Saturday, September 28, 2013

The “Rules” When Writing (by Jackie Bouchard)

(When I first joined Chick Lit Central a year ago, one of the first books I reviewed was Jackie Bouchard’s What the Dog Ate. It was a wonderful book – funny, heartbreaking, inspiring. And because Jackie has a new book out – Rescue Me, Maybe -- now it’s on sale! {more on both books below.} To celebrate, Jackie dropped by to share her thoughts about writing by the rules. As Jackie is a former accountant, it’s not surprising she’d find rules appealing!)

I’m a big-time rule follower (BTRF). It’s the inner goody-two-shoes in me. I can’t help it.

So, when the Twitter #ChickLitChat topic the other night was writing rules, I had to join. (BTW, joining the chats is easy and fun. Every Thursday at 5:00 PT/8:00 ET search hashtag #ChickLitChat.) Before the chat, I Googled “rules for writing” and found Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules. The first two (1. Never open a book with weather and 2. Avoid prologues.) took me back to my first writers’ conference, where the instructors happily handed out rules. And I, as a newbie and BTRF, clutched my pen and scribbled them down.

The first session I attended was about the importance of opening lines. We shared our first lines and the editor-instructor helped us get on track. In addition to warning us not to begin with the weather (“It was a dark and stormy night” anyone?), he said never start with a dream or someone waking up.

Oops. There I sat with pages from What the Dog Ate, still very much first-draft-y, which started with a woman awakening to the sound of her dog throwing up. That session ended up being very helpful and I left with a much better opening. (“The vet handed Maggie Baxter a plastic specimen bag containing a pair of size-tiny lavender thong panties extracted from her dog; but they were not hers.”)

I’d happily followed his rule, and was feeling good about my manuscript.

Next, I attended a session led by an agent where we read our first paragraphs. I read my new opening, and she liked it. (She gave me her card after. I’m thinking, “Being a BTRF pays off!”) One aspiring author read his prologue, causing the agent to warn us against them. She explained that many agents/editors see them as a red flag that the author can’t more skillfully weave necessary background info into the story. The poor guy seemed crushed that she rained on his prologue parade. I was so happy that I was prologue-free.

Next up, a session about holding your readers’ interest led by the author of Rambo. He said, with great authority, “Do NOT include telephone conversations” because they’re boring and you need to be in the action. I have no idea what he said after that, because I was thinking, “But my main character lives far from her family. She talks on the phone to her mom, her grandma, her sister. Those conversations help reveal her character and move the plot forward. How will I get rid of them?!”

The good feelings from earlier were gone. All my lovely neuroses bubbled to the surface. “I don’t even belong here. I’m not a real writer!” I tuned back in when he handed out his next rule: “Rarely use your characters’ first names.”

I wrote that down, too. Then – even though I’m a BTRF – I drew a question mark next to it. What? No first names? “Wait a minute... This guy wrote Rambo! He’s not talking to ME. I’m okay! I still belong!”

That’s when I realized: every “rule” needs to be taken with a healthy dose of salt grains. First, consider the source – a rule according to whom? (If it’s according to an agent you want to work with, you might want to pay attention.) Second, for every “rule” out there, I’m sure many examples exist of famous books that violated it.

It boils down to doing what best serves the story. If that means breaking a “rule” once in a while, go for it. One rule from Elmore Leonard that I do love though is this one: “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” If we can all master that one, we’ve got it made.

I could have saved myself a lot of angst at that conference if I’d known at the time what W. Somerset Maugham said: “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

What do you think? Are there rules you love to follow? Love to break?

(Thanks so much, Jackie. Going to edit my WIP right now, which starts with a prologue that features a woman waking up from a bad dream to discover it’s raining out.)

About Jackie
Jackie Bouchard writes Fido-friendly fiction. She used to be trapped in the hamster wheel of corporate America, but she was lucky enough to escape and now fully understands the term "struggling writer." Jackie loves: reading, writing, and, yes, even 'rithmetic (seriously, algebra rocks); professional cycling; margaritas; blogging (she never thought she'd say that, but she does); dogs in general, and her crazy rescue pup specifically; and her hubby. (Not in that order.) Jackie dislikes: rude people and writing about herself in the third person. After living in Southern California, then Bermuda, then Canada, then the East coast, Jackie and her husband settled in San Diego. American Jackie, her Canadian hubby, and her Mexican rescue mutt form their own happy little United Nations. Jackie's novels include What The Dog Ate and Rescue Me, Maybe.

