Digging Deeper into the Writing Toolbox

As promised for NaNoWriMo, I’ll share links to past posts each Monday organizing all my past content so that YOU can more easily find what you’re looking for.

In addition to the organized posts, I have a forum open where you can ask anything about said topic, and I’ll answer it as best I can.

Last week, I covered A Writer’s Basic Toolbox (ask questions here!), and this week, we’re digging into the more advanced tools at a writer’s disposal.



Digging Deeper into Character



Digging Deeper into Plot



Infodump & Backstory



Show vs. Tell











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How to Write Romance, Part 2: From Character Springs Love

Romance2As I mentioned in the first blog in this series, romance is all about characters growing.

More specifically, romance springs from a character overcoming a fatal flaw. A character’s fatal flaw is her (or his) largest weakness. It is what holds your character back and keeps her from achieving her goals.

For example, in E.M. Forster’s A Room With a View, Lucy Honeychurch is meek, easily persuaded, and lives life in a dull, uninspired way.

She also isn’t happy, and we (the readers) quickly see that if Lucy tried to think more widely, feel more deeply, and take charge of her own life, she would be able to find the love and contentment she desires.

As Mr. Beebe declares after hearing Lucy passionately play Beethoven on the piano:

“If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting–both for us and for her.”

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Note: Oftentimes, a character is usually blind to his (or her) fatal flaw. If a character knows his weakness, then consider that:

  1. It’s harder for the reader to sympathize when the fatal flaw continues to hold him back from his goals.
  2. It’s harder to convincingly prolong the character’s growth (since realizing the flaw exists is the first step toward personal growth).

Note: A character–particularly our protagonist–will have multiple flaws in addition to the fatal flaw. The fatal flaw simply refers to the “worst” one. Think of Zuko from Avatar: the Last Airbender. He has tons of flaws (short temper, a mean streak, no gratitude or appreciation), but it’s his fatal flaw (his need for love/validation from his own father) that continues to hold him back.

Complimentary Strengths & Fatal Flaws

Now here’s where the romance really extends from character: it’s our the love interest’s strength that pushes our protagonist toward growth.

In other words, our love interest’s strength perfectly compliments our protagonist’s fatal flaw. And, it’s quite possible that, in turn, our protagonist’s strength perfectly compliments our love interest’s fatal flaw. Thus, when the two characters are together, they force each other to grow (not necessarily on purpose, but as an extension of who they are).

So back to A Room With a View, George Emerson lives exactly like we know Lucy Honeychurch should live: he’s a philosopher who asks big questions, he seeks contentment in his life, he explores the world around him, and he lives passionately in the present moment.

Basically, George makes Lucy miserably uncomfortable and shocks all of her snobby sensibilities…yet he also makes her think. Every time George walks off the page, Lucy has changed just a little bit from being around him.

Lucy was puzzled. She was again conscious of some new idea, and was not sure whither it would lead her.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

Love Triangles

Though I see a lot of blog reviewers complain about love triangles, the fact is that a love triangle done well is really hard to hate. But to do a love triangle well, our two potential lovers must offer two very different outcomes.

In other words, the love interests have different strengths, both of which will push our protagonist to grow–but that will push the protagonist in different directions. She WILL grow, but depending on which lover she chooses dictates which possible person she will become.

Back to A Room With a View: Cecil is Lucy’s fiancé. He’s not a bad guy. In fact, I rather adore him. But he’s a snob, he has little interest beyond himself and high society, and when Lucy is with him, she backslides into a more uninspired, more thoughtless, and more blah version of herself.

With Cecil she most certainly grows, it’s just in the wrong direction (or what we, the reader, know is wrong because we know Lucy won’t be happy with Cecil).

“Come this way immediately,” commanded Cecil, who always felt that he must lead women, though he knew not whither, and protect them, though he knew not against what.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

If you’re looking for a more modern example of a love triangle, I’ll point you to Erica O’Rourke’s Torn, Tangled, and Bound. This series has an INCREDIBLY well-done love triangle that never feels forced and that  offers two good options for the heroine. No matter if she goes with Lover A or Lover B, she will become a better person–just in two very different ways. Thus, as she grows through the plot events and her own personal choices, she must decide which “better version of herself” she wants to become.

