Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Abundance of Books

The best thing about writing is the books -- not just the books I get to write, but the books I get to read. I've worked in bookselling all my life, so I've always had a good excuse to spend my time reading anything and everything. But writing has changed and enriched the way I read.

There's no better way to learn the craft of writing than by reading good books. Through reading, I've had some of the best writers in the world of romance teach me how to put a story together, and each of my favorites taught me how to add the elements that make it stand out.

So here's my syllabus for a course in romance writing, covering a comprehensive assortment of skills through writers with special strengths.


  • Voice: Janet Evanovich. There's a reason why the Stephanie Plum series became a bestseller. The screwball New Jersey bounty hunter is a fantastic character, but what really makes the novels work is the way Evanovich lets Stephanie's unique personality shine through her first-person storytelling. The books are funny and fast-moving, and show how a unique voice can captivate a reader. Start with One for the Money and read them all!
  • Flawed but lovable characters: Kristan Higgins. Kristan's latest release, All I Ever Wanted, is one of my favorite romance novels ever. For one thing, the heroine's issues at the beginning of the book echo my own, and I identified so strongly with people-pleasing Callie that I read the story to find out what would happen to me. I also loved the way the author showed Callie's growth through her relationship with -- a rocking chair. That's right -- it's not always about a man!
  • Emotional depth laced with humor: Susan Elizabeth Phillips. It's not easy to make love, trust, family secrets and heartbreak amusing, but SEP manages to perform the feat over and over. Her characters are unique and lovable, her dialogue sparkles, and her pacing makes her books impossible to put down. Natural Born Charmer is a near-perfect example of what a romance novel should be.
  • Characters that change and grow: Terri Garey. When I first started writing, my heroines started out witty and spunky and fun, and ended up -- witty and spunky and fun. Garey's inimitable Goth girl heroine, Nicki Styx, taught me how to make a character grow in a meaningful way while still holding onto her unique personality traits. Dead Girls Are Easy is one of my favorite paranormals.
  • Compelling secondary characters: Jodi Thomas. In the first volume of her small-town contemporary series, Welcome to Harmony, Jodi Thomas introduces a large cast of characters and proceeds to make each one a unique individual so real they stay with you long after the book is over. She even managed to make me fall in love with a middle-aged, slightly overweight funeral director!

That's just the start of my own personal School of Romance. I had so many other teachers it would be impossible to list them all, but these five helped lay a foundation for my ow writing and showed me what you can do with a cast of characters, an imagined world, and a love story.

Who are your favorite romance writers, and what have they taught you?

17 comments:

  1. Dialogue - Julia Quinn. And, heck, for sheer emotion, When He Was Wicked. OMG, that's a heart-wrencher and a huge up-lifter. I own it on Kindle and in print and read it at least once, if not twice a year.

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  2. I'm putting together my website in anticipation of a December release, and yesterday's exercise was to look up the URLs for all the authors I MUST read because their work is just scrumptious. At the rate I'm going, my Keeper Corner is going to take up four pages, there are so many talented people out there writing romance.

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  3. I'm extremely flattered to be mentioned alongside some of my absolute favorite authors, so thank you very much! Janet Evanovich, Kristan Higgans and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, in particular, continually amaze me with their ability to make me really care about their characters, and when I read their books I can only sigh with envy and smile with enjoyment. :) I try very hard to do the same with my books, so again, thank you. :)

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  4. I loved this post, Joanne. Janet Evanovich is one of my favorite authors, if not my favorite. She's the only author I'll rush and buy in hardcover.

    And Kristan Higgins has an incredible voice. Her dialog is fabulous and her ability to be funny and have you crying in the same chapter. I don't cry easily.

    Elizabeth Peters is great. Love her Amelia Peabody series. Her voice and her characters are great. I did buy the last one in hardcover as well.

    I love Jeri Westerson's Crispin Guest series. A medieval knight who's been stripped of titles and land and is forced to live the mean streets of London solving crimes with his young sidekick. She does setting perfectly. She doesn't overdo it, but I can almost taste the place it's so real.

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  5. You've latched onto a topic writer's love, Joanne!

    Linda Howard---I will confess to buying three copies of Mackenzie's Mountain. One to read, one to mark backstory (there are four characters whose history is their motivation.) And one to mark transition sentences--from narrator to deep POV and back, from backstory to present, from paragraph to paragraph.

    Jayne Ann Krentz--for likable, always likable, characters, and spare prose that is never choppy.

    My two mantras are WWLHD? And WWJAKD?

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  6. Judi, I'll have to try When He Was Wicked - love those "up-lifters." And BTW, for great humor, read Judi Fennell:)

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  7. Grace, I can't wait to see your website! Keeper Corner is a great idea. I can't wait to see who you choose!

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  8. Terri, thanks for visiting! I really have learned a lot from your writing, and that book came along with just the right time for me. Nicki is a wonderful character. I'm so glad you stopped by! I'm a total fangirl:)

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  9. Thank you kindly! You put me in great company. So glad you liked the book!

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  10. Anita, the Crispin series sounds wonderful! I love any kind of "fish-out-of-water" story, so I'll have to try them - especially since we share so many of the same favorites!

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  11. Mary Margret - I love your choices. Linda Howard is wonderful. Her speech at the RWA two years ago was the funniest thing, and I love her books. Jane Anne Krentz, too! This is turning into a great reading list - thanks everyone!

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  12. Kristan, thanks for stopping by! And thanks for the writing lessons:)

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  13. I love a ton of different authors--Linda Lael Miller, Heather Graham, Leslie Lafoy, Linda Howard, Jayne Krentz, and really the list goes on and on. :) I was just listening to the fantasy series by Dawn Cook and sooo disappointed when it ended. *sigh* But I'm always picking up authors' works I've never read before when the ones I love aren't writing fast enough to keep me reading! :)

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  14. There's nothing like finding a new author to love, Terri! Sourcebooks have introduced me to a lot of them, including you! Love those wolves...you're the writing teacher for true alpha heroes!

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  15. Love this list! I enjoy Julia Quinn and Georgette Heyer for dialog, and Lynn Kurland for dry wit. And many, many others!

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  16. I. DON'T. KNOW. Honestly, I don't study when I read, but I know what I've read influences my writing, I just don't know who and when or even how. I'll go with the gamish method of influence. Everything I've ever read is somewhere in the gamish that is my brain and it somehow comes out as my voice when I write. That's not to say I haven't been dazzled by a turn of phrase and thought, Wow, I wish I could write something that good. I just don't take notes.

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  17. I love your list, Joanne, and there are a few writers here that I have not yet read, and I look forward to doing so. Thank you for sharing your favorites & why.

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