Saturday, 3 December 2011

Harlequin Authors blog

Just dropping by to say that the Harlequin Romance authors are relaunching our blog and website, and to celebrate we've got giveaways and recipes every day!

Pop on over:
Today it's Liz Fielding and her gorgeous shortbread recipe!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

New book started!

Finally, I have done enough research and character digging to at least make a start on my next book!  I've decided I might as well blog about how I'm using my plotboard as I go along.

At the moment the poor thing is naked, but that will change in the next couple of days...

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Plotboard - part two

Cards and drafts

I thought I’d mention a bit about how I use the cards and Post-Its on my plotboard before I get into detail about the different sections of the board.

First draft
The keyword for this stage is: messy.  This is the ideas stage, after all.  Flashes of inspiration.  Nothing neat about those.  In this stage I tend to scribble ideas down on any bit of paper I can find and pin them to the board where I think they’ll be most relevant.

Don’t care about what colour or what shape the ideas are written on, as long as they go on the board.  Some of them may be thrown away later and some of them may prove to be some kick-butt ideas to take my story forward.  No way to know which until I start to write, so everything stays until I’ve finished the first draft.  If I don’t use an idea, I keep the bit of paper anyway.  For the last book that came in very handy, because ideas that I’d discarded in the first draft helped me revise the book after my editor had seen it and asked for changes.

As I write, I use half an index card (cut vertically) and put the bare plot point of the element on the top of the card.  For example, some card headings from the previous book were: “Zoe and Damien dance” or “Zoe and Damien reach a truce” or “Zoe goes back home”. 

At the moment I’m using white cards.  I was using yellow, but I discovered I kept running out of yellow index cards and was drowning in the other colours from the multi-coloured packs you can buy.  At least I can get white index cards easily in one pack on their own.

As I complete a scene, I add an index card to the board.  For the previous book I also stuck a small Post-It to the card indicating the goal of the POV character for that scene.  Always good to remind yourself what your characters want (and what’s thwarting their progress).

In this part of the process, I find myself returning to my board constantly to remind myself of what good ideas I’ve forgotten and to remind myself of where I want to go.  It can be hard to hold all of that information in your head.  Sometimes, when I’m focussed on a particular part of the story, I forget all about the flashes of inspiration I’ve had about a different sections.  That’s where my board comes in handy.  It holds all that information for me until I’m ready for it.

The plotboard is also useful to remind myself of things I need to go back and change as I get further on in the writing process.  I added notes while writing my previous book to change the style of the bride’s wedding ring in the opening scenes and to set up my hero as being a little more stiff and structured. 

Subsequent drafts/revisions
Quite often, after you’ve finished a book, you’re far too close to it to see where the problems lie.  I often return to my plotboard, strip it bare of everything but the white cards and look at the story in a more tidy, analytical way.  First draft was where I let my creative right brain play.  Revisions and editing are much more about the logical left brain.

Last time round (after reading Dara Mark’s fabulous book Inside Story: The Power of the Transformational Arc) I decided to look at my book in three threads:

What Dara calls the A story – on other words the plot.  It’s very easy in a character-led book to slip into classifying internal decisions as plot, but I try and save that for the other threads.  The A story is all about the physical action: what are the characters doing?  What are the working towards? Where are they going?  I used yellow Post-Its.  For some reason yellow means plot to me.  Dunno why.  Sometimes, if the scene heading on the top of the card was enough description on its own, I highlighted that text yellow and didn't bother with the Post-It.

Then we have the B story: the character arc.  In a romance, you normally have two character arcs or journeys – one for the hero and one for the heroine.  I chose green from my pack of Post-Its for this (because green makes me think of growth).  On these stickers I noted my characters’ internal journeys – what they started out like, what their character flaws and fears were, what they need to learn.  Also, when they had moments of breakthrough and changed, how they faced challenges and either resorted on their armour to keep themselves safe or did something new and brave.  At the end of the board it's all about making sure those flaws and fears you mentioned at the beginning have been dealt with.  I read through each chapter, saw what I’d already brought out and then I crystalised it into a sentence or two on a Post-It and stuck it on the index card.  Quite often it helped me define the character’s growth at that point and I could start to see if I’d brought out the right things or if there was something missing.

Then there’s the C story.  Dara says there’s always a C story.  It’s the relationship that changes the protagonist.  Quite often it's through interaction with another person or thing that the protagonist discovers the error of their ways.  In a romance, this will be the developing love story.  I noted down on pink Post-Its (the only colour I had left - I’m really not anal about what colour goes where) how the hero and heroine were feeling about each other, what the romantic conflict was, and where the milestones were e.g first kiss, first meeting, declarations of love.  Again, it helped me check each scene was moving the relationship on in a believable and emotionally logical manner.

The odd thing is about this part of the process that I hardly ever look back to see what I’ve put on the board in great detail.  Unlike the first draft, when I need reminders, the second draft (or whatever) seems to be much more about the process of plotboarding.  As I write it all down it somehow solidifies the story in my head, keeps the threads woven tight together so I can see where things need changing or developing as I work.

More detail on each section of the board soon...

Saturday, 19 November 2011

One of the best bits

One of the best bits of my job is getting to research and/or visit interesting places.  My next book is going to be set in a stately home, so today I visited Leeds Castle (near Maidstone in Kent) for some inspiration.  I'm not going to say much more, but just let the pics I took of this fairytale castle do the talking:

Leeds Castle

The bridge to the castle island

The Queen's bedchamber

Little courtyard in the centre of the castle

The library (I want!)

