Friday, April 25, 2014


Julie, here, and I gotta tell you that this post today by guest blogger Siri Mitchell not only made me laugh out loud, but it set me free!

As an author who's terribly allergic to research, I marvel at these detailed author types who scour mountains of books, interview tons of people, and strike out on multiple research trips to their chosen destination. Because, you see, my chosen destination is, uh ... Google, and I was ashamed to admit that before reading Siri's post today. So without further ado, please welcome our delightful guest, award-winning author Siri Mitchell, and be thoroughly liberated and entertained ... not to mention eligible for one of two exciting Siri book giveaways if you leave a comment!

The Fine Art of Making Stuff Up
by Siri Mitchell

On the road to publication, the hope is that if you can just figure out how to write a better book you’ll be able to vault yourself into publication. Common wisdom holds that one of the ways to do this is to make sure you do enough research to get your story details exactly right. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Because as a Christian novelist, you certainly don’t want to lie to anyone about anything! If there’s truth to be found, then we want to do it! And we want our stories to include it.

There’s only one problem with that: we write novels. Novels that are fictional by definition. They’re mostly, in large part, made up. Which means they’re not true. Which might, kind of, sort of, mean that we have to lie. On a regular basis. As part of the profession.

Probably that won’t take anyone by surprise. At least not consciously. But really, you have to kind of admit that sometimes, as novelists, we get carried away with our research. The problem occurs when we let that research carry away our stories.

Let me give you some examples. With all of my novels, I’m reading between 20 and 30 printed books and accessing well over 200 websites or internet pages as I research. In fact, I’m known for my heavily-researched novels. So I’m not advocating that you make everything up. But with my Elizabethan, A Constant Heart, I became so obsessed with ‘getting it right’ that I was determined to track down where Queen Elizabeth and her court had been, on any given day, during the years my story took place. (There were at least five or six of them and she traveled about her kingdom quite a bit.) With my Revolutionary War-spy novel, The Messenger, I was determined to figure out exactly how an escape from a Philadelphia prison was planned and executed even though the only detail I could find was the date on which it happened. For my pen name (Iris Anthony) book, The Miracle Thief, I decided I needed to know when – exactly – a treaty was agreed to and when it was enacted…even though there were no chroniclers of that era during the Dark Ages and the best clue I could find was that the treaty was agreed to in ‘autumn’ of the year 911.

All of those details, I can now say without an inkling of doubt, were impossible to discover. But that didn’t mean that I didn’t spend weeks trying to find them. I wanted the story to be right. And how could I get it right if I didn’t know the facts?

Well…I could do what I ended up doing. I could decide that, my goodness, if I couldn’t find the information after a several-week search, it certainly wasn’t general knowledge. But…what if it was specialized knowledge? What if the half-dozen of my readers who were experts in the Elizabethan era/Revolutionary War period/Dark Ages knew all of those things by heart? What if they learned it in Queen Elizabeth 101? Maybe they give you tables of all 44 years of her Outlook or Google schedules on the first day of class. Or maybe the top-secret spy mission that was carried out during the Revolutionary War by less than a dozen patriots was published as a popular tell-all in some book that everybody but me has access to.

What if they do? What if it was?

What if some people do know all those things? How many of them are likely to read my books? One or two? And is my not-knowing-for-positively-sure going to ruin the reading experience for all the rest of my readers?

On one of my visits to the Louvre Museum in Paris (one of the largest and oldest museums in the world), I was wandering through the Near Eastern Antiquities section, browsing the ancient artifacts on display. One of them was a small wooden box with a hole in the top. I wondered what it was, so I stepped forward to read the label. It said, “Box made of wood, with a hole in the top.” Sometimes, even those you’d think ought to know these kinds of details, don’t. So let that be a lesson to us!

The point of fiction writing is to create a story that feels plausible according to its setting and era without violating the known facts (unless, of course, you’re writing an alternative history). That means you have to do enough research to know what makes sense. I’m not letting you off the hook for that! Efficiency is not often a word applied to writing, but it still absolutely applies to research. If you’re like me, you have better things to do with your writing time than chase a rabbit trail through time and space. Sometimes – and you’re going to have to learn to be okay with this – you’re just going to have to make stuff up. So with that dark day in mind, here are some tips to help you do it:
1.     Recognize that trying to completely, authentically replicate a setting or person isn’t just impossible, it would probably also be really boring. Authentic reproduction isn’t what you’re after. Creating a convincing illusion is.
2.     Give yourself permission to say enough is enough. Those books of mine I mentioned might have been marginally better if I had been able to find the facts I was looking for. In some cases those facts might have even altered the plot, but really, it wouldn’t have affected the quality of the actual story. Those details really weren’t necessary to my stories and the time I put into finding them, had a diminishing return for a novelist. Maybe not for a historian, but you’re not one of those, are you? Giving up on finding a detail doesn’t make you a failure, it makes you a competent manager of your precious resource of time.
3.    If it really gives you hives to even dream that you’ve overlooked some important detail that everyone might know, then place your story in an unusual setting or era. (see Puritan Massachusetts colony in Love’s Pursuit; the Boston of Italian immigrants in A Constant Heart; a St. Louis candy-making family in Unrivaled; Louis XIII’s court in The Ruins of Lace; or the Dark Ages of France in The Miracle Thief). 

