Friday, September 29, 2006

Book with Trish - Pt 5

Enjoy the little rest did we gang??? Ha! Well, it's back to work now!!!

I dunno about you guys but I'm pretty much ready to write up a storm now...

What I want to do now that I have all my back story, characters personalities/looks/histories, setting et all in place is think about getting them onto the page and using the conflicts I may already have gotten from the filling in of my character sheets to set up their relationship...

Starting the story in a Romance or a Modx or indeed in most series or category romances, should have a *jump straight in* quality to it...

I will make a confession at this point and say that I'm a *film-ic* writer. By the time I start the book I have such a clear idea of my characters inside my head that I start putting scenes together as if I'm watching a film. Look at any film - Sleepless in Seattle, While you were Sleeping, Runaway Bride, You Got Mail... any film... and knowing they only have a short time period to tie the viewer to the characters they jump straight in... just like we have to in a Category Length romance... The only difference is we want our hero and heroine on the page together ASAP...

So, in our first chapter (or even a prologue if you're using one) we need to introduce and establish our two main characters - let the reader have an understanding of their relationship at that point and set up the premise for our story. The first chapter is therefore an introduction and a set-up that should ultimately end in a page turner - something that encourages the reader to want to know what happens next... I know that's what I look for when I read a book and I'm sure you're the same, right?

So, as soon as possible let's get their names onto the page. There are lots of ways you can do this...

For example in Marriage Lost And Found I had a Prologue that started:

It was in the gap between Christmas and New Year's, when people started thinking about what the New Year had to hold. About brighter and better things to come. About New Year's resolutions to help everything along in the right direction. That was when she made the decision to let go.

Now, as to the year they were leaving? Well, Abbey Jackman had had a pretty good year. A pretty darned good year, in fact(...)

So, we have begun with a brief narrative, set up the premise a little with the hint that she was letting go (which tells us she already had a relationship with this person - that fact revealed more in the following pages) and we have been introduced to our heroine.... the hero then comes into play a couple of pages later.

In White-Hot! I did it a little differently:

'I have new carpet coming next week.'

Shane laughed, 'Not any more you don't.'

'It's cappuccino.'

'You bought coffee?'

'No, the carpet colour.' Finn nudged him hard in the ribs, ' It's cappuccino. That's what it's called.'

Here we have jumped straight into a conversation. The action and movement have already begun - and we have both characters first names established and to a very small extent their relationship (nudge in the ribs tells us familiarity) -their surnames are then introduced as part of the narrative/dialogue within the next two pages...

But how you choose to get them on the paper is up to you - just do it quickly!

Whether or not the characters know each other prior to the start of the book will heavily influence the way they interact in that first chapter - something I talked about in The Blank Page series. Think about it. Friends will interact better than adversary's - ex's will interact differently from two people who have never met. And we can show this in their movements, their conversation, how they react to each other in oh so many ways. With ex's and people who have never met there is room for misinterpretation that leads to conflict from the get-go - they will naturally have their guard up. With friends we can use the familiarity as a building block (they don't need to spend time getting to know each other) - and with adversary's we have have a combination of familiarity and room for misinterpretation and we get to add in a good dose of pre-conception... Ooohhh the possibilities!!!!

Thing is, by the time we have opened up our story with this first chapter, introduced our characters and set up the basis of their relationship - giving a glimpse of how they inter-act and of that attraction simmering beneath the surface and an idea of how they actually look (particularly the hero!) - we also have to start hinting at the conflicts that will hold them apart without giving too much away... Just a lttle... a drip feed if you like... This is that elusive thing that makes us want to know what happens next - that holds our attention - it's the page-turner...

And the only thing that works for me to get all those things in that first chapter IS knowing your characters before you start. I know. I'll say it again and again and again... and I'll say it because I really believe in it. When you talk to others about these people they should be as real to you as the person you're talking to. Even when I talk to my Editor I will say things like 'She'd hate that' or she'll ask 'What kind of thing do you think she'd wear for the cover if we put her in such and such a place' - they are just that real to us. And they should be to you too!!!

So, let's look at todays exercise and then go through it step by step the next day or so:

Introducing your characters to the reader:

1/ Have you got their names in quickly?

2/ Have you got a description of how they both look filtered into the first few pages?

3/ Have you thought about how their prior relationship will effect how they interact?

4/ Have you given the reader just enough about them to make them want to know what happens next or have you given them so much information they don't need to go any further - or worse still have you had both characters so defensive that the reader dislikes them???

I can tell you after a brainstorm with my Editor we have upped the conflict in Fascination - still the same characters (and castings I've done) - still the same names - still the same setting (phew to all those earlier workshops I thought!!!) - and the heroine has remained the same conflict wise - we just re-worked the hero a little and it set so many lightbulbs running in my head that we had a sudden word-count rush (as witnessed by the worm) So Connor is now a reluctant tycoon - poor soul - and has walked away from his family while he sorts things in his head - which meant he has left the Gym business behind - which was a bit of a problem re hero/heroine being under the one roof... solution? As part of his new business portfolio Connor now owns the building Shannon has her business in... Same thing only different... But MAN did it change the story...

The lesson to be learned there? BE FLEXIBLE. Sometimes it takes just one brain-wave to turn what could be a great story into an even better story. So if you get a sudden flash of inspiration on how to up the conflict - trust your gut and the excitement you feel in your chest...

