Internal conflict is a jewel for better understanding your character’s arcs and the spine or theme of your book. Now most of the time words like “character arc” and “theme” strike fear into writers, but there really isn’t a reason for that fear. The bottom line is whether or not you intentionally put it there, there is a theme running through your book (see, your 10th grade English teacher was right!), knowing this theme, though, can really work to your benefit, especially with revisions. Just like GMC, character arcs and theme are all pieces to the same puzzle and when you have them all sitting before you, you are better able to create a cohesive and tightly written book.

A character’s arc is nothing more than character growth.

“Oh, right. Sure,” you may be thinking. “Character growth. That’ll be easy.”

And you’re right. It’s hard to make your characters grow. Let’s face it, no one likes to grow as a person. It’s hard work. We’re all very set in our ways. People (and characters) naturally resist change.

That means, for your character’s growth to be believable, it has to be gradual and they have to fight it a bit. But readers love to read about the struggle to grow as a person. They love seeing the character arc.

I know that for me when I was a newer writer I was trying to better understand character arcs and I must have tried every method out there – 15 step arcs, trying to apply the hero’s journey and nothing worked. I was convinced that the character arc was an unattainable thing I was just never gonna get. My characters were gonna just have to do it on their own because I wasn’t smart enough to guide them through it.

But then one day I was talking to my critique partner and things began to fall magically into place. I knew that my characters needed to start the book with one issue and by the end of the book they needed to have worked through that issue in order to achieve their HEA. Okay so move character from Point A to Point B. Got it.

Okay, I’m about to give you the key to character arcs, I really should charge for this because it’s evidently a big, bit secret. Okay we have a point A and a point B, for those of you who are good in math, that’s two steps. That’s right, I said TWO steps. Not as big of a deal as the term character arc makes you feel.

So what are these points?

Point A – Error in thinking – The error in thinking is something the character believes about themselves or their world that is both wrong and preventing them from resolving their internal GMC and thus happiness (love). Our characters can’t be really happy (or in a healthy relationship) until they give up their error in thinking.

Now, keep in mind, this error in thinking isn’t completely illogical. The character must have a good reason (motivation) for believing that their error in thinking is actually true. Something (or preferably many things) in their past have lead them to this firmly held belief.

Point B – The Lesson – This is what your character must learn before they can overcome the crisis in the big black moment. And, yep, the lesson is often related to the character’s error in thinking. It’s also worth noting that often in romances the hero and heroine’s lessons (and therefore their character arcs) are mirror images of each other. For example, if your heroine needs to learn that it’s okay to lighten up a bit and lose control every once in a while, then your hero’s lesson might be that he can still enjoy life even if he’s a bit more responsible. Or maybe she needs to learn to trust herself more and he needs to learn to trust others.

So you identify your heroine’s error in thinking – she believes that she has to change herself in order to be accepted by others. Then you use the correlation for her lesson – she needs to learn that she’s lovable just as she is. Point A to Point B. Character arc. See how easy that is?

All that stuff in the middle is your plot which repeated makes her deal with the error in thinking, confirming it, questioning it, requiring her to change so she can learn. That’s the job of your story, to push your characters and make them earn their HEA. On your handout I have some more information you can use to help guide key scenes to achieving the character arcs.

Initially we state the error in thinking early on in the book when the reader is getting to know the character. This isn’t usually one of those “Gentle Reader…” moments, typically you want to be a tad sly with how you slip this info in. But this isn’t like the internal conflict in the way that the character isn’t aware of it, they know the error in thinking they don’t know it’s an error, but they know it, they believe it with everything in their little imaginary bodies. So get it out there on the page early on so the reader knows ah-ha here we have a character with trust issues.

Then you move to an internal call to adventure which is often the same as the external call, afterall the external plot should be challenging their internal issues. Then we have refusal to change, external events make status quo impossible so this is when the fun stuff starts to happen, our characters, much like ourselves try to cheat. Think of it in terms of dieting, how many of us have tried every get thin quick plan out there? That’s cheating, it doesn’t work long term, it doesn’t fix anything inside that is probably what’s causing the weight issue anyways. Think about the Biggest Loser, any of you watch that? Every season we get to see one or more of those people’s errors in thinking brought to life and challenged and we see them try to cheat and cheat until finally they have to just recognize they’re gonna have to change to get what they want. Character arc!