Here’s a blurb about What the Dog Ate, on sale now for 99 cents!

The vet handed Maggie Baxter a plastic specimen bag containing a pair of size-tiny lavender thong panties extracted from her dog; but they were not hers. Or rather, they were hers now since she'd just paid $734 to have Dr. Carter surgically remove them from Kona's gut.

This is how Maggie Baxter, a practical, rule-following accountant, discovers that her husband of seventeen years is cheating on her. All her meticulous life plans are crushed. When he leaves her for the other woman, Maggie and her the-world-is-my-smorgasbord chocolate Lab, Kona, are left to put their lives back together. As Maggie begins to develop a Plan B for her life, she decides to be more like Kona. No, she's not going to sniff crotches and eat everything that isn't nailed down; rather she'll try to approach life with more ball-chasing abandon. Finding herself in situations where she begins to go through her usual over-analysis of the pros and cons, she stops and instead asks herself: What would Kona do? With Kona as her guru, Maggie begins her quest for tail-wagging joy. What the Dog Ate is a funny, tender story of mending a broken heart and finding love and a new life right under your nose, with woman's best friend at your side.

Buy What The Dog Ate here!
Barnes & Noble

Rescue Me, Maybe
If you lost both your spouse and your dog to cancer within weeks of each other, but you were sadder about the dog, would you tell anyone? Maybe your closest friends. Unfortunately, Jane Bailey's closest friends are on the other side of the country. That's where Jane plans to go now that she's free to leave Philadelphia, the too cold, beachless, street taco-deficient city her husband dragged her to six years ago. But with no job prospects in her hometown of San Diego, Jane is roped into helping out temporarily at her uncle's southwestern small-town B&B. En route to her new role as innkeeper and breakfast chef, she finds a stray at a rest stop. With her heart in pieces from the loss of her dog, she's determined not to let this mutt worm its way into her affections. She's also determined to have next-to-no interaction with the B&B's irritating guests, and the even more annoying handyman who lives next door. Can Jane keep her sanity--and her secret that she's not really a grieving widow--while trying to achieve her dream of getting back to the place she thinks is home?

Buy Rescue Me Maybe here!
Barnes & Noble

Connect with Jackie at:
Her site
Her blog

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Subplot’s The Thing

Most writers have a basic understanding of plot: It’s what the protagonist goes through while pursuing her goal. Subplot seems to be less obvious. Recently I’ve read a few unpublished and self-published manuscripts in which the writer did not seem to understand the function of subplot. In one case, a subplot was omitted entirely, making for a very cut-and-dry book.

The most basic description of subplot is that it encompasses the subtle obstacles that keep the hero from realizing his goal. In other words, the subplot is not a completely different set of circumstances from the main plot. For example, if the main plot was about a woman who was working toward being an astronaut, the subplot might be about her relationship with the boyfriend who didn’t want to leave their small town. Or caring for her once-brilliant father, who now has Alzheimer’s. Both such subplots subtly raise the possibility that these relationships will keep her from pursuing or ultimately realizing her goal. On the other hand, a subplot about her sister nursing a wounded deer would only detract from it. (OK, there are probably some strong writers who could make the astronaut/wounded deer thing work. But why make things harder than they have to be?)

Just like the main plot, the subplot must have a concrete beginning, middle and end. It has to have conflict. It cannot be a series of scenes that, say, take place at the heroine’s place of employment but never really go anywhere. That’s not a plot; that’s a diversion.

Some Rules About Subplotting

Subplots Should:

Have plot points that impact the main plot;

Show the protagonist in a different role than in the main plot;

Be centered around relationships (if the story is not a romance), or be centered around something other than relationships (if the story is a romance);

Resolve before the main plot does;

Interact naturally with the main plot.

Subplots Should Not:

Be completely separate from the main plot;

Show characters acting in very different ways than in the main plot (unless that is the plot);

End less than halfway through the book;

Be composed of coincidences and deus ex machina (this is true for the main plot);

Be comprised of a completely different set of characters than the main plot.

Subplots Can:

Converge neatly with the main plot and resolve at the same time;

Begin before the main plot;

Show the protagonist reacting, rather than acting.

Writers who are “pantsers” rather than plotters may find their subplots get away from them more than the main plot does. If so, a strong rewrite should be done to tie the two together.

