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!

How not to do it December 27, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:19 pm
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Yesterday’s post is a classic example to aspiring romance writers everywhere of how not to do it!

To help further, here is the Janey Jones guaranteed Ten Step Plan for writing a story with a boomerang rejection built-in:

  1. Refuse to let go of a story that isn’t working.
  2. Make the characters as unsympathetic and unbelievable as possible-  for example, a pathetic heroine and a selfish, emotionally immature hero. If you do by chance create some interesting characters, don’t whatever you do let them live and breathe and act for themselves on the page. Ruthlessly edit out every hint of personality.
  3. If you think it’s not working, make it more complicated, add more and more and more external conflict into the mix  (masquerading as internal conflict in your own mind but not in anyone else’s), thinking that’s the answer at last.
  4. Change direction so many times you give yourself whiplash and achieve a state of conplete confusion about what you were trying to write in the first place.
  5. Never, ever, admit that you just don’t have the craft skills yet to pull it off.
  6. Don’t even think about going back to basics like characters, a developing relationship between them, and what internal factors keep them from being together.
  7. Have a strong preconcieved idea of what your target line needs and write rigidly to that. This usually stifles any chance of individuality or voice showing in your writing, and enables you to recognise any that does sneak in, and destroy it.
  8. Overthink and overanalyse everything. Stamp out any random sparks of joy in the process of writing by making it all terribly terribly serious. It has to be done right. No room for playing around or having fun here.
  9. Do not under any circumstances allow any emotion to come through in your writing. This is the place to maintain rigid control.
  10. Spend more time thinking about writing and talking about writing than actually writing.

Follow these easy steps and you too can be a totally crap unpublishable writer, and make yourself miserable about writing while kidding yourself that you are learning and growing!

So what am I going to do about it?

I got myself so muddled there was only one way to decide what to do next- toss a coin!

It’s not quite as random as it sounds, and it works everytime when I tie myself in knots of indecision, because I do nearly always know on some level what I really want to do. I take the two strongest options, and toss a coin to see which one comes up. If my immediate reaction is “Okay!” I know that was the option I wanted anyway. If my immediate reaction is “Let’s try best of three,” I don’t need to go any further, I know I want the other option.

I knew that I already had chosen, but did the coin flip anyway. I’m a belt and braces girl, I like confirmation!

Luk and Emma / Gabi are taking a break. They can whinge and moan about it, but they need to have a long relaxing holiday somewhere warm and a long way away.  That little isalnd off the Melusi coast Luk wants to develop as a resort will be perfect!

 I realised where the wanting to hang on to Luk and Emma thing came from- Christmas reactivated an old grief, and made it harder to let go of my “babies”, even if they were never going to have a chance of survival. All the comments in response to my witterings about them have been copied and pasted and tucked away in their file, as there is some massively helpful stuff there. Thanks for your help everyone who commented!

I’m going back to the story I was originally planning to write for my JanNo, before I tied myself in knots and got myself confused again. Kate and Adam. Straightforward and likeable characters,  with good simple but deep internal conflict, a setting I love. Enough external “stuff”  going on to make it interesting, but not taking the focus off the relationship, rather intensifying the focus on them. I’m just going to write. Basic character sketches, an idea of the premise, and then stop overthinking it all! Let the characters do their thing and see where they take me. When it looks like the conflict isn’t working, instaed of adding something new, I will dig deeper into what they already have.  And I’m giving myself permission to have fun. Permission to enjoy the ride.


Editing dilemma! July 5, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:19 am
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I am confused. 

I overcame my procrastination, and jumped into edits.

I’d decided to be a good little girl and shape Luk and Emma’s story towards submitting it to Modern Heat. After all, I set off on this journey last year deciding to target Presents/Modern Heat. I have a M&B comps slip fast approaching it’s metaphorical use-by date, if it hasn’t already passed it, and there’s another HMB competition coming up. Plus, I love to read Modern Heat stories. All good reasons.

The edits went well for the first 20,000 words or so, though there are two whole chapters in there I seriously think I might need to ditch, even after heavy edits. Nothing really wrong with them, just not enough right with them.

Then I hit real trouble. The stuff I loved writing, the single title style stuff, the stuff that I knew would need to be chopped to make the story fit any HMB line. I deleted it, without reading it. Okay, doing well. Deep breath. It was nearly all gone. Then I made a big mistake. I started reading what was left of it.

