Friday, February 29, 2008

Reinventing the Wheel

When writers sit down to write a book, the make sure their desk is clean, they have paper in thier printer, their pencils are sharpened, they have blank notebooks to jot down their ideas. They organize their desk and their office so they have a good place to write. Well, most of us do. Not every writer writes the same way. In fact, many times I don't even write in my office. I find a comfortable spot on my sofa where my cat and dog can curl up next to me, put my MP3 player on "soundtrack" mode and just write.

Everyone organizes their writing space different. Some people can only write in the same place or time of the day. I, on the otherhand, can write anywhere, at any time of the day as long as my kids aren't around. When my kids are around, I'm mom and there is just no way of shutting that off. Whether it's Dunkin Donuts or at 40,000 feet on an airplane, I can write just about anywhere. Regardless of how or where you write, one of the most important things that many writers fail to do is organize their writing time. I don't write fiction every day. I'm a freelance writer though so I do write something every day. My writing might be about foreclosures or health and nutrition instead of the characters that follow me everywhere I go. But I do try to set aside a certain amount of time to write both my fiction and my freelance writing. Organizing my time keeps me on track when I have a deadline.

Let me say that I'm a huge fan of the phrase, "Don't reinvent the wheel." If someone else has a brilliant idea about how to do something fast and efficiently, I'm all ears. One of the things that I find useful is plotting out a log of my projected daily progress and my actual progress with a manuscript tracker. Kresley Cole had a manuscript that she'd shared with a few writers a few years ago and I use that with every manuscript. I do know that some writing programs, like WriteWay Pro, have built in manuscript trackers as well. What I find great about these trackers is that although I don't write every day, the tracker tracks my progress based on every day.

Sounds nuts? Not really. While it's great for some people to see daily progress, I'm a weekly goal girl. So as long as I'm at my goal by the end of the week, it doesn't matter if I've written 2 pages a day or 14 pages per week or however many pages I need to finish the book on time. I've used this for the last 6 books I've published and it's worked great to keep me on deadline. Another way of tracking your writing and keeping organized is to use programs such as the calendar function in Microsoft Outlook. While you have to keep track of your pages, you can plot out your weekly goals and check them off on your to-do list at the end of the week.

My motto is, whatever works. If you're fabulous at organizing everything in your head and magically writing your manuscript so you're on track, keep it to yourself. I'll only be green with envy. No, seriously, drop me a line or comment on the board so you can share your process with someone else. After all, there's no need for everyone to reinvent the wheel.

And while I'm here posting on the last day of February, make sure you take a moment to check out the fabulous lineup of Love Inspired Suspense books for March from our Craftie Ladies of Suspense group.

Until next week, many blessings to you.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fellow LI Suspense Author Robin Caroll

If you're like me, you love books and are fascinated by the process of writing a book. I don't care if you ever dream of writing your own, it's fun to see how people create.

Robin Caroll is in the middle of a series of great suspense set in the Bayou of Louisiana. This week she was interviewed on a radio program. If you've ever thought about writing, but weren't sure how to get started, be sure to check out her interview. It lasts about 15 minutes and is packed with great insight on the craft of writing as well as information on her books.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Week 8: Raising the Stakes

If there’s one thing we know about Donald Maass in his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, it’s that he always challenges us to raise the stakes. The Southwest Florida RWA chapter recently hosted him for a daylong event in Naples. The comments I’ve heard from folks who attended said his workshop was better than ever. I had the privilege of hearing him a few years ago when he visited my Georgia Romance Writers group, and he was great then. A real plus to attending a Maass event are the in-class exercises you do on your own work in progress. By applying the various techniques to your current story, you go home with a notebook full of ideas you can immediately plug into your manuscript.

One of writers I know who attended the Naples event said Maass mentioned this tip: throw manuscript pages in the air and allow them to fall helter-skelter to the ground. Pick them up out of order and then rework each page to increase the tension (think conflict). Great advice. When we don’t look at the chapter or scene as a whole, but concentrate on the various individual pages, we’re better able to spot opportunities to up the stakes we otherwise may have missed.

Do you understand your characters and why they react the way they do? Ensure your reader understands them as well. And don’t forget the antagonist. He/she needs to be as clearly defined and understood as the hero and heroine. From the beginning of the story, the main characters must feel passionately about whatever goal you’ve given them to achieve. Then that passion needs to be tested over and over as the stakes are raised. Memorable characters live life to the fullest and push the envelope whenever possible. At least that’s what I’m taking away from Maass’ workbook. Your thoughts?

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Promotional Tools

Promotion is one of the many responsibilities of a writer. I know what you’re thinking, shouldn’t the publisher be responsible for promoting the books they sell. And the answer is yes. Publishing houses put money behind the books they sell through various forms of promotion and advertising. But as a writer, we too must do our part. Though the questions you have to ask yourself are: What are you comfortable doing? How much time and energy can you spare from writing for promotional purposes? And what return will you receive from your promotional efforts?
I’m really bad at promotion. I do have business cards, I do included links in my signature for all my emails to this blogspot and a website that I belong to. I’ve done postcards and mailed them out, handed them out and sent to various RWA chapters to be given out. I give workshops occasionally, but I’m not that comfortable with public speaking (this is something I hope to improve on) and I have guest blogged on various sites.
The two places I’ve used for postcards and my business cards are Kinko’s and Vista Print. Vista Prints has some great promo freebies and well priced items.
I’ve taken my covers to Kinko’s for postcards. They have been reasonably priced and good quality.
I send out a newsletter twice a year to my reader mail list. I also try to answer my reader mail, though I must confess not in as timely a manner as I would prefer.
I’ve included web addresses for two other suggestions for promotional items that I haven’t tried but may someday.
If you have any suggestions for promotional tools, please share!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Hands Across the Novel: The Hero

Yes, I'm picturing you eagerly sitting in front of your computers waiting for the next segment of Hands Across the Novel. Some of you are holding coffee cups up in greeting, others are holding soda cans, others are holding their heads. LOL. Nah, characterization is not that hard.

