Posted in books, contemporary romance, date shark, date shark series, delsheree gladden, ebooks, new release, reading, romance

The Final Date Shark Book has arrived!

Ending a series is always a tough thing for me, but I’m so excited to wrap up The Date Shark Series with Leo Bailey’s story in “Repelling the Shark!”

Repelling the Shark

the Date Shark series, book 5

Repelling the Shark

Simple and easy falls apart when secrets revealed require making promises and opening up to the possibilities of hurt and hope.

Leo Bailey has so far escaped the curse of the date shark business. He fills in when needed, but has held onto his casual relationships and family emergency-free existence. hover

Marriage and family are a vague idea for the future, but he’s not ready to give up the freedom of being single and answering only to himself.

When Piper Moretti witnesses the demise of yet another of Leo’s friends-with-benefits relationship, she doesn’t think much of it. She has a long list of more pressing responsibilities and headaches to occupy her mind.

Friends, and the strings that go with them, are at the bottom of her priority list.

When a date shark client who tops the list of bizarre behavior Leo has seen, his half-joking request for rescue drags Piper into the chaos and into Leo’s life.

Neither one wants more than a simple, no-stress friendship. Secrets and surprises force them to admit neither one is nearly as in control of their futures as they think they are.

Helping each other means getting involved, making promises, and opening themselves up to the hurt and hope they’re both terrified to face.

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

The problems with second person narration and directly addressing the reader

I’ve been reviewing a lot of writing samples lately for the ghostwriting company I train writers for, and I’ve noticed a trend of using sections of second person narration and directly addressing the reader quite frequently.

While second person narration can be used effectively, it’s generally not ideal for commercial adult fiction. Directly addressing the reader can be used sparingly, but it is often jarring and pulls the reader out of the story by reminding them that they’re reading a book.

Second person narration is when the story is told in the voice of an onlooker (the reader). “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy.” Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City

Directly addressing the reader is when the narrator “breaks the fourth wall” and speaks to the reader directly using YOU. “Good. Now I know I can trust you. You’re curious. You’re brave. And you’re not afraid to lead a life of crime.” Pseudonymous Bosch’s The Name of this Book Is Secret

Why these are rarely used in fiction:

Directly addressing the reader is NOT a replacement for an omniscient POV. This is often used to remind the reader of something (Now, I told you this wouldn’t have a happy ending) or tell the reader what will happen next (If only she had known the cable was lose, she wouldn’t have climbed out onto it.) If a story is not being written from an omniscient POV, this is incorrectly breaking out of the POV and is jarring to the reader. Choose a POV and stick to it.

They break suspension of disbelief. It’s very difficult for a reader to suspend disbelief and feel they are immersed in the story when they are being asked questions, told direct information, or reminded that they are being told a story.

Both are extremely difficult to use correctly. To make these techniques work, they have to be done consistently throughout the story, to avoid startling the reader every time they are addressed. Few stories are suited to constant commentary from the narrator and can frustrate and tire the reader.

The use of YOU reminds readers of children’s fiction, blog posts, and self-help books. The Tale of Despereaux has a wonderful narrator voice that explains difficult words and concepts to young readers and helps them understand the story. When adult readers are directly addressed, many feel they are being condescended to or instructed on how to read or enjoy the story. Both can be major turnoffs for readers.

It is difficult to develop characters and a story that suits second person narration. The narrator is limiting to watching from a distance with second person narration. Even when omniscient, the reader never truly gets inside the characters’ heads and feels less involved in the story.

Second person narration is difficult to maintain in pieces longer than a few pages. Second person narration is tiring for readers to read. It feels like they are being asked to answer questions or be actively involved in a story rather than enjoying it as an observer.

For a list of more things readers don’t like, check out the link below!

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

Creating memorable Meet-Cutes

One of my favorite meet-cutes is from You’ve Got Mail when the main characters meet Meg Ryan’s bookstore and Tom Hanks is explaining his complicated family situation. It leads so well into Meg Ryan realizing who he is and that his mega chain bookstore is going to put her out of business.

What is a Meet-Cute and how they can best be developed and utilized in romance?

The meet-cute is when a future romantic couple meets for the first time.

