Archive for January, 2009



In Medias Res
by KimLenox on January 30th, 2009

That’s Latin for “in the middle of things”, and as we all learned in high school English class (remember?) it’s where your story or action starts in the middle of things, rather than at the beginning.

When I write my first one to three chapters, it’s almost like I imagine my Apache helicopter zooming in over whatever time period or location I’m writing, and I give a long hard look to my reader before yelling (Because I’m in charge!) “GO! GO! GO!” and I shove them out the open door, and then they descend to find themselves in the middle of whatever story I’ve created.

Because my characters and the location are already in existence. They’ve existed for years — and in the case of my immortals — centuries already. They’ve got life experiences and families and pasts. And in my mind, my reader is picking up the book in medias res, but … on the day or even perhaps the moment when a character’s life changes forever. When they face something more frightening or challenging or thrilling than they’ve ever faced before.

That’s how I look at my opening chapters! It’s a challenge to acclimate the reader to an instant immersion in the characters’ worlds, but it’s so much fun to jump right in!

REVVING MY ENGINE
by Our Guest on January 29th, 2009

When you say first chapter, as far as I’m concerned you might as well say first THREE chapters. I pretty much lump them together as a single unit, and the momentum I get in starting a new story tends to keep me revved for at least the first sixty pages or so, although it won’t be perfect and I’ll be fixing things later. I typically begin with a snippet of an idea, nothing more than a premise. Usually it’s an event that sets the course of the heroine’s life on a new track, an extraordinary circumstance that will eventually toss her lot in with the hero’s. In fact for whatever reason, I feel most comfortable beginning with the heroine’s pov. Maybe because I like to pretend I’m her? After all, she is in the enviable position of setting off on an adventure where she gets to meet the hunky hero; and her fantasies are, after all, my fantasies. Yes, it’s true.

I’ve never been a pre-planner, not the kind of writer who sketches out the entire plot in an outline and then follows it closely (until very recently, that is), but from that original premise or situation (in Sophie’s case in Dark Temptation, sneaking off to Edgecombe when she’s been warned not to), there usually comes a whole slew of details: who these people are, where they come from and why they’re where they are now, what drives them, what they’re trying to escape — because let’s face it, everyone is trying to escape something, even if it’s their own burdened soul. I don’t know EVERYTHING about the characters at this point and will definitely have to go back and fill in details later, but at this point I know enough. Where does all this information come from? To quote a line from SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE, “I don’t know, it’s a mystery.” I’m just glad it materializes from somewhere in that dusty old brain of mine!

My Brain

My Brain

Hmm. There’s someone standing there, isn’t there? Hey, you never know what might be rattling around up there.

Anyway, once I’m in that sexy little sportscar racing along the countryside, it’s a wild ride frought with danger, excitement and many possible pitfalls. Even so, it’s hands on the wheel, foot to the gas pedal. Stalling in the early stages of a manuscript isn’t an option, unless of course the idea just won’t fly. I happen believe that, at least for me, sputtering to a halt partway through the opening pages means a vital element in the story just isn’t working, and then no matter how painful it may be, it really is time to start over. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to me in a long while.

For you writers out there, how well do you like to know your characters before you begin that first chapter? Do you sit down beforehand and interview them with a long list of questions about the particulars of their lives, or do you enjoy getting to know them as the story progresses? Here’s a question for you readers, and tell the truth now! Do you tend to skip prologues and go right to chapter one?

How it really works. Or not.
by Sharon Ashwood on January 27th, 2009

Ah, the first chapter. Can’t have a book without one. Can’t even have a proposal without one. Truth be told, the first chapter I start with is rarely where I ultimately begin the book. It’s not merely a case of starting before the inciting incident; that would mean I actually had a clue where the incident was. No, I usually start on the wrong planet and possibly with a different set of characters doing completely different things.

