How Television Can Help Your Writing (part one)

While watching too much television can hurt your writing if you’re using television as an excuse not to write, television can also help your writing. Think about your favorite television shows. Think of some of the most memorable characters to ever jump off the screen into your heart. Everyone has his or her own favorites. I still love Lucy after all these years. From strong leads to secondary character to entertaining dialogue, television is a good starting place to think about how to write a book and how you want your characters to fly off the page. This week we’ll look at three of my favorite lead television characters to see how their goals, motivations, and conflicts can be a starting place for you to think about your own characters.

Lucy Ricardo. I Love Lucy premiered in 1951 and ran for six years. A simple enough premise, a housewife longs for fame under the watchful eye of her bandleader husband, was a comedic goldmine, thanks in no small part to its leading lady. Her goal of wanting to be a star was relatable, and Lucy herself made Lucy Ricardo likable. The conflict? While Lucille Ball’s talent was real and she worked hard to make herself a star, Lucy Ricardo was rather klutzy and worked harder at trying to get a break rather than develop her talent. Not to mention she always found herself in zany predicaments. Do a search for vitameatavegamin on YouTube if you’ve never seen any episodes of I Love Lucy. While Lucy is convinced this commercial will launch her career, she fails to take into account the alcoholic content of the tonic she’s pitching with hilarious results. After all these years, though, Lucy Ricardo still resonates. Why? Because her constant struggle for fame is relatable and after all these years, her sense of humor makes her likable. Think of a goal that is universal and relatable and that can be the starting point for your main character.

Mary Richards. The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered in 1970 and went out on while still on top in 1977. The theme song of the show set up the premise: a working woman who was intent on turning the world on with her smile. When Mary threw her cap up into the city square, you knew she was a gutsy girl who wasn’t afraid of going after what she wanted. As associate producer, Mary brought together a cast of diverse characters and made a makeshift family. People loved Mary just as much as Lucy because nothing kept her down. Best friend moved to New York? That was okay. A love affair gone wrong? That was okay. She had guts, determination, and a smile that showed she wasn’t going to give up. That motivation of persevering with a smile? Relatable and likable. Think of a motivation for your main character that is also universal and make sure your character has the perseverance to follow her dreams.

Jessica Fletcher. Murder, She Wrote premiered in 1986 and ran forever. The show revolved around a mystery writer who solved crimes. She confronted murder, after murder, after murder, and you get the idea. More than once, I’ve heard people say that if Jessica Fletcher was a real person, they’d run whenever she was around because she kept finding dead bodies. Why am I bringing up Jessica Fletcher? Talk about conflict. Every week she was either a suspect or one of her closest relatives/friends/daughter of her beloved college roommate was also a suspect in murder. Her personal freedom and the accused’s freedom were on the line. Not only that but Jessica strived to find justice for the victim, and did so, week after week after week, and you get the idea. High stakes leads to high conflict. Although no one I know would want to live in Cabot Cove, Jessica Fletcher confronted conflict each week and emerged victorious. That type of high stakes and high conflict is important for your protagonist.

Think of your own favorite characters and their goals, motivations, and conflicts. See if the characters you love can add depth to your writing. And let me know who your favorite television characters are. I’m always on the lookout for a new television show.

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Back in the Days of Dinosaurs (Not Really)…

The other day I was talking to my eight-year-old twins about growing up without Netflix, Amazon Prime, or even DVD players, or as they like to call it “the days of the dinosaurs.” They listened in amazement when I told them about adjusting rabbit ears on a television set and only being able to watch movies when they were broadcast. My twins, Cupcake and Chunk, sat with their mouths open as I discussed how the family would stop everything the week of Easter to watch the special, limited commercial interruption version of The Sound of Music. If you forgot “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown” was on (complete with commercials for those delicious Dolly Madison donuts), you had to wait until next year. As a kid, I loved the anticipation of getting to see Julie Andrews spin around the Alps with her beautiful voice bursting out in song. As an adult, I love having technology at my fingertips. Whenever I feel like watching the fictional version of Maria von Trapp, I can simply pop the DVD into the player or even watch it on my computer screen. As a parent, though, it’s taken some adjustment to get used to this new phenomenon.

