Have you been reading (or watching) much fiction over the last few weeks? What kind of stories did you choose?
I spent the first week of my enforced homestay on the sofa, re-reading Jenny Crusie. I picked Agnes and the Hitman, followed by Fast Women. Angry heroines, laconic heroes with just the right skill-set, a dazzling array of secondary characters, terrific dialogue, and murder. Just what I wanted. No softness, lots of snark and action. Edgy stories tinged with darkness and humor, and a heroine with agency who fights her way to a happy ending, for herself and everyone she cares about. Very cathartic.
Then last week, between obsessively reading the news and completing a fiendishly tricky jigsaw puzzle with an underwater fantasy scene featuring strange fish, steampunk machines, grandiose ruins and Pre-Raphaelite mermaids, I revisited MR Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts. Continue reading
The many layers of a Japanese mille feuille (by Miya, via Wikimedia Commons)
Over the holidays, I binge-watched Riverdale, which is a live action reboot of the 75-plus-years-old Archie comics, and I loved it. I always love a good soap opera, because they are layered like a mille feuille, but Riverdale? Riverdale has layers in five dimensions.
First, artistically speaking, I was struck by the Twin Peaks vibe from the first shot. We open on the tragic drowning death of campus hero, Jason Blossom. In some ways, it feels like a prologue, but it is exactly where the season’s story starts. We’re given a gorgeous backdrop of river and mountains, somewhere near the Canadian border, and the stunning contrasts of all that summer green, and the Blossom twins’ pale skin and red hair. (Tone alert: Riverdale has Twin Peaks’ striking look, but there’s 50 percent less mumbo jumbo. The story references Twin Peaks as an influence, but it’s got better pacing, in my opinion.)
When I headed back to the DVD menu to click for my next hit, the episode names reminded me of old movies and short stories. Stuff like “Heart of Darkness” and “Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” I bet a reading/watching program of these references would provide quite an education in how to set up murderous fictional situations. But even if you’ve never read or seen most of these classics (and I haven’t), you’ve heard of them. They are in a million pop references, and you get it. It’s a little touch that re-inforces what you know about this series: it’s a pop rendition of some of the best of the twentieth century. That cult-hit vibe makes it even more cool and mysterious.
The next thing you notice is the stars. I’ll circle back to the younger stars in a paragraph or two, but the older stars? If you are a woman of a certain age, Archie’s dad (played by Luke Perry ((!))) and his mom (Molly Fucking Ringwold! THE red-headed sweetheart of my generation!) will provide all sorts of other feelings and memories. They don’t particularly Continue reading
The Greeks have 7 different words to describe love:
- Eros (sexual love)
- Ludus (playful love)
- Philia (friendship)
- Agape (selfless love)
- Philautia (self-love)
- Pragma (longstanding love)
- Storge (love of children)
Good romance novels depict most or even all of these.
1. The couple is attracted by eros. Sexual chemistry initially draws them to each other, but that’s barely enough to sustain a one-night stand, never mind a happy ever after.
Example: every romance novel ever written. Continue reading
Are you a Happy Holidayer? I suspect I’m the token Grinch among the Ladies. While my fellow bloggesses are decorating their homes with emotionally significant ornaments, baking seasonal treats, and recommending feelgood stories, I’m counting the days till it’s all over.
This week we’ve been chatting among ourselves about the Hallmark Channel’s holiday programming, aided and abetted by this article from slate.com, and this review of A Princess for Christmas (Sam Heughan!) on smartbitchestrashybooks.com. I have to confess that even reading these intelligent and amusing pieces sent me screaming in search of Dorothy Parker, or Saki, or EF Benson.
Our discussion did, however, make me examine why Christmas stories make me froth at the mouth. It’s not intellectual snobbery or political correctness. I love genre romance. I adore fantasy and fairy tales. I seek out happy endings, and I’m a sucker for community. I prefer tales told with intelligence and wit, but while that might rule out some of the more saccharine offerings, it should still leave me open to classics like Michaeline’s suggestion, Christmas in Conneticut. Nope, not even that.
I always thought I read romance for the kindness, the community and the hit of happy. This week I realized there’s another huge reason: many romances (and all the ones I love best) involve defying expectations and resisting peer pressure. Continue reading
A couple of years ago, at a writing workshop, I fell into conversation with another writer.
“What’s your story?” she asked me.
I started to explain that I wasn’t really far enough along with the book I was working on to provide a synopsis, but she shook her head.
“Not your book. What’s your story?”
She’d once heard Julia Quinn explain that every author has a core story they tell over and over with various plots and characters. Something inside them makes them revisit this theme over and over. Continue reading
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
There’s an important theme in Law and Order SVU season 12, episode 3. Can you spot it?
Okay, admit it. Your eyes rolled back in your head when you saw the word ‘theme’ in this post’s title, didn’t they? If so, it’s not surprising. Many writers, genre writers in particular – of which many of us here are – are often taught to disregard theme, at least in the early drafts. We’re told a story’s theme will emerge as we revise and dig deeper on later drafts, if indeed it need ever emerge. Who really needs theme anyway, other than your boring high school English teacher? After all, who wants a heavy-handed moral lesson or the author’s worldview shoved down her throat when she’s just trying to immerse herself in good fiction?
According to Lisa Cron, probably everyone.
As Cron discusses in Wired for Story, Story Genius, and workshops (for those of us lucky enough to attend one!), our brains are hardwired for story because story helps us decipher the world around us, and to discover ‘what would happen if’ without physically putting ourselves in harm’s way. In that way, stories are tied to our very survival as a species (sounds pretty cool to be a writer nerd now, doesn’t it?). Other cool things that happen to our brains on fiction are an increased capacity for empathy (through bonding with a protagonist and walking several miles in her shoes) and a willingness to challenge our own world views. And all that cool stuff happens because somewhere under all the scenes and character arcs and plot points and cause and effect trajectory, a story has a specific way of looking at the world, a message, a theme.
Instead of thinking about theme as some sort of moral imperative or high-brow statement to be made at the expense of good story, what if we think about theme as the beating heart of our story? Sound more appealing now? Continue reading