Writing Tip: Putting the Sizzle in Steamy Scenes [The following post is rated Adult]

Some of you may know that I have a saucy alter-ego who dips her toe into the erotic. She writes the occasional tale, with a penchant for fairy tales. Her name is “Tysche Dwai” named after a Halfling D & D character whose name translates to “Lucky Dark.”

Writing erotica isn’t instinctive to me. It’s something that I really have to think about. So,  several years ago, I asked fellow authors for their tips on the genre. The article below was first published in 2013. It contains graphic examples, so continue reading at your own risk. 😉

“Go, get thee to thy love, as was decreed,
Ascend her chamber, hence and comfort her:
But look thou stay not till the watch be set,
For then thou canst not pass to Mantua;
Where thou shalt live, till we can find a time
To blaze your marriage, reconcile your friends,
Beg pardon of the prince, and call thee back
With twenty hundred thousand times more joy
Than thou went’st forth in lamentation.”

—Act III, scene iii
Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare could get away with reducing a wedding night to the lines above and a morning kiss goodbye, but in a world where Shaggy’s song about “banging on the bathroom floor” was one of the most requested songs in the country, it takes a bit more to satisfy a modern audience looking for “steamy scenes.”


So how do you get beyond what one writer calls the “blush factor” and create passion on the page without resorting to pornography? Being of rather high blush-ability myself, I asked a group of bourgeoning romance writers for input. Their feedback includes some great tips to bear in mind.

First of all, writer Janet Franklin pointed out how important sensuality is to the creation of mood for these scenes:

Writing steamy scenes is a very intense experience. I find that putting on a romantic CD really helps get things rolling. Then I might light a few scented candles and close my eyes to focus on my characters. I let them talk to me about what they want to happen, what their deepest wishes are, what their fantasies are. I then think about how they would go about fulfilling and getting those wishes fulfilled. I also focus on their previous relationship and experiences together. For me, steamy scenes need to be gradually approached as the characters woo each other. (Unless, of course, you’re going for the instant “lust in the dust” aspect, which has merits of its own.)

As a romance reader, I look for all my senses to be involved. I look for the romance of the act, not the physical blow-by-blow (no pun intended) of what goes where. Steamy scenes are an important part of romantic fiction; I think an author owes it to her readers to go beyond lights out, fade to black. But it takes a poet to bring those scenes to life, to heart, to soul. And that’s the true mark of a romance author–to bring her readers into the intimacy of the scene in such a way that they don’t feel distanced but feel involved.

Jennifer Turner offered some good concrete advice as well:

When I got to the hot scenes in my book, I read books that I knew offered such scenes. From them I picked the parts I liked best, reworded them, and using the ‘personalities’ of my Characters, blended it into my own scene. Also, I read somewhere that most editors hate the word MOAN in a sex scene. They say it makes them think the person moaning is in pain, not ecstasy. Plus, I think one of the key things to remember, is making all action believable, like say, it wouldn’t be believable to have the Hero carrying the Heroine through the woods while kissing her and trying to get a hand down her shirt. He’d probably run into a tree and drop her on her butt. Another thing, there should be dialogue during the encounter, at one point or another anyway. People in real life don’t just foreplay, but they speak to each other, murmuring endearments, especially in those first dozen or so encounters.

The above advice is important to remember, but realize that it is subjective. While some editors may hate moaning characters, there is still a lot of moaning going on in published literature—therefore it is not a universal thing. Check the guidelines for a particular venue before submitting, just like you do for any other genre.

Writing sex is not an easy thing. The days of bodice-ripping and heaving bosoms are now passé for most readers. Although I personally see nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned romance, the reading populace, in general, are often more progressive in their tastes. It is not enough to fade to black at first contact. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, “fade to black” was originally a cinema term for a scene where the director literally did just that—had his cameraman iris in to a black screen. The physical aspects of the scene were left strictly to the imagination. Traditionally, romance writers treated sex the same way. But as tastes have changed, more explicit detail is expected.

