Friday, September 25, 2015

Cover Reveal: Bastions of Blood

Here, finally, is the cover art for book 2 of my historical romance: Kremlins. The second installment is entitled, Bastions of Blood.

And yet another shout-out to the art department at Jolly Fish Press. They always do such a phenomenal job on the covers!

Inga has finally found the courage to engage in a relationship with Taras, the only man she’s ever loved, but the winter winds blow cold in Russia, and happiness is short-lived.  
On the heels of a triumphant victory, Tsar Ivan falls ill and nearly dies, followed by his beloved wife. Everyone knows that Anastasia’s influence on Ivan has been profound. Because she holds both the Tsar’s ear and heart, no one dares harm her. As her condition worsens, Inga sees glimpses of the sadistic creature Ivan was before he married, and knows things are about to become much worse.  
As Inga fears the future, Taras looks to the past, searching for the elusive answers to his mother’s death. As mystery piles upon mystery, and everyone refuses to talk, Taras begins to wonder if he’ll ever truly understand the event that has plagued him since childhood.  
As Ivan’s madness grows, he lashes out, and all of Russia feels the sting. Things darken in the Kremlin and the countryside fills with blood. Inga and Taras cling to one another to survive the new nightmare. If no one reins Ivan in, they may end up losing more than their lives.

What do you think of the Bastions of Blood cover?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

7 Tips for Making a Living With Your Writing

Dean Wesley Smith
(Picture Source)
So while at the LUW conference, I attended a class entitled, "How to Make a Living Off Your Writing" which was taught by Dean Wesley Smith. It was a double session and I was excited to hear what he had to say. 

As it turns out, Mr. Smith has been a working freelance writer since the seventies. He told us he has dozens of pen names, and most people who have read things he's written have no idea that he's the authors. But the world is changing and he had lots of great insights and tips.

Here are some of the things he had to say. 

If you want to make a living on your writing:

  1. Keep your expenses low and have as few as possible. 
  2. Productivity - defined as increasing the amount of product you put out over a given time. The more productive you are, the easier it is to make a living. This is definitely true. Though I'm not as productive as I'd like to be, I know the authors who make the most money are the ones who churn out ebooks every month or two.
  3. Write to your passion. Don't chase trends. By the time you do, they'll be over.
  4. Be a hybrid author. (Yea! Great to know I'm doing something right.) He said that the authors who are still here, writing and producing in twenty years will be the hybrid authors.
  5. Learn Business. I think this is a major problem for lots of authors today. They want to write, but don't want to learn how to market their books. Unfortunately, if you want to move books, you've got to be an enterpreneur today. Smith suggests we all learn cash flow (where the money comes from, where it goes, and how to cover expenses), cash streams (have multiple streams on each book/product and never look down your nose at even small ones), returns on investment (think long-term), and stay away from exclusivity (Exclusivity used to be big in the writing industry, but if you're thinking of your writing in the long term, exclusivity can work against you. Make sure you always maintain at least some rights to your books.).
  6. Everything is changing. We must keep up. It's part of the job!
  7. Continue to learn your craft. Always keep learning and become a better writer. The instant you say, I know everything about writing," you've just stunted your own career and your own potential. Entertainment has VALUE in our society. Take advantage of that, but never take it for granted.
Picture Source
He also said he thought people like editors and formatters, etc. are superfluous. Kind of like agents, now. It's just something else to pay for that you don't need. I thought that was interesting. I kind of liked it as I do a lot of that stuff myself. (I format my own ebooks and have a writing group that does the majority of my editing for me.) To be fair, he did say copy-editing and proofreading for errors is a necessity, but he was talking about having editors for story, character, plot, etc. Just thought it was kind of interesting. But as I don't actually (and never have) paid for that type of editing, I do kind of agree. :D Of course I don't do my own cover art and we all know that you need an awesome cover, but that's something you an hire out on a case-by-case basis. And if I really wanted to be independent, it wouldn't be hard to learn to do digital cover art so I could do my own. (Honestly, I probably won't do that. It would just take too much time and I have too much on my plate right now, but I'm open to it for the future.) The point is, in this new world of digital publishing, it's possible to learn to do everything for yourself. As long as the finished product is high quality, your book will sell. Just something to keep in mind. 

