A Writer’s Life: Plotting, with Helen Bianchin

This fabulous (italics mine because I think it’s fabulous – Ed.) article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of Hearts Talk, the journal of the Romance Writers of Australia.  For more info on the column, and on RWA membership, see the end of this post!  But for now, over to Helen…


Plotting with Helen Bianchin

I spent the first year of my writing career convinced a book had to be written from page one through to the end. I stalled so many times, eventually threw my hands in the air, muttered something pithy in Italian, then vowed out loud: where does it say there’s a rule a book has to be written consecutively from start to finish?

Remember, in the early 1970s, there were few ‘how-to write’ books around, and the only other M&B authors I knew were Essie Summers and Gloria Bevan. That was until one day Robyn Donald and her husband were in Auckland, discovered there was only one Bianchin in the phonebook and rang me. They visited that very day, and a friendship was forged, which has lasted until the present. Not long after that, Daphne Clair began her Ring o’ Roses newsletter and there was contact!

I tried the pantser route way back when, and ended up with sentences, paragraphs, pages all over the place. Soon I discovered it was a method that didn’t work for me.

What did work was to choose a premise (or it would choose me) and I’d make notes, choose names, setting, get it all handwritten into a notebook, think about it (including procrastination), compose a supposedly perfect scene on the edge of sleep, positive I’d remember it in glorious detail on waking the next morning. Yes, well, we know how that goes…

Through trial and error, I discovered I think in scenes—usually out of sequence. I have to say curling up in a comfy chair with pen and notepad works. The ideas happen and I scribble them down. Then I key them into the computer while the ideas are fresh and there’s hope I can decipher my scribble—or at least get the gist of it, editing as I go along, expanding, enhancing, numbering each draft scene before printing it out. It’s a weird method, and you wouldn’t believe how many times I vow to discard it and write in a professional manner (whatever that is!)

However, I have tried other methods. I know Joy Dingwell used to hand-write on the right side of a lined notebook—mainly all dialogue—then she’d go back and handwrite on the left side of the lined notebook the emotional bits, the scenery, etc. and balloon each bit into where it should fit. When the handwritten notebook was complete, she’d edit, add, then type it all out on an old typewriter in what passed for MS format at that time.

I know of authors who have adapted a similar methodology with handwriting on the right side of a lined notebook (or unlined) and use different-coloured sticky-pad sheets containing handwritten emotion, scenery etc, high and low points, and stick them onto the left side of the notebook. At least with the latter, the sticky-pad sheets can be easily moved and switched around. When the current long-languishing MS is finally finished, I think I’ll give this method a try.

Others use a whiteboard—I think if I tried that, I’d end up erasing something deep and meaningful to be lost forevermore.

Then there’s Scrivener. Some authors swear by it. Others try it and decide it’s not for them. I bought the program with the intention of trialling it when the long-languishing MS finally travels through the ether to London. I even upgraded to the latest version. I’ll let you know how I go (just don’t hold your breath!).

I must admit I witness the published output of varying authors and wonder if they sleep. Writing must occupy every waking minute of their lives…or they have glorious brainpower whereby they key in the right words with the speed of light.

In conclusion, there is no right way. There’s only your way. Even so experimenting with different ways may work really well.

– Helen Bianchin


A long-time bestseller for Harlequin Mills & Boon, Helen Bianchin’s books are sold in 26 languages in more than 109 countries. Helen is much beloved in the romance writing community, and was RWA’s first-ever Hall of Fame author. She’s always been a huge supporter of new writers as well as established authors and still participates on the RWA email loops.

Anne Gracie’s A Writer’s Life is a regular column featured in Romance Writers of Australia’s monthly journal, Hearts Talk. Packed full of articles on craft, the publishing industry and interviews with romance authors, Hearts Talk is a valued and much-loved benefit to your RWA membership. If you’re not already an RWA member, join up here [http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/99/Join-RWA].


Do you have a Selling Synopsis?

RWA’s contest season is steaming ahead, and the Selling Synopsis is now open for entries!

Writing a synopsis is many writers least favourite activity, but it is one of the most important skills to master if you want to get an editor or agent interested enough to request your full manuscript. First impressions count – and impressing an editor or agent depends on it.

This competition lets you try out your skills, get feedback and, if you make it to the final, get your synopsis seen by Joanne Grant, Senior Executive Editor, Harlequin UK.

