Monday, March 31, 2014

Help for your Plot

I am a big believer in the process of brainstorming. It can not only be fun and a good way to involve friends and family in your writing process but it can also give you some good ideas and loosen the logjam when you aren't certain which direction you are heading. Today I am blogging about the brainstorming process and how it can help with your plotting efforts  at Savvy Authors.

Please join me there!   We'll be back next week with a whole month dedicated to plotting.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Points of Pain in Character Development

This is characters' month at Write that Novel and our guest today is romance author, Vonnie Davis.

Thanks for having me here as your guest today. I’ve been looking forward to my visit. Frankly, it gives me a chance to step out of my writing cave, squint at the sunlight and share some ideas with you. I was fortunate enough to retire early as a technical writer and, in the four years since, I’ve been writing various sub-genres of romance fulltime and enjoying every minute of it. I began as a writer with The Wild Rose Press and have eight titles with them. Now I write exclusively for LoveSwept/Random House and HarperImpulse, not because I wasn’t treated well at TWRP, for I was, but because contracts with the larger houses tend to tie you up with exclusivity and non-competitive clauses.
An important part of our writing process is character development, and we each have our own ways of creating and developing the people who will populate our stories. Whatever works for you is right for you. Because I write about four books a year, my process is short and simple.

I create my characters from the inside out.

I begin with the heroine and hero’s points of pain. Points of pain, we’ve all got them. Those sad and horrible events of our past, either from our childhood or even last year, that have altered our perception of life and the world around us.

Perhaps your parents divorced when you were young. That would be your point of pain. Did a dog attack you, making you fearful of animals? Or perhaps you were the middle child with a beautiful older sister, who always got her way, and a younger, charming one that everyone adored. You were the invisible daughter, unless something went wrong. That was your point of pain. Maybe you were teased as a teenager because of your weight. Or you were brutally attacked as a young adult. Or abandoned by your spouse to raise your small children on your own (Single mom of three waving her hand here and believe me when I say, it took me twelve years to trust again). All these classify as points of pain and, as such, affect how you and I react to others and certain situations.
The same holds true for our characters. So, we must initially know our heroine and hero’s point of pain, no matter how large or small. Maybe our hero was looked down upon because he lived on the wrong side of the tracks and he returns to his hometown years later as a millionaire. We can come up with hundreds of ways pain can be inflicted. In Those Violet Eyes, my hero lost part of his leg in the war in Iraq.

From here we decide, the inner strength of our hero and heroine. What have they done with their point of pain? Has it weakened them or made them stronger? Has the middle, ignored daughter become a bitter woman, blaming everything wrong in her life on someone else? Or has she worked hard to shine in her own right? Has our hero from the wrong side of the tracks turned into a wife-beating drunk or an ambitious businessman? My hero in Those Violet Eyes chose to open a ranch for children with amputee limbs. Has the abandoned mother worked nights to attend college during the day to get her degree to provide a better life for her children? (Degree waving momma here!)Because you see, we all have the choice to react negatively or positively to any situation—and so do our characters.
Then I decide their likes and dislikes. If your heroine was sexually attacked while wearing a pink sweater, would she refuse to wear pink ever again? If your hero went to bed hungry many a night as he was growing up, could he ignore a hungry dog? What are their push buttons. We all have those too. I can’t stand to hear a man verbally abuse his wife or hear a parent call a child nasty names. I get irritated with women who chose to be a man’s doormat. My heroines are always feisty; they turn adversities into advantages.

What things will your characters love and hate? Music?Do they prefer the quiet of classical music to relax or chest-thumpin’ music so loud it drowns out the bad thoughts? Junk food?Do they reach for that tub of ice cream when they’re upset or, as someone teased for their weight earlier in life, do they obsess over every calorie they put in their mouths? Sports?Religion?Education? Love of art? All these things become layers to their personalities. And as I layer them from the inside out, they’re slowly coming to life.
How has a character’s past history and personal choices affected his or her choice of career? Suppose we have a teenager lose a father from an unexpected heart attack. Have the heart attack happen while the father was shooting hoops with the tall teenager and we have a very real point of pain. Two, actually.The sudden loss of a parent and the feeling that maybe if Dad hadn't been shooting hoops in the driveway, he wouldn't have died. The teenager might even harbor guilt that he caused his dad's death. To assuage this guilt, the kid decides to become a doctor, a cardiologist. Every aspect of his life is dedicated to being the best doctor he can be. Can you see how this person is driven by his point of pain?

