Jackie shares her knowledge of the craft of writing in this short but jam-packed book. It draws on her experience in teaching more than 100 students.
Digital edition 2011
Welcome to Jackie's blogs!
1: The Journey to Publication
dump on yourself or let anyone else do so. In my teaching, I was shocked
by how many students took negativity from parents, spouses, so-called
friends. Sometimes it’s disguised as helping: “I don’t want you to be
disappointed.” They should support you or get out of your way.
they won’t, make new friends. I won’t advise you to get a new husband or
wife, but the one thing that’s vital to any successful relationship is respect.
Dumping on your dreams is disrespectful.
let fear get in your way. Fear of writing,
fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of criticism. Every time I start a
book, I’m afraid I’m going to fail. And that’s after nearly 100 of
them. I have had books come up short—some that didn’t sell, some
that required major revisions, some I set aside and never finished.
will never move from Point A to Point Z or even to B if you listen to your
fears. Just accept that failure is part of the process.
that, once you succeed, your failures are just interesting stories for you
rejections or critiques are really cruel. That doesn’t make them
right. Some people are just mean. And the fact that they may hold positions
of power doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right, either. I once had an
editor at Harlequin—before I sold to them—who told me I wasn’t cut out
to write romance.
a rejection or criticism will strike you as accurate. Don’t let that
devastate you. You screwed up. Ouch! After you pick yourself up, take
what’s helpful and don’t give in to the sense that you’re a failure.
Mistakes don’t mean you can’t become a good writer.
think that failure means you’ll always fail. As
a writing teacher I have seen students start out at a level where they could
easily be dismissed—voice all over the place, no idea how to use point of
view, etc. But they worked incredibly hard. Amazingly, after a year or so,
their writing reached a professional level.
let anyone browbeat you, and this goes double
if they aren’t in the writing/publishing field. The most ignorant
people—including those who know nothing about publishing—can be among
the most overbearing about how right they are in whatever nonsense they’re
spouting. For example: “Everybody knows that sex sells, so you should
write that!” Only if you feel comfortable with writing sex.
feel you have to write everything. Just
because erotica is selling, if you can’t bear to read it, don’t try to
write it. The same goes for any other trend or type of fiction.
be afraid to try something new. Don’t limit
yourself at the beginning of your career or in the middle of it, either.
It’s wonderful to have a particular brand if that’s fulfilling for you,
but if you’re dying to try something else—or if you’re facing
burnout-- go for it.
because you hear that you should leap into submitting or self-publishing
while the iron is hot—don’t do it if the manuscript is still rough, or
your skills aren’t ready for prime time. You may lose
readers—permanently. And oh, those online reviews can be cruel.
to say no
to people who infringe on your writing time. You may lose friends. You will
make new ones. Don’t say “I’m trying to write” or even “I’m
writing.” Say, “I’m working.”
I: Mastering Your Craft
I: Mastering Your Craft
line: Never forget that your reader wants to go on an emotional journey
with your characters, to care about them, to get involved with them, and to
feel satisfied at the end. If
you don’t accomplish that, nothing else matters.
shy away from emotions. In my experience, most people read novels,
especially romance novels, for the emotional experience.
sure there’s something absolutely vital at stake for your
characters. If a pretty young woman goes to a dance and meets a nice guy but
has to leave early, so what? Think about all the reasons why Cinderella’s
prince actually matters.
assume that you can write a novel the way you see things in movies or on TV,
mostly through dialogue and action. You don’t have actors and a director
to focus in on the emotions.
where point of view comes in. Point of view is the primary
tool by which the author involves the reader emotionally with the character
or characters. It means filtering events and perceptions through a
out for head-hopping.