On the one hand, I love movies. I love sharing the movies I loved growing up with my kids. Some of them hold up rather well. Others not so much. When I was a kid, I cried for a week straight when I outgrew my Benji sneakers. Then I showed the movie to my oldest daughter and I nearly cried because the movie was nowhere near as good as I remember.

On the other hand, I miss the anticipation of waiting for something special to arrive. My mom would count down the days and that night, we’d pop popcorn, turn the lights down and pretend we were in a movie theater together. Without the wait and the special effort to make the living room more special than normal, something seemed to be missing.

Then I realized. Nothing was missing. Even though there’s no longer the anticipation of waiting for something, there’s something in making family movie night special. Old favorites can join new favorites. As a parent and adult, I can turn the lights down, I can pop popcorn, and I can make the evening special. The movie itself was only part of the experience. The people mattered. So I gathered my kids and we watched Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt’s version of Cheaper by the Dozen. Even Chunk, who insisted he’d get bored and leave ten minutes into the movie, stuck around until the ending credits.

The best part about the present, though? No commercial interruptions.

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Welcome, Spring

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In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the first day of spring. In my area, that means colorful daffodils, Bradford pear blooms, and lots of pollen. Spring, though, also represents a rebirth and what better way to give birth to your dreams than to do something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done before. For people who dream of adventure, it might mean booking that skydiving trip, which isn’t quite my cup of tea. For some who want to do something creative, it might mean dusting off that dream and making it into a reality. Perhaps it’s time to sign up for that pottery class you’ve wanted to take since you saw the movie, Ghost, although pottery also isn’t my cup of tea either. In my last blog, I discussed five steps a beginning writer might take to begin writing the novel they’ve always plotted in their minds. Here are some more tips which might help change that dream into reality.

  1. The setting is an important character in your novel. What would Star Wars be without Tatooine with its two suns and its expansive deserts? What would Psycho be without the Bates Motel with its grim exterior and its infamous bathroom? What would be Casablanca be without Rick’s with its smoky ambience and piano? A setting can be an integral part of a book. For romance writers, a small town can instantly clue a reader into a sweet contemporary, Paris or New York might mean a contemporary with an alpha hero or billionaire, another world can clue the reader into urban fantasy. Give some thought about how your POV character thinks about the setting, from the houses to the buildings to the outdoor features such as a beach or a cave or mountain cabin.
  2. Backgrounds of your characters. Your characters have pasts, fears, wants, and needs. If you’re writing a romance, think about what your character needs the most and then make it impossible to achieve. If you’re writing a cozy mystery, think about why a character would want to get embroiled in solving a murder rather than leaving it to the hands of the local police.
  3. Time Period of the Novel. If you want to write a historical, think about the time period and how a character would be different without modern conveniences. Someone in Regency England wouldn’t be able to pop two Advil when he has a headache.
  4. Motivations of a Character. Why does a character do what he or she does? Is the character motivated by justice, by profit, by a need to be alone? What does your character need to be okay? Family, money, prestige?
  5. Finally once you’ve decided on your world, your characters, their needs and wants, and why they want them, as well as what is standing in their way of getting what they need to be happy, then you need to actually sit down with your writing instrument, whether it’s a pen and paper or a laptop or an Alphasmart, and write. BICHOK means Bottom In Chair, Hands On Keyboard. When all is said and done, actually putting words on a screen or paper is the only way to get that novel written.

Now that it’s spring, make your dream a reality.

Welcome to spring. Dust off those dreams, and make them a reality.

The Secret Handshake

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I hope the title caught your attention, but the sad truth is there is no secret handshake in writing. When all is said and done, a writer has to sit down and write the words whether through a computer and keyboard or pen and paper. However, there are lessons I’ve learned since I’ve started writing, and I wish I’d known some of these five hints when I first sat down with a laptop and typed in the words, Chapter One.

