Nancy: What I Learned from Reading Seven Romances in a Week(ish)

Like some of the other ladies on the blog, this year I was a judge for an RWA contest, the RITA. I was tasked with reading seven published books in different contest categories (read: not competing against each other) and given approximately two months to complete and score them. Easy peasy. I would read one contest book per week, record my scores online, and be done in plenty of time.

Er…Um…Well, you know how it goes. I got behind on writing here, picked up books off my TBR pile there, got distracted by a shiny object across the room, and the next thing I knew, I only had two weeks left to read all seven of my entries. Goal: seven romance books in seven days, with a week of wiggle room. Outcome: seven books in ten days. Deadline, schmedline. I finished with four days to spare.

Because I’ve always read in diverse genres and like to mix it up, I’m not sure I’ve ever read that many books in a row in romance or any other single category. This unusual (for me) approach to reading allowed me to compare and contrast the books as a reader and as a writer. Three of the books were quite good. If I’d been reading them in the wild, I would have stuck with them and probably given up some sleep and, for one or two of them, possibly even some writing time to finish the stories. A fourth was also good and I would have finished it, but it would have taken me a few days and several reading sessions to do so. A fifth was just ‘meh’ for me, and absent the requirement to read it for the contest, I might have wandered away from it if I’d had another book waiting. (And honestly, who doesn’t always have another book or ten waiting?) As for the last two books, oy! They would have been DNFs for me if I’d had a choice.

Following are my top takeaways from going all romance, all the time, for seven books and ten days, starting with the good, moving to the bad, and ending with the ugly. Continue reading

Justine: Mood Music Playlists for Writing Sad Scenes

working to musicI know several of the Eight Ladies (myself included) have used music playlists for writing, either because it “goes” with the book they’re writing or, like with me, there’s a certain Mozart playlist that generates a Pavlovian response within me to write. When I hear the music, my inner storyteller kicks in.

This is all well and good except the music I listen to is pretty upbeat (for Mozart, anyway) and I was having a hard time getting into the right mood to write some really dark, painful, sad scenes (not my typical mojo).

So I pulled up Google and searched “saddest classical music” and the first hit that came up was Continue reading

Jilly: Is It Better To Be Brave Than Kind?

Is It Better To Be Brave Than Kind?Women prefer bravery, courage and a willingness to take risks rather than kindness and altruism in their partners.

Do you agree?

The above statement is a direct quote from an academic paper about online dating, written by Professor Khalid Khan of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Sameer Chaudhry of the University of North Texas, published in the Journal of Evidence Based Medicine. I read about the paper in an article online this week and thought it sounded like story gold, so I took a closer look.

The paper’s stated objective is: to determine, for people seeking a date online, what activities and behaviours have an effect on the chances of converting electronic communication into a face-to-face meeting.

Or to paraphrase, how to win at online dating.

And since success at the preliminary stages of online dating is all about establishing a character Continue reading

Jilly: Fighting Talk

Fighting TalkIt’s been almost a month since a random discussion with my hairdresser inspired me to have a try at writing fantasy. My initial plan was to give it a couple of weeks and then decide whether to carry on. I’m pleased to report that while the story is still a hot mess of fragments, impressions and loose ends, it’s shaping up well and I’m absolutely loving it.

Last Sunday’s discussion about baddies was super-helpful. It gave me just the nudge I needed to figure out that my story does indeed have a shadowy Big Bad. I haven’t figured out the ‘who’ and the most fundamental ‘why’ of him yet, but I’ve figured out what he does, and it’s not good. It will probably take my hero and heroine more than one book to bring him down. There’s also a good chance he might be a stooge for an even Bigger Bad.

I’m hoping I can get another boost today. I’m in uncharted waters, and I’m looking for tips and hints, from real life, or the interwebs, or fiction, that will help me write good fight scenes. Continue reading

Jilly: Romantic Gestures

Romantic GesturesHappy Valentine’s Day!

What’s the most romantic gesture, real or fictional, you can think of?

Credible, lasting, loving relationships are the sine qua non of the romance genre, and we romance writers spend a lot of mental energy trying to find moving ways to show what Michaeline described so perfectly yesterday: two people who find each other beautiful, and suitable, and who listen to each other and get each other. A meeting of both minds and hearts.

The three magic words are important, but they’re an empty promise unless they’re backed by concrete, specific actions.

In real life, the evidence suggests that many people believe throwing money at their beloved is the way to go – last year the estimated retail spending on Valentine’s day in the US alone was almost $19 billion – but in fiction, at least, the reader expects more.

Continue reading

Jilly: Love Is Not Enough. Or Is It?

Love Is Not EnoughDo you read contemporary romance? I’m playing catch-up here and I’d appreciate some help. Is the frothy, fluffy, funny love-story-only romantic comedy a popular Thing, and if so, do you enjoy it?

This month I’ve been on a contemporary romance reading mini-binge. Normally if I have time to read a new book I turn to recommendations from this blog, my bookworm friends, and other sources like the NPR Top 100 Romances list, pick the title that fits my mood, download (thanks, Amazon!), pour wine, make tea or run bath as appropriate, and dive in 🙂 .

The snag with that approach is that I’m usually looking for a change from the sub-genre I’m writing, so the title that fits my mood is rarely contemporary romance. I decided I was missing a trick, so I went on a buying spree (thanks, Amazon!), engaged kettle/corkscrew and dove in. I tried a couple of books by a successful but new-to-me author, and I’m not going to name names here because Continue reading

Jilly: Girls, Guys and Gainsaid Goals

Guys, Girls and Gainsaid GoalsWe know that a character with a negative goal usually makes for a boring read. What about a character with a strong, positive goal that’s clearly destined to fail?

When I curl up on the sofa with a romance novel, two things are a given (and if not delivered there will be major Book Sulk). One is that the relationship between the hero and heroine will be front and center. Their love story will provide the spine of the book and all the major turning points; all subplots will feed this central story in some way. The other cast-iron guarantee is that no matter how dark matters become, everything will turn out beautifully in the end. Our Girl and Our Guy will make a commitment to one another and will live happily ever after.

I expect that Our Girl and Our Guy will both have a goal, and a motivation that drives them tirelessly towards that goal. The story will get its juice from the clash of those goals, which must be so important to them that neither can give up, so they push and challenge and change each other in an escalating battle that most likely ends with a victory for one and a psychic death and reinvention for the other.

Which brings me to my question.

If Our Girl has a goal that’s incompatible with her attraction to Our Guy, then no matter how credible that goal is, we kind-of-sort-of know that by the end of the story she’s not going to get it (or want it). Does that detract from the story? And if not, Continue reading