EXCERPT FROM LADY CHANCE

Lady Chance 01Available on Amazon.com

FROM LADY CHANCE…

Giles glanced down at his English girl. That pretty bow mouth of hers had taken on a mulish set. She arched one eyebrow. He thrust out his elbow for her to take his arm. “Is it possible you are called Lady Chance because there is such a high probability you will throw yourself into trouble?”

“Would you rather I throw you into trouble? If so, tell me how I may oblige in that manner.”

“You would oblige me more if you did not insist on this.”

“Oh, no, my dear Giles. Too much gratifying of such whims as those would lead to spoiling your glum countenance. You might actually smile and we cannot have that. You would cease to be the stern major and your mystery might unravel.”

Giles had no time to answer. They had crossed the room. His uncle watched their approach with speculation bright in his silver-gray eyes. Françoise stood still, his arms folded and his shoulders hunched, looking ridiculously young, more like a boy than a man. After his first glance at Diana, Françoise straightened and appreciation warmed his eyes.

Giles made the introductions in French and finished by saying, “This is my graceless brother who has no time for me now he has come to Paris.”

“No, no, Giles—that is too unkind. You paint me as a care-for-nobody when it is you who are always called off for some parade or duty.” Turning to Diana, Françoise put a hand over his heart. “I assure you, milady. I have left my card three times at my brother’s lodging. But he is a hero now and has no time for family.”

Eyes bright, Françoise grinned. He shared the same tea-brown eyes as his brother and the same deep-brown hair. However, Françoise wore his hair long. The light caught chestnut mixed with the darker shades in soft waves and the silky strands almost invited a touch. Diana’s heart tightened. Giles had once been just so open-faced.

She glanced at Giles and saw his frown had not softened to his brother’s teasing. She tapped Françoise’s arm with her fan. “You must not pull your brother’s tail, although it is nearly irresistible. I am certain he thought only of his family when he put on a uniform. But now you must tell me of the entertainment to be had in Paris, for I am newly arrived and have not seen the city in years.”

Nodding, Paul-Henri smiled. “Not since your aunt had to flee with you back to England, I understand.”

Françoise’s enthusiasm dimmed. He glanced once at his uncle and back to Diana. His expression dropped into a cool mask. “My mistake, milady. I took you…your French is very good. You have not the mangling of our words like most English.”

“That is flattery indeed. I had a French governess. But now, because I am English, I lose all my charm?”

Françoise’s cheeks pinked. He stammered out a denial, but Giles’ uncle interrupted again. “Oh, we all much admire you English, but we do so better when you are at a distance.”

“Sir!”

“No, Giles,” Diana said, opening her fan to ply it. “Pray, do not rebuke your uncle for the truth. It is as refreshing as a winter’s breeze.”

Paul-Henri gave a shrug. “Paris can be chilling to those unaccustomed to its shifting winds.”

Diana put her head to the side to consider. She was not yet certain if she liked this man. She had the sense of being weighed by him and found a little wanting. In such a case, she had no difficulty living up to his very low expectations.

She put on a vapid smile. She had perfected it years ago to bore unwanted suitors into abandoning her. “Oh, la, sir! You make a jest. Chilling indeed.” She added an empty laugh. Paul-Henri frowned. She turned to Giles’ brother. “And you also wish us foreigners to blazes? What was your recent fuss about—a republic, was it not? But that cannot be right, for you had yourself an emperor in its stead.”

The color lifted high and bright in Françoise’s face. “The ideals of the Republic still live! And the rights we had under—”

“Françoise,” Paul-Henri said, his tone sharp. He lifted his cane to wave it between Françoise and Diana. “Do not bore the lady. Milady, forgive us. We have forgotten how to entertain. You asked about amusements. Françoise, did you not see a play just the other evening—a delightful diversion?”

Paul-Henri forced the conversation onto safer topics, although Giles’ brother, Françoise, could not seem to recall the plot of what he had seen. Diana fixed a smile in place, nodded when it seemed necessary, and watched Giles from the corner of her eyes.