However, full out graphics must be handled with sensitivity. The lead-in is almost as important as the final consummation. Wynelda Deaver offers the following advice about creating atmosphere, with a sample of just how important foreplay can be:

In order to get to the point where I can actually write a steamy scene, I do a couple of things first. One of them is to write a dance scene, whether I use it or not. For me, dancing is so sensual, so primal that all my inhibitions dissolve with the song. I have “soundtracks” to my writing, and pick the songs that I write certain scenes to very carefully. The following scene was written to Meatloaf’s “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” from Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell. I love that song…can sink into the beauty and romance of it:


“Well, their singer has agreed to stay on for a couple of weeks. Until they can find a replacement, at least.” Cole sat down next to Lacey, draping his arm over her shoulder.

The contact felt right, if not exactly easy. Lacey could feel the warmth of his arm through her tee-shirt, and it sent a thrill through her.

“They’ll be practicing in a couple. Want to stay and listen?” Cole played with a strand of her blonde hair absently.

Lacey turned to look in his eyes. They were pensive, lost in thought. “Sure.”

The band was good. Lacey found herself bouncing along with the songs. When they started a rendition of “Satisfaction,” Lacey started humming along with them.

Cole smiled. The song summed up his feelings at the moment. “Shall we dance?”

“But there’s no one else,” Lacey said.

“Exactly. We’ll have much more elbow room this way.”

Grinning, Lacey allowed him to pull her up from her chair and followed him onto the dance floor. It felt silly, to be dancing in a club without the camouflage of other couples. More exposed.

Soon, the eyes that might be watching no longer mattered. Cole spun her around, brought her back in close to him. His hands were firm on her waist, bringing her in as close as he could. Branding her. Lacey snaked her arms around his neck. A slow, secret smile teased her lips. It was deliciously wicked to be in his arms, his body moving against hers. She could feel his breath, wanted to make it her own.

The band went smoothly into another song. Cole tightened his grip on her hips as she arched her back and leaned into the song. He wanted to feel the expanse of bare midriff that she revealed, but was afraid to get in too deep. Her dancing was a slow seduction, bringing him to the edge of control.

He slid a hand up her back, guiding her back up to him. She was humming in his ear.

Cole dipped his head, caught her lip gently in his teeth. He breathed in her gasp, slid his tongue gently against her lips. “Lacey?” His voice was quiet, shook with need.

“If you apologize again,” Lacey whispered, “I’ll have to hurt you.” She reached up and brought his head down to hers. Took him in a kiss that branded him as hers.

“Sing for me,” he breathed against her lips.

Lacey looked deep into his eyes. Trusted the warmth, the heat she found in them. The band was playing an old song, one of her favorites. Still, she remained undecided.

His hips moved against hers. “Princess, please.”

Softly, she sang for him. Only for him. Their bodies moved as one, she could feel his heartbeat against her chest. She knew instinctively that he would demand more from her. More than she had ever given before. Possibly more than she was willing to give.

She barely knew him.

She knew him all too well.

Her voice gained strength. With a growl of satisfaction, Cole slid his hands up her back, bringing her even closer. He wanted to shout for joy when she framed his face in her hands, her voice strong and true.
She hadn’t noticed that the singer on stage was now silent. That Lacey was the song, and the music followed her.

Neither of them noticed Tag walk into the club. He watched with narrowed eyes his baby sister making love on the dance floor with a man that he didn’t know. Saw her utter captivation.

Heard her sing. Truly sing. He hadn’t heard Lacey sing in…forever. Her voice was powerful, full of hurt and hunger and vulnerability and power. Perfect.

The bartender who had taken her in back the night before came up to Tag. “Can I help you, Sir?”

Tag shook his head. “I’ve already found what I was looking for.” He turned and left his sister in Cole Haggerty’s arms.

Lacey smiled shyly at Cole as the music ended. “Perfect,” he whispered. Then bent his head to claim her lips.

Scattered clapping from the stage brought Lacey out of his arms quickly. She could feel herself blushing bone-deep.

Cole swore softly. He needed another cold shower, damn it.

—- From Princess, By Wynelda Ann Shelton

The only other trick I have up my sleeve for writing steamy scenes is really odd. Sometimes the only way I can get over the blush factor is to write the scene on brightly colored construction paper. It seems to free my mind from its hang-ups.

