Writing is easy. It’s sticking to it, shaping it, rewriting it, that’s hard. I come from a screenwriting background which, incidentally, is a great way to learn the bare bones of plot. At the American Film Institute, I learned that the trick to writing is keeping your ass in the chair. So many people psyche themselves out by the idea of writing an entire novel but you can’t look at it that way. Every writer is terrified when typing in those first words. Blank space is threatening. You simply have to force yourself to tell the story no matter how ghastly you think it is because there is exactly one way to get better and that is to crank out a horrible first draft and then have someone else read it. Choose someone honest enough to pick it apart and deliver the gory truth.
A good litmus test for deciding if a story is worth telling is sharing it with your friends. Come up with an elevator pitch and see how they react. Watch their body language. Do they smile or look bored? Do they ask questions or move on to something else? If you can’t come up with an engaging elevator pitch, you likely haven’t shaped your plot enough to know your story. Or, perhaps, it’s not the right story.
For me, finding my style was the biggest journey. I tried writing darker stories but found myself stalled and not enjoying the process. In time I learned that writing comedic romances was my niche. Making people laugh and picking apart the family dynamic is my sweet spot. Find yours and you’re halfway there.
As a city dweller, it’s funny that I’m known for writing series set in small towns. What I love about the setting is that the community feels like one big family with all the benefits and drawbacks. In a small town, people live in a fishbowl, which makes for great dramatic tension. Nothing like having the whole town observing your world fall apart.
In Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert describes stories arriving like cosmic gifts flown and dropped into a writer’s mind, like a stork delivering a baby. You can accept this gift or let it blow in the breeze to the next writer. I agree with this theory because every book has popped into my head full blown and seemingly out of nowhere. Not every scene is laid out neatly (wouldn’t that be a gift?) but the premise arrives and shortly after my mind takes off, populating the world of the story and I can’t wait to get it down on paper.
When the idea of two veterinarians competing for the same job came to mind, I immediately thought of All Creatures Great and Small. In that series, the two veterinarian live and work in the same stately home, which worked perfectly for my book. Living with the same person you’re trying to beat out for a dream job really makes it difficult. And as I heard at a writing conference, ratcheting up the tension is like throwing bears in a canoe. If your story is floating down a river peacefully, and you need conflict (which is the engine of the story,) toss a metaphorical bear in the canoe.
I love writing gorgeous scenery. The Palouse Prairie, in Washington State, has rolling green hills, picturesque farms and a natural beauty that draws people in from the moment they see the waving fields of wheat. I knew that Whisper Falls had to be a charming town with eccentric but loveable characters but also, the surrounding countryside had to be captivating enough to make both young veterinarians desperate to stay. It couldn’t just be pretty, it had to be a place you’d want to put down roots and settle down for the rest of your life.
In my books, the setting is almost like another character because people are heavily invested in making this place their home. So, it better be pretty special and described in a way that draws the reader into the story, making them believe that yes, this is a place worth exploring. I want the discovery of the town to make the reader feel like they too are falling in love with this place. As a reader, there is nothing like a firm sense of place in a book to make me sink deep into the story. And if the place is a charming small town, bring me bowl of popcorn and a blanket. I’m hooked.
I think the most important thing for writers at every stage of their career to remember is not to give up. Stella Cameron, a Pacific Northwest transplant from England and very accomplished romance writer once told me that no matter how many awards she’s won, or bestseller lists she’s hit, she always knows that it’s going to take a downturn. It’s the nature of the business. Of any business really. Tell the story that’s inside of you and keep at it. Keep your butt in the chair. Write on.
(c) Ellyn Oaksmith
About Find Me at Whisper Falls:
Two old rivals. One dream job. And a summer they’ll never forget.
Freya Johanssen needs a fresh start. A recently heartbroken and newly-qualified veterinarian, she will take any job that gets her away from Seattle—for now. Her plan is to spend two years in the small town of Whisper Falls, and then head back to the city and civilisation.
And then Trent Crossley shows up, and her carefully laid plans are blown to pieces. He’s the last person she expected—or wanted—ever to see again. This is the guy who thinks he’s God’s gift to women; who breezed through vet school without studying and who betrayed her in a way she’ll never forgive. She thinks he’s an arrogant party boy; he thinks she’s an uptight perfectionist. Now he’s in her clinic, and the fluttering in her stomach must mean she’s still mad at him.
It seems they have both been hired for the same job—and now neither is backing down. But as Freya works to outdo Trent at every turn, she starts to see a different side to the man she thought she knew. Falling in love was never part of her plan. And if she wants the new beginning she’s worked so hard for, can she afford to give away her heart?
A totally unputdownable feel-good read about finding yourself, and love, in the most unexpected places. Fans of Virgin River, Debbie Macomber, Jill Shalvis and Carolyn Brown will love Find Me at Whisper Falls.
Order your copy online here.