I love writing fiction, but let’s face it, sometimes reality is far more interesting. My mother always says “Truth is stranger than fiction”, and I wholeheartedly agree!
Most of you know I live in a forty-foot travel trailer with my husband and dog. If you follow my Instagram posts, it would appear as if we load our lives into the RV, pull up stakes, then roll out of town and into a blazing sunset. But allow me to fill in a few of the blanks. Below is the reality of just one leg of one journey.
First of all we decided to get a new trailer hitch to pull the fifth wheel. According to Youtube, installation is a one-man job, and takes ninety minutes. Let’s just say it took us two days, and leave it at that.
We always plan to load up one day and leave the next morning, mostly because it always takes an entire day to get ready to pull out. Maybe it’s because we don’t have a bunch of stuff we don’t use and I hate trying to pack things we will need within an hour, but whatever the reason, getting ready to leave takes time. We tend to live in one place for at least a few months before moving on, so when we get ready to leave we get prescriptions filled, fill the propane tanks, take apart and pack up the patio, do laundry, clean out the fridge, organize the underneath storage, sweep off the slides (which doesn’t stop a ton of dirt from falling into the trailer) and make sure everything in the cupboards is able to withstand an earthquake without falling out, popping open, or crashing down.
So as per the plan, the day before departure, we took the vehicles in to top off the tanks and check them over. Surprisingly, on the way to do this, the Fuel pump went out on the truck! It’s not like it has to pull the house or anything, but yes, there was some panic involved. Luckily it was nothing that finding a good mechanic and driving three hours to get the part couldn’t fix. We simply moved our schedule back half a day, and took it in stride.
The next morning as we waited for the mechanic to finish up, we hit a slight snag when the top of one of the slides got stuck and wouldn’t slide in, but Steve climbed up into the tree next to the trailer and shoved it with his foot while I pushed the button, and it complied and glided inside. Now the only problem was Steve left standing six feet up in a tree, but he doesn’t want me to talk about that part, so I’ll move on. Even with truck trouble and all, we still managed to be hooked up and ready to roll by five PM on the planned departure day. Yay for us!
We hit the open road in good spirits, but a few hours out we hit a problem, which was minimal, but frightening. A long tale on one of the tie down holding the Polaris Ace on the trailer behind my car, came out and flapped down the road behind me like a ten foot tail. Since it was already dark at this point, I couldn’t see it, but believe me, I felt the yank when I ran over said tail with the trailer. It took some hazard lights and going forty miles an hour on the freeway, as well as a few more violent tugs on the trailer as I ran over it again and again, before we limped into a rest area and retied the dang thing. I may have been a little shaken up, but I think by this time, considering it was well past ten PM, stress and exhaustion could have been as much to blame for my state of mind.
I’m happy to report that we made it to our KOA destination at eleven o’clock sharp, and the slides opened with ease. The furnace purred to life, and our bed never felt so sweet. It’s always strange to me to drive for hours yet sleep at home.
The next morning Steve had to replace a hose on one of the airbags on the back of the truck (they keep the trailer from jerking the truck around) but he fixed that after only two hours laying in the gravel under the truck in frigid twenty degree wind, because he’s amazingly handy and I love him.
All went well on the road until we arrived in lovely Monongah, West Virginia, (pronounced mon-on’-ga) where we had a spot reserved, or so I thought, in a small RV park on top of a grassy hill. When we called for directions, because believe me, you need directions to find Monongah, we were told that they were over booked but they’d be happy to set us up in one of the their overflow spots in “town”.
I don’t know anyone who considers Monongah much of a town, first of all, but long story short, in the country, don’t ever have high hopes for anything called an over flow spot. I’d like to say that the hair-raising trip down the impossibly narrow and winding mountain roads with a giant trailer in tow was the scariest part. I’d also like to say that our disappointment with the camp site, which was actually a construction company storage yard with a plug in and sewer connection in one corner, was the worst part. I’d even like to say that parking directly behind a fire station seemed like the worst idea. (This was confirmed when the sirens went off at 2 AM) But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that backing the trailer up and over the uneven hump and into the parking spot was by far the most horrifying part of the day.
I’m no engineer, but any onlooker would have paled at the angle the truck and hitch were to the trailer, at one point. Once the trailer was settled onto the level concrete, however, I breathed a sigh of relief. Until I stepped inside, that is. The lurch the trailer sustained as we backed into the parking spot had tipped over the fridge, and it lay tilted at a forty degree angle, on the end of the dining table, with food spilled and smashed all over the floor.
