Grace's Mosaic Moments

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Layering - a writing technique

Over the years I've become so branded as a Regency author that my contemporary Mystery and Suspense books tend to go unnoticed. Therefore, every once in a while I like to feature one or two. This week it's my Romantic Suspense, Shadowed Paradise, first published somewhere around 2001. It's a favorite of mine because so much of the book is based on fact, not fiction. Below please find the blurb from my website. Shadowed Paradise is available from Amazon, Smashwords, B&N, and most other online vendors.

When Claire Langdon's affluent, near-fairytale life in New York is shattered by scandal, she and her eight-year-old son Jamie take refuge with her grandmother in Florida. Once a bright, confident young woman, Claire has been so badly hurt that when she stumbles onto a genuine downhome hero, learning to trust, to love again, seem beyond her reach. She is also forced to deal with the discovery that there are more serious dangers in Florida than alligators, snakes, spiders, and macho males. Like a serial killer, with her name on his list.

Brad Blue is the son of a Russian defector (from Cold War days); his mother, the daughter of one of Florida's wealthiest cattle barons. (And, yes, Florida is the largest cattle-producing state east of the Mississippi.) Still under forty, Brad is retired from one of Uncle Sam's many secretive "alphabet" agencies. He's tough and lonely and more than ready to settle down to family life, but convincing Claire Langdon to marry him is one of his most difficult assignments. Almost as difficult as discovering the identity of the killer who is stalking female real estate agents in Calusa County, Florida.

From the moment Claire and Brad meet in the midst of a flooded bridge, cultural shock wars with romantic attraction. On top of that, they both have pasts that don't bear close scrutiny. But when Brad offers Claire the job of "sitting" one of his model homes out back of beyond, she accepts. Which is just fine with the killer.

The killer plays a prominent, if anonymous, role throughout the book, gloating over his kills, attempting to justify them. And finally meeting Claire, face to face.

~ * ~

A writing technique frequently used by out-of-the-mist authors

I once heard a so-called "plotter" tell a group of authors that, oh horrors, "pantsers" (i.e., "mist-ers" like me) actually have to go back and ADD things to their manuscripts! Uh, really? You mean pantsers get it perfect the first time? Sorry, I don't think so. And as a "mist-er," I don't expect to get it perfect the first time. I just want to get the feel of the book, get to know my characters, gather the plot around me as I go, etc., etc. Imagine how thrilled I was at my very first RWA conference  (c. 1996?) to hear Tami Hoag put a name to the way I write: Layering. That's what she called the way she writes, and I recognized the method instantly. We mist-ers do not go back and add things we "forgot." We go back and add more details, more color; clarify motives; paint a more brilliant picture, if you will. (Sometimes "color" means changing only a single word to something better.) All things we couldn't possibly do perfectly the first time around when we're forging ahead, eager to discover what happens next, snapping out dialogue, or working on getting to know these people we've created. Our books are an adventure, an explosion of continuous creativity, flexible right down to the moment we hit "Submit."

I mentioned "layering" in last week's blog, but as I edited a chapter of Tangled Destinies this week, I realized it was an extreme example of layering and would hopefully help clarify what I mean by "layering." I am pasting a portion of the chapter below with the newest "layer" in red. The chapter had already been edited once, directly after it was written. This version is a second layering.

Chapter 7

By the time I recovered enough to struggle to my feet, the Earl of Thornbury had crossed the few feet of well-scythed grass, and I found myself gazing at his broad chest, a scant two feet away. Far too close to execute anything more an inclined head and a slight bending of my shaking knees. The hunter had found his prey. Alone, encased in what seemed like miles of impenetrable boxwood, and far from shouting distance of the house. I avoided looking at him, but I could easily picture his expression. A mix of sly satisfaction and vulgar intent. I was to be his amusement for the morning.

Slow stalking, evidently, instead of the quick pounce, for he waved me back to the marble bench and remained looking down at me, his tall form casting a long shadow over both bench and grass. I shivered, anticipating the worst . . . surprised by the reasonableness of his tone when he spoke.

“Most women with your appearance and genteel birth,” he offered, “would have used their assets to snabble a husband of wealth and title long since. May I ask why you have not done so?”

