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Posted in books, publishing, reading, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

What exactly does “steamy” mean when it comes to romance?

When a reader says they want a “steamy” book, what does that mean? What does “sweet” or “clean” mean? Well, these often means a lot of different things to different people.

When trying to find the line between steam levels in different romance subgenres, it’s helpful to break down what each level means and which subgenres use each most often. Of course, there are books that cross, blur, or nudge the lines, but it’s good to have a firm basis to start with.

Hands Holding HeartsSweet

Low-level sexual tension, focused more on emotional elements than physical, limited to kissing and embraces. Stories often end with a proposal or strong HEA. Think G-rated movie.

Most often used in Regencies and some historicals, middle and younger YA, religious/spiritual/inspirational fiction, and sweet/clean contemporary romances.

Subtle

8a7998ee-211a-4316-9e7f-999a6df97905No explicit sensuality, kissing and touching is okay but physical descriptions are limited to general terms or are only implied. Physical acts should be focused on the emotional elements rather than explicit description. Off-screen sex is alluded to and left to the reader’s imagination. Think PG-rated movie.

Most often used in YA, mild contemporary romance, some historical romances, and spiritual/religious/inspirational.

Warm/Medium

sunset-691995_1920Moderate explicit content and sensuality. Sex is described, but not in graphic detail. The emphasis stays on the “lovemaking” and emotions, not the act. Euphemisms are more common and many details are left to the reader’s imagination. Sexual tension is used throughout, with more touching and some undressing involved, and there are usually only one or two sexual scenes in the whole book. Think PG-13 rated movie.

Common in single-title romances, upper YA, mild NA, some historicals, milder/teen paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi, and some romantic suspense/thriller/mysteries where the focus is more on the crime than the relationship.

Hot

Romantic couple in a hotel roomVery explicit sensuality and a deeper focus on sexual feelings, desire, and physical sensations. Sex scenes are longer and may have 2-3 in the book. Character thoughts are focused more on sexual urges and desires and sex is graphically described with specific body part words used and strong euphamisms. There may be light exploration of less-traditional sexual activities. The emotional aspect of sex is still important and should be balanced with the physical sensations. Sex scenes should further the story, not overtake it. Think R-rated movie.

Includes the majority of contemporary romances today, romantic suspense, most NA, some Apha/mafia subgenres, and most paranormal/fantasy/sci-fi.

Erotic

Marriage couple in the hotelExtremely explicit sensuality and descriptions with a strong focus on sexual thoughts, desires, and needs. Sex may be the primary focus of the story, but it still has a full-arc storyline and strong emotional elements. Sex often includes non-traditional elements such as light BDSM, use of sex toys, ménage or other forms of “kink.” Profanity is more common and graphic language is used in descriptions. There are usually multiple sex scenes throughout the book. These stories can’t be told adequately without the sexual content. Think NC-17-rated movies.

Erotic romance

***Always consider consent and the line between abuse and dominance. Characters must retain a choice on whether to participate and there needs to be a minimum level of respect between partners to keep it out of the realm of an abusive relationship.

Posted in books, writing, writing tips

Improving organization and productivity for writers

Staying organized as a freelance writer can be very challenging! Here are a few tips for improving organizational skills, as well as some apps you might find useful for keeping your writing life on track.

