Tuesday, January 21, 2020

3T Writing Tidbit -- Special Guest Helen C. Johannes

Helen C. Johannes is one of the smartest writers I know. She's also kind, witty, and a great teacher. Today we're lucky to have her present one of her gems of writing knowledge!

Read on for her guest post...

Layering a Scene 

by Helen C. Johannes

Plot, or what happens, is the basis for a scene. If nothing happens relative to the overall plot, the scene should be cut. But just recording what happens isn’t enough to make a scene memorable or create enough of a hook to keep the reader involved. To do that a writer needs to put flesh on the bare bones of the plot. That requires using these tools in the writer’s toolbox: the five senses, the character’s emotions, elements of conflict, and symbolism (if possible).

Consider the following bit of plot:

She paused at the foot of the stairs. The doors above were open. Swallowing, she went in.

Let’s flesh this out first by adding the five senses with time and place:
  • Who? Name the character.
  • Where exactly is she?
  • When? What’s the time of day? Day of the week? Year? Season?
  • What does she see? Texture, color, temperature? Objects?
  • What does she smell? Hear? Dialogue?
  • Are there others—people, animals—in this scene?

Now add the character’s emotions:
  • How does she feel about being in this place?

Bring in elements of the conflict, either main or contributing:
  • Why is she here?
  • What’s at stake?

Enhance symbolism, if possible:
  • Stairs can represent choices and decisions. A character can go up to something new, or down into something bad, or refuse to participate and remain aloof.
  • Are these stairs central to some particular conflict or memory?

Here’s an example:

     Jennifer Bryant halted at the foot of the courthouse stairs.
     Twenty-four granite steps, two flights of twelve with a six-foot wide landing in between, stretched toward the colonnaded portico above. As a child she’d raced up these steps and dashed from end to end amid three-story high pillars only to stand panting in the middle at the precise spot where the boulevard ran straight to the steps.
     “All roads lead to Rome,” her grade school teacher had told her. McKintock County wasn’t Rome, but to her fourth-grade self, that spot up there had been the center of the universe.
     All around her, a steady stream of people flowed upward, not a single one pausing at that special spot. Men clad in suits, ties flapping, women dressed in conservative brown, black and tan, all carrying briefcases in one hand and cups of varying descriptions in the other. The strong smell of fresh coffee wafted in their wakes.
     She breathed the aroma, and wished for the third time in as many minutes she’d stopped at Coffee Joe’s for a brew of her own. Having something to cling to just might galvanize her into taking that first step.
     When had the simple act of climbing these steps, passing under those Doric columns and entering her workplace of the last six years become so daunting?
Layering means to go through your scene as often as necessary to add pieces of “flesh” to it. From the bare bones you can construct something meaningful and evocative that also advances your plot, reveals character, creates conflict, and—even—suggests symbolism. And, most importantly, keeps your reader reading.

Helen C. Johannes writes award-winning fantasy romance inspired by the fairy tales she grew up reading and the amazing historical places she’s visited in England, Ireland, Scotland and Germany. She writes tales of adventure and romance in fully realized worlds sprung from pure imagination and a lifelong interest in history, culture, and literature. Warriors on horseback, women who refuse to sit idly at home, and passion that cannot be denied or outrun—that’s what readers will find in her books.

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Latest release: Lord of Druemarwin
In a world of lies and betrayal, can they trust each other?

Lady Raell can fight, ride, and argue politics as well as her brothers. Only being mistress of her father's household keeps her in skirts. In Naed, the new Lord of Druemarwin, she has found devotion, a kindred spirit, and a marriage promise. But when a forgotten and unwanted betrothal comes to light, she has no choice but to run.

Amidst sweeping revolution, Naed must rally his people, fend off assassination attempts, and fight against claims he's a traitor. Then he discovers everything about his lineage and family is a lie. And his beloved belongs to another.

With lives and a kingdom at stake, Raell and Naed must find a way to protect the innocent and save their love.

Click here to read an excerpt

Click here to see all 3T Tidbits.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

2T Repeat Performance

In December 2016, the lovely Magical Musings crew decided it was time to close down their blogging shop. I had three wonderful years with them. This is another of those posts.

