Nancy: Because Every Story Is a Special Snowflake

Writers love to talk about writing processes. We’re pantsers, or plotters, or ultra-plotters. We follow the hero’s journey, or Lisa Cron’s story genius method, or the snowflake method (no, seriously!), or one of a thousand either guru-inspired approaches. We write chronologically. Or out of order. Or by writing all the turning points first and filling in the interstitial spaces after that. We swear by writing every day, or binge-write a few times a week or a month.

By the time we’ve spent a few years on this journey and gotten a few completed stories under our belts, most of us have discovered our own process, our unique mix story theory and project organization and time management that ultimately results in a book. And once we understand our own approach, we learn to rely on it to get us through the next story deadline, and the one after that, and…you get the idea. And that can be a wonderful thing. It’s a well-worn path that becomes a shortcut to our creativity. An annotated roadmap to get us from nascent idea rattling around inside our bizarre writer brains to full-fledged story ready to go out into the world. A comforting guide to get us through the rough spots.

Until it stops working.

While every book requires tweaks and adjustments to our approach, every now and then there’s a book that so special (yes, that’s a euphemism for PITA) that we have to throw our trusty process right out the window. And so that’s where I find myself today, with the next installment in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Harry and Adelia’s love story.

If this ever happens to you in your creative journey–and odds are, it will–it’s important to remember it’s normal, it’s surmountable, and it’s probably even good for you. After all, what good is creativity if it’s easy and stagnant and follows that same stupid rut-filled path every time, anyway? And in case you do ever hit that wall, I’ll tell you the same thing my wise writing friends have been telling me: Continue reading

Jeanne: A Body in Motion

I just finished reading a first chapter for a friend who’d been wanting me to critique for her. (Note: I’m pretty sure this falls under the heading of “Be Careful What You Wish For”).

Her writing is solid—clear, grammatical, easy to follow—and the character she introduced was sympathetic and likable. Great start.

The problem I had with the scene was that nothing much happened. And not only did nothing much happen, but the character in question didn’t even move around very much. He got out of his car, climbed the steps to someone’s front porch, dodged a bee, and knocked on the door.

That’s not a lot of activity for eight pages.

After I fired off my response email, suggesting she incorporate more action and present conflict, I hopped on Instagram, where I came across a meme on “8 Reasons Your First Scene Isn’t Working.” They were all good points, but the list didn’t include lack of action.

One of the things we learned at McDaniel was that readers judge characters, not by what they say, or even think, but by what they do.

All of that made me think about the motion/energy/activity level in my own new first scene. My scene has conflict, but there’s still a strong aura of “talking heads” about it—just two characters standing around yapping at each other.

Which, now that I’m aware of it, I can fix.

What are your thoughts on this? Is it okay with you if the first scene in a book is just people talking or thinking? Or do you want to see some bodies in motion?

Jeanne: The Year of Cooking Dangerously

Yesterday I started drafting The Demon Goes Hungry, which will be the third book in my Touched by a Demon series. (The Demon Wore Stilettos has been pushed out to the final book in the series. It made sense as Book 3 when I was planning a trilogy, but now that I’m planning an ennealogy it needs to be Book 9.)

The premise of the story is that heroine Katie Rose Landry owns a food truck called “Devilish Delights,” from which she sells Cajun-spiced food, including deviled eggs that Satan adores.

In fact, Satan loves them so much he orders Belphegor, the Demon of Gluttony and Master of Hell’s Kitchen, to recruit Katie to become his private chef.

Much silliness and danger ensues. I hope. Continue reading

Nancy: Name That Character!

Later this week, I will finish the final pages of the first draft of Three Husbands and a Lover. While I will then walk away from it for a few to several weeks before starting on revisions, there is one change I already know I have to make: changing the name of the hero’s sister. Percival (Percy) Carlyle, Captain Lord Granville, is an earl with three younger sisters. The younger two are sixteen-year-old twins named Lily and Iris. The oldest is eighteen and is named Priscilla, Prissy for short.

You can see the problem. Percy and Prissy. As much as the sister just felt like a Prissy, as much as the name suited the character, even I started getting confused and typing one name when I meant the other. Now this character, who plays an important secondary role in this story and who might get a story of her own someday, needs a new name.

