Category Archives: Writing Tips

The Synopsis

The other day an editor I know asked permission to use my latest synopsis as part of a talk she had to give. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, because up to now, I always thought I stunk at writing synopses.

Who knew : ) She went on to say that it was the kind of construction she looked for but rarely received, so I thought I’d share the steps I take to write a synopsis with you.

When I began writing I was a pantser who  believed that plotting  inhibited my creative process. That’s probably why it took me a year and a half to write my first book, which I never sold.

As time passed, I began to realize that if I wanted to write more books faster, I needed to plan more and if I planned more, writing the synopsis at the end of a project might just be easier.  I’ve played with a few variations of my process over the years but here’s what I’ve found works best for me:

1- Before I start to write a book, I write a character analysis for my hero and heroine because the more I know about who they are, where they’ve been, and what they want, the easier it is to move onto the next step–

2-  I write down my hero/heroine’s goals/motivations & conflicts. Keep in mind, it’s very effective if your hero/heroine’s goals oppose each other (ex: he wants a stay at home wife and she wants a career).

3-Once I’ve established their goals/motivations & conflicts, I write a  chapter by chapter outline. Sometimes this is a bare bones outline, sometimes it’s in depth.  Now I can begin to write the book.

Once the book is finished, I pull out the chapter by chapter outline I did months ago. I pinpoint the most important plot points in the finished book, (only those events and motivations that moved the story forward in a major way), and incorporate them into the outline. Don’t forget to reveal the character’s emotions and motivations. (Leave out secondary characters, you’re only using bare bones here.)

Once I’ve tweaked the outline, I begin to write the synopsis (in present tense) by picking up all the important elements from the outline. I introduce the hero/heroine each in their own paragraph. As they’re introduced, I identify their goals, motivation and conflict in as few words as possible, 1-3 pages maximum.

Wow, talk about pressure.  But take heart. Writing a good synopsis is tons of work but you’re also creating a valuable marketing tool. A good synopsis may even help you discover your blurb or pitch, and in the end, you’ve honed your writing skills too.

Best,

Cathy Tully

The Adam & Eve Approach to Character Development

“The Creation of Eve” by Paolo Caliari (1528-1588)

About a month ago I’d been asked the following question in an interview. “When you decided to develop a hero and a heroine, how does that process come about? Do you do the character sketch? Do you use real world influences?”

Sometimes I get an idea for a character and then create a story around them. Sometimes I get an idea for a story and then create a character to fit the story.

In Captive (book #1 in the Survival Race series) I had a story idea first and then created the characters to fit the story. The plot required a tortured alpha male whose humanity is stripped away. I created Max–the poor hero believes he’s nothing more than a beast–to fill this role. Then I had to figure out what kind of heroine could make him see he’s not a beast. He’s a good man worthy of love. So I created a strong, spirited heroine who could inspire Max.

The hero of Fearless (Survival Race #2) was introduced in Captive. His character was already partially formed so I needed to create a story around him. As I brainstormed the plot, I also brainstormed the kind of heroine he required. Since he wants revenge, he needed a heroine who could tame his lust for war and bring peace into his heart. His heroine was created especially for him, and new to the series. This couple was exciting to write about. The warlord and the spiritual healer have opposing goals, but we all know what happens to opposites, right? Sexual tension! The heat level is a bit steamier in Fearless than Captive.

While plotting Survival Race #3, I realized once again that I have a hero and a partial plot but no heroine. I actually went through three different heroines trying to figure out who would work best! The first two weren’t getting the job done. They were already established characters, but were not right for what the hero needed or what the plot needed…or, quite frankly, what I needed. Those heroines weren’t getting me excited to write the story. After much cogitating, I came up with a new character. This kick-butt alpha heroine is exactly what the hero needs, and boy is she going to be fun and exciting to write about. I can’t wait to see their tension ignite the page.