This means jumping back and forth in viewpoint like
a pingpong match.He says something and he thinks something. Then she
says something and she thinks something. It keeps the book at a shallow
level, and discourages strong identification with a character.
write “in general”—generic plot,
characters, etc. Avoid treating your characters like characters--treat them
like people. Make sure their actions are motivated.
say, She was average height, or he resembled a typical bodybuilder. That’s
generic thinking. Not every hero has to have a sculpted chest and not every
heroine has to be the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. That isn’t
what makes us fall in love. If it were, more movie stars would have happy
out photographs if that helps you be specific. But avoid citing a movie
star, as in “he looked just like Brad Pitt.” What if your reader hates
Brad Pitt? Or what if Brad Pitt does something shocking by the time the
reader reaches that description? Also, to me, it sounds lazy.
write generic crowd scenes. To bring a crowd
scene to life, pick out a few specifics. Describe one or two individuals and
let the reader see them in a little detail.
description, don’t provide a laundry list. Don’t mention every feature
of a room; pick a few salient features. The hero or heroine’s house or
office should reflect that individual’s personality and background.
Don’t waste description—use it to provide insight. Is there a piece of
memorabilia she acquired while living in India? How about a photo of his
avoid recounting every move the character makes. In rereading your work, if
you can take something out without losing clarity, do it.
your senses, and be specific. Instead of
saying “nostalgic odors,” say the scent of gingerbread baking at
sure you can visualize the setting. I draw maps and floor plans for houses
and other buildings, such as my Safe Harbor Medical Center.
waste the reader’s time. Avoid chitchat and busywork. The
hi-how-are-you kind of conversation has no place in fiction. If it doesn’t
have emotional content or it isn’t funny or interesting, skip it. Dialogue
should always reflect character.
your characters outside their and your comfort zones.
If you play it safe—you will lose your reader. You and I probably lead
boring lives, and like it that way. Our characters should be larger than
life. They can have emotional meltdowns that would embarrass our socks off.
make every person into yourself. What your
hero or heroine notices or how he/she reacts may not be at all the way you
would. What he or she fears or longs for might be very different from you.
Develop your character so you undertand his or her motivation.
and heroines need to work actively toward solving their own problems. They
can’t be passive, or merely pawns in other people’s schemes. Even if
they start out that way, they had better seize the reins quickly or the
reader will lost patience.
fine for your hero and heroine to make mistakes, as long as they
don’t act stupid. That drives readers crazy. For example, don’t have
them simply not call the police in a crisis without a good reason.
overlook the crucial role of past hurts. Build character arcs, let
them grow and change. And interweave that with the plot. Sometimes, it’s
best to save vital pieces of their background for key moments, when they can
reveal these to their love interest—and face the truth about themselves.
cheat the reader of those heartfelt hero-heroine encounters—not only of
the sexual variety, either. Even if a scene is painful for you to write, it
may be important to the unfolding character arc.
avoid cliché’s in plotting. Example: Don’t start a book with a lengthy
dream sequence just to build phony suspense.
your book in the right place. The first
chapter should mark the beginning of the main action. In a romance, it’s
often where the hero and heroine meet, or sometimes it sets up their meeting
in chapter two.
not use Chapter One as a data dump in which you fill in all the hero and
heroine’s background. Tell the reader what she needs to know now, and save
the rest of the exposition for when the reader needs or wants to hear
especially wary of flashbacks, scenes that actually put the reader
into a previous scene so that we experience it in real time. These tend to
stop the action and sometimes confuse the reader as to what the story’s
novels are written as extended flashbacks—The Notebook comes to
mind—but they’re really using a frame, in which the beginning and
ending just showcase the “real” story in the past. This technique is
tricky to use; employ it at your own risk.
the reader wants to get caught up in the story. It’s you, the author, who
wants to fill her in on the backstory.
don’t slip exposition into dialogue where it doesn’t feel natural.