So where does theme come in to all of this? When you’re dealing with romance, you really need to look at both your hero and your heroine’s character arcs in order to identify your theme. Let’s backtrack just a bit and define theme to make sure we’re all on the same page here. Theme is the basic emotional conflict of your book. Almost always it can be boiled down to one word. So you could say “this book is about TRUST,” or “this book is about REDEMPTION,” or even “this book is about RESPONSIBILITY.” If you find yourself trying to explain it, “this book is about a woman who…” then that’s not your theme, that’s a synopsis.

The other thing to keep in mind while dealing with theme is that you probably won’t, no matter how long you write, deal with more than a handful of different themes. Like I mentioned earlier about only using a handful of archetypes, all of this stems from your voice. Our own individual writer’s toolbox is unique to us and we’ll find that you can often put new things in the box, but sometimes there are just some permanent fixtures in there you’ll have to learn to work with.

So theme, you’ll revisit the same ones over and over again. No, it’s not about writing the same book over and over again, but theme is deeply connected to an author’s voice. Writing is intensely personal, so it stands to reason that our themes are going to be our own personal hot buttons. Take a look at books you’ve written or even books on your keeper shelf – they all have themes and chances are the themes are similar. Once you’re aware of these hot button themes, it makes defining the themes in your own books easier since you’ll tend to gravitate to the same things each time you go to write. I tend to gravitate towards themes of “self-acceptance” and “responsibility” and “trust”. So while I’m working on character development and GMC I begin to see the theme emerge because I know what to look for. Although as life continues, perhaps I’ll trade in some of those for some new ones. The point being, while there is an endless number of themes out there, most of us have a group of personal themes that we’ll use.

This might sound like a bad thing and I’m sure some of you are disagreeing with me (which is totally fine), but in actuality, having author’s themes is a good thing. It’s scary at first because it can make you feel as if you are limited or that you’re writing the same book over and over again, but this simply isn’t the case. Embrace your themes, being familiar with them can really help you when you sit down to work on your book because you’ll have a narrower list in which to look at to determine what the book is about.

Okay, so now we’re on the same page with our definition of theme, let’s see how we can identify it. Now when I’m doing character development, I tend to start with one character and do all the GMC and character arcs and whatnot on them before I begin the other. For me I nearly always start with the heroine because I’m such a heroine-driven writer. Once I have her figured out, I can start working on the hero and thinking about what kind of man will be both her knight in shining armor and her worst nightmare (only in that he makes her deal with that internal bag of junk she’s been hauling around).

So if I create a heroine who thrives on her own independence, then chances are she’ll be paired with a man who threatens this. He’ll probably have a few children, and his internal conflict might deal with him not understanding the need for independence. If he’s been a single dad for a while, then he’s the primary care giver and might not have time for anything on his own, so he probably thinks the heroine is selfish, and she might think he’s self-righteous. They both need to find balance. But are you seeing a common thread within their character arcs? Independence. He might not have any and she might crave too much, so they’re different, but at the end of the day, it’s the same emotional issue. See, cohesion, that’s the beauty of theme. It ties everything up with a nice, tidy bow.

One of the most challenging aspects of becoming a writer is actually writing. It seems like it should be natural. We WANT to write, but actually writing is a whole ‘nother ball of string. Making writing a priority is a must because no matter how many classes you take and how many how-to books you read you can’t learn how to write unless you plant your butt in the chair and put your fingers to keyboard. That’s the big secret, by the way, the secret handshake that new writers want from published writers – you get to be published by writing.

It’s really that simple.

But lets consider that it’s often way more fun to talk about writing than it is to actually write. So in order to get to that writing habit, we have to trick ourselves. Offer incentives, set the stage, get yourself primed and ready, bribe yourself if you have to.

How many of you didn’t set writing goals this year? And how many of you set goals, but had forgotten about them by the second week of February?

I think the problem with most goal-setting scenarios is that we’re too kind with ourselves. I mean let’s say you set a goal and then you don’t achieve it. What happens to you? Um…nothing. I mean you probably aren’t even that embarrassed because no one knows you set the goal. What would happen if you proclaimed to everyone you knew and saw on a daily basis that you were on a diet and you were going to exercise everyday and lose 50 pounds by the end of the year? I’ll tell you what, those people would be pestering you and eyeing you while you pop that donut in your mouth.

With writing, there really isn’t a lot of accountability when it comes to setting goals. We waffle a lot, we set airy-fairy goals that don’t really mean much of anything and we’re too forgiving of ourselves when we do fail to meet any goal we might have set. There are RWA members across this country who have been members for years and are still struggling to finish their first book – I know several of them. They’re bright, intelligent, gifted women, but they just haven’t been able to make that commitment.

