“Stop jumping on the bed before you fall off and crack your head open!”
How many times did you hear that when you were young? Or perhaps yelled it to rambunctious children yourself? Okay, now raise your hand if you’re guilty of leaping fearlessly across the chasm between twin beds anyway, and managed to do so safely. I see I’m in good company. Yes, I’ve knocked a few pictures askew, broken a lamp or two, maybe even left a few dents in the plaster wall, but I have never, ever, in all my years of bed jumping, cracked my head open. Leave it to my mom to always warn me about the worst possible outcome of any situation.
“Don’t run with scissors or you poke your eye out.”
“Don’t get near the lawnmower without shoes on or you’ll cut your toe off.”
“Don’t lick the beaters while they mixer is on because it will yank your tongue clear out of your mouth.”
So let me take this opportunity to say, “Thanks, Mom,” because always warning me about the worst thing that could happen has not only kept all my 2,000 body parts in tact, but her dire predictions have made me a better writer.
“What?” you ask.
Yes, when I sit down to write a new scene I put on my mom hat and figure out what bad thing can happen to my characters and thus create conflict which raises the tension which, in the words of esteemed literary agent Donald Maas, is what “keeps the reader turning pages.”
Let me show you of what I speak. We’ll start with a scene, say a charity event held in the ballroom of a swanky downtown hotel. Our hero, we’ll call him Jake, looks yummy dressed in a tuxedo that emphasizes his broad shoulders and bulging biceps. Our heroine Daria looks stunning in an off-white, off-the-shoulder, cocktail-length number paired with sexy sling-back stilettos. How about we give her a little something sparkly top go around her neck, too? Okay, so the plan for the evening is a cocktail hour followed by an haute cuisine dinner, then a night of dancing under the spinning disco ball to music offered by a soulful singer and her back-up band. We follow our characters as they eat, drink and be merry. All nice and good and probably very enjoyable by real-world standards. But to a reader? In a word, BO-ring!
So now we’re going to play a little game of “What if…” thinking of something bad that can happen to our characters, and then let’s go one step further and figure out “what would be worse…” I guarantee you that we’ll spin a scene that will keep the reader engaged in our little drama.
Here’s some ideas I’ve come up with.
What if… Jake forgets to bring the tickets so they have to drive all the way back to his apartment on the other side of town so are very late to the ball, putting them both in a bad mood. I can imagine that dialogue—or lack thereof—in the car. But what would be worse is if they were to be in a car accident because Daria made a snide comment causing Jake to take his eyes off the road for a split second. (Fear not, they will both survive, and their relationship will grow stronger as they heal. This is a Happily Ever After story, after all.)
What if…somebody jostles Daria’s elbow and she spills red wine on her couture dress. Or if we’re going to worst-case wardrobe malfunctions here, what would be worse is if Daria returns from the restroom with the back of her dress tucked in her underwear. (And I speak from personal experience telling you this is the WORST thing that can happen to a woman at a formal event. You’d think my mother would have warned me about that! No worries, though, my “date” for the evening married me anyway.)
Or what if…Jake’s ex-fiancé is in attendance, looking ravishing, as usual. What would be worse is if Madame Ex is hanging on the arm of Jake’s new boss and whispering all sorts of secrets while looking his way. (And of course he has some dark secrets. All yummy heroes do. But that’s another topic for another day.)
What if…in hopes of taking advantage of the romantic venue Jake slips an engagement ring into Daria’s champagne and she accidentally drinks it. Worse yet, what if Jake’s ex-fiancé accidentally drinks it. I think there might be a little “conflict” after that, don’t you?
What if…when Daria passes through the lobby on the way to the restroom she interrupts a robbery. Oh, what if she’s taken hostage! At gunpoint!
What if…while they are enjoying their dessert, the charming elderly lady next to Jake falls face first into her cherry chocolate chip cheesecake? But what if it’s not a simple heart attack, but murder? And Jake is the prime suspect? (Forgive me, I’m a mystery writer at heart, and I’ve found nothing increases the tension better than the introduction of a dead body.)
Or feel free to rely on the all time “what’s the worst that can happen” scenarios that our mothers taught us. Like, what if…after the ball, they get a room at the swanky hotel and while they’re getting “frisky” Daria does fall off the bed and cracks her head open?
