Kristen Lamb

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Hey Guys, Cait Reynolds, my co-author/partner in crime/therapist/evil half is here to talk about the birds and the bees and maybe bees tying up other bees. The “How To” of writing superior sex scenes is vital, just uncomfortable for me. Sorry. I blame my upbringing.

I’m a Texan with a Lutheran mom and Baptist father. I grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt, and have had far too much vacation bible camp to be much help. In fact, legally, I cannot write a sex scene until every member of my family dies…and likely not even then.

If you need help with plotting a fight scene or murder? I’m your gal.

All this said, roughly 80% of publishing is powered by the romance genre. This is a FACT.

I read a LOT of romance, myself. Sadly, however, there are “romances” so over-processed and crammed with filler they need a foil tray instead of a book cover.

TV Dinner sex scenes.

Tired, overdone, dry, uncreative and no one looks forward to consuming this stuff (unless starving and desperate).

Now, the great romances? Those suckers should come with warning labels. Those stories set us ON FIRE and do not relent until we are ash.

Though I know these books when I see them, not my skill set to teach, so Cait, A.K.A. Bad Teacher taking over….

When to Have Sex? (Besides the, uh, obvious)

I need to clarify here that when I use the word ‘sex,’ it’s a kind of shorthand for a wide range of heat and scenes, from the breathless near-kiss to the no-holds-barred prolonged BDSM menage a trois.

With bees *giggles*….

Kristen, go away or I will stab you. Where was I?

Basically, when I use ‘sex,’ it means that physical arousal has become part of the scene and may influence emotions, insights, and decisions (good and bad but always “complicated”).

Whether we write it sweet or scaldingly hot, there always has to be a reason behind sex for our characters. Sex scenes are not exempt from the rules of plotting. Let me say that again.

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES SUBMIT TO THE RULES OF PLOTTING

And yes, I am all CAPS LOCK on you on the super important stuff and no talking back *adjusts leather yoga pants*.

As I was saying..

This is not to say that a character’s decision to give in to temptation has to be rational (in fact, it’s often better for the plot if it isn’t). However, sex must always fit coherently within the logical structure of the story.

We can’t just throw in a sex scene because it has been a chapter-and-a-half since our characters got it on.

Another cardinal sin is timing a sex scene when the emotions of the characters don’t match up to where they happen to be in their arc.

Let’s use Seraphina and Taylor (my favorite stand-in’s). If Seraphina is having trouble accepting that what Taylor did was for her own good, she is going to struggle emotionally and intellectually with the pull of intimacy with him. Too often, we flip a switch on Seraphina and have her go from manic to melting in the space of one kiss.

While she can certainly give in to the physical sensations, emotionally, she’s not going to be in the same place as her physiological responses. She’s going to be conflicted going into the moment, and who knows where she’ll be by the end of it?

THIS IS A GOOD THING.

Conflict is the living, beating heart of any story, and to excuse sex scenes from this rule is to water down both the meaningfulness and the sizzle of sex.

Suspension of disbelief is a fragile thing, and we run the risk of smashing it to pieces when we interrupt the logical flow of a story–something the reader is attuned to, even if they don’t know it.

In short, when it comes to a sex scene, we can’t just stick it in any ol’ place any ol’ time we feel like it (Sorry not sorry–I had to go there). When the moment is right (um, I have been reading too much of Kristen’s Cialis blog post), a good sex scene is just what the characters and the plot need.

How to Have Sex (Besides the, uh, obvious)…

Let’s say we’re reading a mystery. We pick it up with the expectation of suspense, the pleasant anticipation of trying to figure out the whodunnit for ourselves before the detective, and a thrilling game of literary cat and mouse.

The author announces in chapter three that it was the butler in the library with the candelabra, and the rest of the book is spent finding more clues that confirm…yup, it was the butler in the library with the candelabra.

I don’t know about you, but I would be throwing that book across the room…unless I got off on reading the same conclusion over and over again. (Surprise! It was the butler in the library with the candelabra! *facepalm*)

So, why do we yet again exempt sex scenes from this basic rule of fiction?

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES ADHERE TO THE RULES OF PACING

If Seraphina and Taylor jump into the sack in chapter three (with or without the butler & candelabra optional), then what is left for them? Misunderstandings and emotional conflict?

Sure.

