Monday, September 24, 2007


You've written the first few chapters of your book.
If you're anything like me, the first 3 chapters are a breeze: all brand-spanking new, exciting, the characters just bursting to tell their story with loads of pizazz and dazzling conversation and building attraction.

Then it hits.
Chapter FOUR!

How do you keep the pages turning when the initial buzz is starting to wear off?

First up, work out what you want to achieve from the next 3 chapters or so.

The tension must build.
There must be a turning point to galvanise the characters into action.
The stakes are upped.
The conflicts developed.

This is what Jenny Crusie refers to as ACT TWO in her Basic Linear Four Act Plot, where everything BUILDS.

We want to throw our characters off course a tad, get them thinking beyond the initial attraction, throw them a few minor curve balls but nothing to drastic yet. Plenty of time for that later!

In COURTING CUPID, there are several major revelations in the story, revelations that will bring Blane and Camryn to absolute, seemingly unsolvable conflict. He wants marriage and kids, she doesn't, she craves the excitement of city life, he craves a sea change.
Layered into these big conflicts are clues, hints given that build towards the revelations that will drive them apart.

So when you hit chapter four and your enthusiasm flags as it inevitably does, concentrate on building.
The tension, the stakes, and the wordcount will follow!

(For a full explanation of Jenny Crusie's Four Act Plot Diagram, visit her website and check out the notes under her Aussie conference.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

COVER TO COVER: Location, location, location!

Creating the perfect setting can be instrumental in bringing a story to life.

Have you ever been so swept away by a book you can see the setting in your mind? Smell the frangipanis on an island? Feel the sting of dust in a desert? Hear the vibrant voices of gondoliers?

By citing those three examples, I bet you got an instant image of a setting.

Words are powerful tools and when we use them to craft a setting we can evoke feelings, memories, sympathy, empathy…you get the picture!

I’m sure some of the attraction of sheikh stories is the setting: sweeping desert sands, lush, verdant oasis, stone palaces standing the test of time…
And royal stories: opulent palaces, marble interiors, immaculate grounds…

The beauty of being a writer is being able to create a setting to compliment your plot, to create a world the reader would love to live in, whether fictitious or otherwise.

For me, I love setting my books in Melbourne, the city I live in. It’s a hip, cosmopolitan city with a vibe all its own and I deliberately choose cultural icon areas to highlight the city’s appeal.

From Acland Street, St. Kilda (FOUND: HIS FAMILY), home of the best cakes and pastries on the planet, to Brunswick Street, Fitzroy (BIG-SHOT BACHELOR), boho central, from Lygon St, Carlton (PRINCESS AUSTRALIA) Melbourne’s ‘Little Italy’ to the thrill of the Melbourne Cup at Flemington (INHERITED: BABY), I hope to bring small pieces of this vibrant city alive.

For that very reason, I’ve set COURTING CUPID in Melbourne too, in the newest trendy area, New Quay at the Docklands.

I want my readers to get immersed in the café culture there, to feel the sea breeze on their faces as they sip a latte, to make their mouths water with the delicious food served at the many restaurants, to sit back in a cosy corner of a bar and admire the pretty night skyline.

And I briefly move the book to Southbank, another trendy spot on the banks of the Yarra River, where Blane has a penthouse on the 88th floor of the new Eureka Towers in Southbank (see pic above!) It's brand spanking new, ultra modern and the place to live!

Are you getting a picture?
If so, I’m doing my job.

So get creative. Search the Net for pictures to stimulate your imagination, whether it be of a country, a house, a garden, a room.

Use descriptions, adjectives, make the setting you choose leap off the page.

Make it the type of place any reader would want to be.

What brings a setting alive for you?
(To get a feel for some of the cultural areas of Melbourne I mentioned above, click on the title links, which will take you directly to my website pages for those books, where you'll find more pictures depicting the areas in the 'under the covers' sections.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

COVER TO COVER: Hip heroines

Writing heroines can be easy...and tricky!
I want my heroines to be the epitome of the strong, modern woman, with the world at her feet and a shoe wardrobe any of us would be proud of.
I want my heroines to have the street smarts to distinguish between a Prince and a frog.
I want my heroines to be bold, sassy, slightly flawed and human.
Quite simply? I want my heroines to have it all!
When I write my heroines, I particularly focus on that last point: make them human.
If she's too perfect, readers won't identify with her (or will want to poke her eye out with envy!) Give her a sympathetic flaw or two, a problem or conflict we all deal with or might have dealt with in our past. That way, as readers we can stand by her through the whole book, cheering her on from the sidelines along the bumpy road to her happily-ever-after.
I find casting heroines not as essential as heroes, because I 'think' like the heroine. I'm inside her head a lot more than the heroes so her words, thoughts and actions flow from fingertips to keyboard much easier.
My editor has said several times that my books are strongly heroine-driven, featuring women she'd love to be best friends with and I take that as a great compliment. This says these women are real and if you can achieve that in your writing, your reader will want to keep turning the pages to discover what happens to your heroine in the end.
In COURTING CUPID, the minute I knew my heroine would be headstrong, a tad prickly and very cynical, Sandra Bullock sprang to mind. Think Miss Congeniality: the tough, headstrong cop with prickles galore!!
However, I don't always cast an actress or someone famous in the role of heroine. I've been inspired by an expression by a model in a magazine before, by a tilt of the head, by the smile.
And there's no surprise that my heroine folder is a lot less jam-packed than my heroes. I don't go looking for heroines, whereas a gal can never have too many heroes... :)

What do you find the essential ingredient for a fab heroine?
Any particular favourite heroines?

