Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Writing in Harmony

with guest Helen Gray.

 First of all, what is harmony?


  •      Agreement in action, feeling or opinion; accord.
  •      A pleasing combination of elements in a whole.
  •      Simultaneous combination of notes played at the same time, a chord.
  •      A collation of parallel passages, especially from the Gospels, with a commentary demonstrating their consonance and explaining their discrepancies.

How can we achieve harmony in our writing? Here are a few tips.

  •      Maintain the flow and rhythm of writing. Espress ideas of equal value must in parallel constructions.
  •      Balance comparisons, modifiers, verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and clauses.
  •      Keep writing smooth, interesting, logical, and potent.
  •      Present only one main thought in a paragraph, avoid overlong paragraphs, and glide smoothly from one paragraph to another.
  •      Use language that is simple, direct, and clear.

The most common chord is a triad, a combination of three notes. Two common triads that occur in writing are GMC and TRILOGIES. Let’s talk about GMC first. (Goal, Motivation, Conflict). 

(Yes, I know we’ve talked about this many times. But repetition is reinforcement. Right?)

  •     The GOAL is what (a dream, want, etc.) a character wants or thinks he/she is after. It needs to be measurable and possible within the story time frame.
  •     The goal must be important to the character, and it is best if it is urgent for the character to achieve it.
  •     There should be a long-term goal. It sets up the forward motion for the story and often changes as the story proceeds and conflicts are faced and met.
  •     There should be short-term goals. These are specific tasks, objectives, or actions the character believes must be accomplished in order to achieve the long-term goal.
  •     There should be an external goal, an important, urgent need or desire for which the character must strive.
  •     There should be an internal goal, an emotional need within the character that must be met.  It usually drives the external need.  


  •     Motivation is basically WHY our characters want this goal/dream, what drives them.
  •     Like with the goal, it is best if it is urgent for the character.
  •     A  strong motivation will bring conflicts, force characters to adjust their goals.
  •     Tip: Coincidence is not motivation. A misunderstanding that can be easily talked out by the characters involved is also not motivation.
  •     There should be external motivation. Every goal must have a solid reason behind it.
  •     There should be internal motivation that harmonizes with the external motivation.

Oops, here’s where we disrupt harmony.
(As much as we like harmony, conflict is story.)

    The dictionary says conflict is: to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash. 

  •     Conflict is what keeps them from reaching their goal until the end of the story when their original story goal is either met or changed by way of compromise on the character's part.
  •     Without conflict to keep the characters from reaching their goals, there is no story.
  •     Meeting and dealing with each conflict strengthens the character and makes him/her decide how to continue toward his/her goal, or if the goal needs to be modified.
  •     There should be internal goals, emotional issues that complicate reaching the goals. (such as wanting to belong, to be loved, to be feared, to be rich, to be famous, to control others, to be safe, to be free, to achieve revenge, or to know something.)
  •     The internal, emotional conflict harmonizes with, and fuels, the external conflict. 
  •     There should also be external goals, events, other people, or situations that work against the characters reaching their goals, anything that happens physically to a character.


Disclaimer: I know series can be longer than three books, but trilogies are SOOO popular.

Why should authors create a series of books? From what I’ve read and heard, publishers want them. And readers like them. Do you? I do.

There are several things to consider if you plan to write a series.

    Books only make a series if there is a thread ties them all together, makes them harmonize. 

    There are three kinds of series: serials, sequels, and spinoffs.
  •     Serials follow one particular character throughout many different, mostly unconnected, episodes. Each book could be read as a stand-alone title, but each one that follows tells more about the continuing characters.
  •     Sequels contain one continuing story in a number of volumes. 
  •     Spinoffs take an existing minor character, setting, or concept from the first stand-alone story and create a new storyline for additional stand-alone stories.
    There are some things to remember as you write a series.