Writing is Like a Box...--originally posted May 25, 2016.

As part of my Cin Wikkid: April Fools For Love tour, I did an interview where I was asked the question--what is your writing process? It made me realize writing is like a box.

Have you ever folded the flaps of a box together so they interlock? Sometimes I get it right first try, barely bending the corners. Sometimes I wrestle with it forever, breaking the corners and giving myself paper cuts. (If you're curious, I looked up a video of the process on YouTube. This person makes it look easy!)

That is my writing process, angling and sawing, making character, plot, and emotion all fit.

One flap is a spark of inspiration, something that ignites my imagination. Say, a young cop on her first patrol, interrupting a mugging, managing to subdue the mugger only to be attacked by vampires—only to have the vampires attacked by a bigger, badder vampire. But then she tries to arrest the bigger, badder vampire.

The second flap is character, with the hero or heroine's goal, motivation and conflict as the skeleton. I’ll usually create a symbol for the hero or heroine for a more concrete handle on their character.

Third flap is theme. It's usually something I’ve actively struggled with, to make it sing for the reader.

Fourth flap is plot. Hero, heroine, and romance all have the five big turning points of Catalyst, Big Event, Pinch, Crisis, and Climax. Mentally I play with possibilities for each of those fifteen events, trying to picture which will be most in character while creating the richest story. After I create preliminary scenes around those fifteen points, I’ll play with order to spark the most tension.

Then I start folding.

The characters firm up as I go. The plot points often change as I see better ways to make them resonate. Even after the draft is done, editing is another process almost as long as the writing. I tease the flaps into place, making sure they're tight and square--making sure the story doesn’t get laggy or confused, the beginning and ending grab me, and the middle is a nice rise of tension. Then I go back and pull up the peaks and push down the troughs, making sure action and emotion deliver as much punch as possible.

Authors, what's your process? Readers, do you like to see the process or is it so much sausage?

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

January 1T Status Update

Happy 2020! Starting a new month and a new year. And big new news!

  • Night's Bliss, Elias's story, has been bought by Entangled Publishing. I can't wait to get this one into reader's hands!
  • The incredible Helen C. Johannes has graciously agreed to do a 3T Writing Tidbit! Look for it in just TWO WEEKS!
  • I'm halfway through the first draft of Night's Bliss.  I hope to finish the draft by the end of winter break.
  • Signed up for my last semester of classes. IoT, mobile app dev... This one's a fun one!

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

4T Olio - 5 End of Year Thoughts you're probably having too

It's that time again. When we review where we've come (2019) and where we're going (2020)--hopefully with perfect vision (as per the year, lol).

  1. It's the end of the year...and the decade? Well, no. But it is the year we retire a digit. Vive le 202x!

  2. How about the best archaeology finds of 2018? Including evidence that beer was brewed as far back as 18000 years ago. That's right, eighteen thousand. Not even Elias was around then...we think.

  3. Best archaeology finds of 2018

  4. On a sadder note, here are the companies we lost this past decade. Goodbye Blockbuster, Payless, and Borders.

  5. But look at all the superhero movies we had just in the second half of the decade!

  6. All superhero movies coming out from now until end of 2019.

  7. And here are Rotten Tomatoes top movies of 2019. I'm writing this on December 16. What do you think, will Star Wars make the list?

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

3T Writing Tidbit

This is another in my 25 Ways You're Losing Readers (and what you can do about it) series.

Crank the conflict!! But are you making this big mistake?

We're told over and over to increase the drama, make it matter more, crank the conflict. But where are the limits? Are there any?

I'd answer most definitely. And it's an easy line to find.

One of the most popular SciFi dramas on TV early this century was Battlestar Galactica. I love science fiction of all sorts, and with watchable characters and high dramatic tension, I should have loved this. But I didn't.

The show was full of hot-tempered, impulsive people punching each other for very little reason or turning on each other at the drop of a hat. Lots of conflict! But it was such stupid conflict.

Later, when Stargate Universe came out as a carbon copy of Battlestar Galactica, I understood why.

See, the original Stargate SG1 was about a team working together. They tried to solve their problems with tact and diplomacy before they waded in punching. And they rarely undermined each other. Stargate Universe put conflict within the team. They weren't heroes--they weren't even very good people.

