You want to be a professional writer?

_MG_4082“In Ireland, a writer is looked upon as a failed conversationalist.” – unkown

“Writing is a profession in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.” – Jules Renard (1864-1910)

“The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can’t help it.” – Leo Rosten

“A blank page is God’s way of showing you how hard it is to be God.” – unkown

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Develop the romance

There are two types of romantic males.  _MG_4307

An alpha male fixes problems.  He doesn’t reflect on the problem and doesn’t examine his emotions.  He acts!

He realizes his emotional connection late in the story.  He loves her.

A beta male has compassion. He asks why she is doing something and worries about the emotional and physical well-being of the heroine.

Once the male is determined, focus on the female.  Characters need connections as well as conflicts.  They should have things in common, yet differences that bring them together and keep them apart.   They admire traits in the other while driving each other crazy.  What do the characters admire in each other to keep them hoping for a future together?

The hero and heroine mirror each other through the story.  He wants her.  She doesn’t want him.  She wants control.  He wants her to lose control. They start off as opposites and meet in the middle.  They grow and change because they influence each other.

Reveal new and unexpected information in layers about how the characters behave.  It must make sense and they are motivated from the same place.  Both have same core values.

The characters need to be in conflict with each other but want same thing for different reasons.

The characters have an error in thinking that makes them believe they cannot be together.

They think something in them or the world is wrong and keeps them from achieving happiness or love.  The issue must be resolved for them to be together.

The characters must learn a life lesson before they overcome a crisis in the big moment.  It is often related to the character’s error in thinking.  They need to change or realize error in thinking.  The writer needs to show something in the past to cause an error in thinking.

They need to overcome emotional internal issue to get together.  The hero is emotionally dangerous to her.  She could be hurt if she gives her heart to him because he isn’t ready to commit to her only.  He must realize he can’t lose her or walk away.  He needs her because he loves her.  They grow by admiring the other person and change because of each other to find love.

Her subconscious need becomes theme of the story.

The protagonist must evolve in every story –

  1. Boy meets girl – the influence of another character to change – will only be happy if with the other person so must make commitment or change to be with them
  2. Events unearth hidden powers, insight or traits he didn’t know he had – must develop strength or be destroyed
  3. Man undergoes trials to have insight into becoming better person – must realize error and choose to alter course

 

Creating the romantic couple

A tulip.

A tulip.

Romance is between two strong, developed characters with a conflict that is internal and external. The emotional, character-driven conflict creates the romance, the tension, and the excitement.

Choose the perfect mate for you character to create tension and conflict by thinking of the worst partner for your main character.  When she falls in love with the “wrong” man, it creates problems.

To create plot, think of the worst thing that could happen to her and develop the solution from there.

Push characters out of their comfort zone and force them to grow.

The heroine needs to go on an emotional journey.  It is often the first time she’s been in love.  The man’s motivation is simple at the beginning but expands later after raw motivation of sex or dramatic scene.  He begins with lusting but realizes he needs a relationship with the one woman he loves.

The external goal can be obvious to the reader but reaching the external goal hinders the couple from reaching the internal goal or true love.

Internal conflict should be the main focus and can be in either character or both. The opposing forces within a personality, motivations, aspirations, or an emotional situation within a relationship create the obstacle that must be overcome for them to live happily ever after.

The opposing forces can be an unplanned pregnancy, an arranged marriage, marriage to someone else, or some other situation that causes a problem for the lovers.

External conflict such as misunderstandings, circumstances, or secondary character’s influence should only be used to develop the romance and plot and should not be the main obstacle that keeps them apart.

Reveal the character’s goal and motivation slowly and use dialogue to propel the story.  Use foreshadowing to show the emotional journey and hint how they grow and change.

Something gets in the way of the couple being together and keeps them from achieving what they want. They need to be happy but different personalities such as his arrogance or her distrust keeps them apart.

The conflict must be believable and sustained through the entire story. It should not be easily resolved by a simple conversation or revelation.  A back story reveals why they do something or believe they cannot find love.  Perhaps someone they loved betrayed them or died.