But…the snap, crackle, and pop when we break through the Latent Unresolved Sexual Tension (L.U.S.T.) is utterly and irrevocably gone.

There’s only ever one first time. One moment of true surrender. ONE.

After that, it’s just indulging in a habit with more or less consequences.

If we are writing high-heat romance or erotica, there is definitely an expectation of having lots of fairly explicit sex scenes. But there’s nothing that says we have to go all the way on the first date with the reader.

There’s a certain irony in the idea that we as writers are supposed to be endlessly creative, yet, when it comes to sex scenes, we too often tend to go for the obvious, low-hanging fruit (insert innuendo here).

Anticipation is the most powerful aphrodisiac. Highly intoxicating and addictive.

Temptation and then DENIAL of the NEED as long as possible. The longer the chase, bigger the payoff.

When we (readers) binge read a book, our hearts are pounding, and we simply cannot stop because we want…we need what has been denied over and over. The final act is called a CLIMAX for a reason. Remember that. Jot some notes if you need to.

We writers must understand that what arouses readers to a state of almost painful excitement is always the tease (yup, more innuendo). The author leads a merry chase–hinting, confusing, tantalizing, showing a bit of ankle, running in the opposite direction.

We loves her. We haves her. We needs the Precious!

LITERARY FOREPLAY IS CRITICAL!

Yep, more CAP LOCK there *cracks whip* *adjusts black-framed glasses* I’m being tough. #BadTeacher

Wanna get all sexy with no lead up? No work? No game?

What is it that our characters fear about intimacy?

What is something that pushes their emotional and physical boundaries?

What have they never done before?

What is dangerous to them?

Where would they never engage in physical intimacy?

The more we know our characters, the more we can create moments and scenarios that begin to build the pressure of L.U.S.T. until a single spark makes all their clothes explode.

Done properly, we can build enough ridiculous tension and prolong the anticipation so that the first full sex scene can happen halfway or even two-thirds of the way through the book, and the reader won’t even notice because they’ve been hot and bothered since chapter two’s encounter in the coatroom of the restaurant.

Where to Have Sex (Besides the, uh, obvious)…

A good editor will come down on us like a ton of bricks if we get too mechanical or bogged down with unimportant details. Every scene has its own particular balance of dialogue, inner thoughts, action, and description.

The exact proportions of each element may differ for different POVs, genres, scenes, level of heat, etc., but they are always present.

Why then, for the love of all things Taylor and Seraphina, do we forget this rule when it comes to sex scenes? Why do we subject the reader to the (sometimes literal) blow-by-blow description of what Seraphina is doing to Taylor and vice versa?

It’s painfully easy to let a sex scene slip into “Insert Tab A into Slot B” territory when all we focus on is what body parts are touching other body parts.

SUPERIOR SEX SCENES HARNESS THE RULES OF DESCRIPTION

There’s so much we can put into a sex scene to enhance it, make it vibrant, touch a chord of reality with the reader, and create a truly unique moment for our characters. Let’s just look at the mechanics.

We wouldn’t describe every single action a character takes to prepare a lasagna. Why are we doing this with a sex scene? If we truly know our characters and what they long for, fear, desire, and dislike, then we can draw the reader’s attention to what is daring, unusual, and dangerous for the character.

For example, I could describe in agonizing minutiae how Taylor undresses Seraphina. It would probably end up sounding like every other undressing scene in every other book.

Taylor hurriedly undid the buttons on her blouse, getting impatient and yanking it over her head. She gasped as he hooked his hands into the waist of her skirt and deftly turned it around so he could unzip it and slide it down her legs. (I can’t go much further here without getting both more mechanical and explicit and in trouble with Kristen, but you get the idea.)

Eh. Meh. Blah.

But…what if we spun the moment this way?

As Taylor tore at her clothes, Seraphina wondered at herself, at her impulsive decision to leave work in the middle of the afternoon to meet him at the hotel. The constant patter of rain against the windows reminded her of the stream of emails she was willfully ignoring.

She looked at the man responsible for her temptation, the agent of her transformation. Every piece of clothing he ripped away peeled away the shell of the cold corporate woman, and every hot breath against her skin baptized her in the fire of a primal desire.

