Archive | April 2012

The Pitch, The Blurb, The Writer’s Headache

It’s not enough to write a book–you have to figure out the pitch…the blurb…the exciting sentence that’ll make someone want to read a book. So you have to switch from a writing mind to a marketing mind, which is not always easy. But at the Desert Dreams conference this past weekend, I had a “duh” moment–this blurb is the external conflict for the main character.

This is a “duh” moment since it seems obvious, but I’d be struggling with fitting external/internal/more than I need into a short, catchy sentence. I know some folks like high concept–I’m more about interesting conflict.

Paths of DesireSo I’ve been applying this insight to the books, and came up with this for Paths of Desire:


She wants a rich lord for a husband—she won’t end like her mother, abandoned and broken.


He wants to prove to his friend she’s the wrong woman—he knows too well the pain of a bad marriage.


The last thing either wants is to fall in love, but when desire leads to a passion that won’t be denied, how can the heart do anything but follow?

This is way shorter than what I had and I actually think (hope) it’s far more catchier. Can you match these others to my books? (Click on the phrase to see the book.)

Reformed rakes make the best husbands–or do they?

Will it take a Gypsy thief to steal the heart of a rake?

A girl who can tame any wild creature….

A Gypsy lord out to redeem his name…

Some of the lines came out as questions, some as core situations.  The situation ones obviously needed a bit more, but they are at the heart of the book.

So…better maybe? We’ll see in the sales.

