I’m so thrilled to say that I’ve sold another series to Entangled Scandalous. Here are the details:

Robyn DeHart’s THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE SWORD, pitched in the tradition of the Three Musketeers, in which three men will stop at nothing to ensure their monarch’s safety whom they are duty bound to protect, even at the costs of their lives, until they meet three women who give them new reasons to survive, to Alethea Spiridon Hopson at Entangled Scandalous, in a three-book deal, by Kevan Lyon at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency.

You can start looking for these books in 2014 – I just can’t wait to dive into another historical adventure series. 

It’s coming! The second book in my Forbidden Love series, A Little Bit Sinful releases Monday, April 1st! I’m so thrilled to share this book with y’all. I really fell in love with Clarissa and Justin and I hope you will too. An excerpt will be coming in the next day or two so watch for that, but in the meantime, here’s the cover and back cover blurb. 

She’d made all the wrong choices, but ended up in the most perfect situation. 

Justin Rodale is the wealthy bastard son of the Duke of Chanceworth. He owns the most lucrative and luxurious gaming establishment and caters to London’s elite. Educated with the rest of the aristocrats, he knows all the rules by which Society lives, but he is beholden to no one.

Clarissa Kincaid has been raised to be the perfect English lady. She knows precisely the sort of match she should make and she’s fairly certain she’s found that with a respectable gentleman. But the man won’t commit and she finds herself seeking assistance in the form of seduction lessons from Justin.

This is a challenge the charming Justin can not resist. She may think that he knows nothing about her needs, but he’s determined to show her that he knows plenty about her secret desires. He has no intention of publicly ruining the girl, but he’s determined to privately tempt her into some slightly sinful behavior.

I’m so pleased to finally be able to share this with y’all. So without further ado, I give you the cover for my upcoming June release, The Secrets of Mia Danvers

 

 

Isn’t it stunning? I’m just in love with it!

I’ve always believed that most writers have at least one element to writing or storytelling that they do naturally well. For me, it’s always been dialogue. When it comes to writing, I hear the story, from the characters’ mouths – what can I say, my head is full of British people. In any case because dialogue is a thing that comes readily for me as a writer, I have a hard time explaining how to write dialogue. But aspiring writers as me all the time so I put my thinking cap on and came up with five dialogue tips I learned from watching CSI (and really any of the three in the franchise would do).

1. Don’t over use character names - This could also be called the Peppermint Patty syndrome, “How are you doing, Chuck? Don’t you want to come to the party, Chuck?” But in CSI, in particular Horatio Caine in CSI: Miami does this all the time. He overuses character names and it’s annoying and distracting. “What do you think, Mr. Wolff?” “I don’t know, but we’ll find out, Mr. Wolff.” Who talks like that?! When you’re in a scene and you have two or more characters talking to one another you don’t need to continue to have them address one another by their names. Consider your own conversations, how often do you actually use someone’s name? Not often unless you are doing so for emphasis. It’s a rare occasion for me to call my husband by his first name. Do the same in your dialogue, keep it to a minimum and only use it for the occasional pop.

2. Don’t have characters talk about stuff they already know – “Remember Joan when Aunt Sally died and she told us about the treasure map in the garage, we should go after it.” This happens in CSI all the time, they rehash evidence and how things are done in the lab even though they would clearly know how to do those things if they actually work in a lab. It’s to convey information to the audience, but it’s not done cleverly. The dialogue isn’t working as hard as it can. You have to work harder to get the information on the page rather than have characters rehash information they already know. *as a bonus tip, this can also be used when you’re writing descriptive narrative. For instance, your heroine isn’t going to notice every piece of furniture in her living room because she sees it everyday, but she might notice the cigarette burns on the arm rest that act as a constant reminder to her abusive husband.

3. Don’t go for the cheap laugh or pun – If you’re a CSI watcher you know what I’m talking about here. It happens right before the first commercial break, right before the theme songs kick in. All three shows do it though the original is the worst. You know it’s the dead horse jockey at the opening and the dialogue goes something like this:

“I wonder who killed him.”
“I don’t know, but it’s going to be a race to finish line.”