  1. Literary or genre. There are English majors who could debate the definitions of these two categories until the cows come home. To oversimplify it, genre fiction tends to gravitate toward happy endings and can be broken down into different categories, such as romance, mystery, science fiction, and more. Literary fiction tends to be character driven with vague or unhappy endings that delve more into truth and thematic purposes. Both defy exact definitions, but I found my niche when I discovered I like reading romances with happy endings and cozy mysteries with the search for justice complete. That meant I’d be happiest writing genre fiction.
  2. Writers’ Associations. If you know off the bat you want to write a romance or a mystery, there are writing organizations that can help you learn some of the tricks of the trade. While there may not be a secret handshake, there are certain expectations from readers of the romance and mystery genre. For example, a romance needs a happy ending, and a cozy mystery needs justice. Romance Writers of America (RWA) and Sisters in Crime are wonderful places for you to meet other writers and start your writing journey. Within RWA, there are local chapters and online chapters. If you live close to a local chapter, that’s a great way to meet other writers and ask for tips or find someone to critique your work.
  3. When you open a craft book, there might be initials on the page. This is one place where I can do a little fist bump with you and help you learn some common writing acronyms.
  • POV=point of view. See number 5.
  • RUE=Resist the Urge to Explain.
  • TSTL=Too Stupid to Live
  • WIP=Work in Progress
  • HEA=Happily Ever After
  • HFN=Happily For Now
  • GMC=Goal, Motivation, Conflict
  • ARC=Advance Reader’s Copy
  1. Genre categories. Within the world of genre writing, there are also sub-genres. In romance, writers are often asked, “What type of romance do you write?” When I was asked this at my first local writing program, my eyes widened and my pulse accelerated. There were different genres within the genre? I listened to other people and figured out I wrote contemporary. In terms of romance, there are a number of subgenres: Contemporary Short, Contemporary Single Title, Historical, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Romantic Suspense, Inspirational, Erotic, Erotica, Mainstream with Romantic Elements, Women’s Fiction, and more depending on who you talk to. Mysteries are often broken down into thrillers, suspense, and cozies.
  2. Point of View. Books can be written from either an omniscient POV, where there’s no specific narrator (think Harry Potter) or from deep POV, where the story is told from the perspective of a certain narrator. There are also different viewpoints. There is first person, where the story’s narrator uses I or me. Second person isn’t seen much in genre fiction, but this person uses the word “you.” Third person is when the narrator uses he or she. In romance, deep POV allows the reader to view the scene from one person’s point of view as if you are in the shoes of that character. Head-hopping refers to scenes which alternate back and forth between different characters’ POVs.

These are five of the tips I wish I’d had when I first started writing. I’ll be writing five more next week. Happy writing.

Pursuing a Dream

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A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about resolutions. I’m not big on them. Rather than wait for a specific day on a calendar, I’m in favor of taking action. But what is a resolution? In my opinion, it involves taking stock of your life and instituting change. A while back, I looked at myself. All my life, I’d been jotting down stories or dreaming up characters in my head, but I’d never taken steps to live my dream. In this age where we have the world at our fingertips, it’s sometimes easy to get caught up in life and not think about whether it’s too late to pursue a dream. For some people, it’s playing the guitar or another instrument. For some, it’s painting or sculpting or some artistic expression that satisfies their need to make the world a more beautiful place. For still others, it’s traveling and experiencing the world from somewhere beyond their backyard. For writers, however, it’s getting that story out and putting it on paper. So, how do you make that dream change from a wisp of an idea in the mists of your mind to reality?

Contemplation. Being truthful with yourself is a great place to start. Truthfully, I’ll never play on Center Court of Wimbledon on Championship weekend. While some people love to dance, it makes me self-conscious. What I do love is coming up with a new story and new characters. So while I won’t be a championship ballroom dancer or a professional tennis player, I can make writing my career and work hard to achieve my dreams.

Action. If creating art is your dream, check out community colleges and your local YMCA. If recreational sports are your dream, check out USTA or your local YMCA. Don’t sit around waiting for something. Make your dream a reality.

Writing. If you’ve always dreamed of becoming a writer, there are easy steps you can take. Check out local writing organizations or online ones. Romance Writers of America is a great resource for romance writers, just like Sisters in Crime helps mystery writers. Read. Read a craft book about writing and read in the genre you want to write. If you want to write a family memoir, go ask your local librarian for some good local memoirs and read those books to get a sense of the tone, style, and tempo of the book. Most importantly, sit down with a blank page in front of you and write. If you can do this day in and day out, you’re a writer. If you’re a beginning writer, I hope you’ll join me over the next couple of Tuesdays as I discuss some of the basics of genre writing. What does BICHOK mean? What are some commonly used acronyms? What is POV and what does head-hopping mean?

