Posted in characters, contemporary romance, creative writing, romance, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

HEA, HFN, and Realism

In most romance subgenres, happily ever after endings are a requirement. What exactly is an HEA ending, and how does it differ from an HFN or happy for now ending?

HEA and HFN both end happily. The main differences between them are for how long and on what terms will the characters be or remain happy?

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HEA’s simplest definition is that everything turns out for the best for the protagonists and any side characters. If there is an antagonist, they get what they deserved. HEA leaves the reader confident the happiness will continue long term with no major roadblocks or disasters.

HFN is often consider a more realistic type of ending. Not everything is perfect, but it’s pretty good for the moment and the circumstances. The protagonists’ lives have improved to a satisfying level, even if it isn’t the end goal and may not be permanent.

Now, let’s discuss making HEAs a little less predictable and, let’s admit it, less cheesy.

Make the characters work HARD for their HEA.

No quick resolutions or easy forgiveness. Leave the reader doubting it will happen right up to the last second. The “work” may be external or internal.

External work might be distance, others who keep them apart, lies or mistrust, etc. Internal work is a character overcoming internal issues, such as past hurts, commitment phobias, or held secrets.

Whatever type of work a character must do to reach their HEA, give them roadblocks and roller coaster ups and downs. Any time it starts to feel like things are getting to easy for them, hit them with another one that pushes them back a few steps.

Put a twist on a trope.

Romance has plenty of tropes to chose from. The difficulty is often making them unique and not just another Disney ending. HEA doesn’t always have to end with a kiss, sex, or a proposal.

What else signifies commitment? Exchanging house/apartment keys, adopting a pet, meeting family, etc.

The important thing to remember here is that the twist has to make sense and be relevant to the character’s arc. If a character is open and welcoming by nature, introducing her new love to her family at the end isn’t much of a twist, or very exciting. However, for a character who’s had to work through major issues with her domineering mother and has trouble opening her private life to people, introducing a new love to her mother would be a big step that showed trust and commitment.

Try unique situation and settings.

Very few real relationships reach the HEA moment over a candle-lit dinner or during a grand romantic gesture. Take a page out of reality and spice up a conversation over pizza or taking a walk and falling in love with a house listed for sale. Look for everyday moments that can be made special.

I love the scene from The Office when Jim proposes to Pam at a gas station. It’s a powerful moment, not only because it’s unexpected, but because his previous attempts at a grand gesture kept getting messed up and he simply couldn’t wait to start his life with her any longer.

Make the reader wait.

Whether this is a planned meeting that gets held up and makes a character doubt, a tough decision that is held off until the last moment, a sacrifice the reader isn’t sure a character will make, or something else, a pause before the HEA can up the reader’s anticipation.

In most romances, the reader knows there will be an HEA, but they don’t know how it will happen. If you’ve developed a strong story arc, every time the MCs get close, they’re pushed back apart, making the reader doubt their ideas of how it will all play out. Keep this up until the big moment. Then you can follow it up with a glimpse of what their HEA looks like long term.

One last note…

Make sure each character has their OWN happy ending before their relationship gets a happy ending. HEAs are even more unrealistic when the characters haven’t shown enough development for a reader to believe “true love” will last forever.

This doesn’t mean they have to be perfect, but they DO have to be capable of sustaining a long-term, committed relationship. Each character should have their own development arc and need to reach the climax of that arc before the story/relationship arc can reach it’s own climax.

Sensual attractive couple

Posted in book covers, books, classic literature, cover design, ebooks, new release, romance, what had to be done, writing, ya fiction, young adult

New Release: What Had to be Done

I read “Persaded” by Jane Austen several years ago as part of my ongoing quest to read more classic literature. I’ll be honest and say a lot of the classics I’ve tried have been a challenge to get through. This wasn’t one of them. I really enjoyed reading “Persuaded” by was intrigued by the idea of making it a little more current for younger readers. It took only a couple of months to write, but it’s taken several years to get back to it for editing, cover design, and actually getting it published.

Now, it finally available in ebook and paperback!

What Had To Be Done

WHTBD frontEveryone has bad days. Anna Elizondo is going on three years of bad days.

It started with her mother’s illness and eventual death, continued with a decision that ruined a friendship, and culminated in her father announcing they were broke and moving away right before her senior year of high school.

