The Writers Voice

Mar 21 2018, 7:14 pm

Let’s talk about voice.  No, not the TV show. The ‘voice’ that comes through in your story. Your book. And I don’t mean reading it out loud. I mean what YOU bring to the story.

Ever ask anyone to define voice? Most times I’ve gotten something along the lines of, I can’t tell you what it is exactly but I know it when I see/read it. Or, have you tried to explain voice to a newbie author? Yeah.

Okay, so here’s my take on voice.   

There are layers of voice in a book.

First is the author’s voice. It’s how you, the author, tells the story. Ten people can be eye witnesses to an event. Each will give a somewhat different account. It’s according to their world view. The way their experience leads them to see and understand the world.

Edna St, Vincent Millay said:  A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with their pants down.

How come? Because in writing we reveal our own world view. How we feel about events going on around us. Not so much the events. A tree falling is a tree falling. But in the telling of the tree falling you reveal feelings, perceptions and the process of dealing with the event. Your voice.

We don’t need to be a serial killer to write about one. The emotions and how you deal with them in your story reveals how you feel about serial killers. Your voice.

Second is the character’s voice. Each character having a distinct voice is important.

Ernest Hemingway said, When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people, not characters. A character is a caricature.”

In order for me to do this I have to know my characters. I take James Scott Bell’s definition of voice to heart. “Character background and language filtered through the author’s heart and rendered with craft on the page =voice.” 

 To find a character’s voice I create a world view for them. Give them values, secrets, fears, misguided beliefs and so on. The characters become real to me.

This is the way I create emotional connections with the reader. Make them feel something. It’s said people will forget what you do, say, and write unless you make them feel when you do, say, and write something.

When someone says the voice wasn’t strong, I believe what they’re saying is the author failed to make them strongly feel something.

What do you think?


My go to books for studying voice are: Voice by James Scott Bell and Finding Your Voice by Les Edgerton.     

Since I said we all have our own world views we all more than likely have different views on what voice is. Please share yours and any books you find helpful.    

How To Be A Successful Hooker.

Nov 16 2017, 12:41 pm in


 Did you come to the blog thinking I was going to talk about a very old profession? If you did well…. 

HA! Made you look. You fell for my HOOK.

   I’m talking about hooks in your writing. Hooking a reader into your story. Grabbing them so hard and fast they can‘t put your book down.

  So what is a hook? Mary Buckham, in her lecture packet on Hooks and Pacing, says it best. “Hooks create an emotional response from a reader. Not just any emotional response but one that gets under your subconscious, raises a question and compels a reader to turn one more page in order to find an answer.

  Hooks can, and should be used, in the opening sentence of a book, the opening paragraph, the end of the first page, the end of the third page, the end of the third chapter, opening a chapter as well as an ending one, at each new scene and, if you’re writing a series, the last sentence.”

  In her book, How I Write, Janet Evanovich says:  “The beginning is the most important part of the book. It must capture the reader immediately and force them to keep reading.”

  Agent Donald Maas says hooks are vital to open your book, open each chapter, open each scene, and end the book. The best books contain one or more of twelve different hooks.

* Action or danger

* Overpowering emotion

* A surprising situation

* An evocative description that pulls a reader into a setting [think a specific setting here that impacts the story line vs simply description per se – simple description of a generic or vague nature is not evocative nor qualifies as a setting]

* Introducing a unique character [Introduction of a character is not enough – they must be unique.

* Warning or foreshadowing

* Shocking or witty dialogue [internal or external]

* The totally unexpected

* Raising a direct question

  Still not convinced hooks are important? I wasn’t either. I didn’t see the need for an opening hook. This is what a smart author told me. Take five of your favorite books from the shelf and read the first paragraph. Is there a hook?  I had twenty-one books on the table before I became a believer. All save one had a hook. All but a handful had the story GMC in the first pages.

   My very favorite opening is Michael Connelly’s The Brass Verdict. It completely lays out the story.

“Everybody lies.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victim lies.

The trial is a contest of lies. And everyone in the courtroom knows this. The judge knows this. Even the jury knows this. They come into the building knowing .They take their seats in the box and agreed to be lied to.”

  I am blown away when a reader remembers my opening or asks me if I’m a helicopter pilot.  Let’s get back to your opening. Does it immediately draw the reader in?  Don’t know? Think about it like this. Say your book is about an asteroid on a collision course with earth and the heroine who saves the day. Should the first page begin with the heroine sitting on the sofa, channel surfing, eating ice-cream, thinking about calling the hunky new neighbor that just moved in next door? But, first she has to make her grocery list, call her sister and make sure the new puppy doesn’t pee on the carpet?

OR…The heroine learns there is a giant asteroid headed her way. She snatches up puppy, runs next door, grabs the hunk out of shower and drags him from the house seconds before the asteroid hits demolishing both homes. 

  Which are you going to want to read more of? Do you care about what her grocery list includes? What flavor of ice cream she prefers? Do you want to read farther to learn if the puppy pees on the carpet?  Not me! I’d kinda like to know if hunky neighbor had time to grab a towel, what he’s going to do for clothes and how he is going to thank the heroine for saving his life. Hmm. HOOK!