So - roll call time - how are we all doing? Are we off and running - just starting - still getting to know our people??? Tell all! Don't be shy....

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Project: Parenthood Review



The ever helpful Natasha Oakley has been kind enough to forward me my Romantic Times Review for Project: Parenthood ... And they gave it a FOUR!!!

Unexpectedly stuck with her sister's three young children for a few days, travel consultant Teagan Delaney gets in over her head -- fast. Her savior is her new neighbor and old college chum, website designer Brendan McNamara. He helps Teagan cope with the kids, and they get thoroughly reacquainted -- which is by turns joyous and painful for them both. But understanding why they drifted apart once may not keep them from doing it again! Trish Wylie's Project: Parenthood (4) is an emotionally complex, character-driven story. Teagan's a wonderful heroine, and we should all have a Brendan in our lives.

I'm chuffed with that!!! Especially the 'emotionally complex' and 'character driven' parts - cos that's what this line is all about - THE PEOPLE... makes me sound like I know what I'm saying in the workshops - which is a tad of a relief... Phew!

Speaking of which - get your keyboards warmed up cos it's back to work tomorrow... I've spent all day today getting contest entries sorted out - books sent for reviews - and sorting out the HUGE back-log of contest and website stuff that I'm so behind with... I need the boards cleared so we can get this book done gang!!!

And in October I'm going to run some spot prizes on the Blog to celebrate the US release of The Pineapple - and we'll do a little on the story behind the story too...

See you all tomorrow!!!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Off to Glamorous Writer Land

Day two of my London adventure (yep - only day two - what can I say, day one was eventful....) And it's back onto the train for Natasha and I... And I'm in heels. Yes. I know... But my feet puffed up so much during the show the night before that on the way home my brand new flat shoes gave me blisters on my heels - so now I can't wear them!!! And these heels are smaller... and they're really well broken in - and they're comfy. Alright!!!

Got froffee at the station for the trip (my absolute fav so far - yes - iced coffee with a twist...) - I am now officially an addict... And off we went. Today it's raining. But is it cooler? Is it heck!!! I'm beginning to feel since I touched down in England that I'm possibly suffering hot flushes - my imagination says early menopause... But either way - IT WAS HOT. And the tube was hotter - with NO AIR... I'm officially a country bumpkin...

We arrive at the RAF Club near Green Park and we get rained on - so frizzy hair is the look of the day (at least it is for me). It's one of those places you probably would never get into normally unless you had RAF connections or an AMBA lunch to attend ;) And from the moment you set foot on the insignia'd carpet and walk up the long staircase lined with painting after painting of the Air Force history - you just know you're inside a place that's a bit special. My first year here I did what every newbie probably does - I walked a little slower and took in all the paintings and insignia's and faces of men who had flown from the first planes to the first jets. Some first time visitors even commented on doing the same thing over lunch... It's an incredible place...

Just off the room we have lunch in every year there is a little bar - and this is where the authors appear in their glad rags to greet each other after a year apart. My first year it was petrifying - this year it was much more fun. 'Cos this year I could put faces to names and the moment Natasha and I hit the room - we went off in different directions to see as many people as we could before we sat down...

First person I saw was the lovely Kate Walker - looking very glamorous indeed with a new haircut - and greeting me with the hug she is now so famous for. She's an amazing woman. Truly. Not only a prolific writer and a great teacher - but also a very staunch 'den mother' to all of us new authors coming through the ranks. With her was Anne McAlliser - who I had only *met* online through The Pink Heart Society - she's super! A little quiet at first but with that intelligence in her eyes that tells you she's listening to every word - and a wicked twinkle when she talks about our Hugh or the need for a Male On Monday slot at the PHS... Loved her!!!

Kate Hardy was there with her brand new shiny hand held PDA type thingie whatsit. I may not be technical but I WANT ONE... And she had all the chapters she had done on the train on the way down, loads of pics of her family (yummy hubby!- lucky gal) and she was wearing a gorgeous brown ensemble that made me green with envy! Kate is so much fun, so enthusiastic! And can juggle about fifteen balls in the air project wise while I'm still trying to figure out where I last left mine down... One day I want to be like Kate... And do you know - technically she's a new wave newbie too!!! Yeah - I KNOW! And she's gonna get her 25 books pin pretty darn soon too!!! I need to get a move on really....

I got to meet new Modern/Presents signees Abby Green (fellow Irish lass so Hurrah!) and Natalie Rivers before we were ushered into lunch - and for the first year since I've attended we were mixed between lines which was a truly fantastic idea - as we all got to meet loads of people we hadn't met before. Which is how I found myself between the truly hilarious Sharon Kendrick and another brand new Modern/Presents author - Christine Hollis. In fact there were FIVE new authors at the lunch this year from the year before - for Presents we had Abby, Natalie, Christine and Chantelle Shaw and for Romance we had the lovely Fiona Harper (who really is - and was great fun to talk with - though it really does feel like everyone already knows her due to her RNA win this year and her friendships with so many of us on the net....) - Add last years newbie Michelle Styles for the Historicals line at another table and Natasha and I and even Kate Hardy as signees from after 2000 and it's plain there is plenty of new faces around.... (more on that very subject later...)

