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Launch Vicki’s Line Contest

I need your help!

If you’ve been reading Vicki’s snippets the past few weeks, you know that she’s trying to launch her own fashion line in Dallas, TX.  I have the event planned for the unveiling, and I know exactly how she’ll promote the line on VCONN, Victor’s (her brother) risque cable channel that is featured in his book, Hurt Me So Good (unofficial title), but I have one big problem.

I don’t know the NAME of her line.

Is it just her name?  A special V?  I don’t think so.  The V is special to Victor, very crucial to his story, so I don’t want to over do it.  I want something special to VICKI, that’s allll hers.  It should help me tell her story and reveal another facet of her character.

Obviously, this name is very important, and so far, I’m drawing a blank. 

That’s where you guys come in.  After reading the snippets, what would you name Vicki’s fashion line? 

Comment on this post as many times as you like.  I’ll take each name and pool them together, and on April 1st, I’ll pick one for a prize: a signed copy of Dear Sir, I’m Yours, the beginning of the Connagher stories. 

If one of you really nails the line’s name and I end up using it in Vicki’s story, I’ll thank you in the dedication, assuming of course, that Vicki is someday contracted.  I’ll also give you a free e-copy of Victor’s book when it’s released, a signed copy of Victor’s print book when it’s released, and the same for Vicki’s book (again, assuming it’s contracted).  Whew!  Edited to add:  and of course, I’ll send you a signed copy of Dear Sir, I’m Yours, too, and hook you up with an electronic version if you don’t have it.

This contest is open to anyone on the planet, even if you’ve won something from me before.

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Good News for Victor!

I just signed the contract for Victor (Hurt Me So Good) to go to Samhain!  I’m so happy and relieved.  Of course I love Victor and those of you who’ve helped me with beta reads were all very positive, but I was still nervous since I have a new editor this time around.  I’ll keep you posted on the official release date.

Oh, and I saw the cover workup for The Bloodgate Guardian (title change from Codex) and it made me do another Snoopy dance.  I made everyone at dinner (we met Uncle J, Aunt BB, and Grandma and Grandpa at Tasia) look at it on my iPhone.  As soon as I can share, I’ll let you know. 

Sorry I didn’t post a snippet today — just too busy.  I’ve started a new workout routine and it is KILLING me.  In a good way.  I hope.  Ouch.  Wince.

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Approaching Vicki

Lying in bed yesterday, awake but still near to that hazy dream state, I worked through everything I knew about Vicki, Conn and Victor’s sister.  I’m pleased to announce that her heroes showed up.  I even have them cast in my mind now.

The big hole remains Vicki.  So here’s a few things I know about her and this book.

The first challenge I set for myself was to come up with a believable, modern-day story where the characters ended up happy in a long-term menage relationship.  All three of them.  I didn’t want this to be a one-night fantasy, a casual fling, or any other standard menage set up.  This part took forever to fall into place.  In my mind, I played through several different set ups, until I finally settled on this one.  The right one.  I think.  *winks*

Next, one of the heroes is inspired by someone else.  Someone I think got the short end of the stick.  He never got the care he deserved, allowed to evolve and become the kind of person he could have been.  I’m not going to say publically who or where this person came from, but if you guess and contact me privately, I may admit it.  Maybe.  Jesse (looks a bit like Casey James) is NOT this other person–he’s inspired by him.

Vicki has an existing friendship with Elias Reyes (played by Esai Morales), a police lieutenant working on a narcotics federal task force in Dallas.  They used to be on opposite sides of the court room, since Vicki was a defense attorney.  The money was nice, obviously, but she got burned out by the violence.  She found herself getting people off she knew were guilty, instead of truly helping people who were innocent and needed good representation.  Elias’s strong attraction and his dedication to justice, combined with burnout and a few really bad cases, led her to make a significant life change.

She quit practicing law to pursue a dream.  She opened up her own fashion line in Dallas.  [For the beta readers, that’s why Shiloh wears one of Vicki’s dresses to the final event.]  She’s doing this with her own money, but part of her feels like a failure.  She spent all these years going to college, working her way up to partner, gaining a prestigious career…only to quit.  She wonders what Daddy would say about it if he were still alive, and she hasn’t dared go home to see Mama.