Once you’ve written a few pages, you quickly realize that writing isn’t easy. For whatever reason we tend to expect it to be easy because we’re excited and because the idea is bursting in our imaginations. But when it comes to putting it on paper, it becomes painful and frankly not fun at all. And we do anything and everything to avoid writing. For me it was studying craft. I used that excuse for a long time…well, I can’t write yet because I haven’t mastered scene and sequel yet. Okay…well, here’s a tip from me, you can read every book written on the craft of writing, but until you actually write you’ll never master any of it.

Another reason…well, fear is a big one for a lot of us. Fear of success. Fear of failure. Fear of exposing too much of our true selves to the general public. Writers are a neurotic bunch and we’re afraid of a lot.

I could go on and list a few more and I’m sure some of you could make suggestions, but whatever your reason is, whatever excuse you have slinking through your mind that you think makes you special or excuses you, get over it. Are you ready for some tough love? How many of you want to make it in this business?

Now I’m not talking money I’m just talking about walking into your local bookstore and seeing your book on the shelf? Anybody want that? Okay, now I don’t say this to be pious because it wasn’t too long ago I sat where you are right now and I haven’t forgotten where I came from. I also didn’t get here overnight (in fact it too me seven years and five manuscripts before I sold). But I didn’t get here making excuses either. It’s time to let the excuses die. It’s time to put your big-girl panties on and quit your whining.

What are you willing to do to make this dream happen? What are you willing to sacrifice? There will be some things you can do without (TV) and stuff you aren’t willing to part with (time with your kids) and that’s all okay, just know it now. Writing is a journey of self discovery and now’s the time to get really acquainted with yourself, to find out what you are and aren’t willing to do to see your dream of publication come to fruition. So I ask you now…how badly do you want it?

But you say, writing is hard. Well guess what, it’s hard for all of us. Get on Twitter or Facebook and follow your favorite authors and you’ll eventually see them mention a struggle or two with their current manuscript. If anyone tells you writing is easy for them, they’re either lying or they’re not working hard enough. How badly do you want it?

You’re busy, you say. Well, you’re not the only person who’s tried to balance writing with a full-time day job or a house full of kids or a sick parent or whatever if is that competes for your time. How badly do you want it?

You can’t write unless you have it all plotted out/unless you have a 5-hour block of time/or unless its raining outside and approximately 56.7 degrees. Well, you need to either be writing literary fiction that affords you 5 years in between books or you need some yoga classes to teach you a little flexibility. How badly do you want it?

Okay so y’all get the picture. This is the year. No more excuses. Tack that up above your computer. I don’t care what your excuse is, if you want to write, if you want to make a go at this, you’ll get it done. You’ll make the time, you’ll learn your craft, you’ll do what it takes to succeed.

Alright now that I’ve yelled at you ☺, I’ll give you some quick tips on how to get it done. First of all you need to set big goals and then break them down into bite-sized pieces. Let’s say you want to write a brand-new single-title this year. That’s between 360-400 pages of writing, not including any prewriting or revision time. And let’s say you have a full-time job and two kids at home. So you can really only get 15-20 new pages done a week (that’s an average of 2-4 pages a day depending on if you write 5 or 7 days a week) that comes out to about 24-26 weeks to get your first draft done. Then if you revise 2-3 chapters a week you can be done revising in 6-10 weeks. That’s a total of 36 weeks on the long end of things to write a 400 page book. That leaves you with 16 weeks left over to do whatever you want with.

So you see how that works? You find your big goal and you figure out what you need to do in pieces to get there. Just like a book is made up of chapters and chapters are made of scenes and scenes are made up of paragraphs and paragraphs are made up of words, goals work just that way. Start big and work down.

Okay you have your goals, write them down and then share them with someone. Designate someone to be your goals keeper, preferably someone mean and scary who will give you that look if you lag behind.

All right so here are some tools that I’ve found particularly helpful over the years.

Find a writing zone: not everyone can have an actual home office for our own writing so you might have to get creative. If you don’t have an established desk for your work, then perhaps you can get yourself a nice new lapdesk for your laptop. Or if you have a desktop, then you can get yourself a special mouse pad and pen holder, anything that can anchor your area and remind you that it’s your writing area.

Or maybe you write away from home, during lunch at your day job or at your local Starbucks. One of the things that I do when I’m writing, that I started out of necessity from writing at coffee shops, is wearing earbuds and listening to instrumental movie soundtracks. Putting those earbuds in puts me right in the “mood” for writing, I know what I’m supposed to be doing. Even when I’m at home now writing, I still put them in my ears, even if alone where I could play the music out loud, the earbuds go in and I can hit my stride.

