Home    Workshops    Members Only    Contests    Join    Contact us                       RWA Chapter

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Sidekicks as Secondary Characters

Please welcome guest blogger Nancy J. Cohen

Secondary characters must serve a purpose, either to advance the plot, showcase your protagonists, or act as comic relief. The sidekick is a beloved secondary character in many series. He can serve several purposes at once and sometimes may even overshadow the hero. So what are some of the uses that you can assign this character?


Providing humor is often a major role for this important secondary character. Often the sidekick will be the amusing foil to your straight hero/heroine. Or he might play off other secondary characters for the same purpose.

In my new futuristic romance, Silver Serenade, Jace Vernon is a convicted murderer on the run. He's been framed for murder and is hunting Tyrone Bluth, an intergalactic terrorist who can prove his innocence. Silver is an assassin assigned to terminate Bluth, the one man Jace needs alive as a witness in his defense. They team up to find Bluth but each one has a different goal in mind. One of them ultimately will have to make a sacrifice to help the other.

Jace’s only friend is his loyal Elusian valet, Mixy. Elusians lack sex hormones, so they are unable to experience strong emotions. Thus they seek to bond telepathically with a human to share their bond mate's feelings. Their robes change color to reflect these emotions, often embarrassing the human attached to them. This adds a paranormal element to the story and also a touch of humor. Mixy’s mental link later extends to Silver, so that Jace and Silver can sense each other’s feelings.

Here's an example of how Mixy's enhanced emotions play against Jace in a humorous manner, while at the same time revealing background information on our main character:

Mixy, unpacking the cases he kept ready for emergencies, glanced up when Jace entered their quarters. Most of the clothes he was carefully placing in the open drawers were Jace's.

"I won't be needing all of those." Jace folded his arms across his chest and leaned against the hatchway.

Mixy straightened his spine, shooting Jace an indignant glare. "You have no idea what situations you'll encounter, milord. It is my duty to make certain you are properly attired."

"Comet dust, Mixy. I'm not a privileged member of the upper classes anymore, remember?"

"Bah! Your blood still runs true. Woe be to those who betrayed you." He beat a hand against his forehead. "If not for your cousin Garth's perfidy, you would still be an esteemed member of the Parsate, not an outlaw"—he spit the word—"hunted throughout the galaxy." He wrung his hands in the air like a priest summoning the ancient gods. "Let us pursue revenge. Let us reap the rewards of justice!"

"Let us not get carried away." Jace's lips curved downward.

Mixy expresses the emotions Jace feels but can’t acknowledge or say aloud. That especially annoys Jace when Mixy berates him for lusting after Silver. He can’t hide anything from his valet.

Secondary characters can also play against each other as evident when Mixy meets one of his own kind on his home world. Mixy is very fastidious, proper, and attentive to detail. He also likes to go shopping. Kira, on the other hand, is an Elusian with a financial background. So when she unexpectedly joins the crew, she demands to inspect Mixy’s expense accounts and establishes a budget. Rivalry comes into play when Mixy and Kira strive to meet the needs of Jace and Silver.

Jace performed introductions outside. Mixy and Kira sized each other up like two prizefighters.

"I hope you know these are not ordinary humans," Mixy said, sniffing. “They're at each other's throats more often than their enemies."

Kira looked down her nose at him. "Fascinating. I'll look forward to these new experiences. Did Silver tell you I'm doing the bookkeeping from here on in?"

"Mistress Silver to you. Do we have to teach you proper forms of address?"

"Is he always so snippety?" Kira asked Silver.

And Later:

"Do you always have free rein with the budget?" Kira asked Mixy then clucked her tongue. "Four people cannot possibly require so many provisions. I hope you kept receipts."

"We're on a life and death mission, madam. Under such dire circumstances, I don't do receipts."

"You'll be changing your ways with me handling finances. Get used to it."

Kira and Mixy’s bickering adds an element of humor as well as suspense, because the reader wonders when these two will realize they actually like each other.


What other roles can the sidekick play in your story? He can be a sounding board, like Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. He can be a confidant, like Mixy is to Jace. The sidekick may also expose truths about the hero through dialogue, or share scary stories about the villain to enhance his evil reputation.


In this excerpt from SILVER SERENADE, we learn important background information about Jace that the heroine lacks. He’s hiding a secret from her that she won’t learn until much later. It builds suspense because we can imagine her reaction. This excerpt also demonstrates how the sidekick acts to reveal character (the hero’s) and furthers the plot (by introducing a critical story element).

“Remember, you have an obligation to your family.” [Mixy speaking to Jace]

“My parents can no longer arrange a marriage for me. My only obligation is to restore my honor.”

“You would do well to ally yourself with Yvette’s clan,” Mixy advised, tossing a shirt with creases onto a separate pile.

“I’ve known Yvette all my life; she’s like another sister to me. I was never interested in such a match.”

“I’ve sensed more than sisterly affection on her part, plus her parents were amenable to your suit.”

“Not any more.” He’d learned quickly who his true friends were after being accused of the crime.

What did you learn here? That Jace has someone back home waiting for him, and a match had been arranged between their families. So what’s going to happen when he’s cleared of the crime and his title and lands are restored to him? Will he feel obligated to pursue his suit of Yvette? What will happen if he’s fallen in love with Silver by then? Just from a few short sentences, we’ve raised important story questions.

The sidekick is a valuable secondary character who can serve several purposes. Hopefully, he'll become an endearing friend your readers will want to see again.