She’s never had a comfortable relationship with Mama.  As the baby of the family, she was a daddy’s girl.  Her older brothers always took care of her.  She’s more like oil and water with Mama, who never sugar coats anything.  Don’t get me wrong–Vicki is not timid or afraid of Mama.  In fact, they’ve had so many rows, she decided it’s just easier to stay away. Despite their heated discussions, Vicki has a strong sense of family and would be miserable without them, so she stays in Dallas instead of heading for NY or LA, even if that means she won’t be as successful.

In looks, Vicki probably has dark hair and eyes to match Victor (Adrian Paul) or blue eyes like Conn (Clive Owen), but she could have taken more after Daddy (Sam Elliott) than Mama (Vivien Leigh).  After watching Constantine last night with my Beloved Sis, I’m thinking Vicki might be played by Rachel Weisz, but I’m open to other ideas.

P.S. Her real name isn’t Vicki.  It’s Beulah (Miss Belle) Virginia (Mama).  It’s sort of a family joke that she was cursed from the beginning with these names.  She chose to use Vicki (after her paternal grandmother, Victoria, where Victor got his name) instead.

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Victor: Hurt Me So Good

The title I’m going with for now:  Hurt Me So Good.  I’m sure we’ll go through dozens of new ones, but this title says so much about the book.  It’s really perfect in a lot of ways, and stays true to the personal structure of Dear Sir, I’m Yours.

I’ve made two complete revision passes through Victor’s book, growing it slightly to 73.5K, a nice, meaty read.  I decided to keep the blog idea and added a few crucial posts to the story, similar to Rae’s letters to Conn.  The blog plays a crucial part in the external storyline, so I thought it fit, and it let me mix in some humor and layers of character.  

In the mix of revising Return to Shanhasson and the Maya story, I forgot how much I love this book.  Whew, baby, does Victor smolder.  Shiloh is unlike ANY heroine I have ever written before and I love her to pieces.  I wish I knew her in real life.  Sometimes I had to close my eyes in order to type her dialogue because she takes great pride in telling Victor exactly what she wants in brutal, dirty detail.  *snickers*

And Victor, well.  Let’s just say even Gregar is saluting him with his rahke

All that remains is the synopsis, and a few beta reads if anyone is so inclined.  My usual warnings and caveats:  my editor hasn’t gotten it yet and things may change after she makes her edit requests.  I don’t want a critique — just a read and judgment of enjoyment factor, although if you catch a typo, I’ll be ever grateful. 

This book is erotic romance–including BDSM, rough language, and the use of a riding crop–and NOT for the faint of heart.  If you’re still interested, e-mail me.  I reserve the right to decline if we’re not a good fit or if I’ve already received enough offers.  I’ll trade full reads with writers and give a final electronic copy to readers, as well as thank you in the dedication.

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Friday Snippet: #Victor

I skipped a few pages since last Friday’s post, both to keep some of the show’s details secret and to get to the juicier stuff.  *winks*  First draft, subject to revision, the cutting floor, etc.  Enjoy!  (Don’t forget to enter the Halloween giveaway to win a copy of The Sweetest Kiss, Ravishing Vampire Erotica!)

Smiling, Victor stood and reached out to take Shiloh’s hand.  “You’ve sold us, Ms. Holmes.  Mal and I will co-produce the show, but I’d like for you to be the showrunner.”

Her eyes gleamed, shimmering with unshed tears.  “Thank you so much, Mr. Connagher.  It’s an honor to work with you.”

He didn’t release her hand and she made no move to pull away.  “Mal, get to work on the contracts for our in-house people.  For sure, lock Georgia into the host position if she’s interested.  We need to be taping by the end of the week.  Preferably tomorrow if we can swing the set.  Make sure every single person down to the lowest gaffer on set signs the confidentiality agreement.  I don’t want a single word of this leaking before we’re ready.”

“I’m on it.”  Mal gave Shiloh a knowing smile and headed for the door.  “Welcome to the team, Ms. Holmes.”