Putting It All Together

Personally, I often find it easier to logically break apart all of this stuff after I’ve written my first draft and I’m revising. If I try too hard to fit the characters into these Fatal Flaw + Strength boxes, my writing feels forced. It’s when I’m revising that I really break apart who I have and how to better push the characters toward growth.

However, I know many writers (particularly in adult, where character growth is SO critical) who analyze and develop all of these aspects prior to writing. It’s really all about what makes you, the writer, comfortable. It certainly can’t HURT you to think about these aspects prior to drafting (or during a first draft), so why not give it a try? Simply scribble down whatever comes to mind for the follow questions.

1. What is your protagonist’s fatal flaw?
2. Why does this flaw keep him/her from getting what he/she wants?
3. What is your love interest’s biggest strength?
4. How does this strength push the protagonist to grow?
5. What is your love interest’s fatal flaw?
6. What is your protagonist’s biggest strength?
7. How does this strength push the love interest to grow?


And stay tuned for next week’s post, in which I break down romantic tension on a scene level. 🙂

You tell me: Can you think of any favorite romances in which the characters’ strengths + flaws clearly align? Or, how do you approach writing a romance prior to starting your draft?

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How to Write Romance, Part 1: Do you actually need this?

Romance, part 1A month or so back, someone asked me (in the forums) about writing romance. This is no easy topic to tackle, and it’s something that every author approaches differently. But, I thought I could share a few general rules and also share how I approach romantic elements in my own stories.

Romance as a Genre

I want to preface this series by saying that romance as a genre is a totally different animal from romantic elements in a story.

The romance genre typically adheres to a certain structure and a certain outcome. In romance, the love story MUST be the primary plot, meaning all your other story threads are secondary. So for example, if a book is a paranormal romance following a werewolf as she tries to take charge of her pack while also dealing with that sexy alpha across the way, the pack conflict (of her taking charge) will be a subplot to the romance between the werewolf and the sexy alpha. The love story will take up more page time than the pack conflicts.

If the book were just a paranormal, however,then the primary conflict would be how the werewolf comes into her own and takes charge of her pack–and the majority of the page space would be devoted to her pack-leadership. The romance with the sexy alpha would be a subplot to that.

Additionally, the romance genre demands an “emotionally satisfying ending”–often times called a HEA, or Happily Ever After. The hero and the heroine must come together in the end, and it must be a “happy” ending.If you’re writing a book in the romance genre, be sure you stick to these genre requirements! I’ll link you to this excellent post in case you’re hoping to learn more.

A story with romantic elements, on the other hand, does not require any sort of happy resolution for our lovers. One character might die, they might already be together when the book opens, they might not end up together, or they might decide they hate each other after all.

What is Romance in Fiction?

In fiction, romance is always going to be linked to character arcs. Always. Whether your story be the primary plot or a subplot, the coming together of two characters must be linked to who they are now, who they are as the story progresses, and who they are when the story ends.

I’ll get into this more deeply next week, but for now remember this: Romance is all about characters growing. If the romance does not push a character to change (for good or worse), then the romance doesn’t need to be there.

And that leads me to my next point…

Does the Romance Add to the Story?

Have you ever seen a movie or TV show that opened with a sex scene that felt totally gratuitous? Like the poor actors were just having to show skin or touch lips because someone in some office somewhere said, “Sex sells.”

Well, we do NOT want that in our stories. When our romantic leads interact (this can be with or without touching), it needs to mean something. It needs to affect the plot, affect the characters, and affect everything that comes after.

If you can remove the love interest character or remove the love scenes without anything in the overall story being affected, then you do NOT need your romance.

I have totally been guilty of this. In the very first book I ever wrote, I spent ages honing the sexual tension between my MC and the love interest. Whenever the two characters were together, I thought sparks just had to be flying. Surely everyone who read would love Finn as much as I did!

Nope. Finn might’ve been sexy in my head, but on the page, his scenes added nothing. He didn’t connect to my MC’s primary plot, and he certainly didn’t push my MC to grow or change in anyway. I could have easily cut him and all of his scenes from the story without affecting the plot or my MC’s character arc at all.

So remember: If you can cut the romantic scenes without affecting the story, then you don’t need that romance.

Of course, let’s say you have a pair of lovers planned that you just KNOW will influence the trajectory of your story and force each other to change, now comes the most important question of all: are you actually excited about them?

