The online diary of a dreamer creating Contemporary Romantic Fiction - because Every Woman needs Love and Laughter in her Life.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Authors talking

Borders have a series of Interviews with authors such as Lee Child, John Barrowman, and Freya North which are great – lovely to hear your favourite author live.
The Freya North interview about ‘Pillow Talk’ looks like it was from the RNA Awards lunch this February

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Time Management for Writers

How do you spend your time? What makes your brain buzz?

Business versus Creativity?

For the sake of discussion, let’s say that I have to divide my working life as a writer of fiction into three basic - and very broad- categories.

1. Organisation of Time. Energy. Money.

*Time Management. Focus
*Developing Skills and Techniques
*Vision and Planning - Goals
*Discipline and Focus on Key Objectives

2. Marketing

*Brand Creation
*Writing Proposals and Query Letters
*Finding an Agent.
*Promotion of Self - Speaking, Blogging, Internet Presence
*Promotion of your work
*Attending Conferences and Meetings

3. Creating

*Story Development
*Building the Outline and Synopsis or Treatment
*Writing the Text
*Editing to Blockbuster quality
*Rewriting and Polishing

For some people, creating the manuscript is the number one priority.
Without a wonderful story to promote, you don’t have anything to sell, but what if you were a beginner - or were being published by small press publishers, who did not have a large budget for promotion and marketing, how would you manage your time to achieve all of these tasks?

You have a book you want to sell.
AND you want to learn your craft.
AND you have a deadline for a bigger, better, more compelling book in your contract.

How do you manage your time? By hours each day? By hours each week?

Talking to other writers, this seems to depend upon :

*what stage you are at in your career. Published authors feel obliged to spend a lot more time on promotion and less of learning craft techniques than unpublished authors.

*the kind of writing you have chosen to specialise in. Graphic novels, mainstream commercial fiction, childrens’ books, romance etc. Each specific genre has their own specialist interest groups and online networks. Other non-genre fiction writers may struggle to compete with that word of mouth connection and persuade reviewers to take their books

*how interested you are in maintaining an online presence. Many writers are not keen on MySpace or FaceBook but are willing to blog a paragraph now and then
the writing.

* Some people love to write flat out for several hours. Others like to write in short bursts of perhaps an hour then break. They use the down time for the other tasks

*being organised and disciplined. Let’s be honest. Not everyone is talented in this direction. And most of use do have lives.

Overall conclusions?
If you imagine a self-employed entrepreneur, who is creating a unique product which they then want to promote and sell to a manufacturer/ investor… would that person not need to work in all three categories?
For example. A person making silver jewellery.
That person would need to work on learning the skills in silver smithing that they would need to create the finest version of their design.
Then find markets for their stunning work.

Time Management. Easy to say, hard to do..

Monday, 28 April 2008

The Opponent

I am currently working on extra character layers for the Antagonist in my thriller novel, brainstorming on how to make this character as compelling as possible.

First. How do you define the Antagonist?

For me, I have to start with a definition of the Protagonist – the character who owns the story, and whose active pursuit of her goal will drive the plot forward.
The Antagonist is the equally fascinating character who by pushing against the protagonist shapes the story and drives the plot by forcing the protagonist to act.

There a number of key aspects I want to keep in mind;

1. The Antagonist is the character who shapes the plot, the most important person in the conflict, the character who makes the reader worry and keeps her turning the page.
If I have worked hard, my reader will have sympathy and empathy for my heroine. The antagonist is now going to start throwing rocks at her.

The antagonist must be strong and active, somebody the reader fears will defeat the protagonist.
My heroine is strong, intelligent and a survivor.
My opponent has to be all of those things and more.

3. Since I am writing a thriller, I want the antagonist to be just as compelling as the protagonist, just as fascinating to read, just as smart, just as funny perhaps, just as good at what he does. In fact, the antagonist should be formidable in every way possible, and stronger than the protagonist – making her work hard and be creative. NOT just REACTIVE but PROACTIVE.
I need to show my antagonist in his ordinary life, doing his job. Even if this is carving the Mona Lisa with a craft knife on the stomach of his victims.

4. But the antagonist is also in need of something. He is pursuing his goal for the same reason that the heroine is pursuing hers: it’s important to his sense of self-worth, his identity. He may not have a character arc as powerful as the protagonist, but he certainly cannot be pulled out of the wings, twirling his moustache, to be the bad guy as in a children’s cartoon. No. He has to have a character profile. His own needs and goals. His own problems.

Why does he love the Mona Lisa? Is he Italian? What is his motivation?

