Friday, August 30, 2013


Please don't tell me I'm the only one who does this--forget the color of my hero's eyes or the color of my heroine's hair. Any number of details in a novel can be skewed or mixed up or completely changed during the writing.

I should know better by now. After nine novels and numerous novellas, I still work my way into the same quandary.

When I taught high school students, I was always ready and organized. In fact, over the years, I earned the nickname of  "Miss Organization" as if it were tattooed across my forehead, along with "Teacher."

Now? I don't know what happened to me once I left teaching and later began writing stories. Why can I not use those same skills of organization with writing?

My friend Cheryl Pierson teaches a writing class in Oklahoma, and she shared handouts with me. This was a very generous act, and I do read through them on occasion. However, if I took her class now, she'd give me a failing grade because of my slap-hazard writing.

But I cannot break the pattern.

One handout was Characterization Traits. This is one of the most important, and if I had any sense, I'd sit down and write out my hero's physical traits first.
It's not complicated.

Height-6 ft. (Aren't all heroes tall? They don't have to be.)
Build--broad shoulders and narrow hips. (Aren't all heroes...never mind.)

Added to these traits are:
Color of his horse--was it a red roan or a black stallion?
Age--is he twenty-five or thirty?

Some time ago, I read how an author tackled this problem. All her heroes were just alike, and all her heroines were, too--according to color of hair and eyes, especially. I recall her writing, "All my heroes have brown eyes, and all my heroines have blue eyes."

There you go! Problem solved!

Except that doesn't always work. A character has a way of presenting himself/herself exactly as he/she is. Sometimes we just don't have control over this. When the character appears, he's fully fleshed out and who am I to change the color of his eyes?

As of this moment, TEXAS DREAMER is 3/4 complete. And as of this moment I have no idea what color are his eyes or his hair. No, wait, his hair is black because he is a descendent of The Camerons of Texas. They're all dark-haired. Eyes. Nope, can't remember.

I'll need a half day to sit down with all my scribbled notes that are in a spiral, on note cards, and on sticky notes to determine the physical characteristics of my characters. Then, I'll need to do a Find and Highlight in order to correct all my errors.

I swear, this is the last time I do this. From now on--Organize is my middle name.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What's the Best Writing Advice You Ever Received?

Mystery Writer Elmore Leonard died this week at an elderly age. Many readers loved his work; others thought he was too caustic and blunt. But critics praised his work for being spare and to the point.

His Ten Rules of Writing go down in literary history as among the very best advice.

I received a paper copy of these rules years ago when I'd entered a manuscript into an RWA contest. One judge gave me high marks, and said, "I think you're ready to publish, with only a little more polish. She said, read these ten rules of writing by Elmore Leonard and pay particular attention to Numbers 3, 4, 5, and 6. She had highlighted them for me.

These rules were:
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said."
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" and "all hell broke loose."

These were so easy to remember, I felt my life change. In the first place, #3 eliminated the agonizing thought process to find some other flowery or exciting phrase. I thought using "said" only was too mundane and boring.

Eliminating #4 also  lifted quite a burden off my shoulders. I had a difficult time finding enough proper adverbs to use with "said."

#5-Exclamation points? I loved those! But then I learned I shouldn't use them! How else could I denote excitement?!!!

Rule #6 broke my heart, but I do understand. The phrase "all hell broke loose" should be used in an exciting western shoot-out; should I ever write an exciting western shoot-out.
The habit of using "suddenly" was difficult to break, but now I calmly write, "He jumped from the wagon," instead of  "Suddenly, he jumped from the wagon."

I give all due praise to Mr. Leonard, but the very best advice on writing came from Strunk and White-The Elements of Style.
The rule is: Use an Active Voice--Not Passive.

We all learned the difference in Active Writing vs. Passive Writing in high school (or Action Verbs and Passive Verbs). The concept is easy enough to learn, but to put it into practice is another task. My very first editor taught me the difference, and thankfully, I naturally wrote in a more Active Voice. Still, much room for improvement faced me every time I sat down to write.

These rules teach the technicalities of writing a sentence, a paragraph, a full manuscript.
Other rules are more philosophical.

The very best I've ever heard or read is: Write What You Know. Not just one person said this--I've heard it and read it numerous times, enough to realize just how important it is.

It does not mean a writer living in a major city cannot write about living in a small town, because a write can find limitless sources of information. Still, firsthand knowledge does help immensely.
The diligent author might take the time and trouble to visit such a place to soak up the local flavor.

What is the best advice you received about the art of writing? Who gave you this advice, or where did you read it? 

Thank you for reading my blog. 

Monday, August 12, 2013


Let's face it, heroes these days have a difficult time staying on their pedestals.

Some heroes seem destined to become one, but we, the public, are often to blame for awarding the title to the wrong people or those who don't really qualify.

A hero is an everyday person who can change the world for the better. It could be simple act such as helping one person out or by helping millions.

There are big heroes known for a particular event, and there are small everyday types of heroes.
However, I think we overuse the term so that the word truly has little meaning.

What makes a hero?
Nelson Mandela is a true hero in every sense of the word.

But suppose I say my mother was a hero because she dutifully followed my daddy all over West and North Texas while he followed the work in the oil fields? She kept us fed, clothed, and happy. She went without a home of her own so we'd all be together.
Even though I loved and appreciated my mother, truthfully she does not come close to being a hero in the same category as Nelson Mandela. In fact, few people are.
But to me? She was a heroine, and my daddy was a hero.