We're going to go back to the beginning. Yup, Cinderella. For the last few weeks, we;ve spent all our time on her. But guess what, today's romance reader is just as interested in him. The picture book is very one sided, as is the television cartoon. Today's romance reader is all about Ever After and knowing the hero's T=C+DC. Still, we're not going to do Ever After. We will be doing the picture book, because while the hero's motivation was muted, it was there. And as writers who want fleshed out and interesting chapters, it's important to plan.

What? You didn't know Prince Charming had glasses. What? You didn't know Prince Charming looked like your husband. What? You didn't know Prince Charming looked like your wife!

Okay, okay, make fun of my limited graphic choices. hehehe.

Your assignment today is to dissect Prince Charming. Now, you get a little bit of poetic license. You can add what you 'think' really happened, but you cannot add a whole new twist. (In other words, you cannot make Prince Charming a time traveling undercover narcotics officer out to bust Cinderella's sisters.) You must stay true to the storybook plot.

Dissect Prince Charming. Post your dissection in the comment section if you want. Since you cannot write this story (already done, got the T-shirt) start looking at class and distinguishing character points that you missed that you now want. Look at class and distinguishing character points that you wouldn't put in your story (the one you're not writing) and figure out why. See if you change your mind on any points.

Saturday, February 23, 2008



The three most important characters in a romantic suspense are the heroine, hero and villain. You need each one to have a romantic suspense.
Let’s start with the heroine. With each character you should develop their background. From that background you will come up with their present goals and motivations. Then you throw in a conflict or two to get in the way of the heroine obtaining her goals. It is paramount that you throw roadblocks up for the heroine. That is what drives your plot both internally and externally.

So what kind of heroine should you have? In today’s market most heroine’s are strong and can deal with a lot of difficult situations. Gone is the heroine who needs to be saved every time you turn around. I often write one who will do the saving as well as be saved. In Heart of the Amazon Kate saved Slader a couple of times even though the jungle was his domain. When they slid down a side of a mountain in the rain, it was Kate who kept Slader up all night because he had hit his head. She didn’t want him to fall asleep because of the threat from a concussion.

I have so much fun writing my heroes. Personally I read a book and focus on the hero. The heroine has to be acceptable, but the hero is what makes or breaks a romance for me. Like all characters you do not want one who has no flaws. Both the hero and heroine should have flaws. They should grow through the book and learn and change. What they experienced through the story makes them a different person.

Almost as important as the hero and heroine is the villain. Above all, try to make your villain as three dimensional as possible. Give your villain some good qualities as well as bad ones. People aren’t all good and they aren’t all bad. So remember that when you are developing your villain. Give him a family he loves or an animal he takes care of. Think of Darth Vadar in the first Star Wars and the one in the last one. As we got to know him and got glimpses into his background and what made him tick, we saw a more three dimensional character. In the first movie he was all bad, intimidating. I suggest you do a goal, motivation and conflict chart for your villain, too.

Margaret Daley

Friday, February 22, 2008

Sold out on eHarlequin

One of my favorite places to buy Love Inspired books is at the eHarlequin website. Not only will you receive a discount for buying your books there, but you'll also get free shipping. With the amount of books I buy, saving a few pennies here and there really adds up.

Imagine my surprise when I checked the eHarlequin site for my November release, Cradle of Secrets, and saw a big SOLD OUT banner across the bookcover. While part of me is happy that so many people have been interested in purchasing the book that it sold out, I was worried about how other readers who haven't had the chance to read Cradle of Secrets would get the book now that it is no longer on the bookstore shelves. Rest assured, Cradle of Secrets is still available. You can still order it at if you haven't had a chance to get it. Of course, readers can also download the ebook at the eHarlequin site as well.

I'm thrilled by the reader mail I continue to get from readers who have read Cradle of Secrets and who are eager for my next book, Her Only Protector, to come out in August 2008. In the meantime, check your local library for my Texas Hearts series from Avalon Books.

Until next time, many blessings to you,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sharing My Joy

We break away from the regularly scheduled blog posts to make this announcement...

Author Cara Putman received word on Wednesday that Heartsong Presents intends to contract her three book historical series set in Ohio. The series will tell the stories of three siblings during the war. Watch for an evacuated girl from England, a top-secret military project, and the All-American Girls Baseball League to play pivotal roles in the plots.

Cara is delighted to step back in time to the early 1940s and explore just a few of the stories that took place on the homefront during the war.

Stay tuned for details, but join with Cara as she celebrates God's goodness in her life!

And if she doesn't respond to emails this summer -- you now know why :-)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lesson 7: Personal Stakes

Once again, we’re looking at Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK. Today, let’s focus on Chapter Seven: Personal Stakes. Maass always talks about raising the stakes, and he’s done exactly that in this chapter. With references to books by Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly and Anita Diamant, Maass shows how these three bestselling authors increase internal motivation to engage the reader. In each case, the authors set up opportunities within their stories that reveal why their protagonists’ goals have to be achieved. Just as suspense and tension escalates within a story, so do the personal stakes.