He seemed willing to allow his uncle to lead the conversation. However, Diana had the impression that Giles was only proving to her why she should take no interest in his relatives. Paul-Henri did not seem to think much of the English. Françoise obviously not only did not wish to be here but had nothing to say to an Englishwoman. The young man moved from reluctant to positively sullen. Diana would have laughed except that would have mortified the poor lad. The uncle seemed content to allow his nephews their moods, but he was quite skilled at orchestrating events.

He managed to pack off both gentlemen, taking Giles to task for not fetching Diana refreshments and sending Giles’ younger brother to call for their carriage so they might leave. Left alone with the older gentleman, Diana closed her fan and wondered why he wanted a word with her. She did not have long to wait for an answer.

Paul-Henri placed both hands on the carved head of his cane and gave a nod. “You need not bother with the smiles. You are very good at them, but as an old dissembler to a younger one, I urge you not to waste your talents.”

She stiffened for an instant, but let out a soft breath and kept her smile. “Oh, it is never a waste to practice one’s skills. I had not trotted out this particular expression in ages. It must be almost as rusty as my accent.”

“No, both are excellent. But if you were as vapid as you have just seemed, Giles would not have looked at you as he did earlier.”

“What look would that be?”

His smile widened. “You might be good for him, milady. Or you might be his death warrant.”

“Really, now—so dramatic!”

He lifted a hand. The gold ring on his little finger caught the light. Like his nephews he wore no gloves. Unlike his nephews, he had soft, white hands. “These are times of high drama. And your cousin, Lord Sandal, is it not? He is placed to decide such things? Or perhaps he is just another English come to visit. It is so difficult to tell who is who these days.”

Diana silently had to agree with him. And why were all these Taliaris men so interested in Jules? She folded her hands together in front of her, feeling more like a schoolgirl than she had in years. “Sir, we could fence with each other for hours and as entertaining as that might prove it would advance nothing. Perhaps you would care to come to a point about something?”

“Or perhaps not. You do know that my nephew plans to return to Bordeaux to the family vineyards. He seeks a life that is all too…quiet.” He made the word sound worse than exile.

Diana could not resist looking out over the crowd to find Taliaris. Would such pastoral peace be good for him? Or would the lack of action leave him bored and fat? Or would the countryside be just the respite he needed from the world? She glanced back at his uncle. “You mean he is not for the likes of me? He needs a quiet wife to go with such a life?”

“I did not say that. Perhaps he knows his own desires—or perhaps he only thinks of a change without knowing just what sort of difference he needs, eh? But Giles returns with a glass of something for you and his scowl for me. Lead him a merry dance, milady. I think that is what is best for him just now.”

“And you, sir? What is it you seek from this evening? This introduction, which you now have? I played to your lead, but I think your trump did not yet take the hand.” He looked at her, his stare sharpening. Diana smiled. “We should play cards someday, sir. I think you are not often well-matched, and I should like to empty your pockets.”

His mouth twitched. He took her hand and bowed over it. “I am never matched, well or otherwise. And I do not play at games. Enjoy this visit, milady, but keep your bags packed.”

She frowned at his words. But Giles returned to her side, and she had to turn to take the glass he held out to her. She sipped the wine, something white and dry, and gave a small shrug. “Very well, I shall say it.” He lifted one eyebrow in inquiry. She shook her head for an answer. “You had the right of it. I should not have forced an introduction. Your uncle now thinks I am a flighty woman—or at least the wrong sort of woman. And your brother has no love for anything—or anyone—English. And I thought my family difficult! But they are, for Jules has deserted me, or at least has taken himself off somewhere. Shall we scandalize everyone with a second dance? Or perhaps we could flee for a walk along the Seine and air that does not reek of perfume and too many schemes?”