Don’t have characters tell each other what they already know. Put the
necessary background information in your viewpoint character’s thoughts.
let your plot ramble. Think about how one
scene leads to another, how your chapter is shaped, and how you build to
turning points. This is called Scene and Sequel and there are entire books
every scene, something should change. Even
if it’s just the hero or heroine’s thinking.
write scenes that just take up time or provide back story.
tip: An editor once said that romance is
not about dating. Avoid restaurant scenes unless something major happens
that needed to happen in that restaurant.
convenient-for-the-author syndrome. This is where an author has a
character do things or fail to do things in a way that defies logic, simply
because it suits the plot. You know, there’s a serial killer on the loose
but the heroine decides to take a midnight stroll down a dark alley because
she needs the exercise.
forget that your book will be read by real people. Some of them will
have expertise or experiences in whatever area you’re writing about.
Consider sensitivities. Don’t throw in painful topics such rape unless
you’re seriously going to deal with it.
brings me to research. If you’re going to write about a
subject, learn about it. This includes the hero’s and heroine’s
occupations. Research online, read books, interview people.
the upcoming September release of my Safe Harbor Medical series, The
Surprise Triplets, I counted 31 research files in my computer for this
book alone. Among the topics are: legal guardianships in California, child
development for a 7-year-old, embryo adoptions, divorce, family law, what
it’s like to be pregnant with triplets and visiting someone in prison. I
also interviewed a superior court judge so a courtroom scene would sound
you start writing, you don’t have to use everything you know, but
the fact that you know it produces texture and increases the chances of
to find friends with expertise who’re willing to review what you write. I
have a friend who’s a nurse and another who’s a private investigator who
review my stuff. They are wonderful people.
Don’t Tell” is a vital tool in the
writer’s toolkit. Use perception, dialogue and point-of-view to put the
reader into a scene instead of merely summarizing it. I’m afraid I can’t
go into too much detail here, but I wanted to touch on that.
II: Ongoing Career Choices
you decide to self-publish, approach that as a business, in addition
to the business of writing itself. You are now your own publisher. You are
ultimately responsible for the look, editing, content etc. Research what’s
involved. There’s plenty of material on-line, including Smashwords.com’s
guide, Amazon’s info, etc.
your self-published books. You can do it online with the copyright
This business is changing almost by the month. What works one year doesn’t
work the next.
if you plan to self-publish, consider approaching an agent if your
book may have major sales potential, foreign and movie rights potential,
etc. If more than one editor shows interest, bring in an agent. You might
have an auction!
you contact an agent or an editor, act confident. Don’t apologize
for existing or run yourself down.
don’t use hype. Editors and agents dislike being told what their
job is. When a query or pitch states that this is a surefire bestseller and
will make their career, it implies that they’re too incompetent to
recognize its merits. Let the work sell itself.
okay to fail—they won’t put you on some
dark and horrible list to reject forever after just because they didn’t
like your work.
will put you on some dark and horrible list if you act
unprofessional. Like sticking a manuscript under the restroom door at a
writing conference. Or perfuming your manuscript and setting off the
an agent or editor asks for changes and requests to see the book again, they
mean it. If you agree with the suggestions, revise the book and send
it to the same agent or editor. Can you imagine how frustrating it is
for them to take the time to make suggestions and then see the book end up
with someone else?
sign with just anybody who claims to be an agent. Look
up agents online, especially the website called Preditors
sign a contract—including one with an agent--without getting feedback or
legal advice. Look online for sample agent and publisher contracts. There
are too many for me to list here. I believe the Authors Guild has one.
if you have an agent, read your contract.
that agents and editors are people too. Each has his or her own personality,
taste, experience, expertise, flaws and preferences.
Let your editor know if you’ll be late for a deadline. Tell your agent if
you’re unhappy about something. On the other hand, don’t take up his or
her time with frequent complaints. Be selective.
you have a serious concern with an agent, talk to her about what’s
missing. If you can’t resolve it and you think she’s harming your
career, such as through inaction or disorganization, don’t delay in
breaking it off. But be courteous. On the Internet, you can find blogs
about how to break off with your agent.
IV: Publishing Is a Business
about taxes. Get a good accountant unless you are one.
in your career. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending a fortune. It
does mean joining groups like this Romance Writers of America, taking
classes and attending seminars.
professional. Don’t go to a conference in ragged jeans and flip-flops.
