Thursday, March 29, 2012

Please support Earth Hour - Sat 31 March

At 8.30pm on Saturday 31 March, the world will unite once again to show support for our lovely planet by switching off its lights. Please join in this phenomenal initiative by switching off your lights for one hour, starting at 8.30pm local time.

Let's take this another step further this year. Unplug from the internet and switch off the TV. Spend one candle-lit hour reconnecting with your loved ones. If the weather is fair wherever you are, go outdoors and look up at the stars, or listen to the crickets and other night sounds.

Not only does our planet need a break from the incessant demands made of it, but so do we.

Are you planning to participate this year? If so, please share how you're going to spend that magical hour.
Me? I'm going to have a glass of wine and an early night's sleep.

Monday, March 26, 2012

March Mash-up

Here's a mash-up of interesting and inspirational articles I discovered this month:

Reasons why romance readers should watch The Vampire Diaries Yup. I agree.

An insightful article from the Huffington Post on why romance novels are good for us. (Thanks to author April Vine for this link)

Don't give up: How it took one crime writer 133 Rejections to get published

And this useful advice on finding time to write from South African crime author Jassy Mackenzie.

Finally, I'm going to leave you with this inspirational TED talk from Ellen McGirt:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Running on Empty

This post isn’t about my state of being (though it could be, given that I battled with flu last weekend, while nursing a feverish six year old, and trying to cope with writing deadlines and day jobs).
No, this blog post isn’t about me - it’s about a movie I caught my mother watching the other night.

I didn’t even need a minute to recognise the movie. The surprising thing is that my mother remembered it. “I saw this a long time ago,” she said. I know. I’m the one who made her watch it. And all because it had River Phoenix in it. [Yes, I know I just dated myself!] 

The movie is Running on Empty, and contrary to what I might have thought at the time it first came out, it’s not all about River Phoenix.

It’s a poignant story about family relationships. So poignant that I used up quite a few tissues re-watching it with my mother

It’s the story of a couple (Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch) who’ve lived on the run from the FBI for nearly fifteen years. With their two sons (the eldest playedby River Phoenix), they are constantly on the move, trusting no-one, always looking over their shoulders. It's an inside look at the stress of this life, and the incredibly close bonds within this family who only have each other. The central theme of the film is the relationship between parents and their children.

It’s also a movie about choices, and having to live with the consequences of one’s choices. Or as my mother (a high school teacher) said, “if only this movie weren’t too slow moving for the current generation I’d making it compulsory viewing, as kids today just don’t understand consequences.” Be that as it may, the one consequence of this film was that the bitter-sweet ending helped me sit down and write a really moving scene. And that’s just about the highest compliment I can pay any film.

If you haven’t seen this film - or haven’t seen it in a while - do yourself a favour and watch it. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Tipping Point

On our Yahoo chat loop, we Minxes recently had a conversation about how to stay positive all the time. Since quite a few of us were having a really tough time that week, it was a question none of us could answer.

But the universe provides just what we need when we need it.

The very next day, during my long commute to the day job, I plugged in my Ipod and out floated Rhonda Byrne's voice (The Power audio book). She was talking about The Tipping Point.

Here is what she said [as para-phrased by me]:
In order to change your life for the better, you only have to feel good 51% of the time. Because that is the tipping point. That is the point at which you feel good more of the time than you feel bad.

So if we can just stay positive for 51% of the time, we can start to change our lives for the better. And because our lives are changing for the better, we'll feel good more of the time, causing our lives to improve even more. What a wonderful spiral to get on!

For the next couple of Mondays I'll be sharing tips on how to boost feeling good and being positive. Any and all suggestions will be gratefully received.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Point of View - Part Three

The entire point to POV (excuse the pun!) is that we authors pick a 'side' or viewpoint, and we influence the reader to take the same viewpoint. We influence who the reader will empathise with, and who the villains will be (because in their own heads they're never villains, they're just misunderstood!).

Last week I offered up three tips on how to make readers empathise with your characters, and promised you a fourth tip today. This tip really is the most important of them all.