“You may ask.”

A bark of laughter pierced the cool stillness in the center of the maze. “A hit, a hit, a palpable hit,” the earl conceded. “And yet, if you shun marriage, I cannot help but wonder why you have not considered the opportunity to shine as one of London’s brightest courtesans. Believe me, Miss Scarlett, properly dressed, you would outshine them all.”

In icy tones, and with as much dignity as I could muster, I replied, “My lord, I assure you I have been offered opportunities for both marriage and . . . the other. I am content to remain as I am.” A towering falsehood, but pride demanded my response.

“You prefer the lure of Lesbos?”

I gasped, genuinely shocked, even as I was forced to admit it was a perfectly reasonable question. Except gentlemen simply did not speak of such things to ladies.

They do to women passing themselves off as nurses and calling themselves Nell Scarlett. To women who look like you yet seem to have no interest in men.

I lifted my head, looked him in the eye. “Though it is none of your business, my lord, I lost someone in the war. And now, if you will excuse me . . .” I bounded to my feet, slipped past him, and headed for the path through the maze at a pace so brisk I was almost running. And naturally, as upset as I was, I was lost by the third turning, rounding a corner to find nothing but impenetrable hedge in front of me. Dead end. I paused, more breathless from panic than from the distance I’d run. Boxwood branches poked me in the back, loomed above me on each side. No way to go but back the way I’d come. Back to where the earl was undoubtedly lurking . . . Waiting for the mouse to venture out of its hole.

I tiptoed, listening for the slightest sound of someone else moving through the maze. Nothing. Yet he was there, I knew he was. Hunting. Enjoying every moment of it. Long familiar with every inch of the maze, Thornbury was poised to pounce on the foolish girl who could not seem to escape an outward façade that attracted men like flies to honey. The girl who knew too much.

A bolt of a different kind of fear shot through me. I slid to a halt, shaken to my core. Perhaps this hunt was not what I thought. Not the earl indulging himself in a game of cat and mouse with his nephew’s nurse, but something more sinister . . .

I clamped a hand over my mouth to stifle a gasp. My stomach roiled.

Steady, steady. Panic will do you no good.

Ha! All the logic in the world wasn’t going to get me out of this maze.

Ahead of me was an intersection with two choices—right or left. I strained to hear any telltale sign of the earl’s passing—leaves rustling, the snap of a twig. Nothing. I chose the left, moving stealthily toward the next corner, a good ten feet away. With an unsettling mix of wariness and hope, I peeked around the corner. . . and saw nothing but ten-foot walls of boxwood, no matter which direction I looked. No-o-o! Heart pounding, I dashed back the way I’d come, rounded yet another corner, kept on running. Right, left, left. I was panting, my breathing harsh, my throat parched, but surely I must be on the correct path at last. No more dead ends. Another turn, and I ran headlong into something unyielding. 

Not as prickly as boxwood.

The Earl of Thornbury’s chest. He laughed, gripped me tight, and kissed me soundly.

I whimpered. Though, to my horror, not from the revulsion I’d felt when Geoff kissed me. My panic was swept away in seconds as the warmth of his lips, the solidity of the body pressed to mine seemed to offer shelter instead of ravishment. He even smelled wonderful, an intriguing mix of all male and a fragrance that might have lingered from his shaving lather . . .

Suddenly appalled by what I could only term my feminine weakness—an emotion I thought I had routed out of my life after losing Brant—I pulled away. Surprisingly easily, for Thornbury’s grip had never been ruthless. I would have no marks like the ones Geoff left on my arms, the ones everyone attributed to the carriage accident.

Eyes locked, we stared at each other for a moment before
he grasped me firmly by the hand and led me out of the maze. At the entrance he paused, looking back toward Winterbourne. “A bargain, Nell,” he said. “I will endeavor to behave myself if you will agree to keep our secret.”

A great temptation, but . . .

And so on to the end of the chapter.