Will it keep you from selling? It might in these days when we’re all
expected to promote our own work.
flame people on the internet. The Internet is forever and people can be
vengeful. So can their friends.
argue with a negative review. Let it go.
be a snitch. Editors do not trust authors who run to them telling tales
about what they heard on a supposedly confidential loop. And when word gets
out among authors, which it does, you’ll be dogmeat. Authors work together
on promotions, anthologies, blurbing each other’s books, etc. If you’re
a snitch, who’ll want to be associated with you? Play nice.
be careful about what you share. You don’t have to tell everyone if
you’re having personal problems. Your editor doesn’t need to know about
your health issues unless they affect your deadlines. Sometimes, others will
use such information in ways that are to your disadvantage, so don’t share
more than you need to.
today must promote their work. But your Number One job is to write a
great book. And rewrite it. Then write another one.
learning about all aspects of promotion, from websites to author image or
branding, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Take it one step at a time. You
don’t have to do everything at once.
can’t ignore technology. Neither can all of us become experts. Ask
yourself—what’s the one thing you most want to master next? Could it be
Twitter or Facebook? Could be setting up a website, newsletter or blog?
Start learning about that one thing.
Back up your work. You can use online storage such as Dropbox.com. Or a flash drive. I use a combination. But back up often. Losing your stuff is heartbreaking.
Media is great but don’t hardsell your
readers. No one wants to read “Buy my book!” over and over. Post
interesting stuff, wherever you may find it.
I can’t cover legalities very well, here’s one caution: Don’t
assume just because a photo is posted for sharing or on a free site that
it’s okay to use it. Never use a photo of a person on a book cover or in
an ad without a signed model release. Just because you took the photo or the
photographer gave the okay, you can’t make commercial use of people’s
images without their permission. This is not true in news reporting. But it
is true for books and blogs.
usually safe to buy from reputable stock photo sites. They should indicate
that they keep signed model releases on file.
you’re eligible, join the Author’s
have lawyers on staff. While they won’t handle your personal legal
problems, they will answer questions that are of interest to other authors
too. And they conduct very helpful phone-in seminars like one recently on
literary estate planning.
reaching a certain level of success:
disrespect aspiring writers
Angelou said< “I've learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made
Important ending note: Don’t give up on writing unless you really want to.
can teach you to write comedy if it doesn’t come naturally. But you can
learn to sharpen your wit and, just as important, avoid common missteps.
First, a clarification. I don’t write one-liners for stand-up comics; that’s a different art. I’m a storyteller. My more than 95 published novels range from dark suspense to light-hearted Regencies to laugh-out-loud romantic comedies, which are what I’m drawing on here.
Yes, you need funny quips, but to be effective in fiction, humor should grow out of:
The premise of Designer Genes, one of my off-the-wall romantic comedies, concerns a mix-up at a sperm bank that sends a blonde L.A. fashionista named Buffy to introduce her daughter to the baby’s unsuspecting father, Carter, a mechanic in Nowhere Junction, Texas. Right away, you can see the possibilities in the pairing of this unlikely couple.
Some of the humor reflects the heroine’s sheltered background:
Buffy had never personally known an auto mechanic, aside from the supervisor at the Mega-Mall Auto Center. She didn’t think he counted. He wore a suit, for one thing, and once when he’d tried to find the hood release on her car, he’d had to call for assistance.
Other times, the humor springs from my hero’s wry outlook. In this case, it involves his father’s dog, Lucas:
Lucas uttered a sound halfway between a snarl and a whine. Carter had never known a dog so quick to hedge its bets between trying to scare people off and begging them not to hurt him.
I also build on the character of the villain, Buffy’s sleazy estranged husband, who’s trying to cheat her out of her fair share of their property. We experience his viewpoint as he awaits Buffy’s return to LA, and receives an unexpected visitor:
The stout, graying woman walking toward him wasn’t Buffy. She was the woman who’d helped him launch his business twenty years ago. She was also the company part-owner he’d cut off six months ago with the same trumped-up plea of poverty that he’d made to his wife.
