Thursday, May 26, 2016

Winning the Creative War

By Guest Connie Mann

In my head, I envision myself as this ethereal creative creature that floats through the mist, scooping up ideas in my pretty basket. The moment I alight at my desk, beautiful, perfect words pour from my fingertips like rain as a story magically appears.

Then I wake up and squint at the mess on my desk. I scowl at the big red due date on my wall calendar, slurp more coffee and panic.

For most writers I know, creating new characters, building a story world, and envisioning a juicy plot is the fun stuff of writing, the misty creative part. I can talk stories with you all day long and enjoy every minute of it. But tell me to spend the day at my desk writing? Hmm, I’m pretty sure I need to clean out the guestroom closet—right now. Can’t go another day without new curtains in the living room, either. And really, what was I thinking buying those socks?

In his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says, “It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

Pressfield calls what keeps us from doing it “resistance.” I call it a big sweaty battle against inertia. And fear. And insecurity. Whatever name you give it, the moment we set out to do something creative, a force pushes back just as hard to keep us from it. How do we break through? How do we get our stories down on paper?

Here are my best strategies. They may not work for you, but I hope you’ll give them a try.

1—Write early.

I know, I can hear some of you groaning from here. Last fall I sat between two writer friends at lunch and realized both of them had full-time jobs and families and were getting up at 4:00 am (yes, you read that right) every morning to get their writing done. I decided if I was going to take my writing to the next level, I needed to do the same. The next morning, I set my alarm so early I wasn’t sure God was up yet and got to work.

I don’t like 4:00 am much, and realized I can’t keep it up for long, but I can do 5:00 or 5:30. So I’ve been gradually resetting my internal clock to get up at that time, gulp coffee and head to my computer.

The added benefit: my internal editor isn’t awake then, either. Apparently that naggy voice in my head that tells me this is clearly not misty creative material doesn’t get up early. I can simply pour the story out on the page and tell my internal editor she can gripe at me later.

2—Make deadlines your friends

I like to think I’m organized and disciplined and all those lovely things that sound so good, but the reality is that without a deadline, nothing happens. Nada. If I have all day to write 1,000 words, they will get dumped on the page exactly 30 minutes before hubby gets home from work to ask if I got everything done.

If that sounds familiar, try word sprints with friends, set a timer, or whatever makes that deadline panic work for you.

When I write before my day job, I can’t weasel out. The deadline is real and I only have so much time. I am a boat captain (just like the heroine of Tangled Lies) and work out in the sun most days, so by the time I get home from work, my brain is mush. I’ve learned that if my writing doesn’t get done first, it won’t happen that day at all.

Connie Mann at work!

3 – Set small goals

It sounds completely counterintuitive, but it works. I’m an optimist, which means I’m always pretty sure I can write a novel in a month; six weeks, tops. Then reality slaps me upside the head and I notice my gut is clenched and my palms are sweating because I’ve set an impossible goal. I just can’t do it.

I’ve learned to do the opposite and set small goals. Instead of 10,000 words in one day, I’ll tell myself I just need to write 500 words in this one hour. That’s it. No more. Usually, when the timer rings, I’ve written far more than 500 words. But even on days I don’t, I’ve met my goal so I can feel good about my progress.

4 – Keep a record

Speaking of progress, several years ago, I discovered the beauty of a yearly wall calendar, the kind that lets you see the whole year at once. That’s been a huge help in planning projects, setting reasonable goals, and meeting deadlines. But it also lets me record the successes--the days I met my goal, submitted a project and especially those days when good news arrives--like the day I sold Tangled Lies!

Writing is often solitary and kudos are few and far between, so this visual reminder of my progress throughout the year helps me stay the course. And for seasons when life interferes—as it inevitably does—it helps me cut myself some slack when progress is measured in teeny tiny steps.

That’s my battle plan for winning the creative war. It starts with the ‘butt in chair’ adage--and prayer, too--but without goals, deadlines and a set time of day, I never get close to my ‘misty creative’ ideal.

What about you? How do you get the story down on paper? What strategies do you use?

Leave a comment letting us know you’d like to be entered to win a print copy (U.S. address) of the soon-to-be-released Tangled Lies, from Waterfall Press. Pre-order now!

Tangled Lies
Some Family secrets are best left buried at sea…

Orphaned as a child in Russia, boat captain Sasha Petrov has spent most of her life adrift, anchored only by her loving foster family. So when they beg her to return to the family marina in Safe Harbor, Florida, for Mama’s sixtieth birthday, Sasha complies, hoping to put the past behind her. But Mama has other plans: she wants her three foster daughters to find Tony, the biological son who disappeared twenty years earlier.

Sasha agrees to try, but that’s easier said than done when bad boy Jesse Claybourne shows up, reigniting an old attraction. Back in Safe Harbor on a quest of his own, Jesse gets tangled up in Sasha’s search, and soon the two are close to uncovering an old town secret that some will stop at nothing to protect.

