More Tips for RWA Nationals!

~ By Mary E. Thompson

Mary E. ThompsonRWA17 is coming up fast!

If you’re anything like me, you can’t wait to get to Orlando and jump in.

It’s one of my favorite weeks of the summer, but also one of the most stressful.

As an introvert, it’s hard to be surrounded by so many people, but as a writer, I love the feeling of being there.

This is my third National Conference, and I have a few tips to share with you.

Be Comfortable

Everyone says this. In all the recommendations I read, wear comfortable shoes wasboots the common denominator. But I don’t just mean shoes. I mean in general.

Try on all your clothes before you go. Let’s face it, Nationals is a business casual conference. We’re writers. Our everyday wear is yoga pants, a t-shirt, and no bra. Or is that just me? Unfortunately, that won’t fly at Nationals. So try on your clothes. Did you buy new outfits? Wear them. Make sure they’re comfortable to sit in for an hour. Or a full day. Does your skirt ride up? Do your shoes hurt after a few hours? Is your bag too heavy?

Many people say bring a sweater also. You know yourself. Yes, some of the rooms can be chilly. But if you’re never cold in air conditioning, skip the jacket. You definitely won’t need it outside, so save the room in your luggage for free books.

Don’t Overpack

My first year I packed an outfit to wear during the day and a second one to wear at night. Those second outfits never saw the light of day, or night. It didn’t make sense luggage to change before we went to dinner, and even though we didn’t go out, I know I wouldn’t have changed before that either.

If you have something planned, like a trip to one of the Disney Parks, then yeah, pack clothes for that. If you’re sticking to the conference, bring one extra outfit if you’re likely to spill something on yourself (raises hand), and save the room for more books. Yes, you will get that many.

I also always bring snacks. You can pack anything sealed in your carry-on luggage. I bring granola bars, mini bags of pretzels, and single serve bowls of cereal so I don’t have to grab a snack from the hotel, or breakfast since I’m not likely to be up before I absolutely need to be. Water is available in every workshop room so make use of that water bottle you get in the Swag Shoppe and fill it up. In addition, bottled water is included in the cost of your hotel if you’re staying at the Dolphin or Swan if you prefer that. When you’re at workshops, bring your RWA bag from the Swag Shoppe. It’ll make carrying your snacks and water, and all those free books, easier.

Put Yourself Out There

As I said, I’m an introvert. It’s hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Especially because the other people who are sitting alone at a workshop not talking handshaketo anyone are usually introverts also. The conversation starts with what do you write and ends with where are you from.

Think up some interesting questions ahead of time. If your idol sat down next to you, what would you ask? If one of your friends sat down, what would you ask? We’re writers. We’re good with the written word. Write out some questions ahead of time. What do your characters ask to get to know each other? There’s no reason those questions have to stay between the pages of your book.

Find A Friend

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t know anyone who’s going. How are you going to find a friend? We’re all friends! We might not know each other, but at Nationals, Friendsyou’ll find people are very friendly and talkative. Yes, it’s easier to have a plan to meet someone. So make that plan.

Reach out to someone in one of your local or online chapters. Reach out to someone you think you might connect with. Last year, a chapter mate from one of my online chapters posted that she was anxious because she didn’t know anyone. She’d gone to another conference, but commuted because it was close to her house, so she didn’t even have a roommate to hang around. I sent her an email and we met the first night. Then spent the rest of the conference together. We’re still in touch a year later.

Yes, it’s hard to make friends as adults. But we’re all scared to do it. Trade emails with your roommate in advance, and if you want, send me an email! I’ll be there. I’m volunteering at the Stiletto Party on Friday night, so grab your ticket and come cheer on the Stiletto finalists and Contemporary Romance Writers with me. Trust me, you won’t regret reaching out to someone in advance.

Set A Plan

You don’t have to be a plotter to have a plan. Why are you going to the conference? What made you sign up this year? What are you interested in learning? Know ahead of time what your goals are. For me, marketing and networking are my two big goals checklistthis year. I’ve picked workshops that speak to those topics. I’m going to chat up other authors because I’m always looking for new authors to read, but I believe in the power of networking and cross-promotion. Plus, I will never have too many author friends.

The other side of that is I’m also giving myself a break. If there’s a time when the workshops offered don’t match what I’m looking to learn, I can skip them. If I’m worn out, I’ll take a break. My first year, I didn’t give myself any downtime and ended up with an extra trip to the doctor because of it. Last year, I sat out a workshop and ended up meeting a new friend. I got a break for an hour and had a great conversation. It was definitely a win-win.

Going to Nationals, especially your first time, can be overwhelming. There is so much to see and do and learn. It’s a lot, but it’s also a great investment of your time and money, so enjoy it! It’ll be over way too soon!

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. She reenergizes every year with a trip to Nationals, and every month at her local chapter meeting. When Mary isn’t writing, she cheers on her daughter at gymnastics and her son at every other sport. Mary is lucky to have her own romance novel worthy husband to tag-team if things get too crazy. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.

Chapter Service Opportunities – A Message From President Casey Clipper

Casey ClipperDear Chapter Members,

RWA chapters are the heart and soul of the Romance Writers of America, in my opinion. They’re the backbone of the organization. They’re where authors and writers dig into the trenches of their work. They’re the place where members get to mingle with each other and get that much needed and craved interaction with our tribe. And there are so many chapters to choose from within RWA.