* * * *

To learn more about Nancy, please go to:

Website: http://nancyjcohen.com

Blog: http://nancyjcohen.wordpress.com

Facebook: http://bit.ly/c3YchC

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nancyjcohen

Nancy J. Cohen is a multi-published author who began her career writing futuristic romances as Nancy Cane. Her first title, CIRCLE OF LIGHT, won the HOLT Medallion Award. After four books in this genre, she switched to mysteries to write the popular Bad Hair Day series featuring Florida hairstylist Marla Shore.  Several of these titles made the IMBA Bestseller List. PERISH BY PEDICURE and KILLER KNOTS are the latest books in this humorous series. Active in the writing community and a featured speaker at libraries and conferences, Nancy is listed in Contemporary Authors, Poets & Writers, and Who's Who in U.S. Writers, Editors & Poets. Nancy's next release, her fifteenth title, will be SILVER SERENADE, a new futuristic romance coming in July from The Wild Rose Press.

Silver Serenade

Ace pilot Jace Vernon is forced to flee his home world after being framed for murder. He seeks justice, but S.I.N. agent Silver Malloy gets in his way. The platinum-haired beauty counters his every move in the quest to clear his name. As he makes it his mission to break down her defenses, he doesn’t count on the personal consequences of success.
Silver refuses to abort her deadly mission even if it means killing the one man Jace needs alive to prove his innocence.  Her resolve wavers when Jace’s charms melt the barriers around her heart. Can she help him win his case, even if it means betraying her family and ruining her career?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Conflict Grid, Tool for Success

Please welcome guest blogger Lyn Cote

Once you learn it, you’ll wonder how you did without it!

I discovered the conflict grid in the early 90's. Kathy Jacobson AKA Kathy Lloyd who was writing for Harlequin at the time did an RWA Conference Workshop on it. Then she began a monthly newsletter the A Novel Approach (ANA) which I subscribed to for its three year run. I've used Kathy's ANA so often over the past years. I am disappointed that so few people are aware of her fine complete writing course. (220 pages Available at http://www.kathyjacobson.com)

The main writing tool I use of hers is the conflict grid. This tool works for both pantsters and plotters. And I find that it gives me all I need to write a proposal for a new book or series so I always begin with it. The conflict grid demonstrates the marriage of characterization and plotting and helps me develop a unifying theme which infuses a novel with even more emotional power.

The conflict grid begins with the concept of pitting the hero and heroine against each other in five different areas: their long range and short range goals, their conflict of circumstance, conflict of personality and conflict of relationship. Having five areas of conflict means that a writer will never face the sagging middle—(I never have!). In the area of characterization, it always helps me dig deeper into my hero and heroine and helps me craft their backstory. Doing backstory focusing first on areas of conflict sets them against each other without any need for a shoe-horn—if you know what I mean! No forcing conflict; with the grid, it just flows from deep character.

After this comes the discussion of danger, not physical but emotional danger which leads me into coming up with the best black moment which in turn leads to the epiphany which leads to theme. Once I've filled the conflict grid out I have all I need of the basic elements of my romance to pitch it to an editor and give her exactly the info she needs to assess it. I cannot recommend Kathy Jacobson's Conflict Grid to you enough. It has served me for over thirty books.

Again, I have to thank Kathy Jacobson for this handy tool. She has become a life coach and is no longer writing romance, but she has given me permission to teach her method. And I will be teaching the conflict grid this September through RWA's Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal Chapter.

Drop by http://www.romance-ffp.com/event.cfm?EventID=108 and register before August 26th.

Hope this helps! Any questions?

When Lyn Cote became a mother, she gave up teaching, and while raising a son and a daughter, she began working on her first novel. Long years of rejection followed. Finally in 1997, Lyn got "the call." Her first book, Never Alone, was chosen by Steeple Hill for the new Love Inspired romance line. Since then, Lyn has had over thirty novels published. In 2006 Lyn's book, Chloe, was a finalist for the RITA, one of the highest awards in the romance genre. Lyn’s brand “Strong Women, Brave Stories,” always includes three elements: a strong heroine who is a passionate participant in her times, authentic historical detail and a multicultural cast of characters. Lyn also features stories of strong women both from real life and true to life fiction on her blog http://strongwomenbravestories.blogspot.com Lyn also can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. Drop by and "friend or follow" her. Now living her dream of writing books at her lake cottage in northern Wisconsin, Lyn hopes her books show the power of divine as well as human love.

Her latest release is Her Abundant Joy, the final book in her Texas Star of Destiny series, to purchase drop by her website or blog http://strongwomenbravestories.blogspot.com.

Her Abundant Joy

Can a beautiful young widow find peace in the arms of a Texas Ranger?

In 1846, young widow Mariel survived the grueling voyage from Germany to start a new life in the "promised" land of ?Texas. Forced by circumstances to become a servant, Mariel is now determined to leave her harsh master. But how can a single woman face the frontier on her own?

Texas Ranger Carson Quinn is responsible for leading Mariel's party of German immigrants safely through dangerous Comanche-held territory. As he watches Mariel hold her head high in spite of everything, he knows he will do anything to protect her. But war is brewing: Mexico will not accept the U.S. annexation of the young Texas Republic without a fight. Honor bound to defend Texas, Carson's deepest longing is to lay down his rifle and forge a future with Mariel. As he struggles to determine God's path for him, Mariel watches the man she loves torn in two.

Will the tide of history keep them from giving their love a chance?