At this point, I could only curse and hold the top of my head in place with both hands, but Steve quickly picked his way through the food and righted the fridge, which luckily was no worse for wear. (I may have been the one who forgot to latch it in, but I won’t admit it, and I won’t forget again.) We had to level the trailer and put out the slides before I could do much clean up. As a side note, Bingo was very unhappy that the pickle jar had ended up in his food dish.
After the mechanic debacle the day before, the five hour drive that morning, and the nerve-wracking arrival, I was admittedly in a stress coma as I cleaned up broken jars of salsa, smeared containers of humus, bags of shredded cheese, cans of soda, cartons of milk, and both the drawers of produce, but I couldn’t help but wonder where the rest of the food that had filled our residential size fridge, had gone. I clearly remembered a carton of raspberries, a dozen eggs, a package of hamburger, and other assorted food that had been in the fridge that morning. Where on earth had it gone?
I looked under the couches and behind the table, in the pantry and washer/dryer closet, but I couldn’t find the food. I had finally decided, after an hour of clean-up, that I had completely lost my mind, when I opened the large freezer drawer to get some ice cubes for my orchids, and there was the missing food! As the fridge had tipped, the freezer drawer must have rolled opened first, catching half the food as it slid out of the fridge above, but then was pushed closed again as the fridge finished it’s decent onto the end of the dining table. The carton of eggs had even been kind enough to fall directly into the ice cube bin, allowing me to dump the whole thing into the sink for a semi-painless clean up. (Note, frozen egg yolks don’t easily wash off)
So to wrap up, though I feel very lucky to have the wonderful life I lead with the ones I love, when you see lovely photos of folks flying down the road with their homes in tow, looking so carefree and happy, picture their sleep interrupted by fire sirens, their dishes wrapped and packed away, their flowers pots and picture frames wrapped in towels and tucked safely in the kitchen sink, and their fridges holding on for dear life.
Lizzie opened one eye. Sure enough, faint morning light glowed behind the bedroom curtains. Careful not to wake Elliot, she stretched under the covers, dreading the cold outside her cozy bed. Too bad the farm animals didn’t understand weekends, she reasoned, she could use another hour of sleep.
Tentatively she reached one foot out from under the covers. Cold air raced up her ankle causing her to wince. Elliot snorted in his sleep and adjusted his pillow, and it took all Lizzie’s will power not cuddle up to his big warm back and go back to sleep.
Finally she sighed and counted to three, then jumped out of bed, danced across the cold floor, and raced to tug on her jeans. Moving as quickly as she could, she pulled a sweatshirt over her head and opened the door to head downstairs. She loved her old house, but winter mornings were definitely chilly.
In a daze, she started coffee in the old percolator, and once it was bubbling on the stove, she plopped down on the bench in the mudroom. Outside would be even more cold than upstairs, and she took in a deep breath, trying to collect strength to face the day.
The ancient sagging door creaked open, dropping a shaft of light into the barn. Ingrid, the favorite of her two alpaca’s, lifted her head and hummed good morning.
“It may be cold,” she mumbled as she reached for the pitchfork, “…but this is still my favorite way to start the day.”
My latest book, Love on the Line, is the story of Andy, a woman who chooses to work building a pipeline in the rugged mountains of West Virginia. Why did I write about this? I wrote it partly because I was inspired by the experiences of my own daughter who entertained me with many of her personal experiences as a pipeliner. But I also wrote it because I too chose to work in a male dominated field back in the day. Some of the struggles of women in these fields are upsetting, but many are inspiring and funny, thus perfect material for the kind of books I love to write. Just because not many women choose to do it, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done, right?
More than any time in recorded history, women are choosing to work in male dominated fields. Every day you come across a woman truck driver, firefighter, or pharmacist. And even though it’s become commonplace, many fields stick with their traditional titles such as policeman, draftsman, and even garbage man. Given this plus the infamous glass ceiling, why would a woman choose to spend their entire career fighting an uphill battle? There are a million reasons, but overwhelmingly, the answer I find is “because I want to” or “because the job appealed to me,” or “My dad and grandpa did it, why shouldn’t I?”
