Guest Blogger ~ Missy Tippens

Missy Tippens is an award-winning writer and was a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart Contest. She has a story included in Blessings of Mossy Creek, published by BelleBooks. After ten years of pursuing her dream, she made her first sale of a full-length novel to Steeple Hill Love Inspired. Her debut novel, Her Unlikely Family, was a February 2008 release. Her next, His Forever Love, is on the shelves now! It will be followed by A Forever Christmas in November.

Be sure to leave a comment for Missy to be entered in a drawing for her new book, His Forever Love.

I just finished edits on my third book for Steeple Hill Love Inspired and mailed off a proposal for the next. And on each book, I feel as if I’ve learned a bit more about writing category romance. I thought I’d share with you some of what I’ve learned.

But first…some terminology. When I talk about category romance, I’m talking about shorter books that come out monthly and are only on the shelves for one month that are from a publisher like Steeple Hill. (Other examples that aren’t inspirational would be Harlequin Super Romance or Silhouette Special Edition.)

The publisher puts out these books in these lines, and each line has certain characteristics. Some people like to say these stories are formulaic. But I don’t believe that. Rather than A+B+C=D, I think of it more as writing within certain boundaries. And those boundaries are the reader expectations.

So what do readers expect from a category inspirational romance? I’ll share what I consider as I write my stories. And though some will be particular to category, a lot will be the same for most romance novels.

1. A certain size book that can be read in a day or two. (Contemporary Love Inspired books are 55-60,000 words by computer word count.)

2. Flawed characters who have some type of spiritual journey or spiritual growth through the story. You don’t necessarily need a conversion scene, but there should be growth on both characters’ parts.

3. An internal struggle (aka internal conflict) that keeps the hero and heroine from falling in love on page one.

4. Some type of external conflict that forces these two to interact while they’re trying NOT to fall in love.

5. A sweet romance—not too steamy with the physical attraction. No love scenes. Kissing is okay, but they can’t be thinking so much about the physical as they think about the emotional. One thing I learned in an editor workshop that has really stuck with me is that the Love Inspired reader is typically a married, working mom. And she feels guilty when she takes time for herself to read (love that mom guilt!). So she doesn’t want to read stories that make her feel even more guilt.

6. A setting readers can relate to. Most seem to like small towns. They don’t really go for exotic settings.

7. The romance is central. There are usually secondary characters and family relationships, and also the faith journeys, but they can’t overshadow the romance.

8. The story and characters can’t be preachy. They can’t be used to deliver a message about an issue. Refer back to number 7.

9. Personally, I think of category stories (as well as most books I read) as escapism. They transport me away from everyday life into the world of someone else, someone I can relate to, someone I can root for and worry about until…

10. The happy ending!

So what do you think? I’m sure there are things I didn’t think of! Do you have anything you’d like to add regarding category inspirational romance?

If you haven’t read a category romance lately, Missy’s second, His Forever Love, is on the shelves now! Visit Missy’s website for more information.

His Forever Love
by Missy Tippens

In Magnolia, Georgia, local legend says that a couple who holds hands around the “forever” tree will have an unending love. Even so, Bill Wellington held Lindsay Jones’s hands around that tree years ago…and then left her behind. He chose the big city, and now he wants to bring his grandmother there. But to his amazement, he finds that Granny has a boyfriend—and a vibrant life. A life that includes Lindsay, Granny’s caregiver. Bill never thought he’d want to come home, yet Magnolia clearly has its charms. As does Lindsay, who makes him long for a second chance at forever love.

Romance: the Same Old, Same Old?

Born Valentines Day on a naval base, Cheryl Wyatt writes military romance. Her Steeple Hill debuts earned RT Top Picks plus #1 and #4 on eHarlequin’s Top 10 Most-Blogged-About-Books, lists including NYT Bestsellers.

Ane asked me to talk about how to keep the romance from being the same old, same old. How to bring something unique to it.

I think having at least one character in a very noble, very unique and heroic career helps. That’s one thing I do. Another thing that keeps it unique is well-placed humor in proper doses so as not to offset the developing romance or detract from that. Developing that elusive thing called “voice” can set work apart and bring something unique to it. Each author has unique life experiences and relationships with family, friends and community that can enhance a story and thrust it above the norm.

Another thing is to strive to write evocative without being provocative. That’s a real challenge! Having the characters NOT be perfect is key. Yet there’s a balance of keeping them likable/irresistible/endearing/sympathetic and all those other positive attributes that keep readers reading. Sure the character could and should be flawed somehow. But not so much that it’s too much like real life and the reader is buried in angst.

I’ve found that most romance readers prefer more light-hearted stuff. And I myself read for escape and don’t like very heavy stories where a lot of sad stuff happens. So keeping the story real yet upbeat is a nice challenge to have.