Clichés: Easy as Pie

1: a trite phrase or expression; also : the idea expressed by it
2: a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation
3: something (as a menu item) that has become overly familiar or commonplace
Easy as Pie ClichesThat’s how Merriam-Webster’s defines a cliché — unfortunately, there are still far too many of them around. As writers, we owe it to our work, our characters, and our readers to change these hack phrases and situations around for something fresh. They are, to use a cliché phrase, easy as pie to come up with. And that’s the problem.
The first step, as with an addictive problem, is to recognize that it is a problem. And, yes, clichés are addictive. They pop out easy as easy as that pie from a greased tin, and they slide on by–which it’s why it’s a good idea to read your work aloud. You’ll catch these more easily when you read your own work.
They’ll show up in phrases–those are the easier ones to grab and shake out. The “stalking like a panther” phrases. Or easy as pie, or you’ll find many more over at Laura Hayden’s handout on These just need a fresh phrase–an image that has not become used up in its overuse.
The harder ones to catch are the clichés situations that come from getting a little too lazy with the plotting. The ones I keep seeing crop up (in unpublished manuscripts) are:
1-Kidnapped heroine. Heroine stupidly ends up on her own and bad guy kidnaps her. Bad guy never seems to have a particularly good reason for this, menaces heroine without doing anything to her really, and ties up heroine for convenient rescue by hero. This is so old it creaks. Come on folks–if you need a confrontation with heroine and bad guy, come up with a better situation. How about bad guy throws a party and heroine is invited? Or what about kidnapping is really a plot to get to bad guy? Or how about a smarter bad guy who is just going to shoot the woman on sight and get her out of his way. This is easily solved with characters who are better motivated and who make sense.
2-Hero and heroine argue after making love. He pulls away, she pulls away, and all for no particular reason. How about letting your characters talk, hash it out, and make everything worse by blurting out the wrong thing at the wrong time? If you find yourself having to contrive the conflict, go back and give your characters deep, good reasons for not being in a relationship. If your characters are not acting in unique fresh ways, time to look at how do you motivate them to be unique, fresh folks.
3-Bad guy is infatuated with heroine. In such cases, heroine is usually hateful, mean, and bad mouths the guy, but somehow he still “wants” her. Another moldy oldy. This often comes along with bad guy wants heroine’s money–and while money is a good reason for a lot of things, it’s also been done way too many times. This is where you need to find better, deeper reasons for actions. Orson Scott Card gives wonderful advice in his book, Characters & Viewpoint, that the first four or so ideas you come up with for character motivation are almost always clichés–that’s why they pop up so fast.
4-Bad guy is just insane, which becomes explanation for everything. This shows up in almost every weak romantic suspense out there–and in more than a few Westerns, too. Bad guys need to make sense–they need motives and in some ways the word “sociopath” has led too many writers to think this is a bucket into which the bad guy can be dumped without any more effort applied. Go watch Dexter to see how a complex character can be created instead of just another crazy killer on the loose.
5-Hero/Heroine experience unexplainable attraction–beauty blinds sense and leads to lasting love, they are just “meant to be” soul mates. This often comes along after characters have been rude and horrible to each other for about 100 pages, but the truth dawns and true love (and sex) wins out. This situation is older than Cinderella, and is overdue for retirement. Give all your characters good reasons for their actions, and look for fresh reasons. Maybe your hero is a sucker for a great pair of legs, and that’s the initial draw–but it’s the fact she has a Cub’s t-shirt in her closet and wears it on game day, and eats hot dogs just the way he likes them (dripping with mustard, relish and sliced red onion), and won’t go outside without smearing every nose in sight with SPF 50 that does him in. Maybe her eye is caught by the broad shoulders, but he is a guy who cooks, loves pasta as much as she does, and he has a southern drawl that does her in, and he’ll do a deal to watch chick flicks with her (in exchange for a movie with stuff that blows up in between).  Its the details that make your characters–don’t get lazy here.
6-Hero’s ex wants him back, and so causes trouble. Usually this means ex lies (and heroine believes her–and, really, you would believe whatever you guy’s ex said over what he says?). This also usually has the ex being so nasty that you wonder how the hero ever hooked up with her in the first place–it really does put him in a very bad light. There’s an easy fix for this one–just remember we are all the hero of our own story. Even the ex has a story that makes her sympathetic and a good guy–make sure you know this story about her (and that you like you as much as you like all your other characters). And keep telling yourself–characters who are one-sided are cliche.
7-The big “MISUNDERSTANDING”. Hero/heroine assume the worst about each other after glimpsing something. This is usually heroine sees ex leaving hero’s bedroom (and or an intimate moment) and heroine assumes he’s back with her (and why she doesn’t go pounding on doors for answers is a mystery), or this is heroine is seen with someone from her past and hero assumes the worst–oh, my god, she hasn’t changed. This is a case where you wonder what are these two doing together. Then you wonder why doesn’t anyone talk. Make it easy on yourselves, folks–when in doubt, put your characters together and get them talking. The talking should make things worse, not clear up misunderstandings. And always remember conflict based on misunderstanding is a cliché.
8-Bad guy has to explain all his reasons for his actions. The Incredibles gave us this present tense verb of monologuing. If you have to stop the story to explain a bunch of stuff, consider the possibility that either the plot is too complicated or that you need smarter characters who can figure out things without having to have stuff explained. The other way around this is to make the information so interesting that folks will sit though this cliché without complaint. But that’s a risky bet.
9-The hero/heroine suddenly has a skill that’s unexplained and doesn’t fit their past. This happens with careless writing (the writer forgot to foreshadow a skill), or when a writer has backed herself into a corner and needs to get out–that’s not usually done gracefully. Just remember to ask if you’ve set up a character who can pull off the skills needed to make the plot work. Also remember that readers are not very forgiving of “luck” factoring into a story unless it’s bad luck (or unless the character has had so much bad luck that the readers are rooting for the universe to give the characters a break).
10-The parents who want to force the heroine into a bad marriage. This one shows up mainly in historical romance, and sometimes in some contemporary romances. And, yes, while there are bad parents out there, this ignores the basic core of most folks, which is that we regard friends and family as attachments of ourselves–we want the best for them because they are a part of us. To go against anything that is core to most people, you have to use strong motivations–this is usually overlooked for the quick form of just having them be greedy folks. That’s a cliché because it’s going for a quick answer instead of really figuring out your characters.
Now you’re going to find all of these clichés in various best sellers. Which goes to show there are no rules. But you’ll find them carried off with either a twist that gives them a little fresh tread on an otherwise worn tire, or you’ll find them stuffed in with so much other good stuff that most folks will turn a bad eye. But how much better to be aware of the clichés and to be ready to make the effort to find characters who’ll take you through a story with a lot more interesting things going on, all because the characters themselves are fresh and new and worth spending your time in their company.

Novelist’s Inc’s Cast of Characters

Cast of Characters CoverNovelists Inc. is the only writers organization devoted exclusively to the needs of multi-published novelists. They’re also doing a lot to innovate these days, and help authors publish–this includes starting to do some publishing too.

