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!

Let the fun begin! March 31, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:21 pm
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I’m finished with the day job for ten wonderful days.

Now I’m preparing to dive into a write-a-thon. I plan to do as little apart from writing as I can get away with in my time off. Just lots and lots of writing. I want to have a rough and dirty first draft of my story done before I go back to work.

It will be good to see the word count climb. I’ve been crawling along at a couple of hundred words a day, and the word count indicator is moving painfully slowly. In some ways though, it’s been good to take my time writing my way in. I feel like I am getting to know the characters well, and they are already surprising me! The hero has changed his name, appearance, and occupation. The heroine is going to surprise me too.

I’m not sure it will work. I’m not sure I know what their conflict is deeply enough yet. But I’m hoping I’ll find out, as I write fast without overthinking things.

Here goes!

 

Writing a series? March 23, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:35 pm
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Good advice from Superromance author Kay Stockham on eHarlequin- “Taming the Connected Series”

 

Conflict March 21, 2010

Conflict.

One of my biggest problems, I think. Getting enough of it, getting the right sort of it, making it all hang together right to build an emotionally satisfying story.

The main reason I feel I need to leave Third Time for the time being is that I don’t have a solid enough grip on the internal conflict. It’s there, but it’s tricky, because rather than being in direct opposition, their goals and motivations are kind of tangential to each other. And most of Nick’s internal conflict comes from the situation with her, which could make him too passive, as resolving his conflict as things are relies on HER changing, not on HIM changing.

It could be said I am overthinking, just get in and write the thing, but this has been the problem with every story I’ve written. I would quite literally be wasting my time writing their story now. I’d just end up in another tangle of excessive external conflict thrown in to cover up the weak ineffective internal conflict.The key thing could be to be sure that the external issues all tie in together, as do the internal issues. Where I seem to go wrong is to keep throwing in new things instead of digging deeper into what’s already there in the characters and their situation.

I know that for me the solution is to mine for another level of emotion in the characters, rather than create more issues. Michelle Styles wrote it in a comment last time I was stuck-

Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices.

Now this is a big long ramble, I’m trying to work out what all this means!

 The problem with external conflict is that it makes the characters passive puppets. They don’t make decisions proactively, something happens, and then they react. It’s got to be all about the characters making decisions, rather than being pushed and pulled around by external stuff. Otherwise, it’s not emotionally real or satisfying. The story has got to be driven solidly by the character’s deepest needs, which they express by having an external goal. Everything they do in the story will be directed towards either reaching their goal or fulfuling their need.

The goals are always something external,that the character wants, something solid and tangible like a house, or a job, or a business. The motivation is internal, the real reason why they need the goal, always something emotional, like acceptance, belonging, self-worth, control. So though the character makes the decisions they do based on striving for their goal, the driver is their motivation. And the decisions always need to be expressed in action, that moves the story forward.

The conflict comes because the hero and heroine’s issues need to be in direct opposition. Whatver actions she takles to meet her goal triggers his internal issues, and vice versa. So there’s escalating conflict until change occurs, internal emotional change in both characters, that make the lasting relationship possible. While both of them keep doing what they do to reach their goal and fulfil their internal need, holding on to their old way of beliveing and behaving, this couple have no chance of a lasting relationship.

It’s the internal need that is key. Often there’s a shift part way through anyway- they get the goal, but it makes things even worse. Whatever decisions the character makes has to be true to their internal need, the deepest thing in them that they are usually not even aware of. Two people may have an identical goal, but because the reasons they really want and need that thing are different, the actions they take may be different too. Two people may have an identical internal need, but look for very different ways of achieving it.

For example the hero and hero may both have massive self-worth issues because of  lousy childhoods. One seeks to meet that unspoken need by becoming CEO of a multi-million dollar business. The other seeks to meet that need by becoming a doctor working for next to no pay in a clinic in the poorest part of town. They both want the same thing in their hearts, but there’s going to be instant conflict if these two collide, because they’ve chosen such different ways to get there. Every decision these characters make and every action they take will be determined by that internal driving need and the way they’ve chosen to fulfil it. So when the CEO decides he wants the land the clinic is on to build a new development, the doctor is going to fight back tooth and nail. It’s not just the external goal that’s at stake, it’s the very core of who she is, the rock her entire sense of self-worth is based on. And the same for him, he cannot lose the land, because that makes him the pathetic loser his step-dad always told him he was. He might decide to let her keep her clinic, but to be able to do so, he needs to have something else to make him feel he’s in control, he’s won. So if this was Presents, he might agree she can keep the clinic on condition she becomes his mistress for a month. That’s when the internal issues should take over. The action has to be driven by the heroine and hero making decisions, acting on them, and reacting to each other.

