#Gravity and a Toast to Science Fiction

In the song written by John Mayer and Mike Perry—Gravity—John explains that the words are about making sure you (still) love yourself, making sure you (still) have your head on…because it’s easier to mess up than it is to stay here (successful).”

Another explanation I heard about this song is “…staying up even when you’re melancholy, staying grounded in a fast-paced, quickly-changing world, fighting the gravity of everyday challenges in order to achieve your goals...”

Werner Von Braun said this: “We can lick gravity, but sometimes the paperwork is overwhelming.”

Cameron Diaz let us know her thoughts on the subject: “I’ve been noticing gravity since I was young.”

I too have noticed the results of quantum particles for quite some time. And hey, thanks to gravity everything above my knees is at a whole new level.

Sylvester Stallone had this to say about the topic, “I think that gravity sets into everything, including careers, but pendulums do swing and mountains do become valleys after a while…if you keep on walking.”

Remember the movie, Happy Gilmore? Here is what the character, Gary Potter said which, in a roundabout way relates to Earth and its gravity: “Oh yea. Lotta pressure. You gotta rise above it. You gotta harness in the good energy, block out the bad. Harness. Energy. Block. Bad. Feel the flow, Happy. Feel it. It’s circular. It’s like a carousel. You pay the quarter, you get on the horse, it goes up and down, and around. It’s circular. Circle, with the music, the flow. All good things.”

And he said it with a straight face. You’ve gotta love actors!

This quote is for you Sci-Fi/Military writers: “What’s aerobraking? That’s a way to use the gravity and upper atmosphere of Earth to slingshot a ship either deeper into space, or slow it down to be ‘captured’ by Earth’s gravity.” Buzz Aldrin

As a kid, I used to watch the black and white series, Sci-Fi-Fic; maybe on channel two. The shows made an indelible impression on my mind. People that really know me can attest to that fact.

Just thinking about my first experience with H.G. Wells is, well quite horrifying. War of the Worlds. (Oh crap, is it real?) The Invisible Man (I keep listening over my shoulder.) Of course, The Time Machine is…The Time Machine.

Michael Crichton (and screenwriter David Keopp) are masters of tension—and dinosaurs.

Space Odyssey—Arthur C. Clarke was 51 when he co-authored the screenplay for this movie.

Farenheit 451!  Ray Bradbury scored big with this hit.

Orson C. Scott = The Ender’s Game.

Jules Verne. Need I say more?

Do you know an aspen tree’s anchor root is relatively minuscule when compared to the height of the tree? That’s applicable to particles that make us stick to the surface—isn’t it?

Okay, here’s one for you hardcore Sci-Fier’s. Can any of you explain why rocks in the garden defy gravity? Over and over and over…

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A Colorado native, Rainey, (writing as L. Treloar), has been a RMFW member since 2012 (or so), and is happy to belong to one of the best critique groups ever: The 93rd Street Irregulars. She has self-published The Frozen Moose, is currently re-editing the first manuscript in a political thriller series, and has entered two contests with her 2016 NaNoWriMo Historical Fiction novella. In her spare time, she enjoys organizing anything from closets, to military family retreats, to rodeos and parades. Along with teaching her cat to retrieve, she volunteers at church and The Horse Prote

 

 

Writing Romance – Starting with a Great Hero

Which came first, the plot or the character? Likely a question as old as fiction writing.

I’m not going to answer this question so you can relax.  But what I am going to say is that, at least for romance novels, readers fall in love with characters.  Not plots.  So where do we start writing a romance.

My opinion is that we start with a hero.

Let me tell you a story.  Years ago, I was driving back to Westcliffe from Pueblo West, along that stretch of Highway 50 that is straight and barren.  I zoned out for a moment.  When I zoned back in, for just an instant I didn’t know where I was.  My “what if” took off and, by the time I got home, I had the beginnings of the plot for True Valor.  More important, though, I had Nic.

What I did in that instance is take a germ of a plot - what if the heroine finds herself behind the wheel of the car, not knowing where she is, how she got there, or even who she is.  She needed a hero.  But what sort of hero?  Nic D’Onofrio is an Air Force PJ (Pararescue Jumper) whose nickname is Batman.  He simply can’t help himself - he HAS to rescue those in trouble.

That was a little side trip.  But let’s get back to what makes a romance hero.

