JoAnn Smith Ainsworth's Blog

May 21, 2019

Refresh

[246 words]
If you’re like me, you’re a self-starter who plans each day and often gets work done faster than anticipated. Qualities that can drive those close to us crazy mad, but necessary qualities for solitary authors.

Still, there are those days when everything we touch seems to drop out of our fingers and progress is zilch for the day.

Challenging days!

Frustrating days!

Over the years, I learned that the more I struggle, the less I get done. I found the best way to deal with those difficult days is not to fight them.

Instead of trying to be diligent and disciplined and on schedule, I let go. I don’t worry and I take it easy. By taking this break life is offering by causing nothing to go right, I am in a better frame of mind when I awake next morning.

That’s right. Strange as it seems, the best way for me when nothing goes right as an author is to not do “author” things. Instead, I do “enjoyable” things—even if the “thing” is staring into space while petting the cat or going swimming or having lunch with a friend or camping. These pleasing, enjoyable activities rejuvenate.

The break in routine refreshes. The break re-balances my equilibrium. The break gives a fresh viewpoint on my work. I become more productive in the long run. Instead of getting frustrated and fighting a losing battle, I give in, relax and have fun. After I’ve refreshed mind and body and come back to the keyboard, my prose sparkles.

Try it. You’ll like it.
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Published on May 21, 2019 18:23 Tags: frustration, keywords-struggle, refresh-viewpoint, routine, take-a-break

September 4, 2018

Don’t Neglect the Endings

Endings are important features in novels—endings of sentences, scenes and chapters.

“What makes the end of something so important?” you ask.

Endings of sentences can carry the “punch” that makes your words stick in the reader’s mind. Endings of scenes can vault your reader seamlessly into the next scene where that Point-of-View character reappears. Endings of chapters are many times the reason why readers stay awake all night, unable to put down the novel.

Let's take the end of a sentence.

Sentences are made up of a variety of words, some of which are more impactful than others. When the most powerful word(s) is put at the end of the sentence, you give that sentence increased power. The words at the end of the sentence stand out more vividly in the reader's mind than those in the middle of a sentence. This technique is called back loading. Back loading increases pacing and contributes to page-turning.

Of course, writers can't use the technique of back loading for all sentences. A reader can't take all those “punches”. Soften the impact and give the reader relief from the punches by using a variety of sentence structures. Besides, variety of sentence formats creates a complexity of form that is pleasing to the eye and to the ear.

How do you go about back loading?

Take a look at the words in your sentence. Which word carries the most emotional punch? Is it a strong word that makes the sentence interesting? Well, then, you’ll want that word at or near the end of your sentence.

Another thing, sometimes back loading won’t work for a particular sentence. If the sentence sounds awkward no matter how you revise it, give up. Don’t struggle to use the technique if it isn’t effective.

Let's have a look at an example of back loading.


ORIGINAL:
He had an utterly amazed look on his face.

See how the most powerful words are in the middle? Now, put them at the end.

BACK LOADED:
His face had an utterly amazed look.

The back loading evokes a stronger image, one that keeps the reader flipping through the pages fast, ready to dig into the next chapter.


Now, let’s look at scene and chapter endings.

The power of the last sentence in a scene or chapter is in its hook. Hooks set up the reader to want to continue reading to see how the anticipated action will be resolved.

In scenes, hooks have a dual purpose: (1) They keep the reader flipping through the pages and (2) they let the reader know what the POV character is planning for his or her next appearance in the story. The aim at the end of a scene is to set up anticipation so interesting and powerful in the mind of the reader that the reader wants to keep reading to find out how it plays out.

But…here’s where you have to watch out. There can be a little trickiness to creating the hooks between scenes.

If you write third person with several POV characters, the scene hook becomes anticipation for when the character next comes into the story, which is not necessarily the next scene. That “next time” might be several scenes or even chapters away. Despite that, the transition needs to be smooth so that the anticipation set up at the end of the scene matches the action when the character again enters the story.

I use examples of scene endings that anticipate the next arrival of the POV character from my own WIP, EXPECT DECEPTION, a paranormal suspense.