Clearly none of you write that badly, but keep in mind that you don’t want to go for the cheap thrill. Unless of course the puniness fits one of your characters, you want to make sure you don’t go down the cheesy road.

4. Don’t have them talk about stuff that makes no difference to the story – I suppose this might serve a purpose on CSI to create red herrings, but for the most part having your character talk ad nauseam about stuff that doesn’t pertain to the action of the story is, well, unnecessary. Like other details in your book, you want your dialogue to propel the plot forward so skip the niceties and the random conversations that mean nothing and focus on the story at hand.

5. Skip the musical montage – Well obviously our books come without soundtracks, but you know those scenes I’m talking about? The ones usually in the lab where we’ve got the groovy music going and we’re seeing all the technical stuff that the CSI’s are working on. Consider those long passages of introspection a writer’s musical montage. Narrative is needed, but break things up, especially if you have more than one character in a room, you certainly don’t want two pages of introspection in the middle of a conversation. Your readers will forget what the characters were talking about. 

Okay so a little tongue in cheek, but you get the drift. Dialogue is crucial to character-driven fiction and something all writers should learn to do well. Other tips you can try is finding a good show to watch and just listen to the dialogue – anything by Aaron Sorkin (he’s a dialogue wizard), old episodes of Friends any of the Oceans movies though Oceans 11 is particular good. Listen to how the characters bounce lines back and forth and how the dialogue moves the story forward. You can also read your dialogue aloud or better yet, have someone else read it aloud to you, that way you can hear what’s stilted and you’ll also catch missing words.

 
**blog post originally posted at Savvy Author blog**

Okay y’all today I’m going to get real. I’m talking baring my soul kind of honesty today. Everyone always talks about how much becoming a parent will change your life. We all know that. We’ve lived it. And those changes to our lives vary as widely as our lifestyles. But there are always surprises. I’m not sure what all your surprises were, and I don’t really have time or room to hit on all of mine, but I wanted to touch on some of the more profound surprises. First a little backstory – as you’ve probably gleaned from some of my previous blogs, the Professor and I had a long road to become parents which included lots of fertility treatments, some failed adoptions and more tears than either of us were prepared for. So there’s that aspect of my life. And then there is my writing. I have had my share of successes in this business. I’ve written for two different publishers, made some money, won some prestigious awards and been praised in Publisher’s Weekly, the Chicago Tribune and Booklist. But I have had my share (more than my share, if you ask me!) of defeats as well.

I lost my contract within weeks of becoming a mother and most would see this as a blessing, in disguise, of course. That’s what everyone always says, isn’t it? “Oh, you can’t see it now, but this is actually for the best.” Um, for whom, exactly? Yes, it was nice to not have to be on deadline while I was learning the ropes of motherhood and fielding some significant issues with our new kiddos. The stress was unbelievable. The girls weren’t free and clear, the parental rights hearing was scheduled, but we had months to wait for that to happen and then many more obstacles to clear before the adoption was all finalized. in those dark early days I was faced with my greatest fears…I had prayed for so long to become a mother, but I hadn’t realized I’d have to trade my career to achieve it. I felt punished and frankly very lost. I floundered. A lot.

My friends (mostly my writer buds) fielded insane calls and emails from me where I spouted craziness and panic and people would tell me to relax, enjoy the time off, the industry wasn’t going anywhere, I had plenty of time. But I’d been a full-time writer for the bulk of my adult life. I’d only been a mother for such a small amount of time and well bonding isn’t necessarily instant when you’re dealing with kids that you may or may not get to keep. As much as I loved them instantly and wanted, with my every breath, to be able to keep them, that certainty wasn’t there and I know (thought I tried not to) I held myself back just a little. Self preservation. I’d been hurt. A lot and well, I was terrified.