In your mind’s eye, you saw Taylor taking off her clothing. I didn’t have to beat you over the head with the buttons or smack you with her skirt. I didn’t give you guidance on how to take off Seraphina’s clothes. I put you in her head, and I bet that for a split-second, you heard the patter of rain against a window ;).

Getting Some…

All of this is just the tip…of the iceberg. (YES! I HAD TO!)

I talk about this and so much more in my class, “How to Dominate Your Sex Scenes–No Safe Words Here!”

The thing is, this Friday is the last time I’m offering it this year (and probably well into next year). So, if you want to have an awesome time and learn a ton about writing SUPERIOR SEX SCENES, sign up for MY CLASS THIS FRIDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2017, FROM 7:00-9:00 P.M. EST!

CLASS DESCRIPTION

Instructor: Cait Reynolds
Price: $45.00  USD Standard
Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom
When: Friday, October 20, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl have sex several times, though the scenes all kind of blur together at some point. Girl (or Boy) ends up in trouble at the hands of criminals/jealous ex/drug lord and needs Boy’s (or Girl’s) rescue.

Boy and Girl have celebratory sex and live happily ever after.

Sound all too familiar?

Maybe like the tens of thousands of schlocky “Schlongs of Shanghai” titles all competing for KENP (Kindle pages read) and the top 1,000 ranking on Amazon?

But, there’s no denying that erotica is one of the hottest genres around and has a very real place in literature. Yet, to write a work of erotica that provides both the escapist fantasy that readers want while creating a fast-paced story with memorable characters and riveting, unique sex scenes is probably harder than trying to find that billionaire cowboy with six-pack abs who’s into ménage-a-trois.

This class will not be for the faint of heart or those who blush easily!

We are going to tackle the nitty gritty of the erotica genre as a whole and sex scenes in particular…and use ALL the words in our discussions!

Topics covered include:

  • When to introduce sex into the story and the sex v. plot ratio –
  • Creating chemistry in one easy step
  • Decisions, decisions: Purple prose v. crass cusswords –
  • How to avoid the cookie-cutter Alpha male (and corresponding Mary Sue female) –
  • Keeping the sex fresh, interesting, and unique in every single scene – How realistic to make sex in any given scene v. how much detail is TMI, even for your readers?
  • What really makes a scene sexy?
  • What makes a story sexy?
  • BONUS: How to talk about erotica as literature and fun facts about the history of erotica!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase. REGISTER NOW!

GOLD PACKAGE

Get one hour of phone consultation with Cait and workshopping of a sex scene of up to 2,500 words! This is personalized instruction and guidance on making your writing sizzle!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

If the cover is an invitation to the party in your book, then the blurb (the back cover description, the summary, whatever you want to call it) is the RSVP card readers check off as attending-with-the-chicken-option when they buy your book.

The trouble is that for so many books, while the cover is invites you to a rave, the blurb reveals it’s really polka night at the VFW.

The Book Cover
The Blurb

So, if the blurb is so important, why is it so hard to write? Raise your hand if you hate writing blurbs. Raise your other hand if you agonize over writing a blurb, and it still feels like it’s awful when it’s done.

Even Tolstoy probably downed a gallon or two of vodka while trying to write the blurb for War and Peace.

Well, for today’s Girl Friday, you get me, Cait Reynolds (you know, the chick who goes on vacation with six books and comes back with, uh, eighteen – no lie!), and my tips and tricks for turning blurb writing hell into blurb writing heaven!

Actually, *I* do.

I used to hate blurb writing with the heat of a thousand suns. Now, I pop them out like Pop-Tarts from a toaster. I used to think blurbs were a challenge set by the Devil (totally on par with that 40 days in the desert thing) to test my resolve in being a writer. Now?

The Lord rewards the righteous, and the way of blurb writing is littered with goodness and manna with sprinkles.

Why is blurb writing so hard?

In order to fully understand the solution, we have to look at the problem.

We write a book. We are so freaking excited about it! It’s such a good story! We want everyone to know what a good story it is! It has all these characters and a quest that is going to change the world! Oh, and then, there’s this really crucial part about…

…aaaaand that’s where we need to stop.

We have come down with a serious case of “KSS” – Kitchen Sink Syndrome. It’s probably safe to say that we have also contracted a secondary infection of “ISS” – Inadvertent Snowflake Syndrome.

