The Building Blocks of Storytelling: Gossip

gossip women

When I was a teacher, I took the part of the stern moralist when dealing with gossip—easy to do when kids were being hurtful, but harder to maintain when they weren’t.

The writer part of me found their daily dramas endlessly entertaining, because I saw not just echoes of my own school experience, but human experience.

Gossip is basically storytelling: not literature, but story in simplest—and most complex—form. Because we don’t just repeat the facts (or what we assume are the facts) of what happened. The first question usually asked is Why? And then people will guess motivation, before commenting on expectations of what will happen next.

The maliciousness of gossip is just about always the first thing one thinks of when the word comes up in discussion—because exposing people’s secrets, or spreading lies about them, is the most memorable form of gossip.

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History to Fantasy

Giving Him Hell by Jamie QuaidAs many of you know, as Patricia Rice, I’ve been published in historical romance since 1984. I’ve written westerns, Americana, Victoriana, Regencies, and paranormal historical romance well before any of those genres became popular. Historical romance has cycled through variations of these sub-genres over the last three decades (three decades—oh my! Obviously, I wrote my first book as a teenager.), and to speak frankly, the lords and ladies required of today’s historical romance need a lot of creativity to keep fresh. (Working with a younger sons’ theme rather than dukes and earls, I published my last Regency novel, Notorious Atherton, in July 2013. Formidable Lord Quentin will be out 3/31/15.) I’ve always interspersed my historical romance writing with other genres to prevent becoming too jaded, but now I have to go further and further afield to keep my imagination entertained.

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Going to the Movies. Or Maybe Not.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance KidBrowsing Netflix the other day, I came across Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I loved it when it first came out, so I clicked on it and started watching.

I quit halfway through.

Understand that I adored Paul Newman and recall with fondness his movies with Robert Redford, of which this was the first. And tongue-in-cheek westerns with funny dialogue help me deal with my complicated relationship with my Texas heritage. I wanted to enjoy this movie again.

But I was bored.

It’s not just that it fails the Bechdel test. (I think Katharine Ross is only in the movie to make it clear that the boys are heterosexual.) When I was younger I dealt with this problem in movies and novels by identifying with the male characters. I find that harder to do these days, but I knew this was a buddy movie.

It’s that witty dialogue between two guys being chased here and yon isn’t enough to keep me watching anymore. There’s a potential for substance in this movie – western outlaws who have outlived their era and refuse to change – but it’s played for laughs.

And I know all those jokes. Continue reading

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WWW Wednesday – Oct 22, 2014

WWW Wednesday. This meme is from shouldbereading.


To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…

• What are you currently reading?
• What did you recently finish reading?
• What do you think you’ll read next?


• What are you currently reading?

As usual, I’m juggling several books in-progress, including advance copies for fellow authors. My husband Thor wonders if my multitasking has finally fried my brain, and he’s probably not far off.  But I’m actually reading a novel this time that’s outside my usual interests, since I met the author at a recent local event, “Books by the Bay” here in Bellingham, WA. Michael Hurley was here to accept an award from Chanticleer Book Reviews for his novel The Prodigal, so I got a signed copy. It’s a lovely, leisurely, and surprising collage of several characters who circle around events on Ocracoke Island on the East Coast of the U.S. Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly liked it, too.

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POV #1—Why Point of View Matters

question-mark2One of the most significant factors in a reader’s experience of a story is the point of view from which it is told. That is, whose senses readers are going to be asked to experience the story through, whose head they’re going to be in, whose voice will dominate the conversation.

There are four basic points-of-view that, in a real sense, occupy points along a continuum of proximity to the major characters, the events in the story and the reader.

  1. First person (I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me)
  2. Second person (You laughed, you cried, it became a part of you)
  3. Third person—intimate (He laughed, he cried, it became a part of him)
  4. Omniscient Narrator (He laughed, she cried, it became a part of them)

#2 is rarely used. My experience of reading second person narration is that it throws me out of the story and seems unnatural—a sort of faux way of getting the reader to relate to the main character. I’ve seen it most often in short fiction and it can be used to interesting effect, but it’s tricky.

#1 and #3 are the most common POVs these days in genre fiction. Both give the reader a seat close to the heart of the character, but first person often comes more naturally to a writer because it’s the way most people tend to tell anecdotes and stories from real life.

#4 was more common once-upon-a-time than it is now. While it distances readers from individual characters’ emotions and interior thoughts, it gives them a better appreciation of what’s really going on in a story. It’s the birds-eye view. Specifically, it gives the reader knowledge about the goings-on that the characters don’t have. This also means it can make it harder to create real suspense or hide information from the reader in a natural way, which can lead to readerly frustration. (At least it frustrates the heck out of me when I know a writer is intentionally and baldly hiding stuff that the narrator should know.) Continue reading

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Book View Café Authors On Blogging

Stevens_The_LetterCome listen in as we discuss blogging and its role in an author’s career and life.

Patricia Burroughs (Pooks): We’ve discussed blogging and how to make it work. I think the biggest problem with any advice on ‘how to build a platform’ is that it reads like a checklist that you tick off and then wait for people to read you, but as many have pointed out, you really have to find things to do that you actually enjoy doing, or you’re unlikely to be successful.