5. The antagonist’s pursuit of his goal must be in direct opposition to the goal of the protagonist – creating ‘ Conflict Lock’ so that the two characters are locked in until one of them wins. It is this key conflict which is going to shape the plot- and shape the action of my hero, since she will be forced to react and act proactively is she intends to be the winner.

What is the Conflict Lock?
This is where the two characters may either both have the same goal – or they have different goals which are in direct opposition.
The best way of seeing this visually is by drawing up a 4 square grid and I tip my hat to Michael Hague and Jennifer Crusie for showing me this technique, which you can use from the Act level right down to individual scenes.

Protagonist GOAL= Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas with Toto.
Protagonist CONFLICT= She has to ask the way home from the Wizard – but the wicked witch of the west is determined to stop her from leaving

Antagonist GOAL = The wicked witch of the west wants her sister’s ruby slippers.
Antagonist CONFLICT = Dorothy is wearing the ruby slippers and cannot take them off. AND she wants to leave town.

The top two boxes of your 2 by 2 square are your protagonist’s goal and conflict (the action that is causing her conflict).The bottom two boxes are your antagonist’s goal and conflict (the action that is causing his conflict).
The idea is that the protagonist’s goal is the one thing that is blocking the Opponent from obtaining HIS goal. And the Opponent’s goal is blocking our Heroine from obtaining HER goal.
You should be able to draw an arrow from Goal Row 1 to Conflict Row 2, and Goal Row 2 to Conflict Row 1.

Result = Conflict Lock.

6. The key turning points of my story should track the building conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist. From the start, I want to be able to imagine the Final Fight to the Finish between my hero and the person who has been blocking her all the way. I want to be able to track the fight between these two people all the way from the Inciting Incident – which should be caused directly or indirectly by the Antagonist – to the one to one final fight. Where only one of them wins – and the reader/audience will not know who this until it physically happens.

7. The reader wants to be on the edge of their seat to find out who will win – and it is no contest if the opponent is way superior to our heroine – they should be equally matched. Think of an equally skilled football game.

8. BOTH of these two key characters MUST be actively fighting for their goals – which might be the same goal. Two treasure fighters after the same sacred icon aka Lara Croft or Indiana Jones. Or one corrupt cop trying to keep hold of his million dollars so he can buy his life back, while the less corrupt cop tries to take the money from him as evidence. Or a divorced mother finds that her estranged husband has run off to India with their daughter, vowing never to return. That active fight will force the hero to change, adapt, be smarter, quicker, better.

9. Both of these two key characters will be forced to make decisions and take actions. Leading to character arc for one or both. Or a bullet and a medal.

10. I want to have my protagonist on the page as soon as possible – the first paragraph if possible. And that means I need my antagonist right there – or the result of his actions and decisions, as part of the SCENE ANTAGONIST who is linked to the main antagonist.
Example. Cops going to murder scene- finds the work of the antagonist, with clues.

Now. All I have to do is create this fantastic character. GULP!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

A question.

Why is it that, while re-writing your current epic thriller, you always get a KILLER idea for a NEW book, which is so MAGICAL and AWESOME, and TERRIFIC, that you just want to throw the book you are writing NOW into the back of the wardrobe where it belongs with all of the other discarded items, and start this NEW, better story which is bound to be a bestseller?

This new idea is TOTALLY commercial and High Concept.

You can already SEE the movie for this NEW idea.
You can hear the agents and publishers hammering on your front door, any door, fighting for the chance to carry this NEW book.

And NOT the book you know that you have to finish, and which, until yesterday, you thought was pretty good. It only needs another couple of weeks of 10 hour days of slog, re-structuring and complete change of opponent motivation etc to create a decent second draft.

While, all the time, this new cunning idea- which has amazed even you, goddess of genius, by how clever and unique it is- is lurking on a note card. Tempting you away from the true path of the righteous professional writer.


Tuesday, 22 April 2008

The Advantages of having a great Publicist

No doubt you followed the 'Nibbies' book award with zero interest, but sorry to say that J K Rowling was the source of great amusement due to her 'wardrobe malfunction'.

Thank heavens she had her literary publicist Mark Hutchinson standing by to assist.

I think these pictures say it all.

Note to self. WHEN accepting major award, DO NOT chose dress likely to fall down at the front so that you are constantly having to hitch it up.

Second note to self. How did Katie Price manage it???

Go here to see the detail -


Saturday, 19 April 2008

Using a Dilemma to drive your story


A choice has to be made between two equally bad - or two equally good- alternatives.

