Sunday, October 26, 2014

Writing a Series -- Setbacks

Today we were supposed to indulge in Research as our topic, however, as the blog title implies, we are dealing with a setback today.

I am nearly finished with THE SEDUCTION OF MR. SUMMERVILLE. If you have followed my sporadic Tweets from this week you will see I stopped writing. I would like to say the book is done, but it's not. I need to write the ending. Oh, yes, all the loose ends are tied up, all the plot holes are fixed, I've edited until my eyes are blind. I am right where I want to be, on schedule and everything.

But the book is not moving forward. I'm stuck in the middle of the denouement and it's not working. This happy ending is a little too saccharine. Needless to say, I'm stuck until I figure out a way to fix it. And don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with a book that has a happy ending, but as we know, I'm working on the finale to a series. To me, it has to be BIG, and luscious, and just WOW. I want my readers to say, "Oh, hey, let me read that whole series again." I want them to say to everyone, "Oh, you should read this series. It's fantastic." Because the last book has to satisfy your reader, the same way your first book got your reader hooked.

I'm no different than any other writer on this planet. We write so people can read our stories. And we want them to be GOOD stories.

Okay, so here's my secret to setbacks. Let it go. Just get up from your chair and walk away. There's no use trying to eek words onto the page because they'll only be crappy words and you'll end up throwing them all away anyway.

Do something physical. Clean the house, car, garage, kitchen cabinets. Do laundry. Do something that you wouldn't normally do. Rake leaves, pull weeds. Go to the mall. Take a walk. Use the other half of your brain for a few days. Do art (writers are usually creative in other aspects of their lives). Scrapbook. Make tie-dye t-shirts. Find a great picture for your holiday cards. I don't really care what you do, just take a few days away from the story. Allow your brain to think about other things. And I don't mean everyday things. Not the kids homework, or your mother-in-law's birthday party, or Christmas. Concentrate on something else.

Okay, so if you're of the idea that concentrating on your book is first and foremost on your mind, and you don't think rearranging the linen closet is going to work, and you really want to be "working" on it, go to IMBD and search out your characters. Go to ReMax and pick out the houses for your characters to live in. Scour census records for names. Watch movies in your genre. ( I don't have time to read these days, and I can easily give up two hours for a movie instead of eight for a book. I can iron in front of the tv.)

I try to give myself at least three days of non-writing for my brain to decide how to fix the problem. If that doesn't work, I play the what-if game. (I generally only use this as a last resort because the story is already fixed in my head.) If that doesn't work, then I light something on fire. Metaphorically speaking. Sort of. I find something BIG to throw the characters into. In THE CAPTAIN'S COINCIDENCE I blew up a ship. In THE LADY'S MASQUERADE, Penny was kidnapped.

And mind you, this kind of set-back is just a little bump in the road. Sometimes it's referred to as writer's block. Other times, you realize you've boxed your characters into a corner with no way out. (We'll discuss the larger issue of External Controls later on.) But you know you can fix this, it'll just take a little more creativity.

Okay, so I'm three days out on my setback. I've done all the laundry I can find. I've scoured my kitchen floor, I've vacuumed every dust bunny. Today I have to dive back in and see if I can get over that final hump. If it doesn't work, there's a yard full of leaves waiting for me.

And I announced this on my other blog last week. Today it's your turn. Here is the cover for Seduction.

American shipbuilder, Stephen Summerville has a bit of a dilemma when he meets two very beautiful English sisters. However, when Stephen is confronted with the aristocratic father he never knew, deciding on a wife seems like a small task in comparison to what he must decide for his future. The last book in the Reluctant Grooms series coming Christmas 2014.

I'm attempting to make it a pre-order by November 15th. But it won't be out until Christmas.

Next week, we'll tackle research. Hope you'll stop by.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2014

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Writing a Series -- Formulaic Writing

This week we'll take a look at Formulaic Writing. It's a little more detailed than an informal outline, (or even a formal one). There is a definite list of things that need to be taken into consideration. This kind of writing is usually reserved for certain genres (romance, cozy mystery, some sci-fi and YA). We're going to look at romance, because it's what I know.