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  1. Remove distractions. A writer may have all the talent in the world, but if they can’t stay focused and meet deadlines and actually complete projects, it skill won’t matter. Silence your phone, put your computer in airplane mode to limit trips to Facebook and other distracting sites, makes notes about what you may need to look up or attend to later.
  2. Plan your day according to priority and physical needs (and BE REALISTIC). Deadlines come first, but how you reach them can make a big difference in your productivity and stress levels. Make a list of the task (writing and life) you need to complete that day, order them according to priority, and set realistic goals. Be realistic with your schedule and don’t overbook yourself. Then, consider when you work best and will have the least amount of distractions or interruptions. Create a schedule and make others aware of your schedule. Working from home doesn’t mean you’re not “at work.”
  3. Prepare ahead of time. Before you sit down to your scheduled writing time, make sure you have everything you need. If a story element needed to be researched, that should be taken care of in its own time slot prior to writing time. If Laundry needs to be started because you have to attend an event that evening, take care of it and schedule breaks to switch loads as needed. Reading assignments (with notes) should be scheduled during downtime when it doesn’t interfere or disrupt writing time. If something comes up during writing time that should have been done beforehand, make a note to schedule it for later and don’t switch tasks unless absolutely necessary.
  4. Wait to edit. Writing time and editing time need to be kept separate. Editing while writing slows down the process and keeps the focus on small details rather than character or story development. Make a note if you need to come back to something, but keep writing in the moment/
  5. Keep notes and refer back to them. Instead of breaking from a task because you remembered something or had a new idea, keep a notebook or note app on hand and make a note about new tasks or ideas. Review them at the end of your work day or writing session and add the new items to the schedule for the next day or week ahead.
  6. Keep a consistent schedule. Research has shown that we can train our minds to better focus on specific tasks if we do them at consistent times. Life happens, of course, but the more you can routinize your writing schedule, the easier it will be to get into “writing mode” and the more productive you’ll be.
  7. Schedule breaks. Don’t forget to give yourself time to clear your mind and breathe. Even if it’s just ten minutes to refresh your coffee or walk to the mailbox and get some fresh air, you need to give your mind and body an occasional rest. The longer your mind focuses on one task without a break, the more tired it gets. The longer your body stays stationary, the more it affects your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Research recommends at least a 10 minutes break every two hours, with longer meal breaks.

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Apps to try

  • MindNode (iOS) $10: visually map out thoughts/storylines
  • The Brainstormer (iOS) $2: exercises to help with writer’s block
  • Pomodoro Timer (iOS and Android): time management for writers to boost productivity
  • Evernote (iOS and Android) Free with premium features: note keeping app with text, audio, photo, handwriting notes and reminders
  • Lists for Writers (iOS and Android) $3: Inspiration for a variety of writing related sticking points (names, settings, jobs, grammar, etc.)
  • WordOne (iOS) $2.99 or Writer Tools (Android) Free: track daily writing progress and plan stories
Posted in books, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Using archetypes effectively

Let’s dig into archetypes  and discuss there uses and some examples of common archetypes and some you may be less familiar with.

What are archetypes and should you use them?

Archetypes are a typical character, action, or situation that seems to represent a universal pattern of human nature. Archetypes can be used effectively when done right. For example, the “Hero,” “Innocent Youth,” or “Mentor” characters appear in many works of fiction.

The challenge is creating an archetype without falling into stereotype. Even if your character is following an archetypal pattern, they still need to be complex and unpredictable at times.

Archetype Examples:

Man with SwordHero: Predominantly “good”, struggles against evil to restore balance, justice, etc. (Luke Skywalker)
Mother Figure: Guides and directs, offers spiritual or emotional nourishment (Glinda the Good Witch)
Innocent Youth: Inexperienced, weak, seeks safety with others like him/her, trusting (Frodo)
Mentor: Main task is to protect the main character, gives advice and training to help him/her succeed (The Giver)
Doppleganger: Duplicate/shadow of hero to show their dark/evil side (Mr. Hyde)
Scapegoat: Takes the blame for everything (Chuck from The Mazerunner)
The Villain: Main goal is to oppose/defeat the hero, who the hero must defeat (President Snow)
The Trickster: Causes trouble, conflict, stumbling blocks to hero’s progress/success (Gabriel aka The Trickster from Supernatural)
The Übermensch: Seemingly unbeatable, omnipotent; good or bad (Superman)
Outcast: Exiled (physically of socially) due to some mistake/transgression (The Beast)

Posted in books, creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Story vs. Plot and how they work together

To fully discuss these two concepts and see how they work together, let’s start with the most basic definitions:

Old Open Bible on old wooden table.Plot: the main events of a play, novel, movie, or similar work, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.

