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Friday, February 29, 2008

Revision is not a dirty word

By Julie Lessman

When I finished my first novel A Passion Most Pure over six years ago, revision was a dirty word. I mean, my keyboard was still warm from giving birth to this epic dream of mine, and the brunt of the labor was basically done, right? Uh, no.

As author Michael Lee so aptly states, “The first draft reveals the art, revision reveals the artist.” So once I got off the birthing table and learned THAT lesson, the process of revision became what author Bernard Malamud calls “one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.” And for me, it truly is!

So what are my favorite revision rules of thumb? I’m glad you asked.

Five Top Writing Tips I Could NOT Do Without:

1.) The writer classic: Show rather than tell! EXAMPLE: Mitch leaned forward, furious with her. BETTER: Mitch jerked forward, the muscles in his jaw tensing.

2.) Ditch the “ly” adverbs and go for powerful verbs to convey your emotions. My writer’s Bible is The Synonym Finder by J.A. Rodale—wonderful tool! EXAMPLE: She glanced at him angrily. BETTER: She seared him with a look.

3.) Eliminate all unnecessary words to simplify. True talent is saying the most with the least amount of words. EXAMPLE: Sarah ran over to the dresser and began searching through her jewelry box. BETTER: Sarah bolted to the dresser and searched her jewelry box.

4.) Replace some speaker attributions with beats,(action that implies who is speaking), which will give you more bang for your buck in showing rather than telling. EXAMPLE: “So help me, Bridie, I’d fire you right now if I could,” Mitch said. BETTER: Mitch slammed his fist on the table, causing her to jump. “So help me, Bridie, I’d fire you right now if I could.”

5.) Use “ing” words sparingly. EXAMPLE: Cocking his head, he listened for the sound. BETTER: He cocked his head and listened. (The phrase “for the sound” is implied.)

So next time you dread the hated “R” word, just remember—practice makes it perfectly easy!

Julie Lessman is a debut author who has already garnered writing acclaim, including ten Romance Writers of America awards. She is a commercial writer for Maritz Travel, a published poet and a Golden Heart Finalist. Julie has a heart to write “Mainstream Inspirational,” reaching the 21st-century woman with compelling love stories laced with God’s precepts. She resides in Missouri with her husband and their golden retriever, and has two grown children and a daughter-in-law. Her first book, A Passion Most Pure, just released in January 2008. Visit her Web site at

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Character conflicts, part three

by Mary Connealy

Click here for part two

Once you have the internal conflict the characters begin to take shape. Because the internal conflict is often rooted in their past, their internal conflict is part of developing three dimensional characters. As you do that, you start to know how the h/h will react, what drives them, how will they speak and move. What sets them off, and what gets past their defenses?

You know you’ve written a really good book when you dig a chasm between them so deep that it’s almost (did I say almost? I meant absolutely) impossible to breach it. I wrote a novel once where I thought I’d have to bag the story. I just couldn't solve their problem—they were both right—neither of them had any reason to give, each of them would actually be wrong to give in, and it didn't even make sense for them to give.

You know you're on to something when the conflict is this juicy, this much of a stumbling block, the only thing that will get them past this conflict is True Love.

I’ve also written books where the main characters just really liked each other and got along well. There was nothing keeping them apart. Harmony is all well and good, but it ain't a story. I had to mess them up and I didn't want to, they were just such a cute couple. But I needed 250 pages of story and they were ready to exchange I Do's on page twenty.

The thing about conflict is: it's the basis of your book. You need to put conflict into words before you type out that first word of your story. Even people who say they're seat-of-the-pants writers know the basic plot before they start. Some might just have an idea for a great character—Now what trouble can I get her into? Some might have the single idea in their heads, “I want to do something with a southern belle falling in love with a Yankee soldier.” You have to have something before you start typing away.

When I typed the first words of Petticoat Ranch I had one word in mind. Vigilantes. The book is 90,000 words long. So I had a lot of developing to do. But men trying to kill you is a really tidy place for any good story to start.

Most romance writers, in their real life, no doubt we spend a great deal of our time being loving and nice—let's hope! But that can lead to some suppressed aggression. Take that out on your defenseless characters and give them some of the conflict we strive daily to avoid in our own life.