  Your opening does not have to be explosions, fires, or murders. It does need to make the reader want to read on and on and on. You only have a few pages to ‘hook’ an agent, editor, and most important your readers.  

Make the best of your first pages.  

In the first paragraph drag the reader in with a grappling hook, use a spinner to end the first page.  End the first chapter with a treble hook. Go all out for the end of you submission and use a big game hook.  

  Feel free to share your opening hook.


Guy Speak 

Nov 1 2017, 5:00 pm


This is not about a man saying one thing and meaning another.

I’m discussing male dialogue in romance books. It drives me bonkers to read dialogue that has a man speaking like a woman. Y chromosomes express themselves differently therefore, their dialogue is going to be different.

I’m going to take it to the very basic bottom line. Male and female brains are hardwired different. It goes back millions of years when primal instinct ruled. It was survive and procreate. Relationships as we know them didn’t exist. Females sought out a strong mate for his genes and to protect and provide for her and the resulting offspring. Males driven to spread their seed, sought females with large breasts and wide hips considered to be good breeders. They spread their seed, grunted, scratched, pounded their chest, and protected their offspring.

Some things haven’t changed. Women still look for a protector and provider. The definition of those roles has evolved. Protector may now mean having her back, sharing a life. A teacher and role model for offspring. Men are still driven to spread… well, we know.  

Mercifully, some things have changed. Each species still has the survive and procreate instinct but they have evolved, wants to be in a good relationship and find true love. Those needs are communicated in different ways.

We as writers have to remember not to mess with the hard wiring and put that difference on the page. Don’t make your heroes fit so perfectly into some fantasy Prince Charming mold that our male characters no longer resemble the male species. BTW, my opinion is most women aren’t looking for Prince Charming. They want someone who knows about unconditional love, how to be honest, true and faithful.

Start with the differences in the way the two sexes talk. Women tend to qualify a statement by ending the sentence with a question.  “This color looks good on me, don’t you think?”

Guys do not do that. “Dang. This is a good color for the Mustang.”

Ask a guy a question that requires a yes or no. “Do you want to ride into town with me?” Men will respond with yes or no. Ask a woman the same question. “Yes, but can we stop at mall first cause I want to exchange a blouse I bought the other day. It isn’t the right color. If you don’t want to stop, it’s a no.” 

When writing dialogue for a guy the less words used the better. A cowboy won’t ask the cows to go into the corral, he’ll yell yee-ha.  A police detective isn’t going to say to the bad guy “Please put your hands behind you so I can get these cuffs on.” It will be, “hands behind you.” And maybe an expletive added.  Men cut to the chase. They don’t hem and haw and beat around the bush. They say what’s on their mind. “Nice dress. Take it off.”  Thank you Janet for that brilliant line. Or, do men just have lower standards?

Now let’s discuss feelings.

Guys are not as complicated as women want to make them. There’s an old joke about what it takes to please men and women. There are 99 items on the woman’s list. Things like bring her flowers, candy, rub her feet, take her to dinner, etc. On the men’s list are 2 things: show up naked with beer. Pretty much sums it up.

Does your hero tell your heroine how he feels? Does he answer her when she asks how he feels?  If the answer is yes, then take your hands off the keyboard and step away from the computer cause we need to talk.

Even though you want your hero to be the man we gals want, having him talk too much about feelings could be pushing the edge of the envelope.

Guys will gladly tell you what they think, but what they feel…? Try this experiment.  Ask you DH, SO, any guy, what they feel about a topic you know they are interested in. A couple of days later ask them what they think about it. In my tests the- how do you feel- got blank stares, and a “huh?” On the- what do you think,- I had a five minute monologue and way more information than I wanted.

What’s the difference to a guy? The survey says: a guy is sure about what he thinks, but with his feelings he doesn’t want to look like a fool to his woman. They are intimidated by the fact women are born with a master’s degree in talking about feelings.  Also, they figure if everything is okay in the relationship she won’t want to talk about feelings. Talking about feelings when things are going well, throws a guy out of the game. He gets nervous.

I feel this is an excellent way to add conflict on the page with a relationship.

Her. “Why won’t you tell me how you feel?” She’s thinking -OMG there must be something wrong he won’t talk to me.

 Him. “I don’t feel anything.” He’s thinking- OMG I’ve screwed up big time. She wants to talk about feelings.

It can be a way to show character arc. In the beginning he doesn’t share much. As the relationship grows and he wants to make her happy, he begins to open up about his feelings. He doesn’t exactly like it, but when she lets him know how worthwhile he is, he becomes more willing to expose his own insecurities and sacrifice his comfort zone for her.  As in TALK about how he FEELS.

Careful about the writing here. Even though you want your hero to be the man we gals want, having him talk about feelings early on could be asking your reader to suspend beliefs a bit too far.  I just said a man will sacrifice his comfort zone for his woman. A man feels his sacrifices show his love. Men love that power struggle, love to be in control and those sacrifices, big or small, will mostly center around that.  Something as small as letting his woman pick the radio station in the car when he wants to listen to the game, giving in to what she wants, is another way a man expresses love. He derives great satisfaction when she acknowledges that sacrifice with a simple thank you, or a smile. I’m not saying a guy should forgo flowers on her birthday. I’m saying write smart. Show love in more than one way.