When was the idea planted for women to take the jobs they wanted, even if they were traditionally considered only suitable for men? Some would say with Eve, but both folklore and history are filled with women who not only worked at the jobs they pleased, they ruled societies: Joan of Ark and Cleopatra, to name a few. In Victorian times, women who wrote were forced to use a male pen name or work without recognition. But the women of my grandmother’s generation were forced to work at jobs considered appropriate only for men during world war II. They worked everywhere from factories to the fields. Sadly, after a taste of the liberation a paycheck affords a person, these women were expected to quietly step back into the kitchen once the men came home.
My mother’s generation, were blessed with not only their mother’s experiences, but all manner of modern conveniences which allowed them to clean and cook and generally care for their families in a fraction of the time it took their mothers. Many of these women took it upon themselves to “have it all” and step out into the working world, and not just as nurses and schoolteachers. Their bravery gave the women of my generation the encouragement and conviction that we too could plan a career. However, we quickly learned that we couldn’t be super mom and have a demanding and time consuming career without a shift in attitude, and this shift had to come from the men. The change had to happen not just because of the aforesaid glass ceiling on the job, but because we needed help at home.
Do I think only women who work have value, and somehow women who don’t work away from home are lesser somehow? Of course not! In my lifetime I have been a stay at home mom, a sick in bed mom, a full time student mom, an employed full time mom, and a retired mom. All of those words we put on women are pointless when you realize that we are in this together, and we should be supportive and understanding, no matter what roll you chose.
So, take a moment this summer to grab a copy of Love on the Line. Then curl up in a corner with a cup of coffee and prepare yourself for a heartwarming story filled with feminine strength, challenge, bravery, friendship, and romance.
Do you like romance novels? If so, do you like the story line where the poor sweet heroin needs to be rescued or saved by the handsome hero? I’ve read my fair share of these books, and sometimes they’re fun; especially on a hormonal day, or if you’re feeling vulnerable. but on the whole I want a story that feels bit more realistic.
Okay, granted, it’s a romance novel, so realistic isn’t going to happen per se, but I want to read about a woman who could be real. Someone I’d like to have coffee with, not a woman that wants to go in the dark basement, alone, with a killer on the loose. Nor do I want to read about a woman who needs (or wants) a man’s money.
Having said all that, what makes a female character in a novel more realistic? I’d say, first of all, she has to be at least a little bit moody, because lets face it, as women, we are a moody group. Not in a bad way, but in a keeping-things-interesting kind of way, right? And this woman needs to be able to change her mind for no sane reason, just because things aren’t feeling right. Then if she wants to, she can change it back!
Next, I like a woman with a plan. A lady who knows what she likes and needs, or at least thinks she knows. That is the fun part, because when it comes to romance, most of the time we are attracted to men who are not what we think we want or need, am I right?
And finally, I like to read about a woman who has to make allowances and let herself fall in love. She has to consider changing her career plans, or her financial goals, or she has to realize she has some hang-up that she needs to get over. Because let’s face it, that’s how love really works for women in this day and age. We have to face the fact that we will never fall in love with the perfect guy, at the perfect time, on our way to the perfectly planned ending. Love is messy and confusing and painful, in the most delicious sort of way. Love for ladies in the new millennium is gut wrenching, and tedious, and as wonderful as ever.
So here’s to romance novels with leading ladies who saves themselves, so they can ride happily into the sunset with a man they’ve never dreamed of!
As I prepare to launch my new romance novels, The Girl Power Series, it’s given me the opportunity to think about what it means to be a woman in the twenty first century. Women now days have endless lifestyle and career options, thanks to the strong and ingenious ladies of centuries past, but what do all the opportunities open to us really represent? How have the changing times altered women’s perceptions and concerns?
In the last two or three decades women face different obstacles than generations before, or do they? Surprisingly, I see my daughters struggling with some of the same issues that I stressed about. How can I afford to further my education? What types of work do I enjoy? What are my careers options? What type of relationships do I want? Do I want to have children, if so when? How will I manage birth control? Will my baby’s father/my partner stand by me and be a good provider of love, support, and time? Will I be able to manage relationships and my own needs? How will I manage a work schedule and family/relationships? Will my career path interfere with my relationships? I’m not sure if my mother or her mother worried as much about career options, but this meant they must have been much more stressed about their relationships and how the men/partners in their lives supported them and their children. Girls way back in my day were taught to have a career as a plan B, just in case things went south with their husband’s career. Now our careers are plan A.