Good luck making them hate each other enough to make it interesting. Then really good luck making them get along after all the trouble you've caused.

“If they’re sassing each other and falling in love while running for their lives, then I’m happy.”
Mary Connealy writes books that bring humor to the Wild West. Her next book, Calico Canyon, a sequel to Petticoat Ranch, will be released in August, 2008. Mary lives in northeastern Nebraska, is a teacher married to a farmer, and has four beautiful daughters. To learn more about Mary and her books, visit

Monday, February 25, 2008

Character conflicts, part two

by Mary Connealy

Click here for part one

It's easy to muddle internal and external conflict. The external conflict bleeds into the internal conflict and before you know it, it's hard to say which is which.

Here are some examples of external conflict from my own books.

External Conflict

Sophie’s no-account husband taught her the hard way to do everything herself before he was hanged as a horse thief.

Clay grew up in the Rocky Mountains with his fur trapping father and no women anywhere. Idyllic. Now he’s injured and at the mercy of a woman and her four daughters and not a one of them will mind him.

In Petticoat Ranch I've created one of my favorite external conflicts. She’s been surviving with her own strength for years, starting long before her husband died. He’s barely spoken to a woman. All he knows is: The men are supposed to be in charge. She’s heard that too, but what if the orders he gives are stupid?

For the perfect external conflict just remember, whatever he has to have—has to destroy her. They can't both get what they want. It's impossible. Easy.

Internal Conflict

Internal is more complex. It's what shapes your character into a person who won't take a chance on love. There needs to be two of these because each character has his or her own, and those conflicts have nothing to do with each other, except it influences how they deal with each other. It has to do with emotions, fears, old memories, things you can't see that go on inside a person.

A classic example of internal conflict is:

For Her: Her parents died when she was very young. Her fiancé died on their wedding day. Everyone she loves dies, she'll never risk her heart again.

For Him: His first love announced in front of the whole congregation—at their wedding—that she was in love with the best man—no, make it his brother—no, let's make her pregnant by his brother. He'll never risk his heart again.

The Internal conflict in Petticoat Ranch is:

Sophie was married to an arrogant, moody, inept city boy who dragged her off to live his dream on a Texas ranch. She ended up doing all the work then he turned up dead. She liked him okay when he was in a good mood and she missed him some, but really, the ranch ran better without him. Then the banker threw her off the ranch for not having a man around, unless of course she marries him. Her opinion of men just keeps sinking to new depths. Now a new man comes along and wants to help and her expectations are really low.

Clay’s never been around a woman in his life and he’s scared to death of the one he’s ended up stuck with. She cries, she disobeys him, she nags and she doesn’t say what she means. If she doesn’t want him calling her stupid, she ought to just say so. What’s he supposed to do, read her mind?

This is the internal conflict from Petticoat Ranch. She is independent, hard working, competent and she’s learned her lesson about men. When a new man falls into her life by way of plunging off a cliff, she accepts his proposal in a weak moment then sets out to

Note that internal conflict is personal. It's all her pain or his pain. Their shared pain comes from the external conflict. It's not enough to say, "She's untrusting and he's a loner." Why is she untrusting? Did a mere six broken engagements destroy her trust in men so profoundly that she will never risk her heart again? Why is he a loner? Did his years as an assassin warp him to the point he will never risk his heart again, even though the people he killed were all 'bad?'

Continue to part three

“If they’re sassing each other and falling in love while running for their lives, then I’m happy.”
Mary Connealy writes books that bring humor to the Wild West. Her next book, Calico Canyon, a sequel to Petticoat Ranch, will be released in August, 2008. Mary lives in northeastern Nebraska, is a teacher married to a farmer, and has four beautiful daughters. To learn more about Mary and her books, visit

Friday, February 22, 2008

Building a fiction platform

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner asked a few fiction authors what they did/do to build their marketing platforms. I was one of them! Go check it out:

Fiction Platform

There's a lot of good information from all the authors she interviewed.

Character conflicts, part one

by Mary Connealy

What would Gone with the Wind be like if Scarlett and Rhett had gotten along beautifully from the very beginning?

What if Romeo and Juliet had been fixed up by their parents who were close friends?