So, we have covered setting the mood, and foreplay. How do you get down to the nitty-gritty? The brass tacks. The graphics. First of all, by not resorting to out-dated euphemisms or coy symbolism. There is still no need to get crude, but there is less tolerance for the “straining manhood” and “womanly nest” of the past. Unless you are recapturing a period mood or style. Today’s audience can handle more graphic wording, and expect it if it is tastefully done. For example, in the following:

As soon as Peter had shut the bathroom door, Beth stepped to the bed and sat on the edge of it. It was hard, yet yielding. She closed her eyes as she ran her hands along the spread and imagined lying back on that surface, and looking up as Peter knelt over her. She bit her lip. What was she doing here? She chuckled throatily to herself…just taking a little advice and “going for it” She opened her eyes and saw his jacket on the bed beside her. She swept it up and cradled it to her breasts, taking a deep whiff of the scent of him. She hugged it tightly. And smiled wickedly as a thought came to her. She laid the jacket back on the bed, and slowly reached for the next button on her blouse. Should she…?

Coming to a quick decision, she slipped the last two buttons undone and dropped the blouse on the bed, and then she reached behind her and unzipped the velvet skirt, dropping it to the floor. She took a deep breath. No turning back now. “Just do it!” she whispered, biting her lip again.

Stepping to the bathroom door, she put a hand on the knob, and all of a sudden had a heart-stopping thought. What if it was locked? God…let it turn….

The knob twisted beneath her hand, and she pushed the door open a crack. A wave of steam billowed out at her. It caressed her bare skin like a lover’s kiss, and she shivered. Then she slipped inside the bathroom and closed the door softly. The water roared in the shower, and she felt her nipples tighten in anticipation. Silently, she stepped forward and pulled back the rear of the shower curtain.

Beth felt her heart pounding so fiercely in her breast that the world went a little gray around the edges. She saw his stare drift down, and freeze at her crotch. She grinned a little, catching her lip between her teeth, and then let the grin widen impishly as she slid her hand down her own thigh.

Peter was staring at her with an obvious interest that was centering in the long, hard length of him. She panted, stepping toward him and feeling the hot beads of the shower caress her every pore.

“Welcome to Texas, Peter,” she whispered huskily, her voice so thick with desire she could hardly force it from her throat. “And welcome to me….”

Peter held out his arms, and she stepped into the circle of them, tilting her head up to meet his lowering kiss. She could feel the iron tension of his cock pressing into her belly, and she rolled her hips lightly against it. He chuckled, the sound deepening into a growl as he laid claim to her lips. His mouth moved hungrily on hers, his tongue demanding entrance into her throat. She opened her lips willingly, greedily feeding upon his tongue as it explored her mouth, and then, tightening her arms about his neck, pulling his head still closer and probing back with her own tongue.

His arms tightened about her waist, and then she felt herself being lifted from the bottom of the tub. He placed his hands beneath her buttocks, and she arched upward. Peter used his sensual fingers to reach underneath her and part the lips of her slit. She pulled her head back long enough to whimper. “Oh, yes, baby. Please. Please….” And then attacked his lips with increased fervor.

He raised her a little further, and then eased her down onto the hot, throbbing tip of his rigid penis. She sighed, arching backward to better the angle as it slid slowly into the core of her. Deeper…and deeper…until she wanted to scream with the intensity of it. He was deliberately teasing her, drawing out the penetration for as long as he possibly could, but when at last she felt the ridge of her pelvis meet his, she could feel the tip of him resting deep inside her. Her body tightened around him automatically, and he groaned. She locked her feet behind his waist and slowly rotated her pelvis, feeling the shaft within her respond like a well-oiled gearshift. The water continued to pour down around them, blissfully warm, and it danced upon her breasts, teasing the taut nipples. Carefully, she began to work herself up and down on the length of him. He filled her like the cork of a wine bottle, plugging her as if he were made for the task. The friction was heavenly torture, and she arched her back as he leaned back slightly to counterbalance her movements. She could feel a building tension. It had been so long since she had been truly satisfied….