If we have more possibilities these days, how has that affected us? Once again, the answer is a bit surprising because, from what I can see, one of the outcomes of having so many options seems to be added stress. Sure, I now have the ability and opportunity to become a neurosurgeon, but how will that choice cascade down through all my other concerns about relationships and family? Will I be accepted in that field as woman? Even though women now realize, and even envision, being better educated, well traveled, and making far more money than our mothers or grandmothers may have dreamed, that doesn’t make it any easier to do so while balancing the demands of a family. Plus, as we are learning, women’s health is a big part of being successful. And due to our unique and finely tuned balance of hormonal and feminine needs, it takes time, money, and effort just to stay healthy.
With all this in mind, I started writing The Girl Power Series. As with my other books, I like to find the humor we encounter along the way as we plod through life, career, family issues, and love, but I also enjoy writing about ladies who are learning about themselves as they go. Oftentimes, we women are our own biggest enemies when it comes to falling in love. Add the fun of dropping a strong-willed leading lady into a rewarding career that is still managed by the good-ol-boy network, and watch the sparks fly!
Enter Andrea, the main character in the first Girl Power novel Love on the Line. She can’t stomach even one more day of graduate school. She’s not sure what her problem is, but she knows she needs to get out of the classroom and into the world. Her estranged grandpa Buck as offered her the opportunity to join him engineering a pipeline through the mountains of West Virginia, so uncharacteristically, she takes the bait to try her hand at working in the untamed forest, also snagging the chance to learn more about the grandfather her mother despises. Follow Andy as she finds hidden inner strength, finds family secrets, and earns the respect of her coworkers in a wilderness where few women dare to venture. Laugh at her silly mistakes and cheer for her successes, as she finds her way in what has always been considered a man’s job. And I dare you not to fall for the cocky, handsome, hardworking-hunk of man who draws her eye.
Looking forward, I plan to continue the series with more stories about women finding a way to make their mark in unexpected places. If you have ideas of better yet, personal experience that would make a great story line for a book in the series, please send me a note. I’d love to create a fabulous and romantic tale based on how you survived and thrived in an ever-changing world!
When writing a conversation, how do you avoid overusing the dreaded “said” too many times?
Contriving conversation can be tricky. Your goal should be clarity, so the reader has a well-defined vision of who is speaking. No one likes to back track when reading a conversation, so the “said” word will inevitably happen. How to keep “said” at a minimum? Read on…
When I first decided to get serious about writing and take it up a notch from hobby to marketable novel, I did what most of us do. I bought a bunch of books about how to write books! Some of them were more helpful than others, but I’ll never forget the stickler who instructed “never use the word said”. He said it was lazy writing to rely on pointing back and forth between speakers. I was baffled. How could I write an entire novel full of spirited conversation and never write “said”? Confused, but undeterred, I gave it a shot.
The first suggested method I found was to write a character’s actions as they spoke. This is, by far, the most effective way to move the story along while people are talking. After all, most of us don’t freeze when we talk, we have to get things done. Especially with friends, family and coworkers, we chat while walking, over coffee, while driving, or thanks to speakerphone, doing just about anything. It’s also fun to write about that horribly inconvenient, worst possibly timed phone call as well. I try to not let my characters talk on the phone in the bathroom, however. Good taste and all that… But I digress.
By creating a scene of action, even something as simple as lifting a fork or frowning, you can portray an entire panorama while the characters talk back and forth. The story keeps bumping along and it helps to show how each character is responding to the information they are talking about.
Another important thing to remember, is that you need not note who is speaking each and every line of conversation. If you follow the rules of grammar, each return (or new line) will indicate a new speaker. This alone gives you a little go between without stating the speaker, especially if it’s quick, one line type, back and forth banter.
There are multiple replacement words for “said” as well. Some of my favorites are muttered and mumbled, maybe because it’s great fun to have conversations go awry, with one character or the other showing frustration. A good site to find helpful replacement words is https://letterpile.com/writing/400-Alternative-words-for-said.
Although repeating “said” over and over can get annoying, be careful when using an alternate verb, no matter how fitting. Many purists say it’s best not to substitute replacements, since readers don’t usually pay attention to “said” in the first place. In fact many grammar police argue that the word “said” effectively becomes invisible to readers.
If you do choose to use an alternative, be careful not to become too conspicuous. Substituting too many talking words can actually downgrade your writing and make it sound amateurish. To be on the safe side, many authors steer clear of using alternatives words, or use them very sparingly.
