Are you writing or have ever written a series? I just finished Saving Sarah, Book 4 in my Women of Willow Bay series. I’m wondering about how you know it’s time to end a series.
Series are a huge thing in romance right now—publishers are looking for them and indies are cranking them out like crazy—it’s like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys for twenty-first-century romance readers. But I think it’s more than just putting out book after book that revolves around a huge family in the same small town or a big-city hospital full of swoony doctors and hot nurses. The series phenomenon is also about readers falling in love with secondary characters and wanting to hear their stories, too.
For authors, and I speak from experience here, writing a series is both a blessing and a curse. Right off, a series give us a ready-made setting for our stories. Willow Bay was created in Book 1, ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP, so for the next three books, I had a village, quirky citizens, shops, the Daily Grind coffee shop, a lighthouse, and of course, Willow Bay and Lake Michigan all right there for me. In Book 2, SEX AND THE WIDOW MILES, Julie, a secondary character from Book 1 told her story from Chicago, but came back to Willow Bay, and in Book 3, THE SUMMER OF SECOND CHANCES, Sophie and Henry spent an adventurous summer in Willow Bay. In Book 4, which will be released September 26, Sarah, Julie’s friend from Book 2, flees Chicago for Willow Bay to hide from her abusive ex-husband. In each book and any subsequent ones that may come along, the little village is already created and all I have to do is plop my characters down in it and write their stories.
However, that said, each book brings more elements of the village into play—very minor characters show up in every book, and readers begin to feel like they can shoot the breeze with Perry, who owns the Daily Grind, order a triple espresso from Kelly, the barista, talk bait with Noah at Dixon’s Marina, or even pop into Bertie’s yarn shop for a cup of tea and to ohh and ahh over the new angora yarn from New Zealand. A series gives readers a sense of home.
Sometimes a series happens because a secondary character just demands her own story—Julie Miles stayed in my mind after I wrote The End of ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP. Carrie’s best friend just wouldn’t leave me alone. But she was already happily married—the only way she was going to get her own story was for me kill off her husband Charlie. So I did and Julie’s story practically wrote itself. When readers clamored for more Willow Bay stories, Sophie (in Book 3) moved to her summer cottage in Willow Bay to heal after the death of her grandfather and brought mystery and adventure along. And in Book 4, Sarah got her own story, partly because readers kept asking for a new WOWB story, but also because she was an intriguing secondary character in Julie’s book who needed her own story.
But—and I’m finally getting to the real point here—there is a down side to writing a series. Frankly, although I love my stories, I’m a little bored with Willow Bay—I want to go somewhere else. So, is this the end of the Women of Willow Bay? I can probably come up with a couple more stories in the series, but I’m ready to move to something new. That doesn’t mean I’m closing the book entirely on WOWB—but I think it might be time set them on the back burner and listen to the other voices in my head for a while. So I’m wondering if other series authors feel the same way after four stories or six or eight or however many you’ve written in a series. Talk to me—are you a series writer? How many books are enough in one series?
Nan Reinhardt has been a copy editor and proofreader for over twenty-five years, and currently works mainly on fiction titles for a variety of clients, including Avon Books, St. Martin’s Press, Kensington Books, Tule Publishing, and Entangled Publishing, as well as for many indie authors.
Author Nan writes romantic fiction for women in their prime. Yeah, women still fall in love and have sex, even after they turn forty-five! Imagine! She is also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, and a secretary.
She loves her career as a freelance editor, but writing is Nan’s first and most enduring passion. She can’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing—she wrote her first romance novel at the age of ten, a love story between the most sophisticated person she knew at the time, her older sister (who was in high school and had a driver’s license!), and a member of Herman’s Hermits. If you remember who they are, you are Nan’s audience! She’s still writing romance, but now from the viewpoint of a wiser, slightly rumpled, post-menopausal woman who believes that love never ages, women only grow more interesting, and everybody needs a little sexy romance.
Visit Nan’s website at www.nanreinhardt.com, where you’ll find links to all her books as well as blogs about writing, being a Baby Boomer, and aging gracefully…mostly. Nan also blogs every Tuesday at Word Wranglers, sharing the spotlight with four other romance authors; and she is a regular contributor at the Romance University website, where she blogs as Nan Reinhardt, Copy Editor. Her latest novel, Saving Sarah, book 4 in the Women of Willow Bay series September 26, 2017.
