Category Archives: Writing Craft
Whether it is genre or literary, excellent fiction is rooted in the real world. In order for you, the reader, to take that leap of faith from the concrete to the virtual worlds of our stories, we, the writers, must first earn your trust that our stories have a foundation in truth, even when they take place in alien or imaginary places. So how do we find those kernels of truth?
Research. Lots of research.
One of my favorite research methods is listening to podcasts—usually in my car, while running my daily errands. (Today that proved impossible when the forecast for snow exceeded expectations so Rosie and I had the day off.)
Here are a few of my favorite podcasts paired with book recommendations.
Get the inside skinny on many usual and unusual professions with these podcast episodes. Titles include: How Does a Forensic Anthropologist Work? How Does an Animal Behavior Specialist Work? How Does a Club Doorman Work? Sometimes the only way for a writer to get inside the head of a character working in an unfamiliar profession is to listen to real people talk about what they do for a living, why they do it, and how it is meaningful to them. After all, it’s not the profession that makes a character compelling, it’s the character’s passion for that profession.
Compelling romantic suspense is grounded it in real world events. As a chemistry major, I have to admit that I either forgot or missed a great deal of what I was taught in high school history class. Luckily for me, this podcast offers a range of interesting historical facts to enrich plots as well as intriguing tidbits such as Who Was the Real Professor Moriarty? I had no idea that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character was inspired by the real life criminal mastermind Adam Worth.
This podcast is too scary for me, but if you like your mystery/suspense wrapped in spooky/scary…
Writers are also avid readers. Listening to these podcast episodes gives me the opportunity to learn from writers I probably will never have the good fortune to meet, let alone engage in conversation. For instance, did you know… Iconic romance author Beverly Jenkins does not write during the NFL playoffs. She once binge-read Harlan Coben’s Bolitar series on her kindle. And she was featured in a 5-page spread in the 1995 Valentine’s Day edition of People magazine written by reporter Nancy Drew.
Do you have a favorite podcast? Add to my list…please!
People ask me all the time:
Where does your inspiration come from?
How do you get ideas for books?
The truth is, I can get the mood or sense of a story from places as mundane as the grocery store or as exotic as trips overseas.
An example of this is from a recent trip to NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The fantastic exhibit, China Through the Looking Glass, had all the hamster-wheels in my brain running at full speed. In possibly the world’s best curated exhibit, the incredible Met staff arranged clothing that had been inspired by Chinese art, not in a separate clothing exhibit, but right in the midst of their Chinese art section.
It was amazing.
Covering three floors, sedate mannequins posed next to temple gods upstairs, while two floors below, in the Costume Institute, a drumming, rockstar vibe and blaring music highlighted dresses arranged against multi-media pop art.
Visitors could see how a lacquer screen influenced a dress, how decorative items guided the bottle for Opium perfume, or how the flutter of fans were reflected in the flounce of a ballgown. Even the drab uniforms of the Maoist period showed up in haute couture.
It had my little noggin smoking, too.
Look at the gold number by Guo Pei at the top of this post. What could you hide underneath that skirt? What are the observant statues thinking? One Buddha reclines seductively, the other looks down as if guarding his own secret.
Who is the man in the hat silhouetted in shadow? Are they enemies or friends as the beautiful spy negotiates the party?
Could the flounces of this dress be hiding tools to break into a safe? Or gear to climb out a four story window? Are the figures behind her oblivious to her next moves, or are they watching, conspiring, waiting to pounce?
And this jacket appears to be something a James Bond-style villain would wear. Do these long sleeves hide guns or perhaps poison blow darts?
And among the bustle and hustle of tourists of every description what transpires just out of sight. Is information being traded? Who is being followed, and who disappears into the tightly packed throng?
Hopefully you’ll see some of these threads weave into stories with the release of my book, The Spy in the Mirror, next year. Until then, perhaps your imagination will run as wild as mine. Tell me which would you wear? And remember, in our imagination everyone is thin enough to fit!
For more posts like this, and updates about my book, please follow me at DianaBelchase.com
(All images copyright 2015 Diana Belchase)
We have a special treat for the authors and aspiring authors among our followers today, a guest post by Jill Sorenson, who writes gritty, action packed, sexy romantic suspense. I love Jill’s books, so I’m thrilled to gain some insight into her process. She has some terrific tips here that I intend to try.
Dirty Drafting: 11 Quick Tips
Hello Kiss & Thrill! Thanks so much for having me back.