4.     Be confident. It’s not necessary to feel apologetic for not tumbling down every mole hole in your research. There’s nothing easier to detect than insecurity in writing. You’re the master of your story and the more you write around that one elusive detail, the more you try to explain away its absence, the more you point out that it’s just not there. So make it up and move on.
5.     If you’re going to make up a detail, you don’t have to go into great detail about it. The trick to making stuff up is to not overdo it. Oftentimes people who lie reveal their subterfuge by talking too much. A sleight of hand is usually just a slight movement. Same with making stuff up. 
6.     If it’s not important, it’s not important. I’ve spent too much time trying to find era-specific names for things like colors. Pea-colored green works just as well as azoff green, doesn’t? And it’s more descriptive too. If it doesn’t affect a plot point, make it up. (On the other hand, do use the ‘telling detail’ that fixes your story in time and place. Who but the Victorians would have used a celery server? Where but in the South can you buy boiled peanuts?)
7.     If exact location isn’t critical to your story, set it in a fictional place. I do this for my French historicals, gleaning the popular suffixes or prefixes of the region’s towns and re-combining them for an authentic-sounding name. A fictional place gives you all sorts of leeway. Then you can locate it on the most convenient train-line or stagecoach route or river. (Or near none of them at all!) And you can also say terrible things about its inhabitants and without living in fear that someone’s going to accuse you of slander.
8.     I do the same thing with titled nobles. 
  9.     Travel is overrated. I used to be a terrible snob about this, declaring that no one could write convincingly about a place they’d never visited. I’ve changed my mind. Mostly because I can’t afford to do all that traveling. So how can you fake it?
  a.     By looking at photos on Snapfish or Shutterfly or personal blogs from other people’s vacations. They’ve given me some great scene ideas and descriptive details. Just do an image search on the internet.
   b.     Tell yourself it doesn’t matter. Sometimes even visiting places like London won’t do much for you if your novel is set in the distant past (Middle Ages, Tudor, Restoration). I keep telling myself over and over again that even if I were able to go visit my setting, I wouldn’t be able to see it as it was back then.
c.     Use your personal sensory experiences to give life to your novel. Have you ever scuffed your way across a stone floor or stood in the middle of a building with a soaring ceiling? Then you can place a character quite convincing in a medieval cathedral. Have you ever been so cold you didn’t even have the energy to move? Then you can write convincingly about how most characters from pre-history – 1920 felt in the winter inside their own homes.
10.  Use a calendar. Some writers like to track down the lunar calendar for their stories so that they’ll portray the phases of the moon correctly, but as long as you plug your scenes into a calendar at some point, you’re probably not going to err by having a full moon two weeks in a row. Or by having six months of a blazing hot summer. Besides, is anyone going to read your 1843 historical with a lunar calendar in hand? (If they do, then they don’t deserve happiness.)
11.  Pay attention to your adjectives. I had a terrific editor once who pointed out that when I was referencing age or minutes or distance in one of my novels, everything was ‘about seventy’. A character was about seventy years old. The wait was about seventy minutes. The distance to where they were driving was about seventy miles. I’ve also had the phrase ‘the smallest of’ appear in a novel, multiple times. So even when you’re making stuff up, you still need to exercise your creativity.
12.  Do some triage. In both my Iris Anthony books (The Ruins of Lace and The Miracle Thief), terrain figured very heavily into a couple of my pivotal scenes. In the former, I needed a really rocky mountain/hill because I had to have a coffin slide off a wagon and crack open as it dashed against the rocks. In the latter, I needed an avalanche a bit earlier in the season then would normally be the case. Neither scene necessarily made a lot of sense in the settings so I had to make a choice: head way south where there was rocky terrain and there were higher, rougher mountains or give up a bit of accuracy to work within my story’s time-line constraints. I decided the time constraints were more important, so I made up the rocky hill and imagined an early and brutal winter. 
13.  Use common sense. I once heard a writer castigate a novel because ‘no one did that sort of thing back then’ when the novel took place. I happened to know, because I knew the era, that sort of thing did happen once or twice. It wasn’t a common occurrence, but then novelists don’t generally write about the normal choices or things people do every day as a matter of course. We write about the uncommon. It’s probably not a good idea to write a 1976 Chevy into a Tudor setting, but putting one of only 9,000 DeLorean cars that were ever made into the movie Back to the Future worked really well. Sure, it might not be probable, but the better question to ask yourself is, ‘Is it possible?’
14.  Stop trying to collect points. There are none in writing anyway. The sad truth is that no one knows what kind of stories are going to sell. There are no magic formulas. There is no sure-fire, guaranteed method to ensure that what you write is going to gain you representation or place you on the bestseller list. So the idea that doing extra-hard, super obscure research earns you extra points isn’t just a fantasy, it’s wasting your time. The thing is to finish the book you started and then launch it out into the world. And even then, you still won’t get any points. Sorry!
15.  Understand that you are going to get it wrong sometimes. And I’m talking about those things you’ve already researched. That puts making stuff up in a whole new light, doesn’t it? I don’t know how many websites I visited to figure out what kind of instruments might have been played (and by which gender) during the Elizabethan period. Let’s just say lots. And I still managed to work an instrument into my mix that wouldn’t have existed back then. Which leads to…
16.  Practice saying, ‘Oh, well.’ You can even practice saying it with an exclamation point: ‘Oh, well!’ I tried my best when I wrote that Elizabethan novel. I know you do too. We all make mistakes in our writing. Thankfully, the world doesn’t end and no actual people die. It’s never fatal. Oh, well!
17.  Understand that details serve your story. It’s not the other way around. People are going to be amazed at your book, not because you finally figured out what the French call that weird wavy latch on their window sills or because you finally got to the root of that mysterious throwaway comment you read in an interview somewhere about the real purpose of lap dogs in the Middle Ages, but because you told a compelling story.

