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!

New revision weapons to avoid November 29, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 12:51 pm
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The Intern has suggested some new weapons of manuscript mass destruction- the Triumph Bomb and the Character Transformation Bazooka. Either of these weapons are baaaaaaaad writing, with the power to kill a story instantly and turn a potentially good romance into a throw-the-book against the wall one.

The Triumph Bomb is the happy resolution, out of the blue and occuring with no effort from the characters. The great moment of revelation where it all suddenly falls into place, the hero apologises for being a badass bastard, the misunderstandings are easily explained away. “That person you thought I was kissing was my cousin, silly, of course I love you,”  or “I thought you were a whore, I never realised you were a sweet innocent virgin, only willing to sell your body to me to save the life of your beloved brother,” so they can have a passionate clinch and all live happily ever after.

Usually preceded by the Character Transformation Bazooka, where without any indication of struggle or signs of emotional growth, the hero suddenly changes completely toward the heroine. This is explained as the healing power of love causing a Road to Damascus type conversion. “The only reason I was a badass bastard was that I was struggling against my overwhelming love for you, my dearest. I just gave up the struggle, and promise I will never ever be a cold hypercritical witholding controlling misogynist ever again. Your sweet love will be all I need.”  Or in the plot driven by external conflict (baaaaaaaad romance writing anyway!), the evil Other Woman says to the heroine, “I lied about him having sex with me on your engagement night. I wanted him for myself. But I see your true pure love for him and I feel ashamed. I know he loves only you. Please, let me be your best friend and a bridesmaid at your wedding.” And they all hold hands and skip off together into the sunset singing la-la la-la-la.

The reason the T-Bomb and CTB destroy the credibility of a story is they can feel so random, so unexpected. The pat resolution that easily solves all the problems that kept them apart the whole book, the unearned happy ending? They just don’t work unless we’ve shown the characters struggling, in the process of changing and growing, trying and failing. Characters need to work for their happy endings. They need to put in the emotional work to make a real loving relationship and commitment believable and achievable. One character may only see the end result of the process, making it seem like a sudden change to them; but the reader needs to be in on it, needs to know there a process of change going on somwhere, or at least the potential for change. Otherwise they just aren’t going to buy it. We have to see proof of the emotional change, not just be told there’s a change.

So, when I’m revising Luk and Emma’s story,  I better watch out for the weapons of manuscript mass destruction. Am I showing them both struggling with their emotional conflicts and relationship blocks, so the ultimate surrender to love  and idea these two can have a future together is believeable? Do they both grow and change enough to earn their happy ever after? And do they show proof of how they’ve changed, not just say they have?

I realise I’m half guilty of using one of these. The resolution just isn’t strong enough. We see Luk’s struggle and understand what motivates him to go back to Melusia, back to Emma, so the reader can believe it. But the bit I’ve left out is- why should she believe it? That’s what I need to work on.


Luk and Emma stuck in transition June 7, 2009


I finally got them into bed together, and boy, these two are loving it! The problem is, I seem to have got stuck in the bedroom. I need to somehow get through the three week honeymoon, and on to where things start to unravel for them.

I’m at that turning point in the Hero’s Journey where The Reward becomes The Journey Back. Something needs to change to impel them back into movement and action, which will inevitably lead to the Black Moment. I have a good idea what will trigger the change, but just don’t seem able to write the darn thing!

Several reasons-

  1. I am lousy at transitions. always have been. I can understand why newbie writers create 150,000 word epics. It’s easier to write in everything that happens than write a smooth transition!  Solution for that is going to be to just write any crap that gets them into the next scene in as few words as possible, and hope I can straighten it out in edits.
  2. I’m not convinced the motivation for the characters’ actions are going to strong enough to be believable and sympathetic, especially Luk. He has to do something that could appear highly unheroic, so he has to have good reason to behave that way. The motivation I had for him that seemed good enough when I was planning the story just wasn’t feeling right anymore. The answer there was to dig a bit deeper into his character and background to find out why he would choose to act like that. What I came up with was unexpected and changes his backstory quite a bit, but makes a lot more sense. Hopefully it will also make his choices when Emma triggers a crisis believable and acceptable.
  3. The toughest one of all. I like these characters. I’m so happy writing their love scenes. I don’t want to send us all out into the painful wilderness of the Journey Home and the Black Moment, even though the only way to our Happy Ever After is to get them through it. Writing this stuff is going to hurt. I will have to deal with pain and betrayal and people confronting their deepest held limiting beliefs. It is most emphatically NOT going to be fun. Don’t have a solution to this one. So far, I’ve procrastinated. I’ve read a couple of stories. I’ve done some work on this blog. I’ve signed up for an online workshop (Plot Doctoring- think I may need it when it comes time to edit! But I was also kinda hoping that wanting the first draft finished before I start the workshop would give me an extra push). I’ve visited lots of discussion groups and writers’ websites, kidding myself that reading about writing is almost the same as writing, so I don’t have to feel guilty about not writing. Because the other stories I’ve completed or nearly completed weren’t structured right for series romance, I’ve never had to do this before. My stories just meandered on to a HEA. I know the answer is just to take a deep breath, dive into the deep water, and hope I can swim. But sheesh, I really don’t want to!