Today, April 3, NINC is bringing out  a fiction anthology, Cast of Characters, with twenty-eight original stories, eleven of which are from New York Times bestselling authors that reads like a who’s who.

Contributors include:


And, as they say, more. It’s not quite a cast of thousands, but as NINC puts it, you do get “a collection of unforgettable personalities.”

Stories range over all genres–so there’s lots to enjoy, including:

  •   #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander delivers her first short story with a contemporary setting – as does New York Times bestselling author Tanya Anne Crosby.
  • New York Times bestselling author Jo Beverley brings back the hero of her novel Forbidden Magic.
  • New York Times bestselling author Angie Fox creates a new Biker Witches story.
  • New York Times bestselling author Katie MacAlister tells the story of one of her most beloved teen characters as an adult.
  • National bestselling author Julie Ortolon tells the beloved Pearl Island story her fans have been clamoring for.
  • National bestselling author Diana Peterfreund offers the origin story for one of the most important magical items in her “killer unicorn” series.

You can buy Cast of Characters from from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple and all other online booksellers. And Novelists Inc. is offering a free e-book of “set pieces” from upcoming member novels. You can get this volume free at the Novelists Inc. website,

To read more, head on over to Fiction Studio (Lou’s site — he edited the anthology and is the current NINC president). Or just go buy the book–short stories are a great way to find new authors to love.

The Story Tellling Instinct

Don't Fence me InThere’s a school of thought that there are somethings about writing that cannot be taught. In other words, you can teach grammar and plot structure and the technical stuff, but there’s something about story telling that you have or you don’t have. I’m not sure I buy into this.

Yes, we all have different levels of talent, but if you start fencing some folks out, you’re also fencing yourself in, and that’s never good. To me, this is like saying, “Well some dogs don’t chase chickens.”  If you hit a dog for doing something, that will stop that dog’s instinct to do what it loves to do–but that doesn’t mean that dog was not born to chase and hunt. And folks just like to tell stories–we all love stories.

I’ve taught story telling before–I’m about to teach an online class for Lowcountry Romance Writers on this (because there are classes on so many things, but most folks don’t talk about how to put it all together). And I think if you have a strong desire to do something because you love that thing, you’ll find a way to improve. You don’t get the desire to do something without some level of talent to go with.

Now, American Idol auditions may point to this not always being the case. But I’m willing to bet a lot of those really awful singers are there not because they love music and singing, but because of a desire for fame. This means their desire and talent don’t match: a love of fame is not going to make you a singer. (Or a writer.) You have to love your art enough to sweat for it, and be willing to do it for pennies, for free sometimes, and just because you cannot not do it. You tell stories because you have a story telling instinct. This, like any other instinct, can be developed and improved–or it can be beaten into oblivion. It’s that small, still voice inside that tells you when a story is on track, and it’s the thing that stops you from writing when the story is going wrong. It’s something you have to come to believe in and the more you use it, the better it will get.

And here’s ten ways to know if you have this instinct.

1-You cannot tell anyone about what happened today without embellishing, just to add some interest.

2-If someone’s giving you gossip about others, you always end up asking: “And then what happened?” And it’s really irritating if that person doesn’t know.

3-When you walk a city at twilight, you not only look into the open windows, but start inventing things about the people who live there.

4-If folks start telling you real life stories you want them to put a good ending on it even if there wasn’t one.

5-For any news story you don’t just wonder why someone acted as they did, you can come up with all sorts of plausible reasons.

6-When something bad happens to you, yes you cry–but there’s always some small part of you taking notes.

7-When a friend starts telling you about terrible things that have happened to them, you think about how this would be great in a story.

8-It’s almost impossible for you to walk out of a movie or put down a book–even the really terrible ones–because you always have a hope the story will get better, and you have to see how it ends (even if its obvious, because its cliche, how its going to end).

9-Your pets always have back stories–and you’ll tell them to anyone who will sit still.

10-You’re willing to do stupid things at times just because you’ve never done them and you have a character (or might someday have a story with a character) who is going to do them.

If you start nodding at five or more of these, you’ve got the story telling instinct, but it needs work. If you’re only nodding at a couple, your story telling instincts have been beaten out of you by past teachers who have also killed their own instincts–time for lots of meditation and getting back in touch with your subconscious. If you nod at eight or more of these, congrats–you’re instincts are going to serve you well.