Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Writer's "Cheat Sheets"

Recently I happened across this little gem of a collection of writer's cheat sheets from Michele Albert— and thought I'd share it with you. The sheet consist of quick break downs on:
» Plotting
» Conflict
» Sensuality/Sexuality
» Romance Plots
» Character Archetypes
» Editing
        » 5-Minute Pitch


Polti's 36 Dramatic Situations

•01. Supplication: Persecutor, Suppliant, Authority Figure

•02. Deliverance: Unfortunate, Threatener, Rescuer

•03. Crime Pursued by Vengence: Criminal, Avenger

•04. Vengence taken for Kindred upon Kindred: Avenger, Guilty Remembrance, a Relative of Both

•05. Pursuit: Punishment and Fugitive

•06. Disaster: Vanquished Power, Victorious Enemy, Messenger.

•07. Falling Prey to Cruelty or Misfortune: Unfortunate, Master

•08. Revolt: Tyrant, Conspirator

•09. Daring Enterprise: Bold Leader, Object, Adversary

•10. Abduction: Abductor, the Abducted, Guardian

•11. Enigma: Interrogator, Seeker, Problem

•12. Obtaining: Solicitor, Adversaryor Arbitrat or & Opposing

•13. Enmity of Kinsmen: Malevolent Kinsmen, Reciprocally Hated Kin

•14. Rivalry of Kinsmen: Preferred Kinsman, Rejected Kin, Object

•15. Murderous Adultry: Two Adulterers, Murdered Spouse

•16. Madness: Madman, Victim

•17. Fatal Imprudence: Imprudent, Victim, Object Lost

•18. Involuntary Crimes of Love: Lover, Beloved, Revealer

•19. Slaying of Kinsman Unrecognized: Salyer, Unrecognized Victim

•20. Self-sacrificing for an Ideal: Hero, Ideal, Creditor, Sacrifice

•21. Self-sacrificing for Kindred: Hero, Kinsman, Creditor, Sacrifice

•22. All Sacrificed for Passion: Lover, Object of Pasion, Sacrifice

•23. Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones: Hero, Beloved, Necessity

•24. Rivalry of Superior & Inferior: Superior, Inferior, Object

•25. Adultery: Two Adulterers, Betrayed Spouse

•26. Crimes of Love: Lover, Beloved, Social Norm

•27. Discovery of Dishonor of Beloved: Discovered, Guilty

•28. Obstacles to Love: Two Lovers, Obstacles

•29. An Enemy Loved: Beloved Enemy, Lover, Hater

•30. Ambition: Ambitious Person, Thing Coveted, Adversary

•31. Conflict with (a) God: A Mortal, an Immortal or Holy Principle

•32. Mistaken Jealousy: Jealous, Object, Accomplice, Perpetrator

•33. Erroneous Judgement: Mistaken One, Victim, Cause, Guilty

•34. Remorse: Culprit, Victim or Sin, Interrogator

•35. Recovery of Lost One: Seeker, One Found

•36. Murder of Loved One: Slain Kinsman, Spectator, Executioner.

Five Basic Conflicts (from Polti's 36)

•01. Man against Nature
•02. Man against Man
•03. Man against Society
•04. Man against Himself
•05. Man against Fate

Ronald Tobias' 20 Master Plots

•01. Quest
•02. Adventure
•03. Pursuit
•04. Rescue
•05. Escape
•06. Revenge
•07. The Riddle
•08. Rivalry
•09. Underdog
•10. Temptation
•11. Metamorphosis
•12. Transformation
•13. Maturation
•14. Love
•15. Forbidden Love
•16. Sacrifice
•17. Discovery
•18. Wretched Existence
•19. Ascension
•20. Descension


Essence of Conflict

•Protagonist+Goal+Opposition (Antagonist)=Drama

Devices to heighten suspense(notes from David Freeman workshop)

