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!

Plotter or pantser? May 3, 2008

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 5:25 pm
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Image is “Flying by the Seat of Her Pants”, by Gisele


Well, the new story is started, and its coming along okay so far, with probably the least amount of prewriting for anything I’ve written so far! I can see these characters really clearly, in fact although I haven’t done a huge amount of character development yet, they are my most strongly physically realised story people so far. I have had an issue previously that although I have known a huge amount intellectually about my characters, they haven’t taken that final step of gelling into a real physical form in my mind. These new characters have a solidity and life that I just hope I can manage to translate into my writing.

 I’ve gone through this strange, confusing process of having a plot idea I really wanted to write, developing strong characters only to find they had too much story of their own to fit into that particular story, changing the story to fit them, realising that was just to complex a story for me to do right now, then finding the characters I hope will work in this story. I’ve gone around in a circle, to come back to the place I started, but with more ideas and different characters, who are stronger in many ways.

It feels a bit like I haven’t got quite enough plot to sustain a whole story now, but I think a problem for me is that I consistently tend to overcomplicate my stories and put too much in. A simpler plot where I can concentrate on building sensual tension and emotional intensity between the characters may be just what I need. Anyway, I’ll give it a whirl and see what happens. This whole thing is so fascinating for me. There’s the part of me who is caught up in the process of writing, and another part of me who is watching me play around with different ways of doing things until I find the ways that work best for me.

I used to think the problem with my writing was that I didn’t plot enough, and that I had to have a good road map of where I was going before I started. I thought that was the reason I had so many fizzled out stories which died after the first chapter. So I made myself plot, made myself work it all out before I started writing. It doesn’t seem to have worked all that much better, so far.

The story I wrote in January was a hopelessly confused mish-mash, half chick-lit, half Intrigue, though in all honesty it only had a few days planning, and was the first fiction I’d written for years. My February story for the competition may well be workable, when I have time to edit a bit more, but still has big problems.  It had a total of two days prewriting to start with, but then a loooooot of time spent on it half way in trying to discover how I could fix those problems. The April story never really got beyond the planning stage, as my planning just created more than I could handle right now, but I think it will work if I can find a series that accommodates more secondary characters and external conflicts  I tried to make myself do more prewriting with this story, but after half a day I just wanted to start writing, so I did, guiltily and reluctantly.

Maybe the sad but true real reason my other stories died was that the ideas just weren’t good enough to begin with , maybe it had nothing to do with planning at all. Maybe I’m more of a pantser than I thought. Maybe its okay to be a pantser. Great blog entry about this from a multi-published writer here, on the fabulous Wet Noodle Posse blog . Right now, I’m going to treat all my writing as a big personal experiment, and I will have fun finding out if I’m a plotter, a flier by the seat of my pants, or a bit of both.


Go where the energy is April 30, 2008

“Go where the energy is” was a bit of a buzz phrase last month on one of the writers’ discussion groups I visit, Stringing Words, a lovely, friendly and supportive group. The goal for March was to write or edit whatever called to us most strongly at the time. It’s in my mind right now, as I am dropping (for the time being) the current story idea that I have done all the pre-writing work on, to change to a new story.

I started off with two characters, and a situation where she is forced to pretend to be his girlfriend for one evening, then they ultimately ended up in a forced marriage. The problem was, the plot just didn’t fit those two characters at all. So I kept the charcters (I like them a lot!) but changed the plot to one that flowed more naturally out of those people and the choices they would make. It moved from a forced marriage story to being more a marriage of convenience. After the morning pages work, it all hung together well, no plot holes, the situation and the choices they made in response to it were logical and believable. But I had to drop some elements that I loved and really wanted to include. And I just don’t know if I am a good enough writer yet to handle the level of external conflict and secondary characters needed to make the plot work.

Harlequin Presents / Mills and Boon Modern Romance, the series I am currently targeting following on from the contest, prefers stories with mostly internal conflict, and few secondary characters. What this does is puts the focus strongly on the developing relationship and keeps the emotional intensity high. This story seemed to have just too much external conflict, and even though it all linked in deeply to the hero and heroine’s internal conflicts, I didn’t feel I was going to manage to keep the emotional intensity strong enough with so much else going on.

Also ideas kept popping into my head about a different but similar story idea, closer to my original discarded plot idea, which just didn’t work for the characters I had. I couldn’t help wondering-what sort of people would find themselves in that first situation and have to make those choices? When I found myself thinking about these other characters in the middle of an important work meeting yesterday I realised that this is the one I really have to write first, this is the story that has grabbed my imagination and my energy. It still has some external conflict, but it has the effect of forcing the hero and heroine together rather than trying to keep them apart as it did in the first story. There will be fewer scenes involving only one of the main characters with a secondary character, so the emotional intensity will be easier to maintain. I also get to include the elements I reluctantly had to cut from the original story idea, which included a business trip to a little known, volatile, religiously governed, highly conservative country; a kidnapping locking the hero and heroine in together; then a forced marriage to satisfy local moral and religious values.

I feel right about this decision. I’ve even been listening to the right sort of music all week, drawn without realising it to the type of music would be made in a country like the one where this happens- eastern european folk music with a middle eastern influence (it’s an internet radio station from Russia- Special Radio Button 6- none of the words are English, so its fab writing music without any distractions).

James and Cassie’s story will be written one day, but I need to be more skilled as a writer to handle that level of external conflict and still maintain the emotional intensity. Also, possibly it needs to be directed to a different series, and I don’t want to waste that precious Compliments Slip for a Presents editor!

The frustrating thing though is that I had hoped to start writing story today as I have the day off work, and now I’m back to prewriting again! But perhaps thats a good thing. Kate Walker’s 12-Point Guide to Writing Romance has arrived from Amazon at last. It’s a writing workshop, so I’m going to spend this afternoon doing as many as I can of the exercises in the book, using these new characters, as my prewriting. Although every writer probably evolves their own unique and individual style for prewriting, I’m sure I can learn a lot from a writer who has sold an astonishing fifty million books!

This feels very very right. But I’m not changing again- I need to get the balance between going where the energy is; and flitting from idea to idea without committing to or completing any of them. Any enticing new story ideas or siren calls back to a previous story will just have to wait, I am going to stay with this story now until it is finished!