Creative Writing

14 Mar 2017: The five page “How do you do?”

Here’s the seventh installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

7: The five page “How do you do?”

A huge pet peeve of mine is piles of interior monologue in the middle of a conversation between two characters, especially if that interior monologue has nothing to do with the scene at hand.

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If your characters are exchanging dialog, don’t be rude to them and have one of the characters in the conversation go off on a tangent of a long interior monologue about something or another.  I’ll give you an example of what I’m talking about:

He looked my way and smiled.  “How do you do?” he asked as he extended he hand my way.  Taking it I felt his firm grip and the veins that corded the back of his hand. His hand was strong and held the promise of things to come.

“It’s nice to meet you,” I replied even though I knew it was a boring thing to say.

Ignoring my lame reply, he smiled. “How about dinner tonight at the restaurant downstairs?”

Dinner? Was he serious? Surely he had some pin-up model on speed dial he’d rather spend time with than me. No, that was my low self-esteem talking.  Damn Brian and how long I’d stayed in that relationship with him! Five years.  Five years of my life wasted on a man who didn’t appreciate anything about me except the way I made grilled cheese sandwiches.  The key was using three different kinds of cheeses, none of which was american cheese. In hindsight, the first sign of trouble was when he refused to go with me to my grandfather’s funeral. I was distraught at the loss. Instead of coming with me to the funeral home, Brian said he had an important squash game he couldn’t reschedule.  Grandpa Joe was like a father to me.  I missed him everyday. Just yesterday I passed the park on my morning walk and saw an old man and a little girl flying kites. I cried silent tears on my way home remembering doing that with Grandpa. With him gone, I had no family left. Besides that squash is a stupid sport.  Who even plays squash anymore since the 80’s. 

“That sounds nice.”

When authors do this, I’m so lost I always have to turn back a few pages to find out what question she was asked that she’s now, five pages later, answering. Sadly, by doing this the author has lost her pacing in the scene and now needs to start over to reestablish it.  I’m sure even Grandpa Joe would say he deserves more of a relevant insertion into the story than this.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

12 Mar 2017: A Rose may not be a Rose after all.

Here’s the sixth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

6: A rose may not be a rose

Romance is intrinsically different for every person. Because of this variety in human nature, it’s important to take the time to discover what romance means to your characters, as it might not be what would be romantic to you.

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Lizard Romance?

This individualization is what can give your characters depth and ultimately more interesting than stock characters out of a Cracker Jack box. If, like myself, you have written a number of romance stories, it’s important to distinguish your couples as individuals and not the same cookie cutter couple that you drop into a new situation in each book. Readers will quickly bore with this.

Your main characters should be as unique as your story. 

If indeed your female protagonist is truly a different person than your last book, than what is romantic to her will be different as well. Where one woman will find a man doing the dishes romantic, another may find flowers or walks in the rain romantic.

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  • Fast cars or carriage rides?
  • A hand written poem or karaoke solo?
  • For me, a truly romantic gesture would be for a man to read all my books.
  • A friend of mine said one of the most romantic things a man could do for her was to love her dog a well as her.

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Discovering what romance means to your protagonists is key to a good story. In the end, if you write characters that your reader care about, your reader will appreciate the romance of the book if it’s romance that makes sense for the characters you created.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

10 Mar 2017: Where the $)*@#$ am I?

Here’s the fifth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

5: Where the $)*@#$ am I?

Never be generic. Tell your reader in the first few pages where the characters are.

  • Are they in New York City?
  • Miami, Florida?
  • Austin, Texas?
  • Big Timber, Montana?

Each of these places are very different and those regional influences will affect how your characters interact with their environment. I recently read a book that seemed to purposefully avoid telling me where the story was set. All I can tell you was that I got the impression it was a city (as opposed to a small town) and that the main character said that, when a child, they used to go to the beach on weekends. Humm… not giving me much to go on.  Where they in Oregon or Georgia? Should I be picturing southern accents or New England ones? I can only imagine that the author of this book didn’t want the setting to interfere with the story.  Why? Did she not realize that the most amazing books every written are very identifiable with the places they are set?

Imagine Gone with the Wind without Atlanta.

Imagine Twilight without Forks.