But back to the writing….the worst part was that I felt not only that I had lost my actual career, but I had lost my writer’s soul. The voices had gone quiet. Part of this I know is because (and here’s one of those surprises I mentioned) I am a dyed-in-the-wool introvert and I love to be alone. I love quiet. Well, y’all know kids are anything but quiet. They make noise ALL THE TIME. My silence, my quiet, my sanity was shattered. I had no refuge, no way to refill my well because I was surrounded by noise all the time. It was a huge adjustment and I won’t lie, I still miss it, but I know how to deal with it now and I get my time which helps.

Okay so no voices in my head (those of you who aren’t writers, it’s okay, I’m not crazy, they aren’t scary-I-need-medication voices, just harmless imaginary character voices :-) ) In any case, at some point I started working again, just kind of going through the motions. I had completed a rough draft at some point before the girls and was ready to start revising the whole thing. Poor Emily heard more than anyone should my incessant whining of how I’d forgotten how to write, the characters weren’t working, the writing was flat, etc. I worked and I worked and it seemed every word I added or every word I cut was painful.

Of course it didn’t help matters that I’d decided to work on the most challenging book of my career, a big historical romantic suspense full of a large cast of characters, multiple viewpoints, lots of dead bodies and a heroine with a disability. (<– this book, btw, is The Secrets of Mia Danvers coming out in June!) Okay, so sometimes I’m not that bright.

Needless to say after an enormous amount of time and energy I finally finished that damn book and I’m waiting to hear from NYC on it. It took me forever and it doubled in size during revisions. But still through all of that, the entire process was excruciating, I don’t think I had any days in there that went well, where the words flowed or the characters whispered in my ears. So still I believed that somehow along the way I’d lost the magic, lost my writers gift.

And then last week something amazing happened. I started working on a new idea, something that just sort of sprang from my mind, something not quiet as plot-heavy and the ideas just started pouring out. The best part, the characters are talking. At night while I’m trying to sleep, during the day while I’m playing with the girls or we’re watching something on PBS. And at nap time I sit down at my laptop and write. It’s not easy, writing is never easy for me, but it’s working, and I feel at peace. (and this book is A Little Bit Wicked

Maybe everyone was right, maybe this time away from deadlines has been just what I’ve needed to heal and grow and all that good stuff (though I’m still not convinced). But as my father always says, it is what it is and well the only thing to do now is move forward, keep writing and know that eventually I’ll find the right combination again and my career will start yet again.

**this blog was originally posted at the Peanut Butter on the Keyboard blog**

Today I thought I’d share some of my favorite books that I go to again and again for writing assistance, whether it be for characterization, creating emotion or plotting. 

Admittedly this is a tome, and it’s dry. But it’s brilliant and full of
wonderful gems. So do yourself a favor and wade through it. 
No doubt you’ve heard of this, hopefully you already own a copy. Mine is highlighted and flagged.
Covers the basics of creating GMC for characters as well as tips on crafting scenes. 
Fairly certain that since I bought this copy, I haven’t written a book without it. My entire
publishing career, for sure. It’s a wonderful starting place to creating believable characters. 
My second favorite book to use for creating characters. This one is about the Myers Brigg
personality types. It has cartoons and bulleted lists so you don’t get mired in the unnecessary details. 
This is a great book if you’re struggling with getting emotion on the page.
It’s taken more from a literary bent, but it’s very helpful. 
Great book with all kinds of gems. This really should be in every fiction writer’s library. 

 

Monday, 12/24 Novel Reflections 
Friday, 12/28 Bringing the Epic 
Saturday, 12/29 Fresh Fiction
Tuesday, 1/1 Romancing Rakes For The Love of Romance 
Thursday, 1/3 Ramblings from this Chick 
Monday, 1/7 Mochas, Mysteries and More 
Monday, 1/7 Vicky Dreiling’s blog  
Wednesday, 1/9 Manga Maniac Cafe 
Friday, 1/11 Books to Brighten your Mood 
Monday, 1/14 My Book Addiction and More 
Tuesday, 1/16 Urban Girl Reader 
Thursday, 1/17 Ex Libris  
Thursday, 1/17 Breath of Live Reviews 
Monday, 1/21 Reading Between the Wines 
Tuesday, 1/22 Fade Into Fantasy 
Wednesday, 1/23 Provocative Pages 
Thursday, 1/24 Cocktails and Books 
Friday, 1/25 WTF Are You Reading? 