Make a date: If finding a writing time is challenging for you, then put it on your schedule. Just like you would a lunch date with a friend or a doctor’s appointment, put down your writing time. You’ll be far more likely to keep it if it’s already established. And your family will be more understanding too. Remember your family and friends will take your writing only as serious as you do – they’ll use your attitude as a guide.

100 words/100 days: Way back before I had sold my first book when I was struggling to make writing a daily habit, I joined an on-line challenge. The goal was to write 100 words for 100 consecutive days. I learned several things about myself but primarily I learned that I could write anywhere. Before the challenge I had firmly believed that I could *only* write when I had large chunks of time or at a certain time of day or when it was completely quiet. But none of that was true. Sure those might be prime conditions for writing, but who has that all of the time. Not me. Some days all I did was write exactly 100 words, but more often than not I wrote more. The story would take hold of me and I’d rock along and get 1000 words or 2000 words and before I knew it that book was done. The other thing I learned was that because I was writing consistently the book wrote better. I won’t say easier because I don’t think writing is ever easy. But the writing flowed more because I was in the story, in the characters and it just seemed to work. And you know what? That’s the book of mine that sold, that went on to become Courting Claudia. Author James Scott Bell has a great blog with several other tips and tricks you can use to help with this.

Setting deadlines: If you want to be a published author you might as well learn now what it’s like to work to a deadline. Set one for yourself. Figure out how many words you need to write to finish the book/story, then break it into smaller pieces. Now set a deadline for that ultimate goal and work daily to meet your smaller goals so you can achieve it. A writer should always know how quickly they can write. When you get those contracts, you pick your own deadlines so you need ot know what you’re capable of.

For those of you who might not know November has long since been home to NaNoWriMo – or National Novel Writing Month. I love the tagline for this: 30 days and nights of literary abandon. The basic principle is that you dedicate an entire month to writing a 50,000 word novel. This would more than likely be a rough draft, one that would require much revision, but think about it, in just 30 days, you could have a book done. It’s kind of an overwhelming thought, but it’s really a lot of fun.

By the time I’d tried NaNo the first time I was already a published author which several books under my belt. I knew my writing process and I knew I could get a book finished. I joined partly for the challenge – most of my rough drafts come in below 50k so I wanted to push my word count, also I was really keen on joining in on the camaraderie. Several other writers in my local RWA chapter participated and we all cheered each other on. It was so fun watching everyone’s daily word count rise.

Many times my deadlines are such that I can’t participate, but this year I can. In fact, I need to in order to meet a deadline. It’s crucial that I get the rough draft done in November so that I can have the revised manuscript turned into my editor by May. And I have to write another book in between that. So like I said, it’s a must that this book get done in November.

In a perfect world I’d spend the month of October plotting that book so come Nov 1st I could hit the ground running. But I’m currently on deadline so I’m trying to finish up the current book all the while hoping my subconscious is working on my NaNo book. Not so sure that’s working. More than likely I’ll have to spend some time getting the first few scenes sketched out so I can jump right in and then plot as I go.

But, you say, 50,000 words in a month is a lot, too much, really. Well, possibly, but you’ll only know if you try. And let’s break that down into more manageable bites, that averages out to about 1,666 words a day, which is really only about 8 pages. Break that down into 2 page increments, so you write 2 pages 4 times a day, you can do that!

So how do you know if NaNoWriMo is right for you? Here’s my list, see if any of these describe you and if so, give NaNo a try!

1. you’ve never finished a book, but really want to. (great way to dedicate yourself to finishing b/c you make a public commitment and people can cheer you on)

2. you normally write romantic suspense, but have a great idea for a Regency historical that won’t leave you alone. (great way to try out a new genre b/c it’s only 1 month of your life!)

3. you write really, really slowly because you get bogged down revising the first half of your book 100 times. (you are struggling with turning off that internal editor OR you’re allowing “perfectionism” to be your excuse)

4. you want to “hang out” with cool writers like me (seriously you’ll get great pep talks from successful writers and see how others are progressing, it’s very motivating & if you have a competitive side, even better!)

5. you have a deadline you’re worried about meeting (let’s face it, by the time December rolls around, it becomes very difficult to write b/c we’re doing holiday stuff, so use November to get that book done!)

So how about it? Are y’all in? Want to join me for some intense writing in November? Think about December first and being able to say you just finished a 50k word book!

