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!

Fab Superromance review- and I have an epiphany (again…) December 29, 2010

A wonderful review over at Dear Author for Karina Bliss’s latest Harlequin Superromance. I love her stories, and I’m really looking forward to reading this one, though I do have to say stories that start with the hero or heroine trying to pick up someone else tend to squick me out a bit. It does seem to turn up a lot in these “best friends into lovers” stories. That’s possibly just me showing my personal preferences, or it could be my age. I read Blaze now, so I can handle the heat, but I was brought up on Sweet, no-sex romances. I definitely want one man-one woman stories, even a start showing the heroine with someone else just sets the tone all wrong for me. I’m old-fashioned.

I’m realising that a lot of what is wrong with my stories is exactly what the reviewer commented on- they read like they were written by someone’s Mum in 1983. Co-incidentally, about when I first tried writing a romance!

I had a small epiphany yesterday, when I realised the problem with my WiP and the real reason why the situation and the heroine’s backstory just weren’t gelling was her age. I started writing with her 28, a good age and one I usually like for heroines in stories I read.  But the way she was living and the things she was doing seemed too immature for someone of that age to still be doing- I felt impatient with her, wondered why she hadn’t grown up. I tried changing her age to 24.  Better, but still not right. Suddenly I realised- she’s forty!

Everything fell into place, beautifully. All the pieces of backstory that didn’t fit, the conflict with the hero that felt contrived, the motivation for her doing what she was doing. It works. Or at least, hopefully it will work. I still have to write the story, of course. It’s a good lesson in the importance of making sure I know my characters, really know my characters, before I start. The essence of the story, as I mapped it out using the Beat Sheet from Save the Cat, is identical. It just works so much better now!

Where I went wrong was not even thinking about it. The story was aimed for Harlequin, so the heroine had to be in her twenties.  Realising, no, she doesn’t, is a wonderful change, and is absolutely right for this heroine, even though I know it stops this story being a fit for any of the Harlequin lines.

That wasn’t the epiphany though. The epiphany was that this is the sort of story I want to keep on writing- sensual stories, set against a small town or community background, with grown up heroines.

There doesn’t seem to be much available for women of a certain age, who want to read about women their own age finding true love and happy endings, but who still want stories with good sex too. There’s women’s fiction, usually with an unhappy ending but a  life lesson learned; for a short time there was “hen lit”, which seems to have fizzled; there are a few sweeter romances with older heroines, with the bedroom door tight closed; or there are hot stories about women half my age, or over ten years younger at best. The only exception seems to be abominations like Sex and the City 2, which I totally detested for the shallow pathetic characters, caricatures rather than heroines anyone could identify with. At least what SATC shows though is women in their forties and fifties, still wanting love and sex. Where are the romances, for and about women in their forties, fifties, and beyond, with heroines who are falling in love and having the hottest sex of their lives? Few and far between, it seems, certainly from the major romance publishers. Which is understandable given the huge costs of paper book production and distribution.

So if I write the stories I want to write, I will never ever have any chance of being published by Harlequin, no matter how well I learn to write. Maybe there is no market, and the best I can hope for is to get my stories published by an obscure e-publisher and sell six copies, all to my friends, who make polite noises but never actually read the things. Or maybe there are actually a lot of women out there who know that love and sex don’t stop at thirty, and would love to read stories with older heroines, who are just not finding the books out there they would like to read.

I discovered yesterday that at least one of the romance e-pubs, Wild Rose Press, has a line featuring older heroines, called Last Rose of Summer. I intend to read a few, see if I like them. The wonderful thing about e-publishing is it lets publishers take risks on books that might sell poorly. When fabulous big publishers like Harlequin have tried series with older heroines, sales weren’t good enough, so the lines soon folded. E-pubs can afford to get away with lower sales, so can publish a more diverse range. I’ll still keep reading the Harlequins I love, but it’s time to be more adventurous and venture further afield too.