Contemporary, suspense, YA, paranormal, erotic, historical, local and national chapters all make up a wide variety for members to join. And with each chapter comes its own set of perks. Not every chapter is the same. Not every chapter offers the same benefits. Which is great because a writer and author can get the most out of their RWA membership with these different chapters.

But chapters cannot survive without volunteers. Whether it’s an executive board position or a non-voting board position, every chapter needs your help to thrive and survive. Smaller chapters may only need executive board positions while the larger chapters need various positions to help it with all the events they have for members.

The Contemporary Romance Writers chapter had been in limbo for a few years but luckily with the new board in place, and bringing things under control, we’re looking to expand our non-voting board personnel and we need your help. Our executive board has done a fantastic job turning the chapter around in such a short period of time and I cannot say enough about their hard work. Each one of these ladies should be commended and I ask you, when you see them or have any interaction with them online, to thank them for their hard work.

But, like you, the executive board members are also writers and have lives outside of writing that need our attention. With all that we’d love to offer the chapter, we need your help to not only give these items the proper, full attention they deserve but we also need to know when to say when, as board members who have personal lives. The following are non-voting board positions that we’re looking to fill for the 2018 year. Each one of these positions is a 1 year term.

  • PRO Liaison
  • PAN Liaison
  • Stiletto Contest Committee Chair
  • Stiletto Party Chair
  • Critique Group Chair
  • CRW MyRWA Forum Chair (new)
  • CRW Writing Retreat Chair (new)
  • CRW Website Mistress/Master (new)

Some of these positions we’re looking for are new in order to help create new opportunities for all CRW members. Some of these positions aren’t new but haven’t been filled or utilized in years. We’re looking to change that so we can make each area of the chapter thrive to its fullest extent. But we cannot do it without your help.

We had excellent volunteers for the Stiletto Contest this year and each volunteer, because of their service, was nominated for the CRW Chapter Service Award by the CRW Board of Directors. This is also something new to the chapter that we’re excited to implement. Chapter volunteers should be recognized for giving their time. And we hope to be able to nominate you next year for your service.

What’s involved in chairing a non-voting board position? Well, you won’t have to attend the executive board meetings that are held quarterly. We will ask you to attend at least 2 board meetings to keep the board up-to-date on the status of events with your position. What’s convenient is the meetings are held online, so you don’t even have to leave your living room. Yay! Some of these positions aren’t even year round positions. Some are simply about relaying important information to the CRW chapter members. 

If you might be interested in chairing one of the positions above, please feel free to email me at RWAContempRomPres@gmail.com.

We’re looking to really expand the Contemporary Romance Writers chapter and hope that you’ll help us in the endeavor to make this chapter one of the best in the RWA.

Casey Clipper

President

Memories from a first time RWA conference attendee. . .

(and what I learned to do- and not do - for the next conference.) Peggy Jaeger~ By Peggy Jaeger In 2014 I attended my very first RWA conference in San Antonio. Not knowing what to expect from the conference, I’d gone with the idea that, as a trying-to-get-published romance writer, I was going to go all in, attend every workshop on craft and publishing, listen to every professional chat, set up as many editor and agent appointments as I was allowed, and basically do everything and see everything offered. What’s that old saying: you make plans and God laughs? Yeah. Describes me perfectly. The reality was so very different from what I’d planned, that it was almost comical. First of all, there was no way I could attend every single workshop I wanted because so many of them overlapped or were at the same time as the others. I hadn’t realized I could see the full schedule on line before going, so I’d just assumed I’d be able to see what I wanted. Nope. Lesson learned? Plan ahead. Read through the online listing (now that you know it’s there!) and consider each class/workshop/chat for what it will bring to you as a writer. The conference is available on audio you can purchase, so if you miss classes, you can still hear their useful info when you get home. I signed up for the Agent/Editor appointments. You were allowed one of each, so I scrolled through their names, saw a few big time agent names I recognized, then the publishers I knew about and made my choices. Again, God must have been chuckling big-time at my choices. Why? Because I hadn’t done any research on the people I was going to speak with. The Agent specialized in historical romance and YA. I write contemporary adult romance. The editor was from a house that was acquiring only through agents. Double flub on my part. Lesson learned? Research. Every single one of those agents and editors had a link to their websites, agencies, and publishing houses. If I’d done my due diligence and clicked on the one I wanted to meet with, I would have known before choosing them that they weren’t going to be interested in me or my work. Along with that, do not bring twenty typed copies of your manuscript to give to potential agents/editors. They don’t want to be schlepping a ton of unnecessary stuff home with them. This is the age of email and attachments. confusedSince this was my first RWA I had no idea all the “stuff” (and by stuff I mean swag and books) you receive at the conference. Every publishing house gives out complementary books during their spotlight events; every breakfast, lunch and dinner has a guest speaker who also leave a book or two on every chair; the Goodie room is chock full of swag, free books, and just…stuff. I brought one suitcase with me that was already stuffed with my own stuff. Now I had over 6o free books and no room. Shipping them would have cost about $100.00. Lesson learned? Bring an extra bag/suitcase. You will be happy you did. Again, since this was my first conference, I wanted to promote myself as a professional, so I brought nice clothes and outfits and shoes to go with them. Because I’m short all my shoes are 4 inches or above. If anyone has ever spent 12 hours in five inch heels you know the kind of agony I was in each and every night. Lesson learned? Dress appropriately, but comfortably. Kitten heels would have been fine! You want to make a good impression, especially on agents and editors, but you don’t need to look like you just stepped out of the pages of Vogue, or like you just crawled out of bed after a binge-drinking night at the hotel bar. Realize you are going to see and possibly meet some of your all time favorite authors. It’s okay to fan-girl. It’s not okay to stalk. I stalked Nora Roberts at my first conference. The moment I saw her across the hotel lobby I simply lost my mind. She was on her way out of the building for a cigarette break. I am ashamed to admit this, but I followed her. It was like I was in some kind of trace. I knew what I was doing was illegal in 50 states, but I had no will to stop myself. When she stopped outside and lit up, I stood in the vestibule behind the glass doors just…watching her smoke. After a minute I realized what I was doing and snapped out of. Then I spotted Jill Shalvis on the escalator going down while I was going up. I jumped off and headed back down and followed her into the hotel coffee shop. Again… I was in a trance, I swear! Lesson learned? Be prepared to meet your writing idols but don’t do anything you could get arrested for!! When I spotted three twenty-somethings at the Literacy signing squeal like pigs when they met Jayne Ann Krentz, it drilled that lesson home. One of the best things I did at the first conference was attend the RWA First Timer’s presentation. It was filled with helpful hints about how to get the most out of the conference without feeling overwhelmed, or as if you missed something. I highly recommend setting aside the two hours of the class and fitting it into your schedule. This year the conference is in Orlando/Disney. In July. Florida in July is not a time frame for curly haired gals like me, so this year will bring its own set of problems and concerns! But I’m still going because I don’t want to miss the exciting, informative, and fun events and classes being offered. I’ll just need to pack an extra canister of hairspray. Or maybe more than just one extra. Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance writer who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them.

