Monday, March 31, 2014

Where to get your ideas, and what to do once you’ve gotten one

There’s a pivotal scene at the climax of the movie “Working Girl” where Melanie Griffith is trying to prove that Sigourney Weaver took credit for her proposal. When the big boss asks Sigourney where she got the idea, Sigourney’s character just shrugs and mumbles something about it being obvious. But Melanie Griffith’s character takes the boss step-by-step through her thinking process, and what’s obvious is the original idea was Melanie’s. Her character gets promoted while Sigourney’s is humiliated.

A dream scenario for screenwriters, who are constantly worried (and sometimes rightly so) about their ideas being stolen? Perhaps, but it’s also a reminder to writers in every medium to pay attention to the ongoing internal monologue in our heads. There’s gold in them there thoughts. It’s usually covered by a lot of sand, and you have to spend a good amount of time sifting it, but it’s there.

“Where do you get your ideas?” is a question that published writers are asked all the time, often by people who want to write and can’t seem to get started. Usually, though, the issue isn’t getting ideas. Wannabe writers often have one idea they’re dying to develop, or a sliver of one. They just don’t know how to open the door and grab the rest of it. Ironically, that’s not due to a dearth of ideas. It’s because there seem to be so many choices out there, how do you find the best one?

I believe there are three main ways ideas start to form: through character (protagonist), plot, or setting/subject matter. When I wrote KEEPING SCORE, the initial idea was setting/subject matter: I wanted to write about kids travel baseball. The novel I’m currently working on came to me as a character: a Democrat mom married to a Republican. And plots have arrived in my brain as well – the ghost who has to figure out what she needs to do to move on. (You could argue that’s a character, but I think the difference between character and plot is the latter comes with the challenge built in.)

Obviously, a story needs all three elements to work, but when the first one pops into your head, it’s a little easier to figure out the rest. My political couple needs to live in or near Washington, D.C. Their plot needs to be something to do with politics – maybe they end up working on competing campaigns? (That's not what I chose to do, but maybe I should have.)

With those three elements in place, the next major decision is genre (which is often impacted by the ending). My political couple could end up in a thriller – she discovers her candidate is involved with an enormous crime, for instance. (Again, not what I chose to do.) But I thought the dilemma of being married to someone whose politics were your polar opposite was funny, so I went with that.

If your characters are ordinary people, there are really only three choices of genre for you: straight drama, comedy, or mystery/thriller. (If your characters are young people, your writing will be considered YA or NA, but you still have those three choices.) If your characters or setting are magical, then you’ll be in the sci-fi/fantasy realm, which offers a plethora of subgenres.

If you’ve settled on an ending, your choice in genre should follow. Like we learned from Shakespeare, a comedy has a happy ending. A thriller climaxes with your protagonist’s life in jeopardy. And a drama has a “you win something, you lose something” conclusion. If my story were a drama, my protagonist might win the election but lose her husband. Or vice versa.

If you want to write but you don’t know your way in yet, following this steps should give you a few major points to work with. Next week, I’ll talk about the characters that every story needs, and why.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Arielle Immortal Awakening on Sale!

Lilian Roberts' steamy paranormal romance Arielle Immortal Awakening will be on a 99 cent sale starting tomorrow and ending on April 3rd. The sale is to help celebrate the launch of the sexy sequel, Arielle Immortal Seduction. Be sure to pick up both books, and mark your calendars for April 3 to 5, when another book in the series, Arielle Immortal Quickening, will be free for kindle!

Arielle Immortal Seduction Blurb
A time of waiting… Arielle Lloyd has found the love of her life, but his business as the owner of an international company calls him away. She longs for Sebastian, but stays busy with school, and finds comfort in spending time with her best friends, Gabby and Eva. It is during Sebastian’s absence that a stranger enters Arielle’s life at the university and threatens to shatter her joy with a vicious assault.