Scene endings:
“The clock struck eight as the binding spells clicked into place. The battle was begun in earnest.”

“Satisfaction washed through her when the smell of rotten egg assaulted her senses; she’d latched onto the source.”

“He wiped his hands, one on the other, as if cleansing them for the next task—the disintegration curse for the Liberty Ship.”


Ends of chapters are easier than scenes in that there is no skipping forward. The ending hook must entice the reader into the chapter immediately following. The hook carries the reader to the next chapter in sequence.

To do this, you have to give the reader something to anticipate about the next chapter. Shutting down and closing off the current chapter with no anticipation for things to come in the story will only give the reader the notion to put the book down and go do something else.

These endings must be interesting enough to keep the reader in the story. Ending a scene or chapter with the character deciding to go to sleep is likely to lead the reader to make the same decision—to go to sleep. Instead of closing down action at scene or chapter endings, these endings should anticipate new action, new problems to resolve, and new happiness or unhappiness to anticipate.

Dan Brown wrote chapter hooks effectively in The Da Vinci Code. Here are some examples of those endings:

Chapter endings:
“If all went as planned tonight in Paris, Aringarosa would soon be in possession of something that would make him the most powerful man in Christendom.”

“Thirty seconds later, forty kilometers away, hidden in the undercarriage of the armored truck, a tiny transponder blinked to life.”

“When Collet read the label above the empty peg, he knew he was in trouble.”

“As I expressed when we first spoke, Bishop, you would do well to remember that you are not the only man on the verge of losing everything.”


Don’t you agree that these hooks make you want to know what’s going to happen next?


Endings are valuable real estate in any piece of writing. When doing your final edits, take a look at each ending. Make sure each is as powerful as it can be.

Now it’s your turn. Create those hooks which keep readers reading.
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Published on September 04, 2018 14:17 Tags: back-loading-sentences, dan-brown, hooks, scene-and-chapter-endings, the-da-vinci-code

June 29, 2018

Indomitable Women Going It Alone

You may be like me and prefer to write and read character-driven stories.

Recently, my writing partners pointed out that I consistently write “coming of awareness” and “self acceptance” stories in an historical setting. The heroine is of prime importance to the resolution of the story question. Self acceptance transforms the heroine into an “indomitable” woman as she struggles with plot elements. She gains strength, wisdom and becomes empowered as she overcomes each challenge.

My writing partners also point out that my heroines, although living in historical times, could easily be transported to today’s world. Their type of courage is timeless. People struggle with the same relationship intricacies generation after generation. People face the same types of emotional highs and lows as their ancestors as they grow into adulthood, marry, and nurture children. They have aspirations. They endure despair. They are blocked while trying to reach their goals or make their lives better.

These universal events in the human condition tie us together with an understanding that spans the centuries.

That gave me an idea. I decided to compare my historical western romance heroine, Ida Osterbach, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ida’s story is set in 1895 Wyoming. She has survived Indian and range wars and the murder of her husband. She’s kept the family farm going with sheer grit and determination. Hard working, focused, fiercely proprietary, she’s determined no outlaw gang is going to steal her land out from under her. Ida would have said the same words as Eleanor Roosevelt if asked about her life: "As for accomplishments, I just did what I had to do as things came along."

Both women are fearless in their own way. Eleanor sets up canteens for people living in city slums. She works with the Red Cross during World War I and takes care of the shell-shocked and wounded soldiers in the hospitals. Ida acts despite bullets flying and willingly risks her life for her fiancé and her friends.

Both women were widowed when they took their longest strides in personal achievement.

Eleanor goes against social norms to support the women's suffrage movement. Ida lives in a territory which refused to join the union unless its women could continue to vote (as was the law in the territory).

As both women met and dealt with each challenge thrown at them, they rose above the “average”. They became “indomitable”. They are examples of courage and the ever-driving force of the human spirit toward a fulfilled life.

As you read various novels, do you ever find a heroine who reminds you of someone you know?

