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!

“Progress” update May 24, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:08 am
Tags: , ,


That word progress in the heading is in quote marks because it feels more like lack of progress this week!

The word count is moving  upwards, even if at a crawl pace at least it’s moving, and I’ve written something every single day. That’s the good news. The bad news is, I feel like I’m floundering. The story seems to have lost direction. I think this is the mid book slump, aka saggy middle, it’s just taken me 47,000 words to get there. That many words, yet I’m only about halfway through the story arc. This is going to need one hell of an edit!

I feel like the conflict is too weak, my hero’s motivation and heroic qualities aren’t coming across clearly enough (no, Luk, being gorgeous and rich is NOT enough!), and I’m in confused whose point of view I should be in when the scene will have equal emotional impact on both characters. The tone is patchy and variable, and the dialog and character behaviour is inconsistent, depending on what mood I’m in that day.

None of these are problems that can’t be worked out in the edits. The biggest problem is my self-doubt and that overactive internal editor of mine switching on at the wrong time.

I’m in the middle of writing the big first sex scene. and I’ve stopped and pulled back, leaving them dangling! This is a scene that will be earth shattering for both of them. Emma loses her physical virginity, but Luk loses his emotional virginity.  The emotional impact on both of them will be equal. But instead of writing it, I’m fretting about whose POV I should be in. Sheesh, what planet am I on? I keep telling myself I need to just write the scene, already, and worry about POV when I edit… and edit… and edit some more…

Problem is, that’s not working.

Maybe the truth is, I’m sabotaging myself. I do want this story to be publishable. But I’m not comfortable with the thought of revealing this sexual writing. I’m so identified with these characters, it feels like opening the bedroom door and inviting the neighbourhood in to watch me make love. It’s safer and more comfortable to step back and go into critic mode and focus on something technical like point of view that get into the reality of opening up to allowing intimacy and deep emotion with these characters.

Hmm, interesting. This is Luk’s character flaw, his main growth challenge. His driving force is staying emotionally safe by keeping people outside a wall he’s built around himself to avoid pain. I knew I was putting a lot of me into Emma, I didn’t realise I was doing the same with Luk too. My difficulty with this scene is the same as his. That’s a useful thing to know. It could help me get through this discomfort and write the scene, and also be something I can draw on to make Luk more real.

Tomorrow I’ll find some nice dark comfortable cupboard to lock the internal editor in, maybe throw in a few cushions and some magazines to keep her occupied, so I can just write and write and write this scene. It won’t be perfect. It won’t have the texture and depth and emotion I want it to have. And I need to find a way to be okay with that, to allow my first draft to be first draft. To trust that if I can get the story down, those things can be layered in during the edits.

Trust, relinquish control, let down the emotional barriers. Luk’s journey as a character needs to be my journey as a writer too.


15 Responses to ““Progress” update”

  1. Eileen Says:

    Damn internal editor. I’ve just run into serious issues with my own. Which is why I came to check and see if you’d updated and was certainly glad to see you did.

    See, I associate your path and pursuit as writing the kind of stories you love and let the rest of the world be damned. Well I just realized that the kind of stories I love (somewhat epic, romantic fantasy) are not the novels I try to write. And when I do attempt them my inner editor starts snickering about me being melodramatic. Melodramatic. It’s killing me because I love it and fear it. Argh!

    I always have heard that you should always let people read/edit your sex scenes because so many new writers fail at them … Never. Gonna. Happen. I’d rather have a stranger read my sex scene than a friend who’s going to give me feedback … way too awkward.

    Can you just write the entire sex scene in one point of view then immediately go back and write it in the other? A lot of times when I don’t know which POV to write a scene in (I know you think this is just a procrastination device for you, but) I write it while switiching constantly. When I realize I’ve shifted POV I throw in some line breaks and then keep going until it shifts again, then more line breaks and just keep running. That way I get all my ideas down on the page and I can go back later and see which ones really had the best lines and see if I can keep/switch descriptions so that it reads smoothly for the writer.

