Tuesday, August 11, 2009


By: Sandra Elzie

Did that title hook you into reading? Yes, I thought it would. It resonated enough with me that I wrote it down when Bob Mayer said it at a One-Day Workshop last year.

Are all fiction authors liars? Absolutely! (and proud of it!) This is one time when it’s okay to stretch the truth to fit your story and make your characters larger than life, meaner than a snake or sweeter than pie.

So, what are the ABCs of lying? Easy. The best liars, the most creative liars, win. Simple? Hardly.

When plotting your fiction book, it must start with a hook that will grab the reader, but then it must speed along to that Black Moment, that point in the story that forever changes the course of someone’s life, that situation where our beloved character is thrown to the wolves. This is when the rubber meets the road and he or she must take the bull by the horns and decide what to do next. There’s no going back…the bridge to yesterday just collapsed into the river.

Vince Lombardi said, “Success demands singleness of mind.” Your character must stay the course and your story must move with “singleness of mind” toward a conclusion, not straying down rabbit trails or getting bogged down with useless chatter.

So, let’s look at a quick example of what I’m talking about.

Some Black Moments put the character into a tight spot where they can’t undo a decision and their only choice is to move forward and deal with the consequences. Just how black is your black moment? Black enough?

Has one of your characters ever wished she were unpregnant? Undrunk? Unmarried? Once she is, it’s too late to be “Un” again. Like it or not, she’s married, pregnant and drunk. Oh, she can have the baby (or abort it), get a divorce or throw up, but the consequences will always trail her through her fictional life as your heroine. Well, maybe not the drunk part, but if your character drank and drove and crashed, there might be some long-term consequences in that also. At the very least, she’ll have a hangover and the mother of all headaches.

When you write a story, or when you read one, you want the hero and/or heroine to have huge obstacles to overcome (Dianna Love calls it making a situation suck and then make it suckier) but then we can root for them when they tackle these “suckie” things in life and win. We love to cheer for winners. Why do you think we write…or read romance? Almost always, the perfect guy gets his perfect mate in the end and they ride off into the future to live happily ever after…or until the sequel when the world trembles around them again and another Black Hole opens up to swallow them.

Do you enjoy throwing your characters into black moments (sneering as you rub your hands together in glee) or do you “hurt” them because you have to in order to give them something to overcome? Does it hurt you as much as it hurts them?
Share with us about writing Black Moments in your manuscripts, we’d love to hear your suggestions and experiences.

By-the-way, did you notice all the cliché’s? These are the things we’re supposed to avoid writing in our books. We need to have a fresh voice, a new and unique way to say these same things. How many of these no-nos did I include?



Sally Kilpatrick said...
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Barbara Monajem said...
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Marilyn Baron said...
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Maxine Davis said...


Loved your post!! You really 'hit the nail on the head' (sorry, couldn't resist.)

I know what you mean. I am so very bad at not wanting the good guys to suffer. - just live happily ever after, but I am really working on it. I keep telling myself that they MUST suffer.

I loved the cliches. I counted 15 but thought they sounded good.

Marilyn Baron said...

I don't like to see my characters suffer unless they're the villains. Then all bets are off!
(Ha, another cliche. Actually I like cliches even though we're not supposed to use them.

Your post gave me a lot to think about.

Marilyn Baron

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Ladies,

We had an issue with the blog post and for some reason, the first 3 commentors ended up deleted when we tried to fix it!!! Please, please, please, feel free to leave another comment. We did not mean to delete anyone!!!


Tami Brothers said...

This is great, Sandy!

I, too, love cliche's... In fact, I use them way too much. Along with a few words and making my characters too nice. Uuughhhh!!! When does it ever end????

I love Bob Meyer and Dianna Love! Both are great presenters and have a ton of wisdom they share with us. I had forgotten this line and will definitely be re-reading my notes to find more tidbits I forgot!

(note the over use of !!!! - another one of my issues...)

Tammy Schubert said...

I feel so guilty when I put my characters in bad situations. It is a problem I'm working on.

Great post, Sandy.

Sally Kilpatrick said...


Your post really made me think about something. I wrote about it earlier. Ah, yes--lying. When I saw mystery writer Pat Sprinkle, she introduced herself with a "My name is Pat Sprinkle and I kill people for profit and fun." How I wish I could be so blase about inflicting harm on my characters--my stories would be all the better for it.

Just last week I did, however, surprise myself by killing one of my favorite characters. I think I'm growing as a person.

As for cliches, I think I found 7--don't know if that's the right answer or not.

Thanks for the enlightening post.


Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Maxine,

Sorry it took me so long to answer. I was with my critique partner writing, but "better late than never" I always say. (g)

Yes, I understand the pain of inflicting pain...but we must give our people conflict and more conflict. Just remember, the pain won't kill them...well, unless we want them dead. (he, he, he)

Thanks for the comments.


Sandy Elzie said...

Mareilyn, I also love cliches. People identify with these little sayings and in some cases it brings back fond memories of when our parents or grandparents said them. I remember my grandmother ALWAYS said at the end of a meal...Thank the good Lord, we had plenty. When my father said it once, I immediately thought of my grandmother.


Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Tami, Yes, I love Bob Meyer and Dianna Love also. They always have great things to say, gems that we can learn from.

Tammy, My husband once said, "well, you can kill off the guy, but don't kill the dog." I got to thinking about what a wierd people we are. We can kill the guy in the story and the reader will be okay with it, but don't kill the dog...we'd probably get hate mail! (g)


Sandy Elzie said...


Thank you for sharing Pat's quote! I love it. I once was asked why I write and I said it was for fun and profit, but killing people??

Thanks for dropping by...twice.(g)


Linsey Lanier said...

Fun post, Sandy! I enjoy throwing my characters into trouble, probably because it improves my writing. :)

I like cliches, too.

A Black Moment in my current wip is when the heroine, a Chicago police detective, catches her husband in bed with a colleague. Talk about a cliche! As I read somewhere recently, there are no new stories, just new twists on them.

I also love Tami's !!!!s


Sandy Elzie said...

Hi Linsey,

Wow, I like your black moment. My brain is already rolling on what I would say and do...in my manuscript, I mean. (g)
Yep, there's no way he can go back to being an un-adulter.

Sure hope your heroine is a fiesty woman who gets her "pound of flesh"


Anna Steffl said...

Sandy, I really enjoy cliches when they're used cleverly -- like you use them.

Love the explanation of the black moment -- about not being able to be un-something.

Sandy Elzie said...


Thanks for popping in and leaving youor comment.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by today...sorry for the confusion this morning.

Like I tell my Bible Study class, there's one time that telling someone to go to hell is okay...when you're talking to the devil and telling him to get out of your life and go back to his home and there's one time when it's okay to lie...in your books!

Keep up the good work!