Posts Tagged ‘novels’

I have habits, some good some bad, which structure my life and determine how I spend my day. For example, every morning before I get out of bed I pray. As soon as I get up, I straighten the covers and pillows so the bed will be ready and welcoming when I need it again. Next I turn on the coffee, feed the cats, and sit down to read my favorite blogs. From that point on, I’m usually at the mercy of whatever life throws my way.

One activity I want to add to my list of habits is writing. Oh, I write every day—lists and letters and reminders—but that’s not the kind of writing that will achieve my dreams. Like millions of others, I aspire to complete a novel. A good novel. To do that, I need to improve my writing habits. There are many changes I could make that would probably help me be more productive, but my research suggests that there are certain habits that are essential for someone who hopes to make writing a profession. I read many suggestions, but the following 4 seem the most crucial to me.


1.      Read everyday

Read a wide variety of books, not only for pleasure but also to analyze what works and what doesn’t. Immersing yourself in the written word will add to your knowledge, increase your vocabulary, and improve your understanding of how language is used.

2.      Learn new things

You’ve probably heard the advice to “write what you know.” The wider the range of your experiences, the more realistic you can make your writing. Often it’s the little details that you include that help readers visualize a scene. Enrich your life and acquire a goldmine of information to use in your stories by stepping out of your comfort zone and trying new things.

3.       Make writing a priority

Productive writers work a regular writing routine into their lives. The amount of time devoted to it varies widely, but there needs to be a commitment to writing. Continually placing writing at the bottom of your priority list makes it difficult (or impossible) to achieve success as a writer.

4.      Finish what you start

It’s common to work on more than one project at a time. A problem arises, though, when writers skip from one manuscript to another without ever finishing what they start. Or when they try to attain perfection, or avoid failure, by working on one project for years…and years…and years, and never submit it. At some point you have to say it’s as good as it’s going to get, and send it out.



Are you satisfied with your writing habits? What helps you be productive, and what interferes with your productivity? Do you make an effort to learn new things in order to add spice and authenticity to your writing?

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Romance novels consistently represent one of the most popular genres, with over a billion dollars in sales each year. There are two basic types of romance novels—category, and single-title books.


Category Romance:

Some publishers release several books in a particular line each month, with strict guidelines as to their word count and structure. This format must be followed for every book in the category, regardless of the author.

Single-Title Romance:

These books are sold individually rather than as a group. The page length is not fixed, and the author has more control over the structure of the story.


In every romance novel, the growing relationship between the heroine and the hero is the most important element of the book. There must be believable conflict causing them to change and grow closer, but subplots must not take on more importance than their romantic relationship. Conflict, both internal and external, should increase emotional tension, but readers expect things to end with the hope of the couple living happily ever after.

The setting and time period can be anywhere, anytime. There can be elements of suspense, mystery, fantasy, etc., but the couple in love must be the main focus of the book. If it isn’t, it isn’t a real romance.


 Resources for the Romance writer:








For Romance Readers:

Harlequin ebooks 16 free category romances


Reviews and News for Romance Readers



Why do you enjoy/hate romance novels? Do you prefer the category romances or single-title books? What’s your favorite romance author or book?

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The massive snowstorm blanketing the Midwest shut down all the roads in our county several hours ago. Plows won’t even be sent out until sometime tomorrow due to the hazardous weather conditions. Since we installed a backup generator in December, I wasn’t concerned until my husband suggested that we should take showers early tonight in case the power goes out.

“But I thought you said all the important stuff would still work off the generator?” said I.

“It will. The pump will work so we can flush toilets; there just won’t be any hot water.”

“So I can’t wash dishes or do laundry?”

“You won’t need to do dishes because you can’t cook; the stove and oven aren’t on the generator. And why would you want to do laundry if the power goes out?”

