Friday, November 26, 2010

C is for Conflict

Today we continue our journey through The Writer's Alphabet with our feature post by author, Mary McCall who talks with us about Conflict. Please help me welcome Mary and share your thoughts.

C is for Conflict

Conflict can make or break a fiction work. It’s what keeps readers reading when it is added to characters they love and want to root for. So let’s do a simple breakdown of the types of conflict we can expect to face if we want to create a page-turner by constantly raising the stakes.

Internal conflict: this is your character’s fatal flaw or Achilles’ heel. Here we run into what should be a cardinal law of writing: God is the only perfectly infallible being in existence; therefore, characters should have flaws, weaknesses, and sometimes-unlikable traits. Readers don’t generally want to read about perfect characters. They can’t relate to them. They want to laugh with the hero or heroine, cry with him, overcome evil, find happiness… The hero shouldn’t be the strongest man in the world, but he should have just enough strength and/or ingenuity to win his most crucial battle. For a reader, there is no fun in an invulnerable hero. Readers like characters that have to fight hard and rely on their wits to overcome conflict (and they should be in conflict a lot).

As a writer, your story should test to the limits, your main character’s reaction under stress. Without vulnerability, your character will never show character to survive, triumph and overcome and learn something about himself along the way. Remember, Achilles had his heel, Superman has his kryptonite, the werewolf has his silver bullet … A little weakness makes the character more identifiable and sympathetic to the reader. Overcoming that weakness is what makes that character a hero or heroine. A bad habit that the character is trying to break will humanize him for the reader and increase tension and conflict. Remember, readers' love most the characters that they most strongly identify with--people like themselves. Readers want admirable characters who entertain them.

Now that you know your character’s internal conflict, grab a sledge hammer and bash it. That’s external conflict. That’s plot. If a character wants something but has no trouble obtaining it, you have no story. Thus, you need an antagonist, demon, or some other obstacle placed in the character’s way. Who most wants to stop the protagonist, and why? What motivates the villain? What does she/he have at risk? Are the actions she/he will take worthy of a respectable villain? And are both the protagonist and antagonist likely to be found in this setting? Are the protagonist and antagonist for the most part evenly matched? Does your antagonist have at least a few redeeming traits?

Overcoming one obstacle should lead the protagonist to another. Constantly raising the stakes, making the protagonist reach deep within him/herself to reach the final prize. Thus, as the story moves along, we see character emotional growth. And yes, character growth must happen. This has been known by great story tellers for centuries, but first recorded by Aristotle. He called it the “recognition and reversal” stage of drama and attributes it to the human need in the audience to see moral progress in life. The hero shouldn’t just save his life; he should also improve it by the end of the book. The reader can sit safely in a recliner, on the beach or wherever he/she chooses and experience the adventure along with your characters, feeling justice, love or whatever your character is aiming for has been met.

For those who write romantic fiction or fiction with romantic elements, I’ll mention one other conflict. That which exists between the hero and heroine. No relationship is perfect. There’s going to be a clash, misunderstanding, family enemy, or some conflict in the relationship. We can take this only so far. At some point, these characters must identify (even if it’s grudgingly) several things they can admire about each other – whether they mention this to the other or not. But if they hate each other from the beginning to the end of the story, you don’t have a romance. At some point, love has to enter the picture and become more important to the pair than whatever conflict exists between them.

This is part of my Purple Month contest. If you leave your e-mail in any response, you’ll be entered into a drawing for a .pdf copy of Highland Treasure on three days from now, and a drawing for a signed hardcopy of Highland Treasure and a Purple Goodies Box at the end of the month.

Take care and happy reading and writing!

Author Bio:

Mary writes humorous and adventurous historical romances. She is member of Romance Writers of America and served as the first PRO Coordinator for RWA; She is also a member of Hearts through History Romance Writers, of Celtic Hearts Romance Writers; of The Golden Network; FH&L RWA, and River City Romance Writer She is also a member of Savvy Authors, Sisters in Crime and the Malice in Memphis chapter of SinC. She loves history with a particular fondness for the Greek through Medieval periods. She is honored to have received the Legenda Aurea Service Award & Scholarship. Legenda Aurea, Latin for "the golden legend," is the highest service award presented by HHRW’s Executive Board to a member who has provided outstanding service to chapter and who has become a legend among the membership. Mary resides in Memphis, Tennessee with her Maltese who has a very Latin name, Regina Benita Catarina. You may visit her blog at, or e-mail her at To get your copy of Highland Treasure, just click on the cover.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

B is for Backstory

Today talented writing duo Angelica Hart and Zi will, in their own unique style, teach us a bit about Backstory.


