Thursday, May 31, 2012

What Sparks Your Creativity?

There are many things that can switch on a writer’s creativity bulb and they are as varied and unique as a writers’ personality. My creativity is often switched on more often than I would like. J I can watch the most inane movie that I don’t even enjoy and always be sparked with some idea or “oh I could write a story about that.” I’m that weird.

So what sparks your creativity? Here’s my list (in no particular order.)

1 – Classical music.

2 – A sermon or devotion. (Yes, I’ve filled my sermon notebook with ideas before J)

3 – A sigh worthy love story movie.

4 – BBC dramas.

5 – Strange people I see in Walmart.

6 – Reading biographies about historical figures.

7 – Walking through the countryside. (Would be even more inspiring if I lived in Yorkshire. LOL.)

8 – Current events. (One of my novels was inspired by a character in a classic novel and a current headline.

9 – Jane Austen.

10 - Doing dishes and laundry.

11 – Art museums.

12 – Pictures of my characters.

13 – Stately palaces in England.

Your Turn – What sparks your creativity? Where did the inspiration come for the last scene you wrote, come from?

 Happy Writing,

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Edits: A love and hate relationship

This week I’m working on editing a novel I thought was finished. Thought.
I was wrong. After talking with crit partners about several problem areas, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to cut at least 20,000 words and do a pretty extensive rewrite.

So much for being finished.

I’ve spent the past couple of days re-writing an entirely new plot and chapter outline and am now ready to dive into edits. Admittedly, I’m nervous about cutting 20,000 words that I thought only weeks, were pretty good. I know that the final product will be much improved. With that in mind, I’m diving ahead knowing that I’ve done it before and can do it again.
When editing keep in mind the following:

1 – The delete button is not your enemy – It may seem this way, but in reality it’s not. Hacking away mercilessly at once treasured words and phrases, but after a second look are really cliché or overused. Cutting scenes that seemed great when first written, but are now drivel. This is the tool that makes for great writing. Think of it as tightening up your script, as they do in film. For things I just can’t bear to cut I put them in a separate document to possibly be used later. For this huge edit, I’ve saved an original copy of the full novel before editing, so it’s all there if I ever need it.
2 – Talk over major plot changes – While I was mulling over the changes that needed to be made, I chatted with one of my crit partners and explained what I thought was lacking. Together we brainstormed and came up with an amazing idea, which will make the novel much better. When I bounce ideas off someone else, I’m always able to come up with something better. My crit partners are amazing!

3 – Print off a hard copy – Often, when I read my novel as a hard copy, I gain a whole new perspective on the work. Seeing the work on paper, instead of on a computer screen, helps pinpoint areas I might have missed and I can jot down ideas in the margin as I go.
Edits are not always fun. In fact, cutting and rewriting can be downright painful. Yet the final product is always worth the effort and without a well-edited manuscript, it’s unlikely the novel will attract agent and editor interest.

Wish me luck this week as I delve into edits and remake my novel into what I hope will be something better than it was originally.
Happy Writing and Editing,

Your Turn – Do you enjoy edits? Any tips you can share that makes the process easier? I look forward to your comments!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Engaging Emotions

The past two novels I’ve read have been about the real life romances of historical characters. One was the debut novel of talented author Alexa Schnee, Shakespeare’s Lady. The other was a historical novel by Diane Haeger, about the secret wife of George IV. Both novels ended, ironically enough, with the heroine visiting the hero while he was on his deathbed. Needless to say, they were bittersweet and left the reader feeling slightly sad. At least I was.

Although you might not want to end with a tear-jerker deathbed scene, your novel should be full of emotion. Jam packed with it. Every emotion possible. Engage your reader  through their emotions and your novels will earn a permanent place on their keeper shelf.

Here are a few tips.
1 - Don’t be afraid to let your characters suffer and suffer a lot. This is what makes for good writing. Both novels above covered a wide scope of emotions and feelings and covered them well. If a chapter doesn’t leave you feeling something, cut it. Hopefully you still have some chapters left when you’re done.

2 - Give your novel a bittersweet ending. Although in some genres, a happy ending is a must, it doesn’t have to be Pollyannaesque. For example, in a category romance, the main characters’ story must end happily, but the secondary characters’ romance doesn’t. I would love to write a novel where the hero and heroine’s story doesn’t end happily. Blame it on all those Edith Wharton novels I read.

3 – Make your happy ending well deserved. Before you give your novel a happy ending make sure the characters have been tormented to the fullest. There’s nothing worse than reading a novel and when it ends, realizing the ending wasn’t moving. Often the reason is due to the fact that the characters haven’t endured enough trials to get to the place they are at the novel’s end.

To engage the reader’s emotions, yours must be engaged as well. Now I admit, I don’t laugh and cry throughout every single scene I write, but there are those scenes where I’m doing both. My characters are as real to me as the actual people I live with, and to hear me talk, you’d think they were. J
Try an experiment. Ask your critique partners, beta readers, etc. what they are feeling while reading your novel. Hopefully, they don’t say ‘nothing’. This will clue you in to those areas where the emotion you want is coming across and to those where it is lacking.

In a nutshell. If your characters aren’t suffering, and you aren’t suffering right along with them, chances are the reader won’t be turning pages

Happy Writing,

Your Turn –Have you had any extremely emotional reading experiences? What techniques did the author use?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reading Writers

Writers love to read. Their love of words is often one of the reasons they become writers. They love falling into the fictional dream, immersing themselves in the lives of characters and wondering how the plot will turn out.
Often what they love to read is what they love to write as well. I don’t think I could write a book I would hate reading. I just wouldn’t be passionate about it.  