The castle from the lawn on the island

From the centre of the maze

The castle on its island

Sigh.  What more can I say?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Plotboarding - how I got started

Okay, I promised some blogs about my plotboard.  Now, I can’t claim to have invented the idea – far from it – but I’ve been tweaking my own approach to using index cards and pins to help me visualise my book for about six years now.

I’m quite a visual thinker and it helps me to ‘see’ the structure of my book this way.  It also provides a place to put all those ‘lightning bolt’ ideas I get about my book before, during and after the first draft.  You  know the kind of ideas I mean: the ones you get when you’re minding your own business, not even really thinking about the book and – BAM! – suddenly you know why your heroine is acting that way, or the perfect setting for a scene comes to mind, or just a line of dialogue pops into your head and triggers something off.

When I get those kind of ideas – and they are generally my best ones – I scribble them down and pin them to my board.  My board follows a chronological timeline of my work-in-progress, and when I think about where to pin that scrap of paper it often becomes instantly obvious where and when it should go.  Do things move and change as I work on the book?  Absolutely.  That’s why God gave us coloured pins!  That’s the beauty of a plotboard: nothing is set in stone.

Anyway, here’s my first plotboard. This was the one I used for Her Parenthood Assignment.  My whole approach to plotting was much less sophisticated (and probably much less neurosis-inducing) back then.  I’d read that a good way to plot was to think of 20 things that needed to happen in your book.  That’s what the pink index cards are: 20 plot points for the story.  Then, as other ideas came to me, or notions of how I could develop those plot points floated to the surface of my consciousness, I tacked them onto the board next to the relevant plot point.

Later that year, I listened to the audio recording of Michael Hauge speaking at the RWA conference in Dallas.  I loved the way he divided a plot into six stages, with a turning point between each one.   I’d already read The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and was familiar with the steps of the hero’s journey, but Michael Hauge’s approach was simpler: basically three acts, with a turning point in the middle of each one. 

So I started trying to incorporate that into my board.  Here’s version number 2, which I used to plot Christmas Wishes, Mistletoe Kisses (although, by the looks of it, I took this picture fairly early on in the process.)  I turned my board landscape and divided the space into six sections with bits of string (well, actually it was yellow wool left over from a pair of socks my grandma had knitted me years before) and labelled those sections and the turning points at the top.  Now when I had an idea I didn’t worry so much about getting it in exactly the right chronological order, as long as I stuck the scrap of paper in the right section I’d know where to find it. 

From what I remember, I decided to colour code to help me pick out the essential info.  The white cards are plot events, the pink cards relate to my heroine’s journey and the blue my hero’s.  Yellow cards were snatched of dialogue and the green were things to do with theme.  I carried on using this format for a couple of years.  Where I placed the cards and what colour they were changed as I tried different things out. 
Sometimes I was very fixed on cataloguing character arc and plot separately; sometimes I just threw it all on there any old way.  The main disadvantage was that I could see the plot flowing from card to card in one long line, as I had with my earlier version.

Then I read Save The Cat by Blake Snyder.  Great book, and I loved his idea of storyboarding too.  He divided his story board into four horizontal strips: Act 1, Act 2a, Act 2b and Act 3.  I immediately decided to try the same thing, and discovered I now had room to use my plot point cards in chronological order, but I still had room to pin all the little flashes of ideas around them too.  So this is how my current plotboard looks like:

This the the board when I was halfway through writing The Ballerina Bride (US title)/Dancing With Danger (UK title).  Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough already for this post, so next time I’ll talk about the structure of the different acts and what goes where.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Should've stayed on board...

Just got revisions back for Always The Best Man (whether it keeps that title or not remains to be seen!).  It seems that my ending feels a little rushed.  I had suspected as much myself, and when I got my trusty plotboard out, I could see why!

This is the current incarnation of my plotboard. 
There are four rows:
  • act 1
  • first part of act 2
  • second part of act 2
  • act 3

Compared to the beginning of the story, the last act is a little sparse!  And if I'd paid attention to my board instead of ignoring that while I wrote the final chapter or two, I might have worked that out for myself.

I find having visual map of my book exremely helpful in both the writing and revising stages.  In the first draft I can scribble my ideas on post-its and index cards (or bits of envelopes etc.) and often there is an obvious place to pin those ideas when I look at my board.  In the revising stage, I can start to jiggle cards around and see what's working and what isn't.

Anyway, can't stay round here blogging all evening.  I've got a book to revise!  Back to the board for me...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Celebrations all round!

I have FINISHED MY BOOK! One more read-through on my Sony Reader, just to catch anything I missed, and it's good to go.  Yay.  I love the just-finished-a-book feeling. 

However, I've got another book due in three months, so my post-book euphoria will rapidly moprh into starting-a-new-book excitment. It's a Christmas series about three sisters that I'm doing with Shirley Jump and Donna Alward.  More on that soon...

And if that wasn't enough excitment, I've just seen the UK cover for Dancing With Danger (The Ballerina Bride in North America). 

Whoa.  Seriously hot hero alert!

Just hang out here a while and drool.  I don't mind...

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

New Cover!

