Monday, September 16, 2019

The Secret to Showing (Not Telling)--Part One

"Show! Don't Tell."

It's one of the most oft-uttered phrases in writing history. I've heard it. I've said it. But what does it actually mean to "show," and how do we know when we're "telling"?

Secret #1 lies in the verbs we use.

"Showing sentences" use the active voice.

"Telling sentences" use the passive voice.

A passive construction often contains the following formula: "to be" + past participle (or the "ed" verb).

For example: 

     The movie has been watched by the friends over a dozen times. (passive construction)

     The painting was completed by Charlotte. (passive construction

How could we fix these to make them active? By re-arranging the words so that the person or thing is doing the action (not having the action done to them).

     The friends watched the movie more than a dozen times. (active construction)

     Charlotte completed the painting. (active construction)

How do we locate passive sentences in our writing?

First, we should isolate the sentence. Then, we need to determine what's happening in the sentence and decide if an action is taking place. If so, we need to decide if the action is being done to the person or thing, or if the person/thing is doing the action. If the sentence is passive, then it's just a matter of rearranging the subject and verb. 

Is every "be" or "have" sentence passive? No. It depends on how the verb is being used in the sentence, so don't think every am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, have, has, had needs to be cut from a manuscript. Some of them are important and even necessary.

Just pay careful attention to the action taking place in your sentence. The more "active" the sentence is, the closer you are to "showing."

Be Brilliant!


Monday, September 9, 2019

On Unpredictability

At the end of your novel, all of the various conflicts (inner and outer) and plot points will come to a head and (hopefully) resolve themselves in a satisfying way. 

This is our job as writers, after all, and what the reader expects when he or she takes on one of our stories.

It's important, however, that the plot stays unpredictable up until the final pages. Success doesn't come easily in the real world, and as much as we'd like to keep our characters safe, it shouldn't come easily in our fictional worlds, either. 

Keep the reader guessing until the very last moment; the longer it appears your main character will fail, the more invested the reader will be. 

Be Brilliant!


Monday, September 2, 2019

On Plot Deviations

Whether you're weaving subplots into your fiction, setting up a problem, or incorporating backstory to provide context, the main plot line of your story should never be too far away.

Your main plot line is what drives the story forward, and any deviation from that line has the potential to stall your reader. And while it seems like the opposite would occur--moving away from the story would build tension and entice the reader to keep reading to find out what's going to happen--when the story shifts, moving away from the key tension, you're giving your reader the perfect opportunity to insert the bookmark, fold the page, change screens, set your book aside.

No matter the "extras" you're weaving into your story, make sure the main line is never more than a scene away. 

Be Brilliant!


Monday, August 26, 2019

Character-Driven Stories

In the character-driven story (as opposed to plot-driven), the character's wants, needs, and actions drive the plot. The "outside force" has little impact--it's the main character who is plodding along, propelling the story forward (or backward, or whatever direction his actions take him). 

The journey of the character-driven story often involves self-discovery, which (ideally) leads to transformation. At the end of the story, the character is not the same person he was in chapter one. 

The plot-driven story, of course, benefits from inner conflict and change, but for the character-driven story, this change is what will save the character as he "saves the world." In this way, the inner conflict is just as important as (or more important than) the outer conflict, and the tension surrounding this change is what will compel readers to keep turning pages.

Be Brilliant!



Monday, August 19, 2019

On Creating Problems

Problems that are easy to solve are also easy to forget.

The problems we present in our stories should grow. They should twist and turn. The layers should run deep--really deep.  

Why? The deeper the problem, the more satisfying the ending once the situation is resolved. 

And remember: a "problem" that can be cleared up with a single conversation isn't really a problem. 

I love a good Hallmark movie more than anyone, but I do get kind of miffed when a love interest sees something he or she misinterprets then just leaves town without having a real conversation with the person they're walking away from. I can forgive them because I know we're working toward a happy ending, but I like my conflicts a bit more complex than that.