Well, that sorta depends.

Susan May Warren, in her book How to Write a Brilliant Romance, says that first of all, a hero much be NOBLE.  I think she’s right.  I’d add honorable, gallant, virtuous, courageous, valorous.  In my True Heroes series, I used those in the titles of the five books. 

Did you realize, though, that within the romance genre, there are categories of romance heroes?

Author Alicia Rasley breaks down the categories this way.

  • The Alpha Hero
  • The Beta Hero
  • The Delta Hero
  • The Theta Hero.

Jo Beverly adds a Gamma Hero.

And what about the Warrior Poet?

Tami Cowden has these hero archetypes:  Chief, Bad Boy, Best Friend, Charmer, Lost Soul, Professor, Swashbuckler, and Warrior.

Confused yet?  Don’t be.  It’s all good.

Laurie King has her list:  the Duke, the Laird, the Golden Boy, the Lone Wolf, the Warrior, the Brain, The Libertine, the Black Sheep, the Sorcerer

The thing to remember here is this: 

Powerful Characters create Powerful Drama. 

So, above all, we want our hero to be a character that catches the imagination of the reader and holds her in place, flipping pages, until that last kiss.

In the next few articles, I’ll go into detail on some of these hero types and what makes them tick.  Your homework is to think about your favorite romance hero.  What makes him heroic?  Why do you love him?  Feel free to comment.  That will be fun!

Until next month, campers, remember BICHOK - Butt in Chair - Hands on Keyboard.

Jax

 

Sell the Premise – Foreshadowing … by Terry Odell

2016_Terry OdellJohnny Carson said, "If they buy the premise, they'll buy the bit." Without foreshadowing, you’re left with deus ex machina and readers don’t like outside forces solving plot threads, or things conveniently appearing just when they’re needed.

You have to be a bit of a magician. Think sleight-of-hand, although in this case, it's more like "sleight-of-words." No waving red flags. If readers stop to say, "Oh, that's going to be important; I'd better remember it," you've pulled them out of the story.

Some Foreshadowing Techniques:

Show the skill, clue, or event early on, in a different context. These Setup Scenes can occur throughout the book. These don’t need to be high-action scenes. In fact, foreshadowing is best done in quiet, “mundane” scenes.

In the first book of my new Triple-D Ranch romantic suspense series, In Hot Water, important clues are discovered in a series of journal entries. The reader learns immediately that Sabrina, the heroine, is meticulous about recording her days in a journal. The opening of the book:

If it weren’t for the whole funeral thing, today would have scored an eight in Sabrina Barton’s journal entry. Maybe a nine.

Thus, it seems logical for her to keep the old journals she finds in her brother’s apartment after his death. To her, they have sentimental value. When the bad guys steal the journals, she’s more upset about losing hers than his, but showing readers both sets of journals before the bad guys steals them sets the stage, while obscuring the clue that her brother’s entries are the important ones. And, even better if you hide the clue “in plain sight” so it’s even less obvious. Some examples of setting this up:

Sabrina still had her doubts. During the two days she’d been in San Francisco before John’s funeral, she’d gone through her brother’s things, keeping a photo album with family pictures of them as kids. That and his journals, something their foster parents had insisted they keep.

2016_Odell_Hot WaterAnd later …

When she’d run, she hadn’t brought a lot with her, but what she’d brought, aside from clothes, was the important—at least to her—stuff. Her journals. Years of her life. Pictures, her recipes, a few family heirlooms. Aside from her recipes, the rest was valuable for the memories they encompassed, nothing more.

Another major plot thread in the book involves a threat of bioterrorism. But rather than spring the first fatal case on the reader, it’s set up to look like a character shows up on the ranch having an allergy attack.

KJ sniffed, sneezed, then blew his nose in a red bandana. Derek noted the red-rimmed, puffy eyes. KJ shoved the bandana into his rear jeans pocket. “Damn sage is blooming like crazy. Allergies.”

Even that, however, might be waving too many red flags, so before that character shows up, I have one of my primary players complaining about his own allergies over lunch.

“Except for the sage,” Frank said. “Aggravates my allergies.” He reached into a pocket for a pill and swallowed it with a drink of lemonade.

Now, it’s just “stage business” (sage business?) and not so obvious to the reader that it’s important.