•An obstacle or enemy interferes with a hard goal

•A enemy or obstacle interferes with a soft goal

•Hero forced to face his emotional fear, limitation, block, or wound

•Unclear motives

•Question of whether a character can pull off a bluff

•The uneasy mix, or "odd couple" situation

•The fish out of water situation

•Presence of ambivalence

•A character forced to make a difficult moral choice

•Mystery or a puzzle to solve

•A reminder of the stakes or increase stakes

•Increase stakes of the character so that this is the only way they can succeed

•Situation is out of control

•A surprise or unexpected disaster

•Foreshadowing (many ways to do this)

•Any scene in which a danger is present

•Any scene that has conflict in it

•Any scene where a seduction occurs, or might occur

•Technique of cutting back and forth between a dangerous scene and one that isn't dangerous

•Draw out a tense moment, i.e., "waiting for the other shoe to drop"

•Resolution of a tense moment


Desmond Morris' 12 Steps to Intimacy

•01. Eye to body

•02. Eye to eye

•03. Voice to voice

•04. Hand to hand

•05. Arm to shoulder

•06. Arm to waist

•07. Mouth to mouth

•08. Hand to head

•09. Hand to body

•10. Mouth to breast

•11. Hand to genitals

•12. Genitals to genitals


(from Patricia Ryan's "Pat's Premises: Popular Plots, Conflicts and Elements in Romance Novels," Romance Writers' Report, 17(4), April 1997)

Enforced Intimacy

•Marriage of convenience
•Hero as protector
•Arranged or forced marriage
•Pretend marriage or relationship
•Stranded together on an island
•Matchmaker contrives to throw lovers together
•Must share office or home

Love Conquers All

•The healing power of love
•Redemption through love

One Lover Rehabilitates or Cures the Other

•Physical disabilities
•Emotional problems
•Mental illness

Emotional Baggage or Internal Forces Keep Lovers Apart

•Inability to trust, especially opposite sex
•Fear of commitment
•"I am a rock;" emotional detachment
•Some past incident, e.g., abuse, has left emotional scars
•Lover blames other for some hurt to self or loved one
•Lover harbors a secret that threatens love
•Lover must find self or solve problem before committing
•One lover has lied to other about something important
•Lover can't forgive other for some flaw
•Fear of abandonment
•Sense of unworthiness
•Feeling that one doesn't belong or fit

The Lovers' Differences Keep Them Apart

•Lovers from different social, religious or ethnic worlds
•A difference of opinion on critical matter
•Bad boy, good girl; or vice versa
•Lovers have opposing loyalties
•Lovers are business competitors
•Lovers personalities are too different
•A large age difference
•Unrequited love

The Lovers' Similarities Keep Them Apart

•Lovers engage in a battle of wills
•Lovers share goal, but only once can achieve it

Babies and Children

•Secret baby
•Arranged pregnancy
•Accidental pregnancy
•Reunited with child given up for adoption
•Child play matchmaker or otherwise brings lovers together
•Child lost or threatened
•Heroine plays nanny

Comedy of Errors

•Heroine pretends to be male
•Mistaken identity

Evolving Relationships

•Platonic friends fall in love
•Ex-sweethearts are reunited
•Divorced spouses rediscover their love

Mythic or Fairy Tale Elements

•Kidnapping (Persephone)
•Taming of the savage male (Beauty and the Beast)
•Transformation (Pygmalion)
•Rags to Riches (Cinderella)
•Awakening, emotional rebirth (Sleeping Beauty)


(From "Heroes and Heroines: 16 Master Archetypes," by Caro LeFever, Tami Cowden, & Sue Viders.) Beyond Alpha: The Eight Male Archetypes (more info at Romance Central workshops)

•The Chief - The quintessential "alpha" male: tough, decisive, and goal-oriented

•The Bad Boy - Dangerous, but fascinating: charismatic and street smart, hates rules and regulations

•The Best Friend - The "beta" hero: kind, decent, and responsible

•The Charmer - The quintessential smooth operator: Fun, irresistible, and often unreliable

•The Lost Soul - The "theta" hero: Tortured and secretive, he's got a vulnerable heart and discerning eyes

•The Professor - Logical, introverted and inflexible, but also genuine in feelings, extremely faithful and honest

