Hugs and Chocolate

Not the end, but  the possibilities are endless.

Not the end, but the possibilities are endless.

There comes a time in each of our lives when we have to stop and reevaluate our goals and purpose. That time has come for the writers at Hugs and Chocolate. We’re going to take a three month hiatus and decide how we’re going to proceed in the future. We may pick up where we left off, come back with a new direction, or we may decide to continue Hugs and Chocolate in a format other than a blog.

In the year we’ve been blogging, our little community grew from six almost strangers to a large group of people passionate about writing. We’ve celebrated the highs and been there for each other during the lows. It’s been a beautiful year and I don’t think any of us will ever forget it. We’d like to thank each of our readers and let you know how much your friendship and support has meant. We’re excited about the future and hope each and every one of you is there to share it with us. Until then, love, best wishes, and lots of hugs and chocolate!

P.S. The winner of the twenty-five page critique has been chosen and emailed. Keep writing!


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Posted by on February 27, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Headswerving: Storytelling from Multiple Points of View

By Vaughn Roycroft

Multiple faces with textHeadswerver Extraordinaire: What, you’ve never heard the term? I’m guessing you haven’t since I made it up. It’s a riff on the Shakespearian bedswerver, or one who is not faithful to a single bedmate, prone to swerving capriciously from one bed to another; a playful name for one with a voracious sexual appetite and/or an adulterous inclination.

I made it up because I happen to be one. A headswerver, not a bedswerver.

So what’s a headswerver? It’s a fiction writer who is not faithful to a single character’s point of view, prone to swerving capriciously from the viewpoint of one character to another. To deserve the moniker, one should be prone to writing from many characters’ viewpoints. I’m not alone. George RR Martin is a well-known headswerver, as are Joe Abercrombie and Guy Gavriel Kay, to name a few. Robert Jordan and Marion Zimmer Bradley were also eminent headswervers.

My headswerving may not be as outrageous as someone like GRRM, but I’m right up there. Most writing educators advise moderation when it comes to multiple POVs, some saying keep it to two or three, perhaps four at the extreme. I have eight. And that’s just in book one.

All told, in all four of my manuscripts, I have written from the tight third-person perspectives of twenty-two characters. Hello, my name is Vaughn, and I’m a compulsive headswerver.

Scale and Dimension: I didn’t know any better when I started. I had no sense of restraint in my use of multiple POVs. I simply wrote what I like to read, and considered this approach the best way to tell my tale. I write historical fantasy, and the scope of my world is, if I do say so, rather epic. I was interested in seeing my world from a variety of angles. Utilizing the viewpoint of several (okay, in my case, many) characters helps me to give readers a grasp of the scale of the story. Seeing the issues and conflicts from various perspectives adds dimension to what could be as flat as a map when viewed from a lone standpoint.

I’ll give you an example in relation to setting. In book one I have four characters from three ethnicities, hailing from disparate backgrounds, all starting the story from one place—a walled port city on the northern shores of the Black Sea. For one character, the Greek provincial governor, the city is an opulent world, his ancestral home, rightfully back in the control of his family, a wealthy shipping dynasty. For another, the Roman garrison commander, it’s a stinking backwater post, an assignment he deems beneath his noble standing. There are also two Gothic characters who start the story there, and to them the city is a prison, as they are both slaves. The younger of the two, a slave most of his life, escapes with the aid of the other slaves, bidden to bring back an army of his kinfolk. The other, an aging warrior from a wide green land, stays behind, willingly remaining cloistered in a windowless stone room for an oath to a dead king.

A simple port city could’ve been a distant and detached spot on a map for most of my tale, as neither of my MCs have ever been there. I’m hoping that instead, the experience of these four distinctive secondary characters give the place shape and shading, bringing its history to life.

On the Other Hand: I’ve read my share of stories, particularly historical fantasy stories, where the antagonists are just a distant looming peril. While there’s nothing wrong with looming peril, I believe a story can be enhanced if we get to know the opposition. And I’m not just talking about a scene where the dark lord uses telepathy to strangle a messenger bearing ill tidings, simply to show us he is merciless and arbitrarily cruel. For me it’s all the better that Sauron is a duplicitous fallen demigod, corrupted by a desire to create order from chaos; that the Nazgûl were deceived kings of men, lured to accept corrupting rings by their promise of power; that Darth Vader went to the dark side in a vain attempt to rescue lost love from death’s grip. I want more than simple good versus evil. Give me many shades of gray (no, wait—oh, never mind). I like to know what’s driving my favorite antagonists.

