I've rented lots of tapes/CDs this month. I've even read some novels in print. And I have to say, overall I've been disappointed--by big names and newbies alike. You can see what I'm reading in any given month and my own personal review of the books on my website under My Month linked off the homepage.
Like Paty and unlike E, I stop reading when the book doesn't hold me. I'll give it a certain amount of time before I give up. How much time varies from book to book, author to author. Authors who have paid off for me in the past get more time. New authors (as in new to me, not necessarily new to the industry) have to grab me right away...and even more importantly, they've got to hold on. The first time their character does something stupid, the first time they delve into more than a paragraph of backstory or a paragraph of description, I'm gone.
Fickle? I don't know. I have noticed that I'm so much harder to please since I've started writing. Now I can see all the flaws, the unsympathetic characters, the plot holes, the info dump. It grates on me. And it bums me out because I miss the way I used to be able to lose myself in a book.
Here are a few I've read lately that really kept my attention:
- Kill the Messenger by Tami Hoag -- OMG, a must read for pacing, action, and UBER characterization. (I'm listening to Dark Horse now and I'm nowhere near invested. I'm doubting I'll make it to chapter six, but because I loved Kill so much, I'll give her more time before I return it to the library.)
- Dangerous Curves by Roxanne St. Claire -- I read this as a judge for the Daphne published contest and loved it. Read the book within 24 hrs of picking it up. No doubt it had some flaws, which I discussed with E because she had read it as well, but flaws or no, it kept me turning the pages.
Uh...that's about it. And considering I listen to or read an average of 4 or so books a month, that's really, really sad.
Do you find your joy of reading has diminished since you started writing? What exactly keeps you turning the pages of a novel? And what books have held your interest to the very end lately? Allowed you to get lost in them?
:~: Monday, May 29, 2006 :~:
I've never been big on labels, but reading a blog recently, the topic of labeling heroes came up and it caught my attention. We've all heard of the three traditional hero archetypes: the macho alpha male, the easygoing beta, the combo gamma who has a little of both in him. Based on our backgrounds, tastes and preferences, we may like one archetype, may gravitate to reading or writing about one over another. Alpha heroes have been the "it" guys in romance for a long time and were the heroes who made Harlequin famous. For as long as I've been writing, I thought I was writing alpha heroes, but now I'm not so sure.
According to Laurie Gold at All About Romance, "For me, the alpha hero is dangerous and has a tendency toward cruelty. Whether he becomes an alpha heel is up to the author, but an alpha hero is a tortured one. The beta hero is a special hero, and one whom frankly doesn't appeal to me very often, although when he is written just right, he is incredible. Something or someone may have tortured the beta hero in the past, but he presents himself quite differently than does the alpha hero. Whereas the alpha may be cruel, the beta is tender and supportive. There is a fine line, however, between tender and wimpy, and not many authors walk it well.
The gamma hero, for me, has always been my favorite. He seems to have the best qualities of both the alpha and the beta hero. He is strong yet not overly arrogant. He leads, but not by cruelty. He may have a bad reputation, but it is undeserved. He can do battle, but never with the heroine. He too may have been tortured in the past, but doesn't appear the wounded animal, lashing out at those he loves."
I probably wouldn't have agreed with this definition until I read a recent novel written by a very popular author. The hero was definitely alpha in every sense of the word. Almost too alpha if that's possible. He was tortured and bordered on cruel, to the point where I couldn't figure out what the heroine saw in him. Studying him, I realized my heroes really aren't alpha in the traditional sense. Mine sometimes hover on the aggressive side - they know what they want, and they know how to go after what they want - but they're never cruel. All are tortured in some way, some more than others, but it's their past experiences that shape them. If I had to guess, I'd say they're all more gamma than anything else, but there's such a wide variety between all of them, saying I write gamma heroes just doesn't seem to cut it.
So I went searching for more definite descriptions of hero archetypes.
Alicia Rasley takes the alpha category and breaks it down even further:
- "The Alpha - the leader. He might have dark issues in his past, but the way he attempts to resolve them is to take charge, to accept his leadership ability and use it to make changes. His issues have to do with the difficulty of being a leader - fear of inadequacy, ethical questions, abuse of power, rivals gunning for him, the impostor syndrome....
- "The Delta - the dark and dangerous. His past is so dark, so damaging, and combines with such a darker temperament that he exiles himself from society and takes on loner/outlaw status. His issues have to do with the past and how to overcome it - guilt, shame, rage, isolation versus need for love.... Delta means change, and these heroes most of all must change to be able to give and accept love freely.