The Conflict Grid, Tool for Success Presented by Lyn Cote with permission of Kathy Jacobson runs from August 30, 2010 through September 26, 2010

Thursday, July 22, 2010

WRITING FIRST PERSON: How to develop other characters when trapped in your main character’s point of view.

Please welcome guest blogger Linda Robertson

Or, Do MORE with your supporting cast.

Let’s face it, writing in First Person is a very intimate and personal point of view (POV), but it has some limiting drawbacks. In order to “flesh out” those people around your main character (MC) so they aren’t flat and boring means giving them a lot of time interacting with the MC. This can be tough to plot. Or, what if your heroine is enamored with a guy who’s not what he seems, but has expertly allowed her to see only that? What if she thinks a local farmhand is an ass because she saw something she didn’t know all the facts on?

Sure, your MC could go confront these people and find out.

But, you could also have others get in the way. Others who discover what she’s up to. Others who may have an agenda of their own and misguide her, or perhaps they set her straight but it’s not what she expected. Now you have a conflicted heroine. Conflict is good.

In FATAL CIRCLE (example excerpt below) my MC, Persephone, is bound to a certain handsome vampire and that’s not something her boyfriend is happy about. The Witch Elders have come for an impromptu breakfast, and their leader discovers the vampire happens to have crashed in the MC's basement.


Drawn to the kitchen where I could be almost alone, I opened up the joke book. The sticky-notes

had joke questions on the front, answers on the back. I should have remembered before they’d gone out the door. Such a small detail, but it had become clear these meant something to Beverley. She read the joke to the other kids at the lunch table. It was winning her friends.

“My life is getting in the way of her life being normal.”

It was never my intention to see how much this child could be expected to tolerate, but damn, she seemed to be taking it in stride better than I was. Maybe I’m not good enough to be a parent.

“Persephone.” Nana’s voice was soft.

Stuffing my despondency deep down and plastering on an “I’m okay” expression, I grabbed the carafe because it was the only thing within reach. “Coffee?”

She snorted and said, “Sure,” then came and leaned on the counter beside me. I poured two cups, and neither of them was my favorite Lady of Shalott mug. We drank in silence, side by side, listening to the chatter that had picked up again in the next room.

Before I’d finished the coffee, Johnny returned. He entered by the front door, passed through the living room and dining room, checking on the gathered witches and inquiring if they’d had enough to eat. They claimed they had and complimented him on his culinary skills. Someone remarked, “Your pancakes are as fluffy as a cloud.”

“Well, you would know,” he replied, “flying around on brooms like you do.”

He came into the kitchen and, seeing Nana and me, wagged the empty platters and whispered, “They didn’t leave a crumb,” before stacking them in the sink. “I thought only wæres and teenage boys had claim to the appetite crown, but damn, those seven little old ladies can chow down!”

“There’s still coffee.” I lifted the carafe again.

He took it and poured himself a cup. Derisively, he asked, “So what are we going to do about the corpse in your cellar?”

“Corpse?” Nana echoed, voice hollow.

“He means Menessos.”

“He’s here?”

“Yes.” The chatter in the other room had stopped.

Xerxadrea appeared in the doorway. “You must make Menessos tell you the truth.”

“Finally!” Johnny exclaimed.

“Huh?” I asked.

“I’m not the only one who thinks Menessos is a liar.” Johnny grinned over the edge of his mug.

“Do not add implications to my words, young man,” Xerxadrea snapped. “I insinuated nothing of the sort.” Though her patriotic velour jog suit was quirky, her formidability was undeniable. “Menessos is many things,” she went on, her voice firm but without the condemnation. “He embodies things you fear, things you envy, and things you cannot comprehend, but he is not a liar.”

Before Johnny could protest, she raised a hand and added, “Oh, you can argue he twists facts to suit himself, but what he truly does is so much more than that. He can instantly take all the information he’s acquired and accurately discern which words—and what order—will produce the best advantage for his purposes.”

“My bad,” Johnny muttered. “He’s not a liar, he’s a manipulating ass.”

Again, I couldn’t intervene because Xerxadrea was quicker.

“Omitting the unaccommodating words doesn’t make him a liar or an ass. It makes him a master.” She

pointed at Johnny. “Perhaps you would learn a few things if you would but try to see beyond your own conflict, and see his.”

Johnny’s silence couldn’t disguise the fact that he resented her scolding. It was conveyed in his raised chin and rigid spine.

Xerxadrea continued. “His perception has been transformed by eons of blood. He has worn the fabric of this world for so long it’s threadbare and holds no mysteries for him now. He has mastered the patterns. Whatever moment in time you’re bitterly clinging to and trying to alter . . . it’s merely a thread to him. He can sever it as easily as he can fray it into a hellish and frantic existence for you. Or he can reweave that thread, making those seconds produce an outcome to fit the necessary and inevitable truth he uniquely sees, and it is that truth of which I spoke.”

She gestured to me, and held out her arm. “Take me to him, Persephone. We must speak with him privately, you and I.”


In the scene above, you see the witch Xerxadrea give everyone her opinion of the vampire—and it’s not as unflattering as expected. Seeing the offense Johnny takes to all this tells us more about him, too.

But your supporting cast can't suddenly change their demeanors just so you can inject some info into the story. These characters stay true to who they are: Xerxadrea is authoritative. Johnny’s sense of humor and his dislike of the vampire are both accounted for. Even Persephone, being swept away by this destiny she cannot avoid, is drawn into Xerxadrea’s plan to speak with the vampire.