Even if you’re not a writer, I hope you’ll take some time to dust off your dreams and figure out how to make them a reality. Sunrises represent a fresh start to a new day. Make today the sunrise for your dreams.

Reading for a Lifetime

In my house, you can’t find a room without a book or some sort of reading material. Even the garage has books in it as I have set aside some books I’ve read to donate to the local library. In my house, you will find books for all age groups that span all genres. Toddler board books? Check. Children’s dictionary? Absolutely essential for the parent of twin second-graders. Sci-fi books? We have several. Classics? I kept most of them, even my copy of Madame Bovary. Romance novels? Of course. How to write a romance novel? Below my desk in a neat row. I love books, and if there’s one thing I pass on to my children, it’s a love of reading.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer. Or maybe it’s because I’m the mother of four, but people ask me when my children started reading. I say it’s not important at what age they started reading, but what’s important is I read to every one of them the day they were born. What’s important is whether they keep reading throughout their lifetimes.

I’m even writing this blog at a library. Looking around I see books on a variety of topics: Soul Food Love. Fishing for Dummies. American Guide to Hiking Trails. (Note: I try to sit near the nonfiction so I’m less likely to stop writing to go look at a book that’s caught my eye.) There are books for everyone.

As a writer, I love books and often have my Kindle in my purse so I’m never far away from the book I’m reading. Yet as a parent, I often wonder if my kids will read when they are adults. The other day when I was driving my son to school, he told me he knows kids who don’t read outside of school. They haven’t picked up a non-assigned book since elementary school. Yesterday, my youngest daughter and I were talking in the car about schoolwork. I told her one of the best ways to do better in school is to read at home. I told her the more she reads, the more she’ll improve her vocabulary, the more she’ll be able to read the math word problems on her own, and the more she’ll be able to understand the textbooks. I stopped when I started to sound like the narrator of the wonderful children stories by Laura Numeroff, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

What was the last book you read (I won’t ask when)? Let me know.

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How are your 2018 resolutions coming along?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I’m a believer in if you want to change something, it’s better to start right now rather than waiting for a date on a calendar. To quote Nike, just do it.

Yet, a while back, I joined my local romance writing chapter, Georgia Romance Writers, in the month of January. Since then, I’ve found out that GRW has a spike of visitors in January when a new crop of writers come to see what writing a book is all about and see what GRW is all about. (Sounds a bit like the Hokey Pokey really). For me, it was where I found other writers who wrote genre fiction and loved talking about it. I knew I had to go back, and I did go back in February of 2013. For some, a January GRW program is the litmus test about whether they want to actually write a book, sit down and make that fantasy in the back of their head a reality. Some go on to finish their book; others don’t.

Resolutions come in all shapes and sizes. For some, it is sitting down and writing a book. For others, it’s losing the holiday weight. According to one website (I’m using Martin Armstrong’s list from his article on www.statista.com. If you want to see it for yourself, here’s the link: https://www.statista.com/chart/12386/the-most-common-new-years-resolutions-for-2018/ ), the five most common New Year’s Resolutions for 2018 were eat healthier, get more exercise, save (more) money, focus on self-care (for example, getting more sleep), and read more. Do any of them sound familiar?

For writers, starting a book or finishing a book or increasing their word count are often mentioned in late December as worthy resolutions. However, writing in itself is solitary. When it comes down to it, a writer has to practice BICHOK (bottom in chair, hands on keyboard). So now it’s February, and I’m here to ask. Did you make any New Year’s resolutions and if so, how are they going? How is your book coming along? Are you going to the gym more often?

If you’ve succeeded, great. The question then becomes what made this year different? For me in 2013 (even though GRW wasn’t a resolution, I did join in January), GRW was a great way for me to meet other writers, learn about writing a book, and I felt like I’d found my home away from home. I became involved and I held myself accountable for my writing.

If you haven’t followed through with your resolutions, you don’t have to wait until next January to exercise more or eat healthier or write that book. Figure out what happened. Maybe that flu bug hit your household and you weren’t able to go to the gym. Maybe your dishwasher went kaput and you couldn’t add to your savings. (Okay, our dishwasher is currently broken so it was the easiest savings-busting scenario I could come up with).

So did you make a resolution? Let me know.

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Photo courtesy of Alamy Stock Photos.