Laughter Lifts the Heart
Several years into it, and this blog still refuses to be categorized. It's eclectic and includes everything from writing posts to snippets from my ordinary life.
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"Now, may the Lord of peace give you peace always, in every way."
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Coffee with Linda Newsletter!
Give the Lady a Ride
The Final Ride
Circle Bar Ranch Coloring Book
The Bucket List Dare
Coming Home: a Tiny House Collection
The Cat Lady’s Secret
Writing in Obedience
When Mom was sick, we spent an afternoon watching Hallmark movies, one right after the other. If you’re thinking I must have suffered from a sugar overload, you’re not too far wrong. But a full afternoon of lightheartedness can be a balm sometimes.
I’m terrible with names, especially when hit with several at once, so I don’t remember the names of the movies we saw, and I don’t remember the plot of two of the three movies. But one stood out, and though I can’t remember the title or the characters, I do remember why I’d watch it again, because I took the time to analyze why I would.
Let me share the tips I gleaned from my analysis:
- Always keep the reader wondering.
The movie started out with an interesting premise and continued from there. Once the obvious questions were answered, another question immediately popped up. They were together once, now they’re not—how would they meet again? That one’s an easy and time-honored opener. How will they react to each other after all these years? They’re both engaged to other people now—how would they reconnect? How will the fiancés react to their soon-to-be-spouses’ former loves? How will each break up with their current fiancés so they can be available for each other?
All these questions are typical in a romance. Romance is formulaic, primarily because the formula works, so the author has to be unique and extra imaginative.
This movie had me asking other questions. (1) A whopper of a problem had to be overcome before the weekend, during which the hero was to marry his current girlfriend. How would the author handle it? (2) Both characters were successful. Both were happy in their new lifestyles. They lived several states away from each other. Who would give up their life to pursue the relationship? (3) Neither’s career had anything to do with the others’. After one decided to forfeit their lifestyle to pursue the other, how would they going to find common ground?
Those were just a few of the things that kept me wondering. If I thought a little harder, I’d find many more.
Develop questions that go beyond the formula. Romance readers already know the two will meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after. They read to discover how the author will make it all happen. Give them something unique to fit the formula, then give them more. Keep them reading by posing new questions as soon as others are answered.
- Make the heroine strong and intelligent.
She had a post graduate degree in agriculture and some amazing ideas in mind: big dreams that needed funding. Her life was interesting and fulfilling. She faced challenges head-on even though she got knocked down a time or two.
And the knock-downs didn’t make her cry.
I’ve read sweet romance books where the heroine cried at least once per page. Tears, sniffling, wetness, swiping cheeks, rubbing eyes, welling in the eyes—all the forms of crying or about-to-cry or trying-not-to-cry. After a while, I want to shake the character until her head rattles: Get a backbone!!!
Authors should illustrate the types of emotions that could lead to tears, but there are far more reactions to those emotions than crying. Let her act out, get snippy, withdraw into herself, double efforts that have already proven futile. All sorts of things. Having the female character cry at the drop of a hat cheats the reader and shows weakness in both the character and the writer.
- Don’t make attraction the sole basis of the relationship.
Physical attraction is great, but you can’t build a life on it. “Happily Ever After” requires more. There must be some attribute about each character that draws the other, something truly admirable that the other recognizes and appreciates.
I’ve read novels in which the only thing the characters had going for them were “great eyes.” Being drawn into, lost in, held captive by those eyes. Or, just as shallow, the ol’ electric zing up the arm from the fingertip touch. The spark. The flash.
The idea that each considers the other “hot” is fine, but a relationship is built upon so much more.
Determine what would be important to each of the characters and portray that through the other. Would he make a great father? Show him with kids. Would he be patient with her mother? Show him with his own or illustrate his interaction with the elderly. Would he support her career decisions? Show him being supportive of others.
Same the other way. Would she stand beside him in tough times? Show her being loyal. Is she tough enough to live his lifestyle? Show her stamina and determination.
Let each character see how the other fits their needs. This is how they learn the other is the one.
Add depth to your romance by adding depth to your characters, their relationship, and their story.
Ordinarily, the best way to prepare yourself for an extended absence from your daily routine is to leave notes to yourself. Have a list. Make everything ready so you can quickly resume where you left off.
But then, there are those leave-of-absence occurrences that are unexpected, such as what happened to me during September’s Mom Week. I left on the 12th and came home with a terrible cold on October 4th.
It’s like this: Wednesday the 5th, Mom was scheduled for a scan to determine what was wrong with her stomach. We figured they’d adjust her medicine or give her something different, so after the scan, we headed out to lunch and bebopped around downtown Bryan for a while. Then we went home, got comfortable, watched a little TV, and received a phone call, “Get to the ER now!” Come to find out, they’d been trying to reach us all afternoon.
Fortunately, what they’d thought was wrong wasn’t what actually was wrong, and the six hour surgery I’d prepped for in my mind turned out to be only an hour and a half. But it was surgery—which was followed a few days later by another procedure, an ablation, because her heart decided to be funky while she was in the hospital. I’d packed for four days, and by the time she left the hospital, I’d already had to do laundry twice.