So look at your supporting cast and consider your scenes. Who do you have available? Who might have a persona that would clash with someone elses? What information would these people have? Who might have a different opinion? Where can these people give information (where meaning in the story, AND where in setting), where can their words and actions make them broader, fuller characters, rather than just set decorations? Go a step further: Who has the motive (not necessarily malicious) and the ability to make things harder for the MC?

Once you've got all that, sit back and rub your hands together and laugh like an evil scientist plotting world domination. That's what I do, anyway.

Linda Robertson is the author of the Persephone Alcmedi series for Pocket Books, featuring a witch struggling with her destiny and aided by the wærewolf rocker Johnny and the master vampire Menessos. The series includes VICIOUS CIRCLE, HALLOWED CIRCLE and the just released FATAL CIRCLE. ARCANE CIRCLE will be released in January 2011.

No stranger to rock-n-roll, Linda was once a lead guitarist in a metal cover band. She holds a cum laude Associates Degree in English, and has also previously been a Art Director for a realty company and a Realtor. Now the stay-home mother of four boys, she juggles her writing time around them and the two big dogs constantly at her feet. Her website is www.wolfsbaneandabsinthe.com

Fatal Circle
Destiny sucks. . . .

There was a time when Persephone Alcmedi thought her life was hard to manage, what with wondering how to make sure she took adequate care of both her grandmother and her foster daughter, Beverley, whether she’d end up in the unwanted position of high priestess of a coven, and whether her wærewolf lover, Johnny, would resist the groupies who hang around his band Lycanthropia.

But that was before the fairies started demanding that Seph’s frightening, unpredictable ally—the ancient vampire Menessos— be destroyed . . . or the world will suffer. Seph and Menessos are magically bonded, but that’s a secret she dares not reveal to her fellow witches lest they be forced to reject her and forbid her use of magic. And, despite the strain this casts on her relationship with Johnny, as a showdown with the fairies nears, she and Menessos badly need the wærewolves as allies.

Life, death, and love are all on the line, but when destiny is calling, it doesn’t help to turn away. With the individual threads of their fates twisted inextricably together, can Seph, Johnny, and Menessos keep the world safe from fairy vengeance?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Science of a Sequel…

Please welcome guest blogger Leanna Renee Hieber

In May, the sequel to The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, my debut novel (2010 Prism Finalist and optioned for a Broadway musical) released from Dorchester, first in a series of 4 “Strangely Beautiful” novels and a novella. The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker picks up exactly where the first book leaves off.

We F, F and P authors are no strangers to sequels and series books. It’s the core of what most of us do. If readers really like your book, chances are they’ll be excited about a sequel, to tie up all those loose ends you left hanging in the first one. Still, it can be daunting to write a sequel, especially if it’s your second book, you’re still getting the hang of writing books, selling them, marketing them, organizing your life as a new author, and suddenly you’ve got reader expectations on you and the series. And especially, if you’re like me; a certifiable non-linear mess of a haphazard process and a “pantser” through and through, you need to check yourself. There seem to be a few core tenets that when observed, generally keep an author in the clear.

- Give them something new: So your characters may not be new, but their situations will be. The beautiful thing about a series is that you can layer in more and more world-building as you go, revealing it layer by layer like the opening petals of a flower. Both your world-building and your characters should experience this type of enrichment and a slew of ‘new goodies’ offered to the reader. This doesn’t mean re-inventing your own wheel, often it means just staying true to this following tenet:

- No, really, tie up your loose ends: If there’s something that was alluded to or foreshadowed, make good on it. Think about this on an emotional level with your characters in addition to all aspects of your world-building. A lot of times loose ends may involve your secondary characters, try not to leave them hanging. (For example, people were freaking out to me about my secondary characters Headmistress Thompson and Vicar Carroll. I fully intended to address them in the second book and did, and Dorchester has given me the opportunity to present their own novella in A Midwinter Fantasy, releasing October.) Even if its something small, honour all the many seeds you have planted, water them and make them grow. Re-read your own work as many times (and take notes) as you have to in order to make sure you’re following through on your promises. It’s the small loose ends that often get forgotten in favour of the larger loose ends but as a reader yourself, you likely don’t like any kind of loose ends either.

- Stay true to your characters. Make sure your characters read like the same people, only different for having gone through their respective journeys. Character development is one of the most important parts of our work, because in the end, if someone doesn’t like our world-building, they’ll often forgive it if they care about the characters. Characters are the vehicle in which we experience the book. Staying true to your characters may mean making a hard choice. I took a risk in making my hero at times very difficult to deal with in the sequel, and some people let me know they loved it, some that they didn’t, but I maintain that choice is true to his character, and we’ll see that change too as the series progresses. Stay true to your creations, and let them grow and change in the ways that’s right and justified for them to do so.

- Don’t break your conventions. This is a cardinal rule. Conventions are a covenant you have with the reader. If your magic works a certain way, if a character’s powers have certain strengths and weaknesses, make sure you stay true to the properties as they have been established. Sometimes in a sequel you’ll be revisiting something you’re a little “rusty” on, so just make sure it remains clear and consistent and if it needs to change, that’s fine, but offer a satisfactory reason why it changes if it does so.

- Clever revisiting. You’ll need to remind the reader where they are in the series and possibly introduce new readers mid-way through your series. Find fresh ways to re-introduce your world-building. Whether this is through a new character’s point of view, or addressing a change to the ‘status quo’ of your world, shy away from info-dumping but do offer readers a touchstone to your characters, their past and the world in which they operate.