It turns out that the things my husband had the electrician hook to the generator are the things he thinks are important: the coffeepot, refrigerator, television, computers, furnace, well, garage door opener, and all the outlets in the bedrooms. While I’m happy to have heat and water, I like hot water. And I think the freezer, washer, dryer, and stove are pretty important, too.

I had certain expectations when I agreed to spend an outrageous amount for a backup generator, and they’ve not been met. As a reader, I also have expectations when I buy a book. If it’s in a particular genre, there are elements I assume will be included—that’s why it’s a genre book.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to discuss a few genres I enjoy reading. I’ll talk about the main elements of each of them, and list some helpful references for writers of those genres. I started this series over a year ago, and have already covered children’s books and steampunk. I’m currently working on a post about the romance genre, but haven’t decided what to write about after that. Any requests?


Has the winter weather affected you this year? What’s the one thing you’d most hate to be without if you lost your electricity for a few days? What’s your favorite genre of books?

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Women’s fiction is a term that refers to stories where the female protagonist deals with situations and relationships that challenge her and affect her emotional growth.

The subjects and themes of these books can cover a wide range of issues that women face. Relationships with other people are important, and are an integral part of the story. Though there is often a love interest, it isn’t the central focus.

What’s most important is the woman’s emotional development as she pursues her dreams, fights her fears, or overcomes obstacles life throws her way. These stories touch the emotions, and don’t necessarily have a happy ending. Like any book, though, women’s fiction does need an ending that satisfies readers.

Women’s fiction tends to be more commercial than literary, but doesn’t fit the narrower restrictions of genre fiction. It appeals to a wide, mainstream audience and generally will be shelved with general fiction in a bookstore.

Examples of books considered women’s fiction (per Barnes & Noble) are:

Picture Perfect, by Jodi Picoult

Fly Away Home, by Jennifer Weiner (this one is also listed under Literary on Amazon, and Commercial Fiction on Free Book Friday)

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen



What other books can you think of that would be considered women’s fiction?  What, if anything, appeals to you about this type of book?

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My kids have given me many gifts to treasure. One I’m appreciating this morning is a nail buffer my son got me for Christmas last year.

On the rough, dark green side, in big print that I can read without my glasses, it says ATTITUDE. Underneath that it says: ULTRA NATURAL SHINE BUFFER. Farther down it lists the instructions for each side of this handy little tool:

1. Aqua—remove ridges

2. Light green—buff

3. White—miracle shining

I have a tendency to neglect my nails, not noticing the condition they’re in until I snag something or rip the end off one. A quick trim with the clippers can improve them but it takes the 3-step buffing process to make them look their best.


Does Your Attitude Need Polishing?


The same is true with writing. We start out with the basics of an idea, but if we want to share it with others we need to remove the rough ridges by putting our thoughts down on paper and refining them into something recognizable. Then we buff that rough draft, shaping it into a coherent, interesting manuscript. The last step turns our manuscript into something special—a polished, unique expression of the original idea. Leaving out any of those 3 steps keeps that great idea from reaching its full potential.

Our attitudes toward writing will determine how much polishing we’re willing to do, and will affect whether or not we attain our goals. If we write simply to satisfy our own desire to put our thoughts on paper, we can stop at step 1. If we want to share our thoughts with others, we need to proceed at least to step 2. For us to stand out from the crowd of writers hoping to attract readers, we have to complete step 3.

Tomorrow (or the next day, depending on how long it takes to polish my idea) I’ll post some tips on how to turn an idea into a rough draft. Steps 2 and 3 will be covered in subsequent posts.


What do you do when you get a great idea—jot it down in a notebook, put it in a file on your computer to work on later, or start working on it immediately? What’s one of the most helpful gifts you’ve received? How’s your attitude today—rough, buffed, or brightly shining?


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According to the Encarta dictionary:

Chapter: one of the main sections of a text, usually having a title or number as a heading

 Scene: a short section of a play, movie, opera, or work of literature that presents a single event

Chapter breaks are generally used at crucial points in a story in order to build tension. Scenes show what happens during a specific time period, or in a specific location. A long scene might make up a whole chapter, but sometimes chapters include several short scenes.