Family and food play huge roles in Peggy’s stories because she believes there is nothing that holds a family structure together like sharing a meal…or two…or ten. Dotted with humor and characters that are as real as they are loving, Peggy brings all topics of daily life into her stories: life, death, sibling rivalry, illness and the desire for everyone to find their own happily ever after. Growing up the only child of divorced parents she longed for sisters, brothers and a family that vowed to stick together no matter what came their way. Through her books, she has created the families she wanted as that lonely child.

Tying into her love of families, her children's book, THE KINDNESS TALES, was illustrated by her artist mother-in-law. Peggy holds a master's degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer's Disease during her time running an Alzheimer's in-patient care unit during the 1990s. In 2013, she placed first in two categories in the Dixie Kane Memorial Contest: Single Title Contemporary Romance and Short/Long Contemporary Romance. In 2017 she came in 3rd in the New England Reader's Choice contest for A KISS UNDER THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS and is a finalist in the 2017 STILETTO contest for the same title. A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.

Website/Blog || Twitter || Amazon Author Page || Facebook || Pinterest || Goodreads  || Instagram

Spooky Noise in the Dark Bathroom

Jeff Salter~ By Jeff Salter

We writers tend to have vivid imaginations… especially when it’s night time and we’re alone in the house. This is a true story from May of 2014. See if you can figure out the actual solution to this mystery. OR… how would you WRITE the solution?

Tap...clack-click. Tap...clack-click.

My ears are more finely tuned to spooky unknown sounds at night when my wife is out of town.

I had just gotten into bed, around midnight, when I heard this repeated eerie sound, Tap...clack-click. It seemed to be coming from the bathroom, the door of which I had just closed (as I always do before retiring).

Tap...clack-click.

It wasn't King Sipper (our cat), because he was up on the bed beside me.

dark doorwayTap...clack-click.

It was not a distant train.

Tap...clack-click.

Turned off my 'white noise' machine and listened closely.

Tap...clack-click.

It was definitely coming from the bathroom, and apparently from the other side of the door my face was presently pressed against. I don't know Morse, but I knew this was no S-O-S. But what was it?

Tap...clack-click.

 — —

 Here are some of the suggested solutions to my mystery that I’ve already received. Add yours to the mix and I’ll return later tonight (or tomorrow morning) to tell y’all the REAL solution.

* walls cooling down

* tap dancing cockroach

* dripping faucet

* battery operated grandkid’s toy

* branch tapping against a window

* Poe’s story, "The Tell-Tale Heart," come to life

* And my favorite of the suggested solutions: attempted communication from aliens who use the old-fashioned “tap....clack-click” language.

Add your possible solution in the comments section and I’ll return later tonight (or tomorrow morning) to tell y’all the REAL solution.

As we authors are composing scenes, let’s not be too quick to end them prematurely. Sometimes the characters can take us in a totally different direction.

Jeff Salter, who has written 12 novels and five novellas, already has 14 fiction titles released with three royalty publishers. His most recent is “The Duchess of Earl” released in mid-July by Clean Reads. Two more titles are due out this year and he has several works in progress.