Since I’m a person with quirks, I love giving a quirk or two to my characters. It’s a lesson I learned from Shakespeare. He was a master at providing a bit of comedic relief. So, if I have a serious, no nonsense, uptight character, I toss in a quirk to make him or her more likable, more human, more like us. And if I can make my readers chuckle over the quirk, then I’m in writer’s heaven because I love a good laugh.
Lastly, I think about his or her appearance. Because it’s what’s inside that counts. It’s their heart and soul and points of pain that drive the story, not the color of their eyes or the size of their pecs. Although those things are nice, too. I just save those goodies for last.

I’d like to share an excerpt from Santa Wore Leathers, a novella from HarperImpulse and the kickoff for a series of books about the men of fire and marine rescue Station Thirty-Two. The series is entitled Firemen’s Wild Heat. I’m writing book one now about Wolf’s youngest sister and one of his co-workers.
But in this novella, the romantic couple is Wolf and Becca.Wolf’s point of pain? His parents were both killed in a fire while he was serving as a SEAL. He resigned his commission to come home to Florida to care for his four teenage sisters, who are now grown, yet remain an active part of his life. Becca’s point of pain? Both her father and her ex-husband walked out on her, so she’s an uptight, prickly man-shy woman who gives her love to a German shepherd, Einstein…

                   Two miles later they returned to Seashell Lane, jogging toward home in her gulf-side community on the northern fringes of Clearwater, Florida.Becca loved her neighborhood, a comfortable blend of retirees and small families. Her gaze swept to the town house next to hers. At least, until two weeks ago, when her new neighbor with his constant stream of female visitors moved in. The man went through women quicker than her ex-husband.
                  Just then his door opened, and man-whore stepped out on his small front porch. In a purely feminine reaction, she reached to smooth back her hair. Suddenly, Einstein wrenched his leash from her grip and took off.
                 “Einstein! Einstein, stop!” She sprinted after her errant dog.
                 Her neighbor pivoted. Einstein leaped, knocking him back against the door. “Whoa, there big guy!” He accepted the canine kisses and aimed dark eyes at her. “Is he yours? He’s some dog.” His large hands ruffled Einstein’s fur. Firm biceps flexed under her neighbor’s black Harley T-shirt, and the bottom of a wicked tribal tattoo peeked from beneath his right sleeve.
               “Yes. I’m sorry he jumped on you. He never takes off like that.” No doubt one dog recognized another.
                 “Man, I’d love a dog like him. A man’s dog, you know? I’ve got a cat. Not by choice, though. When my sister went off to college, she left Fluffy with me.”
                 Man-whore aimed a wide smile at her, his perfectly straight teeth a contrast to his tan. A dimple winked. The fact he only had one dimple was the singular flaw on his flawlessly handsome face. Now that she was within five feet of him, she could clearly examine his features. Having watched him through her window from time-to-time, she knew he was tall and muscular. But up close, she realized he had the body of a serious weight lifter. His long, dark brown hair was brushed straight back. The skin crinkled at the corners of espresso-colored eyes when he smiled, which he seemed to do easily and frequently. Yet, it was the vision of him holding a cat named Fluffy that nearly made her smile. Muscle man and putty cat.
                “You live next door, don’t you?” He jerked his head toward her home.
                 She bent to grasp the end of her dog’s leash. “Yes, I do.”
                He extended his hand when she straightened. “Dan Wolford.” His dimple flashed again and his smile did all kinds of twitchy things to her insides. “Most people simply call me Wolf.”
                I’ll just bet they do.
               She glanced at his hand for a second. No need to be rude, even if she didn’t care for his cavalier attitude toward women. She did the polite thing. “Welcome to the neighborhood, Dan.”
               "Wolf, please.” His large paw enveloped hers, and warmth spread upwards from her stomach, did a backflip and then dove downwards. Meanwhile, his dark gaze assessed her entire body and face, as if she were the most dazzling woman in sweaty running clothes he’d ever seen. His solitary dimple winked along with his thousand-watt smile. One dark eyebrow rose as if he were waiting for her to share her name. She wasn’t sure why she hesitated. She was reluctant.  Fueled by his cocksure attitude, no doubt. Now there was a cliché, if ever she’d heard one.
                  His thumb rubbed slow, lazy circles over her knuckles detonating sensual signals straight to her core. Oh, he was good at this magnetism stuff.
                   Wolf glanced at her prancing, panting dog. “Einstein, does your owner have a name? It looks like she’s not sharing today.”
                    Oh, for Pete’s sake.
                   Einstein whined, his tongue lolling crooked from his mouth.
                   “Huh, looks like Einstein’s not talking either.” She tugged her hand free. “Excuse me. I have Christmas shopping planned for this afternoon. I better get going.” She pivoted toward her front door.
                     “Have a good day, Becca Sinclair.” His deep voice washed over her, sending an annoyed shiver up her spine. So the man knew her name all along and was just playing dumb. Was that sneaky arrogance or stalker creepy?
                     She glared at him over her shoulder. “If you knew my name, why’d you make a big deal out of asking for it?”
                     He shrugged and looked down for a beat before aiming his dark eyes at her again. “When a man finds a strange woman attractive, he asks around until he finds out something about her. Mrs. Minelli, two doors down, fears you’ve been pining away for your ex-husband.”
                    Sneaky stalker creepy.
                   She turned, snapped her fingers once and Einstein sat at her feet before she planted her hands on her hips. “I don’t appreciate being the topic of neighborhood gossip, Dan Wolford.”

