Posted by: reneewildes1 | February 6, 2017

Arabian Horses & Romance Writing

So…huh? What does the one have to do with the other?

Something you should know about me: I grew up in the Wisconsin Arabian Horse Association, and worked a lot of weekend horse shows at State Fair Park in West Allis (Milwaukee). Watched a lot of judging!


WisRWA Fab Five Contest

Now that I’m a published romance writer who also judges writing contests – the WisRWA Fab 5 deadline is right around the corner – I’ve been noticing some similarities I thought I’d share.



First off, Arabians in halter get judged on five main things: type, conformation, soundness, balance and quality. An Arab has to look like an Arab. Watch “13th Warrior” with Antonio Banderas. Did that little gray mare look anything like the other war horses? Nope, but she was nimble and agile and ran circles around them!



Unfortunately, many halter show horses never get trained to ride or drive, but they have to be built and able to. Conformation and soundness – they had to be able to traipse through the desert on next to nothing for weeks on end and still be able to carry a rider into battle at the end. And the all elusive “quality” – that fire and presence and grace that makes one individual stand out in a good lineup.

Now, there are no perfect horses. One has great legs but straight shoulders, another a great topline but crooked legs, etc. What we look for is balance in the whole, everything working together in an attractive, useful package with spark. I liked that the judges were always from out of town. They didn’t know the people, the farms, or the horses’ pedigrees. They didn’t know the back stories, the rivalries, the politics. They judged “THAT horse, on THAT day.” Period.



Where am I going with this? Romance writing is a lot like that. A romance has to have “type” – it has to BE a romance, rocky relationship leads to HEA. (My apologies to the Women’s Fiction and Romantic Elements writers out there. Give “type” less weight and go with the other qualities.) No matter what sub-genre you’re in, it’s still a romance theme.





“Conformation and Soundness” – Story Structure. Grammar and punctuation. Active verb tenses. Multi-sensory description. POV. GMC. Plot. Here’s where writers have the advantage, because these things can be learned, practiced and improved. Some people are better at something than others, we all have weak spots we need to work on.


“Balance” is the story as a whole. Three-dimensional characters. Logical plot with winding story progression. Believable problems, interesting twists, sympathetic characters, good world-building. Does the story draw you along?


And that elusive unmistakable “quality” – voice. It’s like a distinctive flavor you either love or hate. It’s what gives pubbed writers their readers, why readers tend to own every book by so-and-so and can’t wait for the next one to come out.

This is what writing contest divas can struggle with. If you have three judges, and two love your voice but one hates it, you final, because most contests toss the low score. If one judge loves it but two hate it, you go home with some interesting and valuable critiques. If you’re entering contests for the feedback, great. You can learn a lot from them. If you’re entering a contest for the final judge, to land on that particular agent’s/editor’s desk, it’s a roll of the dice.


You want the overall balance of type and conformation to rise to the top, and then make it to the one editor that recognizes quality, loves your voice, and buys your book. (And the next one. And the next one.)


Hone your craft, and have faith. You know you’ve got a good story, and you’ve worked hard to make it a great book, the best it can be. Believe in yourself, and have persistence. Horses or books, quality is quality – it will be recognized and rewarded someday, by someone. Just keep writing!