What if Ariel hadn't been a mermaid wearing a girl suit?

Would we even remember them, would we have kept turning the pages?

Conflict is what hooks a reader and makes the story interesting. If everyone gets along fine, there's no book.

A romance novel needs each character to have two conflicts, an external conflict and an internal conflict. Yes, you can have an "it's us against the world" theme. Yes, you can write a book where the h/h are compatible and work for a common goal, but that's not a romance novel—that’s the Peace Corp. If you want to write within the romance formula, get yourself an external and internal conflict.

External conflict is the easy one for me. External really is only one because it's the story—the plot—the mess you make that you have to clean up. It's what is obviously keeping the two characters apart. It's only one thing, not two. All you've got to remember is; make it insurmountable—the worse the better.

Whatever he has to have—has to destroy her. They can't both get what they want. It's impossible. There, that's conflict.

The classic conflict is: if he's a fireman, she'd better darn well be an arsonist.

Defining your conflict is Step One in writing your novel. What it boils down to is: External Conflict is plot, Internal Conflict is characters.

Continue to part two

“If they’re sassing each other and falling in love while running for their lives, then I’m happy.”
Mary Connealy writes books that bring humor to the Wild West. Her next book, Calico Canyon, a sequel to Petticoat Ranch, will be released in August, 2008. Mary lives in northeastern Nebraska, is a teacher married to a farmer, and has four beautiful daughters. To learn more about Mary and her books, visit

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Afraid of Rejection? Who Isn't?

Afraid of Rejection?
Who Isn’t?

By Ruth Logan Herne

From the time of our first play date, (definitely not called that when I was in knickers!) when some pompous three-year-old turned her back, snubbing our toys, leaving us out of the inner circle of the sandbox, rejection has been a part of our life.

At age three, most of us don’t have the savvy to shrug our shoulders and walk away, unperturbed.

Unfortunately the same is true at thirty.

I think it gets better around forty.

Fifty? Piece of cake….

But, here’s the deal. Rejection is a part of life. Not one of our favorite parts, but nothing we can’t move beyond, either.

The trick is, don’t take it personal. I know, I know, that’s easier said than done. When we hear ‘no’ in response to our work, our queries, proposals, manuscripts, agent pleas, etc., we visualize “I don’t want you.” Or, “I don’t like your stuff.” Or, worse yet, “I don’t like your stuff, I don’t want you, why on earth did you bother me, don’t quit your day job….”

Top salespeople are taught to view rejections as stepping-stones to the next opportunity. Everyone hears a certain percentage of ‘nos’ to every ‘yes’. It’s like kissing frogs to find a prince. There’s no getting around it; might as well pucker up and get it over with.

As a top salesperson in Tupperware years ago, I came upon a situation where a hostess was expecting my husband to demonstrate the party. I’d just had a baby, and Dave was kind enough to fill in so that my party count wouldn’t suffer while I re-gathered my strength. (I had a three-year-old, a two-year-old and a newborn…. Re-gather strength??? Yeah, right….!)

When I showed up, the woman was livid. Rude. Treated me like an outcast. I was not only hurt and confused, but taken aback by the strength of her feelings. Her reaction made me wonder just why she was so distraught that I’d arrived to demonstrate the party, instead of the happily married, father of three she was expecting. Hmmm…..

Leaving the party, I wished her well, and hoped I’d never see her again.

I almost didn’t.

Later that week she attempted suicide. I found out afterward it was her third attempt.
Here’s the point: I had nothing to do with the rejection. She was at a bad time in her life, had no faith, no strength to hold on to. Her anger and rejection weren’t aimed at me; the feelings were there and I got in the way.

I’m not suggesting that your agents and editors are contemplating their own early demise, but anyone can have a bad day, or a bad week. I know plenty of people who have bad months. But, regardless of that, your work, once in front of them, gets your name out there. Gives them a chance to say no. And the opportunity to say yes.

You don’t know if you don’t ask. And I know it’s not easy. I’ve got the Stephen King-type nail in the wall, holding my steady stream of rejections. We’re getting close to needing a longer nail! Either that, or a second one. (sigh)

But that’s okay. With each one I learn more about the market. Its terminology, its idiosyncrasies, the inner sanctums of editors and agents. How they network amongst themselves. Oh, yeah, I’m learning.