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is just around the corner. I’ve never participated in this event because writing an entire novel in one month sounds like a nightmare to me. Drafting is my favorite part of the writing process. Why would I want to stress out and rush the most enjoyable step?
Writing fast is practically a requirement for romance authors, but the key for me is writing steady and delivering a quality manuscript. If you hammer out an incoherent mess in a month and it takes you six months to edit, you’re not getting to the finish line any faster than someone who works at a less frenetic pace.
I wrote my latest novel in three months, most of it while my kids were home on summer break. That’s pretty fast for me. Some authors write a lot faster. I follow people on twitter who do “1k in 1hr” sprints, 5k days, even 10k days. I don’t know how they do it, so I’ll just tell you how I do what I do. If drafting is painful for you and you can’t wait to tinker/revise, try NaNo. If you prefer editing as you go and writing a clean first draft, read on.
There is no one true way, just different ways that work better for different people. I’ve heard fast authors say that anyone can learn to be fast, and I don’t believe that. I believe that everyone can improve their speed, but we all have physical and mental limitations. If you’re a genius, your brain might be supersonic. Or you might be a slow genius. I’m not any type of genius. I’m more of an Emma Stone in Easy A than a Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. I want to be a commercial success, not a critics’ darling. I don’t have the natural ability to write 5k every day or the luxury to write slow.
So here are my tips for steady drafting.
1. Edit as you go (if you prefer) but always keep moving. Your first paragraph or chapter might make no sense by the time you get to the end. Characters change and develop over the course of a novel. Do what feels right in order to move forward, but don’t get bogged down by small details. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It will never be perfect.
2. Outline before you start. This is an important one for me. I research and do a detailed outline several weeks in advance. I’m constantly plotting, reworking and looking things up as I go, too. Stay flexible, but have a plan. An outline is a solid foundation that you can build on. You can also throw it out if you have to. Having plan makes it easier to move full steam ahead and avoid painting yourself into a corner.
3. Write every day, or almost every day. Taking long breaks will steal your momentum. Steady, daily progress is good.
4. Know where you’re going. Even if you’re not a big plotter, you can jot down notes every day before you start. Just a few minutes of concentration can make the difference between flying over the keys and staring at a blank page.
5. Don’t stop for the day at the end of a scene or chapter. Some authors stop mid-sentence. It trains your brain to keep thinking about the next sentence/scene/chapter, rather than closing the mental doors when you close the screen.
6. Take notes after you’re “done” for the day. This is my favorite tip for increasing speed and productivity. I love writing freehand notes. I remember things I forgot to do, continually reassess plot points, and jot down ideas for the next scene.
7. Get enough sleep. This is a challenge for me. Sleep well and your brain will function better, faster.
8. Beware of children. They require a lot of attention and feeding. If a childless person tells me that anyone can write 5k per day if they just try hard, I will twist her nose off and feed it to my child.
9. Exercise! I run almost every day, and I believe this has helped my output tremendously. It also helps keep me sane. If you spend too much time indoors, living with the imaginary people inside your head, you might end up with cabin fever, wielding a rubber mallet. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
10. Don’t force it. Sometimes you have to sit your ass in the chair and get it done. Sometimes you have to do the opposite. When you’re pulling your hair out, rewriting the same sentence fifty times, just leave it alone. Go do some laundry, get a snack. Switch to a notebook. Changing scenery can jog you in a new direction.
11. Keep a cuts file. I do this for every book, and it helps me when a scene isn’t working. I’ll save a copy of the problem section in my cuts file. Then I can delete and rearrange dialogue or paragraphs without worrying about losing any important bits. It’s a quick, efficient way to get unstuck and move forward.
So there you have it. 11 quick-n-dirty tips for those who prefer clean first drafts! As always, do what works for you, be passionate about your writing, and try to have fun. Remember that a writing career is a marathon, not a sprint. Find your own pace.
Are you a writer? Do you plan to attempt NaNoWriMo? Do you have any tips you’d like to share or thoughts on Jill’s tips? Share them. We haven’t had a craft conversation at K&T in a long time, and I LOVE talking craft.
Jill Sorenson is the RITA-nominated author of more than a dozen romantic suspense novels, including the Aftershock series by HQN. She lives in the San Diego area with her family. She’s a soccer mom who loves nature, coffee, reading, twitter and reality TV. Jogging keeps her sane. Riding Dirty is her first erotic suspense novel.
You can find her at www.jillsorenson.com.