Much though I would love to see my name there on the supermarket and newsagent shelves on the cover of a Harlequin/ Mills & Boon, it’s not going to happen. I love those books, and there are so many brilliant writers of all ages writing wonderful stories, for HMB, but I won’t be one of them. My chance of getting published is going to come with one of the e-publishers. I honestly think it’s time for me to stop writing the weak, cliched stories I’ve been labouring with, stories that were never going to fly because I didn’t believe in them, and because they read like the stories I tried to write when I was the same age as the heroine I was writing about. My writing can only get better if I try writing honest stories from my heart.

Any suggestions for great romances with older heroines for me to read? What do you think- would you read a story with an older heroine?

Oh, completely unrelated- if anyone saw the post I did earlier about the free Harlequin comics on Amazon, I took it down when I found they weren’t offering complete stories as the freebies, just samples. Still worth a peek at them though, just for the sheer awesomeness of a story written in English that’s been translated into Japanese to be turned into a manga, then translated back into English again.


Characters- proactive or reactive? November 28, 2010

So, more thoughts on this editorial feedback that my characters need to be more proactive, less reactive, and that my plot relies too heavily on external forces.

I can see just what she means. The characters don’t appear to initiate any action, just react to what is happening. This makes them seem weak, and even worse, like puppets being pushed through the motions.

It’s interesting to me that I have this problem – and I surely do, I can see it not just in the rejected stories but in plenty of others! I thought this was something more of an issue for plot oriented writers, who start with a plot then make the characters fit it. But I always start with the characters, or at least one of them. I think the problem might be that I start with the characters all right, but I don’t have a strong enough sense of who they are initially until I have written a few chapters. By then I know them well enough to start over again with (hopefully!) a good grasp of their conflict and relationship issues. This all sounds good, and like it shouldn’t lead to cardboard cut out puppet characters.

In the meantime though, just to get started, I’ve come up with a clunky plot device to bring them together. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I ditched that when I ditched the first few chapters I wrote to get to know the characters, but I get attached to my set-ups and keep them in.

So for this story, I started with the image of Cady, my heroine, a single working mother having a very bad day that gets even worse when she is told her mother is seriously ill so she needs to go back to her small home town, where she’ll need to confront not just her estranged mother but Lock, the father of her son.  That was all I knew when I started writing. Ack, already writing that I can see how she is buffeted by the external issues. Yes, she decides how she will respond to them, but it’s all external, all  “stuff happening”. 

In a way though, thinking about it, that was part of my vision for Cady, that without her anchor of home and family she might be a business success and a good mum, but emotionally she’s adrift. That isn’t necessarily a problem, provided I establish her as a character and her motivations strongly enough that her mix of proactive in some arenas and reactive in others is understandable and sympathetic to the reader.

The main thing that makes a character proactive is a strong goal. I am clear what her goal is, to ensure the best life possible for her son, but obviously that’s not coming out enough. And it’s more of a passive type goal, in that she’s not really actively working towards that goal, though it is what motivates all her decisions.

I do think romances are moving towards stronger heroines generally, kicking back against the stereotype of the weak heroine in the thrall of the hero. Stories where the heroine’s action initiates the inciting incident are possibly more what the editors are looking for. My past stories have tended to the pattern of the hero erupting into the heroine’s life, not vice versa. Thinking of one of my CP Maisey Yates’ first two published stories, in both the heroine had a clearly defined goal and a plan to act on to reach her goal, that led her to seek out the hero. Seems like that (as well as her excellent writing and sizzling sexual tension!) may have helped her initial slushpile submission catch the editor’s eye.

Another problem is that the hero also is not proactive. By sticking with the plot device of her mother’s illness as the thing that brings them back together, neither of them has actively made a decision to make this happen. Lock has decided he’s ready to move on and is taking action towards that, but it’s periferal to what happens with the heroine. Then I add a coincidence on top of that- he finds out Cady has had his son because the boy has an accident and Cady is called about it, which conveniently happens just when he is in her office. So I have two characters will relatively passive goals which pretty much amount to just getting on with life, brought together again by external factors. Ick!

I decided yesterday to cut her mother’s illness, and cut the convenient coincidence of Josh’s accident. The initial plan was to retain both coincidences, but make Lock proactive. Lock sees Cady in a TV interview and decides to seek her out, as he’s ready to move on with his life. Still not good enough, coincidence 1 stays but coincidence 2 goes. Lock sees Cady in a TV interview about high flying career women who are single mothers, realises Josh is his son, and seeks her out, determined to get access to his child. Better. Probably even stronger if the coincidences could be dumped altogether and it starts with Lock seeking Cady out as he’s ready to move on, and in the process finding he has a son.