I’m back to Writerly Wednesdays now that my latest book has been turned in. Today I want to talk about all the elements that go into creating 3-dimensional characters – at least the way I do it. Last time I wrote about character arcs and frankly I probably should have done this one first because it leads nicely into it. But well, here you go.

Have you ever read (or even worse, written) a book that still left you feeling unsatisfied? Ever wondered why some romances have an excellent ‘sigh’ factor, but others have you betting the couple won’t make it past a year? The key to a satisfying romance is vivid characters.

Many writers—both new and seasoned—struggle to create character-driven books that deliver the powerful romance that readers crave. After all, it’s easy to get caught up in Mary Jane’s struggle to raise the money to save the ranch and Detective Jones’ quest to identify the serial killer. We forget that while the twists and turns of an external plot may keep the reader turning the pages, they might fail to deliver the satisfying emotional punch readers expect.

So often writers mistakenly believe that an interesting or complex background and childhood equals a three-dimensional character. We’re led to believe that unless we know every tiny detail of our characters’ tortured childhoods, then the reader will think them cardboard. When in fact what makes interesting and memorable characters is the way they act on the page, not who they were before the story began.

There are plenty of ways to go about creating those characters – I mean who here hasn’t heard of a character interview or questionnaire. The ones I’ve seen and tried to use have like 180 questions ranging from what is your character’s sexual history to what is their favorite ice cream. When I was first learning my writing process I worked on these things for hours and presumably they work for some people, but I just found them to be really frustrating and frankly not very applicable. I write historicals, my characters don’t eat ice cream. And knowing about my hero’s 3rd grade teaching isn’t going to help me make readers fall in love with him unless that 3rd grade experience was substantial in making him who he is in the book.

I can’t really say there is one key to creating great characters because I think there are several, but one of which is is that all really matters is who your character is within the pages of your book. Let’s be real, unless you’re writing a biography these people aren’t real. Yes, they might feel real, but they aren’t they’re just bits and pieces that we make up. So with that thought in mind I implore you to work on your characters with an open mind. Don’t get so settled on your heroine’s backstory because that’s what really happened, cause it didn’t, she’s not real. What matters is who she is on the page and in so much as it affects the story, how she became that person, that’s where your backstory comes in. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Okay so let’s get into some of the tools. Now I should give you a caveat, this is how I go about creating characters and while I can stand up here all day and tell you it’s the right way to do it, there are probably half of you in here that this won’t work at all. And that’s okay, chances are you’ll learn something and if not just smile and nod and I’ll never be the wiser. Alright so onto those tools. When I start work on a new book idea, I start with the characters and because I’m a heroine-driven writer, I start with her.

ARCHETYPES
The first thing I do is pick a name. There’s nothing magical about this process for me, sometimes the name pops into my head and sometimes I sit and look at a baby naming book until something strikes me. Once I’m satisfied with a name something interesting starts to happen, she begins to start to form into a person, or at least a shape that sort of resembles a person. So next up I jump to the archetype book. Now there are plenty of character and pop psychology books out there that you can use. This just happens to be one that I think is brilliant. I was in the workshop in Chicago many moons ago when they first presented this material and I couldn’t take notes fast enough. It just really resonates with me. Now one thing I’ve learned from using this book again and again in my own writing is that I tend to gravitate towards the same archetypes over and over. So I start with those, read through them until something grabs me.

