On the tip of my tongue…

Writing is about getting words on paper. There’s little scarier to a writer than a blank page. You’d think, then, that jotting down words – even if they aren’t the best choice – would be easy. If you’ve ever stared at a blank page you know the truth behind that statement.

Years ago I discovered the Synonym Finder, a variation on the thesaurus that I found much more user friendly than the traditional tome of synonyms and antonyms. Recently I found my new best resource for adding texture to my scenes with the Thesaurus of the Senses.

Words are divided by – you guessed it – the five senses. From there, there are additional breakdowns based on categories. In SEE you find facial expressions or colors. TOUCH is divvied up into textures and pressure along with visceral responses. My favorite is probably the onomatopoeia category in HEAR.

Even if I don’t immediately know the right word I have a direction that I want to go with the choice. This helps me target more specific words rather than having to pull a random.

Using The Emotion Thesaurus is very similar and another good resource if you’re stuck. I’m a fan of the entire series that came from that book – positive trait, negative trait, urban setting, rural setting and emotional wound. While these don’t give you a specific word exclusively, they will help you build on an idea.

It’s easy to get caught up in buying tons of resource books. I have an entire library of odds and ends bought because I intended to write a book on some odd topic. But I find myself using all of these with each new book I start. They pull the words out of me when I can’t find them on my own.

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Nudging the creative side

Do you ever get stuck in your story? You need a word to describe a setting or an emotion, or you want to explore options for a conflict or twist.

I use two techniques when I need to nudge my creative side: mapping and listing.

Mapping can take many different forms but I’m partial to mind mapping because of its simplicity. Sticky notes are your friend with mind mapping because you can do it anywhere and then move around ideas as you need to but honestly, pen and paper are easy as well. Start with a central idea you need to create or solve or build. Then start jotting down the first things that pop into your head. Make no judgements at this point – just write them down as a “leg” of your central idea. Envision a spider body as the central idea and its legs as each new thought.

mind mapping

As you brainstorm you may start to see connections between the thoughts, or you’ll go in a direction you never previously considered. As you build off the central idea you’ll possibly find one thought leading to another and you can find the threads of a plot.

I find listing helps me add texture to my scenes, but I’ve also used it for characterization profiles. With my scene building, I start with the general scenario. The living room. Then I start writing down everything I would expect to see in a living room, or expect to see from my living room. Can I see the kids playing out a window? Would I see into the kitchen? From there I add layers in terms of the remaining senses: touch, taste, hear, smell. Is the couch leather or cloth? Does it have a ripped cusion that scratches the back of my leg when I sit down? Is there a layer of dust that makes me sneeze or can I smell something cooking in the kitchen? Are there sirens blaring in the distance because the window is cracked open?

Diner listing

Listing also works well with creating a twist to your plot. If I know my characters are going to meet at a diner what could happen once they arrive? Some ideas are straightforward: they order lunch, the waitress drops hot coffee on a lap, there’s a kitchen fire or a robbery. But I also try and take it to to the not-so-ordinary: a portal to a new dimension opens in the ladies bathroom, a woman gives birth to an alien baby, a man turns into a werewolf-vampire hybrid.

Brainstorming works even better with more brains so try it with your critique partner.

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Lady Cecilia is Cordially Disinvited for Christmas

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Home For Christmas

Weary of the long hours he’s been spending on a make-or-break legal case, Devin Montlake, the youngest son of the Earl of Vincent, is thrilled at the prospect of spending Christmas with his childhood love Lady Cecilia. With professional success almost within his grasp, he can finally formalize their understanding. Unfortunately, his interfering family’s House Party might well be his last chance.

Believing they’ve been disinvited to the Vincent’s Christmas gathering, Lady Cecilia and her family are surprised when they receive Devlin’s last-minute plea to attend. Lady Cecilia knows the Vincents want better for Devlin than the daughter of an impoverished earl, and, after months of Devlin’s silence, she isn’t sure what to expect. Does Devlin plan to break things off with her in person, or will he ask for her hand in marriage? And if he does propose after so much time apart, how can she be sure she is still first in Devlin’s heart?

Keep reading below for an excerpt!

