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?


More on scenes and sequels May 16, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 3:07 pm
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Still reading my first draft and analysing the scenes, but the tool I’m using to record what I find isn’t good enough yet. I’m filling in the boxes, and I know what is wrong with my scenes, but I’m not seeing strongly enough how to fix them. (Part of the problem is I’m still using the old tool and not the new one I thought of last week!)

I read this excellent blog post on scene and sequel by Les Edgerton yesterday.

He talks about what is needed(and what writers do wrong!) in detail, but in briefly he says a scene is-

A. Goal
B. Conflict
C. Disaster.

Then the following sequel is-

1. Reaction
2. Dilemma
3. Decision (which becomes the goal for another scene).

My old questions for considering scenes- Who? Where? Action, Reaction, Decision- compressed things too much. It’s too simplified, and it totally omits the goal.

The new questions I made up are better (and why it took me all weekend to realise I wasn’t using them, I don’t know!)-

What does the POV character want?

What is he/she doing to get it?

What stops him/her getting it?

What does he/she decide to do about it next?

This leaves out a step  too, I think.  The reaction. I need to add in another question before the character decides what to do next- how do they feel about it?

LOL, maybe I’m making things too complicated!  But I want to go into the editathon with a solid robust plan for the rewrite. I only want to have to do one major rewrite, then just tweaks on the other passes through.

I think I’ll keep going analysing the first draft with the current questions (I don’t want to start totally over!) but will add a question about scene goal. 

Then when I’m planning the rewrite I’ll use the new questions to pinpoint just what needs to be in each section.

Fingers crossed it works!

Edited to add- Having added the question asking what is the character’s goal for each scene, it’s clear that a major problem is lack of clear goals. Things happen, but the characters, especially my heroine, aren’t proactive, they don’t go out there intending to change something. Cady seems especially passive, her only aim to to get through this and get back to her old life. Not good enough. This really needs work.


Looking at scenes May 11, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:28 pm
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I have too many nice scenes where nothing really happens! Or stuff does happen, but the characters don’t seen to be driving it, they’re reactive all the time, rather than active. I wrote stuff that I hoped would move the story forward and keep the focus on the central relationship, but there’s no sense of the characters having goals, and the conflict is weak.

I haven’t really done any editing or rewriting yet, there are too many scenes that needs to be cut and replaced, or extensively rewritten. This is not a bad thing! My new plan is to spend the next few weeks digging into the first draft, and coming up with a roadmap to fix what’s wrong with it and keep what’s good about it. Then I have five days off to spend intensely rewriting. The write-a-thon worked so well, it’s time for an edit-a-thon!

I’ve been working through the story, scene by scene, making notes, trying to get a handle on what I’ve got and how I can make it better. I’ve been using a simple scene checklist I modified from ideas in a workshop I’ve done (can’t remember which now!) to keep me focused on making things happen in every scene.

It goes






Edit notes-

Simple and to the point.

I was in the bath, thinking about this afternoon’s work on the story, and I wondered if I should make it even simpler for a conflict thicko like me to understand. Like this-

What does the POV character want?

What is he/she doing to get it?

What stops him/her getting it?

What does he/she decide to do about it next?

Which is just Action-Reaction-Decision, but in a form that I can grasp easier. Also reminds me that escalating conflict and tension mean that things keep getting worse no matter that the main characters do to try to fix things. I need to be able to answer those questions for every scene.

I’m going to give it a try when I’m planning what I want to do for the rewrite.


How Janey got her groove back January 7, 2010

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 11:10 pm
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I seem to have got my groove back, thank God!

Thanks for the advice and encouragement after my last discouraged post- it all helped.

I simply decided these characters were worth writing about, even if it’s just for me and not ever for publication. Putting the pressure to write well wasn’t helping at all. I was expecting too much from my first draft, and not just letting it be first draft. The only way out was to just write my way out, because it came down to that or giving up. And I’m surely not  ready to give up!

What helped? Using Write or Die in short bursts -500 words in 20 minutes seems to work well for me-  it’s doable and not an offputting impossible seeming target. Engraving “It’s okay to write crap in first draft” on my brain. Putting writing high on my priorities. Remembering that it’s the character’s story, not mine- I need to do let them do their thing, without me getting in their way too much at this stage, and allow them to surprise me. I guess that’s another way of saying- don’t let my critical left brain mess too much with what has to be a creative right brain process. And also another way of saying that the story  has to be about two people falling in love, not about me throwing in yet another plot device.

