The Writer’s Secret Handshake: Crash Course by Dawn McClure

In the past several years I’ve read countless articles on writing.

I’ve attended conferences and panels at both the Romantic Times Convention (RIP) and the RWA National Conference (RIP?). I’ve bought enough craft books to sink a small rowboat (Make a Scene, Creating Character Emotions, GMC by Deb Dixon, Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies, Revision & Self-Editing, to name just a few.) I’ve interviewed NYT bestselling authors, spoken personally to industry professionals, and blogged myself stupid.

After all of this information overload it’s a wonder that I can still craft a sentence, let alone write a paragraph or a chapter. There are so many rules and suggestions floating around in my noggin, it’s amazing that I’m still sitting at my desk and not stuck in a fetal ball.

Let me give you a sneak peek to what’s in this writer’s mind. I’m putting it all in one paragraph so you can *feel* the insanity. Make sure you’ve had your coffee, because this is going to be a wild ride.

HIGH CONCEPT, HIGH CONCEPT, HIGH CONCEPT. If you can’t break your story down into a single sentence, you don’t know your story. RESEARCH. Do too little and you’ll regret it. Do too much and you’ll be starting your book sometime during the next ice age. PLOTTER VS PANTSER (or, as some like to call it, ORGANIC WRITER). Should you outline? Storyboard? Start typing and hope for the best? Well, whatever you do, always start with an INCITING INCIDENT, and end each chapter with a CLIFF-HANGER. DO NOT drop back-story into chapter one, for God’s sake! If you do that you’re either a newbie who knows NOTHING or Sherrilyn Kenyon – and you, my friend, are no Sherrilyn Kenyon. HERO. Is he a bad boy? A rake? An alpha? (Are there any other types right now?) HEROINE. Is she quiet? Strong? Is she kick-ass? (Are there any other types right now?) SETTING. Some say this is just another character. Just do your homework and make sure it doesn’t talk. WORLD-BUILDING. Make it fresh. Make it original. Good luck with that. NARRATIVE. Too much can dull your manuscript, unless you’re Christine Feehan. Too little and you have a bunch of talking heads. DIALOGUE. Listen to people talk and do your best to emulate that. Go easy on the Scottish brogue. POINT OF VIEW. Stay in one point of view for each scene. Only the best can get away with head-hopping. ACTION VS REACTION. Are your characters just reacting to all the bull crap that’s happening to them, or are they DOING something about it, which leads to CHARACTER DRIVEN VS PLOT DRIVEN. Do events drive your story, or are your characters moving the story forward through decisions and action? There are times the two combine, and that separates the good books from great books. Again, good luck with that. GMC. What is your character’s goal? What motivates your character? Is there any CONFICT in your novel whatsoever? INTERNAL VS EXTERNAL CONFLICT. Yes, there are two kinds of conflict. Deal with it. VOICE. What is it and where do I find it? Hint: could you ever read a paragraph from one of J.R. Ward’s Brotherhood novels and mistake it for another writer? I think not. DEEP POV. You’re not writing about your character. You ARE your character. Let the reader see what’s happening through the eyes of your hero and heroine. PACING. 2 slow or 2 fast for 2 long = not good. ADHESION. What keeps your hero and heroine together throughout the book? FLAWS & QUIRKS. Just because your heroine is a size two with unblemished skin and long, shiny hair doesn’t mean she’s perfect. That goes for the hero, too. Give him a quirk or flaw to go with his washboard abs. SEXUAL TENSION. Doesn’t matter if Satan himself is tracking your hero and heroine by chapter two, they’d better want to hump each other by chapter three. EMOTION. Visceral emotions. Live them, love them, include them in your book. AVOID CLICHES. I’m trying to think of a cliché to put here, but I’ve trained myself so well I can’t come up with one. SEX SCENES. Remember, this isn’t your mother’s romance novel. (Even though those historical bodice rippers were OFF THE HOOK. Ever read one? And they say our books are hot. Whaaaat?) SUSPENSE. Romantic suspense isn’t the only genre that needs it. BACKGROUND. Little like back-story. Don’t bore the reader with the details, but tell us how your hero was tortured and why the heroine is afraid of bald men on rollerblades. SECONDARY CHARACTERS. Better make sure they add something to the story. Otherwise readers will be skipping some of your scenes like they do with the Lessers. (I didn’t just say that.) (Yes I did.) BLACK MOMENT. The climax. The time when the hero and heroine realize they are going to DIE. They are going to LOSE. There is NO future for them. (Until the next chapter, of course.) RESOLUTION. Time to wrap up everything that happened up to this point. Hopefully, you took some notes while you were writing. HAPPILY EVER AFTER. I luv you! I luv you, too! I can’t quit you! You’re my destined mate, my one and only, my future and my life, my soul mate. THE END.

There it is – the condensed version of rules and suggestions that run through my mind every time I sit down to write. Maybe that’s why most of us wear headphones and rock to our favorite music while we write. If we thought about all the rules, plot points and must-haves when writing, we’d never get anywhere close to the HEA.

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Dawn McClure
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Contemporary Romance Author
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Dawn McClure writes contemporary romance set in small town USA. Having lived in Illinois, California, Italy, North Carolina, Florida, Colorado and Mic...
Fantastic! It's like you are inside my mind....
OMG this is so true! Sometimes I feel like my head is spinning!
    And yet some authors get away with breaking all the rules -- and breaking them brilliantly. haha
Squeee! I can even add Giphys to comments!!!