Tuesday, August 16, 2022

3T Writing Tidbit

One of my favorite structures in a story is simply Goal, Conflict, Disaster/Resolution. The character has a goal. Oops, something is in the way of that goal, causing the section to end in a disaster (or relief). It can be simple -- I want to walk to the other side of the room, but a bucket and mop are mysteriously present, and I slip on slick floor which has just been washed. Or it can be complex -- I want to win the job interview to feed my family, but I have a stutter and anxiety trips me up so I not only don't get the job, I'm forced to go to my brother's arrogant friend for a loan.

So what is a Goal? It's anything that answers the question, "What result do I want?" Conflict is, "Who or what stands in the way of that goal?" Disaster/resolution answers the question, "Do I get the goal?" Resolve the conflict with the character achieving the goal (after struggling, of course!), or hit the character with disaster and crank up the story engine even more.

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.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

2T Repeat Performance -- The Cover, Your First Thousand Words

I've done a number of blog tours over the years, posting on different sites. Now I'm bringing them to you!

Originally published May 27, 2011 for Heroines with Hearts

The Cover, Your First Thousand Words

Thanks so much to Heroines with Hearts for having me here today!


A picture is worth how many words? (All together now ☺) 

The cover is the reader’s first impression of your book. Its purpose is to catch her attention, and promises the kind of story inside. It gives a sense of what the book is about—not the whole story, as too many elements muddle the cover.

Covers happen in different ways. Here’s my journey for Biting Me Softly, art by the incomparable Natalie Winters.

First I submitted an art request through my editor. The request is a publisher-designed form that asks things like title, genre, time period and setting. It also asks for descriptions of the hero and heroine, a short summary of the story, and any author ideas, my chance to have input. Using a stock photography site, I found a perfect picture for hero Logan and included the link. My editor reviewed my request and forwarded it with her additions and changes to Natalie.

Natalie combined elements of my story (heroine Liese is a computer geek so the 010101 wallpaper is computer binary code) and my series (the bats flying up from the bottom left suggest vampire) with a truly spectacular pose of model Sam Bond to create a draft cover called the cover comp.

I loved the cover comp the minute I saw it. Although my publisher lets me give feedback, I didn’t have any changes—the cover is a significant investment in time and money and though sometimes changes are necessary (as when another cover uses the same pose) it’s important to have as much defined upfront as possible.

After my editor and I approved the art, it went to the publisher. The publisher has to consider things like fit with other releasing titles and overall impact, and knows what reaches readers best.

In the end, it’s all about reaching the reader with your story. The cover is simply your first 1000-word step.

(Note: This is the 2017 cover.)




Tuesday, July 19, 2022

3T Writing Tidbit

I think I've discussed this before but it bears repeating. Your hero has to be someone the reader wants to spend the next 300 pages with. And they have to be that someone within the first couple pages. (These days, the first couple paragraphs.)

The easiest way to create that bond is via empathy. Think about the things that draw us to a person in real life.

  • They're funny.
  • They have an amazing ability to do the job like no one else can.
  • They're hit by undeserved bad things.
  • They're kind or generous or big-hearted.
  • They're loyal or courageous.
  • They only want to get along (pay the rent, do their job, things we all have to do).
  • They have feelings we all have (but expressed so vividly we can't help but feel for them).

You can probably think of tons more. Give 2 of these to your character and see what happens!

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.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

2T Repeat Performance -- Crafting the First Line

I've done a number of blog tours over the years, posting on different sites. Now I'm bringing them to you!

Originally published May 20, 2011 for Amber Keller

Crafting the First Line

First, thanks so much to Amber for having me here today!

How do you pick a book to read? If it's not a favorite author, many readers scan the shelves (or eshelves). A cover/title combo catches her eye. She picks it up and the blurb looks interesting. She flips to page one to give it a try. And she reads the first line.

If it doesn't hold her interest―she'll put the book back. That first line is vital to keeping reader interest high. To do that, try paying attention to three things. 

Impact. Hook. Voice.

Recently I won the DRB 1st Chapters Best First Line contest with the following line. Check it out for impact, hook and voice.

It’s a little-known fact that when vampires fly, they hog the window seats. (The Bite of Silence)

Impact is made quickly through what I call pepper words. These are words that bite a reader's imagination (like bite) or send it soaring (like princess). Swearing, sexual language, high concept words like murder are all examples of pepper words. They're great to use in an opening to grab the reader's attention, but one warning. Like pepper, these words can quickly dull the reader's pallet, so use sparingly.

Here are some other first lines. Note the pepper words.

Officially the murder was SCH-1, but I called it the Case of the Punctured Prick. (Bite My Fire)
When I first clapped eyes on Logan, I thought, Hot damn. Look what the Sex Fairy brung me! (Biting Me Softly)

Hook is done via a question the reader wants answered, or juxtaposing ideas or images in a way that sparks her interest. In Silence, the idea of vampires hogging sunny windows is deliciously contrary, as are the official and unofficial name for Fire's murder. In Softly the question is who is Logan and what does he look like, that “I” have such a strong reaction?