And there's the bottom line. There are things your hero wouldn't do. Things no hero would do, like striking someone weaker, or lying for their own gain, or stealing from the poor.

So in your quest to crank the tension, you shouldn't do them, either. No matter how dramatic they may seem.

Published since 2009, over the years I've accumulated various items of writing wisdom. The Third Tuesday Writing Tidbit showcases these items in no particular order. Click here to see all 3T Tidbits. Click here to see all 25 Ways You're Losing Readers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

2T Repeat Performance

In December 2016, the lovely Magical Musings crew decided it was time to close down their blogging shop. I had three wonderful years with them. This is another of those posts.

5+ Books That Changed My Life--originally posted April 27, 2016.

The fabulous Michelle Diener challenged us to write about 5 books we love or have recently read or read long ago and still remember. I have many more than 5 books I love, as I'm sure you do :) So here are 10+1 of the first to come to mind, in no particular order.

Sherlock Holmes—Here are all four full-length novels and fifty-six short stories about the colorful adventures of Sherlock Holmes -- every word Conan Doyle ever wrote about Baker Street's most famous resident. So devoted and numerous are the followers of the immortal Holmes ... so timeless are his colorful adventures ... that this shrewd and lovable amateur detective whom Doyle invented when he was a young doctor is the most popular character in the last one hundred years of fiction. As a lasting tribute to the indestructible detective, whose earliest adventures first appeared in print in 1887, and to his famous creator, Holmes's entire career has been brought together between the covers of this handsome volume. It is the definitive, authoritative Sherlock Holmes text as originally published in nine separate books. Also included is a delightful preface, "In Memoriam Sherlock Holmes," written by Christopher Morley, the distinguished author and founder of The Baker Street Irregulars. Here is the whole thrilling and amazing career of Sherlock Holmes, all of his adventures in crime collected in one exciting volume.

I'm not sure what excited me about these stories as a young girl. The adventure, the mystery? The ascetic, brilliant Holmes? His deep and abiding friendship with Dr. Watson?

Bambi—Bambi’s life in the woods begins happily. There are forest animals to play with and Bambi’s twin cousins, Gobo and beautiful Faline.

But winter comes, and Bambi learns that the woods hold danger—and things he doesn't understand. The first snowfall makes food hard to find. Bambi’s father, a handsome stag, roams the forest, but leaves Bambi and his mother alone.

Then there is Man. He comes to the forest with weapons that can wound an animal. Bambi is scared that Man will hurt him and the ones he loves. But Man can’t keep Bambi from growing into a great stag himself, and becoming the Prince of the Forest.

The non-cartoon version of this story caught my second-grade mind. Adventure, romance, the mystery of the deep forest, and that sense of living in a social structure unlike our own (though I didn't know that was a hook at the time lol).

Carbonel: The King of Cats—Rosemary's plan to clean houses during her summer break and surprise her mother with the money hits a snag when an old lady at the market talks her into buying a second-rate broom and a cat she can't even afford to keep. But appearances can be deceiving. Some old ladies are witches, some brooms can fly, and some ordinary-looking cats are Princes of the Royal Blood. Rosemary's cat ("You may call me Carbonel. That is my name.") soon enlists her help in an adventure to free him from a hideous spell and return him to his rightful throne. But along the way Rosemary and her friend John must do some clever sleuthing, work a little magic of their own, and—not least— put up with the demands of a very haughty cat.

Magic, an intrepid heroine, and a cat who is all alpha male snagged my young imagination.

The Nameless RomanceThe first actual adult romance that grabbed me was a regency-era about a tomboy who was supposed to be a lady. Different than the usual bluestocking or masquerading as a man. I vaguely remember a scene where she escapes in a tree. It turned me on to romances. Wish I could remember the title or author!

Bridge to Terabithia—This Newbery Medal-winning novel by bestselling author Katherine Paterson is a modern classic of friendship and loss.

Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie's house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief.

A children's book I read as an adult. My then-middle-school child recommended this to me. I wept. Seriously good if a kid's book has that much power.