Story: an account of incidents or events, a timeline of events told in narrative form.

At first, this may sound a little backwards. When you’re writing a story, aren’t you doing more than just recounting a series of events? Isn’t plot the timeline and structure? Isn’t the overall story what ties events together and makes more than just a series of incidences? Story is character and places and motivations and choices, isn’t it?

Yes…and no.

Don’t confuse the technical definition of “story” with a GOOD STORY.

An uneventful walk to the grocery store to buy eggs is a story, just not a very good one. It has no plot. Plotting requires crafting the elements that will turn a “story” into something interesting enough to attract readers’ attention and hold it. Plot is not the story, but it MUST SUPPORT the story.

Man hit by carPlot should guide the reader through a story, providing pertinent information and raising questions that will keep them interested. Plotting gives the writer the chance to recognize important questions and provide the answers in a satisfying and compelling way. This applies to both pantsers and outliners, though it may progress in different ways.

Take the grocery store example: Why is the character walking rather than driving? Why does he/she need eggs, and only eggs. What will the eggs be used for? What happens when the character gets to the store? What will happen if he/she doesn’t get the eggs? What events will follow purchasing the eggs?

Plotting also helps a writer determine how the story should end, because endings should always be related to beginnings. A good story comes full circle in one way or another. The situation and character at the beginning present a problem that must be resolved by the end in order for the story to be satisfying.

Identifying the beginning and ending points makes it easier to craft the steps, events, information, and choices that will get the character from beginning to end. These should be developed in a logical way that will make sense to the reader and answer all (or most) of their questions. The spaces between these events are filled with character development, backstory, worldbuilding, etc. to create a rich and engaging story, but the plot is still the underlying structure that turns a trip to the grocery store into a good story.

question-mark-1872665_1920Consider the questions asked about the egg-buying character. Eggs are most likely not the real conflict. In attempting to answer some of the questions about this character, the possibilities are endless.

  • Perhaps the character is a teen buying eggs to go egg the house of someone who is terrorizing her at school.
  • This may be an ordinary shopping trip for a forgotten ingredient that goes awry when an explosion rocks the store.
  • The character may be walking because he was grounded for sneaking out the night before and now must run all his parents’ errands on foot.
  • The character may never make it to the store, but is instead witness to a strange creature darting between houses, followed the screams of a man.

Adding some actual plot to a story takes it from being a mundane occurrence to something intriguing and engaging. If a story leaves the reader with no questions or motivation to continue reading, it’s still a story…just not one with a good plot.

Posted in books, characters, creative writing, reading, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Writing strong females characters: behaviors vs. personality traits

Strong female characters have not only been a topic of discussion quite frequently over the last few years, they’ve been steadily becoming better as readers and writers both recognize what that phrase means to them and why it’s being talked about.

Beautiful bright makeup woman with long curly hair looking sexyOne of the key elements in writing strong female characters (and this applies to writing strong characters of any gender), is understanding the difference between behaviors and personality traits. Behaviors are things a character does (what we do), while a personality trait is how a character behaves, thinks, and feels (what we are). Personality traits are difficult or impossible to alter, while behaviors can be changed.

For too long, “strong female characters” were based on behaviors such as fighting, sarcasm, sexual activity, shunning femininity, using her body for manipulation of others, etc. The personality traits behind these behaviors are much different than the behaviors themselves and are what readers will connect with on a deeper level when they are fully brought into the story.

Consider the list of behaviors above and what personality traits caused or impact the behaviors, and what the sources of the behaviors might be:

MMA Fighter PunchFighting: perhaps the character grew up in a rough home life and had to defend herself from a family member, bully, gangs, etc. Perhaps she was a victim and learned to fight for protection.

Sarcasm: sarcasm may come from insecurities about self, status, a pessimistic worldview, or a sense of humor. It may limit their ability to make friends or have deep relationships.

Sexual activity: This may come from a place of confidence and freedom or a need to please and fill emotional holes. Is it self-destructive or empowering? Does this this affect relationships or self-image?