When Jesse is violently beaten and Sasha’s dog is poisoned, they realize the past is hiding something more sinister than they ever imagined. Can they uncover the truth without destroying Sasha’s family and breaking each other’s hearts, or are they sailing against the wind?

Connie Mann is a licensed boat captain and the author of romantic suspense novels Tangled Lies (May 2016) Angel Falls and Trapped! When she’s not dreaming up plotlines, you’ll find “Captain Connie” on Central Florida’s waterways, introducing boats full of schoolchildren to their first alligator. She is also passionate about helping women and children in developing countries follow their dreams and break the poverty cycle. You can visit Connie online at

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Classic Romance Tropes

Most writers will tell you that there are plenty of folks in the world, including friends and family, who are happy to tell us that they have a great idea for a book.  All we have to do to become instantly and wildly successful is write a book based on their spark of an idea. 

We cringe because we know from experience that what we must have is a foundation to ground those great ideas.  

Does this scenario sound familiar? An editor or agent tells you your story idea isn't strong enough to sustain an entire book? That's because  story ideas, conversation, bits of characterization or even goals, aren't enough to develop a solid book with a three act structure, including internal and external goals, motivations and conflicts. 

We have to go plot or trope hunting.

Let's review story, plot and classic romance tropes, so you can file this post away for the next time you need to go plot or trope hunting.

What is story? How does it differ from plot? What is plot? How does plot differ from a trope?

Story is basically a narrative tale. This happened, then this happened, then this happened.

Episodic writing is what happens when you have 
only story. Event after event with no cause and effect sequence. The events may or may not be connected, and fail to move forward towards a goal. There is little if any motivation, conflict or urgency. 

Plot is the cause and effect sequence of events. 

Ronald Tobias (20 Master Plots and How to Build Them) says: "Plot involves the reader in a game of why."

Debra Dixon (Goal, Motivation & Conflict: The Building Blocks of Good Fiction) reminds us: " Regardless of what you call GMC, the bottom line is that these three topics are the foundation of everything that happens in our story world. And what happens in our story world is called PLOT."

Ansen Dibell in his book, Plot, tells us: "Plot[ting] is a way of looking at things. It's a way of deciding what's important and then showing it to be important through the way you construct and connect the major events of your story. It's the way you show things mattering."

It has been said that there are a finite number of plots. Some theorists suggest seven basic plots, others nine.

After having the opportunity to attend a workshop by Ronald Tobias, I am inclined to follow his twenty master plots from his book 20 Master Plots and How to Build Them.  

They are: 

1. Quest-search for a person, place or thing.

2. Adventure-action or journey plot.

3. Pursuit-one character chases another.

4. Rescue-triangle quest:protagonist-victim-antagonist.

5. Escape-protagonist confined (literally and or psychologically) and wants to escape.

6. Revenge-retaliation for a real or imagined injustice.

7. The Riddle-the modern mystery tale.

8. Rivalry-two entities in competition.

9. Underdog-two entities in competition & one has a disadvantage and overwhelming odds against them.

10. Temptation-persuaded to do something that is unwise, wrong or immoral. 

11. Metamorphosis-the physical characteristics of the protagonist literally changes form.

12. Transformation-a process of change plot where an incident/s has a cause & effect response.

13. Maturation-a plot about growing up (usually optimistic).

14. Love-Boy meets Girl....BUT. (Lovers found, lovers split, lovers reunited.)

15. Forbidden Love-Crossing the line to forbidden territory.

16. Sacrifice-Giving up something in return for accomplishing a higher ideal.

17. Discovery-The process of interpreting and dealing with life. Why am I here?

18. Wretched Excess-The protagonist driven to extremes and the effects of those extremes. Usually psychological decline related to a character flaw.

19. Ascension-The rise of human spirit in crisis.

20. Descension -The fall of the human spirit in crisis.

It is from these plots that classic romance tropes emerge

What are tropes then?

Tropes are reoccurring literary plot devices. Reoccurring as in, used over and over again, so as to become familiar to the reader and the writer as a trope. If I say "secret baby," you nod, because you know the basic plot.

Which is why editors may tell you they want a fresh spin on a trope. Without that fresh spin, a classic romance trope becomes overused and simply a cliche. I've been discussing fresh spins with my Seeker buddies lately. 

Fresh spins would be books like Pride, Prejudice, and Zombies. Or how about Kerrelyn Sparks book, How to Marry a Vampire Millionaire ( about a vampire who loses a fang and falls in love with his dentist.) What's the next big fresh spin for inspirational romance? We should be looking for it!

By the way, a hook is not a trope. A hook is a topic that for the most part guarantees the reader a particular emotional and entertainment experience. When we hear a particular hook there is a reader expectation. 

