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Story structure and that pesky middle part…

Writing novels means that the writer must continually work on becoming better at his or her craft. I am constantly striving to improve, and in doing so I joined RWA and attend monthly meetings at Cleveland’s NEORWA (North Eastern Ohio RWA) chapter, have started the Three Rivers Romance Writers group, have attended numerous conferences and workshops, and have taken online classes.


That pesky middle part


During this time, my writing has evolved, as it should. (If not… boy, have I been wasting my time!) Do I look back at some of my earlier work and cringe? Perhaps. I can promise that some of it will never see the light of day… at least not in its current form.

I find that when I work improving my writing, I tend to focus on specific parts of the writing craft, but these pieces are beginning to merge into something cohesive. I have worked on “show don’t tell,” GMC (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict), characterization, and story structure. I work to use strong verbs rather than weak ones. I try to eliminate words such as “got,” “saw,” and “walked” and replace them with clearer and more descriptive ones such as “bought,” “identified,” and  “strode.” and I try to make sure that my reader finds some way to personally connect with my hero and heroine.

This ongoing process has invaded my enjoyment of books as a reader. Now, if I come across something particularly well written, I have to pause and examine it. Conversely, I also frequently “edit” books in my head as I read them. I think that this is partly why I read so many audio books these days. It forces me to stop editing as I read!

Lately I have been working on the idea of story structure as it pertains to character development.  We know stories must have an arc… a beginning, middle and end. There must be a big climax toward the end (at about the 90% mark in the book) and that everything prior to that point must lead up to the climax and build toward it.

Interestingly enough, the things I listed are expectations that most of us, as readers, have for the novels we read. We might not even be consciously aware that we expect it. Story structure is an old concept that can be traced back to ancient Greece and Rome. The Greek plays used this structure two thousand years ago. If you do an internet search on the Three Act Structure (or Four Act Structure … which is almost identical), you’ll find a great deal of information out there.

Basically, a novel must have 1) the initial setup, 2) the hero’s response (which includes something at the mid-point that changes the hero’s perception of what is happening, 3) the attack (where the hero shifts from responding to the entire situation to attacking it directly), and 4) the Resolution.

Acts 1 and 3 are small compared to what is going on in the middle

Acts 1 and 3 are small compared to what is going on in the middle

These parts aren’t equal in size. The set up usually takes place fairly quickly and establishes the time, place and main characters. The resolution is fairly brief as well and should wrap up any remaining loose ends.

The meat of the story is in the middle. (Sorry for the sandwich metaphor… I’m getting hungry.)

The middle is where our hero develops as a character and goes through some sort of transformation.  It is essential that our hero evolves throughout he course of the story and thereby EARNS his/her goal. If he or she doesn’t learn something important about him/herself, then we, as readers, feel cheated. Of course, there is the anti-hero, who doesn’t evolve, but then that character must be doomed to fail and our story becomes a tragedy.

In our society, we see examples of this expectation being played out around us all the time. The person who puts in extra hours at work or who comes up with the next great idea is supposed to be rewarded through success. The student who works hard on a project and pays attention to the details is supposed to receive an A. The person who rescues the injured dog could well be rewarded with the loving companionship of a pet (or the thanks of a grateful owner).

Of course, sometimes life isn’t fair. Perhaps someone steals credit for another person’s ideas at work. Or maybe a teacher gives a lower grade because part of the assignment wasn’t done properly, and what if that poor rescued pup pees all over the house and chews the furniture? But, THOSE THINGS MAKE GREAT STORIES TOO! In fact, those stories are even more interesting! That’s because our hero must overcome those obstacles and learn something in the process.

The hero’s basic character flaw must be revealed, and we, as readers, must be able to see that the flaw is keeping him or her from achieving that main goal. Once our hero also recognized this flaw, then he or she needs to decide whether or not to do something about it. All of that happens in the middle of the story.

So, work on the middle. Keep it strong and interesting. And make sure your character learns some fundamental truth along the way.

February Meeting

When: 10:00AM, Saturday, February 23, 2013

Where: Bridgeville Public Library (505 McMillen Street, Bridgeville, PA 15017)

Guest Speaker: Victoria Roberts


Welcome 2013!