Posted by: reneewildes1 | February 6, 2017

Thoughts on Characterization

Put on your character like a shroud. When you write in that character, you ARE that character, at almost a microscopic level. You find out everything about that character, like someone in witness protection or an undercover cop. You know that person so well, you ARE that person. 24/7/365. Almost to the point when a phone call comes in at work you answer “Good morning, this is Maleta, your avenging assassin nun. How may I help you today?” (Hedda’s Sword reference)
(No I’ve never done that.)
My goal is to get first-person close with third person voice.
The rule I try to stick by is:
Who has the most to fear/risk/lose in that scene? (The highest stakes?) THAT’s who the scene should showcase, so the reader can feel the tension and drama. Even-keeled safe characters are good for secondary supporters, but hero/heroine should need/change/grow. As mentioned regarding love scenes, the above applies to love scenes, also. The scene itself should be in the least secure’s POV, so the scene is a revelation—either makes things better…or worse. And then immediately switch to the other character for the aftermath.
Character “Voice”
Again, it’s unrelenting. You have to BE the character, every single moment. Now you know why multiple POVs can be so tricky. You have to totally change yourself, your background, your way of thinking, moving, reacting.
Watch Viggo Mortenson first as a dedicated dad in a postapocolyptic nightmare world in The Road, then a Navy SEAL instructor in G.I. Jane, then as a humble cowboy in Hidalgo and finally as a reluctant king but able warrior in LOTR. Same actor, four different characters & worlds.
Mixing It Up
Characters need to be consistent, and true to themselves, their own inner moral compass. But part of the fun is surprising the reader. Force the character to do the unexpected. Set up a scenario where a character has to do something they never thought they would – an HONEST character lies to protect someone else, etc. It also adds depth. BY taking the first answer that comes to you and throwing it out, you can add a twist that’s unexpected:
Say you have your soldier of fortune fall in love with your kindergarten teacher. But how different those POVs would be. They would even look at the red in a sunset differently. The teacher might think of the roses in her garden, the soldier would probably think “blood.” Or maybe not. Maybe the soldier thinks of the roses in his grandmother’s garden, and how much he misses her. Would she be proud of him or disappointed in him?
Unexpected twists like this add depth to your character, make him less stock cutout and more real-person. Give your hard, edgy character moments of softness. Give a soft, timid character a moment of strength.
Thoughts on Characterization In General
People are a product of their world—part genetics, part environment. We are born blank slates, with equal potential. Then we are molded into what we ultimately become. By people, circumstance, experience, training and choices. Our viewpoints, how we see the world around us, is colored by who and what we are. Children see the world differently than adults. A kindergarten teacher is going to view the world very differently than a soldier of fortune.
The best characters are as three-dimensional as real people, with the triviality stripped away. They are the best and the worst of the human race—sometimes in the same package. They have their own viewpoints, their own voice, that reflects who and what they are. They have strengths and weaknesses, beliefs and prejudices, assumptions and fears. For me characterization is interdependent on world-building, because the reader can only understand the characters if they can view the world around them.
Culture (Art/Music/Literature)
Education & Training
Society & Family Placement/Position
Rewards & Punishments
Remember in the movie “City Slickers” when they were looking for that “one thing” Curly swore made the whole world make sense, but how it was different for each person?
And for Liam Neeson in the movie “Rob Roy” it was “honor”? Explaining “honor” to his sons. “Honor” was what he lived and (almost) died by. He expected others to live by the same code he did, and thus was hugely disappointed. But he was as straight and true a character as ever existed on screen. Because that single word, “honor” was soul-deep, ever-present.
Find ONE WORD to describe each of your characters. Tattoo it on their forehead. Never let them take it off. You’ll be surprised how that becomes a lens which colors EVERYTHING they view!
It’s just a way of always being able to check yourself on character consistency:
“But would a man of HONOR DO that?”
“But would an HONEST person SAY that?”
It doesn’t have to be “good”—lack of trust is a stellar trait that would affect everything she does. In my Hedda’s Sword, Maleta (the avenging assassin nun) is a rape survivor. The hero Cianan was only good for one thing—helping free her country, preferably from a great distance… That can totally work, because it definitely sets up a great character growth arc!
A character who’s aware of their trait can reflect on it, maybe even poke fun of themselves over it in quiet moments. A character who ISN’T aware would never think or discuss it, but would convey to the other characters and the reader through actions that the other characters could comment on and the reader would say “Of course, they’re ___”
Like a protector who always steps in front of a bully or a “bossy” who always tells people what to do.
It can also be darker, like a “heroic” who always picks the most dangerous rescues b/c he thinks he should have died instead of his friend, and is either unconsciously trying to prove himself worthy of life or, conversely, NOT worthy of life and is unconsciously trying to DIE but the fates have other ideas and won’t let him.
In my first romance Duality I got called out on naming a dance. I originally used the word “waltz” which has a very definitive Earth-history beginning. Since my world was pure high fantasy, I had my editor tell me to rename my dance. I renamed it “arelle” and she was happy. “Waltz” would have taken the reader right out of the fantasy.
Not good. Easy fix.
Then I made Dara unable to dance and have to learn. She was raised a peasant, a healer—they had no time for frivolity. When she learned Loren was a PRINCE, she worried about gowns, dances, what fork to use at dinner. Royalty and peasantry do not move in the same circles or use the same trappings.
Things never brought up in Cinderella. Things that WERE brought up in Princess Diaries 1 & 2. Because if your character wouldn’t know—don’t have them know. Have them learn. Have them worry about screwing up—and have them make mistakes. Let the reader relate to the humanity of your character.
Everyone has their own way of developing characters. I’m not here to tell you WHAT to think or do or change anyone’s methodology. I’m just here to share my thoughts and suggestions for digging deeper, on ways to make your characters MORE human, for a closer reader connection. What works for me.
Things to consider:
How do your characters FIRST come into being? What draws YOU to them?
How do you know what makes them tick? What weird/unique quirks do they have?
How did they become their profession? Why did they choose to do what they do?
How did they wind up in the setting you put them in? Did they choose it or were they forced there by circumstance?
What do they: Know? Want? Need? Fear? Learn?
Why is their “other half” perfect for them? How do they challenge/push/grow?
What do you love about them? Hate about them?
What needs to change in order for them to have a HEA with each other?
My Personal Characterization Reference Library
I’m a total writing book junkie. And on my keeper shelf I have the following references for characterization that have come in handy:
I’ve got 3 books on characterization I swear by:
  • 45 MASTER CHARACTERS: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters
  • by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
  • The Writer’s Digest Sourcebook for BUILDING BELIEVABLE CHARACTERS
  • by Marc McCutcheon
  • WHAT WOULD YOUR CHARACTER DO? Personality Quizzes for Analyzing Your
  • Characters
  • by Eric Maisel, Ph.D. & Ann Maisel
I also recommend: (LUV this one!)
  •  the RANDOM HOUSE WORD MENU (ISBN 0435414411) for getting
  • various vocabulary and terminology right. – all different professions & hobbies listed, to sound more like an insider
  •  And I have A WORLD OF BABY NAMES by TERESA NORMAN that I use in order to
  • get “related” names correct – cultural distinctness.
Adding to the list (from others’ recommendations):
  • Bullies, Bastards,& Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction by Jessica Page
  • Morrell
  • Understanding the Enneagram by Don Richard Riso.
  • Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams by Laurie Schnebly
Posted by: reneewildes1 | February 3, 2017


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Posted by: reneewildes1 | February 2, 2017

The 6 Senses – The SIXTH Sense

All of the other senses are observing or interacting with the external.  The sixth sense is purely internal.  First become of aware of yourself, and then expand outward.  Become familiar with the “norm”, and then look for “different.”  If you’re walking through the woods, and all of a sudden the birds and animals fall silent, that’s a problem.  Something’s changed in their perception of what-should- be.  They might be reacting to you.  They might be reacting to the big bear behind you.  Maybe you should notice the big bear behind you.

