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!

What now? December 4, 2010

No writing this week. Not wasted time- I’ve read two Blazes which I loved, as I wanted to get a feel for the line and I hadn’t read one for a while (they were Sam Hunter’s Taking Care of Business and Kathy Lyon’s Make Your Move). I’ve also done a lot more reading and thinking about a whole lot of stuff that goes into making stories with strong proactive characters who drive the plot. Main things seem to be good conflicting goals for the hero and heroine, something that drives them to act and therefore drives the plot. In my stories at least one character always seems to have the goal of keeping their life how it is when the other character erupts into it. I’m not sure that’s good enough, as it’s almost always going to make that character reactive and not proactive. Unless they can then come up with an active plan to stop their life being disrupted, which is something I only just thought of…

Anyway, all that thinking and I can’t decide what to do next!

Option 1– Do I use what I learned so far to have a go at rewriting the rejected Superromance story? Reasons for- I love these characters and have a completed first draft. It may not take too big a change to fix the issue of reactive rather than proactive characters and too much external stuff. It’s hard to explain that one- it is a big change, but I know how to do it so it won’t be hard,  just a lot of new words, if that makes sense. Reasons not to- I suspect this story has other problems besides the key one Megan mentioned. Mainly that a lot of the heroine’s internal conflict hinges on her big sekrit, which she keeps from both the reader and the hero until the big reveal at the 3/4 mark, which triggers the Black Moment. That needs rethinking too. She can’t reveal it to anyone else, that’s not at all in character, but maybe the reader needs to know, needs to understand her conflcit, why she’s so torn, why she can’t accept what the hero is offering her. The other issue is that while she has a big character arc, a lot of growth and change, as it is the hero does not.

Option 2– Do I keep going with the WiP, which I know has the same problem of at least one essentially reactive character,  the additional issue of not being clearly targetted to any line ( it’s feeling too sexy to be a Super, as the sex is the way into the relationship; yet not sexy enough to be a Blaze), and also conflict that just doesn’t feel strong enough to carry the story? I know the basic internal conflict can’t be right yet as I needed to add something new in- the heroine can’t have kids and the hero wants them- what I am doing is an old problem of combining lots of conflicts rather than one core conflict. I did think of one thing that would tie it all together for the heroine and make her key issue one of seeing herself as a defective woman so rejecting her femininity and any sort of traditionally female role. Lots of backstory in her family of origin that created this, topped off by her discovering a health issue aged sixteen that meant she would never menstruate and could not have a child. Needs to be worked out more. Her issue will be self-acceptance then. The hero needs more work too- his issue is more around being willing to roll with change, and the heroine is a change agent. It’s all a bit messy. Odd that when I started writing I thought I had a good clear-cut conflict- it just gets messier and messier- which tells me I don’t have it at all! I did have a good aha moment when I realised in my plan as it was I had the heroine’s resolution of her conflict looking like it came from an external event. I know now that it can’t- she has to decide to change. I want to keep the external event, but she needs to have already decided to change. All the external event does is delays her being able to tell the hero, and gives her more emotional grief and some deep regret- she’s ready to be with him, all her excuses have fallen away, and now not only can she not tell him, their chance of a future together might be gone. It feels kinda powerful that way. Almost will give a double black moment- it looks resolved, then this external event gets in the way. She needs to have made the decision to go to him, be feeling happy and relieved and as if it’s all going to work out before she hears about the external event that puts the hero in danger. Not sure if it will work like that (though now I think about it I do remember reading a Sarah Mayberry- Home for the Holidays- that had something similar) but it feels like it would.

Option 3 -Do I start over and try to get it right from the start with the new story idea?  Build in strong organic conflict and goals that will drive the characters into action. Have both characters needing to change, and their impact on each other forcing that change. This new idea seems to offer that, good opposing goals, the hero and heroine both have much the same internal issue and need to change (both of them have their whole personal identity and self-esteem wrapped up in their work, and they both want the same external thing- to run her father’s hotel chain), but I can’t see what the resolution will be! Also, is that enough of a relationship block? Neither allow close relationships, neither want to fall in love or be in a committed relationship. I need to know more about why.

She has been burned too many times by men who only wanted the heiress and not her, which is why she doesn’t tell the hero who she is when they first meet, and also doesn’t feel she is lovable (both because of the jerks and more fundamentally because she’s spent her whole life not measuring up to her father’s and her own memories of her perfect, beautiful, dead mother). He doesn’t want to let another person into his heart because his sensitive older brother committed suicide in his teens due to the pressure to succeed in their family. Mace succeeds easily, feels he owes it to his brother to be even more of a success as he took on the role in the family company that was meant to be his brother’s. Giving that up will feel like betraying his brother again. Allowing himself to love means risking the same hurt again he felt when Adam died. Hmm, there’s some potential there.

