Lessons From Downton Abbey

Is anyone here as hooked as I am on Downton Abbey? I know. Stupid question. Everyone’s talking about it. From the gowns, to the despicable Thomas, to the will-he-or-won’t-she’s…this is one show that’s got something for everyone. Why? Because Downton Abbey nails stunning settings, memorable characters, and pivotal plotlines. So besides drooling with envy, I did what every self-respectable writer would do. I dissected it and came up with a few tips that can benefit every wannabe blockbuster author. STUNNING SETTINGS
There are two words that describe the setting of Downton Abbey: eye candy. The main thing this series excels at is detail. When you watch an episode of the show, it’s like a time warp. Do that with your writing. How?Make it a point to highlight an object, but make sure to tie the object in directly to the action or emotion of the characters. For example, Matthew’s pocket watch. When he pulls it out and stares at it intently, you just know something’s going to happen soon. The object is used as foreshadowing. This detail ups the tension in the scene. Choose with intent what your reader sees, but don’t overdo it. Of course there were piles of dirty dishes whenever Mrs. Patmore and Daisy finished preparing a meal, but did we ever see the disaster? Mostly we saw a bit of flour on the table or a smudge on cook’s face, which was enough to get the point across that these women worked hard. Use lighting to your advantage. You’re not a cinematographer. I hear you. But think about it. It wouldn’t have been nearly as creepy or desperate had Mr. Pamuk’s body been toted off to his own bedroom in broad daylight. Consciously use time of day as part of your story. Downton Abbey is simply a stage, just like your setting is the stage for your story. Treat it with as much care and respect as you would one of your characters, and speaking of which… MEMORABLE CHARACTERS Everyone’s got his or her favorite characters in Downton Abbey…but why? What makes us so attracted to these fictional people? DepthGreat characters have lots of layers. Lady Mary is a prime example. Every now and then we get a peek at the great insecurity she feels, which is often made up for in careless arrogance. Interesting combo. Foreshadowing A character’s outside appearance hints at their insides. O’Brien looks like a shrew on the outside and guess what…she is. Complexity Characters that aren’t overly serious all the time, such as Mr. Carson, make them three-dimensional—and wholly relatable. Imperfection I know. Seems like you’d want your hero to be all that and a bag of chips, but guess what? Those are the kind of characters we usually want to slap. Matthew Crawley is a great guy, but he’s a little too slow to take charge in some situations. Astonishing Memorable characters are surprising. I never know what’s going to come out of Violet Crawley’s mouth. Oh, I like to think I know, but often it’s not what I expect.Secretive A hidden past is a great idea. But don’t tell it all at once. Toss out tidbits every now and then. Hint at it, even. Who honestly didn’t wonder about Mr. Bates’ past? Zealous A compelling character often has a cause they are passionate about, usually one that involves justice. Lady Sybil Crawley cares about politics, women’s rights specifically, which pretty much endears her to every female on the planet. The bottom line is that a great character has to be relatable. That’s what Downton Abbey has going for it. At times everyone is as despicable as Thomas or sweet as Anna. Consider that when crafting your next set of characters. PIVOTAL PLOTLINES From Pamuk’s death to…well, I suppose I shouldn’t give any spoilers in case you’ve not seen all of the second season yet. Let’s just say from start to finish, Downton Abbey keeps the action moving right along. Here’s how… Start out with a bang. Downton Abbey begins with the sinking of the Titanic and takes off from there. Where does your story start? More often than not, think of your first few chapters as a warm-up and be willing to toss them aside. Your opening scenes have to grab the reader by the throat and/or the heart. Do the unexpected.Who’d have known Bates was married? Not me. Predictability is a deal breaker for most readers. As you’re writing, try throwing in a completely random line of dialogue from a secondary character. Or have your hero find a brow-raising object in a drawer. Mix it up. If you don’t surprise yourself as the author, how do you think your reader will feel?End each chapter with a cliffhanger. Who didn’t wonder which family members would die from the flu epidemic? That was a for-sure-gotta-see-the-next-episode kind of ending. Do that with each of your chapters and your reader will have no choice but to finish your book. And remember, cliffhangers don’t always have to be physical danger. Emotional works just as well. Subplots rock. I admit it…I care every bit as much about Bates & Anna as I do for Matthew & Mary. Why? Because the writers of Downton Abbey wove their story throughout the main Crawley saga. And they did it by leap-frogging…tossing out an enticing scene that focused on Lady Mary, then cut to one about Bates & Anna, and switched back to Mary & Matthew. Great technique. Create extra tension with consequences.

