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Monday, July 29, 2013

Romance Trend that Psychologically Distances Readers...
And How to Avoid It

So I'm reading this book that I got for free on Amazon. (Love me some freebies.) Totally into it. The romance is great...chemistry is so good between the heroine and the lead. Tension is ramping up....will they get together, won't they get together?

And then the insurmountable black moment....only it comes in the middle of the book.

Say what?

Yep. Basically, the guy and girl SPLIT and GO THEIR SEPARATE WAYS.

Usually, we're in the female's POV for the duration of the separation (in YA and NA, we are almost solely in the female's POV). And we have to read chapter after chapter after chapter of her trying to "move on."

I think authors are overdoing this. I got so frustrated with the book I was reading, I zoomed forward on my Kindle app just until I saw the lead guy's name again. FINALLY...he was back on the page and a part of the story world. was like 1/3 of the book was a complete waste of time.

When this happens, I usually skim the chapters without the romantic lead out of professional curiosity. As a result, you can save your precious time with this brief synopsis:

--The heroine tries to move on, but can't stop thinking about the lead. 
--She tries a new location, new job, new school, new boyfriend.
--Every guy will forever remind her of him. 
--Every place/song/dog/supermarket will remind her of him.
--She longs for some contact, and whatever contact she gets is ambivalent or upsetting.
--She is in the mother of all holding patterns.

We know by the backcover copy that heroine and the lead end up together. The chapters after the awful midway moment are just torture to slog through. Especially if we picked up a romance to read about---dumdumdumdum---a romance!

I've seen this in historicals, contemporaries, YA, and NA,'s a bad trend.

I'm not saying that back things don't happen to couples to split them up. But we can push the reader
through this faster, with the illusion that the girl has tried to move on, etc, rather than make them throw our books down our of frustration or skim. (Because once I start skimming an author, it's the kiss of death for future sales.)

One book that did this exceptionally well was New Moon. When Edward makes the decision to leave Bella, Stephenie Meyer did the most amazing thing to pass time in Bella's POV...each page had the name of one month centered on it. So just four or five page turns later, we're almost a half-year into the separation. Still totally engaged.

So if this is the plot of your novel, what can you do?

1) Leave some ambiguity about the nature of the relationship. 

There need to be loose ends all over the place. This was one thing most all authors did. It alerted me to the fact that things weren't concluded, but unfortunately for them, this was my cue to start skimming.

2) Pass the time creatively.

We might not all be able to do what Meyer did in New Moon. But think outside the lines. Sometimes, this can be done with one sentence. A good example comes from the Bible:

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature. Luke 2:52

Literary frugality as its finest: Luke didn't waste time on every little thing that happened to tween Jesus because adult Jesus was much more interesting to read about. (Click to tweet!) We can learn a lesson from this. It's sometimes more useful to show the lessons your heroine learns while going solo or "moving on" after she's already established in her new life.

3) You can start en media res (in the middle of things) AGAIN.

Let the reader see how your heroine is functioning months later, sans man. We can see her character development, and know if she's "stuck" or maturing, once we're reestablished in the story world. We don't have to live through the daily angst of her not receiving phone calls or wondering if he "still thinks about her."

Let's Analyze

Have you read a book like what I'm talking about? Did you finish it? Put it down? Skim? What other suggestions do you have to help writers push through the largely uninteresting "heroine growth" section?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Guilt and Intermittent Explosive Disorder

Dear Jeannie,

My MC decides to go to war after a childhood hero is tortured to death by the enemy, and the execution broadcast as shock-propaganda. Two years later, my MC is killed in the same manner by the same man, only to be revived by enemy doctors and told that she is now required to serve a year working in the enemy hospital to pay for her resurrection. Shortly thereafter, she finds that the childhood hero is alive and working as a nurse. Now the pair have finally sparked a real conversation regarding their experiences, and it was my Old Soldier who brought it up. I'm unsure as to how my MC will deal with her death and resurrection, or whether my Old Soldier will feel that her death was indirectly his fault.

Wondering in Washington

Dear Wondering,

This is one of those questions that could go a lot of different ways. The Old Soldier childhood hero could very likely feel it was his fault the MC is now in his same condition, especially if she made it clear that she only joined the war because of him. 