After the main course some of us got to swap places to other tables where we could meet even more people (another fantabulous idea! Really, the AMBA organizers had out-done themselves this year! BRAVO! And they do it all voluntarily - THANK YOU LADIES!) so I got to sit beside Presents Superstar Sandra Marton, Caroline Anderson (I think that was who it was - if not I'm truly truly apologetic - but yes, even we writers who have been here a year or two are in awe of the talent and great names we get to meet so it can get a little blurry... - but really she was super - and had read my White-Hot! book and loved it so I loved her all the more!!!) and famous Historicals Author Joanna Maitland - I'm at this stage hoping that some of the greatness of these people will rub off on me.... Julie Cohen avec bump (aka Fecklette) came over for a hug and a catch up (and she's GLOWING gals - really. Absolutely stunning!) and Amy Andrews who we met on the tube from the office the day before came over with a copy of White-Hot! for me to sign (I still blush every time someone does that to me ) - so we set *him* up on the marble mantlepiece and did the 'eyes follow you round the room' test - yep - still works...

After coffee and choccies (which I resisted due to the ninety five billion calories I have consumed since I got here) we then had a Q&A session with the foreign editors who had come over from Holland and Germany. Fascinating stuff. And Harlequin Mills & Boon is one of the few companies who distribute books all over the world in various languages - they even had Dutch copies of some of our books at our places on the tables when we arrived.... Gotta LOVE this job...

As time was running on a little we went said our goodbyes to the foreign editors - having gotten some very thrilling news about Modern Extra and the possibility of more foreign distribution of them - and then off we went for coffee at Starbucks before we had to go drink champagne with the editorial team... Over huge mugs of coffee and one iced coffee (yep - uh huh) - and for the first time - Natasha, Amy and Julia James got to chat together which was fun - cos they have a novella together next year... While Fiona, Natalie, historical author Claire Thornton and moi chatted about my blisters from the day before...

And then it was off to Brooks...

Now for those of you not in the know Brooks is a Gentlemen's Club of Regency Historicals fame world-wide - and it's a very rare and special occasion to be allowed within it's walls! Inside is spectacular!!! Outside we were greeted by Kim Young and Joanne Carr from the editorial team - and it's just as well they were cos Brooks is not the kind of place that has a sign outside. Up the stairs - champagne is immediately forced on us (it's a tough life really) and Tamara Campbell introduces me to - wait for it - Lynn Graham!!!!!!!!!! Lynn Graham! Who not only is another fellow Irish woman - but little and all as she may ever admit to it - is also the name that many many new authors look up to. She's delightful - so unassuming - so softly spoken - so unprepared to wear the mantle of greatness that you just take to her straight away - and she had her very beautiful daughter with her... I could have merrily sat with them all night! But instead I brought the new Presents Authors to meet her - which I think she enjoyed as much as they did - and I got dragged off by the lovely Bryony Green to meet a BRAND SPANKING NEW MODX Author!!! Yes - ANOTHER newbie! In fact I think I heard a figure of about ten new signings bandied about as the night progressed!!! So - people out there with stories - get em done! They ARE signing new writers all the time!!! All it takes is that one story.... In the words of the Lottery ad - It Could Be You!

We got a fascinating talk from the Brooks club - and you could almost see the lightbulbs going off above Historical Authors heads. And then one writer received her 25 book pin (and she's a newbie too - slow down gals!!!) before the truly amazing Liz Fielding got her RITA statue to a huge cheer from the room. Really - it couldn't keep happening to a nicer person!!!!

By now I have shunned any semblance of glamour as the heat is crucifying and my hair has gone all curly... AND I'm sure my entire body is starting to look like I've been pumped up with a foot pump. I really don't do heat well you know... But I still manage a catch up with Kate Walker, Jacqueline Baird from the Presents line - the lovely Anne McAllister again - Sandra Marton again (who I'm just sorry isn't here every year!) - I talked to Karin Stroeker a couple of times (she claims the long walk incident from the day before is an editorial plot to force us to sit down and write.... *sneaky*) - Guy Fellowes whose head honcho talked about the possibility of flagging Irish Authors books in Ireland - which would be fabulous cos it's been so successful for Australian Authors in Oz - then on to Kim who again told us about how mega pleased they are with the sales of the new Romance line this launch month (100 branches of WHSmith sold out in the UK!!!) - Kate Hardy, Julie Cohen, brand shiny new Modx author and moi formed a Modx corner for a while... I *eventually* managed a chat with my own lovely Ed Jenny Hutton about changes we'd discussed for this new Modx - and I secured a promise she would stay with the company FOREVER - and then it was time to do the rounds of the room for goodbyes...

Thing is - I don't really want to go. The atmosphere this year has been just out of this world! There's a real sense of family and enthusiasm and hope for the future and that's just so addictive!!! I mean, just look at the honour roll of people I am having champers with! And we get to talk books and heros and writing all night long... Where would you rather have been if you'd been me??? I LOVE being a part of this world - and it's days like this one that remind me why I stay locked away in my little cave for so much of the year...

So I guess it was only natural that Natasha and I sneaked off for more coffee - this time with Sharon Kendrick... I tell ya - the day wasn't long enough!