Some other great nuggets he had that I wrote down:

"Act like a writer, think like a publisher."
"Luck is not a business plan."

Picture Source
He was also very knowledgeable about the history of publishing. He talked about how everyone is so scared about the upheaval in the industry right now, but it's really not any different than what's happened in the past. He told stories about when printing first came about, when novels first were mass-produced, how back in the day, every author by definition was self-published. Our big publishing house model is actually a relatively recent (last 50-80 years, depending on how you look at it) thing. And this is just the cycle repeating itself again. I thought his stories were fascinating. 

I talked to him afterword and told him he should write a history of publishing. He seemed to consider it but said it would take a hella lot of work. I said I was sure it would, but I would totally read it. He kind of got this smile on his face and thanked me for the suggestion.

I don't know if he will, but I hope he does. Maybe only nerdy authors like me would be interested in reading that, but I'd totally be the first in line. He's the kind of guy that's a wealth of knowledge, only a portion of which has ever been written down.

So if you ever get the chance to meet or listen to Dean Wesley Smith, totally do it. He's a fascinating guy and very knowledgeable about the industry. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

4 Tips on Cutting Word Count for Short Stories

As most of you who read me regularly know, I'm a novel writer. I'm EXTREMELY long-winded and have a difficult time being concise. Because of that, I have a very difficult time writing short stories. I'm trying to remedy that, though. Trying to teach myself to be a better writer in that area.
A few months ago, one of my publishers, Jolly Fish Press, decided to do a Halloween, short story writing contest called Creative Frighting. I had to write a Halloween-themed story of 2500 words or less.

I came up with an idea and started writing it. I had a sneaking hunch my first draft would probably be too long and I'd have to make some painful cuts. Still, the final product was nearly 5000 words! Ahh!

Even after going through and cutting things that it horrified me (no pun intended) to cut, I was still well over 1000 words too long.

I turned the story over to my awesome writer's group. One gal in particular, Jernae Kowallis, made a lot of cuts. It was such a valuable lesson for me. Most of the stuff she cut was back story, internal dialogue, and other thought processes.

She said to me, (paraphrasing) "Don't do so much thought and internal dialogue. That's what novelists do. Show the actions of the characters, because that's all the words you'll have to use up. If you must explain the actions, try to do it through dialogue."
Even with her cuts I was something like 200 words over, but one of my other writer's group gurus, the fabulous Brianna Kent, suggested I cut out my entire beginning and start in the middle of the action instead of doing a scene before it. Awesome advice!

So, in short, my 2500-word horror story, which I entitled Wormwood Manor, turned out quite well. I was very proud of it, not necessarily because it was fabulous in and of itself, but because I'm so terrible at short stories, but managed to produce something that was actual a decent read. I didn't win the competition or anything, but I didn't mind that in the least. I got a lot of praise for my story and that kinda put me on top of the world. If you're interested in reading Wormwood Manor, click here.

So, here are some tips I've learned about short-story writing:

1) Stay away from internal dialogue and thought processes. Short stories just don't give you the word count to explore this. Stick to what actually happens in the story. (Of course there could be exceptions depending on what sort of short story you're writing, but again this is specifically to help get your word-count down.)
2) Always kill two or three or more birds with one stone. Use dialogue to show characterization, explain action and move the story along. If your piece is too long, try to make every three paragraphs you have into one. Feasibly, short story writing may be a longer process than novel writing, simply because you have to go back and deal with nuances in order to fit the parameters you're trying to meet. It's not like NaNoWriMo where you just type type along, all carefree and whimsical.

3) Change your mindset. If you're going to do ANY SORT of effective editing, you have to forget the crafty, stylistic part of your writing and change your mindset to cutting. I would suggest copy-and-pasting to a second draft, cutting with abandon, and then comparing the two and re-inserting any stylistic things you want to keep. You'll be amazed how much easier editing is if you just change your mindset.
4) Ask questions. Always ask, 'how does this help my story?' This is true of all editing, but especially short stories. Is it absolutely necessary to have in the story? If the answer is yes, then keep it. Straight up. Don't cut so much that you do your story or your characters a disservice. But, if the answer is no, then the next question to ask is, how can I show this in a more concise way or combine it with another element to cut down on word count.