Getting unstuck March 29, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:45 pm
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000-title-page-detail-angel-with-whip-q75-449x500Hmm, thinking about that pitch contest and my frustrations with the current story has me ready to, well, probably not give up, but definitely take some time out. A looooong time out.

It’s official- I hate Luk and Gabi. I just want to put them in a car and drive it off a cliff into the sea, and type The End.
Well, not really. I actually like both of them a lot. But I am so fed up with struggling with their freaking going-nowhere story! I’ve done no other writing apart from their story for nearly four months, and where am I up to? Half way through chapter two, for the fourth time! Arrrggghhh!
I really do want to just stop, have a break from them. Spend a week doing no writing but lots of reading, or go back and edit last years JanNo, or play around with some different story ideas, or something. Anything that’s not this story!
But maybe I won’t, maybe I’ll keep going with it. Thinking about how I would pitch the story, not just for a contest but for my writing group,  just gave me an idea for what the story might need. Because if I can’t get the essence of the story in a few simple sentences, my plot is too convoluted and the characters’ internal conflicts aren’t central enough to the story.
Funny how giving myself permission to moan and say I want to stop produces more ideas! Looks like I didn’t really want to give up, I just wanted to get unstuck.
Hopefully this idea will make sense of things that didn’t make sense in the story once I took out the villain. He needed to go, he was becoming too much the driver of the action rather than the H and h, but then I didn’t have a strong enough reason for Gabi becoming princess to be important. I’d lost a big chunk of motivation. But this might put it back! It does require some changes,  actually it’s closer to my original premise for the story.
So it’s not a new idea at all, it’s taking my new knowledge of the characters back into my very first setting and premise, that the country Gabi finds herself princess of is one that has just come out of communism. Okay, I know all that happened years ago in the real world, but this one little country didn’t do it then, held on to the old ways, and now they want to reinstate the monarchy. That explains why all week I’ve wanted to change Gabi’s name to Emma, too. It was Emma in the original version, then when I changed the setting and situation, I changed her name to Gabriella.
Yippee! I can have some fun playing with this, I think it might just work and I can just write forward from here. I am not going back to rewrite what’s already been done! And I might just escape the wrath of my writing group’s motivational expert, who uses techiques rather like the avenging angel in the photo. I know, I know, some people pay good money for a whipping. But pain is just so not my thing!

Why? February 21, 2009

lightbulb momentSome interesting posts around today about internal conflict in our stories- what it is, why we need it, and how to get it! And the importance of never stopping asking “Why?”

It’s a lightbulb moment to suddenly realise this is the factor that has been missing from so many of my stories.  I am the queen of external conflict.  My characters get so much  thrown at them, from kidnaps to bushfires to car accidents.  It certainly makes for a busy plot, but all that stuff from “out there” is NOT internal conflict. 

Internal conflict is what keeps the characters apart, what is blocking them from moving on forward with a full relationship. It’s the stuff that’s there inside the characters, their beliefs about themselves and relationships, their goals, their deepest fears and anxieties. The things that may come from their family background, upbringing, past experiences. Often it’s the things that they don’t want anyone to know, might not even talk about with their best friend, are certainly not going to reveal to this scarily attractive stranger. It’s all the reasons that would get in the way of this man and this woman getting together even if they were in a room by themselves and nothing outside could affect them.  External events in the story may trigger internal conflict, but it doesn’t cause it. A good analogy is that the external conflict is what pushes two very different people together, whether it’s the snowstorm that strands them both in a remote cottage, the business takeover they are on opposing sides of, the fake engagement to swing a deal, the forced marriage because a one-night stand resulted in a pregnancy.  The internal conflict is then what pushes them apart, her fear that a relationship will destroy her, his decision at an early age never to allow himself to love, her belief that she is unlovable, his belief that he is unworthy of love.  This should be what drives the black moment, what seems to make it impossible for this couple to ever stay together.  That’s my understanding, anyway, for what it’s worth as an unpubbed writer!

