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Thursday, November 4th, 2010 by Candace Havens
Shaking Things Up: Part 2

I’ve been talking about how changing your routine can be a good thing when it comes to writing. We all get set in our ways, but it’s a good idea to shake things up now and then. I talked about how a class on themes helped me to lock down something that was wrong with one of my books. Another class taught by a county medical examiner, helped me to realize I had a few things wrong about my murder investigation in another book.

The other day my English professor in my grad school class posted the following from Kurt Vonnegut:

Vonnegut’s 8 Rules for Writing Fiction

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.

5. Start as close to the end as possible.

6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

These are all things a lot of us know. but do we do them? Are me maybe just a little lazy about No. 4? Could we use some work when it comes to 5 and 6? You never know when or how you’re going to have one of those writing epiphanies that can be game changing.

Right now on my Write Workshop loop we are doing a 4000 word challenge. It’s a 16 day challenge meant to kick you in your butt and get the words on the page. While we’re in this phase we don’t really have to worry about what I have above, except I think it helps, even during the creative process, to have a character you can root for, and to throw rocks at them.

I realized as I begin a new project that I don’t have enough conflict for one of my characters so I’ll probably spend a good part of today thinking of ways I can make him miserable. :)

If you’d like to help me brainstorm on ways I can throw rocks, feel free. The set up is he’s a Marine, helping out at the UN, who falls for a fashion designer. They’re from two different worlds and he thinks hers is insane. Feel free to play along here. :)

Or tell me one thing in the past year that you heard that sort of made you stop and think about your writing. You never know, your experience might help someone else, so please share.

Thursday, October 28th, 2010 by Candace Havens
Change is Good

I wish I could tell you I have a set process of how I write a book, but that would be a lie. It seems like with each new project I have a different way of dealing with it. Well except for two things. I write down the draft really fast and there’s always music involved.

I believe in giving myself permission to write a crappy first draft. That takes a great deal of the pressure off and I believe it was Nora Roberts who said, “It’s impossible to fix a blank page.” I vomit out those words on to the page as fast as my fingers will type them. Well, that doesn’t mean I don’t get stumped sometimes. But I refuse to allow myself to have writer’s block. There are those who may say it isn’t, but I’m sorry, writers block is nothing but fear. It’s fear of the unknown. Fear of being stupid. It’s just fear. And we know fear isn’t real. It’s something we create. So I tell myself to get over it and I move to the next scene where I do know what happens.

The other consistency with me, is that each book has a soundtrack. The one I just finished was pretty mellow. I had a lot of Joss Stone (Body & Soul is my go-to album for just about all stages of writing), Marie Digby, Martina McBride, The Dixie Chicks and the Courtyard Hounds. There are other times when I’m writing with heavy metal or indie rock blaring. When I’m doing hard core revision, like I have been the last few weeks, that Joss Stone album helps me to focus. I think I’ve used that music so much that when it plays my brain says, “it’s time to work.”

Now, you’re thinking, Candy, you said earlier that every time you write it’s different. Well, how I come up with my ideas and how I choose to execute those drafts are what changes. Yes, I always write really fast, but there are times when I write absolutely chronologically and other times when I have to piece it together. With Dragons Prefer Blondes I had the first page and then the last chapter and I kept going from the beginning to the back of the book and eventually met myself somewhere in the middle. I’d never worked that way before.

With this last book, Truth and Dare, I had a really solid synopsis. That was different for Ms. Pantser. With that book I had the first three chapters and then I kept skipping to the next bits I knew. Then I’d write something and figure out what it was I needed back in that other chapter.

Right now I’m working on a proposal for Harlequin and while the first couple of chapters came easily, writing the synopsis has been hell. I know the story, but can’t seem to summarize it very well. Then this weekend I had an epiphany while at a class Lori Wilde was teaching about Themes. I think I’ve always done Themes quite naturally in my books, but for some reason on this new project I didn’t really have one. I had to sit down and really think about what my characters’ journeys were about. I’ve never done that before.