Imagine Sherlock Holmes without London

Readers need something to go on.  As we read a book, we’re forming pictures in our mind, sort of like assembling the words on the page into a movie that shows in our head.  We hear the voices of the characters, we see what they see. But we all need a starting point from which to embark on the journey the book is to take us on.

2015-11-17-1447775691-8026445-accents_1Instead of ignoring the setting of your story, let it become a part of the story, let your readers walk it’s streets with the characters.  If they’re like me, the like to form a mental picture of the places your characters go, so paint a picture of a real place. Now, that doesn’t mean they can’t be set in a fictional town, it’s just that your fictional town should be set in a real life region of the country that your readers can identify with.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

8 Mar 2017: Momentum Killers – The Death of a story

Here’s the fourth installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

4: Backstory dumps

I suppose this is probably a generic story problem, but it certainly is one that plagues the romance genre. A good story drops you right into the action.  It provides the bare essentials of information for you to understand the action and hit the ground running. It does NOT spend the first couple of chapters taking you from birth, trough childhood and adolescence and then to present day where your protagonists have their meet-cute.

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This backstory dump will kill whatever momentum the author is trying to build. The best way to introduce necessary backstory (and I stress the word necessary) is through the occasional dialog drop, a casual conversation that mentions something that happened in the past.  Let the characters current circumstances draw proper conclusions about the events that led to their current situation.

Don’t start a story with pages upon pages backstory about your characters.

Besides the fact that you’re asking me to be interested in something that is just backstory (not the actual story,) you’re wasting valuable real estate.  Those first few pages have to hook your reader, don’t waste it with things that are not your main story.  Drop you reader in the middle of a scene and make them hungry to know how they ended up there.  Tease them with bits and pieces of backstory, like bread crumbs that lead them to the last pages of the book.

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I recently read an excellent book that does a wonderful job of dropping the reader in the middle of the action. I wish I could copy and paste those first couple of pages here for you, but since I can’t, I highly suggest you check this book out if you’re looking for a good example.  It’s Haunted Souls by Kathryn Knight.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

6 Mar 2017: If they thought it once, they thought it a thousand times.

Here’s the third installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

3: Unnecessary thoughts and feelings.

In a story where most conflicts are emotional, it’s easy to fall into the trap of repeating the same internal dialog over and over again.

“I was so confused. Did he really like me or was I just fooling myself that he could ever love a woman like myself?”

Believe it or not … Readers have good memories.  If she thinks that once, she doesn’t need to repeat it over and over again every time they meet.

Because in a story that is a pure romance all your story conflicts are emotionally based, you can easily fall into the trap of over thinking and analyzing your characters thoughts and feelings. Let their actions speak louder than words.

life-lemons-and-vodka-actions-speak-louder-than-words-20Don’t tell me a hundred times that she’ll die if he ever leaves her.  Once is enough. After that, let him leave and show me what happens to her.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

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In this case, tell me, don’t show me. Click on Leave a Comment.

4 Mar 2017: Never Underestimate Likability

Here’s the second installment of my series on How to Write a Good Romance (or any story really) based on what not to do:

#2: Never Underestimate Likability.

Not all characters have to be likable. Not everyone in this world is likable. Although the protagonists in a love story should have flaws, like all humans do, they should also have more redeemable qualities than flaws.

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I recently read a book where I kept thinking, why is she interested in him? He’s a total jerk and an unrepentant man-whore to boot! She can do so much better than him! When the finally got together at the end of the book, I really could have cared less. Did I read any more of the books in that series? No, they all sounded pretty much the same, with “heroes” that were not good people at all, certainly not anyone I’d ever want to fantasize about.

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The real problem was, he was just as much of a jerk on the last page of the book as he was on the first. There was no progression of character, no redemption, no understanding of why he was the way he was. Remember that your readers have to find something likable in your protagonists in order for them in invest themselves in them.

  • What keeps someone turning the pages of book is caring.
  • They care if the protagonist finds love or doesn’t.
  • They care what trap or mystery they may be walking into.

If you want to have a character that’s a jerk when the couple first meets, that’s fine, but give them a journey that reveals why they are the way they are, and continue that evolution of character until the final pages of the book. Every event that happens to us in our lives changes the person we were when we woke up that morning. How does this fact of life change who you characters are when you finally type “The End?”

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of:

I’d love to hear from you!  So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

19 May 2016: Help! I’m drowning in excess exposition and characters!

As a continuation of my last post , here’s the issues I encountered and lessons learned from the other book I started this past weekend. Again, for the sake of the author, I’ll keep the name of the novel to myself.