“Just Shiloh, please,” she said, smiling.

The door shut.  Victor watched the emotions flaring in her eyes and across her face.  Pure, sunny excitement, lip-biting anticipation, growing warmth in her eyes the longer she stared back at him.  Slowly, he tightened his fingers.  Her breathing caught, quickened, and her eyes turned smoky and heavy-lidded without a single hint of fear.

“If I must be one of the judges competing for the title of Master, then you must be a,” barely, he managed to avoid saying my, “submissive for the show.”

She rolled her bottom lip between her teeth and it was all he could do not to lean down and place his own teeth on that tender flesh.  “I hope it’s not too presumptuous of me to admit that’s exactly what I planned.”

He squeezed harder, waiting for that little gasp of pain that said he’d gone far enough…so he could go just a little bit further.  “There were easier ways to approach me than to devise an entire show to lure yourself into my clutches.”

She laughed out a low groan that was music to his ears.  God, it had been entirely too long since he’d worked a responsive sub over and enjoyed that symphony of pain and pleasure.  “It wouldn’t have been very professional of me to prance into your office stark naked.”

“Not professional,” he agreed, drawing her closer.  “But a damned pretty sight.  Are you going to be able to handle showrunner duties as well as putting up with me on set?”

“Of course.”  She blinked away some of the haze darkening her eyes.  “I’ve dreamed of nothing else for months.  I can do it, Mr. Connagher.”

He squeezed harder, his grip brutal, he knew, crushing her delicate hand in his own big palm that could still throw a football in a perfect spiral at fifty yards.  Greedy, starved, he felt as crazed as an addict who’d fallen off the wagon after years of abstinence.

She whimpered, a cry that sliced his heart into ribbons even while lighting a fire in his blood that wanted her writhing and screaming, begging him to stop.

It’s better to know now, he tried to console himself, waiting for her to jerk away.  Maybe she’d slap him and stomp out of VCONN entirely.  It would be the best for both of them.  Certainly safer than putting herself into his hands, hoping he’d have the mercy and decency to control himself without committing serious harm.

Knees crumpling, she fell against him, sliding down his legs so she knelt at his feet.  Rubbing her cheek against his stomach, she twisted her head so she could look up at him.  “What may I call you, sir?”

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Storybuilding 5: Victor’s Letter

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Can’t win for losing.”  Sometimes, I think the saying should be “Can’t lose for winning.”

My name is Victor, and I always win.  I’m the victor in everything I do.  I’ll risk anything, defeat any opponent, pay any cost…to win.  Now that I’m well into my thirties, I can admit that winning has cost me more losses than I ever imagined possible.

The first time I won—and lost—I was twenty two years old and the starting quarterback at Texas A&M.  We were headed to the Cotton Bowl and the world was mine to conquer.  I had my whole life planned out: we would win the game; I would enter the draft; some big-time NFL team would pick me up—preferably the Dallas Cowboys—and my future would be assured.  Every minute of my free time I was training, lifting weights, drawing up new plays, and dreaming about the Hall of Fame and Superbowl rings.  I lived, breathed, ate, and slept football.

My team had never lost a game once I’d taken the helm as quarterback.  I certainly wasn’t going to let my team lose the championship game.

The world was at my feet and I could do no wrong.  Everyone loved me and cheered for me, especially my high-school sweetheart, Mandi.  We’d been together since our junior year in high school.  She was a beautiful girl, cheerleader captain, everything a guy like me could have wanted.  Everyone agreed we were the perfect couple.  She wanted to be a model, and once I joined an NFL team, I knew she’d have every break she could ever dream of. With my millions and arm, and her classic looks, we’d be the perfect couple of football TV too.

What few people knew was that Mandi had a problem.  She’d hid it from me pretty well, too, but I’d started to suspect once she went to college in Dallas and I headed to College Station.  Her bright cheerful ways had always had a few dark valleys, but those periods of darkness became more frequent and more shadowed.  This beautiful girl didn’t have any friends, shy and unsure and miserably depressed.  She called me often, and more frequently she was sobbing and desperate, not happy or excited about her classes.  I loved her, but her constant need for me to anchor and support her began to wear on me.