And knowledge is powerful. Your queries and proposals become tighter, more targeted. Lurking on computer loops, you learn the names of insiders, reading and learning, figuring out whom to approach in a sea of random names published in a magazine that may or may not have done its homework (often, not). And you keep asking until someone says yes. Or, maybe. Show me more. Send me a complete.

It takes baby steps to learn to walk. Don’t be afraid to let go of the couch and solo on your own. When that toddler falls, he may cry. But the fall doesn’t keep him down. He dusts his diapered butt, grabs the corner of a table and hauls himself back up, because failure isn’t in his vocabulary.

Don’t let it be in yours. Ask, ask, ask. Take the time, precious as it is, to market yourself and your work. What’s the worst that can happen?

Someone says no. But, then, they’re one of thousands. Believe in yourself, in your work and in your worth as a writer. Don’t be afraid to learn the hard way, as long as you learn.

Postage is a small price to pay for the chance for success, and pride is replenishable. Take the chance. Get it out there. Take a few hits for the team.

Then listen for the phone. It could be that editor or agent, wanting to know more. Or an assistant, requesting further copy. You never know.

But I guarantee you, if you don’t take the chance, risk the rejection, you’ll never know the joy of the phone call.

‘Cause no one’s got your number.

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Critique Partners and Groups, part two

Critique Partners and Groups:
Viable Help, Coffee Clutch, or Cheerleading Section?

by Ruth Logan Herne

Click here for part one

Examine your group, its principles, goals and desires. If they don’t match yours, be brave enough to change. Move on or seek an outside critiquer in addition to your present group. This can be done without hurt as long as you’re discreet. After all, your present partners may work fine with someone else. The mixed dynamics of your group could be skewed and you might be the “skewer”.

In any case, make the changes necessary to be the best you can be. Don’t settle, don’t simper, don’t pause on the way out the door if that’s what you need to do. Set your goal and work toward that aspiration with focus and strength. If you’ve got what it takes, it will happen. I firmly believe that. So get off the wall, dust off your butt, do what has to be done. There isn’t a facet of this industry that allows wallowing, even to the greats. Generally speaking, those who wallow have great difficulty with forward momentum.

Don’t let it be you who gets stuck in the mud. Believe in yourself, avoid the pity party and put in the time. Become your own best editor then listen carefully when other strong writers guide you. Sometimes that one nugget of wisdom clears the path to a better chapter, a stronger book, a greater chance.

Of course there will still be times when you should smile and nod. That’s human nature. We’ve all been there, done that. The trick is to go home, start typing and fix what should be changed.

It will be worthwhile. And then some. You’ll feel better about your writing and develop an inherent power to forge on. Do what it takes.

If Michael Jordan had quit basketball when he was cut from the JV squad in high school, a legend would have never been forged on the boards of Chicago’s United Center. If Lance Armstrong had decided that men with cancer couldn’t compete professionally, we’d have missed a five-time Tour de France winner. If Wilma Rudolph had let being black, skinny, crippled and poor stand in her way, untold moments of running greatness would have never come to pass.

As a premature baby, Wilma was refused medical care at the local Southern hospital. The twentieth of twenty-two children, Wilma’s hard-working mother worked to care for her fragile daughter while keeping house for wealthy white families. When it was discovered that Wilma had polio, and that her leg and foot were atrophying in an untenable position, this “never say never” mother found a hospital fifty miles away that would treat Wilma. Fifty miles. Wow.

This is post-depression era, in the thick of World War II Tennessee we’re talking here. With no money for physical therapy, Wilma’s reconditioning was performed by her parents and ardent brothers and sisters. After years of struggle, she was finally able to give up her leg brace and walk normally at age twelve.

She joined the junior high basketball team. The coach didn’t let her play a game for three years.

Three years. How many of us would have stuck it out? Gone the distance? Finally, playing basketball as a high school sophomore, the Tennessee college coach noticed her speed and form on the court. After inviting her to a summer track camp (her school had no money to field a track team), Wilma Rudolph was offered a scholarship.

At sixteen this polio survivor took the bronze in the Olympic games, running on a 4 x 400meter relay team.

At twenty it was three golds.


