Nancy: Lessons From the Dreaded Day Job

Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.

Why, you might ask, have I taped a scene to my wall? To keep my brain guessing.

Once upon a time, a very nice girl found herself working in a really stressful industry. Okay, you caught me: I’m talking about me. I haven’t qualified as a ‘girl’ for decades. And very nice…well, that depends upon the day and the situation. But I did work in a really stressful industry (US government proposal management, in case you’re desperately curious). Over the years, I developed some mad skills that I brought to bear on high-pressure, deadline-driven, writing-intensive problems.

A few months ago, I left that industry and promptly forgot (or more likely purged) much hard-earned wisdom about writing and revision. And while I’d always believed honing my fiction writing and storytelling skills only improved my performance on those (non-fiction) projects, I didn’t think much about what lessons from my day job could teach me about writing fiction.

For what feels like eons but has only been several weeks, Continue reading

Nancy: Love for the Long Haul

kiss-on-windowBecause most of us here on the blog write (and read!) a lot of romance, the week of Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to talk about that core component of a romance story: love. More specifically, believable, happily ever after (HEA) love.

I thought about HEA love this past week when Maria V. Snyder posted on her FB page about the need for Valentine’s Day cards for 25+-year relationships, cards along the lines of “you annoy me and drive me crazy but I’m still willing to put up with it” or “we worked hard to mesh and I don’t want to train anyone else”. Yeah, those aren’t quite the messages we tend to read or write in our romance novels, but they are tongue-in-cheek reminders that there are real-life HEAs.

Back in the fiction world, though, that ‘believable HEA’ part isn’t always easy to write, and doesn’t always resonate with readers. For example, Continue reading

Nancy: How to Write a Sex Scene and Still Respect Yourself in the Morning

In the song I Want Your Sex, GM sings:

In the song I Want Your Sex, GM sings: “Sex is natural, sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should.” What do your characters think about that suggestion?

Followers of the blog know we started the discussion of sex – specifically, writing sex scenes – last week, when Kay talked about her difficulty writing the next (and more meaningful) sex scene between the h/h in her WIP. On Saturday, Michaeline followed up with some observations about different kinds of sex scenes and some words encouraging writers to practice writing them. Today, as someone who has written many sex scenes over the years, had them critiqued by other writers, and even survived having both my mother and mother-in-law read a book with some really hot stuff happening, I thought I’d add my two cents, or in this case, five points to ponder, about writing sex into a romance story.

1. A scene is a scene is a scene. When is a scene in your story not a scene? Never! So, it stands to reason that a sex scene will, in many ways, be like the other scenes in your book. As Kay and Michaeline both pointed out in their posts, scenes exist in a story for one reason – to move the story forward. That’s why the best scenes tend to have conflict, beats, escalation, and a turning point.

Conflict in a sex scene? Continue reading

Nancy: Today’s Word is Theme

The theme is the beating heart of your book.

The theme is the beating heart of your book.

Judging by my posts this month, it seems I’ve spent most of January thinking about keywords that apply to my writing life and process, including intention, patience, and empathy. This past week, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about theme as a result of the confluence of disparate elements.

First, a quick definition of theme as I’m using it here, from Reference.com: “The theme of a novel or story is the major message that organizes the entire work…The theme of a work is distinct from its subject, which is what the story is ostensibly “about.” The theme is an expression of the writer’s views on that subject.”

On Wednesday, Elizabeth wrote about defining what you stand for, as well as what your characters stand for, to help uncover potential conflicts, arcs, and growth opportunities. In the comments section, Jeanne and Elizabeth wrote about the way an author’s view of the meaning of a work can change through the writing process. With this in mind, it makes sense that many writers get their first (or second or fifth) draft on the page, then step back and analyze the work to uncover the theme. Why look for the theme? Continue reading

Nancy: The Problem with Empathy

malice-toward-noneOdds are, if you’re a creative person, you use your creative expression to process and make sense of the world around you. Knowingly or unknowingly, you also might be working out your personal issues in your work. This lesson came home to me a few weeks ago when I realized a struggle I was having with a character on the page was the very same struggle I was having with some real-world people in my life.

The character in question is an antagonist who did a terrible thing to the protagonist’s best friend years earlier, and that bad act comes back to haunt all of them in the present in the story. The real-life people I’ve referenced have recently stated beliefs and claimed values I didn’t realize they had, and I can’t make peace with it. In both cases, I’ve lost my capacity for empathy, and it’s a problem.

A few months ago, I posted about writing as our superpower. One of the things that makes that power so super and immutable and important is the ability to make readers walk in the shoes of the ‘other’. Stories take us places we’d never go in real life and introduce us to people we’d never meet otherwise. It’s especially important that an author empathize (and make the reader empathize) with the protagonist, even when she’s doing stupid or dangerous or infuriating things. Even when she’s weak or making bad choices or not living up to the challenges we’ve given her. Empathy allows us to go deep with the character to understand why she’s making these choices, because within the bounds of the story, we view the world and feel her feelings from her perspective. But what about the antagonist, especially if s/he goes into some seriously dark territory and does some truly heinous things? Continue reading

Nancy: Writers Resist

democracy-pen-americaAn interesting thing happened in America on Sunday. Writers – novelists, poets, songwriters, essayists, and artists of every stripe – gathered in cities and towns across the country for “a re-inauguration of our shared commitment to the spirit of compassion, equality, free speech, and the fundamental ideals of democracy.”

The collective movement is called Writers Resist (#writeourdemocracy), and the gatherings encouraged writers to read original works, participate in panel discussions about democracy, and show support for the most important pillar holding up the house of democratic government – free speech. Many of us in this country have taken for granted a right that is, in actuality, far too easy to stifle, as many of our kindred writer souls across the world could have told (and have been telling) us.
Continue reading

Nancy: Another 2017 Watchword: Patience

Patience is a VirtuePatience is a virtue, or so I’m told. I have to admit, I don’t have as much first-hand knowledge of this as perhaps I should. But like writing, life is a process, and as I continue pondering and acting upon my plans for 2017, I’ve decided to see how the other half (or whatever the percentage of patient people is) lives.

I should be clear: in my experience, impatience is not always a sin. It can be a driver and a motivator. It can ensure All the Things get done in a timely manner, something which was of the utmost importance in the strict deadline-driven professional world I used to inhabit. In fact, it is probably my impatience with my own work pace and quality, and (sometimes) that of others, that pushed me toward efficiency and higher-quality output. It made me really, really good at what I did.

And then I burned out. Continue reading