Just coming out of deadline hermit status (and New Voices mentor status) for a few seconds to post the North American cover for my January 2012 release:

Wow! That's all I can say.  It's inspired by a scene out of the book, but I'm not saying any more because to do so would involve horrible spoilers!

Will be really interested to see the UK cover of the same book, Dancing With Danger, because I bet it'll be totally different.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Unfortunate typo!

Have just been alerted (via Twitter) to a rather unfortunate typo in my latest book, Swept Off Her Stilettos! (Reminding me of the recent Susan Anderson news story.) On page 186, it says:

Sorry, folks! It was supposed to say pantry! I've chekced the ebook version, the print version... Yup it's there in every single one. No much to do now but cry...or laugh. ;-)

Thursday, 29 September 2011

RWA Workshop 3: Set In Emotion

Next on the list of helpful workshops at the RWA conference this year is Set In Emotion by Erin Quin.

This interative workshop shows how to layer in emotion to your scenes by using description - especially how describing things from the viewpoint character's persepctive can flavour the scene and add atmosphere. Erin suggests identifying the overall mood or emotion of your scene and then finding 'word families' that reflect that to use in description.

I definitely use this technique already in my writing, but it was great to hear it from a fresh persepctive.In fact, I think I came at the subject from the other direction in my talk on emotion at the RNA conference, when I mentioned how by using the wrong description writers can sometimes dilute the emotion of a scene.

Click here for the download, if you're interested.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

RWA Workshop 2: Hips Don't Lie

My second RWA workshop recommendation is Hips Don't Lie by Gina Ardito - an helpful, amusing and informative journey through the world of male and female body language.

This fun, hands-on workshop will detail the subtle and not-so-subtle signals our bodies send out in the pursuit of romance, so authors can rejuvenate their prose with more than just shrugs and winks.

Great for helping keep those physical mannerisms fresh and true! And if you want to know why men can't tell the difference between bums and boobs, this one is for you!  Here's the link if you're interested getting the audio download, or you can try here if you'd like to see the workshop hand out.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Mills & Boon Secrets Uncovered!

If you're and apsiring romance author, or are polishing your entry up for the current New Voices competition, you might like to know about a free ebook that the Mills & Boon editors have produced to help you write your romance: Mills & Boon Secrets Uncovered.

Tons of fab advice, from the horses' mouths, so to speak (sorry, ladies!) and maybe even a tip or two from your favourite authors. Maybe even a little bit on how not to overdo the emotion from yours truly!

Monday, 26 September 2011

RWA workshop 1: Creating 3D characters

Creating Three-Dimensional Characters
This workshop was given by NYT bestselling author Cherry Adair and was an absolute hoot, as well as being thought-provoking and educational.  I had to stop and scribble things down while I was listening, which was a bit tricky, because I was on a train.  I also embarrassed myself in front of the other passengers on the 10:35 to London Victoria by laughing out loud a couple of times.

I've never read one of Cherry's books, but after hearing her speak I am off to order one.  I mean, how could I not? This woman loves colour-coding just as much as I do!

My fave bits:
  • Know what your character is afraid of. (Now, does this sound familiar to anyone who was reading my New Voices workshop notes?  Good!)
  • Know what your character is proud of.
  • Know what your character's superpower is! (Their unique, particular talent)
  • Know what your character's kryptonite is!  (And then expose them to it! Also, sounding familiar? Good!)
If you want to hear it for yourself, you can find it here. (And I promise no one is paying me to talk about these workshops - I just like sharing good nuggets of writing wisdom!)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

RWA workshops

My DVD of the audio sessions from the RWA conference in New York have arrived!  I'm very excited, as I only got to attend a couple of sessions, and there were so many interesting-sounding workshops on the schedule.  

I've ordered the conference audio sessions after each time I've been to an RWA conference, and I download them all onto my iPod and listen to them when I'm walking or in the gym or driving the car.  And I try and listen to them in order, even sessions that don't necessarily grab me by the title.  I've had some of the best writing tips ever from workshops I've listened to that I would never have picked from their desciption!

Anyway, I thought I would blog about the sessions that I found especially interesting or helpful. Individual sessions can be downloaded from the conference recording website for a moderate fee. (Well worth it, in my mind! After I'd finished listening to the CDs from Dallas in 2007 I soaked up so much knowledge, and I'm sure it made me better writer.)

Before I start reviewing other people's sessions, I have to plug the workshop I did with Harlequin/Mills & Boon Editor Bryony Green and fellow author Donna Alward.  We talked about How To Write Sizzle Without Sex and Emotion Without Tragedy. The link, should you be interesting in listening (for the princely sum of $8), is here.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Festival of Romance

I'm blogging about the Festival of Romance too - but not here! I'm over at Fenella Miller's blog, talking about why I'm excited about the first ever event of this kind in the UK!

Love reading or writing romance? Think about heading on down!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Guest blog - Festival of Romance

Today I have a visitor on my blog! Please welcome Jean Fullerton, award-winning author of page-turning romantic fiction, who is talking about the upcoming Festival of Romance. If you love writing or reading romance this is the place to be this autumn.

Celebrate Romantic Fiction!

Festival of Romance takes place on Friday 21st and Saturday 22nd October 2011 at Hunton Park, near Watford, Herts, UK.

The programme is based around romantic fiction giving readers the chance to meet favourite and new authors. There will also be fun activities including a chocolate tasting and the Festival of Romance Ball and Awards on Saturday 22nd October. The aim is to celebrate romantic fiction in all its forms.