Maybe a fresh start will turn things around.

Or maybe it will put her face to face with her former best friend Felix and the hatred in he still carries for her.

The only bright spot in Anna’s move to Santa Fe is meeting her new swim coach, a long-time hero who has big plans for her athletic career. The pool is her refuge, but she can’t hide there forever. Living in a small town makes it impossible to stay out of Felix’s way, and unlikely their history will remain just between them for long. If Anna can’t find a way to make things at least tolerable with Felix, it’s going to be a very long summer.

Available now!

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Posted in books, contemporary romance, romance, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Things to consider when writing intimate scenes

Writing intimate scenes, whether they involve a first kiss or sex, should be natural and progress with both the character’s nature and the overall storyline. These types of scenes should impact the characters in some way. If it doesn’t change anything, it either needs to be rewritten, moved, or gotten rid of entirely.

Romantic couple in a hotel room

The intensity of intimate scenes should not detract from the storyline. Take care to lead the reader into the scene with a building intensity, then guide them back down to the main focus of the storyline. If readers only care about the intimate scenes and skim the bulk of the story, either the story is too weak or the intimate scenes are too overpowering.

When describing what takes place during intimate scenes, especially in sex scenes, sometimes less is more and it’s best to let the reader fill in the details. That doesn’t mean you should skimp on the details, particularly sensory details, but give the reader room to craft an intimate scene to their own preferences by not being overly descriptive of every second.

Many writers find it challenge to find new ways or words to use when writing intimate scenes. It is key that these scenes not feel like they were copied and pasted from an earlier scene. Ways to accomplish this is often more about the details surrounding the scene than the actual act. Choose different settings so the description and sensory information is more varied. Change how a couple progresses toward an intimate scene. A kiss or sex after a romantic dinner is going to be much different than right after a soul-bearing admission or a fight. This gives new opportunities for internal dialogue and emotion.

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When it comes to word choice, don’t be afraid to use standard terminology. Getting too creative with euphemisms can be distracting for readers. Instead, focus on motions and actions involved, and the characters’ responses. Describing where an arm or leg is isn’t what gets most readers attention. The response to where that kiss or finger is placed is what readers pay attention to and want more of. The reader wants to feel what the characters feel much more than they want a diagram of what went where.

Incorporate agency into these scenes to avoid objectifying either sex or treating characters as passive bystanders. In most cases, both characters should be responding to the other’s needs and actions rather than expressing themselves “at” the other person. There should be a give and take in both physical action and mental/emotional responses.

Structure an intimate scene just a you would any other story or scene: foreplay, action, climax, wind down. Whether the characters move through this arc quickly or slowly depends on the circumstances. Regardless, it’s important to hit all points of the arc. Lead into the moment as slowly as is fitting to buildup the reader’s anticipation. Begin the action and capture the characters’ thoughts and reactions to each action. Hit the climax on multiple levels, not just physical. Slowly bring the reader back to the storyline as the scenes concludes with a hint or lead-in to what’s coming next or the repercussions of what just happened.

Keep the focus of intimate scenes on what they mean to the characters and how it impacts them more so than just description of what went where.

Sensual attractive couple

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

Writing compelling conflict in romance

Conflict is what keeps readers reading…until it doesn’t. When readers get bored, they get a new book. Developing deep, rich conflict will keep readers engaged and interested. Let’s break down conflict in romance and discuss how we can craft conflict readers won’t be able to turn away from.

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Internal and external conflict

Identify what the characters want. These should be internal and external desires or goals. Internal goals may be feeling loved or having a stable life, and those impact external goals like getting a promotion and ensuring financial security or taking a risk on a relationship.

Once you’ve done this for both characters, note where their goals/desires come into conflict. These are opportunities to develop stumbling blocks in the relationship. If one MC feels driven to excel at work because he or she craves financial stability due to growing up destitute, while the other MC is working toward moving to a small town where life is simpler, this will stress the relationship.

I always think of “You’ve Got Mail” when looking at conflicting desires. One character is trying to save her independent bookstore while the other is trying to crush it in favor of his mega-book store. Neither goal is inherently bad, but there’s no way they can both win. This destroys their chance at a relationship, at least in person.