MYERS-BRIGG
Once I’ve got my archetype down the feel of the character, her personality begins to take shape so it’s time to start digging in to see what issues she might have to be dealing with, emotionally speaking. That’s when I pull out the Myers Brigg book that I use. What I like about this book in particular is that it’s not very complicated, much of it is done in bulleted lists. And there’s a great chart at the beginning of the book that gives a quick & dirty summary of each type so you can read through them and know which ones to read more of. Another thing I like about this book is that there’s a section of things that type might need to work on, this is a great jumping off place for internal conflict issues. All of this work helps me bring my characters big emotional issue into focus for me. Cause remember they’re not real so we’re just making this stuff up, if you want a heroine who has trust issues, give her trust issues, make up a background that fits with that.

ENNEAGRAM
But for starting off points you can also use the Enneagram, which I have a book I use on occasion if the Myers Brigg isn’t working for me, it’s actually by the same author so it’s in the same easy to read format. And these are just the tools that I use, I know there are plenty of others out there. What you want is to just use these to brainstorm directions you can take your character. Because the thing to remember about characters in a book is that everything has to be properly motivated and their behavior needs to be consistent. We know that there are people all around us that don’t behave consistently, they have medications for this. Well, and clearly it’s not always a medical issue, people do crazy things because we have knee-jerk reactions to emotional stimuli. Characters can’t really do that or they come across as being false or melodramatic. So you have to be careful. That’s one of the reasons I use these pop psychology tools b/c they were designed for real people, but they have a way of outlining the usual behaviors which is where the consistency comes into play.

OTHER TOOLS
I know other writers use all kinds of other tools. There are books on birth order that are very interesting, you can use books on the astrological signs or use tarot cards. There are tons of other resources out there that might work for you, just the ones I listed are the ones that I think work particularly well.

GMC
Okay so let’s move onto to the nitty gritty stuff. Now I’m sure that most of you have heard of Deb Dixon’s GMC. That’s kind a biblical text in RWA. And if you haven’t read it, you’ve heard a workshop or your critique partner has explained it to you. And well, Deb didn’t actually make that stuff up, she just put it in easy to understand terms. Dwight Swaine has a lot of the same material in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer – now I don’t know how many of you have tried to read that book, I can say it’s worth the time and effort, but it is very dry.

But I think the thing about GMC is is that we all get it, we understand it. If writing a book involved taking a multiple choice text or even fill in the blank on the components of GMC, we’d probably all get A’s. The thing is though, the concept is easy to grasp, but applying it into your book is a whole ‘nothing ball of wax. So here’s the way I like to explain it.

Goal – what do they want?
Motivation – why do they want it?
Conflict – why can’t they have it?

You could sum up GMC in the following sentence: Character wants (blank) because (blank) but (blank). The blanks are the three elements – the G, the M, and the C.

GMC is essential to good fiction, and I always like to start with the M, which I realize is a bit unorthodox, but bear with me. The M, the motivation is what makes your fiction readable. It’s like the secret decoder ring that comes in cereal boxes. This is the element you use in order to effectively communicate with the reader – what they’ll use in order to understand why our characters do and say the crazy things they do. If a character is properly motivated, a reader will follow them anywhere no matter how improbable their actions may be. In the GMC equation, the motivation is why the character wants their specific goal – why they want to open that bookstore or why they need to trust others and why they act the way they do throughout the story.

Take a familiar scenario of the clichéd woman in a horror movie who runs out into the darkness in her pajamas, or equally silly, goes into the basement, all because she hears a noise. And let’s not forget that she knows very well that there is a madman on the loose and he’s got an ax with her name on it. It’s a funny situation and it makes us roll our eyes or yell at the screen.

But why is the above scenario humorous? Character motivation. Or rather the lack of character motivation. Most of these movies are shot with one thing in mind, to scare the movie-goer, so they get their characters in scary situations no matter how poorly motivated said character is simply because it suits the plot. But in romance, we don’t have that luxury. We simply can’t stick our characters in Idaho because we need them to be there for chapter seven. We have to give them legitimate, believable reasons for going to Idaho in the first place or for going into the basement.

Haven’t you ever read a book that wasn’t that exciting or perhaps wasn’t that well written, yet the characters were so compelling you couldn’t put it down? More than likely motivation played a big role in why you loved those characters. Likewise the lack of proper motivation can ruin even the most well-written prose.