I really love judging RWA chapter contests for unpublished writers (both contemporary and historical manuscripts), mainly because I got so much out of the contests when I was pre-published, including my agent! I credit contest feedback for teaching me to write. That sounds hyperbolic, but it really isn’t. My degree is in chemical engineering. I don’t have a home RWA chapter. It was years before I found a critique partner. Besides being an inhaler of all books, I had never attempted to write before I sat down in January of 2012 to start a book. A historical romance actually.
About six months into writing, I discovered RWA existed. I joined and got my first RWR with the list of chapter contests in the back. I entered seven (7!) that fall, sure I was destined to win them all. (Spoiler alert: Didn’t happen!) I made about every newbie mistake possible. But, guess what? I fixed all those mistakes and went on to sign with an agent who was a final judge of one of the contests and sold five books in three months. I want this for you!!
With my background out of the way, I’m going to jump into the mistakes I commonly see when I judge entries, starting at the beginning. Literally, the beginning of you manuscript. That’s the thing about a contest that only looks at the first 20-30 pages of your book. Your beginning must draw the reader in and be memorable.
It’s no surprise the biggest issue with first chapters is managing backstory. Two big problems I see:
- The “Coming Into Town” beginning. This can be in a car or carriage and usually involves the hero or heroine ruminating on what is bringing them back to their hometown or why they’re moving into a new town. It’s usually a big fat stinky info dump. Doesn’t matter if the heroine is describing the scenery in between introspection about her family drama or getting fired from her job. Unless something active happens, like she gets pulled over by the cops or gets beset by highwaymen or rammed in the bumper by a man who turns out to be a villain/hero, just skip it. It’s often boring for the reader. The other issues with this type of beginning is that it’s very common and doesn’t stand out. Three out of four manuscripts in one contest I judged were “coming into town” beginnings. Look, this is not a hard and fast rule, but really think about why using this type of beginning is critical for your character’s arc and not a convenience.
- Mirrors: Don’t have your heroine (or hero) stand in front of a mirror and describe herself to herself. At this point in your writing journey, maybe you’re rolling your eyes and saying, of course not. Well, guess what, I DID THIS in the first scene of my first book draft! I didn’t know any better at the time. I needed a contest judge to tell me.
- The “As You Know” conversation. For a new author (or even experienced one) it can be a deceptive backstory dump. I typically see this conversation taking place between a main and secondary character. For example, maybe it’s the heroine giving the lowdown to her best friend. Except, it’s really a sneaky way of imparting backstory to the reader. If you can add in phrase “As you know” before dialogue, you have a problem.
“Your brother should be helping,” her best friend said.
As you know “He’s been drinking too much and parties every night.”
If the two characters are close, then it’s a conversation they would have already had. Plus, it’s usually all telling with no showing. Better to start with the brother coming in drunk and the sister confronting him in the wee hours. That packs an emotional punch and builds sympathy with both characters.
A last word on backstory: The best piece of advice I read about backstory came from a Margie Lawson class (I think she got it from someone else, though). Imagine writing all the tidbits of backstory for your characters on a pane of glass. Then, shatter that glass. Pick up only the most important facts. Facts that the reader must know. Sliver them strategically throughout the first third of the book. Discard the rest.
A few other things I want to touch on:
- Balance. There should be a balance between introspection, action, dialogue, and description from the beginning. I’ve read contest entries whose entire first chapter is all introspection. Don’t do this! Another trick I picked up from Margie Lawson (if you haven’t taken any of her on-line classes, I highly recommend them) is to get four different colored highlighters. Use one to highlight dialogue, one to highlight actions, one to highlight scene/character descriptions, and another to highlight introspection. You want to have a nice mix of all the colors or else your pace and flow suffers.
- Prologues. I’ll admit, I love the damn things, but the overall consensus is to avoid them. My way around this? CALL THEM CHAPTER 1! My first three Cottonbloom books start with an incident between my hero and heroine that took place many years in the past. That scene was needed to frame their present. But, make sure it’s absolutely necessary. Don’t use a prologue as a means to impart backstory. It must reveal something vitally important about your hero or heroine or their relationship with each other (not necessarily romantic.) If you can lose the prologue and still understand the story, then…lose the prologue.
- The often heard advice: Start your book with action! I would posit that the advice should really be “Start your book with the inciting incident!” The inciting incident is what upsets the balance of your characters’ lives and sets the story in motion. This “incident/action” doesn’t have to be a fight or a car crash, it can be something much more subtle.