New Year’s Resolution(s?)

I made it! I survived yet another apocalypse! Take THAT you Mayan calendar creators!

Since I’ve made it to 2013, I’ve decided to make two resolutions…or, perhaps I’m making the same resolution twice. Hmm… yes, now that I think of it, this is really one resolution to do two things. You can’t really call it two resolutions if all you are doing is changing the word “a” to “two” in your sentence, now can you?

Get on with it, you say? Maybe. I’m procrastinating though, and you’ll just have to wait another moment.

Fine. Okay. Here goes.

“I resolve, that in 2013, I will complete two full-length (approximately 85,000 word) manuscripts.” (See, that’s really ONE big resolution, not two.)

So, hold my feet to the fire (as long as it’s a warm toasty one and I don’t get burned) and take away my internet if I don’t actually accomplish this, but there it is.


Oh… I Can’t Forget to Mention Our New Year’s Celebration

On a personal note, my fabulous husband took me and our two sons on a fun-filled cruise over winter break, so we welcomed the New Year aboard a ship that was gliding toward the Bahamas. For the first time in my life, I actually attended an event where people sang “Auld Lang Syne,”balloons dropped down on our heads at midnight, and surprisingly enough, it wasn’t completely corny. Instead, it was tons of fun.

And Back to My Goals for 2013

Another goal I have for 2013 is to coddle our new Three Rivers Romance Writers chapter and get it up and running with the help of the lovely and fabulous Sheila Larkin. Happily, Bonnie Forsythe has also volunteered to assist us in this endeavor, so everything is progressing well and our first meeting is scheduled for Saturday, January 19, 2013. If you check out our website at threeriversromancewriters dot com, you will see the list of upcoming speakers that Sheila the Awesome has already scheduled.

So, I have a second resolution after all! To launch Three Rivers Romance Writers! Ha! And here you thought I only had ONE! Fooled you!

Three Rivers Romance Writers

Writer Wordart

Writer Wordart (Photo credit: MarkGregory007)


Almost ever month over the past three years, my friend, Sheila Larkin, and I have been making the trek from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to attend NEORWA’s RWA chapter meetings.

I know the two hour drive might sound a little extreme, but it’s well worth the trip because NEORWA always has a guest speaker who makes some sort of presentation on an aspect of the writing process. I’ve learned a great deal over the years and my writing is better because of it.

However, as time (and miles) went by, both Sheila and I wondered why there wasn’t a similar group in Pittsburgh. “It’s a big city… it has lots of writers… but where is the group offering monthly presentations on writing?” As we searched for an answer to this question, we spoke with some of the other writers we know who live in the area, and discovered that many of them were also interested in attending that type of meeting.

So, we decided to do something about it.


Sheila and I are proud to announce that we are starting the Three Rivers Romance Writers… <fanfare…applause…squeals of joy>.

Our first meeting will be on Saturday, January 19, 2013, at 10:00 am the Sewickley Public Library at 500 Thorn Street, Sewickley, PA 15143 at 10:00 AM. Although the group is focused on the romance genre, all fiction writers will find benefits in attending the monthly meetings. We plan to have monthly speakers on various aspects of writing, from developing the writer’s craft to issues regarding publishing.

We are thrilled to be able to say that New York Times beat selling author, Madeline Hunter will be our very first speaker. She was the keynote speaker at the RWA National conference in New York City in 2011, and she lives in the Pittsburgh area. (See, I SAID we had the writers here!)

Future meetings will take place at 10:00 AM on the fourth Saturday of each month. The March meeting will also be held at the Sewickley library, however the February meeting will be held at our alternate location at the Bridgeville Library at 505 McMillen Street Bridgeville, PA 15017 on February 23.

We have a Facebook page at: . If you “like” us there, you will be able to see announcements of upcoming meetings, speakers, and (eventually) events.

We are currently developing a website, and once it is up and running it will be at Bonnie Forsythe has very generously created a temporary one for us at

We have a number of requests out to local authors, and we are in the process of finalizing arrangements to have them speak to our group. We hope to have some announcements within the next few days, so remember to check our website and Facebook page.


