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!

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.

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13 Responses to “Baby steps”

  1. Maisey Yates Says:

    For serious, names and addresses of the people at your job so I can practice a little my-foot-in-their-backside vigilante justice.

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL Maisey! Is that what they call diplomacy in Orygun? I’m not at all worried, really and truly. So much so I never even thought to mention it to you guys (well, I did for about a second, then thought Nah, why bother?)

    If I have to leave, they are doing me a big favour! I actually don’t think it will come to that, my department head is supportive.

  3. Jane Holland Says:

    Seriously, Jane, I hear what you’re saying, but I would stick to one WIP at a time. That’s my advice, as it was last time you talked about being distracted into a new story. Write THIRD TIME FOREVER and do the other one afterwards.

    I know they’re linked, so you don’t consider this to be ‘shiny new story syndrome’, but it is. It really is.

    Only a friend would tell you that. 😉

    Good luck!

  4. Jane, I reckon you’ve got the skills for Nick and Meg. It’s just a matter of firming up the conflicts.
    As to writing different stories, I usually have a number of WIPS on the go. I tend to go from one to the other when I’m stuck on a particular ms. Often writing a different story can free up whatever was preventing me from writing the initial one. I do have to discipline myself and actually finish a story though ’cause I know I’m not good at finishing things!

  5. Thanks for quoting Donna’s thoughts on your chap – I really found the pov change interesting. I often wonder if only having one pov actually makes for a stronger book – but I guess it depends on what’s happening in the chap and whether you NEED the pov changes 🙂

  6. Susan Wilson Says:

    Hi Jane,
    have read your blog for a long time but never really posted. Today though I’m going to make you some huge signs to take into work. HOW DARE THEY TREAT YOU LIKE THAT! I look back over your blog when you’ve told us how hard you’ve been working, the hours you’ve put in, you’ve had no help.
    Don’t just accept this, do what someone with a nursing background never does – get angry! Look how you almost missed being able to pitch to Donna, by being so late home on the train. Look at the conference you had to to go to, never got to spend much time with your husband and ended up ill in bed. Look at the times you came home late because you were juggling so many balls to get some sick person care in another country and your sense of duty wouldn’t allow you just to say “time to go home”.
    You have worked exceptionally hard for these people, they should be putting flags out for you, not pulling you up on some petty detail. Remember, they’ve known you’ve been covering two jobs for a long time, they know you can only do so much, if this other thing was SO important, why didn’t they get you some help? At the end of the day Jane you are a person not a machine.
    I still work in NHS and find it amazing the way any health care staff bend over backwards to do the best for their patients. It’s the same for healthcare staff in the private sector and I feel the business side uses it to their advantage. They seem to have realised that we all have a strong sense of duty and morals that you don’t find in other professions. It’s like emotional blackmail.
    You are a good person who has done a sterling job for months. They haven’t given you the support they should have and let’s face it – they know it.
    Sorry for the rant but I think you’re better than this. Walk out claim constructive dismissal and take them for every penny they’ve got – then you can write full time for a while!!
    Best Wishes
    Susan

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    Jane, thanks for the advice, and I appreciate that you are upfront enough to give it!

    I think 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, resolving his conflict 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.

    Anyway, if I’m wrong, they are next in line!

  8. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL, me neither, Jackie. But we can encourage each other. If I try to drop this new story for yet another one, you guys will give me hell and Jilly will arrive to whip me into shape!

  9. waitingforthecall Says:

    I think that’s the key, Rach. The question we need to keep asking- Why do I need to switch POV there?

    I thought I needed to to give his responses to her and his thoughts on the situation, but maybe I didn’t, maybe it would be stronger to hold that back, she’s observing his physical reactions and hears what he’s saying, she has her own take on it, then next chapter he can tell us.

    Ah, think I just used a key word there- was I using POV changes to TELL not SHOW?

  10. waitingforthecall Says:

    Susan, thanks so much for your lovely supportive comment. It’s true that nurses do tend to “take it” because we put patient care ahaed of ourselves too much for our own good!

    It’s strange, I think I’ve gone past anger and tears on this now, and I’m just viewing it with a kind of amused detachment. I recognise that I am choosing to stay, solely because it is way better paid than any nursing job in the NHS, and the money I can save will help me achieve my personal goal. There is a culture at this employer of paying exceptionally well and expecting a lot back in return. I’ve certainly gone well beyond that, IMO. But if there’s any question of this becoming a disciplinary issue (sigh- my first in 32 years as a nurse!) I will leave, and look at what I can do to get redress.

  11. Jane Holland Says:

    Well, fair enough, all I’m saying is, you’ve got to learn to finish. That’s such a massively important thing, it’s worth focussing on, even given your other problems. Maybe the issue though isn’t really to do with a lack of internal conflict, however much it may seem like that at the moment, but a fear of committing to one manuscript and finishing it.

    There. That’s my advice, FWIW. It’s up to you what you do with it. 😉

  12. waitingforthecall Says:

    Good advice, Jane! But I have finished several manuscripts, in first draft anyway. All of them were beyond hope of editing into a good coherent story because of fundamental problems with the conflict.

    This is something deeper than the “My writing is crap” abandoning a story after one or two chapters I used to have. I feel that I am almost on the edge of a breakthrough and don’t quite have it solidly graspedyet. Once I do, finishing won’t be an issue.

    Anyway, if I don’t finish THIS story, please come back and beat me!

  13. Jane Holland Says:

    Ah, I won’t need to. If you don’t finish this one, you’ll be beating yourself up quite enough. 😉

    Fundamental probs with conflict? It sounds like you need to work on crafting a strong synopsis first, and show it to some people who know what they’re doing before you start, so any glaring problems with character motivation can be fixed early on, before you get bogged down.


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