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!


Monday, July 22, 2019

Keeping it Real (Enough to be Believable)

Even though fiction is, by definition, a story that describes imaginary events, places, and people, and, anecdotally, the writer is only limited by his imagination, the story still has to be believable.

This means that the rules within the story (no matter the genre) have to make sense.

If we're going to believe that every year a group of tributes competes against each other in a match to the death, this has to sound reasonable based on what we know about the story world, as this type of competition set in modern Western civilization would seem implausible. 

This means that an author has a lot of work to do.

A reader begins to care about a character when they feel the events could happen to them, and the more you deviate from the rules of the time and place with which they are most familiar, the sharper your world-building skills need to be. 

If you world-build correctly, you probably won't include half of what you know about your time and place and its history within your novel, but it's still important that you know it.  

Be Brilliant!


Monday, July 15, 2019

What Makes a Good Story?

A good story is made up of:

1. A time or place the reader can lose themselves in.

2. An unforgettable character--someone who is real to them; someone they can relate to.

3. A memorable/extraordinary event.

The best stories contain characters with which we identify, experiences that impact us in visceral ways, and messages that change the way we see the world.

This makes "storyteller" one of the most powerful positions on the planet--a responsibility that shouldn't be taken lightly.

Be Brilliant!


Monday, July 8, 2019

Four Things I've Learned

1. Don't write what you know about; write what you care about, because if you don't care, why should anyone else?

2. We live in the age of Google and Wikipedia--anything you don't know, you can research. Do the research, then let your imagination fill in the blanks.

3. Write what you enjoy reading, because if you enjoy reading it, you should enjoy (to some degree) writing it, and this will show up in your storytelling, making it more likely readers will connect with you.

4. No author is universally loved. Find the people who love you and write for them. 

(And always) Be Brilliant! 


Monday, July 1, 2019

On Reasons

For everything, there is a reason.

--Not in life, necessarily--but, when writing fiction, there had better be a clear rationale for why your character said what he said or did what she did.

Actions and reactions should be linked from page one all the way to three hundred and one. Each scene and/or event should logically progress from one to the next.

Dig deep, and know your character's "why" (even if he or she doesn't know it at the time.) 

In novels, things don't happen "just because." 

There has to be a reason.

Be Brilliant!