The purpose of a meet-cute is to set up a burgeoning relationship.

Meet-cutes often use awkwardness, embarrassment, or hostility and should hint at potential conflicts or barriers to the relationship as well as show the nature of the relationship. The meet-cute should also set the tone for the story.

Forms of meet-cutes include:

Bad first impression: sparks embarrassment, hostility, misunderstanding, etc. This provides immediate conflict, dislike, or intrigue.

The twist: gives one character the upper hand and presents a conflict.

The odd couple: presents differences that could be either complimentary or antagonistic depending on the situation.

While it’s okay to use a tried-and-true meet-cute (i.e. literally bumping into each other), it’s important to make it unique.

Try a unique location (car accident, painting class, etc.)

Have one character do something unexpected (doesn’t help the other up after a fall)

Involve a unique item (onions cascade off a grocery store display and hit the other’s foot)

Force the characters to interact in an unusual way (assigned seating at a movie separates one from a group due to buying tickets too late)

Bring them together during an emergency (fire alarm, witnessing a mugging, etc.)

For a little meet-cute inspiration for future projects, check out these real life stories!

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

Crafting scenes that stick with your readers

What is a scene from a book or movie that has stuck with you? Why did it connect with you? For writers, recognizing and evaluating these scenes is a great learning experience!

There are several important elements to crafting an impactful scene:

concept-1868728_1920Purpose

Every scene should have a purpose (advance the plot, reveal something about the character, or provide information about the overall plot). The purpose should be able to be condensed into a one sentence summary. Scenes with no clear purpose are filler and should be cut or rewritten.

Point of View

A scene needs to be told from the most impactful point of view. Usually this is whoever is most impacted by the events of the scene. If emotion isn’t coming through in the scene, reevaluate whose POV it’s being told from. POV is often tied to the purpose of the scene: Who will learn the most? Who will change the most? Who will react more strongly? Who has the most to lose?

The High Moment

Scenes within a story should mimic the overall story structure: beginning, middle, climax, end. The high moment uses elevated emotion, action, or revelation to impact the character(s). The high moment should come at or near the end of the scene and it should be something that produces a reaction. The high moment reveals the purpose of the scene. The character should learn something, either about his or her self or the other characters, that affects their perception or choices.

Emphasizing Conflict

Every scene needs some form of conflict: inner, outer, or both. The conflict needs to have meaning, not be pointless arguing. Conflict should get progressively worse throughout the story, increasing the stakes. Keep this in mind while planning scenes and make sure there is an overall progression. Scenes with mostly inner conflict won’t be as explosive, but should increase the overall tension.

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Showing Character Development and Change

Every scene should demonstrate some form of character change. The change may be subtle, but it needs to show development and growth of the character, or show backsliding behavior. Whatever happens in the scene should have an impact on the character, eliciting change on some level. Change should match the character and the event. One character may see an event as not a big deal, while the other sees it as a huge problem. They need to react and change according to their perceptions.

Staying on Point

Scenes should leave out all the boring and non-important details. Life may be filled with the mundane, but scenes should not be. If the info, actions, or dialogue doesn’t pertain to the purpose of the scene, cut it. Start in the middle of a scene, with action of some kind, and leave out the movements in and out of the scene. Only insert backstory when it doesn’t slow the present scene.

Strong Beginning and Endings

The beginning and ending should not only be strong, but should be related in some way. This may be theme, symbolism, situational, a specific action or piece of information, etc. Tie the beginning and the end together in a meaningful way that relates to the purpose of the scene.

Adding Details

Find the right balance of details to create a full scene without bogging it down. Descriptive details should be pertinent to the action, help create mood and tone, or accentuate the dialogue. Details should use all relevant senses to create a full picture of the setting, the characters, and the emotion. Details should reveal something. A clenched fist shows anger, fidgeting conveys unease, food and clothing choices set the stage and reveal preferences, etc.

Evaluating Scenes

Whether you’ve watched Dead Poet’s Society or not (if you haven’t, you should!), this scene is a powerful one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j64SctPKmqk

What is one thing about this scene that sticks out to you? What impression does it leave and why?