Share with us.
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December 3, 2017

Routines have Proven Good for Me

I’m a structured person–a plotter. Before I ever write a word of the novel, I do my research, have my main characters fleshed out, my story question, theme, tag line and pitch sentence written, and the whole novel outlined in an Excel spread sheet so I know the purpose of each scene and how it carries the story forward. I tried the intuitive approach when I wrote my first novel and it just didn’t work for me.

My daily routine is to wake early in the morning, do a half hour exercise, write for 3-4 hours on my laptop in my p.j.’s, then rest a bit before showering and going downstairs for lunch. In the afternoon, I check my email, return phone calls, and handle household and marketing needs. The only time my routine slips is the weeks before and after a book release. Then everything flip flops. Marketing and ‘taking care of business’ take priority. I squeeze writing in when I have the energy. I write a book a year. During that year, I expect to have three months when family, holidays, vacations, and marketing take up most of my time (so in reality, I write a book in 9 months). (Then, there are years like this one which are coming to a close and the book is only a quarter written. Age is slowing me down.)

How do I handle deadlines? I’ve never waited to the last minute to do anything. I like having the time to carefully review what I do before submitting it.

I try to do my research first, but as I write there is always a need for more research. I write in eight+ week timelines so my historical settings are more important than the history of the period. Clothing, housing and food take up most of my research time.

My process revolves around my critique partners. I keep working on a novel until they are satisfied it’s ready to go into the public.
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Published on December 03, 2017 07:41 Tags: critique-partners, deadlines, exercise, marketing, plotter, research, routine, structured

November 7, 2017

Romance Changes as We Age

When mature protagonists find love, there is a different "tone" to the experience from when young heroines and heroes discover love for the first time. My historical western romance, POLITE ENEMIES, released from Whiskey Creek Press, expresses the theme that “love strikes when you least expect it.” The novel was conceived from my desire to write about “mature” love.

I don't know about you, but I find that relationships change as I age. By acquiring more experience about people and the world, there’s an interplay between my inner needs and my outer experiences that causes a different reaction to - or outcome for - relationships than when I was young. I wanted my novel to explore the sense of "knowing" and "practicality" that comes from living and gaining knowledge about the world and its peoples. The novel’s protagonists are approaching middle age for that era. The heroine is late 30’s and the hero early 40’s.

The setting is Buffalo, Wyoming, in 1895. This territory had recently gone through range wars and there was an unsettled feeling between ranchers and farmers. My heroine, Ida Osterbach, is a farmer. The hero, Jared Buell, is a rancher. An added complication is that both Ida and Jared had happy first marriages with spouses now deceased. Neither wants nor needs a new relationship. In the novel, I try to express the practical considerations that inch them toward a relationship until chemistry can take hold and take over.

As I wrote their story, I had to remember that the exciting, “first discovery of true love” was over for both of them. They needed a different foundation on which to build a relationship and a marriage. I added a tone of earthiness that I do not add to my novels with younger protagonists.

From their first marriages, Ida and Jared were both comfortable with sharing their bodies and found no embarrassment in revealing them (despite the remnants of Queen Victoria’s prudish dictums for those times). The thrill that comes with the first experience of physical love is over for them. Their lovemaking is a means to exact the full measure of pleasure for themselves and for their partner. The "discovery" in POLITE ENEMIES is that even people who are at odds with one another over their properties and their social standings are not immune when love comes knocking.

We humans are constantly changing and evolving, whether for the better or for the worse. Life doesn’t stand still. As we evolve, our approach to this world -- including love -- changes. For a novel mirror life, change must transform the lovers. Ida and Jared transition from “polite enemy” neighbors into lovers committed to marriage and a future together.

Have you noticed that your attitude toward relationships changes over time? It is this changed attitude I tried to capture in POLITE ENEMIES.

Let us know your experiences. What changed for you as you matured?
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October 2, 2017

Indomitable Women Who Beat the Odds

Universal events in the human condition tie us together with the characters we authors write about in an understanding that spans the centuries. This type of courage is timeless.

Recently, my writing partners pointed out that I consistently write “coming of self acceptance” stories in an historical setting. The heroine is of prime importance to the resolution of the story question. Self acceptance transforms the heroine into an “indomitable” woman as she struggles with plot elements. She gains strength, wisdom and becomes empowered as she overcomes each challenge.

