Last week I started work on a short story, a prequel to my Touched by a Demon series. It features Dara’s grandparents and explains how Esther and Lonnie met and how they came to start the demon-fighting ministry that plays such a major role in Dara’s life.
I’ve had it in mind to write this story for a while, so that I’d have a free taste of my Touched by a Demon world to offer potential readers. I’ve written short stories before, even won awards with them, but they were women’s fiction rather than romance. (If you’re interested, you can find a couple of them at www.jeanneestridge.com under the Extras tab.)
As discussed previously in this post, romances are inherently more complex than other forms of genre fiction. Because you have a main plot arc, a romance arc, and character arcs for both the hero and the heroine, even the bare minimum is a lot to juggle. Because I write paranormal, there’s an additional layer of complexity with the necessary world-building.
I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how I’d do all that in 10,000 words or less, so I signed up for a short story writing class through OIRWA, the online international chapter of RWA. In the first lesson the instructor handed me the solution, which is so obvious I’m embarrassed to share it: No subplots. Continue reading →
Recently I read and reviewed a contemporary romance. The setting was unusual enough to be interesting without being so weird it distracted from the story and it had likable main characters, each of whom had a solid character arc, but the book left me feeling out of sorts. It wasn’t until I wrote up the review that I realized what hadn’t worked for me: the protagonist had three different goals.
She’d just graduated from college and wanted a job using her degree.
She was involved in organizing a charitable event to which she was deeply committed and she wanted it to reach a certain dollar figure in revenue.
She had recently broke up with a boyfriend who took ruthless advantage of her giving nature and she was determined not to date for a while. (That’s a negative goal. If you’ve been reading Eight Ladies for any length of time, you know that’s a no-no, but it’s still a goal.)
One of the things I struggled with when I was learning to write novels was subplots.
Category romances (those shorties you used to see in the supermarket) don’t have subplots. They deal with a single story line and pair of characters. But longer books get really tedious if all we hear about for 350 pages is one set of characters and one story problem.
In a book with subplots, here’s how it goes: your main character encounters an obstacle. She figures out a way to deal with it, only to discover her approach yields unforeseen consequences and she now must deal with them, too. Meanwhile…. Continue reading →
Last week I finally got back to my WIP after almost a month fighting the good fight of Real Life. I was hoping I’d get my head back into the story and power forward, but the reverse happened. When I read my pages I realized I’d fallen into a familiar trap – I’d invested too much time and word-count establishing a secondary character and he was hogging the limelight.
I had this problem with Sasha, the super-rich super-bitch from Dealing With McKenzie. Sasha was trouble with a capital T and I wanted to understand what made her so damaged. I gave her a family, developed her backstory and established her goals, which were strong ones. Then I got over-invested and I didn’t want her to come across as one-dimensional, so I gave her a POV and a powerful sub-plot that took up a big chunk of story real estate (see blog posts passim). Fortunately I was saved from myself Continue reading →
As I get my MS ready to send off to the agents/editors I met with at RWA, I referred back to my McD notes on endings. Lots of great stuff there, but one thing in particular caught my attention. Start with the last scene. Alas, that gem came too late to save me back in my McDaniel days. I was already knee-deep in Cheyenne and thought I knew where this was all headed.
I was wrong, of course, but now I do (no,really) and it’s time to finish this sucker up. My front end is brushed to perfection (no tittering, please), and my middle isn’t so much saggy as missing teeth, AKA the scenes that I’ll need to build up to the dark moment—which is beginning to glimmer. Continue reading →
One of the themes that emerges in my writing, regardless of genre, is the importance of friendship in getting to the ‘stable world’ at the end of the story. Friendships among my female characters tend to arise naturally. So when I built the arc for my Victorian Romance series around five old friends/schoolmates from Harrow, the heroes of the stories, I thought I had a handle on these male friendships and how they’d grown, changed, and in some cases disintegrated over the years. Only when I got to revisions in book one did I realize that two of these friends who’d had a significant falling out needed to repair their friendship to move not only the plot of the first book, but also the arc of the series.