Making “bad things” happen to your good characters is such a simple concept, but so important to creating a compelling read. So can they go out for a nice date? Of course, but something has to happen, something out of the ordinary, something that will increase tension, maybe show the character’s “true colors” or force them to face their demons or push them outside of their comfort zone in some way. You need something that creates conflict and tension. Something that will have your readers saying “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.” That’s what makes a story not only worth reading, but also worth the twenty-four dollars and ninety-nine cents they plunked down for it.
Okay, your turn to play. Let your imagination run wild and think of something bad that can happen to Jake and Daria on their date. Then figure out what would be even worse than that. And maybe even push yourself to go one step further along on the worst-case scenario continuum. Is it possible to push too far? Yes. For example the abduction by aliens (unless you are writing sci fi) is too far for a mainstream romance. But in general, the worser the better. And please share your ideas in the comment section. We all want to read them!
Jayne Ormerod is the author of The Blond Leading the Blond, set in a fictional lakeside resort in Ohio. A lot of bad” things happen to Ellery, her main character, as she searches for her aunt’s killer. More information about Jayne and her writing can be found at her website.
I’ve been feeling very contemplative lately. And since I’m a pretty much … a put-it-out-there kinda gal, I’m working really hard to keep these thoughts to myself. (Mostly because sharing them wouldn’t be productive.) Which means, the blog well is mostly dry. Well, that and I’m on a sort of mini blog tour promoting LOVE’S BOUNTY so I’ve been writing blog posts almost nonstop.
Anyway, I just thought I’d leave you with a little entertainment for all you ladies to start your week …
I’m a creature of habit. I don’t pretend otherwise. I mean there are times I can be spontaneous, but mostly I’m happy plodding along with some semblance of a routine. Yeah, it’s sort of boring, but it works for me.
Which means when something screws with things the way I like them, it makes me all prickly. Like this blog for instance. For years … years I happily typed up my posts and posted them to the Internet. Yeah, there were always these big strips of yellow on the top of my dashboard proclaiming how behind the times I was and wouldn’t I please update the WordPress software. But I refused. Because I knew their new fangled up-to-date version wasn’t going to look or act like the old version that was as comfy as the jammies I was working in.
But then I had the wonderful idea of doing an overhaul and Tracy Cooper-Posey just did a slow eyeroll when she realized how outdated the platform was that I was using. After we revamped the Block, giving it a sexy new look that fit better with my website, she made me promise, promise to faithfully do the updates when they appear. And I have. I close my eyes and go through the steps, knowing when I open them again, nothing will be the same.
It’s not fair. There should be an option to update the backend (that’s all the stuff I can’t work anyway) but keep what I see exactly the same. But nooooooo, they have to screw with something that’s already working.
Oh, and WordPress isn’t alone. Goodreads changed where they put things in their drop down menus. Followed by photobucket. And then Twitter wanted me to upgrade and add all their new bells and whistles. (Of course that only turned me off and kept me from going over there for the longest time.) And don’t even get me started on Facebook … the update, new fangled app, change-your-settings-every-other-day KING!
And even Google changed how I view images! Why?
Don’t they understand there are techno-idiots like me barely hanging on by a cyber thread pulled so taut that one more new-fangled-who-dinger may be just the thing that drops us into the deep pool of 404 error … page not found!
What about you? Are you one of those tech-savvy people who love everything new and sparkly or is the cyber-verse a territory best left to the professionals? Because you know me … I need to know if I’m alone in all of this!
Why? Why do they want to cause the
I just finished edits on my twelfth book, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t very many. I’m a very slow writer by many standards, but I digress. It’s not the number that’s important here. I only wanted to let you know I’ve been through the process of publishing a book plenty of times to tell you, none of it gets old!
I’m not one of those authors that can just puke up the first draft, though goodness knows I’d like to figure out how. I fuss and futter over every word. Every paragraph. Every word of dialogue. Until some days my muse is ready to pour the bottle of tequilla she’s been enjoying over my head. But I’ve got to tell you there’s nothing more thrilling than finding that perfect turn of phrase that makes the page sparkle.
Well, except the thrill of typing “the end” and sending my story off to my critique partners for a final perusal. And after one more spell check and fixing the glitches my partners find, hitting the send button and getting my story out to my editor. Oh, yeah, there’s a totally sigh of contentment. (And then nervously sitting and anticipating her reaction while it sits in her queue waiting her read.)
And then the offer of contract arrives and I squee like a little girl getting a pony at her birthday party (which never did happen in my lifetime). Not occasionally. Not only if the book was on the more difficult side to write. Every time. I run out and shout it to my critique partners. Blast it across facebook. And annoy my loops with giddy dances of excitement. Yay! Signing a new contract makes my heart sing.