A time of renewal… The return of Sebastian Gaulle, Arielle’s Immortal love, brings a return of joy. Her terrifying experience has her rethinking her vow of remaining chaste until marriage. Arielle already knows Sebastian is the one man she will love for eternity. Sebastian has longed for Arielle, like no other. He has carried a ring in his pocket for her almost from the first moment they met. He’s only waiting for the right moment to pledge his eternal love for her.

A time of danger… But Sebastian’s past still threatens their future. A trio of jealous Immortal women has vowed Sebastian will belong to no other woman for centuries to come. Arielle, Sebastian, and their friends must join together to fight off the Immortals bent on utter destruction, if they are ever to find their eternal happiness.

Buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes

Arielle Immortal Awakening Blurb ($0.99 March 27 - April 3) A mortal soul… From the time college co-ed Arielle Lloyd had been young, she had been able to hear the thoughts and feel the pain of certain others, and those she comes to think of as her special group. One friend’s dabbling with spells and magic showed her the power of love that can endure beyond the grave. But another friend’s terrifying encounter with a warlock left Arielle wary of those who claim otherworldly powers. On holiday in the south of France, a chance encounter could change her mind. Or could cost her life.

An Immortal man… Sebastian Gaulle is the wealthy, handsome owner of an international company. He is also an Immortal. For five centuries he has sought the one soul who can fulfill his dreams of everlasting love. Then he meets Arielle, whose heart calls out to him like no other.

A timeless love… Sebastian has made his choice clear. But jealous Immortals from his past threaten retaliation. They have vowed to destroy any woman who becomes involved with him. In spite of the powerful protection amulet Sebastian gives Arielle, death stalks their newfound love. Their love may be eternal, but they may be running out of time.

Buy on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes

Arielle Immortal Quickening Blurb (free April 3-5)

A fatal night... College co-ed Arielle Lloyd is on vacation with her immortal love, Sebastian Gaulle, when they receive word of a dreadful accident. Her dear friend Gabrielle hovers near death. But it's much worse for her beloved friends, Eva and Ian. In spite of Eva's magical abilities, their lives are cut tragically short, leaving Troy the lone survivor.

An immortal choice... Troy Vasser's only love is Gabrielle, but on the night of the accident, his deepest concern is for their dying friends. When the life force within Ian and Eva flickered dangerously low, Troy had to make a hard choice. He could either let them die, or make them lose their humanity and live as immortals. So, he did the only thing he could: he gave them immortality. Now it is up to Arielle to break the news to Eva before the transformation is complete.

A quest for vengeance... Danger continues to stalk Arielle's life. Unknown to her, her new professor is an immortal, and he is furious when discovers that Arielle is wearing an amulet that should only be owned by immortals. Sebastian's nemesis, Annabel, has also not given on her quest to destroy Arielle. What Annabel doesn't realize is that Arielle's circle of friends drastically changed. There are two newly minted immortals that adore her and have vowed to protect her.

Download from Amazon

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Good Wife: Should Writers Write to Please Their Fans?

Last year I hired an editor to help me rewrite KEEPING SCORE. He made a lot of small suggestions, and one big one – change the ending. In the draft I sent him, my protagonist, Shannon, ended up alone. I didn’t think she had done the work yet to deserve getting together with her love interest. (Plus at the time I was thinking about a sequel.) My editor told me that I was writing in a genre in which the readers expected the happy ending, and it was my job to give it to them.

I listened. After all, readers equal sales, and you’re not going to have sales if you offer a product that doesn’t deliver what your audience wants.

This brings me to last night’s episode of The Good Wife. If you’re a fan and you haven’t watched, I’d tell you not to read any further, but since the news was all over the internet, you’ve probably heard. The Good Wife killed off Will Gardner, the male lead and the female protagonist’s on-again, off-again love interest since the show debuted five seasons ago. Josh Charles, the actor who played Will, had only a four-year contract and wanted time off to spend with his new wife. The show persuaded him to return for 15 episodes this season so they could send him out with a bang. Literally.

