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!

James and Cassie speak May 18, 2008

Well, the workshop yesterday is obviously having an effect already.

I was doing my morning pages (I’ve got in the habit now- at least 3 handwritten pages, first thing I wake up, every day), and thinking how there are a couple of elements in James and Cassie’s story that are also in the Trish Wylie book I’m reading Claimed by the Billionaire Bad Boy. Trish super generously gave me a copy yesterday.  It’s a fab book- I haven’t managed to finish it yet as I just got too tired last night, so that’s my bedtime treat for tonight.
Claimed by the Billionaire Bad Boy
Anyway, I was musing about coicindental similarities and how if James and Cas’ story ever got published I wanted to have said in advance that I didn’t copy, honest Trish, those things were in my story long before I read yours! But my feeling is that saying anything was totally irrelevant anyway, as I know in my heart that this story isn’t going to be the one that cracks it either. Even though I’m only a few thousand words in, I can feel it isn’t working, there’s something lacking, this one isn’t going to be publishable either unless something changes, big time. I hadn’t been worrying about it too much, thinking well, I’ll keep going and hope I figure out what the problem is so I can fix it in the edit. But I knew something was off, and couldn’t quite put in finger on what it was.

Thinking about it this morning, I realised a big problem is the hero, James. He just isn’t strongly enough drawn. I don’t know him deeply enough, haven’t peeled back enough layers of that onion of internal conflict Kate Walker talked about. I know he is cynical about women, he doesn’t really trust them, and I knew the reasons why, which are pretty good ones. But it wasn’t coming out in my writing. This guy is a billionaire, he managed to make millions as a self-made man when his father disowned him for refusing to marry the “suitable” girl he’d chosen, and now he has inherited the family business and property worth billions, and is battling to gain full control of it. He’s going to be used to giving orders, the whole reason he split with his family was that he wanted to be his own boss and not kow-tow to his father.

Except that’s not coming through. He’s being nice. He’s asking, not demanding. He smiles and laughs a little at Cassie, he’s realaxed as he asks her to act the part of his girlfriend about to become fiancee, when he should be grinding things out through gritted teeth, he’s so angry and frustrated to be forced to be dependent on a woman to get what he wants. And not just any woman, this woman. Cas, who he picks for the role because she seems stable and reliable, presentable, just the right side of frumpy, but not the sort of woman who is going to run around and cause him grief. But it turns out he’s read her totally wrong, she’s an artist, for crying out loud, she normally dresses like a gypsy and lives in her studio. He got the wrong impression the day he met her. And it turns out she’s beautiful, once she stops hiding it, with a body a man could lose himself in, and a cloud of dark hair that makes him want to bury his hands in it and drag her close. Plus there’s something going on, something she’s not telling him about, some mystery about her. She’s not at all the woman he thought he was getting when he decided on this arrangement, and now he’s stuck with her. He has to follow-through, if he’s to get what he wants. Unwanted complications, in what was supposed to be a sensible business arrangement. Oh, and he’d really prefer to be called Jack.

 Meanwhile Cas is reacting to the situation how I would, not how she would. She’s not really going to be happy when she sees how she transforms into a beautiful woman, almost accidentally, in order to play the role she’s agreed with James. That’s me talking in what I’ve written so far, I’d be delighted. She’s not. She doesn’t want to be beautiful. Beauty equals danger. She’s hidden it away, hidden herself away, since her foster father died trying to save her from an attempted rape when she was seventeen. She stares transfixed at her reflection in the mirror,  not in wonder at what she sees, but in horror. Her reaction is a tormented “Oh my God, no, put me back the way I was, please,” not “Hmm, nice.”

This went on for a few more pages in my Morning Pages. I realised what was wrong. The characters weren’t talking in what I’d written so far, I was talking. Putting on accents maybe so it didn’t sound quite like me, but it was still me. Not them. Not James. Not Cassie. Maybe from here on it can be more of them and less of me. Maybe now the internal conflict will come to life. I realised there was plenty pulling them together, and plenty of external forces keeping them apart, but if I kept going as I was, they were going they were going to get togther and resolve their internal conflicts early on, then defeat their enemies. Which isn’t what makes a good romance story.

Nope, sorry guys, its not going to be that easy for you. I hope I have the skills to write the story you are telling me. Even if I don’t, thank you for helping me learn.