About Sheridan Jeane

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Sheridan Jeane writes exciting Victorian-era romances filled with spies, intrigue, and tender, sensual moments. She has a single standalone romance as well as five romances in her “Secrets and Seduction” series. She also writes contemporary romances set in the Pittsburgh area.

Sheridan is the daughter of an artist/art-therapist/professor mother and an opera-loving/computer engineer father. Growing up, she assumed parents routinely converted their garages into well-stocked art studios complete with potter’s wheels, kilns, and every color of acrylic paint under the sun. Didn’t every second-grader nail shingles on the roof of the new 2-car garage their dad built? And didn’t every family host the occasional after-opera cast party?
No?
Go figure!

Surrounded by art and music, Sheridan immersed herself in books. Her parents encouraged this love, and one summer while she was away at summer camp, her dad covered her entire bedroom wall with floor to ceiling bookcases.

Book Excerpt:

He stepped into his parents’ grand foyer with his valise gripped tightly in his hand.

“Devin, you’ve finally come home,” Lady Vincent said as she swept down the red-carpeted staircase in an emerald-green silk gown. Her pale hair was swept up in a tight bun. She paused at the last step and peered at his bag with confusion. “But where is your traveling trunk? Don’t tell me that’s all you brought.”

“I can’t stay long. I need to leave on Boxing Day.”

“Are you trying to break your mother’s heart?” his father asked as he swept in from the direction of the library, a book clutched in one beefy hand. “You haven’t been home in two years, and now you say you’ll only stay two days?” The man’s hair had turned a bit grayer, but other than that he was relatively unchanged since Devin’s last visit.

“I know. I’m sorry. I have a case I need to argue next week, and it’s a complicated one. I should be in London right now preparing for it, but I didn’t want to disappoint you.” Or Cecilia.

“Hmph.” His father’s disdain was both loud and obvious.

“That certainly puts a damper on my plans,” his mother complained. “So many of our guests were looking forward to seeing you. Miss Glassford in particular.”

“Miss Glassford? I don’t recall meeting her.” Devin glanced at his brother for help, but Horace assiduously avoided his gaze. Something was going on here.

“She’s simply a young lady with whom I think you’ll have much in common. Mr. Glassford recently moved to the county. We’ve invited him along with his wife and daughter to be our guests for the house party.”

If Devin were a betting man, he’d gamble that the father was wealthy and the girl was in search of a husband. He forced himself not to react. “I look forward to meeting Mr. Glassford and his family.” The tight smile he offered should have conveyed all his annoyance, but she chose to ignore it.

“Quite so,” his mother said. “I hope you’ll make them feel welcome. Miss Glassford is such a pleasant young woman. I quite admire her.”

“I’ll do what I can. Unfortunately, since my visit is so short, I already won’t have much time to devote to Lady Cecilia. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to finalize matters with her father.”

“You what?” his father interrupted. “What on earth are you babbling on about? What matters? What could you possibly be planning that includes Lord Babbage? The man is a soft-headed imbecile. Don’t tell me you’re getting yourself involved in one of his schemes.”

Devin straightened his spine. “I’m referring to the arrangements I plan to make with Lord Babbage to secure Lady Cecilia’s hand in marriage.”

His mother let out a soft moan. “Don’t tell me that’s why you went behind my back and invited them. I thought we’d convinced you of the rashness of that plan. Her family—”

“Her family has had more than its fair share of bad luck. Between Lady Babbage’s ill health, the lack of a direct male heir to inherit the title, and Lord Babbage’s poorly chosen investments, I’d say they’ve been extremely unfortunate,” Devin said.

“Why would you want to tie yourself to such people?” his mother asked. “Don’t you realize that Cecilia will try to pass them money— your money— at every opportunity? And what of your children? That sister of hers is much too precocious. They’ve let Evangeline run wild. She has no idea how to speak to her betters.”

“I’ve seen it over and over again with horses. Bad breeding makes bad foals,” Father intoned.

Devin narrowed his eyes. “Are you suggesting Cecilia is in some way deficient? She’s the picture of good health.”

“Not of good sense,” his mother muttered.

“I think I’ve heard more than enough.” Devin grabbed his valise from where he’d set it on the floor. “I insist you stop criticizing the woman I plan to marry.”