Let’s go back to our woman from the horror movie; investigating a noise is not enough motivation for most people to go out into the night when a crazy murderer is on the loose. What if the noise she hears is her dog that’s outside tied to the swing set? Is that believable? To serious dog lovers it probably is. Let’s try something else, suppose she hears someone cry for help, is that believable? Well, for those of us seasoned horror movie watchers, this is an old trick – scary mad-man generally CAN talk so they can be the ones crying for help. So this might not be believable either. (you know where I’m going with this and it’s a trite example, but it works.) Okay let’s say the voice she hears is not one of the crazy mad man or any other stranger, but the voice of her own 10-year old daughter. This gives her plenty of motivation to swing open those doors and run out into the night in nothing more than a robe and her bra. A mother’s urge to protect her children is a strong and universal motivation.

Here’s another example, and one not dealing with horror movies or crazy mad-men. Let’s say your heroine needs a job – that’s her goal. But why does she need the job? That’s our motivation. Well, she needs this job because there are some pink shoes in a store window downtown that she simply must own. So is wanting the pink shoes enough motivation to sustain your story? Probably not, unless this is a very short story and they are some very special shoes.

Let’s beef up the motivation. How about she wants those shoes because her grandmother owned a pair just like them and her memories of her grandmother are the only ones she has of being loved and cared for. Now we have a reason to care. Now we can cheer for our heroine to get that job so she can buy those shoes. (This example shows us something clear about goals as well, but we’ll get to that in a moment.)

The bottom line is motivation gives the reader a reason to care for the characters. It is one of the greatest tools we have as writers to make our imperfect characters that we love, loveable to other people. Developing strong motivation forces you to think, to dig deep into your characters, and in the end it can be the difference between someone finishing your book, or putting it back on the shelves.

Now onto goals. Every character needs them. And in romance they generally need both internal and external goals. But asking the question, “what does your character want?” can be like asking a six year old what they want to be when they grow up – a fireman, a veterinarian, a dancer, a teacher, etc. The options are limitless especially when you’re thinking of the large scope of your entire story. There will always be exceptions to the “rules” but let’s, for argument’s sake, say that both your hero and heroine need one main external goal each. Keep in mind that external goals need to be three things: concrete, specific and they must require action in order to be obtained. Subsequently internal goals tend to be more subconscious and less concrete since they are emotional in nature. However, they too require action to obtain them, but action of a different sort. But we’ll get to more detailed explanation of the internal elements later.

One thing I’ve seen over and over again in teaching classes or judging contests is having a character’s goal be to maintain the status quo – I won’t say that this is wrong because there will always be a successful book out there to prove me wrong, but this sort of random goal isn’t concrete and doesn’t require any action. In addition, won’t it be a futile goal when our heroine learns in chapter one that the status quo is gone? This is a popular goal for heroines in historicals where she is expected to marry yet she wants to remain the rebellious girl she’s always been. Riding her horses with her hair whipping in the wind and tending her garden or writing her novels or whatever it is she wants to maintain. But wanting the status quo or to remain independent doesn’t really work, neither are tactile and for our external goal we should strive for something more concrete.

What about that garden she loves? What if she’s been working on cross-breeding roses since she was a young girl and if she marries she’ll have to leave her precious garden and resign herself to a life of parties and needlepoint? This will never do. So our heroine doesn’t just want to remain unmarried as a means to maintain the status quo, more specifically, she wants to complete her cross-breeding of her roses. This is a concrete and worthy goal.

What about our heroine from the previous example who wanted to buy those pink shoes? More than likely this heroine doesn’t consciously think, “I want those shoes because Grandma had some just like them and she loved me and if I own them then I’ll feel that love again.” That would be awkward and clunky and let’s face it, if your heroine is that in touch with her emotional needs, then she probably has no internal conflict at all. So instead she thinks she wants those shoes simply because they remind her of her grandmother and she remembers always liking them. But as readers we know that while this is a tactile goal, what our heroine really wants is for someone to love her and give her security. That’s her internal goal and she’s going about satisfying it in the wrong way – thinking that by owning the shoes, it will “fix” everything, fill that hole inside. This is a common mistake for our characters and one that usually takes an entire book to figure out, which is good news for you, the writer.

