How to Reel Them In

First impressions are more important than people agree. I was shopping with my son today for new clothes. He said something very interesting for a teenager. His words – a person decides what you are like within the first 8 seconds of meeting. From there, it is up to you to either change or support this first impression. Very perceptive for a teenager. Teenagers are very intuned to their personal identity when it comes to their clothing. They attire themselves in clothes which make them conform to other teenagers so they feel like they fit in. Of course, there are the teenagers who decide to buck against the norm in order to find their way and stand out from the others. In many cases, these teenagers are also trying to figure out where they fit into the world because they know they do not fit in with everyone else.

So what does a first impression have to do with writing?

If you think about it, first impressions have everything to do with writing. In those first paragraphs, the reader decides whether or not they like the book. If they do not like what they read during those first pages, they will stop reading. Just like a person will not pursue a relationship with a person if they are not impressed by the other person's appearance. The first paragraphs or pages are the clothing of your book. You have to take special care to dress the characters, setting, and plot in such a way as to entice the reader. To excite the reader to want to make a personal connection with the book. Think about this – the books you truly love capture your attention in those first pages. We know it as "the hook". If you can hook the reader in those first words, paragraphs, and pages, then they will read the rest of your book.

So, let's think about the beginning of your book as a set of clothing. What makes up the clothing? Your words.

If you're writing a historical, you open with the year and the location. Think about the number of times you have been to a bookstore. You look at the cover. Are you intrigued enough to open the book? Just like when you are looking at a member of the opposite sex. You see them across the room. Do you want to introduce yourself to them? Do they have the compatible features you are looking for in a partner? The same is true for a book. Think about book covers of today. No more do we have the bodice rippers romance novels became famous for, so today, often there are inanimate objects to allow you to make your own images of the hero and heroine. If there is a picture, many times the faces are nondescript to still allow you to imagine the characters on your own. Then you read the back cover. The blurb on the back further entices you. If you are intrigued by the hero and heroine's GMC, you are now hooked.

So, can you reel them in? Not just yet.

Why not?

In order to reel in the reader, you need to dress up the first chapter. Build a world so intriguing the person cannot put down the book. Develop your character's traits that make you swoon for the hero and sympathize with the heroine. Do you prefer your hero to look like George Clooney or David Boreanaz? Is he elegantly charming or roguishly handsome? Will his smile melt your heart or will the width of his shoulders make you shiver with desire? All of these things must come through in those first pages in order for you to want to read on. Now, think about the dialogue. The character's personality must come through their dialogue. This helps elaborate on the character's personality. Does he joke or is he serious? Is he perceptive or is he playfully dense? Think about clothing again – all of these traits are like the shirt, pants, and accessories that create that final image of the characters you will fall in love with.

Finally, put all of this together. Create the perfect person. The one person in the world who will walk into a room and make you melt on the spot. That's what a great book will do. You create a relationship with this book. You remember this book. This book becomes your favorite. The book you pick up again and again. Just like the person you want to have a relationship with, the book is the same way. You lovingly maintain this book. You keep it on your bookshelves to read whenever you need to feel connected again. This is the goal of every writer – to create a book that is so memorable, the reader tells everyone about it, keeps it close by, and never, ever lets it go.

In this day and age of eReaders, we all have those books that remain on our shelves. The classic books we read again and again. When you write the book of your dreams, remember you're also writing the book of someone else's dreams.


 


 


 

Where Setting is King (or Queen)

Setting has a life of its own. It's true. Think of your favorite movies and books. The ones you love have rich, textured settings. They draw you into their fantasy worlds and make you feel like you are part of it. I am a huge movie buff and with the Academy Awards coming, I am reminded how important setting is to making a movie work or fail. Let's take our favorite movies. One of mine – Gone With the Wind – is also one of my favorite books - would not have been as successful if they had filmed it the same way as many of the previous movies of the 1930s. It needed the scope of color and the huge backdrop of the plantation home to make you believe it. Could you imagine what Scarlet and her sisters were feeling if you did not drive up that tree-lined lane to Twelve Oaks, or be swept away by the wide staircase as she saw Rhett Butler at the bottom? You wouldn't. When you see the devastation of the South through Scarlet's eyes when she's going to train station to look for Dr. Meade, you feel her anguish and pain. Now imagine the movie was filmed in black and white without the benefit of such attention to detail. Gone With the Wind would have been just another movie that year and might not have won all those awards. Of course this is just speculation, but I think you agree.