Scene breaks are indicated by leaving an extra line, usually with a special symbol—such as #–centered on that line to clearly signal the reader that something is about to change. It may be a switch in the point of view character, a move to a different location, a flashback, or the return from one.

Short chapters and scenes can build suspense and increase the pace of a story. However, quickly switching back and forth between point of views or settings can also be confusing. Rather than “head hopping” or using lots of short scenes, you might consider using a narrative summary of certain events, or an explanation within dialog, to make the story flow more smoothly.

Approximately how long do you think a chapter should be?  Does it depend on the genre of the story? Do you prefer point of view changes to be done with new chapters, or does it matter to you?

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In a novel with a typical story arc (an inverted checkmark), there’ll be rising action, a major climax, and a denoument.  Sometimes, though, there are still questions that need to be answered about what happens after the story ends.

In the same way a prologue shows what happens before the main story begins, an epilogue is a separate section showing events that happen later. It may jump ahead months or even years, and will give extra insight into the characters’ lives.

Not every story needs an epilogue, but it can be useful to give the story closure. This is fairly common in romance novels, where readers may need additional information about the main characters to satisfy their expectation that they will live happily ever after. For example, it might show the protagonist married and with children. In suspense novels, it can show the outcome of previous events.

Have you used an epilogue? Do you think they add to the story, or do you prefer to have the events that occur after the main story ends left to your imagination?

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Every story has a rhythm. If it’s a monotonous one, readers may lose interest. Pacing the rhythm can build tension, emphasize important events, stir the reader’s emotions, and move the action forward. As the story progresses, the tension builds with each new conflict, and ebbs slightly as minor conflicts are resolved. As the climax approaches, the tension increases.

Proper pacing will keep the reader moving forward but allows the action to slow down when appropriate to emphasize the importance of certain things along the way.


To increase the pace:

Use shorter paragraphs, shorter sentences, and occasional sentence fragments.

Use less description, more dialogue.

Use active verbs and fewer modifiers (adjectives and adverbs).

Focus on the events that move the action forward rather than switching to subplots.

Have something important happen in each chapter, and keep the chapters short.

Cover periods of inaction with a transitional sentence rather than going into details about what happened.


To slow the pace:

Use longer sentences, longer paragraphs.

Include more narrative and less dialogue.

Use more modifiers, less active verbs, and passive sentence structure.

Switch to subplots between chapters high in tension.

Layer in significant details to emphasize their importance (foreshadowing) .

Use flashbacks.


The type of story will dictate the appropriate pace. For example, a mystery will generally have more action and a faster pace than a romance. But every story needs a rhythm that keeps the reader interested enough to keep turning the pages. Pacing sets the rhythm.

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After your novel is finished, you’ll need to contact potential agents with a query letter. This letter should be honed to showcase your writing skills, highlight your story, and entice an agent to ask to see your manuscript.

Check the agency guidelines before submitting your query. You’ll often find specific instructions on what the agent wants, and you’ll increase your chance of having your work looked at if you follow those guidelines.

If there are no guidelines given, send your query with a self-addressed, stamped, #10 envelope for the agent’s reply. Don’t send the full manuscript or even a few chapters unless requested. Some sources say it’s ok to include the first few pages of your novel with your query, but limit it to no more than 5 pages. (If there is a prologue, it counts as the first page.)

A query letter is formatted like a standard business letter, and should be just as professional. Use plain white stationery or good quality paper (20-24 pound stock), and only use black ink. Either Courier or Times New Roman 12 point font is acceptable. Fancy fonts might look prettier, but they are not appropriate for a business letter.

There are a couple of acceptable formats for business letters, but to keep it simple, you’ll be fine if you use 1 inch margins all around, with block paragraphs starting flush with the left margin. Don’t indent, just put an extra space between paragraphs.