Example. Our hero’s brother needs a life or death operation that costs serious money. But all of our hero’s cash is earmarked to finally turn his barely surviving business into a success, and to make a down payment on a new home, thus saving his marriage and removing his kids from a dangerous neighbourhood.

Example. Do you remember that true story where a young man was trapped by the arm in a rock fall in a remote part of US desert and having done everything he could to escape over 5 days, had to decide whether to simply wait until someone found him - which might never happen since nobody knew where he was - or cut off his own arm - and he might bleed to death. Aron Ralston chose the later.

Example. Many marriage of convenience stories or moral dilemmas - Charles Dickens loved them -such as where the pretty heroine innocent has to marry the repellant man to save her sister/aged parent/child from destitution or prison or some other terrible fate. Today it would be the unmarried mother who needs what this man can offer her. Or the person who has to lie in court to save someone they love.

Two equally unacceptable alternatives – two equally [very] painful choices.

Forced to choose between sacrificing himself or sacrificing a loved one, our character finds himself paralysed, unable to make a choice. A dilemma to lose sleep over.

Neither option is good, because each is at odds with the other.

One good central dilemma can be the ENGINE driving the drama.

Once your protagonist is trapped in it, the dilemma can build in intensity until the crisis point forces decision and action – no matter how much the heroine wants to put off making that decision, it has to be done. One way or the other. The dilemma is finally resolved at the point of resolution.

I have come to this point through an excellent book on Screenwriting - 'Writing a Great Movie' by Jeff Kitchen*. Working through this book has given me excellent insights into how I can polish my current WIP thriller and build the conflict.

Up to this point I had not recognised the fact that my thriller has at least four key dilemmas which drive my heroine, some from her backstory and motivation, some from the plot and action line of the story.

Pulling out the thread of each dilemma has helped me build the scenes which set-up the alternatives she has to choose from and build the conflict as the action progresses.


Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Thriller Writing Challenges

Among other things, I write Medical Thrillers.

And one of the greatest challenges I find is this: HOW TO MAKE THE CONFLICT PERSONAL?
What do I mean by that?
Imagine you have a medical condition or medical disaster- eg. A virus or a bioweapon perhaps, in your story.
The Bioweapon is not a conflict. There is no implicit emotional element in a virus - it is the EFFECT of the virus on a person which creates the conflict.

This is a tool used by an Antagonist as part of his plan to kill people and cause chaos - or perhaps something more creative, such as he actually wants to kill ONE Person and uses the bioweapon as a cover story.
The character of this opponent and his plan drives the action plot - and that is where the challenge lies.

John Truby* wrote an excellent critique of the movie ‘OUTBREAK‘ ** which explains some of the KEY CHALLENGES inherent in creating screenplay for an ‘Action Thriller’. This film came out in 1995 and stared Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey among others .

1. How do you create an ongoing and a building opposition when your opponent is a virus?
You can’t do it. You can’t have a dramatic fight against an invisible bug. So you have to have a personal opposition.
So, the main opponent doesn’t remain the virus, it is General McClintock.
Let’s look at this opponent for a minute. This guy is clearly a villain. In this movie we’re not going to see any subtlety of opposition between hero and main opponent. They’re not going to have a lot of moral fighting about whatever they might fight about. That’s not what this opponent is all about. He is there to provide as heavy an opposition as we can get for our hero.
This guy does have two really great advantages. One is that he provides the source for the conspiracy, where most of the plot comes from. Without him, we really have no plot. Once we hit those virus beats, we’re going to run out of plot. The other great advantage he gives us is that he escalates the story up to the battle. We can’t get to that battle without him.
There’s a second opponent besides McClintock and he’s an opponent ally. This is General Billy Ford.
As an opponent ally, he is somebody who appears to be a friend to the hero but is actually an enemy. General Ford is an in-between character in this sense. He acts fundamentally as an opponent but he also acts as a friend, especially at the end of the story.
Like McClintock, he is crucial for plot because like any opponent ally, he is hidden. The true nature of his opposition is hidden.

2. How do you get a personal line into a fast action story?
Because that personal line is what’s going to make it pay off emotionally for the audience. It’s very difficult to do because you’re moving so fast that you really don’t want to slow down and take that time.
How did the writers of ‘Outbreak - LAWRENCE DWORET & ROBERT ROY POOL- do it?