If you’ll allow me a moment of author intrusion: Harlan Coben is one of my favorite suspense authors, and I enjoyed the excerpts Maass chose to drive home his point about motivation. As I’ve mentioned before, you need to get the workbook to benefit from Maass’s expertise. Discussing the lessons in a short post could never do the book or Mr. Maass justice. Enough said, now on to more of my reflections.

In Chapter Seven, Maass encourages us to write a list of what’s driving our characters. Then he tells us to write down more ideas and more ideas and . . . you get the picture. He wants us to run through the standard options so we’re left with only new, unique and thus creative motivations. Find more, he’ll continue to challenge. And when we think we’ve worked long enough and hard enough, he’ll tell us to incorporate the last six seemingly far-fetched concepts into the story. I’m beginning to think that’s the key. Don’t settle for including the personal stakes once, but continue to fine-tune and improve that motivation over and over again. When done right, the story leaves the world of the ordinary and moves into the profound.

Let’s all try to go a little farther and dig a little deeper this week!

Happy writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings!

The Writing Process

Every writer's process is different. Some are what is called pantsers, where the writer doesn't plot out the story before hand but instead writes as the muse hits them and allows the plot to evolve as they write. Then there are the plotters, those writers who plot out every detail of the story before they ever set their fingers on the keyboard. There are some highly successful writer's in both camps so I don't think anyone can say one way is better than the other, just different.
When I first started out writing, I was a pantser all the way. I just wrote what came to mind or went in the direction the characters took me. Now, however, I tend to be more of a plotter. I like to have my road map to follow though there are still times when the characters take me on a bend in the road that I hadn't planned, but having my plotted road map handy helps me to bring the characters and the story back in line so I can move forward. Writing suspense requires more plotting and keeping track of all the details, but I still find my characters will surprise me occasionally and do something I hadn't expected, which makes the writing process fun.
Whether you're a pantser or a plotter, as along as the book gets done, you're okay.
So what are you?
A pantser? Or a plotter?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hands Across the Novel Continues

We can do the same thing with Gone With the Wind, and let me tell you, GWTW is one long, long, book.


(Term) Scarlet = (Class) Southern Belle + (distinguishing characteristics) flirt, in love with Ashley, desire to please mother and father wrapped around her finger, wealthy, self centered.


(Term) Scarlet = (Class) Southern Belle married to the wrong man, er men + (distinguishing characteristics) no longer able to flirt, in love with Ashley, family in chaos, wealthy, self centered.

Black Moment

(Term) Scarlet = (Class) Widow + (distinguishing characteristics) tempted and succumbs to flirting when she shouldn’t, in love with Ashley, family falling apart, lost wealth, wants to be taken care of and instead must take care of.


(Term) Scarlet = (Class) Wife of Rhett + (distinguishing characteristics) flirt, in love with Ashley, in charge of family, regaining wealth, cold.

One thing that should be clear in both these examples is that circumstances certainly affect, change, and build characterization.

Here’s your homework. It’s a bit tougher than watching two movies J Okay, choose a movie. I’ll suggest some… 1. When Harry Met Sally 2. Terminator 3. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 4. Titanic 5. French Kiss. You don’t need to use my suggestions, but choose a movie you think the masses has seen. Go ahead and plug in the heroine’s beginning, middle, black moment, and ending. See what you come up with. Feel free to post what you're doing via the comment area. I'll be glad to answer questions or make suggestion or simply applaud as long as it's a movie I've seen.

And, if someone chooses to comment about the same movie, it’s fun to see how you differentiate. When I’m doing this in a classroom setting, I have my students dissect the movie alone, then I put them into groups according to the same movie so they can see what they had in common and what one author thought important but another author thought unimportant.

Oh, and in case you're thinking, "I'm going to be original... I'll do the hero!"


He's next week's lesson, and our approach to dissecting him will be a bit more directed.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hi, everyone,

I hope you are warm and toasty wherever you are! We just got seven more inches of snow, on top of all the other snow we've been getting this winter, with 20-40 mph winds, so we are totally drifted in. I still wanted to post today, but this will be short--I need to get back outside to help move snow while we still have daylight. We have drifts almost three feet high on our deck!

On the last two Sundays, I shared two of four Big Secrets that can really help you move your writing to the next level if you are just starting out. One was that you need to finish your book! Obvious, I know, but far too many writers never get past chapter three, because they get frustrated and start something else. The second secret was the value of reading everything aloud. Dialogue, narrative, everything--because it really brings awkward prose to light, as well as clunky or over-long dialogue. Believe me--it works!

Today, I'd like to share #3: Save a fresh reader. Do you have a critique group, or a friend, who reads your work and gives you helpful criticism? It's wonderful when you have such a resource to help catch all the plot problems and confusing bits that you might have trouble seeing yourself, because your scenes are already so familiar to you. What happens though, is that a writer will revise, and take the chapter back to her critique group for another look...and this can go on and on. My advice last time was to keep on writing. Don't stop and keep rehashing those scenes. Get to the end of the entire story first, unless there are major problems that simply must be addressed before you can move ahead. But also, save a fresh reader!

If you can give your completed manuscript to someone who has never read a word of it, and that person is willing to read it from start to finish over a weekend, s/he is going to see problems that you and your critique group won't, because you've been going over this project for a long time. A fresh reader will see it with new eyes, just as a contest judge or agent or editor will. It's a big favor, though, so be sure to offer to reciprocate!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Plotting the Suspense

1. Plot (conflict-external/internal):
A well thought out plot with twists and turns is paramount in a romantic suspense. You need to propose three questions. Who did it? Why? How? Throughout your story, you will need to address those three questions and by the end wrap them up, not necessarily all at the same time. The who is your antagonist (villain). The why is his motivation for doing the crime and the how is your execution of the crime. This is where your main plot will come from and cause the protagonist external conflict and possibly internal conflict.