Like all guidelines, these work about 80 percent of the time. Then 20 percent of the time, some hot shot writer will come along, break all the rules, and do an amazing job. (You are not that hot shot writer. Neither am I.)

The best subplots are so well interwoven with the main plot that it takes careful teasing to separate them. This is often the case in genres such as literary fiction. In more mainstream work, such as mysteries, the plot and subplot are more easily distinguished (the plot having to do with the mystery the detective is trying to solve, and the subplot having to do with an entanglement in her personal life that keeps getting in the way.)

While most writers rightly focus on their main plot, books are made or broken on the strength of the subplot. If you ignore it, it will come back to haunt you.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Today’s Book Special!

(Friends and followers, I’ve decided to post more often and give news about friends’ books that are on sale and/or being given away. If you love paranormal and romance and thrills, today’s book is for you!)

Arielle Immortal Passion by Lilian Roberts is only $0.99. Arielle Immortal Passion is the third book in Lilian's Immortal Rapture series. Look below for a chance to WIN e-copies of her first three books!


An interlude in paradise...

St. Jean De Luz, in the south of France, is the gorgeous setting of one of Sebastian Gaulle's family estates. It is to this lush place that the Immortal takes his love, Arielle Lloyd, and her friends, to relax and spend their holiday exploring the surroundings and learning about his family's history.

A snake in the garden...

There is no safety in this paradise, however, as Sebastian's past continues to haunt him. The Immortal, Annabel, still lusts for vengeance on Sebastian and seeks to destroy his new love. While exploring, Arielle's life is endangered when she discovers dangerous hidden strangers occupying the house.

Evil that will not die...

Trapped, threatened, and nearing her last breath, Arielle must call on the powerful magic of her friend, Eva, for help. Sebastian must rally his Immortal friends and family to protect his love and expel the evil before his paradise is forever lost.

About Lilian Roberts

Lilian Roberts was born in Athens, Greece. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, and their two golden retrievers. She is an avid reader and loves to read novels that feature characters draped in passion, mystery, and adventure. She is especially fascinated with the concept of immortality.

Arielle Immortal Awakening and Arielle Immortal Seduction are the first volumes in the Immortal Rapture series of paranormal romance thrillers. The third volume, Arielle: Immortal Passion, was released in April 2013. The fourth novel is out now, Arielle Immortal Quickening. Lilian is finishing up work on her fifth novel, due out on December 5, 2013.

To connect with Lilian Roberts, visit her website , like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also learn more about Lilian's books and upcoming events at SJPublicity.



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Find the other books in the Immortal Rapture series on Lilian's Amazon author page.
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Monday, September 16, 2013

What Comes First

This summer, author Stephen King gave an interview to Atlantic magazine in which he talked, among other things, about how long it takes him to craft the perfect opening line for his novels. (Read the interview here)

It’s interesting that someone who is as accomplished as Stephen King – who is known not only for a career spanning decades but for being so productive that he once had to publish under a pseudonym because his publisher feared he was flooding the market – not only values the first line so much, but still spends so much time crafting it. That first line is vital – it should grab the reader by the throat and pull her in, letting her know that this is a compelling story, that these characters she’s about to invest hours in are worth it.

In today’s publishing world of free books and 99 cent deals, the opening sentence is more important than ever. A reader who has just invested $26 for a hardback or even $10 for a new Kindle offering by a best-selling author will probably read further than that first boring sentence. But readers who just downloaded ten free books from Bookbub? Probably not.

As a reader for a literary agency and a reviewer for a book web site, I read about three books a week – two unpublished and a third that was probably self-published. Many of these books violate the first line rule. They’re not written to intrigue the reader and pull her in; rather they seem to be written in a hurry, designed to jump over in order to get to the story. Recent beginnings I’ve slogged through include:

The protagonist waking up and going through the day’s to-do list;

The protagonist brushing her hair and describing herself in the mirror;

A boring conversation between the protagonist and her best friend.

These are not opening lines that are designed to draw readers in. And yet, another piece of advice writers are given is to introduce the protagonist before starting the action. What better way to introduce her than by describing her or showing her in her ordinary routine?

It is a conundrum. Especially for writers of contemporary women’s fiction, who generally don’t have the luxury of describing a dead body in order to draw in their readers.

One way writers solve this problem is by concentrating on their protagonists’ states of mind. That way, she can introduce the main character while saying something intriguing enough to keep the reader interested.