Suddenly, she could feel the crescendo building to a head, and she whimpered again low in her throat.
“Go ahead and scream if you want to…no one will hear you,” Peter urged, and thrust forward an extra fraction.
It was her undoing and scream she did. Long, incoherent babbling praises. She bucked against him, and he laughed.

“Careful, love, you’ll spill us to the floor!”

But she didn’t care…her mind was locked in red-hot flames. She pulled herself down as tightly as she could on the miracle of him, and ground her hips into his pelvis one more time. She bit the side of his throat lightly with her teeth, suckling the salty flesh that still bore traces of sweat despite the prolonged shower, and she felt him stiffen beneath her. “Your turn,” she growled in his ear, nipping at the lobe as she redoubled her assault on his cock.

She felt him gulp, and then begin to thrust within her. She rode his thrusts, feeling the energy building again. After so long a starvation, she was not sated yet. As his strokes became faster and more urgent, she panted encouragement. “C’mon, baby. C’mon. Do it for me, come on…come on!”

Her panting grew louder and louder, as the scream gathered once more in her throat, but this time, she was not alone. He cried out with her. She felt him give one final jerk and thrust forward, and then she felt the hot spurting jets of his seed filling her like molten lead. She leaned forward and crushed his mouth beneath her own, forcing her tongue into his mouth once more, and kissing him hard. There were tears mixed with the hot water now…water that was beginning finally to cool as if realizing that its purpose had been served. He crushed her to him, returning her kiss with an equal passion.

At last, she pulled her head back enough that she could see his eyes, and murmured in a sated growl. “Now THAT is how we say welcome in Texas.”

Let’s recap—the most important thing to remember about writing a steamy scene is to be honest with the material. The way I judge whether a scene is working is by how it makes me feel. Does it cause a reaction in me as a reader? If it does, then it is probably working. Set the mood for yourself, and it will be easier to create it for your reader. If you don’t have a lot of experience in this area of writing, model yourself on what has sold in the past. You can tone down easier than you can heat up. But, as always—research your market before you submit a piece. Most markets looking for steamy content have very specific limits on how graphic their writers should be. Don’t send a publisher more detail than they are willing to accept. Tasteful love scenes can really add fire to a story, and punch to character relationships.

One of the most successful romance writers on the market today, Julie Garwood, is often cited by her readers for her well-written sexual encounters. For a good example of how to integrate the love scene into your action, I strongly recommend her work. Several of Anne Rice’s non-vampiric novels also contain erotic scenes. Besides the extremely graphic fairy tales comprising The Sleeping Beauty trilogy, “Exit to Eden” and “Belinda” also contain some fairly explicit examples for the would-be writer of steamy scenes.

Do write for the senses. Don’t forget that you have five, and in a good encounter, all are engaged. Set your mood for the reader; paint the room around your lovers before throwing them in bed together. Is there a scent of apples in her hair from the shampoo she used that morning? Does his beard stubble scrape against her cheek? Can they taste the wine on each other’s tongues? Give your readers details to bring them into the world you are creating.

Don’t overwrite the scene. If you are targeting a specific market, make sure that you stay within its prescribed guidelines.  Check here for Harlequin guidelines. Here are some other markets to check into. Be sure to make sure that the market is still publishing before submitting to it.

One final word of advice when you are deciding how far to leave the bedroom door open for the reader—keep in mind the age group you are targeting as well. Most of the readership for the mainstream romance lines are adults. They can handle more graphic sex. However, there are more young adult lines all the time. In these books, it is irresponsible to promote underage sex without presenting the consequences as well. It is even more vital to check for guidelines when working with this age group.

In summation: 1) Be sensual; let your readers experience all five senses. 2) Be specific; follow the guidelines for the market you are targeting. 3) Be responsible; don’t advocate casual sex merely for the sake of a salacious scene. Remember, all of the markets mentioned above look for the encounters to be within a committed relationship. 4) Have fun! Remember, this is your chance to indulge all your erotic fantasies….

And if you would like to check out some of Tysche’s work, here are the links:

The Cunning Thief — an Irish inspired fairy tale

The River God’s Bride — a Chinese inspired fairy tale

Western Ways — story “Starr for the Teacher”

Some of the others listed on this page are currently out-of-print, but you might be able to find some of them around. I hope to get some of them back on Amazon in the fairly near future.