So what have I learned about my character development process? Apparently I take the Adam and Eve approach. I create the man first and then from the man create the perfect woman for him.

No matter how the character is born, I always do a character sketch to get to know each one better. A character sketch answers questions like what do they look like, what is their history, what are their fears/ likes/ dislikes, etc…  I’ve also taken bits and pieces from real world influences, but don’t tell my family or friends that. ;)

Readers – have you ever read about characters that were perfect for each other? Have you ever read about characters that weren’t and wondered why the author forced them together? Writers – What’s your process to character development? Do you do the character sketch? Do you use real world influences? Please leave your answers in the comments section.

~K.M. Fawcett

A Happy Ending

My need for a happily ever after is one of the reasons I decided to write romance; I can’t help myself, I love watching two people fall in love. From a writing standpoint, the most important thing about the ending of a book is that the issues between the hero/heroine all be resolved in a way that’s logical and satisfies the reader.

Two people who’ve hated each other through the course of the story and all of a sudden decide they’ve fallen in love halfway through the book, isn’t logical and doesn’t make sense. To prevent a contrived ending a writer must make sure the core vales of the hero/heroine are extremely different to the point that it’s impossible for them ever to compromise. For example, if he’s a cattle rancher, and she’s a vegetarian, there can’t be a middle ground for compromise.

In order for a happy ending to be believable and satisfying, the hero/heroine must make sacrifices for the sake of their love. Doing this establishes a basic equality, or meeting point. It also makes sense as to why they couldn’t solve their problems early in the story before they had a middle point and began to make sacrifices. Having your hero/heroine compromise gives a writer an opportunity to add an element of surprise to their story where the reader is left to think, ‘that’s a great ending, why didn’t I think of that?’

A clearly resolved ending doesn’t mean that only one of the characters can make a vow to act differently. A resolved ending must be when the hero/hero make sacrifices for the sake of each other and not just for themselves. This ending gives the reader satisfaction that the characters will be resentful later on about what he/she has given up. Also, the resolved ending must come about by the actions of the hero/heroine not through the interference of other secondary characters.

I like to test my happy endings by having a beta reader read the manuscript and ask them: Do you feel the hero/heroine are truly committed to each other?  Do you think they’ll be happy not just next year but in fifty years? Was there anywhere in the story where you weren’t satisfied? I find this feedback monumental to my editing process. Happy Writing!

Best,

Cathy Tully

Writer’s Block, an Adventure in Randomness

MP910216414I’m about 1/4 of the way through writing my seventh book.  (I know! The total is freaking me out too) .  Anyway, today was an excellent writing day. I spent the morning at a local coffee shop.  The past few weeks have been brutal, words limping out onto the page, scenes forming with in pathetic randomness. So, instead of sitting in my office, I opted for a change of scenery and a very large cup of coffee.

I’ve determined that I should write 10,000 words per week to get this book finished. Unfortunately, the only way to make writing easier is to write. It sucks but it’s true. If I write 2,000 words every weekday, I can use the weekend for editing, administrative tasks, or heaven forbid, cleaning.  Three nights this week I sat up until midnight to get the words in. One day I still fell short. Today started out much the same. Four hours at Panera netted me my daily minimum.  I set out to run errands. In the car, scenes and dialogue started flashing into my head. I had to turn off the radio. The music was competing with my characters.

I hurried home, panicked that I’d forget half of what was in my head.  I grabbed my laptop and vomited out another 2K in under 2 hours. I didn’t think I could type that fast. I happily wrote myself into a nasty headache.

Why does this happen? Why does the story hate me one day and love me the next?   Why does it seem so random?  I’ll never figure it out, but I’m surely going to enjoy the days when the job really seems as easy as friends and family think it is.

Now back to writing. Maybe I can make it 5,000. Wishing you all a writing day as successful as mine.