Sherwood Smith: Being passionate is not enough. There are plenty of passionate bloggers out there earnestly going on about themselves. Successful bloggers are interesting about what others are interested in. People have known for centuries (salonistes) that being interested in others and their interests is the first step in causing one to be interesting, then one either has to have interesting info or be clever.

Not two days ago I heard a highly regarded blogger talking about posts that begin with something shocking, like human trafficking and how to stop it, but then comes the deadly phrase, “In my science fiction novel . . .” And then the poster goes on and on about their book. Cue rolling eyes.

Someone else pointed out that that is classic bait and switch.

We have been dunned with commercial bait and switch so much that there is strong resistance: as soon as the switch happens, the channel changer clicks. Or in the case of blogs, as soon as the deadly phrase appears, we click to the next blog.

Very few can be interesting about their own work. Someone else has to do that. Being interesting all the way through about human trafficking and how to stop it is more likely to cause readers to finish the post thinking, “Hmmm, I need to check this blog out more often”—and maybe  “check this person out, see what else they’ve written.”

The problem is, what if you aren’t interested in what the majority of others are interested in? 100 million Americans are interested in, say, sports. What if the very mention of football makes your brain shut down out of boredom? You have to work that much harder . . . and most writers would rather work that much harder at their fiction. Continue reading

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BVC Announces Center Stage by Mindy Klasky

Center Stage by Mindy KlaskyCenter Stage
Diamond Brides Series 8
by Mindy Klasky

Actress Lindsey Ormond has always followed the rules – be nice, keep quiet, and never, ever get involved with a bad boy. But her good behavior has yielded lousy results – she was just left at the altar for the second time in two years.

Raleigh Rockets center fielder Ryan Green keeps life simple – play ball, have fun, and keep an eye on his recently widowed father. When Ryan attends Lindsey’s disaster of a wedding, another sizzling task hits his to-do list – help Lindsey learn how to break the rules.

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BVC Announces Triple Play II by Mindy Klasky

Triple Play II by Mindy KlaskyTriple Play II
Diamond Brides Series
by Mindy Klasky

Three hot contemporary baseball romances by Mindy Klasky, in one sizzling volume:

Second Thoughts: In an unexpected reunion, career-driven second baseman Nick Durban discovers that he is the father of photographer Jamie Martin’s six-year-old daughter, but Jamie can’t trust the ex-fiance who walked out on her years before.

Third Degree: Chef Ashley Harris and third baseman Josh Cantor are competing in a cooking reality show, and the flames in the bedroom roar even higher than the ones in the kitchen.

Stopping Short: Bad-boy shortstop Drew Marshall will be cut by the team unless widowed spin doctor Jessica Barnes manages to save his career — a tall order after a well-intentioned teammate announces Drew and Jessica are engaged.

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On Naming

by Brenda W. Clough

mermaid You write a novel. Naturally it has characters. And those characters need names! Let us set aside for some other day the issue of creating fantasy names, and consider today only naming characters with cognomens that already exist.

Depending upon how you roll, this usually comes very early in the writing process. For me it comes before beginning the writing at all; if I don’t know the character’s name I cannot write. I can get away without looking at my hero for many thousands of words. I was more than halfway through the first draft of How Like A God before I thought to actually cast the authorial gaze upon my hero; I knew what all the other characters looked like because I was using his viewpoint, but he had never done the old look-in-a-mirror stunt. (When I did look I was astonished, and marked the place in the text.)

But there are a number of factors to consider. The most important of course is time and place. A work that takes place on Mars in AD 2502 is going to have a differently-named cast than a work that is set in 1741 in Wales. Given names especially come and go in fashion in an easily-charted way. You can search on it and kick up sites that will graph for you the popularity of, say, John as a name for boys over the centuries. Certain names are highly redolent of their time. Consider my own. Every Brenda you are ever likely to meet is between 50 and 70, because that was when that given name was in fashion. Nearly all Lindas are the same, whereas a Madison was surely born the year after Splash and is around 30 years old today. You therefore are foolish indeed to name your Elizabethan heroine Brenda or Madison, and if the novel is set in ancient Rome, all I can say is for god’s sake don’t! Rome, like many other non-Western cultures, had its own naming conventions which you should research carefully.

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Catching Up, Ha Ha

Ursula K. Le Guin, photo by Marian Wood KolischCatching Up, Ha Ha

by Ursula K. Le Guin

It’s been two months since I blogged. Considering that it’s the eve of my 85th birthday, and that anyone over 75 who isn’t continuously and conspicuously active is liable to be considered dead, I thought I should make some signs of life. Wave from the grave, as it were. Hello, out there! How are things in the Land of Youth? Here in the Land of Age they are rather weird.

The weirdness includes being called a liar by Hugh Woolly, the famous self-publisher of How, because I was rude to amazondotcom, the famous philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting publishers, encouraging writers, and greasing the skids of the American Dream. Various other weirdnesses have arisen in my life as a writer, some quite enjoyable. But the important and dominant weirdness of life this autumn consists of not having a car — a condition that to a lot of people is the American Nightmare. Continue reading

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