I want to go back and read the fabulous blog series the even more fabulous Julie Cohen wrote on character arc.  She shows how she plans character arc and then the key plot events flow for that. I want to see how that works with my characters for all these stories.

I’m inclining towards starting a new story. Of course, that shoots down any chance of entering SYTYCW, with a closing date of the 15th. I could possibly have a first chapter (though not really polished) and a synopsis- but not anything resembling a completed story! So maybe I should try option 2. Now I’m thinking that would be better- want to see it the double BM works.  Or why not option 1?

And now I’m back to being confused again!

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Characters- proactive or reactive? November 28, 2010

So, more thoughts on this editorial feedback that my characters need to be more proactive, less reactive, and that my plot relies too heavily on external forces.

I can see just what she means. The characters don’t appear to initiate any action, just react to what is happening. This makes them seem weak, and even worse, like puppets being pushed through the motions.

It’s interesting to me that I have this problem – and I surely do, I can see it not just in the rejected stories but in plenty of others! I thought this was something more of an issue for plot oriented writers, who start with a plot then make the characters fit it. But I always start with the characters, or at least one of them. I think the problem might be that I start with the characters all right, but I don’t have a strong enough sense of who they are initially until I have written a few chapters. By then I know them well enough to start over again with (hopefully!) a good grasp of their conflict and relationship issues. This all sounds good, and like it shouldn’t lead to cardboard cut out puppet characters.

In the meantime though, just to get started, I’ve come up with a clunky plot device to bring them together. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I ditched that when I ditched the first few chapters I wrote to get to know the characters, but I get attached to my set-ups and keep them in.

So for this story, I started with the image of Cady, my heroine, a single working mother having a very bad day that gets even worse when she is told her mother is seriously ill so she needs to go back to her small home town, where she’ll need to confront not just her estranged mother but Lock, the father of her son.  That was all I knew when I started writing. Ack, already writing that I can see how she is buffeted by the external issues. Yes, she decides how she will respond to them, but it’s all external, all  “stuff happening”. 

In a way though, thinking about it, that was part of my vision for Cady, that without her anchor of home and family she might be a business success and a good mum, but emotionally she’s adrift. That isn’t necessarily a problem, provided I establish her as a character and her motivations strongly enough that her mix of proactive in some arenas and reactive in others is understandable and sympathetic to the reader.

The main thing that makes a character proactive is a strong goal. I am clear what her goal is, to ensure the best life possible for her son, but obviously that’s not coming out enough. And it’s more of a passive type goal, in that she’s not really actively working towards that goal, though it is what motivates all her decisions.

I do think romances are moving towards stronger heroines generally, kicking back against the stereotype of the weak heroine in the thrall of the hero. Stories where the heroine’s action initiates the inciting incident are possibly more what the editors are looking for. My past stories have tended to the pattern of the hero erupting into the heroine’s life, not vice versa. Thinking of one of my CP Maisey Yates’ first two published stories, in both the heroine had a clearly defined goal and a plan to act on to reach her goal, that led her to seek out the hero. Seems like that (as well as her excellent writing and sizzling sexual tension!) may have helped her initial slushpile submission catch the editor’s eye.

Another problem is that the hero also is not proactive. By sticking with the plot device of her mother’s illness as the thing that brings them back together, neither of them has actively made a decision to make this happen. Lock has decided he’s ready to move on and is taking action towards that, but it’s periferal to what happens with the heroine. Then I add a coincidence on top of that- he finds out Cady has had his son because the boy has an accident and Cady is called about it, which conveniently happens just when he is in her office. So I have two characters will relatively passive goals which pretty much amount to just getting on with life, brought together again by external factors. Ick!

I decided yesterday to cut her mother’s illness, and cut the convenient coincidence of Josh’s accident. The initial plan was to retain both coincidences, but make Lock proactive. Lock sees Cady in a TV interview and decides to seek her out, as he’s ready to move on with his life. Still not good enough, coincidence 1 stays but coincidence 2 goes. Lock sees Cady in a TV interview about high flying career women who are single mothers, realises Josh is his son, and seeks her out, determined to get access to his child. Better. Probably even stronger if the coincidences could be dumped altogether and it starts with Lock seeking Cady out as he’s ready to move on, and in the process finding he has a son.

