Christina Cole Romance

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Make a Mess!

Creativity

I say these words over and over because they’re so very true. I don’t recall the source, but I do remember when I first heard them. I was sitting on the living room floor, surrounded by a mess of papers, drawings, art supplies, books, and snacks as I worked on a project. Yes, creative people make big messes.

It was then as I began the “cleaning up” process that I fully understood this little saying. As I sorted through ideas and inspirations — keeping some and discarding others — my mess turned into a completed project.

I approach fiction from this perspective, too. I make a huge mess with story ideas all over the place. I scribble notes on odd scraps of paper. I grab research books to keep close at hand. Putting a story together does get very messy indeed.

For what it’s worth, my current project — The Sheriff Wore Skirts — is a disastrous mess at the moment. Even though I began with a synopsis for the publisher, now that I’m working on the story, I’m seeing new possibilities. New characters are emerging. New complications and conflicts are happening.

What do I do?  I let it happen. It’s wondrous fun.

To me, it’s much like working a jigsaw puzzle…only first, I have to create all the pieces.

I won’t use them all. As with any creative project, I’ll find myself throwing away things that aren’t needed, sorting out what’s right for the story, getting rid of ideas that don’t fit. Gradually, the mess will be picked up. The research books will go back on the shelf. The little scraps of paper will be tossed aside. A finished manuscript will come together, ready to go to the publisher.

Don’t ever get discouraged when your creative efforts result in a huge mess. That’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s a process, and making a mess — the bigger, the better — is the first step toward success. Celebrate all the mixed-up, confused ideas. Scatter the pieces of your own puzzle around so you can look at them from different angles. Pick things up and play with them. Enjoy the mess!

Then begin the cleaning-up process. Throw away or set aside things you know you don’t need. Find what’s most important and build around it. Add in possibilities that might work. Discard ones that don’t work.

Slowly and surely, as you clean up the mess — whether it’s an art project, a poem you’re writing, a recipe you’re cooking, or any other endeavor — you’ll see a beautiful creation shining through.

 

 


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Back to School? Already?

the-3-rsIt’s only August! Mid-August, in fact. Yet already schools are open and students are boarding buses each morning, heading off to learn “readin’, ritin’, and ‘rithmetic”. Although, to my mind, it’s still a bit too early — when I grew up, school never started until after Labor Day — I do look forward to the beginning of each new school year.

I’ve always loved walking into stores and seeing school supplies lined up. Oh, the notebooks, pencils, and pens! The colorful binders and folders!

Yes, I was one of those “nerdy” kids who loved school. Of course, back in the day, we weren’t called nerds or geeks.  I always got excited to think of all the new discoveries I would make and all I would learn over the coming year.

I still get excited by learning, and that’s why the end of summer and the beginning of school always thrills me. As autumn arrives — officially — and the air grows cool and the leaves turn colors, my excitement will continue to grow.

For me, this time of year is a signal to settle down, get into a regular routine, and turn my mind and attention to what I most enjoy doing — writing.  With that “back to school” attitude in my head and that same excitement in my heart, I can come into MLWR (my little writing room) each day with a burst of enthusiasm.

What can I learn today about fiction-writing and story-telling? What new possibilities will I discover as I’m putting scenes together? What ideas might suddenly come along?

My current project is The Sheriff Wore Skirts —another title in the “Sunset Series”. These are stories of life and love in the old west, with an ever-growing cast of characters who’ve become near and dear to my heart. At present, the manuscript is about 34,000 words, so there’s still much to be done before the story goes to the publisher in November.

Here’s a short little “tease” from the opening of The Sheriff Wore Skirts:

How long did a broken heart last? Nearly a month had passed since Sheriff Caleb Bryant’s best girl Molly had run off with another man – his former deputy, Hank Goddard – and his heart hadn’t yet begun to heal. Now, Hank and Molly were home again in Sunset.

Worse still, she was standing right in front of him.

Even though this is the project I’m actively involved with, it’s not the only project I have “in the works”. As a writer, I always have dozens of ideas lurking around, and that’s where all those colorful binders and organizational folders come in very handy.

The key to writing a novel is keeping it organized. There’s a great deal of information a writer needs, even if it doesn’t all go into the story. There’s research information, details about characters — their appearance, their background, their goals, their motivations — and there’s various settings we have to keep in mind. Writers often create timelines of events, of course, or outlines of a story’s scenes. As a writer of historical fiction, I also keep calendars from the years a story takes place so I know for certain what day of the week things are happening. For what it’s worth, I always check the moon phases, too, so if you’re reading about a gorgeous full moon as my lovers stroll hand in hand, you can be sure it really was full that particular long-ago night.

In the same way as a novel needs organization — a binder is great for this — future ideas also need some sort of order. I keep a stack of folders nearby, and when new ideas come to mind, or when I suddenly “hear” or “see” a scene from a new story, I can quickly jot down my thoughts and file them away.

So, what it all means is that this week, I’ll probably be stocking up on “school supplies” — even if I now call them “writing supplies”. I’ll be doing a lot of “readin’ and ‘ritin'” and even a bit of “rithmetic” as I keep my characters’ biographies up to date. Let’s see, just how old is little Kitty Barron now?