  •      Plan the whole series before writing the first book. Make each book strong and write each one with an ending that won’t turn away future readers.
  •      Create a compelling main character whose work and life allow for a series of stories on them. Be sure there’s potential for more adventures for your main character. Also, you need to develop sub-characters and sub-plots.
  •      Understand timelines and allow for growth and change in the lives of your characters. Stay consistent through the books. Plan carefully.
  •      Add hooks into the current book that relate to previous books. Be sure you make references back to adventures in previous books, so readers can go find those earlier books and read them too. 

     Keep the details of each book original. A series must have similarities in plot and style even though the plots are not original.

     Keep a physical record of your characters—their ages, birthdays, appearances, wants and fears, strengths and weaknesses, anything that will affect how those characters react moving forward. Be sure to include maps, world-building details/rules, tech and terminology, etc. 

     I personally like titles that harmonize, like when they have a common word that identifies them as part of a series. Although all three titles of my series got changed, I was pleased to get to keep ‘Ozark’ at the beginning of each one.


My third book, Ozark Wedding, released September 1. Leave a comment today for a chance to win your own copy. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

How do you keep harmony in your writing? How do you balance writing and personal lives?

Helen Gray lives in SE Missouri with her pastor husband of 50 years. A retired business teacher and church music director, she happily spends her time making up stories--which makes her three grown children think she's slightly nuts. But that's all right. She's growing old graysfully.

Pictures from Helen's recent Wal-Mart book signing!


  1. Coffee's brewing, and there are chocolate donuts.

  2. Helen that is a truck load of books. Mamma Mia! How many did you sell????

    You had me at chocolate, btw.

  3. We've only sold 116 so far of the new book. Sold 31 of book one.

  4. The manager told me he ordered 400 copies, but there are still over 300 copies in the store. So he must have ended up getting 500. And he has left the store to become manager of a new one that is being built in Cape Girardeau.

  5. Great post, Helen!
    CONGRATS on your Ozark series (which is wonderful, by the way). :)

    Coffee AND donuts?! Oh YUMMMMM!!

    See you in St. Louis SOON!(right?! You WILL be there?)

    Hugs, Patti Jo

  6. Yes, Patti Jo, I'll be there!!!

    Will look for you. :)

  7. Wow, that Walmart guy loves you! Too bad he moved away!!

    My titles were forced to Harmonize after they were written. It's tough to come up with them!

  8. I agree Helen --as a reader, I love it when series' titles "harmonize" or fit together. =)

  9. Congratulations on book #3! What an accomplishment!

    I love series books and even better when their titles harmonize.

    Wow! That is a lot of books in one store. Wish our WalMart would do something like that. It's hard to get them to carry the full line of Love Inspired books each month let alone any other Christian fiction.

    Would love to win one of your books.

    Smiles & Blessings
    Cindy W.

  10. I love that Helen analogizes writing to music, because I understand her points! You know me, I don't take instruction well, but the teacher in Helen speaks to the student in me!

    Well done, my friend!

    And I was just spending my early hours of the day pre-planning my wedding series for Love Inspired... And I'm having SO MUCH FUN!

    I love me some babies, and I love, love, love me some weddings!

    So yes, that idea of preplanning (and yes, I do brief plotlines so I can inject what I need to in book one to feed into books two and three, a technique I'm using right now in my Double S Ranch cowboy series for Waterbrook) is a huge help in writing strong series!

  11. Hi Helen,

    What a busy woman. Post the blog, serve coffee and refreshments, and autograph books.

    Thanks so much for sharing GMC!

    Great news the manager got transferred, now you have 2 stores super excited about you and your stories. Hopefully he'll introduce you to even more potential readers.

    Have a great day!

  12. Congratulations and good luck with the new book, Helen! You have been a busy lady!

    Thank you for the tips on writing in harmony. It makes good sense.

    Put my name in the pot for your drawing. :-)

  13. Outstanding comparison of music to writing fiction.

  14. Helen!!!

    I love you posts.

    I like titles that tie series together too.

    Wishing you many sales and much success with your Ozark series.

  15. Helen, your post is so helpful. I am wanting to find your books. My Walmart doesn't carry them.

  16. Helen, I am so happy for you in your success!! YAY I can't wait to read your third book. Thanks for the giveaway and keep up the great writing!!

