Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Guest Post by Carolyn Haines

About the book

Sarah Booth Delaney is heartbroken: her fiancé Graf Milieu has decided to move to Hollywood permanently, leaving their relationship in shambles. Sarah Booth has a perfect distraction, however, in the form of the Black and Orange Halloween ball her best friends are throwing in New Orleans. Sarah Booth plans to dance the night away to the swinging tunes of her old flame Scott Hampton's blues band. But just as the party gets going, Scott receives a mysterious message that threatens his life and the lives of his bandmates. Sarah Booth knows that a new case is just what she needs to take her mind off her failed relationship with Graf, and she's ready to help Scott investigate. And then the message turns from threat to reality when the bartender from Scott's club is gunned down in a drive-by. Enlisting Sheriff Coleman Peters and the rest of her friends from Zinnia, Mississippi, Sarah Booth is caught in a race against the clock as she tries to stop a killer from striking again.

With a twist around every corner, Carolyn Haines will delight readers with Sarah Booth Delaney's latest zany adventure in Bone to be Wild.

Form Versus Formula

    I teach fiction writing at a university, both graduate and undergraduate students. Part of my duties includes working with students on thesis projects. One thing about teaching — if I intend to answer the hard questions serious students ask, I have to learn and keep learning every week.

    After publishing 70 books, I’ve learned some lessons the hard way, and perhaps the students will benefit from my journey. The first thing I tell them is this: The two most important things a writer decides is whose story she’s writing and which POV the writer will use to tell the story. These are crucial. Most books can be only one person’s story. (There are exceptions to everything, so these are general rules.)

    So many young writers want to tell everyone’s story. It’s difficult to learn how to cut out that one story from the herd of great stories and focus on that. It is crucial, though.

    Point of view, whether first or third. (I’m not a huge fan of second person POV for a novel. Short stories, fine. Novels, very difficult.) This decision impacts the structure of your book. In my opinion, most failed novels either have structural flaws or the plot is faulty. The smartest thing to do is focus on the structure before you begin writing. This will save a whole lot of rewriting down the road. And perhaps keep more hair on your head than torn out on the floor!

    Here is where we get to the issue of form versus formula. Many young writers, especially in graduate programs, have disdain for what they consider to be formula fiction. Many genres fall into this student created dump. But what young writers fail to understand is that all artistic endeavors must follow form. Symphonies have movements. Paintings have a flow the eye naturally follows. Songs have verses and a chorus, and poetry has a dozen forms that test the ability of any writer.

    Fiction—or story, if you prefer—also has form. From the first drawings on cave walls, those wishing to impart a story or information had to create a pattern, or form, in which to convey their story. We in America read left to right, top to bottom. It’s the formula of the page. Story must have form or else it is incomprehensible. If a writer just threw scenes in random order into a book, the reader would be lost.

    But some types of books do have a more regimented form than others. Because they meet reader expectation in a particular way. In romance, for instance, happy endings are often part of the story. Readers expect this, and they get very upset if this is tampered with. But what’s wrong with meeting reader expectation? If a happy ending isn’t in the card for your characters, steer clear of the romance market and sell to an audience with different expectations.

    The three-act screenplay for movies has been taught for decades, and the most successful movies ever made bow to this form (or formula, if you insist). I seldom hear screenwriters debating the merits of ‘formula.’ They know to finance the cost of a film, they must meet the expectations of an audience. Only in fiction do I hear disdain for formula. And formula is only a box or prison if a writer doesn’t truly understand how it works.

    Readers love the rise and fall of action, the forward movement of the plot, the growth of the protagonist’s character. Whether it is general fiction, women’s fiction, thriller, mystery, or romance, story is what matters. It is how the writer executes her story that determines whether a book will gather an audience or not. Story trumps everything else.

    Whether you physically write an outline or merely think the story through, relying on character motivations (this should be what drives any story), you will save a lot of time if you study structure. After all, you wouldn’t build a house hurly-burly throwing up walls wherever. You need support for the roof and flow from room to room. Writing a book requires exactly the same thing.

    There’s plenty of freedom here. This isn’t a rigid box. The way you execute story is where you shine as a writer, but a nod to form and structure will make your story tighter and the journey of writing it a lot more pleasant.

About the author

Carolyn Haines has published over 70 books in a number of genres from general fiction to crime novel and cozy mystery. She was awarded the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Writing and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. She lives on a farm with 22 dogs, cats, and horses and is the sole labor force for Good Fortune Farm Refuge, a 501c3 rescue. She teaches fiction writing at an Alabama university. You can learn more about Carolyn, her rescue, or her crazy life at Or you can join her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.