I just had a call from my editor and once I told her the character’s themes, she approved the books. :)

That’s one of the many reasons I still take classes all the time. I never know when I’m going to have one of those epiphanies. What Lori had to say really stuck with me and I finally figured out what my themes were about.

The whole point of this really long diatribe, is even if you’ve been writing the same way for 20 years, don’t be afraid to shake it up a little. Take some classes, listen to how others work and try to apply your own version of what you learn to your work. You never know what might happen!

Happy Halloween!

Candy

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010 by Candace Havens
A Little TV for Inspiration

TV can be a giant time suck but it can also serve as inspiration for writers. When the snooty folks say, “I don’t watch television,” as if it is beneath them, I say, “too bad because you’re missing some of the most artistically diverse programming ever. Television has had a creative boon the last two years and it isn’t over yet. I don’t know about you, but it’s also a great place to do some research. Need some ideas on how to make quirky detectives work? Check out “Castle.” Want to lawyers who are funny? Check out “The Defenders.” Want to liven up your prose with some spies? Take a look at Nikita and Undercovers. These shows might inspire you to do your own little twist on a well-worn genre.

I started talking about the new season on my personal blog at http://candyhavens.livejournal.com you can find the information for some of the new series that I’ve added to my DVR. And I honestly talk about the good and the bad for Monday – Wednesday. I’m going to finish off that post here, and my hope is you’ll be inspired to check some of these shows out, and in turn they will inspire you.

Thursday

This is one busy night of television, at least in my house. I’m a fan of Bones and Fringe on Fox, Nikita (a new spy series) and Vampire Diaries on the CW. That doesn’t leave a lot of room on the DVR, which is why I had to buy another one. I wasn’t going to miss one of my all-time favorite shows BIG BANG THEORY. Here’s a show is a great example of how to write some funny nerds. I’m actually angry that CBS moved this show from Mondays, because that quite honestly made Monday a perfect night of television for me. And I’m not sure I can ever forgive CBS for pairing it with the awful William Shatner show $..! My Dad Says. Ugh. That’s some bad television you won’t find inspiring at all. There’s a funny new comedy that has an incredibly diverse cast, Outsourced on NBC, that is so funny. This is a show that reminded me we also need to keep the characters in our books diverse. And it’s also a show that will make you laugh. One show that won’t make you laugh is “My Generation” on ABC. I didn’t find it very entertaining at all, but if you’re doing research on 20 somethings it might be one to check out. They were all a little too whiny for me, but I did get some good ideas for character development. I watch the other NBC comedies and ABC dramas online. There’s just no room at the inn on the DVR’s.

Friday

This used to be such a dead night, but it’s a busy one now. I love me some Supernatural and since it’s paired with Smallville, I’ll be keeping up with that one too. I’d given up on Smallville after the third season, but I started watching last season again and it’s an entertaining series. This is Smallville’s last season and I hope they go out strong. Fox moved Human Target, one of my favorites to Fridays along with The Good Guys. I’ll be watching both of those. All of that pretty much fills up the DVR for the night, but if you like law shows you should check out Jimmy Smits in Outlaw on NBC. It’s a different twist on a law show, and Smits is charming as always. Another charming guy is Tom Selleck and I also adore his co-star Donnie Wahlberg, but their show Blue Bloods is like watching paint dry for me. I should probably give it another chance but it’s a cop show with just nothing new for me.

Sunday

This is a busy night in cable. If you aren’t watching Boardwalk on HBO, you should. It’s amazingly well done. I’ve never been that interested in the Prohibition Era, but this show has changed that. Steve Buscemi is just a revelation in this series. He’s finally found a role that takes serious advantage of his talent. I’m also a big fan of Bored to Death on HBO, which follows Boardwalk. It’s the crazy life of a writer, only he gets into even more trouble than I do. I still watch Brother & Sisters, which ended with a couple of big cliffhangers last season, and I’m still a fan of Desperate Housewives. Um, if my friend producer Jeff Greenstein wasn’t working on DH, I’m not sure I’d watch any more. Vanessa Williams, who guests stars on this, gave me the meanest look while I was interviewing her. It wasn’t anything I said, I promise. I just don’t think she thought I was worth her time. I wish that sort of thing didn’t keep me from enjoying a show, but it does. Fox animated is back strong. Goodness knows I still love me some Simpsons, and my kids live for Family Guy.