It’s a not terribly long romance novel. Problem is, I’m over 50% of the way through the book and I feel like the entire first half of the book could have and should have been condensed into the first 10% of the book. The pacing is so slow it’s driving me crazy. The only reason I’m still reading it is because I’m curious to see if the author crams the plot  resolution into the last paragraph. At this rate I have no idea how she’s going to manage to get any story line into the book. So far all she’s done is introduce 16+ characters and have the heroine say she’s a school teacher who because all her friends are now married and having babies, wants to have a baby on her own without waiting for a husband to come along. There, I said it one sentence, the author took half a book to say that. Oh, and the heroine is organizing a charity event where they will auction off some bachelors. It took up to 49% of the way through the book for the couple to kiss and that was after they’d had their first real conversation. I gather that this is not the first book in the series, but one of my issues with it is that there are WAY TOO MANY characters. Even if it’s a series where all the books take place in the same town, it doesn’t mean you should include all the previous characters in every book. The main focus should be the couple that book is centered on and a few supporting cast. This book has thrown over 16+ characters at me so far and I’m only half way through!

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When writing my current novel, I’ve been very mindful of the pacing in the first chapter. By the end of chapter one I’ve introduced the main characters and placed them in the middle of the action. I’ve given the first chapter to a few people to read to get their opinion about the pacing, hoping I wasn’t dragging it out a bit. Sometimes it’s hard to take a step back and recognize the pacing of your own book.

With this novel, I think the author got lost in her love for her characters (all 16+ of them) and forgot that she needed to move the plot along quickly enough to keep the reader engaged. Novels shouldn’t be an author’s love story with a character they created, and in this case I think it is. In my opinion, the entire book would pace so much better if the author ditched a lot of narrative that takes place during conversations between two characters. This isn’t from the book, but will give you the idea of what I’m talking about.

“Let’s go to the beach today,” Mary suggested. Really she didn’t want to go to the beach but needed to get out of the house and any destination was better than cleaning the garage. It was Friday and that garage wasn’t going to clean itself. Looking out the window she wondered if it would rain, which only reminded her that she needed to wash her car. Her car … her father had given her that car for a graduation present. She missed her father so much it hurt sometimes. The day he’d been run over by the train on his way home from the apothecary had been the worst day of her life. Well, the worst until Justin walked into town. Justin was no good and never would be. Maybe he’d look better if his hair wasn’t purple. Mary loved purple, in fact it was her favorite color, but dying her hair purple was where she drew the line.

“Sure the beach sounds like a good idea,” Diane replied as she handed Mary a cup of coffee.

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In my little example above you can see how annoying it is that there is so much exposition between the lines of dialog that quite frankly has nothing to do with the conversation itself. The author of this book has the terrible habit of making a simple conversation go on for pages and pages and pages. Honestly, I started skipping over a lot of this filler to get to the rest of the dialog in the conversation. With so much exposition I was getting lost as to who spoke last so when someone eventually spoke, I had no idea who it was.

Lessons Learned:

Too many chefs crowd up a kitchen just like too many characters confuse your readers. Keep to a small core set of characters, especially in a shorter length novel and develop your main characters before adding more character into the mix. If you think you may have too many characters, see if there is a way to combine two into one.

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Pacing is paramount. By the end of the first chapter you should already have established who your main characters are, set up the situation they find themselves in and why the reader should want to continue reading. This is super important if you’re going to be submitting your book to a publisher or an agent. If they only want to see the first chapter, it had better be a good one.

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Don’t drown your dialog. Your reader wants to feel as if they’re eaves dropping on your character’s conversation. Too much exposition in between actual dialog dilutes the conversation they are having and disengages your readers.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

17 May 2016: Learning good lessons from bad books

I shouldn’t really say they’re bad books, but the two books I read this past week definitely had some issues.

The first book I read (which shall remain nameless) had a heroine who was supposed to have been born and raised in/around New York City. Yet for some unknown reason she kept using words that only people in the UK would use. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  • It had a granite countertop, fitted dishwasher, ceramic hob, refrigerator … (A hob is a stove top burner)
  • Tucking into my lunch … (Tucking = eating)
  • Although we didn’t find a torch … (A Torch is a flashlight)
  • Pushing all the banknotes into his hand …(Banknotes = dollar bills)

Clearly, the author of this book needed to have a professional editor or an honest friend tell them to reword these sentences. Honestly, this is why all my heroines are from my home town of Wading River, New York. I know how my people talk and phrase things. In other words, I write what I know.