You Gotta Love your Lovers

I am the MASTER of coming up with great plot solutions that seem so easy in a synopsis, but when I actually sit down to write said plot solution, I find myself bored. Or at a loss for how to translate a one-sentence solution into a full chapter. Or I’ll be faced with characters who wouldn’t actually do what I had brainstormed for them.

This same problem of “good in theory, not so good in action” happens often with my romances. I’ll be imagining this epic romance between a sexy pirate lord and a fiery duchess, but when I actually put the two characters on the page, they have totally different partners in mind. Or the love/hate relationship I thought they’d share just doesn’t interest me.

Well, that’sno good.If you’re not into the relationship, your readers sure as hell won’t be. You need to be as madly in love with your characters (or as passionately hateful) as they are with each other. The romantic scenes should make your gut flip exactly like theirs. If you’re not into love or not feeling the feels, then it’s time to find a new romance–maybe even rewrite your characters completely.

When these situations strike, I always head back to my notebook for some more brainstorming and some intense question/answer time (more on that later in this series).

For now, just remember: If you don’t love your romance and love interest, then you either 1) don’t need to write a romance at all, or 2) need to find the romance/love interest that does ignite a spark.

Next week, I’ll get into the basics of actually crafting a romance–from understanding character flaws to building characters that challenge each other to grow.

I’ll also be on the NaNoWriMo blog discussing the “hate-to-love” trope (or defending it, rather), so look for me there!

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Pub(lishing) Crawl: Interview with Wendy Higgins, author of Sweet Evil

Woohoo! We’re kicking off this second week of Pub(lishing) Crawl post-apocalyptic insanity with an interview from the amazing Wendy Higgins. If you haven’t read Sweet Evil, then you guys are really missing out. Seriously, there’s a reason this book has been making waves all over the blogosphere (and beyond!), and that reason is that it’s awesome.

Also, it’s got some seriously hot romance with a seriously amazing female lead (and comparably amazing male lead to match her–oh Kaidan, be still my heart!). Truly, guys, I cannot recommend this book enough! (Read more…)

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The Assassin and the Pirate Lord + Flipped: book recommendations

5 out of 5 stars.

My BFFR Sarah J. Maas‘s first novella is FOR SALE! And all I can say is: you NEED this story in your life. And no, I’m not just sayin’ that because she’s my BFFR. All friendships aside, this story and its heroine are fantastic.

Celaena Sardothien is tough, stubborn, and impulsive–we all know that from Throne of Glass…but she wasn’t always AS tough (though she was certainly MORE stubborn and MORE impulsive).

On a remote island in a tropical sea, Celaena Sardothien, feared assassin, has come for retribution. She’s been sent by the Assassin’s Guild to collect on a debt they are owed by the Lord of the Pirates. But when Celaena learns that the agreed payment is not in money, but in slaves, her mission suddenly changes – and she will risk everything to right the wrong she’s been sent to bring about. (Read more…)

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LTWF: Differents Types of Romance, or My Love For You Can’t Be Labeled

When it comes to romance in YA (or really any novel), how the romantically-involved characters first meet is dictated very much by the type of romance you want to create. For example, what’s wrong with this picture:

Scene 1: Boy meets girl. They meet eyes; their hearts skip a beat. He comes over and is ridiculously swoon-worthy.

Scene 2: Boy picks on girl. She retorts with her own insults, and soon they’re quarreling.

Yeah, those two scenes sound like two different kinds of romance, don’t they? Scene 1 fits with #1 below, and scene 2 is more of a #2 from the list. (Read more…)

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Swoon-worthiest heroes and other Very Important Life Questions

I thought it’d be fun to hear your opinions on something that I hold very near to my heart:

Good-Looking Guys

Yeah, I know you were probably expecting something profound or life-altering, but I’m not a very profound person and my life is pretty static.

(Read more…)

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More lessons from Korean Television

Kim Sam-Soon: just another K-drama to add to my addiction list…

K-drama, a.k.a. Korean soap operas, dramatic series, and romantic comedy series, are the only form of TV I’ve been watching of late…  Pretty much since I moved to Germany since Arirang is one of our only channels in English (along with Russia Today, Aljazeera, China Central Television, and Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai), I end up watching more than the average American’s share of Korean TV.

As I’ve said before: I love it. (Read more…)

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