 

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GUEST POST: Nicole Givens Kurtz — Kill Three Birds

KillThreeBirds cover

[Today’s post is a guest entry about the worldbuilding in Kill Three Birds by Nicole Givens Kurtz. This is one of the most fascinating worlds I have ever had the pleasure to discover. I look forward to reading future entries in this series.]

Falling in Love—Again: How I Fell for Worldbuilding

Nicole Givens Kurtz

I’ve fallen in love again. It isn’t with the new superhero or Hollywood leading man, but with worldbuilding. You might think the prolonged period of quarantine has gone to my head, but hear me out. For over 20 years, I have written fantastic stories, each with their own world. I hated worldbuilding. It felt like so much work. I wanted to get to the story, to the action, to the “meat” of the work. So, for many years, worldbuilding became a lesson in note-taking, a boring Word document with lists and bullet points. When I started a new story in that world, I would open the file labeled with the creative name of “Worldbuilding” and use the shortcut keys to find the information I sought.

It wasn’t the work. It was me who had soured on the grunt work of worldbuilding. It was mentally labor intensive. No wonder God rested on the seventh day.

But I digress. Let’s get back to falling in love.

During the whole pandemic quarantine life, I discovered something extraordinary. I can cook. I can grow vegetables and flowers. Both of these things, had you asked me in January 2020, I would’ve told you I would never and could never do. And like so much of 2020, I have been surprised and caught off guard by what I find pleasurable and what I’m capable of with these two hands.

Like cooking or planting a garden, worldbuilding takes time. That’s time I didn’t have pre-pandemic. Don’t get me wrong; I took time with my worldbuilding before, but it was stressed (see above.)

Once day I decided to write a fun, mystery series entirely for me. Novella length and just for myself. No pressure to publish or to please anyone but me. I knew I wanted it to be a fantasy world, since I haven’t done much of that since the Minister Knights of Souls series and those are bleak.

I wanted something different, something not quite as dark, but it would be a mystery so it would get gritty.

The Kingdom of Aves was born!

And I fell in love—with worldbuilding. Again.

This time, I opened my OneNote and I began to populate it with images that inspired me. I spent hours on ArtStation and Pinterest looking at Black fantasy artwork and trying to find the right images that matched what was in my imagination. I sketched out a rough map and had Sarah Macklin create a polished map of Aves for me. I researched the type of government they would have, currency, and how provinces and cities would be organized (in Aves, Nests are states or provinces, eggs are cities). It took a lot of time, but it was fun.

I loved it.

Why was it fun this time versus the other times I created worlds?

It goes back to why I know enjoy gardening and cooking. I have time to do those things without the grunt and stress of commuting back and forth to work, sitting in an office all day underneath glaring fluorescent lights.

And this time, I wanted to do it just for me. Of course, I am sharing KILL THREE BIRDS with readers after all. It released on July 20th. But as I was building that world, I looked for things that spoke to me–that I found fun and humorous or clever. I didn’t pressure myself to make it perfect or to get it just right. In fact, I created Aves with love and attention to the details that mattered to the story, but also to me.

Aves is deeply personal to me, in ways I won’t go into here.

I’m sure you won’t mind about that, as those in love rarely divulge all their secrets.

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Writing Tip: Found Object Poetry

When I was in the theater, I ran across a unit for creating characters by taking found objects and listing characteristics of the object to build aspects of your character. For example:

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This fern might be characterized as

  1. vulnerable
  2. delicate
  3. circular
  4. green
  5. united

Taking those characterizations, one might get a picture of an innocent young girl without a lot of experience encircled by family. Or a twisted creature with an envious streak but not much physical strength. Quite different results from the same words.

Then, when I was teaching English, I had a folder called “Thousand Word Pictures” collected to use as prompts for getting kids to write stories. Greeting card pictures, postcards, magazine photos, and such.

For example, each of these could be used as a writing prompt:

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When I was looking for ideas to use in a poetry workshop, I realized that all of these things could be combined to write poetry.