The symptomology of Kitchen Sink Syndrome is easy to spot:

  • The urge to make sure the entire arc of the plot is covered;
  • Reassuring the reader that there will be a satisfying resolution;
  • Showing just how exciting the story is by revealing one of the twists;
  • Erupting in a rash of “No Character Left Behind” in the description.

If we can check off one or more of these symptoms, then we definitely need to get tested for Inadvertent Snowflake Syndrome, just to be on the safe side.

Signs of ISS include:

  • Mentioning the age of any character unless crucial to the plot;
  • Including irrelevant physical descriptors (I’m looking at you, raven-haired beauty!);
  • Reassuring the reader that the protagonist has best friends who will go with him/her on the quest;
  • Admitting that any characters fall in love with a 70% chance of happily ever after.

So, now we have a diagnosis that on the surface seems to nix basically anything we want to put in the blurb. It feels like we are further away than ever from that golden moment of revelation of how to write a blurb with ease and panache.

Yet, like chicken soup, antibiotics, and puppy-snuggling, there is a slow-and-steady cure for the blurb-writing blues.

Celebrity Death Match: Blurbs vs. Summaries

The first thing we have to do is stop thinking of the blurb as a stand-in for a synopsis or summary of the book. Stop thinking like a writer, and start thinking like an advertiser.

A summary tells all, reveals all, and has a purpose that is totally different from a blurb. It’s an editorial and production piece that rarely sees the light of day with the public.

A blurb is an advertisement. It’s meant to lure, entice, and tease. It is a selling tool.

And, just like most effective selling tools, absolute accuracy isn’t really necessary. Think of the blurb like it’s an ad for wrinkle cream (Thanks, Kristen!).

It will leave your skin softer and smelling good. Whether your skin is smoother or not is entirely subjective, so the claims of the ad can’t really be proved or disproved.

What I’m trying to say is that we can fudge things a little bit in a blurb if it will make it more exciting and enticing. For example, if Seraphina is learning to become a mage but ends up flunking out of mage school and not being a mage after all, we don’t really have to be honest and up front with the reader in the blurb that Seraphina will fall short of her goals and our expectations.

Just like the old saying, “There are no good lawyers, only lawyers who do their job well,” there are no good blurbs, only blurbs that do their job and sell the reader on the book.

Hokey Pokey blurbs

Good blurbs leave us wanting to know more, thinking about the problem posed, or fascinated with one little detail that was mentioned.

These are the things that lead us to buy the book. I totally get that it is wicked hard to pry ourselves out of the mindset of a being a writer and and into the slightly swampy mindset of being a marketer. So, here’s a little game I play when I sit down to write a blurb:

The Hokey Pokey.

You put your protagonist in. You leave the best friend out. You put the problem in. You leave the twist out. You do the Hokey Pokey and leave ’em on a cliffhanger. That’s what it’s all about.

(Look, I never said I was a poet or good at rhyming stuff.)

Obviously, there are exceptions and tweaks for every genre, and it’s a good practice to browse through both indie and traditionally published books in whatever genre we are writing to study the blurbs. Things to note as we read the blurbs:

  • How long are they?
  • How suspenseful?
  • What are some key words and phrases in the genre?
  • Do they start with a tagline (a one-sentence/sentence fragment that is a tease for the entire book)?
  • Do they end with a tagline?
  • What is the balance between the protagonist’s personal peril and the global peril of the plot?

If we look hard enough, patterns for the blurb emerge (kind of like those 3-D eye puzzles I could never get to come into focus). In all seriousness, the structure of a blurb is super simple and can be summed up by 3P’s made of 2-3 sentences each:

  • Protagonist: Who are we rooting for and where are they in life when the book starts?
  • Problem: What is the main problem of the book?
  • Peril: How does the problem bring the protagonist to the brink of X?

And leave it there. Don’t reassure the reader about anything. EVER. Reassurance is what they get when they buy the book and read it all the way through.

Which is why we write the blurb in the first place…

I’m not gonna lie. The kid has talent. I kinda want to read this. (From Mrs. Baldwin’s Class Blog – http://mrsbaldwin5.edublogs.org/2014/08/14/what-is-a-blurb/)

Blurb writing blows…but, it doesn’t have to

If you want to learn more about writing blurbs and get your blurb workshopped, join my class tonight!