The trick for creating strong and believable goals is to make them specific to your character and their situation. If you can plug any goal in, just so your character has a goal (cause that’s what you’ve heard is required) then you haven’t done your job.

If you’ve been in the writing business long, then you’ve probably heard things like “fiction is conflict” or “the strength of your conflict is the strength of your book” or some such statements and frankly I can’t argue with them as they’re completely true. Because when you’re writing popular fiction, without conflict you have no book. At least not one worth reading.

This is the easiest of the three elements to understand, but it seems to be the most difficult to get right. Conflict, in its simplest form, is opposition. That’s it. According to Webster it is “a clash between opposing elements or ideas”. Simple enough. But we really struggle with this and maybe it’s because most of us are women and we tend to be the peacemakers in our families – I’m not really certain why, but conflict can be a real struggle. But it doesn’t have to be. Conflict, in the GMC equation is why your character can’t have the goal they’re seeking. External conflicts can be acts of God, other characters, or the character gets in their own way. (Think of that thing your high school English teacher used to say about conflict, “there are three kinds of conflict: man vs. man; man vs. God; or man vs. himself.) This is the hero’s meddling mother, the evil other woman, the villain, the fire that destroys their house, whatever, just remember it is external. Use this test to figure out if which kind of conflict you’re dealing with…Imagine taking your characters out of the world they live in and plucking them down alone on a deserted island. If it’s just the two of them, all alone, then all the external conflict should disappear, provided they have no hurricanes and they have plenty of food and necessities to survive.

Now that we’re on the same page in terms of external GMC I should point out that oftentimes you have sort of two layers of external GMC. It’s what I call the Big GMC and the Story GMC – and here’s the way it breaks down. When I started working with GCM charts I found myself drawing a line to divide those little boxes because my characters often had a GMC that drove them before the story opened, like your heroine could want to be a world class ballerina or your hero could really want to make lead detective, that stuff still matters and has a place in your book. While I said that the only thing matters is who they are once the book opens, that’s true, but the reader should still feel like this character was living life before they turned to page 1. So you have the Big GMC and then Story GMC is the stuff that changes once the action of the plot begins. If you’re a believer in the Hero’s Journey then Story GMC starts after the call to adventure has been accepted. So we have our hero who wants to be lead detective and the story gmc starts when he gets suspicious about a new serial killer and maybe the rest of the force thinks he’s nuts b/c the MO is too different to be the same guy. But our hero knows something is going on so he does some investigating on his own, that’s the story GMC, and this GMC affects the Big GMC b/c if he’s right, he can score lead detective, but if he’s wrong, then he’ll probably lose his job all together. See how that works?

A deeper look: explaining internal GMC

Now that we’ve worked our fingers to the bone on external GMC it’s time to switch gears and look at the more difficult and frankly more important (at least for romance novels) side of GMC. The internal. On the surface they can seem quite similar, but differentiating between the two can be trickier than we think.

Internal GMC is made of the same elements as external GMC, but don’t be fooled, it is different. This is the stuff that’s subconscious, meaning your character, more than likely, isn’t aware of it. If you have your heroine so aware of the fact that she doesn’t trust men and that without doing so she’ll never have a complete life, then she really has no growth and she should probably be a secondary character, not to mention a therapist. So keep the internal stuff where it belongs, inside.

The most important thing to note about internal GMC is that it exists with or without the hero/heroine or the events of the book. Let me rephrase that for clarification. Your heroine’s internal GMC exists before she meets the hero and unless you’re writing a reunion story, doesn’t have anything to do with him. He might exacerbate the issue, but he certainly didn’t cause it.

