Monday, November 5, 2012

Use the News! Mining Current Events for Plot and Character Ideas: Lois Winston

Welcome back to our 
totally FREE Lecture Series
featuring Bestselling Authors
here at Bestsellerology!

Our next lecture is from writer and agent, Lois Winston. My former sister writer pal for "thy scandalous publisher who shall not be named" and author of the quirky crafting mystery series is here to share her "Use the News!" model for getting great character and plot ideas.  Here's her secret...

Use the News!  Mining Current Events for Plot and Character Ideas

Confession: I’m a news junkie. Why? Because that old adage Truth is stranger than fiction really is true. That belief is reaffirmed every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news. And from all that truth you can mine a wealth of ideas for plots, subplots, main characters, and secondary characters.

Newspapers are incredibly cheap research resources. I prefer newspapers over the nightly news because the newspaper has the luxury of going into greater detail about a story. Ninety second news bites can only give the broad picture of a newsworthy event. Often it’s the nuances not told on the evening news that will trigger a brainstorm. And I prefer a print version of the newspaper to an online version because the online version doesn’t always contain everything found in the print version.

But what if you don’t write suspense or thrillers? How are news articles going to help you? Although many news stories on the surface seem like they’d only be the catalyst for a suspense, thriller, or mystery, most – if not all – can actually be used as a spring board for all fiction genres, including historical fiction. A week doesn’t go by without a newspaper article about a new archeological discovery or historical find. There are plenty of magazines devoted to history and plenty more that include articles about history. Even automotive magazines that specialize in articles about antique cars can be source material.

Besides news articles, don’t overlook the human interest stories, editorials, and op-ed columns of the newspaper for generating ideas. You can find a wealth of plots and characters in every section of the newspaper and between the covers of any magazine.

When you come across these articles and stories, save them in an “Ideas” file. When you get stuck, pull out your file and read through it. Most likely, you’ll find something that will trigger your creative juices and help you get “unstuck.”

Advice columns are another wonderful source of inspiration. There are the more famous ones, such as Dear Abby, as well as the lesser known columnists who answer questions about finance, ethics, and medicine. These can all be great triggers for ideas.

And then there are the ads. Use Madison Avenue to your advantage. Several years ago I found myself in a doctor’s waiting room, and I’d forgotten to bring a book with me. The few magazines on the coffee table were several years old and totally not of interest to me. Out of desperation I began flipping through the pages of Road & Track. I am so not a Road & Track sort of girl, so you can imagine how desperate I must have been! Here I was flipping pages when I came across an ad touting an aftershave guaranteed to increase sexual attractiveness ten-fold. You better believe I ripped out that ad and filed it away in my “Ideas” file. I later used it in a scene in Four Uncles and a Wedding, one of my Emma Carlyle books.

Finally, once you’ve found some interesting articles you’d like to incorporate into a story, apply the “what if” principle to give them your own unique twist. You can do this for an overall plot, subplots, character development, or even as a way to tighten the sagging middle of your work-in-progress.

Award-winning author Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series featuring magazine crafts editor and reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Kirkus Reviews dubbed it, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” Death By Killer Mop Doll was released this past January. Revenge of the Crafty Corpse will be a January 2013 release.

Lois is also published in women’s fiction, romance, romantic suspense, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. In addition, she’s an award-winning crafts and needlework designer and an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency. Visit Lois at, visit Emma at, and visit Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers character blog,

Thanks to Lois for her interesting sources for research.  I'll never look at an issue of Road & Track the same again.  Wonder where I put my issue of Car & Driver? ;-) While you're here folks, be sure to register for our January Writing Resolutions Workshop here at Bestsellerology.  And come back on November 15th for our next FREE lecture from bestselling author Allison Brennan: "The Villain's Journey: Part One".

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Building a Plot, One Step at a Time: Suzanne Johnson

Welcome back to our 
totally FREE Lecture Series
featuring Bestselling Authors
here at Bestsellerology!

Our next lecture is from the multi-talented and forever busy Suzanne Johnson. My southern sister in paranormal romance and urban fantasy is here to share her plotting tips.  Here's her secret...

Building a Plot, One Step at a Time

A confession up front: I’m a plotter. I wrote one novel using the “pantser” method a couple of years ago, and ended up spending three months writing the book and nine months revising it. So pantsing, for me, takes too much time in the long run. I’d rather plan up front and spend less time cleaning up on the back end.

But don’t tune out the channel yet, you pantsers. I’m not one of those people who plans every sneeze, every conversation, or even every means of getting from A to B. That strangles the creative process. My middle ground is a system of what I call Relationship Arcs. Before I ever start writing, I make sure I have six things: the Big Idea, the Genre/Format, the Stars, the Supporting Cast; the POV Plan; and the Relationship Arcs. 