Now if I was writing this story I would feel obliged to throw in an earthquake or kidnapping or something to keep the plot moving after that. But this is where the digging deep comes in. If the story seems to be slow, losing momentum, sagging in the middle, it could be that the characters have stopped acting, and are waiting for something to happen, instead of making things happen. In the battle over the land in this example, one will win and one will lose. But they are BOTH losers, either way. He’s lost the chance of a good relationship with the heroine because he’s still stuck in getting his self-worth from being a ruthless money making machine, always in control, always holding the power. He believes emotions and especially love make him weak and pathetic. She’s lost the chance of a good relationship because her sense of self-worth is totally tied up with a life of dedication and giving out to others, not believing she is worth receiving anything back in return, especially love.

They will keep making decisions based on meeting that need, which should make things worse and worse because everything they do triggers the other character’s internal issues even more. Like in this story, she could deal with the issue of having lost control through agreeing to his deal by putting in longer and longer hours at the clinic, which would really hook into the hero’s own control issues. He would respond by becoming even more controlling, and there’s an escalating spiral that culminates in the black moment. The black moment is inevitable, because even though one or both of them may have changed their external goal, what neither has changed is the way they go about getting their internal need met.To find the truest way to meet their deepest need, they both need to change. They both need to realise that the way they have been trying to meet their needs isn’t working, is actually getting in the way of them getting what they really  want. This is the ONLY way these two can ever be happy, and can ever make a future together.

Now I just made that fairly rubbish example up, that’s not the story I’m planning to write!

Already, with a new story that’s only a few pages old, I’m falling into the same old pattern. I want to throw in every possible conflict, but I HAVE to learn to keep it simple. I’m wanting to give my hero some dark painful thing in his past that gives him trust issues, but actually, he does not need it at all. Neither does she, besides what I’ve already given her. No-one has a perfect childhood, we all have some emotional issues. I don’t need to give these characters an OMG awful upbringinging for the story to work.

This was the beartrap I fell into with Meg- not only is she disabled, she has guilt that her parent’s marriage broke up over her health problems as a child, her mother turned to alcohol and abusive relationships, then one of her mother’s boyfriends came on sexually to her when she was sixteen so she ran away from home. That poor girl! I cried when I realised the bit about the sexual abuse- I saw the whole scene and she was sooooo brave and resourceful in how she coped with it! You can see why I am shying away from writing her story just yet, it’s just too much. It could work perfectly, but I don’t have the hero’s conflict solid yet, I can’t see how the two mesh together. It’s possible Nick needs to change, that I haven’t given her the best hero to bring out all her issues. And I can’t get Meg quite right in the present either, she needs to be kind of coltish, skittish, wanting to explore the possibilities of an adult romantic relationship yet terrified too.

Which is why, for now, when the new story jumped into my head I decided to go with it!

But again, I want to overcomplicate. I need to keep the external stuff very simple. Golden girl of Haven Bay, Cady needs to be perfect. She’s almost achieved it.  She has the perfect job, with the twentieth floor office overlooking Sydney Harbour. She has the perfect flat, again with harbour views. She has the perfect housekeeper, so she can work out and keep herself a perfect ten. She has no time for a relationship. That’s okay, she doesn’t want one messing up her perfect life.. She’s the girl who made good. But her seven year old son is acting out, getting in trouble at school, and now her mother is ill and needs looking after. She has to go back to Haven Bay. She has to face Mitch, her childhood sweetheart. The man who believes she two-timed him then dumped him cruelly back when they were uni students together, destroying their dreams of a life together.  She made him think that rather than tell him the truth about the date rape she blames herself for and feels so desperately ashamed of.  No hope of avoiding him. As Mitch is the head and teacher at the small school in the community, he and Cady are going to be thrown together a lot, as he gets involved with her son.