So, which is it then? Never use “said”, or never use an alternative? As with most things in life, I’ve found that striking a balance is best. Use it when needed for clarification, but don’t over use it. And be careful when replacing it. Read the conversation out loud to see if it sounds natural.
The above link to Letterpile.com offers several other solutions such as adverbs or phrases that emphasize how the person spoke, not just who was speaking. Once again, be careful when using words ending in ly as they are also on the hazard list, but that’s another blog all together.
Whatever route you decide to go when writing conversation, I wish you the best of luck. Keep it clean, make it feel real, and you can’t lose.
Love a good romance novel? Me too! Let’s take a look at those of us who buy, read and maybe even write romance novels, and see what makes us tick.
According to sources such as Romance Writers of America, Nielsen Books & Consumer Tracker, romance novels are a multi-billion-dollar industry, holding over thirteen percent of the literary industry total sales. Think about that for a minute. Cook books, self help, travel books, non-fiction such as biographies, current events, and history, crafting, religion, how-to books, all of those books and yet romance stands strong as an established market in the literary world. There must be something magical about a great romance to be so competitive, but then we knew that, didn’t we!
It probably comes as no surprise that eighty-four percent of romance novels are bought and read by women ages thirty to fifty-four, but it may surprise you to learn that fifty percent are still sold in paperback form, followed closely by e-books at forty percent. Or maybe it would shock you to learn that sixty-four percent of those ladies read more than one romance novel each month. Maybe not. I know most of my readers read my books within just a few days. We can all agree that nothing is as fun as a fantastic page-turner that you just can’t put down.
What are the top romance subgenres we love to read? It appears that no matter whether you like your books in print format or e-book, suspense is a key factor. We all want a happy ending, but we want a little anticipation as to how that will happen. The most popular subgenera type appears to be contemporary romance holding around fifty percent of the market, followed by a relative tie between historical romance and erotica. Paranormal, young adult and Christian romance hold their own as well, in the twenty to thirty percent range.
According to studies, we like to read about friends turned lover, soul mates facing their fate, second chance love, secret romance, and first love; in that order. We also want to read stories with strong hero and heroine leads, reunited lovers, love triangles, and of course, sexy billionaires. Again, no big shock there for those of us in the romance world.
What other types of books do romance reads like to buy? It appears that we also have a taste for mystery, general fiction, and cooking/food books. Want to feel old? Stats broken down by age show that a majority of older readers buy mysteries, and younger readers buy young adult and erotic fiction. Once again, not too shocking, especially for those of us inching up there in age, it just makes sense.
In this age of Amazon Prime, how do most romance readers purchase their books? According to the stats I found (some were admittedly a few years old) most of us still find books in bookstores, but more and more ladies are beginning to buy books online. Many of us still us the library, and a growing number of women are downloading books in e-book form. Some of us trade books we love with friends, relatives or book clubs, while some busy ladies are reading books on their phone. When I was a young mother I belonged to a book subscription and got books in the mail each month. That was always a happy day, followed by several days of ignoring housework. Now days we have the option to subscribe to e-books or audio books as well.
What makes us choose one book over another? According to most stats, we love a romance with a good story, followed by reading anything by our favorite author. Price and reviews come into play next, followed by reading books because they are a part of a series. The trailing reasons we select a book are the back cover blurb, cover art, social media recommendations, bargains, and endorsements.
What do you think is a fair price for a book? Pre e-book, the only free books I ever read were from the library, but now free books are everywhere. Even books that are normally priced, are sometimes offered free or for less than a dollar in e-book form. According to sources such as Amazon and Neilson, most of us consider six dollars a fair price for a romance novel. I know my novels are priced under five dollars in e-book format, but due to the price of printing, my paperbacks run closer to ten dollars. These days it’s hard to be competitive in the print market unless you are a traditionally published, well-known author.
So there you have it, the world of romance novels according to statistics. Does this agree with your preferences? How do you find good books and why do you choose the ones you read? I’d love to hear from you!
What makes a romance novel enticing? That is the million-dollar question.
Is it sexual tension, the act of love, the battle of the sexes, or the sweet tingle of attraction that draws your attention? The answer, of course, is as varied as the people who buy romance novels.
So how do you write a story that will appeal to the widest audience possible without leaving some readers wanting more, yet offending others? The answer is simple. You can’t.