    Keep us updated on how you get through it! I’m going to go lie in bed and try to dream up my perfect fantasy hero to step out of the shadows, tear my perfect fantasy heroine away from her perfect world and then give him some almost-cliche quest for salvation and then try to make her resist him while another male character also makes a play for her … oh and the world crumbles around them … sigh, melodrama … in generalities it sounds okay, in more concrete details it goes from okay to awful … maybe, just maybe it’s starting to sound better as the night wares on and my inner editor is overwhelmed with sleepiness … it’s a fools hope.

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    Hey Eileen, excellent advice. That’s just how I plan to write it (today, if there are no interruptions). Just go for it and put the POV shifts in where it feels right and to hell with it if it’s crap, that’s why editing was invented! It’s odd how inhibited I feel about this, I didn’t expect it, because I’ve written plenty of intimate scenes before.

    I think in the past when I’ve written these scenes, there was no serious intent of ever getting the story published, it was just fun writing practice for me. Now I’m aiming at publication with this story, it feels like doing something in public in daylight that I’d normally do in my bedroom in the dark. Just the thought of my critique group reading it makes me cringe, let alone having it out there in the world so my mother could read it.

    I think I’m getting a step ahead of myself here. First draft is not the place to worry about who else is gonna read it!

    This story is going to need so many passes to get it half-way readable. Certainly no-one else is gonna get to read it til I’ve done at least two passes all the way through. What I’m thinking I might do after first draft is complete and I’ve done the first read through and know the shape of the story and what the main turning points are and all that, is write a synopsis and give that to my critique group for comment. See if they can pick up any glaring issues with the conflict and character development before I put a lot more work into the edits. Then they can read it when I’ve done my basic edits and help me with the polishing edits.

    Inner Editors can be hell to live with! We need em so much to produce writing with the both the depth and the polish we want, but boy can they get in the way of writing at all! Some people seem to have figured out how to build a good symbiotic working relationship between their creative self and their inner editor, I sure haven’t yet. I’m just hoping I can distract mine long enough to get something written. She’s been very busy lately- half my draft is highlighed passages where the IE is saying what she wants to do in edits to make it better. I’m just letting her do that, then once she shuts up I write some more. I’m not sure that’s the most effective way! Certainly yesterday she stopped me altogether, though there was a lot else going in Real Life too. It will be interesting to see how the writing goes today, when I should be able to carve out more uninterrupted writing time.

    Your IE is going to be particularly hard to deal with, cos she’s been honing her skills on literary fiction. (Maybe your IE is a he, but I’m using she cos mine’s female!) Now this is a gross generalisation, but to my mind one of the hallmarks of modern literary fiction is this- nothing much happens. It’s all internal. It’s not about plot, it’s about the character’s internal challenge to deal with (or not) his or her personality flaw or driving force. So as soon as you have stuff happening in your story, your IE is gonna start shrieking “Melodrama!” And in epic fantasy, a lot of big stuff has to happen- worlds are at risk, battles have to be fought, eveil defeated, there’s magic and all sorts of interesting external stuff the characters get caught up in. That IE is gonna go wild.

    Two suggested ways to shut her up-

    Tell her that the external events she’s complaining about are designed to trigger internal conflict for the character (and remind her how this impacts on their character arc) therefore what you are writing is not melodrama, it’s character driven popular fiction. Because your perfect fantasy hero can’t be too perfect, there needs to be some area he needs to grow and change, even if he’s not aware of it yet, or there’s no character arc. Ditto the perfect heroine and her perfect world. If you are feeling stuck, maybe that’s what you need to keep in mind- how does this affect my character’s emotional growth. That’s the factor that lifts an epic fantasy story from the ranks of fantasy-by-numbers and makes it a keeper. I know how good you are at getting inside a character’s mind and being right there with their hopes and fears and strengths and weaknesses and motivations, so I am sure that element will not be lacking in your story.

    But sometimes first draft is just about writing what happens, and the deeper emotional things get layered in later. Writing all the external stuff first so you have the story down and fill in after is okay too. In that case, try option b.

    Tell the IE that’s a really good point and why doesn’t she go write a ten thousand word thesis on the use of melodrama as a device in her choice of 1) ancient Greek plays with particular reference to Antigone, or 2) the works of Tennessee Williams with particular reference to Streetcar Named Desire. That should keep her busy for long enough to maybe get down at least a couple of chapters!

    I think your idea about why so many of us write best at night could be right. Critic self is sleepy, creative self is just warming up. Developing a good working relationship between the Inner Editor and the Creative Wild Child is a key challenge for us all. Or at the very least finding a way to shut that IE up long enough to get some words down that have the colour and feeling and action that we want!

  3. Lorraine Says:

    I think critic self and creative self are actually different parts of your brain. I really think that critic self should only be allowed the upper hand in the planning and editing stages, not the first draft. It’s too easy to get completely caught up in ‘rules’ which, while useful, can stifle the very creative impulse that made you want to write in the first place.

    Re. POV I tend to write with what feels right and then if the scene really isn’t working re-write from the other POV.

    Good luck with shutting your IE in a cupboard 🙂

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    I think they are separate parts of the brain too, and they are very different in how they work. Managed to get the Critic part to leave the Creative part be long enough to get the first big love scene done!

  5. Jackie Says:

    Hope you don’t mind, but here’s a bit of advice that I read in an article that Natalie Anderson wrote for our RWNZ newsletter.
    When writing the love scenes, just pretend for a moment that no one is EVER going to read it. Not your mother, not your CP, not your critique group, no one. Just write it for yourself and let yourself go with it. Then put it away for a little bit. Come back to it later and read it again. You can always take it out if you’re still uncomfortable with it. Or you can take out the bits that feel too much and leave the rest. In my experience, it’s easier to tone down a love scene than to sex it up. You can also just leave the bare minimum of the mechanics, and make it totally about the emotions too.

    I don’t know if that helps it all but it certainly helped me! And as to the IE and the cries of melodrama, well, yeah, that’s romance. There’s no place for subltety in romance – or at least that’s what the editors and CPs tell me! 🙂

    Good luck with it.

  6. Eileen Says:

    Sweet! Love scene done! (Why does that horrid american expression “get er done!” come to mind – ug, I apologize for even bringing it up)

    “So as soon as you have stuff happening in your story, your IE is gonna start shrieking “Melodrama!” And in epic fantasy, a lot of big stuff has to happen- worlds are at risk, battles have to be fought, eveil defeated, there’s magic and all sorts of interesting external stuff the characters get caught up in. That IE is gonna go wild.”

    That’s a very insightful way of looking at it! And it helped me today, it really did 🙂

    Today I wrote over 1600 words from the beginning of a story (of the kind that I would love). I thought it would skip right in to the dark stranger that steps out of the shadows and changes everything, but instead I have three pages of conversation between her and her brother! Oh well, now is not the time to edit. And I’m spending all that time trying to figure out what the heroine’s name is! I want something vaguely Irish sounding like Eilis or Ilise or Ailin … but none of it seems right.

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    Woot! Well done Eileen! Excellent that you’ve got started! And don’t worry about not starting where you thought you would. I know I’m gonna have to cut five or ten thousand words from the start of my current story because I started too early. Funny thing was, I thought I really was starting right with the inciting event, but clearly not. I was reassured by reading that a well known romance writer (can’t think who now, NOT Saint Nora, it was a prolific series romance writer, I think!) always starts that way, puts in all the backstory that comes to her so she has it straight in her head, then keeps writing all the way to the end, knowing she’ll cut it out in the edits. Works for her!

    Ack, names are so frustrating. The amount of good writing time we spend worrying we don’t have the perfect name for the character or the town or the world! This story I’m writing takes place on an imaginary island kingdom, and the time I wasted getting the right name I could not believe! Actually, it started off being a small country on the mainland, then shifted to being an island, and I’m still not completely happy with the name. It looks fine by itself but then when I add an s on the end for the name of the people who live there it just looks stupid! There was some good practical advice in a workshop I took recently- stop worrying about the name, just use the same placeholder for it consistently, then once the right name comes to you, “Find and replace” is your friend.

    Thanks for visiting Jackie! I looooove advice! It’s how we learn. And advice from someone who writes as well as Nat is particularly welcome. What she suggested is exactly what I did yesterday, and it seemed to work (well, the scene got written!). No way am I going back to read it now! I’m sure there will be some cringeworthy OTT bits in there, not to mention some of the more ludicrous euphemisms for body parts sneaking in when I wasn’t paying attention! Plus I suspect a bit too much information on what they did, and not nearly enough on how it felt.

    And you are so right about melodrama and romance! A published writer was complaining on her blog about her plots being implausible. The answer of course is that romance by definition is implausible, melodramatic, OTT. Our job as writers is to make all that believable, make the emotions real even if the situations aren’t.

    How’s your writing going at the moment, Jackie?

  8. Jackie Says:

    Ha, love your problems with names! It’s true though, isn’t it? I think not having the right name would bug me too. A placeholder is a great idea though.

    My writing? Well, not too bad. I’m in the middle of editing one of my WIPs which is always fun. Not. 🙂 Still waiting on news of my revisions. Now entering the 11th week. Argh! Am going to email them next week for an update – I figure 12 weeks is okay to ask. Hopefully.

    Great going re that love scene. No, definitely don’t read it now. I did that with one of mine recently and woah! It was kind of…um…out there in terms of explicitness. I blame my characters. They were really, really keen on each other and didn’t like it that I’d made them wait until Chapter 5. 😉 Still not sure whether to tone it down a bit but then again, reading some recent Modern Heats and they are quite explicit. Ah well, one persons’s explicit is another’s tame so who knows?

    Yes, indeed, right with you about implausability. I think the key is that although we’re writing romance, we’re also writing fantasy. Because category romance is all about delivering fantasy and wish-fulfillment. No place for realism there! At least, not too much realism. 😉

  9. Karen Says:

    The good news is you’ve got lots of company. I struggle with all the things you mentioned. From the sagging middle, to writing sex scenes, to spending too much time on names. Writing sex scenes is hard work. You’ve gotten lots of great suggestions. Writing from both POV’s and writing it and going back to look at it again after a short break.

    As for your evil editor, I recommend putting chocolate in the cupboard along with the cushions.

    Good luck with your writing today.

  10. waitingforthecall Says:

    Thanks for visiting, Karen! The chocolate definitely helps!

    No writing yet today (it’s now 9pm) as I spent the day with a friend who is going through a rough time. I’ll get a short burst of writing in at bedtime.

  11. Jodie Miller Says:

    Here’s a tactic for you: think of me writing memoir sex scenes and hoping to publish! I have done the critique group thing too! If I’m not embarrassed in memoir, what’s the big deal in fiction?

    When writing sexy, personal or embarrassing stuff I don’t edit what I’m writing – just write and write and don’t look back. And even though I know it will be absolutely awful I know I can fix it later and I don’t have to share it until I think it’s fairly polished.

  12. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL! You are a helluva brave woman, Jodie! I am looking forward to being able to buy and read a copy of your memoir!

  13. Jodie Miller Says:

    I think you’ve scored a free copy Jane. Convincing someone to publish it will be the challenge.

  14. Eileen Says:

    Wow. Just wow Jodie. And here I was planning to take a nonfiction class in the fall, feeling all impressed with myself at how much of my life and psyche I was willing to bear to the public … yep. nope. doesn’t compare.

  15. waitingforthecall Says:

    Jodie, your story is well written, it’s emotionally honest and powerful, and it’s about universal issues that almost every woman and a lot of men will relate to- I believe you will find a publisher.

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