He stared at her for a moment. His eyes seemed so dark as to be almost black and she could not read what expression lay in the depths. But he took her hand—a dreadfully forward habit of his—and started for the stairs.

Lady Chance Releases This August

I’m getLady Chance 01ting the follow up book to Lady Scandal ready to release–Lady Chance (ISBN-978-0-9850265-9-2) will be  Book 2 in the Regency Ladies in Distress series–yes, there’s going to be a Book 3 in this series. What’s the book about?

Can an English lady find love and common ground with a French soldier?

In Paris of 1814, as Bourbon king again takes the throne, and the Black Cabinet—a shadowy group of agents employed by the British—is sent to unmask dangerous men and stop assassinations. When Diana, Lady Chauncey—known as Lady Chance—is recruited by her cousin to use her skill at cards to help him delve into these plots, she meets up with a man she thought dead. Diana finds herself swept into adventure and intrigue, and once again into the arms of the French officer who she tangled with ten years ago. But she is no longer an impulsive girl and he may not be the man she once thought was honorable and good.

After the recent defeat of his country, Giles Taliaris wants nothing more than a return to his family’s vineyards in Burgundy. But his younger brother seems involved in dangerous plots to return France to a republic. To get his family through these troubles, Giles can only tread warily. When he again meets meet the English girl he once knew and thought lost to him, he finds himself torn between duty and desire. Can he find his way through this tangle—and if he does, how can he convince his Diana to give up everything for him?

The book took longer than I thought it would to write–there was the research, and interruptions from the idea of building a house–but it has been fun. I do have to thank everyone who kept writing me and bugging me for Diana’s story–you kept me motivated to get it done.

palaisroay1600There was a lot of fun–and more research, as always–to write the book. Since it’s set in Paris of 1814, and since gambling and cards are in the book, that meant I could use the Palais Royal, a place I once visited, which was built in the 1600’s.

On the ground floor, shops sold “perfume, musical instruments, toys, eyeglasses, candy, gloves, and dozens of other goods. Artists painted portraits, and small stands offered waffles.” The demi-monde could also parade their wares—themselves–and often had rooms on the upper floors for their customers’ convenience. By 1807, the Palais Royal boasted “twenty-four jewelers, twenty shops of luxury furniture, fifteen restaurants, twenty-nine cafes and seventeen billiards parlors.” While the more elegant restaurants were open on the arcade level to those with the money to afford good food and wine, the basement of the Palais Royal offered cafés with cheep drinks, food and entertainment for the masses, such as at the Café des Aveugles.

Tulariespalace_arcdeTriompduCarrousel and Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile (far)The Palais des Tuileris also serves as a setting. Sadly, it no longer stands, having been burned in 1871. The Tuileries Garden, or Jardin des Tuileries, still are there, but in 1814, the Palais des Tuileris, with the Salle de Maréchaux, which took up two floors of the central Pavillon de L’Horloge, was a symbol for Louis XVIII’s return to power.

Weaving in the textures of Paris, the excitement of a city just coming out of war, the uncertainty of those times was great fun.

If you would like an early copy to read so you can post a review once it goes up on sale, email me at Sd@sd-writer.com. The book should be on sale by August 20! Then it’s time to get a few novellas done before Jules’ story.

READ AN EXCERPT

Closing her eyes, Diana pulled in a deep breath of crisp air. Dawn had come up less than an hour ago and she still had not seen her bed. Jules had taken her to three other gaming salons, including the elegant and excessively luxurious Cercle des Etrangers, in the rue de la Grand Batelière. The play had been quiet and deep in the third, the gentlemen and a few ladies hardly looking up from their cards to acknowledge any arrivals. She had enjoyed a few hands, but she had been distracted by the night and won only a little. Jules took her at last to the small hôtel on the Ile St-Louis he had rented for them.