So I am passing my Pinocchio nose on to you. Go forth. Do your job as a novelist. Start making stuff up! And feel free to share with the rest of us: do you tend to be a nitty-gritty researcher or a carefree maker-upper? Or maybe you’ve hit a wall in your story research. Is there something we can help you make up?
Leave a comment or question, and you'll be entered to win one of two giveaways from Siri -- a signed copy of her latest release, Love Comes Calling or her latest indie book written under the pseudonym Iris Anthony, The Miracle Thief
Siri Mitchell is the author of over a dozen novels, among them the INSPY Award-winning She Walks in Beauty and the critically acclaimed Christy Award finalists Chateau of Echoes and The Cubicle Next Door. She also writes under the pseudonym Iris Anthony. A graduate of the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, she has worked in many different levels of government. As a military spouse, she lived in places as varied as Tokyo and Paris.

Connect with Siri/Iris at:

Twitter -@SiriMitchell or @IrisAnthony
Facebook and GoodReads
or on Pinterest – at Siri Mithell or 1risanthony

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Making Unlikable Characters Likable

When I first started to write I used to create unlikable heroines, although I didn’t know they were unlikable. In the interest of making them ‘real’ I’d give them too many faults and weaknesses too early in the story. Their virtues and strengths came too late -- after a reader already made up her mind about the character. Most readers don’t want to slog through a story with an overly-flawed heroine. We want our readers to identify with the main character and no one relates well to an unlikable person, real or imagined.

Some characters, like villains, are deeply flawed but they’re supposed to be. We expect that. But readers like heroes and heroines who are heroic, good, kind, virtuous etc. A weakness or two makes them human (like us) and draws the reader in because she can relate to a good person with an imperfection or two. My mistake: my heroines weren’t heroic enough. Also, they weren’t nice enough.

My critique partners clued me in. I’m sure I eventually would’ve found my heroines too flawed to live even on paper, but my crit partners saved me a lot of time and effort. No writer wants to spend countless hours writing about a unlikable heroine and no readers want to read about her.

Readers dislike certain types of characters.

The Sadist
The Sadist, usually a male (please don’t throw rotten tomatoes at me, guys) and often the hero, is sometimes found in romances, though this type of character was more popular in the past than in the present. He was rude, arrogant, and insensitive until the heroine came along to change him. Our modern day heroines usually don’t put up with this nasty kind of man anymore, so for the most part he’s faded away. Good riddance.