Please visit me at my website: or my blog

Thanks, Vonnie, for sharing your ideas about your characters.  And thank you for introducing us to two of them who sound so intriguing they make us want to read the book.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Creating Characters: Conversation with a Duchess

This month the spotlight is on on characters, how to develop them, why they are so important and what can make them shine. But we are also talking to some of them and letting you get an idea of who they are in the books we read. Today as a guest, we welcome Duchess Amelia Augusta Ethrington, who is the main character in The Duchess' Necklace by Mariah Lynne. 
Duchess, please tell us about where you live and what brought you there?
Yes, thank you Rebecca. I am honored to be here. As the rightful Duchess of Abbington, I live in Abbington Manor, a large fieldstone manor house surrounded by lovely colorful gardens with fountains and walking paths. I inherited the property and the title of duchess that came along with it from my aunt who bore no children. She had hoped to keep alive the legacy of my great-great-great uncle Duke Hestor of Abbington who asked the king to give him special authority to pass ownership of the duchy to his daughter rather than his son.
Abbington Manor is located in the middle of England and serves as a proper royal residence. A lovely river wraps around the property to the east. My home boasts twenty five rooms including a large ballroom where I host my many parties and holiday celebrations. The library has a marble fireplace and has hand carved shelves filled with the classics, many first editions. As you stroll through the manor’s large corridors, you will see many artifacts from ancient Greece and Rome bequeathed to me by my ancestors. I also have a large collection of art from the famous masters on the continent.  I have many loyal servants who help me keep the grounds and royal residence in immaculate condition. Some, such as my personal maid and bodyguard, I regard as family.

You’ve reached the advanced age of 32 and people consider you an old maid.  You’re fourth in line to the throne.  Why do you not get yourself a husband?
The traditions of my time are much more stifling than yours. Oh how I wish it were not so. First the man I marry would have to be of equal social standing. More than likely, the marriage would be arranged, loveless, and boring. My new husband would then become the Duke of Abbington and would be in control of my property, my finances and my life. I could not do that to myself. I would be breaking a proud tradition my great great Aunt Susanne passed down to me. Instead of being chained to a miserable marriage, I enjoy secret trysts and illicit romances with traveling knights and strangers. I now know after Travelling to your time that  such a thing would not happen to a woman of standing. A woman could chose not only her spouse but her job or station in life and control her own wealth. I long for that. 

What would change your mind and make you want to marry?
If I met a man who was caring enough to respect me for the woman I am. Someone who would have no designs on my duchy but who only wants my love. I’d like him to be soft-spoken, intelligent and love my dog Duke. I often ponder what I might surrender for such a gentle man.

Why do people consider you so headstrong?
I haven’t been able to get a grasp on why myself. Perhaps it’s because I take charge of my duchy, my property, and my life. I’m ahead of my time in that regard and will not stop until I finish the task at hand no matter how long it takes or how difficult. If that makes me headstrong, then so be it. I know how to ride a horse like a man and shoot a pistol.