So, following a week in the hospital, a week of recovering at the house, and a week of follow-up appointments, I was finally able to go home with, as I said, a horrible cold. The first day of a cold is always bad. I spent the second day too dizzy to drive. The third day, I gritted my teeth and made the 2.5-hour drive from her house to mine and went straight to bed. Thanks to my own condition, even something like a simple cold can knock me out of commission for a while.
Here we are now, Monday morning, and I’m ready to get back to work. Problem is, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m gone for an extended period of time, I walk back into my world as if seeing it for the first time. Where was I? What was I doing? What was I supposed to be doing? What’s going on here?!
Now I need a plan of attack. I start with two major lists: what I was supposed to have done while I was gone and what has been added to my to-do list because I was gone.
Supposed to have done:
- Release newsletter announcing September’s giveaway winner
- Write new newsletter
- Update website
- Schedule promotions
- Play on social media (yes, it’s important—gotta keep your visibility up)
- Bookkeeping (since my time away includes the end of the month)
- A boatload of emails (though I kept up with most)
- General household stuff that got neglected for three weeks (Oy vey!!!)
I have to prioritize and tackle the list a little at a time. Writing is my job and it’s a daily activity, so first I need to get back on my schedule. Emails are important because some are time-sensitive.
But beyond this, for day one of “return to work,” I’ll basically be making lists inside each item on the list. What goes in my next newsletter? What will I update my website with? What books to I want to push this week/month? What emails need immediate attention?
I need to figure out how much time to dedicate to each task. I’ll knock out some of the things on the list today. Household stuff has to be done. Can’t get around that. Even though no one will admit it publically, polite society expects one to have on clean underwear.
So, here are my plans today: Write, because that’s my job. Reclaim my house, because that’s my job as a homemaker/wife—and because my sanity demands an ordered environment. Make an assessment of other to-dos and determine an order for them to be done.
In other words, the best way for me to get back to work is to get back to order. Once I sort through what looks like a mountain of a mess and put it into smaller piles of categorized messes, I can prioritize the piles. From the looks of things, barring any other surprises and demands on my time, I should be caught up and back in the swing of things at least by Wednesday.
That’s how I do it. What do you do? Share tips, please.
I wish I could engrave this in every writer’s mind. Basically, it’s a simple tenet: you have to know the rules before you can break them. But let’s skip the “breaking” part and realize that we must know the rules.
We writers—we creative types—balk at the idea of rules and laws pertaining to our craft, but guess what? They’re there, and they make us better at what we do.
Often, potential clients will write to me, letting me know they want just a proofread, that they’ve already edited, that they’re pleased with the piece as is and just want to be sure they don’t have typos. These are the hardest manuscripts for me to work on because more often than not, what the client is “pleased with” is sub-par. Who wants to be par much less sub-par? But they’re not interested in an honest critique, just that they have no typos. So I do what I’m told. Usually. I accept this type of job less and less these days.
Their attitude should anger every indie author out there. Many indies are scrambling to overcome the stigma of being self-published and to a certain extent are winning. Being independent is gaining in respectability—particularly since so many big-name authors are dipping a toe into the more lucrative waters. But as long as there are writers who don’t care about the quality of their work, the stigma will remain.
I suppose I can’t preach to everyone, even though I try. If I could, I’d tell them to study the craft! Talent is great, but can you imagine how brilliantly talent will shine when coupled with mastery? Having a compelling story is great, but how much greater would it be if told in a compelling fashion?
Sigh. I guess my frustration is showing.
But seriously, if you’ve sent your work out for edit or critique by a professional, take the feedback seriously. Study up on the things that seem to be a weakness for you. And if you haven’t sent your work out for edit or critique, you should. Even the best of writers have professionals go over their work. Why should you be different?
Yes. My frustration is definitely showing. Rant over. I’ll hush now.
Writers are always working, even when they’re not sitting at the keyboard. Every experience is a writing experience. Earlier this year, we enjoyed a long weekend at Matagorda Bay, and now it’s a setting for my newest novella, Ice Melts in Spring (due out in 2018). Last week, I had to put Mom in the hospital for emergency surgery—which went great, but her heart started acting up, so she has another procedure to endure—and I can promise you, this too will one way or another wind up in one of my books.
Writers say write what you know, which is great advice when applied to human emotion. Doesn’t do you much good as a Sci-Fi writer if the world you’re creating doesn’t exist or a historical fiction author who has no possible way of experiencing life in the preferred era.
But every story involves characters, and every character has emotions. Certain emotions are truly difficult to imagine unless you’ve experienced them. Once you do, you can “write what you know” beautifully and dramatically. Otherwise, you rely on cheater methods that don’t really elicit the emotion you’re looking for from your reader.
So sitting at the hospital with an elderly mom is research. It’s working. While I’m stuffing worry deep inside and wearing a happy face and being a mature woman while wishing I could sit in a corner with a thumb in my mouth or wave a wand and make everything all better, I’m working. Doesn’t particularly feel like it. It feels like I’m stuffing worry deep inside, wearing a happy face, and faking maturity. But if ever one of my characters has to fake maturity, I’ll know just how to show it.