Friday, February 5, 2016


John M. Daniel’s Blog
February 6, 2016

<photo: John teaching photo>

Greetings! Here it is: February. February is a quirky month. For one thing, it’s shorter by at least two days than any other month of the year, except for one out of every four years, those years divisible by four, when February is only one day short. Those years are called Leap Years, when females are encouraged to take courage in courtship. Other spectacles of Leap Years are the Summer Olympics, where competition is attractive, and U.S. Presidential Elections, where competition often turns ugly.

Other features of all Februarys are a day designated for honoring U.S. Presidents, like ’em or not, and, right in the middle of the month, a day set aside for celebrating romance and love, with chocolate and promises.

So this week, the first full week of February, my blog post is about love, lovers, and how important they are to the art of storytelling. Next week we’ll be showcasing a generous helping of 99-word stories, written by readers of this blog, about romance. Meanwhile, check out my promotion of a book full of romance and love in various forms, Hot Springs Eternal, which happens to be my newest published novel, now available (and only available) as an ebook.

Also, you'll find below this month's new prompt for March's 99-word story feature.


Falling in Love, into Bed, and sometimes out of Sorts

I have strong opinions when it comes to writing about love and relationship, love and sex, and the thrilling experience of falling in love. No matter how a person experiences relationship, sex, or falling in love in “real life,” when a fiction writer takes on these subjects, it’s all about change. That’s how the magic of fiction works: something happens to somebody, and that something is change.

To begin this discussion, I want to focus on that overwhelming, surprising, beautiful (usually), changing experience of falling in love.

As if we needed some instruction or a road map for falling in love, I’m guessing at least a third of the standards in the Great American Songbook deal with the magic moment. Steve Allen wrote, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” and Johnny Burke warned us “It Could Happen to You.” For my money Nat King Cole put it best when he sang, “Flash! Bam! Alakazam! Wonderful you walked by…”

In fiction this experience changes a person from dull to alive, from self-centered to embracing, from sleepwalking to tap-dancing. Be warned, however, that falling in love can bring a lot of disruption and trouble; but let’s be carefree lovers and forget the consequences…until some later discussion.

Meanwhile, let’s move onto something that often comes up when lovers find out that they’re lovers. Sex.

How much sex belongs in a novel? And how explicit should the sex scenes be? Both answers depend on whom the writer wants to entertain. Let’s assume we’re not writing for the porn audience. Let’s also assume we’re not writing for young children or prudes. Somewhere between these extremes is an intelligent audience of readers who accept sex as a normal and healthy ingredient of life, especially when we’re writing about the relationship between a couple of lovers.

Still, it’s a touchy subject, and sex described clumsily can appear offensive, laughable, or boring. I propose a few guidelines for keeping sex scenes intelligent and meaningful.

1. Less is more. There’s no need to tell about every time a couple make love. There’s no need to describe in detail every feature of the human body, nor does the reader want a complete laundry list of your characters’ clothing as it is unbuttoned, unzipped, torn off, and cast aside. And remember that every sex act doesn’t end with a fireworks display and a hallelujah chorus.

2. Engage the brain. Remember that the mind is the most erogenous zone we’ve got. Don’t be afraid to inject some humor into the scene if it’s appropriate, or tears if they’re called for. And try to come up with something original, difficult as that may seem. After all, you want your characters to be interesting in everything they do.

3. Remember that fiction is about change. This sex should be important to the plot, not just a dance routine thrown in for added entertainment. The sex act should significantly change either one or the other lover, or both, and it will most likely change the nature of the relationship as well.

Speaking of relationship, I have a couple of things to say about that, too. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the psychology of love, but I do have opinions concerning how to write well about the relationship between lovers.

Once again, it’s all about change. If you want the relationship to be central to the plot, the relationship must be developing, evolving, growing closer or more distant or falling apart, turning sour or turning to gold.

Another essential ingredient of a story or a novel primarily about a relationship is the sine qua non of all fiction: conflict. A novel about a perfect relationship wouldn’t make much of a novel. In fact, the “perfect relationship” hasn’t been around since Eden, and even that one didn’t last, or at least didn’t stay perfect.