Do men get the wiggles in their knees when they fall head over heals in love?  Yes.

In the world cup succor matches in South Africa, the Spanish goalkeeper, Iker Casillas, missed a goal that lost the game to Switzerland. Fans believe his girl friend, Sara Carbonero, a beautiful sideline reporter was so close to the field before and during the crucial match she distracted him and Casillas allowed the game’s only goal.  Sounds like he got the wiggles in his knees.

BTW, after the game, Sara interviewed her boyfriend and on live TV, she asked her lover, “How did you fuck this up?”  Yup! SHe really said that. Sista was not going to take the wrap.

Do guys do crazy things to protect thei woman? Yeah!   Lets not forget when Helen of Troy took off to Paris with a bunch of Trojans in her luggage and Brad Pitt had to go get her. Wait…is that how it went?  Why do men do these crazy things? Because failing to provide and protect is a failure to show their love.

To wrap up. Writing the guys POV use less words. Get to the point. Cut through the unnecessary.  Consider subtle ways of him showing his love and showing her understanding that’s what he’s doing. Guys do fall crazy in love and will risk everything for their woman.

To get a handle on men’s dialogue I suggest you listen to love songs. The vast majority are written by men and feelings are rarely mentioned. They sing about what they are doing, are going to do to their woman, or what they want their woman to do to them. Read a book or two written by a Y chrom.  And read scripts. This link, has dozens to research.


Writers are Super Heroes

Oct 22 2017, 1:29 pm

Their Superpowers are: Imagination, Curiosity and Creativity.


In the top five questions authors are asked is: “Where do you get your stories?” 

     For a while when asked this I quickly said, “the Amazon story store.”  I mean, Amazon sells live lady bugs and rents goats, why not sell stories?  But alas, I had to stop because too many asked me for the link. 

     Here’s the real skinny.

     Writers are blessed/cursed with wild, vivid imaginations capable of great things.  I firmly believe imagination is everything to a writer. Imagining is our super power.  It’s a way to preview life’s coming attractions. It’s the ability to change the past in our mind’s eye.

Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” I’m not going to argue with Al.

Back to the, where do you get stories question. The correct answer is writers get stories everyplace. Through our senses, into our minds, we ingest the world around us then reshape it all into new images in our imagination.   

Recently my imagination was triggered by The Bureau of Land Management seeking volunteers to spend the summer in the middle of nowhere Montana in an abandoned haunted town.  Not happening for me but, my mind took me to an abundance of romance possibilities and spooky stuff.

Then there’s the abandoned and boarded up Baker hotel in Mineral Springs TX.  A big ole empty hotel just sitting there. I imagined a story about a group of mystery writers spending the weekend there and the last sentence of the book. “How would you rate your stay at the Baker Hotel?”   

And songs. For me songs are writing prompts. Take Ray Stevens’ DEAD SKUNK IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD. I immediately thought of a squished ex sprawled across the double yellow line. A hot detective convinced the ex-wife killed the skunk.

Who but an author can admire an ancient oak and imagine couples from every time period falling in love under the spreading branches? Then wonder how many bodies the roots are embracing.

I believe authors are a special breed. Every day we fade into the alternate world of books. Those written by others and the ones we’re writing. We extend our arms, put our fingers to the keyboard and imagination flows, letter by letter, across the screen. We can imagine anything and happily share what we conjure up with the world. 

I use my imagination to write the Under Fire series about extraordinary women and the men they love. Military heroines. A Coast Guard helicopter pilot. A Coast Guard admiral. A Marine Corps Intelligence officer. A Federal agent who works closely with Special Ops men. Women at the top of their field in a man’s world. They don’t want a man to take care of them they want a man who will accept them for who they are and stand shoulder to shoulder with them in their adventures.

Last year my imagination got the best of me and I published Let Me Tell You a Story.  A collection of eight twisted and tattered tales from the odd side. It felt amazing to finally free these characters from my mind and put them on the page. 

BTW I now answer the question, “where do ideas come from”, with a huge smile and say, “I imagine every single one of them.”

Where has your imagination taken you today?  Or, where has an author’s imagination taken you today?  


     Author’s professional curiosity is a huge subject on many levels. It begins with, can I write a book? Should I write a book? How do I write a book? Flash forward to a truck load of how do I promote and gain new reader questions.

I believe an author’s personal curiosity keeps the joy in writing. It ignites the imagination and fuels the creativity tank.

Curiosity isn’t just asking questions, it’s challenging yourself to come up with your own discoveries. Please, when you do ask questions, don’t be an ask hole.

DefinitionAsk Hole– one who takes your time asking a million questions and not only doesn’t listen to the answer, but if asking for advice, has no intention of taking it. 

In asking questions be prepared for the answers you may receive. I asked a couple married 60 years a simple question. When did you first know you were in love? The couple had never told each other and their answers had everyone in the room tearing.    