Friday, September 14, 2007


Choosing characters is a wonderful part of writing.
(Though sometimes the characters choose us, I think!)

It's always an absolute pleasure casting the hero in my books. As soon as I get an idea of his personality and looks, I tend to match him to an actor/model/sportsman/etc...
And then the fun really begins!

Doing a google search to find suitable images has to rank right up there with eating chocolate and reading in the bath as pleasurable activities.
Just plug in the name of the man you want to find in google images and away you go!

For COURTING CUPID, I had a fairly good idea of the type of hero I wanted. He had to be suave and gorgeous, of course, but he needed to be a little rough around the edges (eg. the stubble) which is an essential part of the story.
My first choice was David Annable (who stars in Brothers and Sisters) but he seemed a tad young for Blane and suddenly, Matthew Fox came to me in a flash of inspiration. And google images did the rest!
(That's David on the left. Pretty similar to Matthew, huh?)

These are only a few of the many pics I saved of Matthew and they really do encapsulate Blane: rugged, focussed, gorgeous...I could go on and on but you get the drift.
My advice in casting heroes is to create a folder and whenever you see a guy you think is potential hero material (eg. film, TV, magazine) do a search and save the pics there and then. That way, you'll always have an inspirational hero just waiting to leap into your story!
This can also have the advantage of getting the creative juices flowing if you don't have a story: in PRINCESS AUSTRALIA, the entire story sprang from an expression on a guy I'd never heard of before (Adrian Grenier, from Entourage fame.)

So go out there and find your hot hero.
Trust me, he's ready to leap into a story coming to you soon...

Anyone have a recurring favourite potential hero? ie. pics you've saved but haven't used yet?
I have quite a few stashed away!!!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I'm an Aunty!

Just got the phone call to say I have a brand new baby niece!!
Her name's Zoe (which I love and was going to use for a heroine one day) and she's 6 lb 1 oz and that's about all I know for now!

Ooh...I love babies :)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


They say a picture paints a thousand words...
would be nice if my collage could add the odd thousands words or so to my current WIP!

So, I have my characters and my plot (divorced city girl heroine and workaholic financier hero looking for a seachange), and in order to bring the story alive for me I decided to collage it, which involved looking for specific pictures to capture the essence of both the characters and the story.
The city of Melbourne, the cappucino, the wine, the chocolate and the cafe all belong to Camryn, while the pick-up truck, the hammock, the sneakers and the bed with the killer ocean view are all Blane.
What do you think? Does it evoke the mood of the book from the brief description I've given?

This is my 4th attempt at collaging and I tend to like matching pictures to the story though I find an odd picture leaping out at me as I search and, lo and behold, that picture often finds its way into the story. Collaging doesn't have to be done this way though, and can involve sitting down, selecting random pictures, pasting them together and creating a story from there!

For a full run down on collaging, check out the interview on my website with Barbara Hannay, who conducted a workshop on this topic at a RWAus. conference. There's also loads of fab collaging info on Jenny Crusie's website (who likes to collage on computer too. Check under her notes for the Aussie conference.)

So get cutting and pasting. It's loads of fun!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

COVER TO COVER: What's in a name?

For me, naming my characters is crucial.
If the name doesn't fit I struggle with 'seeing' that person as real.

I tend to go for unusual names for my heroines on the whole: Amber in THE WEDDING CONTRACT, Fleur in CONTRACT TO MARRY, Keely in IMPOSSIBLY PREGNANT, Carissa in WIFE AND MOTHER WANTED, Maya in INHERITED: BABY, Ariel in BIG-SHOT BACHELOR, Tahnee in TWO-WEEK MISTRESS. All very different names from the norm and I intended them that way because each of those heroines are unique and strong-willed and very individual in their own way.

In contrast, I tend to go with more traditional names for my heroes and once again that's deliberate, as I see my heroes as a lovely foil as well as a great match for my heroines. Some of my heroes have included Matt, Steve, Dylan, Darcy and Lachlan.
Not to take anything away from those heroes, who I like to think of as divine in their own right, for other heroes I've gone with slightly less traditional names because the characters warranted it: Brody (brooding ex cop), Riley (older brother comforting his dead brother's fiancee), Bo (Bogart-reclusive childrens' author), Cooper (go get 'em property developer)

Are you seeing a theme here?
The name fits the character and in turn, affects the names of their family and friends, depending on their motivations and upbringing.

So what's in a name? Plenty!
On a practical note, here's a fabulous site to get you started: NAMES
And if you're like me and start to forget names you've used and are at the risk of repeating them, I've made a file of index cards, where I write down first and surnames I've used, secondary characters and names I like but have yet to use. Took a bit of time at the start but worth it to avoid repetition. If I was more computer literate I'd probably put the whole lot on Excel? Maybe one day...