This oldest sister is chatty, bubbly, and hopelessly romantic. She is has fallen head over heels for her first earnest suitor, who doesn’t really deserve her affections. And she welcomes her brother’s new wife with open arms, thrilled to have an older sister to balance out the two younger ones. She is tallish for a woman, and has pale freckled skin and light reddish-blonde hair like her brother, and unlike her mother and sisters who are petite, dark-haired, and dark-eyed.

The two younger sisters are named after flowers, obviously. Flower names became very popular in the 19th century, and it wouldn’t be too big a stretch to imagine a family naming all their daughters after symbols of prettiness and sweetness. So, like her sisters, the character formerly known as Prissy will be named after a flower. I’ve narrowed down the list to the following three, with their meanings, and the pros and cons of each from my perspective. Continue reading

Nancy: Goals and Conflict, aka Everything Old Is New Again

This might or might not be an accurate depiction of me upon realizing I’ve done it again.

 

I like to say that I can be taught. That I can learn from my mistakes. That writing, like life, is a process, and part of that process is continuous improvement. Yes, I like to say I’m getting better, but then I do things that make a liar out of me.

Case in point: I’ve been working on the next book in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, Three Husbands and a Lover, for those of you keeping track at home. This is Percy’s story (Captain Lord Granville), who is the group cut-up, thrill-seeker, and all around flirtatious cad. But I knew, from the inception of the series, that all his light frivolity was hiding a dark inner life. This is crunchy stuff, the kind a writer likes to sink her teeth into. But it took a few bites for me to get there.

In the pre-discovery phase of the book, which is when characters with some vague motivations, snippets of conversations, and partial scenes float around in brain, untethered from each other and any kind of story logic, this was a very different story from what it is today. And that’s fine. That’s why I do discovery work – to excavate and sift and reveal a few tiny gold nuggets per metric ton of crap.

Turns out our heroine, Finola, had a goal in the initial story iteration. It was a good, strong, “close-your-eyes-and-you-can-see-it” goal. But it didn’t have anything to do with Percy, who didn’t yet have a raison d’être of his own beyond “get Finola in bed.” Continue reading

Kay: New Dogs, Old Tricks

Can you read the caption? “Andrina Wood at the console of a BTM computer. Tabacus: The Magazine of the British Tabulating Company, August 1958.” The photo was republished on the Twitter account of Mar Hicks, a professor and historian of technology. Many of the vintage photos I’ve seen show women at computer consoles working with a legal pad or paper notebook.

I’ve started a new book. For lack of any better ideas, I went back to a project I last worked on in about 2006—the adventures of my genius computer hacker and the FBI agent who arrested her.

I wrote two books of these characters before I switched to lighter storylines—there’s just something about your hero sending your heroine to prison that tends to get dark pretty fast. And it’s hard to write genius, too, if you’re not genius yourself. Using Sheldon Cooper as a role model, especially for a female character, has its limitations.

The reception I got for these books after I’d finished them was lukewarm. The first book is about stealing an election, a topic that every agent and editor I talked to said would be stale in months. And we all know how that turned out.

Continue reading

Justine: Leaving Well Enough Alone

“The more we stur a tourde, the wours it will stynke.” So said J. Heywood in the 1546 Dialogue Prouerbes Eng. Tongue. How true is that? I have muddied around with the first several chapters of my book for MONTHS now, but as the Golden Heart deadline approached on Friday, I found myself having to follow the equally proverbial “fish or cut bait.”

In other words, I had to make whatever changes I could get done before the deadline, then send it off on its merry way. (I have few hopes of finaling, but I thought because it’s the last time RWA will hold the Golden Heart–the “Academy Awards” of romance writing for unpublished authors–I should give it a go.)

When I finished my submission, and in conjunction with my Word Of The Year (which is DEADLINES), I told my husband that I was not going to touch those first five chapters again. And he made me sign THIS:

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So it’s moving forward, starting with Chapter 6 and going until it’s done and I turn it in to my editor.

Do you put a stake in the ground when it comes to your MS? Do you only allow a certain number of revisions to a given chapter?