Men, women, and even children are recognized all over our country
on a daily basis as being a "hero."

~*~A sick child with a positive attitude.
~*~A man who catches a baby falling from a third story window.
~*~All the firefighters who battle the mountain forest fires.
~*~The SWAT team who rescued hostages.
~*~A little girl who saves a kitten from a drain pipe.
History has given us time to ferret out true heroes of battles, wars, and liberations. Some have been proven to have clay feet after all.
Perhaps labeling a person a Hero lays a burden on his/her shoulders. How can a person live up to being a hero on a daily basis?

In romance novels, the hero is the important character. The heroine has a great role, too, but it's the male hero on which we focus.

Lucky for us, we have a definite list of What Makes a Western Hero.

Courteous, respectful attitude toward women
A loner. No close friends, no personal conversations
Rugged face; seldom smiles
Excellent shot
One companion, usually his horse
Hates rude people and will put them in their place
Great fighter - uses fists
Accepts all races
Traits of a typical Hemingway Hero are:
A love of good times, stimulating surroundings, and strict moral rules, including honesty.
The Hemingway Hero always exhibits some form of a physical wound that serves as his tragic flaw and the weakness of his character.

I'm particularly searching for a true modern hero. We expect our politicians, leaders of any kind, military personnel, and some dissenters to be hero material. Goodness knows, we can't expect that across the board.

Where have all the good ones gone?

Maybe I should lower my expectations of a true hero.

In fact, the heroes I create most often are flawed. I've even written one who abused the woman a little, but I redeemed him, and made him ashamed of what he did. Not one reader ever mentioned that perhaps he was not a good hero.

I think we all know heroes are made, not born, and it's not an easy task to expect one to be 100% true to the calling of a hero.

Monday, August 5, 2013

SCENE STEALERS--Those Rascals!

In my first novel, All My Hopes and Dreams (published in 2007 and still available), I wrote a secondary character named Starr Hidalgo. Starr's family owned the ranch next to the Romero family ranch, run by Ricardo Romero, the son and hero of my novel. Ricardo impulsively married a girl from East Texas named Cynthia Harrington, and since she was not from Spanish descent, she did not fit in.
But Starr did, and she did everything she could to break up Ricardo's marriage. She set her sights on him, and joined forces with Ricardo's mother to devise all kinds of ways to run off Cynthia.

Readers told me Starr Hidalgo would have been a better choice for Ricardo, and perhaps so. But Starr  was a walk-on, someone I used to stir up trouble. How did I write Cynthia, so, that in the end, she would equal Starr's passion and pure grit? It wasn't easy, but Cynthia learned many lessons, and yes, she did stand up to Starr, her evil mother-in-law, and even her husband.
But Starr almost stole the show.

Writing a good secondary character can be tricky. You don't want her/him to steal the scene--or ruin an entire story.

One of my favorite movies of all time is Red River, starring John Wayne as a cattle rancher, and Montgomery Clift as his adult adopted son. The story is about the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas on the Chisholm Trail. During the drive, John Wayne, the star of the movie and story, decides on one direction, but his adopted son disputes that decision, telling John Wayne there is a better way. They bitterly argue, and Montgomery Clift wins, taking the men and cattle with him.

What is strange about this scene, is that the adopted son becomes the hero of the movie, and John Wayne is forced to leave. The drive is successful, but the adopted son and father meet up once again in a bitter argument and fight.

I have never understood why the writer of the story allowed the son to be the hero, forcing his father--John Wayne--to step aside. In my opinion, this is a case of Scene Stealing. The secondary character became the hero.

In Gone With the Wind, Prissy steals the scene when Scarlet yells at her to help with the birthing of a baby. Prissy whines, wrings her hands, and cries, "But I don' know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies!" Who could forget that great scene, and Prissy completely stole it from Scarlet.

Many actresses and actors have become known because of stealing a scene from the lead.

I Googled "Scene Stealers" and found a large number of examples. It's fun to read who and how the person stole the scene.

Last night, I watched Splendor in the Grass for about the sixth time. Each time I've watched it, I noticed scenes I didn't remember before. The movie is actually kind of messy, in that too much happened in some of the scenes--too many characters, too much yelling and incessant talking, and the same characters whining. I also noticed more violence than I ever had before.

However, the fact is that no one, not one character in any scene stole it from Natalie Wood. She almost stood out with a glow around her. In the midst of some huge rumbling scene, those big
brown eyes and her unique presence always came through. She might as well have been carrying a big sign that read, "I am the star and don't you forget it."

She was very special, in my opinion.
No one could steal her scene.

In my current Work in Progress, TEXAS DREAMER, I wrote in a character named Conrad Taylor. Oh, wow, I wrote him so well he stole the show and the heroine for a few pages. I knew this could not happen, so I quickly took him off the page by sending him back to his own job. No one talked about or thought about Conrad. But later in the novel, he does reappear--is he really the villain? Or will he turn out to be a good guy, perhaps a hero of his own?

Will he be a scene stealer after all?
I really hope not. But now that I've written a very good character, probably he'll have his own story someday.

Scene Stealers. Do you remember one in a movie? There were actually quite a few.
Do you remember writing one in a novel?
Is a Scene Stealer memorable?