How do you see yourself?
I see myself as a warm wonderful woman who loves life, cares about those around her, and even though I have illicit trysts long to meet the love of my life. I am charitable to the less fortunate and treat my servants’ family the way I would want mine to be treated. When my guard Arthur was murdered while protecting my estate, I vowed to take care of his family for as long as I remained duchess.
What would you say your strongest qualities are?
I think those that make me seem headstrong. I am independent, intelligent, and caring. I am not afraid of being alone or a spinster. I want love on my terms and not dictated by royal decree.        

 Your weakest?
Ah, I am always taken in by a handsome strong man with great romantic skills. That is what got me into such deep trouble this time. I should have been more careful about my last tryst, but that handsome young Traveler made me feel so young, so vibrant, so beautiful, I let my guard down. I had to pay a hefty price to seek revenge.

 What do you wish for most?
 Happiness and true love. They should come hand in hand. I often ponder what I might surrender for such a wonderful life if I met the right man.

We understand you have the Abbington Jewels. Can you tell us about them?
They are famous throughout England and once owned by the king himself. They were given to Uncle Hestor to designate his rightful heir and were passed down to me when I became duchess. Whoever possesses the jewels possesses the title and all that goes with it. The jewels, large yellow diamonds and emeralds, are set in a large and heavy gold chain. They can be worn by either a man or a woman.

What makes them so valuable?
Of course the gold and gemstones, but also the fact that they belonged to a king. As I said, whoever inherits the jewels, inherits the duchy and all that goes with it, the manor and the money.

What would happen if you were to lose the necklace?
If I were to lose the jewels and my evil male cousins found out about it, I would lose everything. My cousins are the direct descendants of the son Uncle Henry passed over. They want to get control of the duchy and would be only too happy to throw me out. That’s why when my necklace was taken from me, I had to risk everything to get it back. That meant even betraying the kind man with whom I fell in love,

The Duchess sounds like a fascinating character. But all characters must come from some author's fertile imagination. That particular author is Mariah Lynne:  
Ever dream of traveling through time? Mariah Lynne does. She writes stories that take her readers along on exciting journeys. Travel to distant times and beautiful places with strong-willed independent heroines whose memorable tales will entertain with twisted plots that dabble in the paranormal. Both of her novellas, THE LOVE GYPSY and THE DUCHESS’ NECKLACE, fit that description to a T.
A Graduate of Syracuse University, Mariah lives on a beautiful Gulf Coast Island in Florida. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Southwest Romance Writers. When she is not writing, she enjoys swimming, traveling and spending time with her husband and dolphin hunting dog, Max.

Want to know more? Here's a blurb:
Amelia Augusta Ethrington, 18th century Duchess of Abbington, fourth in line to the English throne, is considered by society an old maid at thirty two. She refuses to marry and relinquish royal authority to a husband. Instead, she finds romance in trysts with total strangers.  Amelia’s sole entitlement to her duchy is an intricate and valuable necklace, The Abbington Jewels.  An unscrupulous Traveler wishing to steal the jewels and sell them at future prices seduces her catching her off guard and snatching the necklace.

Amelia must now risk everything to Travel with the aid of a kind gypsy seer to find the thieving scoundrel, kill him and retrieve her title before her jealous male cousins lay claim to her duchy. Complications arise after she meets a handsome shy man, a museum appraiser sent to acquire the jewels. Amelia falls in love with him but realizes she must focus on her quest to regain both her necklace and title. The Duchess is now faced with the most difficult decision of her life. 

To contact Mariah:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Characters Make the Book

by Becky Martinez

People are always asking about how I come up with characters and this month I am teaching a class at Savvy Authors on creating great characters. Because I think characters are such an important element of any good book, this month we will be focusing on characters here at the Write that Novel blog. We’ll hear from authors on how they come up with their characters and we’ll be interviewing characters from a number of books.
Today let’s look at the importance of good characters as I take a look at the start of my series. The first book, Dead Man's Rules has just come out for Kindle and print. These characters have been in my mind for so long that when I came to write them, they just flowed out on the pages. I felt like I had known them for years.

What is it you remember after reading a book?  The plot twists and turns? The action?  Sometime those can be memorable and you might keep thinking about them after putting down the book. But is it the action or how the main character actually dealt with the events or how that final twist affected the main character that you remember most?