Posted by: reneewildes1 | February 2, 2017

The 6 Senses – TOUCH

The sense of touch is the most intimate of all, because you cannot do it at a distance.  It requires proactive movement by someone, reaching out to explore and embrace their world. 
CelebrationThis is not a lecture on sexual touching – for that I highly recommend Mary Buckham’s Sexual Tension class, using the 12 Steps to Intimacy.  This is just touching in general, textures, temperatures.
Think how babies explore their world – they pick up everything and try to put it in their mouths.  They’ve got the right idea.  Watch the kids on a field trip to a nature class,  examining feathers and pine cones and snake skin – sometimes shed, sometimes with the snake still inside.  The difference between an iguana and a salamander.  When my daughter was just over a year old we went to Maine.  Remember that rocky beach?  (We went in July, not in November.)  That baby sat there playing with the rocks for a good half-hour.  She’d pick up one, pass it back and forth, turning it over and over.  She didn’t go for color, she went with texture.  She put the smooth ones down right away – too boring.  She liked the rough, bumpy ones, and would trace the edges from every angle and giggle to herself.
ChandraThere have been studies about how beneficial pet ownership is.  Stroking something furry can lower blood pressure, especially (for me, at least) if it purrs.  That’s why pet therapy is such a success.  Read up on a dog named Skeezer, and what a difference she made in the lives of some REALLY messed-up kids.
Remember Linus?  Most kids have a favorite blanket they keep for years.  Whenever they get stressed-out, out comes the blanket.   When our son Joshua was born he got a fuzzy white blanket with balloons on it.  Once when my mom in Racine babysat for him, we picked him up but forgot the blanket.  He screamed and screamed.  Nothing worked.  Slow first-time parents that we were, we were halfway to Milwaukee before we thought “blanket”.  Turned around, drove all the way back to mom’s, woke her up, got the blanket.  He conked out right off.  Joshua is nine now and still has it.  It’s a nearly transparent white rag now, can’t even see the balloons anymore, but don’t even suggest throwing it away!
Okay, so kids have blankets, but don’t be too quick to laugh.  I’ll bet everyone here has a favorite sweater or old pair of jeans.  How many of us whine about how we can’t wait to “break in” that new pair of shoes?  How many of us have an expensive new outfit we never wear because it’s just not comfortable?
My Pretty New OfficeI love reading books.  I love their smell, the sound of the pages turning, the way they feel in my hand.  Joshua made these fantabulous little bowls in pottery class – l love every little dent and ripple.  Tami made a pink clay elephant I have on my desk at work.  Very stress-relieving.  (Who can be stressed out playing with a pink elephant?  When that colonel’s wife is hollering at me on the phone I just pick up Tami’s elephant and say “yes ma’am.”)   I have a soapstone candle-holder that’s my favorite.  I love the smooth, slippery feel.  I have a small carved wooden box on my computer desk where I keep my business cards.  I love tracing the carvings on it, the feel of every leaf edge and raised petal.  I love standing under a really hot shower, and big fluffy towels afterward.
Go on – be a kid again.  Explore your world with the sense of touch.  A fun game we play at home is blindfold someone, hand them something and see it they can guess what it is by touch alone.
Size shape weight texture form substance temperature
Soft hard smooth rough bumpy scratchy sharp dull solid liquid hot warm cold frozen
Living or not, natural or artificial
Think of struggling across blowing sand dunes, your feet sliding with every step.  Think of squelching through mud, it sucking at your shoes with every step.  Ever lose a shoe in mud, stepping out of it and hitting the cold wet with your bare foot?
Gardeners know what the feel of dirt is like.  Walk barefoot in the grass, on the beach.  Feel the bark of the tree, the shape of leaves, the texture of flower petals.  Even a bowl of mixed nuts – each is different – try the blindfold test on them.  Popcorn.  Chips.  Can you feel the difference between merino, cashmere and angora?  Feel the difference between Egyptian cotton sheets and the ones on sale at Walmart.
Now imagine your character doing the same thing.  The first time I played with a pet raccoon, I was surprised at how soft their paws were, how much like hands.  Give the characters preconceived notions and then surprise them.  I remember reading a Battlestar Galactica book when I was young (the old series, not the new – when Starbuck was a GUY).  They were riding unicorns.  Now do you think “smooth, satiny, white” when you think “unicorn”?  These were black, and their coats were harsh and wiry.  And I thought “Wow, that’s different!  COOL!”
Think of your skin.  Parts that see the sun all the time are rougher, drier, more weathered.  Parts that don’t see the sun so much (or ever) are smoother and paler.  Compare a rancher’s hands to an executive’s.  Think of the kind of man who gets a manicure.  The type of woman who doesn’t.
Moonwitched72webIn MOONWITCHED, Chapter 2:
 The goods-laden camels of the Theressan slavers’ caravan halted, grumbling, on the eastbound trade road. Their cloaked and veiled handlers, monsters masquerading as men, herded them into the golden tall-grass for tonight’s camp. A dozen captive women stumbled into the negligible shade of a stunted, twisted tarja tree.
A salty tear trickled down Mari’s sunburnt cheek as she collapsed, exhausted, on the hard-baked ground a bit apart from the others. She reached up to erase her show of weakness afore one of her amoral captors noticed. Her fingers came away streaked with gritty mud. She frowned at her broken nails. Powdery red dust clung to all, stained her tattered blue gown like dried blood. Mari wrinkled her nose in self-disgust at the combined stench of old sweat and old fear. Oh, for a bath. I smell worse than those foul-tempered camels.
How had it come to this? Bands of men, ordered to capture innocent, free women for sport? For sale? And the one who did the ordering—the shadowy head demon who’d taken control of this land. Emandu, who’d sent Kotar, the rightful boy-king, fleeing for his young life.
She fingered the cool stones and crystals encircling the copper band about her right wrist. Her captors had not yet taken it from her. The minor unseeing ward still held, made others dismiss it as inconsequential. A square green peridot set in iron for earth, a jagged quartz set in gold for fire, a round aquamarine set in a point-down triangle of silver for water and an arrowhead of mica set in tin for air. The heavy cuff bound, stored and focused whatever elemental energy she drew in ’til she had need of its magic and called it forth. But the need here far surpassed her earth-healing powers.
Fear wore on her, the sharpness dulled over the course of three days under the burning sun to a constant bone-deep ache. Nightmares of bloodshed and atrocities haunted her slumber. She licked her chapped lips. The brutes rationed their drinking water, but tears and sweat gave hope she wasn’t dehydrated yet.
Flannel shirts.  Satin sheets.  Granite countertops.  Steaming hot bubble baths.  Brushing your hair.  Typing on a keyboard.  Hugging a child.  Petting a cat.  Warming your hands under a horse’s mane.  Opportunities to mention, describe and revel in touch are all around you.  Put them on your pages.  Characters do not live in a bubble.  Have them embrace their world.  Clothing, their environment, animals, each other.  See what works for you.
Posted by: reneewildes1 | February 1, 2017