The competition is open to all members of RWA now and closes on the 31st of October, so get writing that synopsis!  If you aren’t a member, and would like to be, you can join here.

For more details and to enter, visit our website.



A Writer’s Life: Social Media, self-doubt and creativity.

Anne Gracie’s A Writer’s Life is a regular column featured in Romance Writers of Australia’s monthly journal, Hearts Talk.  This peek into DB Tait‘s writing life first appeared in the October 2016 edition.  Packed full of articles on craft, the publishing industry and interviews with romance authors, Hearts Talk is a valued and much-loved benefit to your RWA membership. If you’re not already an RWA member, join up here [http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/99/Join-RWA]. 


Social media, self-doubt and creativity

Back in 2004 when I started writing seriously, the internet was a great source of information about the craft of writing and a whole range of other writing-related issues. I started out not particularly wanting to write in romance as a genre, just wanting to write something. But I noticed that everything I wrote had a romance in it or a romantic theme. So I googled, found the Romance Writers of Australia, joined and found a great community of like-minded writers.

I learned a lot. Some things were invaluable, like point of view and avoiding head-hopping, and others were not so useful, like never use the word ‘was’ because this indicates passive writing (it doesn’t). I found out about the business, about editors and agents, and went to conferences. My work then was either erotica or erotic romance and I was published by some erotic lines in the US. Then I stopped writing. Or rather, I was still writing but unhappy with it because I listened to what was being said in the romance and erotic romance world and believed my writing wasn’t marketable (it probably was). Life also intervened with some personal challenges that took me away from writing. I also got a little (okay, a lot) bored with sex.

I knew I had to go back to my first love which was crime writing. But I couldn’t let romance go because I just naturally write stories where people meet and are drawn to each other. So I recreated myself as a romantic suspense writer, or as I prefer, a mystery writer with romantic elements (which is a bit of a mouthful).

I think my involvement with Facebook and other social media increased when I decided to get back to writing seriously. And then a curious thing happened. I started doubting myself again. Doubting myself is a chronic condition with me but I found social media made it worse. I saw other people discuss their work, including their work output, and knew I would never be able to achieve what they did. I saw people win dubious prizes and brag about their position on Amazon and wondered if I should be involved in that. Sometimes I did and then didn’t like myself. Other people marketed their work ferociously, which irritated me but also made me again wonder if I shouldn’t be doing that too.

I do like Facebook. I use it as a watercooler where I can chat with my friends. But I think it increases my anxiety and my sense of lack of achievement.  I start looking at my writing through the lens of Facebook not through the lens of my own creativity.

I am cursed (as are a lot of writers) with a vicious, troll-like internal editor who delights in subversion. I find social media feeds this troll and makes me doubt a lot about what I want to write and how I should or shouldn’t market it. The result is a terrible sense of immobility, a kind of ‘what’s the point’ attitude, which is so far from the sense of joy I had when I first started writing.

So what’s the solution? The first realisation I had is to understand I don’t have the personality to make Facebook or other social media part of my ‘brand’. I’m okay with chatting about the weather and world events, but once I start to think of myself as a brand and have to market my writing, I fall into a kind of existential despair. Other people thrive on creating a brand for themselves. I envy them on some level. I hate it.

The second realisation I had is to truly, at a deep level, write what I want to write. Yes, it’s important to pay attention to the market, but if the market doesn’t sing to you, don’t write for it. For me that means I’m at the romantic elements part of the genre.

My third realisation is to experiment. Never get so caught up in how one should write and what conventions one must follow that writing become a chore and a by-the-numbers dreary task.  I know that’s easy for me to say because writing is not my living (yet!) but I have left jobs when they become soul-destroying.

So, you may be seeing a lot less of me on social media. I’ll still be marketing my writing wares in my usual slapdash way and spending time around the watercooler, but increasingly I’ll be saying goodbye to anything that increases my self-doubt. I encourage you to look at what creates self-doubt in your life and get rid of it. We owe it to ourselves and to the fabulous stories we create.

– DB Tait http://dbtait.com/.

DB Tait has written in a variety of subgenres, including erotica, and now writes crime fiction with romantic elements. A longtime member of RWA, she has recently rejoined the RWA committee after many years of service in the past. Her next publication is Festive Deception, a Christmas novella out this month.