- Have fun. Because it makes your writing better. If you’re not having fun, no one is.

I’m thinking about these basic things an awful lot as I’m working on Strangely Beautiful #3, The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess. It’s a prequel. I can assure you all of these things are even more true and even more important if you’re writing one of those!

Strangely Beautiful Blessings!

Leanna Renee Hieber



Facebook: http://tinyurl.com/sbsfan

Raised in rural Ohio inventing ghost stories, Leanna graduated with a BFA in Theatre, a focus in the Victorian Era and a scholarship to study in London. While a professional actress she adapted works of 19th Century literature for the stage and her one-act plays garnered national attention and continue to be produced around the country. Her Fantasy Romance novella Dark Nest won the 2009 Prism Award for excellence in the genre. Her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, first in the Strangely Beautiful series of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels (Dorchester) hit Barnes & Noble's Bestseller List, was named a favourite of 2009 by 14 genre book review blogs including Smart Bitches/Dear Author’s book tournament and Beyond Her Book Publishers Weekly, has been nominated for the 2010 Prism Award, multiple regional RWA awards and has been optioned for a Broadway musical. She has been named the 2010 RWA NYC Chapter Author of the Year. A member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA), Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), Horror Writers Association (HWA) and the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Leanna is proud to be a co-founder of Lady Jane's Salon Reading Series in New York. A proud member of Actors Equity Association (AEA), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Leanna works often in film and television. 

When not writing or on set, she loves a good Goth club and adventuring about New York City, where she resides with her real-life hero and her beloved rescued lab rabbit Persebunny, Queen of the Undereverything.

The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker
With radiant, snow white skin and hair, Percy Parker was a beacon for Fate. True love had found her, in the tempestuous form of Professor Alexi Rychman. But her mythic destiny was not complete. Accompanying the ghosts with which she alone could converse, new and terrifying omens loomed. A war was coming, a desperate ploy of a spectral host. Victorian London would be overrun.  Yet, Percy kept faith. Within the mighty bastion of Athens Academy, alongside The Guard whose magic shielded mortals from the agents of the Underworld, she counted herself among friends. Wreathed in hallowed fire, they would stand together, no matter what dreams or nightmares—may come.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Forest and the Trees - Editing Your Own Manuscripts

Please welcome guest blogger Rebecca York

At the beginning of my career, I used to write slowly and then edit a lot. About ten years ago I discovered I could write fast and then do the same amount of editing.

My first drafts are very rough. Left to my own devices, I’d probably write too many sentence with subject-verb construction, followed by more subject-verb. Honestly, that’s the way I think. Another one of my fun traits is grabbing one word and running it into the ground.

I envy writers with beta readers who go over their manuscripts and give advice. I don’t really have anyone I trust to do that. But over the course of more than 100 books, I’ve learned that there’s a very effective way to self-edit. I give myself time to put the book away for a few weeks or months and think about another project. When I get it out again, I’m far enough removed from the text that it feels like someone else wrote it, and I can be very objective about what it needs. Not to mention, I’m often pleasantly surprised to find that scenes I thought were crap are actually pretty good.

Since my handwriting is beyond horrible, I write my first draft on the computer. And I start each day editing what I wrote the day before because that pulls me back into the story. It also gives me the chance to fix things that I realize immediately are wrong. If I’m writing a fight scene or a danger scene or a love scene, I usually get the action down. Then I have to go back and fill in things I missed. More action? More emotion? More detail? In other words, I think of my first pass through a scene as the bones–that will need to be fleshed out.

After I’ve written the first three chapters of a book, I may go back and edit. For several reasons. First, I know the characters better so I can give the reader a better idea of who they are. Second, I always put in too much detail at the beginning, and I know I’m going to have to cut ruthlessly.

I might also stop and edit the first hundred pages of a book, particularly if I’ve been forced to put it down, perhaps to do a proposal or to deal with copyedits or galleys that have come back from a publisher. Then I’ll start writing again, hopefully until I’ve finished the book. After I’ve got a complete draft, I’ll start editing the whole book from the beginning again. I always do this on the screen because I know there will be a lot of cleaning up.

After my first screen edit, I do two to four more edits–on paper. Printing out the manuscript always lets me see things that I miss when I’m only working on the computer. Each time I edit, I put the changes back into the file. When I’m done, I print out the whole manuscript clean and start again.

I’ve been asked whether I add details to a manuscript when I edit or cut. The answer is–both. Whichever it needs.

What kinds of things do I look for and question when I’m editing? Here are a few examples.


g rid of the same or a similar word used twice in the same sentence.


After changing into the running shoes, she reached to shrug off her suit jacket, then changed her mind.


After changing into the running shoes, she reached to shrug off her suit jacket, then hesitated.


Streamlining my work.


But as she walked, she heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel shoulder behind her. Too bad she was dressed for a business meeting. Still, she started to run, wondering if there was any chance of getting away from whoever was stalking her.


As she walked, she heard the crunch of footsteps on the gravel shoulder behind her. Although she was dressed for a business meeting, she started to run, wondering if there was any chance of getting away from whoever was stalking her.


Sometimes I’m only making small changes that allow the text to flow better for me.


Eugenia had said their heritage was everything, and that had always been the way Sophia had lived, without questioning her loyalty to the greater good.


Eugenia had said their heritage was everything, and Sophia had always lived without questioning her loyalty to the greater good.

Additional things I consider:


Is this sentence too long and complicated. Would it be better if it were broken into two sentences.


