Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Heroes- sweet or sexy? February 28, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:21 pm
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davidgandy3091I’ve been thinking about internal conflict and Luk’s motivation, and it’s changed him a lot. I noticed as I was writing that he was becoming softer, less hard edged Alpha, more the sort of man I’d marry in real life (if I wasn’t happy with the DH, of course), only better. Far better looking, taller, a helluva lot richer and more successful.

I love the new Luk! Only problem is, his internal conflict seems to be disappearing by the minute. He’s just too ready to fall in love with Gabriella, so what is there to keep them apart? Maybe this is going to be one of those stories where it looks like it’s all going to be fine halfway through then the really big conflict whams them. Problem is, I have no idea what that conflict is going to be! One plan was going to be that he didn’t want to stay in his birth country, where Gabi, as the Princess, must stay. And that he was emotionally walled in after the death of his first love, so he would let Gabi so close but no further. They could have a relationship, especially when circumstances force marriage on them, but love wasn’t part of the deal. I’m just not sure now. He isn’t coming across as a man who is emotionally closed off!

He is definitely not a Presents/ Sexy/ Modern hero any more, the line I was originally aiming for. He’s now very much a Romance hero, for the sweet and tender line. The guidelines for the Romance line are different depending if you look on the North American Harlequin site or the UK Mills and Boon site!

The US site says this about the Romance hero, they call him the “Tender Alpha”-

Hero: He’s always strong and charismatic, successful in his own way and aspirational — a man you’d want to be with! Tower of Strength: He has a steely core, is not easily manipulated and uncompromising about the things that matter
Aspirational: The guy with whom women aspire to spend the rest of their lives with; definitely Mr. Right
Code of Honour: He has a strong sense of right and wrong, is reasonable and fair
Sense of Humour: He can laugh at himself and life; he’s often understated and modest in manner
Status: Definitely successful, can be wealthy or just comfortably off; perhaps a specialist in his field
Examples of the Tender Alpha Male in Film/TV: Nick (Dermot Mulroney) in The Wedding Date; Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) in Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

I like this hero! Whether I can write him or not is another matter. Whether I can give Luk and Gabi a convincing and emotionally real conflict (and one the Richmond editors will like too!) is another matter again. The only ideas I have now for conflict are so outrageous that I am getting into very different territory. I know it has to hinge on his sense of honour, on doing what he sees as morally and ethically right, that steely and uncompromising core. The risk in making him a softer hero is that he becomes less of the driver of events. He still needs to be in command, he needs to be the one making things happen. Gabriella too, of course, but my feeling is it is very much his issues or his decisions that force situations.

Hmm. It’s a challenge. I don’t want to keep on writing and find I’ve written myself into a dead end.  But I don’t want to stop writing yet again to figure this out either. No way am I going to meet my self-imposed deadline of submitting a partial by March 31st, if I keep going as I’m going. I want to just write, and hope the characters tell me the story. Magical thinking? You bet!


Rejection proofing our writing February 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:58 pm
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I planned to treat myself today to a Sunday morning idly surfing writers’ blogs.

I can justify it, it’s still writing related, I might just learn something more I can apply to my writing, and best of all I can be deliciously lazy with a built in excuse.

Not so lazy this morning! I’ve ended up reading and thinking hard about writing and what does and doesn’t work. A link from the fabulous Julie Cohen’s blog sent me to a blog I’d never visited before, that’s going to be a rich source of resources for my writing toolbox- Anne Mini’s Author Author.

She started the New Year with a 22 part series on the reasons stories get rejected on the first page. These came from agents, but I can’t see it’s going to be much different for a publisher accepting direct submissions like HMB. This series is a gem, an entire book’s worth of information on what writers can do to rejection proof their submissions.  We all want our story to be “The One”. The one that will stand out, the one that will get passed up the chain, the one that has the chance of the editor falling in love with it and wanting to read more. This series details the things that going to make it impossible for anyone to fall in love with our story, the submission equivalent of bad breath and body odour on a first date. All the things  to look out for in our manuscripts that could mean that overworked editorial assistant isn’t going to want to read any further. After all, she can afford to be choosy, she has another fifty-something submissions that arrived into the slush pile just this morning!

