Michaeline: Fishing for Ideas Amongst Columns of the Lovelorn

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Dear M: I’m an up-and-coming illustrator with my choice of three eligible young men, but the older gentlemen of my design firm are queering my pitch. Love or money? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I adore advice columns, and have done so since I was a kid. Advice columns! Little mini-dramas that are so important to the POV character that she or he actually takes time from his or her real life to write to a third party, hoping for some pearls of wisdom.

I found a new column this week – apparently, it’s been around for decades, but thanks to the magic of the Google search, I found it this week. Elle’s Dear E. Jean. It’s full of fabulousness, as one might expect from a fashion magazine. Instead of the downhome rustics of Ann and Abby, we get women who are models, electrical engineers, designers who rose from homeless childhoods . . . it’s just a fascinating cross-section of womanhood, with a few men asking for advice as well.

I like the advice, which seems to always boil down to: be your most fabulous self, and choose the kind of partner that fabulous self needs. Trust in the universe to provide what you need, as long as you put in the effort.

Some of these columns are begging to be expanded into romance stories; others provide 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

Kay: Writing Sex Scenes

Cupid and Psyche (1817), by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)

Cupid and Psyche (1817), by Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)

I’ve been chugging along on my WIP for a very long time. For a while, Life intervened. But even after I got Life wrassled to the ground and stomped on, that WIP just didn’t cooperate. No matter how I tried to gas it up and drive it someplace, it went nowhere. And as I don’t have to tell most of you, nothing is more depressing than writing 500 new words and deleting 600 old ones every day. A person starts to wonder if she’ll end up with an empty tank and no place to go.

But over the last few months, things have turned around. The book’s going okay. It isn’t there yet, but these days I’m writing 500 words and deleting 50. That’s what I call progress.

Until yesterday. Yesterday I looked at my blank page with fear and loathing. I’ve come to that spot in the book where my characters need to have sex.

I hate writing sex scenes. I know they’re supposed to be like any other scene, where things happen and characters grow or change, or the plot moves (or maybe that’s the earth) and so on. Continue reading

Elizabeth: What do you stand for?

img_1219If you’ve been paying attention to American politics recently, you’ll have noticed that there are a lot of people taking a hard look at what they stand for, what they believe in, and what they are willing to do in support of those beliefs.

People who have never participated in a march have marched.  People who have never called their elected representatives have made calls.  People who may have thought of politics as something that just sort of happens have started to realize that it’s a participatory process.

All good things.

Deciding what you stand for has its challenges, especially if what you stand for is in opposition to what someone else believes.  Even if you believe the same thing as someone else, you may have different or possibly conflicting ideas about how those beliefs should be addressed.

So what does all this have to do with writing? 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

Elizabeth: Characters and Christmas

2008-xmas-dsc_0498As I mentioned in last week’s post, I spent a few days recently at the Happiest Place on Earth (Disneyland), taking a digital break and doing a little mental refresh.  The weather was good, the fireworks were spectacular, and it was great to disconnect for a little while.  Now that I’m back and the holiday decorations are up (mostly), it’s time to work on my manuscript.

Though I don’t have a daily word goal this month like I did in November, I’m trying to follow Jilly’s advice and to make sure my story doesn’t get lost in the holiday / year-end crush.

Right now I’m focusing on getting to know my characters a little better. Continue reading

Nancy: WU UnConference Lesson 2 Con’t: Backstory as the Backbone of Your Story

This scene from Moonstruck packs a punch because we know these characters' backstories.

This scene from Moonstruck packs a punch because we know these characters’ backstories.

In last week’s post, I nattered on about Lisa Cron’s message that backstory is the decoder ring for any story we write. This week, let’s take the discussion one step further. Let’s talk about putting some of that glorious backstory you’re creating into your current WIP.

Gasp! Egads! Not the Dreaded Backstory!

Before you go running for the exits, hear me (channeling Lisa) out. As the author of Wired for Story and Story Genius as well as a long-time writing coach and teacher, Lisa has researched lots of brain science to back up her theory that not only do we need to create our characters’ backstories for our own authorial edification, but also for reader enlightenment and, ultimately, bonding with our characters. Our brains use story to explore different aspects and possibilities of the wider world so we can learn lessons from those experiences without putting ourselves in harm’s way. (Lisa puts it much more elegantly in her books, and really, you should be reading her books!) And because our brains are incredibly efficient machines, they will use the same techniques to decipher fictional stories as they do real-life events.

Let’s think about that in the context of character for a minute. Think back to meeting someone important in your life, for example, your significant other or your best friend. Continue reading