The 6 Senses – SMELL & TASTE

Smell and taste are so intertwined as to be virtually inseparable.  If you don’t believe me, plug your nose and eat a taco.  Or jambalaya.  Doesn’t taste anything like what you thought or remembered, does it?  Halfway through, unplug your nose and take another bite.  Wow, what a difference!  I had a roommate with a defective sense of smell; he overseasoned everything.  He could eat Habanero peppers straight.  His bloody marys were brown! 

Breathe through your nose.  Then breathe through your mouth.  What’s the difference?  Describe it.
Smell and taste are probably the most neglected senses in fiction.  They truly are sensual, they enrich your world-building by adding depth.  Like sound, they’re vital to transforming your reader from an observer to an active participant.   Don’t just list them like an inventory, tear them apart, put them on, roll around in them, revel in them.

Say you’re going down a tunnel.  Is it dry and dusty or damp and mildewy?  Is the dust laced with minerals that stings your nose and puts a tang under your tongue?  Copper’s good for that.  Iron, too – like in blood. 
You’re walking along a beach.  Is that body of water fresh or salt?  Don’t tell the reader which it is – have your character scent it on the breeze. 
You’re walking through a field.  Do you just smell the loamy scent of dark rich earth or is it mixed with manure or a chemical fertilizer?
horse-family-tamitoddWalk into a stable.  Inhale warm horse and wood, metal and leather, urine and ammonia and manure.  Straw bedding will smell different than peat moss or wood shavings.  Pine shavings smell different than cedar.  Smell the hay – grass hay has a crisper, sharper edge than the sweetness of a leafier plant like clover or alfalfa.  Try the oats – dry dusty smell but a sweet, almost nutty, taste.   Nuances.

Walk through the forest.  Has it just rained?  Is it about to?  Describe it.  A springtime forest differs from an autumn forest, a conifer forest from a deciduous forest, the taiga from a rainforest or jungle.  What can you smell?  Nuances.
Don’t just say “She smelled smoke.”  Wood smoke?  Pipe smoke?  Cigarette smoke?  Burning plastic or rubber?  Gasoline or oil?  Charcoal?  BIG difference.
Don’t just say “Candles were burning.”  Beeswax or soy or tallow?  If they’re scented, WHAT scent? 

A MomentPeople have a scent, as well.  Deodorant, fabric softener, soap and shampoo aside, each person is unique.  Just ask a bloodhound.  Scents can either attract or repel.  It’s a big component of “chemistry.”  Ever go out with someone, only to discover there was “no chemistry”, “no spark”?   Then you meet someone else, and WHAM!  And that scent can change.  Sweat can change.  Are they sweating from the sun or exertion, from fear or arousal?  How pheromones work isn’t important to the average writer, just be aware that they do.  Smell can be an incredible memory trigger.  A friend of mine finds English Leather incredibly sexy, because an old boyfriend used to wear it.  Old Spice has the opposite effect on me – my grandfather used to wear it.