Let's look at more contemporary movies like The Matrix. Here an entire world is created that is inside another world. A world within computers where connections are made and manipulated. Where humans were fighting to regain control of their world from the machines. The machines look like insidious spiders or octopus as they fly through the air attacking the humans. When Neo is fighting with Mr. Smith in their final battle scene, we see the battle as it occurring. And when Neo goes to see the machines and is carried by the electrical circuits, we envision it. A more recent movie – Tron – attempts to do the same thing. Another world entirely is created in a video game, but the humans are sucked into this world by beings created by the humans. In order to control the world beyond theirs, they have to trick the humans to come into their world. We are mesmerized by the setting as it lights up, by the vehicles as they fly across the screen and decimate all around them. The grittiness of the human world is also evident when the hero goes to the abandoned video arcade in search of his father. Just like in The Matrix, we see the rough edges of the human world in comparison to the world created by the machines.

The set director must take what is written and create a visual world. If the set director for "Lord of the Rings" or "Harry Potter" had not succeeded, we would never have been able to envision the world of hobbits or the world of Hogwarts. Here, the connection between the movie and the book are key. In order for the reader to appreciate the movie, there has to be the same attention to detail. Purists will always argue it wasn't what they saw when they read the book, yet most of us are fully capable of suspending disbelief long enough to realize how much went into creating these worlds. Finding the appropriate locations to film, or building the sets exactly as the mind's eye has seen it.

So, let's get back to our books. Setting as an integral part of the story. In real estate location is key. In books, the same is true. If you write historical novels, you know how important it is to be true to the time period. To have your characters walk and talk as they did all those years ago. But what good does that do you if your character does not sit on the proper sofa. If you have them sit on a Chippendale chair but Chippendale hadn't lived yet, there's a problem. If you wish to have your heroine sip from a Wedgewood teacup you better do your homework.

In order for a writer to be successful in building this imaginary world, he/she must be an architect, an art connoisseur, a fashion designer, a hair dresser, a set director, and even a voice coach. So many of these talents must come into play to create the perfect setting. How do you describe the room where your characters are sitting and enjoying tea? How do you describe the estate as your character sees it for the first time? You must utilize all of your senses and pretend you are the main character seeing it. Will it make your heart race? Your hands sweat? Your eyes tear? Will you freeze in terror? Will you shrink back in fear? As the author you must analyze all these feelings and sensations and be able to put them to paper so the reader can feel it at the same time.

Using one of my own books – The Perfect Curse – we can get a glimpse into Baron Michael Lanier's world the night he first meets our heroine, Cara –

Michael swiped water from his brow as he directed his steed toward the road. The water sluiced over his shoulders as another bolt lit up the liquid darkness. The twisted trees stretched their crooked arms into the night creating a macabre display of characters to keep him company. The sudden thunder set Sagramour on edge and the horse shied a few steps backwards and snorted two mighty blasts from its flared nostrils. Michael patted its sleek neck in reassurance. "Easy, boy, it could be a long night."

As Sagramour plodded over the uneven mud pit which once was the road, the sound of screeching brakes and horses' whinnies interrupted the pelting rain.

    "Blazes." Michael stood in the stirrups to get a better view of the darkened road. Just beyond a felled tree, the splintered shards jutting into the air like broken bones, two matched bays bucked and a tipped-over brougham, one wheel gone, another spinning madly, lay in a ditch.