Here are a few opening lines from women’s fiction that drew me in:

“All you have to do is get through this,” Sarah told herself. The Good Wife, Jane Porter.

“Have you seen it?” asked Samantha. Good in Bed, Jennifer Weiner.

“Hold it!” a voice commanded. These Girls, Sarah Pekkanan.

“Since the very first moment she had laid eyes on him, Lorna Connaught had loved Dante with a hot fierceness that both excited and shamed her.” Totlandia: The Onesies, Book 1 (Fall), Josie Brown. (What I liked the most about this opening sentence is that the author uses words to imply that it’s about romantic love, but it’s really about the love a mother feels for her baby.)

For my own women’s fiction novel Keeping Score, I tried to craft an opening line that gives a sense of what the story is about thematically (how competition destroys relationships) while creating immediate sympathy for my protagonist. This is what I came up with:

I was ten years old the first time my best friend dumped me.”

Hopefully, this sentence promises one of the main threads of the story: that this protagonist is about to, once again, get dumped by her best friend.

If an author as successful as Stephen King still takes his time in crafting the perfect line, the rest of us should follow his example. If your first line doesn’t promise readers that a great story is to come, keep rewriting it until it does.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Cricket: Baseball on the other Side of the Pond

Chick lit and women’s fiction are very popular in the U.K., but baseball – around which my novel “Keeping Score” revolves – is not. In fact, the sport isn’t played at all there – they play something named for the insect that tried to keep Pinocchio from doing the wrong thing. Luckily, my UK friend and fellow writer Sheryl Browne generously agreed to try to explain the similarities and differences of the two sports. She even did a table! Thanks so much, Sheryl!

Hi everyone! Jami and I decided to do a little blog swap, an across the pond comparison of things UK and USA. I thought I’d kick off with a comparison between baseball and cricket. What could be more British than cricket, after all? Picture the scene, blue skies, ice cream clouds drifting by; perfect Sunday afternoon silence, punctuated only by the soft thwack of wood against leather and the rustle of crisp packets. This is the rustic ritual of cricket: locals coming together, whatever their status, to compete in a sports-manly fashion on a level playing field, the village green.

“The Cricketers Inn, Longparish, Hampshire” by Mike Cattell on Flickr

So to the comparisons: Both games are members of the bat and ball family of games and, surprisingly (to me anyway), the basic principles are the same. The playing equipment, terminology, number of players, field and rules, however differ. Here’s a quick overview:





Club shaped with a tapered barrel.

A cylindrical handle attached to a flat wooden block (blade).


The core of the ball is cork, rubber or a mixture of both.

Colour: white with red leather stitching.

A cricket ball is made of cork and string and covered with red leather.

Colour: red.

Protective Gear

Defence: gloves in non-throwing hand, hard plastic headgear and padding.

Catchers: plastic shin-guards, padded chest protectors, and wire masks moulded into a hard plastic shell.

Batters: hard plastic helmet, shin-guards, glove.

Batsman: pads, helmet and other padding for body parts. No protective gear is worn by fielders except those who stand very close to the batsman.

Umpires and Referees

Usually 4 umpires in major league games.

2 umpires on the field, 3rd umpire off the field, 1 match referee.

Number of players

9 or 10 depending on league rules.

11 players.

Balls/pitches allowed per batsman

No limit.

Limited by the number of balls bowled in a match.

Maximum runs scored from a ball/pitch

Four (Home Run with all bases occupied - Grand Slam).


Batting order



Field shape

A quadrant (diamond) shape.

Elliptical with thin rectangular area in the middle – pitch.

No, I’m not going to attempt to get technical about the rules, thus prompting ardent fans to bury heads in hands in utter despair. Simplistically, though, in both cricket and baseball, the players of one team attempt to score points known as runs by hitting a ball with a bat, while the members of the other team field the ball and attempt to prevent runs/scoring. In cricket, the batsman is attempting to defend the wicket (which, if struck, will put him ‘out’). In baseball, the batter is attempting to defend the strike zone.

I stand to be corrected (ooh, er). Meanwhile, Howzat?

"YourOut” by Britanglishman, on Flickr.

Thanks so much for letting me loose on your lovely blog, Jami!

Meet Sheryl

Sheryl Browne brings you Fabulous, Poignant, Heart-breaking Romance. Her novel Recipes for Disaster, commissioned by Safkhet Publishing, was shortlisted for the Innovation in Romantic Fiction Award. Sheryl now has five books published under the Safkhet Soul imprint -

Recipes for Disaster - Sexilicious Romantic Comedy combined with Fab, Fun Recipes.