Big news to leave you on would be that in 2008 Mills & Boon will be 100 years old!!!!!!!! Now - thats gonna be ONE HELL OF A PARTY!!!! And who knows that year who I'll get to sit next to at lunch.... Any volunteers???

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Suffering & Seven Brothers....

Okay, so we've left our lovely Editor in Richmond and with full tummies and aching feet we (hobble) go back onto the tube... Well actually that's a bit of a fib - we didn't get *right* onto the tube. We couldn't hobble down the steps fast enough to get straight onto the one waiting at the platform - so we sat on a bench for a while til we finally worked out that as Richmond was at the end of the line *any* little train would take us in the general direction of that magical land where flat shoes live... (insert Over The Rainbow type music here at your leisure....)

On the train we bumped into Amy Andrews - an Aussie Author for the Meds line (and fellow first generation newbie) - who had also been there having lunch with her Editor Sheila, and who we had briefly met as we were touring the offices. So we got to chat all the way to Piccadilly about writing and when we sold and what we thought of the offices and what had worked for us and where we all came from and whether we were married and were we were all staying and - well - you know, it honestly felt like Piccadilly was smack bang next door to Richmond...

After a promise to meet up again the next day at the lunch Natasha and I then hobbled out into the open air of Piccadilly Circus. For anyone that has never visited London - this is part of the London we all see in films and on postcards. The tube station entrance brought us out at the statue of Eros fountain where tonnes of people had gathered to rest their aching feet. And d'ya know I was so jealous I could have cried. But the shoes thing was now not just a necessity.... but a life or death crisis - for Natasha - who I'm going to kill if I don't find a shoe shop soon!!!! She had promised me shops.... I couldn't *see* shops.... Where are the shops??? At this point I'm seriously considering sleeping at the base of the fountain til my flight home.... I *know* I have blisters (though thankfully for you blog visitors that is NOT a picture of *my* feet...)

When I saw the loooooonnnngggggg road stretching out in front of me. I honestly could have wept... But we found a Clarkes Shoe store and hobbled in. This is where the sales assistants must really have rubbed their hands in glee. Cos, lemme tell you, the minute those shoes came off our feet - there was no way on God's green earth our feet were going back in them. We were BUYING shoes - no question about it.... Done deal.

Imagine the smiles on our faces as we left - IN FLAT SHOES....

So we went for coffee (more iced coffee - I'm now making up a favourite places list mentally....) and we had a bit of a wander before we got out the map to try and find The Haymarket Theatre so we could pick up our tickets. Actually - d'ya know - we managed that quite well. Even if we did cross the same bit of road twice.... Tickets collected we then found a nice little Italian restaurant nearby to have anti-pasti (spelt wrong maybe?) - and we sat outside to watch the world go by... I had Buffalo Mozzarella and Ripe Avocado with beef tomatoes and can I just say - Y-U-M!!!!!!!! And we watched the world go by while we plotted new books and revamped our current ideas to come into line with the things our Editor had said she would like to see us think about. This isn't us being brainwashed I should add. It's a case of knowing the current themes and what sells and what way they'd like to market us - and then putting our own twist to it and our own voices. It's one of the best things about the yearly trip to London really... And plotting with a mate while eating and watching the world go by is pretty darn good....!!!!

We then popped across the street to The Haymarket and watched a performance of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers - it's fairly new to the West End and has quite a young cast but it was a blast to wacth. Real toe-tapping stuff! The interior of the theatre is stunning and cozy enough to give a real sense of being amonngst friends while watching it. And Natasha and I refrained from singing along which we felt was the nicest thing for the rest of the audience...

I've been raised on musicals since my Mum is such a fan - and I think she had a tad of a crush on Howard Keel myself - so on her behalf I was a little more critical of the leading man than I might have been otherwise... But on stage he was VERY like Howard Keel and did a very good performance of all those favorite songs from the film that I remembered. The cast could all dance way way more energetically than I ever could and there was just enough eye candy to keep a gal watching... Though during the interval Natasha and I did feel there could have been more internal conflict between the six brothers and their gals and a continuity of some kind mind have given us better insight into their relationships and motivation... (aren't we good little authors)

It was a jolly good fun show though... and having slipped my feet out of my shoes during the performance - feeling had *almost* returned to all my toes. Though judging how bad the other toes felt it was probably best they stayed numb....

We then got back to the tube - assisted a drunk newly engaged chap clutching his champagne bottle to find his stop (well Natasha did) - and we then sloped off to bed so we could get up early the next day for the big round of lunch and champagne reception...

Come back tomorrow and I'll name drop like a PRO....

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Planes, Trains & Aching Feet

Due to blogger difficulties beyond my control (and range of associated swear words.... trust me!) I thought I'd take a day or three and tell you about my trip to London... Then I will take up where I left off in the workshop...

Due to the fact that we writers can be such an insular bunch, it's really nice to get together and chat with people who just *get* what we go through on a daily writing basis. So I have to say I always look forwards to this trip. It's my third now - the first one was really scary - who, me, with all those writers??? OMG! The second year was a little easier, cos I knew a few people and Natasha and I bunked in a hotel together, which was fun... This year - I knew I was coming to stay with Natasha, so I knew it would be fun from the get-go!