Anne Gracie’s A Writer’s Life is a regular column featured in Romance Writers of Australia’s monthly journal, Hearts Talk. Packed full of articles on craft, the publishing industry and interviews with romance authors, Hearts Talk is a valued and much-loved benefit to your RWA membership. If you’re not already an RWA member, join up here [http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/99/Join-RWA].

OWL 2 for November. Have you heard about Miss Jones? Understanding character-driven plotting through analysing Bridget Jones’s Diary.


Have You Heard About Miss Jones? Understanding Character Driven Plotting Through Analysing Bridget Jones’ Diary with Samantha Bond.

You’re probably familiar with the phrase: “the plot thickens”. But exactly what is plot and how, as a writer, do you come up with your own original, compelling plots?

Let’s hand over to the amazing Samantha Bond so she can tell us…

Do you love writing but find that you either:

  1. a) have trouble coming up with ideas for stories, or
  2. b) start stories only to run out of steam part-way through?

I had both of those issues once too.

In fact, the main thing that scared the bejesus out of me when I started my first novel was knowing just what to write. I had the kernel of an idea and a few characters, but how was I going to spin this into 300-400 pages of novel? “Outline it”, I was told. Plot it out so you don’t have to face the terror of the blank page.

Great advice, if you know how to do it.

At that point in my writing career, I didn’t know how to plot or outline, so I invested many hours in learning how plot works. I read and I did courses and I hassled people far more learned than me, and I discovered that there’s so much information on plot that it can be overwhelming and therefore not very useful. But the good news for any of you considering doing my Bridget Jones inspired OWL on plotting, is that I’ve filtered through lots of that information for you. The result is what I believe to be a simple and workable model for understanding and using plot.

Because she’s awesome, I’ve drawn inspiration from iconic chic lit character, Bridget Jones, to demonstrate ideas and explain the concept of character-led plotting. And to demonstrate that character-led plotting works for just about every type of story, not just Rom Com’s, I’ve also used 80s action hunk, Bruce Willis, and his equally iconic character from Die Hard, John McLane, to show it in, ahem, action in action stories.

If you were lucky enough to see Michael Hauge at the RWA convention in August, then some of the theory in this course will be familiar. That’s because this isn’t new information. Information about plotting and how story works has been around forever. But what is different about my course is its practical application. I’m an action gal — I want to know how to USE information, not just read it. And so the focus for this OWL is on getting you to put character-led plotting theories into action to generate your own original plots. All the theory in the world is great, but if you can’t easily apply it, it’s really not that much good to you. So while I’m certainly not claiming to be any Micheal Hauge, I do think this is a good adjunct to his wonderful workshop because it shows you the nuts and bolts of things and how you can get that theory working for you in a practical sense.

Basically, by the end of this OWL, I want you to have an understanding of what plot is, how it functions in fiction, and how you can generate your own plots in your writing. I want you to never fear the blank page again because, once you’ve done this when someone wisely advises you to “outline it”, you’ll know exactly how.

Hope to see you over at my November OWL, Have you heard about Miss Jones? Understanding character-driven plotting through analysing Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s gonna be a blast with big knickers!


Course Dates: 01/11/2016 – 28/11/2016

Cost: RWA Member – $30. Non-RWA Member – $40.

Register at:  http://www.romanceaustralia.com/owl/26

The trick is to understand the difference between ‘story’ and ‘plot’. In this workshop, Samantha will demonstrate how plot works through an analysis of arguably the greatest chick-lit novel of all time, Bridget Jones’ Diary. But more than simply analyse, this workshop will arm participants with tools to create their own plots through an understanding of how characters reacting to challenge results in plot. While this course will examine theory, it is a hands-on practical course designed to get you writing.

Samantha Bond is a reformed corporate lawyer, now writer and public servant. Her creative work has been published in numerous national literary journals, anthologies and magazines. She has an Advanced Diploma of Professional Writing winning the award for Highest Overall Achievement for her graduating class, and now teaches in that course. Samantha also writes reviews for the Indaily and Glam Adelaide and between these two publications, has had over 200 reviews published. Samantha does freelance corporate writing work as well as creative writing mentoring and if you’d like her services, she’s contactable through her website www.samanthastaceybond.com). Finally, Samantha is a busy mum of two littlies, is an unapologetic chocolate addict, believes that Buffy would so slay Edward (which perhaps shows her age) and is a writers’ festival groupie.