So I’ve just wrapped up revisions on A LITTLE BIT WICKED and I’m back to work on A LITTLE BIT SINFUL and I have to admit I’ve been struggling some with these books. But I’ve finally figured out why and that is a good thing. For the last several years I’ve been working on my Legend Hunters books and then I wrote THE SECRETS OF MIA DANVERS and all of those books are big and full of adventure and suspense and mystery in addition to the romance. And then I started the Forbidden Love trilogy for Entangled Scandalous and admittedly I forgot that just because I’m not writing a suspense-heavy historical doesn’t mean my characters don’t still need GMC. It’s kind of an embarrassing lesson, to be honest, because well, I’m fairly well-known for teaching classes on that very issue. About how the GMC should be where the action of your book comes from. I know that. And yet, I still tried to cheat and get away with not doing it and now I’m having to back and fix it – in the first book in revisions and in this current one, post first draft. So let this be a lesson to any of you, no matter where you are in your career, what kind of book you’re writing and how short it is, you still need a solid GMC for your characters to propel your plot!

Also I want to share my tentative release schedule for the next twelve months because I’m so damn excited about it!

A LITTLE BIT WICKED – December 2012

Okay kids, that’s 5 releases over the next year. I’m so very happy to be able to share so many wonderful characters and stories with all of you.

*this a tentative schedule and includes some tentative titles*

I had a discussion recently with a writer friend of mine when she heard me mention my use of plotboards. I don’t use them for every book I write, but they are a great hands-on, visual tool for those times when I need to get in the book, so to speak. But even if I don’t use a plotboard for a book there are key scenes, plot points, that I look for before I start any book. I don’t always know what’s going to happen in these scenes, but I know the book will have them somewhere.

Some of these are pretty standard, and some are just things that I came up with because they make sense to the types of stories I tend to write. Oh, and they don’t necessarily end up going in this order so it’s not really a progression kind of thing. What I like about these is that they have stops on the relationship progression but also the external plot stuff so you can kind of braid it all together or at least begin to. So without further ado, here are my standard plot points.

Inciting incident – this is really just my first meet scene, how do they meet, what’s the circumstances, etc.

Let’s work together – since my characters end up doing something together: solving a case, running from a bad guy, etc. this is that scene where it becomes apparent they’ll be in this together, apparent to the reader, they might not be committed to the “partnership” at this point. But this is one of those key factors for me, I have to figure out what situation can I put them in that will require them to be on the page together. Often.

first kiss – this is self explanatory, and sometimes I plot it out at the beginning because I already know how it’s going to happen, other times like in the book I’m currently working on (A LITTLE BIT SINFUL) I knew that I wanted her to instigate the first kiss, but I wasn’t quite sure how until I got further into the 1st draft.

first love scene – again self explanatory and again I don’t always plot this unless I know specifically where it will happen and why.

midpoint – kind of generic, but really just to remind me that I need something major to happen in the middle of the book, a twist or something. Since I tend to write books with suspense or mystery or adventure subplots, then this usually is a shift with that. It generally has emotional repercussions, but for the most part, this plot point is about the external plot and where its going.

I think I love you – this usually is two separate scenes because both the hero and heroine get one. it’s just that emotional break-through when they realize that this is different, that they’re not just in trouble, the damage has been done, they’re all in. They’re in for a heart-break unless they’re willing to change to get their HEA.

plot point – again generic, but just a reminder to keep things moving. This is often something that leads the characters directly into the BBM. They’ve tried to cheat to get out of having to change, to resist having to deal with their internal garbage and this one last cheat should mark their fate and the reader will know that something big and ugly is about to happen.

BBM – The big black moment – ug! I don’t always know what I’m doing with the big black moment, but I sometimes have a general idea. Like with my upcoming book with Entangled, A LITTLE BIT WICKED, I knew, pretty early on, how I wanted to hang my character out to dry, so to speak, but I couldn’t really figure out the logistics. It actually took me a long time to figure out how to do it, but I made notes and just left it there until I had a clear picture of how to do it. What you want for this scene is to have your heroine/hero’s worst fears realized, you want the external plot to force them to deal with their internal junk.

HEA – happily ever after, won’t really know for sure how to wrap it all up nicely until after I’ve figured out that BBM.

So that’s it. I mean that’s not all there is to my books, but those are the highlights. It’s also worth noting that these are also excellent plot points to use in crafting your synopses because they keep the focus on the main elements of the book and how the external and internal push each other along.