Friday, January 28, 2011

Embracing 'Writer's Pause'.

Ever have those moments in writing when everything comes to a screeching halt? I call it writer's pause, and I've learned to embrace it. It is a time to allow the scene to simmer and wait for that extra spark of inspiration to pull you back into what you see visually that will enhance the scene. The other day I was working on a pivotal scene in 'Beside Two Rivers'.

Adventurous Darcy can't stay confined inside four
walls for long. She has an innate curiosity for the outdoors. And so she heads off astride her grandmother's mare across the moors in the Hope Valley.

When I realized that the scene would be a cliff-h
anger and a critical turn of events, suddenly my mind froze. For two days I mused over what I had written. I sat at my computer, staring out at the falling snow outside my window, watching the flakes float down and the layers growing on the tree branches. I began to worry. Why was I stuck?

I walked away from the book for a while and read. My mind was still on the scene. I was at a crossroads. Remember those books for kids where you could go one way or another in the story? I visualized each possibility and the effect they would have on the rest of the story. Should the antagonist come riding up? Or should Mrs. Burke, Darcy's grandmother's housekeeper, come lumbering up the hillside calling to her to return to the house? Or should Ethan chance upon her?

Suddenly my mind began to churn with images of Darcy on horseback. I saw what she would see - the green moorlands, the barren tors rising against a cloudy sky. I heard what she would hear - the whisper of the wind, and the murmur of the grass as the breeze brushes through it. Then I began to feel what she would feel. Lonely. Homesick. . .and a longing for the man she loves.
I went back to the scene and wrote the bare bones out in my notebook, then to the computer I went and the scene was enhanced tenfold. I'm glad I waited.

When you have those moments where the words are not flowing, be patient. As a writer friend told me when I shared with her what was happening, 'continue to stare....something BIG is about to break!'
But do not neglect your muse. Dwell on the scene. Listen to inspiring music and read or watch a movie in your genre.

If you are not a writer, but you read, next time you sit down and open a novel think of the work that the author put into writing it. It took months to write, perhaps a year. They went through moments where they froze, moments of intense creativity, moments of despair wonder if it was good enough, and lonely moments too. Writing is hard work. But we do it because we love it and we love our readers and want to please them.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Darcy's Childhood Memories

Hello, dear InSpire readers. I hope your new year is going smoothly and you are either getting a lot of writing and/or reading accomplished.

Beside Two Rivers is progressing nicely in its first draft. One challenge I have faced in this second book in the Daughters of the Potomac Series, is dealing with the bits and pieces of childhood memories that Darcy has tucked away that deal with her parents and the days she lived at River Run, their estate along the Potomac River.

Darcy's memories are crucial to the story, and to avoid dumping backstory into the narrative, I've had to learn how to weave her memories into the tapestry of the incidents she experiences.

Childhood memories, or memories in general, can have a potent affect on the reader and add depth and motivation to your character. But they most be brief, intense, not long and drawn out. A few keys to writing memories into your novel are as follows.

Remember to use sensory influences - sight, sound, smell, taste, touch.

Do not tell all. Allow the reader to wonder what your character's memories mean. Allow your character to wonder the same.

To avoid 'telling' allow your character to react to the memory. Perhaps they grip their hands together, or their eyes fill up with tears. Some kind of reaction to the memory adds depth.

Use one particular memory to be center stage but only an image. One example in Beside Two Rivers is Darcy remembers the swing made for her, tied to a massive tree, and remembers it in winter, its ropes encrusted with ice. This was her place of refuge and on a day when she rides out to see the old house, the swing is long gone. Her refuge is no longer there, but she remembers and it causes a craving in her heart to feel that sense of protection again and finds a new place of refuge, a secluded cliff high above the river. Just as she was able to swing high and see her world in a different perspective, the cliff enables her to high above the river gorge and see a wider world about her.

When revealing a memory, make it poignant, make it reflect on a serious event.

Create in your characters actions that imply their pasts and how it shaped their future, instead of writing out long accounts with a lot of detail.

If you are writing a series, be sure that the memories your characters reveal in the subsequent books are in line with the prequel.

* * *

Share with us your thoughts on the use of memory in your writing. Are you writing a novel where the events in your main character's life are influenced by the past?

Do you have a particular childhood memory that is only an image that brings you joy when it is recalled?