The curiosity superpower will take you places. Not like in horror movies when the dude goes out into a dark and stormy night to see what’s howling. Like asking a perfect stranger in line at the Post Office a question that can lead to a romance or lifelong friendship. Riding the subway in a big city on your own for the first time. Calling the apiary to find out how they get bees to give up their pollen.

Being curious gives you the courage and confidence to step out of you comfort zone. Even if it’s a tiny bit and for the briefest moment it can take you to the next level with new experiences to use in your writing.

Schedule a day, few hours, an hour, to question everything like a joyous five year old. Finding the fun and joy in your life carries over into your writing. Use curiosity to wake up your senses. Take a ‘feel’ trip. Invite friends. Touch everything you see. Well, not hot stuff and not guys. High end department stores, craft stores, and garden centers are great for this. When you write about the silk duvet on the heroine’s bed you’ll smile remembering exactly how it looked and felt. Equate the wool textures from the craft store with your hero’s sweater. You won’t have to imagine how the heroine’s fingers feel as they drift over his sleeve. You will know. Finger flower petals and leaves. They have an incredible lush feeling. Leaves can release a surprising scent. Instead of the heroine stomping through the lavender, you can use lemon balm, geraniums or any other scented plants you discover. 

Talking scent, do an experiment to find which is more alluring to the Y chromosome homo sapiens in your life. Does bacon, stink bait, or a slightly spicy Jo Malone scent dabbed behind the ear drive them crazy?  I found it broke down to the first two depending on how hungry and how close to the weekend it was.  

Are you curious and courageous enough to taste python pizza?  Find out if eel is really that nasty. I say yes. Does a hot dog taste as good without the bun? That’s a big N O for me. How many shots of grappa does it take to make you drunk?

My curiosity led me to a bee pollen hijacker who slams back grappa with python pizza and carries bacon in her purse to attract men. Where does it take you?


     Lately, in writers groups, there has been some discussion about keeping the joy in our writing. There are a bazillion answers. I think one is by indulging our other creative talents.  Yeaph. OTHER creative talents. Authors are very creative people. Think about all the other talents you have and how those creative outlets can nourish your writing. 

Here are a few.

Sewing. BTW I hear it’s coming back as a thing.

Knitting and crocheting.

Setting a proper table is now considered an art. Ha! I giggled when I saw a Facebook post about setting a table and there was no place for the cell phone.

Family wrangling. 

Cooking. Look at all the TV cooking shows.

Painting as in, on a canvas and the walls. 






Giving Parties.

Yeah. I hear you asking what these creative endeavors have to do with writing.  When you begin writing a new book you write a synopsis. Make a plan. Develop a structure or a pattern.  Look at the talents I mentioned above. How many need a plan, a pattern?

When sketching a face you start with the basic features everyone has, head shape, jaw, ears, nose eyes. But, it is how we shape those features that makes the face unique. Take sewing a dress. You begin with a pattern. Each one has an opening for the head and sleeves, but think of the creative possibilities in achieving the finished product.

When you begin to write every word inside you doesn’t rush out like a water fall onto the page at once. It’s like knitting and crocheting. One stitch/word at a time culminating in this great design/book.

I believe spending a few hours, minutes, a week with your other talents can help feed the writing beast. As proof I offer Ruby Sister examples. 

Jeannie Lin is a perpetual creative bottle rocket. She’s an entrepreneur, baker, swag maker and always has amazing creative ideas. Hope Ramsey is a knitter extraordinaire. Vivi Andrews produced the RWA awards ceremony. Louisa Cornell was an opera singer. Many Ruby Sisters are teachers. Have you seen the pictures Rubies post of their gardens on Facebook?

Me? I’m sketching again. Drawing my characters. Although I have to admit I sometimes use the Flash Face app to get the basics. I color in the big girl books. I click the knitting needles and crochet with basic stitches. Garden. My chain saw skill is getting better. A new design, other than out of control jungle, is emerging in the back yard. New skeeter repellant recipes are being tested and I write.   

What are your other creative talents? Take one of yours and examine it for similarities with writing.

Do you think enjoying all your creative venues can help keep the joy in your writing?




Writing Cliché Free

Oct 22 2017, 12:12 pm

     Ever been dinged in a contest or in a critique for using a cliché? I sure have. What is a cliché?  Here are a few general definitions I found.

  • A cliché is an analogy characterized by its overuse. It may be true (‘Fat as a pig’), no longer true (‘work like a dog’) or inscrutable (‘right as rain’), but it has been overused to the point that its sole function is to mark its user as a lazy thinker.
  • Being predictable and unimaginative; falling into a groove of human boredom; an old tired trend.
  • Something that has been overdone to the point where it is now predictable. A fad that has either died or is dying out.
  • Something that is lame and unimaginative, and, more importantly, has been done many times before.

     Look carefully at these definitions. They are very applicable to our writing.  I know you’ve all have heard of the romance writing oracles Some One, They Say, and They Said. Their teachings and sayings have often been quoted to me in an effort to prevent me from using dreaded clichés. I shall be referring to their words of wisdom here.

     I think, to a degree, clichés are unavoidable.  I suggest we take clichés, bend and twist them and use them to our advantage. I’m calling it fresh writing and cliché busting.