Voice is your own style. It's the way you put words together and make paragraphs and tell stories, the quality that stamps the writing as yours through and through.

That first line is vital, but the good news is, most readers will give an author a bit more than one line to hook them. You still need to pay attention to impact, hook and voice. Here's the rest of Biting Me Softly's first page. “I” is Liese, a St.-Pauli-Girl-Next-Door programmer.

It was eight p.m. Sunday night, and I was at work. I do computers for the Meiers Corners Blood Center. The staff is me, the executive director and a part-time nurse named Battle. I was the only one who worked insane hours, but I was new and still trying to prove myself.

I don’t know what made me look up. The cool March air, perhaps. Maybe the aroma wafting in, mystery and magic with overtones of raw sex.

Whatever it was, my eyes lifted and there he was, the most stunning male I’d ever seen. Smack-me-between-the-eyes gorgeous. Bright blond hair rippled to broad, muscular shoulders. Lean strength roped a long, lithe body. Laughter and intelligence sparked gold-flecked hazel eyes. Perfect lips curved in a smile so sensuous it made my innards go bang.

Then he opened his mouth and spoke. Talk about ruining perfection.

“Hello, gorgeous.” His tone was deep and lazy. “I want to speak to the computer man in charge.”

Right. Well that just spoiled everything, didn’t it?

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

3T Writing Tidbit

How to tell a story. 

There's an infinity in a nutshell, lol. There are countless books and people and articles and posts about how to tell a story. It's a little like explaining how to assemble a person. Do you start at the system or cell level? Describe generic features or that one set of green eyes that haunt you to this day?

So I'm just going to give you my advice on putting together the sequence of the story's events.

First, lay them all out chronologically. This will be the most understandable for everyone, author, reader, editor.

Now if you move chunks of the story out of order, do it to make the most emotional impact.

I've seen stories that reorder scenes to create mystery, and you can do that too. But you run the risk there of leaving the reader feeling tricked. To see that particular feat done right, check out Leverage, which often shows a scene as the bad guy thinks it's playing out, right until the reversal -- which is then explained by going back and showing the same scene with the effort our heroes are putting in.

 But reordering so the reader can have more feels? Generally much more satisfying and better accepted.

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.   

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

2T Repeat Performance -- Splashing Verbal Paint

I've done a number of blog tours over the years, posting on different sites. Now I'm bringing them to you!

Originally published May 19, 2011 for Autumn Shuty

Splashing Verbal Paint

First, thanks so much to A.L. for having me here today!

A vacation picture. Movies on the big screen. Dreams, swirling with color. Except for smell (new-mown grass, a mother’s perfume), nothing connects us to reality like image.

We've heard show-don't-tell, but isn't it all just words? How can words show?

I think of it like splashing verbal paint on canvas. I’m taking my example from Biting Me Softly because I know how I changed it. Well, and because it’s In Stock at bookstores across the US ☺ “I” is Liese, a Saint-Pauli-girl-next-door programmer. Her hero is Logan Steel, over six feet of golden, graceful vampire.

Here’s the original, where Logan takes a phone call. It’s a pretty good painting (Also Sprach Zarathustra is the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Also Sprach Zarathustra cut me off. Logan snapped out the cell just as the heavens opened and the brass and tympani exploded. 

“Geez,” I said. “Is that a phone or a home theater system?”

Logan grinned. “What can I say? I run a security shop. I have to keep up with technology.”

“Or you have the latest toys to stay alpha geek.”

“That too. Steel.” Almost immediately Logan’s tone moderated. “Yes, sir.”

His tone was filled with respect, like he was speaking to an esteemed superior. That baffled me because as CEO of one of the biggest security firms in the tri-state area, most of the state—most of the Midwest—heck, most of the nation was Steel’s underling.


The bit about “CEO of one of the biggest security firm...” etc etc, is a little long and clumsy. How about this instead?

But Logan was a prince of business. Nobody outranked him.


I think “Prince” draws a picture that “CEO...” etc etc can't match. What about you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

3T Writing Tidbit

 As I was learning the craft of writing, sometimes I got a little confused about the proper way to do things. Here are a few more rules of thumb I picked up. As with any rule of thumb, this is a guide, not a set of commandments.

  • Every character represents something bigger (which is significant to the book's theme).
  • Write the hero as if a Hollywood star would love to play them.
  • The structure is like fractals. Each book is hook, build, payoff, built of chapters that are hook, build, payoff, built of paragraphs that are hook, build, payoff.
    • Note: The payoff of chapters is often something bad/cliffhangery
  • Curiosity keeps us reading. Emotions connect us to the story.
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.