- Melinda

Exotic Settings for Stories – by guest blogger Sascha Illyvich

Torn to Pieces_USA Today bannerToday I’d like to welcome guest blogger and erotic romance author Sascha Illyvich to Attacking The Page.

What sort of settings do you like exploring in your romances?  Are you fond of the newly created worlds authors come up with, with new rules?  Or do you long for something paranormal to happen in the modern world with only slight changes to the game of life?

In Torn to Pieces, my USA TODAY Recommended Read from Sizzler Editions, I chose Albuquerque, NM as the base for the story.  My heroes are wolves and the heroine (it’s a ménage) is a witch who longs for free land to roam and play.

I spent a considerable amount of time there before writing the book and have actually used Albuquerque as a backdrop for several stories.  Most notably, Torn to Pieces, but also for an upcoming Secret Cravings Publishing release entitled Raining Kisses.  In fact, the loft Iolite lived in is the same loft Nicholaus lived in as I used the place I stayed in while on business there.

Things I like about Albuquerque, NM as a backdrop for books.

  1. It’s spacious.  Mountains, desert, a decent downtown scene
  2. The weather appeals to the supernatural curious in me
  3. I won’t lie, the bars downtown are pretty hip too LOL!

The thing about the bars has more to do with the fact that it’s got a party scene, so if I want to set spy stories there, or have characters who hide, it’s perfect.  I really enjoyed looking out on my balcony with a cigar in hand at the majestic mountains, and seeing some of America’s history at the same time.

Still, the snow in winter sucks LOL!

Where are some of the places you like to “visit” from books you’ve read?

Pick up Torn to Pieces on Amazon

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Thank you for joining us today Sascha!

The Impact Of A Character’s Name

Every aspect of the story a writer creates, especially something as simple as the names of their characters, has an impact on the story they choose to tell.  A name can be a very important vehicle when mapping out a character’s personality. A name can help a writer show what kind of person their hero/heroine is, or hint at the character’s history or background.

In a contemporary romance if a heroine’s legal name is Margaret Mary O’Brien, the image of  a woman in a long flowing skirt on a hillside covered with flowers pops to mind. But when the fact that she calls herself Maggie is disclosed, a much less formal picture of her is imagined. If the writer goes a little further and puts her in a pair of worn jeans/cowboy boots and sit her on top of a horse, they’ve painted the picture of a women who can more than take care of herself. A strong heroine—-my favorite kind : )

There are other reasons besides personality that should be considered when choosing a character’s name. For one thing, a writer must make it easy for their reader to keep the character’s straight as they’re reading. For example, if a hero’s name is Chase, a writer should not name the heroine, Grace.

An unfamiliar name can make a character stand out, but be careful—it can also make the reader have to stop and say, is this the hero or heroine? If a writer chooses to spell the heroine’s name Jeramie, which spelled Jeremy is male, chances are the reader will be confused. Another way to confuse a reader is by using unisex names. Both Pat and Chris can be male or female. Simple mistakes like these could drive a reader crazy, or worse, make them stop reading your book altogether.

Here’s a rule of thumb– If a writer wants to give one of their character’s a “different” name, they should make sure their other character, hero/heroine, has a gender specific name, one that’s easy for the reader to remember. So, if a writer names their heroine, Brooklyn, then their hero should be a Bob or a Jack. P.S. Short names like Bob, Jack, Bill are good hero names because they’re short, and strong.

Keep the names chosen for your characters specific to the period the story takes place. In a historical novel, the name Brooklyn for a heroine is out of place, just as in a contemporary romance the name Winifred would be out of place. I think you know what I mean : )

One last note: when referring to a character in narrative, make sure to pick one name or nickname and use it throughout. If a writer refers to their hero as Luke, Dr. Lucas Martin, and sometimes as the professor, their reader will really be stumped.

I did this a lot when I started writing, especially in my first drafts.  I was so eager to get the story that was alive in my head down and on paper, I don’t pay attention to my character’s names. Then I’d have to go back and while reading make the changes. As time has passed, I no longer do this, but it’s an easy mistake to make.