More Setup: The hero and heroine are hiding and the villains are closing in. The hero is injured. He hands the heroine his gun and asks her if she can shoot. She says, "I'm a crack shot," and proceeds to blow the villains away (or worse, has never handled a gun before, but still takes out the bad guys, never missing a shot). She’s an expert in first aid and saves the hero's life. Plus, she's an accomplished trapper and can snare whatever creatures are out there. Or, maybe she has no trouble catching fish with dental floss and a paper clip. Plus, she can create a gourmet meal out of what she catches, all without disturbing her manicure or coiffure.

Believable? Not if this is the first time you've seen these traits. But what if, earlier in the book, the heroine is dusting off her shooting trophies, thinking about how she misses those days. Or she's cleaning up after a fishing trip. Maybe she has to move her rock climbing gear out of her closet to make room for her cookbooks. You don't want to include an entire scene whose only purpose is to show a skill she'll need later. Keep it subtle, but get it in there.

When you give your character a job, or a hobby, don't forget to look at all the skills they need to do it. Know those 'sub-skills' and work them into scenes. Those basic real-life skills your characters have can be used to foreshadow the kinds of things they'll be called upon to do later in the book.

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From childhood, Terry Odell wanted to "fix" stories so the characters would behave properly. Once she began writing, she found this wasn't always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write turned into a romance, despite the fact that she'd never read one. Odell prefers to think of her books as "Mysteries With Relationships." She writes the Blackthorne, Inc. series, the Pine Hills Police series, The Triple-D Ranch series, and the Mapleton Mystery series. You can find her high (that's altitude, of course—she lives at 9100 feet!) in the Colorado Rockies—or at her website.

You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and she’d love to see you at her blog, Terry’s Place. For sneak peeks and exclusive content, sign up for her more-or-less quarterly newsletter. You can also be notified of new releases at her Amazon page.

Oh, the weather outside is ….. perfect for my story!

"If you don't like it, wait five minutes." That's the mantra Coloradoans mumble when the temperature plummets from 70 to 30 in one day. Important plans get interrupted, and you may sprain your back shoveling two feet of wet spring snow off your deck and have to cancel your tennis match.

The unpredictability of weather and its related conveniences and inconveniences can be useful tools as you plot your story.  It’s done with good scene-setting, consistent information, common sense/believability, and excellent timing.

LightningConsistent/Common Sense. It’s clever to tie the weather to your protagonist’s moods. If he’s just suffered from the loss of a loved one, a cloudy sky, dripping rain like teardrops, may be perfect to amplify his grief.  However, if every time he’s troubled the sky becomes overcast, it becomes obvious and distracting. And admittedly, humorous, where comedy was not intended.

Scene-setting. A romantic story setting might be, not just sea and surf and sand, but a gentle surf, at sunset,  warm, with sound effects--whoosh, whoosh, a soothing, sensual rhythm to the waves. Perfect for that “First Kiss” moment between hero and heroine. Or the surf can be crashing and pounding against the cliffs in that “Life Threatening” moment with rain so heavy the characters can’t see as they stumble along a treacherous path to the castle. The setting can become a critical “Plot Point” when nature becomes the antagonist, as when Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass fought against a hostile climate to drag himself back to civilization in The Revenant. It can become the “Saving Grace” moment when a vicious clump of space garbage veers just to the right of our hero’s space capsule.

Believability. Was there really an ice storm in Florida in August? Not that you can’t deviate from normal expectations, but everybody and his brother had better be talking about it. I recall visiting Vancouver in March, and the weather was something we in Colorado are accustomed to: blue skies, not one cloud, sunny. The difference was that every person on the street and every DJ on every radio station was marveling and commenting. The DJs encouraged everyone listening to take the day off work and just get out there and enjoy it.  The entire city was joyful. Unusual weather works in novels. If you need flowering trees earlier than expected, it can be done. Just acknowledge the rarity through your characters.

Timing. If the weather causes a turning point or crisis, build toward that moment to avoid the deus ex machina factor. If there’s a fog-caused 20-car pile-up in which the villain is killed just before he arrives to finish off the hero, palm to head. It won’t work. Your fan has been loyally reading for hundreds of pages, anticipating this confrontation. For the satisfying ending, the villain needs to arrive mentally and physically strong and able to compete, so the hero can suffer and strive and finally win.