It was not an English hotel, but a furnished house to let, with servants and lovely rooms left intact from the era before the Revolution had torn France apart. She had stayed only long enough to wave off her yawning maid and change into a serviceable, sage-green walking dress and ankle boots. With a straw bonnet slapped on, she pulled one of Jules’ hulking black umbrellas from the brass stand in the hallway. The porter held the door for her. She wondered if he thought the English were quite mad to be forever dashing about.

She crossed on the nearest bridge and made for the Palais des Tuileries and their gardens, her skirts swirling about her ankles along with the river’s damp. Even though the hour was early, Paris seemed filled with soldiers. Jules had said the Prussians had claimed the Champs-de-Mars, around the Invalides, and the Luxembourg Garden for their camp, and also the Place du Carrousel near the Palais des Tuileries. She could see faint smoke from fires and heard the clatter of tin cups and plates. The British troops camped along the Champs-Elysées, the Dutch in Bois de Boulogne, and the Russians—well, she had no wish to meet up with Cossacks for she disliked their monstrous whiskers that made them look more like bears than men.

The gardens that fronted the Palais des Tuileries offered trees just starting to bloom and trim paths that had long been open to everyone. The trees stood bare still with only a promise of leaves curled tight in pale, green buds.

It was unlike England’s parks. Far more tame, the trees and shrubbery seemed pretty and light and were nothing Diana could name. She had never been much of a gardener. Jules had promised a visit to Chateau Malmaison to see Madam Josephine’s famous roses, but Diana had heard the former empress had taken ill. She felt too much for that abandoned woman as well. If things had gone somewhat differently, Diana thought, that could have been her, living out her days in a similar exile.

She let out a breath and an unaccountable longing swept into her. The daffodils—pale and slim, ready to dance on the wind—would be popping up around Chauncey Castle. The neglected woods would smell of earth and spring rain. She rather missed the daffodils. But what did she want with such that rambling castle? It was an expensive pile at that, for the roof needed new leading, and the chimneys smoked dreadfully in the east wing, and the lanes all needed fresh gravel. It was good the lands had gone with the title to Chauncey’s cousin. He would need the income from the tenants just to keep that castle from crumbling. Better now to think ahead to London.

She would look to acquire a comfortable townhouse, perhaps in Berkley Square. That would give her a place where other ladies might call upon her. She could join a society or two, something musical and something charitable. Perhaps she would even take up sketching again.

She gave a snort at herself. So much domesticity! As likely to come about as it was for the devil to be kind. She would be bored silly within a season with such a tame life, wouldn’t she?

She turned her steps toward the river and let her stride lengthen. The Seine flowed through Paris in civilized curves. It struck her as a tidy body of water with arching, stone bridges crossing it like stitches. It lacked the size and depth of the Thames—no tall sailing ships lined the shore. No warehouses or docks stood along its edges. The small islands that lay like oblong scones in the river had been built upon for centuries with their stone houses and cathedrals. Notre-Dame’s square towers rose into the sky, dark from soot. Its bells would ring soon for morning mass of some kind. Another place she ought to visit, but not with the feel of cards still stiff in her hands and champagne light in her head. Besides, what would a good Anglican do in a Catholic church other than make herself an awkward tourist?

Her walk did nothing to settle her. However, she became aware of other steps behind her. At the next corner, she turned sharp and waited to see who followed.

Taliaris stepped from a swirl of morning mist like some phantom soldier after a battle. Unfair that he should look not an ounce fatigued by a long night. He stopped in front of her. The impluse danced inside her to swing up her umbrella and poke him in the chest with its tip and tell him to go to blazes. But Jules had said she must patch things.

Cocking her head to one side, she said, “We always seem to meet at the most inopportune moments.”

“I would not bother you, but you have no maid with you, no servant. No one in fact. Paris keeps uneasy company these days.”

“But the city is so very well guarded just now, and I can manage.” Diana waved her umbrella as she might a saber. “I have been doing so for any number of years.”

“Managing to get and lose a husband?” Giles asked, his voice a low growl.