  17. Hi Helen - sure appreciate your fresh coffee every morning. Your Ozark trilogy is wonderful and I am blessed to have read them. I agree that trilogy seems to be the big thing right now. I have two series, one a trilogy and one is whatever you call a 4 book bundle. A quadrupoly? Nah, probably not. Anyway, since they are, of course, unpublished, I can't tell you which works the best. I would love to hear what is in your future plans? ANother Trilogy? I will be on the edge of my seat waiting for more Helen Gray!!

  18. Hi Helen

    I've enjoyed the Ozark series. Do you plan another?

  19. Helen, your post is packed with tips on craft! Love the tie in with harmony in music both in our writing and in planning a series.

    I'm so impressed with your Walmart signings! I know of no one else who has that kind of support from her local store.
    You rock! Hope the new manager does the same.


  20. I agree, WOWZA! I need book 3! Did you say ONLY119? We are smack dab into harvest. We are praying the weather holds! Yes, you might have heard that Calgary got heaps of snow, but they are 8hours south of us. And no, though we had a skiff here earlier, it didn't last long!

  21. Hi, Helen!!! So fun to have you as our guest blogger once again! You share the greatest music/writing analogies!

    And WOW!!! Congrats on a super-successful book signing!

  22. p.s. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO TINA!!!!!!

    I've brought BIRTHDAY CAKE - - several kinds - - so enjoy!
    And Tina, don't forget to blow out the candles and make a wish! ;)

    Happy Hugs, Patti Jo :)

  23. Love the Walmart pictures! :)
    Thanks for these reminders. I love being able to get my daily writing-training fix here on Seekerville!

  24. Melissa,

    My Wal Mart manager says I can sign at his new store, which will be bigger with more traffic. And he thinks the local store will continue to support me. :)

  25. Artist Librarian,

    For authors who have a lot of books out (like some we could name) I think the key word in the titles of a series is especially helpful.

  26. Cindy W,

    I've discussed with my manager why other Wal Marts don't seem to have signings for authors, and he sees no reason why they can't.

  27. Ruthie,

    Thank you for your kind words, friend. I tend to think in musical terms a lot, and since my three books are a series, I followed the theme for all three of my posts. Hoping, of course, that I would be able to get my points across.

    Writing is an art. Music is an art. They're my passions.

  28. Jackie,


    Mr. Dodd said I can sign in his new store, which will be bigger and have more traffic. He thinks we can sell a LOT of books.

    And he thinks the local store will still be supportive.

  29. Mary Hicks,

    Glad my analogy makes sense. :)

    Your name is in the draw.

  30. Helen, I wish you were in my area, I would have visited the signing!
    My local Walmart has some LI books, but not enough.
    This is a good post. It helps to be reminded of this aspect of craft, daily if necessary. Without GMC we're nowhere. Structure makes our books "sing." I wish I had known this years ago.
    Plz. put my name in drawing, would love to own one of your books.
    Kathy Bailey

  31. DiAnn,

    Thanks. I like how musical terminology fits other areas.

  32. Rose,

    Thanks. Wish you were going to be in St. Louis next week.

    Maybe next year????

  33. Wilani,

    No Wal Marts carry this line of books. They are only sold through the book club and online.

    Which makes what my store manager has done for me so extra special!!

  34. Love the music references Helen.

    I've been listening to Guy Penrod and David Phelps with the Gaithers on YouTube sing 'It is Well With My Soul'.

    It's the most beautiful harmony.

    I've had a bad cold. Your post has made me weepy.

    Of course a soft Kleenex almost makes me tear up.

    I'm pathetic.

  35. Jackie Smith,

    Thank you, thank you. I've always got a project in the works. :)

  36. Cindy,

    I'm so happy that you liked the books. And your reviews on Amazon are G R E A T and so appreciated.

    I laughed at your "quadrupoly" term. I have a four book contemporary series under consideration. And a two book historical series--a duo, right?