And what better way to get to know a character than to be in their skin, to feel their feelings of betrayal, loss, or injustice? What drove them to the dark side? Is their side even dark to them? Headswerving to your baddies’ viewpoints delivers the answers. Goals can be clarified, motivations strengthened, and conflicts escalated when we are brought deeper into the psyche of the antagonists by seeing the story from their perspectives. For me there’s an added bonus: they’re just plain fun to write.

Options for Optimizing: Headswerving also allows you to optimize the tension and impact for any given scene. It’s not just what’s happening, but who’s experiencing it. For example, say a character slaps another across the face. Who’s going to best sense whether the incident will escalate and how? The slapper or the slappee? Maybe it’s a bystander. Who best knows the depth of shame involved, or the amount of regret for the impulse? Which is greater? Rather than offering the reader just a stinging hand or cheek, you allow them to experience the event from the head that feels the fullest impact and senses the gamut of the potential repercussions.

How about a first kiss? Who is most shocked, or elated, or scandalized? Okay, how about a death? Who’s going to be horrified? Who least expected it? Who will be devastated? You can explore one or all of them—see the incident and delve the ramifications in any variety of ways. But most importantly, you get to choose the perspective that best moves your story forward and will deliver the biggest impact on your readers.

My Rose Colored POV Glasses: By now I’m sure you’ve surmised that I’m unabashed and unrepentant about my headswerving. I may love seeing from the eyes of many, but I’m not completely blind to the pitfalls. I’ve made my share of mistakes with my profusion of POVs, and I may make even more changes to my manuscripts before I’m done. So before you jump on the headswerver bandwagon, take a note of caution from a longtime devotee. Be aware of these potential complicating issues:

* Make them distinctive!  Be sure each character has a unique voice and perspective. Does each character come across differently and offer the reader a fresh outlook? Use of quirks and vocal tics can be helpful, but don’t rely on tricks. Make sure each POV character has a singular personality and set of opinions. Don’t duplicate worldviews.

*Avoid head-hopping. Make sure it’s very clear to the reader whose skin they are in. It can feel disorienting or even creepy when they aren’t sure. Delineate the changes with a scene break or a chapter change, and quickly identify the new POV after the change—within a line or two.

*Don’t fall down the rabbit hole. Secondary character POVs can be a blast to write, and they often aid the pacing. The development of subplots can enhance your story’s themes and keep your novel’s middle from sagging. But beware of being sidetracked! Your readers want to follow your protagonists—after all, they’re the ones you put in the story’s driver’s seat. Get back to him/her/them… Often.

*Offer closure. Don’t allow yourself to leave dangling participants when you get to ‘The End.’ If you’re going to create them, give them an arc. Every POV character should have some clear reason for their departure or the end of their role in the story—for better or worse. (I know some of you brash young headswervers are going to kill a few off, aren’t you? It’s okay, I get it.)

Headswerving’s Head Recruiter: So tell me—are you already a headswerver, or do you enjoy reading them? If you haven’t yet, do you think you’ll ever try a story from multiple POVs? Or are you just annoyed by all this hopping around, wishing I’d join Headswervers Anonymous already?

Vaughn RoycroftMany thanks to Heather Reid for allowing me to fill in for her, and to all the H&C ladies for their hospitality! For those of you who don’t know me, feel free to drop by my other blogging home at anytime, and we can get better acquainted. 

Image credit: rolffimages / 123RF Stock Photo


Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Characters, Point of View, Uncategorized


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Perfecting Your Pitch

writers blockWe spend hours, days, months, and sometimes years writing our stories. One idea turns into many and we write them down to create worlds and adventures that allow people to escape and believe anything is possible. After all this work, we’re then asked to shorten our story into a few paragraphs, then one paragraph, and finally, into a single sentence. The one sentence pitch.

Some people find this easy, while for others, this takes a lot of time and thought. I’m one of those for whom it took some time. Instead of telling you how to write yours, I’m going to leave you a map of the sites I utilized to figure out the puzzle.

The first site I found is a blog by Nathan Bransford. He’s a published author and former literary agent. He’s got a great website, full of helpful information: 

The next is a website written by agent, Rachelle Gardner. Her post isn’t very long, but it does give a good overview: 

Querytracker’s blog was another helpful resource:

Here’s another from Writer’s Digest:

Elana Johnson is an author who wrote a post about this very subject and included several links to help people craft their pitch: 

I’ve given five different sites that I used and found helpful. The web is full of information, some of it more useful and true than others. I tend to stick to names I know and recognize when I’m looking for help. I wanted to use links, instead of putting it into my own words, because I can’t give you the magic formula for writing the perfect pitch for your story – only you know your story well enough to narrow it down to a few words.