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Lesson learned:

Be mindful of the local lingo. Just because you shine a torch on the hob while in search of your missing banknotes doesn’t mean they do that in New York too.

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Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

25 April 2016: It’s the little things that annoy me the most.

I started to read a new book last night.  Part of the beginning of the book is how the girl (who lives in New York City)wins tickets to a concert in Montana for this famous band along with a five night stay in 5 star hotel.   Her and her friend get in her car and drive to Montana after she arranges to take a week off of work.

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Okay.  Do you see a problem here?

NYC to Montana is a 32 hour drive.  If she only took 7 days off of work, it would take 2 days to get to Montana if you drove and they’re all excited to use all FIVE days of their 5 star hotel experience.  Does she not realize she needed to take at least 9 days off of work to drive there, stay five nights then drive back.  This really annoyed me.

While lost in the backwoods of Montana, the main gal notes how they haven’t seen a petrol station in a long time.

Do you see the problem here?

I’m from New York, and I can assure you that no on in the state of New York calls a gas station a petrol station.

To be honest, the girl with the car lives and grew up in NYC.  She’s a workaholic too.  I think I really could have used the author justifying why she had a car to begin with.  Just about everyone in NYC who lives and works there takes mass transit. When she got into a fender bender with the guy in the book, she couldn’t afford to get a new headlight for her car. So I have to wonder why she has one to begin with in a city that you don’t really need a car in.

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Am I nitpicking? Yes, but I’m only like 15% of the way into the book!!!!

Lesson learned, know your geography first of all. Know that really no Americans use the term Petrol Station, and remember that if you’re writing about a big city lifestyle, ask someone who lives that lifestyle for advice on your character.

Now back to the book to see what else will annoy me.  Good thing the characters, though illogical at times, are interesting enough for me to continue.

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.

8 April 2016: To Kindle Unlimited … or not to Kindle Unlimited …

In case you’re not aware of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, for $9.99 a month, you can have unlimited access to read as many books as you like so long as these books participle in the program. It’s sort of like a library card.  You can take out “on loan” up to ten books at a time. You can keep any book for as long as you like, but if you should decide to drop the program, any books you have on your Kindle that you acquired through KU will be yanked off your Kindle.

kindle-unlimitedIf you’re like me and you read constantly, this $9.99 is a huge savings. I’m simply limited to book that are in the program, but so many are that it’s never been an issue.  I still buy books that I can’t resist, but all things considered, I save a ton with KU.

So last night I finished reading a book that I got for free on my Kindle.  It wasn’t through KU, just listed at a price of $0.00.  It was an okay book.  The story was decent, but I could take it or leave it. As I suspected, when I checked to see what else this author had to offer, the book I’d just read was indeed the first in a series. The second book was $2.99.  For $2.99, I took a pass.  However … had this book been on the KU program, I’d have read it.

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There are many authors that poo poo the KU program because they feel the royalties just aren’t there for them.  To those authors I feel the need to remind you that the members of KU are hard-core readers, but we’re also extremely budget conscious. I might WANT to read your book, but I’m just not willing to pay more than $2.99 for an ebook of an author I’ve never read before, or was slightly ambivalent about their first book.  This was the case with the book I read this week.  The author missed out on me reading the second book in their series because I’d have had to have paid for it.  My suggestion would be to take the first book and put it in the KU program instead of making it $0.00 on amazon.  If they had, they’d have gotten royalties on the first book instead of nothing which is what they got from me.  I’d price book one at $0.99 for non KU and have it enrolled in the KU program.  I’ll be honest, if a book looks interesting enough, even with my KU, I’m willing to pay $0.99 for it.

royaltiesAs an author, I can tell you that I’m currently generating just as much royalties through the KU program as I am with straight sales. So what have your experiences with KU been like?  Let’s here from some other authors or KU members!!

-Jennifer

Jennifer Geoghan, author of The Purity of Blood novel series and If Love is a Lie: A Partly True Love Story.

I’d love to hear from you! So click on “Leave A Comment” below and let me know what’s on your mind.