In the aftermath of last night’s episode, the creators have given interviews in which they discussed their options (sending Will to Seattle, like ER did when series star Julianna Margulies’ last love interest, George Clooney, left the show before she did – reuniting them at the end). They wanted to shake up the show in the most dramatic way possible. They wanted to show the suddenness of death. They were not interested in prolonging the Will/Alicia/Peter triangle – something they had said in previous interviews.

One thing they did not mention, however, was making their fans happy.

That is typical. It seems that no writer on earth – except maybe Veronica Mars’ creator Rob Thomas, who is thrilled that some critics of the new movie say it’s too geared to fans – wants to make their fans happy. Fans, apparently, only want their favorite couples in wedded bliss and having babies. We don’t get conflict. Writing for couples is boring. Etc. And The Good Wife was never intended to be about Will and Alicia. It’s about the education of Alicia Florrick. Just because season one ended on a cliffhanger about whether or not she got his voice mail professing his love for her, that doesn’t mean that their relationship is the backbone of the series. (Except that it was.)

Perhaps some writers think they’re cheating when they deliver that happy ending. It’s ironic, of course, because happy endings are the reasons we go through five or seven or nine years of TV – how many seasons did Friends fans put up with Ross and Rachel? We don’t get them in real life – not usually – so we fall in love with a couple, we root for them, we watch them make up and break up as long as the series goes on, and we expect to see them together at the end of the series finale.

Of course that’s not what gets critics talking; that’s not what wins awards. But the last time I checked, critics and awards don’t equal ratings. Fans do. And the number of fans is what makes the difference for a show staying on the air or getting canceled. Resurrection, a new show by ABC about people coming back from the dead (is that wish fulfillment or what) is beating The Good Wife in the ratings. A very competitive Sunday night, coupled with CBS constantly having to start the show late due to a sports program running past its time slot, means fans have lots of other programming options and often end up missing the show because it starts late. Killing off Will gives another huge reason not to watch.

Are writers who give fans what they want sell-outs? Are writers who don’t snobs? Both could be true. As for me, I want to sell my books, and I think if fans have certain expectations in certain genres, I have a better chance of selling if my stories meet those expectations.

And as for TV writers who roll their eyes about “shippers:” Here’s a simple solution. Don’t create potential couples that have enormous rooting value. If two people have an off-screen back story (maybe even a child), a current reason why they can’t be together, are in each other’s professional orbit, have great chemistry and conversation and long smoldering looks, hot kisses and then regrets, fall into bed only to realize they can’t be together again, and then try desperately to stay away from each other – guess what, fans are going to want them to be together. So either don’t do that, or if you do, please don’t kill one of them off.

It’s too late for Will and Alicia, but I hope the Nashville writers are reading this. <

Monday, March 17, 2014

Write what you love, and other bad advice

One of the first pieces of writing advice a new writer hears is, “Write what you love. Don’t worry about chasing trends.” And for a new writer, these are definitely wise words. Writing is hard enough when you’re just beginning, and working on a story and characters you’re not absolutely in love with makes it that much harder. Your first story should be one that you can’t stop thinking about, about characters that feel like your best friends, your family. It should be a true labor of love.

After that, though…. Writing is a job. It’s work. And the thing about work is, whether you love it or not, you still have to do it. If you want to be a traditionally published writer, you have to write stories that publishers can make money publishing. And even though self-publishing has really taken off in the past few years, eighty percent of self-published writers make less than a thousand dollars a year. (and so do 54% of traditionally published writers) So the solution is obvious (if not easy): You have to write the stories that sell. Not the stories you love … you CAN love them, and it’s certainly easier if you DO love them. But in order to make money as a writer, your love isn’t the most important part of the equation.

What I hate about the “write what you love” advice is the nasty subtext it carries: If you don’t love what you’re writing, it can’t be any good. Because you’re not a good-enough writer to create a compelling story in a genre you don’t love.

If that’s true, then perhaps professional, full-time writing isn’t the best career choice.