Purposeful Romantic Cinema

Sally J. Walker ~ By Sally J. Walker

Pairing up is a recognized life experience of the human species. Awareness of the need surfaces in puberty.  Some people sublimate it for a variety of reasons.  Others embrace it and evolve a determination to find that special Someone to share life experiences.  Sometimes those determined folk succeed.  Other times they are frustrated.  And sometimes people simply stumble upon the person meant to travel with them for the rest of their lifetime.

Attitudes toward the “Pairing Process” are as unique as each human for a variety of reasons.  Those of us who write romance observe and incorporate those attitudes into the pairing stories we weave.  Our objective is to depict the journey of discovery that others will enjoy reading and watching.

Frequently romance writers deal with cynics and people discomfited by the principles of romantic relationships.  We are not deterred.  We know what a thrill it is to have life’s obstacles overcome in order to end up in the arms of the beloved.  That makes us perpetual optimists.  In a world full of negatives and disturbing threats, romantic storytellers provide the Hope of happiness  through pairing.

ROMANTIC FILMS

Novels are a 1:1 experience.  The cinematic world is a relative group orgy.  A huge group of artists MAKE the film then many people gather before their TV sets or settle in a public theater to experience the story.

rosesCreating the characters and events that will absorb the awareness of the audience demands a specialized form of storytelling, from script formatting to manipulation of time and place to stimulating the imaginations of all those other cinematic artists who contribute their expertise to the creation of the film. The reality of writing a romantic film is that the writer fades into background.  We are not important beyond the blue print we created.  All those other collaborators take over the storytelling.  Ultimately, they too are not meant to be obvious.  Even the actors become the characters in a well-done film. That happens for one purpose:  to enthrall the audience.

AUDIENCE ATTITUDE

The genre of “Romantic Comedies” is not intended to create perpetual laughs.  It is about the “feel good” quality of the story.  There certainly may be drama or tragedy, however, ultimately the problems will be resolved, the obstacles overcome and the pairing will take place.

For some people—mostly males—this concept is too sugar-coated and the ending predictable.  If they had their choice, they would go to an Action-Adventure film. They share this film to please the romantic-minded people in their lives.  A writer’s challenge is to absorb that cynic’s imagination, to surprise him into discovering he can “care.”

The Romantic film-goer doesn’t sit in the theater expecting a depiction of the worse life experiences in the characters’ lives.  They KNOW the couple will end up together.  They want the story to depict HOW that happens.  The ending is not rocket science complicated . . . but the story’s events need to be in order to enthrall the audience, both genre enthusiasts and reluctant cynics.

ROMANCE SCREENWRITER’S CHALLENGE

Screenwriting is a specialized discipline that requires knowledge of what the film industry needs, just as romance writing is a specialized craft.  One cannot create a screenplay without studying the craft, just as one cannot depict a fictionalized romance without knowledge of reader/audience expectations.

A romantic story is more than Beginning-Middle-Ending structure.  It is a complex depiction of dreams and needs, character angst and joys.  Most importantly it is about awareness of the desire to pair with another human being, the need to survive WITH another human being whatever life circumstance is thrown at them.

* Click here for more information about Sally's upcoming workshop. *

Sally Walker’s published credits include literary, romance and western novels, a nonfiction essay collection, several creative writing textbooks, stage plays, poetry, and many magazine articles on the craft of writing, including staff contributions to two international film magazines for 10 years. With 32 screenplays written, several under negotiation at various studios and her novel-to-screenplay adaptation on her plate, Sally has an entertainment attorney representing her in Hollywood. In addition to long time active memberships in such national writing organizations as RWA, WWA and SCBWI, she was president of a state-wide writers organization 2007-2011. She keeps to a strenuous writing schedule and still has time to work as Editorial Director for The Fiction Works, supervising acquisitions and sub-contracted editors, as well as Script Supervisor for material sent to TFW’s affiliated Misty Mountain Productions. Sally has taught writing seminars, both on-site and on-line, for over 30 years and is the facilitator for the weekly meetings of the Nebraska Writers Workshop in Ralston, NE.  For more information on her works and classes go to her website at http://www.sallyjwalker.com

Thoughts on being an “RT VIRGIN”

~ By Peggy Jaeger

This past week I’ve been in the lovely city of Atlanta for my very first RT Convention. I’ve been hearing about RT for a long time, but have never had the opportunity to attend until this year, so I came without any expectations and a whole bag of nervous energy.

I’m that girl who spends a lot of time in her hotel room during conference downtown writing and blogging. I usually don’t take advantage of the parties or any networking prospects because I’m basically an introvert.

This year, though, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to “get myself out there” more at conferences and conventions. Talk to fans, publishers, agents, and other authors. Start up conversations, and ask questions – two things I’m not comfortable doing. I shouldn’t have been concerned about looking pushy or annoying to strangers, because at RT no one is a stranger! I just love that concept.

Peggy Jaeger with RT conference badgeRT is, in my mind, an awful lot like Comic Con for Romance Lovers. There are themed parties, where fans and authors alike go all out dressing up in period costumes. There are scavenger hunts, photo ops with the most hunky of male cover models, chocolate parties, movie nights – you think of it, and RT is doing it. Billed as a book lovers conference, I found RT was heavily stacked with romance readers. Most romance conferences I’ve attended have been heavy on the writer end of the spectrum, so it was eye-opening for me as a romance writer to actually connect with the people who put us, and keep us, in business – the reader.