Formulaic writing is a technique that is used to bang out manuscripts quickly. There are three acts (basic structure), the word count is generally not high (55 - 70K), and there are minimal characters. Harlequin, Zebra, and Kensington authors were famous (and some still are) for this kind of writing. The formula/outline is laid out like a map, and you just follow along. Basically it looks something like this --

(Remember we're writing romance)


Hero and heroine meet within the first 5 pages.
The goal of the main character is stated.
1st obstacle is shown for the MC to overcome
Sub-plot and secondary characters (if any) are introduced
1st climax (obstacle is overcome)
2nd obstacle is introduced


Goal is re-introduced
2nd obstacle is bigger than the first
Sub-plot and secondary characters are fleshed out
(especially if this is a series)
3rd obstacle is introduced
2nd climax (obstacle is overcome)


Goal is within reach
3rd obstacle is the hardest to overcome
3rd climax resolved
Sub-plots are resolved
Goal is reached

Now this is a very simple simple way to look at it. (I'm sure there are 1000 books on writing the 3-act structure for you to peruse.) Let's take a look at how I would plot a book for our friends from last week -- Susie and Bob


Susie and Bob meet at the hospital (Susie is a nurse at the hospital Bob is a firefighter) because of the huge fire that is started by the arsonist
Susie's goal is to get away from her wicked stepmother
Susie's obstacle is she doesn't have enough money because of school loans
Amy, Joe, Larry, and Abby are introduced (secondary characters)
Susie sells her car (1st obstacle overcome)
But she still doesn't have enough money to get her own place (2nd obstacle introduced)


Susie is desperate to get from under her wicked stepmother
She goes on a double date with Bob/ Amy and Joe
Amy doesn't like Joe, she likes Larry (Secondary characters and sup-plots fleshed out)
Wicked stepmother says she won't get any of her father's inheritance if she moves out (3rd obstacle introduced)
Susie has a giant yard sale to get more money (2nd obstacle overcome)


Susie has enough money to rent an apartment -- now she only has to find one (3rd obstacle hardest to overcome)
Amy and Larry get together (spin-off book 2)
Abby and Joe get together (spin-off book 3)
Bob asks Susie to marry him (3rd goal reached)
Denouement -- all goals are met, sub-plots (spin-offs) are tied up (Except for the arsonist who is our underlying problem throughout the series)

Okay, so I know this is a silly simple plot for a story, but that's what I came up with to show you how formulaic writing works.

I do not write like this. I have never used an outline (okay, truthfully, I tend to make up an outline once 2/3rds of the book is written so I can find my ending.) But for the most part, the characters tell me what they're doing. I don't force the writing because then I feel the book is forced. It has no flow. Other authors can do this kind of writing all day long and come up with greatness. We all have our own way of writing. There is no right or wrong. You just need to find what works best for you.


We all know writing is hard work, and if you have a job (and yes, Motherhood is a full-time job) we have to be creative with our time. I used to write for two hours every morning while my daughter was in pre-school. After supper I would edit what I wrote. Now that she's in school full-time, I have 6 hours in which to write every day. Believe me when I tell you, you cannot sit down and write for 6 hours at a stretch. (Unless you're extremely disciplined, have absolutely no distractions, and your characters are well-behaved.)

For the sake of argument, let's say you have 2 hours after supper to write every night M-F. On S/S you gain an extra hour so that's 3 each. That = 16 hours. Some people write fast (when it flows) others write slow (when it doesn't). Again for the sake of argument, let's say we can write 1000 words every night, and on the weekends you take the time to edit those pages and maybe write another 1000 words. That = 6000 words a week. If your goal is a 60K word manuscript, this should take 10 weeks to write. If we give ourselves two weeks for critique partners and beta readers to read and make corrections (and they can do it within those two weeks, and you're editing as you go) you should have a book ready to go in 3 months.

3 months per book = 4 books a year. Ta Da! Congratulations.

However, that is all in a perfect world. We all have lives, laundry, grocery, soccer games, sick kids, parents, work, distractions that keep us away from our writing. Don't be disheartened. We'll discuss what happens when the External Controls keep us from our goal. We'll also discuss the Publishing aspect to a series later on.