Currently, RWA has a moratorium on accepting new chapters, so ours is not an official RWA chapter. However, our goal is to pursue membership with them as soon as they open things back up again. RWA is a fabulous organization that supports authors throughout their careers, and we believe that being under their umbrella will be to the advantage of all of the members of the Three Rivers Romance Writers. Any novelist can become a member of RWA, but only romance writers have voting privileges. In order for our group to become a chapter of RWA, we must also  conform to these rules.

Please come!  We look forward to having many writers attend our first meeting (along with the subsequent ones). Please come lend your voice to this group so that we can understand what you want in a writer’s group. He hope to build a strong, active organization, and we need your help to do so!

NaNoWriMo Winner’s Certificate

NaNoWriMo Winner's Certificate

I did it. 50,000 words in one month. Yes, it was painful, and yes, it was worth it. It put some excellent new habits in place.

Photography in Victorian England

Photography in Victorian England

I’ve taken an unexpected and long break from writing. Late last summer, my mother was diagnosed with inoperable stage four lung cancer. It all came as a shock. She’d always taken care of herself and had never smoked a day in her life. Her diagnosis hit me hard, and I had trouble keeping up with my writing.

My mother passed away on June 14, 2012. She was my biggest fan, my cheerleader, and my rock. I’ll miss her every day.


In the 1850’s , Lady Clementina Hawarden (Clementina Maude, Viscountess Harwarden) began taking photographs, first of  Ireland’s landscape near their home in Dundrum County, Tipperary, Ireland, and later focusing on her ten children (yes, TEN). In 1859, when the family relocated to their London home in South Kensington, she set up a studio there to continue her work.

Photography in the Victorian age required exacting skill. For her process, Lady Clementina made albumen prints from wet-collodion negatives. The advantage of this particular process was that it was much quicker than many other methods, and the models did not have to stand frozen in place for long periods of time.

Collodion was made from gun-cotton soaked in ether, the liquid was then applied in a thin coat to glass plates. Lady Clementina placed the fragile plate in a camera, exposed it while still wet, and developed it immediately.

The next step was to create a print using the special paper. The albumen paper was coated with a mixture of egg whites (albumen) and salt in a smooth layer, and a second layer of silver nitrate was applied over it. Together, the salt and silver nitrate formed the light sensitive compound of silver salts.  To create the print, she placed the paper in contact with the negative, and exposed it to sunlight until she achieved the desired level of exposure… not too light, not too dark.

c. 1861

While most male photographers of the day traveled extensively to photograph foreign lands, Lady Clementina remained at home, capturing images of her family. It is from these photos that see views of the life of an upper-class family. Sometimes her daughters wore the fashions of the day, and at other times they wore costumes from the family’s dress-up box. Reenacting historical tableaux was a popular pastime of the day.

Lady Clementina’s first public exhibit of her work took place in 1863 in an annual event hosted by the Photographic Society of London, and then again in the following year. She won a silver medal both years.

Sadly, she died of pneumonia in January of 1865 at the age 42, leaving behind ten children and a large body of work.

To see many of her photographs, visit the website for the Victoria and Albert Museum  at

Beep, beep. The sound of me blowing my own horn

NaNoWriMo_1After so much hard work and frustration, I’m finally beginning to see some forward momentum in this whole writing thing.

I have an agent, and I’m so excited to be partners with her. I am now represented by Cherry Weiner of the Cherry Weiner Literary Agency. I met her at the Writers for New Orleans conference. We hit it off, and when I and the opportunity to pitch to her, she requested my manuscript.

I sent it off to her with great trepidation and high hopes. She received it, but let me know that she was making her way through the stack of manuscripts and that it would take some time before she reached mine.

In the meantime, I received some wonderful news. I finaled in three contests: “Where the Magic Begins,” “Launching a Star,” and “Put Your Heart in a Book.” I actually entered one each month over the summer while I continued working on my manuscripts, but as it turned out, the finalists for all three contests were all announced around the same time.

At the end of October, I received an email from Cherry asking me to call her. My heart was pounding. Did it mean what I hoped it meant?