So, off I flew. New baggage restrictions caused me a tad of anxiety - and the body search was, erm, well, a little intrusive.... But at the end of the day if it's a choice of a moment or twos embarrassment and a bit of a delay versus falling from 30,000 feet then I'll take the former... So, made it through - found Natasha/Natasha found me... and off we headed. It's very flat in her part of the world. Very flat. Very brown in places and very... well... flat. I miss hills and valleys... And I'm only off the plane twenty minutes. It's sad really that I'm such a homebird. (read as hermit) But Natasha's lovely family make up for the lack of hills... there are billions of them - in fact, i still don't think I could win a prize if the competition was to match the child to the name...though in another day or two I might. We had a jolly good natter and then it was hanging curtains time (oh how we laughed!!!! Lemme tell you - it's as well that gal can WRITE - Cos she's never making it as an interior designer... for anyone that doesn't know - the header tape of curtains has string at BOTH ends... and if you don't make a knot in one end.....uh-huh... needle and thread time...) So, then off to bed for our early start the next day...

We were going to Richmond to the office. I've never been before and was really looking forward to it... I asked my *friend* how much of a walk there would be... *a bit of a walk* she replied.... So, I wore HEELS.... Yes, HEELS... Bit of a walk my sweet ***....

We took a train - then got on the tube... not much walking - all good so far... had coffee en route... still all good... (I'm rapidly becoming an iced coffee addict btw) - there was a bit *more* of a walk than I was ready for in the changeover at Kings Cross (down a large hamster tunnel kinda thing) and then we got to Richmond - which is lovely - AND THE WALKING BEGAN....

Now, I'm a country gal. I know when you're going hiking any great distance that the correct footwear is an essential. *When warned* I can dress accordingly. The office was a *bit of a walk* - which was fine....ish... But there was one heck of a lot more walking to go... And in case I haven't mentioned it - IT WAS H-O-T.... And I was in HEELS....

The office was pretty much what I expected it to be (Modern office building outside... lots of books inside)- The receptionist knew who I was which was lovely 'cos that doesn't happen to me - like ever... and she didn't know Natasha cos silly Natasha gave her real name and not her pen name. (score one to the benefits of real name vs pen name debate....) - so we later decided that from now on Natasha would always be Natasha when in *writer mode* - which is great - cos I keep forgetting and calling her that anyways...

We met all the editors in all their little sections - chatted briefly with the very lovely Karin Stroeker who is Canadian and knows pretty much everything and has the nicest office! Met the head of the Romance line Kim Young (too young and pretty....) and of course were escorted around by our own lovely editor Jenny Hutton (also disgustingly young and pretty....oh and tanned cos she just came back from holiday...AND she had FLAT SHOES). All along the walls of the office there are blown up covers from through the years - names I read growing up - names that inspired me to get into this game - cover designs I recognized and some I didn't... and from booth to booth and office to office there was a photocopy of a rather nice cowboy book cover (for *decoration* - *cough*) We got to see all the magazine ads for the launch of the new Romance line and were told that it's doing very well and all concerned are very pleased and excited - which is fantastic!!!!! And then off we went to lunch...

WHICH WAS A LONG WAY AWAY. Now, don't get me wrong. To get to this STUNNING place on the Thames for lunch was one of the most gorgeous, 'made me feel like a real author' moments that I've had since I started all this four and a half years ago. The location was beautiful, we walked past the little rows of houses that the likes of Richard E Grant and Mick Jagger have been known to live in - and every one of them overlooking the river which was a gorgeous deep blue on the sunny indian summer day. When we got to the Hotel it was as stunning on the inside as it was outside. And we were treated to silver service - the kind where they whisk the linen napkin onto your lap and don't so much as let you pour your own water. The food was to die for - the wine was so smooth you barely had to swallow it - the dessert was so artistic it seemed a shame to ruin it (but it was white chocolate cheescake - it HAD to be done...) - the scenery was gorgeous - the authors/editor chat was informative & inspiring & encouraging. I found out one of my books did *very* well in the States this year (not telling which one....) and that BOTH my Modern Extra's will be released as Promotional Presents next year... HOORAY!!!! It was truly the nicest lunch I've had, like, ever... And you know, pathetic as this may sound, for the first time I felt like I had earned my place on the roll of authors...!

AND to make it all the better...we got a taxi back to the train station.... Where we did our temporary goodbyes and headed off to Piccadilly Circus to buy FLAT SHOES....

More tomorrow....

Monday, September 18, 2006

Book with Trish - Pt 4.

Now that we have the main characters and the setting in place, we need to nail down those little parts of the story that we might not be completely clear on. Which leads us to research... And Google is officially a writers best friend these days...

Not only can we use its images option to search for all the pics we may have needed to help form a mental picture of our hero/heroine and location... But we can also use it to find out about those technical things we may have decided to throw into the mix - those little things that will eventually make us very interesting people to talk to at parties...

So far in my writing career I've had to Google things like the weight of cameras for a news team, how long it takes to train to be an architect, what happens during the varying stages of pregnancy and straight afterwards (as a single gal I didn't know these things, okay??!!), the width and towns and history of a tiny island off the coast of County Kerry and the shift rotas, uniform logos and working procedures of the Dublin City Fire Authority...