Now, I'd also like to say that some writers just write the first draft and then edit the whole thing when it's finished. I can't write that way. I have to edit as I go along. I write a chapter (or scene) and then the next day, I re-read it, and edit it so I can, not only move forward with the story, but keep my storyline in my head. (I am a certified pantster and do not use an outline. I have a "basic" idea of the story, but then the characters tell me what they want to do with it.)

Some writing gurus tell us we have to write every day. I'm not of that mind-set. I can't. Real Life is too complicated. However, when I do tell my family, "I'm writing" they know enough to leave me alone. If I can't get in writing time during the week, I make sure I try and meet my goals over the weekend.

If we remember our poster board from last week, you can have the formulas listed on them as well. Take in the BIG picture before you sit down to write the first page of the first book. See if you can figure out clearly all the plot points, the secondary characters, the obstacles, the climaxes before you begin. Set your writing schedule (but not in stone because things do change) and try and stick to it. It does help when you know you only have a certain time to write every day. It keeps you focused on the task at hand.

Formulaic writing can be a blessing or a curse. It all depends on YOU the author and how you want to write.

Next week, we'll dive a little bit more into research and settings. Hope to see you.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Writing a Series -- Plotting the Big Picture

Today we will discuss plotting a series. Now, I'm not going to tell you how to plot -- we all know how to play the "what if" game. However, to have a successful series, you might want to think about where it all leads.

Basic Plots

As I said a few weeks ago, there are really only 12 plot lines. (That theory has been discussed ad nauseum and some scholars generally believe there are only 7.) There's a whole construct about the hero's journey that I won't bore you with, but for the sake of argument, let's just go with 12.

In my series, I have used some of these basic plots. (Remember I write romance.)

Wicked stepmother. (sister/father/family member)
Forced/arranged marriage.
Mistaken identity.
Jealous ex.
Lowly servant attracted to an aristocrat. (or vice versa)
Love at first sight.

If you think about it, all romance plots can be utilized by watching any of the Disney Princess movies. It's what you do with them that makes them different. What if...?

Let's take last week's characters and give them plots, shall we?

Susie and Bob -- Wicked stepmother.
Abby and Joe -- Arranged marriage
Carol and Gary -- Mistaken identity
Larry and Amy -- Jealous ex
Linda and Steve -- Love at first sight

As you know, we have already written Susie and Bob's story. Susie has a wicked stepmother who won't let her marry Bob. For whatever reason. But they triumph because love always conquers all.

And because we have all these other characters and plots, we've already decided that we're going to write the next books in the series.

However, just because they're all friends, is that enough to tie them together?

Here is where I feel plotting a series gets interesting and helps fuel your readership.

There needs to be a larger, underlying issue, to tie all these books together. Let's play the what if game.

What if Bob, Joe, and Gary are firefighters? What if Larry and Steve are cops? What if Susie and Amy are nurses at the hospital? What if in the first book, there is a huge fire and Bob and Larry get hurt and have to go to the hospital, which is where they meet Susie and Amy? What if at the end of the first book we find out the fire was started by an arsonist? What if in the second book, there is another fire? What if in the second book, Steve gets promoted to detective and starts working the arsonist case? What if in the third book, Joe gets caught in another fire started by the arsonist?

Okay, so we get the drift. The underlying plot throughout this series of books is the arsonist and how we're going to catch him. This is the angle we'll work and by the end of the series we'll either have caught the arsonist, or spun it off to another series.

In another example, in my series The Reluctant Grooms, Lady Olivia is keeping a secret. She is present in ALL of my books and this secret appears as well. It may only be one or two lines, but it's present throughout, until the end, when I blow the lid off it.

Lady Olivia's secret is the underlying plot-line that holds the series together. The same as the arsonist above. Only at the end do we have the final resolution. Otherwise, I'd just have a bunch of romance novels with Lady Olivia in them.


Now, in my series, I wrap each of the novels around another one. While Penny is getting to know William in THE LADY'S MASQUERADE, William's brother Ellis has just hired Violet to be his nanny (THE LADY'S FATE), and Richard (William's good friend) has just met Amanda (THE CAPTAIN'S COINCIDENCE).