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Risk of failure

Don’t look at this as just the risk of the relationship failing, but explore all types of failure that could impact the relationship. This risk MUST matter and be big enough that the reader feels anxiety over the fact that it could all fall apart.

Failure to finish a degree or accept a job in order to relocate for a relationship can build resentment. Failure to confront something in the past can push a character to run from a current relationship. Failure to prioritize a relationship over work/money/ambition will result in missed opportunities and damage a relationship.

An interesting example of this is the movie “Run Fatboy Run” where the MC signs up for a marathon after his ex-girlfriend (who he ran away from on their wedding day) and the mother of their child’s new fiancé brags about running it. Whether or not the MC actually finishes the race doesn’t really matter to anyone but him. He needs to fulfill an internal goal of proving he can finish something difficult and not run away. There’s no external risk of him failing to finish the race, but the internal risk is quite high.

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Realistic steps/progression

Developing realistic steps and reactions is hugely important in developing realistic conflict. Characters have to be able to connect with and understand the characters’ choices, even if they don’t agree with or like them.

Love at first sight doesn’t mean smooth sailing into the sunset. A fast and intense beginning to a relationship often leads to belated problems because the couple makes decisions before they’re prepared to make them or before they know each other well enough.

Friends to lovers romances are great opportunities for conflict, because there is always bound to be fallout with other friends, families, and the problems that come with knowing each other too well, such as knowing all their past relationship details and indiscretions.

If the conflict is largely internal, a character must take logical steps to address it. This may include therapy, opening up to another character, confronting someone who hurt them, etc. A promise of love from the MC doesn’t heal decades of trauma or abuse. Nobody overcomes deep issues in one day, and no one else can “fix” them.

External conflict, such as two coworkers going for the same job and being unable to keep work and their relationship separated, takes delving deep into emotions and actions. The conflict progression may look something like the characters not talking about it, to slipping in disparaging comments at work, to taking specific actions to derail their work or respectability, and so on. As the risk that they might not get the job over the other intensifies, so will the emotions involved and the willingness to take action.

Think about the movie “What Women Want” and the progression they go through as coworkers basically vying for dominance in the company and the progressive actions Mel Gibson takes as he becomes more desperate to win.

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Resolution

If the main source of conflict can be resolved in a paragraph or two, it’s most likely much too simple and not believable. If the resolution is not believable, the reader will walk away unsatisfied and likely lose interest in the writer.

It’s important to resolve the internal sources of conflict leading up to the external source, since that is often where the real conflict begins. Internal change allows the characters’ underlying goals to become similar as the story progresses. Once their underlying goals are better aligned, it’s easier for them to see how to resolve the bigger conflict pushing them apart.

It is imperative that the resolution satisfy the reader. Reread the first chapter and ask yourself how you want the story to end. Then ask yourself, what are you willing to see each character give up in order to achieve that ending? The female MC giving up everything to fulfill the man’s goals is bound to get more than a few eye rolls from readers.

Lastly, ask yourself what steps make sense for each character to take to get from page one to the satisfying end you’re imagining. If those steps aren’t there or fleshed out enough, even the best ending will fall flat.

Consider the Disney version of Cinderella in comparison to Drew Barrymore’s version “Ever After.” Which has a more satisfying ending and why? 

Posted in books, creative writing, ebooks, romance, writing, writing advice, writing tips

Creating character chemistry

Creating chemistry in romance is important because this is what makes the reader root for the characters to find their happily-ever-after.

How do you create great chemistry?

Portrait of beautiful and fashion model womanCreate strong characters

Strong, interesting characters are key to creating chemistry in romance. If the reader doesn’t like your characters all that much, they won’t care if they end up happy.

This often means getting away from stereotypes and adding more depth to characters. Characters need flaws. Nobody likes the perfect, better-than-everyone-else character. Perfect characters don’t have enough conflict to be interesting. A strong character has strengths and weakness that will play a role in the story and their character development arc.

Create realistic attraction

This doesn’t mean no insta-love ever, especially if that’s going to be a source of conflict later when the character realize love at first sight doesn’t mean no problems, but the reason for their attraction should be believable.

Good looks aren’t enough. Being hot doesn’t prevent a person from being an asshole. Draw from personality, compatibility, intrigue, uniqueness…something that will last and create conflict later in the story.