It may sound complicated, but we're writers, aren't we? We're professionals. We do these things and do them well because other people in other professions can't. Trust me, if you just put your mind to it, you can cut the words and still end up with a pulitzer-worthy story. No one said it would be a cake-walk, but practice makes perfect and it is MORE than doable.

How about you? Do you have any short-story-writing tips?
Also, if you liked this post, check out Allan Douglas's Four Flash Fiction Fixes. I got a lot out of that post.

12 Tips for Handling Cliches in Writing

Picture Source
Clint Johnson also talked about cliches at the LUW conference and had some great insights. I thought what he had to say was worth sharing.

First let's define what we're talking about here.

Cliche: A pattern of meaning that loses meaning through repetition rather than gaining meaning. When you see a part of the pattern, you can predict the whole, and that prediction detracts from the impact.

A couple of things to consider:
  • Patterns of any size and/or complexity can become a cliche. 
  • Believe it or not, a cliche is not defined strictly by how often it is used. It's defined by how often an audience is exposed to it. So to avoid cliches, you MUST understand your audience. 
  • Understand that we, as human beings use and gravitate toward cliches because they are associations that make sense to us. They're familiar and comforting. But of course they become a liability in our writing.
Picture Source
Cycle of Cliche Formation - We'll use an obvious example: Twilight.

  1. Innovation - The first time someone associates the cliche. (Example: Twilight, the first time anyone described vampires as sparkly, unavailable romantic figures, hits the air waves).
  2. Adoption - The idea is adopted by others and begins to proliferate. (Twilight becomes more popular.)
  3. Saturation - When the cliche has reached it's limit for finding a new audience. (Everyone has read or at least heard in detail of Twilight.)
  4. Satirization - The only way to make it effective again is to make fun of it. (Vampires Suck, anyone? Also more general stuff like pop culture jokes, SNL, etc.)
  5. Rejection - It's so ubiquitous that you can't even make fun of it anymore because the jokes are old and dry, and no one wants to hear even them anymore. (This is pretty much the stage we've reached with Twilight, now. Everyone is sick of hearing about sparkly vampires.)
  6. Reinvention - Will take the cliche and do something different with it that blows people's minds and the cycle begins again. (Not sure we've reached this with vampires in general, but Fifty Shades of Grey, which started as Twilight fanfic, could qualify.)
So this is the general cycle of cliches. By knowing it, you can use it to adopt, avoid, or make good use of cliches. 

Picture Source
Techniques for Avoiding Cliches:
  1. Understand the difference between a trope and a cliche. A trope should increase the experience. Because a trope has been used before, it adds to the way you use it, which is opposite of a cliche, where the prediction diminishes the impact. Example: love triangles. Really, because we're all different people depending on who we're with, what we're really asking a potential heroine to do is choose who she's going to be. So if you have well-rounded, three-dimensional characters and situations that haven't been done a million times, a love triangle is actually NOT a cliche. The idea of the love triangle becomes a trope and enhances the story. However, if the characters have been done (they just so happen to be a lot like Edward Cullen and Jacob the werewolf) or the plot/world/scenes have been done a million times, then it becomes a cliche VERY quickly.
  2. Be Specific. Specificity forces the characters, through conflict, to reveal who they are. If they feel like real people then you've been specific enough to use the trope without it being cliched. 
  3. Don't use archetypes in drafting. Only in revision. Figure out your story first, then you can go back and decide if and how you want to use any possible tropes or cliches that pop up.
Techniques for using cliches to your benefit:
  1. Repackage the cliche for an audience that hasn't been exposed to it. Example: Prior to Twilight, the only people reading vampire lit were those who liked the horror and high sexuality of Ann Rice. Vampires had never been pitched to teen girls before. And boy did that repackaging have some success.
  2. Use cliches to inform the audience about your characters. Anyone who uses a lot of cliches in their dialogue or narrative thoughts automatically comes across as having a lower IQ than those who don't. So you can use it as a character-builder.
  3. Keep in mind that the younger your audience, the more you want to use cliches. If you're writing for children, you SHOULD be using cliches. They're too young to have been overly exposed to them yet and the cliche itself will teach them about the world. 
How do you take cliches into consideration in your writing?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

11 Tips for Formulating a Powerful Premise

Picture Source
So this also comes from the LUW conference, specifically from Clint Johnson, who is a fantastic speaker and writer. I actually went to two of his classes and was greatly enlightened by both of them. 