Then of course there’s the excitement of filling out the cover request information, anticipating the gorgeous artwork that will come back.
Then the edits arrive. I’m one of those writers that loves the editing process. First of all I have to sing praises to Mary, my editor at Ellora’s Cave. Mary pushes my writing to be better in the larger scheme of the book. But she’s also amazing in the small details of a story that my beta readers miss. Like the fact that my hero has on biker boots when he arrives at a resort in chapter one and shows up in cowboy boots in chapter seven. (Yeah, no guy brings that many shoes to a mostly nekkid resort.) Or that months of therapy suddenly becomes years of therapy three chapters later. Looooooooove herrrrrrr! (Yes that was me singing Mary’s praises.) Anyhoodles … edits give me another chance to see each scene by itself and really make it shine. There’s a delightful sense of accomplishment sending the shining manuscript back to my editor.
Then the email arrives with my cover attached and I let it sit, enjoying the anticipation of the unveiling. My heart in my throat, my breath held, I open the email and get my first glimpse of the artwork that will identify my book to readers. Yeah, I love that moment.
And after it’s all come together the day arrives when my baby heads out into the world. Release day probably is the best part. Well, until the first reviews are posted leaving me running around the internet like a crazy woman, posting links everywhere.
Hopefully in the middle of all of that, I’ve got another book in the pipeline and all of it happens all over again. Because as you can see, I just really get stupidly happy through all the stages of this crazy publishing business.
This came across my desk and I couldn’t resist sharing them with you. They’re titles simply “Adult Truths” …
2. Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.
3. I totally take back all those times I didn’t want to nap when I was younger.
4. There is great need for a sarcasm font.
5. How the hell are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?
6. Was learning cursive really necessary?
7. Map Quest really needs to start their directions on # 5. I’m pretty sure I know how to get out of my neighborhood.
8. Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
9. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind of tired.
11. You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you know that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.
12. Can we all just agree to ignore whatever comes after Blue Ray? I don’t want to have to restart my collection…again.
13. I’m always slightly terrified when I exit out of Word and it asks me if I want to save any changes to my ten-page technical report that I swear I did not make any changes to.
14. I keep some people’s phone numbers in my phone just so I know not to answer when they call.
15. I think the freezer deserves a light as well.
17. I wish Google Maps had an “Avoid Ghetto” routing option.
18. I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between boredom and hunger.
19. How many times is it appropriate to say “What?” before you just nod and smile because you still didn’t hear or understand a word they said?
21. Shirts get dirty. Underwear gets dirty. Pants? Pants never get dirty, and you can wear them forever.
22. Sometimes I’ll look down at my watch 3 consecutive times and still not know what time it is.
23. Even under ideal conditions people have trouble locating their car keys in a pocket, finding their cell phone, and Pinning the Tail on the Donkey – but I’d bet everyone can find and push the snooze button from 3 feet away, in about 1.7 seconds, eyes closed, first time, every time.
24. The first testicular guard, the “Cup,” was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. That means it only took 100 years for men to realize that their brain is also important.
This blog originally ran in December 2008. But I love it so much (and I’m really trying to get some writing done) I thought I’d share them with you again …
I got these little ditties in an email from a friend. I laughed so hard I couldn’t resist sharing them with you. (And I even added a few of my own to make a round thirteen.)
1. He said, “I don’t know why you wear a bra, you have nothing to put in it.
She said, “You wear pants, don’t you?”
2. He said, “Shall we try switching positions tonight?”
She said, “That sounds great! You stand by the dryer while I sit on the couch and fart.”
3. He said, “I did the dishes!”
She said, “It was take out.”
4. He said, “What have you been doing with all the grocery money?”
She said, “Turn sideways and look in the mirror.”
6. He said, “How many men does it take to change a roll of toilet paper?”
She said, “I don’t know, it’s never happened.”
7. He said, “Why do women complain they can’t find men who are sensitive, caring, and good-looking?”
She said, “Because they all have boyfriends.”
8. He said, “The kids are in bed and there’s nothing good on tv … shall I entertain you?”
She said, “I always find it amusing when you use the vacuum cleaner.”
9. He said, “Why are married women heavier than single woman?”
She said, “Single women come home, see what’s in the fridge and go to bed. Married women come home, see what’s in bed and go to the fridge.”