 

We can sense Michael's world through his own eyes. We sense the dreariness of the night and the gloom surrounding him as he sits on his horse. Are we drawn in? Do we want to know what Michael sees inside that upturned carriage? As the author, I certainly hope so. This is what we strive for – drawing in our readers until they beg for more. This is not possible if setting were not important to the story. Many say setting is another character. Very true. But keep in mind, not only is it like another character, it's more like the air around the main characters. If you do not create the proper setting, your characters are flat and without a richness to make them believable.


 

Your Bucket List

So, what is on your bucket list? I saw an ad for places to put on your Chicago bucket list. If you remember the movie that came out a few years ago with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, it involved two men who were dying and became good friends. They created a bucket list of things they wanted to do before they kicked the bucket. Interesting premise and, ever since then people have been mentioning their bucket lists.

For every writer I know, the one item we all have in common on our list – to become published. Seems easy enough, doesn't it? For those of you who are not writers, it's not as easy as it seems. Oh, there's always the success story of the person who wrote their first novel and sold it right away becoming an overnight sensation. For most writers, publishing does not happen that way. Most of us toil away on novel after novel, sending them out to overworked editors who must read through a slush pile that is taller than most NBA players before finding the one golden nugget that is going to become the next best seller. And even then, it doesn't always happen that way. So, how do we make that one dream on our bucket list come true?

Perseverance.

Now, let's get back to your bucket list. If you don't have one, make one. Why? Because it makes your life more interesting and fun to have a goal in mind. A seemingly unattainable goal you have always wanted. Shoot for this goal. One of my dreams was to see Paris some day. Last year, through the help of one of my daughters I was able to achieve that dream. She had a voucher for an airline ticket that pretty much paid for the entire ticket to Paris. She was worried I would never go if she didn't do this, so I went. One year ago, I flew to Paris and saw all the places I dreamed about. It was probably the most memorable experience of my life.

I asked several of my friends what was on their bucket lists. Many of you mentioned traveling to places like the Greek Isles, Italy, Hawaii, or a Disney cruise with a special someone. Others included activities like skiing, sky-diving, taking up karate, going to the Super Bowl or an All-Star game. What I found interesting about all of these dreams is that each one is attainable. When we first place a dream on this list, we think "well, if I have time, I want to do this. Or if I have the money, I'll do this someday". The problem is that someday doesn't always come. We have to make these things happen. Pick one thing each year and save toward it. Either put the money aside, or the time, and really work toward that one thing. Doesn't seem so unattainable any longer, does it?

Make a plan. Go ahead. Make a plan. Look up the one thing you want the most. Search the internet for what it would cost both in time and money. Now, let's start with the money part. Divide the amount evenly over a certain period of time – making sure the money you need to save toward it is feasible in your budget. Next, see how long it will take you to save that money. Okay, now you have a timeline. Mark a date on your calendar and stick to it. Put the money aside each month, not touching it for anything else. Basically pretend the money doesn't exist. That way, you won't miss it and you won't remember you have it. Until it comes time to pay for that one thing you want to do on your list.

Don't feel guilty. This is a very important part of making your bucket list and sticking to it. Do not feel guilty. Repeat after me – I will not feel guilty. Why? Because the bills will still be there. The children will still be there. The problems will still be there. But for that one moment in time – when you are experiencing the thrill of a lifetime by going after this one thing on your list – you can forget all those problems. (not the kids, because they are a blessing). When you return to your normal life, you will walk a little lighter. You'll have a smile on your face that no one can take away. Most importantly, you can add something else to your list.

So, what is on my bucket list if I already saw Paris? England. I want to see Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Whitehall, St. James Place, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, and all the other places I have only seen in pictures but include in my books. I want to walk through history and feel it vibrate through my being. I want to close my eyes while I'm in those buildings and imagine what it must have been like to live during that time. I want to tour the countryside and head into Scotland.

And of course, like all my writer friends, I want to be published. So, there you have it – a bucket list. Let me know what's on yours and how you are going to achieve it.

How to Develop Character

Character. We all have character, but how do we develop character? In our stories, character development is an art. From the moment your character appears on the scene, the reader is either captivated by the picture you've drawn, or they put the book down because they have made no connection. Just like with art, the audience for a character differs. Some people are drawn to the tortured hero in need of salvation, while others prefer the charming rogue with the witty tongue but deep secret. The job of the writer is to draw the character so well in that first scene that the reader cannot help but want to know more.