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What a surprise: It takes me about the same amount of time to write the first fifty pages as it does a whole manuscript. It kind of goes like this:

Author: Okay. This is the scene. I want you to leap out from behind the gravestone and stake the vampire.
Character: Why?
Author: That’s what the synopsis says.
Character: (pouts) Where’s my motivation?
Author: You hate monsters. You’re a monster hunter. What’s to know?
Character: Oh, great. I’m nothing more than another black leather cliché with a pointy stick. What genius put me on this gig, anyway?
Author: This genius, you ungrateful rubble of adjectives.
Character: Yeah, yeah, always with the big words.
Author: I have a mouse, and I’m not afraid to use it. Start emoting. Now.

And so it goes. Every Swiss cheesey hole in the Grand Plan rains down like wedding confetti. Characters scatter like chickens. Author writes purplish prose bristling with extraneous similes, kind of like now.

Vampire: Ow!
Character: So I’ve staked him. Big deal. Now what?
Author: Now you kiss him. You’ve just realized you have a hidden passion for his doomed and brooding soul.
Character: Huh? Ew! What am I, psycho?
Vampire: Somebody in this room had better start backspacing ….

As if beginning chapter one isn’t bad enough, there’s the depressing fact that it’s actually supposed to lead up to something. Like chapter two, or at least somewhere beyond a flashy fight scene and a bunch of snappy repartee.

Author: Hmmm. Okay, we’ve got the protagonists onstage. They hate each other. They love each other. They hate each other again. Good. We’ve hinted at the villain’s secret identity. Good, but now what? I’ve got 370 pages to kill before they polish off the bad guy. What can I do to kill some time? Wait! I know I’ve got a crate of zombies around here someplace …

But the zombies always stink. Something like the prose. And so we shake the great mental Etch A Sketch and try again tomorrow … and tomorrow … and tomorrow …

Deadlines are really just an editor’s way of limiting the pain. :???:

Mysterious beginnings
by Annette McCleave on January 27th, 2009

Each writer has a process unique to them. Not right, not wrong, just unique. Case in point, I chuckled when I read Jessa’s post yesterday. She and I approach the fresh beginning of Chapter One in very different ways.

For me, beginning a new book is exciting, yes, but also terrifying. Here I am, in love with my story idea, feeling warm and fuzzy about my hero and heroine, and then the worry creeps in: I won’t be able to capture those delightful feelings on paper, it’s impossible, I don’t have the skill.

Funny thing is, I’ve completed seven manuscripts and that worry continues to plague me. I think it’s because the magic in my head at the start of a new book is so wonderful, so perfect, that words seem too mundane to bring it to life. Nouns, verbs, adjectives. Subjects, predicates, punctuation. How can these unwieldy concepts possibly do the job?

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Of course, my fears are always unfounded. Language has a magic all its own, and it’ll grace the pages later—in draft two or three. To get draft one started, I simply need to flip the kill switch on my internal editor, who fusses over every nuance.

My first few pages are awkward and uncomfortable. Full of fits and stops. My beloved characters are uncooperative and moody, and I realize that despite all the time I’ve spent getting to know them, they still harbor deep mysteries and act with motivations I never suspected. Motivations they still haven’t confided to me. I’m on a voyage of discovery, and there are surprises lurking in the mist, some of them requiring complete rewrites.

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I’m one of those writers who can’t build on my story if I believe the foundation is unstable. This means I spend more time at the very beginning of the book than I do writing subsequent chapters. I don’t mean finding the right setting or the right starting action—although those are vital, they can be reworked—I mean testing my characters to find out how they really think and feel and act under pressure. By Chapter Four my characters and I are bosom pals. They’ve spilled the beans on the inner workings of their minds. There’s almost always a surprise or two left, but the fundamentals are down and I can move forward with confidence.

So, yes, I love to start a new project. But I also love to get the first few chapters under my belt. That’s when the story truly takes off.

Some authors are truly amazing at building an emotional connection between reader and character right from page one. What are some of your favorite reads where this happened? Did you notice it at the time, or only after you closed the book with a contented sigh?