Take heart. Not all relationships die, even in fiction. But at the core of every story about relationship is that question posed by Ladies’ Home Journal: Can this marriage be saved? The job of the writer is to show the success or failure of the relationship, and to make the reader care whether the relationship flourishes or flounders.


Volunteer posters wanted:

Every week beginning on the third Saturday of the month, I turn the stage over to a guest author. If you are an author, preferably one with a published book you want to tell the world about, and if you have thoughts and feelings about the pleasure and craft of writing stories, I invite you to get in touch with me by email:


Call for submissions: Your 99-Word Stories

The deadline for next month’s 99-word story submissions is March 1. The stories will appear on my blog post for March 12 and the week following.

note: this 99-word story feature is a game, not a contest. Obey the rules and I’ll include your story. I may edit the story to make it stronger, and it’s understood that you will submit to my editing willingly. That’s an unwritten rule.

Rules for the 99-word story feature are as follows:

1. Your story must be 99 words long, exactly.
2. One story per writer, per month.
3. The story must be a story. That means it needs plot (something or somebody has to change), characters, and conflict.
4. The story must be inspired by the prompt I assign.
5. The deadline: the first of the month. Stories will appear on this blog the second Saturday of the month.
6. I will copy edit the story. The author of the story retains all rights.
7. Email me your story (in the body of your email, or as a Word attachment) to:

THIS MONTH’S PROMPT FOR NEXT MONTH’S 99-WORD STORY: The title of the above illustration is “It Hit Me Like a Tornado.” Write a 99-word story inspired by the illustration or the title, but don’t make it about the weather.


And now a word from our sponsor:

a novel by John M. Daniel

Hope Hot Springs, high on a forested mountainside in Southern California’s coastal Matilija Range, was once the home of millionaire Joel Hope and his silent-picture-star wife Clara Bianca. They threw wild weekend parties back in the 1920s for the libertine Hollywood royalty, who cavorted naked in the hot mineral waters and in the hotel where the bedroom doors were never locked.

 Now, 60 years later, Hope Springs is the home of Karen and Nellie Hope, Joel’s constantly squabbling twin daughters. They share the former resort with a commune of hippies, and they plan to reopen Hope Springs as a weekend hotel, for a new generation of Hollywood stars. They’ve hired a piano player named Casey to direct the staff and be the hotel manager, as well as the host and entertainment for the guests, once the hotel is open for business. They have an excellent vegetarian chef named Diana. 

This all promises to be a successful venture, but the powers that be want it to fail: SoCal Development, in collaboration with Anacapa County and Pacific Power, is scheming to claim the entire mountainside under the doctrine of eminent domain. SoCal’s plan is to displace the Hope sisters and their community, clear-cut their forest, and build California’s first geothermal bedroom community. All Karen and Nellie have going for them is good intentions, a loyal staff, and Nqong, an Australian aborigine sage who has lived like a hermit in the Matilija mountains most of his life, tending to the healing waters and caring for a yearly swarm of exotic yellow beetles, who might just save the day.


Thanks for stopping by. See you next week, I hope! Meanwhile, happy reading and writing, and may you continue to enjoy the joy of story.


  1. Nice blog, and helpful. I appreciate your approach to a subject that is troubling to some of us -- especially those with faulty memories...

    1. Dac, I know what you mean about faulty memories. I have plenty of loved scenes in my memory, but I can't remember which ones really happened and which were wishful thinking!

  2. Writing about love, sex, romance, change is the core of the novel for me. I write historical westerns and my love story has to be appropriate to the times and the people--and from the POV of my protagonist. You're right--less is more. Good thoughts and as always, well spoken.

    1. Thank you, Anne. Yes, I'm sure love, sex etc. are essential ingredients of fiction about the old west. I look forward to reading your tales!

  3. I enjoyed -- and learned -- from you once again, John. Thanks for this timely blog -- and for the new 99-word prompt, which I'll share with my students.