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!

Some thoughts on writing- romance vs single title May 10, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:24 pm


Jane Holland’s  thoughtful comment on the last post got me writing so much in response that I’ve made it a separate post.



Here’s Jane’s comment-

My advice, FWIW? Getting a novel to publication stage is like dieting successfully. You have to forget about getting there with flair and mind-changes and bouts of carefree imagination that allow you to wander from the plot and the basic premise. Make a plan and stick to it strictly. Do not deviate from the path, however pretty those primroses are over there.

Target the line, do the word count, finish the book as planned, polish and spellcheck and send it off.  Whatever you do, don’t start a straight M&B that expands into a romantic saga or a ghoulish thriller halfway through. That’s a sure way to waste your time and never reach the Book Accepted stage.

But then, you need to decide upfront what you want from this. Publication, or a fun hobby. If it’s the latter, feel free to do whatever you like. But if not …

Only my opinion, of course! And many others will see the process differently.  😉

My response-

That dieting analaogy is a good one. Not too close to the truth though, I hope! I’m a recidivist dieter. I’m good at losing weight when I put my mind to it, not so good at keeping it off for more than a few years. I’ve probably lost at least my current body weight since I turned 33 and first decided to lose weight. I think I’ve been like that with writing in the past too. Done it, but without the necessary self-control and determination to get lasting results. Something I want to change now.

I know that writing, for someone who is serious about it and not just infatuated with the idea of being a writer, is work. It takes discipline and commitment. Bum in seat, hands on keyboard. Even if my bum is numb from sitting and my wrists are sore and the sun is shining and there are a million things that seem like more fun right at that moment. For sure, no one ever gets to be a published writer by only writing when they feel like it, or when they are “inspired”, or by allowing the writing to run where ever that day’s fancy takes them without any overall vision or plan.

On the other hand, I do believe there needs to be a place for play, for those unexpected discoveries that happen along the way. Maybe that patch of primroses just off the path is exactly what my story needs, and I never thought of it at the planning stage.

The danger of course is stepping off the path for  a bunch of primroses, and seeing another patch of pretty flowers, and another, and another. Before I know it I can’t see my original path any more, I’ve lost my way, and I’m writing a 250,000 word romance/thriller/fantasy/multigenerational saga/zombie noir hybrid. I hope I’m not in too much danger of that, but you never know…  ; )

I do feel (despite my age suggesting I should know better) that I just don’t know enough about myself as a writer yet. I have no idea where my natural writing voice best fits. I know I want to write romance, for the sheer joy of the happy ending, but should I be targeting series or single title? If series, which line?

The only way to find out is going to be to play a bit. Write steadily, write consistently, write like someone who is serious about her writing, but also experiment. Step off the path now and then, but not so far I lose sight of the way I’m headed. Write this story to the end, then think about where it best fits.

To my mind, and I may be wrong here, the main difference between say a Mills and Boon Modern Heat and a contemporary feel-good romantic single title is the focus and the emotional intensity. The central pathway of both is the ups and downs of the developing relationship, the destination is the Happy Ever  After. But with just 50,000 words, the series romance is mostly tight close up on the couple and the experience of falling in love and eventually committing to each other. The spotlight is on is the emotional growth that allows them to overcome their relationship blocks. With such a tight word count, there’s no room to do more than sketch in what’s going on around them. If it doesn’t impact on the central relationship or the relationship blocks, it’s out. The single title gives space to step back and show more. There’s room for sub-plots, secondary characters can be more developed. The core is still the love story, the end point will be the same, but the emotional intensity is less because the focus isn’t so relentlessly on the relationship.

I’m only thinking about romantic single title here. The broader genre of women’s fiction, I think, is significantly different. The core journey here is the central female character’s personal growth, which may or may not include a romantic relationship.

There are some other significant differences between a series romance and romantic contemporary single title (I really want to say chick-lit, but jeez, I hate that term!), of course. 

There’s whose emotional growth the focus is on. Series romance is now close to 50/50 hero and heroine. Both in whose head we are in, and in who needs to grow and change as part of their journey to love. Actually, in some series, like Presents/Modern or Modern Heat the hero has a lot further to grow. I think that’s part of the appeal of these lines, the idea of  “strong, brave women bringing strong, brave men to their knees” as Catherine Spencer puts it. In a single title, even a romantic one, it’s far more focused on the heroine’s journey.

