Kay: Learning Curve(ball)

I’m closing in on finishing a trilogy I’ve been working on for some time. Book 1 is out; this is the cover. Book 2 is at the copy editor, due back at the end of April. I’m still revising Book 3 before it goes to copy edit.

My goal is to make these books as light-hearted as possible. I want them to be the literary equivalent of meringue—a whisper of sweetness on the tongue. I want them to be funny. I want every single person and animal—even the villains—to have a happy ending. I want these books to make readers feel better even if they read them on their worst days.

Book 1 went fine, but Book 2 was a killer. I had difficult personal issues going on at the time I wrote it, and when I went back to it for revisions, it did not read like meringue. It read like day-old oatmeal—heavy, dry, and lumpy. Totally unappetizing. I complained about it on this forum, but I will save you a dreary whine by not posting the link.

What to do? Jilly, one of our Eight Ladies, offered to read it to see if she could see any ways to lighten it. And did she ever! One big one: don’t give Dave a heart attack. He’s an important but secondary character who helps my heroine focus on what’s important in her professional life. We liked Dave. We felt bad when he went to the hospital. I needed Dave to exit the book, but I didn’t need him to exit a vibrant second career.

Jilly’s suggestion seems obvious in retrospect, right? If you want your books to be cheery and light-hearted, nobody should suffer a life-changing medical condition.

Okay! Book 2 revised, it goes off to copy edit. Onward to revising Book 3! In the home stretch now! Because Book 3 is light. I remember doing that.

Or…not. Because I’m reading Book 3 right now, and what happens? The villain attacks Phoebe, my heroine—my main character, mind you—and she suffers a concussion and loses her memory.

Good grief.

Hello, oatmeal, my old friend.

I feel like an idiot for making this mistake—and a copycat idiot, to boot, for making the same mistake in successive books. The good news is, I learned from my mistake. If you want meringue, do not start by making oatmeal. Don’t let Dave have a heart attack, and don’t give Phoebe a concussion. (And this is good news for Jilly, too: so far, she doesn’t have to confront another batch of day-old oatmeal.)

These characters must have crises of some sort. But no more medical emergencies. Not if they’re living in Meringuelandia.

Lesson learned. I hope.

What about you? Do you find yourself making the same kinds of mistakes in your writing?

7 thoughts on “Kay: Learning Curve(ball)

  1. Can’t wait for Phoebe book 2! I could use a little meringue in my life about now.

    My pet foible is letting things get too complicated. I blame an (undiagnosed) case of ADHD but I tend to want to make every single character in the book a round character with a full story.

    Case in point: my current book, which I split into two books earlier this year because it had 6 main characters, each with their own interwoven story.

    I’m now six scenes away from finishing it and just realized I still have four stories going on. Sheesh.

    I’m getting ready to start a new series that I want to be very light and fluffy and I’m making a note to myself: no heart attacks or concussions!

    • Let that be the mantra: no heart attacks and concussions in the comedies! I hear you about stuffing books full of characters, all of whom you’d like to spend more time with. In a way, it’s a good thing—you got two books out of one, right? But it’s not so much fun if getting the story to manageable proportions or focusing on the main storyline involves cutting. Good luck with your next series! I look forward to checking it out.

  2. Jilly’s amazing at spotting these things, isn’t she? She made the observation to me recently that in two books from the English Garden Romance (EGR) series, I seemed obsessed with hospitals…

    And then in book 1 from my next series, there were THREE hospital scenes. She suggested I should take at least one out. To my horror, when she pointed this out, I also realised all my characters made comments about the coffee, and part way through the third book of the EGR, I’m just about to write ANOTHER hospital scene. I’ve obviously been deeply traumatised by hospitals and the coffee they serve to keep bringing it up.

    Having recently finished Christmas in Caterwaul Creek, I too am on the lookout for snappy dialogue and funny situations (AKA meringue), so I’ll certainly look out for the new book!

    • Jilly was genius with book 2. She really turned that thing around, and while it has a couple of issues I couldn’t resolve, it is so much better than when I’d just been sitting there glaring at it, I’ll be forever grateful.

      Maybe many of us fall back on medical emergencies in our storytelling? They definitely create a crisis atmosphere, a sense of doom or fear. People (characters) either step up or fail to supply what’s needed. There’s so many ways a medical crisis or a hospital scene can be a turning point. And writers do tend to rework the themes that are important to them, so I wouldn’t necessarily say that having a hospital scene in every book is a problem, especially if your characters have known medical issues! But I hear you—we tend to fall into the same patterns with our writing without noticing, and it can take a fresh pair of eyes to point that out. If this writing thing doesn’t work out for Jilly, I’m thinking she could always become a book doctor. And THERE’s a hospital scene for you!

      Thank you for reading Christmas in Caterwaul Creek! That was a fun one to write—a small publisher had requested a holiday story, and I submitted an outline, which was accepted. But then when I wrote the story, it didn’t follow the outline. Which ultimately didn’t matter, because the company ran into financial difficulties and suspended acquisitions. Years later they got back to me and asked if I’d written the story, and I said I’d self-published it. They asked to see it anyway and then pointed out I hadn’t followed the outline. Well, no. But there’s no going back now.

      • Thank you for the kind words, ladies! *Blushes*. It’s much easier (and more fun) to pick apart someone else’s hard work. I’m glad my comments helped add sugar, egg whites and lots of air to Phoebe 2. I can’t wait to read the new version, and then Phoebe 3!

        The last couple of weeks I’ve been attempting to book doctor my own opening scene from Seeds of Destiny. I kept tweaking it, without success, until on the fourth or fifth iteration I realised why it didn’t work. Although the scene was all about Our Girl, she was more or less a bystander, describing the action and reacting as her own inciting incident was revealed. When I finally saw what I’d done, I made her the main focus of the scene and let her drive the action, and it’s much better. I made this same mistake at least twice with my heroine in early drafts of The Seeds of Power. Eight Lady Jeanne caught one of them, and my developmental editor pointed out the other. I thought I’d learned my lesson, but clearly not so much.

  3. I think my issue is inconsistency of emotion. Granted, I have some heavy stuff going on in the beginning of my second book, but I’m having a hard time nailing down whether the heroine is sad or mad or what…I mean, she can be both, of course, but I think it’d be easier if she were just ONE thing. I also have a tendency to sink into the 1980s versions of historical romance and have the heroine be all “woe is me.” *sigh* Trying very hard to make her a bit more modern in sensibility. Or at least not so helpless. LOL. Fun, fun!

    • It’s hard to write into what you know is not your strength, right? Sometimes I feel like when I’m tackling things I’m not good at that I’m basically back in class, trying to cut through the noise to get to the center. And I’m lousy at conveying emotion. In my critique group of three, one of us is obviously best at nailing the emotional response, and she’s always critiquing me to give my characters an emotional response at the end of a scene. I’m strongest at dialogue, and I always think that my characters’ speech says it all. Clearly not!

      I haven’t read your WIP, so I’m not offering any advice on it, but what I like to read is a character, who, when she faces heartbreak or loss or betrayal or whatever, moves from sad to mad. It arcs, and it gives characters a chance to feel bad and then move to a place where they can take action. Good luck with it! I felt really outraged when I read the opening pages of your first book, so I think you’re probably doing fine with the emotional content side of things. 🙂

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