I contacted her, and she very quickly offered to represent me as my agent. I was absolutely thrilled. I’ve been floating a few feet off the earth ever since then. I was thinking that my family would need to tether me down, but then NaNoWriMo hit and it brought me rushing back to reality. For those of you who do not know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to write 50,000 words in one month. It’s been a challenging goal to meet. I did well the first week, but life has been getting in the way lately and I’m not achieving my daily word count.

But I digress. On to my newest big news…

I received a really wonderful email this morning. My manuscript received first place in the “Where the Magic Begins” contest!

Yes, that squeal of delight you heard this morning at around 7:30 AM was me reading that I had won.

I know that I’ll be knocked on my big ole’ butt pretty soon when something really bad happens, but in the meantime, I’m enjoying these moments of success.

So, in the words of Jonathan Coulton, I feel fantastic !!!           Jonathan Coulton

Back from NOLA and Heather Graham’s “Writers for New Orleans” conference

Tropical storm Lee rolled into New Orleans over the weekend, but did little to dampen the spirits of the revelers… ahem… I mean attendees… at this year’s “Writers for New Orleans” conference.

Friday evening’s celebrations included a wet trek to the Bourbon Vieux. The view from the party room’s balcony provided an excellent vantage point one of the “Southern Decadence” (formerly named “Gay Pride”) parades. A number of lovely, half-dressed men in very wet clothing wandered past throughout the evening and many were more than willing to provide a bit of entertainment in exchange for beads. And a moment later, he dropped trou...We party-goers on the balcony provided entertainment as well, dressed as we were in Civil War era clothing.

The following evening provided a reprieve from the storm. Lee decided to give everyone the night off, allowing us the opportunity to meander around the French Quarter and remain relatively dry. I was initiated into the experience of drinking an “Irish Car Bomb.” Apparently, they are the drink of choice for a number of regular conference attendees.

All of the writers were kind and welcoming. They were generous with their time and insights, readily willing to share their knowledge and experience with a newcomer such as myself.

The conference had fabulous workshops, from negotiating techniques, to screenwriting tips for authors, to a police procedural question and answer session.

“Keep your head down and just WRITE”… or “How to empty your water pitcher”

Grapes through a water pitcher

Image by quinn.anya via Flickr

I’ve been following that first bit of advice for the past four weeks. It’s been working, up to a point, but I must admit that all work and no play makes Jane a dull… and resentful… girl. Sheridan’s not immune either. Hence, the second quote.

I recently pitched the first novel I had ever written. To my amazement, I not only had a request for 100 pages from an editor, but also a request for a full from an agent.

Sounds great, right? It IS great. No question there.

The problem is that, as I said, it’s the FIRST novel I ever wrote. It’s been sitting in my computer for well over a year, and during that time, I’ve been focusing on developing my craft. The craft of writing.

I’ve attended conferences, listened to lectures, and taken classes. I’ve studied deep point-of-viewcharacterization, the hero and heroine archetypes, creating hooks, writing strong opening chapters, the hero’s journey, and the use of dialogue tags. In doing all of this, I’ve developed confidence and my voice has become stronger. Going through this process has made my writing better than it was when I wrote my first full-length manuscript, and that’s the crux of my problem.

Now, as I review my work and prepare to send it in, I see many things I want to improve. There are parts of my manuscript I love, and parts that make me cringe… I mean, what was I thinking? I want to send in the BEST that I can currently produce, so it needs to be polished.

I’ve been editing furiously, and my critique partners, a beautiful, amazing, talented group of women, have been supporting me. But even with all of the support I’ve been getting, I was beginning to burn out. I kept pouring water out of my water pitcher of creativity and inspiration, but I wasn’t taking time to refill it.

Then came last night’s game of laser tag at Laser Storm. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I finally did something to refill my pitcher. I could feel my creativity and energy flowing back into me.

After all, summer only comes once a year, and kids grow up fast, right? I can’t just sit and write. I also need to go EXPERIENCE some things.

Although it might take a me couple extra days to finish, at least my family and I will be sane at the end of my rewrite.

What’s in a blank space? Lots of trees

[Tree in a rural area] (LOC)

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

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