- "The Theta - the wounded. Theta means both death and art. These are the wounded creators, the ones too sensitive to put on the Delta's armor, and too passionate about life to kill themselves. Their very vulnerability to life's suffering makes them creative. They can be artists or writers or healers, but their way of dealing with pain is to create with it. The Theta's issues have to do often with the self-destructive nature of the artistic temperament-- substance abuse, loneliness, the need to stay open to life without dying of the pain of it.
Hmmm....one of my heroes could probably pass for the alpha in Alicia's description, but what about the rest?
Tami Cowden nixed the traditional three archetypes and instead has come up with eight. Here's a quick rundown:1. The Chief - This hero is the quintessential alpha hero. He might have been born to lead, or perhaps he conquered his way to the top, but either way, he's tough, decisive, goal-oriented. That means he is also a bit overbearing and inflexible. This man tends to be at the top of his career field - maybe the CEO of a major corporation, or a prince. If he's not already number one, it's only a matter of time
2. The Bad Boy - This is the rebel, or the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. He's bitter and volatile, a crushed idealist, but he's also charismatic and street smart. He hates authority and doesn't buckle under to anyone, which is why he often chooses jobs where he's his own boss. In western historicals, he's the perfect outlaw.
3. The Best Friend - This is the beta hero. He's kind, responsible, decent, a regular Mr. Nice Guy. This man doesn't enjoy confrontation and can sometimes be unassertive because he doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings. But he'll always be there. We all knew this guy in high school and didn't appreciate him. If we were smart, though, he's the guy we married. He's a people person and he'll always put the needs of others first.
4. The Charmer - We've all known these types. Fun, irresistible, a smooth operator, yet not too responsible or dependable. He might be a playboy or a rogue, but he's doesn't commit to a woman easily. He's not crazy about hard work, and he might be in sales, or a gambler in the wild west.
5. The Lost Soul - Tortured, secretive, brooding, and unforgiving. That's this man. But he's also vulnerable. He might be a wanderer or an outcast. In work he's creative, but probably also a loner, so he might be an undercover cop, or do something artistic.
6. The Professor - The first time you meet him, this logical, introverted, and inflexible guy might not be your idea of a hero, but take another look. He is genuine about his feelings. At work, he likes cold, hard facts, thank you very much, but he's also honest and faithful, and won't let you down.
7. The Swashbuckler - This guy is action, action, and more action. He's physical and daring. Fearless, he's a daredevil, or an explorer. He needs thrills and chills to keep him happy.
8. The Warrior - This man is the reluctant rescuer or the knight in shining armor. He's noble, tenacious, relentless, and he always sticks up for the underdog. If you need a protector, he's your guy. He doesn't buckle under to rules, or and he doesn't go along just to get along.
Tami Cowden's definitions made a lot more sense to me. Although I can't say all my heroes fit conveniently into these molds, I can see a few of them here and there, and I can see how some heroes can cross over from one category to the next. I've written variations of a chief, a warrior, a best friend/professor, a swashbuckler and am about to work on a lost soul. But no matter how many times I try to put each of them into one specific category, they don't always fit.
People are unique, and therefore the characters they create are also unique. To label characters as one or the other seems vague to me. I enjoy all types of heroes as long as they're written well. Personally, I don't think about labels when I write. I let the characters grow and develop on their own, and perhaps that's why it's difficult for me to label them after the fact. The bottom line in this and all things writing related is if you write it well, no one's going to care what label you stick on your hero. Give him clear goals, justifiable motivation and real conflict and you can slap on any label you want.
I'd love to hear from you. Do you write clearly defined heroes? Do you plot and label them beforehand? Or are you more like me... are your heroes as unique as you are?
:~: Saturday, May 27, 2006 :~:
And The Winner Is . . .
Lisa, if you'll email me with your snail mail addy at linda underscore winfree at yahoo.com, we'll get your book right out to you!
This week's giveaway is a hardback copy of Lisa Gardner's Alone. Remember, all you need to do is comment during our regular weekly posts to be entered to win!
:~: Friday, May 26, 2006 :~:
Investing in Promotion
But how do you get that? I thought I'd share with you what I've come up with in my reading and research.
1) Memorable, durable, and usable giveaway items: I'm thinking custom-imprinted pens. They are used often and inexpensive if ordered in bulk. Another item I'm considering is homemade soaps from a local giftshop, packaged in small bags with a card with the cover for WHAT MATTERED MOST as well as ordering information. Because the beach plays a part in the setting of WMM, I'd also considered a beach-themed giveaway basket.
2) Free online reads: I know many people give away books, but I've also heard from authors who say that giving away copies can actually hurt your sales. Instead, I think I'm going to draft a short online novella, offering all readers something for free and giving them a taste of my writing style. Hopefully, this would intrigue them and make them want to go buy the book. I'd considered putting the first chapter on my website and offer subsequent chapters through my group/newsletter.