Do I really need to give him any other reason to have trust issues and be wary of trusting her now when she comes home after seven years, isn’t her betraying him so badly in the past enough? And do I need to give her any other reason to feel shame and no self-worth when she blames herself for her rape, and feels a failure over her relationship with her son, the product of the rape? There’s enough emotion there to mine for a thousand page story, let alone a two hundred page one. Maybe they do need underlying reasons that what happened seven years ago affected them so strongly, drove them deeper into dysfunctional choices? But it really was a life destroying event. Maybe Mitch had abandonment issues already, because his Dad had affairs and left his Mum when he was in his early teens; maybe Cady had issues of needing to be perfect because her parents had very high expectations that she would excel, and withdrew their approval if she didn’t measure up. I guess that would make sense. But it doesn’t have to be something really big and really dark in their childhood, like I did with Meg. They just have to have good enough reasons to drive the decisions they made and are still making, to explain the way they behaved in the past and the way they are still choosing to behave now. Cady choosing to keep up her facade of perfection no matter what the cost to herself and others, Mitch choosing not to trust, not to let anyone get inside his shell again.

Now, this may not be quite there yet. They don’t have goals that are in opposition. Her surface goal is to do her duty to her Mum and get back to her life in Sydney ASAP, avoiding contact with Mitch. But her deep goal is to solve her relationship issues with her son Josh, and even deeper under that to resolve her issues with Mitch. Mitch’s surface goal is to help Josh with his behaviour problems. Not only is Josh disrupting his classroom, he feels an instant bond with the kid. It’s just possible Josh could be his son, despite the fact Cady told him she’d slept with another man. He sees the best way to help Josh is by giving him a strong male role model- spending as much time as he can with Josh. His deep goal is to resolve his issue with Cady- he is still angry with her over the way she betrayed him.

I may still not have it right of course, and getting it into my writing is a whole other thing…

 

Baby steps March 20, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:52 pm

It’s been an interesting week.

Work has been…challenging. Different challenges this week. After thinking things were resolved and I would stay on long term, something new has blown up now. Unfortunately one of the things I chose to let slide while my collegue was off sick for weeks (something had to give, it just wasn’t possible to do everything she normally did on top of my own work!)  ended up  being noticed by someone very senior in the pecking order. It may become a matter of jumping before I’m pushed. Disappointing when I’ve worked so hard, but maybe a blessing, because I don’t really want to have to keep working so hard! It could be  a good opportunity to look at things again, maybe take a less well paid job that gives me a better balance of time for myself.

I did keep to my goal of writing at least one sentence on the WiP every day. Most days I wrote a bit more, though today’s the only day I’ve written more than a couple of hundred words. Still, slow though the progress has been, they are all words I might not have otherwise had. The big question now is- which WiP?

Donna sent me lovely kind feedback about my first chapter on Monday, with some useful advice for me-

It felt slightly rushed at times, so I think you could afford to do some layering, like when you are talking about when they first met…some physical details along with that like…does she meet his eyes when they talk about it, what do their voices sound like, what do they look like…that will really help keep it in the present. It also needs some anchoring in the beginning. It is okay to set the scene as long as you intersperse it with action and dialogue. It’s really just using deep POV to show us what’s happened. How did it feel to know she was falling? How did it happen? What is wrong with her hip? Hit us with it right from the get go and pull us in.

The other major thing is POV. You have several shifts in this one chapter. At least four. Seriously – you could do this whole chapter in her POV as it is only one scene. Then switch it up for perhaps the next chapter? Whatever bits of introspection you used for Nick, you can feed into another scene. For me, the switches feel disjointed. I think you’d be better off going deeper into her POV and then making the switch.

The changes would not be that difficult to make, my original version actually had the first chapter all in heroine POV, and I changed it in the rewrite to try to drip in more of his backstory. I can see how doing it that way will make the story stronger, hold back some of the things the reader gets to know a little too early in this version. The layering will be harder work but essential to give deoth and realness to the story.

Musing on how to change the chapters, I also realised something key about the hero’s internal conflict. Always a good thing! Then thinking about how to solve one minor practical issue (where he’s going to get another suit to replace the ruined one in time), I was sent off on a track of those people who grew up in the small isolated community but left it. How is it for the ones left behind, how is for the one who comes back when eventually they do? Nick and Meg knew each other before, but they met on holiday. What if someone had good reasons to leave or stay away, and the person left behind assumed the reason was something very different? 

I ended up with two completely new story ideas for the series, one that needs to come before Meg and Nick’s, and one that needs to come after it. This is not really bright shiny new story syndrome. I’ve been worried that the current story and especially the issues I’ve given my heroine are beyond my ability to write.  Possibly the main problem is- I just don’t have a strong enough sense yet of how the hero and heroine’s internal issues mesh with each other, how they challenge and trigger each other deeply enough to make the necessary changes in themselves. The hero feels too shallow.