A good story should have two or three conflicts that unfold and are resolved.  A conflict isn’t an endless battle but layers of highs and lows.  The characters disagree about something important to each of them and must compromise until they resolve their differences.

 

 

Minor characters add spice

SIMG_0115upporting characters play special role in a story. A new character can add interest to the story.

Avoid too many characters at the beginning, especially group scenes. Add one or two at a time and use action to introduce the new characters and instill individuality and depth. What peculiar traits can you give the minor character to make him seem more developed in a quick way?

Minor characters should make an impression but not a big splash. A minor character should not distract from the main thread of a story, but each character should play a small role in facilitating the plot and make scenes feel authentic. Minor characters need to support the story either by revealing characteristics in the hero or advancing the plot.

Reveal the character with minimal description initially and add to it later. Provide a name and a few quirky details, a bit of action, or dialogue instead of long drawn out description. Minor characters should have a name to match their persona or easy nicknames to help the reader remember them.

Avoid exotic names, two first names, names that sound alike or start with the same letter as other names in the story.  Also, avoid names ending in “s” because of possessiveness. Stick with one name except in dialogue.

Keep a list of your characters in your story.  I once gave the last name to two unrelated characters.

Use a quirky trait, distinctive feature, or other dominant characteristic to make them easy to identify as they appear and disappear in the story.  They can be eccentric, exaggerated, or obsessive.  They should be fun for the writer and reader.

 

They aren’t window dressing.  They serve a purpose.  How does the hero treat a minor character?  Does it reveal a strong trait or a flaw in him?

Through minor characters, the reader sees the reaction of characters to each other and builds relationships.

Supportive characters should reflect what your protagonist needs. He is the opposite of the hero to emphasize traits. An arrogant person needs someone who doesn’t take him too seriously. A hard boiled cop needs kids or a pregnant wife.

A sidekick provides help to the main character.  An amateur sleuth needs someone with access to inside information. What role will the supporting character play?  Helper or antagonist?  Is he a friend or foe of the hero?

Have you foreshadowed the new character earlier in the story?

Also, determine why the minor character is there and is he necessary.  If not, can you combine him with another minor character?

Making a bad guy good

Sleeping soldier

A Civil War soldier reenactor naps in his tent.

The good guy can only be as good as the bad guy is bad.

In a mystery, the villain should be hiding in plain sight.  The reader wants to solve the mystery before you reveal it.  Offer clues to the villain’s identity but don’t forget twists, red herrings, and other suspects to confuse the reader. He shouldn’t know who really did it until the final chapter.

The antagonist must be a worthy opponent in intelligence and ability to the hero.  Develop with a back story, motivation, and reason for thwarting the hero. Is it greed, jealousy, or hatred?  What made the villain the way he is?

The villain makes life hard for the hero and makes the hero more interesting.

Play both with and against type by contrasting good and evil in both the hero and villain.

What role does the antagonist play in the hero’s decisions and does his influence grow toward the end?
Make the crime fit the villain – he must have expertise and be capable of executing the crime.

Does the antagonist have any phobias, weaknesses, or shortcomings?

What redeeming qualities, skills does the villain have?

The villain justifies the crime by righting a prior wrong, revenge against a perceived enemy who deserved to die, vigilante justice because system didn’t work, protecting a loved one, or restoring order to the world.

The antagonist can be sympathetic to the reader but justice must prevail.

 

A story needs quirky friends or family to add interest to the “normal” main character.

An adversary isn’t a villain but causes trouble for the hero.  He’s a good guy who drives the sleuth nuts, pushes his buttons, torments him, puts obstacles in his path, and is a pain in the butt. They create spice and make other characters come alive. They can cause all kinds of interesting problems and complicate the story by throwing up roadblocks.

An adversary thwarts, annoys, and generally gets in the protagonist’s way.  He reveals the characteristics of the hero through arguments, physical and mental struggles, and by revealing good and bad traits toward the adversary.  Think of Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes or Lulu to Stephanie Plum.

A female hero like Stephanie has a complicated love life because her character’s problems rely on her being a single woman.