I’m going to dispense with the formalities of titles for purposes of this blog post, so the friends in question are Daniel (book 1 hero) and Edward (book 2 hero). These two are destined to cross paths and proverbial swords because our heroine, Emmeline, is both Daniel’s love interest and Edward’s sister. While each man loves Emmeline dearly in his own way, each believes he knows what’s best for her future (not-so-spoilery spoiler: their ideas of ‘best for Emmeline’ are different, and Emmeline doesn’t give a toss about their opinions of her life anyway).
In the first draft, I had Daniel and Edward sniping and verbally sparring, and eventually begrudgingly joining forces to do the right thing. That was all very nice and fine and good, but there wasn’t a lot of juice in their storyline. And what fun is it to read (or write!) about characters when there’s no juice? So I set out to make these former friends angrier, more intractable, and more diametrically opposed. Of course, you can’t have an immovable object meet an irresistible force without ensuing fireworks. And those fireworks? It turns out they’re the juice in the Daniel/Edward subplot. Continue reading →
I’m looking for recommendations and inspiration. Who do you think writes really great endings?
I’m not quite there yet – ask me again next week – but I’m close enough that endings are very much on my mind right now. I’m not the only one: check out this recent post by 8LW favorite Chuck Wendig, entitled ‘Why It’s Important To Finish Your Shit.’
As always, Chuck is spot on, but this time he’s preaching to the converted. I’ve had my head down, refused some really tempting social invitations, haven’t read a single new book in ages, because I really, really want to Finish My Shit. I want to enter the RWA 2015 Golden Heart contest for unpublished romance writers, which opens for entries in a couple of days’ time and closes on 12 January, though TBH that’s just an extra tasty carrot to make me push towards the finish line. More than anything I Continue reading →
A recent post by Jennifer Crusie reminded me of a story problem that I’ve been ignoring for a while. In earlier drafts, Cheyenne was a loner—no family and few female friends. The story was populated with mostly males, and most of those characters were a part of Reed’s community, not Cheyenne’s. One such character is foster-father to Reed and witty Australian, Catfish Deveron.
Catfish hasn’t been on stage much lately, but initially I had big plans for him. A year ago he was pivotal to the house rehab Cheyenne must undertake to get what she wants, was a foil for Hawk, and a central component of Reed’s character arc (Catfish wants to promote Reed to manager of the construction company he owns; Reed wants to remain a site supervisor so he can be where the action is.)
Making Catfish disappear from the story has benefits, however. For one thing, it would eliminate a huge plot hole in a plot line that explains why Reed is under Hawk’s thumb. In order to allow his wife (and Hawk’s daughter) Kara to die at home, Reed quit his job and moved back to Dry Creek, taking a house and a loan (for medical expenses) from Hawk. It’s the old man’s ace in the hole and the whip he uses to keep Reed in line. With Catfish around (a successful businessman and foster-father to Reed) one has to ask why Reed would go to Hawk for money (and put himself under the thumb of a power-hungry crazy man). It wasn’t plausible, but I couldn’t get rid of Catfish.
Did you enjoy any small (or large) victories this week?
I had a chunk of time bookended between two family commitments. I didn’t want to start a new scene in case I got stuck half-way and had to visit my mum with the other half still in my head – bad for the scene, bad for mum 🙂 , so I decided to revisit my first 50 pages. I knew I had work to do. Months ago, Jenny Crusie told me she didn’t know what to root for, because each of my scenes seemed to start a new plot, and the pieces of the story didn’t fit together. Than at RWA in San Antonio, I had feedback on the same pages from an editor who said something like “these are good scenes, but they’re all in the wrong place.”
I didn’t need to be told for a third time.
If the first scene is critical – you’ve engaged or lost your reader by the end of it – the first 50 pages (about 15k words, or half of Act I) are almost as important, because Continue reading →
While attending RWA National in San Antonio, I pitched my book. Twice. And both pitches were unqualified disasters, mostly because the day before I’d lost my voice, but also because I didn’t prepare. I sat down and began babbling my way through my story, trying to project a voice that was no longer there. No lie.
Still, I didn’t let anything silence my “writing” voice. I kept both appointments and did my best, and hey, 80% of life is showing up. The good news is despite the barely discernible chatter coming out of my mouth, something came across because both the editor and agent immediate got the gist. My story conflict was between Cheyenne and the uncle (Hawk). The bad news: my plot (as I explained it) appeared to have little to do with romance. Both agent and editor could see nothing keeping Cheyenne and Reed apart. Continue reading →