Ah ha! Bet you are thinking this article is all about coffee or cream or even the juxtaposition of the usual into the unusual.

Z: Huh?
A: Go with it...
Z: Ooookay!

Well, we're actually going to discuss a book's backstory. Think of your novel as coffee and your backstory as cream. You usually add just a bit of cream to your coffee not the other way around, except for Zi, but that's a pot of another kettle.

Z: Huh?
A: Go with it...
Z: Ooookay!

Anywho, many novice writers are so anxious to share their research and development, they bog down the opening with as much information as they can.
Z: By the way don't you drink tea?
A: That's not the point...
Z: But...
A: Do you want to write this?
Z: Thought you'd never ask. (With a hip bump moves Angelica's chair aside until he is settled before and computer.)

The backstory is a vital part of plotting. It stimulates the story, and gives the characters motivation. After all, each character has a past and present, and a certain amount of that has to be conveyed. And, even though you might know this characters inside, backwards and upside down, the reader doesn't need to hear about the protagonist's fifth grade science project that blew up spewing purple dye all over Mrs. Greenspan. Unless, of course, it is vital to the story's conflict.

A: Hey wait, that wasn't a backstory but an actual event. You were in sixth grade when that happened, weren't you?"
Z: No comment. The case is still pending.

So, here are a few key factors to K I S S (Keep It Simply Simple) your way to the perfect amount of backstory.

While creating your character, make their history rich. Make certain you write down everything from your characters' most embarrassing moments to who they took to the senior prom and if they prefer chocolate to vanilla ice cream, and then, don't use anything but that which is pertinent to the story. Plus, only go back in time as far as is necessary. The opulence of your character will come through just because you know them so well. It will shine in their speech, their mannerisms, and the way they think.

IT -
There is always that IT factor in every story, the thing that is the crux of the story. For the present conflict to exist there must be something in the backstory that is relevant and must be told, and sometimes in great depth. Still, sprinkle it in, slowly, a bit at a time. It's like adding sugar to that ole coffee. Too sweet and people will make a face, or in a narrative just get bored and put the book down.

There are simply some great places you can add backstory that work better than others. The prologue is usually a great spot to drop a few spicy tidbits like cinnamon in your brew. Here you can tell rather than show more easily than anywhere else in the story. Using the character's memory is another great tool. Something current can trigger a recollection. Also, a flashback is great method of allowing the reader to see what had happened to create the present circumstance. One of the most basic conduits for the backstory is dialogue. Characters can reflect, explain, and address basic aspects of the plotline all while sitting across from each other having, well, a cup of coffee or climbing Mt. Everest, all depends on your story.

Remember simple is better. Don't be so enamored with your backstory that you distract from the action. Too much of it hinders the flow of the story. What had happened to set the plot in motion needs to be streamlined. Pare down your paragraphs and pages of information to a single line. Sum it up and place it strategically in the prose.

The backstory is the stimuli and the foundation of the book, but it is not the totality of the story, nor is it the pure action that keeps the readers moving along. So, when you ask yourself if you want a little plot with your backstory, remember to tell yourself to hold the cream.

A: Huh?
Z: I'm just tying it in to the beginning.
A: But...
Z: Hey, how about a cuppa?
A: You buyin'?
Z: Don't I always.

Angelica Hart and Zi

Bio: Creative synergy sizzled when the authors, from Delaware, USA, met and soon a literary partnership formed. They live several miles apart but meet every week day to dive into their collaboration of taking readers to new places and other worlds, to help them suspend reality, and to simply entertain.

Their combined accomplishments include book publications in print and/or electronic versions of eighteen titles, ten romance specific, EPPIE finalist for three books, Cecil Whig award, Hob-Nob Reader's Choice Award, written over 500 shorts with numerous published in both nationwide and small press magazines, articles published in various local, city and statewide newspapers, including four as a Guest Columnist in addition to trade articles. Both are members of various writing groups.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A is for Author

Today I’m starting a new series of blog posts called The Writer’s Alphabet. Every Friday, I’ll post a blog, many by guest bloggers, featuring the next letter in the alphabet and some topic starting with that letter that pertains to writing. I’m kicking off the series with A is for Author.

Believe it or not, there is a distinction made between ‘writer’ and ‘author’. A writer is one who writes. An author is one who is published. At least that’s what I’ve been told, though I’m not sure every dictionary is that discriminating.