Actually, I think he said some of the most powerful, memorable things I heard at the conference. 

"Originality is the sum total of a man's thinking or his writing."

So he talked about how the brain works and what is actually happening in our brains chemically when we come up with a new writing idea. He says that when we think of something, our brain recognizes it as something alien; something we never thought of before. Almost instantly there's the maybe-that's-a-stupid-idea-and-no-one-else-will-like-it backlash. But that's just because it went from being new and alien to us, to being something our brain recognizes now as part of our universe. 

"The fact that you want to tell a story means that it's a story worth telling. There are no stupid premises."

We also all know that there's no such thing as an original story. All stories can be boiled down to their component parts and really there's only something like six individual stories. The rest is all in the details, the world-building, the characters, and the overall execution of the premise. 

"Law of the Premise: Success is a matter or execution, not premise."

Formula for a Powerful Premise:

Specific + Authentic + Meaningful = Powerful Premise

Specific: Refined to a the particular, rather than the generic. God is in the details, people.

Authentic: Reflects lived emotional reality. You know that saying, "write what you know?" Clint talked about it and I agree with what he said. "Write what you know" is a good place for first time authors to start, but more seasoned writers will branch out to write what they don't know. It's a natural part of the creative process. So how do you still make it authentic? By extrapolating emotions from the reality you HAVE lived and infusing them into the fiction that you haven't. If you can do this, you can make your story feel as real as if you really had lived it, whether it's a coming of age story, a murder mystery, or a world full of dragons and warlocks. 

Meaningful: Write what you care about. It will come through your writing and grip people. If you don't care, they won't either. 


11 Points for Where/How to Find Good Premises

1. A premise starts as a seed. Just a thought. It simply what stands out to YOU, what is meaningful, and what you care about. Record these stray thoughts as they may develop into compelling premises.

2. A good premise is made up of several seeds all put together. Look for patterns, rather than points, and don't rush the formulation of a premise. (Sources can include: life's meaning, otherness, paradoxes, etc.)

3. Craft your story BEFORE writing. 

4. Invest time in your creative thinking. Even if you don't hit word count, don't be negative. Judgement and creativity come from opposite sides of the brain. Too much judgement strangles creativity. (I'll talk about an exercise for this below.)

5. Build a base that's specific, authentic and meaningful. Only once you have this should you start writing.

6. At some level, even if it's unconscious, every story is character-driven. The soul of your story is about the emotional change of your characters from beginning to end. 

7. Don't struggle with whether it may or may not be good. Clint talked about the "inevitability of disappointment." Basically at some point we'll all doubt our stories and whether they're good enough. That doubt will keep you from writing; will keep you from completing your story and reaching your goals and dreams. (Basically, tell the Inevitability of Disappointment to go to hell, and keep writing.)

8. Identify themes and archetypes AFTER your first writing and flesh them out in revision drafts. Theme is an emergent property and will reveal itself as you kick out your story. Not before. (I actually do a presentation on Plot Points. I'm a major believer in plot points, but I do agree with Clint that they are more useful as tools AFTER the story has been crafted, rather than a template to use to craft the story. If you use them that way, you may well end up writing to a cliche, which is not a good thing.)

9. Craft your story AFTER writing. Now, #3 says before, which is the opposite of this. Just do it again. Get your story written, then identify themes and archetypes, and use plot points to craft your story after you have the initial draft kicked out. Continually craft your story until it is awesome.

10. Make the story more of what it is. Identify strengths and weaknesses. Have you ever heard doctors or dietitians say that, when someone has high cholesterol, it's actually more effective to up their good cholesterol than to lower their bad? Well it's true. Improving the good is actually more effective for overall health than just blocking out the bad. That's true of all things in the universe. So by all means, compensate your story's weak points. But it'll be even more effective to make your strong points stronger. 

11. A great premise is the product of man premises, so produce A LOT of them. Embrace and gather every idea.

In closing, let's talk about an exercise for coming up with premises. This is something Clint had us do and it was so effective for me that I've been practicing it with my own stories regularly ever since. It's kind of a Stream-of-Consciousness Creative Flow. 