  37. Elaine,

    The two series I just mentioned in my response to Cindy are complete. So I am working on a proposal for another Great Depression series, set in a different part of the state.

  38. Janet,

    Thanks. You have to keep a leash on me, or I'll tie everything to music. :)

    My store manager can't understand why other Wal Mart stores aren't giving such support. I've spoken to a couple of staff people at the store, and they think my support is solid and will continue. Great feeling.

  39. Tina,

    That rack at the end of the table is still packed with books, but they seem to be selling steadily.

  40. Marianne,

    That number is compared to what's still there. I nearly choked when Mr. Dodd told me he was ordering 400 of the third book. And now it seems he got 500. Plus another 100 of book one. But he can't get any more of book two. :(

  41. Myra, Myra,

    :) :) :)

    Music and books are my passions.

    I'm so humbled at the support I've gotten locally.

  42. Jennifer Smith,

    Some of us have been getting our writing-training fixes here on Seekerville for a long time. :)

    Being able to do those pictures is such fun!

  43. Kathy Bailey,

    You would certainly have been welcome at my signing!

    I still feel odd that people will buy my books--and then want me to sign them.

  44. Helen, you are an inspiration to me :)) I love your first book but haven't gotten the other 2 yet. They're on my list.

    Happy Birthday Tina :))

  45. Mary,

    Bill and Gloria are such icons in gospel music. I've played and sang soooooo much of their music.

    Sorry the post made you weepy. :)

    Will you be in St. Louis next week?

  46. Pat W,

    I'm proof that it can be done. If I can, YOU CAN!!

  47. Mary Connealy - - oh my! The Gaither rendition of IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL (with Guy and David) is my VERY FAVORITE!!!! LOVE it!
    Sorry about your cold. :(
    Eat a big slice of Tina's birthday cake and you'll feel better! :)

    Hugs, PJ

  48. Yes, I'll be in St. Louis. I can't wait to see everyone.



    ALL SEEKERS AND FRIENDS (and anyone else) please come and find a friendly face. No set time, just whenever you're done with sessions for the evening.

  49. Patti Jo, really? Birthday cake cures a cold?

    Have you told others? Because you could be very wealthy........

  50. Sadly, I will not be partaking of chocolate this morning. I rather OD'd on a Panera Bread chocolate cupcake last night. It was so rich that it made me feel sick most of the night, and I am the world's biggest chocoloholic!

    Helen, I really enjoyed your post. It gave me some great things to think about as I plot my novel and figure out my characters' GMC.

    Your comments about series were interesting as well. The novel I am plotting is set in Nebraska about a tornado. My idea for a series is to use the same town with more weather situations. Storms provide great conflict and can certainly provide problems for the characters. My idea for a second novel is about a blizzard. I would have new main characters but keep the characters from the first book as peripheral characters. But I can't think of a storm idea for a third book. Nebraska doesn't have hurricanes and any earthquakes around here are pretty minor. So that leaves maybe a flood or wild fire.

    Please enter me into the drawing for your book. Love the covers! And congrats on our Wal-mart success.

  51. Sandy,

    It sounds like you're doing some great planning. How about a drought for a weather condition? (Sometimes I hit a drought in creativity.) :)

    I can't take credit for the covers. But I like'em too.

    Wal Mart has been GREAT to me.

  52. Great job, Helen, explaining GMC! Move over Deb Dixon!!!

    You've nailed it.

    Also love how you tied in your beautiful gift for music.

    Truly lovely!

    See you in St Louis!

  53. Thanks, Helen. A drought is certainly a possibility.

  54. Hi Helen,
    I enjoy your musical posts, especially as you compare to GMC.

    Congrats on the third book. And I love the giant stack at Walmart. Very cool!

  55. Debby,

    Can't wait to see you in St. Louis. (the city of my birth)

    Words cannot express how much those of us who have followed you seekers for years appreciate all the tips and encouragement you have provided.

  56. Lyndee,

    Yes, that is a honkin' pile of books. I go in at least once a week to peek and see if it's going down. :)k

    Will I see you in St. Louis?