And yes I did get all that info through Google. Thing is, I probably now know more on those subjects that I used in the end results, cos once again these are just small details, adding to but not at the forefront of my story. But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Getting something wrong, no matter how small, may prove a distraction for a reader somewhere and I don't want that, now do I? Remember gang, readers are a highly intelligent and eclectic group of people - and what may seem to you like a detail that can be fudged - may in fact prove to be someone somewhere's line of work - and you want to get it right. So, even of you think you know enough on a subject - before you start just be sure. Take a half hour or an hour and do your research... If you can't find it online and it's tough to find the time to delve through books in the library - then find a site somewhere and email with your questions - ask around family and friends - if you say it's research for a book the majority of people are only too happy to answer your queries. And if you're unlucky and they don't want to answer them, then be persistant and ask someone else! It all adds to the overall polish of your story, shows you have taken a professional attitude to it... And it means there's nothing glaringly obvious to distract from your story...

For this book I wanted Shannon to have a 'Tumbletots' type franchise. Now it's worth saying that in the end story I won't be able to use the actual name for copyright reasons (you'll find a lot of company references and song titles and the names of actual famous people are removed from the end result for just this reason) so I will have to make up an imaginary form of this kind of business. But it's still worth doing the research on a real life company of this type to be aware of how it works and what it does... But I can't just leave it there. Even if I don't use the facts and figures I find (because the devil may be in the details but the distract from the story gremlin can also be a tricky little demon) I still need to be aware of things like Health and Safety laws, the ratio required for adults to children, child protection laws, etc. Like I say, I may not use it, or I may just skim over ot by adding a line on the amount of people there, or the soft equipment used, or how the parents work with the children, just to cover those issues. And that way I've covered my bases. It may seem a small detail in the overall greater picture, but it's important. All the more important if you're dealing with a medical condition or an event tied to a piece of actual real-life history...

So, todays exercise is a small one or a big one, depending on what you're using in your story...

It's researching time:

1/ Look at the areas of your story that may require research - Medical conditions/historical facts/companies/amount of time taken to train for a job, etc.

2/ Get as much information as you feel you need to make the subject precise, correct and as real as possible.

3/ Replace real companies/song titles/ references to branded names with either generic terms or names you have made up yourself.

4/ Keep in mind all through your writing that these details should add to the overall story but should not distract from it...

So, I want Shannon's franchise to maybe have a name along the lines of Bouncing Babies, I want her to have parents working with the children (the attraction from Connor's POV would be that it brings people through the doors of his new Gym and Spa which therefore hopefully encourages the membership to increase plus he gets the rental of the rooms... And I may even add a bet with his other brothers about whose Gym can make more money in it's first six months to add to his motivation... cos we know the kids thing isn't going to endear the idea to him any...) I'll keep in mind that if the business takes off for Shannon that she may need more staff - maybe even stealing some of Connor's which can again add to the comedy/conflict between them - but the whole time I will remember to make these references small and within the flow of the greater story so that it doesn't distract the reader too much and become some kind of a business plan manual instead of a love story ;)

So, what will you guys be Googling today???

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Book With Trish - Pt 3.

We've spent a few days living with our hero and heroine now, filling in the character sheets that tell us all the little things we need to know that reflect their personalities and the experiences they've had before the book begins. And we've started to think about the events in their pasts that we might use as part of our conflict when the book begins... And it's fitting I think that we have worked on these two people first, because as I've said, although we will need a plot to carry the story forwards, it is the characters that the story revolves around. A plot is merely a device to get them together on the page, it's up to them and their growing relationship through all it's varying twists and turns, to keep the reader turning each page...

I now have Connor and Shannon pretty firm in my mind - with the help of the pics I collected I have varying expressions and suggestions for scenes and I know what has happened before my book starts. And it might not work for everyone to take this much time getting to know their hero and heroine before they begin, but I should maybe explain at this point that I am not a plotter when it comes to the book, so all this prior thinking and nailing down of the details, helps me to work more freely when I begin. From the pics, I may have scene suggestions, but as to what they say and do when they get there... Well that's all pretty fluid for me until I start writing. For some people, and this may indeed be you, it's easier to do a brief outline of what scene follows what and a brief plan of what happens, but for me I find this kinda ruins the little moments of surprise, which means when I get to that tough place every writer hits at some point in a book I find it tougher to keep my muse sparked. Yes, I know I'm heading towards a happily ever after in the end but by nailing everything down and 'stifling' my characters voices I can quite often miss something that could have really added to the oomph of the story. And I love it when they say or do something I hadn't thought they would. Alright, so I might not always use it, but I might use parts of it, or have it change my direction somewhat, and by remaining fluid rather than fixed, it's easier to take on the input of my cp's or my editor along the way. By being solidly fixed and blinkered I find that when revisions come I fight them, and all revisions are meant for the good of the story so fighting them is b-a-d... I've learnt that one the hard way...

But if plotting everything out chapter by chapter works best for you then do it! Just allow a little room for maneuver, okay???

Now, part of my characters conflict is the fact they knew each other before. It means I have a certain amount of familiarity in place. What I've got to do now is get them onto the page together to see how that familiarity plays out along with the little secret weapon I have up my sleeve that may or may not make it past my editor over lunch this week...