What are you looking forward to at the FR ?
I'm looking forward to so many things at the Festival of Romance it's difficult to narrow it down to just one but if I have to I'd say what I'd say it's the prospect of meeting hundreds lovely readers.

I know it's a cliché but without anyone reading my books they are just paper and ink. People often think writers spend hours huddled over their keyboards because they dream that one day they will be snapped up for a squillion pound book deal but that is very far from the truth. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn down a squillion pound book deal but that’s not what keeps me up into the wee small hour grappling with a knot in a plot. Quite simply the reason I write is for that supreme moment of joy when a reader tells me that they love my heroine, adore my hero and wanted to reach through the pages and strangle the villain themselves.

What will you be doing at the FR?
I'm very excited to be involved with the first ever Festival of Romance and Apart from talking myself hoarse, I’ll be taking part in two events The first is on Friday afternoon when I will be joining Christina Courtney for a panel discussion entitled, Love in War and Peace. We will be discussing the issues involved in writing historical romance.

On Saturday afternoon I and my dear friend and fellow historical novelist, Fenella Miller will be giving a talk called, A Beginners Guide to Historical Romance or Everything you Wanted to Know about Historical Romance but Were Afraid to Ask.

Fenella and I are passionate about historical fiction and we will be taking the audience on a trip from Stone Age to the Modern Age. We will be recommending historical romances for the uninitiated in a hope that readers who have not read historical romances before might take the plunge.

I’m also taking part in the Authors fashion parade on Saturday afternoon, which should be fun.

Why should readers come to the FR?
I think the main reason readers should come to the FR is because it's going to be a brilliant weekend. Added to which they will be able to meet dozens of authors, publishers and agents along with other readers with the same love for romantic fiction as themselves. I’m sure the FR will soon become a permanent fixture in the literary calendar it will be exciting to be part of the first one.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Brixton Library Workshop pics

I know I've been posting my New Voices workshop notes, but I haven't said much about the workshop itself. I had a fabulous time. The librarian was warm and welcoming, and everyone who came was bursting with questions and enthusiasm. I could have wittered on all night - but, fortunately, somebody stopped me.

Aside from being a great opportunity to mention New Voices, it was also good to support a local(ish) library. Many libraries are facing funding cuts or closure, and having events like this (and the workshop was booked out weeks before the date) shows just how much they do for the local community. So, get down to Brixton library if you can (next to the Roxy), or your local library, and grab a few good books!

Thanks to Caroline, librarian at Brixton library, for the pics!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

New Voices Workshop - part six

Just a quick post to talk about the Happy Ever After...

A romance is a story with a happy ending. Your hero and heroine had lessons to learn, remember? They wouldn’t have been ready or emotionally capable of making this relationship work at the start of the story. However, the events of the plot have changed them and now they are ready to embark on a fulfilling, loving relationship.

In other words, your You hero and heroine have to earn their happy ending. Their prize? The thing they’ve always longed for – their internal goal.

Make sure your characters complete their emotional journeys! Readers will put the book down unsatisfied if there are emotional loose ends. Readers may not know why that ending didn't have the 'ahhh' factor, but they won't have that warm and fuzzy feeling they were looking for when they picked up the book.

Monday, 19 September 2011

New Voices Workshop - part five

The Black Moment

OUTER STORY: should have escalating conflict – bigger obstacles, more vicious baddies – until there is a final showdown
INNER STORY: there should also be escalating conflict with a final test.

Often, before the climax of the story (when the hero and heroine finally get together) the conflict will escalate until things reach breaking point. Different craft writers call it different things : crisis, major setback, the black moment. Whatever name you prefer, this is where your character hits emotional rock bottom.

Basically, this is their ultimate test. They’ve been growing and changing, and they’re almost ready to earn that happy ending with the hero/heroine, but to convince readers they are ready to embark on that relationship without sabotaging it themselves we have to show them that the character has truly changed. This is one place where you really have to ‘show’ and not ‘tell’.

At the end of the story, readers will project into the future and guess what will happen after ‘THE END’. You want them to believe that divorce is not an inevitable part of that future, that the Happy Ever After is going to last.

So, how do you test them convincingly? You make them face their deepest fear! It’s the best ammunition at your disposal, and if you set your character up as being afraid of something, you have to pay it off. It’s like Indiana Jones telling everyone he’s afraid of snakes – if we didn’t see him dangling over a pit of the little monsters at some point in the film, we’d feel cheated!

Allegra's fear: not being free - but as the story develops, she starts to realise it's not her circumstances that are trapping her, but herself. She stuggles to break out of her self-imposed shell, but it's hard and she wonders if she'll ever make it. Rather than being a one-off moment for Allegra, it was an on-going situation that intensified.

Finn's fear: losing someone he cares about - but he's also scared of exploring that fenced-off area inside himself. Finn manages to engineer his own black moment rather nicely when, because he refuses to do that emotional exploring, his only other option is to walk away from Allegra. He looses her. It hurts. But it was his choice, so he thinks he's going to be okay. Stupid man.

When the pressure is at its greatest, your character will often return to that emotional armour that protected them for so long, and reverting to this behaviour will often be what triggers the Black Moment, either for themselves or the other character. And it’s often the fallout from this event that pushes them to make that final change, to pass that final test, because they realise they are not the person they used to be any more, and they see that self-defeating behaviour for what it really is.

