Elizabeth: At a Loss for Words

“Had we but words enough, and time,
Thy poems, dear, would be sublime.”

I have the time, it’s the words I’m having trouble getting right.

Readers familiar with Andrew Marvell’s poem, To HIs Coy Mistress, know that the above lines aren’t quite right either.  They should read:

“Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.”

However, when searching for the poem on the internet earlier today (for no good reason), I ran across the alternate version on The Piker Press, and it tickled my fancy.  Here’s the whole bit:

“Had we but words enough, and time,
Thy poems, dear, would be sublime.
We’d read aloud a verse each day,
And watch delicious words at play.
I’d speak each noun, then let you, miss,
Enunciate a verbal kiss.”  ~  Cheryl Haimann

Today’s post isn’t about poetry, though I did pick just pick up two new books of poems – Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost – when I stopped for a browse through the local bookstore on my way home from work. Continue reading

Elizabeth: Back to Basics – Starting a “New” Story

Stories Yet To Be WrittenA few weeks ago I mentioned that I was trying to decide wether to keep plugging away on the current manuscripts I have in process or to call it a day and get on with my (writing) life.

The part of me that felt I was trapped in revision paralysis was all for “let’s build a bonfire / I’ll get the matches.”  The part of me that never stopped reading a book partway through (until Madame Bovary), was more “quitter, quitter, quitter.”

A conundrum, indeed.

Fortunately, I think I’ve come up with a solution that pleases no one combines the two options.  I’m taking one of my three manuscripts and starting it all over from scratch.

Sounds like fun, right?  No?  Well, it was Jilly’s idea. Continue reading

Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. Continue reading

Nancy: In Praise of Backstory

Last week, Jeanne wrote about needing help figuring out how the characters in her book progressed to a second date in their years’-earlier relationship. In the comments, there were some great suggestions for how she could figure out how the hero convinced the heroine to go out with him after a less-than-stellar first date. In addition to the brainstorming, I liked some other things about Jeanne’s post, such as 1) an excerpt – yay! and 2) some love for the backstory she’s creating for her characters.

We’ve discussed backstory on the blog before. I wrote about it here and here, giving some examples of where you’ve seen and why it’s not such a bad thing. As I’m deep into a story that depends on multiple levels of backstory, and juxtaposed with Jeanne sharing her bit of backstory she’s writing for her WIP, I thought it a prescient time for a reminder of how important this nifty little element of fiction is. According to writing teacher extraordinaire Lisa Cron’s philosophy, backstory is the backbone of story itself. Continue reading

Kay: Finding The Voice

Copyright: Konstantin Sutyagin

The other night I watched a three-part mini-series on Amazon Prime called David and Olivia. Part One opens with a guy (David, we learn later), getting into his car and driving away, not noticing that there’s a naked woman (Olivia, we learn later) asleep on the back seat.

Great premise!

She wakes up and keeps herself more or less covered with a large, bulky, plastic bag she’s carrying. I think it takes too long for him to notice her, but when he does, he’s startled and then solicitous. Olivia says she’s on her way to Edinburgh; will he take her there? David says no; he’s taking his girlfriend’s passport to the Glasgow airport because she’s on a business trip and she forgot it. Continue reading

Jilly: Reading Week Lessons Learned

For reasons best left unexplained except to say all’s well that ends well, last week I spent a few days out of action, followed by a few more recuperating on my sofa with a restorative book or ten.

When I’d soothed myself with all my favorite re-reads, I decided to try a highly rated fantasy series. It’s been on my radar for ages but I never bought the books because while I like the premise, the blurb and the reviews, the story is written in first person, present tense, which isn’t my catnip. The POV character (in this case, the heroine) is telling the story, so either she’s using present tense to describe something that happened in the past, which seems affected, or she’s providing a running commentary in the midst of the story action, which suggests she’s not fully engaged in what she’s doing. If the heroine isn’t all-in, why would I be?

No matter. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The writing was good—good enough to get me past the first-person-present-tense obstacle. The characters were engaging, and the world fascinating. The chemistry between the heroine and hero was credible, with plenty of zing. Sadly I stopped after Book One of the trilogy, for two main reasons.

One (the lesser of the two) was that the book didn’t have a self-contained storyline. The characters grew and changed, but the book was a collection of unanswered questions that will no doubt be resolved over the remainder of the trilogy. So there was no moment of thrilling catharsis at the end of the book, just a vague feeling of “to be continued…” .This was a light-bulb moment for me, since the edit report on my first Alexis book (edits still on hold until I finish the prequel story) said I was guilty of this same folly. Aha. Okay. Must cogitate.

The second issue, which really annoyed me, was the author’s persistent use of deus ex machina at critical plot points. (According to Wikipedia: deus ex machina is a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived). The story may be a fantasy, but that does not give the author the right to wave her magic wand every time the plot gets too difficult for the characters to resolve on their own.

Continue reading

Jilly: Give the Girl a Goal!

I’ve spent quite a bit of time this week judging contest entries.

We’re talking genre fiction, not literary works. I’ve been judging as a reader. Clean, smooth prose is good, but it should be a delivery vehicle for strong storytelling.

Many of the pages I’ve read have been thrilling. The heroine has a strong, active role – she’s a bodyguard, or a firefighter, or sniper, or a PI, or whatever. The world-building has on the whole been convincing and the writing sound.

So it pains me to say I would not have bought any of the stories I read, nor even bothered to read on if the author had given them to me gratis.

The problem, I think, was that not one of these strong, active heroines had a goal. They had expertise, they were parachuted into action-packed scenes, and they responded as they had been trained to do. They saved themselves, children, cute puppies and even hunky heroes. Things happened to them, and they reacted. Boom! Pow! Continue reading