First chapters: Even better than first dates!
by Jessa Slade on January 26th, 2009

Currently working on: The heroine’s betrayal
Mood: Sadistic

I love first chapters. My first three hit the page with a speed that I won’t match again until I start the next story. I’m not saying they are great chapters. In all honesty, they usually suck and often have nothing to do with the story itself. But that doesn’t lessen my enthusiasm for first chapters at all.

Because I think of first chapters like first dates. (You probably started to see the correlation with the ‘usually suck’ part.) Hey, I’m a romance writer at heart. (The previous parenthetical comment notwithstanding.)

  • Firsts are all about the excitement that anything could happen. That charming guy you’ve agreed to meet for cocktails could be a millionaire bachelor — or a serial killer! See? How exciting! First chapters are like that too. I never know if I’m onto something… or if I’m going to end up with three chapters that need to be drenched in lye and buried at a crossroads with their heads removed lest they come back to haunt me.
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  • During firsts, everyone is on their best behavior. I come to my keyboard perky and coiffed… okay, not literally coiffed, but my desk is clear, my notes are piled tidily. But eventually comes that first hiccup. Oh sure, it made me giggle once. How sweet that my characters feel comfortable enough with me to share their… er, inner selves. Then I realized it wasn’t a hiccup. No, that was a full-on burp. Nay, a belch. It’s a turning point in the relationship (coming about the same point as the first turning point in the three-act structure) and the infatuation is over. We stare at each other over cups of coffee, and the silence thickens as I contemplate throwing that metaphorical sexy strappy sandal through my screensaver.
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  • Firsts have no baggage. I arrive at the first date with one of those supremely cute little beaded clutches without room even for a mass market paperback much less my Alpha Smart. The cursor blinks at the beginning of a pristine blank page. But even then I know this isn’t like a first date to the hottest new nightclub; this is like the first step of an around-the-world walkabout with scenic sidetrips up Everest, down the Amazon, and across the Sahara. You gotta pack for that.
  • Firsts offer freedom. There’s no commitment, and I can try on new clothes, be whoever I want to be. Eventually though, I’m going to have to decide: Is this a story for which I’m willing to strip myself bare?
  • Ah, the passion and promise of those first chapters, when the story is young and fresh, not to mention thin and pliant. This is no time to think about the sagging middle…

    So what’s your best worst first date story? When did you realize the magic was gone?

    The World, Magnified
    by KimLenox on January 25th, 2009

    I usually post on Friday, but wanted everyone to have ample opportunity to read Sharon’s RAVENOUS excerpt. So, did you read it? I’m really pumped about her upcoming release, and can’t wait to get my copy!

    I also got a bit behind on my own schedule, so here I am jumping in late on Sunday.

    This week we’ve been talking about the settings that we, as authors, like to write about. I think most authors go through their days wearing their author magnifying glasses. They tend to view the world with an eye for what’s interesting — interesting beneath the surface of “every day”. We’re dimension junkies.

    Have you all ever looked at a Stephen Biesty book? If you don’t recognize the name, just do a search on Amazon. He creates amazing cross-sections of all sorts of things — castles, man-of-war ships, ancient Greek structures, the human body, etc. He always starts with a particular structure, and then he illustrates the layers and layers of substructure, contents and activity inside.

    That’s how I think people with creative tendencies look at the world. We might view a picture of a busy street, crowded by thousands of people (see Commercial Street, London, below), and our mind says, “There’s a thousand different stories there!” Good. Bad. Uplifting. Disturbing. Gosh, and probably lots and lots of secrets.

    My books are set in late Victorian London and its surrounding environs. London was marked by immense wealth, abject poverty and everything else in between. There were palaces, mansions, museums, clubs, doss-houses, factories, brothels and sewers.

    London itself is really a study in layers. From ancient times, civilization after civilization moved in, took over and built over the remains of the last. There are concealed treasures and buried rivers and countless secret places. This is Highgate Cemetery, which is not concealed, buried or secret — but wow, it’s such a fascinating place.

