Welcome to the blog tour for my special guest, Janet Elizabeth Henderson. She’s been a guest before, and I always love having her on my blog. This time, rather than an interview, I’ve asked her to share some writing wisdom for those of us who have been in the writing game for a while. Check out her advice below, and be sure to read all the way to the end so you can read all about her new book: Reckless.
There are a lot of fiction writing advice books out there. Most of them focus on teaching the basics of the craft and guiding you on how to find your voice. There are very few that concentrate on what to do once you have the basics down. I think this lack of balance reflects a deeper problem within the world of fiction writing—a lot of writers assume that once they’ve found their personal style and understand the basics there’s nothing else to learn.
If you don’t want your writing to stagnate… If you don’t want to write the same book over and over… Then you have to challenge yourself in every new piece of work you write. Think of the process as mining. You can dig down a little, find something interesting and then stay at that depth forever as you widen the same hole outwards. Or, you can go deeper and find something more precious. Maybe even find something that no one has ever found before. And yes, digging deeper is harder. But it’s worth it.
So, if you’re a mid-career writer and you want to dig deeper, how do you go about doing that? You could try some of the following:
Get out of your character comfort zone
Challenge yourself to write a character unlike any you’ve ever written before. If your speciality is alpha men, write the weakling—but do it in a way that makes him lovable, desirable and magnetic. (Be careful he doesn’t morph into your usual character type throughout the book. Keep him true to himself.) If you write great submissive women, try writing about a strong, leader-type woman. Get into the head of your character, changing your language and adapting your style to suit the character’s voice.
Make story, not plot, your priority
When we first start out, we cling to the formulas for plotting as though they are lifelines. The problem with this is that sometimes the flow of the story can become mutated or get lost to accommodate the structure you feel it must fit. Instead of following a pattern for your book, focus on the story. Story is the natural development of a tale which meets the criteria of your fictional world and the needs of your character. Plot is a series of events which follow a set structure. Do you see the difference?
Try not to think about whether your fiction fits accepted norms, but rather whether the story flows or not. Ask yourself: is this is the story your characters need to tell? Does it make logical sense within the frame of the world you’ve created? When you read something written by a natural storyteller, you often can’t see a structure at all. It’s buried underneath the very real dilemmas of the characters. It flows with a natural rhythm that suits the world the writer has set up. And it always surprises the reader.
Do one thing in each piece of work that you haven’t done before
With each new book, try to do something new and do it well. If you’ve always focused on the internal drama of your characters, write a scene where everyone has to deal with an external drama. If your last book was full of action, make this one full of emotion instead. If your last book flitted all over the world, set this one in a single room for the duration. Do something hard that will make you think deeper for every single scene in your story.
Never go with your first idea
I learned this one in art college! Always brainstorm your story ideas. Keep asking “what if?” until you hit an angle that you wouldn’t have come across otherwise. This will keep your stories fresh and give greater depth to your writing. The first few ideas we have are usually pretty obvious. Dig deeper. Find the idea that’s going to surprise you and your reader.
Critique your own work
There is a difference between having a critique and being a critic. Being a critic is often a negative thing; staging a critique is a productive event. The difference is that a critic often compares your work to the work of those around you, whereas a critique asks questions of the work itself to make you consider it on a deeper level.
Have a critique of your work by asking questions of it and not being afraid of the answers. Ask things like: “Is this truly in character or am I trying to bend the hero to fit the plot?” and “What other outcomes are possible from this set of circumstances?”
Always ask yourself why you’ve chosen something and whether there is a better, more unusual choice to be had. Make “what if?” your mantra. What if the plot took a different direction? What if the character did something else? What if there was another person in this scene? What if the setting was different? “What if?” is a question that will help you mine deeper into your work.
Okay, so that’s five things I try to do with each new book. I hope, if you give it a go, that you’ll let me know how it works out for you. And if you have some suggestions to add, all the better—I’m always looking to improve my writing!
Celebrate the release of Reckless
by Janet Elizabeth Henderson!
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2 grand prize winners will receive a $10 Amazon Gift Card.
2 runner-ups will receive an e-copy of choice from Janet’s backlist!
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The new London office of Benson Security hasn’t even opened its doors yet and already it’s neck deep in its first case…
If the mission doesn’t kill him, his sexy partner just might.
Dimitri Raast and Megan Donaldson have a common enemy—the head of an organisation that specializes in human trafficking and sexual slavery.
They have similar motivation—Dimitri’s sister was taken by the organisation, and Megan’s sister is threatened by it.
They have the same goal—eliminate their enemy and save their sisters.
Given they have so much in common, you would think working together would be a piece of cake.
You would be wrong.
While Dimitri brings skills and experience from years as a US Army Ranger to their partnership, Megan brings a background in failed career choices and an ability to cause trouble wherever she goes. Yet, even with so much at stake, Dimitri can’t resist Megan’s particular brand of crazy.