Now today I’m wondering if it’s even stronger if Cady is the instigator. Cady wants what’s best for her son, so she takes action and takes him home to Haven Bay. Or Cady wants to make amends, and seeks out Lock. It’s kind of less true to her character, as she’s protecting her shameful secret at all costs, and doing that seems a bit risky. She’d need a very powerful motivation to do that. Her son would need to be in trouble, or ill.

I just realised something. Interestingly, I added both those coincidences in the second draft. First draft had Cady finding out about her mother’s illness from someone else and deciding to go home with her son, then meeting Lock. I created the whole coincidence thing as a way to get them together, and still kept the original plot device of her mother’s illness. So now instead of the one I started with, I have three clunky plot devices.  Bang goes the theory about it being because of writing my way in. It was really because I was playing God with my characters!

*sigh* I’m getting the feeling I am doing it again. I’m trying to “make” then proactive.  Again, I’m manufacturing situations for them.

Will I ever get this right?

I need to start with my focus more on the emotional issues. What are their core conflicts? How would those issues drive the characters into action. That needs to be my starting point, not cooking up scenarios to bring them together.

Her goals are to create a good life for her son, and to keep her secret, two goals which are brought into opposition when she has to be around Lock again, for Josh’s sake. Lock’s goal is to move on with his life and forget Cady, which is complicated by him finding out he has a son he’s determined to be a good father to.

At least a third of my story, possibly more, is tied up in the elements I know now need to cut out. The bones of the story should remain the same, their core conflict, the black moment, and the resolution. I just have to find out who sets things in motion!

At least in my current story, the one I hope to sub for SoYou Think You Can Write, it’s the heroine who is actively making things happen, though her goal is a bit wishy-washy, she’s just doing her job, and that impacts on the hero.

I’ve made the same mistakes here, in terms of characters being passive responders to events rather than making things happen. 

Also, I don’t think I’ve nailed the conflict quite right yet- I’m concerned my heroine will seem TSTL for not wanting to stay with the hero, that she seems to have no real character arc until at the end the magic wand of lurve is waved and she changes completely. (And if any of my dirty-minded critique partners are reading this, no, not that magic wand, that one gets waved earlier!) OTOH, if I do it right I can show how she’s struggling with what she wants to do vs what she’s always done and feels she ought to do.

The other problem with this story is that the ending does rely on an external event that possibly puts the hero’s life in danger and makes the heroine rethink things. The answer to that is that the heroine has already changed her mind, decided to go back to him and tell him she will stay, then can’t do it because he is in this dangerous situation. She’s going to really suffer while she’s waiting to hear if he’s okay- because what if he dies thinking she didn’t love him enough to stay? But the external event can’t be what triggers her change, that’s got to be internally driven.

I’m a bit stumped what I should be writing now- do I work on fixing the rejected story, while I’m all fired up to do it, even though the plan I thought I had yesterday is shot to pieces; do I try to fix the story I want to sub to SYTYCW, which is riddled with problems; or do I start that new take on an old story idea that’s kinda Blaze-ish or Modern Heat-ish? The one where I figured out for myself last week that the problem with the original idea was that the heroine was being pushed around by circumstancesand just a victim, instead of her getting out there and being proactive.

Hoo boy. Now I need to be proactive and decide what to write!

Edited to add- or I can use this as an excuse for some internet surfing looking for more info on proactive characters. Here are a couple of links I found interesting- Camy Tang, and Janice Hardy. Also yet another book which I’ve ben thinking about buying and haven’t yet (in the past two weeks I already bought Save the Cat and Story, but they’re gonna be my Christmas present from the MiL, now I have to work out who’s going to buy me this one!)- Fiction Writing for Dummies.


Stuck, again! February 15, 2010

I’m wanting to write Meg and Nick’s story, the one I pitched to Donna Alward for her pitch contest. I need to get the first chapter done and polished to send off as she’s generously offered to still give me a critique (though I know she’s on a tight deadline this month, so maybe she won’t mind not getting it till next month!). But I’m stuck. Again.

