Posts Tagged ‘craft


Drawing Book Characters from Real Life

I’ve recently discovered that it’s a fairly common practice all across the romance interwebs to align certain characters with their celebrity counterparts. Some writers draw on pictures for inspiration, while others go so far as to study the mannerisms of their favorite actors, actresses, or the parts these professionals play. Although I’ve never done it myself, it seems like a really good way to create believable characters; whether you’re trying to emulate Hugh Grant’s bumbling speech or the way Jason Statham can blow stuff up without even batting an eye, it allows writers to infuse a real human element into a book.

The reason I don’t do it is that it never really occurred to me to give it a try. When I read (and when I write), I rarely create a solid vision of what the characters look like. Like they exist in a dream, my characters are fuzzy impressions in my mind, faceless beings whose souls I know intimately, but whose bodies could belong to just about anyone. In all honesty, I think I do this because I live in an age when half of the books I read are turned into movie adaptations, and keeping my impressions intangible allows me to enjoy the movie versions, since I’m open to what the directors interpret for the characters without ruining my own internal vision of the book.

I will confess, though, that I did once run into a real life version of one of my heroes. It just about floored me, too, because my hero is not…ordinary. Or rather, he is ordinary (for the romance genre), in that he’s over six feet tall, muscular as hell, and gorgeous. You know, the alpha combination that doesn’t usually exist in real life, but that we love to oogle on the book covers all the same. To top it all off, my hero is of mixed Pacific Islander and Japanese descent with a kick-ass tattoo across his back. And I kid you not: I saw this exact man walking across a parking lot one day. Shirtless. (Hey, it was summer and we were at a theme park.) I almost wanted to take a picture of him, if only to prove that a man like that really could exist!

Anyway, because I’ve spent most of my life NOT assigning physical counterparts to the characters I encounter in fiction, I’m not likely to start any time soon. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the fact that other writers do it. It’s fun to discover just who an author had in mind when they created so-and-so, and to see how that image differs from one I might have. It adds another layer of complexity to a book, and I’m always game for that.


Truth is, it just doesn’t matter why you can’t

Okay, so the holidays are over. Now what?

Back to writing, that’s what. Now the visiting and eating and lazing around in front of the cricket are done, gotta get back to work.

But it’s hard. My brain gets accustomed to not being used 🙂 and the little bugger likes it. My usual word goal is 2,000 per day, and I’m struggling to make it. And I should be excited, because I’m starting a brand new manuscript, the fourth book in my Shadowfae series. It’s got an interesting heroine, a self-tortured hero, cool bad guys, a vengeful demon subplot and loads of hot sex.

So why do I feel like watching tv? Or going shopping? Or to the beach? Or milling about in the garden, or walking the dog, or doing anything except sitting in front of my computer and pumping those words out?

I could sit here and analyse. Maybe I’m ‘blocked’, whatever that means. Or I’m tired, sick, over-stressed, hormonal, headachy, need a break, got too much on my mind. Whatever. Boo hoo.

Truth is, it doesn’t matter a damn what my problem is. No amount of navel-gazing will get those words on the page. I’m a writer. I have deadlines. I must write. End of story.

And I need to have faith that my mojo, muse, inspiration, fun factor, writing juice will come back. Just because I’m having a rough few days doesn’t mean I’ll never write well again, or that the story’s broken, or my vocab’s somehow dried up.

I’ve done this before. I can do it again. So I only made 700 words today. So what? It’s better than none. Which is how many I’d have if I gave up and went to the beach.

My point? There’s no value in being hard on yourself when things aren’t going well. Don’t stop. Don’t give up. Persist. Scale your daily goals back if you have to — because goals are there to make you feel good when you achieve them.

Not to make you feel bad when you don’t.

So, yeah. I made 700 words today. Good for me. That’s 700 words closer to the end of this manuscript.

And if I don’t go to the beach tomorrow — if I show up at my computer at 8 am like a good little writer — I’ll make more.

So what do you do when things aren’t going well with your writing? Any coping strategies? I like to break the writing session up into little chunks, and give myself a small reward after each. Does this work for you? What other tips can you share for getting yourself out of a slump?


We’re all going to the same place

Everyone’s writing process is different. We have plotters and pantsers and into-the-misters, brainstormers and hang-around-waiting-for-the-muse-to-strikers, technicians and I-dreamed-the-ending-ers, disciplinarians and my-characters-talk-to-me-ers. And no one can (or should!) force their method on any one else — if it works for you, then it works for you.