Now today I’m wondering if it’s even stronger if Cady is the instigator. Cady wants what’s best for her son, so she takes action and takes him home to Haven Bay. Or Cady wants to make amends, and seeks out Lock. It’s kind of less true to her character, as she’s protecting her shameful secret at all costs, and doing that seems a bit risky. She’d need a very powerful motivation to do that. Her son would need to be in trouble, or ill.

I just realised something. Interestingly, I added both those coincidences in the second draft. First draft had Cady finding out about her mother’s illness from someone else and deciding to go home with her son, then meeting Lock. I created the whole coincidence thing as a way to get them together, and still kept the original plot device of her mother’s illness. So now instead of the one I started with, I have three clunky plot devices.  Bang goes the theory about it being because of writing my way in. It was really because I was playing God with my characters!

*sigh* I’m getting the feeling I am doing it again. I’m trying to “make” then proactive.  Again, I’m manufacturing situations for them.

Will I ever get this right?

I need to start with my focus more on the emotional issues. What are their core conflicts? How would those issues drive the characters into action. That needs to be my starting point, not cooking up scenarios to bring them together.

Her goals are to create a good life for her son, and to keep her secret, two goals which are brought into opposition when she has to be around Lock again, for Josh’s sake. Lock’s goal is to move on with his life and forget Cady, which is complicated by him finding out he has a son he’s determined to be a good father to.

At least a third of my story, possibly more, is tied up in the elements I know now need to cut out. The bones of the story should remain the same, their core conflict, the black moment, and the resolution. I just have to find out who sets things in motion!

At least in my current story, the one I hope to sub for SoYou Think You Can Write, it’s the heroine who is actively making things happen, though her goal is a bit wishy-washy, she’s just doing her job, and that impacts on the hero.

I’ve made the same mistakes here, in terms of characters being passive responders to events rather than making things happen. 

Also, I don’t think I’ve nailed the conflict quite right yet- I’m concerned my heroine will seem TSTL for not wanting to stay with the hero, that she seems to have no real character arc until at the end the magic wand of lurve is waved and she changes completely. (And if any of my dirty-minded critique partners are reading this, no, not that magic wand, that one gets waved earlier!) OTOH, if I do it right I can show how she’s struggling with what she wants to do vs what she’s always done and feels she ought to do.

The other problem with this story is that the ending does rely on an external event that possibly puts the hero’s life in danger and makes the heroine rethink things. The answer to that is that the heroine has already changed her mind, decided to go back to him and tell him she will stay, then can’t do it because he is in this dangerous situation. She’s going to really suffer while she’s waiting to hear if he’s okay- because what if he dies thinking she didn’t love him enough to stay? But the external event can’t be what triggers her change, that’s got to be internally driven.

I’m a bit stumped what I should be writing now- do I work on fixing the rejected story, while I’m all fired up to do it, even though the plan I thought I had yesterday is shot to pieces; do I try to fix the story I want to sub to SYTYCW, which is riddled with problems; or do I start that new take on an old story idea that’s kinda Blaze-ish or Modern Heat-ish? The one where I figured out for myself last week that the problem with the original idea was that the heroine was being pushed around by circumstancesand just a victim, instead of her getting out there and being proactive.

Hoo boy. Now I need to be proactive and decide what to write!

Edited to add- or I can use this as an excuse for some internet surfing looking for more info on proactive characters. Here are a couple of links I found interesting- Camy Tang, and Janice Hardy. Also yet another book which I’ve ben thinking about buying and haven’t yet (in the past two weeks I already bought Save the Cat and Story, but they’re gonna be my Christmas present from the MiL, now I have to work out who’s going to buy me this one!)- Fiction Writing for Dummies.

 

So You Think You Can Write? November 21, 2010

I knew I’d neglected this blog for a while, but I’m shocked to see it’s been three months.

Warning- long ramble about my writing process and easy distractability ahead! This post could be subtitled- Ideas are NOT the problem.

It’s been a busy time- I had two weeks back home in Australia, visiting my family and taking my very English husband touring some of rural New South Wales in a tiny campervan. The campervan really was ridiculously small, and late September mornings were chilly, especially west of the Great Dividing range, but we had a marvellous road trip.

I wanted to get something in for the Mills & Boon New Voices contest, but work had  been too manic in the run up top the trip for that to be an option (12 and 13 hour work days). So on the flight over, I wrote a chapter, from scratch,  and managed to get an internet connection to post it the day before the contest closed (in a mad panic- I actually thought I scraped it in 5 minutes before the contest closed, then found out I’d messed up the time zone difference!)