The new story idea has much more straightforward conflict, will introduce the town, and develop my skills enough to deal with the more complex issues between Nick and Meg. A trainer wheels story, that’s what I need. I think I have it, maybe. In some ways though, as I write this I realise I do still have some of the same problems with this story as I do with Third Time Forever. The characters are very strong and real in my mind, and I like them both a lot. The heroine’s issues are all there already. I have a surface layer for the hero, but there needs to be something more underneath it. Very much the same as the other story! I feel he may have good reason to have trust issues, which the heroine’s past behaviour hooked into big time. The main thing is- she has to stay sympathetic, yet have behaved badly enough to him that he didn’t try to contact her, or get her to come back. I have a pretty good idea what she did, and hopefully her reasons will make sense to the reader. He’s very much a Beta hero.

So now I have two WiPs! I’m working on whichever one I have ideas and enthusiasm for at the time. I’m not sure if doing it this way will work or not- probably to really get somewhere with it I’ll need to commit to one ahead of the other. But right now, it’s fun.

 

Progress report March 14, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:21 pm
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I’ve been a baaaaaaad blogger. No posts for three weeks.

Work has been busy (so what’s new!) but the good news is my colleague who was ill so long is back working normal hours, and we’ve worked out a new work schedule that should help everyone manage the workload better. We’ll start the four day work week we hoped to start in January too, so I’ll have a weekday off to write. No excuses then!

I’ve finally finished the rewritten chapter one of the story I pitched in Donna Alward’s pitch contest. Donna has generously offered to still critique it for me. I hope she likes it. I know she will have suggestions for how I can improve it, which I hope I can write well enough to incorporate! Actually, I more or less finished it a while ago, but kept tweaking tweaking tweaking. Eventually I just had to say “No more” and hit send, or I was never going to send it!  Even though what I sent Donna must have been my fifth draft of the chapter,  as soon as I sent it I realised more changes I need to make- ways to deepen the emotion and conflict. Somehow it felt scarier sending my writing to someone I feel I know and like than to sub to an editor. I don’t want someone I feel knows me to see I really can’t write!

Now on with the rest of the story. I was up to chapter 3 or 4 in the first draft before I stopped, knowing big changes needed to be made, and that the fact I’d taken a wrong turn right at the very start was what kept holding me back from writing. I can’t edit what I already have to fit, I may be able to use somes paragraphs, but really, the only way to make it work will be a rewrite. I want to just race through a quick and dirty first draft now. No point polishing as I go, I know too much will change. It may well be that once I finish first draft I realise I’ve still started at a place that’s less effective, and need to start all over again for the third time. If I do, I don’t mind- it’s all learning how to plot and get it right sooner next time, plus I will know my characters’ conflicts inside out by then!

I’m taking Easter week off, giving me eleven days to write in. If I write something  on the story every day now, maybe with a big push then I can get the first draft roughed out. Fingers crossed! Though I need to be so careful with the goals I set myself. I realised how I was setting myself up to fail with writing and feel worse about myself by making unrealistically high goals. I’d decide I was going to write so many words a day and make up charts to fill in my daily word counts and track how I was going against my goal. Lousy idea! If I’m not writing, I feel bad about myself, get depressed, start beating myself up about my writing being no good anyway so why bother, and end up writing even less. Setting high targets was just exacerbating this. Paradoxically, pushing myself to write harder ended up making me less productive, not more.  I set a new writing target this week, hopefully one I can stick to no matter what else is going on in my life. My goal is to write one sentence on the work in progress, every day. Just one. Anything else is a bonus. I’ll report back how that works!

I’m feeling excited today that I have plans for a whole series of stories set in the same small town as Meg and Nick’s story. I know that seems ambitious for an unpublished writer, but there are secondary characters who deserve their own story, then I saw how other ideas for stories I wanted to write would fit in too. Those characters would be right at home in Haven Bay. I need to know this now because it will alter how I create the story world. If I want to include a future story that hinges on the town being hard to get to and easily cut off from the outside world, no point putting it a mile off the highway now!

I also realised what I need to do with a story I wrote for JanNo 2008, that’s been sitting there in first draft waiting all this time to be edited. It won’t be part of the same series, probably won’t even be targeted at Superromance. I have the feeling it might just be a Blaze. The whole time I was writing it I was holding the heroine back sexually, thinking “She can’t do that!”,  and “No, she can’t possibly do that!” Maybe she can, and it ties in perfectly with her core relationship block. So that might be fun to play with once I’ve finished this one and subbed it.

Seems like the only stories I don’t have plans for are the two first drafts for the Presents contests…