One night she called me at 3 AM, crying and hysterical.  Evidently she’d jumped in her car and began driving to College Station in the middle of the night, only to have an accident.  I rushed to her aid, naturally, only to learn she’d been drunk driving.  At least no one had been hurt, but neither of us could deny her problems any longer.

She admitted she hadn’t been to class in months and barely left her apartment.  When she begged to come live with me, I didn’t know what to say. I lived in an apartment with three other guys off campus.  We didn’t have room for her, and my Daddy would have hunted me down with a shotgun and dragged us both to the church before he’d let us live together unmarried.

Besides, I wasn’t ready for that much commitment, not yet.  I had the big game, my career, our careers, to think about.  I had to win the game to assure our future.  I drove her home to her apartment and called her parents while she slept like the dead.  They came and took her to a clinic in Houston.  I know she was terribly hurt.  She must have felt like I’d abandoned her.  But I simply didn’t know how else to help her.  She needed help, professional help, and the next time I talked to her on the phone, she sounded steadier, more alert and calmer than she’d been in months.

The game was only a week away.  I don’t remember Christmas that year.  With Mandi safe and getting treatment, I focused all my will on that game.  I would win.  She would be better.  Everything would be better.  I just had to win the game.

With my family in the stands cheering me on, I stepped out onto the field and we played one hell of a game.  Even though we were six points down at the two-minute warning, I wasn’t worried.  My coach handed me the ball and sent me out on the field with the final words, “Victor, the game’s on you.  Take us all the way, son.”

I’d done it countless times before; I knew I’d do it again.  Without any hurry at all, we steadily moved the ball down the field.  Quick toss to my receiver, and he zipped out of bounds to gain another first down.  We crossed midfield.  We entered the red zone with plenty of time left.  Even though my favorite target of the season dropped the ball and came back to the huddle with tears in his eyes, I wasn’t worried.  I told him to shake it off.

I’d simply run this one in myself.

I took the snap, did a little play action, and floated in the pocket like I was waiting for him to get open again.  He ran toward the corner of the endzone, dragging two defenders with him.  That left me a wide-open lane of green and I took it.  I sprinted forward with a hand on my lineman’s back as he plowed through like a charging bull.  Too slow, though, so I left him.  I saw the goal line gleaming, and felt a defender behind me, scrambling closer, so I launched off my feet, reaching with the ball——

And got helicoptered by surely the biggest Sooner on the bench.  I crossed the plane and held on to the ball, even though the world slipped out of focus.  I knew we’d scored.  I knew we’d won.  I didn’t care about the blackness sucking me down, until later, when I awoke in agony.  Even then, I wasn’t worried, until I saw my Daddy’s solemn face and the suspicious glitter of tears in his eyes.

My knee was a shattered, torn mess that a single surgery couldn’t fix.  They told me I’d be lucky to walk without a limp.

I’d never play the game again.

Lying there in that hospital bed, I struggled between rage and determination. Why had I been so stupid?  So what if we’d lost the game.  We’d played our hearts out.  There wouldn’t have been any shame in losing. I still would have gone high in the draft.  But I couldn’t stand to lose.  I had to win, and I paid the price.

It was my own drive, my own heart, my determination to win at any cost, that had led to the worst defeat of my entire life.

I returned home to the ranch with my family, facing endless rounds of physical therapy and surgery.  My determination renewed.  The Dallas doctors didn’t know me.  They didn’t know I was THE Victor.  I’d defeat this injury, just like I’d defeated everything else in my life.  They couldn’t know my heart and will to win. I focused that formidable will on physical therapy, determined to defeat even my blown knee.

Mandi called me from her parents’ home.  I didn’t even know she’d been released.  We talked about the game and our future.  I told her this was my last chance.  I would heal myself and by late summer, I’d be well enough to walk onto the team in Dallas and try out.

She was as supportive as ever.  “Don’t worry about me, Victor.  You can do this.  I’m fine.”