The other difference is point of view. Most series romances will have only two point of view characters, the hero and the heroine. Many single titles will have just one POV, the heroine’s, whether that’s told in first person or third. On the other hand, I’ve read and enjoyed single title romances with multiple points of view. I’m reading Janet Gover’s The Farmer Needs a Wife (Little Black Dress) at the moment. There must be about sixteen POV characters! But it works.

There are plenty more differences too, but they are the key ones that come to mind straight off.

So my plan is to write in a disciplined way, every day, with writing as a key priority, until this first draft is done. Maybe diverge off the path a bit now and then, if that’s where the characters are taking me, but keep that path in sight and keep coming back to it so I get us all to the correct destination- their HEA. And hopefully the first draft I end up with won’t be some monstrous hybrid, but something that with good revising and editing, will be suitable to submit to either Harlequin Mills and Boon or to target elsewhere.

If I end with 90,000 words, centred around a woman and her journey to a committed relationship, but with lots of humour, other stuff going on besides the relationship, developed secondary characters, and at least one subplot, maybe I need to edit with single title in mind. If I end with 60,000 words, told in only the hero and heroine’s POV, tightly focused on their relationship, I guess I’m writing series romance and will shape it in that direction in my edits. The way it’s looking so far, I do think it will be series.

Then of course, there’s the question of which series, which is a whole other issue in itself!


6 Responses to “Some thoughts on writing- romance vs single title”

  1. Eileen Says:

    The thing about single titles is that you can do just about anything you want with them! Is all that freedom a good thing? Who knows.

    Part of me wants to (eventually) write a series of paranormal “packs o men” romance novels. But that’s a lot of work and I can’t seem to finish anything lately let alone a series!

    So I set all these big goals for myself — daily, weekly, monthly — and then I immediately hit a block. I thought I’d have more time to write in the “summer” when I’m only taking one class. Turns out that when the class meets twice as often it’s like taking two classes rather than one!

    The novel was supposed to be a modern comic fantasy set at a bed and breakfast. Then I jumped to a weird but steamy little romance novella. Then back to the pack-o-men novel (it’s werewolves). Then last night I (thankfully) finished a little red ridding hood (retold) poem and sent that off to a little magazine. One good thing done, right?

    I didn’t mean to steal your comments section to spend the whole time discussing my troubles but I guess I have. Anyway, you’re doing great right now and, really, you’re a model of productivity for me right now. Hopefully I’ll find some way to dig myself out of this block soon — particularly as I don’t believe in “writer’s block” per se.

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    Hmm, Little Red Ridng Hood? Lots to play with there!

    Oh boy, do I know that story jumping all over the place feeling! Do you think you are feeling blocked because you’re trying to write what you thing you “should” write rather than waht you want to write?

    Or maybe you’re writing a comic erotic paranormal!

    My prductivity is waaaaaay down now as I started the new job yesterday. I think it will be extremely busy, and a big learning curve to get my head around all the aspects of the role, but I do believe I’ll enjoy it and be a lot less stressed.

  3. Lorraine Says:

    Thought I’d come over and look at your blog and say Hi. I wish I’d done it earlier – you’ve got some really interesting posts. I’ve found trying to adapt to writing series fiction really quite hard. As you say, you have a lot less freedom but I think the lessons I’m learning will make me a more disciplined and structured writer when/if I come to attempt a single title.

    BTW are you going to make it to the RNA conference this year? I remember you said on Trish’s forum that you were hoping to.

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    HI Lorraine! I’m glad you dropped by!
    I’m not sure yet about the conference, I would love to go but it may not be possible this year. Two reasons- just started in the new job and have discovered that I may not be able to get time off then; also cash flow! The conference is amazingly good value IMO but getting there could be expensive! I should know in the next couple of weeks if I can have the time off but apparently exactly a month before is the best time for cheap train tickets.
    Are you going to go?

  5. Lorraine Says:

    Hi. I’ve just sent my booking form off so providing there’s still rooms available I should be there.
    That’s interesting about the train prices – there seem to be a couple of cheap advance fares available for my return journey but none for the outward. Hopefully more will become available or perhaps Fridays are expensive!
    Hope the new job is going well and if you make it to the conference I’ll come over and say hello 🙂

  6. waitingforthecall Says:

    I’ll definitely say hello if I get to go!

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