But I think the biggest preventative measure for same-old-same-old-itis is to write romance that is outstanding. Romance that stands out makes for a more memorable story. That comes through author voice. Finding subject matter in the plot of the romance that the author is passionate about is key. Stray from cliché is a mantra I write on a lot of contest entries and critiques. Say it better than anyone else in the world. Say it different. Write lines in such a way that whoever’s reading it wishes like crazy they’d been the one to think of it.

Avoid cliché pitfalls. In almost every romance I’ve read in the past ten years, there is a point when the heroine trips and falls (literally) into the hero’s arms. Or (and I’m guilty of this one) using the plot device of having them transferring an object and their fingers brush, eliciting an electric charge. That sort of thing is so common. Find a way to show romantic tension differently than anyone else in the world.

There are many hooks in romance, meaning certain themes that occur often, such as good-girl meets bad-boy, secret baby, marriage of convenience, boss-as-hero, heroine nanny and on and on. There are only so many plots to go around. But the unique spin that each author puts on it is what makes the romance go around.

Another important thing to strive for is to have a strong core of emotion in the romance. Write romance that moves people. Write the kind of heroines, who women want to be and heroes, who women want to be with. Write heroes, who men want to be and heroines, who men want to be with. Write romance with the intent to move the reader. To evoke emotion. I’ve often heard editors say, “If we cry (or laugh), we buy.”

A Soldier’s Reunion

Despite a decade apart, this isn’t the reunion Mandy Manchester expected! She thought she’d put high school sweetheart Nolan Briggs behind her. Now he’s back…and the pararescue jumper literally sweeps her off her feet.

He’s ready and willing to rekindle what they once shared. Mandy, though, isn’t prepared to put her heart at risk. He left her before—she won’t trust him again. Can Nolan teach this grounded girl to take a leap of faith?

Elizabeth Musser on Animating the Inanimate

Elizabeth Musser, a native of Atlanta, Georgia, now living in France, is a novelist who writes what she calls ‘entertainment with a soul.’ Her novels have been acclaimed in the United States and in Europe. For over 20 years, Elizabeth and her husband, Paul, have been involved in mission work with International Teams. They presently live in Lyon, France. The Mussers have two sons. To learn more about Elizabeth and her books, please visit her website and see her YouTube video.

Animating the Inanimate

“The best images come unbidden”—so said my high school English teacher after reading my first novel years ago. While kindly complimenting me on many aspects of the story, he pointed out that at times I ‘beat the reader over the head’ with imagery or symbolism, saying effectively “Don’t ya get it? Isn’t that cool?”

His advice? Trust my readers and let the images spring forth naturally because they belong. I create the story and so involve the reader with her senses that she escapes and becomes part of the story herself. In short, she ‘gets it’ because the story whispers truth to her.

I love that about creating a story—letting images become part of the story. But often the images invoked come from inanimate objects. In novels, many inanimate objects can take on a life of their own and capture the readers’ imagination. Close your eyes and picture Tara in Gone with the Wind, Manderley in Rebecca; the old armoire in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. These places and things conjure up deep emotions within us because they captured us in the story and we ‘got it.’

When I am enmeshed in my story, suddenly an object or a site weaves its way around a character, revealing another layer of the story. Nothing needs to be explained; it’s just there, to be discovered by a careful reader, and enjoyed.

In my novels, I have found many different inanimate objects suddenly taking on a life of their own: an old car, a mountain, a stately manor house, a painting, a town. In one of my novels, I had several characters read a book that does not exist. I have received quite a few letters from readers asking me where they can purchase that book!

Authors often become known for the places they create. Think of the fictional community of Yoknapatawpha County used in several of William Faulkner’s novels or Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon or the town of Mitford in Jan Karon’s series. Why is setting important? It lets readers taste and feel and experience a place.

I have had many book clubs travel to Atlanta, Georgia after having read my novel The Swan House to visit the real Swan House, a lovely mansion, built in the 1920s by a wealthy family, now owned by the Atlanta History Center. These readers come to tour The Swan House and eat lunch in the nearby tea room because they have read about both places in my novels. They want more of the experience.

Once, a student, backpacking her way across Europe, showed up at my home unannounced, practically in tears because all the hotels in town were full. She had taken the train to Montpellier because she fell in love with the city in my novels. She wanted more.

Whether describing an actual place or town or object, or creating it purely from our imagination, we writers can allow the inanimate to speak to our readers. This, of course, requires careful research—either being familiar enough with the place to describe it in an alluring way or ‘knowing’ this fictitious place so well in my mind that it seems real to the reader, so that, when that place decides to intrude in the story and become something more, it does so in a convincing way.