Each character will have their own moment of crisis but, depending on the story, one may be more intense than another, and they may not happen at the same time. Your characters may grow and change at different rates and you will have to decide what works for your story. Sometimes one character will complete their arc before the other one.

For example, the hero might be ready to commit and start a life together, but the heroine’s inner demons are still chasing her hard and she may do something to seriously jeopardise the relationship and split them apart.

In Finn and Allegra’s story, Allegra finishes her character arc first. She faces her fears and learns to take charge of her own life, make her own decisions. She finally has that inner freedom she’s always yearned for, and she uses her new-found courage to do her bravest act yet – she tells Finn she loves him. Finn, however, hasn’t completed his arc, so this sends him running – both emotionally and physically. He rejects her.

I threw in a little extra test for Allegra – now that she felt empowered, I wondered if she would overcompensate, if she would try to control situations, impose her will on others, the same way others had imposed theirs on her. I gave her a moment of choice, where she could have chosen to go down that path, but ultimately she decides that she can’t curtail Finn’s freedom either. If he has chosen to walk away, she has to let him.

Finn takes a little longer to learn his lessons, but he works it out eventually, and then he comes back ready to explore that uncharted region of his emotions, ready to embark on his biggest adventure yet – love. Yay!

More on the Happy Ever After tomorrow!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

New Voices Workshop - part four

Okay, so far we've looked at the individual characters, but how do you get the sparks to fly when you put hero and heroine together?

The Romantic Conflict
In a romance we have two protagonists – a hero and a heroine – but often no villain. So where is the conflict going to come from? Each other, of course! Neither of them is evil or bad; it's just that their differing goals are going to put them in conflict with each other.

However, this is a delicate balancing act:

On one hand they have to provide enough conflict to push the other character out of their comfort zone, so they start to see life/love/themselves in a new light, and so they begin to change their behaviour.

On the other hand, these people should also be the solution to the other one's inner conflict. They will ultimately fulfil that deeply-held longing the other has had (and that’s how we make readers believe they are right for each other).

I've got a little tip when it comes to romantic conflict (I stole it from the wonderful Michael Hauge - read his book, buy his DVDS!): Your hero and heroine often go to battle with each other wearing that emotional armour! It's often that self-defeating behaviour that causes the problems, those character flaws they just haven't ironed out yet. But when hero and heroine connect, it's because they see UNDERNEATH that emotional armour. There are moments as they start to get to know each other that they let that armour slip and give their true selves away. The other person falls in love with that person, not the one who's causing them all the trouble on the surface. And when readers know that your hero and heroine love each other for who they really are, they will buy into the love story wholeheartedly!

Since the romantic conflict is closely related to your hero and heroine's inner conflicts, you need to build your hero and heroine so everything about them feeds into that romantic conflict that's going to arise between them. Likewise, the plot, any subplots and secondary characters should only exist to advance the romantic storyline.

So how are your hero and heroine going to cause problems for each other? Well, we need to look at the hero first:

Finn McCloud is a sexy, survival skills expert, who likes nothing better than to jump out of planes, raft in white waters and hanging off mountains by his fingertips.

Finn's inner goal: What he needs is to connect with other people. Finn, meanwhile, is always looking for the next adventure, trying to find that ultimate destination that will give him a sense of peace and connection. He hasn't got a clue he's looking for a person, not a place.

Finn's motivation: he was an army brat who moved around a lot and learned quickly not to put roots down too deep, or to care to much about anyone. He's an outgoing, friendly guy, and people like him, but all his relationships are shallow. He won't get truly close to anyone.

Finn's greatest fear: losing one more person he cares about. So getting attached to anyone on a deeper level is going to scare him. Falling in love is going to freak him out big time!

Finn's coping mechanism: while he's brave and adventurous in his professional life, when it comes to Finn's relationships he's a coward. He steers well clear of anything resembling true love. He has the sense of freedom Allegra craves, but he's chosen not to explore areas of himself and his emotions, preffering to leave them fenced off and out of bounds.

So, how is Finn going to make life difficult for Allegra, and vice versa?

Allegra is struggling with her new-found freedom – she's not sure what to do with it now that she's got it – and Finn is pushing her to make choices, follow her instincts and generally do things she had very little experience of doing. Allegra is mortified that one of the reasons she left home is that she was disappointing everyone back there, and now she seems to be disappointing Finn too. And, despite the fact she is up close and personal on a desert island with her secret crush, she thinks he'd never be interested in an unadventurous mouse like her.

Also, Allegra has spent so long never being able to express her opinion or what she wants, but she doesn't even know how to tell him that she's attracted to him. In other words, meeting Finn and spending time with him is what makes Allegra realise her problems will not be solved by a change of location. He brings her internal conflict to the fore by making her realise she is part of her own problem. She feels just as trapped on a desert island as he did back in London!

Finn, meanwhile, is blissfully unaware of his survival skills protégé’s internal struggles. He's just doing what he always does – skimming along the surface of life, enjoying the moment, never getting too deep with anything. His troubles begin when Allegra starts to rise to the challenges he's giving her, when she starts to learn all those lessons she needs to learn (taking charge of her own life, making choices, finding her inner spirit). Suddenly he finds himself attracted to her and, rather than be the adventure hero everyone thinks he is, he runs scared. If he let's himself get close to Allegra he will be in really big trouble.