So, if you've been following the discussions we've been having in the comments after each blog, you'll know that Shannon announced to me that she wanted to be less of a kindergarten teacher and more of a businesswoman... This, I think stems from the fact she knows this book is a Modx. A more business orientated career just fits better in my mind for this line, and I want to keep more of the urban, city, careers type feel to it in the background. This is one thing I've been finding I have to really focus on when I switch back and forth from a Romance to a Modx. A lot of my Romances are set in villages, or in commuter belt rural areas, the last one was even on a tiny island - but with Modx that *feel* won't work. So I have to think City, office type environments, lots more people around, characters balancing careers with the usual problems of meeting the right guy/gal in amongst that sea of faces... Urban rather than rural... Yes, the gals I know that write for Modx and Romance (waves to Nic and Ally) have also done Romances set in the city and in offices and with that urban 'feel' but my voice so far in that particular line, has been much more small town cozy in feel. So, for me, I have to make a mental 'switch'...

So do remember when you're thinking about the location you are setting your story in, of the kinds of places that the line you're aiming at tends to set it's stories in... And then decide if that location is going to be used as merely the backdrop, or as a way of highlighting part of your conflict...

For me and this Modx I'm plotting, I'm going to use a combination of the two. By placing both my characters in the same working environment, I am forcing them together. Once my heroine approaches my hero to set up her business linked with my hero's, they will be under the one roof and this then acts as a 'tool' to bring them together, and to then allow their other conflicts to come to the forefront of the story. You can do this many ways - by placing them in a workplace together, in the same apartment block, living next door to each other, being forced to live in the same house... there are plenty of ways of doing it. And it's a device, pure and simple, I'll hold my hand up and admit to that. After all, there has to be *something* to get them together on the page, right? A trigger if you like. Using enforced proximity is one trigger.

For my setting I'm placing them in Galway. It's a city, third largest in Ireland if my memory serves me right, it has a great collection of small streets, open air cafes with a real European feel to them, a large square in the centre where my characters could stroll or eat lunch... but mostly I see the majority of my scenes in and around the gym and in their apartments...

Remember, where you place your story can be very important, but remember also that it is only a backdrop to the main story - it can add a lot, but it isn't the main focus... As I mentioned in some of The Blank Page series, the location, the setting, is like the sets of a stage play. What's going on at the front of the stage with your characters is what's most important. And with that in mind, think also of the amount of effort, and how distracting it can be for the audience, if that backdrop is changed again and again and again and again and... are you distracted yet??? Keep it simple. Keep the focus on the hero and heroine and their growing relationship.

I'm using three basic backdrops. Yes. Three. Their apartments, the gym and Galway City. Alright, if you're going to be picky that's four... And the last one does leave me some scope if I need it. But I only have 60k to work with and I need the majority of that for my two leading players, right? Plus I can use those settings to highlight some of the conflicts I discovered as I filled in their character sheets - Shannon's apartment can be homey, lived in, a sure sign that she has settled where she is, has built a home while she puts down more roots in the City in the form of her new business venture - whereas Connor's place will look like a hotel room, basic, functional, a reflection of the fact that he isn't settled, that he rolls along and doesn't believe he's ready to put down roots... And then the Gym forces them together to confront and work through those conflicts and a few others along the way... Make sense?

Which means that todays exercise is on setting:

1/ Choose your settings and if possible gather some pics that you can use as samples
2/ Look at how you can use your setting to add to the story or bring forward conflicts
3/ List the possible scenes you might use in those settings

Again all we're doing is nailing down the things we need to know, the ingredients of you like.. what we create with those ingredients still remains fluid - what the characters may do and say when we place them there may change the direction we take as the story progresses...

So I've left you with some pics of the places I have in mind. I needed an apartment with a couple of sofas to go with the characters on sofas pics I have... I needed a nice up market Gym for Connor to own, and I needed an overall backdrop that I can play with as I go along. Where are you putting your guys then???

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Book with Trish - Pt 2.

So now that we have our Hero casting done, with a selection of pics that can show us his moods and possibly kick a scene or two into gear, we have named him and we have a detailed character sheet on him... It's time to move onto our heroine.

Basically we do exactly the same with her as we did with him... So, I've gone looking for a gal I could cast as my heroine who gave me a selection of pics that could show moods and create possible scenes. And Rosamund Pike was perfect! Remember now, I'm going for characters who have known each other a long time... So as well as having pictures of my hero looking younger and progressing through to the way he looks in my mind when the book starts, I needed pics that would show the same progression with my heroine. If you look down through them from the top you can see her maturing from young girl through to the thoroughly confident, sexy woman at the bottom. And as an added bonus I not only have one or two pics that suggest scenes to me, I also have her on a couch to go with the pic of our hero I found on a couch... I see a late night talk scene coming on there... Loads of tension... maybe a confession or two made... See how my mind works?

I do think, as a female writer that it's almost easier to build up a character for the heroine than it is for the hero. The trick is, not to go nuts with it. It's all too tempting to give her every hang up in the proverbial book, because as females, we've spent our lives going through our own hang ups, recovering from broken hearts, and nursing our bestest friends through the same things. But the modern day heroine, although having many of the same difficulties as us, should also, I feel, have an element of the inspirational to her. In our imaginary heroine we have the opportunity to allow her to say and do things that we might never have the guts to do ourselves. It's finding the balance between the confidence we may seek to have and the emotional conflicts attached to the hang ups we may all have experienced, that makes for a rounded, likeable heroine. One we can all cheer on to her happily ever after!