In my new novel, Words Unspoken, I have a scene that takes place at the popular Tennessee tourist attraction, Rock City. I paid for a ticket and stood out in the freezing cold on that high mountain perch for an hour, watching the colors of the sky and valley below as the sun set behind me. Then I went home and described it in three sentences. The excursion took half a day. Was it worth it? I think so and perhaps readers want to visit Rock City and stand at that very spot because the setting came alive for them.

In fact, often an inanimate object actually begs me to become a character in the novel. The Swan House did this for me. In Words Unspoken, Lookout Mountain is hovering over the story, keeping watch like a wise grandfather. Or is it? Sometimes the mountain changes and becomes a daredevil teenager, taking the reader on a wild ride, zigzagging around hairpin turns on a road perched on the side of the mountain. Which is it? An elderly man or a rebellious teen?

A place can grab the reader’s heart and she can become as fond of the setting as the characters.

So how do I personify a place? In all honesty, it happens quite naturally as I do my work of creating strong characters within a realistic setting, combining vivid word pictures with careful research.

Excuse me now. My ‘writing chalet’ (the tool shed where I work) is inviting me for a cup of tea, a brownie and the scent of fresh-cut roses that are widening their smiles on my desk.

Lissa Randall’s future was bright with academic promise until the tragic accident that took her mother’s life—and brought her own plans to a screeching halt. Eighteen months later, she still can’t get back behind the wheel. A casual recommendation to Ev McAllistair’s driving school sets in motion a cascade of events . . . until Lissa begins to wonder if maybe, just maybe, life isn’t as random as she’s thought.

Set against the breathtaking backdrop of Lookout Mountain, TN, Words Unspoken weaves together a vibrant cast of characters whose intertwining stories of courage, choice, heartbreak, and hope will hold you captive until the final page.

Click here for a review of Words Unspoken.

Therapize Your Writing

Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author. Her book, Love Starts With Elle is a RITA finalist. Her next book, Sweet By and By, written with country music star Sara Evans will release this summer. Visit her web site and find her on Twitter.

How To Therapize Your Writing

One of the things we face as writers is improving our craft and learning to discern what works and what doesn’t.

This fall, Susan Warren and I are teaching a Continuing Education class for ACFW called “Become Your Own Book Therapist.”

I thought I’d talk about one way to therapize your own work here on Novel Journey. Is therapize a word? It is now.

After awhile, authors should grow to some level where we can evaluate our own work – like taking the training wheels off the bicycle.

Most of us get stuck. No matter how long we plan or how hard we think things through, we get stuck.

At least I do. Am I alone here? Please tell me I’m not alone.

Here are several things you can do if you find yourself in the middle of a story that seems to have no life or punch, and you’re struggling with where to go next.

1. Go back to the original goal of the story. If you can’t succinctly define it, maybe your goal is too broad. Take some time to fine tune the story goal, whittle it down to a specific sentence.

2. What is the lie your protagonist believes? Are you straying for his or her belief system? Stop to think how your scenes are going. Did she start off afraid of snakes, but is now a snake charmer. Okay, an exaggeration, but you get what I mean. In every story, our characters start off with some kind of belief system and in the middle of the truth, there’s a lie.

The goal of the story is to correct the lie. Make sure the lie is not too broad. I hear this a lot. “She’s mad at God.” Or, “He thinks if he lets her in, he’ll get hurt.”

Great starting points, but why is she mad at God. Why is he afraid of getting hurt.

3. Is he or she too heroic? Like, they can do no wrong and every thing is working out for them? All the conflicts are resolved in the same or sequel scene? Go back to the conflicts, or the scenes where you dropped a story bomb, and stretch it out. Hint at the bomb. Don’t resolve the conflict.

Readers love real, flawed characters who have a heart to overcome.

4. Is your dialog dying? Notice the first sound in dialog is “die.” Bad, flat dialog can kill a scene. Kill a character. Make sure all the good lines are said, not thought.

Here’s what I mean:
“Hey Dan.”
“Hi Fred.” Dan looked like he’d been hitting the gym.
“I heard you were in town.”
“Just moved back.” Fred hated being caught in the middle of a hostile take over, losing his job and moving back home with his mother. He’d never get a date now.

All of Fred’s thoughts give great information. If he says them, then Dan can react and you can move the story forward.

Try to limit “yes,” “no,” “okay” in dialog. Sure, they are necessary at times, but make sure you’re using them to increase tension or for subtexting.

5. Change the point of view. Is the scene feeling slow? Try writing it from another character’s point of view.

I hope these help. Over on MyBookTherapy we’re blogging-a-book and you can see how we’re putting some therapy ideas into place.

Blessings on your writing!