Go for the gold. Silver’s fine, too. Bronze? Hey, I’d take it. In a heartbeat.

But then I’d hit the keyboard once more, as long as my eyes can see and my brain can reason, because why on earth would you settle for third when you were within a hair’s breadth of first?

Good question. Go for it. Make the changes you need to make to be the best you can be.

It’ll be worth it in the end.

According to Wilma.

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Critique Partners and Groups, part one

Critique Partners and Groups:
Viable Help, Coffee Clutch, or Cheerleading Section?

by Ruth Logan Herne

The title says it all. Is your critique partner or group an asset? Are you the best you can be to them? Are they a boon to your writing? Do they point out problems while encouraging you to make necessary changes for possible publication?

Or is your group a social club? Long minutes of fun, casual conversation, a glass of tea, some writing talk, a bit of gossip, lamenting, followed by an abbreviated critique time?

Maybe they love your work so much they can’t find a thing wrong with it, it’s just so good, oh, my goodness, why on earth aren’t you published, you know you should be!!!!!


Critiquing is an art and discipline like any other part of writing. It’s a lot like raising children. The whys and wherefores of other people’s flawed children are obvious to us. We have an outside view and can understand why ‘Johnny’ does what he does because his parents:
1. Never got up with him
2. Always got up with him
3. Never put him in sports
4. Let him play too many sports
5. Fed him Kool-Aid laced with red dye #2
6. Worried about stupid things like red dye #2

You get the picture. The outward view can be easier to handle than an introspective look. The same is true of our writing. Most of us are protective of our work. Hurt by criticism. In love with our heroes. (Sooooo hot! Nice. Sensitive in a manly kind of way…Insert maidenly swoon here.) We pour heart and soul onto a page and it becomes part of us, intrinsic. When someone dissects it or finds fault, we get self-protective.

Get over it, already.

Yeah, you heard me. Put it behind you, get your panties out of a bunch, and go back to work. Finesse it. Smooth it. Start over, if you have to. What writer hasn’t done that? None that I know of, even the oft-published ones. In fact, I can think of a few published works that could have taken this advice to heart.

It’s not personal. It’s business. (I love every time Tom Hanks says that line to Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail.) Take it on the chin, Rocky Balboa. Or, if it is personal, find a new critique group.

I am often shown things with the disclaimer, “My critique group (partner) loved it.” I’ve been known to cringe at those words of late. If your critiquers are friends or cohorts, they may not have the strength or knowledge to steer you in the right direction. Then it becomes your responsibility to find people who will, until you have an editor that isn’t afraid to slap you upside the head (gently, of course) demanding a thorough re-write in a month’s time. (Okay. Maybe not so gently.)

Examine your partners. If you’re grammar deficient, is that their strength? If your plots need firming, are your partners strong in discernment? Can they help thread your plot line with greater intensity and fewer words? Are they tough enough to expect to be impacted by your work as a whole and not the all-too-common flashes of brilliance? If they’re not impacted, can they share that with you openly? Be honest in their estimation?

Sometimes the problem isn’t them. It could be you. If you get defensive every time someone finds fault, they may stop critiquing. Gloss things over. Smile and nod. It becomes easier to avoid the argument than be yelled at for doing what was originally expected.

It’s a fine line on both sides. Finding the proper partner can be a Godsend. But you won’t find him/her unless you look. If your work is wallowing in mediocrity or you feel you’re at a standstill and don’t know why, give yourself a righteous shake-up. Or shakedown…

Continue to part two

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Churchill Said It Best, part two

by Ruth Logan Herne

Click here for part one

First, we’re close to our work. It swims in our heads, dances in our brains, invades our spirits. We lose the objectivity because we’re involved in the account. (Okay, sometimes too involved.) That’s where the ‘book of your heart’ comes in, through that very process. But the heart and the head are quite different, and a good tale needs the best of both.

Sure, Denise loved Goofus. Or thought she did. He was, after all, daring, inventive, aggressive, cocky and intelligent. But he got caught, and now he’s doing six-to-ten in Attica. Poor baby.

And our little Denise, caught in her fog of distrust and betrayal? How will she ever cope?