Think about it. As writers we work on the "hook" to pull the reader in. The one line to make us go "Wow! I want to know what happens next!" An amazing opening line will only take the reader so far. What can an author do to create a character with character? You can read books about character descriptions. Do an in-depth character description before you even begin writing a word of the novel. Some authors do this.

Outline ahead of time: Start with the physical description – from hair and eye color to height, weight, and special features that distinguish your hero/heroine from the other characters. Here's an example of how I jotted down notes on Nina Wellbourne from Midnight Moon
- Nina is average height, with an athletic body because she rides every day, practices archery, and is an expert shot. Living in the Lowlands, she has been able to run free as she sees fit. She also does not wear the usual attire of a lady of court. Her hair is the color of sunshine - golden and she wears it in a long braid that cascades down her back. When it is undone, it curls softly about her oval face that has a smattering of freckles across her nose from being outside. Women in society would scream to have freckles. Her eyes are the color of midnight - black, but they dazzle when she smiles. She has curves that would make any man swoon, but she does not flaunt her features as many women do.

By taking the time to jot down Nina's description ahead of time, when I add a part of her appearance into the book, I can borrow from my notes. When Powell sees Nina for the first time, he may comment about one or two of the features which attract him. The next time he sees her, he might comment on another. Or perhaps when he is alone, a part of her anatomy will spark a reaction. The most important thing is keeping her features and actions true to the picture you have created in your mind. How your hero/heroine is first seen by others in your story is the same way the reader first sees them. If they are seen favorably by another character, then the reader will absorb those good feelings and have a favorable first impression.

First Impressions: We have all heard first impressions can make or break a relationship. We are visual creatures. When we meet someone for the first time, no matter how much we declare appearances do not matter, they have an effect on us. Tonight, I'm watching "A Year of Living Dangerously" with Mel Gibson. When he first appears on the scene, we cannot help but be drawn into his crystalline blue eyes, but the sophistication of his bearing as he strides across the crowded street amidst the harried reporters who jostle for position. If a writer does his job well, they you have envisioned this and long to know more about him. Were you intrigued by the description? I hope so, but chances are you already have a picture of Mel Gibson in your mind, so it's easy to picture what I said. Unfortunately when writing a historical novel, you cannot say your hero looks like Mel Gibson or Chris Pine. You need to use the right adjectives and comparisons to create a vision.

Beyond What the Eye Sees: We all know the saying "Beauty is only skin deep" follows us next. Now our mind's eye has been drawn to the hero/heroine so it's time to intrigue the reader with feelings, emotions, deep dark secrets that motivate our characters. Remember that outline? If we have done our research on the hero/heroine well, then we already know their back-story. Why does Nina live outside London society? What happened to make her keep men at 100 feet or more? Something happened to shape her convictions. As a reader, we want to delve into it further. As a writer, we must make it convincing without being maudlin, but most importantly, we must make the hero care about her enough to fall in love and take that chance she won't return his love. Nina Wellbourne
- age 26. She is the fifth child and twin to Ronald. Her real name is Rowena, but has been called Nina since a child because her older siblings gave her this nickname. When she was 17, she made her debut into society and fell under the charms of an earl. She gave herself to him and became pregnant. Her family hid the pregnancy and had her swept away to have the child at a family home in the Lowlands of Scotland. If I tell you more, I'll spoil the story, but as an author, I hope you are intrigued enough to want to know what happens to our heroine.

Family Connections: "Who we are, is what we are, and what we are is who we are". Ever hear that? We do not exist in a vacuum. We are shaped by our family history. The hero/heroine's parents and their relationship shape how he/she feels about the opposite sex. Brothers, sisters, and other family members and how they are treated also play an important role in the character development. Sometimes family members can be integral parts of the story because of how they interact with the character. And they must interact; even if the hero/heroine has no living family members, the surrogate family members serve the same purpose. They can give a depth of understanding into the character's GMC (goal, motivation, and conflict) that propel them toward future relationships with the other main character.