Your contact information, including your name, address, phone number, and email, should be flush against the left margin as the first section of your letter. Skip a line, then type the date.

Skip a line after the date, and type the name of the person you are querying, followed by the name of the agency, and the address.

Skip a line, then put your formal greeting, which should include the name of the specific person you are writing to. Use Mr. or Ms., last name, followed by a colon as this is a business letter. (Example, Dear Mr. Benedict: or Dear Ms. Benedict: )

After the greeting you’ll have 3 or 4 paragraphs introducing your book, giving your pitch, telling a little about the story, and summarizing your credentials. Don’t forget to thank the agent, and tell them you look forward to hearing from them.

In closing, simply use Sincerely, followed by a comma. Leave 3 or 4 spaces for your actual signature, then type your name.

Skip a line, and type Enclosure: (1) SASE (to show you’ve included an envelope for their reply). If you’re including additional material, indicate that also.

When you mail your query, you can fold it to fit in a #10 envelope, and you’ll also fold the SASE you’re enclosing. If this seems too awkward for you, use a 9½  X 12½  envelope instead of the #10. That will keep your query flat, and the SASE won’t have to be folded. It costs a little more to mail, but if you have extra pages included it might be advisable to use the bigger envelope.

Send your query through the regular first-class mail, and if you’re worried about whether or not they’ll get it, just purchase delivery confirmation from the post office. Never make an agent sign for your letter.

Agents follow different time frames for replying, so once your query is sent out it could be days or months before you hear from them. Be sure to keep a record of when and where you sent each query so you’ll know when to follow up, and so you avoid sending the same query to the same agent again.

Good luck!

See my related post dated October 20, 2009 for information on querying via email.

 Edit September 8, 2010:  Agent Nathan Bransford has some great advice on his blog today about how to deal with conflicting advice regarding query letters.


Do you have any tips about query letters to pass on? What’s the longest you’ve waited for a reply after you sent out a query?  

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I feel like I’ve been cheated. I just spent 3 days reading a book, and when I finished it I was left thinking, that’s it?

The beginning intrigued me, made me want to know more about the main characters. The words were so beautifully put together that the sentences flowed into each other. For the first hundred pages or so I kept thinking, I want to write like this. The author broke conventions and it added to the tone and pace of the story. He used more adjectives and adverbs in one page than some authors use in their entire novel. Many sentences were not only compound and/or complex, but run-on. And I loved it—for a while.

The middle of the book continued in the same fascinating manner as the beginning, and eventually my brain got tired of wading through the flowery exposition. I was hooked on the characters, involved in the plot, and I wanted to find out what happened. So I started skimming the long, descriptive passages to get to the good stuff.

Somewhere around page 570, the climax arrived. It lasted about 20 pages and was pretty good, but there were still lots of unanswered questions in my mind. Eight pages later the book was done. And I was mad.

A story arc consists of exposition, conflict, climax, falling action, and the denouement (resolution). The denouement is where the loose ends get tied together and the reader is left satisfied that the story ended the way it should. The story I read did not do that in a believable way.

Instead of everyone getting their lives together after six hundred pages of never-ending conflict, a very minor character from one scene early in the book wrote out a check to pay for all the other characters to buy motor homes and travel around the country spreading a message of hope that would save the world. No one resolved their own problems; they got bailed out. The last 8 pages told what happened to all the characters, including one so minor I had to go back to the beginning to figure out who he was, and I didn’t believe any of it.

How can conflict covering six hundred pages be satisfactorily resolved, and 10 people’s lives be forever changed, in 8 pages? Although the climax is the high point that all the rising action leads to, there should be some falling action to bring the plot to a resolution that rounds out and concludes the story. Failing to provide a reasonable, satisfying ending can leave readers wishing they’d not wasted their time on the book.


Do you ever feel let down by the way a story ends? How do you deal with it—write the author, throw the book in the trash, or what?

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