Torture Your Characters?

Romance writers regularly hear the advice to torture your characters because readers don’t want stories where nothing happens. More often I’m finding that the torture is too much, and I’m not referring to horror or suspense stories.

I don’t need, or want to read, stories where things are constantly going wrong: our poor heroine suffers set-backs, adversity, and finally the black moment that is more of a black hole. When there is no longer even a glimmer of hope at that event horizon, I toss the book or give up caring about the characters. Why should I continue reading when the author has said “Nope. No way is there any chance for happiness”?

Just as writers need to avoid the heroine who is TSTL, too stupid to live, what about stories that make the reader think it’s time for our heroine to just roll over and die? The reader is supposed to share in the heroine’s struggle and rejoice with her when she finally overcomes the odds. But are writers more often taking the reader’s soul too far into the abyss of despair? I like a plucky heroine as much as anyone, and I read to escape. Falling into a seemingly bottomless black pit is neither entertaining or engaging for me.

I want to see that glimmer of hope, just a shadow of a doubt that not all is lost. Keep me reading and caring about the characters! I’m taking it as a personal challenge to keep my readers emotionally invested without sending them to depression therapy.


Photo credit: Unsplash


I Came, I Met, I Pitched

This past weekend I attended my favorite conference, the Emerald City Writers’ Conference. I met a lot of new people and even talked to them. 🙂 Some of them are published authors, and everyone was extremely friendly and supportive.

Being busy behind the scenes, I was only able to attend a few sessions and they were all excellent. Gwen Hayes’ session on Romancing the Beat gave me so many things I want to check in my WIP.

Greta Hardin’s session on No Salad in the Middle Ages taught me to think more critically about food scenes in my WIP, especially how they can work harder to enhance the story.

Best of all? I pitched, and received invitations to submit! Thank you to both editors I talked to for being so gracious and offering thoughts for deepening the story I’m working on.

If you write romance I hope you will join us in 2017! Check out the conference on FaceBook. We’ll have pictures posted soon.

I have a lot of editing to do now!

RWA 2016 – First Timer’s Experience

Wow, RWA is such an incredibly friendly and supportive community! Many people started conversations and introduced themselves–even great big names.

Take-aways: I might have found my tag line! I gained huge insights for pitching. I learned of other presses to talk to: Harlequin Intrigue, Avon, St. Martins (when I finish the damn book!).

Protein bars saved my life! You cannot get food at RWA if you want to attend sessions all day, sweep the goody room, hook up with friends, meet new people, buy books, etc. There just isn’t time. Now that I’m home I’m re-aquatinting myself with eating food that you don’t have to unwrap. 🙂

Notes on Sessions I Attended

A Stronger Outline for a Stronger Story, Gabriela Pereira — review of the hero’s journey and 3-act structure; applying it to your story. Ask yourself what is missing from your story, too.

Be the Voice, Erin Quinn It’s how you say things that make your voice. Who are you as a writer? The tone of your MS is the tone of your voice. The words you don’t choose are also important. Voice is both your perspective and your character’s.

The Imposter Syndrome, Dr. Valerie Young — Reframe your internal script. Reframe mistakes, and these are not failures. Reframe fear, it goes with the creative territory. Fear and excitement are similar in your body, so tell yourself you’re excited, not afraid.

First Timers Retreat — tips on the industry like common acronyms, difference between editor and agent, and synopsis and queries.

Frame Your Scene, Build Your Story, The Art of Layering, Lori Freeland adding things like emotion, setting, dialogue, action, body language with every revision.

From Once Upon a Time to Happily Ever After, Dee Davis — lot of discussion on plot, gain/loss in the story to increase emotional stakes and reader interest. POV should be the character who has the most to lose. Scene/sequel review. Pacing and “hang time” when the reader is kept in suspense, even if for only a few sentences.

It’s Just Emotion, Elizabeth Hoyt — make your characters really care about something big. Up the intensity with lower lows that will make the highs seem even higher. H/H need to help each other heal. Use contrasts. Don’t write reality, reality sucks.

Loglines and Pitches, Laura Drake Logline example from Jaws, “A sheriff who is afraid of the water encounters a man-eating shark in a beach town”. It’s the sizzle of your book. (Use adjectives in your pitch, not names.) Logline is for your book.

Tag line is to get attention, like “Don’t go in the water,” from Jaws. Tag line is for the author.


“Hi, I’m, I’ve got (genre) of (# of words).”

It is not a plot summary, it’s a 25-word summary of your book to get the agent excited about your book. Pitch your first 25 words and then sit back and shut up. Let the agent react and ask you to go on.

Format: Who(Char), what he wants (Goal), why he can’t have it (Conflict).

This is a story about a <blank> who <blank>, so <blank>, only to discover <blank>.

Maybe compare two disparate books, “Stephanie Plum meets the undertaker”.

Mastering the Art of Conflict, Sarah MacLean We want readers to say “How is the author going to pull this off?” It’s okay to worry about this as a writer, you’ll pull it off.

Conflict lives in the “but” (Trey Parker and Matt Stone video MacLean referenced, screenwriting at NYU). Link the beats (scenes) of your story with the words ‘but’ or ‘therefore’ (rather than ‘and’).

“If your hero is a fireman, your heroine better be an arsonist”—Linda Howard.

[This was a rich session and I took too many notes for a summary to do it justice.]

Meditate and Create, John Stockberger and Sandra Vanatko, sponsored by Lori Wilde mantras, breathing exercises, and a ‘dirty rug dance’ (shaking the dust off/out of yourself). The mantra helped me focus; both the breathing exercises and mantra helped me totally shut out the outside world. The ‘dirty rug’ ‘dance’ made me vibrate! The entire workshop helped me understand that chasing after solutions to scenes might not be as successful as meditating and letting the ideas come to me.

Paths to PAN, Maggie Marr, Tessa Dare, Debra Holland — tips such as always getting an editor, get a lot of comments before you self-publish, and many writers rush into self-publishing.

The Total Package, Melissa Cutler — excellent tips on submitting a query letter, and a marked up example was provided.

Zumba and Yogilates, Lisa Siefert — I woke up the first two mornings with workouts! I greatly appreciated movement to start my day, and Lisa also provided much needed protein bars for us.

I also attended an online chapter dinner for From the Heart Romance Writers, and the Kiss of Death chapter’s Death by Chocolate awards ceremony for the Daphne winners.

Like the other 2,000 attendees, I’m going to sleep the next three days. 🙂