Hopefully, this sample is enough to demonstrate what I mean by "layering." Ideally, when I go back for the next edit, I will find only a bit of tweaking needed here and there, but who knows? If an author is always thinking, thinking, thinking, and doesn't allow herself/himself to become complacent, there are always things that leap at you that can be better. But don't get hung up on "tweaking" forever. The third or fourth time through should be enough. If the opportunity arises, put the book aside, come back to it in six months. A whole new world will open. That's what's happening with Sorcerer's Bride (Book 2 of the Blue Moon Rising series) at the moment. I put it aside when I moved last year and am just taking it out for a final edit. Oh wow! A lot of new layers - some necessitated by events in Book 3, The Bastard Prince, which I just finished this spring. And some new details that simply insisted on coming to light with this new read-through. 

To an out-of-the-mist author writing is never static. Outlines are anathema, the death knell to creativity. We only love writing when we're "winging" it. If asked to write a synopsis ahead of time, it's forgetaboutit. No way, no how. I can't do that. I hasten to add what I've said before, "To each his own." Each author has to find his/her own path. My crusade is make sure that those relatively new to writing know that approaching a book via a 20-page outline is not the only writing technique out there.

~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,

For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.

For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Organizing the Out-of-the-Mist Author

Thrill of a Lifetime
As if it weren't enough of a thrill that my daughter's neighbor, Jeff Coffey (center back) is the new lead singer for Chicago, the opening band for their concerts is Rita Wilson's, and she's married to . . . guess who? And while Holly, Chase, and Bryce (front) were visiting in LA this week, Tom Hanks took this selfie with the Coffey family (plus a few extra photo-crashers)! Holly reports that the boys didn't want to wash their hands after getting a shake from TH.

Excerpt from a review ( of Chicago's Fourth of July performance at the Hollywood Bowl:

"The Hall of Famers were as musically adept and acute as ever, rousing the sea of humanity with one hit after another. All nine members were present, with the exception of Jason Scheff, who was being subbed for by Jeff Coffey. The band faired just fine, however, with Coffey doing a remarkable job on ballads such as “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” and “You’re the Inspiration.” His soaring, tenor voice was a seamless fit, reaching the ears of even those in the very back row of the Bowl."

Yay, Jeff!


 Yes, I've admitted to this before. Even out-of-the-mist writers like me need some organization. Although I hasten to add, there's only one unbreakable "rule" in writing: There's no one way to do anything. To use a few clichés for emphasis: "To each his own." "To thine own self be true." That said, as I started a new book this week (Regency Gothic #5), I realized that perhaps I should once again emphasize the "housekeeping" steps that have helped me through thirty-some books over the last twenty years.

What comes first?
For me, it's usually some vague idea of the plot, followed by tossing around ideas for what characters would best fit the situation - hero, heroine, perhaps a start on a hopefully long list of villains. I scribble notes on a yellow legal pad.

Step Two.
Setting usually comes next - with time out for research, which can range from personal experience and trip photos to Google Earth, Wikipedia, and plowing through print books on my shelves and/or from the library.

Step Three.
I delve more deeply into my main characters, providing family background, including relatives who may, or my not, be part of the story. I.e., I'm trying to get to know these people who are little better than gleams in the eye at this point.

Step Four.
I'm ready to type up my Character List, but I can't because I don't have a Title yet. Oh horrors. More time out while I agonize over this. There has to be something in the top right corner before I begin. Absolutely must. Can't write a story without a title. So I sit there with a yellow pad and write down possible titles, no matter how absurd. Sometimes I appeal to other authors on one of my professional e-mail loops or Facebook. Then, of course, I go ahead and make the choice on my own!

Step Five.
I start my Character List, a "must" for every book. At this point I usually have little more than four or five names - hero, heroine, possible villain, and any other characters in the opening scenes. Over time, this list expands as I scribble new names & descriptions onto the printed list as I write, usually updating the typed list only when it becomes difficult to read! To illustrate how important names are to my creative process, in the first week of Tangled Destinies, the list went through three typed versions, expanding from four characters to twenty-four. And before writing Word One of Rebel Princess, the first of the Blue Moon Rising series, as part of my World Building, I sat down and made up 11 double-column pages of names for Psyclids, male & female, and for Regulons, male & female! And well worth the trouble as my Character List grew and grew and grew . . . 