3) Website -- I've had one for a while, but I need to update as well as make sure the site is interesting and useful, to keep people coming back. I'd considered offering an online writing course and critique giveaway there as well.
4) Loops -- I've joined Samhain's mailing list and group, with a readership of nearly 1000. I'll be able to list links and post excerpts here.
5) Chats and Reviews -- Still a little overwhelmed here, looking for whatever tips I can get!
So there's the beginnings of my promotion ideas. I'd love your thoughts and feedback, and if you have any other suggestions, I'm open to them!
:~: Wednesday, May 24, 2006 :~:
Today I'm going to share a piece of an article I found on creating characters.
There's a million articles on the subject out there. Entire books, in fact. But the more I learn about writing, the more I value those simplistic yet powerful tips. That's why I loved this one.
I sent my manuscript, Safe In Enemy Arms, to my agent who read it and said the plot was a bit too complicated and the characters weren't "real" yet.
After two hellish weeks on revisions, I hadn't changed the plot, but I introduced its multi-faceted, yet connected elements slower.
My agent liked that. She thought it worked.
As for the characters, I worked them over pretty good too, strengthening their GMC, pumping up their emotions, even deepened a subplot and brought my villain into the limelight more often.
Unfortunately, she still said they weren't "3-D" enough. She said they didn't have that inherent quality that took them from the status of characters to real people, like she felt my characters in Hiding In Plain Sight achieved.
I'll spare you the headache, heartache and confusion I went through in trying to figure out what this meant, exactly, but I will tell you the method I used to give me an alternate view inside my character's head. Maybe it will help you someday when you're staring at a heroine asking, "How the hell do I make you more real?"
I subscribe to two writing article loops and just about everyday I'm bombarded with writing-related craft articles. Most of them simply rehash the same stuff we've all read in other articles or in books. The ones that are exceptional, give me a different perspective, teach me something new or in a more comprehensive way, I add to my Articles links on my website.
A few days ago I read an article on character developement by Robert Gregory Browne (RGB), entitled Creating Characters That Jump Off The Page and found his perspective wholly unique and deeply helpful.
Instead of character interviews and getting into the nitty gritty psyche of a character extracting information that may or may not be relevent to his story, RGB broke it down to attitude, emotion, goal and action. I'm not going to rehash the article here, but I wanted to share a particular technique that resonated with me and got me over the wall I was experiencing.
You may have heard before that every character embodies a piece of the author. I thought that was true...with my first few characters. But as I branched out and gave my characters different histories, different professions, different families, different GMCs, I found I became distant from them -- hence the "non-3-D" issues. And of course I've been having a nightmare of a time with my villains which I spoke with Allison Brennan about at length. But that's a whole other post.
In relation to character development though, RBG brought it all back together for me with one simple concept: imagination + self.
He says every character he writes is him--hero, heroine, secondary, tertiary, one-liners. They're all him.
So, let's use my heroine from SIEA, Cassie: She is an independent physician suffering from the sudden, tragic loss of the two most important people in her life during the hardest year of her education and trying to find closure.
RBG suggests you ask yourself, if this were me, how would I handle the situation? Now, I'm not a physician, although I've worked with hundreds; I've never lost the most important people in my life, but I could imagine how I'd feel and attempt to cope if I did.
The next step is adding what he calls color: attitude and emotion. A=Independent, E=suffering.
So, knowing these key elements, how would **I** act if I were this character?
***WOW*** Definitely an I-could-have-had-a-V8 moment.
It hit the mark for me. Right then and there I realized I was trying to get into someone else's head, when all I had to do was stay in my own head all the time and just imagine. And all us writers have killer imaginations...making this technique not only as simplistic as daydreaming, but intensely powerful.
Just thought I'd share...hope it helps someone else banging their head against the wall trying to get under their character's skin.
:~: Monday, May 22, 2006 :~:
Since I'm currently between projects, I thought I'd use this weekend to get a little reading done - you know, whittle down that to-be-read pile and clear out some of those books I've had lying around for ages. So I picked a romance novel I'd been interested in and sat and read. And when I got to the end, I was so frustrated, I was ready to toss it and the rest of my TBR pile against the wall. There were several things that just didn't do it for me, but the biggest were the things I "expected" to happen that didn't.
So here are my Great Expectations when reading a romance. Feel free to add to this list:
1) If you're writing a romance, I expect sex. Somewhere. I'm not talking gratuitous sex, or constant sex, but when I pick up a romance, I expect somewhere to read a sex scene where the hero and heroine connect on an emotional level. If your book is advertised as a conservative romance - like an inspirational - I'm okay with the whole no-sex thing, but if not, you'd better have at least one steamy scene to keep me interested. Characters who dance around each other without making a move really irritate me.
2) If you've built your fan base by writing a certain way, I expect you to stick with that, unless you're completely changing genres. Here's an example: A lot of my favorite authors seem to be moving away from a 50/50 romance/suspense balance that made them wildly popular in favor of more suspense (like 80/20 or even 90/10). Is the market better for straight thrillers? Are they trying to draw more male readers? I'm not sure, but when I read one of their new books, and the relationship takes a huge backseat to the external/suspense plot, I feel let down. What drew me to these authors in the first place was their character development and interactions. And when they move away from that, it makes me not want to read anymore of their stuff.
3) If your characters are in their 30's, I expect them to act like they're in their 30's. Two of the last three books I've read have had 30-something main characters who act like they're still in high school. When characters are whiney and holding grudges and gossiping about things that aren't important in the least, it's a huge let down for me. Expectations, people. If I have to act my age, then your characters do, too.
4) If your protagonist has a major internal hang up about being with the other person, then I expect them to need a little time to change their way of thinking. Novels where the internal conflict gets resolved in the blink of an eye to wrap the book up drive me batty. You've got 200+ pages of a hero saying, "I can't have her because....." and then suddenly, in half a page, he changes his mind. "Oh, gee. Now I can't live without her." B-I-G let down. At least give us a reason and him a little time to figure out where his thinking went wrong.
5) (This one relates back to number one) If your characters are going to have sex, then I expect that act to bring them (at least a little) closer together. Characters who fall into bed together, and then ten minutes later are fighting again are a big let down. Find another way to keep them apart, but don't toss in sex because you think people (like me) are expecting it and then go back to the bickering and fighting to keep them apart. That's an even bigger let down than the no-sex thing.
I could probably go on and on and on about expectations, but I'd love to hear yours. Add to the list. What do you expect in your romance novels?
:~: Sunday, May 21, 2006 :~:
The Winner and Next Contest
Congratulations, Cece! Your name was chosen from folded paper tabs by my 10yo daughter Cassidy.
You are the proud new owner of:
Don't Sweat The Small Stuff for Women: Simple and Practical Ways to Do What Matters Most and Find Time for You by Kristine Carlson.
Don't Sweat The Small Stuff with Your Family: Simple Ways to Keep Daily Responsibilities and Household Chaos from Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson, PhD.
A custom, one-of-a-kind lampwork bead bracelet, each floral bead handmade by our own Joan Swan. An exquisite combination of sterling silver findings, Swarovski crystals and white jade.
I will send you an email privately to get your address for shipment.
And our next contest prize:
One of Jude Deveraux's newer releases (I think): Carolina Isle.
Ariel and Sara never imagined their high-spirited attempt to step into each other's shoes would cause such upheaval. The lifelong pen pals, who look exactly alike, meet for the first time in their twenties and embark on a daring adventure of changing identities. Southern belle Ariel is determinded to win the heart of a man who doesn't know she exists, while Sara yearns to leave behind her hardscrabble existence and tast the good life that fate has denied her. But in pretty Arundel, North Carolina, nothing is as it seems--including the dangers that are closing in on their new dream lives, as the deepest of fears and darkest of secrets and betrayals comes to light.
Remember, all you have to do to be entered into the contest is place a comment on the blog. Each comment enters you once, so chat away to better your chances!
:~: Friday, May 19, 2006 :~:
What Now? (Part Deux)
The most frightening thing is that no matter whether it's someone asking me or my little voice asking me, I still don't know the answer.
Friday, two weeks ago, I returned home from dinner to find an email from Jessica Bimberg, an editor at Samhain. My immediate thought? Another rejection. (It's a conditioned response, I'm afraid!)
It wasn't a rejection.
It was an offer for the contemporary romantic suspense she'd been considering. My contract was attached. So was my author contact form.
Yep, I'd sold a book. Finally.
I was cautiously excited (I tend to be cautiously everything . . . E says I'm too reserved.). I began by telling the DH and my wonderful CP's. Everyone had the same question after we talked about contract clauses and legalese. Know what that question was?
Well, I didn't know. Even now that I've signed the contract and mailed it in, I still don't know. This is new terrain for me. I've never sold a book before. The experience is very much like stepping into a classroom for the first time -- I have expectations of what's going to happen based on what others have said, but I'm not sure if those things will come to pass or not.
I've started making a list to help me prepare for "what now?". A list of promotional ideas, developing a calendar to help me juggle edits, release dates, etc. However, I still feel like I'm probably missing something. So . . . those of you who know the answer to "what now?" or have a suggestion . . . I'm open for ideas!
(And don't forget . . . commenting enters you for a chance to win our Mother's Day gift giveaway!)
:~: Wednesday, May 17, 2006 :~:
Good News: I finished revisions on Hiding In Plain Sight.
Bad News: I have to figure out where I go next.
This is a tough place for me to be because my compulsiveness urges me to dive into another project, but my psyche knows those revisions pulled everything out of me. Logically, I know I need a break. Emotionally, I want to keep my writing routine every morning. I want to be working toward something, creating something, honing something.
I actually took today off writing...this is the only thing I've written all day, and I even procrastinated on this. Between my DH and his renovation projects and my DD's 14th birthday, I've been yanked all over town. Which has been really refreshing in a way (and royally annoying in another).
But what about tomorrow? I get this wierd anxiety spike when I realize I don't have a plan.
I've got two finished mss from about two years ago that need some restructuring and complete rewrites. They need character and plot work, depth, theme.
I've got two mss unfinished, both sitting at about chapter 20. Those also need restructuring with character and plot, although they have solid themes and quite a bit of depth.
And, I've got a few ideas rolling around in my head that have yet to fully take shape. Those need everything, plot, character, theme, etc., from the ground up.
None of them particularly call to me, although after giving any one of them more than ten minutes of thought, I'm there, ready to dive in.
E mentioned that the general consensus amongst writers is to always move forward, not back. I've never heard that, but on one hand it makes sense. On the other, I feel like my past works have the potential to be really good pieces if I rework them. So I don't see that as moving backwards, actually view it as rejuvinating a piece and bringing it up to par with my writing abilities now, which could be both rewarding and educational.
What do you do in between projects? How do you choose that next story to work on? And what the heck do you all think I should do?
:~: Monday, May 15, 2006 :~:
How To Make A Reader out of a Non-Reader
Occasionally he'll buy a nonfiction book with the goal to actually sit down and read it. Right now on the shelf in his office he has Lance Armstrong's Every Second Counts, John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman, and a whole slew of baseball coaching books he ordered this spring before his coaching season started. Has he read any of them? Nope. Has he opened a single one? Double nope.
We're very different creatures, him and I. I would pretty much rather read (and write) than do anything else. I've asked him why he has such an aversion to reading, and his response has always been that he reads so much for work during the day that the idea of reading during his relaxing hours doesn't sound appealing. That's probably true, but I think an even bigger part of it is that no one ever read to him as a kid, and he never learned the benefits of reading just for the sake of reading.
So Friday night, he and I went out on a date. Rarely happens around here because it's increasingly difficult to find a babysitter for the three Gremlins, but on this day Grandma came over to stay with them. We went out for a leisurely dinner, and after decided we didn't have enough time to make the movie we'd planned to see. As it turns out, there happened to be a Borders a few doors down from the restaurant we ate at, so I suggested we hit the bookstore before we went home.
My DH, being the great guy he is, agreed even though he probably would have rather slit his wrists, and we went inside. I went right for the stacks, he made an immediate left-hand turn toward the cafe to get coffees. (See this? Already avoiding the books. I liken it to the way my eyes gloss over when he takes me to Home Depot.) Long minutes later, he found me in the romance section where I was looking for Judith McNaught's new book, Every Breath You Take.
With nothing else to do while I was perusing, and knowing darn well he wasn't going to be able to get me out of there until I was ready to go, he rattled off titles and then cracked himself up with his own torrid versions. He sipped his coffee, pulled books off the shelf and went searching for bodice-popping covers to make fun of. (He is a guy, after all.) And then he found the erotica section.
He got quiet real quick. My ears perked at the silence, and I looked over to see he was actually reading something. Imagine my surprise. I joined him. He'd found an Emma Holly book that got really steamy, really fast. I suggested we get it. He figured he was gonna get lucky and agreed. I was simply elated because he was reading.
So we took the book up to the front, and as we neared the counter I saw the new Crusie/Mayer book, Don't Look Down and veered off to scope it out. He took the book to the counter where the young female clerk eyed it and said, "Ooh. Emma Holly. Steamy late night reading?" I think my DH actually blushed, although I didn't see it. According to him, he shrugged in that nonchalant guy way, nodded his head behind him and said, "It's for her." The clerk lifted her brow and asked, "Who?" My DH turned and saw I wasn't there then looked back at the clerk. She only smiled and bagged the book. He shook his head and frowned, knowing full well what she was thinking. And as he stepped away, she shouted so everyone in the store could hear her, "Enjoy your steamy book!"
I've never seen my DH so happy to get out of a bookstore in all my life. He found me and herded me toward the door, but not before the clerk saw him again and shouted the same thing. I think I will be lucky to ever get him to go back into a bookstore with me again.
I thought for sure that would turn him off to reading, right there. But you know what? He actually read a whole chapter yesterday afternoon when the kids were outside and he was bored. Of course, now he has these "ideas" I write the same sort of thing - which I don't - and I've had to set him straight about it a few times, but if it triggers something that shows him reading can be fun, then I'm all for it.
I'm starting my kids a lot earlier on the whole reading-for-the-enjoyment-of-reading thing. They love books, all kinds - board books, picture books, chapter books - and my seven-year-old is constantly asking me what I'm writing and what the computer "says". I want them to love reading as much as I do and to use it to develop their minds and imaginations. There's nothing better than a good book, except maybe writing a good book. And maybe someday my kids will do that, too.
So the point of this long post is to inspire you to go read something today simply for the joy of reading. Not because you have to but because you want to. Books are the best form of entertainment there is. And if my DH can do it, so can you.
:~: Thursday, May 11, 2006 :~:
Tokens of our Appreciation
It's nice to feel valued.
Which explains what we've been up to here at Romance Worth Killing For this week -- planning to show you how much we appreciate and value you, our readers. Yet, while my fellow teachers and I receive a mere week of official appreciation, you'll receive fifty-two weeks of contest rewards here at Romance Worth Killing For!
So here's the deal:
- Each weekly reader contest will be announced on Saturday (we're early this week . . . blame it on excitement!)
- You post comments to our posts throughout the week, simply as you do now.
- On the following Saturday, a winner (or winners, as applicable) will be drawn from that week's commenters.
- Prizes will vary -- craft books, novels, jewelry, gift baskets, gift certificates.
This week, because we're celebrating Mother's Day and the advent of our weekly contest, we're offering a deluxe prize package! One reader will receive:
- Don't Sweat The Small Stuff for Women: Simple and Practical Ways to Do What Matters Most and Find Time for You by Kristine Carlson.
- Don't Sweat The Small Stuff with Your Family: Simple Ways to Keep Daily Responsibilities and Household Chaos from Taking Over Your Life by Richard Carlson, PhD.
A custom, one-of-a-kind lampwork bead bracelet, each floral bead handmade by our own Joan Swan. An exquisite combination of sterling silver findings, Swarovski crystals and white jade.
:~: Tuesday, May 09, 2006 :~:
Rules, Compromise & Comfort
Yes, still. And I'd appreciate it if you didn't rub it in.
Anyway, if you've been following our lovely board, you'll remember I posted a few weeks back about deep POV and staying in the character's head so completely during their scene that even the narration takes on that particular character's quirks.
I'm still struggling with that. It sounds easy, but it's really not. And not only is it hard to do...it doesn't always work!
I'm editing a scene in my hero's POV, and I'm trying my damnedest to be in his head, right? So I'm writing along...
"Cole's gaze followed Jenna, the slight sway to her slender hips and that darling little ass, as Jacob so aptly surmised, fixing his attention as solidly as a target at the range."
Cole wouldn't think "gaze". I simply can't imagine any man short of a poet refering to how a person's eyes move as a "gaze". He'd think "eyes" or he'd think he was "staring at her" or "watching her".
But the "experts" in the romance genre don't like eyes rolling around, hence the overuse of the word 'gaze', and the terms 'watching, saw, heard, felt' pull a reader out of deep pov.
What's a girl to do????
Every time I find myself teetering over such a decision I'm brought back to something my mentor, Catherine Ryan Hyde, said in a class I took with her last year.
The class was focused on dialogue, and the assignment we were working on was differentiating each characters "voice". I read a section of dialogue from my ex-military hero. Here, he's speaking with the heroine's brother, also his own friend, about the heroine:
"Can you believe she actually accused me of spending time with her because I was paid to? Making love to her because she was a convenient distraction?"
Feedback from the group said that the phrase 'making love' didn’t fit his character; that guys don't talk to other guys about sex in terms of making love.
While Catherine agreed with both that generalization about male language and the fact that the term didn't fit my hero's character, she also said something I can still hear in my head today.
"While it may not be something a man would say, it might be something your audience would want to hear a man say."
Uh...wow. I'm not sure why that speaks to me so profoundly, but the second half of that statement said a whole lot more than the thirteen words that comprised it.
She followed with, "Sometimes you have to take the expectations of your audience into account."
Uh...another wow .
So, with those words floating in my head, I made an executive decision. I changed the word 'gaze' to 'eyes' when I'm in his POV. I usually have to reword the sentence to make it work, but the result is something that is truer to my character and a nicer fit for the story.
There are several considerations all writer's need to take into account:
- Integrity of the work--expressing your story in your unique voice (screw the "rules").
- Salability--stepping off your soapbox just far enough to pluck a check from your editor's hand.
- Reader expectations--finding a comfortable fit for your audience, after all those sales put that check into your editor's hand in the first place.
Ultimately, I think it's about finding your comfort level, knowing your story, touching your audience and one whole hell of a lot of compromise.
In the passage above, I compromised between "make love" (the woman's voice) and "screw" or something even harsher (the man's voice) with what I consider a more sensitive 'man's voice and used the phrase "slept with".
I was pleased with the result, still manly, but not rude:
"Can you believe she actually accused me of spending time with her because I was paid to? Of sleeping with her because she was a convenient distraction?"
Again, a minor example with a change in only a few words, but multiply this kind of modification throughout a 125k manuscript, and you've got a potentially powerful tool to create a truer, more authentic body of work.
Tell us how and when you compromise. What has made your work more authentic? What rules do you break or adhere to get closer to your audience?
:~: Monday, May 08, 2006 :~:
My last manuscript was the same. I was in love with the word "coursed". I know it's happening in the WIP too although it's been so damn long since I worked on the WIP, for the life of me I can't remember what word that is. But I know there is one. (And hey, I think damn is the word I've clamped on to in this blog post.)
I'm not one to print harcopy and read, and maybe that's why I tend to miss a lot of these little "repeats" that I overuse. Paper, ink . . . it's expensive. I can read it just as easily on the computer. This time, however, I broke down and printed, and lucky for me, all these little words just jumped off the page. So did movements and actions characters are repeating that are useless in the plot.
Editing is something I don't enjoy doing. I write a pretty clean first draft, so editing is boring to me. It's also a waste of paper, but I know it's an important step in the process. So share with me how you edit - do you print everything out and mark up your pages? Do you edit on the screen and do a final print like me to give it one last read? Or do you not print at all and simply go with what you see in front of you?
:~: Thursday, May 04, 2006 :~:
Today, I get this email from my sister -- she'd Googled me and found my blog, thought it was funny. A few months ago, my students discovered it the same way. Before that, I'd had one of my dream agents leave a comment on one of my posts. Agent 007 visited and left advice for me on another post.
You never know who's out there, do you?
I'm always amazed by the people who claim to be professional writers, yet fail to act like a professional anything. For example, there are a couple of writers who everyone tells me are excellent. I've picked up their books a couple of times in my local bookstore but ended up putting them down again. Why?
Well, I've seen one act badly on a couple of writing lists and the other has been less than professional on his personal blog (actually, downright mean), and it turned me off to the idea of buying their books. Big deal, right? One sale. A whole $.18 worth of royalties down the drain.
Except you never know who's out there, right?
I'm not saying don't be you. Two of my favorite bloggers/authors are Monica Jackson and Kate Rothwell. Both are very vocal, very straightforward, very much "this is me." But while both deal with controversial issues often, I never see what I'd term unprofessional behavior from either. Honest, but not mean.
So, before you post, think. Before you send, think. Before you snub or bash, think.
Because you never know who's out there.
:~: Wednesday, May 03, 2006 :~:
Writing Tip...The troublesome scene
We all know them--the scene that just won't dissolve into our bloodline and work its way from the brain to the fingertips. The causes are many: poor character development, poor plot development, disinterest in the work and my favorite...The dreaded revisions, which brings with it a whole other set of issues: same scene but different pov, fitting in a new scene into an already completed manuscript as if it was born there, etc.
I took a full day seminar with Debra Dixon last fall through RWA Silicon Valley Chapter. In between all the talk of GMC and the Hero's Journey (incredibly valuable course if you ever get the opportunity to take it with her), she lead us in an assignment to tackle that tough scene.
I'm going to share that with you here, as it is a simple, but powerful tool. (I can see I'm working on tip themes here.)
Next post, I'll take it one step further and add my own suggestions for organizing that scene, giving it structure and purpose.
First: Close your eyes and set yourself in the scene. Take a moment to imagine the setting and the characters, ground yourself there. Then ask yourself these questions:
- What do you see?
- What do you smell?
- What do you feel?
- What do you taste?
- What do you hear?
Simple, right? I already do that, you say? Good. Do it again, and this time write down your answers. You'll be surprised at how a fuzzy, disjointed image can become rich and concrete when you transfer those basics from your brain to the paper.
In my recent revisions on Hiding In Plain Sight, I've changed a lot of scenes--deleted, modified, switched pov. And I've had to add a few that have been very difficult for me to write. They are kill scenes, written in the victim's pov. That moment before death when they see the end.
Here's my fuzzy image: Villain and victim are in a basement, she's tied and has been there for two days. He's praying over her (thinks he's performing an exorcism) when he takes that one final step and snaps beyond his already psychotic state, killing her instead of saving her (at least he thinks he's saving her).
Can you see it?
Okay, now here's the concrete breakout...I'm the victim because this is written in the victim's pov:
What do I see?
- I see gray, cinderblock walls, gray cement floor, open framing two by four above me with pipes and wires snaking through the boards.
- I see darkness and dancing shadows beyond the glow of candlelight.
- I see fifty, maybe a hundred candles of every shape and size surrounding me.
- I see my clothes, scraps heaped on the floor after he cut them from my body.
- I see my own naked body with shadows dancing over my pale skin.
- I see Gabe (villain) kneeling at my side, wearing nothing but workout shorts. His big body is covered in sweat. His head is bowed, eyes closed tight. He's rocking back and forth with a rosary wrapped around his fingers.
- I see the basement stairs behind him, a light from the kitchen above illuminating my exit, my freedom.
Now can you REALLY see it?
What do I smell?
- Fragrance from the burning candles, some spicy, some flowery.
- The tang of Gabe's fresh sweat mingled with my own stale odor.
- The dank, moldy scent of the basement.
- Chemicals, oil, grease.
What do I feel ?
I'm taking this one step further than Debra did, separating this out into physical and emotional feeling.
- The bite of rope at my wrists and ankles.
- The crusted blood there pinching my skin when I move.
- The unbearable ache in my shoulders from being held over my head for forty-eight hours, like they're going to pop from my sockets like a Thanksgiving turkey.
- The ache in my back, neck, legs.
- The trembling of my fatigued muscles.
- The soft foam pad beneath my back.
- The cold cellar air prickling my skin, sinking into muscle.
- The effort it takes to draw breath, the way my lungs burn.
- The throb in my face where Gabe whacked my cheekbone.
- And, damn, I've got a killer headache.
- A whirlwind of emotions that change from moment to moment.
- Fear peaking at terror.
- Anger with myself for being vulnerable. Anger at Gabe for doing this to me, for hiding his psychosis.
What do I taste?
What do I hear?
- Gabe's endless chanting. I hear the change in his voice as he also succumbs to fatigue, frustration, anger, desperation.
- When Gabe leaves: Silence.
- The soft flicker of candle flames.
- The creak of rope when I move.
- The blood pumping in my ears.
- My own heart beating.
- My own breathing.
- My own moans.
- My own cries.
- My own prayers.
- Some strange voice in my head.
- The voices in my dreams.
- The distant sound of a barking dog.
- An occasional car engine drive by.
- More silence.
So what do you think? Powerful? I'd say so.
I take ten minutes to scribble this out and damn if I'm not psyched to write this scene now. It's fresh and vivid in my mind, my fingers are itching to get to the keyboard and pour out the images and emotions I've created in my little list.
Now make this your own. Add questions that will spur your creativity. Ask things of your character that elude you. Work harder on those areas in which you're deficient. (I often forget about taste.)
Something that might be very powerful to add would be: What am I thinking? Awesome fodder for internals and emotion.
One more suggested technique for the really tough scenes that you've just got to plow through:
- Write the bare bones action.
- Come back and layer in emotion.
- Take another pass and layer in senses.
- On the last pass tighten, refine, fill holes.
I've found that some scenes are too emotional to write in one pass and come out richer when created in stages.
Give it a try, let me know how it works, tell us about your own techniques for toughing through that dreaded scene you've been avoiding.
:~: Monday, May 01, 2006 :~:
The First . . .
You now that little thing called karma? Oh, yeah. Bit me. BIG time. And now I'm scrambling back through all of J's past posts trying to figure out what the heck I'm doing.
I had to stop work on the WIP to get a past ms in shape for a requested submission. While I love this story, I've been playing ostrich because I realized there were issues with the first few chapters. When a pubbed author friend offered to look at them for me, I couldn't hide anymore and whipped the thing out to send it to her. Well, as you can imagine, since then I've been in the depths of revision hell right along with J, and let me tell you, it's not a fun place to be. Why, oh why, are revisions so daunting? I know once I get through them I'll look back and laugh and say, that wasn't so bad, but when you're in the midst of revising its like trying to dig yourself out of quicksand.
Now, I'm not one to subscribe to any kind of formula for writing, and I don't follow rules. Anyone who knows me knows I'm not even a plotter. But while editing this weekend I realized all the changes I made to the first few chapters totally screwed up my timeline and suddenly my hero and heroine are kissing on page 78.
78?! What the %$#@!
If I were writing a 280 page novel, that might fly. But this is a 450 page single title. That's not going to work. Where's the sexual tension if they're hot and heavy on page 78??
Hence, revision heeeeellllll.
I pulled the first kiss out of that scene and moved it back to chapter six and a point just before a dead body is found. Romantic, huh? Well, this is RS, and I think it works, so it's staying. And that first kiss is now on page 135, which is a little more "workable" for me.
Of course, that got me thinking about timing and pages and where you have your romantic action happening in your stories. (And it's a good distraction from revision hell). So I'd like to ask you to do me a favor: Get out your ms and share. Where's the first kiss? Chapter and page. Where's the first love scene? Chapter and page. Even if you're not a plotter (like me) do you think about things like page numbers and chapters when you're writing or revising your "romance"?