Crocodile on the Sandbank—Set in 1884, this is the first installment in what has become a beloved bestselling series. At thirty-two, strong-willed Amelia Peabody, a self-proclaimed spinster, decides to use her ample inheritance to indulge her passion, Egyptology. On her way to Egypt, Amelia encounters a young woman named Evelyn Barton-Forbes. The two become fast friends and travel on together, encountering mysteries, missing mummies, and Radcliffe Emerson, a dashing and opinionated archaeologist who doesn't need a woman's help — or so he thinks. First book in an excellent series.

Romance, mystery, and 19th-century snark at its finest. I adore whatever Elizabeth Peters wrote, but Amelia Peabody is my favorite. This series is summed up best by Ms. Peters herself. "Another dead body. Every year it is the same. Every year, another dead body..." - Abdullah, p. 151, Lion in the Valley

Black Orchids—Not much can get Wolfe to leave his comfortable brownstone, but the showing of a rare black orchid lures him to a flower show. Unfortunately, the much-anticipated event is soon overshadowed by a murder as daring as it is sudden. It’s a case of weeding out a cunning killer who can turn up anywhere—and Wolfe must do it quickly. Because a second case awaits his urgent attention: a society widow on a mailing list of poison-pen letters leading to a plot as dark as any orchid Wolfe has ever encountered.

I recently reread the Rex Stout Nero Wolfe mysteries. Considering other stories often don't stand the test of time wow, is Stout's writing energetic and fresh. Still.

Changes—Long ago, Susan Rodriguez was Harry Dresden's lover-until she was attacked and left struggling with the bloodlust of the vampiric Red Court. Now, she needs Harry's help. Harry's enemies have found the secret she has hidden for so long, and he will have to unleash the full fury of his untapped power.

Because this time, he's fighting to save his child.

I always liked Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, but around this book, I began to love it.

If anyone asks, I'm Team Murphy.

The Atrocity Archives—Bob Howard is a computer-hacker desk jockey, who has more than enough trouble keeping up with the endless paperwork he has to do on a daily basis. He should never be called on to do anything remotely heroic. But for some reason, he is.

Charlie Stross's Laundry series is fabulous. Geeks meet demonology, a writing style that sings, and a take on bureaucracy that is both funny and dead on. Add in Bob's romantic interest Mo, a violinist (musician yay!) who gets her own story later on, and I'm hooked.

  Borderline—A year ago, Millie lost her legs and her filmmaking career in a failed suicide attempt. Just when she’s sure the credits have rolled on her life story, she gets a second chance with the Arcadia Project: a secret organization that polices the traffic to and from a parallel reality filled with creatures straight out of myth and fairy tales.

For her first assignment, Millie is tasked with tracking down a missing movie star who also happens to be a nobleman of the Seelie Court. To find him, she’ll have to smooth-talk Hollywood power players and uncover the surreal and sometimes terrifying truth behind the glamour of Tinseltown. But stronger forces than just her inner demons are sabotaging her progress, and if she fails to unravel the conspiracy behind the noble’s disappearance, not only will she be out on the streets, but the shattering of a centuries-old peace could spark an all-out war between worlds.

No pressure.

I'm reading this now, so I can't tell if the ending will throw off my take on it. But it's so insightful on its own that it almost doesn't matter. Add in the gritty reality of the fantasy elements, and the book becomes one I quote endlessly at my husband.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

December 1T Status Update

Night's Kiss successfully launched! Thank you to everyone who bought, loved, shared, and reviewed. You're the reason I could stay with the series as long as I have.

I hope to have important, exciting news within days for Night's Bliss, the final book in the Ancients series. This is the story many, many of you have been waiting for. Elias is in a face-off with Lord Umbra...will the Ancient One find love at last along the way? Three chapters done, full story map done. I can't wait to get back to writing it!

But first this month I have my 3rd semester of school to finish. Then, over winter break, it'll be back to Night's Bliss, along with a short Vampire Vignette (New Orleans's Nobody) for my April Fools For Love author friends.

This month also sees the usual holiday music work, such as playing for our local animal shelter's Festival of Trees. January it's back to school for my final full-time semester.

Here's a fun little reading my husband and I did from Night's Kiss via Instagram... (also on Facebook)