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In praise of Morning Pages April 27, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:22 pm
Tags: , , , ,

“Morning Pages” are a practice suggested by artist and writer Julia Cameron in her wonderful book The Artist’s Way . Basically, the idea is to write three pages, longhand, first thing on waking up.  She describes them as a pathway to a strong and clear sense of self. They are a trail that we follow into our own interior, where we meet both our own creativity and our creator.

The idea is that by connecting with our first thoughts, the thoughts closest to our unconcious mind as we have just woken from sleep, we can make a connection with the things that are most important to us, and with our creativity. Those secret (even from ourselves) hopes, dreams or ideas that can be hidden by our preoccupations, our busyness, our beliefs ablout what we “should” be doing, or by our self-censorship. The idea isn’t to write anything usable on the story, they aren’t meant to be seen by anyone else. The idea is simply to write whatever in in our minds, pure stream-of-consciousness, with no blocking, no censoring, just writing, bypassing the Inner Editor. Some days this may be just a stream of whinges about family, work, or money worries, no brilliant insights. That’s okay, as getting those moans and complaints out the way can clear space for other thoughts. Other days I really connect with something, getting past blocks on a story, or bringing up new ideas.

I have to admit, I haven’t been doing my morning pages consistently, or even “properly”. I have been writing them on my PDA on the train on the way to work in the morning. Some mornings I skip, and purists would say I was putting blocks in the way by typing then not handwriting them, and by only doing them when I had already been up and doing for over an hour. My excuses- it just seemed too hard, given how tired I always am, to get up even earlier and write; and I am naturally a evening person, anyway, so surely evening writing is just as good for me.

But this week, I have been blocked on my story. Part of me was telling myself to just jump in and write with the information I already had from my pre-writing last weekend: another part kept saying No, you need to work out a way around that massive plot hole first, or you’ll only get stuck further in. Even my usual “aha-moment” generator, a long soak in the bath, wasn’t working this week. Maybe because it’s been a particularly busy week at work and I’m working on a challenging project that has been using a lot of my brain (how I wish I could find another job that was a no-brainer but paid the same!) Last night, before I went to sleep, I asked my unconcious mind to show me the best way to deal with this, either make it clear that I should just start writing the story, or show me how to work around the problem, or tell me what else I should be doing instead. Reading lots of yummy published romances, or working through a couple of the writing books on my shelf were other options.

I woke up this morning with one idea in my head, to find my big notebook that is always by my bed but hasn’t been touched for months, and do proper handwritten morning pages, before I spoke to my husband, before I even got out of bed to go to the bathroom. Being Sunday with nothing urgent I had to jump up and do, that was possible. On a weekday I set the alarm for the last possible minute I can leave it until and know I can still make it to my train on time. It means if one little thing goes wrong, from the cat throwing up to my husband being in the bathroom at the wrong time, I’m stressed before the day has barely started.

Well, the morning pages worked- thank you subconscious mind! Half an hour and six almost illegible scrawled pages later, I had what is hopefully the answer to my plot hole problem, which works even better than my original idea as it also strengthens another aspect of the story, makes the villian even more Machievellian, and makes the hero and heroine less antagonistic and brings them closer together as they work to solve the problem.

As I said in my last post, I am trying to source and read first published stories by now established writers.  This week I only had time for one, but it was a good one- Annie West’s first published romance A Mistress for the Taking (Modern Romance) .  Something that struck me about this story (as well as the strong Australian voice, and the sizzling attraction between hero and heroine from the moment they met!) was that the hero and heroine were not enemies, as is so often the case in Modern Romance / Presents stories, but were working together to defeat a common enemy. All that overcoming initial antagonism stuff can get a bit wearing after too many stories using it, and this was refreshingly different, an element I wanted to see if I could include in some of my stories too. Maybe that was in my mind, because what came out in the morning pages today was both a possible soloution to the plot problem with the current story, plus another twist to a similar situation which can make a completely new story in its own right.

A lot of benefit from just thirty minutes I could have chosen to spend sleeping in instead. I don’t expect I will get such great results every day, or even any other day, but I have set my alarm half an hour earlier for tomorrow. I hope I can make myself sit up and do morning pages and not keep hitting the snooze button. Maybe if I do this my wriitng time on the train can be used actually writing story, rather than complaints about being tired and about my job or my husband!