•The Swashbuckler - The Man on the Go: Action and adventure is his motto; he's physical, daring, mercurial

•The Warrior - The "delta" hero: The reluctant rescuer; dark and dangerous, driven and remote

Beyond Cinderella: The Eight Female Archetypes (more info at Romance Central workshops)

•The Boss - The "Take Charge" woman: outspoken and persuasive, confident and competitive

•The Seductress - "I Will Survive" woman: mysterious and manipulative, distrusting and cynical

•The Spunky Kid - Spirited and loyal, reliable and supportive, more of a "tomboy"

•The Free Spirit - Genuine and fun-loving, impulsive, an "original"

•The Waif - Classic "damsel in distress": Child-like innocence, naive and docile, she endures

•The Librarian - Conscientious, orderly, bright; she leads with her brain, not her looks

•The Crusader - A woman on a mission: tenacious, headstrong, courageous

•The Nurturer - Altruistic to a fault; calm, optimisic, a listener, pleasant, takes care of everyone


After the final draft, edit using the "find" function for the words on the following list. Next, read the sentence containing the offender, and either correct it or leave it be, depending. They are all valid words, if used in moderation, but are prone to misuse, overuse and abuse.

"Fine Tooth Comb and Red Flags and Snags"

•and - but (can indicate run-on sentences)
•that (unnecessary in most sentences)
•that (when you mean "who")
•nearly - almost
•seem - appear
•felt - feel
•begin - began
•would - should - could
•"ly" adverbs
•down - up (as in sit down, stand up - can be redundant)
•got - get

Look for passive use

•it - is
•to be
•there is
•there are
•there was
•there were

(My thanks to Lynda Hales for compiling this list and graciously allowing me to share it!)


(by Michelle Jerott, from Wisconsin RWA's The Write Touch Newsletter, April/May 2000)

If the thought of an editor/agent appointment at the conference has you chowing down Tums, relax! It doesn't have to be an ordeal. When pitching an idea, keep it simple and keep it focused on the romance--don't bog yourself down with unnecessary back story, secondary characters, or subplots. All the editor wants to know is if you have a good grasp of your main characters, a balance of internal/external conflict, and the story's marketing angle ("hook.") Five to ten minutes is plenty of time, so speak slowly and carefully, maintain eye contact, and allow time for questions.

If I were going to pitch my latest book, A GREAT CATCH, I'd say something like this:

"After years of working her way upward in the male-dominated maritime world of Great Lakes shipping, Tessa Jardine lands her dream job as First Mate on the passenger ship SS TALIESEN--a dream job until she meets her captain, Lucas Hall. Ten years ago, Lucas broke her young heart when he walked away from her without a word of farewell, and she can't forgive him for that--or for his more recent part in a failed rescue attempt that cost her younger brother his life. Now Lucas, the ex-Coast Guard hero, is back to complicate her life. Working together day after day, Lucas and Tessa discover the attraction between them is still hot and heavy--but can Tessa forgive Lucas, or ever learn to trust him again? And what will Lucas have to do to win back her love?"

This brief paragraph introduces the main characters, given enough back story to provide motivation, shows the basic balance of external and internal conflict, focuses on the romance, and tells the editor it's a reunion story.

Hope this helps, and good luck pitching your book!

The easiest way to create a summary paragraph like the above is to take a formula adapted from Dwight Swain: Situation, Character, Conflict, Opponent, and Disaster. To show you what I mean, here's the paragraph I wrote broken down according to Swain's equation:


After years of working her way upward in the male-dominated maritime world of Great Lakes shipping


Tessa Jardine


lands her dream job as First Mate on the passenger ship SS TALIESEN--a dream job until she meets her captain, Lucas Hall. Ten years ago, Lucas broke her young heart when he walked away from her without a word of farewell, and she can't forgive him for that--or for his more recent part in a failed rescue attempt that cost her younger brother his life.


Now Lucas, the ex-Coast Guard hero,


is back to complicate her life. Working together day after day, Lucas and Tessa discover the attraction between them is still hot and heavy--but can Tessa forgive Lucas, or ever learn to trust him again? And what will Lucas have to do to win back her love?