There was a time in my life when I did not love what I was writing, and I was successful anyway. I always wanted to write fiction, but in college I realized that no one hired you to write that great American novel, or even just a good one. I majored in public relations and began a series of jobs centered around writing. I spent my days writing about issues I didn’t really care much about. I tried to find ways to make these issues interesting and relevant to the media, by structuring them as Cinderella stories (everyone loves an underdog) or heroes’ journeys.

That was my job and I did it. At no point did I ever fall in love with a speech or an op-ed I was working on. But if I couldn’t make the writing shine, the piece wasn’t going to get published. And I got a lot of pieces published.

If you want writing to be your job, you have to accept that it’s work, and you’re not going to love everything about it.

Similar advice is given to young athletes (and their parents). In that case, they are asked, “Are you still having fun? Because if you’re not having fun, it’s not worth it.” Of course no child should be forced to play a sport they have no interest in, but the fact is, if a kid is talented enough, sooner or later he or she will reach a point where it’s not always fun. Where work is involved. Where the athlete is spending more time off the field preparing for the game than actually playing the game.

And this is the point – usually freshman year of high school – when those words “Don’t do it if you’re not having fun” reveal themselves for the dangerous mantra they are. Rather than encouraging a talented young person to keep it, they provide a way out. “Early-morning work-outs aren’t fun. Weight-lifting isn’t fun. Since I’m not having fun anymore, I should quit.”

Fulltime, professional working writers – like fulltime, professional working athletes – have the jobs that many of us dream about. But they don’t kid themselves about loving every aspect of it, or always having fun. They work out when they don’t feel like it. They set aside that idea in a genre no one’s buying. They listen to their agent, or their coach, or their publisher.

They don’t listen to those who say, “If you’re not having fun anymore, why are you doing it?”Like Nike said, they just do it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why, why, why so much YA?

Recently agents and editors tweeted their “wish lists” of projects they’d like to read. Using the hashtag #MSWL, many of them tweeted that they’d like to see YA. YA romance. YA horror. YA fantasy. YA sci-fi. Why, why, why so much YA?

YA is the hottest selling age group right now, and it’s not that teenagers are gobbling up books like PacMan gobbled pellets. Most teenagers, when not drowning in schoolwork, spend their free time on SnapChat or texting each other. No, the fact of the matter is that eighty percent of YA readers are over 18, with the largest segment being adults aged 30-44.


Honestly, I just don’t get it. I read books about high schoolers when I was in grade school. By the time I was in middle school, I was completely obsessed with Stephen King and other horror writers. While I watch a few TV shows starring snarky teenage females trying to save the world or at least their small corner of it, I read books about adults doing adult things. That’s because I’m an adult. Crises over first loves or best friends who turn into enemies don’t do it for me. The whole post-apocalyptic “only this teenage girl can save the world” thing – well, Stephen King did it really well in “The Stand,” and other versions just seem silly and and overdeveloped to me.

I would be content to accept this as just a matter of personal preference and skip over the various YA new releases in order to find new books on contemporary women’s fiction and horror, but the reading habits of American adults affect what publishers decide to print. So if few people are reading funny women’s fiction, publishers don’t want more books in that genre, and if you’re a reader who enjoys it or a writer who writes it, too bad. Go read about that teenage girl instead.

I don’t want to write YA, but when I look at agents’ wish lists and everyone is clamoring for it, I feel like I’m setting myself up for rejection by not writing what’s selling. (Yes, I know they tell you to write what you love, but that’s before you’ve actually written. Once you’ve written the story you’ve been dying to tell, they say, this is wonderful, but no one’s going to buy it.)

So please America … put down the latest Vampire Academy or Pretty Little Liars book. Turn away from the teenage girl who thinks she’s an alien. Yes, I know these books are shorter and provide an escape for a couple of hours. But you are killing the entire adult contemporary genre! You, yes, you! You don’t have to read “The Goldfinch” or the latest biography of some World War II general. But please…. You’re a grown-up now. You have grown-up problems and grown-up reactions. You have nothing in common with that teenage girl lusting after the motorcycle boy.