She was, in other words, his mother.
Humor can be enhanced by the use of toppers. This is a series of lines or situations that build on a theme. Here’s a brief example:
Hunger pangs gnawed at him. On the flight the airline had prepared peanuts in imaginative ways: roasted, stewed, garlic-flavored, braised and mummified. Nevertheless, that had been hours ago.
As you can see, it helps to pay close attention to the characters and how they might react to their situation. The best humor springs from truth, even in one of those bizarre fictional situations that would never happen in real life.
In One Husband Too Many, my heroine, Jana, wishes she could go back six years, before she met the sophisticated rogue she impulsively married, and respond to the online profile of a farmer who sounded like an ideal husband and father. To her astonishment, her heirloom pendant grants the wish...but the "farmer" turns out to be the same rogue, using another name and involved in a shady project. She knows all about him but, in this reality, he has no idea who she is.
As Drake drives to “his” farm, his pickup breaks down. When he looks under the hood, trying to act knowledgeable, Jana is well aware that he’s clueless.
couldn’t let him realize she knew he was faking, not until she figured out
his game. Or until she had one foot on the next bus out of here.
pointed to a hose dangling deep within the motor. “There’s your problem.
You tore a hose.”
washed over Drake’s face. “Man, you sure have keen eyes.” He reached
touch it! You’ll—” she began.
snatched his hand away and cursed in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and
yourself,” Jana finished.
Let’s list a few things that aren’t funny. In fact, they can be painful for the reader:
Of course, no two people have the same sense of humor. What sets one person to rolling on the floor laughing may leave another bewildered or annoyed. This leads me to two important points:
I hope these tips will help you sharpen your humor-writing skills. Thanks for reading!
a reader, you may scan dozens of covers each time you select a book. Some
appeal to you instantly; some put you off. Others are confusing. You wonder,
Why isn’t this obvious to the cover designer?
one day you self-publish a book and have to design, choose or commission a
cover of your own, since rights to the original cover usually remain with
your own artistic director, you discover this seemingly simple task is more
complicated than you thought.
tips to get you started:
reader told me she bought my romantic comedy The
Cowboy and the Heiress
partly because the cowboy on the cover was so cute. I designed
this cover myself using Photoshop Elements and a model whose image I bought for $10 from a stock photo site. I also
used visual elements (a wooden frame and magical wedding rings) from free
sites such as http://www.sxc.hu/
authors are trained artists or have a family member who is. Others may
choose to pay several hundred dollars for a professional cover.
are basic cover-design options:
word on Photoshop: I don’t recommend trying the professional edition
unless you’re a serious graphic designer. Photoshop Elements is more
beginner-friendly, but if you have no digital design experience at all (I
didn’t), it too can be daunting. If, like me, you would enjoy learning to
design covers, it can be fun, but it’s definitely not easy. For starters,
I recommend buying a copy of Photoshop Elements: The Missing Manual. This
book, which is updated for each new version of the program, provides an
overview and a lot of helpful information. I also recommend subscribing to Photoshop
if you use a picture of a “real” person, make sure you have a signed
model release or buy it from a stock photo site that keeps these on record.
I recommend against using any image that was simply posted on a sharing
site, as you may infringe copyright.
is no perfect answer for every writer or every book. I’ve used several
approaches. My Regency romance covers (Lady in Disguise, A Lady’s Point
of View, etc.) were professionally designed by Kelly at customgraphics.etsy.com.
my romantic comedy Yours, Mine and Ours, about a nanny who discovers
she’s supervising her own triplets via egg donation, I bought a delightful
stock photo of three children (I looked at hundreds of pictures before
finding it). The background is a courtyard I photographed while on vacation,
and touched up with Photoshop Elements.