“Found Object” poetry is poetry where you take a random object or image, list some impressions of that prompt, and then use those impressions to write a poem.

Here is an example of a “found object” poem from start to finish.

The prompt:

IMG_3670

The impressions:

  1. age
  2. celebration
  3. sepia
  4. dress
  5. wreath

 

The poem:

The Wedding Dress

Memories fade
as fabric yellows…
The bright laughter
and high hopes
symbolized in lace
and flowers
fallen into sepia
as time softens
the edges
and brings
an end to dreams.

 

When you are stuck for something to write about, this technique can get the wheels turning again. It’s a lot of fun–especially as a group exercise, for a writers group, perhaps.

Here’s a set of objects to play with. Give the concept a try. If anyone does come up with a poem, please share it in the comments. 🙂

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RIEVIEW: Odd Thomas

   Like a pair of looms, using sunshine and their own
silhouettes, two enormous California live oaks wove
veils of gold and purple, which they flung across the
driveway.
   Penny appeared to shimmer and to darkle  as  she 
passed through this intricate lace of light and shade.

–Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

 

Now, that is someone who has a way with words.

I have read Odd Thomas at least twice and embarked on a third reading before starting this review. It is a book that stays with you, popping up in your head now and then. The language, as mentioned above, is lyrical in places, and yet grounded and down-to-earth in the storyline. I am not going to go into too much detail of the plot, because–if you haven’t read it–I don’t want to spoil it. Here’s what I can say:

Odd Thomas is a 20-year-old short-order cook in a small California town. He has a beautiful soul mate, Stormy Llewellyn; an eccentric landlady, Rosalia Sanchez; a friend in the police chief, Wyatt Porter; and the ability to see ghosts.

He can also see bodachs, evil creatures that gravitate to violent deaths. He is the only one who sees these, which sometimes lets him help avoid tragedy–and sometimes not.

The story is part mystery, part horror, part fantasy–which is why I chose this blog to review it on. It doesn’t fit any mold well. Odd is living up to his name and carving a niche all his own.

This is an incredible book, and I think all authors should be required to read it just to see what a well-written book looks like. Of course, there are other well-written books…but I don’t know of many more compelling. Dean Koontz has a way of creating characters that stick with you for decades. Besides Odd Thomas (who has a series of seven titles devoted to his adventures) my favorites are the adventures of Christopher Snow in Moonlight Bay. (Though Amazon bills it as a trilogy and there are only two books I know of…where’s the third book, Dean?)

I think Odd and Christopher would be good friends if they met.

Odd Thomas was originally released in 2003. In 2013, it was made into a movie starring Anton Yelchin. He was perfectly cast. Anton brought to Odd the humor, the pathos, and the brave spirit embodied in the book. Tragically, he died in 2016, so there could never be a sequel without recasting the part. So, we’ll be content with one.

The movie translated the book to the screen brilliantly. There were a few characters that made me go “huh?” with their casting, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film. A lot of the dialogue is taken word for word from the text of the novel, and the cinematography brought to life the world of Pico Mundo in loving detail.

This is an excellent book, a wonderful series, and a grand film. I highly recommend all three.

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Writing Tip: What’s Your Word Count?

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Staring at at a blank page can be daunting, but remember…you don’t have to set out to write a novel every time you begin to write. There are almost as many flavors of fiction as there were of original Baskin Robbins ice cream. Well, maybe not quite–especially since they have expanded that number a LOT!

The point is, you don’t have to start out with a 100,000 word novel. Start slowly and build up, if you want.

Wikipedia has a nice little chart of the main word counts according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, or SFWA. But you can see from the rest of that paragraph that numbers vary widely for novels.

Most people I know consider a story of 1000 words or less to be Flash Fiction, which itself has many varieties–from the popular Six-Word Stories (the most famous of these being FOR SALE: BABY SHOES. NEVER WORN often attributed to Ernest Hemmingway–to the 100 word “Drabbles“–to 750 word “Sudden Fiction.” These stories are the bite-size entertainment that go with our commuter lifestyles and short attention spans. 😉

If you want to try some of these out for yourself, you can find several places to submit these, like Six-Word Memoirs or Narrative Magazine, which pays well for six-words, but charges a fee for submissions, so that is a personal choice to make.