Pick up the latest Jennifer Weiner and help writers of funny women’s fiction get traditionally published.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Confession is Good for the Soul and the Writer

Last week I started the first major rewrite of my third novel, my women’s fiction book THE SEESAW EFFECT And even though I’ve been writing for my entire life and even though I’ve done extensive rewrites on at least 10 screenplays – not to mention the two novels preceding this one – I still find myself making the same mistakes over and over again. To purge myself, I thought I would confess my sins to the world, or at least the small, literary portion of the world that reads my blog. Here they are:

My male characters tend to be one-dimensional jerks. Not all of them, of course. The love interests are funny and kind and give my heroines space. But their ex-husbands or soon-to-be-ex-husbands are total louts. They ignore their children; they belittle my heroine; they whine; they blow their small problems out of proportion. This is an issue because it pulls the reader out of the story – no one can possibly be that bad! – and makes readers wonder why my heroine ever got together with such a creep in the first place. Perhaps this would be okay if I were writing satire, but I’m not. Not yet, anyway. Not completely. So during the rewrite, I need to soften the worst hard edges, give rational excuses for some of the behavior (work stress), and remember who my heroine fell in love with in the first place.

I take too long to get to the main point. I didn’t have this issue when I was writing screenplays – I was pretty disciplined about having my inciting incident happen on or about page 10 – but in novels, there seems to be so much more to say before putting in the complication that changes my heroine’s life. I was lucky enough that in KEEPING SCORE, Sam was asked to play on a baseball travel team right on page 10, the last page of chapter one. That seems to be the most logical place to put that incident. I have the set-up on page 5 for THE SEESAW EFFECT, but the actual event that changes my heroine’s life doesn’t happen till … gulp …. Page 50. I want to show every aspect of her life before it happens, but I know in my heart that fifty pages is too many. Now I understand why other novels begin their books with the inciting incident, and then flash back to show the days leading up to it. Maybe I’ll do that in the next draft.

I take too long to get to Act 2. On a similar note, while I was usually able to get to Act 2 around page 25 for my screenplays, (if you’re unfamiliar with screenplay structure, the inciting incident in Star Wars is when Obi-Wan asks Luke to come with him and train to be a Jedi. Act 2 starts after Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed, and Luke says yes.) I write way too many pages in between. In KEEPING SCORE, I know I should have skipped over the weeks between Sam joining the Cougars and when summer play actually began, but I had all those scenes where I wanted to show how Jennifer and Shannon were growing apart, along with Sam and Matthew. If I had to do it all over again… well, I’d probably do the same thing! Sometimes people really don’t learn from their mistakes.

Some of my funny scenes border on ridiculous. The editor I hired for KEEPING SCORE called them my “I Love Lucy” scenes. Well, I have a lot of friends who adore “I Love Lucy,” so originally I didn’t think they were a problem. In an early draft, I had Sam’s father David take a soccer ball to the abdomen and then act like he was dying as a result of a hernia. Hey, it was funny! But I realized it contributed to David being a completely unrealistic character and pulled readers out of the story. So, goodbye hospital bed in the living room. But I did keep the “I Love Lucy” scene with David and Shannon wheeling a sleeping kid out of their hotel room on a luggage cart. When editors talk about “killing your babies,” it’s these kind of tendencies they’re talking about.

I have characters and subplots that don’t go anywhere. Because I tend to toggle between “plotter” and “pantser” (I have a general outline for my main character, but I don’t plot out the subplots and supporting characters) this tends to be a huge problem in my first drafts. In THE SEESAW EFFECT, I have a wonderful supporting character, a stay-at-home mom who volunteers for DARE and searches all the kids coming into her house like she works for the TSA. It’s a great scene, but the scene and the character don’t go anywhere. I’m not ready to kill this baby yet… I just have to figure out how to better incorporate her in my heroine’s life. But if I can’t, she’s got to go. If you have a place for her in your novel, let me know. Her name is Gloria.

Anyone want to confess their recurring writer problems, and the solutions they’ve found? Please let me know in the comments section!