Well, if you can find a little inspiration in all that, well there’s something wrong with you. Do I watch all these shows every week? No, I wouldn’t get anything done if I did. But I do turn to them when I need to get out of my head and into someone’s world other than my own.

Tell me what shows you watch, and which new ones you’re looking forward to.

Thursday, September 16th, 2010 by Candace Havens
A Little Inspiration

Let’s face it, I’m a homebody. I love my house, bed, pillow, pets, and oh, the people there. But every once in a while it’s a good idea to shake things up. I did something a little crazy for me the last few weeks. I took off for the East coast to find some inspiration and to do a little business. The business is a lot of secret spy stuff I can’t talk about, BUT I can tell you about the inspiration.

The first stop on my journey was Greensboro, NC. There I stayed with friends of a friend. A lovely couple who take that Carolina hospitality to the nth degree. He’s a lawyer and a wonderful cook, she’s a former operations manager for a top designer, and she is preparing to become a mom. There home was incredibly lovely and the surrounding area to die-for. Some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.

But that isn’t where I found my inspiration for a new story. No, that was at a pub in downtown Greensboro where I hung out during a friend’s business lunch. I was inspired by a couple I saw dining there. It looked as though they might be having a first lunch. They were both smiling a lot and trying each the other one’s food. He almost spilled is his water glass and she caught it. He turned 10 shades of red. She smiled and patted his hand. I was too far way to hear what they were saying so, of course, I had to create my own story for them. And that’s where the idea began for this couple who meet under unusual circumstances, determined to hate one another, but are surprised by their attraction.

Then we were off to Williamsburg. What a great place to connect with our American history. (I can’t tell you how much I learned during this trip.) There I met a young woman, one of the actors who ran a dress shop, pattern and ribbon store. She has a great love of history and clothing from colonial times, and yet another story was born in my head.

The idea that began at Jamestown was a bit more sinister and it involves tiny crabs and artifacts. We drove over the entire island, and it was pretty friggin’ amazing and sort of creepy at the same time.  Then we were off to visit some plantations on our way to Charlottesville VA. Well, those wonderful old plantations were filled with stories from the crazy pet graveyard at Sherwood to the cannon ball in the side of the building at Berkley.

Our adventure continued, all the way up to Brimfield, Mass., and I can tell you I mined every stop for story ideas. There was the one at the diner in Philly where I met Angel, a waitress, who was from New Orleans and had a strong creole accent. Another where this crazy old woman was selling cool stuff from an old shoe warehouse and she was offended that my friend wanted a receipt.

All in all, I came away with about 10 story ideas, and three for series. I encourage you to get out of the house and do something a little different. You don’t have to go on a spur-of-the-moment two-week road trip. Take a trip to the museum or the zoo, and listen in to the conversations.

I say eavesdropping is the right of every writer to mine stories. I said it, so it’s a law.

The point is to get out of your head and normal space, and look outside your box. You never know what you might find.

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010 by Candace Havens
When Opportunity Knocks…

I sometimes wonder if I didn’t get into the world of fiction because of curiosity. I mean, I know the story of how all this craziness began. I tripped at a party and embarrassed the hell out of myself. Ran to a corner where friend stood to hide and we started talking about books. At some point in the conversation she said, “You should write a romance novel.” I don’t even remember in what context that was, but that germ of an idea stuck in my head.

When I came home I was curious to see if I could do it. I’d written the biography “Joss Whedon: The Genius Behind Buffy.” Actually, I’d written the guts, my publisher Glenn Yeffeth made it real book. I’d been curious to see if I could pull that off too. I honestly didn’t know when I began these projects if I could do them.