Drabbles can be submitted to The Dribble Drabble Review (no fee/no pay) or The Drabble (also no fee/no pay from what I can tell.) Some people say you should never publish anything unless you get paid for it, but I think sites like these are a good way to hone your craft…

To get some idea of Sudden Fiction, there are several book published with examples, like Sudden Fiction: American Short-Short Stories or Sudden Fiction International: 60 Short-Short Stories.

This article includes a great list of markets for Flash Fiction in general.

When you have gotten comfortable with Flash Fiction, you will have honed a great skill, the ability to tell a cohesive story with limited words. If you can do that, it is likely that you will be able to start upping your word count with confidence.

Many of my acquaintances who come from a journalistic background have told me how much writing newspaper copy helped them learn to write lean and to the point. Read as many articles as you can and begin to recognize this trait.

Check the maximum word counts for a short story market you are interested in (for example, the imprint I edit for Horrified Press, Thirteen O’Clock, has an upper limit of 5000 words.) Don’t go over that limit–or under a minimum. It is unprofessional and wastes the editor’s time, which can have repercussions down the line.

When you are ready to up your game again, I personally suggest National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, in November. With a minimum word count to “win” of 50,000 words in thirty days, it is a great way to get a first draft down on paper (or computer file.) Most of the novels I have written started out as NaNoWriMo books, and if you read down that Wikipedia article, I am apparently in great company!

Nobody says you CAN’T start out to write a 100,000 word epic fantasy or science fiction masterpiece and do fantastically well–but it isn’t the norm. Just remember…baby steps come before you run. And have fun! Good luck out there.

Here are some other great references dealing with the different “sizes” of stories:

The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction: Tips from Editors, Teachers, and Writers in the Field

The Art of the Short Story

Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book On Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need

 

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What word count works best for you? Have you tried them all? Drop me a line in the comments. Let’s discuss. 🙂

 

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Writing Tips: Creating a Compelling Character

Jo and Alistair with Priss

What makes Huck Finn someone that everyone who has ever read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remembers forever?

Why were so many watchers of Game of Thrones rooting for Tyrion Lannister to make it to the finale alive? (The jury still being out on the books, I mention the series…) Or was that just me…?

People have been fascinated by the love story of Romeo and Juliet for–literally–centuries. Why do people care about a teenage love story hundreds of years after it was written?

It is because they are fully realized characters with both strengths and weaknesses. They are flawed individuals who do the best they can in the world they live in but aren’t always right any more than they are always wrong. Will Jo and Alistair ever make that level? If I am being honest…probably not. But some character I write someday might. It is the dream of all authors, isn’t it?

When you are writing a story, be it short or long, this is a truth to hold in mind. Of course, in a short story, you might need only one flaw in a hero or one redeeming feature in a villain. There isn’t a lot of room for character development–but there should be something. Here’s a list of some flaws that might be handy for you.

How do you decide what traits to use? What incidents inform your character’s actions? These are decisions you need to make for your characters because they can’t do it for themselves. But you don’t have to start from complete scratch. There are lots of resources to help. For example, a book on creating good characters like Dynamic Characters: How to Create Personalities that Keep Readers Captivated by Nancy Kress can be a great starting place. Here’s another potential resource Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 7) by K. M. Weiland.

While you are waiting for that Amazon delivery, you can start with a character sheet like this one that will help you get to the depths of your character.

Do you have any special tricks or tips to share? What is the most important attribute you look for in a character?

Leave a comment below if you want to join the conversation. 🙂

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HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!

Here are some of my best fireworks. (I don’t take that great of pictures of them, but I like to try…)

 

I swear I have better SOMEWHERE…and if I find them, I may switch out. 😉

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Fish Tale

whale s tail

And we have come to the end of the trail. The final story in the book is “Fish Tale.” The newly-wed Roxanne is taking a well-deserved break at the lake at the bottom of the hill when she spies a tail diving into the depths. Curious about the size of the fish that would grow that big in a small body of water, she keeps watching, and a big blond fellow invites her to come swimming. In November.