But look at any published romance book, and you’ll see (I hope!) that a finished romance manuscript has structure. It has character arcs and turning points and goal-motivation-conflicts. It has acts, black moments, crises and climaxes (yeah, those too!). And if it’s a well-written book, you won’t be able to tell which methods the author used.

My point being: some of us take the train, some fly, some walk around in circles — but we’re all getting to the same place.

The other day at my local romance writing group, I was chatting with a writer who was a self-identified pantser. ‘I just get an idea and start writing,’ she said.

Those of you who know me will understand that the very thought of doing this breaks me out in hives 🙂

I shuddered, and thrust my latest outlining notebook in her face — I routinely fill up a 120-pager with handwritten notes before I even start typing the outline, let alone the manuscript — and stammered, ‘But… but… but what about character arcs, and conflicts, and GMCs, and… y’know, the story!!’

She shrugged, and said, ‘Oh, I just fix that when I’m finished.’

After further discussion, we ascertained that we’re actually doing the very same things when we structure a book — I just do it before I begin, while she does it by playing with a completed first draft.

So yeah, everyone’s process is different — but we all go through the same steps, somehow. And I’m a firm believer that no matter what method you choose, or when you choose to do them, there are some structuring steps that just can’t be left out. Eventually, you have to analyse your character arcs/GMCs and romantic turning points, whatever you like to call them, to make sure the romance is realistic and means something to the characters. You have to make sure something is happening in every scene. You have to pay attention to where the manuscript begins, and so forth.

I’m cooking up a brand new book from scratch as we speak, so in true Erica style, I’m up to my neck in spiral-bound notebooks and system cards. Good old outlining. I’ll drop by next week and let you know how it’s going.


Plotting Can Be Your Friend

Plotter or Pantser? New writers hear this question often. A plotter diagrams where the story is headed before she gets started, so when she finishes a scene, she knows right where to start the next one. A pantser sits back and watches where the story takes her.

But it’s not as simple as that. Plotters are letting the story and characters take them on the same road, they’re just using a map to find the most direct route. Think about it: You’re driving from Los Angeles to Fort Lauderdale. Do you plan your trip, decide what cities you’ll need to fuel in and what hotels you’ll sleep in, or do you head east on the I-10 and take a guess at every junction which will get you there faster?

If you have plenty of time it might be interesting to be a pantser, as long as you pay attention to those signs saying “Next Gas 80 Miles”. If you get off-track you can always find your way back. You’ll get there eventually. But the quickest way, assuming you pay attention to the road signs, is to have a plan.

With plotting, you start with the conflict. What goals to the hero and heroine have and how do those goals clash? Yes, they can have the same goal and have all their battles be against an enemy, but what about character growth? What will they learn while working side-by-side to make them worthy of winning love?

Plotting works hand in hand with conflict. If you start with the question, “What does he want and what keeps him from getting what he wants?”, the plot is what’s keeping him from reaching his goal. Most scenes need conflict. If it doesn’t have conflict, it needs to be adding character development or a similar element to the story. Don’t let a scene pass where nothing happens, then you have no plot.

For each scene, answer your question of what stands in his way. You can be as detailed as you like. A pantser might just want to use a single sentence, allowing the scene to develop as you write. A plotter can give an entire overview of the scene.

While looking at the scenes, watch for your turning points:
Point One – life as the hero knows it changes, he has a goal. Usually about 10% into the story.
Point Two – change of plans. Either he realizes his plan isn’t working, or the heroine has set up a new road block. 25% of the story.
Point Three – the point of no return. He’s gotten himself in deeply enough he knows he can’t walk away. 50% point of the story.
Point Four – major setback. It’s really beginning to look like he can’t reach his goal. 75% of the story.
Point Five – climax. The turning points have been building in strength, the boulders in the road getting bigger. This is the spot where he has to bring out the dynamite, put his life on the line, prove to the heroine that she can’t live without him. 90 – 95% of the story.

As a pantser, you might just list those points and let the story take you there. I prefer to at least make note of the scenes in between, the conflict in between, to keep my fingers moving on the keyboard.

Even after you’ve sketched your plot, you might find new ideas flowing when you see where the characters take you. But you know the next spot you need to read on your map so you can easily find an alternate route to get there.


April 2020

Note: Some links on this blog are affiliate links.