How does this sentence relate to the one before and after. Is there a logical flow through each paragraph and from one to the other?


Can I cut some of this dialogue? Does it sound realistic?


Do I need this sentence at all? Did I say the same thing twice here?


Have I gotten trapped in an information dump?


Am I using past perfect too much? If I’m in a flashback, I should start it in past perfect, then switch to past tense.


Do I have passive sentences that can be made active without sounding stilted?

While I’m combing through sentences and words, I’m also thinking about larger issues in my book.


Do I need to add more detail to this action scene to make more of it?


Do I need this scene? Does it advance the plot?


Is the action here believable?


Would this character really behave this way, or am I jerking him around for the sake of the plot?


Is there enough threat and risk in this scene. Enough tension?


Have I worked in the setting and the back story so they don’t intrude on the scenes?


Do we know enough about the hero and heroine? Do we like them?


Have I kept the hero and heroine on page together as much as possible?


Do they grow and change enough during the course of the story?


Have I made my secondary characters interesting?


Is the villain a worthy opponent for the hero and heroine? Is he believable? Do we understand his motivation?


Does the story make logical sense? Did I say something on page 18 that turns out not to be true on page 218?


Are my hero and heroine thinking about the same things over and over? Do I have too much of what I call "wundeling." (Characters wallowing in thoughts.)


Are the issues I’m dealing with big enough? Do I need to add more meaning to the story?


How am I conveying information? Am I showing or telling?


Did I gradually unwind my plot, giving more and more information as it’s needed?


Did I make sure that I haven’t introduced a problem and solved it in the same chapter.


Did I keep the plot moving from crisis to crisis so that there’s no "slow" section of the book.


Did I end this chapter in the right place? Should I have cut it off sooner, or should I have gone on for another beat?


If I spring a twist on the reader, is it believable?


Is my action climax big enough and satisfying enough?


Will my romance climax gratify the reader?

Notice that I haven’t talked about editing for grammar, spelling and typos. I went to school in the generation where they drummed grammar into you, and I’m good at it. But I can’t spell my way out of a paper bag. And I don’t see typos, because I’m dyslexic and I read what should be there, not what is actually on the page. So I leave the proof reading to my husband, who can spot a misspelled word from across the room.

Also, I don’t have an actual checklist like the one I’ve given you here. (Or maybe I do NOW.) I just start working on the sentences and paragraphs while I’m thinking about what would improve my story in the larger sense. But I’ve tried to convey the kinds of things I think about as I’m editing my novels, and I hope I’ve given you something to think about in your own fiction.

USA Today best-selling novelist, Rebecca York (aka Ruth Glick) is the author of over one hundred books including more than 50 romantic suspense novels and 20 romances. Her MORE THAN A MAN is this year’s winner of the RT Best Harlequin Intrigue award.

KILLING MOON was a launch book for Berkley’s new Sensation Romance imprint in June 2003. Her first Berkley novella was in CRAVINGS, with Laurell K. Hamilton. DAY OF THE DRAGON will be published by Berkley in December 2010. For many years, she has also written Harlequin Intrigue’s popular 43 Light Street series. The next is GUARDING GRACE, July 2010.

Her many awards include two RITA finalist books, two Lifetime Achievement Awards from Romantic Times, five NJRW Golden Leaf Awards and a Prism Award.

A former University of Maryland English instructor, Ruth has taught Writing Popular Fiction and Romance Writing at Howard Community College. She has participated in numerous radio and T.V. interviews.

My July release is GUARDING GRACE (ISBN: 978-0373694822), one of my 43 Light Street books for Harlequin Intrigue. Like my other recent Light Street books, it has strong paranormal elements.

I came up with the title because it's a Bodyguard of the Month book, and I wanted a strong tie-in. It begins when Grace Cunningham witnesses the death of a prominent man. Is it really murder, and why is his staff so anxious to cover up the facts? As soon as she escapes from the scene of the crime, Grace knows she’s on the run from the bodyguards of the murdered man. And from his brother, private detective Brady Lockwood. At first he’s sure she’s part of a murder conspiracy. Yet Grace has an even more startling secret, one she fears will send Brady running from her. Can she and Brady uncover a massive conspiracy–and save their own lives from a man who’s been killing innocent victims for years?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Goldilocks Time

Please welcome guest blogger Shannon Donnelly

At risk of stating the obvious, beginnings are tough. Nothing new there. We all know that. So the question is, what to do about that 'hook', the super opening that grabs the reader and doesn't let go? Since it seems to be judging season right now for contests, I've been thinking about this. Because, honestly, the writing lately in contests has been good. Often very good. But the stories...well, not so much of the grabbing.

The balance is always too much information and too little. This is particularly tricky with paranormal, and if you add in romance, both have to be there. That's a lot to get in front of a reader. Add in the reader needing to understand the world, the rules of the fantasy, and yeah, pretty much everyone is going to get the too much or too little thing going. It's Goldilocks time.

Now, in the interest of learning from fairy tales, let's look at Goldilocks. She did not find the perfect bed on the first try. She did not eat the perfect porridge with her first taste. She had to try different options. And I think this is one place where folks are having trouble because sometimes you have to write a scene different ways in order to find out what works best. It's far too common for a writer to fall in love with a scene (particularly an opening) and not want to change it. That way to disaster, my friend.

But why not try the bigger bed (add more information, details to enrich the world and the story)? Try the smaller bed (try a bare-bones opening). Try the middle bed after taking on the other two to see what's the best balance (and a couple of readers here can be very helpful).