My writing partners also point out that my heroines, although living in historical times, could easily be transported to today’s world. People struggle with the same relationship intricacies generation after generation. People face the same types of emotional highs and lows as their ancestors as they grow into adulthood, marry, and nurture children. They have aspirations. They endure despair. They are blocked while trying to reach their goals or make their lives better.

That gave me an idea for this blog post. I decided to compare my WWII paranormal suspense heroine, WAVES Lt. Livvy Delacourt in the award winning Expect Trouble (now an audiobook) and Helen Keller, the deaf and dumb American woman who graduated from college.

Livvy had her sight, but she also had Second Sight, which ostracized her from family and society. Helen Keller (living in the 1880’s) had a greater challenge. She lost her sight and hearing at 19 months from a high fever caused by “acute congestion of the stomach and brain.”

Helen Keller had some support from her family, but both found the most help from women hired or friends. Helen Keller made progress around her sightless world when Anne Sullivan was hired as a tutor. Livvy found her confidence when pressured into using her clairvoyance and precognition to help Uncle Sam win the war. Her superior officer, also a childhood friend, encouraged her and protected her. Both blossomed under the care of these mentors.

Livvy’s family, although supportive with finances, considered her a flawed product for the marriage mart. She dreamed of finding a man who would fall in love with her despite being “different.” Helen Keller's ambition was to attend Radcliffe College.

Because of her psychic powers, Livvy’s life is threatened by Hitler’s Nazi spy.
While Helen Keller's life was not threatened, she had the greater disability by being deaf as well as blind. She had to learn only by touch and smell and taste to identify clothing, furniture, people, plants and animals.

Both women never gave up. They were women who wouldn’t stay down for the count, but would shake off life’s punches and try again.

Helen Keller graduated from college and Livvy saw her true value in the eyes of her commanding officer.

Both women are examples of remaining true through thick and thin. As they met each challenge, they rose above the “average” and became “indomitable” women. They are examples for us of courage and the ever-driving force of the human spirit toward a fulfilled life.
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Published on October 02, 2017 06:48 Tags: character-driven-stories, helen-keller, indomitable-women, psychic, radcliffe-college, spies, wwii

August 2, 2017

Hot, Sticky and Exhausting Ironing Days…in the 1940's

You may have wondered why 1940s women bothered with ironing. And why it took them all day to do it! Well, let me enlighten you.

There were no wrinkle-free garments invented back then. Everything had to be ironed.

Tuesdays were set aside for Ironing Day. With Laundry Day on Mondays, the washed clothing would have been dampened, rolled, and stored in the icebox overnight, where they would be waiting for the women of the household.

When I was a child, our household was lucky to own an electric iron. Stored on mostly unused cabinet shelves were various sizes of metal irons of the previous generation that had to be heated on the kitchen stove. I was glad I never had to use one, even though electric irons in those days didn’t have extra features like steam or spraying.

In the 1940s, men wore suits and white shirts whenever they were outside the house and not going to work as a laborer. (Colored shirts were not a part of men’s fashion in those days, unless plaid work shirts.)

I grew up with grandparents. My grandfather worked as a brakeman on the Pennsylvania Railroad. He wore dungarees to work and to do carpentry chores in town for extra money. If he were going to church or to a school program, he wore a suit. You might imagine that there were a few white shirts in the weekly wash. Working with several white shirts can easily take up a morning’s worth of time. They had to be pre-soaked in chlorine water to lighten spots. After washing, the shirt would be treated with handmade starch according to the amount of stiffness wanted in the shirt and in the collar—a sticky business even if you got it right.

As you may guess, ironing a man’s shirt can be tricky because of all the sections to it. There are many tight places where, if you’re not careful, it’s just as easy to put a wrinkle in as to take one out.

And there were still other clothes to iron besides white shirts and pressing men’s suits—women’s and children’s clothing, like aprons and house dresses and play clothes and school clothes and church clothes.