Can you see how putting these two personalities with their own individual emotional baggage is going to make sparks fly?

But once you've got the conflict going, what do you do next? More on that tomorrow!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

New Voices Workshop - part three

Continuing from yestedays's post, where we talked about internal conflict...

Asking a few questions can help identify your character's internal conflict:

1. What is your character’s greatest fear?
This will often be the flipside of their goal and will be closely related to that pain in their past. (See yesterday's post for more on this).
Allegra fear’s being trapped for the rest of her life, of never feeling free.

2. What coping mechanisms has your character developed?
There are otfen two aspects to this: who they are and what they do.

We need to work out what emotional armour our characters are hiding behind. We all have it, don’t we? How do they hide their true selves to protect themselves from what they fear?
Your character may also behave in certain ways to protect themselves, but often these behaviour patterns are self-defeating. The character thinks this is what they need to do to get to their goal, but this is actually what’s holding them back.

Allegra has become the dutiful, obedient ballerina. There’s no point fighting against her life; that’s just the way it is. She’s told what steps to do and she does them, and because she entered the profession so young the dynamic of her professional relationships hasn’t really changed since she was sixteen. She’s still stuck in that same mindset.

Remember the car chase hero who was scared of driving? For the story to be gripping, readers will have to worry that your character could fail to achieve their goal, and it’s this internal conflict that will give readers most cause for concern, because when your characters are pushed way beyond their comfort zones that emotional armour is going to seem warm and inviting instead of suffocating, and they will want to revert to those unhelpful behaviour patterns, because this is how they have coped up until now!

During the story they will struggle to learn a better way, but when the going gets tough the safety of doing what they’ve always done to protect themselves is going to get more and more appealing. The greater the conflict, the greater they will be tempted to use their emotional security blankets!

So, when Allegra finally does escape, and ends up on a desert island with a hunky survival expert (What can I say? When she snapped, she snapped!), she feels totally upside down, and instead of taking advantage of all that freedom she relies on doing what she’s always done – following instructions and doing what she’s told. At least, to start off with…

But…in order for your character to get what they want (internal goal) they are going to have to stop being that kind of person, they are going to have to find a new way of dealing with life. The thing they long for is going to be forever out of their reach until that happens.

3.What lessons does your character need to learn?
It's easy to work out how they need to grow and change once you know:
  • The painful secrets in your characters past
  • What they are afraid of
  • What emotional armour they are hiding behind
They are going to have to take off those masks and learn to deal with life in a different way.
What has been working for them up until now is no longer getting them by. It’s time to change.

You now have a roadmap for their inner journey (also called their character arc or emotional journey).
Starting point: character stuck inside the shell of that false self, engaging in in self-defeating behaviour.
Finishing point: character has faced their fears, let go of self-defeating behaviour and have embraced life more fully as their true self.

Allegra needs to learn to speak up for herself and make her own choices. She’s also going to have to learn to manage the freedom she yearns for when she gets it, and that having to make choices will be more difficult than she imagined.

Now, that's just thinking about one half of the equation - the heroine, in this case. What's going to happen when we throw the hero into the mix? And how is he going to be part of the heroine's conflict? More tomorrow...

Friday, 16 September 2011

New Voices Workshop - part two

Okay, yesterday we looked at external conflict, now we're going to take a peek under the surface and talk about internal conflict.

What is internal conflict?

Let's go back to our car-racing hero from yesterday:
We have a hero who wants to win a race so he can get his hands on a cash prize so he can use it to pay a ransom for his son, who has been kidnapped. Unfortunately, he had an unscrupulous opponant will do anything to get to the finishing line first...

What if our hero had a terrible accident a few years back? (Possibly injuring someone he cared about?) He hasn't driven since, and he's petrified! He'd rather be going 10 miles an hour in a car park than 100 miles an hour down a crowded city street.

Now our hero has another obstacle, and this one is not from outside himself. It's not traffic lights and speed limits or an opponent in a faster car. This obstacle comes from INSIDE HIMSELF.

To achieve his goal he has to conquer his fear of driving to win the money and save his son.
Now we’re much more engaged in the outcome - If the stakes get too high, if the speed gets too fast, the stunts too dangerous, will our hero crumble? And how will he feel if his son his hurt because of his own weakness?

This inner conflict has added an extra layer of complexity to the story. Our protagonist will have to grow and change to reach his goal (happy ending) or he can refuse to grow (tragic ending).

An Internal story also needs internal goals
The hero often has to face some internal conflict to achieve his extra goal. However, external goals (plot goals) are not the only goals in a story.

EXTERNAL GOALS have a tangible, visible finish line: Win the race, get the job, find something they’ve lost…
INTERNAL GOALS are intangible, less easy to measure: Success, freedom, security…

Finding your characters' internal conflict
Pick one of your protagonist's (hero or heroine) and ask them a few revealing questions to get to the heart of their internal conflict:

1. What is your character’s internal goal?
We need to know what our character both wants and needs – and sometimes these are not the same thing!

What do they want, deep down? What do they long for? Sometime a character knows what is missing from their life, what is out of balance – they just don’t know how to go about finding that missing element or restoring that balance. And, in these cases, the character only has and inkling of what is wrong, and if they understood the scale of the problem it would probably scared them witless!