    Needless to say, London’s abundance of interesting sends my writer’s mind into overdrive. Who else is a dimension/details/minutiae enthusiast? Do you have any particular areas of interest?

    RAVENOUS FOR … A BRAIN!!
    by Sharon Ashwood on January 22nd, 2009

    Okay, so Allison isn’t able to post today because she has to shoulder the heavy burden of kicking back on a cruise, so Kim suggested that I put an excerpt from RAVENOUS today. I thought “oboy! great idea!” and was firmly convinced that today was Wednesday and went off to work, leaving a large note to myself to BE SURE that I posted when I got home so the post would go up first thing tomorrow. That’s me before coffee. I really don’t know what day it is.

    So, anyway, here is the excerpt … late. This is NOT the teaser chapter from my website–this is not posted anywhere else. This is our hero and heroine meeting after a nasty fight with a possessed house. Hope you enjoy!
    horizontalbannerravenous

    Holly saw Alessandro leaning against the side of the neighboring house, all but invisible in the shadows. He lifted a hand in silent greeting, the faint haze of the streetlights catching the pale fall of his long, curling hair and giving him an improbable halo.
    The sight of him turned the tide on her ebbing energy. As she joined him, he straightened from his slouch against the stucco.
    “I wanted to make sure you were all right. You scared me,” he said. Alessandro took her face in his hands.
    There was something old-fashioned in the gesture, familiar and courtly at the same time. Her stomach squeezed, warm with a fleeting, half-conscious memory of him picking her up and cradling her body against his chest. Taking her to the ambulance himself.
    The feel of his hands on her face was comforting. Vampire skin was soft as silk, cool as satin, and Alessandro had a sensitive, skilled touch. She wanted his hands all over her, wherever there was skin to be caressed, because a little contact wasn’t enough. That was the delight and the danger of his species. They always left their victims wanting that tiny bit more.
    Holly drew a long breath. “I’m okay.” At the moment I feel more than okay.
    “Good.”
    “Thank you for getting me out of there.”
    “Anytime.” Unexpectedly he bent, kissing her forehead, his lips cool and smooth. It was chaste. Brotherly. She pulled back, the innocent brush of lips burning her as surely as smoldering desire.
    Feeling her start, Alessandro released her, eyes lowered. He recovered, giving her a bland smile. “Blessings on you, Holly. You should go, too. Go home and get some rest. Is there anyone staying with you tonight?”
    Holly squeezed her eyes shut a moment, really not wanting to think about being alone. “I’ll be all right,” she replied, doing her best to sound casual.
    “Are you sure? Can I take you home?”
    She didn’t answer. The night had left her a raw wound. It was only now, when someone offered sympathy, that she fully allowed the pain of everything that had happened.
    His hand stroked down the back of her head and neck, traveling strong and gentle over her shoulders. Her clenched muscles trembled, reluctant to release. She’d thought comfort was what she wanted, but now Holly wanted to weep. His kindness was making her hurt worse.
    He kissed the top of her head.
    At that moment, reaching for warmth was the only balm for her misery. She tilted her face up and took his hard, full mouth with hers. A quick, tentative pressure. She felt his shiver, the sudden, erratic beating of his heart. The vibration resonated through her flesh, heating things deep inside her body. His mouth was surprisingly warm, almost human-hot. They paused for a moment, their faces close together.
    Holly’s blood raced to the pull of his maleness. It drew her like a physical force, as if she could crawl inside his lethal strength and wrap it around her for comfort. A sweet tension began to push against her fatigue, a warm, new curiosity.
    She leaned in a little farther, taking his lips again. He pulled back, hesitating, but then returned the soft, subtle kiss with something far more demanding—and delicious.
    He tasted of licorice—no, it was fennel seed. Vampires sometimes chewed it as an old-fashioned breath freshener. The cool, sharp flavor made her tongue tingle and she licked her own lips to get more of the sweetness. She slipped her arms around Alessandro’s neck, her hands tangling in the wealth of his hair. He smelled of leather and tobacco and some other, unique scent she could not place—the smell of him, of what he was. Holly drowned in it.
    His hands held her, strong and steady. She kissed him more deeply, tongue glancing off the long, sharp edges of his corner teeth. Her lips quivered at the sensation, and she explored with the fascination of a primitive first seeing fire.
    Alessandro’s hands were cupping her face, the strong length of his torso tight against her. She could feel the subtle motion of his whole being with each movement of his tongue and lips, his entire body dancing against her as he kissed.
    Alessandro slid one hand up her ribs, over her breast, until he found the tab of her jacket zipper. He pulled it down slowly, the grate of metal on metal resonating with an explosive, erotic weight. About halfway down, he paused, pulling his hand back as if it had acted without his permission.
    He shouldn’t have stopped. Holly leaned into him, her breasts aching. He touched her collarbone, the back of his fingers stroking the column of her neck.
    “This isn’t what I meant for you,” he said, his eyes lost in shadow.
    Holly’s heart thundered, heat roiling in her body. Slowly, she drew away, a tremor of yearning down low in her stomach. She wanted this angel of death as she had wanted nothing before. She had totally forgotten all her caution, all the reasons she had to draw a line between them.
    Sometimes she really was too stupid to live. But I want him.
    Holly panted in lungfuls of the cold Pacific air, feeling the wind on her hot cheeks. I can’t have him.
    That kiss had gone far beyond anything she’d planned. She hadn’t expected him to respond with such fervor, but there was more than blood-hunger in his eyes. There was all the confused heat and hope of any lover. Who knew?
    He pushed the hair from her face. “As much as I want this, Holly, I’m not safe. And you have a good life. You don’t need me. Not like this.”