I met some of the most delightful, well-read and well-rounded people I’ve ever met this week. And I met them while waiting in line for events, at workshops, and at book signings. These readers and romance fans know what they like. They move the industry in the direction they want it to go by reading, talking, blogging about, and promoting their favorite author’s work. I had one new fan to me, who was also an independent bookseller, say she loved my book so much she promoted it at her store. You gotta love that!

A few things I learned this week that I wish I had known prior to attending RT, though, needs mentioning.

First of all, be prepared for crowds. Big crowds. Disney-theme-park-during-school-vacation crowds. This convention is held once a year and fans/readers/authors /industry people come from all across the globe. This isn’t some dinky little get together; there are literally thousands of people attending.

Because of these crowds, be prepared to wait in line for everything. Everything. Every book signing, every workshop, every author meet and greet, every giveaway. I thought I was being proactive getting to an event scheduled for 5:15 at 4:50. Nope. There were 500 people ( not kidding!) in line ahead of me.

Bring snacks and something to drink with you wherever you go, whether it’s to a workshop or an event. Believe me, you’ll need it.

Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. I know this sounds like common sense, but as an author, I still feel fans want to see you in a dressy, professional, romance-writer-like outfit complete with stocking and heels. Because I think this way, my feet hurt and when I had to wait in line, I couldn’t sit on the floor like everyone who was dressed comfortably because I had a skirt and stilettos on, and by the end of a very long days, my legs turned to jello. Flats and jeans are, truly, acceptable wear.

If you’re an author, always ALWAYS  have some kind of author swag on you. Business cards, placards, notebooks, chapsticks, whatever has your name on it and whatever you routinely give away, carry it with you. I had more readers ask me for a business card so they could remember my name than I’ve ever been asked before.  Luckily, I’d filled my purse with them, and new release promo cards.

Be approachable and open. This was the hardest one for me because, you know…introvert, here! A smile and a “how are ya doing?” went miles in gathering new readers to me. Love that.

I’m so glad I made that New Year’s resolution. RT has been one of the most intense, interesting, and rewarding book conventions I’ve ever attended. I’m already planning on being in RENO next year for RT2018.

Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance author who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can't live without them.  You can read all about her writing journey, and more about her time at RT, at http://peggyjaeger.com

Writing Romantic Comedy

~ By Janet Elizabeth Henderson

Writing romantic comedy is hard. I’ve written fourteen romantic comedies and I still struggle to get the balance right in each and every book. If you lean too much on the comedy side of the novel, your readers won’t take the romance seriously. And if there isn’t enough humor in the book, you’ll get blasted for not being funny. So how do you get it right?

Well first up, you need to decide what type of romantic comedy you’re writing. If your intentions aren’t clear from the outset, the reader can become confused and lose interest in your book. Here are some of the basic formats:

  • In it together

This type of comedy points out the absurdities of life while the writer encourages the reader to laugh at them from a position of superiority. (Only the writer and reader can see how humorous the story is.)

Example: Anything by Jane Austen.

  • All in the tone

This is where the author’s voice in itself is humorous, but they still manage to achieve depth within the story. This one hard to pull off without becoming so flippant that you alienate the reader.

Example: Kresley Cole does this brilliantly in her Immortals After Dark series.

  • It’s a garnish, darling

This is the type of book that sprinkles humorous dialogue or scenes sparingly throughout the novel. The humor in these books tends to be more subtle and less “wet-yourself-laughing.” (Although sometimes the odd laugh out loud scene will happen.)

Example: Anything Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes.

  • It’s all a farce

This is where pretty much everything is over-the-top and silly. The problem with this is that the reader won’t take anything seriously in your book. Therefore, if you plan to put in some depth, it will be missed.

Example: Mel Brooks movies and the screwball comedies of the thirties.

  • Counterpoint comedy

You see this work best in action movies. In this type of book there is drama, pathos and then suddenly a burst of comedy to lighten the mood. The comedy in these books is relevant to the story and can sometimes be quite dark. Example: Lethal Weapon movies.

My books lie on the line between “It’s a garnish, darling” and “Counterpoint comedy.” When I’m writing I try to balance the humor to ensure there are moments that make the reader smile as well as at least one moment that makes them laugh out loud. But, and this is important, humor in a romantic comedy should NEVER outshine the romance. Readers come to the book for the romance. That needs to be your main focus—always.

So, in saying that, once you know which type of book you want to write, how do you include humor without going over-the-top and alienating your reader? Here are some tips that might help you get the balance right:

1. Put the emphasis on romance

It’s far too easy, when writing romantic comedy, to tip over into just plain comedy. Always remember that the reader is reading for the romance and all humor should be within the context of the developing romance. For a romantic comedy to work well it needs emotional depth. The humor works best when the readers can identify with the characters and their struggles.