     In the movie, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, the Cannibal, Lector, a brilliant physiologist kills, and eats part of his victims. Ewww! Think of all the Hollywood tough guys the director could have picked to play Lector.  Each and every one evil, and diabolical.  He chose Anthony Hopkins, a five-foot- six, middle aged, English Shakespearian actor whose only screen roles to date had been portrayals of gentle men. The performance Hopkins gives is chilling. Big cliché buster.

     On more than one occasion, the oracle They Say makes it very clear we should not open a book, with our characters in bed, the weather, a death or at a funeral. It’s cliché. Well, I smell bull sh*t and you can tell They Say I said so. What does it matter as long as it’s done with humor and style? As in cliché busters.

     They Say is also against opening with descriptions of the weather.  It was a dark and stormy night.  It was a bright sunny day.

     Try, It was a dark and stormy night on a planet that didn’t have nights or storms.

     It was a bright and sunny day. The first in the hundred and twenty years since the war.

     Simple, and for me, cliché busters.         

     Some One is against using cliché sayings. What about the GIECO auto insurance commercials? They take cliché sayings bend and twist them and make them fun.

     A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Really? 

     The little pig went wee, wee, wee all the way home.

     Can a woodchuck chuck wood? In this commercial we learn they can.

     My favorite, honest Abe and Mary Lincoln. She asks, ” Does this dress make my backside look big?”  Poor Abe.

     The Drill Sergeant Therapist.

     These are cliché busters. 

     Take a look at the following clichés.  Can you twist them to something new?   

     Alls well that ends well.

     An oldie but goodie.

     Pick of the litter.

     Pay backs are hell.

     Kick ass.

     I know it like the back of my hand.

     Slept like a baby.

     I’ll take the last one. A detective asks his partner.

     “How did you sleep?” 

     His partner replies, “Like a baby. I woke up every two hours.”

     They Said makes it clear we must stay away from stereotype cliché situations.  Say my WIP is about a middle aged Italian widow who loves to cook.  She has two grown sons and she is constantly talking to them about marriage. What is the first image you conger up?  A short plump woman standing in her kitchen stirring spaghetti sauce with a wooden spoon and lecturing her sons they need to get married and give her grand children.

     Try this.  A hot Italian cougar with her own TV cooking show who is desperate to get her sons to break up with the boring women they are considering marrying, sell their book store, and travel the world for fun and adventure.   Cliché buster.   

     A woman is walking down the street talking on her cell phone. Seen that a million times, right?  Follow this link  to see a woman in  a 1928 Charlie Chaplin movie apparently talking on a cell phone. To make matters worse the woman looks like a man. Her feet are bigger than the man walking in front of her, her ankles are thicker than mine, her hand is huge and the whole thing is just plain spooky.   How about that for a time travel cliché buster?

     I do agree with They Say, descriptions have become predictable.  Just once (yes I used just) I’d like the description of the handsome Lord in a historical to be a bit off.

     Lord Brilliantly Handsome stormed into the room. His cravat appeared to be on backwards, his waistcoat was on inside out, his breeches buttoned askance and dear me, his boots were on the wrong feet. Where had his Lordship been and what had he been doing that led him to such disarray?

     Or, the beautiful heroine has a penchant for wearing so many ribbons in her hair you can barely see said hair.  

     Oh come on, you know you’d like to see it happen.  

     I loved the way Gillian described the doctor in her entry in our First line Contest. She got the point across without beating us over the head.  A cliché buster.          

     Bottom line is, listen to our romance writing oracles. Avoid being a lazy thinker. Don’t use the same overused, predictable, unimaginative, boring clichéd openings, character descriptions, settings and situations.  Spin them, twist them, make them your own to thrill and amaze the rest of us. Go through your WIP. Can you identify a cliché you could rewrite?  Need help brainstorming? Bring it over.  





Body Language

Oct 22 2017, 11:46 am

     I recently had a conversation with someone who said using body language to express the emotions of a character was lost on them. Really? Wow! “So,” I said, “if I made a fist and extended my arm in the direction of your face you would not know what was coming or how I was feeling?” The response was, “Well, you might be mad and going to hit me.” Like, hello! Body language.

     What brought the discussion on was I’d put a book down in frustration because the author had the characters do something and then interpreted that action. For example – she slammed the door then said, she was angry. In the context of the rest of the paragraph I understood she was angry when she slammed the door. Like my friend, when you see a fist coming your direction you figure you are going to be hit. The owner of said fist doesn’t need to accompany the action with a verbal warning. Same thing when you write. There is an instinctual understanding of body language. I call it lizard brain instinct.

     As mystery and suspense authors how do you show a character is the bad guy without coming out and saying it? I use inappropriate eye contact, as in glaring and holding contact to long, a dismissive glance, no eye contact at all, a predatory up and down look that makes you feel like you are on the menu. My bad people laugh at the suffering of others and are almost always space invaders. That is, people who constantly stand to close forcing others to back up. I also use inappropriate touching. I mean if a woman just met a man five minutes ago and out of the blue, he slips an arm around her waist and pulls them together. For me that’s a strong ewww factor. Does it hit you wrong also, or do you need to be told why it’s inappropriate?