  57. I love your analogies to music. This is great!

    I'm glad to hear that you are working on another Great Depression series. Keep pushing that 20thc historical romance out there!

    As many here have said, you are an inspiration. Have a wonderful time in St. Louis!

  58. Piper,

    I'm getting excited about next week! Wish you could be there.

    Glad you like the music analogies.

  59. I'm glad you came to Seekerville today, Helen! Thanks for the tips. Your book covers are so beautiful.

  60. Cara Lynn,

    I delighted to be here and always appreciate the opportunity.

    I always feel like every writing topic imaginable has been covered on this blog. So I've resorted to material worthy of repetition. :)

  61. Such fun to see your book signing, Helen. And thank you for that clear explanation of the differences between serials, sequels and spin-offs. I never was clear about the difference between sequels and spin-offs.

    This post is a class/lesson -- you've made some difficult concepts much easier to understand. Thank you.

    And lots of wishes for the best with your books!

    Nancy C

  62. Tanti Auguri, Tina!

    Nancy C
    (who is hoping her memory of the words for "Many good wishes" is correct)

  63. Nancy,

    I tried to present my thoughts somewhat like the PowerPoint presentations I used to do on the smartboard in my classroom.

    After all the years I've been scribbling and typing, the signings are a lot of fun.

  64. Wow! That's a lotta books :) Hope the signing went well!!

  65. Helen, I agree with your Walmart manager. Seems like support for local authors is a win-win for all involved! But I've never heard of ordering that many copies into one store. Which just proves you have wonderful fans!



    I brought an array of frappaginos from Starbucks. Cool, refreshing and we'll get past that afternoon slump and running around like the Energizer Bunny.


  67. I love a book signing like that, Helen!!!!!!!!

    And happy birthday to the Teeenster! I want one of those frothy coffees Janet brought! Yee haw!!!!

  68. Sherri,

    The signing went great.

    They even had flowers at each end of the table for me!!

  69. Janet,

    I'm sure there is some good will garnered for the store.

    Years ago my husband pastored First Baptist Church, which is located just across the parking lot from the store. A lot of relationships have been formed over the years. And I'm sure some people are just curious. :)

    But the book signings are a first.

  70. Ruthie,

    All three signings have been great!!

    You would be proud of me. I took a break to finish my second load of laundry and put a pineapple upside-down cake in the oven. Soon now I'm going to mix up a meat loaf and some scalloped potatoes. Plain country fare, but filling.

    And I've been remiss.


  71. HOLY FREAKIN' COW, Helen -- I haven't seen that many books in one place since I visited the city library -- YOWZA!!! Did Wal-Mart order all those puppies?? And if you sold and signed them all, then I want a transference hug at ACFW, capiche??

    Seriously, this is a FABULOUS blog today, my friend, chock full of wonderful info, a definite printer-offer!!

    Your books are BEAUTIFUL and I love the Ozark in each title too. :)


  72. WOW, just started reading comments, and that is AMAZING that one Wal-mart store ordered almost 500 of your books, girl!! And you sold 116 as of this morning? You are SMOKIN'!!! And the manager couldn't order book 2 because it's all sold out??? WAY TO GO, HELEN!!!



  73. It's all HOLY FREAKIN' COW true, Julie. That man is certifiably CRAZY!!!

    When he ordered 200 of the second one I was afraid he would never sell all of them. But they're gone! Why he was able to get a few more of book one (after being told earlier that he couldn't) and not book two is a mystery to me. But people are still "discovering" me with book three and asking for the rest of the series.

    Not bad for a small town.

  74. I'm glad you told me that Walmart doesn't carry Heartsong because I've looked and couldn't find them. That was awfully nice of the manager. I love it.

    And did I mention that I love your book covers?

    Great post. Please toss my name into the hat...

  75. Hi Helen,

    Wow. How amazing to have that many of your books in one spot?? Congrats!