Taste comes in four basics – salty, sour, sweet, and bitter.  Next time you eat, slow down and focus on your meal.  The warm yeasty smell of bread, that first bite of hot buttered crust.  Crumbled bleu cheese or feta cheese on the fresh spinach salad, maybe fresh ground pepper.  Taste the basil and oregano in the tomato sauce, the sage and onion in the stuffing.  Apple-smoked ham differs from maple-smoked from honey-cured.  You can mix flavors, too.  I make a wicked pork or chicken, simply simmered in chicken broth and orange juice.  (Lime juice is great, too.)  Savor a recipe that calls for
Madeira or Burgundy.  Specify the type of mushrooms in the stroganoff.  Don’t be afraid to have your character revel in rich egg custard or smooth buttery caramel.  Pay attention to flavors, smells, textures.  Crisp celery or mushy porridge and everything in-between.
Rievers Heart72smIn RIEVER’S HEART, Chapter 6:
Aryk carried his mug of yeast-scented ale to the corner table, where a round loaf of black bread and a generous pat of butter sat midtable. Verdeen followed, watching with approval as he sat in the corner looking outward.
“Two orders of shepherd’s pie, a bowl of pork stew and another ale and hot, spiced cider,” Aryk told the slender brunette server in a stained, low-cut bodice. She nodded and sashayed away, flounced black skirts swaying. He reached for the butter.
Verdeen slapped the back of his hand with the flat of her knife. “Wait.” She tore a chunk of bread from the loaf, slathered it with butter and took a bite. She chewed slowly, rolling it around in her mouth. No fire, no tingle, no hint of numbness or bitterness. She swallowed. “You want to find out the hard way the cook’s favorite seasoning is bitteralm, be my guest.”
Aryk growled. “Poison’s dishonorable—a coward’s tool.”
“Dead’s still dead. You die, Beloq wins. ’Tis one truth you must never lose sight of.”
Aryk’s gaze was level, measuring. “You’re a taster.”
She nodded. “Amongst other things. Never assume things are as they seem.”
“There’s more to you than meets the eye.”
“You’ve no idea.” A glint in his eye warned her he might enjoy finding out. She swallowed hard at the lingering shimmers of heat. “I’m to help keep you alive. This is part of it. You eat and drink naught afore me. Understand?”
“I drank two ales afore you.” His tone was one of humoring her.
“You were at the bar. You watched him pour them.” Aryk nodded. “Then you’re probably safe. ’Tis what’s prepared where you can’t see bears scrutiny.”
Valkyn joined them with an ale, his face flushed but composed. He caught her gaze and grinned. “You left afore it got interesting.”
Aryk frowned and growled at his second. The serving wench brought their drinks and food. Verdeen took a swig of Aryk’s ale, but her whole face screwed up at the bitter flavor as she swished and swallowed. “Pgah, wretched stuff.” She took a drink of cider to wash the taste of it away. “You sure you want to drink it?”
Valkyn laughed. “Puts hair on your chest.”
“The last thing a woman wants is a hairy chest.” Verdeen tested both pies, deemed them harmless and delicious. She slid Aryk’s across the table to him. “You’re right. ’Tis wonderful.” Tender shredded lamb in rich gravy, with potatoes, turnips, peas, carrots and celery, seasoned with onion and herbs, topped with mashed potatoes under a bubbling crown of melted cheese.
“Times like this I wish pigs could survive on Isadorikja,” Aryk mourned.
“They’d freeze.” Valkyn tore off a chunk of bread. “Our home’s not for the weak.”
Verdeen had the sinking feeling Valkyn didn’t refer just to pigs.
They finished their meals in silence. The server brought another round of drinks and a hot bubbling dish of sliced pears baked in honey and sweet spices. Verdeen swooned at the taste. ’Twas the most amazing thing she’d eaten in ages. She curled her arms around the bowl. “You can’t touch it. Have to save you from yourself and keep this dish all to myself.”
Aryk smacked her with his spoon. “Hand it over, greedy wench.” He slid his mug over to her. “Here. Put some more hair on your chest.”
Eew. How cruel to hand her ale after honeyed pears.
Now try it for yourself.  Your characters are sitting down to a meal.  A gourmet meal in a five-star restaurant or a trout over a campfire, doesn’t matter.  Make it come alive with smells, textures, flavors.  Revel in it.

The trick is layering.  What’s the first smell to hit them when they walk into a room or outside?  When you take a bite of something, what’s the first flavor?  Then what surfaces after a bit?  The trick of threes works well.  Read a wine bottle.  You have the initial bouquet, the prominent notes, and the finish.  Keep that in mind when you try your hand at this description.
Posted by: reneewildes1 | January 31, 2017

