Before You Write: Study What You Love

Recently, I’ve talked about avoiding writer’s block through plot outlines and then I told you a good way to make a plot outline.  Now I’m taking a step backward.  Well, a lot farther backward, before the plot outline.  You’re thinking of a book you want to write.  Maybe you’ve got a character in mind or just the conflict. Maybe you know only that you want to write a book in a specific genre such as a space opera or a Colonial American historical romance.

The point is: You’re in the planning stage.

You’re still figuring out who the characters are.  Why they are going on this journey?  Why do they care at all?

I’ve started toying with a new idea for a story, and I already know that it’s going to have a very long planning phase.  I’m going to create pages of character sketches, world essays and notes, and even more character backstory notes before I even start writing the book.

As I’m creating my characters and the world they will inhabit, I’m also going to take some time to dissect some of the stories and characters I’ve come to love during the past several years.  The point isn’t to replicate something else someone has done well but to understand why it worked, why it reached the audience, why you loved it in the first place.  Is there something you can learn from someone else’s success that you can apply to your own work?

Let’s look at a couple examples very quickly.

The Doctor

A few months ago, some friends introduced me to Doctor Who. After the first couple episodes, I thought it was cute and okay.  By the end of the first season, I was absolutely addicted. I’ve spent an insane amount of time crying at the episodes and the other small part of the time cheering.  They are full of whimsy and strangeness, where the unexpected regularly happens.

I’ve spent an insane amount of time trying to figure out why I love the series.  The stories are good, but not ground breaking.  All the characters are interesting.  I think it comes down to one thing.

  1. Whimsy vs. Profound

The writers of the plots have established an amazing balance when writing their scripts.  For the most part, the vast majority of the scripts and actions are exciting and whimsical.  Even when the characters are running for their lives, they maintain a happy sense of adventure.  But it all can’t be a carefree lark.  No, there must be the deep, profound moments, but they are used sparingly so that they don’t lose their impact.

If the script has 200 lines, then only 2 lines are deep and profound.  Sure, the Doctor can go on a rant about what is really important, but do you want to hear a rant?  How about 2 lines of earthshattering statement back-up with an action?  Which has a greater, more memorable impact on the viewer?

In one instance, the world we know has come apart in the most terrible way and a tearful Donna, a companion of the Doctor, is explaining how unimportant she is in the grand scheme of things.  It comes back to her almost constant refrain, “I’m just a temp.”

But Rose needs to say only one thing to reach the viewer. “Donna, you are the most important woman in the entire universe.”

And you cheer!  Why? Because that simple statement was matched with an action – the entire universe coming apart because of one very small decision Donna makes.  She is the most important woman in the entire universe.

Another moment, and possibly my most favorite:

“I’m burning up a star just to say good-bye to you.”

The Doctor loses someone dear to him, but he stubbornly won’t say those magical three words.  No, he manages to do and say something even better.  A man who treasures the beauty and life in all the universe destroys a star just to reach out to one person.  What’s more, for the rest of his life, you see him react when he hears of this woman, as if he is constantly reaching out and searching for a way to get her back.

Lesson learned: Instead of a rant or multiple rants, can you pare your key emotional or intellectual entreaty down to a paragraph?  Now, cut it down to 2 lines.  Or maybe just 1.  Now marry that 1-2 lines to an action.

Guardians of the Galaxy

I won’t say too much about this one because I don’t want to give anything away if you haven’t see the movie yet.  I have actually seen it twice and I’m ready to go back again.  The storytelling followed a tried and true formula – that I will take apart on another day – that works very well.  What I want to focus on is the main character, the hero Peter Quill, Starlord.

I think what I liked about this hero is that he was unexpected in many ways.  Sure, he starts as the classic anti-hero, but in a lighter, less jaded version.  He was rough around the edges, but without being hard and cold.  There are 2 great words to describe this character:



Yes, they story is set in space and involves aliens, magical powers, and galaxies far, far away, but this main character remains easily relate-able through the entire story, making the viewer willing to follow him on this journey – even if you don’t understand what’s going on the whole time.

And being vulnerable, you understand his reluctance.  You understand his mistakes and bad decisions.  And in the end, you cheer when he learns, grows, and makes the right decisions.

Lesson learned: Your main character needs to be relate-able.  The reader needs to be able to see himself/herself in their shoes.  They will feel the character’s pain and joy.  They will follow your character into the dark woods, deep space, or down into the unlit basement.

Will I be able to easily work these lessons I’ve learned from two of my favorite shows into my next book?  I don’t know.  I certainly hope so.  These are the types of things that I’ll be keeping in the back of my mind as I write.

If you’re looking for some more awesome tips, check out these 22 Rules of Storytelling from Pixar.

Are Romance Novels a Bad Influence?