- More well-intentioned advice: your hero and heroine should meet in Chapter 1. I do agree you should get them on the page as soon as possible (don’t wait three chapters!), but sometimes the inciting incident only involves the hero, and it snowballs to include the heroine. I have at least two books where the hero and heroine don’t meet until Chapter 2 or very late in Chapter 1. On the other hand, sometimes the hero meeting the heroine is the inciting incident. This is often the case for a romance. For example, maybe the man who rear ends the heroine on her way back into town is the hero. And a cop! AND her first love! That would be fun, right?
In the next post, I’m going to discuss what was nemesis when I started and something I see a lot in contest entries…Head hopping and Deep POV.
Do you have any advice for beginnings?
An award-winning author, Laura Trentham was born and raised in a small town in Tennessee. Although she loved English and reading in high school, she was convinced an English degree equated to starvation. She chose the next most logical major—Chemical Engineering—and worked in a hard hat and steel toed boots for several years.
She writes sexy, small town contemporaries and smoking hot Regency historicals. KISS ME THAT WAY, Cottonbloom Book 1, is a finalist for the Stiletto Contest and for the National Readers Choice Award. THEN HE KISSED ME, Cottonbloom Book 2, was named an Amazon Best Romance of 2016 and is a finalist for the National Excellence for Romance Fiction. TILL I KISSED YOU, Cottonbloom Book 3, is a finalist in the Maggie contest. When not lost in a cozy Southern town or Regency England, she's shuttling kids to soccer, helping with homework, and avoiding the Mt. Everest-sized pile of laundry that is almost as big as the to-be-read pile of books on her nightstand.
A few weeks ago, I blogged about what to do if you’re attending the Annual RWA conference for the very first time. Being a first-time attendee can be daunting and overwhelming. So many fabulous courses to choose from; the amazing publishing spotlights; the free books, oh Lord, the free books. That moment when you realize your favorite author of all time is in the same elevator as you.
It’s all heady stuff and those of us who are conference veterans know the feeling well. Which is why I want to concentrate on us old timers today and what I think our responsibilities should be when we attend the conference.
My very first RWA was in San Antonio in 2015. First timers are given an actual stick-on to place on their name badges stating they are first timer conference attendees. Like everyone else, I attached my badge banner after registration. I was standing by an escalator nervously trying not to look conspicuous and awkward in my solitariness the next day, when author Shirley Jump approached me and introduced herself. She stated she was an RWA Board Member and asked how I was liking my first conference. She asked what I wrote, was I published, what chapter did I belong to, all questions that engaged me in conversation and put me at ease. She was absolutely charming, lovely, and (if you’ve never seen her) gorgeous. She made me feel so special, I went about the rest of the day feeling less like a fish out of water.
Knowing that she took the time to reach out to me, a total stranger, to welcome me to RWA and to encourage me to take advantage of the parties, courses and workshops, gave me such a feeling of acceptance and belonging.
The next year, as a seasoned conference attendee now (LOL) I remembered that encounter and did the same thing Shirley did: I reached out to several people who had first timer banners on their badges. I introduced myself and then engaged them in conversation about their experience the same way Shirley had.
It felt marvelous to reach out that way. I met three women who were much the same age as me, who were at that point in their lives where they wanted to devote themselves to their writing more and were attending the conference to network, see what was happening in the industry, and take advantage of some of the fabulous workshops and courses. They even asked me advice on publishing. Imagine. Me!
Ego-boosting stuff to be sure.
Every year since then I’ve made it my business to connect like that with first timers. And every year I’ve made more writing friends because of it.
Every one of us who write have at one time or another felt that solitary, awkward, what-am-I-doing-here feeling. RWA is a supportive community of writers in all phases of their publishing careers and we should embrace one another on all those levels. A smile and a word of encouragement go a long way when someone is feeling out of place or overwhelmed. So, I’m challenging all of us RWA seasoned members to reach out this year to a first-time conference attendee and welcome them into the community we all love so much. You just may make a novice writer’s day. And conference.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.
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.
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.
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 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 to 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, you’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 this 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.
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.
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.
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?
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).
It wasn't King Sipper (our cat), because he was up on the bed beside me.
It was not a distant train.
Turned off my 'white noise' machine and listened closely.
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?
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.
~ 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.
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.
Creating 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.
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
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.
RT 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 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
A 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.
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.