If you’re feeling up to the challenge, post your one sentence pitch in the comments for critique. Please be sure and identify the genre and myself or one of the other writers will tell you what we think. Good luck and keep writing!

Join us on Wednesday when guest writer, Vaughn Roycroft, will be discussing the technique of using multiple points of view!


Posted by on February 18, 2013 in Craft, Critique, Pitch, Uncategorized, Writing


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Use Character Arc To Improve Your Story

Not all characters change for the better...Al Pacino in Scarface

Not all characters change for the better…
Al Pacino in Scarface

“A character arc is the status of the character as it unfolds throughout the story, the storyline, or series of episodes.”


“In real life we each regard ourselves as the main character.”

~ On Writing, Stephen King

As part of our workshop series, I wanted to take a look at the concept of Character Arc, and how it can enable us to write characters that:

                                    * Make the story better

                                    * Are plausible

The Character Arc, explored in Chris Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey, is a framework. Are there flaws? Yes, I believe so. Characters don’t always need to change to grow. Some grow in their resolve. They remain steadfast in their beliefs.

When I first committed to writing, the only book on craft I’d read was Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s an excellent book, and I referenced it a few times for today’s post. So, I dove into writing my first book. I had great fun, and only a vague vision of where my story would go. But I got stuck. When a girl from mudding and four-wheeler country says she’s stuck, she means mired in muck up to her elbows.

The second book on craft I read was Chris Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. Here’s what using the framework did for me:

It enabled me to learn to ask the right questions of my characters, and move the story forward. I began to understand how to connect-the-dots. Using the Hero’s Journey, as Vogler suggests, as a guide to creating a realistic Character Arc, helped me create a cohesive beginning (Act 1), middle (Act 2), and end (Act 3). 

I still write the first, even second draft from an organic mindset. One of my great pleasures in writing is the feeling of awe and adventure as I listen to the whisper of my subconscious. I live a safe life with my remarkable husband and children; writing is my great road trip.

It’s awesome to hit the road and words in the spirit of spontaneity and telling the story as honestly as we can, but if we get lost, there’s nothing wrong with referencing a map.

 I encourage you to further research character arcs, the three- act story, archetypes,  as well as  steadfast characters. I’m using my notes taken from The Writer’s Journey. I’ve broken down the Arc into three acts. The words in parentheses reference the Hero’s Journey.

Act One:

1. Limited awareness of problem (Ordinary World)

2. Increased awareness (Call to Adventure)

3. Reluctance to change (Refusal)

4. Overcoming reluctance (Meeting with the Mentor) 

Act Two:

5. Overcoming reluctance (Crossing the Threshold)

6. Experimenting with first change (Tests, Allies, and Enemies)

7. Preparing for big change (Approach to Inmost Cave)

8. Attempting big change (Ordeal)

9. Consequences of the attempt (Reward)

Act Three:

10. Rededication to change (The Road Back)

11. Final attempt at big change (Resurrection)

12. Final mastery of problem (Return with Elixer)

Here are some examples of questions using this framework can help us ask:

* How does the character become aware of conflict/ problems?

* How will the character initially react to the conflict?

* Can the character turn to anyone for advice and honesty?

* What motivates the character to a.) change or b.) remain true to their belief system?

I would love to hear your thoughts on character arc, the Hero’s Journey, or the three-act story structure. How have they affected your writing and storyline, or have you found another system that works for your manuscript?

Thank you for participating.


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The Subjectivity of First Lines

Image by cellar_door_films

In April last year I blogged about setting tone and the first line. As part of our workshop month, I want to take a look at what makes a good first line.

I’m not an expert. I don’t give writing advice. I make suggestions. And something I always suggest to death when critiquing it, is the first line of a manuscript.

I want to share with you guys the best piece of advice I read about writing first lines. I can’t remember who gave it or where I read it, but it stuck with me enough that I share it whenever I can.

If your first line can be the first line of any story, think about rewriting it.

I think at the end of the day, first lines are as subjective as an entire novel. But there will always be opinions, and opinions will always be subjective. That’s why they’re called opinions.

I’m going to take a popular example and give you my opinion on it. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

First line: When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.

