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!

Bodybuilding for wimpy characters May 18, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:02 pm
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It’s official. Both my hero and heroine are Too Stupid To Live.

My hero is inconsistent. An example- he says he doesn’t want anything to do with the heroine, then goes around to her place to check she’s all right and invites her to his house for dinner. He falls straight back into his old pattern of being there for the heroine. Except where it’s all too obvious I’ve thought “But there’s no conflict!” and made him suddenly resist her.

The heroine is weak and wimpy. She is supposed to be a successful business woman, who’s made it on her own despite being a single mother. She sure doesn’t seem like that reading the story. She doesn’t make decisions and go for things, she just reacts to what is happening. And yes, she’s in a difficult situation that’s just turned her safe organised life upside down. Her old best friend and one time lover, who may or may not be the father of her seven year old son, has just reappeared in her life. He’s demanding she go back to her childhood home town, as her mother, who disowned her when she announced her pregnancy, is ill, maybe seriously.

But she needs to be stronger, feistier, have goals of her own and not get pushed around by other people’s needs and wants. She was a victim of her mother’s perfectionism growing up. She was a victim when she fell pregnant aged twenty and dropped out of uni. She stopped being a victim the minute she decided to keep her baby, survive on her own no matter what anyone else wanted her to do. (So deciding to run away and hide from her best friend Lock wasn’t the smartest idea, but she was young and dealing with some big emotional issues, and she was afraid he would reject her as her mother had done.) Anyway, she can’t be a victim now. She needs to find the emotional equivalent of a Bullworker, to turn her from an emotional 90 pound wimpy weakling into a strong independent woman worth loving, worth a great relationship.

I was on eHarlequin buying books and I saw this quote from MIRA author Robyn Carr –

“I’m naturally drawn to strong, capable female characters, and when I begin a story I ask myself, ‘What is she up against?’ I try to write about issues that every woman faces at some point in her life, without ever losing sight of the basic sense of humor that helps us all through hard times.”

That’s what I need to know. What is Cady up against? What does she want to happen? (Given that once the inciting event occurs, having things the same as they were is not an option, no matter how much she wants it.) What plans does she make for dealing with this? How does she regroup when things go wrong? How do her strengths help and hinder her?

I’m getting some of the answers. Her goal isn’t and can’t be just to get back to having things how they were before the story started. The most important thing of all for her is making a good life for her son Josh. He not only doesn’t have a father in his life, he doesn’t have grandparents either. Maybe he’s been commenting on that, even getting teased by other kids at school. So when Lock erupts back into her life, she may not want anything to do with him, but she could decide her goal is to mend the damaged relationship with her mother. Not for her sake, or her mother’s sake, but for Josh’s sake. As I wrote, I had the sense that things with her Mum were working out too quickly.  This goal can’t come easily. So she’s struggling to reestablish the broken relationship with her mother, at the same time she and Lock are struggling not to reestablish their own broken relationship.Meanwhile, Lock is getting to know the boy who may be his son, and come to terms with his emotions about that. There’s a lot going on there, a lot to pull them together and a lot to push them apart. The conflict with Lock, and with her mother, is the Bullworker that brings out Cady’s strength. The big weakness of my first draft is the lack of conflict, which comes from the characters not having meaningful goals.

Okay, it’s a good place to begin the rewrite. I can see what I need now, the first few scenes are falling into place. Not much of the first draft will survive into the second draft, but that’s okay. It was the “getting to know the characters” draft. Now the real story starts!

Edited to add- make sure you read Les Edgerton’s reply below- it’s a writing tutorial in itself!


Making the story stronger- the heroine April 26, 2010

Feedback  one of my crit buddies got from her editor today made me have a great big lightbulb moment about my WiP.

You know that nagging certainty something is seriously off with the story but you can’t quite get what it is? (LOL, maybe you guys don’t have those moments. Lucky you if you don’t know what I mean!).

I figured it out.

My heroine is a wimp. She’s a victim. She just reacts to things, she doesn’t make decisions and take action. The funny thing is, I thought she did! But she doesn’t. She isn’t instigating things. She has it all together and she’s achieved a lot, looks like a big success, but the whole story is her being pushed around by external events. It’s almost like she goes back to her home town and steps back into a child role too, of letting other people or circumstances make her decisions for her.

This will NOT work! Heroines have to be strong, gutsy women a reader can admire, identify with. She’s their way into the story, and without a sympathetic heroine there’s no way the reader can get emotionally involved. It makes sense that to strengthen the story, I need to strengthen my heroine. Not that she has to be perfect. She’s got to have flaws and insecurities and baggage from the past that gets in the way of her being in a relationship with the hero, she’s got to have an emotional journey to make in the story. But she’s also got to be someone the heroine can imagine being, or wanting to be, or being best friends with. She can’t be weak, wishy-washy, or waste time too much time feeling sorry for for herself.

I’ve put my heroine in a difficult situation, where she has a past that’s truly terrible in more than one way. She also doesn’t have a clear external goal, all she seems to want is to get through the experience intact and get back to things being how they were (nicely under control, with the past neatly suppressed). And everything she does to try to fix things, to make things better, has to just complicate things even more. Yet she also needs to come across as not a victim, shoved first one way then the other by fate. Her life pretty much has to unravel before she can put it back together again (as does the hero’s), yet she has to stay strong, resourceful, focused on her goal and on making it work.

The answer is, I think, she needs a better goal.

Something Shirley Jump said in the workshop I’m doing:

Romance is NEVER the goal.

The romance COMPLICATES the external plot (which then creates more conflict). The hero and heroine meet at the worst possible time, essentially.

So your scenes still need external goals, and then having the h/h relationship becomes a complication to that goal.


Okay, now I need to find out what that goal is. Time for a List of Twenty, I think!


First draft read through April 20, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:22 pm
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Oh my, now the real writing starts!

My first draft isn’t total dreck. There are some bits that are okay, and the ending had me teary when I read it, so I must have done something right.

But it’s not good either. I start waaaaaaay too early. The first scene is slow and the story probably needs to start with a later scene that’s alluded to but not shown. As it’s the inciting event, I guess I better show it and not the rest of the heroine’s day up to that point! 

I have a lot of scenes that feel aimless- things happen, but the characters aren’t being proactive, they aren’t going in with a clear goal and a plan. Both hero and heroine have such wishy-washy goals! Really, neither of them as the story stands has a goal beyond getting back to their “ordinary world” without falling back in love, when her mother’s illness throws them together again. I think I better come up with something stronger than that! I don’t think I need to change my basic premise, just strengthen how their needs and wants are expressed in the interactions between the characters. And think for each and every scene- what does the POV character want here (and how can I stop him or her getting it!).

The conflict needs a huge amount of work too.  I don’t need to add anything new, what’s already there is plenty strong enough. It’s just how it works out in the story that’s weak. Like I kept saying as I was writing it, they are all being too nice to each other. I know there’s a lot of potential for conflict in their situation that I haven’t explored. I need to dig down into it, mine the possibilities. What I want to capture is that deep inescapable yearning for each other despite the past that pulls them back together even though neither of them want it. But there’s all these layers of “stuff” in the way. Anger, doubt, fear, guilt, misunderstanding…  (not necessarily in that order!)

Then there’s all the “telling not showing”. Don’t get me started on that one.

But I’m happy! I have a first draft to play with. I’m recognising what is needed to fix it. That’s a good place to start.