2. Make the characters take it seriously

You don’t want your characters to come across as trying to be funny. You want them to take whatever situation they’re in very seriously. This exaggerates the humor for the reader. Characters who are naturally sarcastic or humorous are wonderful, but you want to limit the number you have within each book. Otherwise, it will sound as though every character has the same voice and the book will start to feel flippant and shallow in tone.

3. Keep dialogue sharp and watch sarcasm

Couple LaughingA character who is continually sarcastic can put a reader off the story. But, if a character makes a humorous/sarcastic observation about something that is very serious it can affect the way the other characters, and the reader, view a scene. One comment can turn an emotional scene into a humorous one. The key to achieving this is being aware of who’s making the comment and where it’s placed within the scene. As they say, timing is everything! Banter is also great for comedy and for developing character relationships. Remember to keep it tightly written and don’t let it go on for too long—otherwise, it will slow the pacing of the novel and distract from the overall theme of the story. Remember, all banter should be in keeping with each character’s individual voice. If you don’t do this, they can sound too similar and pull the reader out of the story.

4. Include one set piece per book

Instead of trying to think of a funny situation for each and every chapter, come up with just one laugh-out-loud set piece for the entire book instead. This can be a ludicrous situation the characters find themselves in, or a serious scene that takes an unexpected turn into dark humor, or something that goes badly wrong for a character and only the reader (or other characters) can see the humor in the situation. This set piece should be a natural fit for the character and the story. I try to place the set piece in the middle of my books, for pacing’s sake. It boosts the middle—allowing me to show something about my characters that I’d previously been unable to show—while at the same time it’s far enough away from the ending to stop it from interfering with emotional depth as the characters resolve their feelings for each other. I’ve found that very few stories can work well with more than one set piece. This is because the more there are, the more they detract from the emotional depth of the romance.

5. Keep the reader in on the joke

I’ve found that having a character take themselves seriously, but come across as absurd or funny, is more humorous than having the character aware of how funny they are. The reader can see how ludicrous the situation/character is, but the characters involved in it are oblivious. Don’t try to be too clever with this technique, it can come across as patronizing. Like everything else in writing romantic comedy, the focus should always be on the romance and not on the comedy.

6. Pay careful attention to how other characters treat a comedy element

Sometimes it’s fine for a character to laugh at someone who’s being funny. That tells the reader that the person who’s enacting the comedy, but isn’t aware it’s comedy, is in fact seen as humorous by those around them. Sometimes, the humorous tension in the scene is increased when the characters around the funny person take them seriously and don’t see the humor. I use both techniques in my books. I’ve found that, if characters laugh at each other too much the reader doesn’t take the humorous characters seriously when they need to.

7. Humor works best as contrast

You need the emotional depth in a romance to offset the comedy. You need the gamut of emotions within your book. Aim to make the reader cry as well as laugh. The contrast will emphasize both the romantic side of the book and the comedy side. Remember the relationship between your hero and heroine is your priority. A reader will laugh louder and harder if they’re invested in the characters.

8. Keep it natural

There is a lot of humorous potential in romance, but it should always be a natural product of the story you’re telling, otherwise, it will feel forced. If the comedy element you’ve written doesn’t tell you something about the characters, or move the story along, or create conflict—it isn’t worth having in your book. Comedy, like every other element in a novel, needs to reinforce the overall premise of the story.

9. Be careful of crass humor

Because of the subject matter—all that physical interaction—it’s easy to slip into crass humor as a romantic comedy writer. This can seriously put a reader off. In the fourteen books I’ve written, I’ve only done this once. I still have mixed feelings about the scene, because I feel both amused and embarrassed when I read it, but it fits the characters and it moves the plot along and it was essential to the dynamic between the hero and heroine. Be really wary of crass humor. Unless you want to write like Benny Hill or a Carry On movie, this can kill your story.

10. Have fun with it

The chances are, if you find something funny, someone else will too. So entertain yourself as you write. Keep notes on situations in real life that make you laugh. Look out for situations that are ironic or absurd, but are taken seriously by those involved. Write down witty one-liners you hear, you might be able to use them later. But through it all, remember you’re writing romance. The comedy is just the icing on the cake.

I hope this helps. Writing romantic comedy is a serious business, but a whole lot of fun.

Happy writing!

I grew up in Scotland, but after I met my Dutch husband in America we decided to move to New Zealand and that's where we've settled. We bought a patch of land that we've filled with other people's unwanted animals - we didn't advertise for them, they found us! So far we have three miniature, three anti-social alpacas, a grumpy cow, one pet sheep who wants to live in the house, a crazy goat who keeps eating my manuscripts and an escape artist chicken who breaks into our house through the cat flap. And that's just the pets who live outside the house - don't even get me started on the demented, farting dog who keeps burying my shoes! On top of this, I have two small girls, one DIY obsessed husband (I said "obsessed" not "skilled") and a 92-year-old neighbor who thinks she lives with us. In between cuddling animals and herding kids, I write books.

April PANorama — Writing a Series

Dear Readers, It’s the last Sunday of the month, which means that it’s time for one of our chapter PAN members (PAN stands for Published Authors Network, a professional designation within RWA open to members who reach a certain level of sales) to visit the blog to share some of their wisdom and expertise. This month, Mary E. Thompson is here to give us her advice on writing a series.  Take it away, Mary!