Somebody to Love Sigh with contentment, scream with frustration. At times you will weep.

Warrant for Love - Three couples in a twisting story that resolves perfectly.

A Little Bit of Madness White Knight in Blue rescues The Harbour Rest Home.

Learning to Love Exploring the Fragility of Love, Life and Relationships.

- and has since been offered a further contract. A member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association, Sheryl grew up in Birmingham, UK, where she studied Art & Design. She works part-time in her own business and is a mum and a foster mum to disabled dogs.

Sheryl’s latest book, Learning to Love, started life as a short, entitled The Memory Box - the theme of which is bereavement in childhood, which was accepted by the Birmingham City University to be published in their Anthology, Paper and Ink.

Learning to Love

Exploring the Fragility of Love, Life, and Relationships

Widower, Dr David Adams, has recently moved to the village – where no one knows him, ergo there’s no fuel for neighbourhood gossip – to start afresh with is ten year old son, if only he can get to a place where his son wants to speak to him. Angry and withdrawn, Jake blames his dad for the death of his mother, and David doesn’t know how to reach him.

Andrea Kelly has too many balls in the air. With three children and a “nuts” mother to care for, her fiancĂ© can’t fathom why she wants to throw something else into the mix and change her career. Surely she already has too much on her plate? Because her plates are skew-whiff and her balls are dropping off all over the place, Andrea points out. She needs to make changes. Still her fiancĂ©, who has a hidden agenda, is dead-set against it.

When Andrea’s house burns mysteriously to the ground and Andrea and her entourage are forced to move in with the enigmatic Dr Adams, however, the village drums soon start beating, fuel aplenty when it turns out someone does know him – the woman carrying his baby.

Sheryl Links:

Sheryl’s Website

Safkhet Publishing

Author Facebook

Romantic Novelists’ Association

Sheryl is a Loveahappyending Lifestyle Author and Feature Editor.

Twitter: @sherylbrowne

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Welcome Back!

I took a few weeks off while I packed up one house, moved to another, and unpacked. I hope you liked my guest bloggers and appreciated their wisdom!

It feels fitting that I’m writing this on the official first day of school. Even though many schools start in August (my son went back two weeks ago), the day after Labor Day always feels like it’s time to get down to business. And even though it’s been decades since I’ve sat in a real classroom (I’m not counting Writer’s Centers classes at night in Bethesda, Maryland), fall always comes like a kick in the butt. Party’s over. Vacation’s come and gone. It’s time to get back to work and get serious.

I just picked up my phone to check my Twitter feed. I guess maybe getting back to work and getting serious are easier to type than do. But I did rewrite my profile to include the link to my book. Does that count as work?

Truth is, there are some people who greet September the same way they greet the morning, by leaping out of bed at the crack of dawn and embracing everything they need to do. And there are others who live in a deep state of denial, hoping against hope that that last day of August will never show up on the calendar.

About twelve years ago, when Maryland schools still began the day after Labor Day, I remember enjoying a luxurious day at the neighborhood pool party when a friend turned to me and asked how Alex had done on the summer math packet. Guess what we ended up doing that night? The complete freakin’ summer math packet.

So you can guess which camp I fall into.

This fall, it’s been a little different. Moving into a new house, there’s an urge – and a need – to buy new things. Like a TV for every room, or a few extra coffee tables. Maybe an entire second story. The jury’s still out on that one.

At the same time, I have to remind myself that my goals are not about having a perfect house, but around writing. Selling copies of my current book, starting the next draft of my screenplay adaptation, and then, when that’s done, editing my second women’s fiction novel. Of course, these days it’s not just about the writing. There’s a platform to maintain.

Along those lines, I’ve decided to kick off the new school year by making a big change – to the name of my blog. When I first began the blog, we had just moved in to our rental home in Treasure Island, Florida, and “My Year on Vacation” seemed apt, since we had a one-year lease. Now we’re Floridian home owners. We’re in this for good, crazy new flood insurance laws be damned.

So I need a new name for my blog, something about writing and Florida and reading and maybe my uninsurable German Shepherd, too. I’m looking for suggestions, and maybe next week I’ll ask you to vote.

Till then, if you haven’t bought my book, it’s right here!