That's it! Not too painful, really...

Credit Info

You're welcome to share this resource with others, but please keep my information intact. The direct URL for this page is:

Michele Albert writes for Pocket. Her most recent books are HER LAST CHANCE, TOUGH ENOUGH, HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT, ONE WAY OUT, OFF LIMITS, and GETTING HER MAN. She also wrote four books as Michelle Jerott: HER BODYGUARD, A GREAT CATCH, ALL NIGHT LONG, and ABSOLUTE TROUBLE, which won the 1997 RWA Golden Heart Award for best single title contemporary romance. Michele is currently working on her next book. Please visit for more information.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Heroes in the Making

Every Friday Morning my youngest, Megyn, goes swimming with her school. Since her treatment makes her tired and her legs hurt, I get to drive her to the swimming pool, then back to school.

The class has only been attending swimming lessons for a handful of weeks and I'm happy to say Meg has come a long way. At the beginning, she wasn't very confident. And most certainly didn't like putting her face under the water.

If you've watched you little ones learning to swim you may have notice the couch spends a little while throwing weighted rings into the water then encourage the children to dive underwater to collect the rings from the pool floor. 

It was while I was watching this part of the lesson a couple of weeks ago that I noticed something so sweet and heart-warming it melted me. One of Meggie's classmates, a cute little boy, noticed she was hesitating to duck beneath the water's surface. I could see him gazing at her while she surreptitiously maneuvered so she could pick up the ring with her toes.

The part that really touched me was: the instant the couch turned her back the little boy dove down, collected a couple of rings and handed one to Meg!

Isn't that just the sweetest thing? Great future hero potential, wouldn't you say?

I don't know whether you agree, but that made me think all isn't lost with this world of ours just yet! So what about you? Have you encountered any little heroes in the making lately?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Writing with Emotional Depth

Using the senses can add emotional depth to romance writing. Most writers include sight in description. Unfortunately, they often forget the other senses can greatly enhanced story depth, emotion and tone. I know many writers speak of several more senses, but I’m focusing on the five senses here. By using all of the senses—hear, see, smell, taste, and, touch—throughout the story, we draw the reader in so she experiences the characters’ emotions which connects her to the story you are telling. Without emotion, stories are unexciting, lifeless and leave the reader cold. This will surely result in rejection since your first real reader will probably be the editor for the publisher you wish to contract your story.

Say it with me: emotion is the spark that lights the firewood of your story and draws the reader in. And strong emotions/feelings capture the reader’s attention and keeps her hooked because it adds reality to your story. Emotion is by no means all you need to keep your reader hooked, but this is what we’re speaking about at the moment, so I’ll stay on topic.

If you can weave good human emotions into your fiction, you will form connections with the reader and she'll invest her heart in your story. We all experience emotion, even the hard, ruthless alpha hero who has been hurt so badly he thinks he’s buried his emotions so deep he no longer has any.

I don't mind telling you I'm an extremely emotional person. In fact, I’ll freely admit I live on my emotions. I laugh at things most people find not very funny (if someone fall over, I might very well wet myself! There’s just something about taking a spill that tickles me hugely) and I cry at things as simply as the beauty of nature.

Emotions affect all of us in many ways, both psychologically and physiologically. We couldn’t function without emotions, so why do we think our characters can? They must have moods as we do—personalities and temperaments.  They must have feelings about the things they see, hear, touch, taste and smell.

I’m not suggesting you overload each paragraph with all five senses, merely to use them throughout the story to add depth. Each of the five senses, when used within relevant scenes will allow the writer to show the reader the story as oppose to telling her what’s happening.

Just remember to arouse all of your character’s senses and you’ll do the same with your reader. It will result in a story that is significant and satisfying. Your reader will be fully invested in your story because she was able to connect with your hero and heroine, feel as if she was right there experiencing their experiences and she'll want them to have that happy-ever-after.

So the next time you sit to write a scene, try to use as many of the senses as you can to describe your scene and add emotional depth.