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

Writing and tortillas and putting in the work

I love to cook and bake, but I’m not the greatest at following recipes. I was in the kitchen with my mom from an early age, and most of the time I really don’t think I need to read the entire recipe (especially if it’s in a blog post that gives the entire history of a dish before getting to the actual recipe). I’m also not very good at planning ahead, so I often have to make substitutions and rush recipes (like not letting things rise for the full amount of time).

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With New Mexico being under a stay-at-home order, I’ve been working from home and have had more time to prepare meals most days. So, I’ve been making an extra effort to plan ahead and follow the recipe more closely.

I’ve made tortillas a few times, usually from a mix, but with the shortages at the grocery stores right now, I ended up making some from scratch. I followed the recipe to the letter, including kneading it for the full amount of time (which I almost never do). They were the best tortillas I’ve ever made!

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What does this have to do with writing?

Writers often feel pressured to get the next book out as as soon as possible to keep readers attention. Some say that writers need to release something every 90 days. This can lead to lower quality writing due to rushing, skipping steps, or not preparing well enough.

A recent book club I led for work featured a contemporary romance from a fairly well-known author with a big backlist and a lot of followers. The group was pretty much unanimous at the end of the reading session that this book suffered from the three problems I just mentioned. The characters were often flat and unrealistic. The story never really seemed to go anywhere because there was a lack of real conflict, and many of the scenes felt like filler used to make the target length.

While it is important to produce consistently, quality is more important. Whether in baking or writing, prepare, don’t rush, and don’t skip the steps it will take to make a project a success.

  • Characters need fleshed out backstories and motivations
  • Every chapter needs conflict
  • Conflict should build to the climax and mean something to the reader
  • Outline or storyboard to make sure you have enough content for the word count or end it when the story dictates
  • A storyline should compel readers by making important promises to the reader at the beginning and fulfilling those promises by the end
  • Don’t rely on readers  “buying anything you write” just because they’re fans

Putting in the work for a story is just as important as it is for a meal if you want to produce something people will love. The tortillas, paired with the fish my husband made, were definitely a success!

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

Pacing that keeps the reader engaged

A story’s pacing needs to be consistent enough to keep readers engaged while providing all the ups and downs that create a realistic story rhythm. Below are some tips for strong pacing.

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  1. Plan with pacing in mind: Start at the outline level and make sure every scene has some element of conflict/reveal/resolution.
  2. Vary your conflict/reveal/resolution: Not every scene needs to be high intensity. Vary the sources and level or conflict/reveal/resolution in successive scenes, but make sure to keep building toward the climax. Utilize quieter scenes for reflection or understanding important details.
  3. Pace at the word and sentence level: Make sure your word choice and sentence structure match the pacing. Short, quick sentences with simpler words set a faster pace. Longer, more complex sentences using a bigger vocabulary slow the pacing.
  4. Use details appropriately: Sections of narrative with a lot of detail slow the pacing, which works well for scenes of internal reflection, revelation, or self-discovery. Use limited details in fast paced scenes to keep the action or conflict going.
  5. Highlight important moments through pacing: Using sustaining a faster pace builds to a important moments of action, revelation, or excitement. Slow the pace leading into moments of introspection, cueing readers into its importance.
  6. Critically evaluated scene elements: Ask what is the goal of this scene? Does the pacing serve the goal? What is detracting from the desired pacing? Remove elements that don’t match the pacing, such as extraneous dialogue (small talk, rambling), unnecessary details, extended character thoughts that are off topic, etc.

Consider where your scene is in the rise and fall of the plot arc and make sure the pacing matches its position. If the scene is flatlining and not moving the story forward, cut or rewrite it to better match its purpose.

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

Writing to market vs. writing to a specific audience

What is the difference between writing to market and writing for a specific audience, and how does it affect they way you write?

Writing to market is sales-focused. It is writing what is currently popular in your genre, whether that be themes, tropes, subgenres, or topics. An important detail of this definition is “in your genre.” Jumping into new fads you don’t have experience with or haven’t researched usually doesn’t work out well. Writing to market requires constantly staying on top of genre trends and being ready to shift or switch focus quickly.

buy-3692440_1920Writing to market also means knowing general audience expectations, likes, and dislikes. Generally, readers don’t have a strong preference for standalones or series, a plot that moves quickly and well-developed characters keeps readers from putting down a book, blurbs and book covers that don’t accurately portray a book upset readers, readers prefer to interact with authors on Facebook more than other platforms, most readers do want to interact with authors, and readers pay attention to reviews.