Other female characters can be happily married but the husband is in the background or a partner.

 

Motivation is a must

IMG_0282Motivation is the reason why something happens or someone acts the way they do.

The story won’t work if the character isn’t motivated to accomplish the task.

Can he do it and why should he?

A character’s basic traits enable him to do what he has to do.  He may not be a hero at the beginning of the story, but he has what it takes to be a hero by the end of the story.

The fundamental plot line gives the reader a specific goal to hope for.  It could be the hero finding true love or the hero destroying the death star.

Additional complementary traits expand the character both in a positive and negative ways as he faces each event or conflict.  How he responds to success and failure creates tension.

The character’s need grows proportionally to the necessity of reaching the story’s goal.

Subplots of history, values, and conflicts of other characters builds intensity.

The protagonist must evolve. Boy meets girl and the influence of the other changes them. They will only be happy with the other person so they must make a commitment or change to be with them.

Events unearth hidden powers, insight, or traits he didn’t know he had.  The hero must develop his strength or be destroyed by an enemy.

The bad hero undergoes trials to gain insight into becoming a better person. He must realize his past errors and choose to alter his life and become a better person.

Some questions to ask about your writing:

How does the character grow or change because of the events or problems in the story?

What fear will the character overcome?

What does your main character do differently in the middle and end of story? And why?

Is the character prepared to face the final confrontation and decision?
Will the character act differently than expected and is it foreshadowed?

How will the character nearly fail before triumphing?

 

My writing process

I begin a historical romance with the heroine.  I pick a name and begin to describe how she looks to obtain a clear picture.  I may draw her or clip an ad of someone who looks similar.

Then I choose a hero for her.  I write a background and description on him and may clip an ad to keep his appearance clear.

Then I decide on a setting.  I usually have a year chosen but won’t settle on a month until I’ve done some historical research.  Research takes time to gather the information for a year’s period but it saves time in rewriting when the story doesn’t fit the correct historic period.

For one of my stories, I chose 1861 after the battle of Bull Run.  I researched a timeline almost a year befoIMG_8759re the battle and then more detail on the battle and weeks after.

I print a calendar for the year of my story and map out the weeks my story will cover.  It’s important to know if it was a Sunday or Wednesday when your story begins.

Next is the problem.  Every story must have a problem.  I look at my two characters.  I’ve roughed out their personalities and backgrounds, and the problem should come from their differences.  One trick is to establish one character and then make the other an opposite.  In one story, the heroine was an abolitionist, and the hero was a slave owner. The story is how they overcome their differences and live happily ever after.

In between the problem and resolution are layers of complications.  She plans to marry another man who proposed to another woman before courting her.  An enemy of the hero also is looking for runaway slaves.  Each problem, resolution and reflection builds layers to the story, but they must all lead to the resolution at the end.

I usually write several scenes, maybe totaling a hundred pages.  Then I create an outline of what I’ve written.  The outline shows me where I need to move scenes or postpone details to create more tension or suspense.  My outline will change as I write until it matches the final version of the story.

I keep a list of my characters names and descriptions. I’ll note what page they first appear.

While I write, I’ll make a note of a historical fact I want to check or need to research and what page it is on.  I can do the research and add the information later.

I will rewrite a story several times, adding description, moving scenes, and making word choices or grammar corrections each time.  Usually my story becomes longer each time.  I also note if there are any passages I find boring and change them.  If I don’t enjoy reading my story over and over again, why should the reader?

Then begins the editing process.  My first story had a lot of edits.  I learned what words and phrases to eliminate from my writing to make it better.  I also learned my weaknesses and corrected them.  Someone else should always look at your story and give advice to make it better.  Good writers learn from their mistakes.

Classics on love

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways, I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach.”  -Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese

“God be thanked, the meanest of his creatures Boasts two soul-sides, one to face the world with, One to show a woman when he loves her! “- Robert Browning, “One Word More.”

“Two souls with but a single thought, Two hearts that beat as one.” – Friedrich Halm, Ingomar the Barbarian

“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” – George Sand, letter (1862)