Once I have my concept I usually will develop my characters—at least the hero, heroine and villain. After I have a good sense of who they are, I can work on the plot which most of the time comes in stages. Usually in a book I will say that your characters are the most important part of a story, but with a romantic suspense the plot takes equal billing. If you don’t have a compelling plot, you will leave your readers dissatisfied, even if they love your characters. Someone who reads romantic suspense enjoys the hunt for the villain and the solution of the mystery whether it is a murder or some other crime. Ideally your ending or who the villain is surprises the readers.

So in a romantic suspense I like to have a mystery that needs to be solved. Usually this will be who is behind the illegal act. There are other types of suspense stories. One is where the reader knows the villain from the beginning. As I said earlier, an example of this type of suspense is an ex-boyfriend stalking the heroine.

In order to write a good story you must have conflict. It is what drives your plot. Without it, your reader won’t read past the first chapter. You will have both an internal and external conflict. So where does your conflict come from? The internal will come from your characters. What are their goals and motivations? What are their backgrounds? What molded them into the people they are? I think all stories need both internal and external conflict. Conflict is the base of your plot.

External conflict usually will be your suspense or mystery story (you can have other external conflict depending on the length of your story). When developing this, you need to keep building the tension until the climax. Throughout the story you will have peaks and valleys. Not only do you need real clues, but also you should have red herrings that are as well developed as the real clues (I will discuss this later). There should be different suspects, giving the readers at least three or four choices of who the villain is.

In a suspense I plot quite a bit before I start writing, but I still allow clues and red herrings to develop as the story unfolds, as I get a better sense of the characters. In Vanished several of my clues/red herrings came that way: the cowboy boots, the car leaving the area at the time of the crime, the burned boat with a body in it are several examples.

In a woman in jeopardy story where you may know the antagonist, you will develop your suspense a little differently, but you still have to have those cliffhangers and possible clues to what the villain is going to do next. The suspense comes from the unexpected often in these stories. Will the woman make it out alive? That question will drive your plot. By the way, you could turn that around and put someone else in jeopardy—a child or man. It doesn’t have to be a woman.

But above all, challenge your readers, keep them guessing and give them a merry ride.

So the steps to plotting are:
1) Brainstorming the premise/idea you have. This can be done by yourself or with others. I love to do both. Let your mind go. Anything is possible. Write down all the good ideas that come from the brainstorming. You could use them later to develop into a scene.
2) Research what you need to know. There are several ways you can do the research needed. A primary source can be an interview of a person in the field you are writing about. Secondary sources can be articles, research books, etc. Also you can do hands on activities to get the feel of something. I went to a shooting range to learn about guns and what it felt like to shoot different guns. Great experience. In some books you don’t need to research much, but in most suspense novels there is a good deal of research.
3) Map out your story. Write down the scenes you have come up with and then see how they fit together. Writing them on index cards allows you to move them around physically until you get the order you like. You should have several key plot points and several twists. The longer your story, the more key points and twists needed. A twist takes your story in a different direction. It could be another murder or the death of a suspect. All of this becomes your framework of your story. As you get deeper into the story, you will add more to this framework.
4) Analyze what you have come up with. Does the scene advance the story? Is each scene fresh and offers new information? Does the scene build on the intrigue and tension—romantically and suspensefully? Do you have time for reflection after each big action scene? Do your scenes make sense and are believable?

Margaret Daley

Friday, February 15, 2008

School Vacation

Winter vacation for my kids is upon us, which means that my writing time will be limited for the next week until they go back to school. Luckily for me, my kids are teenagers and they sleep late. This is good because it means that I can walk around the house plotting my scenes with my thoughts to myself without being interupted by kids who are bored and want to go to the mall or a friend's house or whatever. It's bad because when they're on vacation I usually want to sleep late myself. So I'll be using an alarm clock and hoping I don't hit the snooze button TOO much.

I worked at an elementary school for 3 years in the special education department for grades 1 and 2. It was one of those jobs that didn't pay well, but left me with a feeling that I was making a difference in someone's life. I worked as a paraprofessional, teaching reading and writing. I loved the stories these 6 and 7 year old children would come up with. For some kids, taking a story they could tell me with expression in their eyes and on their face and put it down on paper was like pulling out teeth. They needed organizational tools to help them bring their fabulous thoughts and ideas to fruition.

Unfortunately, this same type of thing happens when you're an adult writer. I learned a lot about the process of writing from these children and saw patterns with them that I recognized when I talked to other romance writers. It seemed writers could be put into 4 different categories. Plotters, Puzzlers, Pantsers and Linear writers. Most writers are at times a combination of two. Very few writers are strictly one type of writer.

In the early stages of learning, teachers use the same strategies and tools for all children. What I learned is that the frustration we feel using tools that are considered the standard are not so much that the tool itself is inadequate. It's that the approach toward using it doesn't fit your writing profile.

For me, if you tell me to start writing on page 1 and not jump ahead until I've finished a chapter and revised it, I'd get stuck. In fact, I HAVE gotten stuck writing that way. I'd love to be a linear writer and write a book the way you see actors do it in the movies. Kathleen Turner in Romanicing the Stone. Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. I'd love to get to that last page and type THE END and have it be the end. But I don't write that way. I'm a puzzler. My stories come to me in little pieces. Almost like a series of movie trailers. I need to write as I see the story. If that means writing the beginning, then jumping ahead to write a scene in the middle, I do it. Forward Motion. Then I backtrack and transition my scenes together.

