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No spoilers!

book cover with back copy Xd out

Don't spoil it for me!

I hate spoilers. I know people who read the last page or last chapter of a book first, just so they can be sure they’ll be happy with the ending. No way, uh uh. I don’t even read the back cover copy (aka BCC)/description most of the time.

Say what?

I know, I know. If a book cover catches your eye, what’s the next thing you do? If you’re like most people, you turn it over to read the back (or the description at your online retailer of choice). And that’s what you’re supposed to do. Authors and marketing departments spend a lot of time carefully crafting those words to suck you in entice you to buy the book. We want you to decide you can’t possibly walk away without it. You have to know what happens, how they survive, how they triumph.

But here’s the problem for me. The BCC often gives away the early major plot points or twists, thus, in my opinion, eliminating that element of surprise for a good chunk of the story. I am not okay with that. I like to be delighted by the unexpected novelty of each twist and turn, not flipping the pages—possibly skimming—just to get to the part where I don’t know what comes next.

I’m sure it’s a personal flaw.

I’m reading a book right now, and I finally decided to check out the BCC now that I’m at the two-thirds mark. I’m so glad I waited. Whoever wrote the description took us more than halfway through the book!

My rule of thumb is not to reveal beyond the first major turning point, the one that launches the main character on his or her true journey. Just enough to show what the characters want, maybe a little about why, and what’s standing in their way (yes, GMC). Beyond that I’m trying to convey the genre, the level of heat, and the type of romantic suspense I write (military-themed, as opposed to FBI or serial killers or PIs).

So how do I choose books if I won’t read the description? Well, if it’s an author I don’t know and I don’t have a recommendation from a friend, I start with the cover like everyone else. Most of them are geared to tell you exactly what to expect from the book. Half-naked guy with a gun (guilty), expect romantic suspense with some open-door sexy times. The guy is wearing camo pants? Military themed. He’s wearing a holster? Law enforcement. He’s wearing a SWAT vest? Um, obvious, I hope.

Okay, once I know it’s the right genre—assuming the cover fits—I might hastily skim the BCC looking for keywords while trying to avoid specifics. Like humming so you can’t make out the important parts while someone talks about the latest episode of your favorite show that’s still sitting unwatched on your DVR .

If I knew I could trust copy writers not to give it all away, I’d probably read their work more. But I’ve been burned too many times. I’ve learned my lesson.

Of course, I hope you’ll read my BCC. I worked hard on it, and I hope it works on you. 😉

Are you a last-chapter reader, a hope-for-the-best reader, or somewhere in between?

What I’m learning in the Game of Thrones

game-of-thrones-posterI think I may be the last person on Earth to start watching Game of Thrones. At least that’s how it feels on Twitter. Still, now that my husband and I are almost done with season one, I see the draw.

The feel of the story reminds me a lot of Ken Follett’s book/mini-series (both fabulous) Pillars of the Earth, though the story is not at all the same. I think it’s the skillful way that George R.R. Martin sets up every character’s goal and motivation, both protagonist and antagonist alike. And they’re not petty. He’s carefully laying the foundations with betrayal, torment, and loss.

Ken Follett does the same thing with his characters. The seeds of vengeance are sown early and provide for the ultimate demise of those who run roughshod over others early on.

Of course, it’s a long, arduous road upon which the “good guys” are tortured mercilessly, but then the hero wouldn’t have earned his victory if not for the trials of the journey, right?

A writer could learn a lot from both Follett and Martin.

So, I will dutifully study GoT in my quest to become a better writer. Maybe some of the magic will rub off on me along the way.

Either way, at least I’ll be enjoying myself.

Is there a book, movie, or TV show that inspires you to be a better writer?

Conflicted

Credit: Free images from acobox.com

Do you have enough conflict? Not in your life, in your book. My latest rejection from an agent mentioned some issues with the conflict. Not that it wasn’t there, but I clearly hadn’t handled it as well as I thought I had.

I didn’t understand some of her feedback until I attended my WRW chapter meeting on Saturday.