I had no idea how unfine she really was—until her parents called and told me that she’d accidentally taken too many of her prescription drugs and never woke up.  My sweet, beautiful girl was gone, and I hadn’t even gone to see her, not since that night I’d called her parents and abandoned her.

Guilt ate at me.  Everything began to unravel.  My knee hurt like a bitch.  The doctor warned me that I was pushing too hard, too fast.  I had done even more damage to my fragile knee and it had had swelled up as big as my head.  Dream after dream died, and I slunk home like a whipped dog, afraid to see the resignation on my Daddy’s face.  Instead of going into the house, I slipped into the old barn we didn’t use much any more.  Defeated, angry, and guilty, I hid from my family—and my failures.

If I’d spent more time with Mandi, if I’d been there for her, could I have helped her?  Would she have taken too many of those drugs if she hadn’t been so lonely?  Was my career worth her death?

And my career wasn’t going to happen. The harder I worked, the more I fucked up my knee.  With constant pain and a noticeable limp, I was a cripple, not a star quarterback.  I couldn’t win this game.  In fact, I’d never win another game.  I’d never play again.  I’d never see Mandi again.  Everything was over, gone, broken like my fucked up knee.

The barn smelled of decades of hay and horses.  Slants of light cut through the ramshackle roof.  Motes of dust danced around my head, making me dizzy as I paced—limped—in a tight circle.  I noticed an old leather riding crop looped on a rusty nail, so I grabbed it and slapped it absently against my thigh.  Limp, pain from my knee—slap, pain on my good thigh.  Limp, slap, back and forth.  The bad pain from my knee began to fade away beneath the burning cut of the crop.

Alone in that old barn, I punished myself.  I punished myself for my failures, for my injury I couldn’t heal with sheer determination, for my selfishness that might have cost Mandi her life.  I sliced that crop through the air with a sharp whistle that snapped against the denim and burned deep into the muscle.  It was a good pain.  It made me forget about the bad, hurting pain of my knee.  This was a cleansing pain.  Pain that helped me wash away my guilt.

All the tension and regret, doubts and rage, even my broken heart—all that emotion poured out of me. The harder I hit myself, the better I felt.  I found myself unbuttoning my jeans and stroking myself to release awkwardly with my left hand while I cut my thigh with that crop.

Afterward, I felt calm, relaxed, centered, and at peace.  I had grieved—and finally accepted—my losses.  Mandi, my first love, was gone forever.  There would be no NFL career, no Superbowl rings, no Hall of Fame. But I was still alive, my family still loved me, and I still had my Victor’s heart.

I just had to find a new game to play.

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Storybuilding 4: Brainstorming – With Character

Continuing our brainstorming fun, pull out your notes from the character post.  Character IS Plot, so one of the best ways to get some plotting ideas is to take your characters in hand and put them through their paces.  For each of the three main techniques I use to develop character, I ought to be able to get some scene ideas.  If not, then I haven’t spent enough time making this character deep and compelling.  I’m going to do this for each main character, and each technique.  For blog purposes–and to keep the story fresh for the readers who might be tagging along–I won’t post every single thing here.

So pull out your index cards, paper, etc. whatever you’re using, and get crazy with those ideas!

1. Greatest Strength/Greatest Weakness. There are several ways you can use this to generate plot ideas.

  • Showcase the character’s strength.  Obviously we’re writing about HEROES (female or male) and they’re heroic in some way.  That means we want to show them in a positive light.  Crossing over to some of the other techniques (Emotional Toolbox and specifically, the hero’s journey), a good place to begin is the Ordinary World with the character’s mask in place.  We know Victor is competitive and driven to win.  As a result, he’s the CEO of his company.  He’s powerful, wealthy, and respected by his employees.  I should have an opening scene to introduce him as a powerful, competitive, successful man.
  • Let the character use his strength to get into trouble.  This crosses over to the Emotional Toolbox–Trouble Traits.  This is where the character’s greatest strength begins to run amok and it’s his own damned fault.  Victor’s competitive nature is going to get him into all sorts of problems when he approves–and agrees to participate in–a reality show.  The entire external plot is driven by his own need to win, and is supported by the subplot, his need to find out who the spy is.  He thinks he’ll just play along…but he can’t sit back and let the game unfold without winning.
  • Allow other characters to use his greatest weakness against him to get him even deeper into trouble.  Shiloh knows exactly what sort of man Victor is.  In fact, she built the entire premise of the reality show around his competitive nature.  She knows he won’t be able to stand by and “watch” the game without getting dirty.  He plays to win.  Always.  She intends to be the prize.