I have always maintained that great characters are part of what stays with us about a book. From my first reading as a child I can remember how characters affected me. Going all the way back to one of the first books I checked out of the library – Horton Hears a Who, I was drawn in by the character. I wanted that elephant to succeed. In later years, I felt the same way about Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and Pip in Great Expectations. I felt I got to know those characters and I wanted them to have good outcomes.
In the past 30 years I have read a lot of series novels. I enjoy seeing the characters come and go in various romance series, like the Blossom Street people of Debbie Macomber or in the Bitter Creek Series of Joan Johnston. These are characters you might find anywhere but with real problems and they make you care about the people.

My new book, Dead Man’s Rules, takes readers to a fictional town in New Mexico and introduces the characters of Cere Medina, her mother, Lottie, and Freeda Ferguson. These are three very different women who all want different things and are going about getting them in different ways.
When people say where do you come up with your characters, I never have a set answer. They can come from anywhere. Usually they are a big compilation of people I either know, wish I knew or just plain made up.

I also have to admit in some ways most of my characters are a little bit of me too. For instance in Dead Man, all three of these women have tiny parts of me. For Lottie Medina, it was that small town young woman headed to the city. For Cere Medina, it was that competitive woman who wants to succeed, at almost any cost. For Freeda Ferguson, it was that often unconventional character who wants to live life on her own terms.
But for all of them I worked at making them people whom readers would want to see succeed. While Dead Man’s Rules is Cere’s story as she fights to get the story and get her man, the events also help her grow.

And that is key to creating a great character too—character growth. One of the reasons I have always enjoyed the story of Elizabeth Bennet was her growth and that of Mr. Darcy. Their realizations of how their pride and prejudice could be overcome through love was a big revelation to them both.
I’ve used that idea of growth for Cere as well, and I am working on instilling Freeda’s growth into the second book of that series, Dead Man’s Treasure, where Freeda finally gets the one thing she thinks she has been wanting for years – to get to know her father and spend time with him. But things turn out very differently than she ever expected.

Lottie’s story will be at the heart of the final book in the trilogy, Dead Man’s Secrets as she learns the little town and all she thinks she knows may have been all lies all along. It will also be the story of Estrella Tafoya, who must grow and learn to believe in herself.
And at the heart of all three mysteries is the ghost of a man who to me is the most fascinating character – Marco Gonzales – the dead man himself, whose young life and shooting in the first book sets everything in motion.

Marco’s story was the most fun to invent and that to me is what makes a good character – inventing the story around them and then making them live and breathe on the pages.

Who are your favorite fictional characters and why do you think they're special? I'll be giving away a copy of Dead Man's Rules to one lucky commenter.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Characters and the Writing Process

All this month we have been checking in with other writers to see how they confront the writing process. It has been interesting and they prove the point we keep making over and over. No two writers will approach writing their books exactly the same.  Many don't even approach writing their own books the same every time they set out to work on a new story.

Most often the story dictates how it is written, or as others have said, their characters might be the determining factors in how the writer approaches the book. 

Today, as we wrap up this informal look at the writing process we hear from historical romance writer, Margaret Tanner of Australia. Her latest book is Haunted Hearts.

Margaret, tell us a little about your writing process. How do you come up with your plots?
Because I love Australian history, in fact all history, plots abound in my fertile imagination, but I do seem to get my best plot ideas in the middle of the night. I write them down, (pen and paper by my bed), so I won’t forget them. I usually take a historical event to use as my main background and then manufacture some catastrophic, life changing event for the main characters. What could they do to stop it? How will it change them and those around them?

How do you develop your characters?
I develop my characters to fit in with the era I am writing about. I normally don’t write character profiles, except for the briefest of outlines, but I try to walk in their shoes so to speak, and to get inside their head.

How do you develop heroines, heroes and villains?
My heroines are resourceful, not afraid to fight for her family and the man she loves. I want my readers to be cheering for her, willing her to obtain her goals, to overcome the obstacles put in her way by rugged frontier men. For my heroes, I like them to be dark and tortured. They might be seeking revenge, trying to consolidate their fortunes, but all of them will have something in their backgrounds, some dark deed that has tainted their lives. As for my villains, I like them to be evil with no redeeming features.

Thank you, Margaret for giving us some insight into your writing. Where can readers visit you online?

Now that we have looked at the various ways writers approach their work, let's turn to characters. Starting next week our focus will be on how writers come up with their great characters and we'll introduce some of the wonderful story people out there.

If you would like to leave a comment about your writing process or ask a question or make a comment for Margaret, please do so.

Getting off to a Fresh Start

At the beginning of every new year don’t we always look at different ways to start off fresh? We want to make our resolutions or set goals ...