My heart might say that she’d think and pray, contemplate her bad choices, vow to give up men forever as simply not worth the bother, and consider a convent. Right up until she meets Gallant and realizes that all men are not created equal!

My head says she should have a ceremonial cleansing party, burn everything the louse gave her in a big bonfire, invite all of her friends to participate, dance and sing around the perimeter of the flames, then roast Goofus by revealing all the reasons he was by far the worst possible boyfriend a girl could ever have. Make that double if he tried to implicate her in the aforementioned crime. Then, when she meets Gallant, she’s on more equal footing, having resolved a lot of her conflict with inner strength.

Probably the truth lies somewhere in between.

A good reader is essential to a writer. Someone removed, who reads for reading’s sake, and doesn’t necessarily critique, but advises. She sees the story you laid out, through the public eye, long before the public gets a chance. That reader (or readers) help to finesse your tale to the polished work that finally meets binding in a publishing house.

Why do so many novels get published that hit you over the head with conflict repeatedly? I don’t know, but from the numbers I’d guess that most of us have the same problem. We don’t separate well from our work.

Dee Henderson says that once she finishes a book, she sets it aside. Puts it away for a few weeks, moving on to research her next story. Then, after a sufficient amount of time, she pulls it out and re-examines what she’s done.

It works. The break in time gives the writer a whole new vantage point. You see things you didn’t notice when you were engrossed in the writing process. This is a great time to delete some of those multiples. Keep a checklist as you read, if necessary, revealing how often you rehash the conflict, both external and internal. Then get rid of some of them!

Sometimes, less is more. A well-placed sigh, or eyes that stray to an old picture, hung on a nail, can impart the same level of feeling in the reader as a paragraph full of platitudes and self-recriminations. Picture the scene. Play the scene. Then get out of Denise’s head and into a corner of the room, a vantage spot where you can watch the subtle nuances of her struggle. Describe that to the reader. The hand raised to graze the picture, that drops back down before touching it. The lift of the chin. The narrowing eye. The grimace.

Then move on.

We get it.

I promise.

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Trends in the Christian fiction market

Literary agent Rachelle Gardner posted this awesome update on the current trends in CBA.

Just to let you know: This update is referring to what publishers are BUYING NOW, not necessarily what they'll be buying in a few months, so don't start that new historical unless you can finish it in three months or so.

Churchill Said It Best, part one

by Ruth Logan Herne

“Gentlemen,” offered the esteemed head of state of the entire United Kingdom, “Nevah, nevah, nevah give up.”

That was the extent of Winston Churchill’s commencement address to the graduating class of his alma mater. A school where, by the way, the headmaster had scolded that the young Churchill would never amount to anything.

Ah, yes.

Churchill said more in those seven words than many of us say in a lifetime. He was clear and succinct. It made an impression.

Still does.

When we write, we use words. Big, small, short, long: They’re all words. Our power is in the usage. Not the overusage.

As we write, we feel the need to explain. How many times have you read an otherwise good book, well-written, great POV, strong plot, delightful characters to either love or hate, where the conflict is presented to you first through dialogue, then thought, then shared confidence with a friend/sister/priest/minister/mother/father… Then again in reflection or conscience.

We get it, already. Once is enough. Maybe twice. When an author hits me over the head with a hammer to make his/her point, I get tempted to strike back. “Stop!” I yell. “You told me this on page forty-two when Denise was crying to Amanda about how hard it is to love again now that Goofus is serving time for aggravated assault and use of a deadly weapon. Then again when she wallowed in her pillow at night, thinking of how she could never trust again if a big ape like Goofus could get through her walls of reserve. Then, once more when she called her friend Judy to talk about how hard it is to face holidays without Goofus, the no-good scum, and how she doesn’t dare trust Gallant with her heart of hearts. Oh, and wait, what was that when she faced her minister on Christmas Eve? That’s right, we had her sharing her plight with him just before she went home and lamented to her mother over a glass of chilled eggnog that she wasn’t sure how she could face life without Goofus, even though Gallant is cool, strong, good-looking, talented, faithful and loves the dog that he saved from untimely death at the local animal shelter.

Puhlease. Spare the words and the internal conflict. Got it in one.

I’m writing this because it is one of my deadly sins of writing. I do it constantly. Why is it that we can pick it out plainly in another’s story, (often published, at that) but we fail to see it in our own?