What is it with this story? I love the characters. I love the setting. I love the whole set up. I know how to fix the first chapter. I know I need to rewrite rather than keep tweaking the existing chapter. And I’m just not doing it.

Maybe all my willpower is being used up doing Menopause Makeover  (I lost 2 pounds and even better an inch and a half from my waist in the first week, so that’s going okay). Maybe I’m just being lazy. Maybe I’m having another crisis of confidence. Maybe I know, like my Presents contest entry, I’m yet again making the story too complex and convoluted, creating something I just don’t have the skill to carry off yet.

As Donna said reunion stories are hard to write- so much backstory! Also, I feel maybe I’ve overthought it, planned all the life out of it. I’ve completely lost enthusiasm for it. On some level, it feels like the story has already been told. I feel that I need to let all the thinking I’ve done on this story sit and simmer for a while, before I write it, let all those ideas and plans sink down to a deeper level and hopefully my subconscious can play with it and turn it back into something alive again. When my colleague who’s been off sick all last month is finally back working normal hours, I’m going to take a week  of vacation, and do a personal Book in a Week. Just write this story with no time to stop and think.

 What I would love to do right now is dive in with something different, and just write like crazy. First draft without stopping to think too much and work things out. Let the characters surprise me.

I have two options, the bush nurse story, Fool’s Gold, with Kate and Adam, which would be a Super; or Nellie and Mace’s story, which was originally going to be an Modern Heat. I can see how it could be even better as a Super, because both the hero and heroine’s emotional issues are family based, and the hero just wasn’t working out for MH, which is why I shelved the idea before. I can even see how it can link in to Meg and Nick’s story, as the start is Nellie trying to get out of the city to go to a wedding out in the country, but everything goes wrong. It was going to start in London with the wedding out in the wilds of the Cambridgeshire fens, but no reason it can’t start in Sydney with the wedding in Haven Bay. Though ideas for Kate and Adam are popping up all the time too!

I hope I’m not doing a “Bright Shiny New Story” to run away from just buckling down and writing Meg and Nick! I do genuinely feel I’ll write that story better with a bit of space from all the thinking I’ve done on it.  I just hope that now I will stick with whatever story I decide to write and at least see it through first draft and not let myself be seduced again by either a new story, or one of the ones I left on the shelf for now. My characters do hate being sidelined, waiting their turn, they all want to be the star!

I can’t help feeling I am lacking in Michelle Style’s Four Ds.


How not to do it December 27, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:19 pm
Tags: , ,

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.


What next? December 18, 2009

Okay, I got the rejection email aka “form feedback”. Now what?

I’ve been too busy all week with the day job getting everything done before going on my Christmas break to do any writing. Doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about writing.

But today I have the lovely gift of a snow day- the trains weren’t running properly, and as I got all my work completed yesterday, I gave myself permission to stay home. Permission to stay tucked up under the duvet all day, laptop on. I really should be finishing my Christmas shopping and writing a few more cards, but hey, that can wait. This day is a gift to myself, and I’m going to use as little of it as I can get away with on any of that sensible stuff. (Just found out my elderly mother-in-law is unwell today,  I can’t get to her because of the snow, so three calls to her and two to her doctor’s surgery later…)

It’s time to move forward with writing again. Abandon the Presents edit of Luk and Emma, I’m going to get back to them in 2010 and rewrite their story as the Sweet Romance it wanted to be all along. First, I want to let Kate and Adam, my new characters, who will probably end up being targeted at Superromance, come out to play.

I love doing character development! It’s such a fabulous part of the writing process. Getting to know new people, what they do, what they like, what they most want out of life, what they least want in a relationship. Do this stage right, and the internal conflict should fall into place.  I should end up with two interesting, well rounded people, who each push the other’s buttons like never before. Push them right into where they don’t want to be, either in their life or in their relationship. Every time they try to fix it, things get worse. But they can’t just walk away. This person, who is their worst nightmare, is also the the person they feel an amazing attraction and emotional connection with, the person they’ll regret walking away from for the rest of their life, because this is that special once in a lifetime love.