But I’m the kind of person who likes to accept almost any opportunity that comes her way, especially when it comes to books. Back to that first story… I came home and for the next two weeks I spent every hour I wasn’t working on the day job or taking care of two young boys, working on that book.

I remember the moment when I realized I’d found my “real” dream job. I’d written a scene where the lead wasn’t sure what to do about the man in her life. She cared for him, but didn’t think he would ever really understand what she was. My eyes teared and I typed and a lump formed in my throat. Everything in that scene felt so real. That’s when I knew I wanted to write fiction.

If I hadn’t let my curiosity take over, I might never have discovered this love for writing fiction. Sure, some days I might wish I hadn’t, especially the ones where I get 20 hours of sleep over a five-day period. But for the most part I love what I do. Taking that leap of faith is one of best things I’ve ever done for myself.

The same sort of thing happened with moving to Harlequin. I’d been friends with editor Kathryn Lye for years. She is just one of those people I adore. During RWA (The big convention for romance writers) we usually try to get together. Sometimes we’d watch new pilots so she could see trends. Other times we’d talk about everything from books to life as we know it.

A few summers ago we were in San Francisco and had breakfast. Once again we were talking about everything and nothing. I’m not sure how the subject came up, but she asked me what I was working on next. I told her I was in the mood to do something different. I wanted to do a spy version of “Women’s Murder Club.” It was an idea that had been mulling around in my head for a long time.

She said that would be the perfect sort of thing for Blaze and that I should consider writing for them. I was shocked. I’d never even thought about it, but I would have give anything to work with her. (She’s a phenomenal editor and I’ve already learned so much from her.) Several months later I was writing “Take Me if You Dare” for Harlequin. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.

There were challenges again. I’d never written third person. I’d never been in a guy’s head for POV. I’d never written a book without magic of some kind. I was CURIOUS to see if  I could even do it.

As a writer it’s important to challenge yourself and dive into new things. It’s good to be curious and to accept opportunities when they come your way. I have this saying, “Throw yourself out there and see what happens. You never know what’s going to work.”

I’m curious if there was ever a time when you took a leap of faith and it worked out? Tell me about it, I really want to know.

Thursday, August 26th, 2010 by Candace Havens
Show and Tell

I want to begin with a disclaimer. This is a blog about breaking rules – sometimes. But you can only break those rules if you know what they are. Please do not take what I’m about to say as something you should “always” do. Use only when necessary.

I’ve been judging a great many contests lately. Most of these are for new writers and the No. 1, problem I see is their stories are full of telling instead of showing. That and they almost always load up those first chapters with backstory they don’t need. But backstory is a topic for another day.

As you know, it is always better to show, rather than tell a story. Showing gives the author an opportunity to bring the reader in by showing the characters in action. Henry James called this dramatizing. According to Wikipedia Janet Evanovich says, “It is the difference between actors acting out an event and the lone playwright standing on a bare stage recounting the event to the audience.”

All of this is true. It’s difficult to engage the reader and get them invested in your characters if you don’t show the action. We need to feel like we are there and showing us through the actions and dialogue is the way to do it.

BUT there are times when telling is necessary. If you always “Show” your story, first you will have a tremendously long book. Second you’re going to have a lot of problems with pacing. When you show a story, it takes many more words to do so. When you do that all the time, it can bog down the prose and create a snail’s pace.

How many times have you read a book and thought, “Just get on with it.” You know those pages you skip and skip to get to the heart of what the author is trying to say? That’s where a little telling would come in handy.

In that same Wikipedia article it has a quote from James Scott Bell that says a writer “tells” as a shortcut in order to get to the meaty part of the scene. “Showing is essentially about making scenes vivid,” says Bell. “If you try to do it constantly, the parts that are supposed to stand out won’t, and your readers will get exhausted.”

If you’re writing literary fiction, show all you want. But if you want to be successful with commercial fiction you need to find the right balance of showing and telling. People tell me all the time my books are fast reads. I honestly do more telling than I should, but I like books that have a fast pace. I’m also not a big fan of using a great deal of description, which is required with showing.