Writing to a specific audience is more reader focused. It takes into account general audience expectations then narrows them to a specific genre, subgenre, or trope. Writing to a specific audience takes researching and understanding who you readers are, what they want out of a specific book, and determining the story elements that will satisfy their expectations.

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Understanding your audience means researching and identifying several key factors:

  • Specific genre/subgenre conventions that must be utilized (not all conventions are a must and there is room for creativity and exploration)
  • Trope elements that are expected by the reader (don’t be formulaic, but hit the crucial points that make the story fit the trope)
  • What your book gives the reader (a story must fulfill something for the reader, whether it be escapism, a thrill, vicarious excitement/romance, etc.)
  • Demographics of your audience (the data is out there, even if you might have to make a few leaps or assumptions to narrow it enough to your niche)

The key to writing to a specific audience is figuring out what they want from your specific book and then delivering it. If readers expect an HEA, there better be a very good and convincing reason not to give them one. If readers expect vivid sex scenes and barely gets a peck on the cheek, the reviews will reflect their unhappiness. Make a promise to your reader in the blurb and make sure you fulfill that promise with a great ending.

Writing to market and writing to a specific audience can feel limiting or frustrating when we focus too much on one or the other. Aiming for something in between is a helpful balance. Focusing too much on what sells can lessen the excitement of writing and the emotional connection to the story and characters. You need to love what you’re writing for readers to truly enjoy it as well. Know what is selling in the market and what readers want from a specific book, but add spice and uniqueness to tropes and conventions by delving more deeply into what will excite and satisfy readers on a personal level.

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

Writing great scenes that connect with readers

What makes a scene stick with a reader? Is it the emotion, the revelation, purpose? It can be any or all of these things when done well. Let’s take a look at what makes a great scene.

Mysterious Woman

A great scene has a purpose and climax. If a scene doesn’t advance the plot, reveal important information, or develop the character, it probably shouldn’t be in the book at all, but it certainly won’t stick with the reader as meaningful or important. Identify the purpose of the scene and build the other elements around that purpose, leading to the climax.

A strong scene has good pacing. Things need to happen in a scene, whether that’s action, the character learning something, romantic tension increasing, or the reader putting clues together. Break a scene down to the individual elements that will support the overall purpose. Skip unimportant details that don’t serve a purpose. Watch out for long sections of exposition or narration, don’t stay inside a character’s head for too long, and stay focused on movement throughout the scene.

An impactful scene shows rather than tells. Telling becomes boring very quickly and tires out the reader. While some long passages of dialogue are needed to explain a lot of information, break it up with movement, action, or input from other characters. Use all five senses to bring the scene to life and show what the characters are experiencing. Don’t tell the reader the character is upset, show them through body language, dialogue tone, or physical action.

Twilight kiss

A memorable scene creates an emotional connection with the character. This connection may come in many forms, whether it’s disgust, sympathy, romantic feelings, or compassion. A scene should reveal something about the character that makes them more real and shows their depth. This can be done through backstory, dialogue, action, etc. Readers connect more with characters they have something in common with, whether it’s something major like an abusive childhood, or jealousy over a friend doing well. Use traits and experiences that are universal to build a base for connection, then delve deeper into more personal or unique traits to deepen the connection.

A good scene has real conflict. Conflict can come in any form, but it should be integral to the scene. Internal conflict delves deeper into what makes up a character and where they are on their journey of change. External often conflict moves the story along and pushes the character to discover their abilities and strength.

A complete scene shows change and development. Change is a critical factor in any story. The characters, situation, and possibly setting change or develop through the story and character arcs. Each scene should show where the story/character is in the arc and where they are heading next. Change and development isn’t linear. Use ups and downs to create more tension and a more interesting arc. Characters need to fail and struggle. Nothing should come easily, but it should continue to progress.

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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, 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.