One of my favorite things about writing is chatting craft with other writers.
I do it in person, on the phone, on line, as often and in as much detail as possible.
There's nothing like hashing things out with another person who understands the
joys and frustrations of writing, and the challenge of getting a passage to work
Sometimes we hit it right, sometimes we trip up. And just when we think we've
mastered one element, along comes another one for us to learn.
I'm currently working on my 14th book for Harlequin, and I still struggle to
get the words right. Quite frankly, I hope I'll always struggle to get the words
right. Because that means I'm still learning. Five years since I wrote it, I can
see how to improve my first novel. Five years from now, I'll probably laugh or
cringe at some of the mistakes I'm making now.
But that's what we do. We write the very best story we can with the knowledge
and talent we have at the time. If we continue working hard, that knowledge will
increase and our talent level will rise as we explore new ways to bring characters
to life on the page.
And there's no right and wrong. There's no how-to manual. Actually, there are
about a thousand how-to manuals. But none of them are definitive. No single manual,
workshop or writing course works for all writers. If it did, we'd have a much
saner business. We'd know exactly what to produce, how to produce it, and how
to sell it. But we'd lose so much. We'd lose our diversity, our creativity and
the flat-out thrill of learning that our work speaks to other people in the way
So, embrace the chaos. Learn to love the uncertainty. And enjoy the relationships
and friendships you build with your fellow authors while you learns along the
way. Like me. I'm a fellow author. If I'm a little further down the road than
you, or if you think I might have some insight to share on your next step, send
your question along. Or just send me a quick hello. Let's enjoy the insanity together!
I love your column and hope you'll find time to answer one of my questions. :)
I've been told my story needs more "plot twists" and the ones I do have
are very weak and need to be strengthened. I was wondering if you could explain
in detail what a plot twist is and also give some examples from a few of your
books. I've read almost all of them and am a huge fan of your humor.
Dear Toronto Twister,
A plot twist is anytime something unexpected happens in a story that changes its
fundamental direction. Where the characters and the plot are moving along in a
direction that feels predictable, and then something happens to alter that predictability,
that's a plot twist.
For example, suppose two characters are climbing a mountain in an extreme race
challenge. They are being pursued by other teams of two, all trying to be the
first to get to the top and win some money. The expectation of a reader is that
the challenges faced by the two characters will be the mountain terrain and the
other competitors. If one character fell down a slope or twisted an ankle, or
even if another team sabotaged their gear, this would not come as a huge surprise
to the reader.
However, if our characters discovered a terrorist plane had crashed landed on
the mountain, and the terrorists then stole their climbing gear and their radios,
putting them in jeopardy, this would be a plot twist. It's unexpected, and it
totally changes the direction of the story.
A caveat on this advice, plot twists work best when they're unexpected yet reasonable.
For example, if a reader is expecting our mountain climbing story to be an action
adventure, and suddenly zombies appear in a cave halfway up the mountain, this
is not going to work as a plot twist. It twists the plot, sure, but it also fundamentally
changes the type of story we're writing. And that's not fair to the reader.
A good example of plot twists from one of my novels comes from THUNDERBOLT OVER
TEXAS, which I wrote for Silhouette Desire. In that story, the heroine, a museum
curator, asks the hero to enter into a marriage of convenience so that she can
display an antique brooch that is traditionally presented to the bride of the
eldest son. While trying to convince the hero to go along with her plan, she discovers
the brooch is a fake. The story twists from the heroine asking the hero to help
her, to the two of them trying to find the real brooch. In a second twist, the
heroine discovers the hero's grandmother faked the brooch herself. Now, along
with trying to find the real brooch, the heroine is trying to protect the grandmother's
These plot twists change the direction of the story in an unexpected yet plausible
way. If zombies had stolen the brooch, I suspect I might have had a few upset
readers, not to mention an upset editor.
The key is to get creative, but not too outlandish. Try brainstorming some ideas
with a few writer friends, and see what you come up with for your own stories.
As always, have fun!