2. The Character Letter: The whole purpose of the character letter is to explore backstory — in particular, defining moments.  What still haunts this character?  What are his regrets?  Deep down, what’s he really afraid of?  The character letter provides a wealth of angst.  Remember that you’re the God of your Story.  If you include something, a hint of the character’s past, for instance, then it should be important to the Story.  It must have some IMPACT on the plot or the character arc.  The character should have to face and overcome that old shadow before the story is over, or else why mention it at all?

These defining moments help you define the character’s arc, providing the major stumbling block(s) from his past that made him who he is today (when the story opens) — and must now overcome before he can make the Leap of Faith (Emotional Toolbox).

  • In the character letter, we’ll see how Victor won the championship game but lost because his injury ended his career.  I need him to face another equally significant win-lose scenario.  Because of the emotional trauma involved, I’m guessing this may be in the dark moment or one of the major climaxes of the story.  I’ve jotted several cards about how he’ll win — but ultimately lose.  Although I can’t share them here without spoilers, there’s a ton of emotion — and he truly realizes that this loss will kill him, unless he can fix what he’s done.  He decides the only thing he must win is Shiloh, but it may be too late.

3. The Emotional Toolbox, or the Hero’s Journey: The emotional toolbox highlights the character’s journey.  Back and forth, the character battles need vs. want until finally, I force him to make a Leap of Faith.  Hopefully you’ve noticed that the techniques above have already crossed over into this one.  They all begin to blur and meet.  That’s a good thing — everything should tie together and make sense.  The greatest strength is tied to the mask, and the trouble traits, which lead to the greatest weakness.

  • Show the character’s want.  Early in the story, I need to establish the story goal.  What does this character think he wants more than anything?  Show him going after it.  In particular, Victor wants to find out who the spy is inside VConn.
  • Show the character’s need and his fear.  What’s the secret need driving the character’s arc?  What deep fear is keeping him from becoming the complete, happy man he could be?  Victor needs to face his darkest secret, and Shiloh’s the only person who can help him.  But that’s exactly why he keeps her at arm’s length.  Each time she prods him into letting his mask slip — he must push her away and hold her at arm’s length to protect himself.
  • Show the want and the need at war.  At some point, Victor is going to realize that finding out who the spy is at his company isn’t nearly as important as how much he needs Shiloh.  But what if….she’s the spy?
  • Ultimately, he must make a choice: a Leap of Faith where he gives up the want to gain the need, or a stumble into the Dark Side because he’s unable to face his fear.

Next up, we’ll take a closer look at the hero’s journey.  The story needs STRUCTURE — a framework that defines the story layout and gives the rest of the details something to hang onto.

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Storybuilding 3: Brainstorming – The What If Game

First of all, don’t get too hung up on the details.  Don’t let your mind run away in panic at the sight of index cards, or whatever you use to plot.  Treat this as a fun exercise — a different way to engage the other side of your brain.  A new way to think of your story.  You’re still going to write it YOUR way — this is just to help you get some ideas down.

Depending on your comfort level, grab some pens or pencils (I prefer colored pens), notepads, index cards, sticky notes, etc.  For me, this is bonanza time.  I love office supplies — I’ve been caught drooling in Staples — so I get to drag out all these cool supplies I’ve bought but hardly ever use.  If you want to stick to paper and pen, cool.  Personally, I can’t start right off with sticky notes — they cost too much and my brain can’t just let go and mess up.  Index cards are cheap and I don’t mind blasting through a whole pack.