Isn’t it exciting, not one but two OWLs in November!

Lucky us, fellow writers, we have two awesome OWLs in November.

What this space for more exciting information. HOOT HOOT

November OWL 1. Self-Publishing for Beginners with Cathleen Ross

Ever wondered if self-publishing is for you but haven’t quite been able to navigate your way through to make the decision? Cathleen Ross has the answers in one of our two November OWLs

Course Dates: 01/11/2016 – 28/11/2016

Cost: RWA Member – $30. Non-RWA Member – $40.

Register at:  http://www.romanceaustralia.com/owl/25


Self Publishing Made Easy, coming in November 2016

 My name is Cathleen Ross and I’ve been self publishing since 2011. As a member of RWA for over twenty years, I’ve seen a lot of changes.  When I went to RWA in America in 2010, I saw a lot of known and not so well known writers taking their careers into their own hands and self publishing. They wanted to do things their way and self publishing gave them the chance.

I don’t consider myself particularly technical but I can follow instructions if they’re outlined properly. If you feel the same way then this online course is for you because I’ve got it down to 5 easy steps.

Since 2011, I’ve written and formatted twelve different books/novellas/short stories and one boxed set. And guess what! I’m earning seventy percent royalties on my work priced 2.99 and over on Amazon, which beats anything a publisher can offer. Bear in mind, that once you self publish you become the publisher which means you are responsible for buying a cover, the blurb, marketing and uploading your story. It is doable and fun.

As a pioneer in this country of self publishing, and a trainer with 30 years experience, I’m on a mission to make it possible for you because I think every writer shouldhave this skill. I will answer all your questions and encourage a friendly online classroom where students also chip in and help others. When I’ve run this course in the past, I’ve found some of my students are smarter with covers and writing blurbs than I am but I’m not fussed. The more you jump in there and participate, the more encouragement you’ll get from me so you get the best product possible.

I am what as known as a hybrid author, published with traditional publishers while also self-publishing my own titles.

The advent of commercially viable self-publishing has meant unprecedented  opportunities for authors to get their stories out to the reading public all over the world.

I’m going to show you how to prepare your manuscripts for self-publication and how to use three platforms Smashwords, Draft to Digital and Amazon so you can choose where and when you would like to self publish.

You don’t need to be a graphic designer. You do not have to know any HTML. You do need to invest time and energy in getting your book as good as it can possibly be.

Remember readers love buying ebooks. They don’t care who the publisher is so long as they are good, professionally produced books they love.

Come and learn an essential skill for your future.


Cathleen Ross


Subjects to be covered in this four-week OWL

Information on selling platforms: Smashwords, Amazon, itunes etc; Steps involved in uploading a story; Editing; Covers; Formatting; Blurbs – what makes a good blurb, what to put in, what to leave out etc; Marketing / Advertising/ The latest sites/results and numbers; Business Practices, setting up bank accounts, issues with US payments etc; ITIN numbers; Accounting Issues either as individuals / setting up as a group publisher; Links  / info on where to find following services – covers, editing, etc; What makes a good BIO.


Cathleen Ross thinks self-publishing is akin to the invention of the printing press. Ahead of the wave, she started self-publishing in 2011 and has watched her income from writing grow. She believes this medium should be available to all writers. Cathleen is also published with Harlequin, Escape publishing and Random House.  Four of her titles, both indie and conventionally published, have hit the Amazon best-seller lists this year. Cathleen has the Smashwords document down to five easy steps that go to Premium status. She is a qualified teacher (BA Dip.Ed and Grad. Dip Communications Management) and a published author/editor. She has taught for RWA (Australia), The Society of Women Authors, RWA (USA) and run a number of online workshops. Please see www.cathleenross.com for a list her of publications.



Hoot, Hoot! We have two OWLs in November 2016

Self-Publishing for Beginners with Cathleen Ross  and Plotting(character driven) with Samantha Bond

Two vital OWLs by two amazing women – not to be missed.

More information to follow.



October new releases

Whew! It’s October already. Competition season is upon us and there is no substitute for reading when it comes to improving your craft. It’s one of the myriad benefits of being a romance writer and reader – you can educate yourself and enjoy yourself at the same time!


#RWAus17 Workshop Submissions are open.