Shunning femininity: Consider what caused this shunning. It my come from sexual orientation or gender issues, having been victimized and made to feel vulnerable, growing up with masculine role models, insecurity about being seen as feminine or weak, or a genuine dislike for typically feminine activities or looks.

Using the body to manipulate: This may speak to the time/setting and the character’s status in her community or social structure. I may be a learned behavior from a role model, or developed out of survival instinct. A woman could also see this type of a manipulation as a useful tool she sees no problem in utilizing, and possibly even see it as a equalizer with men.

These are only a few considerations, examples, and questions brought up by these behaviors, but they highlight how much more interesting and engaging the personality trait is than the behavior. Readers want to uncover why a character says, does, and thinks the way they do. Developing personality traits rather than only behaviors leads to opportunities for deep backstories and character growth and development.

Any time a character does something, ask why, and integrate the answer into the story and character arc.

Posted in creative writing, reading, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Foreshadowing vs. Foretelling

Foreshadowing is a great way to create anticipation in the reader, but it can easily be confused for foretelling.

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Foretelling is to predict or tell the future before it occurs (a prophecy), while foreshadowing is to presage or suggest something in advance. It’s a subtle difference, but it makes a big difference in a story.

Foretelling is direct and explicitly tells the reader what will occur. While this is more common in young children’s literature, it’s usually not the best choice for other fiction forms. Foretelling takes the discovery away from the reader. It doesn’t make them work to understand the hint and can spoil the mystery or anticipation.

Foreshadowing involves the reader more full yin the story by asking them to put in the effort to not only pick up on the hints given, but remember them and fit them into the rest of the information and events. Readers feel more invested in the story when they feel like they are participating in it.

What do these two look like in fiction? Here are a few examples:

detective-152085_1280Foretelling: Had I known the darkness forming in my mind weren’t my own thoughts, I would have attempted to defend myself.

Foreshadowing: These thoughts feel so foreign, but I can’t deny they’re in my mind, constantly nudging and pushing me to see Alex’s words and actions more clearly.

In the first example, the reader is told the dark thoughts come from an external source and the character has lost control of their own mind. This asks the reader to do no work and requires them to simply wait for the character to realize the manipulation or see how it all shakes out. Reader investment and participation is very low.

In the second example, there is a hint that the dark thoughts aren’t usual for the character, but is contrasted by the hint that the change might be needed…if Alex’s words and actions truly are harmful. This creates anticipation because the reader doesn’t know for sure whether the character is being manipulated or is starting to see things more clearly. This creates a sense of wariness and anticipation to figure out the truth. Readers will pay more attention to find more clues and figure out the mystery. Reader engagement and investment is high.

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Posted in books, creative writing, publishing, query letter, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Tips for writing a great hook

Writing a great hook takes headaches, crying, and endless rewrites.

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Below are a few things to keep in mind while crafting a stand-out hook

A great hook catches readers’ attention

• Write something that startles the reader: “Shaye Archer’s life effectively began the night police found her in an alley, beaten and abused and with no memory of the previous fifteen years, not even her name.” Malevolent by Jana DeLeon
• Open with the inciting incident: “When Willow is born with severe osteogenesis imperfecta, her parents are devastated—she will suffer hundreds of broken bones as she grows, a lifetime of pain.” Handle with Care by Jodi Picoult
• Create intrigue: “Inspired by a terrifying true story from the author’s hometown, a heart-pounding novel of suspense about a small Minnesota community where nothing is as quiet—or as safe—as it seems.” Unspeakable Things by Jeffrey Eugenides

A great hook catches readers’ attention

• Introduce something ominous: “A bloodthirsty sheriff is terrorizing a small Texas town where justice has been buried with his victims.” In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz
• Make the characters sympathetic and relatable: “What happens when the most beautiful girl in the world marries the handsomest prince of all time and he turns out to be…well…a lot less than the man of her dreams?” The Princess Bride by William Goldman
• Capture the reader’s heart “Every so often a love story so captures our hearts that it becomes more than a story—it becomes an experience to remember forever.” The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

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