Continue to part two

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Dare to be Different, part 2

by Ruth Logan Herne

Click here for part one

We, as writers, are actually at a remarkable time in the romance industry. At this very moment, we are at a juncture as evidenced by the ongoing controversy of “Women’s Fiction” vs. “Romance”. Chick lit, Mommy lit, even Lad lit (okay, that’s just scary), are all taking their place in the publishing industry because the reading public buys them.

Readers clamor for good stories. Great writing. And while I understand that certain imprints work well within specific demographics, I am very pleased to see the market opening up to various types of romantic literature that isn’t simply qualified as ‘Romance’. The tag has acquired industrial built-in restraints that don’t work well with all authors, and that’s okay.

I’m a firm believer in stretching your options. Trying your wings. Testing the water. Grandma used to hold my babies and say, “When they stretch, they grow.”

Physiologically, I’m not sure that’s fact, but then the whole chicken soup theory proved true so I’m not about to argue. Grandmas know lots of things.

As a writer, when you stretch, you do grow. Your depth and scope lends itself to different levels of creativity. Don’t ever be afraid to go ‘out of genre’. To strike out on your own, set your own rules.

Oh, I know. Those words go against everything you generally hear at a conference or a workshop.

Tell it to J. K. Rowling. Or Nora. Or Jan Karon. Clive Cussler.

There is growing room for diversity in the marketplace. It’s demanded by readers and being supplied by writers like yourself all over the globe.

We all know the basics of writing. Conflict, plot, characterization, timing. Sometimes we get it really right; other times we struggle with one point or another. But we understand what they are.

Now take those basics and write what your heart demands. Bend the rules, curve the parameters.

Did you know that Clive Cussler’s agent had him for nearly five years before selling any of his work? Time and again he was urged by his partners and bosses to ‘dump Cussler’. He refused. He saw the intrinsic value in the man’s work, and stuck it out.

Cussler is now a world-famous best-selling author of adventure stories, with over 70,000,000 books in print. (Yeah, you counted the zeroes correctly.) He was just a little ahead of his time. But by the time his turn came, the man was well prepared to take success by the horns and ride with it.

Be your own person. Go your own way.

That doesn’t mean you skip the basics. Not if you want to sell your wares. But I’m a big believer in forging ahead despite what others may think or say. A huge believer in shaping your own destiny. It’s right there for you. All you have to do is provide the will, the hard work and the determination.

And patience. Lots of that. But never just sit and wait. Work, work, work, getting your name out there, onto desks, into files. Show them you’re in for the long haul, that you’re not a one-shot writer who had a good idea, acted on it, and never had another cognitive thought in her life.

And if you should find yourself in Emerson’s yellow wood, weighing decision on which way to go, don’t be afraid to take the path less traveled.

It could make all the difference.

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Dare to be Different, part 1

by Ruth Logan Herne

“Dare to be different,
Life is so full
Of people who follow
The same push and pull…”

Helen Lowrie Marshall, A Gift So Rare

Like any group of artists, writers tend to be ‘different’. A little ‘out there’. Introspective, fanciful, imaginative. Sometimes downright analytical and chilling. (Joseph Wambaugh, Stephen King.)

We don’t necessarily wear it on our sleeves like the art community. No aprons dotted with splotches of paint, no palette to clean, brushes to soak, the scent of turpentine a daily perfume. We don’t have to care about northern vs. southern exposure, or brightness against shadow. Most of us don’t wear long, flowy gowns and flowers in our hair, with clinking baubles like you see along the sidewalks of the Cape in summertime.

As entertainers of the print industry, we don’t need to produce a show or concert. We have no need to hire a band or create special effects. We live a more cloistered existence at our computer desks or dining room tables, pounding out word images against a backscreen of pale gray Microsoft Word.

Writers are word artists. We tend to look like everyone else. Except for a select few, most of us are unrecognizable outside the world of publishing. We shop, dine, fly, drive, and generally don’t have to worry about being spotted or deluged with fans. (Although occasional would be nice!)

And we are as varied as people can be. Writing is totally non-discriminatory. We’re young, old, fat, slim, bald, black, white, cranky, funny, endearing, bossy… You find the adjective, there’s a writer that fits it.