     What do you get from these situations?   

  1. A character in an interview is jiggling his leg looking side to side.
  2. A couple sitting in the doctor’s office leaning toward one another. Leaning away.
  3. A couple at a table in Starbucks, she is leaning over the table in his direction arm outstretched, palm up. He is leaning back arms crossed.
  4. Another couple leaning to each other, hands resting on the table, finger tips barely touching.
  5. A man in a suit standing legs spread, hands on his hips pushing his suit jack back elbows sticking out. Or, he is leaning back in a chair, an ankle resting on the opposite knee his hand clasped behind his head.
  6. What is a woman telling her companion when she laughs and tips her head back exposing her throat?
  7. A man and woman are standing together. She is leaning into him head resting on his shoulder and a hand in the middle of his chest. He has one arm around her, the other in a pants pocket and a big grin on his face.
  8. A woman walking away from a man she knows is checking out her aft deck, turns and looks at him over her shoulder and licks her lips.


What I see.

  1. The character is nervous.
  2. The couple are happy and getting alone. Leaning away -they aren’t very happy with each other.
  3. She is pleading about something and he really doesn’t want to hear it.
  4. A new relationship.
  5. Both of these tell me the man is in control and he is letting everyone know it with his displays.
  6. Exposing the vulnerable throat indicates she trusts him and is ready to move to the next level of the relationship.
  7. I feel like she is declaring ownership. He is telling every man in the room- yeaph she’s mine, eat your heart out.
  8. No stamp needed for that invitation.  


So, tell me what you see in these situations. Do you like subtle body language in the books you read? Do you use it in your writing?  


Writing Rules

Oct 20 2017, 7:49 pm

Writing Rules. Yes? No? Maybe?



I present to you, in all their glory, Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules for writing.

  1. Never open a book with weather. 
    2. Avoid prologues. 
    3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. 
    4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely. 
    5. Keep your exclamation points under control you are allowed no more than 2 or 3 per 100,000 words. 
    6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. 
    7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. 
    8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. 
    9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things. 
    10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. 
    My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. 

EL’s comments on the rules

  1. Never open a book with weather.
    If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a character’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.

     Rita here: I think there are exceptions like: It was a bright and sunny day on a planet where the last bright and sunny day was eight hundred years ago.

  1. Avoid Prologues
    They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

    3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
    The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But, said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.

    1.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . .. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.
    2. Keep your exclamation points under control.
      You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
    3. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”

    Rita here. Recently purchased a trilogy of a thriller author ‘everyone is talking about’. I listened to the first one and had to buy the book. Why? I wanted to count how many freaking times he used suddenly and quickly. Quite honestly he was easier to count the sentences those words were NOT in. It was edited by a NY pub. OMG!
    7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
    Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won’t be able to stop.

    1. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

    Rita here again. I like this rule. 
    9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
    Unless you’re Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you’re good at it, you don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

    And finally:

    10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

    Rita here. (will that chick ever go away) Three books this summer, THREE, I skipped more than read. The Quickly and Suddenly was one)

    My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

    Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character-the one whose view best brings the scene to life-I’m able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what’s going on, and I’m nowhere in sight.

    Rita here dancing around – Yes. Yes, and YES. I would rather read a book that has some typos, maybe a plot problem mixed with a couple of continuity errors that is a great story with a brilliant voice than some grammatically correct, with all the proper punctuation, book that has been so stripped of voice by editing that it becomes a chuckawalla book ( a book you chuck against the wall and move on)    

    What do you think of the rules? 






Can TV and Movies Help Your Writing?

Oct 20 2017, 7:26 pm

     Have you been following the brilliant BBC/PBS series Downton Abby? Those of you who don’t know – and where have you been? –DA is about an aristocratic British family during the World War I era with an amazing ensemble cast. It has completely hooked me and millions of others. How can a story that takes place almost 100 years ago,  about some rather stuffy people in ordinary situations, and okay, some are not so ordinary, sucker me in so completely? Last week I was yelling indignantly at Earl Robert Crawley. Yes, speaking out loud to the TV. Telling him (warning spoiler alert) to get his hands off the maid. Really? What the bloody hell did he think he was doing?

     How are the writers of this show making it new and fresh to keep me interested?  

     Saturday Night Live depicts Downton Abby as a story about rich people living in either a church or a museum that don’t have Wi-Fi. The family has three daughters their names are: hot, way hot, and the other one. There’s an old lady who looks like a chicken and you don’t want to piss her off. There’s also a bunch of tuxedo people who live in the basement and take care of the place.

     Why am I watching each week?  am I waiting for them to get Wi-Fi? Waiting to see just how messed up the love lives of the three sisters can get?  Who will chicken lady go after next? Will the tuxedo people revolt and take over the museum? Whatever it is I’m waiting for I will be sitting in front of the TV at the appropriate time and watching the last episode. Then I’m going to watch all the episodes together on the Internet and take notes. Yes, take notes on foreshadowing, conflict, tension building, romance, ending hooks, and scene setting. It’s all there and brilliantly done.

     I began thinking about what other successful series and/or movies do to keep me coming back for more.