I was chatting with a friend recently and the subject of romance novels came up.  She asked whether I thought that romance novels were a bad influence on women and their expectations of finding a mate and love in general.  Now, my friend wasn’t being sarcastic or snarky.  She genuinely wanted to know my thoughts on the subject.  Heaven knows there’s been plenty in the press about the fact that romance novels are bad for a woman’s psyche.

Simply put, I think it’s a load of crap.

Now, I know I can’t leave it at that, so let me tell you why.

My argument makes one grand assumption – women are intelligent, logical, thinking creatures and they can intelligently, logically assess the world they live in and create relatively accurate expectations.

If you know a female that doesn’t fit that assumption, then maybe… my belief won’t apply, but let’s continue based on that assumption.

Romance novels are a great escape from the sometimes harsh, brutal, hard world that we live in.  On a day-to-day basis, we deal with bills, chores, deadlines, confrontation, disappointments, sickness, pain, sorrow — and that’s all before we get out the front door each day.  You turn on the news and you find people being bombs, displaced, murdered, evicted, and more.

The human psyche can tolerate only so much of that for so long.  There comes a point where you need to step away from reality and find a center of peace.  For a few hours, you need to get lost in someone else’s problems and joys.  Romance novels help with that.  (Funny enough, it can work the same way with urban fantasy, science-fiction, and fantasy novels.)

When we close a good book, we might give a little sigh and think it’s a damn shame that the world isn’t overrun with hot cowboys looking for love or sexy billionaires who are dying to  fly us off to Paris where they will propose before the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.  We understand that we haven’t invented the time machine yet that can take us back to a world of domineering yet sexy Scots in kilts or British Dukes looking for a bride that can help melt their cold heart.

After three years of marriage and years of romance novels, I think, if anything, I’m more attuned to romantic gestures now than if I hadn’t read romance novels.  In our go-go world of nonstop obligations and deadlines, it’s hard for two people to be romantic.  I fear that some of the impulsiveness is sucked out of the romance when you have to put it on a calendar.

I know that romance can’t always be these grand gestures that light up the sky and cost thousands of dollars.  Who has the money for that? I need new tires for my car!  No, romance is the small gesture.  It’s the proof that the person you love is paying attention when you randomly comment that you like or need something.  It’s considering the other’s person’s needs and planning for them.

My husband is the king of the small gesture.  Knowing that I was in for a rough day at work, he surprised me when I got home with Jell-O because he’d knew it would make me smile.  He’s danced with me in the aisle at Home Depot because one of my favorite songs was playing over their speaker system. And he wins me little stuffed animals from the claw machines.

I don’t need Paris.  I’ve got a man who doesn’t need to be asked to put his dirty clothes in the hamper.  I don’t need diamonds.   I’ve got a man who doesn’t complain about cleaning out the kitty litter box.

Romance novels don’t give me unrealistic expectations.  They give me escape and remind me that no matter how dark the world get, there’s still hope because humans can love.

And to cover all my bases: urban fantasy novels don’t make me wish I was a vampire. Fantasy novels don’t make me wish I had a dragon or that I will one day develop magical powers.  Science-fiction novels don’t make me long for a spaceship. And video games don’t make me violent.

So… if the world has gotten to you, go read a good book. You’ve earned a break. Just remember to take the time to appreciate the good things you’ve got in your life. Be smart.

Sunday hat

Wandering Through Hidden London

Every once in a while, I need a break from vampires and warlocks.  Sometimes, I need to slip back in time of waltzing and fancy dresses and strict social rules.  Historical romanceIt might sound stuffy to some, but it just means you need to be a little creative when it comes to things like murder, betrayal, lost treasures, and abandoned babies.  Oh, you can have so much fun in Victorian England.  Especially Hidden London.

During one of my breaks from the realm of urban fantasy, I wandered around the dark, hidden side of London (writing as Joy Douglass) with a pair of characters named Cathryn and Drake.  They were a lot of fun.  I’ve always loved stories about love delayed.  Drake had to wait so long for Cathryn to finally be open to love after her heart was broken.  But when she was finally ready…

And with Drake and Cathryn’s story called Stolen Kisses at Midnight, you get to meet Hunter Beckett, a reclusive Egyptologist who has a few secrets of his own.

Then once I met Hunter, I absolutely had to write about what was going on his life.

historical romance, Joy Douglass, Jocelynn Drake, Hidden LondonIn the first full-length book of the Hidden London series, What a Lady Treasures, you meet Charlotte Worthington upon her return to England after a long trip abroad.  Yet, that first night, Charlotte finds a baby on her doorstep and a driving need to find the poor woman who is on the run.  But finding the mother of the child isn’t as easy as Charlotte had hoped.  The more she researches, the more she find that there is possibly a much larger conspiracy afoot involving a series of murders and a lost Egyptian treasure.

Along that road, she discovers that she needs Hunter Beckett.  Unfortunately, Hunter had a plan of his own.