Step Six.
Descriptions. As I go along, I scribble hair & eye colors next to the names on the Character List, plus any other essential information that might be easily forgotten. For a series, such as Blue Moon Rising, where the Character List extends to five pages, I type up a separate Description List, which records the details used to describe the characters, an absolute essential when you are writing about a host of characters over an expanse of several years. Otherwise, unless you have absolute recall, the hero's best friend would have blond hair and blue eyes in one book and brown hair and gray eyes in the next. 

Step Seven.
In addition to people names, place names are essential to creating a book. If you're writing a contemporary set in 21st century in your home area, not much of a problem. But if you're using an unfamiliar setting, you either need to research actual place names or invent some that seem authentic. Your research is further complicated if you're writing an historical. Real names? Fictional names? Some of both? You will likely need the names of towns, villages, rivers, mountain ranges. If your setting is Britain, you'll need a name for various houses (even cottages get individual names). A proper-sounding name for a pub. You need to know the correct names for London's parks, churches, bridges, and landmarks. (Really, there was no Regency Park in 1808?) I add the fictional names at the bottom of my Character List so I won't forget that great-aunt Jenny lives in Thornton Cottage and the Duke of Ainsworth lives in Morningstar Abbey.)

Step Eight.

I have had a blue leather zipper container for more years than I can remember. Whatever book I'm working on - that's where the newly printed pages go. And yes, I still edit hard copy. That's what works for me. Call it tradition, call it ritual. Each chapter goes on top of the leather container until it has its first edit. Then I type the revisions and place it inside. When I have five chapters with initial edits complete, then it's time for . . .

Step Nine.

Second edit. I go over the five chapters with initial edits, in most cases adding more color, more detail, explanations and motivations that might have been left out or treated too lightly, or anything else that strikes me as necessary to improve the story or characters. This is an important edit, and if there is any question I can't immediately, I scribble it on a yellow legal pad for future consideration. (Never trust that you'll remember some point, whether minor or crucial, at a later date.)

Step Ten.
Notes. As I continue the five-chapter edits throughout the rest of the book, I also scribble notes about points I'd like to add, or clarify, or change in the earlier chapters. When I've finished the draft, this gives me concrete suggestions of things I need to do as return to the Chapter 1 and edit the entire manuscript from top to bottom. This is the kind of thing that makes so-called "plotters" shudder with horror. You have to go back and add something? Heaven forfend! Whereas I consider building my stories by layers the thing that makes them truly interesting, spontaneous and creative. (As previously noted, it takes all kinds!)

Grace Note: I am never above looking up a word in the dictionary, particularly the Oxford English Dictionary when writing my Regency novels. No one is so smart or so experienced he or she isn't capable of making a mistake! 

As I have stated in the past, I cannot imagine writing a detailed synopsis of a book ahead of time. Then I'd know what I was going to happen.  I'd be bored and have no interest in doing the work necessary to turn a 20- or 30-page synopsis into a full book. Although I admit to the necessity of some organization, as noted above, my great delight is in being able to get up each morning, wondering what is going to happen in my book today. How will I develop the vague idea I had for this morning's work? Or am I going to sit down and discover that something entirely different needs to be said? A new character drops in out of the blue. A secondary character suddenly blossoms into becoming the hero or heroine of their own book. A villain becomes so likable I have to find someone else to fill that role, etc., etc. That's what makes writing exciting. For example, in the Blue Moon series, I never intended for a minor character, almost a villainess, to be revealed as the daughter of a king. It simply happened in Book 2, greatly enhancing Book 3. And in Book 4 she will provide the primary love story. Surprise! The kind of surprise I love. The kind of surprise that keeps my writing fresh. (I hope!)

So, with apologies to the "plotters" out there, that's what works for me. To each his own, but please don't denigrate the approach to writing of those who prefer to "wing" it. 

 ~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.  


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

INDEX to Grace's Writing & Editing Blogs

Hailey, Riley & Cassidy laying their handmade cards at the Pulse Memorial
~ * ~

For the latest update of my blog index, I decided  should take the time to redo the format from top to bottom. I also discovered that I had not updated since I moved last year, so an overhaul was long overdue. Hopefully, the following revised index, divided into WRITING, EDITING, and SPECIAL TOPICS, will help you find articles that will be useful. Having reached the age and experience of "grande dame," I enjoy the opportunity to pass along some of what I've learned since I started writing in earnest in 1991. For the latest in tech info, forgetaboutit, but when it comes to the nitty gritty of putting words together . . .