The ‘bad boy’ who changes because of love still works as long as he wasn’t a sociopath or really evil to begin with. Personally, I won’t read a book where the hero was once a rapist or child molester.

The Whiner
I’m afraid most fictional whiners are women. Whiners bemoan their lot in life and feel sorry for themselves. They often don’t keep their self-pity locked up inside. We wish they would. But whether they keep silent or complain to their friends, they’re unpleasant to read about.

Even if they have something legitimate to whine about we want them to struggle and rally, not collapse in despair. We like fighters, women who’ll struggle to beat the odds. We don’t want them to give in easily and make excuses. Whiners certainly aren’t heroic and readers don’t like them, especially in the role of heroine.

The Bore
A story can handle a fictional bore now and then as long as she doesn’t bore the reader. If I lose interest in a story because a main character rambles on and on, I’ll stop reading. In real life people sometimes babble too much, unable or unwilling to finish a sentence and take a breath so someone else can say a word or two. Who wants to waste money on a book filled with the type of people we try to avoid in real life?

Today’s fiction often has tough, jaded characters who are cynical, sarcastic and rude. On the other hand, they’re ready for any challenge no matter how difficult. Many readers find anti-heroes compelling, despite their faults.

A writer has to work hard to keep such flawed characters likable. There’s a thin line between likable and unlikable. If you step over the tipping point the character repels readers instead of attracting them. It’s easy to go too far.

Here are a few ways to keep your heroes in balance:

Show there’s more beneath the surface. No matter how flawed your character is show through a small action or internalization there’s something positive about him. Do this in the first scene before the reader gets a completely negative picture of your hero.

Carefully weave in backstory. Through judicious use of backstory, show why the character came to be unfriendly, obnoxious etc. He’s flawed because of a negative past experience (a wound), probably as a child. Emotional trauma explains a lot about his current actions. Readers forgive an annoying, unpleasant character if they understand why he’s the way he is. A great backstory is really important.

I wonder if these gangsters have backstories that would elicit sympathy or are they bad through and through?

Create big obstacles. Fighting against stronger forces doesn’t create empathy for the hero, but how he reacts to those forces does. It shows us who he really is. The true man or woman emerges during a crisis. Is he strong or weak?

Balance strengths and weaknesses. Even if the character has more than her fair share of faults, her positive qualities should dominate and lead her to her goal.

According to Marg McAlister (Writing4Sucess) readers become irritated with characters (especially heroes) who:

Are bullies
Are patronizing
Pick on those weaker than themselves
Employ violence to get their own way
Get pleasure from ruining the lives of others
Moan and groan about their bad luck in life without trying to improve it
Are constantly depressed, negative or self-pitying
Jump to the wrong conclusion and don’t let others explain themselves
Gossip and spread rumors that are damaging to others

Likable Characters

Make your hero or heroine someone with whom you’d like to spend time.

If you’re the writer and you don’t enjoy your main character, you can be sure readers won’t want to be around your hero for the length of an entire book either. So think about the type of person you like to hang around with and why that person attracts you. Is it personality, sense of humor, selflessness? Give your hero some of those same qualities.

Readers often like nasty villains, but not nasty heroes or heroines.

Give your main character challenges, but give her enough inner strength to deal with them.

Be careful of the kind of faults you give your hero and how he handles them. For example, if he has a quick temper, he should work to control it. He usually keeps it in check. But every once in a while he flies off the handle.

How he handles his failure is crucial. He should be filled with regret. He might remember what it’s like to live with a person who never attempts to curb his bad temper. This bit of backstory helps us understand the hero. We’re sympathetic toward him because we understand what it’s like to fail.

But if the hero often loses his temper and doesn’t try to control it, we’d lose our sympathy.

I hope you can quickly tell these girls are likable and heroine material.

We like characters who:
Keep on trying, despite all the problems live throws at them
Put others first
Face up to bullies
Stand up for people who are weaker than themselves
Have overcome many obstacles to attain a goal
Try to right a wrong

Here are a few tips to make your hero sympathetic:
Give her something or someone to love or fight for. (Strong motivation)
She’s willing to make sacrifices for her goal or for other people.
Provide her with a special skill or ability.
Make him an underdog.
Give the characters flaws we can all relate to and forgive.
Show her motivation. It should be easily understood.
Give him wit, courage, integrity and a sense of humor.

What are other important attributes in a main character?