As I read I kept flipping back to my edit notes for the WiP, seeing so many issues I needed to be aware of when it comes editing time for this story. I’m resisting the temptation to go back and try to fix them now.  On with the first draft is the number one rule right now. But oh boy, those notes I made are going to be so handy later.

As well as as the no-nos, she listed some of the things that can make agents (and editors) more likely to fall in love with a story-

1. A non-average character in a situation you wouldn’t expect.

2. An action scene that felt like it was happening in real time.

3. The author made the point, then moved on.

4. The scene was emotionally engaging.

5. The narrative voice is strong and easy to relate to.

6. The suspense seemed inherent to the story, not just how it was told.

7. “Good opening line.”

8. ”There was something going on beyond just the surface action.”

Fingers crossed I can somehow create some of those wonderful factors! Somehow, I think screening out the negatives is going to be a whole lot easier!


Why? February 21, 2009

lightbulb momentSome interesting posts around today about internal conflict in our stories- what it is, why we need it, and how to get it! And the importance of never stopping asking “Why?”

It’s a lightbulb moment to suddenly realise this is the factor that has been missing from so many of my stories.  I am the queen of external conflict.  My characters get so much  thrown at them, from kidnaps to bushfires to car accidents.  It certainly makes for a busy plot, but all that stuff from “out there” is NOT internal conflict. 

Internal conflict is what keeps the characters apart, what is blocking them from moving on forward with a full relationship. It’s the stuff that’s there inside the characters, their beliefs about themselves and relationships, their goals, their deepest fears and anxieties. The things that may come from their family background, upbringing, past experiences. Often it’s the things that they don’t want anyone to know, might not even talk about with their best friend, are certainly not going to reveal to this scarily attractive stranger. It’s all the reasons that would get in the way of this man and this woman getting together even if they were in a room by themselves and nothing outside could affect them.  External events in the story may trigger internal conflict, but it doesn’t cause it. A good analogy is that the external conflict is what pushes two very different people together, whether it’s the snowstorm that strands them both in a remote cottage, the business takeover they are on opposing sides of, the fake engagement to swing a deal, the forced marriage because a one-night stand resulted in a pregnancy.  The internal conflict is then what pushes them apart, her fear that a relationship will destroy her, his decision at an early age never to allow himself to love, her belief that she is unlovable, his belief that he is unworthy of love.  This should be what drives the black moment, what seems to make it impossible for this couple to ever stay together.  That’s my understanding, anyway, for what it’s worth as an unpubbed writer!

And I’ve just discovered that though I thought I already understood this, it’s been the big missing component of my stories. Ther’s been a lot happening, but it’s not coming from deep enough within the characters. The black moments have been driven by external events, by other people’s actions, rather than something deep inside the hero or heroine. Or if it was, I haven’t made that clear enough at the critical moments when they’ve made decisions about the relationship. One of my stories, I can see, had NO internal conflict at all. It was purely external circumstances that kept them apart. And I can see how to tweak the story when I rewrite it. There is actually a huge possibility of built in internal conflict in who the characters are.  Anyway, that’s another story.

I’m now at the stage in my current story where even though what’s happening is all the external stuff throwing them together, I need to be making sure the seeds for the internal conflicts are there, the hints are being dropped, the issues foreshadowed.  That comes from the characters themselves, who they are, why they are as they are, why they have made the choices they have made.

Jackie Ashenden and Lucy King , the runner -up and winner of Mills and Boon’s Feel the Heat competition for new Modern Heat writers, emphasise never taking characters at face value but digging deeper by always asking them “Why?” Lucy’s post talks about how this can create the plot- start with two very different characters, and keep asking them “Why?”. Find out what their deepest fears are, then create a situation where they will be forced to face them.