Instructor: Cait Reynolds

Price: $45.00 USD

Where: W.A.N.A. Digital Classroom

When: Friday, October 6th, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST

The blurb. Back cover description. 150-200 words. Your entire book in 3 small paragraphs.

The heart’s cry goes up from every single writer ever: “THIS IS HARDER TO WRITE THAN THE 90,000 WORDS OF MY BOOK!”

And yet, it shouldn’t be. Approached from a different angle, a blurb should be one of the easiest and most fun things to write. Yes. I went there. I said it. Hopefully, after taking this class, you will be saying it, too. No more blubbering over blurbs. Ever.

This class will cover:

  • Understanding the purpose of a blurb in attracting readers;
  • The top secret formula to structuring a blurb;
  • How to plug-and-play every blurb, every time;
  • Why everything you think is important in your story really isn’t (in terms of the blurb);
  • The secret to keywords, blurbs, and algorithms.

As a bonus, bring a copy of your blurb to the class for group workshopping!

A recording of this class is also included with purchase.

GOLD PACKAGE

With the Gold Package, you get a 1 hour consult and hands-on blurb editing session with Cait!

About the Instructor:

Cait Reynolds is a USA Today Bestselling Author and lives in the Boston area with her husband and four-legged fur child. She discovered her passion for writing early and has bugged her family and friends with it ever since. When she isn’t cooking, running, rock climbing, or enjoying the rooftop deck that brings her closer to the stars, she writes.

So…Kristen locked all the blog doors. She even locked the blog’s ground floor windows. HOWEVER, she forgot that I am a rock climber! I just did a little dyno, a little manteling, and a little down-climbing, and I was in. And she thought I couldn’t do this on a road trip!

*evil cackle*

Anyway, once I was in, past the lasers and over the alligator traps, I promptly went downstairs and opened the door for Kim, who will be here next Friday…since we now have a new feature: GIRL FRIDAY (well until Kristen figures out how to truly evict us. Squatters are crafty 😉 ).

For now, we are basically Girl Friday to Kristen Lamb to assist in her plans for global domination and after all the Wednesdays hanging out here, we got comfy.

I don’t have a picture of Denny Basenji today because I am (technically) on vacation. Which means, as a self-employed writing instructor, editor, and writer, I LAUGH AT THE CONCEPT OF RELAXATION! Let’s examine how I have turned two weeks at the beach in North Carolina into…

THE HOLIDAY TRAV-L-PARK WRITER’S CONFERENCE

Don’t hate me because it’s beautiful.

No, really, this is work. It’s like any other conference. For example:

The Accommodations. Trailer homes or BYOC (bring your own camper)
Shuttle transportation. And just like shuttles, zippy and tippy, depending on the speed and driver (*shifty eyes*)

Just like any conference. There’s a bar and a pool where you can hang out and network because we all know that networking is what makes drinking and arguing over whether zombies could take out Klingons a “work-related activity” #businessexpense.

The bar. If you want wine, you have to go to the expensive side of the convenience store.
The pool. And just like every crowded hotel conference, not a shade umbrella to be had…

I don’t know about you, but I always imagine I’m going to have SOOOO much time to work and write after the day’s sessions are done. I pack all kinds of notebooks, books, etc. in anticipation of enormous bouts of productivity. Yet, I always seem to end up dragged (okay, so, it’s more like static cling) into shenanigans that teeter on the edge of legal. For example:

I built a sand castle instead of reading background material for a WIP. BUT this wasn’t just any old sand castle! I put extra fortification around the foundations so it was impervious to sapeurs! #nerdatthebeach #youshouldhaveseenmyneolithicsettlement

There were some good moments of inspiration and crafting breakthroughs.

For example, I discovered how to do a travel-size version of my “Serial Killer Wall of Plotting.” The citronella candle is to keep away the mosquitoes who insist on texting during the sessions.

I’ve also made good progress on my TBR pile.

Missing one book. The cabana boy (erm, my husband) took one of the books with him to the beach.

One of the most enjoyable parts of any conference, however, is always meeting the fellow attendees and making new friends.

Yes, there is an indoor shower, but why not shower under the sun, sky, and trees…especially when you get to converse with…
This little guy! (I was in the middle of a shower, so I couldn’t get an actual photo of him). He was perched on top of my shampoo bottle and made some rather pointed comments about how I need to use more conditioner. (“Tree Squirrel Frog” Photo by duggiehoo on DeviantArt)

I also ran into an old friend, which one tends to do at these events.

