Jilly: What’s on Your Id List?

What things in fiction, big or small, really do it for you? Tropes, characters, premises or details that you enjoy so much you’d auto-buy a book or stick with a really bad movie because of them?

A couple of weeks ago I listened to Writing For Your Id, a workshop presented at this year’s RWA National conference by Dr. Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author. I’m super-grateful to 8 Lady Jeanne for recommending it.

The first part of the presentation, which would have been worth the price of admission, was that certain universal pleasures have become hard-wired into our brains, and encountering those treats when we read gives us a deep-seated hit of happy. Stories or scenes depicting sex, touch, beauty, wealth, power, competition and danger push our pleasure buttons. Different genres are associated with different pleasures, and the workshop offered suggestions about different ways to create pleasure-centric stories and to work with and against the typical pleasure buttons.

Lots of food for thought there, but what really resonated with me was the second part of the presentation: that you make your stories distinctive and memorable by adding in to them stuff that you, the writer, personally really, really like.

The idea is to develop a list of all the things that do it for you and use those things to bring excitement to your writing.

Work out which pleasures recur. Which ones you’re strong on and vice versa. And if you’re not looking forward to writing, get yourself in the mood by adding in something from your Id List.

Dr. Barnes said she has a list of more than a thousand items. I just made a start on mine, but here are a few things I came up with.

Sensible, smart, plain heroines who get the hot guy
Especially the overlooked bluestocking sister with a drop-dead gorgeous sibling.
I’d put Lizzy Bennet top of this list—Jane is beautiful, but Lizzy’s smart and interesting. Or quiet, competent Mary Challoner from Heyer’s Devil’s Cub.

Heroines who shoot the hero
That would be Mary Challoner again. And Jessica from Lord of Scoundrels. And Sophy from The Grand Sophy (well, she shoots a friend to prevent the hero from challenging him to a duel, but I think it counts). Continue reading

Michaeline: Wise Old Characters

Elderly African American Couple from 1899 or 1900 on their front porch. She's strong and has her arm on his shoulder.

Is there a dearth of wise old characters in fiction? What are we doing to fix that? (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Whoo-hoo! Three-day weekend here in Japan courtesy of “Respect for the Aged Day” on Monday. It got me to thinking about the old, wise characters in fiction. Currently, my favorite senior citizen is Nana Strong from Jeanne Oates Estridge’s new book, The Demon Always Wins.

Nana is feisty without being senile, is frail of body but strong in her beliefs, and offers a very real sort of “best friend” – not an all-knowing one, but one who knows a lot, and gives it to Dara Strong straight.

Other than that, though? Who are my favorite old folks in literature? It took me a little bit of thinking.

Werewolves? Nah, not a long-lived race, the werewolves. Vampires? Not what you’d call role-models, particularly. I am fond of MaryJanice Davidson’s young Betsy, Queen of the Vampires, but she’s not old.

So, I did what any 21st century philosopher would do, Continue reading

Michaeline: Fun Structures for Writing: Epistolary

A beautiful Persian woman writing a letter, while another woman is waiting outside her window. Consulting? The Messenger?

Letter-writing allows a story to be both intimate and public at the same time. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

As a reader, one of my favorite structures is epistolary writing – the friendly chat of a series of letters (or emails or texts) brings a certain coziness to a story, while preserving a definite curation of information. The writer is writing to a good friend (usually), but at the same time, WRITING (not talking – talking would be more spontaneous), and choosing details and trying to entertain.

Done well, it can be a great romp with a lot of meta. There are built-in layers, and the reader is invited to take part in discovering the bits that are left out because of the conceit that this is just between friends who share a history. (In practice, the good author or authors make sure the reader has the information to figure out just what is going on – the secrets require some work, but the burden upon the reader isn’t too onerous. Just enough pleasant exercise to make the sweetness of the unfolding story taste great.)

In addition, there’s a sense of Continue reading

Michaeline: Secrets, Secrets Never Cease

Elizabeth Bennet with the scales of justice

In Pride and Prejudice, secrets are kept from the readers, but we have a friend and guide as Elizabeth Bennet discovers the secrets and weighs the characters of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not sure why, but my mind is still on secrets this week. Last week, we expressed indignation in the comments about writers who keep secrets from the readers, but I’ve been thinking about it a little more, and . . . isn’t that precisely what writers are supposed to do? The writer, by the third or fifth or fiftieth draft, knows exactly what’s going on and all the secrets in the book (in theory). The writer could reveal everything in the first paragraph and be done with it. The art and the skill comes in revealing the secrets bit by bit.

I think what we protest against is clumsiness in handling secrets. As Nancy mentioned, one way of handling it is that there must be clues, they have to make sense, and the reader shouldn’t feel duped when they discover what’s going on.

I’m re-reading Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen for the umpteenth time this week, and you’d think by now, I know all the secrets in that book so thoroughly that the story would fail to entertain. But it doesn’t . . . I still find it very hard to put the book down.

The big secret is Mr. Wickham’s true character. Continue reading

Jilly: Alpha Males and Guilty Pleasures

Alpha Males & Guilty PleasuresHow alpha do you like your heroes? If your favorites are uber-dominant types, do they inhabit a sub-genre that expects or requires that behavior?

In my reading life I greatly enjoy alpha male asshattery. There are provisos: obviously the asshat in question must be a good guy deep down, he must have brains and a sense of humor, and he must be enlightened enough to respect and enjoy being challenged by a heroine who’s his equal and maybe even stronger.

Even with those provisos met, though, most of my favorite heroes indulge in the kind of high-handed, obnoxious behavior that I would find totally unacceptable in real life. It’s been on my mind this week, because I’m in the first draft of a new story and I’m gradually filling in all sorts of details about my hero. As I’m writing contemporary romance, it’s closer to home, and I’m finding it tricky to get the balance right. I found it a struggle with the previous book, too: after reading my opening scene from an early draft (a McDaniel College romance writing assignment), Jenny Crusie said she’d keep reading, but only in the hope that my hero, Ian, would get hit by a bus. Continue reading

Michaeline: Description, Part One

line-drawing of a horse in the Japanese style

A horse is a horse, of course. But how much detail do we really need to be able to see a horse? (Via Wikimedia Commons)

I am wrestling with description this week, and will probably be doing so for much of next month (and perhaps for the rest of my writing life).

Description boils down to the very simple fact that you have to get images out of your head, and transfer them into your readers’ heads. Some writers are quite particular about drawing word pictures, and they want the reader to see almost exactly what they see (a bit quixotic, if you ask me).

Others, on the other hand, concentrate on getting the images out of their own heads, purging them, if you will, by writing them. They may not care if the writer’s image and the reader’s image match exactly. They should care, however, about whether or not  Continue reading

Elizabeth: What Should I Watch?

tv_on_the_beachAs I mentioned in my post on motivation last week, I’m head-down in writing mode, working to finish up my manuscript so I can get the coveted “PRO” sticker on my badge for the upcoming RWA National conference. I have about seven days left (depending on when you read this) and four scenes that need to be finalized. That’s a fair amount of work and not a lot of time to do it in.

So naturally, I’m watching a lot of television.

Wait, what? Continue reading