10. He said, “You know, I was a fool when I married you.”
She said, “Yes, dear, but I was in love and didn’t notice.”
Love: Aroma — French perfume
Lust: Aroma — Brut aftershave
Marriage: Aroma — “The baby needs changing. . .”
Because I’m in the middle of packing my house I’ve decided to run an oldy but goodie Thursday Thirteen that originally ran in April 2008. But I STILL love Erma and her quotes never get old …
Erma Bombeck (1927-1996), I love the woman. She was a magician with the written word. With a couple quick strokes of her pen she could have me crying or laughing. So I decided to find 13 of my favorite quotes (and I had a hard time whittling it down to 13). Some of these things she said, some she wrote in her books. If you’ve never read one of her books … treat yourself. My favorite has to be “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank”.
So here’s what I’ve come up with …
1. Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth.
2. Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.
3. It is fast approaching the point where I don’t want to elect anyone stupid enough to want the job. (on the US presidency)
4. Mothers have to remember what food each child likes or dislikes, which one is allergic to penicillin and hamster fur, who gets carsick and who isn’t kidding when he stands outside the bathroom door and tells you what’s going to happen if he doesn’t get in right away. It’s tough. If they all have the same hair color they tend to run together.
5. My theory on housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch on fire or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one cares. Why should you?
6. All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with white carpet is one of them.
7. I don’t know why no one ever thought to paste a label on the toilet-tissue spindle giving 1-2-3 directions for replacing the tissue on it. Then everyone in the house would know what Mama knows.
8. There is nothing more miserable in the world than to arrive in paradise and look like your passport photo.
9. People shop for a bathing suit with more care than they do a husband or wife. The rules are the same. Look for something you’ll feel comfortable wearing. Allow for room to grow.
10. I remember buying a set of black plastic dishes once, after I saw an ad on television where they actually put a blowtorch to them and they emerged unscathed. Exactly one week after I bought them, one of the kids brought a dinner plate to me with a large crack in it. When I asked what happened to it, he said it hit a tree. I don’t want to talk about it.
11. I never leaf through a copy of National Geographic without realizing how lucky we are to live in a society where it is traditional to wear clothes.
12. Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply. “Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?” Don’t you want to save some of the pizza for your brother?” Wasn’t there any change?”
13. Have you any idea how many children it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen? Three. It takes one to say, “What light?” and two more to say, “I didn’t turn it on.”
Okay, so I go through this at least once a year. Mostly around conference time. I just don’t understand how/why I shouldn’t get to be “me” when I’m out in public. I go round and round about the right thing. It’s the whole “dress for success” notion of how you should present yourself.
Now, before you think I’m totally whacked … I do get it. I understand that a hospital administrator is given more credibility in a suit or that a person would rather have their taxes done by someone in a button down shirt and not someone with Tevas and a hole in their jeans. Really, I understand how the world works … but bear with me.
I’m a writer. I show up to work and have a little chat with my muse. He really doesn’t care that I have bedhead and my breath smells like last weeks dirty socks. We hang out over a ccouple cups of coffee and talk about my stories. It’s all very comfortable and casual.
It’s how I spend a better part of my day in comfy sweats slaving away at my computer. I don’t go out in public like that!
When I was young my mother NEVER left the house in jeans. She just didn’t. Jeans were for working in the garden or relaxing around the house. Which translated to the rule that we couldn’t wear jeans to school. Yeah, I’m not really that old. All my friends wore jeans. I didn’t sneak makeup like my friends, I stashed my jeans in my book bag and changed at school. And there’s the point of this post. Did my mother’s perception of appropriate dress make me a better student? Of course it didn’t. Did the teachers look at me any differently because I wore dockers and corderoys rather than jeans? We both know the answer to that … an emphatic NO!
Which brings me to this more casual world we live in. It is rare for my children to address my friends as “Mr and Mrs”. They use their first name. When I taught (not in a school) I introduced myself by my first name, sometimes as “Miss Nina”, but not very often. And I still got the respect from the children I taught. I wore jeans and sweaters 99% of the time. It didn’t change the fact that the kids saw me as an authority figure in the front of the classroom.
These days there are some companies where jeans and Tevas are the norm. My daughter’s applying at a couple of firms that do environmental design where the employees are very casual at the office. Does this mean they aren’t as capable of doing the job someone in dockers and a button does. Many, many office have “casual Friday”. Are they incapable of being professionals on that day? The answere to both those questions is of course it doesn’t matter.