I see this all the time in classes and when I’m judging contests. The heroine’s internal GMC, all of her internal conflict is solved simply by meeting the hero cause he’s a nice guy and he’ll love and accept her just as she is. Nope, you can’t do it. That’s cheating. It’s the easy way. Let’s use a trite example for this, let’s say you have a formally abused woman (we’ll make her verbally abused) and we’ll say she comes from a father who did the same thing. Well, if all she needs to break the cycle is to meet a man who won’t verbally abuse her, then that should be easy enough, but what does she learn? How does she change?

Learning a lesson and growing and changing is what it’s all about. That’s the whole point about internal GMC, it’s about the character arc (which we’ll get to in a moment) and growth and change are CRUCIAL to character-driven fiction. So with that abused woman, she must work out that issue before she can have her happy ending, even if the hero will never abuse her, she still needs to work on that issue and clear it up or at least begin to heal. Remember that test from yesterday on how to tell if your conflict is internal or external? This is where it really works well. Pick up that heroine out of your book and drop her on that deserted island, does she still have that distrust of men?

While the hero is not the cause of your heroine’s internal GMC he, more than likely, is the reason she’ll finally deal with it. In meeting him, she’s finally met someone that might be worth sacrificing some things for, might be worth changing for. It’s the hero and her interaction with him that challenges the heroine to deal with her “issues” and eventually grow and change to resolve her internal GMC. Again, the ONLY time this might not be the case is in reunion stories where the characters have a romantic past that might have led to said “issues.”

Let’s look at an example with the movie Twister. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but when I went to see this movie, I expected it to be about tornadoes. And it is, but it’s also a romance. Jo, our heroine, is a tough and witty scientist out to change the warning systems for tornadoes. Obviously her external GMC is wrapped up in the tornadoes themselves, but we also have conflict with the rival team led by Jonah and then we have conflict between her and her soon-to-be ex-husband, Bill.

Now we’re given a hint about her internal GMC (which is often unseen in movie format – why is that? I can hear you all answer. Because it’s INSIDE the character) from the beginning of the movie where we see a family run to the storm cellar only for the father to be ripped into the center of the twister. But it’s truly revealed to us in a scene where she and Bill have missed getting their tracking device up into the tornado. They start arguing and she blurts out that he doesn’t know what it’s like to have a tornado skip this house and that house and come after yours. She took her father’s death personally (obviously) and it has shaped her entire life and motivates all her external actions. Basically she’s afraid of losing the people she loves, exactly why she pushed Bill away to begin with. This conflict existed before Bill, it exists without him, yet it exacerbates her relationship with him. It’s not until Bill tells her to look at what’s right in front of her, meaning himself, that she’s willing to take the risks necessary to overcome this internal conflict. You see how that works?

So you do an internal GMC for your characters just the way that you do external, only I sometimes find it’s easier to work backwards and start with the conflict. There are a couple of ways you can identify your character’s conflict. You need to stop and look at your character, and ask yourself some key questions: What is she afraid of? What is her biggest fear? I’m not talking spiders or heights here, what you’re looking for is emotional fears. Chances are she might not even be aware of this fear. Remember, this is the internal stuff, her proverbial bag of junk she hauls around with her that makes her who she is and prevents her from achieving personal happiness. The hero is NOT the answer to her achieving personal happiness, she instead has to deal with her bag of junk, face her fear head on and grow and change. (sorry I keep harping on that point, but it’s an important one. :-) ) So maybe she’s afraid of ever being accepted for who she truly is, or maybe she is afraid of never belonging or finding a true home, or having the family she’s always wanted or always being abandoned. Whatever it is, jot that down.

Now take that fear and look back at the GMC you did for your heroine. And try to figure out if she’s scared she’ll never be accepted for who she truly is, then what might her internal goal be (I often call this the internal need rather than goal since goal sort of implies awareness on the character’s part), then identify the motivation and then the conflict.

Developing a satisfying romance is contingent on having a strong internal GMC for both your hero and your heroine.

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!