Because doing the laundry and the ironing were both labor- and time intensive chores, people tried to wear clothing 3 or 4 times before putting them in the basket to be washed. This didn’t mean our clothes were stinky or dirty. The rule for children and adult alike was that as soon as we came home from church or school, we put on our play dresses. (Girls and women didn’t wear pants in those days, except for the Rosy the Riveter women working in the factories.) Women wore their oldest and least expensive dresses to do the daily chores. These “house” dresses were almost always covered by a bibbed apron, keeping the garment underneath reasonably clean. (The bibs took up most of the spills and the drips from cooking.) We had to inspect and spot and air out our church and school clothes, then hang them back in the closet for wearing another day.

By the time all the dampened, previously ice-boxed clothes were ironed and hanging from hangers at various positions around the kitchen (where the ironing was done to be close to the only sink with running water instead of a hand pump and to be near the icebox), it was time to get them sorted out and into bedroom closets to make room in the kitchen to prepare supper (which itself took an hour or two because every meal was made from scratch, and the vegetables might need to be harvested first).

Believe you me, a day ironing could be hot, sticky and exhausting. And guess what! Women got to do it all over again the next week.
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Published on August 02, 2017 11:00 Tags: 1940-s, handmade-starch, ironing-day, laundry, wwii

June 25, 2017

Laundry Took All Day in the 1940s

When you read that housewives in the 1940s set aside a full day to do the laundry or the ironing or the baking or the cleaning, it was because it actually took all day to accomplish each of those chores. Let’s dissect Laundry Day, for instance.

Laundry Day (traditionally a Monday) started well before the actual day in that you had to make your own soap. You could buy Ivory soap and one or two other mild soaps in the grocery store, but they were expensive and not as good at getting the ground-in dirt out.

You may find it strange to think of soap as expensive, but World War II arrived just after the Great Depression and no one in the lower and middle classes had cash on hand. Also, most all basic supplies were being diverted to the battlefields in Europe and in the Pacific. Most everything was rationed. Shortages made the prices go up.

During World War II, while the men were on the battlefield and the women were in the factories, children were reared by their grandparents. In my grandparents’ household, the making of lye soap was done outside the house and only by adults. The reason for that was that lye was a dangerous chemical and the fumes were strong.

We children came into the process when it was time to make flakes for doing the laundry. The solidified lye soap was cut into rectangles of a size that would fit in a hand. We'd grate off flakes with a metal grater like the ones used in kitchens. Care was needed not to tear skin by catching our knuckles in the grater. If we did it would sting—a lot—because of the corrosive lye. The curly lengths of flakes we created could also be used to pre-soak dirty clothes in the big, metal washtub (the same washtub we children used for our Saturday night bath).

After soaking, the clothes would be scrubbed against a metal washboard to get the excess dirt out. There again, we had to be careful. Although the washboard was made with curved metal, instead of sharp edges like the grater, we could injure knuckles if the wet clothing slipped out of position and our knuckles scraped on the washboard instead.

We sorted the clothing into piles of white or colored and put a pile into the wash machine, along with our freshly grated soap. We Smith children were lucky in that our grandparents had an electric washing machine, which also had an electric wringer instead of a crank needing to be turned to draw the clothing through the wringer. The danger with the electric wringer was the need to keep the clothing we were wearing and our fingers out of its crushing power.

Laundry Day wasn’t done yet! The wrung-out clothes were put into a large wash basket. We children carried the basket to the backyard to hang the clothes on the clothes line. It’s amazing how heavy a wicker basket of wet wash can be!

If there was a wind, the wash could slap us in the face while hanging it. Being heavy when wet, we might drop one and have to re-wash it. If it was winter, the water in the wet clothing would freeze. Then, after the clothes were taken off the line at the end of the day and brought inside, the ice would melt, making the clothing damp again.

Which was not entirely a bad thing. The last thing about Laundry Day was to make the clothes ready for ironing day on Tuesday. The clothes were dampened by using a bottle with a sprinkler cap or a pump spray. After sprinkling, they were folded in from the sides and rolled into cylinder shapes. They were put into the icebox so that they didn’t dry out before the next day – ironing day.