This is what I'm doing now. I'm writing the puzzle of my 3rd story for Steeple Hill. I have the beginning written. Some pieces of the middle and a wonderful ending. I love writing the ending of the book before the rest of it is done. Unfortunately, because of school vacation, I won't be getting much of it written next week. Wish me luck.

Until next week, many blessings to you,
Lisa Mondello

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Review: Bayou Corruption

Robin Caroll’s second book Bayou Corruption is in stores now. I read this one on the plane to Florida. Good thing, too, since I ended up loaning it to a friend who had forgotten to pack any books. Can you imagine!?!?!

From the first page I was pulled into this story. Investigative reporter Jackson Devereaux has driven to Lagniape, Louisiana, at the request of his college buddy, the town sheriff, to help with a police investigation. Alyssa LeBlanc is back in town only because her grandmother had a heart attack. However, on the way to her grandmother’s house from the hospital, she sees men dump a bag of trash on the side of the road. When she reaches the bag, she realizes it’s not trash but the sheriff, who is badly beaten. The book is off to the races from there!

This book is filled with so much conflict between the characters it amazed me. Every time I thought the connections between characters or the skeletons from their pasts couldn’t get more twisted, I was wrong. And the author skillfully pulled the past and present together.

The mystery/suspense thread was strong. Toward the end I suspected/knew that a particular character had to be involved – primarily because of everyone’s belief that he couldn’t be. Yet even that didn’t spoil the fun of the read.

I enjoyed every twist and turn in this book and can’t wait to read book three when it releases in May.

If you want to read it, RUN to your local bookstore or Wal-Mart. Since it’s published by Harlequin’s Christian line: Love Inspired Suspense, it won’t be on shelves long.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Lessons 5 & 6: Adjusting the Volume & Reversing Motives

This week I'm combining the next two lessons in WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK, by Donald Maass. On first glance, both seem straightforward and fairly easy to grasp. Notice I didn't say they were easy to incorporate into our work in progress. Maass is a pro, and his techniques require time and effort to learn.

Lesson 5 is titled Heightening Larger-Than-Life Qualities. Maass suggests "adjusting the volume" on any action, thought or comment our characters have within a story. Either increase or decrease the volume to go against the direction the scene is currently headed. If we've written a very intense, action-oriented scene, our character could reverse that high-tension atmosphere with a shrug and non-committal comment that underplays the excitement. Conversely, if we've written a lazy, relaxed scene, the character could make a bold statement or action that shocks the reader and goes counter to the laidback mood. Remember Maass looks for ways to twist the tables and shake up the story with characters that are larger than life.

Lesson 6 talks about Turnabout and Surprises, or what he refers to as "Reversing Motives." Pick a scene in your story and write down your character's motive. Then write down as many other motives as you can. Pick the last one on your list and rework the scene with that in mind. Again, Maass is looking for unpredictability that surprises and engages the reader.

Are you seeing a pattern? In every lesson, Maass teaches us how to go against the norm in our writing. He encourages us to step outside the box and embrace originality, perhaps peppered with a bit of audacity, to meld bizarre, seemingly non-convergent traits and actions into a memorable character.

Easy? Never!

Good luck with your writing this week!

Wishing you abundant blessings!

Monday, February 11, 2008

More Hands Across the Novel

Okay, hopefully you’ve been staring at my/your Cinderella notes and saying, “What’s next?” Hah! Plenty. See, Cinderella is a very short book. They really padded to turn that baby into a movie. We, as writers, have the same job. We start out with an idea. We have to turn that baby into a novel. Characterization and plot are the two most essential pieces.

Since we write romance, it’s very important to know the ins and outs of our characters: motivation, doubts, triumphs, everything. That’s where term = class + distinguishing characteristics really comes in. We’re going to approach our novels the way we did with Cinderella. We dissected her in five parts… remember the classes. 1. beloved daughter 2. stepdaughter 3. slave 4. imposter 5. princess. Term says the same. Class ‘can’ stay the same, but it ‘can’ and ‘should’ also change. Let’s start dissecting the heroine in You’ve Got Mail.

We’re going to divide You’ve Got Mail into four parts: beginning, middle, black moment, and ending.

(Term) Kathleen Kelly = (Class) successful independent bookstore owner + (distinguishing characteristics) single but involved both literally (Greg Kinnear) and figuratively (Tom Hanks), conservative, mother deceased, has enough money, has extended family, safe.

Wow, did you notice how many details I put in the distinguishing characters. All of these character traits help make Kathleen Kelly a heroine we love.

(Term) Kathleen Kelly = (Class) threatened independent bookstore owner + (distinguishing characteristics) believes in co-existence, doesn’t know what Joe Foxx looks like, searches for answers – especially from a stranger more than her significant other.

Interestingly enough, at this stage, most of the beginning stage characteristics are the same, except for safe. Whoa. This really keeps the character in our thoughts and prayers… we hate it when our world no longer feels safe.

Black Moment
(Term) Kathleen Kelly = (Class) Unemployed independent bookstore owner + (distinguishing characteristics) now solidly single, still conservative, feels like she let her deceased mother down, worried a little bit about money, extended family at risk, both relationships at risk, world is not safe.

(Term) Kathleen Kelly = (Class) Reinvented ex independent bookstore owner + (distinguishing characteristics) still single, but…, still conservative, but…, extended family just might change, forgiveness just might return safety to her world.

