Saturday, November 19, 2016

Don't Waste Your Words by Victoria Chatham



To summarize for the round-robin topic: How does wording choice develop a story's character? How do you use and select your words?

I suspect all authors have had those wonderful moments of pure inspiration. That brilliant phrase that jolts you awake at 3 a.m. a line of dialogue sparkling with wit or characters so real you can feel them. You write as fast as you can to transcribe the images into words on the page. But what words do you use?

My word usage depends very much not only on the characters themselves but in what period I have set them. Contemporary settings require the use of very different words to those I would use in a historical setting. When I build a character, I consider what their family was like and what education they received, whether formal or not. Is my character a 19th century Lord or Lady? Or is he a cowboy? Two sets of characters but requiring totally different words to describe them. The skill here is to pick the right words and only constant practice can serve, both from reading and extending your own vocabulary as you read.

We all know the devil is in the details, especially if you do not want a one-dimensional character. Picking a detail and embellishing it to paint a word picture takes time and balance. In my first ever attempt at a romance novel, a contemporary set in England, I wrote that ‘rain fell on London like a dirty sheet’. However, my critique partner pointed out that a dirty sheet was hardly romantic.

The same applied to ‘sunshine slid down the wall like melting butter’. My critiquer’s comment? Ugh, messy imagery. So what you as the writer might think descriptive may actually convey something entirely different to your reader. And just so you know, both phrases were deleted. Choosing the right words to convey what you see is the art and skill of writing. but then there is also the danger of going too far and boring your reader if you have tried to be too clever. When teaching an introductory creative class I encourage my students to use similes, but sparingly.

Tools I use for choosing words are Marc McCutcheon’s excellent book ‘Building Believable Characters’ which includes forty-eight words for describing noses. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have penned several books together beginning with ‘The Emotion Thesaurus’. Both books offer lists of words if you find yourself coming up short on a character’s details. If I feel I am coming close to repeating myself, I look for synonyms. Is there another word I can use without being a lazy writer? By that, I mean the buzzwords and phrases that crop up time and again particularly in romance novels.

In one book I read by a very well known NYT best-selling author, the heroine ‘shattered’ so many times I thought the poor girl, like Humpty Dumpty, could never be put together again. ‘Going over the edge’ and ‘her toes curled in her slippers’ are also done to death clichés. There are times when a cliché is the exact right combination of words to use, at others less so.

As writers we have vivid imaginations, it’s where a story comes from. But then comes the task of putting those stories into words and making the most of what tools we have to string those words together in a way that best entertains our readers.
I hope you’ll visit these other fine writers for their opinions.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

TITLES by Victoria Chatham

Our Round Robin topic for this month is: How important is a title? What attracts you to a certain title, and how do you determine what to title your book?

A title is as important as the first line of your book. It has to hook the reader into picking the book up to find out more about what is between the covers. Picking a title needs as much attention as your characters, plot, and setting.

A good title should be easy to remember and be appropriate to the book. It could also be a play on words or have a hidden meaning as in Luanne Rice’s The Perfect Summer, which was anything but. It can come from your work in progress, or be named for one of your characters. Georgette Heyer had several single name titles as in Frederica, Venetia and Arabella. Jilly Cooper followed in similar vein with Pandora, Octavia and Emily amongst others. There were also her equestrian background titles Riders, Mount, Polo and Jump. James Michener often used a single title and, again, you knew what you were getting with Texas, Alaska and Hawaii. All of these book titles tell their own tale and give the reader a clear clue about the content of the book.

Authors who write a series or linked books will often have ‘follow on’ titles as in Mary Balogh’s First Comes Marriage, Then Comes Seduction, At Last Comes Love or Donna Alward’s Larch Valley or Cadence Creek series. The titles of these books set readers up with what to expect. There is no cheating in them and there should be no disappointments. However, no matter how good the title or how attractive the cover, there really is no substitute for a good story. I fully admit to having been drawn in by both title and cover and then sadly disappointed with the content. There are so many good books on the market that if I happen to get one that I’m not into by Page 5, then that book gets set aside.