He frowned at himself. He had told himself he would not pry. Yet, as soon as he had glimpsed her in the Jardin des Tuileries like some queen from the past, so certain of herself—seemingly unknowing that even queens could die—he had decided he must follow. Too many soldiers would think any woman on her own was no better than she should be, and he did not trust the manners of either the Prussians or the Russian.

Eyeing Diana and her umbrella—not much of a weapon that—he tucked her empty hand into the crook of his arm. She made no move to object. He started to walk her back the way she had come.

She glanced at him. “You make poor Chauncey sound no more than a glove I dropped. I assure you, it—”

“Was a love match? A passion that left you broken hearted?”

“Now you sound a cynic—and, well, no, it did not—” She broke off her words and bit her lower lip. The dawn bathed her in a pink glow. She looked the goddess now for whom she had been named, lush and proud. The years fell away. Giles could feel his mood softening. “He what, ma chère?”

She made a face and looked down to where she swung her black umbrella in step with her stride. “I hate complainers, so I do not intend to become one. And I ought to apologize. Another thing I hate. But I was in the wrong to strike you. I want to make amends.”

“Now you do not sound like a Frenchwoman. You sound too English. You look it as well, with your little bonnet and your long stride.”

“You, sir, are mocking me. No, do not waste your breath with a protest. You are. I can hear it in your tone. But tell me one thing and then I promise to leave the past be. Did you at least think of me over the years? Imagined me in Surrey, at Edgcot Place, sitting by a window, pining—”

“Never that,” he lied.

“Yes, pining. Probably sighing, too, and…and knitting, or stitching. They are the sorts of things men somehow think women are born knowing.”

“A huntress with domestic skills? You malign my imagination. No, I had you slaying hearts in ballrooms and—”

“Ah, so you did think of me,” Diana said, turning to face him, her eyes bright.

He pressed his lips tight. This was why one should not ask questions. The past was the past and should be left there. He lifted a shoulder and gave her as much of the truth as he could afford. “Do you think you did not leave your mark? I am certain many a man remembers you, much to his dismay.”

“Dismay? Nothing more?”

“Come now. We met by chance years ago. I managed to be of service to you and your aunt, and that knave with you.”

“Paxten Marset. He is now my aunt’s husband and utterly respectable, I shall have you know.”

“My felicitations to your aunt. I suppose I must give them late to you as well for the marriage you had.”

“Oh, no, not for that. I ought to have listened to my mother. I could have done far better than poor Chauncey in my earlier seasons. Why there was one year I had three proposals.”

“Three?”

His sharp question stopped Diana.

She widened her eyes and put a hand to her mouth as if she had let the words slip. She hadn’t. She wanted him to know she had once been quite the prize. The umbrella swung between them, dangling from her fingers. She pulled her hand down and jabbed the umbrella point forward, swinging it to indicate the path back into the formal gardens. “Perhaps we should save those stories for another time. We ought to manage some courtesy to each other this late in the day. Or is it early? Ah, I know. Let us start again.”

She pulled away from him. With both hands braced on the handle of the umbrella, she offered a smile and bobbed a curtsy. “Enchante. I am Diana, Lady Chauncey—Lady Chance to almost all. But I give you leave to call me Diana, for I feel we must be good friends.” She held out her gloved hand.

He looked at it. Lifting his stare to her face, he frowned. “This is absurd.”

“No, no. It is a new day. Let us not spoil it with an argument before breakfast.”

Mouth set tight, he took her hand and bowed. “Milady Chauncey.”

“And you, m’sieur, will you not introduce yourself?”

“No, I will not.” Tucking her hand back in place, he started walking. Diana had to hurry to keep up. “That is enough farce for the day.”

“Oh, no, we had the farce last night.” She leaned forward and peered up at his face. She made a show of examining the cheek she had struck. “At least you seemed to have come through this relatively unscathed. Well, M’sieur Mystery, if you will not give me your name in an introduction, which is already scandalous, for we should be proper about this and someone of good repute who is known to me ought to be making you known to me. But this is Paris. Why do you not tell me something of yourself and how you have kept over the years?”