The 6 Senses – SOUND

Imagine how flat a world with no sound would be.
No laughter, no music, no dogs barking or bird songs or night crickets or frogs. Imagine lightning but no thunder. A volcano or earthquake or tidal wave without the roar. The white foam of surf pounding on the rocks without the crash. Rain getting things wet but no pitter-patter on the roof. Snow turning things white without the hiss.
How would you know the water was hot enough without the kettle screeching?
How would you know you approached the rattlesnake without the rattle to warn you?
Now imagine a story with no sound. Inconceivable! Yet this is one sense that is often overlooked or underworked.
Just for fun, go sit in your backyard, close your eyes, and LISTEN. Can you hear the wind rustling through the tree branches, birds chirping, cars driving by, the kid on the skateboard, the neighbor hammering on his latest wood-working project?
Come back inside. Close your eyes when you climb the stairs. Do the stairs creak? Open a cupboard door. Do the hinges squeak? Are you cursed with a washer or dryer that’s slightly unbalanced and dances around and thumps while it works? Do you have a faucet that constantly drip-drip-drips? Can you hear the hum of the refrigerator? The computer?
paladinImagine horseback riding. Listen to the clop of hooves, the ringing of metal shoes on stone or pavement, the creak of your leather saddle, the horse snorting and blowing, the buzzing of flies, the hiss of a swishing tail striking your legs. Imagine the crunch of an apple or a carrot.
Imagine your character walking through a fresh-air market or a fair or the zoo on a breezy day. What kinds or animals are there? Can you identify them by their calls alone? Imagine the awnings flapping in the breeze, the hawkers calling out their wares.
Listen to the voices. Smooth tenor or rich baritone or deep bass? Light and high-pitched or low and sultry? Nasal? Whiney? Twangy? Do they wheeze or drawl or hiss? Listen for regional dialect, cadence. Do the voices start out slow and speed up as they get more excited/agitated? Do they start out lower and get higher as they get more excited/agitated? Do they murmur, or whisper?
new carIs your cat purring or hissing? Is your dog whining or growling? Does the engine run smoothly or is it sputtering or missing? Does your character prefer classical or jazz or rock?
Sounds add depth, add richness, add realism. They put your reader RIGHT THERE. Sound comes in layers. Close your eyes. What do you hear first? What’s the loudest? Now “filter” that out. What do you hear next? What else?
I’m sitting on my bed with my laptop. I can hear the pop & sizzle of hamburger browning on the stove in the kitchen (my husband’s making tacos for supper). One of the cats is meowing and scratching at the closet door where we keep the cat food. My Chow Chow Abby just strolled past the bedroom door – the tags on her collar jingle, then clank against the metal water bowl as she starts lapping up a drink.  My wash machine just finished filling—there was hissing, then a thunk, now it’s agitating—I can tell by the tap dance on the floor. (I have one of THOSE machines.) The blower for the heat just kicked on.
Some Fiction Books That Feature SOUND Examples
In Mercedes Lackey’s “Arrows of the Queen” Talia explains how she used to room in the attic and knew how to dress for the day by listening for the sound of snow/hail/rain hitting the roof.
Terry Brooks’ “Sword of Shannara” is chock-full, for three specific examples stand out:
·         When they go through the “Corridor of Winds” and they’re nearly driven insane by the screams of the Banshees
·         When Allanon summons the shade of Bremen and all the other dead souls start shrieking as Bremen appears
·         When they have to get past the gnome clan gathering, and all the drums and chanting to the gods going on, when Hendel has the play decoy so everyone else can get through the pass
The final battle scene in Serenity (I have the novelization)—between the crash of the ship and the battle w/the Reavers – screams, growls, tearing metal and gunfire
In AC Crispin’s “Starbridge” there’s the static of the alien transmissions, the whoosh when the airlocks deploy, the dry snapping when someone’s arm breaks in a fight, the “you’re out of O2” klaxons
The world is FULL of sounds. Your books should be, too—even if the surrounding silence is so profound your characters can hear themselves breathing and their hearts beating…
You don’t need a lot.  For example, in HEDDA’S SWORD Chapter 4:

HeddasSword72LG            Maleta cursed her decision to flee the paladin at the Broken Blade.  What had come over her?  She had no logical reason to bolt and every reason to stay.  Where was her head?  She’d used up most of her supplies, but declined restocking at Nerthus’ Abbey.  She preferred traveling light and swift to being overburdened with gear.  But hunting had been poor, and now she paid for that decision. 
            She crouched down under the bare tangled branches of a winterberry bush and drew a knife.  The berries were long gone, but the inner bark was undisturbed.  Not very nutritious, but it was good for killing hunger pangs.  At least for a while.  She scraped away a couple of strips and surveyed the fog-shrouded gulch below her.
            Typical of the land itself, the veil was both blessing and curse.  While she could slide through unseen, so could her quarry.  The Wolf had chosen well, forsaking the safer high ground for the cover of the mists.  In the spring, hiding in such a low-lying area was an invitation to disaster, with the rains and flash-floods.  But late in the fall, with perpetual fog, it was perfect.
            Maleta chewed one of the strips of bark.  Her mouth puckered.  Grimacing at the bitter taste, she drew her sword and eased her way down the steep rocky embankment.  The constant dampness kept fallen leaves from crackling underfoot, but she couldn’t avoid sending small pebbles tumbling with every step
            North or south?  She crouched in the leaves and looked both ways.  North.  The slight breeze whispered at her back.  There’d be no way to scent a campfire or cooking food until she was on top of it, but there was nothing she could do about that.  She couldn’t depend on sight or scent.  Sound and sensing would have to do. 
            He was nearby, she could feel it.  She headed up the gulch.  Step.  Stop.  Scan.  Minutes felt like hours; with the cloud cover overhead and the mists swirling around her, there was no way to mark the passage of time.
            Something moved ahead.  The mist saved her as an arrow hissed past just off to the right.  She dropped to a crouch and froze, silent, watching but not seeing.  Her heart pounded, making her dizzy.  She strained to listen for the slightest sound, a clue to his whereabouts.
            A twig snapped somewhere in front of her.  Maleta glanced around.  There was no cover save the fog.  She gripped the pommel of her sword tighter and held her breath, listening for the angle of the person’s approach.
            A shadow coalesced out of the mists, taking on the proportions of a man in dark leathers.  Her ears caught the merest jingle of chain-mail.  She tensed.  When he was close enough for Maleta to judge his height by the thatch of gray hair atop his head, she charged.  She swung her sword low, hoping to take his legs out from under him.
            He must have heard her blade, because his own was there to block her crippling blow.  Lightning-fast, he spun and swung at her neck, showing no mercy at her gender.  She dropped, rolled and thrust up toward his belly.  He turned; his chain-mail deflected the blow aimed at the vulnerable spot just below his breastplate.  The black wolf on that breastplate mocked her.
            It was a strange fight, silent save for harsh breathing and the ring of clashing weapons, a desperate dance of death in the fog.  But his age caught up with him; his parries slowed a fraction.  Maleta began forcing him back toward his own camp.  He rushed and feigned, trying to get past her, but she held her ground.  Pressing, always forward, to the edge of his encampment.  The spitted carcass of a coney rested over a sliver of a fire crackling in the center.
            When the heel of his boot caught on a stray rock, his ankle turned.  He buckled afore her.  She knocked his blade aside and laid the burning edge of Hedda’s Sword against his throat.  The need to kill him choked her.
            She felt The Wolf shudder at the touch of the consecrated Goddess-metal, as all his sins rushed back to haunt him.  His eyes widened at her setting-sun breastplate shimmering in the firelight.  The knowledge of his imminent execution was in his murky green eyes as he looked up at her from the frozen ground, but his voice was matter-of-fact when he spoke.  “Fact I’m not dead yet means ye need answers, Hedda’s Own.”
            “You killed my parents!” Maleta burst out, glaring down at the scarred, silver-haired man.  She stopped, appalled at herself.  What had she just said?  That wasn’t Hedda’s script!
            Overhead, thunder rumbled.
Posted by: reneewildes1 | January 30, 2017