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Build realistic tension

Tension can come in a variety of ways, including miscommunication, lies, secrets, arguments, moving too fast/slow, etc. The key is for these to be realistic and fit with the overall story.

One rumor that’s never fact-checked or confronted and causes the MC to run away without looking back and fall into utter despair isn’t realistic and tends to frustrate readers. Especially if the MC is an otherwise strong and intelligent person.

If a point of tension can be fixed in less than a paragraph, it probably isn’t complex enough to be believable.

Create high stakes

There should always be something that can completely ruin a relationship, whether it’s developed from page one or a surprise two-thirds of the way through. The risk that everything could fall apart, and both or one of the characters knows this, will affect everything they do and act as a constant reminder to the reader that they shouldn’t assume everything will turn out all right.

8c182-coupleholdinghandsDevelop intimacy

Intimacy doesn’t mean sex, although there’s nothing wrong with sex being part of intimacy. A look or a touch, a meaningful word can build intimacy between characters just as much as physical intimacy. Every time characters are together, give them a moment that notches up their connection in some way.

When characters are not with each other, use internal dialogue, conversations with others, or small reminders/tokens (a piece of clothing or memento left behind) to develop intimacy. Building intimacy should remind the reader of what the characters could be together.

Ride the roller coaster

Chemistry shouldn’t be a straight shot to HEA. Nobody likes another person all the time. Having moments where they dislike a trait or action is realistic and lets the chemistry ebb naturally. A thoughtful or sweet act will bring it back up, maybe even stronger. The give-and-take keeps readers interested and engaged.

Keep the roller coaster ride to a reasonable level that won’t throw readers off the rails. Ups and downs are natural and important in story building. The swings shouldn’t be so drastic you give readers whiplash, though. Keep the chemistry moving in a steady, upward direction toward the climax, with believable bumps and dips along the way.

Character relationships should model reality while still working with in the overall plot to allow character growth and development.

Posted in book covers, books, contemporary romance, cover design, date shark, date shark series, ebooks, editing, publishing, romance, writing

Re-releasing the Date Shark series

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Earlier this year, I got the rights back to my Date Shark series, and I knew it wasn’t going to be as simple as simply republishing them for several reasons.

The editing on the first book had been horrible, and I realized when I started re-editing that the edits I had sent back to the publisher five years ago had been ignored. I’d received multiple complaints about the editing from readers when it first published, but it was out of my hands at that point.

The editing did improve over time as the publisher I was working with upgraded their editing staff, but there were still enough errors remaining that I knew the entire series needed to be re-edited. That process took me almost five months because I didn’t have a lot of spare time after starting a new job at the newspaper and taking on a few too many freelance projects.

I also needed new cover art before I could republish the series. I was happy to redo the first book’s cover, but I had chosen the model art for books two through four, so at least I didn’t have to start completely from scratch. My main challenge was not being able to use the cool shark fin A in the original cover art and trying to find something comparable. My husband helped me choose a new font and rightly steered me away from trying to include any water-like effects and just go with the sketched shark logo instead.

My next challenge was when to re-release each book. I asked other authors and got advice on scheduling, but in the end, it took me so long to format each book that they ended up spacing themselves out well enough, for the most part. Books two and three released within days of each other because, honestly, I was sick of working on them and just wanted to be done.

Going back through these books was actually a fun experience overall. I hadn’t chatted with these characters in almost three years and had forgotten how much I loved them! Sabine and Michael’s story is still my favorite of the series, and rereading the books reminded me that poor Leo never got to have his own story.

I had planned to give Leo a voice as the final book in the series, but because of issues with the publisher and limited writing time back then, I stored the idea away for later. I do have some other projects that need attention, but I want to eventually come back to Leo’s story and finish off the series by giving him his own happy ending.

For now, the series is back up on all the major retailers and ready to meet new readers!

You can find all the links here.

Posted in book covers, books, contemporary romance, date shark, date shark series, new release, romance

The Date Shark series is back!

The Date Shark Series is available again is independent books, complete with new covers and editing!

The first book in the series was so much fun to write. It was a challenge not to rely on anything supernatural to keep the story going, but it made me work harder and I was really pleased with the results. The idea for this book came from an experience I had when I submitted a query letter to “The Query Shark,” which she promptly ripped to shreds (deservedly) and set me on the right path. I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if there was a similar “shark” for women who needed a dating overhaul.