He shook his head. “You wish to hear of the disaster of Spain? Or our disasters at least. Your great victories were not in your papers? Or do you wish to know of its heat and dust and bitter cold? Of mud and too much blood, and how the Emperor’s brother abandoned all at Vitoria? We lost not just the King of Spain but Spain that day—not a topic to sully a fresh dawn.”

“Well, then, let us talk of something else.”

He glanced at her. “Of why you are here in Paris, perhaps?”

“My, you are direct. But you must know we English have all been terribly cooped up upon our little island. I expect you shall soon be overrun with us. Although I know some hold back, for our last visits ended with abrupt departures, as you also know. Perhaps their caution is wise and I am the silly one to be so daring as to return with cannon powder still almost quivering in the air. I, however, wish to be among the first to improve my wardrobe. My cousin Jules assures me I shall dazzle London after this visit.”

“Yet another gentleman under your spell? Is he one of those you almost married?”

“What—Jules?” She smiled and swung her umbrella up and out again, slashing the air. “I think there are times Jules wishes for the right to beat me as only a husband may. But he resists all feminine wiles. He swears I am to blame for leaving him immune to fair charms. I used mine on him indiscriminately when we were both growing up—our family lands march together. And you must think I am a flirt with a dozen men after me to ask such a question.”

“I think things happen around you and to you.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I only wish that were true…m’sieur.” She stressed the word with a touch of mockery.

“If it is to be Diana, you had best leave off such formality. You know my name. I want you to use it,” Giles said, the words curt.

He knew he had no right to this sullen mood of his. But disappointment ate at him. She was not the girl he remembered. She was not that child of honor and courage she had seemed so long ago. The memory soured. He hated that. He took a breath and forced himself to be fair. The years had changed him as well. Why should they have left her the same as what he had…ah, but there was nothing here to mourn.

He shook his head. “I had best see you back to where you stay.”

She gave him her direction and he took her there, crossing over the Pont Marie to the Ile St-Louis. On the doorstep, she pulled away and stared at him. He could not read her expression. She smiled, but the curve of her lips looked stiff upon her face. He could feel the heat of her body. He could remember how she had once felt pressed closed to him.

“Thank you…Giles. I am certain you have saved me once again.”

“It grows chill. We shall have rain. And we have too many armies in paris. Think on that next time you go walking and bring something more than that to look after you.” He gesturing to her umbrella. With a short bow, he, but he could feel her stare upon his back as he strode down the street.

Showing vs. Telling — The Advantages to Each

Aug_SkyThe cliche advice is “show don’t tell” because most beginning writers start off telling too much. And that can be boring–unless the writing is really, really, really great. There are places where telling can be useful–but you want to know the difference between the two.

This is telling the reader information:  He was angry.

There is nothing wrong with that sentences. Except it doesn’t really show your character in action and doesn’t reveal characterization. An actor would take this and use it in a movie to SHOW more–does his guy get quite when he’s angry, does he yell, does he press his mouth flat and ball up a fist, does he punch someone, does the pulse jump in his jaw, does he smile? All those little details would SHOW the character expressing anger–and suddenly the character becomes more vivid to the reader–the character becomes more real. Which is what every writer (and reader) wants.

This is also telling the reader information: The sun was hot.

Again, that’s a perfectly valid sentence. And you may want those short beats and the punch in that sentence. But hot in Texas is a different hot than Death Valley in California and both of those are a different hot from the hot in Orlando, Florida. So if you want to put the reader into that world, you want to SHOW the heat. As in:

Heat waves lifted from the black top that stretched like a pencil line east and west. Shading his eyes from the glare, Joe scanned the highway. Freeways they called them here. Empty, he thought. To either side, baked land stretched to purple mountains and thin bushes struggled to stay upright. Not even enough water for a tree–or a cactus. Joe wet dry, cracking lips. Sweat trickled down his back and off his temples. His shoulders slumped. He would kill for a cold beer. But he had half a plastic bottle of warm water and a broken down Chevy truck that was turning into an oven.