At this point, don’t make the process too analytical.  This is brainstorming – fun.  Just let your mind loose and write down any idea, no matter how crazy it is.  You can always throw those wild ones out — but who knows, that may be exactly the right way to add surprise and make the story fresh.  What we’re going to do is think of your story from several different directions.  Like facets of a gem, each exercise will reveal a different layer of your story and/or characters.  Some may work better for you, or for this story, than others.  That’s cool.  Again, don’t worry if you don’t get much from this particular exercise — a different one may work better for you.

Since there are a lot of different ways to get ideas, I’m going to break this post down into pieces.  Today, we’ll play the What If Game.

All you need to begin is the original idea for your story, whether it was a character, a premise, etc.  What was your original idea for the story?  What gave you goose bumps?  What made you determined to devote months of your life to this particular story in order to write, revise, polish, submit, and endure countless rejections just because the idea was that cool?  This is definitely the place to start!

Now using all the research, character building, etc. that you’ve already completed, begin to generate ideas with the “what if” game.  Jot them down, no matter how crazy.  Expand on each idea.  Don’t be afraid to take branches or paths that seem really strange or out there.  You’re not committed to including any of this in your story.  Just have fun!

Try to explore as deeply into the story line as possible.  If you can’t see all the way to the end, that’s fine.  Skip ahead if you can.  If you’re writing a story with an antagonist, think of all the possible ways your protagonist can face them, either subtly or blatant showdown.  If you’re writing romance, think of all the ways the hero and heroine can get together, get separated, fight, make love, etc.  Some you will keep — some you won’t.  Just generate ideas.

Example:  I knew all along that Gifted is set on a rather risque cable channel “reality” show.  That was the original idea.  The more I thought about this, I got the following “ideas” that may or may not make it into the story:

  • What if Shiloh took the main role on the show?  Originally I was thinking a secondary character came up with the idea and Shiloh had a more passive role as a contestant.  What if SHE came up the idea? Why would she devise this show in particular?  ahhhhhhh.  Lots of ideas came off this one.
  • What if there’s a competing company?  Victor’s worried about ratings.
  • Ohhh, wait, not ratings — what if Victor’s worried about a leak?  A spy within his company?  This gives me a whole new subplot to carry through.
  • I know Shiloh’s mother haunts her and has affected each and every relationship Shiloh has.  What if the mother was dead, literally haunting her?  Okay, this idea got scratched.  Originally I was going to do a paranormal element to match Miss Belle in Dear Sir, I’m Yours, but the general consensus seems to be that the paranormal thread, albeit amusing at times, detracted from the main story too much.  So no ghost, I promise, unless Miss Belle and Colonel Healy show up on page.

The “What if” game is one of my favorite ways to expand the original premise.  Each time you get a new idea, jot it on the index card, or make a new bullet on your paper, whatever works for you.  Some of this will end up in the recycling bin — but that’s okay.  For now, don’t throw any idea away, no matter how stupid it seems, although you might make a pile of the “best” ideas for the other exercises.  Keep the “other” ideas handy just in case.

Next, we’ll use character to continue brainstorming.

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Storybuilding 2: Characters

I’ve talked a lot about characters; just take a look at the Character Clinic and all the great articles and resources.  There are a million ways to build a character.  For me, each character comes to life in a slightly different way.  Sometimes I do loads of prework and still don’t have a good handle on the character.  Other times, I set out to write up detailed history and the voice comes through so loud and strong that I discover I’m actually writing the book (e.g. Chanda in Survive My Fire.  That’s why her sections of the book are in first person–I was actually trying to write her “character letter” below).

With Victor’s story, I cheated a bit.  As soon as I finished the first draft of Conn’s book (then called Letters), I immediately started working on his brother’s book.  I have about 10K of loose sections written out.  I didn’t do character planning, plotting, etc. — I was just writing out the ideas as I got them.  That work gave me the basic external plot.

But who was Victor?  Oh, I knew he was the CEO of VConn, an up and coming Dallas cable company.  I also knew he was a Master.  No mere dominant title will work for Victor.  But none of this gave me his heart.

There are a few crucial tools I come back to over and over as I develop a story.  If I do these things, I can usually plot the story or simply begin writing.