One last thing, when writing dialogue this rule changes slightly. A store owner can call a hero, Mr. Martin, and his students may refer to him as the professor, while the  heroine calls him Luke.

Is choosing your character’s names something you spend a lot of time on? And if so, what affects your choices the most?

Best,

Cathy Tully

Elements of a Good Critique Partnership – A Repeat

Since I’m on the topic of Beta Readers, I thought I’d replay a post I did a while back about critique partners.

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I am very fortunate. I have an awesome critique partner. Melinda won’t hesitate to tell me when I’ve gotten it right, and at the same time she’ll tell me when I’m stinking up the page. I like to think I offer the same to her. What makes our partnership work? There are many factors involved in finding the right critique match, but here are just a few things that work for us.

First, and most important, is trust. Without that you’re finished before you start. You’re putting your work in your partner’s hands in the hopes of receiving honest feedback and help in improving not just your manuscript, but also your overall craft. Bottom line trust is vital.

Complimentary skill sets are a plus. Both Melinda and I bring something different to the table. Things that I tend to be completely escape my notice she’ll pick up on and vice versus.

Have a thick skin. Being in the publishing industry, you’re going to need one anyway. You’re going to need to be able to take constructive criticism whether it comes from your critique partner or your editor. On the other hand, a good critique partner won’t try and tear you down or make you feel bad about your work. A good critique partnership is about mutual respect and honest input.

Be honest with each other. When I send pages to Melinda, I’ll tell her to tear it to shreds. Why? First, because the only way I’ll improve the story and my skills is if I have someone combing through it with a critical eye. Second, I know that the dissection will be done thoughtfully and with respect. Third, because she may have suggestions that would never occurred to me.

You don’t have to write in the same genre, but it helps to be a familiar with the genre your partner writes. A critique partner who is not familiar with your genre may be able to offer suggestions on the basic technical skills of writing, but not the nuances of the genre.

Communication is key. If you don’t feel that you can offer a helpful critique you need to let your partner know. For example, I write M/M romance. I realize it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Before I started sending chapters to Melinda or before I send to a Beta reader I let them know up front the nature of the story. I never want to send someone something they are not comfortable reading. Also, if life has gotten crazy, you need to let your partner know what kind of turn around time you can give them.

Celebrate each other’s accomplishments and be supportive when disappointments happen. Your partner will most likely be the one you turn to when things happen along your publication journey. It’s nice to have someone one to support you who also understands what you’re going through.

These are just a few suggestions of what makes a good critique partner. Do you have any other to add to the list?

~Rayna

How Star Trek Helps Us with Showing Rather than Telling

Want to be able to show and not tell in your writing? Use the Holodeck! The following article on showing vs telling has been swiped from Kristen Lamb’s blog.

You’ve heard the advice show, don’t tell until you can’t stand to hear it anymore. Yet all writers still seem to struggle with it. I think one of the reasons is we lack a clear way of understanding the difference between showing and telling. And that’s where Star Trek comes in to save the day.

Showing happens when we let the reader experience things for themselves, through the perspective of the characters. Jeff Gerke, editor-in-chief at Marcher Lord Press, explains showing in one simple question: Can the camera see it?

Screen Shot 2013-03-01 at 8.15.46 AM

While I love that way of looking at it, we’d have to really say, can the camera see it, hear it, smell it, touch it, taste it, or think it? (And that would be a strange camera.) Because of that, I prefer to think about showing as being in a Star Trek holodeck.

Click here for the rest of the article…

How Star Trek Helps Us with Showing Rather than Telling.