At first thoughts, I didn’t think I’d done that with my current story. But actually, maybe I have. She’s a shy country girl with limited social experience, suddenly forced into the spotlight; he’s a workaholic loner forced back to his birth country where he has to deal with the events that  turned him into the emotionless moneymaking machine he is today. Except he does have one emotion- the desire for revenge on the man who destroyed his first relationship. Pursuing that is what pushes him back to the home he left twelve years before. Would a man like him still seek revenge, or would his desire to avoid his past mean he would bury it? I need to give him some damn good motivation to be willing to risk facing his past.

Better get asking- “Why?” and dig a bit deeper, before I write any more story. There’s clearly another layer here to peel off yet before I get to the truth. So glad I realised that now and not in Chapter Ten!


Back to Plan A February 15, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 5:33 pm
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Ack! It’s been a frustrating week in a lot of ways. But also good because at last I feel that I’ve got my sense of direction back, though only by exploring yet another wrong direction. I have that feeling of the guy in the cartoon, running hard, flapping my arms like crazy, getting nowhere!

I managed to convince myself that the conflict in my current story wasn’t going to work, that the external problem was resolved too early, leaving them with just the internal conflict to deal with.  So I thought, I know, I need them to be more in opposition, I need their external goals to conflict more. I spent all week working on a plot that started with the heroine in the same place, but completely changed the hero. I love it, and I can see some beautiful scenes that will be part of this story. But it’s not the same story any more.

I’ve fallen back into the “Shiny New Story” trap. I’m yet again abandoning an incomplete story because I’m overcriticising it and I’ve decided it’s just no good. I’m kidding myself if I try to say I’m not doing that. This isn’t just a slight change of direction for the story, it’s a brand new story pretending to still be the old one, so I can sneak it past my critique buddies! So I have to decide- do I want the first story to join all my other unfinished stories?

The answer is- no! The story is more focused on how they overcome the internal conflict getting in the way of this relationship, so does it matter that they reach their external goals a bit earlier? Probably not, because the very thing that gives them both their external goals is what intensifies the internal conflict. And if that conflict somehow doesn’t feel strong enough or believeable enough, the cure isn’t necessarily in changing the nature of the conflict. Building up the motivation is what’s needed, layering that in right from the beginning, so the choices the hero and heroine make are real and understandable. In fact, seeing the villain doesn’t give up easily, even when it looks as if the hero and heroine have won, I probably need to be more aware of the risk of the external conflict taking over when it shouldn’t, rather than worrying there’s not enough! This is a romance, so solving the internal conflicts, the relationship blocks, should be the main event.

So I’m back to Version 1 of the story. The different ideas for Version 2 won’t go to waste, that can be my next story. But right now, I have to stay faithful to telling the story I started with, to getting  a complete first draft, to finishing what I start. No more excuses, even ones that seem good and convincing on the surface like this one did!

Now it’s time to write, not just write about writing.


Another fab link on synopsis writing February 10, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:52 pm

Synopsis writing seems to be flavour of the month! Just found an excellent blog post telling it from the agent/ editor’s point of view.


Oops, wrong life choice! February 7, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:15 pm
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2008 was an interesting year. “Interesting” in the sense of that Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

Started off pretty good. I’d got back into my writing again and was loving it, and had a great job that I enjoyed with a work schedule that gave me plenty of time and energy to write when I wasn’t at my job. I finished a 50,000 word story for JanNo, then got stuck into my new story for the Instant Seduction competition. Things looked good, and I was well on target for my goal of completing four stories in the year. Then big changes happened at the Day Job. The small friendly health care company I worked for was taken over by a giant much less friendly one. I was asked to take on a different role, not really knowing what I was letting myself in for. In the space of a couple of months, my dream job morphed into the Job that Ate My Life. Instead of writing stories, I was writing a massive software user guide and training manual, and designing and delivering a completely new three week training programme for new staff. Even worse, I knew that once I had done my job well and delivered the training to enough staff working for the new company at the new site, chances were our small centre would be shut down and the team disbanded. Not a happy time, and not much writing got done. I guessed when I thought the redundancies would happen, researched the likely payoff staff would be given, and it didn’t seem worth waiting for the axe to fall.