As for your MC, her first reaction to the death/resurrection (outside of "what the h--- just happened?") would be to wish she hadn't survived. She would likely be angry at being revived only to work for the enemy, and her anger would be in direct proportion to how fervent she was in her war ideology. However, upon meeting her childhood hero, she might be grateful to learn he's still alive, sad that he's been held captive for the enemy, and determined to find them both a way out from their oppressor.

I, for one, would love to know what you're going to do next with this interesting plot. Kudos!

Dear Jeannie,

My protag's husband is struggling with an "inner demon." His grandfather and great-grandfather were also "possessed." He learns to control his anger through meditation, yoga, exercise and massage. His bursts of anger range anywhere from a firecracker exploding to a volcano erupting. Can this type of anger be hereditary? Or is it just the inability to cope with stress? Those who are not exposed to these bursts see him as a loving husband, hardworking employee, and loyal friend.

Lost in Translation

Dear Lost,

I'm interested in how you are portraying this man's anger and explosiveness as a demon. Is this because of their religious background? What it sounds like you are describing is Intermittent Explosive Disorder, a very real problem many people face, no matter how you view it (chemical imbalance, demon, etc).

Essentially, the disorder requires several distinct episodes of failure to resist aggressive impulses (both physical and verbal) that results in assaultive acts, destruction of property, or nondestructive/noninjurious physical aggression. Also, the degree of aggression expressed is way out of proportion to what precipitated it. The impulsive nature of these actions has to cause marked distress, impairment, or negative consequences for the individual.

Mental disorders can definitely be inherited, but they can also be a learned behavior, so to speak. If your MC's husband witnessed his father (who witnessed his father) blowing up as a way to be heard, feared, revered and respected, then it's not unheard of for children to pick this up.

Hope this helps!

Got Questions? I'm one away from being OUT.

Post them anonymously below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle.
I'll get to them in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Writer's Guide Giveaway!

I'm taking off to enjoy a vacation with my family. I'll be the licensed counselor on site for a summer camp for 8th and 9th graders my husband is co-directing. It should be outstanding weather the entire week, but that's nothing unusual for Northern California.

Check out where I'll be:


It's just a beautiful area. Can't wait!

At any rate, until I'm back Friday with my Dear Jeannie column, I hoped to have some fun with a giveaway for a Writer's Guide of the winner's choice.

All you have to do to be entered is answer the prompt below. A panel of me, myself, and I will judge for entertainment value. Spread the word with the facebook and twitter buttons below, and you'll get extra entries.

You ready? Here is the prompt:

Regale me with your summer camp stories: 
horrors, comedies, dramas, name it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Cheaters and Alcoholics

Dear Jeannie,

My love interest is in a serious relationship with his long time girlfriend. They love each other, but he thinks his relationship (and his girlfriend) are preventing him from being "free". How would he rationalize cheating on his girlfriend (who he does love) with multiple women? How would his girlfriend rationalize staying with her boyfriend despite his indiscretions?

Torn in Tokyo

Dear Torn,

In my experience with clients who have done this very thing, men don't need a whole lot to rationalize. They can compartmentalize a relationship, and believe to their core that they love one women with all their heart (including having children with her), yet can be sexually involved with others b/c it's "just sex." You didn't mention if he cheats all out or not, but he could rationalize that she doesn't meet all his needs or that she makes him feel trapped with talk of marriage. He can escape his current life circumstances with these other women.

Now your guy's girlfriend is who I'm worried about. If she is rationalizing staying with him, she's in that to-be-pitied place many women find themselves in...stuck with an emotionally (or physically) abusive partner and unable/unwilling to leave. Arguably, her staying with someone like your love interest would be codependency in action. I did a post here about the top 10 reasons why a woman wouldn't leave a situation similar to what you're describing. Maybe it'll help you out some, as well as this post, which is on dependent personality disorder, which can be misconstrued as codependency.

Dear Jeannie,

My main character is a recovering alcoholic--in high school. He's been in AA for over a year, avoiding old friends/habits and trying to stay busy. He's a very social kid, which was what got him into trouble in the first place. How likely is he to lie to friends (or strangers) about his sobriety struggles? What weakness might take him by surprise and tempt him back toward bad behavior?