For example, I enjoy reading historical romance. That’s also what I enjoy writing and can’t really picture myself writing in any other genre. I love learning about by-gone eras and different ways of life, adding characters and plots into the mix. Those who write Contemporary, Speculative, Young Adult, and all other genres, I’m sure feel the same.

Yet should writers only read what they write?
No. Although probably at least 80% of the novels I read are historical romance, if an author reads only in the genre they write in, their work has a tendency to stagnate. Without a broad spectrum of genres, styles, etc., an author might find their work tending towards cliché. When I read something different than the norm for me, it provides a different perspective on writing in general. Style, after all, is style, no matter what the genre.

For example, I might read a couple of historical romances, then switch to a classic, then perhaps read something research related, such as a biography.
Here are a couple of tips to expand your reading repertoire.
1 – Check bestseller lists – Although, as many of you will agree, not all novels that make it to the bestseller lists deserve to be there, many of them are extremely well-written. While reading these analyze what made the novel so popular. What worked for you and what didn’t? There are always novels that are making the rounds and it seems everywhere they are being talked about. For example, The Help, or The Hunger Games, both of which have been quite popular as of late. I’m not implying reading everything that hits the bestseller lists, however, choose a few novels that you might not ordinarily pick up. You will find this can boost your own writing.

2 – Read the classics – Although I tend to gravitate towards the newer novels, when I want a quick easy read there is so much depth and value in classics, that I try to read one every month or so. Recently, I finished Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and loved it! Although not all the fiction techniques that she used may be permissible in today’s market, such as the long descriptions and chapter upon chapter of monologue, I’ve never read a classic and not gleaned something that helped me in my own writing.
3 – Try a new author – Recently, I’ve been trying several new historical authors and although not everything has been to my taste, I’ve enjoyed analyzing different styles and plots. Sometimes, when I’m looking for something new to put on my TBR pile, I just do an Amazon search, such as “Regency Historical Romance” and see what new authors this turns up.

Reading is one of the best ways, in fact the best way, in my opinion, to learn about writing. I always try to have at least one book on hand. I’ve found that when I don’t read, my writing tends not to have the same quality it does when I’m reading a good piece of fiction. It’s also a great way to come up with story and plot ideas.
So what are you waiting for? Read a book, or two, or twenty! Your readers will thank you!

Happy Writing and Reading,


Your Turn – Let’s talk books. What have you been reading lately that you’ve enjoyed? Do you tend to read only what you write or do you like to switch it up?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hands On – Using Research to Enrich Your Historical

This past weekend my family and I took a trip down to the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit Michigan, where they currently have an exhibit about the Titanic. I am a HUGE Titanic fan and jumped at the chance to go see it. They had a replica of the Grand Staircase, passenger staterooms and hallways, plus a ton of artifacts. As many of my novels are set in the late 1800’s, the whole experience was like a trip back in time. While there, I kept thinking that such and such a character might have used something similar to what they had at the exhibit and was very inspired by the whole experience. Along with that, we toured the rest of the museum which included displays on the early days of motorcars, antique furniture (including desks owned by Mark Twain and Edgar Allen Poe), the chair Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in, and George Washington’s camp bed. It was a historical writer’s heaven and I took a couple pages of notes on things I could use in current and future WIP’s.
All this led got me thinking. Thus, the topic of this post. Nothing beats hands-on research! Sure you can read a ton of books on the subject, but the more authenticity in your research, the better.

One of my dreams is to take a trip to England, which is where most of my books are set. Yet for now that’s not in the immediate future, so how can I add that authentic flavor? Here are a few tips on conducting hands-on research, without traveling across the ocean.

1 – Visit a Museum – Although a trip abroad or a trek across the United States might not be a possibility, usually a helpful museum can be found without driving more than a few hours. It might not be exactly similar to your novel’s setting, but any museum dealing with the 1800’s can provide authenticity for your historical. Also, for those of you who write Western or prairie set fiction, going to a miniature pioneer village can be great. Perhaps you can see a bonnet that your heroine would have worn or watch a sawmill in operation, similar to the one your hero works at.  
2 – Reenactments – This past fall, I attended a Civil War/Gilded Age ball and learned about ten or fifteen dances from those eras. I also wore a dress, hoopskirt, and corset. Through doing the dances and wearing these clothes, it gave me a whole different perspective on life in a bygone age. Just wearing the clothes made me hugely sympathetic and very envious of my heroines, who get to dress that way every day. J There are various reenactments, balls, etc. all over the United States and going to one of them might be just the prep for writing the gala event in your current WIP. Here is a link to some historic dances that take place in Michigan. You can google to look for similar opportunities in your area.

3 – Movies – Perhaps not as hands-on as the previous events but films can provide insight into the world of your characters, complete with costumes, food, dialog, etc. Sometimes while writing, I stop and turn on a particular movie or miniseries to answer questions about minor details such as the kind of floor commonly found in a servants’ hall. Although it’s wise to double-check on the authenticity of any fact, I’ve rarely found huge discrepancies. 
So there you have it. Ways to add authenticity along with the standard book and documentary approach, both of which I use quite frequently. When you want to shake things up or add a new dimension to a particular scene, one of the above avenues can prove immensely helpful.

Happy Writing,


Your Turn. Have you ever traveled to the location of your novel(s)? Any tips for hands-on research?