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!

Keeping focused December 20, 2010

Or- I discover “Save the Cat”.

I posted today over at Seven Sassy Sisters, our group blog, about my latest discovery that I hope will keep me on track with my writing instead of pantsing in  a fog.

Please pop over and tell me what you think- am I overcomplicating things again, or could I be on to something?


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!


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.


Decisions, decisions November 14, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:04 pm
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I’m supposed to be editing.

But I’ve hit another sticking point.

Too many options, that’s the problem. It’s like those choose-your-own-adventure books. I could take the same starting point and end up with the hero and heroine at a hundred different destinations. Every step along the way, they are making decisions, and each decision could open up a different set of options.

I just realised that the heroine actually has all the power in the situation. The hero needs her, no way around it, and she knows it. Now if she was a different sort of woman, she would use that as some sort of bargaining or blackmail weapon. But she’s not that sort of woman, and how to do that without de-Alphaing him anyway? I need to think through what the story I am trying to create here really is.

I really don’t know, and that’s most of my problem. I’m trying to edit this mess of a first draft into something I can submit to Presents if I am lucky enough to get a full request. But after the last posting, I realised I really want to do this as a single title type thing, with some magical realism thrown in, to play up the fairy tale aspects of it all.

Not even the LBD version, “A Modern Girl’s Guide to Being a Princess”, with the Grace Kelly film references; but to go wild with an insane fairy tale mix, enchanted palace, talking animals and all.

The discipline of doing it as a Presents will be good for me. But I’m not convinced my premise totally works, as the possible plot hole I just discovered shows. Well, it’s not really a plot hole, I guess. But I do have to show that they are both aware of it, realise it gives her the control in the situation, while maintaining his total Alphaness. She loses out unless she does what he wants her to, so she needs to go along with him. It’s a matter of whether she chooses to make him suffer a bit in the meantime.  I don’t think she will. But she does need to let him know she knows that she could, if she wanted to. Actually, it could be a good opportunity to show more of the hero’s motivation.

Yes, figured it out, I hope! Okay, keep going, write this story as a Presents. Even though the more I read of it the more I can’t help thinking that if it belongs with Harlequin Mills and Boon at all, it’s a Sweet Romance.

But if I get an R from the competition, I’m going to really let rip with this story as a crazy magical realism fairy tale romance!


Breakthrough? September 25, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:11 pm
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breakthroughStunning image from photographer Mark Tweedie’s site.


















I’m feeling a sense of freedom and release today- I’m on vacation at last. I love the new day job (not so new now, I’ve been there four months!) but it’s brain numbingly busy. I haven’t done any writing at all for a while.

Today,  I gave advice to one of the writer’s in my writing group. Emailed a post to the group while on my train commute to work this morning, telling her what I thought she should do. Laughable, as I’m the least prolific and the “girl least likely to succeed” in our group! No-one with any sense would take my advice.

But I took my own advice. I’m a big believer that what we most want to advise or teach others is what we most need to learn ourselves. Proved it true this morning.

What I wrote was- Sit down with your characters. Read what you have already writing. If you feel stuck, get them to talk to you, tell you how they feel and what they intend to do about it. Then have them do the thing that’s going to get them in most trouble.

Within a minute of writing that, Luk, the hero of my abandoned Presents story, told me the answer to a key scene in the story, the one that really sets up all the big problems for the characters and precipitates their marriage of convenience. The scene I’d gotten stuck on in my edits because my plot device required him to behave so stupidly out of character he just wouldn’t do it.

He told me why he did it.

I didn’t even ask, hadn’t been thinking about the story. I had asked my subconscious, back when I decided to take a break from writing,  to please work on a solution to the problem.

Hopefully, I’ve found it!

The heroine needs to be quite different in the lead up to the scene, but that’s good too. She was nice enough, but maybe a touch insipid. This change gives her a lovely touch of fire that she needed. She’s suddenly come to life as a character too, very differently to how I first saw her. Her strengths were a little too “do-gooder”ish before. This gives her a real and very believable weakness, that gets them both into big trouble.

I realised I’d been playing it too safe, being too kind to my characters, wanting them to be too perfect. They needed to be allowed to make dangerous choices, but given damn good reason for doing it.

I think Luk and Emma (or Gabi, I’m still not sure which heroine it will be- but the new insight fits Emma’s character better) will be coming on holiday with me!


Simplify, simplify! July 16, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 9:24 pm
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I had what I hope is a breakthrough on the internal conflict in Luk and Emma’s story today, while idly throwing around ideas for conflict in new stories during my commute.

I finally figured it out. I’ve been over-complicating things.

I’d given Luk too many conflicts, and stayed superficial with all of them. What he needs is just one conflict, but one that runs deep. That instantly gives it the importance to him that was lacking.

I can take out the cliches of the abandoning mother and the gold-digger first girlfriend who broke his heart. I can put back the bossy older sisters who I really didn’t want to cut. It give a nice echo of the past to the story too, as Luk’s life choices echo Emma’s grandfather’s, up to a point.

This is just what I hoped would happen when I spent some time focused on cooking up a new idea but with their story still simmering away in the background.

Now I just have to write it!


Out of focus June 20, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:50 pm
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out of focus

I have the whole weekend to write in, and no idea what to write.

Luk and Emma are still were they were, happily having lots of fantastic sex but just starting to feel vaguely dissatisfied with things as they are. Now something needs to change, one of them needs to trigger the chain of events that will lead to the Black Moment. It has to flow out of who they are and what their relationship blocks are.

This is where I have always come unstuck big time in the past. My conflicts have been externally based.

Maybe starting at the HEA and working backwards, writing out of order as  Karyn suggested, would work. The key thing I need to know is this- what has to change for them to get to that HEA? What are their emotional issues at the moment, and how do they need to change and grow?

Okay, the sex is great. But one or both of them needs more than that. What is stopping them moving forward into a full and deep loving relationship? What has to change for them to reach a satisfying believable these-two-are-going-to-be-together-for-the-rest-of-their-lives?

I’m starting to think the problem is that I simply don’t know these characters well enough, despite all the time I’ve spent with them. They still aren’t alive enough, too much of them is still vague, blurry, out of focus.

I need to ask Luk and Emma some questions, find out how they feel right now, what they want the most, what they fear the most.

Then maybe we can all move forward!




Two hours later

Yay! It’s working! I haven’t even done the interview thing with Luk and Emma I wanted to do, just started writing the resolution. The characters are saying out loud to each other what needed to be fixed to get them there!