Now the reader can FEEL that heat–they’ve got a parched mouth, too, just like Joe, because this layers in enough details to really SHOW Joe feeling that kind of dry, dusty desert heat.

But notice that showing takes more words–a short story is a place to tell a little more, but a novel gives you room to show. Telling can also help smooth transitions of time or place. And telling is the best way to get a synopsis done.

So show more where you need emotion and to pull the reader into the story, and use the telling in places where you need to compress time or distance. Use the tools the way that works best for your story.

And for more about showing and telling, I’m doing an online workshop next month (in June) for Heart of Carolina Romance Writers.

It’s the Characters!

tablettypeI’m just heading home from the California Dreamin’ Writers Conference, and as usual there was talk of craft and marketing, and much other stuff. Sylvia Day, of course, talked about writing the book you really, really have to write–the book you want to write. I find that best-selling writers often do that–they may be marketing smart, but they also don’t follow the market. They make it. They also write great characters, which I think is the real secret.

So how do you get great characters on the page. First, you need talent. But a few other things can help, and I’m going to cover this in detail in my Plotting from Character online workshop starting on April 1:

Twelve steps to create the story from the inside out.

  1. Start at the deepest point: for every character, find that person’s core internal need.
  2. When looking for motivations (the why) for a character’s core need, discard the first three or four ideas (those will be clichés). Internal motivations are strongest if tied to a specific event in the character’s formative years—create these scenes (you may use them in the story).
  3. Create one main external goal for the main character—needs to be tangible, so the reader knows if the character gets it or not. (There should be consequences for failing to achieve the goal—failure should be personally costly to the main character.)
  4. Look for the motivation for why the character needs this goal—this is strongest if it’s a specific event in the character’s formative years. (Theme will come from the main character’s needs and goals—that will be the heart of the story.) The WHY for the external goal should be WHY this person must do this and WHY now–as in most folks don’t suddenly decide to go out and catch a murderer without a strong reason WHY that person must do that and WHY they most do this NOW.
  5. Decide if your character recognizes his or her needs and motivations.
  6. Focus the story on one character’s specific growth. That is at the heart of the book and will relate to your theme.
  7. For a romance, set up a potential mate who can’t provide the main character’s need—and who has goals that are in conflict. (But make sure this person is fully developed.)
  8. Know each of your character’s sexual history.
  9. Layer strengths and weaknesses into each character–compliment and contrast.
  10. Create secondary characters around the main one, with clear needs, goals and motivations for every character. (These can be opposing goals for what the main character wants or needs–or the same, with approaches adding conflict, or conflict from only being able to reach the goal).
  11. Give every character a secret–maybe even one that stays hidden during this story.
  12. Leave room for characters to surprise you. And remember, even bad guys need love.

With all the above, play the “what if” game – what if this happens to this person? What would he or she do? Create many “what ifs” and use the “what ifs” that resonate most with you and that make life worse for the main character—test your characters.

Remember:  Character is revealed through obstacles and the character’s reaction to those obstacles as he or she tries to achieve his or her goal. That is story. Plot is the construction of the obstacles in any character’s path.

 

 

It’s in the Details

SummerFlowersRecently a discussion came up about the details in a book–the writer was changing them on the fly. This made for a confusing read, but it also got me thinking. Not about the need for copy or line edits, but about the details in any story. To me, it’s all about the details.

I’m a writer who needs to see a scene in my mind. I also need to have the smells vivid, and all the senses involved. Is it cold out, hot, windy, dry, damp? What are the background noises like? These are the things that make a story come alive for me–not just as a writer, but as a reader. It’s the stuff every writer needs to think about–and to weave into the story.