The conflict should flow organically from who the characters are, so I’m not forcing the characters to take on certain conflicts just to fit my plot. That way only creates cardboard characters with contrived and unrealistic motivation. This is exactly what I did with my last story. I had the plot jump into my mind first, then had to make up characters to work within it. Some writers can probably work well that way, but clearly not me. I know now I have to start with character. And the character conflict needs to lock into each other.

Ellen Hartman, who writes for Superromance, did a great Q&A on this over at eHarlequin. It’s hidden away in the archives and took me a while to find it again, but it’s soooooo worth a read. And you have the link to make it easy! This is an excellent discussion. I started off thinking I would just pull one or two points from it, but I’ve pulled so many I may as well put Ellen’s name at the top of the blog!

For starters, why does a good romance need conflict-

one thing that’s important to keep in mind from a conflict point of view is that the conflict between the characters needs to be serious and deep. The basic idea of a romance novel is that two people fall in love despite external and internal circumstances that should keep them apart. (Love conquers all.)

That’s why bickering and smaller, lower stakes conflicts don’t really work. If the two people spend a lot of time arguing with each other, who would believe they’d fall in love or even want them to?

But if the two people spend their scenes yearning toward each other while being held back by powerful, believable obstacles, the readers will be right there with them, rooting them on.

Her editor Victoria Curran says that it’s crucial that the conflicts be specific to the characters- what is it about this man and this woman that keeps them from being together? It’s another way of saying that the best conflict comes from the internal relationship blocks with the characters, not from external circumstances (though external circumstances can and should tied into and trigger internal conflict). 

Ellen makes some excellent points about the importance of hooking the character’s external goals to their internal fears, and to the other character.

I can think up two great characters, each with wonderful internal conflict, but if the conflicts don’t play off each other, don’t impact each other, don’t keep the lovers apart for infinity, then the book isn’t going to work.

Also, making sure that reaching their external goals will make things worse for them in the relationship. Someone has to grow and change, someone has to decide, someone has to choose to give something up.

Ellen describes a story where her hero… 

…got what he thought he wanted…but now it’s causing him more problems. This twist concept comes in really handy if you want to totally strip your characters to the bone. You give them their heart’s desire and then you make them wish they never wanted it in the first place.

Just when things look like it might be working out, make it tougher. But in a way that hooks deep into the character’s core needs, goals, or fears. That’s what makes it internal and not just external conflict.

Jeannie Watt says-

Sometimes the H/h don’t figure out they have the same goal until the end because one of them is not acknowledging their goal.  They may not even be aware of it.  Their goal is a shadow goal–something they want deep down.  Throught the course of the story they experience things that allow (or in some cases in a lot in my books.  Often the shadow goal is the opposite of their conscious goal.

That’s how the happy ever after can still be satisfying, even if a character has had to scarifice something they once thought was important to them. The whole process of the story and the conflcit has brought the person to the place where they see the truth about what they really want and need.

The crux of it all-

The black moment is usually the culmination of the external conflict but the impact of the black moment comes from the resolution of the internal conflict.In the black moment, characters usually have to make a heroic choice. Often a heroic emotional choice. As any human knows, making a new emotional choice, let alone a difficult or heroic one, is hard. We don’t like change, especially not emotional change because it’s scary.

For that heroic choice to be believable, we have to have shown our characters struggling with the conflict and gradually being pushed so far against the wall that they have no where to turn.

This is why it’s important to keep increasing the conflict and hitting it from different angles throughout the book. The characters should be in a raw enough place emotionally that it’s possible for them to make a scary choice in the name of accomplishing their goal.

So where do I start from? Who my characters are.

Ellen says-

One of the ways readers fall in love with our characters is through a connection with their vulnerabilities. If we let our characters do things and say things to increase the conflict, they are often revealing themselves in very vulnerable ways.

The idea of vulnerability is closely tied to conflict. If our characters constantly make the smart, safe, right, logical choice, if they cover themselves and refuse to break down or ask for things, we won’t have a lot of conflict and our readers won’t connect with the writing.