We hope you have all recovered from this year’s conference (August 2016), but it is time to be bold and set foot out into the wilderness again.  New territories are waiting to be discovered. Love Gone Wild is calling for you.

Workshop Submissions for #RWAus17 are NOW OPEN.

We will have a strong focus on accommodating all genres and all level of authors – aspiring, emerging and established. We want to use the amazing talent contained within our RWA tribe and will source external expertise when required.

If you are passionate and want to submit any ideas/suggestions for a workshop, or if you would like to head up a round table discussion, put together a panel etc, please register your interest now.

For full workshop details visit our website at http://www.romanceaustralia.com/p/279

Submit your workshop proposal via this form at: http://bit.ly/RWA17WSP

If you have any questions, please email Conference2017@romanceaustralia.com


Make Facebook Your Friend: Ask me how!

Actually, don’t ask me, ask Sara Hood.  Better still, sign up for her October OWL and learn it from her!  Social media is a fact of life for writers these days, but it can be mystifying and frustrating for the uninitiated.  So an online workshop with this title has to be a good idea!

Make Facebook your friend: six ways to make Facebook work for you as a writer, without mortgaging your home

Registration is now open and you can sign up here: http://www.romanceaustralia.com/new/showowls.asp

But now, over to Sara!


Of all the articies I’ve written for Hearts Talk*, by far the one that generated the most response was earlier this year where I busted some of the most commonly believed Facebook myths.

Frequently (and sadly) those myths are based on a misunderstanding of what Facebook is and how it works. Or even a misunderstanding about why Facebook is there in the first place. (Clue: it’s not out to force you to advertise by wilfully restricting who gets to see your posts, but it’s also not a charity.)

When people ask me ‘is it worth being on Facebook?’ my reply is always ‘with 1.6 billion accounts what’s not to like?’.

Let’s get this straight: it is very easy to get Facebook wrong.  It doesn’t help that Facebook itself doesn’t communicate that well and there is a tsunami of ‘experts’ who fill the void, some of whom are little more than snakeoil salesmen, and directly contradict each other. Or have a ‘guaranteed’ strategy that costs a mere $50 per lead. All that does is confuse and bewilder and frustrate.

So the most critical challenge for a writer when trying to make Facebook work for you is working out who to listen to and how to succeed without wasting money and driving yourself nuts.

That’s where this OWL comes in. Six ways to make Facebook your friend. They’re not hard. They won’t require you to first complete a PhD in rocket science. Nor will they cost gargantuan amounts of money to implement.

The OWL also won’t suck up your precious time. It’s a series of PDFs, released each week from 3 October, which you can work through in your own time. There’s then a Facebook group where you can ask questions (and I promise to be there at least once a day) and at the end an online live webinar for you to ask the questions that couldn’t be answered in the Facebook group. We can share screens and look at the back end of Facebook, live.

I won’t over promise: Facebook is harder now that before because there are so many more people competing for screen time, it takes time and it takes commitment.  This OWL will also show you how to track if you’re making a difference.

It starts on 3 October and runs all month, with the webinar scheduled for the last week. It will be recorded and if you can’t make it you are invited send your questions in and I’ll answer them in the session.

If you’re an aspiring writer this is a great way to start to get your marketing foundations in place. For emerging and established writers it’s a great way to make sure you’re hitting all the right buttons.

As I said a few paragraphs ago, with 1.6 billion accounts what’s not to love about Facebook? You just have to learn how to make friends with it first.

So, if any of this sounds like you, see you next month for the October OWL.

It’s going to be fun!
Registration is now open.  http://www.romanceaustralia.com/new/owlrego.asp?id=23

$30 for RWA members and $40 for those who aren’t.

* In case you haven’t noticed, I write a book marketing article in each issue of Hearts Talk! Feel free to send in a question and I’ll do my best to answer it. (And for those who don’t know, Hearts Talk is the member journal for RWA.  You can join RWA here.)

Sara Hood has been a member of RWA for 8 years, is still thoroughly unpublished and knows all too well that finishing a manuscript might be a good idea. She’s also a longstanding member of the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild, and RWA-auspiced writing group, the Saturday Ladies Bridge Club.  She’s worked in marketing for more than thirty years and runs a consultancy providing marketing services for organisations in the wider music sector.  She spent half of July this year in Glasgow running the social media for an international conference of music educators.