It’s a fantastic book, I devoured it, but that first line could just as well be me on a winter’s morning. Or you. There’s nothing special about it. And that’s what I want. Special. I didn’t stop me from reading and loving the novel. It just didn’t make me think ‘Now here’s something I’m looking forward to reading’. It’s the kind of thing I read and then forget as the rest of the story pulls me in.

I went to the room I put all my books in and began pulling out novels and reading their first lines. I had a surprisingly difficult time finding lines that agreed with the abovementioned advice, or jumped out at me as special. Here’s a few of what I loved, with reasons why I like/love them so much:

In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. – Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones.

This. This right here is what I’m talking about. You wouldn’t ever be able to put this first sentence with any other novel. Ever. It stands out. It makes me wonder. I want to know what seven-league boots are and what kind of misfortune it is to be born the first of three.

It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected the cure. – Delirium, Lauren Oliver.

Another great example for the same reason as above. This first line wouldn’t be able to start any other novel than this one.

Only when the tip of the knife started to shave against the white of his eye like a scalpel about to pierce a boil, did I realise that I was the one holding it. – Hunting Lila, Sarah Alderson.

I love the imagery here. It also does a fantastic job at making me wonder just what the heck is going on here.

There are many perks to living for twenty-one centuries, and foremost among them is bearing witness to the rare birth of genius.  – Hounded, Kevin Hearne.

I don’t know why I like this line so much, but it works. It’s that subjective thing again.

Our story opens where countless stories have ended in the last twenty-six years: with an idiot – in this case, my brother Shaun – deciding it would be a good idea to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to see what would happen. – Feed, Mira Grant.

I’ve had this book on my tbr for months now. The first line made me laugh out loud. Guess what? I’m moving it up and will be reading it soon. First line, job well done.

In doing a bit of research for this post, I read that some of the best opening lines are usually short and snappy. For some, yeah I guess that works. If you look at my examples above, I like my lines with personality, and often that requires more than a short sentence. When I look at Feed’s first line, I already get a proper sense of who the main character is. From that alone I’m excited to meet her.

If you’re interested in reading a few more first lines, here’s a post with links to quite a few of them: Links to First Line Posts by Susan Berger

Keep in mind that the kind of books I read are probably different from the kind some of you read. I look at some of the lines other people quote and think ‘I don’t see it’. I know there are a few of you that will look at the lines I quoted and think the exact same thing. That’s okay.

I’ll say it again. First lines are as subjective as entire novels are.

If you’re not entirely happy with your first line, if you feel it needs something different, think about that piece of advice I mentioned at the start of this post. Rewrite if you think it’s necessary.

Need an extra opinion? Please drop your lines into the comment section and either myself of one of the other ladies will comment. Other commenters are welcome to chime in as well.


Posted by on February 13, 2013 in First Lines, Subjectivity, Writing


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Stepping into POV

20130208-163533.jpgThanks for continuing to follow us through our February workshops. A special thanks to those of you who have been brave enough to share your work with us. We sincerely appreciate the opportunity offer up some of the things we’ve learned over the years, but also the chance to learn from you. If you haven’t yet, be sure to enter to win a 25 page critique from Month9Books editor, our very own Courtney Koshel.

“Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.”
— Roger Miller

Today I’d like to talk about point-of-view, something that has always been highly important to me and something that has evolved in my writing over the years. For those of you who have read my stories, you know I like to dig my heels deeply into my characters’ hearts, set up camp, and then invite you in for a hot cup of coffee. It’s the best seat in the house.

There are three common points-of-view used in fiction: 1st person, 3rd person limited, and 3rd person omniscient. Two things usually dictate which one you choose: your writing style or your story. For me, first person is a choice I’ll make 9 times out of 10 because that’s how I connect to my characters and that’s what shapes the tone of my story. It’s a stylistic thing.

For others, it may vary from story to story. For instance, fantasy is often written in 3rd person because of the vast amount of world building that needs to be done, while Young Adult is commonly 1st person to create the familiar emotional intensity of adolescence in the reader. I’ll let you Google the many articles out there about which one is right for you, but no matter your choice, there are some common tips that mean the difference between watching the story play out on a mental screen and stepping into the character’s shoes.

Eliminating Filter Words

Courtney already gave us a wonderful post on filter words and in it she says, “They distance the reader from the story. It’s one extra step the reader has to take in order to experience action with the character.” There’s no better way to say it so I’ll leave it at that and encourage you to check out her post again for a list of common filter words.