His mother’s face paled. “Devin, be reasonable. You can’t still plan to—”

“I do, Mother. I plan to make Cecilia my wife. You need to accept it.”

Amazon     Goodreads

Don’t miss out on the other books in Sheridan’s Secrets and Seduction series! All are free with Kindle Unlimited!

It Takes a Spy (Book 1)

Lady Catherine’s Secret (Book 2)

Once Upon a Spy (Book 3)

My Lady, My Spy (Book 4)

 

 

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Pantster vs Plotter vs Plotser

I’m one of those hypbrid writers. Because of my background in analytical chemistry, I love a solid plan to accomplish a task. A + B = C. While it has its benefits in my career it’s not always great for my creative side. Without a plan, I freeze up. Research ad nauseum. Comapre and contrast. Analysis paralysis. I will make a decision and while I may project confidence in that decision, inside I’m usually a quivering mess.

Because of this I tend to approach my writing in much the same way.: make a plan. This plan will involve charts and graphs and questionnaires. I’ll outline and research. I’ll build profiles for my characters so I know not just what they look like, but how they’ll react.

It’s great for the beginning of the stories but not so much when my characters decide they don’t like what I’ve planned and detour from the plan and that happens more then I like to admit. (Stubborn characters!) I can try and force them back on the plan but it rarely works. This is when my pantser personality has to come out and go with the flow.

The great thing about plotting is that it’s a goal for me and I’m very much a goal-oriented, task-oriented person. I like having that direction. With romance we know the end goal is going to be that HEA. The steps inbetween first meet and final resolution are the tasks I need.

I took a great workshop recently entitled Patchworking the Perfect Plot by Suzanne Johnson that appealed to both sides of my personality. We built lots of guides and plans (plotting) and then filled in the gaps. I didn’t feel trapped by my plotting side, or left adrift by my pantser side.

One of the greatest things I learned in Suzanne’s workshop involved creating relationship arcs. There are, of course, different levels of relationships between the characters in a story. Secondary characters may have just a cursory relationship with one another or a major character. For some reason, this information helped soothe the pantser in me. My character profiles told me how an individual character would react but reactions are built on interactions and the arc showed me that interaction.

How do you overcome the obstacles to your writing?

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Tropes

I have a confession to make: for many, many years I did not understand what was meant by the word trope. I started writing long before Google could answer all our questions, or Alexa or Siri would provide information on topics we never considered asking about before the advent of such all-knowing apps.

I gradually came to understand, thanks to certain publishing houses, what was meant by the word and I thought that I would likely never be writing such things. My books didn’t fit the mold of billionaire cowboys or secret babies.

Or so I thought.

I attended a monthly presentation of my writer’s group a few months back and the topic was just this subject, only it focused more on characterization than on plot. To my surprise, I came to realize that I was guilty of using some of these stereotypes, even if in a superficial way, and it’s changed the way I look at my characters, especially my heroine. (A quick shout out to the presener, Katharine Ashe, for her insightful and eye-opening workshop!)

These characterization tropes included:

  • the misogynist – the woman-hater who just hasn’t met the right woman
  • the harasser – the guy you’d call HR about at work if you didn’t label him the hero
  • the rebuilder – he destroyed her, now he seeks to rebuild her
  • the exception – she’s the only woman in the world like this
  • the stooge – a woman so clumsy she can’t walk to the car without falling down

There were other plot tropes discussed – two people vastly unequal in terms of wealth or sexual experience, stalkers, coming to the rescue, the evil overly-sexed female who seeks to foil the H/H.

I think tropes are used because they are easy, or as easy as it gets in writing a book. They lend themselves to some fairly straightforward conflicts and resolutions and many readers like that “formula” for their books. But I think in a genre that is largely written by and for women, we need to do better. Now don’t think I’m waving a feminist flag here – I’m not intentionally doing that. I’ve nothing against feminism but I’m talking primarily about good fiction. The fact that it lends itself to strong female characters is just a bonus.

As writers, we need to push the boundaries at all times, on all subjects to move our genre forward, to attract new readers, and explore the topics that are meaningful to our audience. Could you imagine 30 years ago reading a story about female spies in WWII (The Alice Network) or a biracial romance set during the Civil War (An Extraordinary Union) or a female economist who hires a male prostitute (The Kiss Quotient)? When I starting reading romance in the early 80s, it was about virgins in their early twenties who fell for the wounded, rich, powerful male in his mid to late thirties.

