Monday 27 March 2017

Ending Chapters with a Hook

with Marilyn Forsyth

Image courtesy of Giphy

Deciding when and where chapter breaks should go in your book is definitely an art.

I’m a plotter so I work from an outline for the whole book (control freak, much? 😉). I even used to break my outline into chapters, before I learned the value of structuring by scene and then placing chapter/scene breaks where they’re most appropriate.

Image courtesy of Giphy

Lately, I’ve been reading about ending chapters with a hook—of the need for a cliff-hanger that will keep your readers fighting to keep those eyelids from closing as they read on way past their bedtime because they HAVE to find out what happens.

Here’s what I’ve discovered: some writers believe you can’t have enough chapter hooks in a book, and other writers…don’t!

Here’s my take: I love a good cliff-hanger, but ending every chapter with one can become not only exhausting for the reader, but can also make your book predictable (not a good thing to be said about your writing). I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best to leave something unresolved at the end of most chapters.

You can do this in a number of ways. (All examples are from Falling in Love Again, Book 2 in my Outback Gems series, to be released by Harlequin Escape April 15th, 2017.)

links to buy (release date April 15 2017)
1. A surprise occurs e.g. Who is this new character? ‘A soft click and the door pushed open. Jamie jumped to his feet. ‘Who’s there?’’

2. There is about to be a revelation. ‘She pressed the tips of her fingers to his mouth. ‘There’s something I need to tell you.’’

3. Your MC is forced to make a crucial decision. ‘The ace up her sleeve had been played and she’d lost. So what the hell was she going to do now?’

4. Hint at a mystery that demands an answer e.g. What did she see? ‘Gemma knocked and then entered without waiting. Inside she stopped dead. Transfixed.’

5. Your MC is in real physical danger (Emphasis on real! Don’t make that explosion nothing more than fireworks.) ‘‘Run!’ Jamie bellowed. Then the roof collapsed.’

6. A new challenge raises the stakes and makes it more difficult for your MC to achieve her goals. ‘Her ex-husband’s calculating eyes took in the scene. ‘Hello, darling.’ The endearment rolled off Roger’s tongue with practised ease, his voice deceptively gentle. ‘Fancy meeting you here.’

Inspiration for Jamie (James Stewart)

7. Your MC has a powerful emotional reaction to a situation. ‘The only man she’d ever loved would never know what walking away from him had cost her.’

8. Your MC makes a discovery. She/he remembers something, or learns something, or figures something out. 'He just knew he had to get back to her. Back to where he belonged.'

9. An urgent demand is made. 'One side of his father's face had sagged and confusion clouded his eyes. He slurred something unintelligible. 'Harry?' Fear skittered up Jamie's spine.'

Inspiration for Gemma (Teresa Palmer)
And for those chapters that don’t end on a cliff-hanger? 

It can be a statement reinforcing the conflict. ‘Maybe he’d choke on his steak. Gemma smiled to herself; if only all her problems were so easily solved.’

Or a summary of the situation. ‘Though a lot remained unspoken, the fact that Jamie had asked her to stay must count for something.’

Or a prediction of what lies ahead. ‘He had his reasons. Reasons that would become obvious as the night wore on.’

By interspersing chapter breaks like these throughout the book, your writing won’t suffer the curse of predictability and at the same time, you’ll keep your readers happily turning those pages and grateful to you for the emotional down-time.

Do you like a book where every chapter ends on a hook? Or do you prefer some emotional down-time with your reading?

Love to Love packing for an overseas trip. Vietnam is next on the holiday agenda.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Love to Laugh at what people might think of my browsing history. Yesterday it was Effects of Male Castration and Welsh Swear Words (for research purposes, honest!)

Love to Learn by attending conferences. The Historical Novel Society of Australasia conference in Melbourne in September looks amazing.

Monday 20 March 2017

Miranda's March Musings About ARRC17

Hello darlings, and I am so thankful for this cooler weather. Didn't you just die in all that heat we had over summer? But I did venture forth over the last weekend in February, to the fabulous Australian Romance Readers Convention 2017.

It was held in blissful comfort at Rydges Melbourne Hotel. Lovely room, super comfy bed (like sleeping on a cloud), great food, excellent company and just so! much! fun! After the Canberra ARRC15, when I drove home with a smile on my face and a car boot full of books and goodies, this time I took two 3kg post bags to post my loot home. And wow, wasn't that a good idea. All the freebies and prize books arrived at my place just a few days later without me having to lug them onto the plane. Fantastic, thanks so much ARRC17.

We kicked the weekend off with a High Tea at Zumbo Cafe, in Richmond. Oh. My. Goodness. This wasn't your traditional High Tea with the gorgeous triple decker plate packed with goodies. This was plate after plate of the most unconventional, unusual, delicious food ever. It looked like works of art and tasted even better. I thought we were going to roll out on a sugar high, but I suspect the food was naturally sweetened with fruit and yogurt and other such yummies. The savoury food was also amazing.

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Fuelled by the High Tea and then welcome drinks in the evening, my Trivia table went on to win the Trivia Night. To be fair, not many of us knew the answers (I know you're shocked by that) and at one stage we were actually coming last, then the plucky Maggie Nash acted out a magical charade we guessed correctly, and bingo! we were in the lead. Our prize? Books, of course. And chocolates. By that stage most of us had eaten our body weight in popcorn and ice cream sundaes, so nobody really minded who won or who lost, it was such a great night. 

Then followed a weekend of bliss: talking books, laughing a lot, reading books, meeting authors and other readers - is there anything nicer? The Awards Night was star-studded and sparkling with bling (with a dazzling Bling-Off Competition, aha). Congratulations to all the award nominees, what fabulous books you gave us. Below is a sample of one of the awards - won by the very lovely Anne Gracie (who blogged for us just two weeks ago here), and who scooped the pool for several awards.