When I first started to write, I hesitated to even pronounce myself a writer. But, then, I finished a full manuscript and wrote those magical words ‘The End.’ I could claim the title now. The first time the words, “I’m a writer” came out of my mouth, they felt foreign and were, I’m sure, spoken at a whisper. I soon got better at saying it aloud and, before long, listed that first on my resume. I’m a writer and, oh, yeah, I do social work to pay the bills.

After groping in the dark, as the uninformed generally do, trying to find the next step in the process, I submitted my manuscript to Wings ePress. And within a few weeks, I opened an email that left me dumbstruck. It offered a contract to publish my book, And the Truth Will Set You Free. Once I had signed the contract, I received an email disclosing a password to the Author’s Only page on the website. I logged in and a new page opened. The announcement at the top read: Congratulations! You are now an author. I am now an author! But it wasn’t real until I got my cover art for that book, bearing the title and my name in bold print. Never mind the dance I did when I got the book in my hands.

You know that saying, “If I knew then what I know now…” Well, if I knew then what I know now, I’d shout from the rooftops, “I’m a writer.” Does having a work published make me an author? I don’t know. If you write something, you are the author of that work. I’m not big on distinctions that divide. I’m a writer. I author books. I’ve learned a lot along the way. But I don’t know it all. So I’ve invited some fellow writers/authors to guest blog over the next twenty-eight weeks on topics about writing. I expect to learn a lot, and I’ll bet you will, too. And, yes, I know there are twenty-six letters in the alphabet. But we won’t be posting on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

So, I hope you’ll stop by on Fridays to garner some wisdom from my guest bloggers--fellow authors/writers--as we work our way through The Writer’s Alphabet.

Linda (9-time author, but always a writer first)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


On this Veteran's Day, my thoughts turn toward my father, Dale R. Rettstatt, Jr. He was a veteran of World War II and a soldier all his life.

He served with the 398th Infantry in Europe and earned a Purple Heart. Shrapnel in his neck and skull served as a constant reminder of his service, but he never complained, even when it was obvious he suffered one of the blinding headaches that would nearly cripple him at times. He continued to serve in the 430th U.S. Army Reserve in Brownsville, PA, retiring only shortly before he died in 1981.

My father never talked much about the war, at least not with us, his family. I don't know what he talked about over a beer with his buddies. I knew him to be a patient man, quiet--sometimes to the extreme. I always wondered about the young man who went off to war at the tender age of eighteen. What was that young man like? Did he laugh more easily? Did he talk more freely of his dreams? Did war change him, as it is known to do? I'll never know.

I knew my father as a soldier because he marched in the local parades with his Army Reserve Unit and prepared for two weeks of reserve camp every summer with the enthusiasm of a kid going to summer camp. He loved his country. He loved the Army.

And he loved his family. I knew him as a soldier, but I mostly knew him as Daddy--the man who snuck cookies to me and my sister when he came to say goodnight and tuck us in. The man who taught me to drive, even after I drove him for a block with two wheels on the sidewalk (long story). The man who rescued me from a college party gotten out of hand and then kept a straight face when I told my mother that, yes, I'd been drinking but only because someone spiked the punch. The man who spent an entire day (and made four trips to the hardware store) constructing a wooden frame for a hooked-rug wall hanging I'd made. In the end, the frame didn't fit. And it didn't matter. I'd spent the day with my dad.

A man who was steadfast, loving (in actions, if not in words), generous, dependable, quiet, and loyal. A man who had a wry sense of humor that, if you were fortunate, you got to glimpse.

On this Veteran's Day, remember the men and women who have served our country and those serving today.


Monday, November 1, 2010

New Release: Love, Sam

Love, Sam is now available in e-book at Champagne Books. Just click the cover to read the blurb and excerpt (or to buy the book :).


The Inaugural Hot Dames & A Dude Writing Retreat

I returned home last night from attending the Inaugural Hot Dames & A Dude Writing Retreat in Little Compton, Rhode Island. And, look--I brought home the word count trophy.

I had a blast with a fantastic group of talented and entertaining writers. And let's not even mention the setting and the food. Oh, okay. Let's. The house, complete with fireplace (and a few spiders, but that's another story) was a great setting for this retreat. Spacious and comfy. As for the food, I'll be fasting for days. We wrote. We ate. We talked. We ate. Some sang karaoke. We ate. A few of us drove to the point to see the ocean. Did I mention we ate?

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet some cyber friends from my online critique group. You ladies are great and I felt as if I'd known you forever. I got a tour of the town before I left. Little Compton is life as it should be.

Now I'm back at home and have to reorient myself to get back to work--both at my office and on my book. And I'm renewed with energy for both. The trophy, displayed above my fireplace, will serve as inspiration.

(Besides, it was nice to be included in the 'Hot Dames' category.)