If you can pin down those six elements, you’ll have a rough working outline that will keep your book on course. It has allowed me to write three full-length novels this year, plus two novelettes, while running a daily book blog and—oh yeah—holding down a full-time day job. 

Let’s break down each of these five elements, which apply regardless of the genre in which you’re writing.

The Big Idea: This is the kernel of idea—the “what if”—around which your book’s characters and events will revolve. If you nail this down first, the rest will be much, much easier.

For example, in my urban fantasy series that begins with Royal Street, the big idea is this: What if, in addition to tearing down the physical levees around New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina also destroyed the metaphysical levees, unleashing a flood of preternaturals from the world beyond?

In my Penton Legacy paranormal romance series that begins with Redemption (written under the name Susannah Sandlin), the Big Idea is this: What if a vaccine developed to treat a pandemic makes the blood of any vaccinated human deadly to vampires? What might a vampire apocalypse look like?

To use a popular paranormal romance series, take JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. Her Big Idea might look something like this: What if you had a dying race of vampires whose continued existence relied on a band of damaged vampire warriors, at war with a soul-dead army of beings determined to wipe them out?

Once you have the Big Idea, it’s easier to see where your conflicts occur, how they need to escalate, and who might be involved in those conflicts.

The Genre/Format: This seems simple, but stating this intention early tells you, before you start writing, what you want your book to be, how long it should be, and roughly how many chapters or scenes you need.

A novel for adults is generally 80,000 words or more, but there are also novellas, novelettes and, of course short stories. Are you writing adult urban fantasy (about 90,000), epic fantasy (up to 110,000), or a contemporary YA (about 70,000)? 

In terms of scenes, how many words do your scenes normally run? I’ve learned that my scenes are going to average about 2,000 words. If each scene is a chapter, then I’m going to need about 48 chapters to make up my book. Having that magic number of 48 helps me figure out where my turning points need to be.

The Stars: These are the characters to whom you plan to devote the most page time. Make a list of them and start a dossier of their backstory, traits, etc. They might or might not be your POV (point of view--who tells the story to the reader) characters. In a romance, there are usually two Stars—the hero and heroine, and often they are POV characters. In romantic suspense, there are sometimes three Stars—the hero, the heroine, and the villain. Sometimes the villain gets a POV role, but not always. An urban fantasy or mystery might have only one Star.

The Supporting Cast: These are the secondary characters who get a decent amount of page time and help move the plot. Make another list and a short dossier. They are family members, good friends, bosses. These characters have names (as opposed to what I call Furniture, which might be the guy who delivers the pizza to the heroine’s house and has a few lines of dialogue). A pet can be a member of the supporting cast if it gets enough page time or has a key role.

The POV Plan: At this point, you need to commit to who your point-of-view character(s) will be. My urban fantasy series has one POV character and is written in first person. My paranormal romance series has from five to seven POV characters per book, with a different hero and heroine.

Many romances will have two POVs, the hero’s and the heroine’s. A romantic suspense might or might not have a POV role for the villain. It’s obvious that plotting a one-POV book will be a different process than plotting a book with five or six POVs. You have to know this ahead of time to avoid time-consuming backtracking or, in a multiple-POV book, having the same character POV two or three chapters in a row. They need to rotate.

The Relationship Arcs: This is the heart of my plotting system. I take each Star, and define his or her relationship to every other Star and Supporting Cast member by listing their relationship at the beginning of the book (A) and at the end of the book (E). Then I can come up with two or three plot points between beginning and end to move their relationship from A to E. 

This ensures their growth. To use the Black Dagger Brotherhood’s first book, Dark Lover, as an example: When the book begins (A), Wrath knows of Beth only because her father has asked Wrath’s help in his daughter’s transition. At the end (E), Wrath and Beth are married. In between, Wrath releases his unloved current wife, he confronts Beth and tells her the truth, he helps her through her transition, and she nurses him back to health after an attack, winning over the other brothers. Four steps between A and E.

Once I do those relationship arcs for all of my Stars, I can extend it to look at the relationships between my Supporting Cast members. Those will often form the subplots or, in a romance series where the Stars change from book to book, will lay the groundwork for the next book in the series.

Does this plotting system mean a lot of list-making? Sure. But I guarantee if you’ll spend a few hours at the beginning of a new project going through this process, your story will take fewer wrong turns and will flow like the wind!