Sensory Details

Including the five senses is essential in each scene yet it often gets overlooked. I think we’re so used to experiencing the world through them, we take for granted that without them I wouldn’t be able to feel the warm blanket over my legs right now; I wouldn’t hear the space heater running beside the couch; I couldn’t see the screen in front of me to type this, or taste the remnants of the Granny Smith apple I ate a few minutes ago. I could have simply said I’m typing this on my iPad in my living room but don’t the use of my senses create a much clearer picture?

Character Thoughts and Feelings

In any given moment, a person has an emotional reaction or thought about what is happening around them, or what happened earlier in the day or week or month. They have feelings about what other people say or do, or what might happen in the future. It is a rare moment when we aren’t reacting to our surroundings. Bring your character to life by giving us a glimpse into his or her mind and heart with internal monologue, skillfully included using the POV of your choice. Make us feel it too.

There are many ways to put readers behind the eyes of your characters but these are just a few. They say you don’t know someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes, and a novel is a cross-country trek. Bring us along.

In the comments, I would love to see a few paragraphs of your work-in-progress where you might need a little help with implementing these techniques. The ladies and I here to support you and speaking from experience, nothing helps your grow in your craft more than trial and error with an encouraging group or writing friends.🙂

Photo by Newtown grafitti


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First Twenty-Five Pages and a Critique!

I’m going to start off with a disclaimer. This post is for writers pursuing publication. If you write for a hobby, that’s awesome. You can do whatever you like. If you’re writing for publication, there are some things you may want to consider in order to enhance your chances of landing that agent and book deal. This isn’t meant to stifle anyone’s creativity; this is strictly guidance. Take it if you think it’s useful, but discard it if you think it’s not. Either way, I hope it gets you thinking about your story, which is always a good thing.

The first twenty-five pages of a story are extremely important. A writer has to hook the reader, introduce the conflict, and move an entire story and plot forward. This is no easy task. Because of the amount of queries agents and editors receive, they are only able to read a sample to see if they’re interested. Maybe they’ll read the first chapter, two chapters, twenty-five pages? It depends. Then based on those pages, they’ll either request more pages or pass. Hopefully the magnitude of the first twenty-five pages has sunk in.

One of my go to books on beginnings is Hooked by Les Edgerton. Edgerton say, “An opening scene has ten core components: (1) the inciting incident; (2) the story-worthy problem; (3) the initial surface problem; (4) the setup; (5) backstory; (6) a stellar opening sentence; (7) body language; (8) character; (9) setting; and (10) foreshadowing,” (page 23).

If you’re newly starting out, and you want to look for some examples, go to the bookstore and look at current releases—I’m talking books released in the last one to three years. Read over the first thirty pages of books in the genre you’re interested in writing. The reason I say to look at current books for reference is because the publishing industry is forever changing. What was acceptable ten (even five) years ago may not be acceptable today. Of course you can take books that are wildly successful that don’t have these things in the first twenty-five, but you can’t always take the exception as an example for the norm.

One of the most important parts of the beginning is the inciting incident. The inciting incident is the action that pushes the story forward. I’ve heard some industry professionals say they’d like for this to happen anywhere from the first seven pages to the first twenty-five. It’s important to understand what the inciting incident of a story is. It doesn’t always have to be a car wreck or a murder (although it very well could be). But it can be subtler than that. I know I said you shouldn’t use exceptions as examples for the norm, but since the wildly successful books are the ones most people are familiar with, I’m going to use two big name books as examples. Harry Potter. The inciting incident in Harry Potter is when the first letter to Hogwarts is delivered to Harry. This happens on page thirty-four. That’s not far off from the first thirty pages. Let’s look at another one. The Hunger Games. The inciting incident of this story is on page twenty, when Primrose Everdeen’s name is chosen during the reaping. It’s important for the reader to care about the characters and to be emotionally invested in them enough to care about what happens to them, so when you introduce the inciting incident, the reader will follow your character on their journey.

I could talk about beginnings for a very long time. This is just skimming the surface. Hopefully it entices you to go research and read more to improve your craft.

In honor of our one year anniversary at Hugs and Chocolate, and for our February workshops, I’m offering a twenty-five page critique to one of the followers. All you have to do is follow the blog and leave a comment and make sure to include your email address. The winner will be chosen using, and they will be notified via email. The critique opportunity is open until Friday, February 15, 2013.


Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Uncategorized