    Can't wait to see everyone in St. Louis. Last time in St. Louis (my first conference) I ventured into the bar area by myself and couldn't see one person I recognized. Of course it felt like everyone was staring at me ("who is that poor lost soul?") so I left and went to hide in my room! :(
    Is there more than one bar? And is there an actual name? It's possible I was in the wrong area altogether!

    Happy birthday, TINA!! Hope it's a great day!


  76. Connie Q.

    Wal Mart uses Anderson Distributors, and they don't stock Harlequins. I was told that Harlequin has their own system.

    So Mr. Dodd ordered them directly from Harlequin.

    See all the things I'm learning as a newbie. It's a hoot!

  77. Susan,

    I met you there!!!

    It's time to meet again.

    Another thing I've learned is that you just go to the lobby and look around for the gang, and you'll find them.

    See you next week!!!

  78. Helen, I'm staying home this year. Spent all my conference moneys last year - I attended five! Emptied the purse. ;) So sorry I will miss you, but as we say in Chicago, "Wait till next year!" Well, that's what Chicago Cubs fans say, anyway, lol, so that's my mantra this year. Have a buncha fun for me!

  79. I'm bringing coconut cake... the kids are being picked up and I've been BAKING ALL DAY!!!!!

    For Teenster's Birthday!!!!

  80. Helen, love the pictures of your book signing! Congratulations on all the books and the ones under consideration! The newest cover is "pitch-perfect"!

    Your explanation of GMC and the types of series really helps. I am planning a spinoff series....and my titles harmonize! *happy singing* And I love beautiful It Is Well With My Soul!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY, TINA! *helping myself to a piece of cake* Thanks, Patti Jo!

    Helen, hope you and all headed to ACFW have a fabulous time in St. Louis!


  82. Sherida,

    Thanks for your sweet words.

    It's count down time before conference. By this time next week I'll be packing my suitcase.

  83. Hey Roomie!

    I'm dropping in late, but it was worth it. Fantastic post :)

    I love it when you use musical analogies!

  84. Helen, I knew we were a lot alike, my friend! Droppin' in the laundry and lettin' food cook gives us more time! It's all about get 'er done!


    And I'd be stoppin' by for some of that simple fare if I was closer!


  85. Jan,

    You should expect those analogies. Most of our "get acquainted" time has been in conference choir. Looking forward to that again.

  86. Ruthie,

    I hesitate to compare myself to the incomparable Ruthie. But we do work along similar methods.

    Ain't fast. But it gets'er done!!

  87. Love how you keep finding new ways to tie in writing with music, Helen!

    Congrats on your series and successful book signing. Those covers are beautiful!

  88. Natalie,

    I figured a book series rated a blog series. :)

    I'm amazed at the number of comments on the covers. The art department gets the credit for those.

    just look at all those books.
    Congratulations, lady!

    Was sorry to read about your friend's funeral too. (((hugs)))

    This post is just so timely.
    I have a series of sequels now but will be branching out into a serial I guess, according to your definitions. VERRRRY interesting concept!

    Paw-fect in fact!

    Thank you again, Helen. Good one - definitely another keeper!

  90. May and KC,

    Yep, that's a bunch of'em. I'm almost in shock that he would order so many.

    We had been friends with Larry and Margaret for 50 years, shared many a joy and many a sorrow. God gave Ken the strength and composure needed to deliver the message at the funeral.

  91. Wow, busy day. I'm trolling for leftovers.

    You guys hide the leftovers???

  92. Helen, I'm sorry to stop by so late. How exciting about your book signing! Thanks for sharing the photos. And for your great post!

  93. They pigged the leftovers, but there's fresh coffee.

  94. Missy,

    Thanks for getting here. Will you be in St. Louis?

  95. I'm a reader, but when it all comes together it is amazing.

  96. hi helen
    I didn't get a chance to comment yesterday, but I did want to let you know I love how you tie writing and music together (even if i'm not musically inclined). the different perspective is very helpful to me gaining more insight on how to improve my writing. Thanks.

    I love all your book covers.

  97. Hi Helen, Like Deb H, I'm late to the party, but also like her, love how you wove writing and music together. Thanks for sharing with us.