I progress through time, yet simultaneously, stop time. If that makes any sense. Put it this way... I just did a load of laundry and will hang it on the line right now. You are sitting at work doing inventory. Your best friend is teaching underprivileged kids in the inner city. My life doesn't stop because yours has started. We are all doing "something" at the same time even though we don't know what that is.

That is what I call a "wrap-around" timeline.

Then there is the "progressive" timeline. I did my load of laundry. After that I will clean the kitchen, after that, I will take out the garbage. After I have taken out the garbage, you will finish your inventory, then you will sit in on a meeting, then you will go to lunch. Once you've finished your lunch, your BFF is going to finish teaching math, then move on to social studies, and then science. Time progresses.

I know you know what I'm talking about so I'll stop the explanation.

However, whichever kind of series you want to write, you need to figure out all the plots before hand, and how they will all tie in together. I used a huge poster board and wrote Lady Olivia in the middle of it. And like a clock, I have all my novels positioned around her (2,4,6,8,10,12) with the basic plot of each book, and where her secret comes out little by little.

At 2, we have the first hint of her secret. By 8 we pretty much know what it is, and there's danger of it getting out. At 12 Olivia is exposed and the series is over. (Also, because I also have novellas attached to this series, at 3,5,7,9, and 11, we also get to glimpse a little more of the secret.)

If we use the example from Susie and Bob, I'll put the arsonist in the middle of the poster board and the 5 books surrounding him at 1,4,7,9, and 11. In book one we meet Susie and Bob. We also meet the arsonist. In each of the next books, we have our love stories, but we also have more of the arsonist. We need to figure out where and when the arsonist gets caught.


Let's say for the sake of argument, that you've written all 5 of your books. In the end, we have 5 happy couples, but the arsonist gets away. In the third book, we meet another secondary character called Christopher who transfers to the fire department from out of state. At some point he meets Amy's sister, Jenny. And that's it.

We have one of two choices here -- we can either write Chris and Jen's story, or not. We could also write Chris and Jen's story and include the arsonist who got away leading to another series, or perhaps a sideline of novellas as we meet more firemen and cops and nurses.

It depends on how much you love your characters.

In my series, when Lady Olivia's secret comes out, there's also another piece of backstory that is revealed about Olivia's past. She was in love with another man before she married her husband. In the last book, we think Olivia is going to marry this man and finally get her happily ever after.

This man (Dunbury) was the impetus for me to think about writing another series and how it all ties in to this one. (And in actuality, the Dunbury series runs parallel to The Reluctant Grooms. When Penny is meeting William, Dunbury is meeting Catherine. *spoiler alert*  By the end of Reluctant Grooms, Dunbury is married to Catherine.)

So, to sum it all up, think about what you want to write, how you're going to write it, and where it will all end up. Think about the kinds of books (novels, novellas, novellettes) you want to write. Think about how long it might take you to actually write each story. Do you have that kind of time to invest?

With the advent of e-publishing, readers, if they like your first book, want the next one right away, and the next and the next. E-publishing isn't like old school traditional publishing when they only publish one title a year. (I'm still waiting for Sue Grafton to finish her Alphabet series. Has it really been 26 years?)

We'll discuss how to publish a series in a couple of weeks.

For more information about writing a series, Alexandra Sokoloff is also doing a blog series you might want to check out as well.

Any Questions?

Anne Gallagher (c) 2014

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Writing a Series -- Internal Controls

Today we will delve into Internal Controls. Characters.

Characters are the people who live inside our heads. In almost every story, there are two main characters. In writing a series, you don't have just one in your head at any given time, you have four or five.


Developing characters for a series is a big undertaking. So, say you have a great story right now. And you have these awesome secondary characters that you want to spin. That's two more books. But then, there are these other characters you could add, and do a little more spinning, and now you have five stories. We'll stop there for now.