Yes, Parker was lying to Jaden in Cross My Heart. Could he have cleared everything up with a single conversation? Sure. But he had a reason to lie that was bigger than anyone expected, and when he and Jaden finally had that conversation, she wasn't easy to forgive him--too much had gone wrong.

There was more than a simple misunderstanding at play, and that's why Cross My Heart is (still) my bestselling book. 

The point? 

Create big problems for your characters. Make those problems as thorny as you can. Don't be afraid to push the limits. 

Figure out the worst thing that could possibly happen, then make it worse.

Be Brilliant!


Monday, August 12, 2019

On Tragedy

Sometimes I wrestle with the content of my stories. 

There's so much sadness in the world. Why would I want to contribute to this with my own tales of loss and violence and abuse? 

There's Genesis, of course, dealing with this otherworldly war that she's been dragged into. Some of her friends return; some don't. Jaden ends up in her own crossfire situation, which forces her to question everything she knows about the guy she loves. Fallon's stepfather is violent and unpredictable. Summer struggles with her memory of a single night that changed her entire life--how can she grieve the loss of her best friend when she doesn't even know what happened to her? And even in my Christmas novella, Olivia's mom is in the middle of a cancer battle. Next Christmas could be very different for all of them.

Meanwhile, the guys (men, really, because most of my love interests edge toward the 18+ side) who love them or are learning to love them stand by--sometimes helpless, sometimes not. . . .

The fact is: there's at least one part in each of my stories where everything reaches peak point of heartbreak (sometimes after a series of heartbreaks). 

And sure, maybe I should be writing happier stories (escapism, anyone?) and not trying to make my readers cry all the time, but in truth there *is* tragedy in the world--it's all around us--and often we have very little control over both what happens and the aftermath. Still, it's in these moments that we gain clarity and perspective. 

It's when our world is crashing down around us that we tend to rethink and reassess--strip our life down to its most basic meaning. In these moments we decide what matters most, and that's when big changes happen. 

An unexpected tragedy shows that there is a larger world at work in your novel. It lifts the characters out of themselves, proving that destiny is, in fact, a thing, and it's as much a part of your story world as it is in the current world in which we live.

And what is reading if not practice for the real world? 

If our characters can survive a tragedy, so can we. 

So maybe the tears are worthwhile, after all.

*passes you tissues, keeps on writing*

Be Brilliant!


Monday, July 29, 2019

On Values

Good humor
Spirit of adventure

These are examples of core values. 

What are core values?

Core values are fundamental beliefs or guiding principles. They dictate our behavior and help us determine what’s right and what’s wrong.

I like to think I’m a passionate and motivated person--that I persevere even when the world around me goes dark. I consider myself reliable and committed, especially when it comes to my writing life. These are my core values.

But our characters should have core values, as well.


Because readers want to be able to relate to and look up to a hero character, and a character with positive core values is more likely to resonate with them.

Even with his (or her) flaws, a main character should be someone worth following—someone worth saving—and the simple reason is because it’s much easier to raise the stakes in a novel where the reader doesn’t actually want the character to die (or see anything bad happen to him/her).

In fiction, the stakes matter, and when your character has principles, it’s easier to put those principles to the test. The stronger those principles, the more the reader will want to see the character succeed.

Some of these core values will stem from the character’s religion, his society, and/or the rules he’s required to live by. Others will come from what the character has experienced and how he or she has grown over time. Values can be fluid, and their intensity can vary from one situation to the next.

To discover your character’s core values, it helps to begin with a list (easily searchable online). Next, brainstorm some events from their past. What successes have they had? What excites them? What has made or makes them angry? What code of conduct are they living by?

Finally, what values are associated with these things?

Brainstorming and applying three to five potential values for your character(s) will help make them unique, and a strong code of behavior (even though your character isn’t perfect) will help raise his or her worthiness. 

And when a character is worth saving, it’s worth it to readers to keep turning those pages.

Be Brilliant!