In COURTING CUPID, my heroine's name is Camryn. (I chose this because she's very strong-willed and I liked the thought of giving her a feminine form of a male name, which implies strength.)
My hero is Blane, a tad unusual perhaps, but it just popped out at me when looking through my index cards.
As for naming the cafe she runs, I'd like to say a huge thank you to everyone who gave me ideas. They were fabulous! For now, I've chosen Cafe Niche (which fits in with Camryn's conflict very nicely.) My mum actually came up with that one after looking at the pics.
I say 'for now' because it's one of those things I'm still not 100% happy about and I'm hoping the perfect name will leap out at me while I write the book.

Are names important to you?

Monday, September 10, 2007

COVER TO COVER: Who's that shady character?

Now that I've established COURTING CUPID would be character driven, I needed to flesh out my divorced heroine and my laid-back hero.

To do this, I came up with 4 adjectives that would describe each of them:

HEROINE: headstrong, tenacious, prickly, cynical

HERO: confident, laid-back, protective, romantic

For me, this instantly evoked an image of both characters and I proceeded to match my image of the hero and heroine to pictures. As you can see, I think the pictures give off the vibe of my description too.

Sandra Bullock was the perfect choice for my headstrong heroine and Matthew Fox the laid-back hero.

I will use these pics to encapsulate what my characters are like at a glance, so as I'm writing I can take a quick look at them to get a feel for their personalities. While finding these pics, I saved loads more and there are a few of Matthew Fox which showed my hero EXACTLY as a I pictured him (on a beach, with business shirt sleeves rolled up, loosened tie-my hero is a workaholic after a sea change) but more on this when I show you the collage.

So now that I have the basics, it's time to flesh out even more. To do this I've tried a new method for me, the character interview. This involves sitting down with a piece of paper and a list of questions and doing exactly that: interviewing your characters. Discovering their greatest fear, worst thing that could happen to them, the single event that would throw their life into turmoil, etc...

I did a fair amount of research on the Internet for characterisation and made a compilation of resources I now refer to. Well worth the time invested as you get many authors' viewpoints on this broad subject. And you get to gather the info you think will be most relevant to you.
Some people use character charts (I used to when I first started writing), some people delve into the elaborate world of their characters' psyche. My advice would be find the method that works for you.
Though the character interview seems like a lot of work at the start, I'm finding it helpful to refer back to any time I need to get a handle on my characters' motivations. And to up the ante.

Next up, the names.
Which is another topic in itself for tomorrow!

Friday, September 07, 2007

COVER TO COVER: In the beginning...

Welcome to my new series COVER TO COVER, a 'how to write a novel' snapshot taking you through from start to finish of the Harlequin Romance I have just started.

I decided to blog about this process because I'm using a new technique to write this one and feel like it's my first book all over again! So bear with me...

By far, the most common question I get asked as an author is 'where do you get your ideas?'
My standard answer is everywhere! That's not being trite, it's so very true: a newspaper headline, a magazine article, a facial expression on an actor's face...ideas spring from everywhere. (They also tend to spring most often in that drowsy state between sleep and consciousness so always keep a notebook by the bed!)

Until now, my story ideas have been PLOT driven.
That is, an idea for a plot will spring to mind and I invent the characters to fit the plot.
For example, in my recent Harlequin Romance PRINCESS AUSTRALIA, I saw a newspaper article featuring concierges from major Melbourne hotels and knew I had to write a book centered around a hotel plot. Then I thought 'wouldn't it be great to have a heroine in this role...but she actually owns the hotel...and who would she meet at the hotel to really turn her head...oh, I know, a prince!'

With INHERITED: BABY, the book was written around Melbourne Cup time, the horse race that stops a nation, so I had an entire plot right there.
In BIG-SHOT BACHELOR, my first Harlequin Modern Extra, I made several trips to Brunswick Street, Melbourne's boho centre, and knew a plot featuring this amazing cultural experience was just waiting to be hatched.

So you get the idea? (no pun intended!) I choose a plot first, then match the characters to that particular plot.

With COURTING CUPID, my new work in progress, I've reversed the process and started with the characters first. Why? Because I like a challenge, I want to add depth to my characters, I want to take my writing to the next level, and because my editor suggested it! (always a good reason for a change!!)

In COURTING CUPID, I wanted 2 characters who are in such total opposition with their goals and motivations that they had no option but to be in total conflict, and a conflict which will deepen as the story progresses.
So I thought 'what could be more difficult to overcome than a cynical, divorced heroine pitted against a laid-back, romantic hero who wants a family above all else?'
From this original idea, I have fleshed out the characters, spent time interviewing them and collaged them (more about all these processes under 'characterisation' early next week.)
The characters have come alive. I can see them. I'm inside their heads. I know what they're feeling.
And the plot has developed from there.

So which method do you use? Are your stories plot or character driven?

(PS. Thanks for all your fabulous suggestions for naming my fictional cafe. I'll let you know the results early next week!)