Writing romance is all about finding a balance of passion and tension, and for most of us that means writing what we’d like to read. My first few novels were much steamier than they are now days, and I’ve wondered why that is. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and most of the heat I feel these days is hot flashes. Or maybe it’s because I know my mother will read my books. Either way, I’ve toned down the sex to focus more on why the characters are feeling attracted, charmed, or conflicted.
Let’s talk about those three issues, attracted, charmed, and conflicted. Of course most romantic relationships contain all three, but let’s break it down.
We all understand attraction. We feel it in the bakery at the grocery store and watching a commercial on TV. What is different about romantic attraction? First there’s the whole instinctual need for sex. That topic is universal and well documented. Some romance writers simply go with that. It’s real. It’s easy to tap into and describe. Some readers thrive on reading about it over and over. But there are other, deeper, reasons people are attracted to each other.
Having a basic understanding of human psychology helps nail down why one person may be attracted to another. I enjoy visiting my elderly neighbor because she reminds me of my mother. Is that attraction? Yes, but it’s not romantic attraction. It has been documented over and over that women may be attracted to a man because he either reminds her of her father and she misses that stability and love, or on the flipside, she is looking for the father figure she never had. This type of romantic relationship is fraught with turmoil because it’s unlikely that a woman will find the unconditional love and support of a father, from a lover.
Sometimes people are attracted to another person because they feel comfortable with them. This one idea alone can be a big enough conflict for a whole novel, because what is considered “normal” by some, may actually be violent, or neglectful to others. The relationship may not feel good, but it does feel like the relationships they are used to, and trying something different feels awkward. I personally like to write about overcoming that discomfort and finding a healthy connection, but many popular and angsty books have been written about unhealthy love affairs.
So what about charmed? This is also one of my favorite topics in romance. Charmed is fun, inspiring, and different for everyone. Some folks are charmed by humor, some by thoughtfulness, others by verbal communication. The book The five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, gave me inspiration for about a million love stories. For example, what happens when two people are attracted, but one is charmed by considerate actions like loading the dishwasher after dinner without being asked, but the other is fulfilled and delighted by lengthy deep discussions. Both are healthy desires in a relationship, but how do your characters find balance? One is busy in the kitchen to show their affection while the other feels neglected and bereft back at the table. Another example: A man spends an hour at the flower shop selecting the perfect mix of flowers to show his devotion, but when he comes home late, his lover is displeased that he was too inconsiderate to call and let her know. These healthy conflicts that are centered around the actions that delight and charm a character, to me, are perfect fodder for a great romance.
Last but not least is conflict. As discussed, both attraction and charm cause conflict, but some writers choose conflict alone as the basis for a love story. In some classic love stories the relationship is perfect, but the lovers are kept apart because of war, financial status, or family disapproval.
I chose to write about couples who are kept apart because of emotional reasons that they must find, confront, and alter. The realization and practice involved in this type of conflict is fun for me to twist and mold. I know from personal experience that realizing you have an issue, doesn’t fix it. You have to alter your thought processes and actions and work through changing in order to find a solution. The discomfort and confusion involved with altering your life is conflict enough for me.
To review, what do you find enticing about a love story? Is it the attraction of the characters to each other, the flutter of emotion and charm they find in the company of another person, or the conflict keeping them apart? Or like me, do you love all three?
Have you ever wondered how an author could contrive the colorful characters that draw you into a novel? How do these imaginary people, so full of life and personality, spring from nothing but an imagination? Sometimes characters aren’t even people, but beings from a realm you’d never imagined. How does one mind come up with such individuals? Although there are steps I take to create characters, the process can be both puzzling and surprising.
Some authors feel that their gift of creation is precarious, and if they rock the boat their ability to contrive characters will vanish. They think a jolt of any kind could shake loose their talent and leave them bereft. They carefully walk through life on eggshells, cautious not to alter their lifestyle for fear of losing their unique power. Other authors feel that their creativity springs from living a colorful and varied life; an existence filled with ever shifting perceptions and insights. I take a more middle of the road approach. My life of traveling in our RV is varied and colorful, yet each day I tend to have a similar routine. I certainly gear up to write in a comparable way each day. So what is the secret to unlocking the imagination doors of character development?