Author Sherry Lewis presented several workshops, including one on conflict that really struck a chord for me. I’ve studied conflict before. My first blog post was about Debra Dixon’s awesome book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and I've read several other craft books that handled the topic. I thought I had a decent understanding of it.

But with the recent rejection fresh in my mind, maybe I was more receptive than usual, because some of the things Sherry said lit up my brain as if I'd never heard them before. One of the reasons I read so many craft books, take online classes, and attend chapter meetings is because you never know when something will click.

Either way, here were my big takeaways from Sherry’s workshop.

  • The strongest internal conflict involves a character forced by circumstances (e.g. like saving a life, providing for a loved one, or personal survival) to do something that goes against his or her ingrained beliefs, or who wants two opposing things. A pacifist forced to fight, for example, or a devout priest who longs for children of his own.
  • Characters must hold on to their beliefs as strongly as we do in real life. They shouldn’t be swayed over coffee with a friend.
  • Don’t introduce all of the conflicts at once. Introduce them in stages to keep the middle from sagging. Maybe the priest finally comes to realize that he can serve God in other ways, but then finds out that he’s sterile after he’s already quit the church.
  • In addition to the overarching conflicts, don’t forget the scene conflicts (refer to Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer, which I’m reading right now and highly recommend). Make sure the scene conflict is related to the story. The other character refusing to answer questions is conflict, an attack of swarming gnats is just annoying.

Do you have any gems of conflict wisdom to add?

Fun with Dick and Jane

But, why did they run?

Goal: Determine GMC for my main characters

Motivation: To write a better story with believable actions and conflict.

Conflict: It's hard work!

I want to know what my characters want, why, and why they can't have it. Yes, I'm working on my new book's GMC. Again.

Here's the thing. This time around, I really need to know that I have plausible, believable goals, motivations, and conflicts for each of the main characters before I move too far into the story. Not just my main characters, but the antagonists too. I think the reason I've struggled in the past is because my GMC wasn't as solid as I thought, and it only became evident once I wrote enough words to get stuck.

GMC goes right to the heart of internal and external conflict. What's keeping my characters apart, as well as what's bringing them together. External conflict is much easier to come up with. Physical barriers are like mosquitos in my backyard. Plentiful! It's the internal conflicts that I need to solidify before I can go on.

This Mills & Boon article on emotional conflict makes the following suggestion:

A good exercise to try is deciding what story you would tell if your characters were trapped in one room for the entire book! Think of the emotional journey your hero and heroine would go on without any outside influences. How would you sustain the tension between the couple, build up to the highs and lows, when all they can do is talk to each other?

I'm not going to write this, but I am going to think about how the story would develop without any of the suspense plot that I've spent so much time trying to get right. Focusing on the internal conflict before throwing gun-toting bad guys, back-stabbing best friends, or evil CEOs into the mix should make the story stronger. And, I hope, easier to write.

Got any advice for GMC or internal conflict? I'd love to hear it!

Did I dazzle you?

“Did I dazzle you? Did I jump off the page?”

Those two lines are from the movie 21, which my husband and I watched over the weekend. I actually liked it, but what really stuck with me were those two lines.

In the movie, those words are thrown back in the face of a professor looking for scholarship recipients with more than just academic achievements. He wants students with “life experience”. After making hundreds of thousands of dollars by counting cards at blackjack tables in Vegas, the main character definitely has it.

The whole scene reminded me of trying to get into Berkeley (which I didn't even want to attend, but my dad hoped I'd get in so I could live at home). Not only did I not have a 4.5 GPA, but my parents were alive, I'm white, I wasn't an Olympian, I hadn't started my own company, and I didn't want to be an astronaut. Let's just say my dad coughed up some dorm fees elsewhere.

Anyway, here's my point. (I know, finally, right?) Those lines made me think about writing good characters. If we do our job well, shouldn't the characters dazzle our readers? Shouldn't they jump off the page as if they were real?

The challenge for us as writers is imbuing our characters with the qualities that make them unforgettable. The life experience that they would have if they were real people. If I were an expert on this, I think I'd be writing on deadline and too busy to blog almost daily, so I won't claim to have the answer.