If in the struggle the villain slips on ice, falls and loses his gun, it needs to be established beforehand that it rained and the temperature dropped at sunset, causing treacherous driving conditions, for example.

Most of these are common sense. Considering the weather is one of the joys of writing. No longer are you victim of the weather. Now you are the Wizard, throwing clouds and rain and snow on your people. Just cool it with the lightning bolts.

Tips and Tricks to Surprise and Delight … by Suzanne Young

2016_Suzanne YoungDo you ever sit down to a blank page and hope an idea will flow from your brain to your fingertips like magic? Then do you simply stare at all that white space as your mind shuts down? I am currently working on the sixth book of my Edna Davies mystery series (Murder by Decay) and I have yet to run out of ideas, not because I’m a natural storyteller, but because I’ve learned a few tricks over years of taking classes and reading how-to books.

Why don’t I dread that blank page? Perhaps it’s because I don’t force myself to write every day—at least, I don’t always work on my story. I let a scene or chapter roll through my mind like a movie or a play, making my characters leave the stage and reenter, if I don’t like the way they’ve performed. When I’m satisfied with what they’ve done enough to capture the performance, I write it down. My rendition usually doesn’t do justice to their acting, but it often suffices for a first draft.

When I reach one of the many “What should happen next?” points in my story, one exercise I use to answer this question comes from a course I was taking while working on my first novel-length manuscript (Murder by Yew). Put your protagonist into ten good situations and turn them bad. Then put your protagonist into ten bad situations and turn them good.

2016_Suzanne Young_Arrangement cover sMerging these two tasks made more sense to me than dealing with them separately. So, I had Edna take a walk along the streets of Providence on a bright, sunny April morning. As she passed the house of a long-time friend, she spotted something shining in newly turned soil on the other side of a tall, wrought-iron fence (good). Wishing to get a closer view of what appeared to be a piece of jewelry, she removed her hat and stuck her head through the bars of the fence (uh oh). Once she verified that it was indeed a valuable pin, she tried to remove her head and found she was stuck (bad). Her friend happened along and, with the help of a gardener, freed Edna (good). When Edna pointed out the brooch, her friend identified it as one believed stolen years ago that had caused the ruin of a poor woman’s reputation (bad). This assignment actually sparked a story idea that developed into my third murder mystery (Murder by Mishap). I’m sure if you take this exercise far enough, you could end up with the outline for a story of your own.

Another reason I practice this particular exercise religiously is to pace my stories. When the tension begins to build (bad situation), I pull back and allow my readers to breathe a bit (good situation) before dunking the characters back into hot water (bad situation). If you’ve ever read an author who kept piling wood on the fire without allowing you to step away from the heat, you know the importance of pacing your story. The good-to-bad-to-good scenario is also useful when I need to develop enough action to fill up the vast desert (known as “the middle”) between “the beginning” and “the end” of my book.

If you want to kick start your imagination, you might try the “Rule of 20.” Applied to writing (as opposed to stock prices or bridge bidding), this is a mental workout that will help you deliver the unexpected to your readers. The “Rule” goes like this: Given a situation in your story, make a list of 20 things that could happen next. Let’s take Edna on that walk again and imagine 20 things that might occur (good or bad, whatever fits the plot at that particular juncture). I’ll suggest just a few, so you get the idea … Maybe the weather changes suddenly and she’s forced to take shelter on a nearby porch (Does she then overhear something to please or horrify her?). Perhaps a car comes careening down the street, jumps the curb and crashes into the wrought-iron fence directly in front of her (Who’s at the wheel? Dead or alive? Sick or injured?). Maybe she’s mugged by a couple of kids (One of whom she recognizes before she loses consciousness?).

Whatever the stage in your plot, list as many possibilities as you can. Stretch your imagination and try for 20, at least. When you’ve completed the list, toss out the first six items. These are the ideas that came most readily to your mind, so they’re probably what your readers might expect. Choose one of the remaining scenarios. If you wish to surprise and delight your fans, write something extraordinary.

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Suzanne Young is the best-selling author of the Edna Davies mystery series which put her on Amazon’s list of “top 100 authors of mystery” for five consecutive months. She is a member of RMFW’s PAL and iPAL groups as well as a graduate of the Arvada Citizens Police Academy. After earning a degree in English and U.S. History from the University of Rhode Island, Suzanne moved to Colorado and worked as a computer programmer and business analyst for most of her career. She retired in 2010 to write fiction full-time.