Despite the new ring on her finger, she wades into the water and he gifts her a beautiful bracelet–that lets her breathe underwater as he takes her to his home beneath the lake.

Of course, Bruce isn’t totally clueless about the fact that she is missing–especially when she misses a dinner shift at the restaurant. So he and the other residents of the Home go looking for her.

They find a strange world under the lake, where a stranded merman has been looking for a suitable bride. Has he found one?

Find out in Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish from Yard Dog Press.

Also included in the book is some miscellaneous material:

  1. Bruce’s Wedding Toast to Roxanne
  2. A Sampling of Madame Rose’s Horoscopes
  3. The original welcome page from the old Home website. (I may recycle that to the new one!)

 

Next week I plan on starting the new rotation schedule. Posting on each blog once a week with a RieView on a random site on Friday will make it easier to come up with material for each blog.

Tentatively, the weekly schedule will be:

  1. Monday–Here’s the Clean (to get the housework out of the way early)
  2. Tuesday–RieWriter
  3. Wednesday–Home for Wayward Spirits
  4. Thursday–The Conn-Mann Chronicles
  5. Friday–a RieView on one of the sites

My first RieView will be a look at all 9 seasons of American Horror Story at the Home.

Stick around. I think it will be cool. Now, my husband has a holiday today, so that’s all the blogging for the week. See you Monday!

 

 

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Fangs for the Memories

silhouette of couple kissing during sunset

Everything that has gone before has been leading to this moment–the sunset wedding that Roxanne has dreamed of.

Of course, none of it goes smoothly. The wedding is scheduled for six, and at four o’clock there’s a storm raging.

From the arrival of Bruce’s mother and her entourage to one of the musicians going missing right before the ceremony, anything that can go wrong does go wrong.

It was a lot of fun writing this one, which is filled with a lot of guest appearances from real people. First, the winners of a Tuckerization contest I had held quite some time earlier…Erin Aislinn (Roxanne’s Maid of Honor) and Cass Andre (Bruce’s mother.) And Roxanne’s favorite band The Brobdingnagian Bards came to play the wedding. Plus my family came to see “Cousin Roxanne” get married.

A lot comes to light in this story that has hitherto been hidden–some of it even to me. Don’t you love it when that happens? I’m not going to tell you all of it, because that is spoilers…but there is a clue in the title. 😉

Tomorrow will finish up Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish from Yard Dog Press. Then I think I will do a few RieViews next week.

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When You Wish Upon a Jar

Gnome with beard and red hat

“When You Wish Upon a Jar” started life as a fan-fiction story in the 80s. I was a big fan of the short-lived and long lamented paranormal investigation series Shadow Chasers. (In fact, Felix the wizard is based on Edgar Benedek.) There were only fourteen episodes altogether, and four of them were never aired in the United States–we had to get them from Armed Forces television, as I recall. It was a great series, and I wish they could have had a little more time to get an audience because I think they would have found one. Alas, like Firefly, it wasn’t meant to be.

But it led to a lot of fan-fiction. We had a group of ladies who put out a LOT of pages dedicated to Benny and Jonathan. I myself wrote a five-story arc fanzine that was one of my first in-depth pieces…sort of a pseudo-novel.

And I had this story published in a fanzine as well.

When it was time to put together some new Bruce and Roxanne stories, I thought this one would be easy to file the serial numbers off and revise for the purpose. Anyone who had read the original would find this one MUCH different, as it was majorly rewritten. For one thing, an ill-conceived wish from Benny to a genie in the original turns staid Jonathan into a kid again. In this one, turning Bruce into a kid was too easy. Who’s notice? So it’s Roxanne who takes a stroll down minority lane.

I also had Benny bring a stuffed Opus doll to life in the original (his Magnum Opus), but I wasn’t sure anyone would even remember what that was, so I made it a garden gnome in this case.

It’s a clear case of why one should never accept a genie’s wishes as Bruce tries to get everything back as it should be without his level-headed second-in-command to help.

And he has to hurry because there’s a wedding coming up…

Read all about it in Bruce and Roxanne from Start to Finnish from Yard Dog Press.

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