~K.M Fawcett

Writing Supporting Characters

Supporting characters can come in all shapes and sizes, as well as, a variety of forms depending on the genre one writes: think elf, sprite, monster, you get the jist : ) They can range from loving family members to enemies that want our hero/heroine dead or want to destroy everyone and everything in our character’s life. In order for a supporting character to have relevance in a story, that third character must have a significant impact on one or both of the hero/heroine or they must influence the rest of the story. Otherwise, they don’t belong in the story.

In romance, many stories contain a certain kind of third character. This character is almost like a third main character. This third character can be the cause of the story or the point around which the story revolves. This character can be a child, a parent or a grandparent. They can be a best friend or confidante. Whichever works best for the story : )

In my first book, ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE, I used the heroine’s Gram as my third party.  I made this quirky, sweet, senior the reason the heroine came to town in the first place. I gave my heroine a close/loving relationship with her Gram and created a grandparent reader’s would love to have for their own : )

I love using a third main character in my stories. Most times it’s a person, although I must admit in MARRYING MR. RIGHT, my third character is an adorable dog named Hugo. He may not be able to talk to my heroine, but his loving ways and deep insightful eyes give her all the support/guidance she requires : )

This third character usually acts as a buffer, or someone the main character can bounce things off of. Better yet, someone who is truthful/honest to the end and tells the hero/heroine what they need to hear even if they don’t want to hear it. After all, isn’t that what a good friend does in real life?

The difficult part of writing third character’s is that they often become too big for their own good.I know when I write a third character, I have to pull he/she back and remind myself who the story is really about: The hero/heroine. Third character’s can become larger than life and that’s fine, if one is writing women’s fiction, not romance. So, when I outline these third character’s I must decide how the actions/choices of the third character affect the actions/choices of the hero/heroine without letting them take it too far.

Noone said writing was easy : ) And my books would probably be written faster if I didn’t insert a third main character. But every time I finish another book, I find that these third characters mirror so many real people that it would have been a shame to not include them in my story : )

Have you ever written a third main character? Do you find it hard to keep them on track and not allow them to “break out”?  Do you have a certain way you keep them in line? I’d love to hear your comments.

Best,

Cathy Tully

Creating Believable Hero’s and Heroine’s

I love reading books on the craft of writing because I believe that no matter how many books I write, there is always room for improvement. My latest read was written by Leigh Michaels, titled, Creating Romantic Characters. This book really hit home with me and how I write my hero/heroine’s, so I’d like to share some of what Leigh talks about with you today.

A hero or heroine should be the kind of person a reader wants to be. The good, the bad and the ugly qualities rolled up into a nice neat ball. As a writer I find that’s the best part of creating hero/heroines. They shouldn’t be perfect. They should be as real as we can make them, because those are the kinds of people readers relate to.

If a hero/heroine doesn’t open their mouths and insert their foot from time to time, if they were perfect and didn’t say dumb things, embarrass themselves or trip in front of a room full of people. If they said the right thing at the right moment instead of a week later, or better yet, if they were considerate and tactful more times than none they would probably be too perfect. Because we all know, no one is perfect : )

Here are some things hero’s/heroine’s do: he/she is always kind to those who are less powerful than them i.e., children, animals and the elderly. He/she is gentle even if Uncle Bob consistently talks about his aching back, they never snap at him or treat him like a pain in the butt. : )  Sure, we all know people in real life who cross the line and do not follow the above rules, but I’d like to think there are fewer of them in the population and more people like the heros/heroines we create.  More people like us : )

Heros/heroines never gossip or delight in another’s troubles, even if they deserve it. He/she is never rude unless provoked, even to each other and even then, they’re never hateful or malicious. However, wisecracks and remarks are acceptable : )

I especially like the last piece of information because I always get my hero/heroine head-to-head with some type of issue where each one is on the opposite side and the wisecracks fly like fireworks on the fourth of July. Ahhhh…..sexual tension is built and into the story I go : )

Do you agree with these rules for heros and heroines?  Are there other’s you use when you’re crafting a character? If so, I’d love to hear about them.

Best,

Cathy Tully