I’ve heard of authors who conceive a story in a flash, then closet themselves away for days or weeks, typing furiously until the whole thing is out. But I believe that far more of us agonize over our characters, some for months or years. We turn them this way and that in our mind, considering how they would respond to specific stimuli. What would they notice? How would they feel? Would they have a knee jerk reaction, then change their mind after a few moment of reflection, or hold stubbornly to their first impression? Would this character be a compilation of their experiences, always looking back for answers on how to move forward. Or is the character motivated by the need to feel free, resolute to never alter their course, because everything happens for a reason. Is my character motivated by guilt, or pleasure, or the need to please others? Is she closed off due to a past trauma, or motivated by a single goal. All these questions sound like a phycology class more so than a novel, but motivation is the driving force behind a character’s actions. Once you know the motivation behind a character you can begin to conceive how they respond.
Now you have a few character’s motivations established in your mind you can place them in a setting, confident that they won’t run-a-muck. Or better yet, maybe they will, to the delight and shock of the author. If you are lucky enough to contrive two characters with personalities that play off one another, you are in for a treat. With conflicting motivation running wild, anything can happen. These are the moments I love as an author. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been surprised and delighted by things my characters do or say.
Of course there are other things to consider when creating a character. What do they look like? Where do they live? How old are they? What language do they speak? And again, do these things effect their motivation?
I always ask myself “How can I create a three dimensional character that takes multiple factors into account for their day to day motivation.” I believe the fuller a character has been developed; the more readers will empathize and be drawn into the story. After all, humans are quite complicated creatures. Next I think “What would happen if this character is confront with their worst fear, or situations completely out of their control and comfort zone?” That’s right, what if I contrived scenarios to throw at the character knowing they will struggle to figure it out? Therein lies the best idea for a story.
Next time you pick up a novel, watch as the author develops the character. How do you learn what their motivation may be? Does it become clear through memories or conversation? Are you dropped into a scene where the character is thinking or acting a specific way? Are you clued in by their mannerisms or speech patterns? Sometimes you find out about a character by the way other characters respond to them. The best thing about writing and reading is that the possibilities for character development are pretty much endless…
I write romance novels. Sounds clear-cut enough, unless you’ve ever shopped for a romance novel, then you know better. Right off you notice that there are multiple sub-genres to consider, such as contemporary, western, erotica, gay, paranormal, regency, the list goes on and on. Perhaps the best place to start is a simple definition, so what does the word Romantic mean?
According to the dictionary, the word romantic is defined as everything from dreamy and impractical, to adventurous, dealing with sexual love, and down right imaginary. Sound vague enough? With a definition like that, who could possibly pin down what makes a book romantic? The answer is, of course, that romance means something different to everyone.
So why would an author want to spend years creating a novel that is likely to be considered “drab” by some and “complete trash” by others? Why open yourself to that kind of rejection and ridicule? Because romance is… irresistible. No matter your frame of mind on the subject, everyone loves a little romance.
To some people, romance is a quiet dinner in flickering candlelight, but to others it’s a modern sculpture that requires a tilt of the head and one’s imagination to sort it out. Some may crave the romance of a spectacular view including forests, or ocean, or mountains, while another may consider a cozy corner with a cup of steaming coffee and a cuddle with their cat romantic.
Perhaps the real question for any romance author is, “what do I find romantic?” Is it the touch of fingertips on bare skin? A whispering breeze? Goosebumps that follow a tender kiss on the neck? Roses delivered in a box? Riding on the back of a new lover’s scooter through the winding streets of Paris?
Once an author pins down what romance means to them, can they put it into words? Do I, as an author, want to express my most precious desires to the world, knowing my work will be reviewed, and most likely reviled by many? What am I willing to share?
For me the answer came down to relationships. Not just relationships between people, but how people relate to their environment, their jobs, and their situation. Most of my books are set at a transitional point for my leading ladies. A change is shifting their world, and as they struggle with the uncomfortable feeling of adjusting, I add a man to the mix. After all, isn’t that when the best romance finds us? When we least expect it, or even want it?
I decided early in my writing career that my heroines would never be saved by a man, but they would be strong, intelligent, capable and successful women in their own right, who are not at all sure how to fit a man into their life. So what’s romantic about that?
I’ve come to believe that romance can also be defined as that spark within us that is lit by something sweet, different, or intriguing; a puzzle, a moment that captures your full attention, a brief space of time where you feel something outside the norm. What could be more unsettling than thinking you have your act together, only to find your world tilting on it’s axis? These moments in life fascinate me, make me want to hide away with my laptop and tap furiously until a story is born. Perhaps romance, to me, is… writing.