In my own work I prefer to create my titles from the content. They all start out with a working title but by the end of the book that usually is changed to a 3- or 4 word title. My Berkeley Square Regency series has titles His Dark Enchantress and His Ocean Vixen, a play on the male/female relationship. The next book in the series will be His Unexpected Muse and there will be another after that. So far its working title is simply Hester.

One point to be aware of is that titles are not copyrighted. If you wanted to use the title The Great Gatsby, then there is no reason not to. However, would you achieve the same success as F. Scott Fitzgerald? Hard to tell. Whatever your chosen title, plug it into Google or Amazon and see what comes up. If you have a truly original title, there's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing it at the top of the list. Again, no guarantees that your sales will go through the roof, but being Number One somewhere is always a good feeling.

Check in with these authors for their thoughts and opinions on the subject.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Two Ways to Create Wounded Heroes

This month we discuss how to make our stories interesting by giving our characters some kind of psychological, spiritual or physical wounds. The process of healing them becomes the character’s arc, the meat in our stories. What mental, physical or spiritual wounds or scars have you used in your stories?

In a discussion with another author, I was asked what scars I had. Me, being something of a pragmatist, started counting off my physical scars. I had many more than I realized which led me to believe I had been somewhat careless with myself and my skin – the biggest organ of any human being’s body.

I have a scar on my right wrist, from the prong on a belt buckle when I was five years old. I have a scar on my right forearm where my friend’s dog caught me with his claw; nothing nefarious there, just a friendly rough and tumble. On my upper right arm I have more of a nick than a scar, the result of a tussle with a tree. I swear it leapt out at me. The friend with whom I was hiking and who is well versed in first aid, immediately and with great glee at being able to employ her skills, treated me for an impaled object injury.

I have a three inch scar on the back of my head, the unfortunate result of having champagne and strawberries for breakfast one Christmas morning. Who knew that champagne bubbles, or the bubbles in any sparkling wine, cause a body to dehydrate very quickly? I passed out cold, never even saw it coming. I split my head open on the edge of a table as I went down, and spent most of that Christmas Day in emergency being stitched up and rehydrated.

There is a scar on my right eyebrow, the result of coming off a horse during a show jumping event. Said horse, Henry by name and so pretty he should have been a female, was known to stop. I decided I would not give him the chance, clapped my heels into him at the exact moment he did stop, resulting in him taking off almost from a standstill and catapulting me out of the saddle. I somersaulted into the ground as he followed me over the jump and hit my right eyebrow with his left hind hoof as he galloped on. Hospital, stitches, black eye, slight concussion, off work for three days. Ho-hum.

The only scars on my left arm are my inoculation mark on my upper arm (I can legitimately identify with Claire Fraser and Geillis Duncan in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’) and another under my elbow, the result of slicing it on a sheet of tin when I was eight. My other scars, there are many more, are all surgical scars on my torso. Thanks to those scars I am fit and well today.

Having listened to these histories with some bemusement, my friend then asked if I had used any of them in my writing. I had to say no, as none of them seemed to me to be big enough to be worthy of mention. It was pointed out to me, however, that any one of my accidental scars could be enlarged upon. After all, don’t we all want to heap dreadful things on our heroes and heroines to build the conflict and tension? One of the dictums I remember from an early writing course was, have something bad happen to your character and then make it worse, much worse.

So which of my scars to transfer to a character? I chose the show jumping scar (by the way, that event was never really my fort). Trisha Watts, the character in my novel Loving That Cowboy, has her horse collapse and die beneath her (note to self – dogs, horses and children are not supposed to die in novels!). She is piled into a solid log, splits her head open and is in a coma for eight weeks. When she recovers she finds she’s lost her nerve and can’t get back on a horse without breaking into a cold sweat. Her almost fiancé turns out to be a cheat and a liar. She dumps him (and rightly so). PTSD follows, as does difficulty in trusting another man. Whew.

I’ve used fear of rejection for both my hero and heroine in my book His Ocean Vixen. During the Regency era you were either in (as a member of the aristocracy) or out (as a plebeian). Such was the nature of the time that anyone engaged in trade and making their own money, was frowned upon. My hero, a bastard but recognized and loved by his father, is turned out with nothing by his wicked step-mother when his father dies. My heroine, suffering the results of an unconsummated marriage, fears that no man could love her as she wants to be loved and that she will never have the family she desires. All this makes for interesting, juicy, messy internal and external conflict as the characters fight to overcome their fears.