Why not try a different character's viewpoint for the opening (to see who really has the most emotionally at stake)? Why not try on first person to see how it feels and stretch your skills?

Now here's what I've noticed in teaching workshops--folks want to apply everything to the manuscript in hand. And want it all to work right off. That kind of focus can be a good thing. But not everything you write will (or should) make it into the book. So why not try new things on? Write scenes just so that you, the author, know the information. Interview your characters to get to know them better. Try writing the book as every page is the ONLY page you'll get anyone to read. And try writing a scene that you don't want in the book--see if you can keep it a secret scene.

IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE HERE: Withholding information from the reader is not suspense, it is irritation. Withholding information from the characters which puts them in jeopardy gives you suspense--so stop saving the best stuff for chapter five and later. Give the reader the best stuff right away, and then go think up even better stuff.

Now to balance this--after all Goldi didn't like the too hot or the too cold porridge, and let's not get into why bears were eating porridge--the other side of holding out on the reader, giving too little to go on, is loading the reader up for bear.

Personally, I think there are two kinds of writers: those of us who over-write and must cut and those who under-write and must layer in details that reveal the world to the reader. It's good to know which camp you fall into so you can compensate. If you're like me and you love the details, you have to learn to be picky about which details you use. And you have to learn to edit and cut. Even more important is to learn to layer and weave in back-story in small bites--a sentence here or there, instead of a few paragraphs here and here and here and here. If you're the type who writes sparse, that's good, but make sure there's enough details that a reader can see the same world that's in your head.

One caution here--it's boring to get too much information about people you haven't learned to like. So that's task one--engage the reader's emotions. Make them care for the characters and get them interested, then you can start peeling back the layers of the characters.

NEXT IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: What you show your characters doing matters more than what you tell the reader about your characters. If you want a reader to think a character is brave, she must be shown doing something brave. That's why showing matters so very much.

Speaking of brave, there's one other lesson that Goldilocks offers, other than that a life of petty crime isn't that bad, and this lesson is that it pays to be picky. Goldi is a high-maintenance gal. If it's not just right, she's not putting up with it. That's a good trait for any writer--don't put up with crap, not even from yourself. Be very picky about the opening and getting it just right (you only have that one chance to hook a reader). Be picky about the words you use. Be picky about making sure it's not too hot or too cold, or too hard, or too soft. Be picky about the character's dialogue, about opening with a strong scene that SHOWS the reader something important about the main characters.

LAST IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Start the story as close to where the main character's life changes forever--but start also with a scene that sets the reader's expectations for the mood and type of story. (There is a reason to start off with Bella moving up North and not sooner or later than that.) It's very hard on folks when they're in the mood for fish and they pick up what looks like a fish and you've said it's a fish, but the first bite is all batter and breading.

With the last comes the first, and we're back to where a lot of beginnings seem to struggle. It's damn hard to write a good beginning without having the ending done. That's my take on it. I almost always revise the opening based on where the story ends up, but this is just about impossible if you don't have the book done. Which leads us back to Goldi.

The last lesson we can take from Goldilocks is that kid didn't give up. She ransacked that whole house--food, chairs, beds, everything she wanted. Start to finish, our Goldi girl. That's often where you can find your great opening, in that strong ending that gives you a mirror back to how it all started. You show your character at the end now able to do what was impossible at the beginning (in a romance, you show the character now able to have a relationship that was impossible at the start of thing). You KNOW where this story has to start because you know where it has to end.

And maybe that's what we need more of--contests for great endings. Ones where Goldilocks starts off a wear-bear herself and ends up married to the handsome were-bear of the family.

Shannon Donnelly's writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, the Laurel Wreath, the Winter Rose, the Bookseller's Best, and multiple finalists in the Holt Medallion, the Colorado ACE, the Golden Quill, and others. Her work has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written." In addition to her Regency romances, she has had novellas published in several anthologies, has had young adult horror stories published and is the author of several computer games. She can be found online at sd-writer.com

Show and Tell: An Interactive Workshop runs from August 2nd through August 30th

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Rivet Your Reader with Deep Point of View

Please welcome guest blogger Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Have you ever read a book that melded your mind with the main characters’ psyches? Their every experience became yours, and your reading pleasure intensified. Why? How did that happen? What did the writer do to gain that affect?

The technique is called Deep Point of View, and we’ll plumb the depths (pun intended) of this fun and fundamental skill during my upcoming workshop, beginning July 26.

Even a novice writer is familiar with the concept of “point of view.” Most even know the difference between first person and third person. And if we’re really savvy, we’re up on the concept of tenses—past, present, and future—in storytelling. But Deep Point of View puts basic POV on steroids. It’s like a classic car—turbo-charged, or the difference between mastering Mount McKinley and conquering Mount Everest.

I learned this technique from my awesome editor in the school of deadline during the substantive edit of my debut novel, and my writing has never been the same since. Honestly, when she showed me the tips and tricks I wondered where I’d been all my life—or why my publisher picked up my rookie manuscript in the shape it had been in.


Here are some identifying characteristics of Deep POV:

Deep POV eliminates narrator distance. The reader will feel like there is nothing between them and the events in the story. Even third person can seem like first person!

Deep POV is always immediate, which makes it an excellent choice for high action books or scenes. Or conversely, it’s a wonderful way to flow in the psyche of the POV character during contemplative moments.

However, Deep POV is not a long string of internal monologue.