The thing to watch out for when you use  “telling” is that you don’t end up with: and then this happened, and then that happened and then…

As Bell says, you want those big dramatic scenes to mean something and that can’t happen if you are telling the reader about the event, rather than showing.

My point, and I really do have one, is that you have to find out what works best for the book/scene you are writing. I’m working on a scene where a character has to travel from one place to another. The journey isn’t what is important, it’s the confrontation when she gets there. If I show that journey, it’s going to take forever to get to the heart of the scene. We need to know that she’s gone from point A to point B, and that’s she’s nervous, but I can tell the point A to point B part, and show just a bit that she’s nervous. Then Pow! I hit you with the confrontation.

I’ve seen some really talented writers use too much showing, which bogged down their books to the point where I wanted to throw it across the room. I can be on page 75 and still not know what the hell kind of story I’m reading. It’s frustrating. But as I said before, I prefer books with a good, brisk pace.

I remember years ago I was in a class at a conference where an author was teaching the difference between showing and telling. He read one scene where he used “telling” and then he read it again where he used “showing.” He insisted the second one was better, but it wasn’t. It was a transition from one scene to the next, and it didn’t need all the showing.

I only want new writers to know, that yes, showing is important. But it isn’t always the best way to write a story. There are times when a little telling comes in handy.

Thursday, August 19th, 2010 by Candace Havens
It’s All About Character

I don’t care what kind of book you write, if you don’t have engaging characters readers will only hang around for so long. There are those who believe plot is equally important, but I disagree. I’ve read books with inane plots that made no sense, and still I hung in there because I fell for the characters. On the other hand, if I can’t connect with the characters, I’ll never finish the book.

My books usually start with the idea of a couple of characters and then I weave the story around them. I honestly don’t do a lot of research about my characters. I discover them as the story unfolds, in much the same way the reader does. That first draft is always exciting because even though I have a general idea of who/whom my characters are, they always end up surprising me.

I’m writing this blog today because I just fell for my hero in my current WIP in a very big way. He’s so much more kind-hearted than I ever imagined. And he loves the heroine beyond the beyond, of course he can’t tell her that. He’s a manly man, and even he is shocked by how much he cares for this woman.

What seals it is the heroine isn’t the easiest person to love. She’s closed off emotionally and extremely protective of her heart. She likes things a certain way and prefers order over chaos. Though when she’s with the hero everything is thrown off balance.

They’re both strong people, which makes the sparks fly when they do come together. And chemistry is a huge part of what does or doesn’t make a character work. I see it all the time in film and television. There’s a couple on screen who just doesn’t connect. They go through the motions, but the emotions and chemistry are not there. That happens in books too.

There’s a reason why the majority of women who read Jane Austin’s  Pride and Prejudice fall for Mr. Darcy. Sure he seems like a snob at the beginning, but he’s handsome and we get the feeling there’s more to him than meets the eye.

That’s what writers must do if they want to make a character interesting. It isn’t something you hit the reader over the head with and say, “look my hero is a really good guy.” You do it subtly so that your reader falls for him around the same time your heroine does.

But it doesn’t have to just be with the romantic characters. Chemistry is an important part of all relationships. There’s a new show coming on FX called Terrirers. It’s about a PI and his best friend who solve cases. It stars Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James as the best pals.

When I had a chance to talk to them a few weeks ago, I mentioned their chemistry. Turns out they’d known each other for some time, and they even lived together while making the show. They’re best friends in real life too, which comes across on screen.

Those secondary characters in our books deserve just as much attention when it comes to creating the chemistry they have with those around them. When I was working on the Bronwyn books, I had to make sure all those secondary characters were just as emotionally deep and fleshed out, as she was. Same with the Caruthers sisters and in my new Blazes. Many times those secondary characters get their own books, so it’s important that I create that chemistry with the reader from the beginning.

So how about you? Do you have characters who stand out for you in books, television or film? Tell us why.