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!

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!


Working on it April 24, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 6:36 pm
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No rewriting yet, I’m still working out what I’ve got and what to do with it- this is my first rewrite and I don’t want to have to go through too many drafts than I need to to get it right!

It might not work at all, but I’m trying to find a system that I can use not just on this book but future books to be able to write at least two a year while still working full time in my too demanding job to pay the bills. A few weeks getting started on the story, a week (or two if I can get it) of annual leave intensively writing first draft, then another three or four months or howver long it takes rewriting and tweaking. Sub and repeat!

I’m going to see if this rewrite method suggested in an online workshop “Can This Manuscript Be Saved” I did last year with Susan Meier helps. I wasn’t really ready for the workshop at the time, as my WiP then was beyond even her excellent teaching skills to save!

She suggested-
1. Read the whole book straight through in one fast go, without trying to fix as you read.  Just look at STORY.
Create a story paragraph, a one paragraph pitch. ‘See’ the story’s premise, goal, motivation and conflict at a glance,
2. Read through a second time, looking at the SCENES, making notes as you read. Create a storyboard (I’m doing mine in a free program called Text Block Writer, some writers use a physical storyboard with post-it notes, like this one by Fiona Harper). ‘See’ all your scenes, which will show where your book slows down and which scenes cause the slow down,
3. Rethink story and rearrange scenes
4. Then and only then, rewrite.

I’ve got the first read done, strengthened the pitch paragraph, so it’s onto stage 2- making notes on each scene.


Ready to get going! April 23, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:04 pm
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No writing happening yet, but quite a bit of thinking about the story and what I need to do.

Gearing up for some serious writing tomorrow. My brain was  bit too fuzzy today as I’ve had a killer tummy bug (occupational hazard of working as a nurse- no matter how careful I am about handwashing, I catch some sort of virus from a patient at least three times a year).

I’m doing a great online workshop with Shirley Jump (Take Your Story from Good to Great) that’s kick starting me with ideas to power the rewrite, especially revving up the conflict and emotional tension, and tying all the plot threads together. All the things I most noticed on my readthrough- a lack of clear goals and motivations for the hero and heroine, missed opportunities to ramp up the conflict and tension and dig deeper into the emotion; and an inciting event and significant plot thread (Cady’s mum’s illness) that’s completely disconnected from the main romance thread.

Shirley has given me some great ideas for ways to work on these. Now I just have to do the rewrite!


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.


Avoiding the rewrite April 18, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 4:58 pm
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I’ve spent the weekend avoiding getting started on my rewrite.

So many other things that needed to be done at home first. It became suddenly crucial to sort out some boxes of junk in the bedroom. Ebay shopping was essential. Long walks were a must.

Then today when I pushed myself to just do writing realted stuff, I had to go over all the workshop info I had on revising . I had to use that  information as the basis to spend hours setting up an elaborate index card/ Post It note system to storyboard the story and make notes about characters, settings, and plot points.

I could keep procrastinating indefinitely. I still have several books on self-editing and rewriting on my shelf I haven’t read yet.  And now here I am writing a blog post about procrastinating, the ultimate in procrastination!

It’s not actually the rewrite I’m avoiding. It’s reading back my first draft and seeing what dreck it is.

What if I’ve just been kidding myself that there’s a good story in there amongst the expected first draft crap? What if it really stinks? What if it’s unsalvageable out and out bad writing?

Only one way to find out. Hold my nose, brace myself, and jump right in.


Now the rewrite… April 12, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 7:10 pm
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Hey, I wanted to say thanks to everyone who has been following this mini-adventure. Especially the commenters/ congratulators on the last posting. Hope your writing process goes beautifully for all of you!

I appreciated it a lot and it did help keep me accountable knowing I’d be posting my daily word counts.

I decided just to let the first draft sit for the rest of the week, to not look at it at all. Then read it through, just to take notes the first time, not changing anything. Then slash, burn, and hopefully improve.

I found this excellent article on rewriting today- loads of usable advice there!


The End April 11, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 1:13 pm
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Well, it’s done. I finished the story at 1.20am last night.

I feel a little lost this morning, normally I’d be wanting to dive into the writing by now and today…

My plan now is to let it sit for a week, then start on edits next weekend. I have lots of reading to catch up on for my crit group, and I want to read published books with similar themes to mine to see how they handled it (didn’t want to do that before I first draft as I would unconsciously plagiarise for sure!).

I do feel that I’d like to do something on it today. Maybe I’ll set up a Haven Bay cardfile in a program I have, because this is first in a series and I need to keep my facts straight. I don’t want widowed Sally who runs the pub from Book 1 to be newly married to her first husband in Book 2, or Sadie Briggs the Postwoman to play a key role when she started off as the 92 year old next-door-neighbour!

What I’ve learned-

  • I can do it. This is the longest period of sustained high volume writing I’ve done, and I stayed with it. I worried that if some miracle happened and my circumstances changed allowing me to write full time, I’d still not get anything done. Though a lot of the pressure to keep writing came from knowing no matter how far short of my goal I was, I have to go back to the Day Job tomorrow, I’ve proved to myself that I can do it- produce a lot of words quickly to a tight deadline.
  • I probably do have ways of creating more working time in my “normal” working day, no matter how busy it is
  • Pantsing works for me, as long as I know my characters and their relationship blocks well. Unlike last year’s disastrous Book in a Week where I did a lot of pre-planning yet totally lost the plot, all I had to do this time was keep asking myself the question- how does this affect the hero and heroine and their relationship?
  • Following on from above- if I sit down and have no idea what to write, all I need to ask is- what logically happens next? How would the characters respond to the situation and each other? I never found myself getting stuck and having to worry what to write next. If I feel stuck, I need to get into the characters head and heart more.

So overall, it’s been a fabulous learning experience for me. Of course, I’m not claiming what I’ve written is any good.  There will probably be plenty of cringe moments when I read it back.  And the job is not even half done. Now comes editing, refining, layering in more depth, more emotion, more sensuality, more lusciousness.

But it’s been a fun ride!