Next week, we'll do this same thing with Gone With the Wind.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Last time, I said I wanted to share the four biggest secrets I knew about becoming a published author. Anyone remember the first one? The "secret" was that an aspiring author hoping to make a first sale needs to FINISH THE BOOK! Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it? But how many of us know a writer who starts one project after another, writes a few chapters, then gives up and starts something new? That's perfectly fine, if she simply enjoys the process of writing and doesn't care about making a sale. But first sales are rarely made with less than a complete manuscript, because editors know just how hard it is to finish. So...have you been writing this week? Did you finish a scene? A chapter? If so, good for you! Now, keep going!

Here's another "secret." #2. Read everything aloud! Perhaps that sounds a little sophomoric, but this is an amazing tool. You know your story. Know what you meant to say. If you silently read over your work, you might subconsciously "see" what's supposed to be there, and miss the parts that aren't. By reading aloud, you will catch missing or incorrect words, awkward phrasing, clunky or unbelievable or over-long dialogue, and a host of other problems. Take time to read *every* paragraph aloud. You'll be surprised at what you catch!

Best wishes until next week,
Roxanne Rustand

Friday, February 8, 2008

Red Herrings and Tales of Shocking Mystery and Suspense

Every mystery and suspense lover knows that part of what makes a book good is how well the author hides those red herrings interweaved in the story. When I watch mystery and suspense movies on TV I always watch for the red herrings. My family gets so annoyed with me. "See that knife? Someone is going to get stabbed." Okay, so that's an easy one. Honestly, I'm good at picking them out. And while I always enjoy a good story, I know I'll enjoy it much more if the author shocks me!

I love reading books and watching movies that totally shock me. Remember The Sixth Sense? I was blown away when I learned Bruce Willis's character had been dead the whole time. When my mother read Cradle of Secrets, she called me midway through the book to tell me who she THOUGHT the villian was and how the story was going to end. I just smiled and said, "Keep reading, ma!" I love the reader mail that I've received telling me they thought the villian was one person and I managed to trick them. I wish they could see my smile of satisfaction. I totally love it.

I aim to do that in every mystery/suspense book and it got me to thinking, what great mystery and suspense books am I missing? So I'm putting this out to all of you readers. What book have you read that totally shocked you. Did you see the ending coming? Did the book keep you so riveted because of the twists and turns in the story brought you in a direction you didn't think it was going to go? If so, tell me about it. I've love to share opinions of your favorite books.

Until next time, many blessings to you all,

Lisa Mondello

Thursday, February 7, 2008

ACFW's Genesis and Book of the Year Contests

If you're an aspiring writer with a work in progress that's moved past the first 15 pages, you should consider entering ACFW's Genesis contest. And if you're a published author, the Book of the Year could be a great contest to enter. Each year the contests grow in reputation, and both give you the opportunity to get feedback: from experienced and published writers in the Genesis and from readers in the Book of the Year. Read below for more information.



ACFW announces entry dates

American Christian Fiction Writers [ACFW] is pleased to announce the opening of its two annual contests, Book of the Year and Genesis.

Book of the Year is open to published members of ACFW. Categories include Contemporary Novella, Debut Author, General Fiction, Historical Novella, Lits (chick-lit, mom-lit, lady-lit, lad-lit, etc.), Long Contemporary, Long Contemporary Romance, Long Historical, Mystery, Short Contemporary, Short Contemporary Suspense, Short Historical, Speculative, Suspense, Women's Fiction, and Young Adult. Entries must be received by March 31, 2008.

Genesis is open to members of ACFW who are unpublished in adult or young adult fiction in the last seven years. The contest has a multitude of categories/genres to enter, the opportunity for unbiased feedback on writers' work by published authors and experienced judges, and the chance for the Category Finalists to have their work read by Christian publishing house editors and literary agents. ACFW has been pleased to see previous winners and finalists move further in their writing careers to become published authors. Entries must be received by March 1, 2008.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lesson Four: Larger-Than-Life Character Qualities

If you've been tuning in on Wednesdays for the last few weeks, you know we're working our way through Donald Maass' WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK. Today we'll try our hand at making characters stand out from the crowd in their speech, thoughts and actions.

Maass encourages writers to push the envelope! We need to create main characters, who are bold and unafraid to back down in the face of opposition. Try giving your hero a one-liner that puts the villain in his place. The "I-wish-I'd-said-that" factor resonates with readers and makes our heroes and heroines compelling and memorable.

Our main characters should act on impulses that have the readers cheering, "Way to go!" In the real world, we're inhibited by social restraints, but in fiction, blockbuster characters can and should react with verve and gusto. So maybe the five-foot-two heroine, who's as sweet as maple syrup, gets mad enough to swing a punch at the six-foot antagonist. A bit extreme? But what if she sets a trap he falls into -- literally or figuratively -- that provides the comeuppance he justly deserves? It's the surprise hook, the action the reader never expects that, according to Maass, makes the difference between ho-hum characters and ones that keep the reader turning the page.

We all know actions speak louder than words, but what about thoughts? Maass says real change and thus growth occurs first within. Our character's internal compass is the most difficult to realign, and the impact of inner change can be significant for not only our hero but also our readers.

This week, create dialogue for your heroine that brings the antagonist to his knees, or drives home the point with such audacity and timing readers will wish they could be as ingenious with their retorts. Let your characters act and react with courage. Ensure change starts within as they tackle significant issues. Bottom line, deliver the unexpected and make it larger than life.