If you’d like a chance to win a $10 gift card to Starbucks, please leave your name and e-mail address.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

LAYERING AS YOU GO - PART TWO: Revealing Emotion in Body Language & Facial Expression

In Part One (Click here) I shared how I personally like to layer my manuscript “as I go” — periodically pausing throughout the writing rather than facing the immensity of a bare bones manuscript after typing “The End.” I highlighted a number points that layering may involve, including providing body movement and facial expression, authenticating the setting, weaving in internal dialogue and “voice” for deep point of view, etc.
So this month let’s take a deeper look at one of those points.
LAYERING: Revealing Emotion in Body Language and Facial Expression
Very few of us, even when talking on the phone, stand rigidly with our hands at our sides and our facial muscles immobile. This week when you’re at the airport, church, mall or in the grocery store line...pause and take a good look around you. Really observe. You’ll see a variety of expressions and body language that, for the most part, clearly communicate what’s going on in someone’s head.
Stop and think...what is it about the man who sat down across from you that tells you he just received bad news?
Or the teen standing in the checkout line at the discount store...what is it about her that clues you in that she wants to be anywhere but with her mom?
Or the woman holding hands with her grade school twins as they cross the church’s parking lot...what communicates to you that things have not gone well that morning?
Think about how you would describe their body movement and expressions. Did the man merely sit down in the vinyl chair? Or did he slowly lower himself, shoulders slumped? Did the teen simply stand beside her mother, or did she turn slightly away, eyes downcast, jaw clenched, arms crossed? Did the woman just walk across the parking lot with her children, or were her high heels clicking sharply on the pavement, her eyes focused ahead, the twins scampering to keep up as she marched along? 

On a daily basis we “interpret” so much of what goes on around us based solely on body language and expressions. As writers, we want our readers to be able to “see” emotions, to “read” a character’s mind and not always name, label or explicitly state what is going on internally.
- She looked angry.
- He felt afraid.
- She didn’t want to go.
There is nothing inherently wrong with naming an emotion. There are times when it’s necessary and appropriate to do so. Anti-naming “purists” sometimes go crazy with the red pen on things like this when judging contests, but the important lesson here is to not always name the emotion, recognizing that the more you enable the reader to “see” inside a character, the more they will feel and be drawn deeper into the story.
In Myra Johnson’sWhisper Goodbye,” she could have said “Mary was afraid to open the slip of paper. But instead she wrote: Fingers trembling, Mary unfolded the slip of paper.
In Pam Hillman’sClaiming Mariah,” she could have said “She looked nervously at the angry man.” But instead, she wrote: She moistened her lips, her gaze drawn to the clenched tightness of his jaw.
In Sandra Leesmith’sThe Price of Victory,” she could said “Ralph was happy to get the money.”  But she wrote: Ralph whisked the envelope of cash out of her hands and danced a jig around the van.
In my “Pine Country Cowboy” I could have said “He looked amused,” but I wrote: He briefly dipped his head in acknowledgment, a smile twitching at his lips.
. please pick one of the situations highlighted below and, in the comments section, see how you can take a bare bones description and briefly layer it with body language and facial expressions--without “naming” the emotion or resorting to dialogue or internal dialogue.
- A little boy appeared in the doorway. (Let’s make him...afraid.)
- The little boy appeared in the doorway. (This time he’s...overjoyed.)
- The woman looked up at the man. (Let’s make love with him!)
- The woman looked up at the man. (He’s said something that offended her.)
- The man opened the door. (He’s late for a date.)
- The man opened the door. (He doesn’t want to go where he’s having to go.)
So, please pick a few of these “prompts” and have some fun today!
Next month we’ll take a closer look at another element of layering.

If you’d like to be entered in a drawing for a copy of my April Love Inspired release, “Pine Country Cowboy,” please mention it in the comments section, then check our Weekend Edition for the winner announcement!
Glynna Kaye’s debut book “Dreaming of Home” was a finalist in the ACFW Carol and Maggie awards, as well as a first place winner of the “Booksellers Best” and “Beacon” awards. Her 4 1/2 star “At Home In His Heart” was chosen as a Reviewers Choice finalist by national magazine RT Book Reviews. “Pine Country Cowboy,” her seventh Love Inspired book (and the sixth set in the mountain country of Arizona), is available now—and “High Country Holiday” releases in November!
No Place Like Home. Abby Diaz longs to reestablish a relationship with her father, so she heads to Canyon Springs, her Arizona hometown, with a painful past she can’t share with anyone. But then she’s needed to care for her young nephew. The little boy takes a shine to a happy-go-lucky cowboy, a handsome man who’s everything Abby can never have. The more time she spends with Brett, the more she realizes he’s harboring a heartache of his own. As she works on repairing family ties with her father, Abby knows that opening up to Brett is key to forging a new future...together.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Hello Seekerville,

Sandra here.