Formatting a Manuscript - May 9, 2011
Nuts & Bolts, Part 1 (grammar, punctuation) - May 16, 2011
Tab conversion (from manual to auto) - June 5, 2011
Nuts & Bolts, Part 2 (punctuation, helpful books) - June 16, 2011
Using Italics - February 15 & 22, 2014
Using Capitals - April 12 & 19, 2014
Manuscript Format for the 21st Century - May 6, 2012
Writing No-No’s - May 28, 2012
Point of View - June 18, 2012
Attitudes Toward Point of View - Feb. 20, 2016
Playing with Tags - March 19, 2016

What you need to discover about your characters - Oct. 15, 2012
More questions about your characters - Oct. 29, 2012
The Rest of the Story - Nov. 5, 2012

Character Development (3 parts) - Nov. 7, Dec. 5, 2015 & Feb. 6, 2016

Dictionary for Writers (5 parts) - Feb. 4 - April 7, 2013

Layering - June 30, 2013
Dangling Participles - July 7, 2013
Show vs. Tell - July 21 & 28, 2013
Treacherous Words - Aug. 11, 2013
The Difference a Word Makes - Sept. 1, 2013
“Modern” Punctuation - Sept. 15, 2013
Questions to Ask Yourself - Oct. 13, 2013
Third Person vs. First (2 parts) - May 31 & June 8, 2014
Rule-Breaking (3 parts) - June 21 - July 5, 2014

WRITING WORKSHOP (9 parts) - Dec. 6, 2014 - June 28, 2015
[covers Ideas, Fresh Twists, Research, Title, Names, Opening & Hooks, Plot, Goals, Motivation, Conflict, Setting, Characters, Narration, Dialogue, Pacing, Point of View, Transitions, Mechanics, Self-editing, & Questions to ask yourself before declaring your work “finished.”]

WORLD-BUILDING series (4 parts) - Dec. 28, 1013 - Feb. 1, 2014
   [a look at the problem of creating a whole new world]

I Ran Spell Check, I’m Done, Right? (self-editing) - July 2, 2011
The Final Steps (self-editing) - July 14, 2011

From the EDIT THE BLASTED BOOK series:
Intro to Self-editing - April 1, 2012
Should You Hire Help? - April 28, 2012
Anatomy of an Edit - Aug. 5 & 19, 2012

Editing Scold - Dec. 14, 2013
More on Editing - May 3, 2014
Editing Examples (4 parts) - Aug. 8, Aug. 23, Aug. 30 & Sept. 13, 2015
Misused Words (2 parts) - Oct. 4 & 25, 2014
Copyediting Challenges (7 parts) - Aug. 29, 2015 - Oct. 31, 2015 + April 3, 2016

Reminiscences of Controversies (3 parts) - May 13 - May 26, 2013
     [a look at writing controversies over the past 2 decades]
Guideposts for Critiquing - Jan. 28, 2011
Writing Mistakes, Near Misses & Just Plain Strange - March 4, 2011
Shortcuts for Writers (ASCII codes) - March 18, 2011
Rules for Romance - Sept. 18, 2011 & Oct. 16, 2011
How Not to Write a Book - Dec. 20, 2012
Branding - Bah, humbug [writing multi-genre] - Jan. 21, 2013
How Does Your Novel Grow? - April 28, 2013
Word Perfect to Indie Pub - Nov. 27, 2013
Questions Fiction Writers Should Ask Themselves - Oct. 13, 2013
How Not to Write a Book - April 4, 2015
On Being a Writer - Aug. 22, 2015
The Tricks to Track Changes - Jan. 16, 2016
Running Off at the Keyboard (rant) - Feb. 13, 2016
Why I Love E-books (2 parts) - May 21 & May 29, 2016
~ * ~

Thanks for stopping by,


For Grace's website, listing all books as Blair Bancroft, click here.
For a brochure for Grace's editing service, Best Foot Forward, click here.