As a rabid Nora Roberts / J.D. Robb fan, I often reread my particular favorites of hers. Two are First Impressions (1984) and The Fall of Shane MacKade (1996). Both are shorter category romances, yet still full of life and emotions, just packed in less than 240 paperback-printed pages. I pick these for the sheer entertainment but also with an eye out for how she makes it all work.
Well, I may have latched onto a thing or two.
Let me start off by saying these revelations doused me when I was again rereading The Fall of Shane MacKade. Nora first gives us pages of insight into the two main characters, the love interests, so that we get acquainted with their motivations, their values. This is the WHY behind the characters' actions. Short interplay with either dialogue or action or both is inserted in the middle, like roast beef between bread.
If you are a Numb3rs-holic like me, you may remember the follow-up episode about the cop (played by Henry Winkler) who had embezzled money--none of which he used and only to get FBI attention on his sister's case--which was eventually solved, but at a loss of both his job and retirement benefits.
Anyway, my point is this: Nikki labeled him a dirty cop and Colby asked her if she knew WHY he did what he did. That's it, isn't it? We allow some things just based on WHY.
If this light-bulb moment seems DUH to you, I find most of them are. These "secrets" are hidden behind the most trite yet sage sayings forever before our eyes and ears. Then, one day, there they are, revealed in all their glory.
So don't let "show vs. tell" hamper you when you are divulging your characters' internal motivation. Now, we shouldn't always tell, that would be boring. But there is a perfect time to do just that, as Nora adeptly utilizes in her books. Just like there are times you have to use an LY word. Maybe not as often as I do. Ha!
I'll need to look for it but there was this wonderful example shared within one of my online writing classes where the author inserted Who, What, When, Where, Why (maybe not How yet) into his opening paragraph. It was fluid and artistic. Not journalistic. I theorize that writing this beginning not only anchors the reader in the story, but also the author. Confirming once again how effective just getting it down into a first draft per NaNoWriMo and pushing aside all supposed writing "rules" can unleash our muse, remove our internal critic and let us "git 'er done."
My second goldmine took more digging to unearth. Maybe it was a side effect of hearing this great dialogue while watching Numb3rs: "Some women go for the muscles; some women go for the brains." I am definitely a member of the latter first. And the first second. Which is why my covers are chosen to depict the mutual values and desires (or sometimes embodied in a caricature) of each relationship I write about.
Plus Nora's characters all resonate a sense of knowledge (whether via books, traditional schooling, or from life) and some wisdom and some common sense. A nice well-rounded intelligence. As a reader, I love that. In real life, I search for that--among friends, fellow authors I happen to meet on a regular basis, or correspond with online.
That may be why Nora's characters and her J.D. Robb cast are so wonderful to me. They are not these two-dimensional made-up people who are focused only on muscles or money. Such superficiality is very off-putting to me. In reality and in fiction. Our writing styles cannot help but be influenced by our mind-sets, giving away our philosophies and takes on life within our words.
As for writing attitudes, I often think of Janet Evanovich and John Locke. Their stories are fun and I figure those authors had to be experiencing great joy when they wrote them, too. While the humor in my books is more sly, and I have been known to write a scene or two that made me cry while creating them, I don't get the belly laughs from my own stories that I get while reading Evanovich. I envy her and Locke that.
But, ahem, garnering huge laughs was not part of my genetic makeup. I can live with that. After all, I don't usually get that reaction while reading Nora--although a smile is apt to come up often. One exception was the giggles Nora twisted out of me while reading a mainstream novel of hers: The Search (July 2010, 456 pages). Nora is a wonder with her highly tuned insight into humanity--and the animal world.
Well, as usual, take what you may from those ramblings. Keep writing. And happy reading!