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!

Digging into emotion May 4, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:07 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I still haven’t started any actual rewriting on Cady and Lock. I did have a brief temptation to start another story in the series, but I resisted, just wrote notes and filed them away instead!

I am trying to work out what needs fixing with this story, how it can be made stronger and better and especially more emotionally satisfying, before I dive into edits. I know I need to dig right down deep to the fundamentals of character and conflict and get that right before I do anything. I want everything in the story to be driven by who the characters are and what they need.

I’ve spent today getting to know my characters better, working on some questions about them and what they want and how the other person affects that. I realise my first draft feels a bit directionless, because no-one seems to have clear goals, they just go from one thing happening to another thing happening to another- it’s all reaction. I need to focus on that in the rewrite- making sure the character’s initial goals are clear and that in each scene the POV character has a goal, something they are trying to make happen. That will make the characters stronger and the story feel more purposeful. It will also feed into the conflict more. There is no conflict if no-one wants anything!

Doing a list of 20 Goals for each character was fun and told me some things I didn’t know. By the time I got to the end I was right down deep in the hidden emotional needs that Cady and Lock wouldn’t admit to themselves, let alone anyone else. That made me realise that a weakness in the story is that the characters are too self-aware. I have Cady doing something and Lock thinking, “This makes me feel rejected, just like when my father left when I was a kid.”


Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but close!

Real people (maybe especially men?) aren’t so aware of their issues and relationship blocks, otherwise they’d do something about them. Knowledge of what they are really feeling and why the other person is triggering them so badly needs to come gradually, in a dawning self-awareness, initial resistance to changing their beliefs, maybe small superficial changes that don’t affect their deepest held self-beliefs, up until the dramatic moment of “change or lose everything” of the Black Moment.

Next step will be storyboarding the scenes as I have them in first draft, and figuring out what should and shouldn’t be there. Some scenes can be kept but tweaked to make them better. Some scenes will need to be rewritten. Some scenes that are pretty but aren’t earning their keep may need to go entirely and be replaced with better ones. The story will be essentially the same, but I have plenty of ideas to make it stronger, more focused, more emotional, more dramatic. Hopefully, more Page Turning Quality to make it interesting for the reader!


13 Responses to “Digging into emotion”

  1. You made a really good point here about guys and their ability to understand their emotions. It helped me realized that is an area I need to improve in my own writing. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    It was something I really thought about recently in an online workshop I’m doing (Shirley Jump- a fabulous writer and teacher!). I haven’t been ready to put up any of my writing yet for critique, but I am learning loads from her comments on the braver participants writing! It was a well written piece, but the hero was describing the room in a way most guys (unless maybe he was an interior designer) just would not do.
    I haven’t tried this yet and it wasn’t suggested by Shirley, but there are sites to cut and paste writing into that will use known differences in amle and female writing styles to work out if the writer is male or female. I would love to see if I can get my scenes in hero POV to show as probably male writer, and my heroine POV to show as probably female writer! Here are some links- Gender Genie and Gender Guesser.
    These things aren’t anywhere near accurate, so I won’t get upset if it doesn’t work, but it will remind me to look carefully at my hero POV scenes to make sure I am thinking like a guy. Or at least thinking like a girl trying to think like a guy!

  3. Oh this is a really timely post! I’m on the Shirley Jump workshop too, and had exactly this arrive in the last lot of homework. My hero was thinking all flowery, and Shirley very cleverly pointed this out. Just when I thought I’d improved it too! Thats what I love about writing, always something new to think about!

  4. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL, doesn’t it feel like too much to think about sometimes? That’s why I had to just write the first draft fast without thinking about it much, just to get the words down so I had something to work with. I’ve been stopped dead by needing to “get it right” too many times in the past. Congrats on your Call, too! Wonderful, you must be so excited!

  5. francine Says:


    Goals: It doesn’t have to be about a character achieving something!
    Could just as well be about avoiding something/someone/memory = conflict, angst, and other emotional pulls/ties!

    In real life, guys are not that much different than us women – just better at keeping inner thoughts to themselves unless it’s macho talk.

    Re guy describing room. Thing is, if you asked him how many people in a room he’d probably answer better than a woman, because he will have taken note of every woman within that room, and roughly how many male opponants are present. Hee hee, that’s the neanderthal element within every man. Not that he will amit to a partner at his having eyed up every woman within his line of vision!!

    Re man absorbing room colour, fabrics and furnishings – you’re right pretty unlikely unless he’s gay effeminate. But there are men who have a passion for touching silk/velvet/satin, which as many macho men are guilty of in their desire to touch a woman wearing such, even just the fabric. Kinky Fetish? Perhaps, or they just love the sensuality of a specific fabric which reminds them of another specific! When they see such fabric in a room, it can give them a buzz and remind them of a pleasurable encounter!

    On the whole, though, if a writer wants a man describing a room, a POV with estate agent/real estate spiel with comic touch will make for a light moment. Let’s be honest, most men see the comic angle in everyday things, hence hilarious ads conjured for TV showings.

    Workshops are great, so long as you don’t start beating yourself up in thinking every thing said (pointed out) is gospel according to publishing. In truth, it’s a lot more flexible than one might imagine. If it wasn’t, trendy themes Chic-Lit and cross genre erotic, etc, would never have made it into HM&B!!!

    Chill out on writing. Enjoy it, because if it turns into the devil in the corner it can turn self belief to self doubt. Too much of the latter cripples originality and becomes a carbon copy!



  6. Eileen Says:

    Hmm … why can’t it be easier to write less self-aware characters and make real people more self-aware? lol

  7. waitingforthecall Says:

    LOL life would be a lot easier. Though if people get too self aware in real life we’d have to mirror that in our stories. Bang goes the emotional conflict! Or our characters look TSTL and readers scream “Why don’t they just get it, already?”

  8. Thank you for the congrats. I’m disgustingly excited!

  9. Eileen Says:

    ah, I love that phrasing “disgustingly excited” — I know EXACTLY what you mean by it 🙂

  10. waitingforthecall Says:

    You are entitled to be, Sally!

  11. waitingforthecall Says:

    Eileen, I gotta visit your blog! Hae you have a story accepted?

  12. Eileen Says:

    I did have one! a very short piece, (about 600 words) accepted at SWINK online magazine, department of “Wit’s End” — it’s not up yet but I’ll let you know when it is published 🙂

  13. waitingforthecall Says:

    Yay- fab news! Big grinning for you!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s