The 6 Senses – SIGHT

It was a dark and stormy night . . .
She had blonde hair and blue eyes.
He was big and hunky.
He walked toward her.
They rode horses to the beach.
They saw a bird.
What’s wrong with this picture????
What picture????
Exactly.  Whether hopelessly clichéd, hopelessly ho-hum, or hopelessly vague, these are NOT exactly the stuff of legends.  Snoopy aside, once you get past wondering what the heck they’re DOING on a beach on a dark and stormy night, you can’t see a thing.  Even if he was a Navy SEAL and she was a bioweapons expert with a Ph.D. in virology, and they were on that beach to intercept an illegal, deadly virus shipment that would destroy the world, with description like that, would you stick around to find out what happened?  Me neither.
Is it a rocky beach in Maine in November, with howling winds and snow blowing sideways (in which case it SUCKS to be them) or a black sand beach in Hawaii in the middle of a thunderstorm, with lightning and thunder, in May?
Are her eyes blue or are they cornflower blue or turquoise?  Round?  Deep-set?
Is her hair blonde or gold or platinum?  Long, short, straight, curly?  Blowing sideways so you can’t see her eyes?  (Remember the dark and stormy night!)
Does “big” mean tall and broad-shouldered, or really rotund?  Does “hunky” imply “tall dark and handsome” or a tawny Viking god?
Are they riding a horse or a red mare or a sorrel Arabian mare with a white star?
Is that a bird or an eagle or a juvenile bald eagle?
The whole trick to description is to be specific and use correct terminology.  Really, it’s just that simple.  Try to use more exact, less common words.  Why say green when you can say chartreuse?  Why say black when you can use obsidian or sable?
What do you SEE?   What does your POV character see when they look around?  What do they notice?  What do they know?
  An ornithologist or forest ranger might be able to identify a juvenile bald eagle, but a city girl on her first camping trip might just see a big brown bird and that would be okay.  She might be able to differentiate Marburg from Ebola, but she’s never seen an eagle before.  She might be able to spot an adult bald eagle and identify the white head and tail, unless she’s been living under a rock or never left the lab, but a still-brown juvenile?
 Would your Navy SEAL have a machine gun and a handgun or a Heckler & Koch MP5 and a Heckler & Koch P9S?  Would he have a knife or a dive knife or an Aqualung Master Dive Knife?  Where would it be strapped?  How does he hold it in a fight?
Description is entirely dependent on character POV. YOU are not observing & reporting, your CHARACTER is. So you have to use terminology that the CHARACTER would know/use, garnered from their own unique life experience & vocabulary. An academic Ph.D. would certainly speak differently from someone who never finished high school. A scientist would describe things differently than an artist. They see things through a different lens, they can only use words they’re comfortable/familiar with.
People are a product of their world—part genetics, part environment. We are born blank slates, with equal potential. Then we are molded into what we ultimately become. By people, circumstance, experience, training and choices. Our viewpoints, how we see the world around us, is colored by who and what we are. Children see the world differently than adults. A kindergarten teacher is going to view the world very differently than a soldier of fortune.
The best characters are as three-dimensional as real people, with the triviality stripped away. They are the best and the worst of the human race—sometimes in the same package. They have their own viewpoints, their own voice, that reflects who and what they are. They have strengths and weaknesses, beliefs and prejudices, assumptions and fears. For me characterization is interdependent on world-building, because the reader can only understand the characters if they can view the world around them.
Culture (Art/Music/Literature)
Education & Training
Society & Family Placement/Position
Rewards & Punishments
Your character is a product of her world. Once you’ve built it, once you’ve established her history parameters, you are locked in. You have to stay consistent. It’s unrelenting. You can never step out of character for a single second or you’ll lose your reader. The minute your health-nut stops at McDonald’s for a Big Mac or your nun blows her stack and cusses, you’re done for.
But it’s more subtle than that. Every profession has its own vocabulary—and way of looking at things. A spelunker (caver) knows the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite. Military personnel using the word amphibious are not referring to frogs. Horse people referring to frogs are not talking about small amphibians that hop.
I write fantasy romance.  In my first novel, DUALITY, my hero, an empathic elven prince named Loren, and his white war mare Hani’ena, are riding through a swamp looking for Queen Moira, who managed to escape when the villains took over her castle.  Now think about how boring “Loren searched the swamp for Queen Moira” would be.  Here’s the scene in Chapter 9, in Reader’s Digest form:
            Hani`ena tossed her head.  Insects crawled into her ears, her eyes, her nostrils, but a full body shake would send Loren headfirst into the muck.  She snapped her tail.  Green slime clung to the long hairs and splattered against her sides.
            As Hani`ena approached the monolithic half-circle of fallen stones, Loren straightened with caution and reverence.  The sun was nearly gone, and this was the fourth ruin they’d explored in half as many days.
            The swamp made it impossible to track their quarry.  The stench of decaying plants and swamp gas hung in the air, the maddening whine of insects a constant distraction.  Reduced to prudent sensing, he saw no sign of Moira at the first two Circles.  He was impressed she had managed to elude him so far.
            To her credit, Hani`ena never put a foot wrong even though there was no way to see what the knee-deep pools of murky water hid.  As to her mood, however, her snapping tail and pinned-back ears were all the clues he needed.  Necessary the trip might be, but she was out of her element and not enjoying the experience.  All that soft, sucking wetness was not good for her hooves.  They needed dry country as soon as possible.
            Loren eyed the lengthening shadows and drew his sword.  Layers of moss hung like a shroud from a twisted cypress tree.  The stone circle loomed ahead in the deepening twilight as Hani`ena splashed forward.
Note the mixture of body motion and posture, descriptive words, and specificity.  Normally I absolutely abhor “description in a mirror” scenes to describe characters, I would rather have characters describe each other, but I broke my own rule in Chapter 8 of HEDDA’S SWORD, after Maleta is punished by her goddess Hedda for giving in to her human emotions.  I think it works.  See what you think:
            Cianan was the first through the door; he froze.  Worried cobalt eyes widened with palpable shock.  “Lord and Lady, what has She done to you?”
            Mother Kitta shoved him aside to take a look for herself.  “Hedda’s will be done,” she whispered.  Her voice trembled.
            Her face expressionless, Sister Reva just stared, horror in her eyes.
            “What’s wrong with you people?” Maleta asked, irritation giving way to trepidation.  She was so cold!  All she wanted to do was lie down under a dozen blankets afore a roaring fire.  She reached up with icy hands to feel her face, her hair.  “I’ve still but one head,” she reported.
            “There is a mirror out here in the hall.”  Cianan held the door open.  “You had best take a look at what your Goddess considers ‘fair punishment’.”  There was a harshness to his voice, a bitter twist to his mouth.
            Maleta stepped out into the well-lit hallway.  She stared with growing horror at the reflection in the mirror.  A stranger with her eyes stared back at her.  A pale stranger, pale as death, with colorless eyes and silver-frosted hair.  Her entire body appeared to shimmer with winter frost.  Fear gripped her; an icy fist closed around her heart until it stuttered, leaving her gasping.  Then the ice took hold, and the fear receded.  All she felt was a distant cold.  No warmth at all.  There was no fear after the shock, no sorrow.  As if the lock on her body extended to her heart, to her very soul.
Picture a scene from your own book as a movie with no sound, all you have are the images.  Whether an outdoor café in Paris, a camping trip in a mountain forest, on a beach at sunset, entering a creepy old (haunted?) house, a day at the Kentucky Derby, or a trip to the doctor’s office.  What’s the weather, time of year, lighting?  What kind of animal, vegetable, or mineral?  With or without people?  Remember to BE SPECIFIC.  This is entirely visual, people.
Posted by: reneewildes1 | January 27, 2017