Word count is creeping up. I’m a little behind the higher target I set to get to 60,000 words before I have to go on a work trip on the 25th, but almost spot on target at 22% if I had the whole month to use. I feel like I’m getting momentum now, and coming into a run of steady progress, before I come unstuck again somewhere in the middle.  

I love these characters! Happy writing, everyone.


Digging deeper into conflict July 12, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 8:20 pm
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I’ve been thinking some more about conflict today. Specifically, the lack of good internal conflict in my stories!

It’s been a sticking point for me ever since I started on this story. I’ve just known that Luk’s conflict was off, not quite strong enough, not quite convincing enough, too darned cliched. I’ve reached the point where I am fed up with this story, and I need a break from it.

Not to mention that talking about the new HMB Presents/Modern contest has me thinking more about my next story.

I think it’s time I gave Luk and Emma’s story a rest. I want to start over with a new story, see if I can get the conflict built in right from the start. I’m not abandoning them, not giving up when I’ve put so much work in.  I just feel that if I have a break, spend time really digging into conflict with new characters, I can come back to their story with fresh awareness of what it needs.  The problem right now, is that Luk and Emma’s needs just aren’t opposed enough to create a strong believable conflict. Hmm, interestingly, I’ve thought all along the problem was Luk. Now I’m wondering if it’s Emma. The blocks to their relationship are all too external, too circumstantial, not flowing enough from their core self-beliefs and needs.

For the new story, I want to start off with the characters. Who are these people, what do they need and want more than anything? What is the thing or belief it would kill them (metaphorically) to confront or have to give up? How does the relationship with the other person force them to need to do just that?

The key question is- What is it, on both their parts, that stops these two people, who are wildly attracted to each other and may feel an emotional connection they’ve never felt with anyone else, from being together in a committed loving relationship?

To be emotionally satisfying, it can’t be just external circumstances. The characters must work to achieve their love, by learning and growing, overcoming whatever it is within them that gets in the way of this relationship. It’s got to be important, it’s got to go deep, and it has to go deep for both of them. One-sided facile change is not going to do it.

I’ve got some questions I’m planning on asking my new characters.

  • What is going wrong in their life right now? Why is that important to them emotionally? What core need does that link into?


  • What does this person needs in their relationships and their life to feel safe/ whole/happy. Why is it so important to them? What happens if they don’t have it?  (I need to think up as many reasons as possible, to come up with something fresh. My first thoughts on these questions are nearly always cliches.)


  • What is this person’s core relationship need?  What caused this, and why is it important to this character?  (The answer to this must be believeable, meaningful to the character, consistent with their personality and behaviour, and important- the stakes must be high, it means death to their soul or self-image to lose this. The character should be unaware of the core need and the real reason underlying this need- ‘cos if they know it at the start, why haven’t they done anything to change it?)


  • How does the other character have opposing needs?  (For the strongest conflict, the hero and heroine’s deepest relationship needs must be in direct opposition.)


  • How do they try to resolve the conflict initially?  (This may be an external strategy such as avoidance, setting rules and limits, making compromises they will not be able to maintain long term- something that does not address their real internal issues.)


  • How does this make things worse? (Because the real issues aren’t being addressed, it may seem that what they try works for a while. But something will always challenge it. It can not be a long term solution. A lasting relationship is impossible if  things stay as they are.)


  • How does this character grow and change to make the relationship possible? (Resolution occurs when both characters realise their core need that is getting in the way of the relationship, and make a change on a deep emotional level, or willingly give up something very important to them.)

Well, that’s it. I hope it works! I can’t help but feel it will work better than what I’ve done so far, which is make it up as I go along.

I’m going to test it on my new story people tonight and see how it goes. I figure once I’ve done this, I have a synopsis.


Any comments welcomed!


Writing the Alpha hero April 21, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 10:39 pm
Tags: , ,

hugh1 The wonderful Kate Walker has a too-good-to-miss series on the Alpha hero running at her blog. Lots of fab info on writing strong sexy heros, plus piccies of Hugh Jackman too! What’s not to love?

I may be quiet for a while because I am busy wrapping up things in my old job before I leave, and I’m also doing April Kihlstrom’s Book in a Week workshop. So far it is truly excellent, I’m learning loads and the way I see my story and characters has been totally transformed. The format is three weeks writing preparation, one week intensive writing, and a week on editing. The writing week just happens to be the week I’ve given myself off between jobs. It’s going to be fun!


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!