    On the edge of the Twilight zone
    by Sharon Ashwood on January 21st, 2009

    My books are set in the fictional city of Fairview. I chose to write about a place that doesn’t actually exist because:
    a) I’m not going to upset anyone by having their property trampled by imaginary zombies, make unkind remarks about their menu, or imply their ancestor’s grave is inhabited by demons;
    b) this avoids embarrassment in the event I get real-life geography wrong (quite possible since I blunder through life without a solid concept of left and right); and,
    c) I can mess with the map and put things where I need them. In fact, I moved an entire college campus several miles north the other day without breaking a sweat.

    But … just in case some future adoring fans want to make a pilgrimage, Fairview is really an enhanced version of my own home town of Victoria, British Columbia. If anyone wants to know what the countryside looks like, go see the movie, Twilight. It’s fairly similar, except we’re on an island so there’s more coast and a smidgen more sun. Maybe.

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    From the end of my street, I can see Washington State across the water. A block away is a large and beautiful park that is home to herons, occasionally swans, the usual rabble of ducks and gulls, many peacocks, and a collection of bald eagles. Just so you know it’s not always Soggy City here, I took this on my way to work:

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    A few blocks the other way is a cemetery that dates back to the 1800s. I used it as the basis for St. Andrew’s Cemetery in Ravenous. People who read the book should look for this angel.

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    Historically, Victoria was part of the coastal trade route that included San Francisco and Seattle, so there’s a similarity in the older architecture. It also has a similar funky factor, love of coffee, and environmental consciousness. What makes Victoria different is its size. It still has a bit of a small-town feel.

    Why did I set my books here? I wanted to use the odd, unique nuances of the city I knew—the speech rhythms, the atmosphere, the mix of heritage and modern elements that makes one place different from another. My editor did ask me to take some of the regionalisms and certain items of clothing out of the text—apparently our fondness for sweatshirts doesn’t play well in New York, but hey, it’s damp and clammy here! Nevertheless, I think the flavour of my home comes through.

    We’re a tourist town. Come visit us sometime! I promise the zombies are friendly.

    Quiet on the set…
    by Annette McCleave on January 20th, 2009

    I have a love of all things Scottish, and when I thought of my favorite settings, Scotland was the first image to pop into my mind. I’ve set several of my manuscripts there and never fail to sigh over the stark beauty of the Highlands.