Urban fantasy author Suzanne Johnson grew up in rural Northwest Alabama, halfway between the Bear Bryant Museum and Elvis' birthplace. That, plus living in New Orleans for fifteen years, has give her a highly refined sense of the absurd and an ingrained love of SEC football and fried gator on a stick. Her Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series kicked off in April with the release of Royal Street by Tor Books (UK release is Sept. 27). Book two, River Road, will be released on November 13. Under the pen name of Susannah Sandlin, she also writes the Penton Legacy dark paranormal romance series for Montlake Romance. The first book in the series, Redemption, was released in June; book two, Absolution, will be released on October 9. Suzanne lives in Auburn, Alabama, with two dogs named after professional wrestlers. Don’t ask.  Check out Suzanne here: and here

Thanks to Suzanne for her great advice and my fave word of the day:  "dossier".  I'm feeling a little "spyworthy" right now! Be sure to register for our January Writing Resolutions Workshop here at Bestsellerology while you're here.  And come back on October 15th for our next FREE lecture from bestselling author Barbara Monajem: "Writing Short Stories & Novellas".


Friday, September 14, 2012

Workshop: Breathing Life into Your New Year’s Resolutions

Class Begins January 3, 2013
Register Now!
(Click PayPal link at right to register)

Breathing Life into Your New Year’s Resolutions
A Workshop by Editor MM Pollard
January 3rd through 16th 
(via private Yahoo Group: invitation sent prior to class start date) 

Course Description:
Writers don’t need a workshop on setting goals. Writers’ goals are simple – They want to…

write a novel,
finish their manuscript,
find an agent,
contract with a reputable publisher,
publish their story,


the end of 2013,
the baby is born,
the family has to move again,
their current job drives them bonkers,
they die.

This workshop isn’t about setting goals.

Breathing Life into Your New Year’s Resolutions is a two-week workshop designed to help you face what is slowing you down, getting in your way, and making it impossible to reach your goals.  You’ll learn some tried and true motivational techniques to keep you on track to making your goals a reality.

Here are some of the topics we will discuss in this workshop.

•    Appreciate where you are
•    Let go of shouldas, wouldas, couldas
•    Beware of procrastination
•    Brainstorm your future
•    Write down your goals
•    Break down goals into action statements with deadlines
•    Get to work

Instructor Bio:
As a copy editor for Black Velvet Seductions for three years and now acquisitions editor, MM Pollard reads many entertaining and thought-provoking stories. She also finds common mistakes in the fundamental skills of writing. 

With fifteen years of experience teaching English serving as a resource of knowledge and a life-time love of teaching and of language, MM began presenting workshops in February, 2011. Her goal is to teach writers what they need to know about the writing craft so that they won’t need an editing service to correct their mistakes in these areas. 

MM has helped many writers improve their language and writing skills through her fun workshops. She has presented workshops for many RWA chapters, Savvy Authors, Writers Online Classes, and in her own virtual classroom. MM is sure she can help you, too, master the fundamentals of English.

Learn more about MM here:


Thursday, August 16, 2012

How Emotions Made Me a Bestseller: Stacey Espino

Welcome to our Bestselling Authors'
Lecture Series here at Bestsellerology!

Kicking off our series is a post by author Stacey Espino who cranks out books left and right and consistently tops her publisher's bestseller lists.  Here's her secret...


I write romance for Siren and Evernight Publishing. Whether I write a traditional man and woman love story or a hardcore ménage-a-plenty, I always try to focus on character emotion. When I write from a particular POV (point of view), I am that person. I see the world through their eyes, whether it be sorrow or lust. Some of my books are more light-hearted than others. However, even in those reads, I try to pull at least one weakness out of my characters to make them more human, more relatable. Some say I really enjoy torturing my cowboys, well, maybe a little. I feel it makes the HEA (happily ever after) more rewarding in the end.

Readers may not have experienced the extremes that some of my characters have gone through, but they understand the basic emotions of love, hate, jealousy, insecurity, fear and loneliness. We all know what it feels like to want something that we can’t have, to yearn for it so badly our heart aches. And who hasn’t felt insecure about their figures at some point? If you can get your reader to feel connected to your character in one way or another, they’ll have a better enjoyment of the story…and come back for more.

On the same note, a romance is an escape from the ordinary, a chance to experience something you may never have a chance to in real life—like ménage sex or BDSM. It’s why readers flock to taboo books. They’re a fantasy within paper pages or the screen of an e-reader. Even when appealing to a reader’s sexuality, emotion is so important.

Any book can be filled with graphic sex scene after sex scene, but that doesn’t make it a good read or something to remember. If we care about the characters, have some build-up of emotion, and experience their deepest thoughts during intimacy, it’s all the more titillating. Sexual tension mixed with apprehension, a character craving but not revealing it to their lover…a writer can bring a reader on an exciting ride if they take the time to bring the characters fully to life. Do they smoke? Are they scared of growing old alone? Do they have a scar they try to hide?

For example, in Cowboy Outcasts, Callum is an Irish cowboy with Tourette Syndrome. He’s an outcast, a loner, and not the perfect wine-and-dine type of hero. But my readers loved him because he was real, and they were able to watch his journey from sadness to a happily ever after.  It was special to write as my husband and son have this disorder.