So basically he just told us to start writing whatever came into our heads. Go from subject to subject, association to association and just let the words/ideas flow. Don't think too hard. Don't reject anything. Just write as much as you can as fast as you can. Time it. When you're done, extrapolate your premise or plot from your thoughts.

I've started doing this even for things like writing chapters. I know the general things I want to have happen in a chapter, but I do this exercise where I just write and let things flow for anywhere from 5-20 minutes. By the time I'm done, I have enough on the page to write up a detailed outline of the chapter. This can also be done for fleshing out characters, backstories, fantastical worlds, or entire premises. 

Try it. It's very effective!

Anyone have any other thoughts on crafting premises?

Monday, September 14, 2015

13 Points for Making Magic Believable

So two weeks ago now I attended the LUW conference. One of the classes I went to was Maxwell Alexander Drake's "Making Magic Believable." Now, Drake is usually there and I try to attend one of his classes because he's such a great presenter and so knowledgeable about writing in general. You're sure to get an hour of entertainment as well as great information that will get you all pumped up to write. I didn't remember ever having gone to this particular class (as it turns out, he'd never taught it before, so that's why :D) but I'm still puttering around with my Dragon Magic script, hoping to have a finished product by the end of the year.

Honestly, the magic system is the thing that's holding me up. So this class was perfect for me, no?

So here are some tips for making magic believable via the wonderful Maxwell Alexander Drake. (Visit his website at for more writing info. He generally has worksheets of his classes you can download under MAD Writing Lessons.)

Okay, so he starts out by saying this: 

If science fiction can be defined as making the improbably possible, then fantasy can be defined as making the impossible probably.

Role of Magic in Fantasy Stories:

  1. It is a distinction of the genre - any genre with magic is automatically considered fantasy.
  2. Adds an expected element - I thought that was interesting. You would think it would add an unexpected element, but nope. Readers of fantasy expect this and will look for it.
  3. Enhances discovery of the story - readers will quickly get to know your world, your characters, and your story through the magic system you present. 
  4. Helps facilitate the narrative - Ditto #3
  5. Is visually appealing - Yeah this is one of my problems. Often my magic systems aren't visual enough. It's something I have to work on. 
  6. Provides a source of conflict - And we can all use more of that in our stories, right?
Warning: Magic general has to do with controlling the elements and/or supernatural powers, but the magic should never be your end game. The magic should only be used to enhance the human elements of your story!

13 Points to Include in Your Magic System:

  1. Magic must fit the feel of your story: so a dark, tragic story should have dark, tragic magic. A happy, fun story should have magic to match.
  2. Choose your magic level:  A. Ambiguous (has no/few rules and can make up a rule any time the story needs one) B. Defined (detailed rules and boundaries and consistent, logical consequences). C. Semi-defined (something in between or a mashup of the two). 
  3. Abilities: decide how you want your magic to affect your plot, then decide what your magic can do.
  4. Limitations: these are things the magic CANNOT do and they're often more interesting than the abilities. They'll be your character's/magic's weaknesses. Having limitations will help to keep you from using magic as a crutch every time you get into a bind with your plot. It will also make the system more believable. The limitations of the magic should force your characters to overcome obstacles. It will keep your characters three dimensional.
  5. Weaknesses: these are things that can be exploited, allowing the story to remove your characters' magic. Be careful not to overuse weaknesses, as they quickly become cliche. 
  6. Costs: a negative consequence for using the magic. Adding this adds dimension to your story. The reader will see real world consequences for things that are happening. The cost should be great enough that your readers either 1) struggle with the character's questionable decisions or 2) they become connected to the characters in a more visceral way. The readers should either love or hate the characters (heroes and villains alike. :D).
  7. Make
    it visual:
    There should be a wonderful, exciting thing to describe each time the magic is used.
  8. Quality over quantity: too much can over burden the narration.
  9. World Building: Extrapolate from the magic. So, "what happens when..." It can help you round out your world. 
  10. World Building: Diversify the magic. Use it in new and different ways (have the characters figure out how because people are innovative and inventive) rather than adding new stuff.
  11. World Building: Interconnect everything. When a magical tool is discovered, it will be used by all of society in any way they can. (Think of how cell phones have saturated our society.)
  12. Define Magic's Origins: even if you never tell your readers where it came from, you, the author, should definitely know.
  13. Don't break your own rules: It actually can be done, but there must be a solid, believable, plot-driven reason for doing it or else you'll lose your readers' trust. 
So I am actively applying all of these to my WIP to flesh out my magic system. I hope this is helpful for everyone else too. 