Did everyone have a wonderful and blessed Easter?

I have Chocolate Velvet coffee in the pot ready to enjoy. I have a beautiful platter of spring fruit, sliced and ready to nibble on. Also, the baker here in the RV park I'm in, bakes the most delicious cinnamon rolls. I had him bake up a separate batch for us. 

photo from used with permission

Have you ever thought of setting to deepen your character? I tend to use setting a lot in my stories, but I didn't consciously think I was doing so to deepen character, until I went to Mary Buckham's workshop at the Desert Dreams conference earlier this month.  She did an excellent job in showing us how to do that with her examples and demonstrations.

I was so impressed, that I am giving away to a commenter today, a  Kindle copy of one of her craft books on how to deepen character with setting, Writing Active Setting.

Mary Buckham is a bestselling ABA author who writes Thrillers and Urban Fantasy so some of her examples could be graphic, but her method of showing you how to use setting is powerful and a must read.  

What she does is take a simple statement of description and then show you how she would write it to show character.

In LOVE'S PROMISES the setting of Lake Tahoe is not only important in the plot, but is a great setting to show characters as well.

Purchased by Stone Lily Design -  used with permission 

For example in LOVE’S PROMISES, I could write.

Monica stood on the deck watching the sailboat go by. She leaned over the rail and looked into the clear water of Lake Tahoe.  

In LOVE'S PROMISES the setting of Lake Tahoe is not only important in the plot, but is a great setting to show characters as well.  But look how we can involve that same setting to show Monica’s emotions and deepen her character.

Monica glanced at the sailboat skidding across the crystal blue water of Lake Tahoe and leaned against the railing of the redwood deck that hung over the cliff. Thirty feet below, water lapped against the granite stones, a rhythmic sound which normally would have soothed her. Not today. She tapped her foot impatiently and rolled her eyes. 

Can you see how using the five senses help use the setting to show deeper characterization? The sailboat is skidding across the water and the water lapped against the granite stones. The strong active verbs show her restless impatience. We hear the water lapping and the sailboat is skidding across the water.

Here is another example where we see Monica’s property:  We could simply write: Monica drove her Jeep Cherokee up the road. She saw his Bronco. Why was he here early? She saw him across the creek. 

However, if we add emotion and senses the setting of her property deepens the characters and we see their reaction to each other.

Shifting her Jeep Cherokee into gear, Monica worked her way up the steep road skirting her property. She needed to grade an easier drive into the place. She sighed. Another set of permits. 
She crested the hill and spotted a Bronco with government license plates parked at the end of the road. Her heart quickened. What was his motive for coming early? 
Automatically, she set the brakes, released her seat belt, and swung out of the high vehicle. Before her legs touched ground, she searched the area. Linsey wasn’t in the Bronco nor in the near vicinity. Biting her lip, Monica headed for the creek. “Morning.” His shout caught her up short.
She searched the dense brush downstream and saw movement on the other side of the gurgling water. He stepped from out of a clump of brush and crossed the stream looking like an ad from a sports magazine. Disconcerted by her reaction, Monica waited for him instead of meeting him halfway. 

The rough road brings frustration. We crest a hill and spot the Bronco. She asks what his motive for coming early. We see the dense brush and hear gurgling water as she looks for the direction of the sound of his voice. This setting shows off her reaction to seeing the handsome planner again.

In this scene Greg and his friend approach the famous Fanette Island, but instead of an elaborate description, we see the reactions to seeing Monica and her friends. Before this scene, Monica’s friends were in a speedboat showing Monica a beach and had almost ran into Greg and his friend on their sailboat. Sailboats have the right of way and Greg’s friend was rightfully annoyed.

“Do you see what I see?” Carl hollered from the bow where he was trimming the jib sail. 
Greg looked in the direction where Carl pointed. Docked at Fannette Island—or as the locals called it, the Tea House Island—was the boat that had almost run them down. Greg intended to sail past it until he spotted the redhead standing in the stern. His heart picked up speed. Monica Scott. 
“Hang on,” he shouted as he quickly came about. 
“You going to land there?” Anticipation sounded in Carl’s voice. 
Greg nodded. “Forget revenge, buddy. I’ve got other motives for landing.” 
Carl stared at Greg and then at the shore. He whistled through his teeth. 
Greg watched her hand an ice chest to the man on shore. Evidently he’d been piloting the boat. Were they involved with each other? Another woman appeared and, with relief, he recognized who they were. The couple he’d seen her with at the South Shore Club. 
He tacked closer to shore. Monica noticed him then. He waved and had to chuckle at the look of surprise on the faces of all three of them. Monica grinned. Good. She recognized the humor in the situation. 