     The Sopranos. Every time I thought things could not get worse- they did. Each time Tony did some rotten lowdown thing and you just wanted to see the authorities handcuff him and throw him into a jail cell he’d act human.

     Same thing on Boardwalk Empire. Mr. Thompson can be a dirty bat rastard making you want the same thing for him that you wanted for Tony Soprano. Then he goes and does something nice. Dang. There is so much conniving on that show I don’t know why it surprised me when somebody pulled out a gun or knife. The next thing you know there is blood everywhere and a hole is being dug to bury the body. Then you can’t miss next week cause you have to see what the consequences are.

     Showtime’s Dexter is a serial killer. Yawn, another serial killer you say. The catch is he only kills bad guys. People who are known to be guilty but have escaped the law. Here’s another just to make it interesting twist. He works for Miami-Dade Police Department and his sister is a detective. He comes close to getting caught and you have to watch nest week to see if he gets out of it or if he gets handcuffed and taken away.

     Then there’s Homeland. The lines are so blurred between who the bad and the good guys are I gave up trying to figure it out. I just watch and let it unfold in front of me. Well, that isn’t exactly true. A friend and I have watched all the episodes twice and taken notes looking for clues. I got a headache.

     What about taking historical events and adding a twist like Forrest Gump? Did any of you catch the HBO series Rome? It was the Forrest Gump story of the ancient world. The writers took stories that we already knew and inserted two men into them. These two guys interacted with everybody from Cleopatra to Caesar to Mark Anthony. Zowie! I loved it.

     Then we have Titanic. Hey, everybody knows how that story came out. The ship sunk thousands of people died. Yet, we were all captivated by a beautiful love story and the many, many levels of conflict. And while I’m on James Cameron movies, what about Avatar? Break that down to greed and bigotry. It’s a story that has been repeated around our globe many times. A more technologically advanced group moves in on an indigenous people to take resources from them. But Cameron took it and put it on another planet with blue people. Of course you could argue that War of the Worlds and Transformers is basically the same thing.

     Anyhow, does anyone else deconstruct movies like this to help with their own writing? If so what movies have helped you?


Oct 20 2017, 7:20 pm

Like successful books, successful writers have

Goals, Motivation, and Conflict.

Think about it. We use GMC to build our books. As writers we are no different from the characters we set up in stories. Writers have Goals just as our characters have. We have the Motivation as to why we want to achieve our goals as do our characters. And we have the internal and external Conflict standing in the way of achieving our goals preventing us from reaching those goals. 


It is proven individuals with goals are significantly more successful than those without. Think of your writing career as writing a book. Do your characters wander around a story doing nothing? Nope. Your characters have purpose, a story goal. If a character’s goal is to be the president of the US, she will have to do some things, have a plan, take steps to reach that goal. What happens in a book is plot. What happens in your life is planning. As authors, we want to write the best book possible, be published, have bestselling books so we take steps and make plans in order to be successful. Ding, ding, ding. GOAL.

What’s your plan to reach the goal of writing that great bestselling book? This is important. It’s said that the main reason primary goals fail is because there are no secondary goals made. By this, I mean if your primary goal is to write a book your secondary goal could be to put your butt in the chair and write so many words every day. You may say, “well, duh, of course.” But, you will be amazed at how many people do not make secondary goals. To me this is same as saying you want to go to Paris and standing on the curb in front of your house expecting a 747 to land and take you there. To reach your primary goal and keep you on track develop daily, weekly, monthly, yearly goals. Be realistic. Be honest. Remember life can and does reach out and head smack you. Forget what your friends are doing. Decide what it will take for YOU to reach your goals. Don’t say you’re gonna write 5000 words a day when you know you only have time to write 500. You may discover reaching a goal can mean making a decision about what you need to give up. How many times have you said you don’t have time to write? Examine how you use your time. Perhaps cutting down time spent cruising the Internet or, hours watching TV.


Our characters goals are define by what they want and why. Motivation.

A writer’s reason, or motivation, for writing and being published is important to acknowledge. Do you write for fame? Fortune? To be labeled a successful author? Because you’d die if you don’t write?

If it is fame and fortune take a step back and define what fame, fortune and successful author means to you. As in a book, motivation has a direct effect on your goals.

Is your motivation to see your print book on the end display at a brick and mortar store?

Goal. Research editors and publishing houses.

Motivation. You want to prove to all the naysayers who said you couldn’t write a book that you can and did.

Goal. Save money to rent a billboard and take full-page newspaper ads to say nanny-nanny-boo-boo to all of them.

Motivation. You promised your dear great-auntie you would write and publish the family history and self-publishing is the way you’re going.

Goal. Find a good editor. Learn about e-reader formatting and research cover artists.

What I’m saying is different motivation requires different goals. In a story, a character’s motivation keeps the middle from sagging. For the author, motivation keeps you from sagging in the time between you finished the book and it is published. It’s that time when you’re looking for representation and a publisher to buy the book or working hard at learning the ins and outs of self-publishing. No sugar coating here, it’s hard and staying focused and motivated is extremely important.