Sober in Summerville

Dear Sober,

High schoolers are high schoolers, even if following the 12 steps of AA. They aren't the most mature of individuals, though a year of sobriety is nothing to sneeze at. Most addicts I have worked with (who attend AA or NA programs) are very up front about their addiction, as honesty is highly valued within the organizations. You have to be honest with yourself first, admitting you have a problem. This is Step One, and it also reads in the Big Book (for AA) that admitting you have a problem to others enforces the issue. You'll have to decide if you want him to secretly practice sobriety or not, but in reality, those in secret rarely are successful.

As to what weakness might take him by surprise and tempt him back toward using...definitely a love interest. I've seen it happen a few times just in the past few years. When an old flame--still in the throes of addiction--beckons their finger, the sober person tries to help them, and in the process slips up. They might even chalk their involvement with the person up to Step 9 (making direct, personal amends whenever possible), but usually that's a front. Hope that gives you something to think about.

Got Questions?

Post them anonymously below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle.
I'll get to them in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Taking A Week Off

I've got my mother-in-law visiting...which means I'm taking some much-needed time off from the blog (and living it up in San Fran!).

My Dear Jeannie column will return next Friday. If you have questions, comment on last week's post. 

Have a great week!!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Revealing Your Character's Vulneralbilities For Maximum Impact

I know I said that I was going to wrap up the Archetype series posts, but I've decided to do that within my new Writer's Guide to Character Archetypes. I'll be sure to let you know when that hits my store.

Instead, I wanted to share something personal and then apply it to writing.

Yesterday, in church, my husband and I gave our faith journeys. Now to those outside of religious circles, this might seem mystifying. However, all this really means is being candid about the ups and downs of our life, and how we viewed these events in light of our personal beliefs.

With that definition, everyone has a faith journey. Let's call it our vulnerabilities.

The circumstances had to be just right for us to open ourselves up like we did. We've been attending for over three years, and we had yet to share the majority of what we said with anyone.

This got me thinking about our characters, and how the vast majority of them end up sharing a pivotal point in their past with someone in their present, whether willingly or not, and this is a big part of their character arc. Coming to peace with past sins, rejections, closed doors, disappointments... and communicating this to someone important...easier said than done.

What makes someone ready to share?

Is it external? The character is annoyed or resigned to have to share, brow-beaten by someone to give up their juicy tidbits, or survival demands it.

Is it internal? If the character doesn't share, they'll regret it forever, or they are trying to win the love of someone, or the end outweighs the sacrifice of sharing.

Which is more powerful, at least in terms of character development?

Internal motivations. (Click to tweet!)

If we had been strong-armed into sharing rather than asked and given a choice, it would have been an entirely different presentation. We might have left things out. We might have fudged on a few details...just to get you out of our hair.

Yet, if my motivation of sharing my vulnerabilities was to move you, inspire you, connect with you through the use of my story, my history, my dark moments, then it's bound to be more powerful and come across the written page as such.

Let's Analyze

Have you ever thought about what prompts your characters to finally open up? Situational circumstances? Emotional readiness? What do you think about my opinion as to which is more powerful?

Friday, July 5, 2013

Dear Jeannie: Stockholm Syndrome and Sexually Active Abused Women

Dear Jeannie,

My protag is part of a group of allies. he has supernatural powers, but is struggling to control them. The rest of his group doesn't notice this. When he nearly kills himself by his own power, he is offered help by a team of drug dealers with similar issues, who use the drugs to keep powers under control. The drug dealers offer him aid and sympathy, and foster feelings of anger and betrayal toward his old group. The two factions confront each other, and his old teammates learn the truth, and forcefully drag my protag back, in part to finally help him.

What might his emotional state and feelings be after being "taken away" from his new allies and back to his old friends who originally "abandoned him"?

Unknown in the UK

Dear Unknown,

The main question you have to ask is whether your protag, at any time, views the drug dealers as enemies. If he did, and reluctantly accepted their help because he was at the end of his rope, then what you're describing here could very well fit into Stockholm Syndrome. (This is when the victim overly identifies with and relates to the abuser/captor/etc and doesn't see them in a negative light.) If your protag looks at them from the beginning as allies as well, then this would not be the case.

Since you have your protag on the drug dealer side, confronting his old allies, I'm leaning toward Stockholm Syndrome. If he respects them, how they manage their powers--even if it is through using drugs--then even though they are the enemy camp, so to speak, he'd still fight on their side. Once captured by his old friends, he'd want to return to the drug dealers. (Even more so if addicted to the substances they plied him with.) It would likely take a major event of some kind, where the new friends can prove to the protag definitively that the drug dealers were "bad," before he'd willingly succumb to their ministrations.