Anyone have any more tips on making magic believable?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Funnies #7

Welcome to Friday Funnies! Because everyone needs a good laugh on Friday.

(All pictures can also be found on my LOL Pinterest Board or my Geektastic Board.)






Hope everyone got a good laugh out of one of those. Have a great weekend! :D

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Using the 12 Steps of Intimacy for Non-Physical Romances

Picture Source
I guess this week I'm focusing on romance, though I honestly didn't plan it that way. After writing Monday's Post, 4 Tips for Writing Better Romance, I started looking for pictures to use in the post. My first thought was Pride and Prejudice. Classical romance, right? But then I realized that the post was about the progression of physical intimacy, and because of the writing constraints of her day, Jane Austin really didn't use physical intimacy at all. In fact, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy don't even kiss until their wedding day. So I figured it might not be the best example for that post, despite the fact that it's one of the most well-known, classical romances in literary history. (I used a P&P pic anyway, but only because it showed something else I was talking about. :D)

So then that got me thinking about people who don't write racy scenes. I write romance in, and I'll do a love scene every once in a while, but I keep it at a PG-13 rating. Of course YA is all the craze right now, and as a genre, generally those writers need to keep it at a similar rating. And then of course middle grade on down rarely has overt romance, but could you write, say, a young, puppy-dog type romance, with almost no physicality to it, but still use Linda Howard's 12 step progression?

I think you can. But it's trickier. And requires deeper thought. So lets go through this.

1. Eye to body contact.
2. Eye to eye contact.
3. Voice to voice contact.

Okay, chances are these three things will remain largely the same in any relationship because 1) they don't require actual, physical contact between two people. And 2) because this could be the start of any kind of relationship, not necessarily a romantic one.

4. Hand to hand contact. 

Now this one depends on what you're writing. If you want a physical connection but want to keep it PG-13 or even PG, this one's still okay. But what if you're writing, say, a romance where two people are too shy or in some way unable to have a normal romance. Could you convey step 4, a progression in intimacy, in some way other than have them actually touch or hold hands?

I think you could do this through dialogue or how these characters interact (other than physically). So perhaps they could just talk with one another and reveal something about themselves that most people don't know. This shouldn't be something super-secret or super personal. This is just the hand-holding step after all.

5. Arm to shoulder contact.
6. Arm to waist contact.

Same things apply here as apply to #4. Just come up with more personal things for your characters to reveal to one another that doesn't include physical contact. Of course you can use the plot/world of your story to help with this stuff. Depending on why you're staying away from the physical aspects of the romance and exactly what your characters interactions consist of is what will affect what they reveal and how/why they reveal it.

7. Mouth to mouth contact. 

So the one thing that would be different about this step from the previous three is that the characters must reveal or share with each other something that they not only they haven't shared with others, but something they specifically wouldn't share with anyone other than the other person in the romance. Because let's face it: personal things can be revealed in non-romantic relationships. But you wouldn't romantically kiss someone you have a non-romantic relationship with. So this has to be something that would ONLY be revealed to them.

(I know this is vague, but the details will depend entirely upon your characters, your story, your plot, and your world.)

8. Hand to head contact.

This one, again, must be something that would only be revealed to the specific person in the romance, but it can be deeper, or just a further branch off of #7.

9.-12. These become even trickier when we aren't talking about physical contact. I'm not entirely sure intellectual sex is a thing. But this is a great opportunity to get creative. Is there some way to represent emotional or intellectual consummation of the relationship? Well that depends entirely on you and your story. You may not even need to take it this far. If you're writing YA or middle grade, you may just get to step 7 or 8 in the emotional progression and leave it at that at the end of your story.

So I'm not sure if this makes sense to anyone. My point is that the 12 steps of intimacy can be used in a symbolic way to show the progression of a relationship, even if you're not dealing with the physical side of things.

Just something I was thinking about.