So I jumped before I was pushed, and accepted a new job offer one week before the sacking of our entire team was announced. Duh! I really misjudged the timing, and the financial cost of that decision. Not only did it happen months earlier than I thought, the big nasty company actually were very generous in the payouts they offered staff, paying far more than the legal minimum. If I’d waited a week to resign I would have got a juicy package that would have made a biiiiiiig difference to our finances, especially as my husband worked in the same team and was made redundant too but for complex contract reasons got a much smaller payout.

And now three months into the new job I am realising I’ve made a massive mistake. This job is if anything even more life devouring than the old one was! Interesting role, great team, fantastic opportunities for education and career progression. Ten or fifteen years ago, when I was a bit more ambitious and career orientated, it would have been the perfect job for me. Now, it’s just not what I want. At the time I thought it was what I wanted, but I was wrong. I don’t want a job that takes 12 hours out of my day. I don’t want a job that needs me to study and research in my own time. I don’t want a job where I come home worrying about my patients and waking up dreaming about them. I don’t want a job that allows me to make excuses about having no time to write.

Oops, wrong life choice! So easy to make these decisions which aren’t aligned to our real goals. I even spent some time telling myself that I really didn’t have the talent to write, so I should just give up on writing and make the most of the new job. It really is a fabulous job after all. Plus I don’t want to let the team down. I don’t want to let my patients down. I don’t want to feel that I haven’t kept my end of the bargain with my employer, having gone into the interviews happy and optimistic and “Yes, I can do this!” I don’t want to have to admit that I tried something and I failed, that it was just too hard for me. And I do still have to earn enough money to keep this household going, so taking time out to focus on writing isn’t an option. No guarantee that if I find another job it won’t turn out to be the same.

But I feel the decision has been made now. I really do know what is right for me. I’m going to look for a different job and resign. I spoke to my manager a couple of weeks ago, discussed my concerns that it wasn’t the job for me, allowed myself to be easily convinced that I was expecting too much of myself, it was early days, stick in there. Last weekend, out for coffee with a girlfriend, we talked about this, and it was the opposite way around. She was all for me going for another job, I argued myself out of it and decided no, I should stay. It’s the “shoulds” not the “wants tos” that are keeping me there. I know it’s not the job that is right for me, right now.

Do I have the courage to admit I made a mistake, to stop now before both my employer (in expensive training) and I put any more energy into this wrong choice. Can I go back, try again with another less demanding job, make writing my primary focus? Because that’s a risky choice. If I relegate writing to the sidelines, to the cracks and crevices, and get nowhere with it, I can go on being a wannabe and a couldabeen. I can still always wonder if I might have succeeded if only life circumstances had been different, can still kid myself that I do have the talent, I just didn’t have the time.

The flip side of that, if I commit to my writing and go for it wholeheartedly, is that if I still don’t get published, I have to accept that I just don’t have it. That I really don’t have that indefinable something that makes one writer’s stories a must read and another’s with the same premise ho hum. If I go for it, there are no more excuses.

That’s scary. Very scary.


Free Harlequin e-books

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:14 am

A great opportunity to try out lines you may not normally read- as part of their 60 year celebrations Harlequin are currently giving away 16 e-books in pdf format (these don’t need a special device to read, they can be read on your computer or smart phone if you have pdf reading software like Adobe installed).
Just click on the picture, then on the Harlequin Celebrates link at the top of the page.