Learn more about Suzanne and her mystery series at her website. She can also be found on Facebook.

A Character By Any Other Name…

Usually, the names of my characters simply come to me, along with their physical characteristics. I always know how they look, because long before I have any idea of the plot, I visualize at least one scene with the main characters. It may be the first scene, or it may one that happens later in the book, but that initial image is what sets up the whole story. I know if my characters are tall or petite, or if it’s the hero, if he is very muscular and tall or merely average for a studly hero. I know their eye and hair color, and if their hair is wavy or straight. They appear in my mind as clear as a photograph.

Based on their physical characteristics and the character’s general personality, which I usually have a glimpse of from that initial scene, the character’s name will generally pop into head. When that doesn’t happen, it’s more of a challenge. Since I'm an impatient writer, who wants to immediately jump in and start writing, I don’t wait until I find the perfect name. I come up with a temporary name and use that until I find something better. As a result, the heroine in my current WIP has had three different names. Thank heavens for the “search and replace” feature!

To find potential names, a lot of authors use baby-name books or online sites. But for historical novels, that only works up to a point. When you need a name that fits a specific time and place, you have to do more intensive research. I often use The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. When that fails me, I start delving into historical records. But finding a name that is historically accurate can involve other issues. A lot of traditional names from the more archaic eras are odd-sounding. Eneuawg and Goleuddydd are historical Welsh names, but I would probably never use them for a character. The same with the Saxon names Ulfcetel and Aelfgyth. Readers want to have some sense of how to pronounce the characters’ names. If you use too many unusual names, readers will get confused and become overwhelmed with keeping track of who is who. They might even stop reading altogether.

For my books set in contemporary times, it’s easier, although sometimes there are too many choices. Because of the time travel sub-plot, my modern heroine needed to have a name beginning with “M”. Obviously, there are dozens, if not hundreds of names that fit that criterion. It you narrow it down to names that are popular currently, it gets a bit easier. Then it’s a matter of finding one that sounds right, that intuitively fits that character.

I've written a couple of fantasy novels, and in them I used mostly made-up names. I combined real words from real languages for some names and for others, altered real but obscure names to create new ones. It's interesting how some sounds we associate with females and others with males. And how some names sound right for a hero and others are a better fit for a villain.

The process really can't be explained. We all tend to associate specific characteristics with certain names. Often our feelings about a name are based on someone we knew with that name. Or it may be the way the name sounds or some other connection. I remember when my son was trying to figure out a name for his new kitten. She is an unusual-looking cat, what I call a pastel tortoiseshell, with gray, gold and cream all swirled together. I wanted to name her Paisley, but my son immediately rejected the name. It seems he knew a girl in preschool named Paisley and he didn’t like her. For the record, he ended up naming the cat Trainwreck. A tough-sounding name that appealed to him, a guy in his late teens, and which the cat lived up to, becoming the terror of the local mouse, rabbit and, alas, bird population when she came to live with us when my son went off to college. (Trainwreck now lives happily with my son and his wife, who was his girlfriend when they first got the kitten, in their tiny house in San Diego.)

How you feel about a character’s name is hugely important. In the cases where I’ve struggled with a character’s name and/or used several different ones, I also tended to struggle with their personality and their role in the book. It’s almost as if the character doesn’t become clear to me and truly come alive until I find the right name for them. A character who has the “right” name from the beginning is usually easy to write. Their personality, motivation and conflicts are immediately clear to me.

But what if you find the perfect name for your character and then realize another character’s name starts with the same letter? In that case, I usually change the name of the character who is less important to the story. With two names starting with the same letter, it’s too easy for the reader to get confused. But finding a new name can be agonizing. Some characters, even secondary ones, are simply that name, and creatively, it’s difficult to find an alternative that feels right.

Maybe I’m the only author to whom character names matter so much. But I don’t think so. I was recently talking to a writer friend who was struggling, and part of the reason was because she kept getting the heroine’s name in her current WIP mixed up with the heroine’s name in the book she was editing. Until she got the right name clear in her mind, she had difficulty moving forward in the book.

The only thing harder than naming your characters is finding a pseudonym. But that’s an issue for another blog post!