If you haven't already, get a copy of Maass' workbook. Each chapter is illustrated with excerpts from books he feels are a step above and packed with exercises that trigger the imagination and get the creative juices flowing.

Good luck with your writing!

Wishing you abundant blessings!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


This coming Saturday I'm giving a workshop for my local Romance Writers of America chapter, The Rose City Romance Writers. Way back last year when I volunteered ( a moment of madness) to give a workshop I had no idea what I'd teach on. How could I teach? I'm still learning! I've only done two other workshops. One with my critique partners on who to have a successful critique partnership, we will actually be doing this workshop in Salem this coming June. And the other workshop was titled How to Write the Inspirational Novel. But for my chapter I'm going to do one on story layering, which is so important in any story especially suspense stories. There is so much to keep track of, to layer in. I do it in stages. I never have it right in the first, rough draft. It takes at least three to four passes through before I feel its even close to being ready to send in. Is there anyone else out there who layers and layers like I do?
If so give me a wave!
Or am I just too overly picky, perfectionistic? In which case, well, all I can say is it works for me.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Hands Across the Novel - Hands On

Here’s a truth. Only 1 out of every 10 people who start a novel will finish it. Raise your hand (Okay, stick out your tongue at the computer if it makes you feel better) if you’ve finished a novel (I’m talking about 50,000 words which is 250 double-spaced pages).

On average, it is an author’s fifth novel that sells. Those of you who stuck your tongue out at the computer, figure out where you are and start writing faster. I’m pretty much a statistic; I sold my fourth manuscript.

Almost immediately, I sold two more. Boy was I lucky. But, none of those sales fulfilled my dream – you see, one was to a mail order publisher, the other was a novella, both were flat fee. I love those sales; they taught me a lot. Still, the best thing about dreams is they grow.

This workshop is designed for the writer, no matter where he is in his career, because characterization is a must, must, must.

The reason I’ve had to spend so much time on characterization is because I’m a seat of the pants writer. What does that mean? It means I don’t write an outline that is a finished product. My outline is pretty much like a grocery list, my grocery list. There’s a few things on it (diapers and Dr. Pepper). Yup, I need those things, but most of the things I need are not on the list (Butter? I didn't know we were out of butter.) They’re in my head, or I don’t even know I need them… yet. The problem with being a SOTP writer is I know my beginning and I know my end, but the middle tends to get muddled. How to fix, how to fix, how to fix?

By day, I’m a college professor, so I, of course, have to start with some definitions. Today class, we only have three.

Term: This is your character. It will not change unless, of course, you’re doing an amnesia story line or maybe witness protection. For an example, let’s use Cinderella. Through-out the whole story, her name (her term) never changes. Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns - make the last one the biggest. In the first column, I want to write Cinderella, skip two lines, write her name again, skip two lines. Do this five times in all.

Class: A title given to your character – think adjectives.

Right now, I’m Pamela Tracy (that’s my term) blogger (Ah, that’s my class). I’m also Pamela Tracy (term doesn’t change) author (Ah, a new class). When I go home, I’m Pamela Tracy (Hmmm, this term is really sticking with me) wife, mother, maid (What! Three classes! Well, good, it means this chapter has some meat!). Let’s go again to our paper and Cinderella. We’re going to fill in her classes. Here’s what I want you to put in the middle column: 1. beloved daughter 2. stepdaughter 3. slave 4. imposter 5. princess.

Finally… last definition which, of course, is the final column...

Distinguishing Characteristics: Mannerisms, conflicts, goals, life. Here’s where you plot the string of events that makes your characters antics worth reading. Let’s go to page two and Cinderella. Here’s what I want you to put in the final column: 1. Happy life, no expectations (this would be a very short chapter- the only conflict is lack of mother) 2. Favored by dad, despised by stepmother (now chapter is longer as we read about the underhandedness and unhappiness) 3. death of a parent, longing to escape (this is about the middle of the story, the longest part) 4. Pretending to be wealthy (now we admire the heroine for her fortitude) 5. Happily Ever After (Justification).

Go ahead and mull over what I've given you so far, and I'll be posting more next Monday. If you really want to stay in sinc with the lessons watch the movies You've Got Mail and Gone with the Wind.



Keep Moving!!

Keep on moving, moving, moving....

Today, for Sunday's blog, I'd like to diverge from my series of topics on the process of setting up a manuscript, and share with you one of my Four Biggest Secrets of Success for a new writer.


Critique groups are fine. The right group can provide extremely helpful feedback. But unless there's something VERY major that needs to be changed, file those comments away and KEEP ROLLING.

There are far too many wonderful writers out there who will never finish a book, because they are so caught up in the endless cycle of critiquing and fixing, critiquing and fixing. By the time they absorb everything that friends tell them, try to rewrite to please everyone, and then polish every word along the way, they end up going in circles...and never do actually finish a manuscript.

Unless your critique group, or a host of contest judges, or something in your own heart tells you that you have gone way off track, keep writing! Save critique comments in a file and fix everything later. But get to The End! Believe me, once you get there, you may have a very different vision of those early chapters, and there might be lots in them that needs to be discarded anyway. And making it to that last page not only will give you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, but will also teach you a lot about the process of writing a book.

When I first started writing, I labored over every word. Polished and edited after every critique session, then brought back that same material time after time. After two years, I'd piddled my way to 150 pages. And then...I signed up for a wonderful University of Iowa Writer's Workshop Summer Festival workshop given by Leigh Michaels. The class was wonderful. But at the end, when we were critiquing each other's work? Leigh and every one of the class members agreed. My first 127 pages had to go!

