From time to time I get emails from other authors announcing their latest book, This included one from someone who’s been writing novels longer than I have. It had the usual announcement, along with the book cover and a description. The description, however, was problematic, to say the least. It was at least five hundred words, if not more. And it described the entire plot. Once I finished reading it I had no incentive to buy the book. I knew the story from start to finish.
One of my mentors taught me to write descriptions of ten to one hundred words, and nothing longer. Over time I’ve discovered that a fifty to one hundred word description works nicely. I also write teasers, not plot summaries. The whole idea of a book description is to give a potential reader a general idea of what the story is about. It should also entice them to read more. In other words, it’s ad copy.
Cassie Palmer’s world is shattered when a car crash leaves her hospitalized and fighting for her life. Her husband, Jeremy, begins his own frightening journey when he meets Denise, one of Cassie’s nurses. Denise seems familiar, but while he may no longer remember her, she has neither forgiven nor forgotten how he jilted her, years before. Denise seeks revenge and Jeremy soon vanishes under mysterious circumstances, leaving his grieving wife behind. As Cassie struggles to recover her life will take another strange turn, when an unexpected visitor reveals that things are not as they appear.
Rachel Bennett may have attended her ten-year high school reunion on a whim, but fate intervened once she saw Shane MacLeod. No longer the shy, gawky teenager she remembered, Shane has matured into a handsome and successful man, but her perfect evening ends when another man from her past suddenly reappears. Craig Walker had been her mentor until he became jealous of her talent and success. Now he intends to either have her, or destroy her at all costs. As Rachel’s family pressures her to take Craig to court, she can no longer ignore her nagging feeling that a tragedy is about to strike.
I was an art major in college, and I’ll always remember one of my painting professors said.
“Every painter needs to have someone standing behind him to shoot him when he’s done. Otherwise, he’ll overwork the painting and turn it into mud.”
It’s extremely difficult for us as artists to see our work objectively enough to know when it’s finished. And once we realize we’ve overworked something, it may be too late to salvage it. Fortunately, when it comes to writing, there are warning signs that we can look for. One would be redundancy. I’ll use my Marina Martindale novel, The Deception, to illustrate my point.
I was near the end of the story. I’d resolved the main conflict. But as I was tying up remaining the loose ends I suddenly discovered a huge opening for one of the antagonists to go after the protagonist a second time. This left me with two options. One was to write a sequel. Tempting thought, as I loved my cast of characters. However, in this instance, the conflict would have been virtually the same as the conflict in the first book, thus making sequel redundant. In other words, it would have been a boring, “been there, done that,” story. So, rather than waste my time, and my reader’s time, with a bad sequel, I wrote a definitive ending and killed off the antagonist, ending the feud once and for all.
Does your story feel like it’s getting stale? If so, go back and look at your conflict. If it keeps repeating itself, or if the results of your character’s choices are always the same, it may be that your story has become too redundant.
Anna’s Kitchen was my very first book. I completely produced and published it on my own. I think every author should be required do this at least once. It’s an incredible learning experience. It makes us extremely aware of just how much hard work goes into publishing a book, and why teamwork is so necessary.
Because I was doing it all myself, I had no one to edit or proofread for me. So, I used my spell checker. Big mistake, I know. It’s how I learned, the hard way, that every author must have an editor.
Once the book was printed I found all kinds of errors. One of my friends came across one in a gravy recipe he thought was particularly amusing. It said, “Add two tablespoons of fate.” He laughed and laughed. Then he asked me if it meant that we were supposed to pray over the gravy as it was being prepared. Now mind you, that’s not a bad idea. I pray over the little everyday things in life much more than the big things. In this case, however, it was a typo that the spell checker had missed. The word, “fate” was spelled correctly. But what it should have read was, “add two tablespoons of fat.”
Yes, you need a couple tablespoons of fat if you’re making gravy. However, when it comes to life in general, you might need to add two tablespoons of fate. Just saying.
It happens to all of us at one time or another. We run into a proverbial brick wall and suddenly find ourselves unable to come up with something to write about. Ugh!
Creativity is a funny thing. We can’t always turn it on and off whenever we choose. This can be particularly frustrating for fiction writers who have to juggle their writing time between jobs and families.
Sometimes switching gears and writing about another topic can help. I have friends who work on two or three different books at the same time. If they get stuck on one, they simply set it aside and work on another one. However, if that doesn’t work, or, if you’re like me, and you only work on one story at a time, then try stepping away from the computer. Go do a project that’s been on your “honey do” list for too long. Those nagging issues really can affect your creativity.
If that doesn’t help, then take a break and do something you enjoy. Bake cookies. Play a round of golf. Go to a movie, or a ball game. Take a day trip somewhere. Read a book you haven’t had time to read. Call a friend or relative you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Taking a time out and doing something you enjoy gives your mind a chance to focus on other things. It also gives your creative muse a rest. Don’t worry about your story. It’ll come back. And when it does, you can pick up where you left off.
I recall an interesting chat with a fellow author at a writer’s convention. He was telling me about another writer who apparently got into serious trouble with Paramount. This other writer had allegedly written a very adult oriented Star Trek story, and Paramount had taken issue with the way he’d used their characters.
As I recall, Star Trek conventions got started so the fans, or Trekkies, as they once called themselves, could share their fan stories. However, it was a different time. Fanfiction authors wrote with pen and paper and they kept their stories in notebooks. Self publishing didn’t exist. There was no Internet, no blogs, no Kindle.
Times have indeed changed. Today a fan writer can write his or her own Star Trek story in a blog or post it on a fan forum. And while their motive may be sincere, their devotion to their favorite TV show could, potentially, put them in legal hot water. I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice. However, it’s common knowledge that the rights to any artistic creation, including works of fiction, belong to the person or persons who created it.
I write my own unique stories with my own characters. But if I were to include someone else’s character, for whatever reason, I would get their permission first. It’s only common courtesy. It would also save me the worry of getting a nasty letter from someone’s attorney. Even if I wasn’t writing for monetary gain, it could still be considered copyright infringement.
Once upon a time, my friends and I were soap opera junkies. We loved our soaps. I taped my favorite soap everyday for years. How times have changed. I don’t watch soaps anymore, and neither do any of my friends. We stopped watching them years ago. I don’t think it’s our age. Both of my grandmothers watched their favorite soaps when they were well into their eighties. I think it has to do with the fact that today’s soap operas are so poorly written.
Soap operas used to be about love and romance. Then one day the producers decided they wanted a younger, more hip audience. As a result, the writers began writing outrageous story lines. Demonic possessions. Frozen cities. Characters buried alive. And, of course, UFOs. Good plot lines for The X Files, but certainly not what we wanted to see on Days of Our Lives.
Those of us who write romantic fiction know that basic plot structure revolves around conflict. For many years, soap operas relied on these classic plot lines which consistently worked and kept viewers watching.
The Romantic Triangle
Boy meets girl. They fall in madly love. But another girl is in love with the same boy. So she plots and schemes, relentlessly, to break them up, thus becoming, “The Girl We Love to Hate.”
Extramarital Affairs and Illegitimate Children.
The side effect of the romantic triangle. Soap operas kept audiences riveted for years wondering when an unsuspecting husband, or ex husband, would finally discover that his son or daughter actually wasn’t his son or daughter.
Long Lost Half Siblings.
Boy meets girl. It’s love at first sight. But one of their mothers is dead set against their relationship. So, she does everything in her power to break them up. Soon the truth comes out. Years ago, Mom had an affair with the father of her child’s love interest. This means they’re half brother and sister. Fortunately, this always comes out before the romance is consummated.
Sometimes the writers will create a plot twist. The other mother comes forward later on and says no. So and so wasn’t her child’s father after all. Therefore, they were never half siblings. However, this only happens after the would-be lovers have moved on to other relationships. The fun never stops.
The Big Frame-Up
From time to time a villain has to be killed off. So why not frame a favorite character for a crime they didn’t commit? Of course, they would eventually be found innocent, but not until they’d gone on trial and ended up in prison. This plot line can be easily adapted to 21st century technology with the real killer tampering with the DNA test results.
Catastrophic diseases or injuries.
Hodgkin’s Disease. Brain tumors. Comas. High risk pregnancies. All were common soap opera maladies. Tripping over a waste basket could cause a miscarriage. And how many times did a favorite character go blind or deaf? But, at least in Soap Opera Land, everyone recovers; only to be struck down with another malady a few years later. However, soap opera characters are immune to one disease. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
A rare medical condition in the real world. However, it was quite common on soaps. Having a favorite character lose his or her memory and wander off somewhere, with everyone else thinking they were dead, made for great soap opera watching.
Returning from the dead
A favorite character is involved in a plane crash or similar event. He or she is missing and presumed dead, but the body is never found. The character leaves the show, only to return later, oftentimes with another actor assuming the role.
This plot line has many possibilities. The character may be recovering from the aforementioned amnesia. Or maybe not. Either way, the memories will eventually return. The other scenario is when the character returns after being held captive somewhere. Regardless of the circumstances, no one ever makes it home until their spouse or lover has found someone else.
And there you have it. Any romance writer worth his or her salt knows that such stories of star-crossed lovers have worked since Romeo and Juliet. And they work just as well today. I use variations of them in my own romance novels, and my readers tell me they can’t put my books down.