Thanks for having me as a guest on your awesome blog. I’d like to share a list I made for my own use and have modified for your readers. These are things I remind myself to do. Things I’m still learning. After all, the learning curve of a good writer is continual. Once we believe we know it all, we become stagnant.
TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNED ABOUT BEING A WRITER:
1. Create your characters from the inside out. What is your hero or heroine’s point of pain? Points of pain: we’ve all got them. Things that happened in our past, hurting us so badly that they now affect how we act and react to things. This trauma could be a result of childhood experiences, such as an abusive parent or the death of a sibling, or something that occurred a year ago in your heroine’s life. A cheating spouse, perhaps, or a miscarriage or injuries from an auto accident. We are the sum total of our experiences—good and bad. Your characters should be the same way. By doing so, you will truly know your characters. The last thing I decide on is occupation and physical appearance.
2. Stop editing your work as you write. Just fill the screen with the basics of the story.
3. Learn to write in layers. Once the story basics are down, go back and layer in movements, expressions, dialogue (verbal and internal), and emotions.
4. Learn to write without dialogue tags. If our mantra is SHOW, DON’T TELL, then there’s no room for them. Dialogue tags tell who is speaking. Action beats show. More importantly they can show the mood of the speaker, give visuals of body movements and subtly give clues as to the speaker’s personality or appearance. A quick example:
“I don’t like that woman,” Aunt Edith said.
Aunt Edith’s mouth worked as if she’d just sucked on a lemon. Her eyes narrowed, revealing more of the sky blue eye shadow she’d evidently applied with a spatula. “I don’t like that woman.”
5. Learn the value of internal dialogue. This craft element is great for adding a dash of humor or a sliver of fear. Written in first person, present tense and placed in italics, this element can add a vivacious layer to your writing, making it pop off the page. But, as with any good literary trope, it’s best used sparingly.
6. Nail down your GMC. If your characters don’t have GMC, you don’t have a story. I use a simple sentence for that. Character wants (GOAL), because (MOTIVATION), but (CONFLICT…here conflict is not necessarily an argument, but anything that keeps the pov character from attaining his/her goal).
Two examples: A teenager wants to return to Kansas (goal), because her beloved aunt is sick (motivation), but she needs the help of a powerful man to return home and she’s not sure how to find him (conflict). This is the GMC of “The Wizard of Oz.”
A young man wants to win the affections of a lovely young woman (goal), because she makes him feel things he’s never felt before (motivation), but their families are bitter enemies (conflict). Did you recognize the GMC of “Romeo and Juliet?”
7. Learn the power of point of view (pov). It’s more than whose head are we in, it’s the tool you use to draw your reader into the story. As writers, we have two goals. One, to tell a good story. Two, to pull our reader so deep into the action and emotions of our pov character that they don’t want to put down the book. Your story is a literary dream world you’re creating for your readers. Write it so they don’t want the dream to end.
8. To write great action, allow it to play out slow motion in your mind like a movie. Take notice of body movements—a jerk of a hand, a tensing of the lips, or the way a character walks. Pay attention to the tone of voice they use when speaking and learn to describe it in your action beats. Don’t say he yelled. Show his raised voice by his reddened face, or a pronounced blood vessel in his forehead or the anger in his eyes. Pay attention to the smells in the scene—bread baking, fresh flowers nearby, the briny odor of the harbor. What are the background sounds? Is a baby crying? A car out front with the bass thumping? An old pickup rumbling past? Experience the whole scene over and over in your mind.
9. Make your opening spectacular. Why? Many editors know from the first paragraph if they’ll want to contract the story. One paragraph, people! Yikes! One editor told me if she makes it to the bottom of page three before hitting the delete key, it’s an oddity. Ouch! Here’s the opening paragraph of my award-winning Storm’s Interlude:
Someone swaggered out of the moonlit night toward Rachel. Exhausted from a long day of driving, she braked and blinked. Either she was hallucinating or her sugar levels had plummeted. Maybe that accounted for the male mirage, albeit a very magnificent male mirage, trekking toward her. She peered once more into the hot July night at the image illuminated by her headlights. Sure enough, there he was, cresting the hill on foot—a naked man wearing nothing but a black cowboy hat, a pair of boots and a go-to-hell sneer.
10. Learn the value of networking with other writers. I’ve been blessed with online friendships of many lovely, lovely people. We share the joys of a contract, the excitement over book covers, and the angst of bad reviews. I’m certain I wouldn’t be where I’m at in my writing career if not for them. Always interact with kindness and positivity. You might be the person who stops another writer from giving up. We need each other. Truly.
11. I know I said ten, but I’m a romance writer, not a mathematician. All editors are not alike. What one editor hates, another allows. What one praises, another ignores. Editing can run the gamut from a few word changes to total chapter rewrites. I’ve had one editor who counted the pronouns in a paragraph.