I didn’t do this as well as Mary Buckham does, but I think you get the idea.  You can not only see the sailboat approaching Fannette Island, but you feel their emotions. You also see that a situation becomes a source of humor which is characteristic of our hero.

photo by Michael on wikimedia used with permission

Julie Lessman sent me a couple samples of her writing that uses setting to show character development.

Excitement pulsed in her veins like the bay beneath the keel. Heart swelling with pride, she watched Bram straddle the tiller, so incredibly solid and male and tall. He emanated a strength that swirled heat in her belly as much as the wind swirled the waves, and when he tossed a grin over his shoulder, her heart soared along with the sea gulls overhead. “Alcatraz at your service, milady,” he shouted, sandy hair lashing in the breeze like a tawny-haired pirate who had truly pirated her heart. She clapped her hands in delight as the island loomed with its Cape Cod lighthouse, rising from the sea like some sinister presence growing before their eyes.

Can you see the ship, the San Francisco Bay and the island of Alcatraz? But you are also seeing the hero and learning some of his characteristics as she compares them to the setting.

In another scene, Julie shows character in the setting.

Marcy stood at Mrs. Gerson’s kitchen window, in bleak harmony with the rivulets of water that slithered down the pane. It was a slow and steady rain, endless weeping from a gray and dismal sky, and Marcy felt a kinship with it. It showed no signs of letting up, much like the grief in her heart over the loss of her husband. A silent mourning over a spouse who was still very much alive, but whose love was as cold and dead as any corpse.

Can’t you feel Marcy’s  grief as the rivulets of water slither down the pane?

We also have some great articles in our archives with more examples of how to use setting to deepen your story.  Scroll down  the list on the right to the word Settings and several posts will appear.

The first article that appears is written by me and describes how I used setting in LOVE'S REFUGE and other books I wrote.

Janet Dean  wrote Setting Isn't Just Time and Place.  Janet does an excellent job in using her settings in her historical novels. She explains many examples in Courting the Doctors Daughter.

Can any of you give examples of how you used the setting to deepen your character? Please put it in the comments and you'll be in for a drawing to win Mary Buckham's book.

The craft book is obviously for writers. I know we have a lot of readers aboard also, so I have a surprise for you also.  Kindle version of LOVE'S PROMISES is free today on Amazon.

And please all of you join me on my blog tour.  It has been so much fun. The bloggers have been excited about featuring LOVE'S PROMISES and have asked some really fun and interesting questions.   If you are just starting the tour today, no worries, it isn't too late to check them out.  Just click on the button below and travel with us on a fun blog tour.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Hazards of that Ticking Clock

Janet here. Stories often have deadlines, a ticking clock that pushes characters to pursue their goals with a sense of urgency. In a suspense novel, the hero might be racing against the clock to find his sister before she dies at her kidnapper’s hand. Of course not all ticking clocks have life and death stakes. But if that ticking clock is connected to your characters’ goals—what they want and pursue throughout the novel—then that deadline is vital to the characters and the readers.

In my historical novel The Bride Wore Spurs, heroine Hannah’s goal is to run the family ranch. When events make it abundantly clear that the ranch hands won’t listen to her, she is forced into a marriage of convenience with neighboring rancher Matt. The wedding will take place in three days. That short time frame ups the tension. Hannah must get her mother’s wedding dress altered and endure the startled reaction of others, all the while grieving her father’s failing health and the lack of love between her and Matt. With this short time period till the wedding, the heroine and I had no problem keeping track of the days.

But I did lose track once.

In my novella, “The Last Minute Bride,” Brides of the West, Elise and David are estranged but must join forces to provide a lovely reception for their best friends’ wedding in two weeks. All the while Elise is hurting by what she believes is David’s betrayal. As I wrote the novella, I had no problem keeping track of the days, but during revisions, I reordered some scenes, easy to do with cut and paste. The problem—I somehow missed that in the new version of the story I’d messed up the passage of days. I was able to fix the discrepancies during editorial revisions. Still, that blunder unnerved me.
Since that experience, when writing a story with a specific deadline, I’m very aware of the importance of keeping track of the passage of time. So how do I make sure I get it right? And don't have the crazy urge to rid the story of that ticking clock?