How many main characters do you have for each story? Sherlock & Watson or Miss Marple? Romeo & Juliet? Depending on the genre, between 1 - 10 .  (under the presumption we're writing 5 stories)

Who are the secondary characters? The crew of the Starship Enterprise. The Hardy Boys? Nancy Drew? How many for each story? Is one couple going to spin off another couple? Is one murder going to spin off another homicide? Is the first story as a stand-alone able to do some spinning? (And further on in this writing series, we'll touch on the "structure" of publishing a series from a marketing standpoint.)

Now that you've thought about those questions, you can think about these.

Do you want to write 5 novels? You already have the first one written. How long did it take you to write it? How long will it take you to write the other four? Three? Two years? Six months apiece? (Unless you are the NaNo Champion every month. More power to you.)

Novellas? If you've never written a novella, they're generally very fast paced, with one very crucial problem solved, and (in my genre) a happily ever after ensues. (I can generate 35k in about four weeks. Another four weeks in revisions and edits. Another two for one last read-through.)

So now you have 5 stories you want to write to form a series. That is (for the sake of argument we're writing romance) 10 people. We'll start with the couple from the original book. Susie and Joe.

Susie's best friend is Abby. Joe's best friend is Bob. Bob is best friends with Larry , who has a twin sister Linda, and Linda's best friend Carol's brother, Steve is best friends with Gary and Ron, who have two sisters Amy and Jen.

Did you get that? In terms of characters, (which leads into Settings somewhat) Larry and Linda are part of a "family" (third tier characters) Carol and Steve, and Gary, Ron, Amy, and Jen. That's three different third tier characters (parents, other siblings, relatives, the mailman, pets, coffee guy). And do your main characters all "hang-out" together, or "work" together? More third tier characters n that "community".

Can you see how complicated it can get?

Believe me when I tell you, when you get the "idea" --  Hey, I'll turn this into a series -- think about all the people you need to create before you really even write one word. You'll thank me later.

Okay, so on to the TOOLs section. Just like at Home Depot.

What do your characters look like?
Sound like? Wear? Work? Play? Live? Have family?

Some writers choose to do a character "sketch" or reveal, or work-up and keep that close at hand. Everything from hair and eye color, to where they went to high school and their birthdays. I'm more of a "visual" person. I find actors from movies to "become" my characters and keep everyone in a folder in My Documents. Other people use Pinterest boards, Evernote, Google Docs, or Scrivener.

There is no right or wrong answer to how you develop/find/create your characters, that all depends on your creative process. However, what I can tell you, is to make sure you know your characters very well, before committing them to the written word. (You run into problems when they're under-developed. Was that brown, or sandy brown hair? Who had the mustache? Or blue toes?)

I also have a dedicated "Name Bible". For every story I write, I put down the cast of characters, from the lord of the manor, to the lowliest cow in the barn. If they have a name, it gets written down. That way, you'll never use it twice. Take my advice. If you don't do this now, please start, especially if you want to write a series. It will simply make your life so much easier down the line. (I once had a cat and a butler with the same name. I had to change one of them. Guess who got to keep the name?*)

It helps too, to have a "characters" diagram (again on poster board or cork or in docs., whatever floats your boat) to link everyone together. Who does what to who. Who is related to who. Who likes/dislikes who. (I have photocopies of my characters on a cork board tied with brightly colored yarn linking them to each family. My daughter had a class project last year on genealogy.)  I also have several pieces of paper with diagrams of smaller family trees hanging on the wall as well. (Like I said, I'm a "visual" sort of person.)

(As an aside --- You really are going to need a plot outline (an outline that will "plot" the course of all the books in the series). I have mine diagrammed on a poster board but we'll get to that when we revisit Construction) This outline also helps if you're running a "theme" throughout the series. The "link" if you will remains focused. ( Internal Controls -- Plot devices, other spin-offs.)

As I keep saying, it takes a serious commitment to begin and end a series. If you want to have a successful series, the goal is to develop it well before hand. And some would say that takes away the "creativity" of the writing experience, but it doesn't really. No matter how well you outline, the characters always take off in a different direction. Don't they.

Think about your series. Think about your characters. Think about how everybody fits together. Write stuff down. Next week, I'm going to discuss Plotting a Series.

Anne Gallagher (c) 2014

(* Brown, the kitten, in THE LADY'S FATE, got to keep his name once I found Manning for the butler.)