So, let's fill in a character sheet for our heroine. Age, height, eye colour, hair colour, figure type maybe?... Career, friends, family?... How she takes coffee, hopeless in kitchen, masterchef, single parent, divorced? Favourite film, book, colour, type of clothes? First broken heart, longest relationship, first crush? Anything you want to add to her character sheet that makes her real to you, that gives her a three dimensional personality... And that you can refer to for the smaller details to ensure continuity in your story.

I can tell you from experience, that it can be the little things that catch you out. And by the time you have spent weeks or even months on a book you can become blind to those little things, so you might not even catch them until the copy editing stage, or worse still, until the book is in print! *shudder* So having a reference point can be a heavenly gift...

So:

Day Two: Heroine Character Sheet.

1/ Cast a heroine with pics that suggest moods/scenes and personality
2/ Name your heroine
3/ Build up a detailed profile of her life prior to the beginning of the book

And remember - Keep her real and don't make her some pathetic little figure waiting for a hero to rescue her - please! Don't give her a set of cliches in her past just so she fits into some kind of a mould that you think might fit in a romance novel. Yes, do think about the line you're aiming for - but no, don't try too hard to give her some kind of lost waif complex waiting for Mister Right... She's also a real person, with the everyday hopes and fears common to all of us and the fact that she's doing her best to get through each day like the rest of womankind should be a large part of her in both word and deed... It's such an easy trap to fall into - actually the fabulous Kate Walker did a wonderful piece on How Not To Write A Romance Novel recently on her Blog and she mentioned just this kind of thing when it came to heroines in Part One here - and it made me smile - because she's so right. As always. (Great series btw... well worth a read!!!)

Even a vampire hunter or a 17th century woman or some sci-fi heroine caught in an intergalactic war will have the basic human emotions in place. She will have moments of embarressment, of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, of offering a kind voice when required or needing a shoulder to lean on when things get too much, she'll feel desire and fear and joy and hope and anger and regret... You can have your heroine be anybody in any place in any time and the basic human emotions and reactions will remain the same. Just in differing degrees for differing personalities... So you can transmit her need for things to change in her life, and how the hero might help her along with that without turning her into someone we'll all think is just too pathetic to deserve happiness. Don't make her one of those women who constantly opens doors when she hears something outside in a horror movie... The last thing you want is for your reader to be slamming down the book in frustration when the heroine never learns from her mistakes or shows any sign of deserving the love our hero will eventually bestow on her...

Make her worthy of our gorgeous hero I say!!!

With that in mind, and having completed our hero and heroine's character sheets I want you to now live with them for a day or so. Talk to them in your head, out loud if it works for you... Maybe even try a little role playing - speaking aloud as if you are the heroine talking to the hero...have a little flirt with him if you like ;)

And then I want you to think about the things in their personalities that might cause conflict, the experiences from their individual pasts that have shaped the way they are at the start of the book that may hold them back from a perfect romance that could be written inside about three chapters... Because even though we will have to add a plot to the story to make the pages turn-worthy - it's the characters and their inner emotional journey that will hold the story together, and hopefully make the reader believe that their relationship will last beyond that last page...

Many, many authors, me included, will tell you that quite often the well rounded characters from our imagination will take on a life of their own as you start to tell their story. For me, the only way to get those voices speaking in my head, is to have spent a few days really getting to know them, playing through a few scenes in my head with only their dialogue to guide me. By filling in a character sheet you give yourself the best idea of who they already are. And then, with any luck, as we start to flesh out their conflicts and the plot that brings them together, they will take hold of a figurative hand and guide us through, showing us possibilities we might never have thought of while we were in this dreaming up a new story phase...

So once you've had some fun with the pics and the creating of your hero and heroine's character sheets, take a little time and start to think about who they are at the start of your book, the important things that have shaped them before we begin. Get inside their heads. I for one, don't think it's any coincidence that so many authors I've read about recently are people who have done some kind of psychology degree or admit to being long time people watchers... They've been subconsciously training for this line of work for a long time...

When we know our characters and their back stories we can then write them with more conviction. I know my hero pretty well I think, now I'm getting to know my heroine. I want her to have a girl next door quality but with a deeply sensual edge to her that only my hero seems to bring out. But I need her to have something that will hold her back from my hero too. So, I'm going to study her character sheet, I'm going to let her whisper in my ear some, and I'm going to look for some kind of emotional burden, or a secret, maybe something that relates to my hero so that it's all the more important she holds it back from him... Mmm...

So, while you think about your heroine and start thinking conflict, I'm going to do the same. And then we'll come back tomorrow and see what might be our options shall we??

In the meantime - My heroine is Shannon Hennessy, she's 26, I'm thinking a Kindergarten teacher at this point, though I'm flexible on that and may make her a career gal whose company runs a kindergarten for employees (I'm thinking all those toddlers would be my commitment phobic hero's worst nightmare - so room for some comedy and general cuteness there - and also a great good girl by day and playful gal by night foil for Shannon....) But after I've lived with her for a few hours she may tell me more...