Writing a Series

Mary E. Thompson~ By Mary E. Thompson

Series has been a buzz word in romance for years. So much so that now, it’s just how things are done. Writing a book? Turn it into a series. Have an idea? Make sure you can expand it. It’s standard operating procedure.

But why? Why do we write series?

The better question is why do readers love them?

How many TV shows do you watch? My DVR has twenty-one shows we record. It’s a lot, I know, but that’s not the point. Why do we record shows? Or watch them online? Or on Netflix? Is it because the shows are unique and different and interesting? Or is it because you enjoyed it when it started and got invested? You liked something about it at the beginning. But every episode follows a formula. You knew Lorelai and Rory would both learn something at the end of Gilmore Girls. You knew the bad guy was going to get caught on Hawaii 5-0. You knew someone would get eliminated at the end of The Voice.

So why do you keep watching?

We always want the bad guy to lose and the good guy to get the girl. We want characters to grow and change. We want to believe the same is possible for us. The overweight woman can end up with the SEAL. The dorky guy can get the model. The invisible girl can catch the attention of the jock.

Gilmore HouseIt’s not the main story that captures our attention. I loved Gilmore Girls. I loved it so much I have the DVD’s of every episode so I can watch them whenever I want. With each episode, we knew that Lorelai was going to do something crazy. Emily and Lorelai would argue. Rory would try to keep the peace. And Richard would barely pay attention.

But that wasn’t what kept me returning week after week to watch what was going to happen. It wasn’t what made almost 6 million people tune in the weekend Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life premiered.

https://youtu.be/Hjqrr7nss3s

I wanted to know what crazy thing Lorelai would do, yes. But I also wanted to see Rory go to Harvard and then Yale. I wanted to know if Lorelai would marry Max. Or Christopher. Or Luke. If Rory would end up with Dean. Or Jess. Or Logan. If she’d go back to school. If Rory and Lorelai would make up. If Rory and Paris would ever truly be friends. If Lane and Zach would get together. If Richard and Emily would ever take it easy on Lorelai.

The individual episodes didn’t keep me going back. The characters did.

That’s what readers want from us. They want that familiarity. That sense of knowing what to expect. They want to see their favorite characters again and again. They want to know the one character they relate to the best is going to end up with her happily ever after.

That’s why a series works. Grab their attention at the beginning and they’ll be begging you for more. A reader knows what the series stands for. What each book will be like based on the ones before. All their favorite characters are there. They know the backstory. They know who’s going to have a snarky remark and who’s going to keep the peace. They know who the introvert is and who’s going to bring the party. It’s like sitting down for a few hours with their best friends, if we’re lucky.

Because hearing a story from your best friend is the best kind of story.

Mary E. Thompson writes scintillating stories with a side of hope. Her series, Big & Beautiful, is eleven stories long… and counting, because her readers asked for more. When Mary isn’t writing, she cheers on her daughter at gymnastics and her son at every other sport. Mary is lucky to have her own romance novel worthy husband to tag-team if things get too crazy. Visit her website at http://MaryEThompson.com to learn more.

BICHOK, But Then What?

~ By Tanya Agler

Note: Tanya's companion post, Writing During a Family Crisis, can be found here

Okay, we’ve all been there. We’re about to start writing and bam! The robocall of congratulations comes as you’ve won a free cruise to Nebraska if you turn over our checking account number now. A knock on the office door precedes your youngest running in with blood gashing out of his forehead and an ER trip is in your immediate future. A pop-up notification alerts you a prince in Nigeria wants to give you a million dollars because you’re a wonderful person. Okay, I’m exaggerating on purpose, but think about it. When you sit down to write, how often do you check your e-mail or your Facebook feed for just a second or tell yourself it will be one game of Solitaire? Even right now, thank you for reading this blog, but were you about to open your manuscript? If so, this might be the article you’ve been waiting for. If, on the other hand, you are rewarding yourself by reading one of your favorite website blogs after a productive day of writing, please come write with me and let your discipline rub off on me!

To Do Lists. Why are they the rage this year? Because they work. One caveat. Make a to-do list on a sheet of paper or in a day planner or in a notebook. Crossing items off with a pen or pencil often helps you feel like you’ve accomplished something. How specific your to-do list is up to you. (My wonderful husband has fun whenever he finds my to-do list. He often writes in watch Doc Martin with WH). If you like crossing off lots of activities, go ahead and include items like brushing your teeth and getting dressed. Often crossing off the little things gives a sense of accomplishment. If, however, you only want to itemize your writing goals to stay on task, do that. These are only suggestions on maximizing your writing productivity. Find what works best for you. When you see positive results, stick with that method.

Priorities. Say you’ve used a to-do list for a week and have discovered you can only get two out of three writing activities done each day. Now you know what you are capable of, and you have the power to decide whether to classify those activities in terms of importance or work a little at a time on all three. One caveat. First and foremost, when you are prioritizing your writing tasks, make sure that number one is writing or editing your work in progress. 

Turn off notifications. When you are actually in the chair with your hands on the keyboard, eliminate as many distractions as possible. If you can turn off notifications, do that. You don’t even need an app. Just click on system preferences, click on turn off notifications when you start writing and turn them on again when you’re done for the day. Caveat. I have kids in school, and the nurse calls when there’s a head injury. So I can’t turn off my phone when they’re in school. Do what you can to minimize distractions while taking your personal circumstances into account.