(Creds to Linda Howard for the 12 Steps of Intimacy.)

Has anyone ever used a progression like this for intellectual romance?

Monday, September 7, 2015

4 Tips to Writing Better Romance

So this past weekend, as I do every year, I attended the League of Utah Writer's annual fall conference. This conference is always great, which is why I always go. They have fantastic classes, I get to network with other authors, sell a handful of books, etc. I even taught a class myself this year. So, as per usual, you'll probably see a few conference-inspired posts over the next couple of weeks.

So on Friday when I got there, the first thing I did was go and set up my author's table, piling books, bookmarks, cards and other swag all over it. The woman at the table next to me was Amy Jarecki. I'll admit that I didn't particularly recognize her, but her name sounded familiar to me. She, on the other hand, said she recognized me, and asked if we'd ever met. Neither of us could remember a particular time, but we both attend this conference regularly and figured that must have been it. (The next day she figured out a specific time she remembered me from. It was a workshop we both attended a few years before. I still didn't remember her specifically (I felt so bad!) but I did remember the workshop.)

Anyway, we hit it off and started talking. She is actually a VERY successful romance author. Now, I don't read or write genre romance, but I quickly realized that this woman knows how to sell her books. So I picked her brain about it, and she was more than happy to share with me. I was so stoked! So, the next day, when I was trying to decide which class to attend during a certain hour, I decided to attend hers. 

It was, of course, on writing better romance relationships. And since I--and most authors--have romance in their stories, even if they don't write genre romance, I figured, why not? Oh I was so glad I did! I learned so much! 

So I give full credit for these tips to romance author Amy Jarecki (check out her website HERE) and to Linda Howard for the steps of progression. 

4 Tips for Writing Better Romance

Source Hawkeye and Cora, The Last of the Mohicans

1. Create plenty of conflict within the romance
     A. The two characters at the center of your romance should have opposing goals (external

     B. They should also have opposing emotional life paths (internal conflict)

Source Can anyone name this couple?
2. Define your characters' personality types. Amy suggests a book called Are You My Type? Am I Yours? by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele. This book goes into detail about the nine personality types. There are plenty of personality systems you can use. Pick your favorite and use it actively. It will enhance your characters and their interactions with one another and deepen the reality of your story.

3. Remember the power of FEAR. Plot out your characters' actions, reactions, motivations, goals and conflicts in detail. Of course we want to do this with every character and story even if romance isn't involved. But the main reason people don't get what they want right away in a relationship or claim love the instant it strikes them is because of fear. So this should be a dominant emotion in your romance arc. 

Source Kate and Sawyer of Lost
4. Keep in mind Linda Howard's 12 Steps to Intimacy. This is just a logical progression to physical human intimacy. It's not rocket science or anything, but it's something to keep in mind when crafting a relationship. It basically describes the steps people go through in their physical relationships.

     1. Eye to body contact. (Basically just checking one another out.)
     2. Eye to eye contact. (If no romantic sizzle at this point, then the relationship will not progress to romance.)
     3. Voice to voice contact. (Being flirty. :D)
     4. Hand to hand contact. (First real fear is often felt here, but it's a major turning point in the relationship.)
     5. Arm to shoulder contact. (She demonstrated this as putting arms around each other, but I really think it could be any contact that's between hand to hand and full body. Just leaning arm to arm could qualify, in my opinion.)
     6. Arm to waist contact. (A bit more intimate than arm to shoulder.)
     7. Mouth to mouth contact. (Ah, first kisses.)
Source Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
8. Hand to head contact. (This one was interesting to me because touching someone's head can actually be more intimate than kissing, depending on the kiss. I just never really thought about that before. Interesting.)

     9-12. From there we get more intimate touching, including hand to body, mouth to breast, hand to genitals and genitals to genitals.  Whether you explore those depends on what kind of novel you're writing. Most romance novels are pretty racy. For me, I generally don't do that much detail in a love scene. (And obviously these steps weren't something anyone attempted to demonstrate in a writing workshop. :D)

So that was the gist of it. Follow those four tips and your romance--be it the entire crux of your novel or just a side plot--will be deeper, more real and more compelling.

(Btw, the unnamed couple in the second picture is Beth and Daryl of The Walking Dead. :D)

Anyone else have any tips for writing great romance?