Dear Jeannie,

One of my main characters is constantly degraded by women and men (especially men who treat her as an object for them to control). In her childhood, her foster father tried to take advantage of her sexually. I read somewhere that even after being taken advantage of in such ways, girls still remain sexually active. Can you explain the progression from being sexually abused to sexually active?

Always Anonymous

Dear Always Anonymous,

I wouldn't call it a progression so much as a process. When young girls are abused, it is often by someone they know and love, even respect. Probably one of the most heartbreaking stories I heard from a client was from one who had been abused by her father for years. She said she loved her father for abusing her, because when he was having sex with her was the only time he was nice to her. (Jaw dropping, right?)

Young girls learn that it is during the sexual act that they are often treated well, noticed, cared for. They come to associate sex and sexual acting out (dressing to receive lecherous looks, being forward and flirty, etc) with love and affection. They can't divorce the two. So they grow up to be extremely sexually active and promiscuous, because by so being, they meet their Need for Affection (you can grab my free Writer's Guide when you sign up for my newsletter, which talks more about the three basic needs of people).

Got Questions?

Post them anonymously below, using monikers like Sleepless in Seattle.
I'll get to them in future Dear Jeannie columns.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Character Archetypes 101: The King

We've arrived at the last of the archetype series, and I've got The King on the couch. It's been a fun 12+ weeks, and I imagine there will be some follow-up posts to round out things, but for now, I don't want to keep The King waiting. (He's extremely busy, you know.) He's also known as The Leader, Monarch, Politician, Boss, Chief, Administrator, and Aristocrat.

The "Good"

The King is naturally authoritarian, powerful, and confident, competently carrying many responsibilities and maintaining disciplined, goal-oriented ideals. They have strong personal values and are respected for how they orchestrate the complexities of life by being systematic, detail-oriented, organized, level-headed, and perceptive.

Kings like to use their influence to make things better, whether this is in their work or home environment. It's very fulfilling for them to demonstrate how shrewd and intelligent they are and motivate others to do the same. Kings get things done, period.

They want to empower others to do their best, and they are challenged to create atmospheres were the gifts and perspectives of others are valued and utilized to their greatest capacity. They are often wonderful protectors and peacemakers, able to find common ground among disparate entities. 

The "Bad"

Kings do like outward evidences of status. They often are over the top with their dress, car, home, these are all lavish trappings of success and prestige. Their image
can become paramount to the work and talent that they have.

Kings are susceptible to being corrupt by the sheer amount of power available to them. This can make them harsh or unfeeling in the government of others and manipulatively use their power to dominate instead of defend. Maintaining this type of delusional power and control makes the tyrannical King very insecure, and any perceived threats to his authority are met with anger and swift, reckless punishment and/or abuse.

Kings can also get bogged down in the policies and procedures of their world and become overly hierarchical. Possibly Kings might suffer from an inability to delegate, or even abdicate his position to others, kowtowing to them instead of making his own decisions. Kings can often suffer from paranoia, that people are "out to get them," which may or may not be true, based on what kind of person they are and if they show that to others.

Likely Goals

To be in control
To prosper sphere of influence
To be protectors
To be respected/revered

Likely Fears

To be overthrown
To be in chaos/disarray
To abdicate responsbilitiy
To be corrupt (or caught if corrupt)

Examples in the Media

Sandra Bullock as Margaret Tate in The Proposal
Marlon Brando and Al Pacino as Vito Corleone and Michael Corleone in The Godfather
Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown in Murphy Brown
Ben Kingsley as Gandhi in Gandhi 
Lucy in Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts
Elizabeth Taylor as Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew
Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes in The Aviator
Lucy in the comic strip Peanuts
Colin Firth as Fitzgerald Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
Viggo Mortenson as Aragorn in The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King

Archetypes Who've Completed Therapy

The Innocent                  The Lover
The Orphan                     The Creator
The Hero                          The Jester
The Caregiver            The Sage
The Explorer              The Magician 
The Rebel

Let's Analyze

Now that we've completed the series proper, what sorts of information would you like to see tying it all together? Sky's the limit.