So yeah, having a Turk die in Mary’s bed was pretty intense, but when her sister found out and wrote to the Turkish embassy, that certainly upped the consequences…like potential ruination for Mary. Don’t just keep cranking out tense situation after tense situation. Use the scenes you’ve already created to increase the drama by playing out their logical consequences to the Nth degree. There you have it. Incorporate stunning settings, pivotal plotlines, and memorable characters into your own story, and you just might have the next Downton Abbey on your hands.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas…professionally, however, for the past 10 years. UNDERCURRENT is her latest release, a timeless tale of honor and sacrifice, and is available by Risen Books or Amazon. You can find Michelle at her website, Writer Off the Leash, or on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

Meet Debut Novelist Peg Phifer

Peggy Blann Phifer is an author and columnist, book reviewer and interviewer, and all-around awesome gal. She is also an avid reader who loves to escape by diving between the covers of a good book. And speaking of books…her debut novel TO SEE THE SUN just came out in January. Read on to find out about Peg, purple, and prose.

So Peg…what’s up with all the purple?

Ha! You picked up on that, huh? Purple has long been one of my favorite colors, along with red and blue. Think about it: mix red and blue and you get . . . purple! It wasn’t until I reached my seventh decade that I decided to do something about it. You know, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple with a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me . . .” (Jenny Joseph)

I’ve long been a non-conformist, refusing to bow to the dictates of fashion or the ‘fad de jure.’ It didn’t make me popular, but it made me . . . me.
Next, purple is the color of royalty. I could stretch things a bit and say I’m entitled to wear purple since I’m a “Stuart” descendant . . . you know, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland and France . . . the one beheaded by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Bonnie Prince Charlie and all that. If I’d lived in that day, I’d have been a Jacobite. I think. White roses and all.
Whoops, sorry I forgot to curtsey. Before you go taking off my head, who are some of your favorite authors and why?

That’s really tough, because they vary by genre, as you’ll understand when you see the list. 
     · Brandilyn Collins because she writes spine-tingling suspense like no other.
     · Steven James because he writes tough suspense but mixes in with personal relationships.
     · Deborah Raney because she allows me to escape from the heaviness of suspense writing (and, reading) and totally captivates me.
     · James A. Michener because of his impeccable, detailed research. Some think his writing ponderous, but I disagree.
     · Emilie Loring. She was of the Grace Livingston Hill era, but Emilie is the one who most influenced my writing. Part romance, part intrigue or suspense, not sure what it was called back then, but I devoured every book she wrote. I think her books, alone, set the tone for my writing. I wanted to write like her. Not sure I accomplished it, but I tried.
TO SEE THE SUN is your debut novel. Tell us a tale related to the writing of it.

I tried to follow the mantra: Write What You Know. It failed me over and over. I originally set the story in a past familiar area, only I didn’t take into account that it had been thirty years since I’d been there. Milwaukee, northern Wisconsin . . . it wasn’t coming together. For a contemporary novel, nothing fit. It wasn’t until I moved my story to southern Nevada, specifically, Las Vegas, that it began to click. After that, the ride was fun.
How much of you is there in your heroine, Erin Macintyre?

Very little, with the exception of a sense of humor, and, maybe, the vulnerability. Erin is everything I wish I was. Can anybody relate?
Use your sweet writing skills to describe when you first held your debut novel in your sweaty palms.

Oh, man! I’m not sure I can. I received the proof copy first. When I opened the envelope and saw the book . . . the REAL book . . . even though it wasn’t fully edited . . . I lost it. This isn’t happening! After all these years, I can’t believe I have a real book, with MY name on it! But when I received the box of the finished product . . .
Even now, as I think about it, I’m all squinched up with tingles and tears. I wrote a book and it’s in print!
That is pretty exciting, and the storyline for TO SEE THE SUN is even more exciting…

Pregnant and widowed hadn’t been part of her “happily ever after” dream. And now, someone was trying to kill her . . .
Erin Macintyre never expected to be a widow and a new mother in the same year, anymore than she expected mysterious notes, threatening phone calls, and a strange homeless man who seems to know all about her. The thought of raising a child without a father is daunting enough—worse when you have no idea who might want to harm you. Put an old flame into the mix, and her life begins a tailspin into a world she never knew existed.
When P.I. Clay Buchanan, stumbles upon Erin at her husband’s gravesite, he’s totally unprepared for her advanced pregnancy. Her venomous reaction at seeing him, however, was predictable. But Clay can’t let her distrust, or his guilt, get in the way—not when he has evidence that proves Erin’s life is in danger.
With few options left, Erin begrudgingly accepts Clay’s help . . . and it just might be her undoing.
Read the first chapter here.
Thanks for stopping by for a visit on Novel Rocket. If anyone’s interested in finding out more about Peg, she can be found at:

Contact her at her website 
Visit her blog “Whispers in Purple” 
Or find her on Facebook or Twitter

Vlogging 101

Since I’ve started vlogging once a week, I’ve gotten a fair amount of question bones tossed my way. Like what is it? Why do it? Isn’t it scary to have your face out there for all to see?
Here’s a quick tutorial and reasons why you should give vlogging a whirl.
What Vlogging Is
Video + Blog = Vlog. It’s that simple. Instead of typing out a blog entry, you simply speak it into a camera. Doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, I wouldn’t know how to edit if you paid me. I use photo booth and do a vlog entry in one shot. If you want to get fancier, though, you can use things like Microsoft Movie Maker or Apple iMovie to add all kinds of fun effects to your video.
Why You Should Vlog

It’s a great way to spice up your usual blog posts. It adds a little variety. Personally, I choose to post humorous vlogs, but you could make them “how to’s” or even use them for interviews.
The other benefit I’ve noticed is that it bumps up the hits on my blog. If you’re looking for a way to increase your blog traffic, vlogging is an easy way to jack up your numbers.
Vlogging is a great way to show your readers the human side of you. Your facial expressions, your inflections and intonations, are seen instead of imagined.
And don’t forget, by vlogging, you’ll stand out from the everyday Joe-Schmo blogger who uses text only.
It’s Not As Scary As It Seems

I’m not going to lie. The first time…let’s just say your knees will knock a fair amount, but after that, it’s a piece of cake. If it creeps you out to see your mug up on the screen, then here’s a little tip. Just post it. Don’t watch it.
So give it a try. It’s worth the experience even if you decide not to continue with the vlogging adventure. If you’d like to see my latest vlog entry, check out Writer Off the Leash.

Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas…professionally, however, for the past 10 years. Her latest release, UNDERCURRENT, is a tale of honor and sacrifice.

You can find Michelle at: Writer Off the Leash, www.mmgriep.com or on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.

Amish Zombies Ate My Baby

Not really, but sure grabbed your attention, eh? And that’s exactly the point of this post. Calm down. I hear you. You’re a novel writer, not a journalist. Why should you care about catchy headlines? Isn’t that just a lame gimmick better left to the National Enquirer? Actually…no.Mastering the art of grabbing the reader’s attention is a valuable skill every writer should hone. In case you haven’t noticed, the written word is exploding from one end of the spectrum to another, from e-books to self-published hard copies to blogs. Getting your work to stand out from the crowd is more important than ever. Which begs the question: How does one grab a reader by the throat? There are many ways, but here are a few to toss into your writerly toolbox: Shock and Awe This is one of the tactics I employed with my blog post title. Think controversial. Think stunning. Think outside the box. This method is most often used by rabble-rousers who get a secret thrill out of rattling cages. Warm Fuzzies If you start off with something everyone can relate to on an emotional level, you’ll draw in the human side of the reader. It’s a pull that’s hard to resist. In my example, I tossed in the word babies. Emotions are what set us apart from the rest of the mammals. Well, that and opposable thumbs. Trendy Tidbit The ol’ People magazine approach, naming what’s hip or what’s not. Naturally this works better for contemporaries than historicals…but not always. Amish is a buzzword right now, which is why I chose it for my post title. Opposites Attract Jumbo shrimp. Government intelligence. Amish zombies. Put two incongruous words together, and if they’re not cliché, people will sit up and take notice. Now then, where to employ these attention grabbing strategies? Obviously your entire manuscript can’t be outrageously intense. You’d burn out your brain and your reader would be gasping for air. But there are certain key areas that require some eye-popping fancy footwork. These are: – The first sentence of a book…better yet, make that the first sentence of every chapter. – The last sentence of every chapter. Force your reader to find out what will happen next. – Back cover copy. Often this is where you reel ‘em in or break the deal. – The one-liner that sums up your entire novel. So go ahead. Give this a whirl. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd, especially when it comes to your writing.Hopefully you’ll attract the attention of an editor, not an zombie.
Michelle Griep’s been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas…professionaly, however, for the past 10 years. Her latest release, UNDERCURRENT, is available by Risen Books.You can find Michelle at: Writer Off the Leash, www.mmgriep.com or on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest.