slab steps led up to my destination, the children's room.  As I climbed them,  my footsteps echoed in my ears.  "Whisper," my mother would remind me, as we reached the top.

Children's room

I don't remember all the tables and chairs in the children's room.  What I remember were the rows and rows of bookshelves that filled the room.  I knew exactly where to find the books I wanted to read.

My favorites.
In first grade, I read both of them, while sitting at home with the mumps at Christmas. 

 And let's not forget the Bookmobile that brought new books to our schools and offered us more to read than what our small, school libraries could contain.

To move the thousands and thousands of books from the original library, students formed a brigade, passing the books to the new library across the street..  Novel idea, isn't it?

In the summer, we take my grandkids to one of the branch libraries and participate in the summer reading program.  It's nice there and has a fairly large children's area. If only we could teach the four of them what QUIET means, we'd have it made!

I miss the old library.  It sat empty for several years, but is now occupied by a financial group.  I don't think I'll miss the current library nearly as much, if at all, when an even newer library is built on the river bank.  Although the opening date for that was in 2012, I'm not even sure ground has been broken.  That library promises to be even bigger and better.  For me, it own't have the memories the old one still does.  Isn't that the way it always is?
Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them. ~ Bob Dylan

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Mania

That cute little graphic on the left isn't as generic as many might think.  There's no reason why it shouldn't be.  But...

For the past few months, I've been watching college basketball.  More precisely, my two favorite teams, the Wildcats (Kansas State University) and my hometown Shockers (Wichita State University).  I've been a WSU fan for much longer than I've been a KSU fan, but because they're in different conferences, it's okay.

KSU didn't do too badly...playing at "home."  However, road (away) games gave them trouble.  WSU, on the other hand, hasn't had that problem.  The now 34-0 team is ranked #2 in the nation.  How do they do it?  They play one game at a time.  It's a "we'll win this game and worry about the next one when that first one is over."

I think that's a pretty good way to live our lives.  One day at a time.  One game at a time.  One play at a time.

Why worry when there's nothing we can do about tomorrow, except finish today by living it the best we can?  Funny that I would say that, since I've become a worrier over the years.  I'm trying to get control over that, so when I realize I'm back to worrying--about bills, the age of my car, the weather, my family's problems--I stop and remind myself that worrying has never changed anything---except maybe make things worse.  I'm working hard to turn my negativity to positivity, too.

I'm also trying to regain my sense of humor.  Somewhere along the line, it's all but disappeared in many facets of my life.  I've been working on that, too.  And believe it or not, it's tied up in those basketball things.

How so?  I've been reading the WSU chats/boards/whatever on ESPN.  There are a lot of KU (Kansas University) fans, who hate and despise anyone but KU.  I'm not a KU fan and haven't been for a whole lot of years, but I wouldn't saunter over to the KU chats/boards/whatever on ESPN and post obnoxious comments about how bad KU teams are.  (KU isn't all that bad, so why lie?)  I have my reasons for not being a KU fan, but they're my reasons, and I doubt anyone really cares what they are.

Which brings me to how badly people now believe in "public."  Not the real public, but media provided by the internet.  Whether it's my-school-vs-your-school or my-political-party-vs-your-political party or anything else you can thing of, this big old world has shrunk to the size of  How does this tie in to regaining my sense of humor?  By watching some of the most disgusting comments ever posted on FB, ESPN, Twitter, Amazon reviews, and every other type of "social media" or whatever venue is available to voice an opinion.  If I don't have anything nice to say, I don't say it.  Usually. ☺

People seem to like to denigrate others, and the only reason I can find for it is that some people feel the need to bash someone or something else to make themselves feel superior.  Frankly, I don't enjoy spitting venom at others.  You see, my opinion is my own.  It may not be the same as yours.  In fact, if it is, the reasons for it may not be the same.  My opinion is worth as much as yours is, and yours is as much as mine is.  Do I think my opinion is right?  Sure I do.  I'm human.  But I've never found arguing or forcing others to agree with me, when they really don't, all that uplifting.

One of my favorite pieces of writing is the Desiderata.  It begins with this:
Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
The Desiderata was quite the thing back in the 60s.  Those "hippie" days.  But the above makes good sense.  I'd like to post it as a comment on some of those social media places to remind people that a) we all need to get along, and b) each of us has the right to an opinion, but try speaking it "quietly and clearly," lest you show your hate.

The Wichita State Shockers will be playing in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  Will they win?  I hope so!  But it's basketball.  Anything can happen.  Even a 34-0 season.  Hey, Shockers, I'll be watching!
We may have our private opinions but why should they be a bar to the meeting of hearts? ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, March 7, 2014

Creating Your Characters

Not only am I late, but I was busy with things I'd left unfinished, while racing toward a deadline.  I actually did write Wednesday's blog...late Wednesday night, then forgot to post it.  Earlier today, I worked on a blog post for Bits & Bytes, my writers group's blog.  In fact, while doing that I remembered it's Friday.  Duh!  The topic of our blog this month is "Your book is a movie!  Who’s in your dream cast?", so it was natural of me to think of characters as a topic for today.

Characters and Story

Characters can make or break your story.

Creating characters can be done in two ways:

Create the right characters for your story.
Create the right story for your characters.

One of the biggest mistakes writers make is not to make their characters real.  Or put another way, making our characters unreal.  By that, I mean they aren't believable.  Unbelievable characters may be too perfect, too imperfect, or they may be cardboard characters with no flaws.

Let's face it, we all have flaws.  Therefore, our characters should also have them.  They don't have to be huge, but they do affect the characters and how they live their lives and relate with others.  Those flaws can change by improving the flaws or can also grow more serious.  Whatever happens, character growth--changes in how the character perceives him or herself and others and reacts to those--are vitally important to them and to the story.

Characters often fall into categories known as archetypes.  You aren't sure what archetypes are?  The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders might be a good place to start.  If you like getting several different opinions or presentations on archetypes, simple do an online search for *character archetypes,* and there will be enough results to keep you busy for quite a while.  If you're more into suspense or mystery, Tami also wrote Fallen Heroes: Sixteen Master Archetypes of Villains (same link as above).

I don't always think of characters as archetypes, when creating them.  That doesn't mean the characters I write aren't some kind of archetypes.  They'll usually fall into one or two for each character at some time during the process.  After all, we all are archetypes of one kind or another, or we're a mix, just as our characters often are.

The Whys, Whats and Whos

Once you decide on which archetypes your characters fall under, back story takes a front row seat.

  • Ask yourself (or your character) WHY he or she is a Warrior or a Seductress, or any of the other archetypes.  From the moment we're born and until we pass on, we experience millions of things in our lives.  Good or bad, those experiences mold us to become who we are at a point in time.  For characters, that point in time is the beginning of the story.
  • WHAT happened in the character's life that made a difference, good or bad?  Was it loss or gain?  Raised in a big family or an orphan?  Did a death or a birth affect the character in some way?
  • WHO was involved in the above WHAT?  A friend, a parent, a sibling?  Or was it a stranger?
The more we write about a character, the more we learn about him or her.  I've often discovered that even though I think I know my character, I often learn there's something I missed.  If that happens to you, don't worry about it.  A little editing later will not only fix it, but make the character more well-rounded and real.

Keep one thing in mind:  The WHAT doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Good things work just as well.  It all depends on your character.

Back story not only helps answer the WHY, WHAT and WHO, but it can also be the catalyst that will force a change in the character, making that character grow.  Without character growth, without a change, either throughout the story or caused during and after the Black Moment, a story falls flat.  Knowing your character when you sit down to write the story can make a big difference in your writing.  The more you know, the easier your writing will go.

Once you've learn your character's archetype and the WHY, WHAT and WHO, you have a lot of  the information you need to work on the character's GMC (Goal, Motivation & Conflict).  Because GMC is very important to the character's story, we'll take a look at it next week and see how to use archetypes and the 3Ws to work with GMC.

Have a wonderous weekend and get ready to welcome in Spring!
When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. ~ Ernest Hemingway