Flip that trope. Smash it. Tweak it in new and exciting ways. Use this diverse, wonderfully chaotic world we live in to set the stage and background for your characters to explore. It can be frightening – what if your editor or reader don’t like it? Tropes are safe. Tropes sell.

So do things that break the story ceiling. Harry Potter. The Help. The Firm.

It won’t be easy but as they say, nothing good every comes without hard work. We’re writers. We’re used to hard work.

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Speak to the dragon

I went on a writer’s retreat recently. Nothing fancy or organized; just me and another writer friend hold up in a nice cabin in the mountains with nothing to distract us but a lot of trees, the view and a hot tub. Since it’s July the hot tub wasn’t all that distracting, but man oh man that view could suck up your attention.

I’m starting to fight the effects of carpal tunnel and even with an ergo keyboard my left wrist is not happy with all the hours I spend typing. I even bought a new keyboard recently – one of those very expensive split keyboards – to see if that will help. It arrives on Wednesday so I’ll report back later. But in an effort to stem the pain, I’ve been looking into Dragonspeak, or something similar, and my friend actually uses the software.

His process is more manual. He writes out his pages long hand then simply dictates them; what he calls ‘talking to the computer.’ I thought of trying it but found my writer brain is not a linear thing. I write a sentence, then edit it, go back a few paragraphs, edit some more, tweak another couple of words, add a comma, delete a comma, fix the typos then erase the whole thing and start again. It’s not a process that lends itself to dictation.

I know many writers that use such software so I’m very curious how they get it to work for them. Perhaps it’s like so many other things associated with writing a novel  – it takes practice.

Meanwhile, I wear a lidocaine patch on my left hand and wait for my new keyboard. I’m also going to see the chiropractor to see if she can help.

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TSTL

If you didn’t know that means too stupid to live.  I’m not sure who came up with the term but it’s a common ailment in horror movies where the busty blonde tries to escape the serial killer by going down the dark stairs into the even darker basement while wearing 4 inch stilettos and a bra that wouldn’t hold a lusty thought much less the triple-D bosums bouncing in a too-small shirt.

I had an epipheny during a random binge of apocalypse movies. Writers use TSTL in order to create conflict. The family fleeing the coming zombie horde always goes back for the missing teddy bear and gets eaten by the zombie hiding in the living room. The lone woman survivor who has the last working car stops for the poor stranded guy and has her car stolen, if she’s lucky, and gets murdered and/or raped if she doesn’t. The idiots fleeing the pending volcanic explosion can’t find water when the  landscape is literally covered in snow and the earth is exploding in fire. Oy.

This is not conflict in case anyone is wondering. Or at least not good conflict. Yes, it creates a situation for excitement and creates a need for characters to make hard choices but they are usually (intentionally?) wrong choices in the heat of the moment. Then these wrong choices become fodder for the next series of fake conflicts and bad choices until, by luck, a few survive their own stupidity to make it to the end of the story.

Conflict is different than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Conflict requires sacrifice. Conflict requires growth. Conflict requires opposition, not just physical opposition where there’s a zombie coming to eat your brains but opposition through moral and ethical dilemmas that test a characater’s mettle. So if you want to use the zombie coming at you to eat your brains for a conflict, at least add the twist that the main character can save only one of their two children in the room.

Think of the classic Romancing the Stone when Jack has the long sought after emerald in one hand and a dangling-off-the-cliff Joan in the other. Now that’s conflict! One dream or the other? The right thing or the wanted thing?  While the choice may seem easy to you and me, for Jack it takes a moment’s thought and it’s not “do I let her die or keep the big shiny rock?” It’s more a decision of “can I have them both?” Because that’s so often what conflict comes down to – can your character have both what s/he’s always wanted/dreamed of/worked for AND this new thing they didn’t even know they wanted until they had it in their grasp?

The answer is usually no and when they finally make the leap they discover that this new thing was worth it and what they really always wanted. Happily ever after ensues.

Don’t forget the zombies or the dark basements or the volcanic eruptions because let’s face it, those make for good reading. Just don’t let that be the only conflict in your book.

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