Popular hooks for contemporary romance would include cowboy, rancher, baby, small children, bride, animals, Amish, and single parent/widow/widower. For the historical romance we have the wallflower & rake, courtesan, spinster, Duke/Duchess, farmer, rancher...and yes, Amish. Suspense includes all those cops, sheriffs, FBI agents, U.S. marshals. And Amish, yet again.

 Yes, Amish is a very popular hook right now. It comes with a reader expectation. However, all by itself, Amish is not a classic romance trope. You can write Amish until the buggies come home, but you still need a plot device to float your Amish characters.

If you have submitted a manuscript and it has babies, cowboys, brides and Amish, but you are told you don't have enough conflict and are scratching your head; take a look at your foundational plot and/or classic romance trope.

In no particular order, here are some favorite classic romance tropes.

Mending the Doctor's Heart was Two Dogs-One Bone.

1. Two Dogs. One Bone-aka H/H discover they want the Same Job, Title, or Accolades, 

2. Star-Crossed Lovers-aka True Love's Destiny, Missed Connections, Random Encounters, Fated-to-be-Mated.

3. Friends to Lovers-aka Life-Long Best Friends, Unrequited Love, Friends with Benefits.

4. Forbidden Love-aka Love Above One's Station (Sheikhs, Princesses) Boss & Employee, Nanny & Boss, Friend's Little Sister, Feuding Families, Honor vs. Desire.

5. Secret Baby.

6. Fish out of Water-aka City Mouse/Country Mouse, Inherits Land/House/Business, Coming Home After Many Years.

7. Reunited Lovers-aka all Reunion Romances where H/H have romance history, including: Jilted, Dumped at Altar, Runaway Bride, Dear John Letters, Ex-Spouse, Ex-Lover, Baby Mamma, Baby Daddy, Childhood Sweethearts.

8. Opposites Attract-aka Firefighter & Arsonist, Cop & Thief, Developer & Environmentalist, Laid Back vs. Control Freak, Tidy vs. Sloppy, Politician vs. Protestor (etc.)

8. May/December Romance-aka Older Hero and Younger Heroine, or Older Heroine and Younger Hero.

9. Ugly Ducking-aka all makeover stories like Cinderella, or  Beauty & the Beast, Young Girl All Grown Up, Bad Boy/Bad Girl reformedInexperienced at Love/Dating/Romance.

10. Amnesia-aka Retrograde Amnesia, Post Traumatic Amnesia, Anterograde Amnesia, Disassociative Amnesia.

11. Marriage of Convenience-aka Mail Order Bride, Terms of a Will, Marriage for a Noble Reason, Arranged Marriages, Compromised Reputation.

12. Secret-aka Disguise, Fake Engagement/Marriage, Secret or Mistaken Identity.
  13. Sudden Baby-aka Inherited Baby, Unplanned Pregnancy, Abandoned Baby.

14. Jeopardy-aka Real Danger, Ticking Bomb Scenario, Escape, Dangerous Quest or Mission. 

15. Love Triangle aka Imagined or Real.

16. Wounded Hero/Heroine-aka Handicapped Physically/Mentally, Abused, Orphaned, Abandoned, Rejected, Loner, Underdog.

17. Forced Close Proximity-aka Stranded (Natural Disaster), Working Environment, Capture/Abduction. 

18. Sacrifice-aka-Giving up Something for Love.

Can you see the definite conflict (either internal or external ) in these tropes? Often a writer can double up on tropes to either create both an internal and external conflict or to ramp up the conflict tension.

My 2015 release, Safe in the Fireman's Arms, has three tropes: ugly duckling, May/December romance, and opposites attract (she sets fires & he puts them out.)

Can you name books that use these classic romance tropes? Are there any tropes that you think should be added to the list?  Which are your favorite tropes, and which do you avoid?  

I highly recommend 20 Master Plots if you have problems coming up with strong, viable plots. Combine it with Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation and Conflict and/or the CD or DVD of Michael Hauge's The Hero's Two Journeys and you have a plotting foundation trifecta.

Leave a comment today and I'll put your name in the pencil jar for today's giveaway. One  commenter will win their choice of 20 Master Plots or GMC in ebook format OR The Hero's Two Journeys on CD (listen to a sneak peek here). 

Winners announced in the Weekend Edition.

Tina Radcliffe writes humorous sweet romance and inspirational romance from her home in Arizona. She is a Carol Award winner for Mending the Doctor's Heart.  as well as a 2016 Holt Medallion finalist, and a 2016 Greater Detroit RWA’s Booksellers’ Best Book Award finalist for Safe in the Fireman's Arms.

The fourth book in the Paradise series, Rocky Mountain Reunion is currently available.  Rocky Mountain Cowboy will be available in December.

*Disclaimer:  I am not a plot expert nor do I claim to be one. (Ask my editor.) Generally, I like to write blog posts about those topics that I too struggle with. But I have invited some experts to stop by and comment today!