She’s wild, she’s sexy and she’s fearless. An irresistible combination for a man who lives his life completely in control. Now, after almost a year with one all-consuming focus, Dimitri finds himself torn between rescuing his sister and protecting the woman he wants—from herself.
Before she gets them both killed.
They were meeting Johnny Rotten in a dark alley. Of course they were meeting a guy called Johnny Rotten in a dark alley. Megan rolled her eyes. Obviously Johnny went to the TV movie school of how to be a bad guy.
“You stay here.” Dimitri pointed at a dumpster. Yeah. A dumpster. She half expected some guy with a camera to shout cut and make them start again.
“You don’t mean in the dumpster, right?” Because—eew!
“No. Beside it. In the dark.” He didn’t even try to disguise that he was losing patience. “Don’t move, don’t make a sound, don’t interrupt.”
Blah, blah, blah, let the big boys play. She was so tired of hearing the same old tune. It was time to change the radio station.
“Right,” Dimitri said. “I’m going to drive round and come in from the other end.”
“Why can’t I just wait in the car? It’s cold and it stinks here.”
“Because…” He stretched the word out. “You’re supposed to be my hostage. I can’t just let you hang out in the car.”
“I can pretend to be drugged.”
“No. Too dangerous. He might spot you, know who you are and that Rudi wants you. Then what would stop him deciding to eliminate me and take you to Rudi himself?”
She stamped her feet to get her blood circulating before the chill removed her toes. “Why didn’t you just take me back to the office?”
“You’re my backup.” There was a silent ‘idiot’ attached to that sentence, she just knew it.
“The backup that hides in dumpsters?”
“The backup that phones for help if it looks like things are going south.”
Megan blushed, grateful he couldn’t see it in the dark. “So, I need my phone?”
He put his hands on his hips and looked skyward for a moment. “Where is it?”
“Car.” She gave him what she hoped was an apologetic smile.
He stomped off, cursing under his breath and came back a few minutes later with the phone. “Sorted now?”
Megan nodded. It probably wasn’t the best time to tell him she really needed to use the bathroom. She could hold it. How long did it take to have a covert meeting in an alley anyway?
She gave him a thumbs up and watched him march back to the car. Leaving her alone in a stinky, dark alley. Alone and not thinking about how good Dimitri’s lips felt against hers. Nope. She wasn’t thinking about that at all. She was a professional—nearly. She had a job to do. She backed into the shadows and tried to become invisible. Ninja Megan. She could do it. It was all about the power of the mind. She closed her eyes and took a few calming breaths.
That’s when her stomach rumbled. Her hand smacked flat on it as she bit her lip. Maybe all that fried food wasn’t such a great idea after all. Not that she would ever admit that to Dimitri. She was still mad at the man. Sure she’d been the first to say they weren’t in a relationship, but he didn’t have to agree so enthusiastically. He’d sounded affronted. As though she was the last person on earth he’d consider dating. It was insulting. Her stomach made a strange bubbling sound as she saw Dimitri’s SUV pull up at the other end of the alley. He got out and stood under the yellow glow of the street lamp. Waiting. Alert. Moody.
Megan’s stomach rumbled again. Loudly. This wasn’t good. So much for not making a sound. Her own body was working against her. She crouched down in an attempt to dull the noise, and hoped it worked. She closed her eyes, tried to calm her stomach and think thoughts that made her invisible.
That’s when she farted.
It wasn’t silent.
Megan dropped her head to her knees. If the bad guys didn’t get her, she’d die of humiliation.
And then her stomach rumbled again.
© 2016 Janet Elizabeth Henderson
About Janet Elizabeth Henderson:
I grew up in Scotland, but now I’m living in New Zealand – married to a Dutch man whom I met in America. (It can get a little confusing in my household!) When I’m not living in my head, I’m a mother to two tiny kids, three pet sheep, three miniature horses, three alpacas, one dog, two cats, several chickens and an escape artist goat.
5 random things about me:
I accidentally mooned a crowd at a Bolivian wedding.
I’ve been chased by a gang of baboons. And I mean gang. They were organised and vicious. All that was missing was their leather jackets and tattoos!
I wrote my first novel when I was 22. It was a cross between Star Wars, Monsters Inc. and Tinkerbelle. Funnily enough, no one wanted to publish it. Odd, that…
I was a portrait artist on the streets of Amsterdam for a time.
I worked night shift as a security guard at Stirling Castle in Scotland while I was in art college. The castle was on a terrorist hit-list back then. To defend it they gave me a flashlight, a two-way radio that only worked one-way and made me wear a polyester A-line skirt…
If you’d like to sign up for my newsletter, which happens sporadically – usually when books are being released – then you’ll find a form on my website. I hope you enjoy my books. Happy reading!