There are so many avenues to explore with any of these themes. Even where your hero or heroine comes in their family, first born, middle or youngest child and any computation thereof, can carry its own trauma. Taking myself as an example, I am the first born of two sisters. We both exhibit the characteristics of first borns (oh, boy! Do we ever – perfectionist, reliable, conscientious and much more) because there are nine years separating us. Both my daughter (first born) and my eldest son (middle child) share first born characteristics, she because she is the first born and he because he is the first born of two boys. He also has the characteristics of the middle child. The New Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman delves into these computations in detail. I understood all my children, especially my youngest son, much better after reading it.
It also helped me develop my character, Emmeline Devereux, in my first Regency book, His Dark Enchantress. Emmaline was an only child and as such shows the characteristics of a first- and last born child. My characters come to me fully formed and named. It’s only then I begin to build their backstory and look into all the ways I can twist their psyches by using some of these characteristics.

Here is this month’s list of fellow Round Robin bloggers. I’m looking forward to reading their takes on the subject.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

What Makes a Novel Memorable by Victoria Chatham

Our topic for July is: What makes a novel memorable? For me, it is the characters every time, no matter what the genre.
I have my preferences, of course. I mostly read historical romance, and then western romance (historical or contemporary) and anything and everything in between. I rarely read science fiction, fantasy or inspirational. Not that I haven’t, those categories just don’t come high on my list of preferred reading
My most favorite and memorable historical characters are from Georgette Heyer’s Regency romance Frederica. Freddie is such a managing female! And really, any heroine in any genre has to be a bit out there for me to be engaged. I have read many books where the heroine has been TSTL, too stupid to live, and consequently I have consigned her and the book she appears in back to the shelf.
Heroines in any genre or era need to have some element of courage in their character. Whether it is standing up to their families or the mores of their society, the more courage shown by a character in standing up for what they want or what they believe in, keeps me reading. Wimpy heroines need not apply.  
Snappy heroines that immediately come to mind, after Frederica, are any of Jane Austen’s leading ladies. Okay, I’m probably giving my age away here but I don’t mind. Of more recent years there’s been Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum and Tami Hoag’s Elena Estes, also Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
My heroes have to be strong, too, but they can be strong in different ways. Lord Alverstoke, Frederica’s nemesis, is everything a Regency hero should be. Something of the bad boy in his youth, but an athletic, muscular figure whose place in society gives him a great sense of self within the propriety of his era. That he gradually falls in love with the aforesaid managing female makes for a delightful character arc as his views change.
Another of Tami Hoag’s characters, Lucky Doucet, is almost an anti-hero. A war-damaged vet,  Lucky retreats to the dark bayous of Louisiana. Even though he’s chosen to live this way, he still manages to help people where and when he can. Love leads to Lucky making his way in the world beyond the bayou with an unexpected and satisfying twist at the end of the tale.
Though they are two very different types of character, the one suave and elegant and the other very physical and damaged, they both held my attention. The more empathy I can feel for the characters, the more I can identify with them then the more real they become to me and those are the books I have no problem returning to again and again.
Do the characters that mean the most to me reflect elements in my psyche? Maybe. Those characters are people that I would like to meet and spend time with, characters whose values and experiences I could imagine sharing with them as I would a good friend, might—after all—be just like me.
See what other authors in our Round Robin group have to say on this subject:


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Emotion in Writing by Victoria Chatham

Our topic for June is: How emotionally involved are you in reading or writing some scenes?

This question immediately took me to the scene in the movie Romancing the Stone where romance novelist Joan Wilder (as played by Kathleen Turner), is sobbing her socks off as she finishes her novel because she is so moved by it. Then there’s the ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ scene between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. How about just about any scene in Casablanca but especially ‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine’.

I could pull any number of scenes from any number of movies to give as examples, but I’m sure you have your own favorites. In each of these movies, those scenes had to first be written, whether by an author first whose work was adapted for the screen, or by script writers. Each of those writers knew how to pull at heart strings, light heartedly in Romancing the Stone and more dramatically with Gone With the Wind and Casablanca. The depth of feeling in those scenes are enough to stay with any viewer or reader which is the mark of a great writer.