Mine? The huge sycamore tree on the hill past the next yard, that I saw from my swing in our backyard, and the little house beyond it, across the street, that had a little chicken coup. The tree is still there, and the house. And when I visit my mother, and see that tree, I feel happy thinking back to those summer days, pumping my legs on the swing to go higher and higher.
I'm in the photo to the right, at age 15.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Besides the Writing...

Many aspiring writers have the conception that once a writer has a contract, that their work is done once they hand in their manuscript. Actually, your work continues, and the load is bigger than the writing of your story.

Last month I turned in the first draft for 'Before the Scarlet Dawn', early to my publisher. She was delighted and will be working on the first rounds of edits called 'substantive'. In the meantime, she sent me an email on Friday with a 'Book Cover Design Information Form'. I have no doubt other publishers ask their authors for input of how they visualize the cover for their novels. But there are some that do not, and those I've seen are mostly print on demand publishers. Be wary of them, dear writer.

Anyway, I was given a list of questions about the tone of the cover, what I want readers to feel when they see it, descriptions of the hero and heroine, photographs and descriptions of places in the story, and to include book covers that I like that have the same ambiance I'm hoping for.

Some of my Facebook friends offered some great suggestions, and I'll have something special for them when the book comes out.

Now you know something else to expect once you sign a contract. As time goes on I'll share the next phases that come my way in the production of this novel, book 1 in the Daughters of the Potomac Series.

Here are a few covers that I selected to send to the designers.

Here are photos of actors that I feel depict my heroine, Eliza Morgan, and my hero, Hayward Morgan.

How would you describe your hero and heroine of the book you are writing?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dialogue and Narrative Writing

With each book, with each short story, we should grow as writers. As I write book 2 in the Daughters of the Potomac Series, 'Beside Two Rivers', I've been pondering what makes a story flow and glow. Dialogue? Narrative? Is it a balance of both? Or is it more dialogue and a sprinkling of narrative?

In her book 'Between the Lines' author Jessica Page Morrell states the following.

A reader's eye is naturally drawn to dialogue because it is staged, action-intensive, and auditory.

More importantly she writes: Rapid-fire dialogue with little or no extraneous information is swift and captivating, and will invigorate any scene. . . snaps and crackles with tension. Reactions, descriptions, and attributions are minimal. Don't create dialogue exchanges where your characters discuss or ponder. Instead, allow them to argue, confront, or engage in a power struggle.

I agree. Except that there are times when your characters will need to have a lighter conversation. Still, this should move the story forward. In 'Beside Two Rivers' my heroine Darcy has arrived at Havendale to meet her grandmother. Naturally the first person she meets is the housekeeper, an old retainer that has served the family for years. I did not want her to be a 'Mrs. Danvers' kind of character. Instead, she is lighthearted and welcomes Darcy warmly.

Their conversation is light, but it is leading up to a more intense conversation between Darcy and her grandmother Madeline.

Darcy untied the ribbon beneath her chin and removed her hat, while the servant took her cloak from off her shoulders. She noticed the look of concern when her eyes ran quickly over her clothing. “I walked a long way,” she said.
“Hmm. From the fork in the road I expect.”
“Yes. I hope I do not look too bedraggled.”
“Well, you’ve had a weary journey, now haven’t you? It’s a long walk from where they left you, so I imagine you are very tried, the brave girl you are to journey all the way from Mary’s land.
“I am. . .a little.”
“We’ve a warm guest room waiting for you. It has a comfortable bed, and I’ll bring up a tray of food.”
“You are very kind. But I’d prefer to see my grandmother right away.”
“Of course, and without delay.”

The dialogue then goes slightly deeper. Questions are asked and Darcy ponders the state of the house, why the downstairs is darker than the upstairs.


Downstairs the walls were paneled with dark oak, but the hallway upstairs held a warmer effect, painted pale yellow with large windows that allowed the light to flood inside. Darcy scanned the paintings on the wall and the pattern the sunlight made across it.
“This floor is very different from downstairs.”
“My mistress had the old panels ripped out after she married Mr. Morgan. . .


A sprinkling of descriptive narrative is enough to give the reader a visual image of the house, the walls, the staircase, and the windows. There is both a gloomy and an uplifting atmosphere, of two places that are complete opposites.

Narrative can build tension and atmosphere. Sprinkle it in with interesting dialogue and the merger of the two becomes one scene that will sweep the reader into the world of your characters and move your story ahead.

So in conclusion, where I have grown while writing this series is in depth of dialogue. I am now 230 plus pages into the manuscript.

What are your views on dialogue and narrative?
Do you prefer to read a novel with a balance of both? Or one more than the other?