Miss North Carolina Blue-Tailed Skink and I go way, way back. It’s always nice to catch up with friends you wouldn’t see anywhere else but at a conference! (Photo: Wikipedia)

Don’t forget the SWAG!

And they say I don’t think of you…

Finally, like most conferences, there’s always an element of dress-up and costuming.

Personally, I am jazzed for any occasion that allows me to break out my parasol.

In all seriousness, despite the books and notes and that my brain never shuts up with story ideas, getting away and out of the HOUSE is actually essential for creativity. No, we may not crank out two thousand words a day like we planned the day we left for the con, but that’s cool.

We gain so much more.

Friendships, XP points, and a little R&R goes a long way. Sometimes writer’s block might just be code for “Take a vaca. Like, NOW.” That vaca might be a beach or, if you are Kristen, an extra hour at the grocery store wandering the aisles in search of new GF foods.

Take a drive, a walk, or watch a movie in an actual theater. GASP! I  know, movie tickets are expensive but you have my permission to sneak in your nibblies.

Thing is, a break is a break and we need to snag ’em where we find ’em!

Trust me. Your muse will thank you.

Next week, Kim Alexander will be back and actually share some useful insights about writing as opposed to this brief yet colorful order to CHILL THE HELL OUT.

RELAX.

And enjoy your weekend. It is an order *stern face*

Oh and while you are enjoying your weekend, give yourself an additional challenge. REST. To parlay off Kristen’s last post, Invoke the No, this is a great way to exercise that flabby or maybe even atrophied NO muscle.

Say NO to the gazillion tiny demands of others, chores you will do out of mindless habit or spineless obedience. Tasks and chores you won’t likely remember by the next week.

Meaningful NOs free up space for the YES to something fun.

Which is hard. I get it. Baby steps. Maybe you can meet Kristen at the grocery store. She finds it relaxing…whatever *rolls eyes*

In the end, when we refuse to relax and have fun and chain ourselves to the “busy”…this is what we look like.

Actual Footage of Writers Who Won’t Rest…

Anyway, it’s time for me to head out to the beach…erm…I mean, another conference session *waves*

Oh, and it looks like we’re in Medieval England…again…

I’m Kim Alexander back to talk about fantasy world-building. This time I’m looking at those writers who make every heroine in their stories a—wait for it—princess.

This is different from Chosen One Syndrome, because when it comes down to it, every protagonist is a chosen one; you’ve chosen to write about them. In this installment, I’ll be talking about working for a living. (More about Chosen One Syndrome in an upcoming blog post!)

When we create fantasy lands like, oh, “Gondfloria” (pop. 2 mill. unicorns), it’s easy to use the default: faux medieval Europe. If we have a bunch of forbidding, craggy, windswept mountains with impenetrable fortresses (I always feel like it should be ‘fortressi’ even though I know better) atop them, the next thing we’re gonna do is make our main character a princess. (Or a prince, I don’t know your life.)

I’m here to suggest to be brave and try something else. I’m not saying we have to make our enchanted land of Gondfloria into an Arctic survivalist encampment. But, we need to think a little bit outside the box…okay, dungeon, especially if the dungeon is full of Northern European royalty.

(Full disclosure: the main character of my novel, The Sand Prince, is – as the title suggests – a prince. But I hasten to add that he’s astonishingly bad at it.)

Sometimes it seems like every fantasy novel I pick up is crewed by the same group:

  • The sullen yet hot warrior who is certainly hiding a secret (it probably has to do with sex)
  • The sassy thief
  • The wise elder (also a thief, possibly retiring, clearly not going to make it to the sequel)
  • And of course our hero, the member of nobility who under the cover of darkness runs with a bad crowd because Daddy Issues.

Any of them may be masquerading as the opposite gender because it’s…daring. My money is on the sassy thief.

Don’t any of these people have jobs? And no, I’m not counting ‘thief’ as a job. You can’t put it on a resume unless you’re actually applying to be a thief.

Even if we’ve decided it’s written in stone that Gondfloria has forests and castles and bears, we can still explore the lives of people living there without falling back on ‘princess’ or ‘thief.’