For anyone who hasn’t seen Casablanca, it is set in that town in North Africa during WWII. The leading characters are Rick and Ilsa who have previously had an affair in Paris but Ilsa ran out on him and broke his heart. That she had her reasons does not detract from the depth of emotion when he sees her again. The subtext of  the ‘gin joint’ line, indicagtes that he was getting over her but now she’s back and is breaking his heart all over again. That is the kind of writing that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go.

I do not see how any writer can NOT get emotionally involved in their writing. If they can’t, then where is the connection or depth in their story? If, as a writer, what you write does not move you, how can you expect it to engage a reader? And isn’t this what we want? To engage our readers? Now that seems like an awful lot of questions but in answering them and studying how to build intrigue, subtext and emotion into your writing will leave readers wanting more.

Take a look at what these fine authors have to say on the subject:

Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Heather Haven http://heatherhavenstories.com/blog/
Victoria Chatham http://victoriachatham.blogspot.ca
Dr. Bob Rich https://bobrich18.wordpress.com/2016/06/25/emotion-in-writing
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Margaret Fieland http://margaretfieland.wordpress.com
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com



Saturday, May 21, 2016

How Confrontation Creates Powerful Drama by Victoria Chatham

Our topic this month discusses how confrontation creates powerful drama. Here is a brief explanation of a scene from my Regency Romance, His Dark Enchantress.


I do not like wimpy heroines and this scene is the result of Emmaline taking matters into her own hands. Lord Clifton had gone to the races at Epsom and wanted his barouche to collect him at a certain time. The coachman was injured by one of the horses when they were being harnessed and suffered a concussion. Emmaline decided to drive the barouche in his place, not the typical action of a young lady in this era. The equivalent today, I think, would be a guy being incensed that his girl drove his muscle car! After Lucius rides off, Emmaline decides it is time for her to return to her home in Devon. She leaves London; he doesn’t know where she is, she doesn’t know he is looking for her. As clarification, the term ‘John Coachman’ referred, usually, to a coachman for hire rather than a coachman fully employed in someone’s service.

That Emmaline was totally capable of driving a four-in-hand is explained elsewhere in the book. I was actually taken to task over this element in my story, my reviewer mentioning that it would not be possible for a young lady (Emmaline is 24 years old) to drive such a team. My inspiration for this scene was Mrs. Cynthia Haydon (1918 – 2012) who bred and drove Hackney horses which she had done so since she was quite a young girl. I had the great pleasure of watching Mrs. Haydon on several occasions at various horse shows in England.

Characters in the scene:
Lord Lucius Clifton, Earl of Avondale
Miss Emmaline Devereux
Noble, His Lordship’s head groom
Juliana, His Lordship’s sister