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Photo credit: Helen Constan & ARRC17

The weekend finished with a lovely lunch cruise from Melbourne Docklands. Such a relaxing and pleasant way to enjoy excellent views and commentary from our very novel 'Tramboat' operators, a nice lunch, and time to cement new friendships.

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I cannot imagine what work goes into planning such a weekend. All I can say, fervently, is thank you Australian Romance Readers Association, for a brilliant, wonderful convention. I was in reader heaven, and I look forward to your next fabulous event. Why don't you join me?

What's been your best 'booky' event?

Love from Miranda xx

Love to Love:    Weekends away, talking about books, books, books.

Love to Laugh:  With friends at Trivia, not having a clue about answers but making them up.

Love to Learn:   About new authors, which I certainly did at AARC17.

Monday 13 March 2017

Tales From the Past: Beauty and the Beast

Romance Novels and Fairy Tales Part 1

Many romance novels are based on fairy tales. For example, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre have similar themes to Beauty and the Beast.

Fairy tales date back thousands of years and have similarities across cultures. Some psychologists think fairy tales span time and place because they relate to essential dilemmas we all grapple with, life lessons many of us learn, and basic truths about what it means to be human.

What message lies behind the Beauty and the Beast story?

Josh Gressel argues Beauty and the Beast imparts the essential message, we must learn to love and accept those parts of ourselves we dislike, and experience as “beast-like”. Beauty needs to find what is beautiful in the beast, and the beast needs to accept that his issues are part of him, and to learn to cope with them. Only then can they find true love.

Fairy tales appeal to children and adults because of the essential truths they impart.
Many engaging, well-written, recently published romance novels use a Beauty and the Beast theme.

Some Beauty and the Beast romance novel page-turners

In The Hating Game by Sally Thorne, Lucy comes to realise Josh's sometimes difficult behaviour stems from shyness, and failure to deal with major issues from his past. She falls in love with his caring nature and masculine vulnerability, and can accept his flaws, once she understands him better. Josh must learn to accept his personality in its entirety, and realise he can fall in love, and be loved in return. 

Kate Forsyth writes of Ava's growing understanding of her husband Leo in The Beast's Garden. Her fear of her husband changes to fear for him when the Valkyrie plot fails, he is arrested and sentenced to be executed. This intriguing, page-turner is filled with romance and suspense as the tale of Beauty and the Beast is retold in a Nazi Germany setting.

When Beauty Tamed The Beast by Eloisa James is a delightful, historical novel with a Beauty and the Beast theme. Both hero and heroine must learn to accept the flaws in themselves, and in each other before love can triumph.

What is your favourite Beauty and the Beast romance? What do you think is the central message of the Beauty and the Beast tale?

I love to love:   

Friday night dinners out with my husband are the best part of my week.

I love to laugh:   

Sally Thorne's humour in The Hating Game is the best.

I love to learn:   

I think much of life is about learning and personal growth. Sometimes challenging, often fun.

Monday 6 March 2017

The Truth About Characters by Anne Gracie

Creating Convincing Characters

Sharon asked me about the challenges of creating convincing characters from a particular time period for my historical romances.

The key to this is, I think, audience. My audience is a modern day audience, and they're the ones I have to convince. Whether my Regency-era characters would be convincing to people of that time is another matter.


I don't do masses of research for every book — it depends on the setting and the circumstances in which my story is to take place. But I do read a fair bit of history. My favourite historical research comes from reading diaries and letters written during the time my books are set.

People reveal themselves so wonderfully in personal, not-for-publication writing — attitudes, mores, personality quirks, assumptions about the world — and that influences my writing. And makes my characters more historical, I hope.


Think Of Your Reader

But the truth is, if you make a story too historically authentic, it becomes a little inaccessible to modern-day readers. It's like speech. I studied linguistics many years ago, and we made lots of transcriptions of ordinary people speaking. If any writer used those as dialogue, readers would soon be tossing the book at the wall. Real speech is messy and disjointed and often hard to follow when written down. Dialogue in books is constructed to feel authentic, but in fact it's not. It prunes out the repetition, the meandering, the ums and the ers and the y'knows, and becomes crisp and precise. Which is part of the delight in reading good dialogue.

Historical characters and settings and stories are the same. They have to feel real to modern-day readers, but if you flood the reader with masses of authentic detail it can distract from the story. We want a taste of historical lusciousness, of that different-yet-familiar world, but not the whole confusing plunge-in sensaround experience.


When I come to creating historical characters, I don't see them as all that different from people today — people don't change much — it's how their circumstances, their environment and their society impacts on them that matters. It's those things that help shape their characters.

So to make modern-day audience understand the particular forces that have helped shape my characters, I might show them at different moments in their lives — the moments that helped shape them. We all have those moments — our first encounter with death, or loss, various realizations in our pathway to adulthood.

When readers experience those moments through the eyes or memories of a character, they understand much more about who the characters are and how they have been shaped by their lives. It's one of the things that most fascinates me as a writer — learning why my characters are the way they are, discovering the secrets they have bottled up, and the uncomfortable or painful truths they've been trying to hide from for so much of their lives.


Know Your Characters

I don't think of my characters as people I've "made up." It's more like they're people living in my head, and they're as stubborn and reclusive and difficult as real people are. It's only through putting them on the paper, tossing them into difficult situations and digging deep that I discover their secrets, and it often comes as a surprise to me — an insight like a bolt from the blue. An "Oh, that's why he won't do x or hates y," kind of thing.

It's one of the things I love about writing.

I love to love — love is what makes everything else worthwhile. I love to laugh, which is a good thing, as people and dogs are endlessly funny. I love to learn, because how exciting to know there's always something new to look forward to.