Now this isn’t about dumping a ton of details onto a reader. But think about a great painting. There’s thought behind the art–there is also contrasts of light and dark, there’s attention to what takes up space and what space is left empty. The same goes for a great movie–the details that surround not just the character but the settings are layered in with great attention.

Those details all pile up to mean something. Every detail should matter. What a character chooses to wear, to eat, to drive (or ride if it’s a historical) all matter. You don’t want to stuff your character into generic clothing–the colors, the textures, the styles all mean something. We show our personalities in what we choose to wear, in the jewelry we select, the tattoos we get, the hair styles we adopt. And our settings–the furniture, and how its cared for (or not)–all mean something about who we are as people.

InkonrocksSo, writers, pay attention to the details. Don’t go for the general–be specific. Be vivid. Don’t settle for black as a color. Is that a black really a deep brown which is visible in edges and tips? Or is it a deep black that reflects blue in the light? Or is it a flat, dull black like cheep hair dye? Does the wind have a cold bite that stings the skin or is it a soft warmth? Experience the world through a fresh set of senses and bring the reader with you by going for details that really create a strong scene. Weave in the tastes that travel in the air and linger on the tongue. Use sounds that jar or relax or add tension. Add the touch of the breath of the country-side which is different than in the city where it can press on the skin, heavy and hard. Describe the smells that evoke feelings of coming home (home-made bread) or feelings of unease (the stench of decay). And use the sights that your character drinks in–for what a character notices says a lot about that person.

Be vivid–and pay attention to your own stories. Make them better than real. That’s what we all want to read.

 

Dialogue and Subtext

lietomeI loved the show Lie to Me for its use of micro expressions–small facial ‘give aways’ that revealed the truth no matter how someone tried to stop it.  But what do these facial tics and bits of body language have to do with dialogue? Isn’t dialogue about putting down what someone is saying in your story?  Well yes–and no.

I’m doing a workshop on Dialogue for Outreach International Romance Writers starting this next Monday and I chose the title to be “Don’t Let ‘Em Say What You Mean.” The title applies to a common mistake that many beginning writers make–the dialogue is too “on the nose.” That phrase is used to describe dialogue that is clumsy–it’s too specific and not the way anyone really talks.

This kind of dialogue crops up when a writer has a character explain his or her actions, give too much information about his or her past (with no motivation for providing all those details), or explain the plot to another character so the reader will catch up. Now, all of this can be done in character and brilliantly–but for most of us, the goal is to weave subtext and have characters not really say what they mean.

You want your characters to lie–and tell white lies. You want them to exaggerate. You want them to duck questions and change topics. Above all, you want emotion to drive most of what a character says. And this brings us back to those micro expressions and bits of body language–because what a character does while he or she is talking is a tip to the reader that something more is going on.

Do you really believe the story the wife is telling while she also fidgets with her wine glass and licks her lips and keeps looking away? Do you really think the guy likes his brother’s pal–even if the guy says he does–if the guy’s smile looks more like a grimace and he’s giving narrowed-eyed stares at the brother’s pal? Do you really think the little boy did not take the candy when he swears he didn’t if he hides chocolate-stained hands behind his back? Yes, those are all lies, but they’re also giving sub-text–more is going on underneath the dialogue than just the words that are spoken.

Now sometimes you do want your characters to be blunt–and honest. But even then, a character needs good reasons to be that blunt. Maybe it’s a habit. Maybe they’re fed up with the other person and want to drive them away. Those motivations have to be made clear to the reader.

Above all, a story must interest and keep a reader’s attention–and to do that you need dialogue that sparks with tension and conflict. It doesn’t have to be world-shattering conflict, but you want more going on underneath your words as characters work to get what they want in each scene. You want characters who don’t say what they mean, who go the long way around to get to a point, who offer indirect statements, and who sometimes never answer any questions. Always look for better ways to get more of your characters’ emotions on the page and less of their explanations.

And for more dialogue tips you’ll just have to take the workshop.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,600 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

This entry was posted on December 30, 2014, in Uncategorized. Leave a comment