There are two storylines in this movie ‘Outbreak’.
The action line for the plot, and the personal line for the protagonist hero detective.
In Outbreak the writers take the time to establish a personal track between the husband and the wife. during the Set-Up initial scenes.
This is a crucial step, and is part of building the empathy of the audience with this hard driven scientist who is totally focused and skilled in his work.
He might be the world expert on this virus - but he is also still in love with his wife who he has just divorced. This Personal line holds steady throughout the story, and it grounds the movie, which goes all over the place, as it deals with the scientific details and action scenes. And it just gives a real solid, personal connection in a story that really needs it.

3. How do you focus all the action in a single arena.

Again, this is especially difficult in a film like “Outbreak” where you’re covering epic action, it covers a huge amount of territory. [The film is set in Zaire and at least four key locations in the US.] How did the writers of ‘Outbreak - do it?
By using a ‘Whirlpool’ effect so that the story starts wide, then gradually circles in to a small town in California, where the key players battle it out.

4. A third big problem is how do you create enough plot?
Although we have a lot of action in action stories, we often don’t have very much plot.
How did the writers of ‘Outbreak - do it?
There is a very strong SINGLE desire line.
We have the added advantage that it is a building desire line.
The overall desire line for the character in this story is to find the agent of this disease and to create an antibody to stop it. That pretty much tracks all the way through. Because this virus is so deadly, we have a time element involved in that we’ve got to solve this problem real fast or not just this town is going to go but it will spread throughout the entire country.
The writers take this spine of a plot line and build it, and build it. Increasing stakes. Adding a ticking clock in two places. Adding two foreshadow sections where where the audience knows the virus has already spread and how - but the hero and victims are ignorant, creating tension and excitement.
Plot comes from hidden information and sudden reveals.

Which leads to a very important point.

If you want a lot of plot, you MUST have a very active but hidden opponent. That’s exactly what we get in this script provided by the virus, and provided by McClintock.

In fact, if you were to break this script down, you would find that there are, depending on how you determine reveals, you would find fourteen to sixteen revelations in this script. That is a tremendous amount of reveals giving us a tremendous amount of plot.

*Go here to read the full article:*

*Go here to dowload the screenplay for ‘Outbreak’ which was written by LAWRENCE DWORET & ROBERT ROY POOL. This is the December 1993 Draft:

Monday, 14 April 2008


Here’s a useful bookmark: click it and it will generate a first name and last name from the U.S. Census data. Refresh to try again.

So far, I’ve ended up with Charles Hayden, Peter Ratcliff, and Gabriel Fiorini for the heros, and Devon Howard, Lori Smith and Cheryl Morgan for the ladies.


Friday, 4 April 2008

How to exercise while blogging

Summer is imminent. Which may require exposure of body parts unaccustomed to being seen for several months.. or longer. Without long trousers and sweaters.
There are bikinis in the shops. And shorts.
Since we are disciplined pros, accustomed to planning ahead [ snarf] it may be time to think of..gulp..getting out the summer clothing.
Before the shock turns us to choc and cake. Here are a few ideas to get the muscles working again before they atrophy.
29 Exercises You Can Do At (Or Near) Your Desk

For example; Hands and Arms

*Shadow box. Stand up and take a couple of jabs at the air.
*Arm pump. Pump both of your arms over your head for 30 seconds.
*Shoulder raises. Raise your shoulder to your ear, hold and then relax. Repeat, alternating shoulders. { I have always found this great for releasing tension in the neck from crouching over the keyboard}
*Wrist stretch. Stretch your arm out in front of you with the palm up. With your other hand, grab your fingers and lightly pull them down to stretch your forearm.
*Tricep dips. Put your arms behind your back, resting on your chair and slowly raise and lower your self. { chicken wings. say no more.}
*Elevated pushups. Lean on a sturdy piece of furniture and slowly push your body off of it in a sort of standing push up.
*Hand stretches. Tense and relax the muscles in your hands. Make fists, spread your fingers and bend your fingers.
*Flapping wings. Stretch both of your arms up and back, as far as you can. Bring them forward until they meet and stretch your arms out in front of you. Repeat.
*Water bottle weights. Use a full water bottle as weight to increase the difficulty of your work out. You can do front raises, overhead presses and bicep curls with a water bottle.

There are lots more here... the site also has lots of tips on how to increase productivity etc.

Well, the thought is there.
And there are only 7 weeks before I hit the Greek Islands. THE HORROR!

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Jack Black tells us how to write a Story

Gather around and get yourself comfy.

Now, has everyone got tea and bikky?


Then listen quietly while the Story Wizard tells us how to write a story…

and there is even more - here:

Enjoy. Hope the sun is shining in your world.

What's playing on my YouTube right now? Josh Groban - Pride and Prejudice film montage.