Oh, is that a school bell I hear? Guess that means it’s time to begin my day. Readers are waiting for the next book. Time for me get busy.

Thanks for visiting today!

Which of the “Sunset” books is your favorite?

 


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Blurb Blurb

pink-divider-no-background-hi

She helped to save his life.

In return, he taught her how to live.

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At the moment, that’s the “short blurb” I’ve come up with for No Regrets, the fourth book of my “Sunset Series”.  I’ll be wrapping up the story this week and sending it off to the publisher…who will, in turn, send it on to my editor.

Part of the process includes “blurb-writing” — which is a task many authors dread. Count me among them. Blurb-writing is harder than novel-writing!

First, there are several different kinds of book “blurbs”.

  • There’s the front cover, or “short” blurb — which is what the little blurb above will be.
  • Next, there’s the back cover blurb — a bit of story summary, but also a bit of a tease, a way of giving readers enough information without giving away too much information.  A good back cover blurb tells you a little about the characters and their conflicts.
  • Finally, there’s the promotional blurb — sort of a cross between the front blurb and the back blurb. It tells a little more than the short blurb, but not as much as the back cover summary. It won’t be published with the story, but it comes in handy for advertising and promotional purposes.

Now, over the next few days, I’ll have to come up with the perfect “back cover” blurb, and when I do, I’ll post it here on the blog so you can give me your opinions on it.  Be watching for it!

opinionThank you for dropping by today.

You’re always welcome to share your opinions.

DID YOU KNOW: The word “blurb” was coined in 1907 by American humorist, Gellett Burgess. Source: The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English language. 


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Putting Emotions on the Page

There are two types of writers, or so I’ve been told. One is the objective writer. He – or she — skillfully captures the actions taking place within the environment, delivering a picture so clear that readers can easily see all that’s happening.  Objective writers are direct, to the point, and hard-hitting in the vision of the world they present.

Subjective writers, on the other hand, grab readers by the emotions and don’t let go. They force readers to feel their way through a story rather than observe it. What happens in the lives of the characters also happens — at an emotional level — in the hearts of the readers.

If you’ve read any of my stories, you’ll already know that I’m a highly subjective writer. Although I try to capture the sights and faithfully show the movements and physical aspects of my characters and the settings, my strong suit is getting myself so deeply immersed in their heads that their thoughts and feelings naturally come pouring out — sometimes in ways that surprise me.

I consider myself very fortunate to be a subjective writer. It’s easier, I’ve heard, for a subjective author to learn the techniques involved in writing from an objective point of view. Objective writers, however, often struggle to “add” emotions onto the page. And there’s the rub. Emotions aren’t something that can be added in later. They can’t be layered onto a story. Either they’re there, or they’re not.

Where do emotions come from? How do we draw them out and put them on the page?

This is related to that oft-repeated advice to “show, don’t tell.” Yet how, precisely, do you show a quality as intangible and incomprehensible as an emotion?

Body language is often touted as a ideal way to show emotion. Yes, it’s important. If a character is feeling down-hearted, we need to see those sagging shoulders, the slow, shuffling steps, the pinched facial features that reveal the emotions. We’re still approaching it from an objective point of view, though. We’re using our heads to rationalize how an emotion looks.

How do we move beyond that point and use our hearts instead? How do we give readers the subjective experience that allows them to feel the emotions themselves? What tricks can we use to make readers laugh, cry, or slam doors in anger along with our characters?

First, we have to understand where emotions come from.

I remember back to Psychology 101, many years ago. I really didn’t agree with a lot of what I was taught about emotions. It sounded so backward!

GrizzlyHere’s the example I recall: You see a bear and immediately become frightened. Sounds about right, don’t you think? Well, maybe. But, a two-year old child sees the same bear and laughs. The difference of course, is that YOU know the bear is dangerous. YOU know you “should” be frightened. The child doesn’t have that same awareness. In other words, you had to think before you felt. Or, as it was explained in that textbook, thought precedes emotion.

I’ve lived long enough now and have learned enough about life to realize that this is fairly close to the truth. It’s not, of course, the whole picture. It’s not only our thoughts but our perspectives, our beliefs, our circumstances, and the context of our lives that shape our emotional responses to the world around us.

This, then, is the key to getting emotions onto the page. First, we have to know our characters, and we have to understand their beliefs, their desires, and especially their motivations — a handy word which is closely related to emotion — in order to sense what they are thinking and feeling.

Here’s a short little excerpt from Keeping Faith which illustrates the importance of who the character is and how his perspective on life shapes his emotions. Tom Henderson has returned to the dilapidated old homestead where he was raised. With him is a friend, Caleb Bryant.

“No point thinking about things you can’t have.”

“Who says you can’t have them?” Caleb asked.

Tom’s head jerked up. For as long as he could remember, he’d been told he’d never amount to a hill of beans, that he’d end up swinging from some noose, or rotting away in some jail. He was a bastard. Worse still, a whore’s bastard. Nobody had use for that sort of man.

But Caleb didn’t see him that way. Caleb, by God, was damned stupid enough to think every man deserved a chance to make something of himself. And why the hell not?