Deep POV does not use italics like direct thoughts. Italics remain only for use in brief snippets of quoted thought.

Want to tame that nasty show/don’t tell monster? You guessed it! Proper use of Deep POV will have that man-eater purring in no time.

Deep POV will not allow lazy characterization because the writer must be so intimate with their characters that she can convey them as if she were them.

Consequently, in Deep POV, the voice of each POV character sparkles and shines.

A single blog post isn’t nearly enough space even to begin share the specific examples and practical applications I plan to share with my students later this month. I’m jazzed to pass the torch.

Jill Elizabeth Nelson writes what she likes to read—tales of adventure seasoned with romance, humor, and faith, earning her the tagline: Endless Adventure, Timeless Truth. When teaching classes for writers, she delights in bringing the Ahah! moment to her students as they make a new skill their own. Jill and her husband live in rural Minnesota where they raised four children and are currently enjoying their first grandchild.

Calculated Revenge, a May 2010 release, is Jill’s seventh novel and her third for Harlequin’s Love Inspired Romantic Suspense imprint. Her debut trilogy, the To Catch a Thief series, published by Multnomah Books (a division of Random House), was recently re-released in hard cover, large print by Thorndike Press. Visit Jill on the web at www.jillelizabethnelson.com.

Calculated Revenge

It’s been eighteen years since Laney Thompson’s sister was abducted and killed, but Laney’s pain and haunting guilt has never faded. Now the murderer is back, taunting Laney with mementos of her sister and threatening Laney’s young daughter. School principal Noah Ryder is her best hope for protecting her daughter—if she can convince the former investigator to take the case. As the threats escalate and clues lead to shocking secrets from the past, Laney’s survival—and that of her daughter—depends on the rusty gifts and skills Noah wants only to forget.

Deep POV runs July 26, 2010 through August 22, 2010

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Author Press Kits

Please welcome guest blogger Laura Bickle

If you're an author, sooner or later, someone will ask you for part of your press kit. Rather than doing as I did, blinking with that deer-in-headlights look, consider assembling one early. Now that I have one, it's much more convenient to pull parts out as I need them for interviews, conferences, and guest blogging.

Though everyone's needs are different, my kit (thus far) includes:

-Author Bio. I have a long bio and a short one, including contact and website information. Bios should include publishing credits and information on current projects, as well as any quirky or interesting info about your offline life you'd wish to share...like belly dancing or feral cat ranching.

-Author Photo. I have these in a couple of different resolutions for various purposes...smaller files for the web, for example.

-Book Information. This includes title, publisher, release date, ISBN, and cover shot or jacket. I also have publisher's blurbs and my publisher’s press releases for these. Those small elevator-pitch blurbs will be critically important to have in front of you anytime an interviewer asks: “So, what’s your book about?”

I also keep long and short book excerpts handy, both in hard copy form and links to them on the web. Many blogs will only reproduce short excerpts, so it helps to have a punchy excerpt of less than a thousand words, in addition to the first book chapter.

I’ve also found that it’s very helpful to have a stock of the books available for review, both in physical form and as .pdf files. A reviewer may need a copy of your book yesterday, and .pdf seems to be the most universal way to get it there. Just make sure to get your publisher’s standard disclaimer language to send out with an electronic copy of your work.

-Promo materials. This includes bookmarks, cover flats, postcards, brochures, and business cards. Any snazzy promo materials. Lately, I’ve been seeing small staple-bound copies of excerpts at conventions, and I’m plotting how to put something like that together.

-Reviews and press clippings. I file scanned copies of reviews that have appeared in magazines and keep track of online reviews with links on my website.

I also maintain a list of where I’ve been interviewed or done guest posts on the web, with links handy.

Anybody else have other ideas or additional materials that they keep on hand, just in case? Anything odd or unusual that you've been asked for?

Laura Bickle has worked in the unholy trinity of politics, criminology, and technology for several years. She and her chief muse live in the Midwest, owned by four mostly-reformed feral cats. Embers, Pocket Juno’s April 2010 release, was her debut as a novelist. Sparks continues the series in September. More information is at www.salamanderstales.com.

Laura also writes as Alayna Williams. Alayna's "debut" was Dark Oracle, Pocket Juno's June 2010 release.

Dark Oracle

Can an oracle change the future she sees? 

Tara Sheridan swore off criminal profiling years ago. By combining Tarot card divination with her own intuition, she narrowly escaped the grasp of a serial killer who left her scarred for life. She put down her cards and withdrew from work and society. Now, Sophia, a member of an ancient secret society connected to the mythic Delphic Oracle, asks Tara to find a missing scientist who has unlocked the destructive secrets of dark energy. Tara resists— she fears reawakening her long-buried talents and blames Sophia’s Daughters of Delphi for the death of her mother. But, grudgingly, she agrees to search for the missing scientist, Lowell Magnusson.

Tara travels to Las Alamos National Laboratory, the location of Magnusson’s disappearance. She meets the serious, impatient, and highly attractive Agent Harry Li— and re-encounters her old partner, Richard Corvus. Corvus is now chief of the Special Projects Division, a position Tera might have held, had she not dropped out of investigative work. Corvus considers Tara mentally imbalanced and not to be trusted— but it may be Corvus who is untrustworthy.

Tara’s investigation and Tarot cards tell her Magnusson’s daughter, Cassie, may hold the key to her father’s plans, and that they both are in grave danger. Meanwhile, Corvus and the Daughters of Delphi have their own plans...and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.