Hope this helps start you on your journey to ebook cover success!
problem with self-editing is that we don’t see our own errors, whether
they’re grammatical or story related. Even the invention of Spell Check,
which ranks right up there with the wheel and dental floss, hasn’t fixed
the rise of the self-published ebook and print-on-demand, editing one’s
own work has become even more common. There’s no substitute, of course,
for a professional editor, but you can make a lot of improvements on your
note: beta (advance) readers can be extremely helpful. These might be
critique partners, with whom you exchange critiques, or friends who
demonstrate they have a good eye and a strong story sense. Some critique
groups are very helpful too, although watch out for know-it-alls and
could write an entire book about self-editing (I actually did write an
ebook about novel writing, shown above), but let’s hit a few highlights.
Areas to look at fall into three basic categories: overall story and
characterization; grammar and spelling; and formatting.
the self-published, sites such as Amazon and Smashwords post their own
free formatting instructions that you can download. Most editors and
agents prefer conventional style—double-spaced, indented paragraphs and
no extra line between paragraphs--but more and more accept Internet style,
which means single-spaced with an extra line between paragraphs and no
indentation. Consult their submission guidelines.
anyone can fix her own spelling and grammatical errors, unless they’re
simply typos. You really need someone else to do this. However, I
recommend buying a grammar book—Essentials of English, or
something similar—and studying it a page or two at a time. Call it
bathroom reading. It’ll help prevent you from making those errors in the
for the hardest but most important stuff: revising the overall writing and
shape of the book. Let me share some tips based in part on my years as a
While I’ve just scratched the surface here, I hope these topics will spark your thinking and help your self-analysis, as well as your writing. Good luck!
Since people suffered from visual defects in earlier centuries just as they do now, it should be no surprise that, throughout the ages, inventors, artisans, jewelers and glassmakers put their talents to use improving our ability to see.
The earliest known use of lenses to aid vision was in ancient Egypt and Assyria, where people were depicted using magnifying stones such as polished crystals. In the first decade B.C., Roman philosopher Seneca used water-filled objects to magnify text for reading
the year 1000 A.D., Muslim scholar Alhazen
(965-1040)—known as the father of modern optics—wrote a seven-volume
treatise on the subject. In the late 12th century, Marco Polo
claimed that eyeglasses were popular among the wealthy Chinese. The demand
for spectacles grew dramatically by the end of the 15th century,
thanks to the invention of the printing press and the much wider
availability of reading material.
are some good sites about ancient glasses:
My own myopia inspired me, for my sixth traditional Regency romance, to create a nearsighted heroine. In A Lady’s Point of View, Meg Linley--forbidden by her mother to wear eyeglasses--accidentally causes a scandal by cutting Beau Brummell at a ball. Then, sent home in disgrace, she gets into the wrong carriage and is mistaken for a governess.
In 1989, when Harlequin published the novel, I had to dig through books for a few snippets of information on eyeglasses during the Regency. Imagine my delight, when preparing the recent ebook release, at finding a treasure trove of information on the Internet.
Here’s a look at the situation that would have affected my heroine:
An English optician, Edward Scarlett (1677-1743), is credited with developing eyeglasses that rest on the nose and ears. While the exact origin of bifocals is debated, Benjamin Franklin usually gets the credit. Bifocals were found in London after the 1760s.
However, glasses weren’t considered fashionable by the Regency upper crust. Instead, the Beau Monde preferred the quizzing glass, a magnifying lens with a handle that the user peered through.
Quizzing glasses remained popular until the 1830s, when the lorgnette gained in popularity, especially among women. First appearing between 1795 and 1805, the lorgnette is a pair of lenses with a short handle. Also known as opera glasses, these derived their name from the French word lorgner, to ogle.
The quizzing glass was usually set with a magnifying lens, although in some cases a corrective lens was used. Goldsmiths or jewelers provided the frames, often made of gold or sterling silver, with elaborate designs. These hung from a chain attached to the handle—of varying lengths—or loop.
For charming pictures of eyewear from the Regency, I recommend this site:
Copyright 2013-2016, Jackie Diamond Hyman