Timers or Sprints. I love my timers. I write for twenty or twenty-five minutes, then I read a book about writing for ten or get up and walk around. If I’m really into a scene, I’ll keep going when the timer goes off, but I’ve discovered I can write for longer periods as a result. Some writers swear by word sprints. If those help you, find friends on FB or go to Twitter and look for a group of writers who will sprint with you.

Spreadsheets. Okay, some of you are now running for the hills. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be a notebook where you write the date and your word count. I use an Excel spreadsheet. Why? So I can see at a glance the numbers adding up and know I’m writing daily.

Rewards. Yes, I know some of you read the word bribes. I prefer to call them a reward. There are scenes that will be harder to write than others. On these days, I load a little bag with M&Ms or Hershey Kisses. Every five hundred words or so, I reward myself with a Hershey Kiss. I try not to make this an everyday occurrence but, in a pinch, the small treat helps me keep going.

So those are some tips that might make your BICHOK time more productive.

*If you have any tips you want to share, please leave a comment.

This write-at-home mom lives in Georgia with her husband, four kids, one Basset Hound (Vera) and one rabbit (Gandalf). She writes a mixture of inspirational category and sweet contemporary Southern front porch romances. In 2016, she placed first in the Great Expectations Contest (Contemporary Category) and the Catherine Contest (Contemporary Short) as well as finaled in the Maggies and TARA Contests.

When she’s not writing, chauffeuring her children or folding laundry, Tanya loves classic movies (preferably black and white or anything with Cary Grant) or enjoying a cup of tea alongside a good book.

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Irish Alpha Heroes and St. Patricks Day

Casey ClipperHappy St. Patrick's Day! 

Our chapter president Casey Clipper has agreed to tell us a bit about writing Irish Alpha Heroes. 

How's that for good luck? 

So it back and enjoy. 

If you also create heroes based on aspects of your own cultural background, please share in the comments. 

Contemporary Romance: What was it about growing up in an Irish family that you wanted to translate into fiction?

Casey Clipper: It wasn’t necessarily the growing up in an Irish family but more watching the men, like my father and grandfather and uncle (I have a few, but the one who reminds me of my dad the most), that made me fashion the heroes in my stories after them, in a sense.

Watching the way the men in the family treated their wives, gave me first-hand knowledge of the whole alpha personality, who loves and adores the woman in his life. They treated their wives in an extremely respectful manner, acknowledging their wives ran the household and being perfectly fine with that, with zero macho ego thing, holding them in such high regard in their lives.

Yet, they were also the “men of the house”, taking care of their families and spouses. From the outside and looking back on the interaction and daily routines, it’s quite fascinating. (I unfortunately have to speak in past tense because my grandparents and my mother are no longer with us.) 

CR: Do you have any favorite family stories or anecdotes?

CC: Well, my grandmother was probably the most superstitious woman I’ve ever known and managed to pass that down? I don’t spill salt, walk under a ladder, and definitely change directions if a black cat crosses my path. And do not bring an outside broom inside. That was a heated battle in my house a couple years ago between myself and my husband.

four leaf cloverThere is also the memory of Sundays at my grandparents’ home. After church, the entire family—aunts, uncles, grandchildren—would go to my grandparents for dinner and then after the three oldest granddaughters (yes, I’m in the top 3) did the dishes, the aunts and uncles and my grandfather played cards with nickels, dimes, and quarters.

CR: Are your heroes based on actual people from your life? 

CC: Not one of my heroes are based off anyone in my life. They’re really based off an ideal man (though with his own issues) in my mind at the time of writing a novel.

Of course, they’re all alphas and all love their women and are all supportive of their heroine and naturally have to go through their arcs, but I can honestly say that not one character is written with someone specific in mind.

CR: Do you have a process for researching Irish culture?

CC: Names. I research names and their meanings. Even last names. For instance, Murphy (which is used in The Love Series) in 2014 was the most number one surname in Ireland. O’s in front of a name mean “grandson of” or “decedent of” while Mac’s in front of names mean “son of”. Ryan (used in Unexpected Love) means little king. Neil, which I use for a last name in my The Men of Law series, means passionate. 

CR: Are there any stereotypes / myths about Irish culture that bother you?

CC: That the Irish are drinkers. Yes, you’ll always have those in any culture that are stereotypical, but for the most part, we aren’t going to the pub every night and downing Guinness or whiskey and getting into brawls.

CR: Why do you think St. Patrick’s Day has become so universal?

CC: I think because it’s a time where you can go to the pub or to a neighbor's (which is where I’ll be), decked out in your green, listen to Irish music, maybe have some Jamison or Baileys or a Guinness, eat some corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes and relax in the company of friends and family.

In an atmosphere that is just plain fun. I think the American version of St. Patrick’s Day has become more about celebrating good times with everyone, even strangers at the pub. And I think we all need that in our lives right now more than ever. Right?

CR: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

CC: Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! We’re all Irish today!

* Thank you so much, Casey! *

Learn more about Casey at http://caseyclipper.com