But sometimes a character is too afraid to even admit anything is wrong and they ignore the problem; they tell themselves that something else is the solution to all their ills and go after that instead. The problems is that if we were to give our character what they want it would probably destroy them. However, as a writer we should understand what that character really needs, even if they don’t.

I'm going to use the heroine of my upcoming book 'Dancing with Danger' (UK title)/'The Ballerina Bride' (US title) as an example.
Allegra's internal goal - freedom. But it's good to be specific about what that means to your character. Freedom will mean different things to different people. For Allegra, freedom means escape and the chance to make her own choices.

2. What is your character’s internal motivation?
We will find or explain our character’s internal motivation by looking into their history (backstory). Our experiences also shape our thoughts, behaviour and perception of how the world works. Those events can bring out the best in us or they can cause us to show our negative sides. Unfortunately, it seems that the painful experiences are much easier to carry forwards into our futures than the positive ones.

So, to understand why our character wants something we need to know what that emotional baggage is. And don’t be satisfied with the superficial things - keep digging until you find the root!

Allegra's motivation: she's a ballet prodigy who's been working hard since she was sixteen. Ballet has been the focus of her very rigid, very structured life. However, the strain of all this hard work is starting to show, and Allegra isn't sure ballet was ever her choice - she's followed in the footsteps of her famous mother because it pleased everyone she did so. Even worse, the sense of suffocation that is threatening to overwhelm her is affecting her dancing. The critics are saying she's burned out at the age of twenty-three. Ballet has been her life, and if things don't improve she might not even have that...

3. What is your character’s internal conflict?
Hopefully your plot will your character in a situation where both their inner and outer goals are under threat. Be careful you don’t concentrate so much on the outer goals that you forget about that inner conflict - know how your character’s internal issues are going to help them sabotage their own attempts to achieve their goal.

Allegra's external conflict: her external goal is literally to escape, to run away. She wants new experiences, to travel. Up until now she's not had that opportunity - her career demands a huge amount of her time and her domineering father has kept her on a very tight leash. What's stopping her? She's just about to star in a brand new production, and the workload is tougher than ever. No chance of escape for now. Apart from the new steps (which she's rehearsed a thousand times) it's the same old same old.

But identifying the internal conflict can be a bit trickier than sorting out external conflict, so tomorrow I’ll have a few hints to help with the discovery process…

Thursday, 15 September 2011

New Voices Workshop - part one

I thought it might be useful to post the main points of the New Voices workshop I gave at Brixton library on 14th September, but since there is quite a lot to get though, I thought I'd seperate it into a few posts and put them up on consecutive days. Here's part one:

Using internal conflict to create a gripping romance

There are two levels to every gripping story:

Outer: the plot – the things that happen to the protagonist, the action of the story.
Inner: character - about the people: what happens to them on the inside, how the action of the story changes the protagonist, either for better or worse.
  • E.g. Titanic: the outside story concerns the unsinkable boat hitting an iceberg and killing hundreds. The inside story belongs to Rose, how being on the Titanic, meeting Jack, and ultimately surviving, changes the course of her life.

The External Story

The plot is the external action of the story, the physical events that push the story forward. However, action alone has no intrinsic meaning.
  • Think of watching a piece of video footage where cars are racing each other, driving fast, is mildly entertaining but we don't get very emotionally involved. We could increase the tension by making the cars race faster, putting them in city instead of a race track, adding extra obstacles for them to deal with, but we probably wouldn't watch this for long.

PLOT needs to be centred around a CHARACTER.
Readers want someone to identify with, to root for.
  • So, if we identify one of the drivers as our hero and another as the villain, suddenly we are more interested in the outcome, we could do better…


A character needs a goal to create dramatic tension (and that dramatic tension is what gets readers hooked into a story and keeps them turning pages):

GOAL: what your hero (protagonist) wants.
MOTIVATION: why they want what they want.
CONFLICT: what is stopping them getting what they want.

Back to our car chase hero - let’s make this a race…

Goal: to beat the villain to the finish line. (All of a sudden, this is much more interesting!)
Motivation: why? Maybe because he wants to win the big-money prize?
Conflict: he has a skilled opponant who wants the same thing he does, and possibly won't play fair to get it.

Adding the motivation of a monetary prize certainly raises the stakes, but we need to keep asking why - motivation is often multi-layered and multi-faceted. It would be nice for our hero to win the money, but I don’t really care that much about it. How can we raise the stakes further?

(Okay, this is a bit corny, but it's simple and understandable, so let's work with it.)
What if his son had been kidnapped and he needed the prize money to pay the ransom? Now we are invested in the story, because the meaning behind the action just got personal. We don't just think it will be nice if the hero wins the race, now we really want him to win! Strong, personal motivation engages readers.

Look out for part two The Inner Story tomorrow!

Saturday, 10 September 2011

New Voices is almost here!

Last year Mills & Boon ran a hugely successful X-Factor-style romance writing competition, and this year it's back - bigger and better than ever!

New Voices 2011 launches on Tuesday 13th September!

Round 1:
aspiring romance novelists can upload their first chapters to the New Voices site. The M&B team will whittle down the entries to 20 finalists.

Round 2:
The finalists will then write the second chapter of their book, and the public and judges will vote on who goes on to....

Round 3:
finalists write a 'pivotal moment' from their story.
Then the judges and public decide the winner!

