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!

Getting the form April 10, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:41 pm
Tags: , ,


Image from Hoarded Ordinaries


I haven’t done any actual writing this week at all. Not one story word.

What I have done is a lot of thinking about the essential elements of a romance story, and a lot of working out what needs to happen in the Work in Progress.

I don’t want to plot it to death, but I’ve been feeling lost without a road map, and I’ve gone down too may tracks that turned out to be dead ends with this story.

My writing group think I’m being a perfectionist, trying to come up with the “perfect” story.  They could be right. But I think what I am trying to do is really get to the heart of what a romance story is, what needs to be there to make it a strong and effective story. What are the core elements? How do they fit togther? How do I handle POV, and the balance between the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey?


Some writers seem to have it already internalised- perhaps quite unconsciously, absorbed from reading lots of stories.  I just don’t feel that I’ve got it yet. Maybe it’s magical thinking but I feel that once I get a deep understanding, the writing will just flow. I have the ideas, but I don’t know how to build the framework to hold them. This is an exercise in frame building, not just for this story but for all my stories.
I don’t feel stuck or frustrated with this process at the moment.   It’s all good stuff.  What has been frustrating is all this writing myself into a dead end stuff. I’m thinking I might do Book in a Week with this story. I get to spend three weeks planning, then a week writing first draft as fast as I can without thinking too much about it at all! If the plan isn’t working, don’t stop, just keep writing. But I don’t want to waste too much of that time writing stuff that is going nowhere.
I was like this at school. I could not write an essay to save my life, because I didn’t understand the form and what it was all about. One day it just clicked, and after that I could write an essay on just about any topic that would be sure to get good enough marks. I need the same inner conceptual shift to happen for romance writing. It’s that “aha” moment, when it all just falls into place, and once it happens, you’ve always got that skill or knowledge. I haven’t had that yet. I had it for essays at school, I had it for short stories at uni. Now I need to have it for romance writing.
The thing with romance writing is that though it’s not formulaic, there is a form. Once I have that clear in my mind, I can give shape to my ideas by using that to guide them. I’m too wild and all over the place at the moment. My imagination is undisciplined, it needs something to contain it, to guide it into shape.  There’s this essential balance between ideas, creativity, and individual voice on one side, which needs to be a bit wild and undisciplined; and the form of a story that the reader can relate to and understand on the other. Either one without the other is not a complete story.
My JanNo was a mess, all over the place, three different stories in one. My IS entry was more writing to what I thought were the conventions of the Presents form without real ideas to back it up. And sadly, I haven’t written anything that’s gone past three chapters in the year since getting my IS feedback.
Part of that is fear- if I finish and submit something I risk another rejection. Part of that is just that 2008 was a really crappy year when it was a challenge to get much writing done. And part of that is that I still don’t fully understand what makes a working romance story tick.
Overcoming the fear will just be a matter of doing it. Hopefully with my next job move I will overcome some of the work demands using up my brain. And right now I am focusing on the third problem, just not have a clear enough idea of what I am trying to do.
I have that lovely feeling of teetering on the brink of a breakthrough, I’ve almost got it, I’m almost there. And once it happens- WHAM! My ideas will be shaped by clarity and understanding. I will be able to let my writing just flow, with a form to contain and guide it.
Of course if I am still stuck in this process of working things out in a month’s time, our writing group’s disciplinarian had better start polishing those whips. ‘Cos then it’s clear it’s just another strategy to avoid actually writing. I really don’t believe it is.

4 Responses to “Getting the form”

  1. Eileen Says:

    Having strong theorhetical underpinnings isn’t a bad thing.

    Perhaps something you could do is to pick up some of the published romances that you like and outline them in order to find out how they work. That would also give you a chance to find out what it is about those novels that you really liked. With me I know that I could care less about the setting or the money aspects of romances (billionaire or ranch hand, doesn’t matter) but I love that conflicted hero(ine) and getting to see the conflict go all crazy inside his/her head. Some people love the final realization scenes and so that’s where their focus goes. What’s your favorite part?

  2. Janet Says:

    For planning the structure, I always use Carolyn Greene’s Prescription For Plotting. It comes with preparation sheets to help you nail the external and internal conflicts too. (She used to write for Harlequin Romance)

  3. waitingforthecall Says:

    I’ll have look out for that book, Janet.

    I think some of this is wanting to really get a deep understanding of story structure, I think some is just writing avoidance! I am doing just what you suggested, Eileen, and looking at the structure of stories I’ve both liked and disliked. That was what started me thinking about this, I read a book I enjoyed, and just after read about the Hero’s Journey and could see just how she had used a similar pattern so effectively.

  4. Jodie Miller Says:

    Sounds like perfectionism is holding you back Jane. I do it to myself and so, recognise the symptoms. Would it be so terrible to do the run-through, nomatter how imperfect you believe it to be, and give yourself the opportunity to rewrite or produce a second draft?

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