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!

Finding my voice August 23, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:17 am
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Just when I thought I had figured things out, I completely confused myself later yesterday.

This story has been through so many different incarnations over the past ten months, though only one made it past chapter 4. I went looking for one of the earlier versions as I remembered a section I wanted to cut and paste that would work well in first person. I found something surprising.  

One of the early versions was better! Not just a little bit, it was much, much better. And the voice is pure Sweet Romance. I got stuck with that version for the classic reason- I’d started with just two people in a situation, but hadn’t thought through the internal conflict. Basically, there wasn’t any, it was all external. No reason at all these two couldn’t get together, apart from the evil bad guy keeping them apart. Oh, and the heroine being a bit miffed that the hero manipulated her early on to get her to agree to what he wanted. When I realised that I stopped, and (shock horror, first time ever!) actually did some plotting, kept my basic premise but changed a lot about the characters. 

Now I’m back to being confused again. I seem to spend a lot of time being confused about my writing! I need to welcome that, because it will get me to the truth of what I really want and need to do.  

I loved writing first person, but by the end of my writing day I wasn’t completely happy with my first chapter. Reading the other version, I knew why. I was trying to infuse a false “sexiness” into it. It doesn’t come naturally to me. My voice is more Sweet than Modern/ Presents. So a lot of the heroine’s slightly OTT physical reaction to the hero can go. And though my hero’s background and motivation was not strong enough to carry the story in the first version, my heroine was stronger. I gave her a pretty miserable loveless life in the latest version, although I think I’ve still managed to show her as strong and likeable. I really want to make her a couple of years older though, and that does not fit. If she’s older than twenty-four, she’s pathetic to have stayed in that situation so long.  In the first version, her life sucked at the start of the story, but she’d had a happy childhood and it was only recently that things had gone wrong in her life. That was mainly due to the hero manipulating the situation to force her to do what he wanted.

Hmm, I have a real mish-mash here, don’t it! A Sweet heroine, a Presents hero, and I want to write it as single title. So I somehow need to pull together the strong parts of each version- give the hero the background and motivation of the second version, so the manipulation of the heroine’s situation from the first version is understandable; keep the city setting and combine the best parts of the background of my heroine from both versions; stop trying to impose a falsely sexy tone, and see what I come up with.

I also need to think about the characters, their internal conflict and motivations more (can’t ever get away from that one!) Writing the story as a single title isn’t just a matter of changing all the “she”s to “I”s. The focus switches from the hero to the heroine. It’s her journey that counts, her emotional growth, her overcoming her blocks to being in a relationship. Not just with the hero, but with anyone. I think I’ve just seen what that could be, if I go back to the first version heroine (she even had a different name- Gabriella). Instead of the seriously unhappy childhood I gave Emma, Gabi had a happy loving childhood. Yes, she was orphaned aged eight, but her grandmother, Ellie, who she adored, gladly took her in. She was raised on stories of her grandmother and grandfather’s fairy tale perfect love, which ended after only a few years when he tragically died. So her relationship block is that she seeks the same impossible perfection, the love at first sight, “you just know”  fantasy her grandmother raised her on.  It probably needs to go deeper than that, but it’s a start!

I can put back all the secondary characters I cut out, add in that romantic subplot between even more unlikely lovers that I planned for the first version, and I have a feeling the ghost of Gabi’s grandmother has a part to play too.

Of course, this means unless I get some sort of Groundhog Day loop that stops time for everyone else but me until I get it right, I won’t be submitting even a partial to the New Writers’ Scheme. But I’m not sure there’s any point getting feedback on something I already know is broken, and I have a plan for fixing. On the other hand, my reader may see other things I can improve on that I’m not even aware of yet. I’ll just have to see what I have by next weekend.


Insights… August 22, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:30 pm
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3197835930_cdc3acd212Elaine asked me- “What do I really want to write?”  That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it. (Showing my age there- a quiz show back when Who Wants to Be a Millionaire would have been called Who Wants to be a Sixty-four Thousandaire and our house cost the then so hard for my parents to afford sum of $12,000!)

“What did I think I “should” write?”  is an easier question to answer. Presents/Modern Heat. So many reasons. I enjoy reading them. I got that Comps Slip from the Instant Seduction contest. My writing buddies were targetting HMB. I posted a couple of excerpts from Luk and Emma’s story to the critique group, and they all agreed that the piece I thought was more Presents was far better than the piece that would have to be cut to make it Presents.