New Review for RIEVER’S HEART

Rievers Heart72smCustomer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting mix of romance and politics, January 25, 2017
This review is from: Riever’s Heart: Guardians of Light, Book 5 (Kindle Edition)
Riever’s Heart was a step into a fantasy world which kept me happily entranced for several hours. Although I don’t usually read M/F romance, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. This is a tale of unexpected romance and political manoeuvring as Daq Aryk seeks to unite six fractious clans into a peaceful nation.
This is book 5 of a series, and as I haven’t read the previous books I was concerned I would be lost, but the world-building was comprehensive, and various races and clans of people were interesting and different enough that they didn’t blur into one. Riever’s Heart has a smooth and in-depth narrative, stepping up the intensity for the romance and battle scenes.
I cut my teeth on fantasy as a teenager and I feel the author has a deft hand as a fantasy writer. I enjoyed the story of the clans and their interactions with each other and the outside world as much as the burgeoning romance between Aryk and Verdeen. I’m not an M/F reader but the interaction between the couple and the secondary characters kept me interested.
Although I didn’t feel there was anything highly original in the plot, the twist was
Posted by: reneewildes1 | January 27, 2017

New Review for DUALITY

Cindy’s Reviews > Duality

11929346  *****

Cindy‘s review

Jan 25, 2017
it was amazing


A guilty pleasure that satisfyingly fed my imagination. Duality starts off by dragging you into a bloody coup. Dara is a mystery, and is loyal to her people. She’s also a fighter–fearing no one. She will protect and heal all who cross her path, even a stranger.

Her gifts lead to those who need her and that is how she finds Loren. A visitor to her world who had come to help the king, becoming gravely injured.

The chemistry between Dara and Loren was instant. I enjoyed journeying with them as they fought the enemy while their romance bloomed.

The author has painted a world of adventure and fantasy that immediately pulls you in, and doesn’t let go. In fact, I stayed up to 3 in the morning finishing it.

I am definitely a fan!

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