If there were certain pieces of clothing that needed to be starched, we had to make our own starch out of cornstarch. We either sprinkled the starch on lightly or dipped the cloth in the starch for those collars and lace items needing to be very stiff. These, too, got rolled and placed in the icebox.


I’m delighted to live in an era where laundry can be done as a backdrop to other things and not consume all day. My hat’s off to the hardiness of the women of the 1940s who, week after week and year after year, tackled an "all-day" Laundry Day.
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Published on June 25, 2017 06:06 Tags: 1940s, clothes-line, laundry-day, lye-soap, starch, washboard, washtub

May 26, 2017

Thoughts and Emotions--Powerful Tools to Improve Your Writing

Thoughts and core beliefs have more impact than I once believed. As soon as I understood their impact, I brought them under my control. Thoughts and the emotions of core beliefs have become devices to produce self-fulfilling prophecies for improvement in my craft. Over the years, I’ve learned to expect the outcome I envision. Maybe not as soon as I want, but eventually.

When I was young, I’d worry and fret. In time, I learned that worry did no good. Its negativity drained my energy and distracted me from my goal. Little by little, I changed my attitude.

Perhaps, you’ve had similar experiences.

Disappointments slowed the process, but I learned to stay focused with a positive expectation. The result is that all is well in the end, although that end may not have the exact dimensions I planned for it.

Often, the end turns out better than I envisioned. The key is:

• Keep happy with your goal.
• Dissolve frustrations as quickly as practical by distracting yourself away from the negative and toward the positive.
• Little by little, chip away at the learning curve and gain confidence.

Try it. You may be surprised at the result.

The same technique works in everyday life as it does in the craft of writing.

• Set your goal.
• Stay focused.
• Enjoy the journey (the learning process).
• Take baby steps.
• Keep impatience at a minimum.
• Stay happy about your progress.
• Don’t beat up on yourself because the goal is still to be reached.
• Congratulate yourself on the steps already taken.

Sooner or later, you’ll notice that you’ve reached goal after goal—without being aware you were that close to the finish line.

Happy thoughts!
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Published on May 26, 2017 11:47 Tags: baby-steps, emotions, focus, goal, progress, thoughts

April 27, 2017

Indomitable Women Going It Alone

You may be like me and prefer to write and read character-driven stories.

Recently, my writing partners pointed out that I consistently write “coming of awareness” and “self acceptance” stories in an historical setting. The heroine is of prime importance to the resolution of the story question. Self acceptance transforms the heroine into an “indomitable” woman as she struggles with plot elements. She gains strength, wisdom and becomes empowered as she overcomes each challenge.

My writing partners also point out that my heroines, although living in historical times, could easily be transported to today’s world. Their type of courage is timeless. People struggle with the same relationship intricacies generation after generation. People face the same types of emotional highs and lows as their ancestors as they grow into adulthood, marry, and nurture children. They have aspirations. They endure despair. They are blocked while trying to reach their goals or make their lives better.

These universal events in the human condition tie us together with an understanding that spans the centuries.

That gave me an idea. I decided to compare my historical western romance heroine, Ida Osterbach, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Ida’s story is set in 1895 Wyoming. She has survived Indian and range wars and the murder of her husband. She’s kept the family farm going with sheer grit and determination. Hard working, focused, fiercely proprietary, she’s determined no outlaw gang is going to steal her land out from under her. Ida would have said the same words as Eleanor Roosevelt if asked about her life: "As for accomplishments, I just did what I had to do as things came along."

Both women are fearless in their own way. Eleanor sets up canteens for people living in city slums. She works with the Red Cross during World War I and takes care of the shell-shocked and wounded soldiers in the hospitals. Ida acts despite bullets flying and willingly risks her life for her fiancé and her friends.

Both women were widowed when they took their longest strides in personal achievement.

Eleanor goes against social norms to support the women's suffrage movement. Ida lives in a territory which refused to join the union unless its women could continue to vote (as was the law in the territory).

As both women met and dealt with each challenge thrown at them, they rose above the “average”. They became “indomitable”. They are examples of courage and the ever-driving force of the human spirit toward a fulfilled life.

As you read various novels, do you ever find a heroine who reminds you of someone you know?

Share with us.
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