Title: A Man for Annalee by Vonnie Davis
Bullets and Boots Series
Publisher: Still Moments Publishing
Genre: Historical, Romance, Suspense
Annalee Gallagher loses her parents, home and business in the Great Fire of Chicago. When she travels to Cicero Creek in the Wyoming Territory to start a new life, more heartache awaits her, so do the attentions of several men—for good and for evil. Why was her stagecoach attacked and was the shot that zinged over her head a few days later, a wild bullet or a bad aim?
Boone Hartwell, the marshal of Cicero Creek, suspects someone is out to kill the new spitfire in town. She amuses him and touches a lonely part of his soul, but can he keep her safe? More importantly, can a white man raised as Cheyenne win her heart? Can he rise above all her other suitors? For one thing is for certain in his determined mind: He’s the man for Annalee.
Gunfire jarred Annalee Gallagher. She straightened in her seat, her heart pounding. Another bullet zinged past the stagecoach, and the older couple sitting across from her gasped in unison. Heaven help her, she’d escaped one nightmare only to find herself in the middle of another.
The broad-shouldered man who’d been drowsing against her jerked upright and drew a pistol from his holster in a blur so fast Annalee wondered if he hadn’t been holding it all along.
He fired six shots out of the window before leaning back to reload. “Think I winged one.”
She didn’t know if he spoke to himself in affirmation or bragged to the occupants of the stagecoach.
One thing for sure, though, she wanted a look at the gunmen. Did they resemble the criminals in her dime novels? Surely one peek wouldn’t hurt. She leaned toward the open window next to her. Thus far her journey from Chicago to Cicero Creek, Wyoming, had been blessedly uneventful. She’d met none of the miscreants and bloodthirsty Indians written about in her books, so the thrill of living through a stagecoach robbery, like those in stories she’d read, warred with her sense of self-preservation.
If she’d had her wits about her, she’d be afraid, or so she told herself as she glanced out of the window, hoping to see the highwaymen. With her mind and heart so absorbed with grief this past week, this incident, no matter how perilous, was a welcome respite.
The gunmen were out of her line of vision, the pounding of their horses’ hooves growing closer. More shots rang out. The stagecoach driver cracked his whip and bellowed an order to the team of horses. “Hi-ya! Go! Go!” The stage swayed precariously as it accelerated over the bumpy road. Gritty dust blew into the coach with such force the air seemed alive with it.
She flinched as the coach’s jarring motion caused her burns to throb. Having just survived the devastation of the great fire in Chicago—a tragedy that snuffed out three-hundred lives and destroyed nearly one-third of the city—she didn’t think anything would ever frighten her again. She was wrong.
Still, wanting to get one good look at the shooters, Annalee stuck her head out of the stagecoach window. A rider came into view. Before she could duck back inside, he raised his rifle and fired, shooting off her new traveling bonnet.
Heart racing, Annalee plopped back onto her seat. “He shot off my hat!” Her voice rippled with astonishment and fury. Her trembling hands touched her scalp, and she prayed she’d feel hair. She breathed a sigh of relief when her gloved hands showed no blood.
“What did you expect after sticking your head out like that?” The man beside her fired off another shot.
“You made a target of yourself.” He quickly reloaded his revolver, muttering under his breath before redirecting his attention to the shooters. “Just my luck to be sharing a seat with a lunatic.”
Annalee’s eyes opened wide and then narrowed. How dare he talk to me as if I have no sense. And after I’ve been shot at, too!
The wide-eyed elderly couple in the opposite seat watched her as if she were as unbalanced as Granny’s one-legged goose.
“That was the last hat my momma helped me make.” Her inane remark was a feeble attempt at explaining her behavior. She stuck her head out of the window once more, shaking her fist at the approaching gunmen.
A steely hand yanked her back inside. “Do you want your fool head blown off?”
Before she could utter a pithy reply, he shoved her head to her lap, leaned over her, and fired several shots out of her window. Pain from the weight of his body against her burns made her gasp. She’d have asked the clabber-headed fool why it was seemingly fine and dandy for him to stick his head out of the window, but with her face pressed against her black wool skirt, talking was futile.
The pain from her burns was unbearable. Between her corset rubbing them and now this man’s elbow, she could barely catch her breath. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes, and she willed them away. She would not allow this man, whoever he was, to see her cry.
He slithered over her to gain a better viewpoint. Nearly out of her mind with pain, she inched her way from under him. Just then, the stage jostled and lurched over a series of ruts, causing both her and her tormentor to fall off the seat.
Stars burst in her eyes. It felt as if the burnt skin were being peeled from her. Screams and grunts filled the cabin. Sweet heaven, the pain. If she could get her hands on this man’s gun, she’d shoot him herself. She grabbed his revolver, fighting for control. “Get off of me or give me that gun,” she ordered through clenched jaws.
In the midst of their struggle and the flurry of their grappling hands, the gun fired.
“I’ve been hit!” The driver yelled in obvious pain. “Boone! Boone, you gotta take the reins.”
They glared at each other with shocked expressions.
“See what you did?”
“Me?” Annalee’s voice squeaked.
Follow Vonnie on Twitter (@VonnieWrites) and leave a comment on this post for your entry into a contest for a digital copy of A Man for Annalee.