And now we come to…Conflict. We are told conflict, conflict and more conflict is what makes a good story. Conflict, conflict, and conflict in a writer’s life might not be the best thing. Unless of course you are a person who thrives on conflict. But, let’s face it, we all have conflict in one form or another. A day job sucking the life out of you. A day job, and caring for a family while you write. BTW if you do, I am in absolute awe. Family and friends giving you grief about your writing. A new baby, children home sick, or both. A daily battle with the fear of failing, or being successful. Maybe the evil internal editor follows you everywhere. Whatever it is, you are not alone. We all fight the enemy called conflict and totally eliminating it is not possible. In your story, your H&H work hard to overcome their conflict. Writers are not different. Work hard to identify your enemy. Adapt, improvise and overcome. Yeah, that’s what gung-ho marines say and it works here cause our battles are just as intense as theirs. Never underestimate your enemy. (Yes. I write suspense/thrillers)

You are the Hero or Heroine of your own story. Use Goal, Motivation and Conflict and ensure your very own successful happy ending.

Have Primary and secondary goals.

Define your motivation. Believe it will happen. Believe in yourself. YOU_are_a_writer.

Identify your conflict and make a plan to overcome it, short circuit it or turn it into an advantage.



Writing Romantic Suspense

Oct 20 2017, 7:16 pm

In Romantic Suspense there are two distinct stories. The suspense and the romance.

RWA defines romantic suspense as a romance novel in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot.

You need a strong suspense story and a strong romance. Then you weave the two together perfectly. Today I’m only going to talk about developing quick physical and emotional relationships.  

 In this genre the action moves fast and the story takes place over a relative short period. I write contemporary thriller/action adventure and the stories take place over a couple of weeks and less. BIG PROBLEM. An author has to weave in a plausible romance and bring it to a satisfying conclusion (don’t forget part of a romance definition is the HEA) in short timeframe.  Not easy.

 If your characters are meeting for the first time on the pages of your story how can that plausible—I emphasis plausible— relationship develop so fast? What about the sexual aspect?  Characters getting between the sheets fast is crazy tricky. Of course if the characters have a history, good or bad as long as they have a touch point of knowledge, it’s less complicated.

 If you plan on writing sex for a hero and heroine who just met it is important you know yourself and your own boundaries.  Know what YOUR comfort zone is. If you can’t conceive of, or don’t agree with characters getting hot and sweaty together fast, for goodness sakes, don’t do it.

For example I’m not comfortable with a 2o something woman meeting a man,  two hours later being in bed and two weeks later being in a happy ever after relationship. Nor am I comfortable with someone that age knowing the man she’s just met is the one that fast. It would be impossible for me to give her the experiences that would allow her to make these decisions. Be clear here. I am NOT saying someone that age is incapable of making that decision, I’m saying I can’t write it to happen fast.   

Ergo, I write with heroes and heroines over 35. They have experience. To my way of thinking -my comfort zone- they are more capable of making a decision about going into a sexual relationship after a short time and handling any blow back. A 36 year old woman who has been around and experienced a lot in her life knows the ramifications of hooking up.

 You MUST know your characters.  What they will and will not do and why. I mean the down deep why.  While these issues are vital in every story, it is even more important in the fast pace RS genre.  You must know what circumstances will drive your heroine to hit the sheets quickly.  BTW I say heroine because I firmly believe she is the one who makes the decision as to the when and where.

 In my first book, Under Fire, the H&H go home together after they first meet. I totally knew my heroine. What event formed her values and beliefs and was behind all her decisions. The day the H&H met, she suffered two huge setbacks in her story goal. Going with him that night breaks all her personal rules but she decides to console herself with some sexual healing. Give in, just once, to her own needs and the reader knew this. She leaves his bed before he wakes thinking she will never see him again. In a few days this comes back to bite her. It also begins the resolution to her story goal. 

 As for the HEA in this story, these two people were NOT looking for a relationship but found something in each other that filled a void they didn’t know existed. As the author, I knew it did. Knowing your characters inside and out allows you to understand what they fear, what they want, and what they need. You use it to get them to work out their problems together and rapidly establish a bond. With each other’s help they face their fears, they change, and are rewarded with love and in the suspense novel get the bad guy in the process. This is an over simplification but I hope you get what I mean. 

 When the H&H have a sexual history getting them into a speedy relationship is always easier. In my third book, Point of No Return, two experienced intelligence officers from different agencies have an affair that lasted more than a year. You can read how they met in the free prequel No Holding Back. The hero broke it off for his own misguided reason. They come together again working to find the same bad guy. With their history, the sexual tension lasts for only so long before they give in. Their HEA is very complicated. Again, I know them completely.

 Another way is to use what some call survivor sex. After two people share a near death experience sharing the life affirming act of sex is always a possibility.  As an author, you can put friends, detective or business partners, who have worked together for years and know each other completely into that death experience and life affirming sex after. The act changes a relationship to full blown love and HEA. On the surface this looks to be the easiest choice. Honestly it’s the most difficult for me to write. To get a good balance of conflict you really have to know your H&H.

 I can probably come up with a hundred more scenarios but this is already too long.

Bottom line

  • Dig deep
  • Know yourself
  • Know your characters inside out.

What do you think?


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