1. Greatest Strength/Greatest Weakness. Every character should have a strength, that can also become a weakness and be used against him.  Victor’s strength is that he never loses.  Never.  He’s so driven, so competitive, that he’ll pay any cost to win.  Sometimes he gets so caught up in the victory that he doesn’t realize what he’s lost.

Now I take that strength and come up with one word that fully describes it.  Then I come up with its opposite that reflects his weakness.  Usually one is an adjective and one is a noun, but they can be in any order.  The trick is to come up with an oxymoron for the character that encapsulates this strength and weakness.

Victor is the victorious loser.  Shiloh is the unburied treasure.  (Note: I don’t think Shiloh’s is as strong as Victor’s. I’m playing off the idea of “buried treasure” and its opposite, unburied or “found” treasure.)   They don’t mean anything to anybody but me, but they’re powerful reminders of who these characters are.  Note, too, the importance of the characters’ names.  Victor’s name IS his strength, and so is Shiloh’s, because she’s definitely a gift.  She means to gift herself to Victor, if she can convince him to unbury the need he’s hidden away in his heart.

2. The Character Letter.  So I know that Victor has this extreme drive to win.  Knowing, though, doesn’t give me the details I need.  I wanted a specific instance in his past that showed me how he’d won — but lost.  That event still haunts him.  I also needed to know how he realized he was a sadist.  How did he feel about that?

The best way for me to figure these defining moments out is, of course, to write about it.  I could always choose to write it out like backstory (and I’ve done that — like Letters, the backstory for Dear Sir, I’m Yours that’s a Free Read), but I can kill two birds with one stone by writing it in first person.  This lets me get deep into Victor’s head AND figure out his voice.  What words will he use that no other character would?  How did he FEEL?  So I sit down with him and write in his voice, his words, about these defining moments.

And yes, as my beloved sister requested, I’ll post some of that letter this week–after I edit it a bit.

Background:  that’s why there are so many letters in Dear Sir, I’m Yours.  I started them as a character-building tool for Rae, and I found them so powerful and moving that I continued to write them.  Then they became so integral to the story that I ended up writing many more.

3. The Emotional Toolbox. I love this site.  It highlights everything I love about the hero’s journey.  A moving story is all about removing the mask and revealing the character’s deepest fears.  When I’m stuck at any point in writing the story, I can always go back over the six questions and my notes.  The answer is there.

Usually I can get plot ideas just by answering the six questions.  I also figure out supporting characters I need to add in order to highlight the theme and the journey.  In particular, the most important thing I get out of the Emotional Toolbox is the fear.

Deep down in the darkest corner of Victor’s heart, he’s very, very afraid, and that’s where the magic is.

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Storybuilding 1: The Vision

My major project for the fall is a follow-up novel to Dear Sir, I’m Yours for Conn’s brother, Victor Connagher.  When I begin a story, there are a few things I need to know in advance. 

Working Title:  Gifted

Target:  Samhain

Target Length:  70K

Genre:  contemporary erotic romance with elements of BDSM

Protagonist:  Victor Connagher.  Yes, I know it’s rare for the hero to “star” in a romance, but he has the most to lose in this story and the largest character arc, although the heroine has a very strong, important role.

Love Interest:  Shiloh Holmes.

Setting:  Dallas, TX

This is all basic information.  The KEY information that will decide the rest of the story is the THEME. 

The theme is the promise I’m going to make to you.  Every character in the story will prove the theme.  Every scene will illuminate the theme in some way or it will be cut.  The antagonist(s) will prove the opposite, dark side of the theme; the supporting characters will help the main characters prove the theme. 

Theme will drive every single aspect of the story.

For this story, my Beloved Sister provided the theme.  She told me every time she listened to Time is Running Out by Muse, she always thought of Shiloh.  Absolutely, Sis. 

I won’t let you bury it.  I won’t let you smother it.  I won’t let you murder it.

Or in other words, 

Victor must learn that revealing his deepest, darkest, most hidden needs to a loved one frees his heart and soul.  Burying–and denying–those needs will only murder his soul.

Next up, characters.