Date Shark, book 1

Date Shark FRONTLife as the marketing director for a popular fashion boutique is overwhelming for Leila Sparrow, to say the least.

She’s not sure what ever possessed her to add revamping her dating life to her already hectic schedule. Calling in renowned Date Shark, Eli Walsh seemed like a good idea until she actually met with him…

Date Shark was only meant to be a side-enterprise to his thriving couple’s therapy practice, but Eli Walsh knows it’s become more of an obsession.

At least, it was until he agreed to take on Leila. Somehow she has stolen his entire focus. He wants to admit his fascination with her and growing romantic interest, but he knows coming on too strong will scare her away.

His plan to convince her that she is worth any man’s interest by first being her friend is challenged when his tips start to pay off and Leila begins dating Luke.

Will his friendship with Leila mean the end to any romantic pursuit?

Available Now!

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Shark Out Of Water, book 2

Shark Out Of Water FRONTGuy Saint Laurent is too busy cursing his sister for roping him into taking over Eli’s Date Shark business to prepare himself for the slew of bizarre women he’s about to get involved with. This is the last venture he intended to take on, but somehow he’s just become Chicago’s newest, most reluctant Date Shark.

On top of dealing with bug-toting, mothering, obsessive women, Guy faces personal tragedy that changes his outlook on life, whether he wants it to or not. He’s not sure what it is about Charlotte Brooks that draws him in, but getting her off his mind after a brief encounter proves impossible.

As Charlotte tries to help Guy deal with his loss, he begins to get the impression she’s hiding something from him. He knows he could simply walk away, continue as he always has, but he suspects whatever she’s hiding, she won’t be able to face it alone.

Charlotte is the one woman who can capture his attention, but she may also be the one woman capable of breaking him.

Available Now!

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The Only Shark In The Sea, book 3

The Only Shark In The Sea FRONTVance Sullivan has always been the rock everyone turns to for help…

His work with patients recovering from traumatic events makes him the perfect person to help his friend, Guy Saint Laurent, with one of his Date Shark appointments. When Vance meets hesitant, frightened Natalie Price, he suspects she’s hiding the truth behind her fears, and he’s drawn in by a need to help her.

Haunted by a terrible event from her past, Natalie can’t even endure being touched without suffering a crippling panic attack…

She doesn’t know why, but Natalie feels Vance might be the only one who can help her put the pieces of her life back together. Despite the tension their arrangement causes with his girlfriend, their bi-weekly sessions seem to be helping…as long as he keeps his promise not to push her to reveal more than she’s ready to share.

Suddenly the tables have turned…

When Vance suffers his own unspeakable tragedy, asking for help is the last thing he wants to do. Drowning in grief and guilt, crushed by betrayal and lies, Vance needs a lifeline.

Natalie has no idea why anyone thinks she can help him, given her own deep-rooted fears—but she knows she has to try. A twisted notion of justice makes the danger all too real, and Vance and Natalie realize it might take one broken soul to mend another…

Available Now!

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Shark In Troubled Waters, book 4

Shark In Troubled Waters FRONTSabine Saint Laurent is known as the Princess of Paris. Polite, beautiful, charming, polished…perfect.

Everything is always under control, and when it isn’t, she handles it. It’s been an eventful few years with friends getting married, having babies, getting kidnapped, and almost dying, but she’s made it through each upheaval with poise. Just as she’s looking forward to things calming down, her entire life is upended by a startling piece of news.

Aside from her agent managing her day-to-day affairs, Sabine does not ask for help. Not even from her close knit group of friends and family. So when she finds herself struggling to cope with major changes in her life, she’s determined to power through on her own. It should be easy enough. Everything is always easy for Sabine: modeling, men, money, languages, art, cooking. Finding out she’s pregnant shouldn’t be any different, right?

Except it’s not easy. Nothing about navigating pregnancy, custody, complications, and a man she despises trying to seduce her is simple. Michael Moniteau’s intentions are questionable, but she desperately needs help and he’s the only one who understands enough to give it. It could be the beginning of something wonderful, or it could break the heart she’s kept carefully shielded for so long.

Available Now!

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