My Uniform Fetish series isn’t as deep as some of my westerns, but I still try to make my characters relatable, facing real issues from their pasts or present. Even a book with "sextreme" content or light-hearted fun should still have some real emotion in it to give it a solid foundation. It could be a weight or age issue, an abusive childhood, or a jerk of an ex-boyfriend—but time should be spent making a character three dimensional.

Use some of your own experiences, bits and pieces of your life. It will help your write with passion if you can put yourself in your character’s shoes. Every one of my books has a part of me within it, however small. It can be my love of Tim Horton’s, having grown up without a father, or my love of horses. You can turn past tragedies or illnesses into fuel for your next powerful novel. Don’t forget to challenge yourself as well. Stretch your imagination by delving into the unknown from time to time. It will help you grow as a writer.

That is my take on emotion in writing. It has worked well for me and I couldn’t write any other way. I wish you all the best of luck!

Stacey Espino resides in beautiful Ontario, Canada where she is busy raising her five children. She loves being a Canadian but could do without the brutal winters. She enjoys writing erotic romance that will have you squirming in your seat. From hardcore cowboys to alpha shifters, she has you covered! Stacey also writes alternative m/m romance as Winona Wilder. Check out Stacey here:

Thanks Stacey for her great advice and new word of the day for me:  "sextreme"!  Love it!  Be sure to register for our September Book Factory class here at Bestsellerology while you're here.  And come back on September 15th for our next lecture from author Suzanne Johnson: "Plotting via the Relationship Method".

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Book Factory Method for Busy Writers

Class Begins September 1, 2012

Register Now!
(Click PayPal link at right to register)

The Book Factory:  Producing Multiple Novels in One Year
A Workshop by Author Kerri Nelson

Course Description:

Is life getting in the way of you completing that novel?  Ever think there’s not enough hours in the day to find time to write?  Have a full time job distracting you from your real passion of being a novelist?  Are family responsibilities weighing you down and interfering with your writing goals?

I’m here to tell you that you can do it all and do it successfully.  In 2009, I successfully managed one husband, two jobs, three children, a difficult pregnancy, AND still managed to write twelve books, sell ten of those books (including all the editing and promotion), and coped with other various life challenges thrown in just for fun!  Since that time, Kerri has sold a total of twenty two novels and novellas with half a dozen more in the works. 

How did I do all of that and still find time to eat and sleep? 

I developed a method of writing known as “The Book Factory Method”.  It does require commitment and desire to “get it done”.  If you’re willing to put in the effort, you can produce multiple books in one year. 

What’s the benefit of completing multiple books in one year? 

The more books you have ready to submit, the more chance you’ll receive contract offers on one or more of those books. 

Why shouldn’t you just focus on one book and continue polishing that book all year long?

The cold, hard truth is that you might not ever sell that one specific book.  You should always have more than one project “in the works”.

Are you one of those writers who starts multiple projects but never finishes any of them?

Then this class is for you as well.  We’ll talk about how to finally see those projects through to completion.

Have trouble with time management or procrastination?

We’ll address methods for getting organized and staying focused.  Plus much, much more!

If you want to learn how to get started, stay on track, and get those books ready to submit…this workshop puts a method to the madness of novel writing.

©  Kerri Nelson 2010

Instructor Bio:

Kerri Nelson has always been passionate about reading books but when she wrote her first poem in the second grade, she discovered her love of writing.  At the age of sixteen, she became a columnist for her local newspaper as the high school correspondent for the weekly "Panther Tales" column.  She won the Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year Award for her efforts.

After an education and career in the legal field, Kerri began to pen romantic suspense novels with a legal or law enforcement theme.  She is a true southern belle and comes complete with her dashing southern gentleman husband and three adorable children.  When she’s not reading or writing, you’ll find her baking homemade goodies for her family or volunteering for her many writing chapters.

Kerri is an active member of Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime as well as numerous Chapters including her Presidency of Futuristic Fantasy & Paranormal and Co-Membership Chair of Kiss of Death (Chapter for Romantic Suspense Authors).

Kerri is a multi-published author of romance in almost every genre under the sun (and moon) from romantic suspense and paranormal to young adult and inspirational novels.  In 2009, Kerri wrote and sold twelve books to multiple publishers using her Book Factory method.  Since that time, she's gone on to publish a total of twenty two novels and novellas with half a dozen more in the works!  

Read more about Kerri’s books at her website:
Want to play, learn and compete with other authors in the biz?  Visit Kerri’s industry blog here:

Need your novel edited, proofread, or your very own beta reader?  Check out Kerri's Deep Cover Edits program:
For the latest news and updates from Kerri, follow her on Twitter here: