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!

Reasons to be confused August 30, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:11 pm

I’m still trying to decide what to write next. Only just home from an evening with my mother-in-law, but I have tomorrow free to write. But which story?

Something about Luk and Gabi/ Emma’s story just keeps me stuck and confused.

I mean, two different heroines to start with! But poor Emma is just a bit too pitiful and tragic, so I’d rather write Gabi. Luk can’t decide if he’s a nice guy who just happens to be a self-made multi-millionaire, or a ruthless win at all costs Alpha. Something keeps me attached to this story, I do want to write it.

But I keep coming back to what is probably the main flaw in this story- I started off wanting to write about someone who found out she was a princess, got kidnapped, and forced into a marriage of convenience. I had no idea who the story was about, just that I wanted those things to happen. Then I created the characters to fit the plot.

I know now that is not the way to do it. Maybe the biggest lesson from my struggles with this story is the importance of having things be character driven, not plot device driven. I kidded myself I was doing that when I sat down and replanned the story in April. I started with character sheets and then wrote a synopsis of plot events. It was better than what I had before. But still not right. Because I wasn’t really starting with characters. I was starting with trying to find out more about these characters I’d come up with because I thought they would fit into the plot I’d already planned.

I’ve been thinking all along that the reason I’ve been stuck on this story and going round in circles with it is that I’m not a good enough writer yet. Maybe  that’s true. Or maybe it’s that I’m coming at the story from the wrong direction. Forcing Luk and Emma or Gabi to act like puppets, not like real people. To make the story work, they have to behave out of character. They whole story hinges on Luk making a  stupid mistake, doing something he just would not do, and Emma/Gabi responding in an equally stupid way. Bacuse that’s what the plot calls for, not what I know these people would do.

Of course, everyone does something out of character at times. Part of good writing is taking characters and putting them in situations where they have to choose to do something they wouldn’t normally do. I wish I could remember where I read the advice to think of five things the character would never do, then make sure they are put in situations where they have to, where doing that is the least bad of two bad choices.  That’s not what I did in this story though. I needed a reason for them to be pushed into a Marriage of Convenience. so I had them act out of character. That’s not the same thing as setting up a conflict within the character where they have to chose to do things they normally never would. In this story, they didn’t really choose, I just made them do it!  

So I have two options. Try one more time with this story, but make sure I’m setting up believable motivation for everything that the characters do. Or give up now, recognising I’ve learned some valuable lessons, and it’s been one helluva ride, but it’s time to stop.

No matter how hard I try, forcing characters to fit the plot will not work, plot has to flow from character.

Anyway, I need to stop over analysing everything and try just writing! Once I decide which story….


Confused (again!)

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:08 am
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I sat down to write a plan for the new version of the Princess story and what I wanted to write today.

LOL, plan? I don’t have one. I am totally confused, yet again.

I thought I was going to take parts of the MH version, and parts of the original version, and mix them together in a first person LBD version.

But I read some of the first version again, and it’s surprisingly good. Pure Presents, but not too badly written at all. That’s where the confusion comes from. I thought I’d decided my voice wasn’t really Presents. But what I read suggests “Hey, maybe the girls were right, maybe that is where I fit best.” I can see where I went wrong with it too. It was never going to work as I first planned it, with way too much external conflict and a villain who was the driver of the plot. But actually if I take all that out, there’s enough internal conflict already there to carry the story.

So Emma goes back to being Gabi from the first version, who grew up in a loving home and misses that so much since her grandmother died. She’s just lost her job, can’t pay her rent, and has just broken up her lukewarm relationship with her boyfriend too. Her external goal at the start of the story is to get a job and a home. Her inner need is to be part of a family again, to feel that sense of love and belonging. Her relationship block is the unrealistic idea of a perfect love her grandmother has brought her up with.

Luk stays the man he is in the second version, but gains some of the ruthlessness, the “do anything as long as it’s within the letter of the law to obtain my goal” quality of the first Luk. His external goal is to avoid having to become Prince of Melus, by getting Gabi to become Princess. His inner need, though he is not aware of it, and if he was aware of it he’d die before admitting it, is to feel loved for himself, not his wealth. He really wants to be part of a family again too, but feels he lost the right to that when his first wife died. His relationship blocks are the walls he’s put around his heart, his unwillingness to trust, and his guilt over Bianca’s death.

Well, I can see straight away when I write it out like that- this story is Presents and not single title. It’s all about Luk. Who has the furthest to come before they can be in this relationship, the biggest blocks to overcome?

Presents is about the heroine being the catalyst for the hero to chance, she grows and changes too but he is the one who has to change the most to allow the relationship to be possible. Single title is all about the heroine, her emotional journey. Unless I rethink it, this story won’t work as single title. Though of course, I can see what I am doing is still working from Presents “rules”. I have created the perfect Presents hero. LBD Luk would be different.

The starting point is always always always the characters, what they want and need, what stops them being together, what needs to happen to change that.

So what do I do? Do I have yet another try at this story, writing it as Presents, maybe for this year’s competition entry? Do I just put it aside for a while, because part of me wonders if I’m too close to it, if I can’t see the right path through the forest because I’m stuck in a tangle of trees? 

I can kiss any hope of getting something in for the RNA New Writer’s Scheme (I had this mad idea I could write like a maniac this weekend straightening out a partial of Luk and Emma, then hand deliver my entry tomorrow, the closing date!), so why not start on the new story? Which, coincidentally, will work far far better as a single title than a Presents or Modern Heat, because I have a conflicted heroine (though her life looks just fine on the surface) and a relatively straightforward hero, who is steadfastly resisting my efforts to give him more conflict.  

Or why not still write like a maniac on a Presents version of Luk and Emma/Gabi, put the partial in for the NWS, and use the feedback from that to strengthen it before I send it off as my competition entry? I can then start the new story while I’m waiting for feedback.

I think a big part of my conflict is coming from feeling I have to get something in for the New Writers’ Scheme. Not because I don’t want to waste the money, but because I feel so guilty about taking a place that another, more orgainised writer, could have used. In mitigation, m’Lud, can I say that if I’d had any idea how my year was going to pan out, I would never have joined. I didn’t know what a huge but hopefully ultimately productive muddle about this story I was going to get myself in, either. If I could forget about the NWS, forget about the HMB competition, and just let myself play with the story and have some fun with it. maybe by year end or even sooner, I’d have a clear view of what and how I want to write, and could move on forward with my writing. And set some more realistic writing goals for next year. This year’s were ludicrously optimistic, even without all the other stuff going on.

I gotta laugh at myself! Does everyone else have a clear idea of their writing plans and goals, unlike me?

And does anyone have strategies they can share for keeping to one’s writing goals even when depressed, stressed, and juggling home responsibilities, a long commute, and a brain-frying job?


Finding my voice August 23, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:17 am
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Just when I thought I had figured things out, I completely confused myself later yesterday.

This story has been through so many different incarnations over the past ten months, though only one made it past chapter 4. I went looking for one of the earlier versions as I remembered a section I wanted to cut and paste that would work well in first person. I found something surprising.  

One of the early versions was better! Not just a little bit, it was much, much better. And the voice is pure Sweet Romance. I got stuck with that version for the classic reason- I’d started with just two people in a situation, but hadn’t thought through the internal conflict. Basically, there wasn’t any, it was all external. No reason at all these two couldn’t get together, apart from the evil bad guy keeping them apart. Oh, and the heroine being a bit miffed that the hero manipulated her early on to get her to agree to what he wanted. When I realised that I stopped, and (shock horror, first time ever!) actually did some plotting, kept my basic premise but changed a lot about the characters. 

Now I’m back to being confused again. I seem to spend a lot of time being confused about my writing! I need to welcome that, because it will get me to the truth of what I really want and need to do.  

I loved writing first person, but by the end of my writing day I wasn’t completely happy with my first chapter. Reading the other version, I knew why. I was trying to infuse a false “sexiness” into it. It doesn’t come naturally to me. My voice is more Sweet than Modern/ Presents. So a lot of the heroine’s slightly OTT physical reaction to the hero can go. And though my hero’s background and motivation was not strong enough to carry the story in the first version, my heroine was stronger. I gave her a pretty miserable loveless life in the latest version, although I think I’ve still managed to show her as strong and likeable. I really want to make her a couple of years older though, and that does not fit. If she’s older than twenty-four, she’s pathetic to have stayed in that situation so long.  In the first version, her life sucked at the start of the story, but she’d had a happy childhood and it was only recently that things had gone wrong in her life. That was mainly due to the hero manipulating the situation to force her to do what he wanted.

Hmm, I have a real mish-mash here, don’t it! A Sweet heroine, a Presents hero, and I want to write it as single title. So I somehow need to pull together the strong parts of each version- give the hero the background and motivation of the second version, so the manipulation of the heroine’s situation from the first version is understandable; keep the city setting and combine the best parts of the background of my heroine from both versions; stop trying to impose a falsely sexy tone, and see what I come up with.

I also need to think about the characters, their internal conflict and motivations more (can’t ever get away from that one!) Writing the story as a single title isn’t just a matter of changing all the “she”s to “I”s. The focus switches from the hero to the heroine. It’s her journey that counts, her emotional growth, her overcoming her blocks to being in a relationship. Not just with the hero, but with anyone. I think I’ve just seen what that could be, if I go back to the first version heroine (she even had a different name- Gabriella). Instead of the seriously unhappy childhood I gave Emma, Gabi had a happy loving childhood. Yes, she was orphaned aged eight, but her grandmother, Ellie, who she adored, gladly took her in. She was raised on stories of her grandmother and grandfather’s fairy tale perfect love, which ended after only a few years when he tragically died. So her relationship block is that she seeks the same impossible perfection, the love at first sight, “you just know”  fantasy her grandmother raised her on.  It probably needs to go deeper than that, but it’s a start!

I can put back all the secondary characters I cut out, add in that romantic subplot between even more unlikely lovers that I planned for the first version, and I have a feeling the ghost of Gabi’s grandmother has a part to play too.

Of course, this means unless I get some sort of Groundhog Day loop that stops time for everyone else but me until I get it right, I won’t be submitting even a partial to the New Writers’ Scheme. But I’m not sure there’s any point getting feedback on something I already know is broken, and I have a plan for fixing. On the other hand, my reader may see other things I can improve on that I’m not even aware of yet. I’ll just have to see what I have by next weekend.


Insights… August 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:30 pm
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3197835930_cdc3acd212Elaine asked me- “What do I really want to write?”  That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it. (Showing my age there- a quiz show back when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire would have been called Who Wants to be a Sixty-four Thousandaire and our house cost the then so hard for my parents to afford sum of $12,000!)

“What did I think I “should” write?”  is an easier question to answer. Presents/Modern Heat. So many reasons. I enjoy reading them. I got that Comps Slip from the Instant Seduction contest. My writing buddies were targetting HMB. I posted a couple of excerpts from Luk and Emma’s story to the critique group, and they all agreed that the piece I thought was more Presents was far better than the piece that would have to be cut to make it Presents.

They all said- “Write Harlequin/ Mills and Boon”. That was my biggest  influence, I think. I trust their judgement. We’re all pre-published, but a couple of them are veeeeeeery close, and all are good insightful readers. I finished the first draft, and saw I had a mix of elements. I could push it one way in the edits to make it Presents, another way to make it a Sweet romance, and another to make it a single title story aimed at Little Black Dress. I was undecided, though I did know in my heart which way I wanted to go. I looked for outside validation, and posted those excerpts. I didn’t trust my own judgement. Sometimes we do get too close to our own writing to see what’s there

I chose to go Presents/MH, because of the girls’ advice, even though it went against what I really wanted to do.  I only just realised what was wrong with that.  (I mean besides the obvious- “Write what you love, not what other people tell you to write, you idiot!”)


They gave their advice based solely on the pieces I gave them to read.

The Presents piece was perfectly Presents. It could stay in the completed Presents manuscript as it was, with only the slightest of tweaks. The piece I gave them as an example of my Little Black Dress style, was all wrong, not at all representative of what the finished story would contain. Because I first drafted with Presents in mind, it was a LBD  scenario but written in a Presents style. Third person, hero POV, all wrong wrong wrong for what I wanted.  The criticisms of that piece were valid. It didn’t work well, and the section in the hero’s POV slowed down the action. Of course it did! It shouldn’t have been there at all.

I am a slow learner sometimes!

This morning, I started rewriting the story in first person heroine POV, with Little Black Dress in mind. It feels good. It feels like coming home. There will still be problems and pitfalls and places where I tear my hair out. But I’ve already had a massive insight into the heroine’s core emotional need. There was yet another layer underneath what I thought was her core need. As I was rewriting a scene I’d already written four times, some more of her thoughts popped out, because I was deeper in her mind. There it was. Her core need! How I missed it before, I don’t know. Even if I go back to writing it third person, that one insight makes the experiment well worthwhile.

It is a strategy I’ll use again, I think, if I’m feeling stuck. Shift POV, and see what comes out.

What do I really want to write? Contemporary romantic fiction, with an element of the fairy tale. Maybe magical realism, maybe real magic, maybe just the magic of amazing unexpected life changes, including falling in love. Possibly a bit wacky, off the wall in places. I feel like I’m taking my first steps into an enchanted forest, without a map.


On not writing August 16, 2009

Filed under: General strangeness of life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:26 pm
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I’ve been feeling low. Maybe it’s because I’m tired, maybe it’s because I’m post-viral, maybe it’s because I’m staring down the barrel of 50, and I haven’t achieved a single one of my life goals. Yeah, that’s it,because just writing it makes me want to well up in pathetic self-pitying tears.
I also think I have gone very wrong with my writing. I’m trying to write what I think I “should” write, not allowing myself to discover what comes naturally for me.
I know I need to just drop Luk and Emma’s story and start on the next one. Luk and Emma’s story has served it’s purpose. It was a learner story, not one that was ever meant to be submitted. I only started it because I hate those royalty stories second only to sheik stories (though I’ve read some good stories of both, I think it’s such a crazily unreal premise), and wanted to see if I could do one. Then I made that promise to my writing group that I would finish it, so I’ve kept going with it long after I wanted to dump it. Quite simply, the story sucks, because it hinges on the hero doing something too stupid- losing control and kissing the heroine where they could be seen, in the town square the night she is announced as the next princess. He just wouldn’t do that, no matter how tempted he was, because what he stood to lose was too important to him. To avoid that I created a whole convoluted kidnap thing, as a device to force them to spend the night together. But for that to work, the heroine has to do the stupid thing and run away and get herself lost. Only way to avoid that is to have a real villain kidnap her, but then that got even more complicated, with the villain a more interesting character than the hero. So I went back to the first idea, but I keep getting stuck on the fact that my hero would simply never make that mistake.

This story was never going to work, because I started with a premise and then tried to create the characters to fit it. I like Emma, but Luk has never felt real to me. It might conceivably work redone in first person, purely Emma’s POV, in a more chick-lit style. That idea excites me. If Luk doesn’t have to explain why he does something so out of character as kiss Emma in public, because the reader is in her head only, reeling with her shock and surprise, it could possibly work. I like the way what goes on inside the hero’s heart and head is a mystery in first person heroine POV, it’s more the feel of old romances before hero’s POV came in. Less emotional intensity, but more like real life.
Our lives are already too full of miserable things that have to be done, whether we like then or not. Writing was starting to feel like yet another one. I am going to forget about the NWS. There’s no point putting in a crappy story that bores me silly- what’s the point of wasting the reader’s time giving a critique unless I intend to follow through?

The idea of rewriting Luk and Emma in first person is interesting, and I’m tempted to do it, though maybe that’s just an avoidance strategy so I don’t start on Nell and Mace’s story.

On the plus side, taking the weekend off from writing has let me do the big clear-up at home I’ve known for ages was desperately needed, but had been putting off so I could write. I’ve thrown out loads of old paperwork I’d been saving for some unknown reason (every bank statement since I arrived in the UK thirteen years ago, for example- why?), and rearranged my bookshelves. I had dusty books packed solid two deep on the shelves in my bedroom, but the new shelves in the hall and the sitting room I put up months ago were inexplicably empty.

I’m hoping this represents something symbolic, some sort of getting my house in order on an inner level too.


Laughing at myself August 15, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:13 pm

LOL, I do get pompous and take myself too seriously sometimes! All I really want is an excuse to play hooky for a day or so!


Giving up or giving in?

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:33 am
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stress_reduction_kitI’m in a funny mood today, and not ha ha.
I don’t think I want to keep doing this. The chase for publication I mean, not writing.
It’s just too much work, and it takes all the fun out of writing. I know my writing is still a long way off being ready for acceptance by M&B, and even if it was, it won’t necessarily get any easier. It’s still all waits and rejections and needing to meet deadlines and having to write what the editors want to meet contracts. 
I feel like I have enough s**t in my life without adding pushing to get published as well.
All writing is for me at the moment is guilt.
I’m tired of getting home from work at 7.30, exhausted and brainfried, and feeling guilty that I want to relax, not jump into edits. I’m tired of spending my too short precious weekends feeling guilty about doing anything other than writing.
So I’m calling a time out. I don’t care if I don’t put anything in for the NWS, don’t mind not entering the Presents/Modern comp. I just want to try to get my life back, or some little bit of it anyway, rather than have nothing but work, or chasing an elusive and distant dream.
Maybe that makes me a wimp who just isn’t tough enough for the real world of writing. Maybe it makes me a dilettante who just wants to play at writing. Whatever. I don’t much care.
I’m hoping that in some perverse reverse-psychology way, I’ll do more writing this way. I need to get my joy in writing back, need it to be something I want to do again. Not just yet another pressure to perform I put on myself.
I get more than enough of that in my day job.
So today, I’m not going to sit at my laptop all afternoon. I’m going shopping. I want to wander round the shops. Look at shoes and clothes. Buy some books. Sit and indulge myself in the simple pleasure of losing myself in another writer’s created world and characters.
And not feel any guilt that I’m not spending that time on mine.