                                 Eliminate Ticking Clock Hazards with a story outline

As I write, I like to outline my story, giving the briefest mention of what happens in each scene of each chapter. The outline is invaluable when my story has a ticking clock. I not only list the scenes in each of the chapters and the briefest mention of events, but I also add in large bold font the date and day the scenes take place. I may have more than one scene or even more than one chapter under that date. If a scene doesn't take place for a day or more, then I must be careful to include them in the passage of time. At the end of writing the draft—or my version of a draft, which is never rough or fast—I’ll have a complete outline of the book.

This outline is a great resource for me. As I write, the outline allows me to check facts like a minor character’s description or the name of the hero’s dog without having to scroll through the manuscript. I find this handier than the Find feature in Word.

Some may find the idea of dividing your story into chapters as you write bazaar, especially if you don’t write linearly. Still, you do create scenes and if your story has a ticking clock, you can decide what date those scenes should fall under. If you like to skip around writing scenes, beware that writing out of sequence is another potential hazard of the ticking clock.

In my current manuscript heroine Carly must have a bridal gown and trousseau made in three weeks, the date of her customer’s wedding. If the deadline is vague, then keeping track of the days and weeks might not matter, but in this case, the deadline is specific and reputation of her business is at stake. Try not to create a deadline merely to add pressure to the characters and up the emotion. Deadlines should force characters to take actions that forward the plot. Everything that happens in your story should forward the plot.

Here’s a peek at the opening of my story’s outline. Notice I give only enough details to trigger the scene in my mind. I don't list every event. For example before Carly looks for the deed in Chapter Three, she puts her son to bed. No need to remind myself of that little detail. Scenes may be in the same chapter but take place on different days. I add any information to the outline that I might want to check like minor character or store names.  

Tuesday, March 1, 1898
Chapter 1: Carly buries Max. 

Friday, April 1, 1898
Nate visits Carly’s shop. Sister Anna has deed won in a poker game by Anna’s dead husband Walt. Carly faints. Nate promises 6-year-old Henry he’ll help his mother.
Chapter 2: Carly won’t give up shop without a fight. Nate agrees to make livery repairs in exchange for Morris Mood’s empty house out back. Stray mutt.
Chapter 3: Carly questions Sheriff Truitt about legalities of shop ownership. Is told the Circuit Judge must rule. Lester and Lloyd Harders in jail. Carly searches house for deed and fails.

Saturday, April 2, 1898
Nate moves Anna. Visit cemetery on way.
Chapter 4: Carly gets Vivian Schwartz’s big bridal order for April 22 wedding in 20 days. Nate returns with Anna. Carly hires Anna.
Chapter 5: Nate moves Anna and stray dog she names Maizie into house. Carly and Henry bring food. At Stuffle Emporium Nate asks about outlaw Shifty Stogsdill.

Monday, April 4, 1898

You get the idea. I keep the outline open as I write and add to it as I go or soon afterward while events are fresh in my mind. Note that I had no Sunday scene, but the dated outline ensures I won’t lose track of the ticking clock, even when I skip days.

When I first used this outline technique, I added page numbers of the chapters but then was always changing them. I don’t need page numbers to find what I need when I use the Bookmark and Find features on Word. 

                              Eliminate Ticking Clock Hazards with Scene Headers.

If the idea of an outline still makes you nauseous, but you have a ticking clock in your story, you might want to consider adding the date at the top of the page before you write a scene. If you add the point of view character’s goal, you've given yourself a nifty guide for writing the scene. For example, Monday, April 12, ten days till the wedding, Carly hopes for no interruption so she can… That helps me stay on track with the scene's goal and time frame.

To learn more about the importance of scene goals for your characters, click my post here.

Not that we want to show that ticking clock by starting scenes with the day of the week as if writing in a journal.To make a ticking clock an effective tool, writers should show characters scrambling to meet that deadline in the story itself. Make readers worry by planting roadblocks that stymie progress and raise the stakes. Start scenes with a hook and bring that information in during the action.   

              Eliminate Ticking Clock hazards with a  Historical Calendar 
Historical writers must make sure the days of the week jive with the year of their story. If the aforementioned wedding takes place on April 22, 1898, then I’d better know what day that falls on. It’s super easy to check the old calendar online. These calendars show what day holidays fall on and even identify the phase of the moon. If you want a romantic full moon in your historical, you can make sure that’s feasible.

For breakfast I brought yummy store-bought goodies. None of the “Use by” dates has expired so the donuts, muffins and pastries meet my freshness ticking clock. My goal. LOL

Have you written a story with a ticking clock? If so, please share how you keep track of the passing of time. 

As a reader do you enjoy stories with ticking clocks? 

Leave a comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.