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    But I didn’t stop at my first thought. I dug a little deeper, asking myself if there was a common thread between the varied locations I’ve chosen to set my stories and scenes. And there was, sort of. The common thread turned out to be contrast. Familiar, comforting places that are invaded by danger, ordinary grass and trees that mask cliffs and bogs, a garden or park that changes into a deadly arena for demon battles at nightfall.

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    I’ve had some fun with this. I once wrote a fight scene that took place in the vegetable aisle at a grocery store. Why? Because grocery shopping is a familiar, almost thoughtless task. People do it on auto-pilot. They aren’t expecting to fend off demons at the Safeway. In one of my scenes in DRAWN INTO DARKNESS, the setting is an ordinary city street just before dawn, and the risk comes from two McDonald’s employees armed with cups of coffee.

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    Seriously, though, my favorite settings depict dramatic contrast—from a scene that takes place in a calm blue oasis on the coldest, driest continent on Earth to a confrontation with evil that takes place in a schoolyard surrounded by parents in parked minivans. Contrast keeps my characters off-balance, and I think that’s a good thing.

    When reading a book, what do you enjoy most—visiting new and exotic locales, or walking along real streets and into places you’ve actually been?

    Setting the stage
    by Jessa Slade on January 19th, 2009

    First, a huge thank you to everyone who commented during our inaugural (yes, I have inauguration on the brain) contest here at Silk And Shadows. We had such fun, I’m sure we’ll be doing it again soon. If you’re eager for more contest good times right now, check out our prize at Romance Junkies.

    Currently working on: The hero & heroine encounter
    the bad guy face-to-face for the first time — dum da DUM!!!
    Mood: Hesitant (i.e. not very heroic)

    I just finished a fight on the ‘L’ in Chicago. Well, not me personally, of course. My hero and heroine.

    Minor spoiler: They survived. No thanks to me.
    l-poster
    When it comes to settings, some places just cry out for a scene. Somehow, I wrote SEDUCED BY SHADOWS without a fight on the ‘L’ even though my visual storyboard has a picture that represents the vaguely cathedral-esque scaffolding that supports the elevated train tracks crisscrossing the city. I vowed to rectify that oversight in book two. The ominous rumble of the train, the sharp scent of cold metal, the dangerous imbalance of trying to run across slick rail ties with a horde of hungry demons on your ass desperately needed telling.

    My favorite settings to write about are places with the potential to set the mood, to create action, and to reveal character. Yeah, I want the setting to work hard. It’s not the place, particularly, it’s the potential.
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    The Second City
    I chose Chicago for the setting of The Marked Souls series because I thought a story about good and evil for dominion of the human soul should have a setting that could be — in a way — ‘Anyplace USA’ yet capable of containing many contrasts. To me, Chicago is kind of the Jan Brady of big American cities; it’s stuck in the middle. Neither sophisticated East Coast nor bohemian West, its world-class museums, theaters and business sector were built on the bloody stockyards. The city delights in its crooked politics (”Vote early! Vote often!”) and yet it coughed up the key player in one of the most historically significant elections in the nation. Even its weather is a study of contrasts — sweltering summers alternate with vicious winter winds, but they call it the ‘temperate’ zone. The story might really be about the light and darkness at war in everyone, but I hope the setting reflects that until the city itself becomes a character.
    poster-wacker
    These cool old posters encouraged Chicagoans of the 1920s to discover something new. Even though I grew up in the suburbs outside Chicago, I didn’t know the city well, so this is my chance to explore too.

    Since the story is set in Chicago, I suppose I need a car chase down Lower Wacker too. You Blues Brothers fans can insert your favorite quote here. Mine? “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark and we’re wearing sunglasses.” One of these blogging weeks, we’ll have to discuss soundtracks.

    Meanwhile, have you ever been someplace that needed only a hero and a heroine — or a villain — to come alive on the movie screen of your mind?