Tom wished with all his heart that he could have all the things he’d been denied as a child. Not the material things. Those things didn’t matter. What he wanted were the intangibles. The love. The respect. The laughter, the kindness, the happiness, the joy. He’d never known any of those things before, and now Caleb said he could get whatever he wanted?

Damn, but what did he know that Tom didn’t?

He was going to listen. He was going to learn.

And nobody would ever put Tom Henderson down again.

Can you feel Tom’s emotions? I haven’t named them, but can you feel the first stirrings of hope? Can you sense his sudden awareness of new possibilities in his life? Can you experience the same quiet determination that Tom feels?

Here’s another little excerpt from the same story. In this snippet, Tom’s just learned that his sister Sally died in childbirth, leaving behind a precious little girl. He’s holding the baby for the first time.

“Please, Mr. Henderson. It’s plain to see that you’ve got no way to provide for your niece. I suppose I should have taken time to make the trip on my own to assess the conditions, but I was hopeful you’d be in a position to take her. Optimism is one of my weaknesses, I daresay.”

She didn’t look too optimistic in Tom’s eyes. He couldn’t imagine her ever having a positive outlook about anything.

But this child! She needed hope. She deserved bright blue skies and sunny days. She deserved butterflies and flowers, and the sweet promise of spring. Not some strait-laced, tightly-corseted old biddy who thought of her as nothing more than baby girl.

Tom looked down at the tiny bundle he held in his arms. So tiny, yet so perfect. He marveled over the little fingers, touching each one by one. When the baby’s hand closed around his big thumb, he felt a tugging at his heart so real, so undeniable, he suddenly couldn’t find his breath.

“Excuse me, Mr. Henderson.” Edith Christensen’s nasally voice grated on Tom’s nerves. “I have to leave now. It’s a long trip back to Denver. You need to give me the child.”

“Not yet, ma’am. She’s my niece. I want a little time with her.” He stroked one soft, pink cheek and was rewarded with a gurgling, cooing smile. “She likes me,” he said, glancing toward Lucille.

And he liked her. No, he loved her. This precious life wrapped in a thick gray blanket was kin. Not his own child, but a child who shared his blood, all the same. She was Sally’s daughter, and Sally was gone now. This sweet, nameless angel was all that was left to him of his sister’s kindness, her goodness, her own innocence.

He wished he could have taken better care of Sally, could have helped her and given her all she needed, but he’d failed her. Too young, too mixed-up, and too bitter about his own life, Tom hadn’t been able to save Sally from the wretched evils of their childhood.

But he’d damned sure save this baby.

“I’m not giving her back,” he said in a quiet voice. “I’m going to keep her.”

Again, can you share Tom’s emotions here? Many readers have commented on the emotions within this story. Those emotions come through because we know who Tom is, we know his beliefs about himself and his place in the world, and we know his heart.

That’s the secret. Take what’s in the heart and use it as a way of understanding the thoughts inside the character’s head. Together they become a powerful combination that creates emotions readers can share.

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Thanks for visiting today!

If you’d like to read more, Keeping Faith is available from Amazon and other on-line booksellers. You can purchase it in both e-book and paperback format.


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Listen!

I saw a memorable little quote earlier while browsing around.

Listen

 

 

If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll do, of course, is glance at the letters and see that it’s true. Both words do, indeed, share the same six letters.  The second thing you might do is reflect for a moment on how important it is to remain SILENT and LISTEN to what others are saying.

Most of us, I’ve been told, don’t really listen to what others are saying because we’re too busy thinking about what we’re going to say next. I know from my own experience, that’s very true.

Learning to listen is a valuable skill for any individual in any field. It’s especially critical for authors who hope to create “realistic” dialogue. But…keep in mind, there’s a big difference between “realistic” and “real”.

The dialogue we write, the words we put into the mouths of our characters, serves many different purposes. It should move the story forward, provide information, show conflict, and reveal aspects of a character’s personality. Dialogue can also be used to establish setting, and to give insight into motivation. When contrasted with a character’s thoughts, dialogue can show hidden conflicts that will keep a reader turning the pages.

What dialogue shouldn’t do in a novel is waste the reader’s time. Yes, our real life speech is filled with meaningless garble, routine “how-do-you-do’s”, idle filler, and small talk.  Exchanging pleasantries is part of the human experience when we meet, greet, and interact with others. We don’t need all the pleasantries in fiction-writing, though.

An excellent tip for writing dialogue is to READ IT ALOUD. Better yet, ask someone else to READ IT ALOUD to you while you keep silent and listen. 

As you go about your day today, make it a point to listen to conversations around you. Notice the different qualities of speech, the tone of voice, the tempo, the rhythm. Describe the voices you hear. Are they harsh? Nervous? Authoritative?  Consider the differences you hear in vocabulary, speech patterns, and grammar.  What about the speaker’s attitude? How is that reflected in the words they speak?

An excellent writing exercise is to sit down at your desk at the end of the day and create a fictionalized account of a conversation you had with someone. Can you re-create their way of speaking and give them a truly distinct voice?

The ability to write good dialogue is a skill that can be developed. It begins with listening.