Here are a few suggestions, on the house: bear wrangler, bee keeper, lute carver, magical bee keeper (the bees, not the person), cook, fixer for the local mob boss, mob boss, magical bee keeper (the person, not the bees – gods, keep up!), innkeeper, wench (if you have an inn, you’ve got to have a wench; I don’t make the rules), bard, dog boy, horse girl, and then way down at the bottom, thief, and finally, princess. You’re welcome.

Look, we want our story to stand out in the enormous ocean of similarly themed and titled books. We can do that by either taping a $20 bill to the inside cover of each and every one…or by making it unique.

I look forward to reading your take on a hot yet sullen magical bee keeper who lives in the misty woods of Gondfloira. Feel free to get on your magical sassy pants and sprinkle some flash fiction in the comments. Also any suggestion for other cool roles (characters) who’ve been forgotten, overlooked, or given little or no love. Maybe one not yet thought about?

Oooooh, extra XP points!

Unicorn trainers? Those suckers are magical so surely they could be house-trained right? Dude in charge of the “Pigeon Messaging Service” that later was forced into rebranding and a name change because PMS a really bad name for a business in communication (one not involving knives and chocolate). Use your imagination! ALSO!

Are you tired of ye same olde same olde? Losing that loving feeling for fantasy because, when it’s all the same, that is well, to be blunt, the OPPOSITE of fantasy?

Next time: The Chosen One, or, It is foretold that you and you alone will fix this coffee maker and save mornings for all of Gondfloria!

***

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!

It’s Squatter’s Rights Wednesday with me, Cait Reynolds. Today, we are going to go the distance. Literally. No matter what genre we write, our characters generally go places. The physical distance between these places impacts the timelines of our stories, pacing, and tension. Distance, great or small, can also be used to create atmosphere or to illustrate differences between characters.

But, before we get too much farther (ha ha, pun fully intended), here is the requisite photo of Denny Basenji, who is determined to go nowhere and do nothing.

GPS, Equipages, and Transporters

Like I said, it doesn’t matter what genre we write. Every story takes place in a…well…place. Whether it’s another planet, a fantasy realm full of dragons, Regency England, or today’s Los Angeles, distance plays a part in shaping and defining the story.

Let’s tackle the easy stuff first. When we write about anyplace on planet Earth, all we have to do is use Google Maps to get a sense of location, geography, nearby locales, and distance (by planes, trains, and automobiles…and bikes and feet).

I generally keep a little written note of the locations in my story and how far from one to the other. It’s quick a quick reference guide for me as I write, and it eventually helps my editors and proofreaders ensure consistency.

Staying on planet Earth but going back in time, we are still dealing with the same locations (for the most part), so Google Maps is still our friend.

However, now, we have to add in another layer: transportation. Whether it’s a pilgrimage on foot, the complex transportation logistics of a Crusade, taking the carriage to the ball, or crossing an ocean or continent using steam-powered engines, the way our characters get places must be factored into the overall timeline and plot.

But…how exactly do we figure out how long it would have taken a farmer’s cart with two old horses to go twenty miles versus a smart little phaeton with a pair of bright, brisk ponies?

Ah, hello, Google, my old friend. I’ve come to talk with you again.

 No, seriously, you can google that stuff. It might take a little bit of digging (depending on how complex the logistics or how detailed you want to get), but the information is out there.

To prove my point, I just typed in, “average travel speed by phaeton and ponies” on Google and came up with a wealth of information about travel speeds and terrains (in both miles and kilometers!). If I really wanted to nail the exact amount of time it would take Mrs. Gardiner from Pride and Prejudice to go around the 10 miles of Pemberley’s  Park in the phaeton, I would probably spend about twenty minutes to half-an-hour digging through Google results.

For science fiction and fantasy, we get to create the rules, but then, *sighs* we then have to play by them. We can create any alien planet or mist-ringed elven realm we want, but as part of basic world-building, we must actually build the world.

Look at classics like Dune and Lord of the Rings. Herbert has very specific rules and details about space travel and distance between Fremen enclaves on Arrakis. In LOTR, Tolkien provides perhaps the most perfect example ever of using geographical distance to create tension and manipulate the pacing of the plot.