This year West-End star Jodie Prenger, a long time M&B fan, will be our celebrity guest judge. Check it out: she's reading my book, Swept Off Her Stilettos, on the M&B website!

How chuffed am I?

Anyway, there are a whole host of New Voices writing workshops going on around the country, hosted by Mills & Boon authors, and I am leading one at Brixton Library this Wednesday - 14th September!

Here's a link to the full list of workshops and further details.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Swept Off Her Stilettos - hero and heroine casting

Coreen had "bit parts" into other books before she got a story of her own. That meant she was pretty fully formed in my head before I started writing Swept Off Her Stilettos. Initially, she appeared in my head like one of Alberto Vargas's pin-up girls come to life: sexy, cheeky and totally gorgeous.

Apart from the
photograph I posted the other day, other good matches the Coreen would be:

Holly Willoughby, British TV presenter who caused a storm wearing a not-particularly revealing dress on Saturday evening TV. It was the body she'd put inside it that caused all the fuss. Now, I've seen women on television wearing a lot less and hardly generates any column inches at all. That was what I wanted for Coreen – an eye-popping figure. If Holly had dark hair instead of blonde, she'd be a pretty good match for Coreen Fraser.

Throw in a dash of Martine McCutcheon, who played opposite Hugh Grant in Love Actually, and we'd be almost there. Martine has a cheeky glint in her eye that would make her perfect for the part of Coreen, should some Hollywood executive ever decide to make my little book into a movie. (Well, a girl can dream, can't she?)

And what about Adam? How did I see him? Well, the picture of Matthew Fox below on the left was my earliest match, but the other day I stumbled across a photo of Bradley Cooper (centre) that also made me stop and think, "Adam". In fact, if I put those two pictures together in a line-up with the guy on the cover of the UK edition of Swept Off Her Stilettos, he's a pretty good match!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Book of the week!

Have just discovered that Swept Off Her Stilettos is Now magazine's book of the week, with a four star review!

Here's what they say:

Dita Von Teese's retro-luxe glamour would fade quickly into the background if vintage vixen Coreen Fraser stood beside her. Now that she's got fashion firmly wrapped around her finger, can she convince her crush Nicholas to put a ring on it? But when her best friend Adam reveals his own feelings for her, Coreen must decide where her affections truly lie.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Adventures in New York - part 2

On Sunday morning I met up with Love Inspired authors Camy Tang and Danica Favorite for a trip to church. We set off from our hotel in Times Square for Greenwich Village. As is always the way on the first day in a new city, we got lost. Thank goodness for Google Maps, Camy's iPhone and Danica's sense of direction!

However, one of the plus points of getting lost is all the wandering you do trying to find your way. We walked past the tea shop called Tea & Sympathy on Greenwich Avenue. Being British, I'm always in need of a good cup of tea, and it seemed I was in the company of two fellow tea-aholics who couldn't resist going back there after the service.

Now, I should have remembered the subtle culture shock a Brit gets from visiting America. We think, because we see American locations on the television all the time that it somewhere familiar, somewhere like home. In some ways it is, but in other ways it is totally different. It's a bit like arriving somewhere and not knowing the rules. For example, for the first couple of days I had a hard time finding the road signs. They weren't were expected them to be. And don't get me started on toilet stalls... Anyway, I'd forgotten that lots of these minor differences (plus the jet lag) add up and give me a vague sense of disorientation for the first day or so that I'm Stateside. However, the moment I stepped into Tea & Sympathy the world turned itself right way up again.

We'd stumbled onto an English teashop, full of union Jack bunting, floral teapots and pictures of the Queen. I could knowledgeably inform my fellow tourists what "bangers" and "clotted cream" were. And I could get a good cup of tea. Heaven. (I am also now busting to write a story set in New York with an English teashop-owning heroine.) Unfortunately, my stomach was to jet lagged to want anything more than a cup of tea, but we had a great time chatting over a very late breakfast.

Then it was time to get back to the hotel and meet my roomie, Donna Alward, who was flying in from Canada that afternoon!

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Swept Off Her Stilettos - Inspiration

Sometimes I have to root around in my memory to remember where the idea for a book came from, but not with this one. There was one big polka-dotted inspiration for this book: my heroine, Coreen.

She first appeared in Invitation To The Boss's Ball as the heroine's best friend, and immediately began to steal the show. Alice was a skinny redhead, not confident in her own sexuality, and I decided she needed a best friend and business partner who was her complete opposite, so up popped Coreen.

Coreen accused Alice of being a doormat where men were concerned:

'I do not invite men to walk all over me,’ Alice said in a quiet, but surprisingly defiant tone, well aware that Coreen would have no trouble kicking just about any man into line with her pillar-box red, patent, peep-toes wedges. Vintage, of course.

And with that line, I pretty much had an idea who Coreen was - a vintage drama queen who expected every man she met to fall down and worship at her feet. Of course, when I decided to give her her own story, it was obvious she should run into a man who refused to do just that. I had a rich, alpha hero all picked out for her, and then, somehow, that idea got flipped on its head too. Enter Adam. That's when the fun really began!

I spotted this lovely photo while looking at vintage fashion blogs when I was doing the research that this book. The dark hair, the red lips, the slightly cheeky glint in the model's eye, all reminded me of Coreen.

Many thanks to Rodelle from Adore Vintage for the use of this photo.