It’s been three weeks since I uploaded Dealing With McKenzie to the RWA Golden Heart contest website, and since then I haven’t looked at my completed manuscript or written a word of fiction. I made a deliberate decision to give myself the rest of January to reflect, regroup, and recharge my batteries before diving into Cam’s and Mary’s book.
I spent most of my mini-break learning from other people’s stories in various different ways: lots of reading, four fantastic days zooming around Arizona talking non-stop with Kat and Kay, a wonderful weekend brainstorming with the other Ladies at Justine’s house, and most recently judging my assigned entries for the Golden Heart contest.
Here are a few of the good things I learned from spending quality time with other people’s stories:
My favorite new book for January was Tessa Dare’s Say Yes To The Marquess, and my absolute favorite thing about it was the opening scene. I read the book for fun, and then I went back to the beginning and re-read the first scene half a dozen times because I thought it was really, really good. It got the heroine and the hero on the page immediately, established the world, set the tone, gave the heroine a clear and credible goal, gave the hero the power to block that goal and a sympathetic reason for doing so, absolutely crackled with sexual tension, and propelled me headlong into the story whether I was ready or not. Wow. I sat on the sofa and thought that’s what I want my opening scenes to do. It gives me something to aspire to as I wrestle with Cam and Mary. I think/hope I have all the elements I need to do a good job, but we shall see.
We discussed story a lot last week in Arizona. Kat posted on Friday about Kay’s killer question that went to the heart of Cheyenne’s story and led Kat to go home, wipe her white-boards and go back to the fundamentals. It was also a timely reminder to me to stay focused on Cam and Mary’s love story and not to get sidetracked by shiny subplots and fascinating secondary characters. They’re a valuable part of the book, but it’s easy to go overboard. Losing sight of my central story cost me months of effort and a painful number of deleted words last year.
Team 8 Ladies also solved a plot wrinkle for Justine (my suggestion was correctly discarded as being neat, but too convenient to be credible – useful lesson there), and we had a blast dreaming up modern-day equivalents to the hand of the gods and the heroine’s symbolic death for Michille’s Antigone story. We spent a happy hour talking to Michaeline about masked balls, movies, and her heroine Bunny Blatavsky, and I also enjoyed a very satisfying few hours with Kay, figuring out a story outline for her next book, working title Phoebe 2. I loved what we came up with and can’t wait to see if it works when Kay tries it for reals. All this exercise for my right-brain got the Girls working overtime, and on two consecutive mornings at Justine’s house I woke up with new insights about Cam and Mary, including something that I think will be very important for the ending (always good to know that upfront).
I’ve just spent a happy weekend reading my assigned entries for the Golden Heart. It was exciting to read brand new stories from other unpublished romance writers. Judging the manuscripts was a big responsibility, and it forced me to think hard and analytically about what worked for me and what didn’t, and why. Without breaking any confidences, two big take-outs I got were about titles and synopses. At first, I saw a list of the titles I’d been assigned without knowing what sub-genre they were. Some of them were crystal clear, others not so much. It hammered home to me what I’d been told about Rent & Cornflakes not being the right title for my contemporary romance. And even though I’ve read and written quite a few synopses, this was the first time I’d actually used one in combination with the opening pages of a story to understand the whole – the writing and the story structure. It was a holy cow! moment. Finally, I truly get what the damn synopsis does. I think that understanding will help me to do a much better job next time I have to write one.
So even though I haven’t written a word, I feel as though I’ve done much good work over the last few weeks. Now it’s February already, and I have to back up all this feel-good, fluffy stuff with bodies in motion and words on the page. Zero scenes in the bag, seventy to go (more or less). I’ll keep you posted 😉 .
So how about you? Did you learn anything new lately from reading a book, or watching TV, or just knocking ideas about with a few good friends? Care to share?