But first, here's another clip from my favourite TV show. Who do you empathise with most in this scene? From whose POV would you say this scene is presented?

Even if you don't watch the show and don't know who you're 'supposed' to side with, I'm pretty sure you chose a hero and a villain. Eventually.

Who did you most feel for?
Elena (the heroine of the series, whose life is in danger), Michael (the man with a knife at her back) or Klaus (the emotional blonde)? By the end of the scene, you said Klaus, right?

If you’re not a follower of the TV show you might be surprised to learn that Klaus is the show's arch enemy number one, and until this moment we viewers haven’t had much sympathy for him at all. He has single-handedly tried to kill everyone we love.

And yet in this scene we feel for him. We side with him. We even see much of this scene from his POV. We're moved to care about him.

And the reason is because in this scene we are given a glimpse of his motivation. We see the son who has battled all his life for his father's approval, and we understand now what drives him. We no longer see him as a one-dimensional cut-out of pure evil. We see him as someone who has become the way he is because he was unloved and under-valued by his father.

Every How To Write books says the same thing. You need conflict on every page. But conflict isn't an argument. Conflict isn't the threat of a knife in your back. It's the fear, it's the anger. Conflict in this scene is the showdown between a father and son after a lifetime of hurt and hate.

Use your character's point of view to reveal their motivation. Build the conflict between the characters by motivating why they do what they do. And you will have added a whole new depth not only to the POV but to your story.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Another gate, another endless possibility

Let's have some fun with this. Don't be shy, join the fun.

The location of this month's image is fairly obvious: Fira, capital of Santorini in Greece. Santorini should be on everyone's bucket list. It really is an amazing place to visit. I've been twice, and I'd still go back again.

So which gateway will it be? Is there a story here? Where do these gates lead?

This image comes courtesy of

Thursday, March 8, 2012

POV Part Two - The Resolution

Right, let's try this again.The resolution to the scene in my previous post.

Thanks, Blogger. At last.

Point of View - Part Two

In last week's post I covered the three basic points of view used in fiction and touched on how to choose whose POV a scene should be in. I also asked the question: is a film camera an objective observer?

The quick answer: No! The camera is never impartial.

How often have you been moved to tears by a movie? Or been so gripped by a TV show you didn't want to leave the room?

That's because the camera managed to draw you in emotionally, by manipulating your POV.

The camera might not be able to get into a character's thoughts in the same way that written words can, but POV is so much more than hearing a character's thoughts.

As I said last week, the POV in a scene also has a lot to do with who we're empathising most with in that given moment. And this the film camera definitely does.

The film-makers manipulate the stories and images so that their viewers takes sides. They do this by making you care about some characters more than others.

Here’s an example. Naturally, it’s a tie-in to The Vampire Diaries [Come on – you knew this was coming!]. Watch this scene, and tell me whose POV you think it's in.

All three of the main characters in this scene are regulars, and we care for all of them in different ways. But in this scene, it's fairly obvious that we're encouraged to 'side' with Caroline. She's the first character the camera lingers on, and we watch the dance floor from her perspective. And of all the characters in this excerpt, I bet you cared more for her than anyone else, even if you don't watch the show and don't know any of the background.

Your characters don't always have to sympathetic, and they don't always have to be squeaky clean. But you absolutely have to make your readers care for them. This is your entire job as the the author, just as it's the director & writers' job on a TV show. If the audience doesn't care, you lose ratings [or can't sell your next book].

So how do we make readers care for our characters?

The scene above offers a few tips:

  • Sympathy vote: Though she might be rude to the other characters, Caroline still has a sense of humour. Your POV character is not going to be sweetness and light in every scene, and that's okay. But you need to make sure there are at least moments in every scene where the reader identifies or sympathises with that character. Two characters just shouting at each other throughout a scene is no fun for the reader, even if you're offering glimpses into their innermost thoughts.
  • Fore-shadowing: Before this scene, the film-makers had already hinted at an underlying tension between Caroline and Tyler. Up until this point it's been unacknowledged, but present enough to prepare the viewer for the confrontation that's brewing.
  • The little details: Add the little gestures that are so natural to real live people and which will not only bring your characters to life, but also hint at their inner emotions. For example, that moment when Caroline turns away and hides her face behind her hair. No words. No drama. No conflict. Just a tiny gesture that says so much about her emotional state, and her vulnerability. And vulnerability is always good.
But there is still one more factor in how to get the reader not just to sympathise with, but to empathise with your main characters. And I'll discuss that factor next week.