Well, that was another useful exercise in what not to do! It was fun to write – I had a particular mental image that was the starting point and I then had to come up with a story line that could explain it- but Presents is sooooo not the line for me. I may still finish that story, but it’s not top on my list of priorities!

I started revising it, using it as the raw material for an online workshop I did in October with the ever fabulous Shirley Jump, but then distraction set in. A new idea, triggered by a poster I saw on my walk to the train station after work. I decided this would be my NaNo story and began to plot it and do some character development. A lot of notes and a week into NaNo, I realised I was writing the wrong story. This was part of a trilogy and I had to write her two friends’ stories first, as this story started with them both getting married in Vegas and her being left on her own, which is where the bad boy hero comes in. Of course, I could have stuck to it and kept going with the story I had, but I really really really wanted to write the stories in the “right” order. So I picked the friend whose story seemed to come first, and started it.

Well, 6,000 words in I realised I had it all wrong. It wasn’t hanging together right, the conflict was off, the hero’s distrust of the heroine was all out of proportion with the reasons for it. Then it clicked. I’d given the heroine the wrong job. She should be playing the role I’d given a minor character. With that little change, the things that weren’t working, worked. It only meant that I needed to rewrite everything I’d done so far! No great loss as it was all first draft dreck anyway and would have needed rewriting anyway. On with the story! This part of things is good- I know I write my way into the story to get to know the characters, and need to ditch most of my first 10,000 words or so. I was also reassured that a number of published writers (and prolific ones) work like that too- stop after a few chapters or however it takes to appraise what the story really is, and start over if needed.

Except then there was another distraction. My hero has two older brothers, who are both already married (well, I thought they were, turns out one is engaged). I wanted to know a little about their situation and backstory as fairly significant secondary characters, and in a Superromance these other characters and subplot are important. Before I knew it, these guys were telling me their whole stories and wanting to know why they weren’t getting theirs written before their little brother. Arrgghh! I am not stopping writing again to start over with a new story. I did take a few pages of notes and opened files for each of the brothers, and that settled them down enough to co-operate in this story. I got a bit more written. Then for some reason, I got thinking about pseudonyms for if I wanted to write hotter stories I may not want to have published under my own name (I know, a bit premature- first write the story, then find a publisher, then worry about this stuff!). So I spent hours not just deciding on a couple of names, but setting up blog sites and email accounts for the new personas too.  A bit ridiculous setting up new blogs when I haven’t posted on the one I already have for three months, but there you go, it seemed important at the time. Turns out one of them is actually very very sweet and wouldn’t write erotic romance anyway. Her blog is all pink flowers.

Then today, yet another distraction. I’d been going well, got 1600 story words. But the sexual tension between hero and heroine was just too… sexual. The sex part comes before the emotion part. Was this story perhaps a Blaze rather than a Superromance?  I thought I’d look at this month’s Blaze releases to see what sort of stories they were doing and if this had any chance of being a fit there. One phrase in one of the blurbs reminded me of a Modern Heat idea I’d had around the time of the Feel the Heat contest that had fizzled out before I even finished the first chapter, because I knew it wasn’t going to work. Suddenly, I saw exactly how it would work as a Blaze. Two page synopsis and another couple of pages of notes later, and now I have another story nagging at me to be written.

I’m not going to. I have to commit to sticking to this one I’ve already got going through to the end. Then I can give into all the lovely distracting ideas dancing through my head. I always laugh when I hear anyone say “I’d love to write but I don’t have any ideas”. Sheesh! How can that be possible? I have too many ideas! A few years ago my husband, knowing I wanted to get back into writing again, bought me a writing book for Christmas. It was, you guessed it, about generating ideas when you don’t have anything to write about. He got so upset when I kindly but firmly told him it was the last thing I needed. If however, there were any books on sticking with one idea and following through…

Anyway, the main reason to stick with one story is that I want to have something new finished, at least in first draft, to sub to the Harlequin So You Think You Can Write competition. These one chapter and synopsis contests, with a guaranteed response time, are too good an opportunity to miss. Especially as this one is at the Canadian Harlequin office. They normally only accept snail mail submissions, and I still don’t know for sure that the partial for marrying Miss Wright I sent off three months ago made it there. So I have to get “Visiting Redemption” first drafted, decide if it’s Super or Blaze, polish up the first chapter, tidy up the rough synopsis I already have, and send it off by December 15.

Then and only then, are any new ideas getting given more than an hour to write some notes.

What’s everyone else doing? (That is, if anyone ‘s visiting here after I haven’t posted for three months!) NaNo-ing? Entering SYTYCW? Too many ideas? Not enough ideas?