I’m a romance author. I’m serious about my business and the success of it. When I go out, does the public really want to see this …
Oops, well, not that erotic author, but one that fits the “business casual” personna …
Because here’s my thing. I don’t leave the house without looking presentable. I’m not one to wear makeup (very long story) but I always have on earings, usually a necklace and many times a bracelet or two. My jeans and top are wrinkle free and my hair styled. So why can’t a go out and greet my public like that? Why can’t I show up at booksignings or visit bookstores to sign stock in my jeans? And jeans in this context refers to colored as well as blue jeans.
I mean, let’s face it, since I work at home I don’t have a whole bunch of dress-up clothes. (Some of that has to do with the MS and my ability to maneuver in clothings.) Sounds dumb, but it’s true. So then I always wonder. Will people think I’m not a serious writer if they see me like that? Have standards relaxed enough that I can be more casual than was acceptable in the past? I’d like to think so.
Cuz I gotta tell you, this whole “business casual” term drives me insane. What the heck does that imply? I mean really. When Mr. Nina goes business casual he doesn’t wear a tie and suit jacket. Not too casual in my opinion. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to jump off the computer and run out wearing my writing attire. But can’t I get away with jeans and sneakers? Will bookstores and the public be disappointed if that’s how they see me?
I’m really not sure and I am curious about how you’d like to see authors. Does it take away the “magic” when they are simply in their every day clothes? I’d love to hear what you think.
It’s been a couple of years since I sat here on a Sunday morning and chatted about our snowmobiles. Why is that? Weeellll … let’s see, TWO winters ago when I went for a ride with Mr. Nina on what we affectionately call “sleds”, he 1) Got me lost on the top of a mountain and it took nearly 3 hours to find our way home. 2) He took me in the middle of the woods and dumped us sideways in a stream … which of course got us stuck … which meant he had to leave me ALONE in the woods for nearly 40 minutes while he walked out for help. And 3) On a gorgeous day he went screaming across a field and didn’t see a logging road and … well let’s just say that one landed me in the emergency room and a leg brace for ten days.
Okay now that you’re caught up, let me tell you about my ride on a snowmobile for the first time in two years. I know you’re wondering why I bothered, but here’s the reason …
Yep, it’s a brand new shiny sled. We picked one with all the bells and whistles. There’s a seat warmer and hand warmers and a big new comfortable seat. You see, there are no more children here to ride with Mr. Nina. So I thought … I really do enjoy touring through the forest on a beautiful winter day … it would be a nice way to spend weekend afternoons in the winter.
Okay, so yesterday was gorgeous in northern Maine. Sun shining and temps hovering in the mid teens. Yay! So after some maneuvering we got managed to get me geared up and on the sled. (Just a little reminder here that I have MS, my body has some special needs … but we don’t mind. Both Mr. Nina and I are used to dealing with that stuff. Anyhoodles …) Off we go. And you know, I’m loving this new sled. It’s more stable. There’s these cool rubber wind blocks for my hands and hand warmers in the handles. Ohhhh, I like.
Though at one point as warmth spread across my bottom I thought I had bladder issues, turns out … there’s a seat warmer too. I’m loving this. Riding through the forest on the sled is the only way I get to see the beautiful scenery of the deep Maine forest. And the trails were awesome! Man, was I enjoying myself … for about 2 hours.
As you would expect, I was getting a little stiff. I mean, it had been 2 years since my body had been bounced and jostled. Trust me when I say, sledding is great physical therapy. Anyway, we stop on the trail and get off the sled, stretch and walk around a little bit. I mention that perhaps we should be working our way home. Yeah, yeah, we’re just going to curve up here pick up some gas, sled down this way to a restaurant and grab some lunch then head straight home.
I should have known something was up as Mr. Nina lilted his voice up, flashed his million dollar smile and said “besides, I need to put some miles on the new engine”. Yeeeeah … I should never have gotten on that sled.
So we bounce and jostle our way to the gas pump and then to the restaurant, where thankfully I’ll get off, stretch my sore muscles and rest my hips which are now aching joints of fire and nourish my empty stomach. But noooooo …. the restaurant was closed. No rest for the weary. No food for the hungry. And we climb back on the sled and head straight home. Only, it turns out, home is now two hours and many miles of bumpy trails away.
By the time Mr. Nina gets me home I can barely function. As he gets me in the house he just looks at me with a lopsided smile and said “perhaps that trip was a tad long”. Ummm … you think??? Yeah, FIVE hours may have been a bit much for me.