They all said- “Write Harlequin/ Mills and Boon”. That was my biggest  influence, I think. I trust their judgement. We’re all pre-published, but a couple of them are veeeeeeery close, and all are good insightful readers. I finished the first draft, and saw I had a mix of elements. I could push it one way in the edits to make it Presents, another way to make it a Sweet romance, and another to make it a single title story aimed at Little Black Dress. I was undecided, though I did know in my heart which way I wanted to go. I looked for outside validation, and posted those excerpts. I didn’t trust my own judgement. Sometimes we do get too close to our own writing to see what’s there

I chose to go Presents/MH, because of the girls’ advice, even though it went against what I really wanted to do.  I only just realised what was wrong with that.  (I mean besides the obvious- “Write what you love, not what other people tell you to write, you idiot!”)


They gave their advice based solely on the pieces I gave them to read.

The Presents piece was perfectly Presents. It could stay in the completed Presents manuscript as it was, with only the slightest of tweaks. The piece I gave them as an example of my Little Black Dress style, was all wrong, not at all representative of what the finished story would contain. Because I first drafted with Presents in mind, it was a LBD  scenario but written in a Presents style. Third person, hero POV, all wrong wrong wrong for what I wanted.  The criticisms of that piece were valid. It didn’t work well, and the section in the hero’s POV slowed down the action. Of course it did! It shouldn’t have been there at all.

I am a slow learner sometimes!

This morning, I started rewriting the story in first person heroine POV, with Little Black Dress in mind. It feels good. It feels like coming home. There will still be problems and pitfalls and places where I tear my hair out. But I’ve already had a massive insight into the heroine’s core emotional need. There was yet another layer underneath what I thought was her core need. As I was rewriting a scene I’d already written four times, some more of her thoughts popped out, because I was deeper in her mind. There it was. Her core need! How I missed it before, I don’t know. Even if I go back to writing it third person, that one insight makes the experiment well worthwhile.

It is a strategy I’ll use again, I think, if I’m feeling stuck. Shift POV, and see what comes out.

What do I really want to write? Contemporary romantic fiction, with an element of the fairy tale. Maybe magical realism, maybe real magic, maybe just the magic of amazing unexpected life changes, including falling in love. Possibly a bit wacky, off the wall in places. I feel like I’m taking my first steps into an enchanted forest, without a map.


New story update December 1, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:04 am
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In true back to front Mulberry style, I finally really got going with a story on the last day of Nano.

Yesterday I spent sortng out the stuff I wanted to know before I started wriitng, the characters, a bit of their personal and family history, the history and geography of the imaginary European country most of the story will happen in. Then today I started writing.

I actually wrote as much on the new story today as I did on the old one for the whole rest of the month. So it’s just possible that the decision to start on a new story wasn’t so bad. I had fun writing it and the words flowed, not like the struggle I had even getting 500 words a day on the first chapter of the last story. Chapter one done in first draft, and a good start on chapter two, I’m pleased with that.

Of course, it’s going to need some serious editing. I am a very messy first drafter, not an edit as I go person. What I’ve written so far is making me laugh but also shake my head! I like it, but I’ve put so much in there that might be okay in chick-lit but will need to come out for a series romance. The hero doesn’t actually appear until more than half way through the chapter. I don’t even want to go near his POV, and I think with Mills and Boon Romance that’s now part of the expectation. I keep wanting to go into first person and have to translate that into third person. It looks like I’m writing Chick Lit and that’s not what I’m trying to do here!

As far as I know there’s only been one first person Mills and Boon- a Tender Romance by Liz Fielding from 2002 called City Girl in Training. I have it here and I’m going to read it tonight, after I do a bit more on chapter two. I love her stuff, she writes the closest thing to chick-lit that I have read in series romance. I don’t think first person goes down well with series romance readers now. The reviews I read of it were mostly “Great story, BUT….”  There’s been such as shift, as so many romances used to be first person, but first person makes it impossible to include the hero’s POV. I doubt Mills and Boon would ever publish a first person story from an inexperienced or new writer, it just breaks too many of the conventions.

I think for now it is so important that I just write the story however it comes, and worry about whether it’s Chick Lit or M&B after there is a completed first draft to play with.  It feels like its a tricky balance between pushing the story into a form that doesn’t suit it or my writing style, risking ending up with a dead and voiceless story full of cliched plot devices and cardboard characters; and letting the story take it’s own form and direction and grow organically, at the risk of ending up with something so mutant and disorganised that it won’t be editable into any sort of story at all.

I think I am still in the early exploring stages, finding what I want to write, finding where my voice fits. Playing with the story, going where it takes me, could be a fun journey that will let me know where my writing belongs. If it ends up being a Mills and Boon- at last I have something to use my Comps Slip on! And if it turns out to be chick-lit I can submit it for my RNA New Writers entry next year, if I manage to get in this time. That’s how Katie Fforde first got published – not that I am claiming to be even a tenth as good a writer as she is!