And I’ve just discovered that though I thought I already understood this, it’s been the big missing component of my stories. Ther’s been a lot happening, but it’s not coming from deep enough within the characters. The black moments have been driven by external events, by other people’s actions, rather than something deep inside the hero or heroine. Or if it was, I haven’t made that clear enough at the critical moments when they’ve made decisions about the relationship. One of my stories, I can see, had NO internal conflict at all. It was purely external circumstances that kept them apart. And I can see how to tweak the story when I rewrite it. There is actually a huge possibility of built in internal conflict in who the characters are.  Anyway, that’s another story.

I’m now at the stage in my current story where even though what’s happening is all the external stuff throwing them together, I need to be making sure the seeds for the internal conflicts are there, the hints are being dropped, the issues foreshadowed.  That comes from the characters themselves, who they are, why they are as they are, why they have made the choices they have made.

Jackie Ashenden and Lucy King , the runner -up and winner of Mills and Boon’s Feel the Heat competition for new Modern Heat writers, emphasise never taking characters at face value but digging deeper by always asking them “Why?” Lucy’s post talks about how this can create the plot- start with two very different characters, and keep asking them “Why?”. Find out what their deepest fears are, then create a situation where they will be forced to face them.

At first thoughts, I didn’t think I’d done that with my current story. But actually, maybe I have. She’s a shy country girl with limited social experience, suddenly forced into the spotlight; he’s a workaholic loner forced back to his birth country where he has to deal with the events that  turned him into the emotionless moneymaking machine he is today. Except he does have one emotion- the desire for revenge on the man who destroyed his first relationship. Pursuing that is what pushes him back to the home he left twelve years before. Would a man like him still seek revenge, or would his desire to avoid his past mean he would bury it? I need to give him some damn good motivation to be willing to risk facing his past.

Better get asking- “Why?” and dig a bit deeper, before I write any more story. There’s clearly another layer here to peel off yet before I get to the truth. So glad I realised that now and not in Chapter Ten!


Back to Plan A February 15, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 5:33 pm
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Ack! It’s been a frustrating week in a lot of ways. But also good because at last I feel that I’ve got my sense of direction back, though only by exploring yet another wrong direction. I have that feeling of the guy in the cartoon, running hard, flapping my arms like crazy, getting nowhere!

I managed to convince myself that the conflict in my current story wasn’t going to work, that the external problem was resolved too early, leaving them with just the internal conflict to deal with.  So I thought, I know, I need them to be more in opposition, I need their external goals to conflict more. I spent all week working on a plot that started with the heroine in the same place, but completely changed the hero. I love it, and I can see some beautiful scenes that will be part of this story. But it’s not the same story any more.

I’ve fallen back into the “Shiny New Story” trap. I’m yet again abandoning an incomplete story because I’m overcriticising it and I’ve decided it’s just no good. I’m kidding myself if I try to say I’m not doing that. This isn’t just a slight change of direction for the story, it’s a brand new story pretending to still be the old one, so I can sneak it past my critique buddies! So I have to decide- do I want the first story to join all my other unfinished stories?

The answer is- no! The story is more focused on how they overcome the internal conflict getting in the way of this relationship, so does it matter that they reach their external goals a bit earlier? Probably not, because the very thing that gives them both their external goals is what intensifies the internal conflict. And if that conflict somehow doesn’t feel strong enough or believeable enough, the cure isn’t necessarily in changing the nature of the conflict. Building up the motivation is what’s needed, layering that in right from the beginning, so the choices the hero and heroine make are real and understandable. In fact, seeing the villain doesn’t give up easily, even when it looks as if the hero and heroine have won, I probably need to be more aware of the risk of the external conflict taking over when it shouldn’t, rather than worrying there’s not enough! This is a romance, so solving the internal conflicts, the relationship blocks, should be the main event.

So I’m back to Version 1 of the story. The different ideas for Version 2 won’t go to waste, that can be my next story. But right now, I have to stay faithful to telling the story I started with, to getting  a complete first draft, to finishing what I start. No more excuses, even ones that seem good and convincing on the surface like this one did!

Now it’s time to write, not just write about writing.


Keeping it moving! January 31, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:53 am
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A story needs to be finished.  And the way to finish is to keep moving it forward,  but so many things can get in the way. I have a long trail of writing attempts behind me, littered with unfinished stories.

In pre-computer days, it was a big box with a page of ths story, twenty pages of that story, forty pages of another story. Now it’s all those files om my computer that don’t go further than chapter one. Meg Cabot did a lovely NaNoWriMo pep talk about The Milk Crate of Shame, where she keeps all her unfinished stories.