As with so many first time authors, I'd started my story too soon--well before the real action started--but hadn't possessed the experience to see it. I felt overwhelmed for a few weeks, then bit the bullet and made the cut. It was a far stronger manuscript after that. But just think of the time wasted! I could have finished that whole manuscript with all the time I'd taken to endlessly polish words that were cut, anyway.

I know a lot of writers who do what I did. They labor over beginning chapters but then flounder before they get half-way to The End. Or, they polish their first few chapters for contests, then start something else and start that same cycle over again. This simple piece of advice is more valuable that you know: finish your book!

Happy writing,
Roxanne Rustand

Saturday, February 2, 2008


I am happy to be a part of this blog. I’ll be posting on Saturday.

My favorite kind of book is a suspense with adventure and mystery sprinkling in. When I write my romantic suspense books, though, I find I must think totally different from when I write my inspirational romances for Love Inspired. I have to analyze everything. I have to look at the story from all angles. I’m constantly saying what if or does it seem logical for the situation. Plotting a suspense is much more than delving into the lives of your characters. You must do that but you also have to make the suspense/mystery intriguing and plausible.

Over the next weeks I will post excerpts from an online class I taught on writing the inspirational romantic suspense. The first segment is the Introduction (below).

An inspirational romantic suspense has three main elements: a suspense or mystery, romance and faith element. For me that means I have to juggle three aspects of a story within a 275 page manuscript. Not an easy task and one that requires a lot of planning and thought. In a suspense pacing is so important. A reader expects to be taken on a merry ride where the hero and heroine are threatened, running for their lives, trying to solve something, trying to save someone. In a mystery, which I call a whodunit, the action might be more sedate but not necessarily. My stories often combine the elements of a suspense and a mystery.

A romantic suspense is usually fifty percent suspense and fifty percent romance. So often the problem arises when you are working your way through the suspense part of your book and you forget to have your hero and heroine fall in love. It can be harder to show it when they are being threatened or running for their lives. But if you have a furious pace throughout your book, it will overload your readers. I have read many romantic suspense books and there should always be moments of down time. That can be when you build the romance between your hero and heroine. Even when they are running for their lives, it is a good thing to keep them emotionally connected and aware of each other.

In an inspirational romantic suspense you must also delve into the spiritual growth of your hero and heroine. I find it is easier in a romantic suspense because of the heightened action and often the life and death aspect of these type of stories. We turn to the Lord in times of trouble and when we need Him. This can feed very naturally into your story.

But again I will stress because you have to juggle faith, romance and suspense, you must plan. In a lot of stories you will need to give false information and clues as well as real ones. Readers like to have a chance to figure out who is behind all the commotion in your story. I do realize some suspense (not mystery) books the reader will already know who the villain is and that is fine. An example is the heroine being stalked by an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend. She knows who he is, but she is in grave danger.

So where do you start? The first thing I usually come up with is a premise for my story. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a favorite setting like the jungle in Heart of the Amazon or an occupation in Buried Secrets. In So Dark the Night I came up with the premise what would happen to a sister who witnessed her brother’s murder and fled the scene with the killers after her. Or in Vanished, the premise was what would happen if a sheriff had to be both lawman and father when someone from his past kidnaps his daughter. Usually it is easiest to come up with some kind of concept and build a story from there.

Margaret Daley

Friday, February 1, 2008

Plucking story ideas out of thin air...

I'll admit I am prone to having an overactive imagination that result in people giving me strange looks when I ask a question. Luckily for me, my neighbors are very well aware I write suspense. So when I call up a neighbor who is a phlebotomist and ask how I can make someone look like they've been murdered using blood from a blood donar bag, I only get a short pause before they realize it's for one of my books and I'm not actually planning on doing it. I'm only writing about it. They're use to my wild ideas and strange questions.

But after the funny stares and laughs they give me, the conversation always turns around to where I get my ideas. Honestly, most of the time I don't know. Ideas come from everywhere. I believe my imagination is much like a muscle. If I exercise it well, it will perform well for me. As such, there is nothing I see or hear that doesn't spark some kind of interest in me. For instance, in Cradle of Secrets, the idea for the gardener to find jewlery while digging in the yard came from a neighbor I had growing up. The fire in the mansion came from the same thing. The neighborhood I grew up in as a child had once been owned by a wealthy family in my town. There had been a church function at the mansion where a lot of money was raised for the church. After everyone had gone home that night, the mansion somehow caught on fire, everyone in the house died and all the money raised for the church was lost.

Fast forward 50 or 60 years and the land was sold to a developer who put up a neighborhood where I lived. The woman who owned the property where the mansion had once stood used to garden and every so often she'd find a bunch of coins in the ground that had been turned over into the dirt after the mansion had been leveled. And so, the idea for Cradle of Secrets was born.

It's not always so transparent though. Sometimes a headline in the newspaper or someone I meet that has had an interesting experience will spark an interest in me. I'm currently writing the 3rd book for the series I'm doing for Steeple Hill Love Inspired Suspense, which is Cash and Serena's reunion. Okay, I am what I am, and while I promise the reunion will be SO worth it and romantic, I also promise you I'm not making it easy on them. Their going to have to work for this happy ending. The story idea came to me when I met a young woman and her husband trying to reunite after a very difficult situation. I don't want to give away too many details now. Keep checking back and I'll fill you in on this amazing story and how it inspired Cash and Serena's reunion.

In the meantime, make sure you mark your calendars on August 2008 for the release of Her Only Protector where you will find out how baby Ellie is rescued!

Until next time, many blessings to you.
Lisa Mondello