We also tend to be individualistic. Quirky. Since our craft is such a singular endeavor (us and the keyboard with a Do Not Disturb sign hung on the door), we immerse ourselves in our whimsical world, creating unforgettable characters and evocative stories.

Or, so we hope.

Why, then, in an industry loaded with these rare individuals, these men and women who labor under their own initiative day after day, does the romance industry tend to rubber stamp categories and stories?

I don’t know.

The obvious answer is that it works. If sales figures are any indication, then I have to agree, because romance novels comprise over fifty percent of the gross mass market paperback reading market. The numbers alone are pretty impressive.

But then there comes a time when you can’t tell one from the other, and that’s disconcerting. How often have you picked up what promised to be a good read, gotten to chapter three, and then set it away, certain you’d read the same inane lines at least three times before in other books? Too often. And every genre is guilty of this, from books promising ‘intimate moments’ to novels created for inspirational lines.

Now, granted, fellow writers are a tough audience. We are critical, more in tune with both the mechanics and dynamics of writing than the general public.

But I feel it’s a disservice to that public to sell them short. The same people that loved Nora Roberts initial ventures into romance, still read much of her current writing. LaVyrle Spencer, a favorite of many, created eccentric characters and plots that probably wouldn’t have made it in today’s ‘romance’ section, because she bent the rules. But by bending them, she gave us delicious reads of couples, young and not-so-young, who traveled rocky paths that didn’t follow the general outlines of what we perceive as a romance novel.

To be continued in part two

Ruth Logan Herne loves God, family, country and sometimes dogs. When she’s not hard at work torturing young children, she writes wonderful stories of faith, family, hope and inspiration. She loves chocolate and has discovered Starbucks caramel/mocha frappuccinos. Watch out.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Evoking emotional memory

The charm he exuded almost overwhelmed her.

Anger surged through him, burning behind his eyes.

Nervousness settled in her knees, making them wobble.

I read these sentences, but I don't feel what the characters felt. The sentences distance me from the characters.

One thing the first page has to do is grab your reader and rivet them to the story. One way is to pull the reader into the character's skin.

The reader becomes the character, feeling and thinking as if they are that person. They feel what the character feels.

This calls for more subtlety and vivid word choices.

Describe physical sensations so that your reader will feel it too. There are certain words, turns of phrase, cadences that trigger a similar physical reaction in your reader so they actually almost physically feel what the character feels.

I popped the lemon slice in my mouth, biting down hard on the soft fruit flesh, feeling the liquid squirt throughout my mouth, zapping my tongue.

Now confess, didn't your mouth pucker just a little? Didn't you start salivating a bit?

There were certain words in that sentence that triggered the physical reaction:
Lemon slice

I always start to salivate from just reading those words, because they're so powerful. They evoke a physical reaction from the reader because they trigger an emotional memory of biting into a lemon.

You want your physical descriptions of what the character feels to trigger emotional memory in the same way.

My favorite books on this are:
Getting Into Character by Brandilyn Collins
Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias

Brandilyn is an excellent writer when it comes to evoking emotional memory and physical reactions from her readers. For example:

Her nerves were on edge, her scalp prickling.

The bright sunlight faded. For no reason, goose pimples skittered down her arms.

Smells of rich dirt filtered up between gnarled roots.

--From Eyes of Elisha by Brandilyn Collins

The words she uses and the sentence cadences evoke emotional memory in the reader, so the reader becomes the character walking through the woods.

Look at your own sentences describing the character's emotions. Do you have good trigger words to evoke specific emotional memory in your reader?

Here's where you can put a list of sentences on a page and give it to your critique partner to ask them to give their reactions to the sentences. Their input will help you know if you're triggering emotional reactions in your reader.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Not for the faint of heart

Mary Connealy and I did a tag-team set of blog posts over at the Seekerville blog about book reviews being like contest judging:

It never ends

Okay Students, Let's REVIEW

This isn't a pep talk, just to warn you. It's more like a reality check. We're not complaining about reviews, but we are trying to get writers to understand that it's not all 5-star fun and games once you're published, and that your weirdo contest judge comments might actually be useful one day when your book is on a bookstore shelf.
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