Her main issue was the lure of the Bright Shiny New Story Idea. I get that one, all the time. I would loooove to give up on the Work in Progress and go back to an old story I got some great new plot ideas for, or start something totally new and exciting. The thing that makes this one so seductive is that it can feel like it actually is forward motion. “Well, I’m stuck on that story anyway, so why not do something different?” The problem is that the new story doesn’t last for long either, and the unfinished story file gets bigger and bigger and…  I’ve been so bad for this that my writing buddies made me promise that I wouldn’t start another story until I at least first drafted this one. I’m trying to cheat and claim that the long outline really IS a first draft, but they’re not buying that one.

So now I’m getting stuck in my other forward motion killer, going back to rewrite.  “I can’t write any more until I fix what is wrong with what I already wrote.” This is probably the number one thing that has stopped me writing over the years. I get so bogged down in multiple attempts at the first few chapters trying to get the start right, that the story never gets finished, I get disheartened, and I stop writing yet again. The unfinished story file contains a lot of different goes at first and second chapters on the same story! I don’t want that to happen this time too. So far I have three goes at chapter one and two at chapter two. No more!

What I’m trying now when I realise I’ve slipped into too much backstory or exposition is to just highlight the text I want to revise or cut in a different colour font, them jump forward to the next place where something IS happening. Editing it will be hell, but at least I will have something to edit! The 100 word trick is working for getting words down, my word counts aren’t anything to shout about but at least I am writing something on the story every day. No matter how cruddy a day I have had at work, I can fit in a few minutes to write a hundred words. And the hundred will end up being two or three hundred plus, because it’s just impossible to only write a hundred once I start, even if it’s in the five minutes before turning the light off when I’m dog tired, desperate for sleep, dreading how soon that bloody alarm is going to go off in the morning. So the story inches forward, slowly, so slowly, but forward motion all the same.

I’m probably overanalysing myself now, but another reason I’m not writing more seriously just occurred to me. I love getting these little aha moments, whether it’s about my characters’ motivations or my own, ‘cos once I understand why something is happening, then I can move things forward some more.  They usually happen either in the bath, or when I’m journalling or blogging.

There’s a little part of my brain that thinks its job it to protect me from being hurt. It ‘s saying if I don’t work too hard at writing, the rejection won’t hurt so much. Somehow I don’t think that is true, it will still be just as devastating! But it is holding me back. Getting the R on my Instant Seduction entry when I had poured so much love and time into developing the story after sending off my entry gutted me. I haven’t had the same energy and commitment for my writing since. I love the writing, but don’t want to risk the pain of another rejection, so I’m not writing. That part of my mind is not believing me saying “So let’s just write for fun, I won’t submit the story.”  Especially as the other pledge I made the writing group was that I would send off a partial by March 31st, to use that Comps Slip which is probably nearing it’s metaphorical use-by date.

I’m smiling here, talking about making pledges to the group makes it sound like the wannabe writer’s equivalent of AA. I stand out the front and introduce myself “Hi, I’m Jane and I’m a procrastinator, ” and at the end of the meeting I promise I am going to write so many words this week. LOL- it’s definitely NOT like that! But I do think we all need a  cheer squad, some sort of support system to keep us going when writing is tough, and to celebrate our successes with us.  The eHarlequin discussion forums are great for that too. I just read this inspiring quote posted there by one of the writers-  Courage does not always roar. Sometimes it is a quiet voice at the end of the day, saying… “I will try again tomorrow.” (Mary Anne Radmacher)

In the end, it just comes down to taking it one day at a time, keeping on writing, keeping on with that forward motion, doing it for its own sake, for the love of the story and the characters, getting them to their happy ever after. ‘Cos we can never have too many of those in the world!


Can I be faithful to one story? November 28, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:32 pm
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Today I am wondering whether starting a new story is a good or a not so good thing.

It’s like relationships, some people will jump into a new relationship when the initial glitter has faded and the going gets tough in their old one, only to find the same thing happens again in the new relationship. So they doom themselves to that endless cycle of new relationships that inevitably will become disappointing, always thinking its because they haven’t found the “right” person. They never find the deeper love that develops through hanging on through the tough times and working at the relationship, becuse they think its only about the glitter. Anyway, I can’t help thinking maybe I am doing the same thing here, thinking the old story was hard going because the characters weren’t right, rather than accepting that was part of the writing process. What I doin’t want to do is use “thinking about it” as another excuse not to write!

So the plan is- I will start the new story, and see what happens. If I get stuck with that, then my theory is probably right, it’s just part of the process that I will go through with every story. I then have two choices- go back to the old story or keep writing through.

Starting a new story will NOT be an option, ‘cos I don’t want to become a serial starter, forever looking for the perfect story that won’t be hard to write.