So, I hope I have given you enough to contemplate. Of course, this mini-lesson character development is far from over. Think of it as a teaser of things to come. Have a great night and happy writing.

The Phantom of the Opera

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Phantom of the Opera with Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, and Patrick Wilson. I can readily admit I had never seen the play or read the book before seeing this movie. Within the first week of seeing the movie, I saw it ten (10) times. That's right, ten times. I adored the movie. Gerard Butler as the Phantom was tortured and compelling. Emmy Rossum did a marvelous job for her first big role (she was the daughter killed in Mystic River). Patrick Wilson made me swoon as Raoul.

Of course, the inconsistencies are hard to overlook, but the magic of the movie still strikes me today. For instance, the fact that Christine and Raoul were childhood sweethearts did not ring true, considering she was so young when she first arrived at the Opera House, but hey, as a romance writer, I am willing to ignore a few minor details. Many people could not understand how Christine could love the Phantom and Raoul at the same time. As a writer, we are taught to look deeper into the character's motivation. What would motivate Christine to believe the Phantom, to follow him willingly, and to listen to him with such blind faith? One has to go back to when she first arrived at the Opera House after her father died. A father who told her he would send an angel to watch over her. In her child's mind, the Phantom was that angel who came to guide and protect her. She does not equate him with the Opera Ghost at all. The Phantom manipulates the mind of a child because unlike others in his life, she trusts him and does not run away in fear. He uses the tunnels and secret passageways to his advantage – to further this relationship he has built with a child.

Look deeper. That's what writers do when they create a world. We are always talking about GMC – Goal, Motivation, Conflict. They are the driving forces in any novel. What is the hero's goal? What motivates him to make certain decisions? Most importantly, what conflict will disrupt his goals? The same is true for the heroine.

To see if my theory about the main characters' GMCs were accurate, I would need to do more research. I wanted to see the play and read the book. The following year, I saw The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway in New York. How did it compare to the movie? I still adore the movie, but I have to admit the play was very creative and made me wonder about the story itself. Did they pay tribute to the true story?

Last year I traveled to Paris. What a perfect opportunity to read the book. I downloaded it on my Kindle and decided it would be the first book I would read. My first night in Paris, I saw the Opera House all lit up. My breath was taken away and I wondered about the story. Whenever I stopped to eat, I would drag out my Kindle and read more of the story. So much more made sense and, with delight, I saw the connection to each character and how they were portrayed. Andrew Lloyd Webber did a wonderful job taking the essence of each character and bringing them to life. Several main characters were kept out of the play and movie. Characters who would have explained so much more about the Phantom and his underground life. I almost wished they could have been included, but then the romantic elements would have been watered down. Our main characters would not have seemed so heroic. But through it all, I achieved a greater understanding of what motivated each character throughout the story.

The question remains – do I still love the movie? Absolutely. There is something compelling about love triangle – the unrequited love of the Phantom to Christine. The tender love that blossomed between Christine and Raoul. Most of all the innocent love of a Christine to the Phantom which is shattered but then redeemed at the end of the movie. Most of all, I adored the pageantry and music that swept me away to a different time and place.

Isn't that what a good story does?

Balancing Act

We all do this. Balance. Women are especially good at balancing. We juggle the responsibilities of being a parent with a job every day. Now, add to this juggling act the process of becoming a published author and it adds a new difficulty level. For years, I wrote stories. I wrote when the children were taking their naps and after they went to bed. I wrote while waiting at basketball practice and piano lessons. I learned to write when they were playing. Of course this was more difficult, but not impossible. We all make sacrifices. For instance, the dishes did not always get done on time, or the toys were not always picked up as quickly as the previous week. Once I began my stories, I had to continue to write them. The voices in my heads did not allow me to do otherwise.

What are those voices? If you are a writer, then you know exactly what I am talking about. The voices of your characters who demand to be heard. You cannot just turn them off when you close the lid to your laptop or press the shut down button. The voices will haunt your sleep. They will talk to you in the shower, and they will even speak to you when you're in the middle of a big meeting at work. Balance.