Do you have any other tips on how to make readers care about your characters? Please share them with us in the comments.

I wanted to play out of this post with the resolution to the previous scene, but since Blogger isn't playing nice, check back here in half an hour and I'll upload it in a separate post.

Monday, March 5, 2012

This stuff really works

After a lousy couple of days and me being grumpy with the world, as I lay in bed last Monday night I decided I needed a major attitude change. I needed to practice the teachings of The Secret and The Power which I'm so quick to spout off about to everyone else.
So I spent five minutes consciously feeling love and gratitude.

Then, just as I was falling asleep, my cell phone buzzed with an incoming email. "Drat!" I thought. "I forgot to switch off my phone."

So I crossed the room, clicked open the email (because who could resist a quick check?) ... and it was from my editor at The Wild Rose Press with a contract for An Innocent Abroad, my third 1920s novella. No comments, no revisions, just straight to contract with a lovely compliment attached.

Within minutes of putting out love and gratitude to the universe, the universe gave me a wonderful gift in return.
This stuff really works!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Point of View - Part One

I love rules. And I love that rules can be turned on their heads. So I’m going to try to do a little of both here today.

First the rules, starting with the basics: the three types of POV generally used in fiction.

First person is very typical in YA books (starting with the obvious Twilight). This is where the story is told entirely from one person’s POV, and uses ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘my’ and ‘ours’. It's up close and personal. The occasional author shakes it up by mixing first and third person in different scenes.

Third person is the most common form of POV in romantic fiction, and includes what is known as Deep POV. This is where the reader is distanced from the action by the use of words like ‘he’, ‘she’ and ‘they’, yet is able to get right inside the head of the main character.

Another spin-off of this is Revolving Third Person (thank you Sue Moorcroft for introducing me to this term). This is where we get inside the heads of more than one character in the story. Preferably not at the same time. If every other sentence is in another character’s viewpoint, you might give your reader whiplash. This is also commonly known as Head Hopping. Great in smaller doses, but as with everything in life, you can have too much of a good thing.

If (like me) you tend to read romantic fiction almost exclusively, you probably don’t stumble across Omniscient POV very often. If you’d like to broaden your horizons, I highly recommend an historical crime novel called The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld.
This author interweaves third person and omniscient to tell a multi-faceted story. The one thing the story failed to do for me though was draw me in emotionally. While my intellect was intrigued enough to keep turning the pages, I never connected with or empathised with any of the characters.

Omniscient POV is that God-like all-seeing eye. It’s like an impartial film camera. The lens sees all the characters in the room, objectively showing the emotionally detached viewer the expressions of all players in the scene equally.

Or does it? More on that later.

Another ‘rule’ that is often bandied about is that you should write the scene from the POV of the character who has the most at stake. This is where I’m going to start bending those rules. I believe that you should write the scene from the point of view of the character you most want the reader to empathise with.

An example: your hero might have the most at stake. Let's assume this is the scene in which every preconception he's based his life on is turned on its head, and he is forced to reconsider his relationship with the heroine. For him, it's a biggie. So the scene should be in his POV, right?
But what if you want your reader to feel more for the heroine at this point than the hero? Let’s say this is the moment where she quietly but firmly rejects his proposal. He has the most at stake. He’s laying his heart on the line, perhaps for the first time ever. But perhaps you need to show the effort this is costing the heroine to stay true to her own principles. Then you might want to write the scene from her POV. Because even though he has more to lose, she’s the one you want your reader to feel for and identify with.

I’ve just realised how long this blog post has become!

So remember that question I asked earlier whether the omniscient film camera really is objective? I’ll be back again next week with the answer - and some more Vampire Diaries.