*wail* I don’t want to cut this stuff. 

It’s the best writing in the book. Honestly. I’m not claiming it’s good, mind, just that it’s better than any of the other stuff I’m keeping.

Now I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to take this writing out of the story. With it, it doesn’t fit HMB. Without it, and with a lot of other editing, it just might.

But even with the kidnap scene left in, where the hell does the story fit? The kidnap and rescue is pure Little Black Dress. It’s sassy. It’s funny. Well, I thought so, anyway. But I’ve never read an LBD with a Royal marriage of convenience and lots of hot newlywed sex in it. To make it LBD, the sex has to be toned down. Plus, it’s a MH/Presents plot. The whole plot needs to be rethought. 

So I can ditch the kidnap but keep the sex, or ditch the sex and keep the kidnap. 

Now you see why my main thought is – ack! Whichever way I go, I’m looking at major rewrites, because I have a mongrel mess of a story that’s not one thing or the other.

I’ve had this dilemma all along- was I aiming at series romance, or single title? Unfortunately, reading the draft, I never did work it out, just threw whatever was in my head at the time into the story. So some days I’ve written pure Presents, some days pure single title, and other days God knows what!

I woke up this morning and first thought into my mind was another secondary character who has to go. Alice, the feisty old woman Emma cares for. She’s there in chapter 1, but doesn’t have any more role to play, so she is out too, if I’m aiming for MH. *sigh* In a single title, she can stay, though I need to figure out how she comes into the story later on. Maybe she can have her own love story, after all, it’s six years since her beloved Reg died, and she is tired of being on her own. You can see why I don’t want to cut these secondary characters. They are real people to me, part of what has made the heroine who she is. But there just isn’t room for them in a series romance.

It really hurt yesterday cutting that kidnap and rescue scene! My plan now, just for fun and my own development as a writer, is that I’m going to write it both ways. First as a category romance aimed at Presents/ Modern Heat, then as a single title aimed at Little Black Dress. I can see which one feels best for me, which I enjoy writing most, which one my voice is best suited for.

The needs of the two lines are so different! Point of view, heat level, character development, secondary characters, focus.

The lovemaking in my first draft felt hot hot hot when I was writing it, because it was aimed at Presents. Heat levels in LBDs seem to be more warm than hot. It happens, but it’s less intense and passionate, definitely lighter and more euphemistic.

It feels like less work to keep it aimed at MH. But I’m realising just how much I need to cut out to make it MH. Not just the kidnap. A lot of secondary characters, including some I adore. Probably another chapter where they are apart but she keeps emailing him.

I guess this is what “tightening up a draft” means for Presents- it’s about narrowing the focus down to those two central characters, for depth and emotional intensity. That’s all we need to see in a Presents, anything else is periferal. While LBDs are still centred on the heroine, and by definition the hero, as he impacts on her life, but the focus is pulled back a bit, so we see more of her world and the other people in it. Gives a bigger picture, but also lessens the emotional intensity. Though they can be emotionally strong too, they nearly always make me cry, but it’s a different sort of intensity to Presents/MH. It’s less about the relationship and more about the heroine’s emotional growth.

I need to think about what I really want to do, where I want to go with my writing. If I start a story clear which line I am aiming for, clear on what the needed elements are, I won’t get in this muddle again. I can stay focused as I write. I can already see how my next story idea could go either way.

Right now, I’m going with plan A. Write Luk and Emma’s story as an MH now, and polish the partial right up, so I have it ready to submit. Then I can have a go at it the other way! It’s a lot of work but will show me where my writing is best suited, and what I enjoy writing the most. Shame I can’t submit both at once of course and see who accepts it, but unlikely though I know it is (about the same odds as getting hit by lightning and winning the lottery in the same day), it’s just sod’s law that BOTH would be accepted and then I’d really be in the doo-doo. Though if I get it done in time I could put the LBD version in for my New Writers Scheme entry and get some risk free feedback on it.

I think I already know which line I really want to aim for, but it will be fun finding out. I don’t want the goal of seeking publication to sidetrack me and to lose something more important through focusing purely on that. This year is about finding who I am as a writer, learning and growing. It has to be about the journey as well as the destination. Though seeing my stories published eventually will be good too!