For science fiction, it’s worth doing a little Google, Wikipedia, and science magazine website digging to get a basic understanding of the distances between planets, solar systems, and galaxies – and, how long it takes to travel between them in lightyears. Keep a list of every space station, planet, and outpost, and their distances from each other.

We can talk about warp engines and wormholes all we want in science fiction, but we need to keep it consistent. If we get our characters into a situation where the only way out is to go to warp 10, but the scale only goes up to warp 9.9 (looking at you, TNG *wink*), then, we can’t just wave a magic wand and have the raven-haired, emerald-eyed, 22-year-old engineering ensign with a tragic past suddenly come up with a way to achieve warp 10. 

This is a direct violation of Lamb’s Law of Coincidences: You can use all the coincidences you want to get characters into trouble, but you can never use it to get them out of it.

In fantasy, the same rules apply. I would even go so far as to draw what I like to call a “stick-figure map.” That’s a polite way of saying a bunch of blobs and dots on a piece of paper with arrows between the dots indicating distances between cities, kingdoms, continents, etc.

Magical transport needs rules, just like sci-fi transport. Treat dragons like horses: how fast can they fly, for how long, are there different types of dragons that go at different speeds?

Personally, all my dragons come with a V8 standard.

Polite nothings about the roads and the weather.

Conflict! 😀
Just like it’s natural for us to complain about traffic, tell stories of bad flights, or share information about how to get to a certain location and how long it will take, characters talk about distance and travel, too.

“It must be very agreeable to her to be settled within so easy a distance of her own family and friends.”

“An easy distance do you call it? It is nearly fifty miles.”

“And what is fifty miles of good road? Little more than half a day’s journey. Yes, I call it a very easy distance.”

“I should never have considered the distance as one of the advantages of the match,” cried Elizabeth. “I should never have said Mrs. Collins was settled near her family.”

 

In this example from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, distance and travel are used to highlight the differences between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s wealth, social status, and character. It’s just one of the many brilliant examples of “show, don’t tell” in the book, but that’s another post for another time.

When I was writing a scene about the journey of one of the characters in Kristen’s and my zombie western, I did spend more time – probably close to an hour – learning about railroad journeys from the East Coast to Arizona territory in the 1870’s-1890’s. This was much more involved for several reasons.

First, based on the exact year we are using, I needed to find out just how far the westward railroad expansion went. I discovered that while there was service to California already, the first tendrils of track had just begun to breach the borders of Arizona.

Therefore, the character would have had to end his rail journey a good 200 miles from his destination and take a stagecoach the rest of the way.

The time I spent researching this was not wasted, and not just for the fact that I was assuring that my facts were correct (socking it to the trolls!), but I realized how much this particular journey would represent abandoning civilization for the character, and it also gave me an opportunity to add in a hint of backstory for his relationship with another character whom he meets at a hotel in Denver when he is making arrangements for the next stage of his journey.

The failure, shortcomings, and limits of transportation provide us with fantastic tools for ratcheting up the tension.

Not to bring up bad memories of math class for many of us, but if character A is 60 miles away and trapped with a bomb set to go off in an hour, and character B can only travel 30 miles-per hour, what is going to happen to character A? (Leave your answers in the comments! Bonus points for creativity and flash fiction LOL.)

***

I love hearing from you!

For the month of September, for everyone who leaves a comment, I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NEW CLASSES FOR SEPTEMBER AND MORE!

All classes come with a FREE recording!

We’ve added in classes on erotica/high heat romance, fantasy, how to write strong female characters and MORE! Classes with me, with USA Today Best-Selling Author Cait Reynolds, award-winning author and journalist Lisa-Hall Wilson, and Kim Alexander, former host of Sirius XM’s Book Radio. So click on a tile and sign up!

(If you are getting this via email, open the blog post to see all the options and sign up!)

Villains & Anti-Heroes: The Characters We Love and Hate. $45.00 USD. Tuesday, September 12, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Hooked: Catching Readers in the First Five Pages. $40.00 USD. Thursday, September 14, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Turn Your Passion Into A Business: Making Money As A Writer. $40.00 USD. Monday, September 25, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Guilty Pleasures: Writing Suspense, Thrillers, and Crime. Tuesday, September 26, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!
Outside the Box: How to Read More, Write Less, and Up Your Fiction Game. Friday, September 29, 2017. 7:00-9:00 p.m. EST. Click the image to register!