We learn to balance those voices. To ignore them when necessary and then to pull them out, like recordings, when we have the time to devote to them. No matter how hard we try, we cannot just turn them off indefinitely. And, as a writer, why would we want to turn them off? These voices have been in my head for so many years, that I carry around a notebook just in case they start speaking and I have the time to devote to them. I even carried around a tape recorder for a while so I could record what I needed until I could get to paper and pen.

My family learned to adjust to this writer personae who lived in the house with them. My children knew that when I was typing, they had to wait to interrupt me and ask questions. My husband begged me to buy a laptop so I could spend time in the same room with him. It didn't matter if I wore earplugs while I listened to my music at the same time. As long as I was in the room, he was content. And so was I because I could write.

The dishes got done. The wash was finished. And I wrote.

Now comes the next stage. A stage I have been shying away from for too many years. Publication. Another phase of the balancing act.

For too many years, I knew there wasn't enough time to become published. My children demanded too much attention. They were involved in so many activities that the thought of leaving them to travel around the country to promote my books just did not seem feasible. See how the balance works here? I knew that to add one more ball into the juggling act would not work for me. So, I continued to write, adding book after book to my long backlist in hopes that when the time was right, an editor would be more than thrilled to take me on as an author.

So, I am ready. Like a juggler who has been practicing their latest act before showing it to an audience. I am ready to add published author to my repertoire. Wish me luck – or should we say – break a leg?

Snow Day

What does Snow Day mean to you?

To me, it's a chance to recuperate, regenerate my batteries, and to do a bit of writing at the same time.  So, here I sit in my living room while the blizzard of 2011 rages outside my window.  Of course a blizzard would not be complete without having to get up early to drop off my car because the VSC light was on.  Apparently the VSC (vehicle stability control) light is something to take the car in immediately for.  So, knowing the blizzard was coming, I was nervous to be without my own car, even for a few hours.  But I took it in because I love my car and could not bear to be without it for days if the blizzard socked me in.  Not like I was going to drive anywhere with this weather, but I still wanted my own car.

After work, I drove the car they gave me for the day through the blinding snow storm to the dealership to get my car.  Two hours later, I finally made it home.  (It should have taken only 20 minutes on a normal day).  But this was the blizzard of 2011, so I guess I had to make allowances.  Driving along, unable to see the cars in front of me unless they had their lights on, gives one a unique perspective on life.  You don't even realize you're gripping the steering wheel tightly until you come to a stop and your hand starts to ache.

Finally home, I figured it was a great chance to write, knowing my computer had a prisoner.  So, I sit in my living room (isn't this where my article started) preparing to write.  The wind whistles behind me, shaking the window pane as it barrels down the street.  Cars inch slowly by, bumper to bumper as other drivers try to make that horrendous drive home to their families.  The storm has a life of its own.  Have you ever heard this before?

Drifts begin to formulate, covering walkways, bushes, even my little dogs.  The shovels were hard to locate since the wind blew them down, but once found, my son had the dubious job of shoveling the walks and stairs.  I do worry about the dogs - two of them being little.  You see, they could disappear in a snow drift.  The bigger dog likes to hop around like a reindeer, so I'm not worried about him, but the little ones have to wear sweaters outside to stay warm.  Just imagine them trying to maneuver their way to finding a place to squat.  You get the picture.

In the meantime, I relish the idea of being snowbound and forced to write.  No excuses.  House is stocked with food, so children will not go hungry.  Plenty of dog food, so the dogs won't eat us.  Not a pretty picture.  And we have power - so writing is definitely a must tonight.  So what am I doing writing this, when I should be working on my novel?  Remember when I mentioned recharging my battery?  So, I have finally destressed from the long drive home, I've gotten the angst out of my system, I am properly fed (fast food on the way home - hey I was stuck in my car for two hours), and my mind is clear.

Yup!  It's time to write.  And the snow storm of 2011 rages outside my window . . .