If you haven’t taken a chance on Hunter and Charlotte yet, I’ve got the novel on sale for the next few days for only $0.99 on Kindle.

I am still working on the next book, Dancing with a Devil.  The story features Archer, who is a friend of Drake and Hunter.  He appears for the first time in Hunter’s book, What a Lady Treasures, when he helps his friend out. Trust me, he was disappointed he didn’t get to lend a hand with Drake and Cathryn.  Archer has proven to be somewhat … difficult.  He’s not the nicest, most considerate man.  His motive are pretty darn devious.  But I’m happy to report that the man has met his match with Megan.  Would you like to read a snippet of Dancing with a Devil?

Click here to read the first chapter.

My goal is to release Dancing with a Devil in the fall.  To get ready, snatch up What a Lady Treasures while it’s on sale and don’t forget the novella, Stolen Kisses at Midnight. Come wander through Hidden London with me.


7 More Romance Authors from My Keeper Shelf

Last week, I post a list of 10 Romance Novels from My Keeper Shelf, and was forced to limit myself to only those books that fall in the historical or contemporary romance categories.  Unfortunately, that left several of my favorite romance authors out in the cold.

This week, I thought I would list some of my favorite romance authors who write in the other subgenres of romance, such as paranormal, science-fiction, and post-apocalyptic/dystopian.  I also didn’t limit myself to just a novel, but listed the romance authors, because in all cases, I am reading their books as part of a series.  If the romance author made the list, it means that I’ve loved the entire series (or at least as far as I’ve read so far).  No, I haven’t read every book in series listed below, but only because I’ve been short on time.

7 Romance Authors You Must Read

These romance authors are in no particular order because I simply can’t and won’t choose a favorite among them.

Kerrelyn Sparks – Love at Stake series

Is it any surprise that I love vampires considering that I’ve written the Dark Days series?  I love the angst and humor of the good vamps in Kerrelyn’s series.  I was lucky enough to the first book in the series, How to Marry a Millionaire Vampire, years ago when I was at a conference and I treasure that signed book.  It was a kickstart to a wonderful love affair. The sixteenth book is due out this December and there are several short stories you can try as well.

Christine Feehan – the Dark series

This is another vampire series.  It is also referred to the Carpathian series.  This series is quite bit darker than some of the other series that I have read.  I believe Ms. Feehan is now on book 26 for the series and I think I’ve only read half of them, but I do love these books.  They’re dark and brooding and full of danger.

Lynsay Sands – Argeneau series

Are you longing for a totally different kind of vampire?  Lynsay Sands has what you’re looking for.  They aren’t cursed or the living dead.  No, they are simply humans who happen to come from the fallen city of Atlantis and are filled with tiny nanos that keep them in perfect physical health. I love this twist on an old trope and the books are overflowing with humor.  If you need a break from the dark and brooding, try an Argeneau book.  The 21st book comes out in February.

Pamela Palmer – Feral Warriors series

Not in the mood for more vampires?  How about some sexy shifters?  I fell in love with Pamela Palmer’s Feral Warriors series.  The men are definitely rough around the edges, but can be very sweet when they finally unbend just a little bit.  There is some great, edge of your seat action.  I think it is important that you read these books in order, unlike the previous books listed above.  There are eight books to the series with the potential for more.

J.R. Ward – The Black Dagger Brotherhood

Dark and gritty, the series is beautifully written and so much fun.  The brothers are great to watch fighting and interacting with each other.  They are also rough around the edges but incredibly sweet and protective of those they love.  There are 13 books at that moment and I am trying to find the time to catch up!

Dani Worth – The Kithran Regenesis

Leaving vampires and shifters behind, I would have been the first to announce that I didn’t think you could to a romantic space opera.  I was wrong.  I love the idea of shooting through space and finding romance.  Science and technology and aliens and love.  Yep, it can be done and it can be fun.  These are very sexy books so they might not be for everyone but if you’re willing to give something a little different a try, I suggest these books.  Dani Worth also has a post-apocalyptic romance series that I’m getting into as well – The Crux Survivors.

Cheryl Brooks – The Cat Star

I can remember exactly how I discovered this series.  I was relaxing in my room while at a book conference and I needed something to read.  I grabbed the first book on a pile that I’d been given free – it was Slave.  While I didn’t love the title and I was praying that it wasn’t a bondage book (because those aren’t my style), I started to reading a space adventure about a planet that was destroyed, a man rescued from slavery and a woman on a mission to locate her kidnapped sister.  I got hooked.  The writing is fun and the stories are interesting.  Once again, I’ve found a space opera romance that I like.

Those are some of my favorite romance authors.  If you needed something to read, I think you’ve got a killer list above.  By my count, that’s  more than 80 novels and short stories waiting for you to discover.

Also, if you have any suggestions for me and readers, please leave a comment! I am looking for more space romance books, in particular, but I’d love some more paranormal romance too.