I do have a couple of good resources, though. The book I just finished–and I highly recommend–is The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman. He got me thinking about my characters and their circumstances in a way I hadn't before. There are plenty of thought-provoking exercises at the end of each chapter to start you on your journey.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Debra Dixon's Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Her book was the subject of my very first blog post, and understanding her concepts represented a real turning point in my writing career. More than any one idea, GMC has had the most profound effect on how I write.

Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress is another good primer for character development. Kress also includes end-of-chapter exercises.

I just started reading The Three Dimensions of a Character by Larry Brooks, so I can't speak to it yet, but it looks good so far. Just like with his book Story Structure Demystified, he excels at the “how to” of writing, and I'm looking forward to his forthcoming book from Writer's Digest.

What are some of your tricks for bringing characters to life, and do you have any other must-have books on the subject to recommend?

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Crack that WIP

Day three and I've already started over with Blind Fury. It's okay because I'd only written 1600 words, and I'm up to 1800 new ones now, but still. I realized early on that the GMC I had before wasn't working, and neither was the setting. Sometimes it can take me a while to admit that the cool opening scene, or the interesting career, just isn't the best choice for the story.

I probably started writing before I was really ready. But, on the other hand, the act of writing helps me find my weaknesses, and gets me thinking ahead.

One of the reasons I struggle with pre-planning may actually tie back to my logical, linear brain–as illogical as that may sound. Let me explain.

What I've noticed is that I write very linearly: first this, then that, like a chain. That is, I write a scene, and then decide what the next scene should be, based on what just happened. The creative juices required to come up with the next scene require the platform of the previous one to jump from.

Does that make sense?

So, until I've really fleshed out a whole scene, complete with unexpected twists and revelations that came about in the heat of writing, I can't write the next one. So how could I possibly plan via a thorough outline ahead of time?

No, I'm not abandoning the pre-planning phase. If anything, I've realized that I have to test my characters' GMC more carefully. Not only do they need strong, story-worthy goals, motivation, and conflict, but ideally, the hero and heroines goals with conflict with each other.

This is why writing romance is tricky, especially romantic suspense. Not only must the villain's goals conflict with the H/H, but the H/H's goals must be at odds with each other. Otherwise there's nothing to write about.

Yes, all of you smart people knew that already. In theory, so did I. Still, I often get an interesting concept stuck in my head, try to populate it with characters, and then realize the GMC's just not strong or interesting enough.

At least this time I didn't start over after writing 20,000 words. Hopefully, I can avoid that again. I made sure that Blind Fury has at least a tentative outline including the inciting incidents for H/H, 1st turning point, midpoint shift, 2nd turning point, black moment, climax, resolution.

If I get to those points and they're wrong, I'll fix them. But for now, I've got a compelling reason to take the drive, and a few destinations along the way to guide me.

Now to get crackin' on that WIP…

What does he want?

I've started my next MS. Actually, I'm working on two of them at once–a first for me. Not sure it's a good idea, but we'll see what happens. My contemporary is coming along nicely. I have GMC pretty well in hand, and I've written the first few scenes.

Blind Fury on the other hand, is giving me fits. I'm trying to work through the GMC for the characters before I go any further with the project (hence, the stagnating word count). I think I have the heroine fairly well pegged, but the hero is not cooperating. His internal goal is good, but externally, he has no idea what he wants.

He's not after excessive wealth, he likes his job, he has good friends, he likes to play the field (for now ;-)). Sure, he might like a newer car, or to win a race, or to date the prettiest woman on the block, but those aren't story-worthy goals.

Clearly, I need to re-evaluate his cushy lifestyle. He needs some past traumas to give him reasons for wanting…something. Not only that but what he wants should conflict with the heroine's goals.

(Yes, I've been skimming Deb Dixon's Goal, Motivation, & Conflict again. Great book.)

Okay, so maybe I have an idea after all. This is like when your kids come to you for help with a problem, and by the time they explain it to you, they've figured it out without your help at all.

Wow, you guys are the best! 🙂