Some of the conflict avoidance that I experience as a writer comes from wanting my characters to be safe and smart. I have to remind myself they’re fictional and they need to take chances. They even have to look ridiculous at times. (This is very hard for me to write.)

But remember that when you let your characters be vulnerable, you’re letting your readers love them and connect with them.

This is so important for me to remember when I’m creating my characters. What are their weaknesses? What are their vulnerabilities? How will being with the other character bring those possibly well hidden things out into the open?

If the character is good at keeping their vulnerabilities hidden, even from us, she suggests some dig deep questions-

Questions to Uncover a Character’s Hidden Internal Conflict

  1. When was the last time you had a date? Why did you pick that person? When was your last long-term relationship? Who ended it and why? Focus on their romantic issues first because that’s the juicy conflict for romantic fiction.
  2. What’s your relationship like with your family? Close? How close? Does your mom call you to chat? To fix the sink? To complain about your brother? Only when she needs money? How old were you when you left home and what made you go? Ever considered moving back? Why or why not? Family is a great source of internal conflict. Let’s face it, families can screw up even the most well-adjusted among us.
  3. What about work–what’s your job and why did you pick it? How would you feel if you found out you were going to be fired? Angry? Panicked? Ready for revenge? Relieved? Work can sometimes be a source of angst and the choice of career is often revealing for a character.
  4. What do you do when you’re faced with a conflict? Fight? Smooth it over? Disengage? Take charge? The way a character deals with conflict is full of possibility for the writer. If your character has vulnerabilities, they’ll often reveal themselves in this area.

If those exploratory questions don’t turn up any internal conflict, you can also try these.

  • What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you and why?
  • What’s your number one fear?
  • What’s the one thing you’re deathly afraid of losing? (This might include pride, temper, control, those types of emotional things.)
  • What is the one thing you want more than anything and why don’t you have it right now?

I’m off to talk to Kate and Adam and see what they answer!

One thing that made me laugh- if you go to the Q&A thread on eHarl, you’ll see me coming late to the discussion and posting right at the end how excited I was about using this information with the story I was working on and how it was going so well. This was back in August last year. I couldn’t even remember which story that was, and if it was going so well, why did I give it up? I looked back through my unfinished story files and I think I see which one it was, though I didn’t use Ellen’s questions with the characters. Actually, looking closer, it could not possibly have been that story, there are too many clues in my notes for it that I wrote them well before Ellen’s thread was published.

I loved that story and have no idea why I stopped after two chapters. Now I’m confused. I’d completely forgotten that story and now I want to write that one, make Kate and Adam wait a little longer!

And I still don’t know what happened to the story I thought I was going well. I think I may have found it, because the dates the documents were created are around the right time. But there is nothing there! Now I’ve seen it, I can remember writing lots of stuff, about the heroine and her art classes for deprived inner city kids and the property developer hero who is going to evict her, and her assistant who was going to get her own sequel, but all I have in the folder is a couple of photos and character names. So where is what I wrote on this story, and why did I stop? Sheesh, I loooooooved that story! I can even remember the scene where her big ginger tomcat bites the hero when he goes to her studio and they are about to kiss. So where did all that go?


What is this story, really? November 28, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:44 pm
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I can’t settle to editing today.

I’m feeling 99.9% sure I will get a rejection letter for my Harlequin Presents. That’s got me wondering if I should stop my current edits aimed at shaping it to fit the Presents guidelines, and go with the story that’s been niggling at the edges of my awareness for weeks.

Basically, the same story, same premise. But a lot longer, and with magic.

What if on the island of Melusia, magic was real? Maybe only those of Royal blood have it, but it exists and works. So Emma’s cat can talk to her, and she not only has to get used to being a celebrity and wearing high heels, but learning to control these new powers she has. What if another big reason Luk doesn’t want to be in Melusia is that he doesn’t like magic, doesn’t trust magic, doesn’t like how the magic affects him?

The idea appeals to me so much!

I guess I better keep working on the Presents version, as I’ll kick myself if I’m lucky enough to get a full request and have nothing ready. Now I’ve written down the idea, I can go back to the task I set myself of editing it as a Presents.

But once it’s done, next story might just be the fantasy version.


Confused (again!) August 30, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:08 am
Tags: , , ,

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?