He spoke quietly but with stern authority and Noble simply went to do his bidding. Lucius stayed in the ménage, his jaw clenched so tightly it hurt, his temper barely under control. He returned to the barouche and looked up at his coachman.
“What in hell’s name possessed you to imagine you could drive my horses?” he demanded. His voice cracked with anger.
“Imagination did not enter into it,” Emmaline returned.
Lucius was so furious he missed the tremor in her voice.
“You could have overturned the barouche and injured my horses. You, Juliana and Noble could all be dead. Did you think of that?”
“No, I did not.” Emmaline stood up on the box. “And don’t shout. I am not deaf.”
Lucius paid her no heed as she scrambled down from the driving seat. “What if you had been recognized? How would it look for my team to be driven by a woman?”
“Is it your horses, your people or your reputation for which you are concerned, my Lord?” Emmaline quivered from head to toe as she looked up at him.
His grey eyes glinted with fury under drawn brows and he lifted his hands, fingers outstretched. She took an involuntary step back from him but he caught her shoulders in a firm grip and shook her until her teeth rattled.
“I take my responsibilities more seriously than apparently do you,” he shot back at her. He released her as quickly as he had held her and she staggered back against the wheel of the barouche, felt the hard rim press between her shoulder blades. “I do not hide behind a borrowed tricorn nor pad my shoulders with a rolled sheepskin.”
He towered over her, his face overshadowing hers but all he saw was a vision of her on the ground in a tangle of broken limbs. How could he explain that to her family and to his peers? What would his life be without her in it? He shook his head to clear it and for the first time saw the fatigue in her face, the warring expression in her eyes.
She was as angry as he, but beneath the anger there was something else, something he could not immediately determine as she drew herself to her full height. Her eyes blazed like blue beacons and her lips were as bloodless as her face.
“I will tell you, sir, neither your horses nor your people were ever in danger. I thought only to do you a service when your coachman was injured, and instead I am reviled and castigated for it.”
Around them the air vibrated with their anger, was felt in the darkness of the stable where Noble waited with the grooms and the hack. Neither combatant had heard the crack of the door or scrape of the window as members of the household listened to the furious argument.
For a moment Lucius said nothing, his mouth clamped into a thin line. His gaze raked over her once more.
“I have to tell you, John Coachman, that you have impressed me in ways you cannot possibly begin to imagine.” His voice was calm but vibrated with a dangerous undertone which chilled Emmaline to the bone. “However, there is no room for you in my employ and I do not wish to see you here ever again.”
The words were spoken softly but as sharply as the crack of a whip. The words flayed Emmaline’s fragile hold on reality.
He never wanted to see her again.
Her heart pounded so hard in her chest it sent her blood roiling in her veins and blurred her vision. Lucius caught her hand, into which he pressed something hard.
He called for his horse and Noble brought up the hack. Lucius vaulted into the saddle.
She looked up into his white, handsome face. The moonlight shone on the flat planes of his cheeks and shadowed his eyes but she could see the furious glitter in them. As he spurred his horse forward the sound of its iron shod hooves clattering and scrabbling on the cobble stones, rang loud in the clear night air.
Emmaline, drained of all emotion, staggered back and grasped the wheel rim for support.
The yellow rind of a full moon peeped above the roof tops and chimney stacks, casting their linear outlines into sharp relief. Moonlight illuminated the silvery trail of a single tear as it rolled slowly down her cheek. She dashed it away and uncurled her fingers to see what Lucius had pressed into her gloved palm.
There, glinting in the cold, pale, light was a single golden guinea.
It weighed as heavy as thirty pieces of silver.




I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt and will enjoy others from these fine authors.






Saturday, April 23, 2016

How Does the Weather Affect Your Writing? by Victoria Chatham

Our Round RobinTopic this month asks have you noticed how weather is used in writing? How have you used weather in your writing? Drama? Mood? Revelation?  
I can never think of writing weather related scenes without recalling the oft-quoted line ‘It was a dark and stormy night’. The quote may well be remembered, but perhaps less so is the rest of the sentence.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

This is the opening to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 Gothic novel Paul Clifford and what a scene it conjures up, especially with that wind ‘rattling along the housetops’. You can bet your last dollar nothing good is coming out of this situation.

In 1983 the English Department of San Jose State University decided to sponsor a competition for the worst opening sentences. They had no idea how popular the response would be. There is now an annual competition with several sub-categories. For the list of 2015 winners check out www.bulwer-lytton.com/2015.html. There is even a Dark and Stormy Night cocktail made from ginger beer and zaya rum courtesy of the Swig Bar in San Francisco. Schultz had his cartoon character, Snoopy, sitting on top of his kennel with his typewriter and starting his novel with that line.

Weather in novels or movies can be a huge catalyst for disaster which in turn creates conflict. Think of the aftermath provided by the hurricanes in the Wizard of Oz and Twister, snow and cold in The Shining and The Day After Tomorrow. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s novel Heat and Dust portrays those elements in India and in the thriller Smokescreen, set in South Africa, heat creates all sorts of problems for Dick Francis’s character Edward Lincoln.

In my own writing I’ve used a bright, sunny day to depict my hero’s sense of well-being. This fact lulls him into a feeling of contentment which is then shattered when he arrives home to find his wife is missing. During the subsequent hue and cry, a heavy rainstorm brings more drama. In viewing a misty autumn morning my heroine muses on the passage of time. The last time she looked on this scene it had been spring time. The use of the weather in each of these scenes enhances or heightens the conflict for my characters and is as useful a writing tool as using the play of light and dark to create interest.

See how these authors make use of the weather in their writing: