Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Writing craft

Plotting 101

Back to craft – Over on Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer’s workshop ( they discussed the great divide of writers into two camps. Those who are character driven (Jenny) and those who are plot driven (Bob). They also mention the reality that you need both to write a good story.

In an informal survey of romance writers most confess to being character driven. Makes sense since the heart of romance is character conflict – the inner barriers that keep these two meant-for-each-other lovers from professing their love and committing to the relationship. Even in character driven romance plot helps. And for those interested in writing cross genre, like romantic suspense or moving on to single title then mastering plot is essential.

Plots are the story’s underpinning structure. The heart of the story is question. Will these two people find love? (romance) Who did it? (mystery) Will good win over evil? (westerns, lots of sci-fi, thrillers) Will the protagonist do the right thing? (popular literary theme)

The plot provides the framework for answering the story question restated as a goal. In a romance the hero and heroine are usually both protagonists. Therefore the basis for their conflict should be character driven.

Hero’s GMC statement:

Dick loves Jane and wants to be with her. (Goal) Because she is a good woman. (Motivation) But he is an outcast and she would be shunned by the town that loves her (Conflict).

Heroine’s GMC statement:

Jane love Dick and wants to be with him. (Goal) Because he is a man of honor – falsely accused.(Motivation) But he rejects her love. (Conflict)

Next comes the business the showing the reader these things as the characters live their story.

There are three books I recommend, each excellent in its own way, that cover the basics of plotting in much more depth.

Vogler’s, The Writer’s Journey

McKee’s, Story

Bell’s, Plot and Structure

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Writing Life

The other day I took a break and cruised a couple of e-published author group message boards. Yeah, I know I've got an internet habit. One message caught my eye. A multi-published author responded to a promotion service pitch, which was offered at fifty dollars a month.

Now I had skimmed right over the promo pitch, having nothing to advertise. The reply mentioned politely that fifty dollars was way too high because so few writers earn that much. I know most people who want to write never get paid. Like wanting to be an American Idol or an NBA star, it is a popular dream on only a few succeed. But here were the winners, those authors who are published some of them many times over and they aren't making diddly squat?

Karen Fox provides a report of royalty earnings for romance authors. She includes some e-publisher figures. I realize it is rude to ask individual writers about their earnings. But as a service to the aspiring please take the time to participate in Karen's report. Because this industry segment have the same kind of general compensation data available as any other career.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Writing life

Yesterday I skimmed an author message board and one response caught my eye. Promotion services offered at the bargain rate of fifty dollars a month. Seemed high to me for the scope of the product, but I digress. The established author who answered thought the price too high also. Especially considering how few authors make fifty dollars a month.

What a disappointing admission! I figured like all publishing, e-publishing paid very little to the eager throngs crowding their inboxes while there are a few fat cats at the top and a hard-working elite layer that does okay. So I was not flabbergasted by the dash of cold water reality. But definitely discouraged. The lady who posted the message has multiple titles on offer and is published with half a dozen of the top e-publishers.

In another group message board three of the members are published by the same e-press. My guess is their earnings are negative. In addition to the e-publication of the story, most opt for the additional POD (print on demand) set up fee, plus purchasing copies of the books for resale or keepsakes -- who knows.

I thought e-publishers were the 21st century equivalent of small independent presses and magazines, which provided the starting point for last century's beginning authors. Maybe they are and I failed to take into account getting published at all is an honor - I shouldn't expect other compensation.

Before you all write me off as terminally stupid, I researched fiction writing before embarking on this venture. I found out the odds are long and the earnings small and most get discouraged and fall out of the rat race. There are superstars who receive six figure advances for each book. There is a secondary layer of hard-working mid-list authors who make a living. Then there is the bottom rung -- a teeming mass of fringe writers who've gotten published but either didn't get an advance or failed to earn it back.

Strangely, I failed to find much information on e-published author earnings. I'm thinking more e-published authors need to share their information with Karen Fox Show Me The Money report. What do you all think?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Publication Quest

Submission number four is close! One change in how I work -- expanding the type of story written -- widened my horizon. The variety of formats keeps the work fresh. Each style offers its own charm. The romantic suspense manuscripts are the longest and most demanding in terms of time. The novellas include just a hint of danger -- challenge enough for a plot driven writer. The shorts are dangerously sexy bedtime reading, darn hard writing. I see a pattern . . . .

Current year's goals updated

1) Craft improvement is back - it helps tell the good story

2) Three submissions

3) In roads into the TBR shelves

Progress report

Reading the last unread craft book – it’s good!

Three submissions sent!

Working on number four (polishing)

Status: One rejection – two still waiting to hear from the publishers


Number Two: Two months, one week – estimated response time from publisher 1 month

Number three: One month and three weeks - estimated response time from publisher none*

*Publisher did acknowledge the submission, but included a warning not to contact them about submissions to this line. Three months is long enough for them to have an exclusive.

TBR stack is smaller

Friday, May 25, 2007

Writing craft

I'm reading another craft book, sort of -- actually its closer to therapy. But the author makes lots of good points. For example he contends that we need both faith and doubt in a healthy balance to succeed at writing. Too many doubts and we'll never get off the ground floor. Too much faith and we won't work hard enough to perfect our craft.

I've been thinking really hard about the story that was rejected. It isn't a perfect for their line. But it's still a story I love. More revisions ahead. :~

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Writing life

Finished the first draft of the Pirate Novella so there is a small lull until my trusted critique partner fires it back with comments. Since the submission deadline is June first it's going to be a push to get it polished in time.

All submissions face incredible odds. However sending stories to publishers is like buying a lottery ticket. Without that first step you can't win. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reading Report

No Second Chance, by Harlan Coben is a plot forward mystery thriller. The plotting is excellent, lots of nicely handled twists that keep the reader guessing and turning pages until the end. Mr. Coben writes well, handling dialogue and action with a deft hand. The characters are well drawn, three dimensional, and consistently portrayed. All and all a nicely delivered thriller.

So am I happy? No, but I take full blame for my dissatisfaction. The characters failed to engage me. The hero is intellectual, distant, and self-centered. His most sympathetic factor is that he's aware of his short comings. The main story question; will he find his missing infant daughter, is so compelling that the sub-plot of a reunion romance seems almost intrusive. For those readers who love getting caught up in the literary equivalent of a car chase scene this is a great read.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Writing Life

A week ago the mail brought my renewal notice for RWA. I've been a member for three years. I've read many informative articles. I've entered two contests. I'm thrilled when I see a friend's name in the first sale column or as a contest winner.

But I've been thinking. What has this organization done for me lately? If my life were different and monthly chapter meetings were anticipated outings . . . if I actually made money writing and needed to stay informed about the industry. . . if I wanted to place an ad. . . . Then maybe the dues would make sense.

Join RWA is standard advice for aspiring romance authors. The membership is large and diverse, offering an unparalleled opportunity for networking. The organization is also slow to recognize or adapt to a fast changing industry.

For me, the value of the membership is not worth the price of the dues.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Publication Quest

This week the mail brought a form rejection. The boilerplate communication is the lowest of the low. There’s no positive spin.

Of course, I still love the story. So I’m thinking about how to revise it. Maybe it should have more suspense,or more depth, or more emotion, or all of the above. Could it be told better? No doubt, but still it is a damn fine story and there should have been at least a top of the head reason for the rejection. However, the lovely editors are savvy – they know that if they gave me reasons then I would take those as encouragement, pestering them with more submissions.

Current year's goals updated

1) Forget craft – back to telling a good story

2) Three submissions

3) In roads into the TBR shelves

Progress report

One more unread book on writing craft unearthed. I’m sure I’ll read it someday. .

Three submissions sent!

Working on number four (see word meter number four)

Status: One rejection – two still waiting to hear from the publishers


Number Two: Two months – estimated response time from publisher 1 month

Number three: One month and two weeks - estimated response time from publisher none*

*Publisher did acknowledge the submission, but included a warning not to contact them about this submission. I’ve decided three months is long enough for them to have an exclusive.

TBR stack is smaller

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Writing craft

A couple of different thoughts about characterization dropped into my head this week. The result made me think that I might be too busy admiring the bark and ignoring the essence of the forest.

On Monday's blog I mused about my tendency to admire the talents I don't possess. My friend Lori Borrill, who writes wonderfully sexy, witty romance for those of you who haven't read her, shared her thoughts.

No, Evanne, I'm exactly the same way. I love a good horror story, and I can't write horror for beans. I also love good thrillers and suspense plots, mysteries, all those things that feel too complicated for me.

I answered.
Earlier today I had kind of a epiphany -- that what is even more important than memorable characters is a making a connection between the story world and the reader. Character is simply the most popular road.

Then Lori said:
I wouldn't disagree with that. But how exactly do you connect with readers? (And that's not a hypothetical question. I'm seriously interested in how to do that).

In romance usually it is through the characters. But as I perused the NY Times best seller list is occurs to me there are other routes. One is situational the hero is an average Joe caught up in something bigger than he is and has to rise to the occasion. David battling Goliath -- that the situation itself makes us root for the underdog. Injustice, overwhelming odds, suffering, peril are all situational hooks. This isn't new thinking - just me getting a better understanding of why the 2-D characters succeed in some plots. IMHO the reader is filling in the missing pieces and projecting their idea of who that protagonist is onto the deliberately rather skimpy characterization. When it works -- it works better than brilliantly written protagonists.
Was my response.

The trick of course is getting the reader to identify with the protagonist. All of the examples I can think of that work effectively involve trouble (with a capital T) for the star of the story. The beleaguered protagonist suffers. Their unhappy situation is essential to the bonding process.

They are unjustly accused, innocently attacked, or unfairly accused in whatever calamity has befallen them. Rather than bemoan their fate or become bitter they battle back determined to overcome this obstacle. They are not super people, they have flaws, but at their core they are good and noble and honorable. The bad thing that happens to this character actually brings out their best qualities. The trouble forges their character, burning away all the petty parts and revealing the best part of them.

The connection with the reader is forged based upon the universal truth that each of us is the star of our own story. No matter how modest or unlikely a protagonist we appear to the rest of the world we battle overwhelming odds each day and survive. When tragedy strikes and danger looms don't ordinary people perform amazing feats all the time? The essence of popular fiction is a world that makes sense. A universe where good triumphs over the forces of evil.

None of this is new thinking. But what did strike me was the fact that too much lovingly crafted character detail is actually detrimental to this process. The situation, the protagonists actions and emotional response to the story events are critical. What color their eyes are isn't all that essential to the reader connection.

One of the advantages of the printed story over a movie version is the reader's imagination fills in gaps with a richness no author could equal. In movies the only fill in are the audience's projection of the character's thoughts. In a book the character's thoughts are easily shared and that's the shortest road to making the magic emotional bond with the reader.

Now for the tricky part -- putting this insight to work in a story.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Reading Report

Last week I read The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. Mr. McCarthy handles words with the precision of a poet and the power of Olympic champion discus thrower. The story is a post-apocalyptic view of some near term future world where an unspecified disaster has decimated the earth. A father and son travel on foot in a ravaged landscape with minimal resources. The child is young, the father is sick, the journey is long and arduous.

In the early pages I imagined The Road ,as a prose poem version of Stephen King's The Stand a classic examination of good versus evil. I was wrong. This novel is about love and sacrifice and hope kept alive against overwhelming odds. Brilliantly written, undeniably powerful, and certainly thought provoking.

I still didn't like it.

Why? When I read I want to be drawn into a story world where either I learn things or am entertained. Color me shallow. IMHO Mr. McCarthy is exploring themes that interest him in a rather self-indulgent way. Perhaps this is what brilliant successful authors do. He finds an audience for his musings.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Writing life

I'm sure I've blogged about my weird attraction for my literary opposite before. Please feel free to skip this post if you're bored. I'm still thinking about it so. . .

One of the standard pieces of advice to beginning writers is to write what you like to read. For me this doesn't work. First,I read it all poetry to philosophy . . . Second, my favorite reads are character driven stories. I believe the main attractions is their skill balances my weakness. I admire what I have little natural aptitude for capturing on the page -- memorable fictional people.

Identification of a problem is the first step in solving it. Hence my on going efforts to get stronger at portraying well-rounded characters.

Until entering the writing community I assumed everyone was like me and naturally gravitated toward books with sympathetic and unique characters. But I've learned better. There are those who are enchanted by a riveting plot and happy to get by with rather sketchy story characters. I can't think of any incompetent writers who are perennial best sellers. But there are those who are strong plotters and those who are definitely character driven.

So what are your favorite reads? If you write romantic comedy is your favorite escape read horror? If you write traditional romance do you read thrillers for fun? Or is it just me that adores their opposite?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Publication Quest

Real life crashed through the fantasy world I live in much of the time. Stalling the progress on the novella. The other snag is the one I’ve had since the beginning with this story -- the challenge of combining an erotic plot with a convincing romance into a story that hangs together. Oddly enough, even the most far fetched fiction has to make sense. I have an idea of how to combine the two different genres but getting it done in a short word count remains challenging.

Current year's goals

1) Study characterization to add depth to the story's cast
2) Three submissions
3) In roads into the TBR shelves

Progress report

Done reading the stack of books related to characterization - Found one more unread craft book in the thinning TBR shelves. Added it to the smaller current reading group.

Three submissions sent!

Working on number four (see word meter number four)

Submission Status:

Still waiting to hear from the publishers


1) five months - estimated response time from publisher 3 months

2) One month and three weeks - estimated response time from publisher 1 month

3) One month and one weeks - estimated response time from publisher none*

*Publisher did acknowledge the submission, but included a warning not to contact them about this submission.

TBR stack grew again this week. Several paperbacks leaped into my shopping cart when I detoured by the book aisle to pick up a necessary box of business envelopes. They refused to get out until I got to the checkout counter . . . .

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Favorite Story Lines

Over at the blog and blog (you'll have to go back a page to this post: Christina Dodd Presents A Deluxe Romance Quiz) are discussions of the classic story lines that make Harlequin Presents a perennial best seller.

I have to admit I love secret babies, marriages of convenience,virgin brides, royal weddings and every other classic romance plot. Smoldering alpha males and fiesty heroines are the chocolate truffles of literature -- the perfect, slightly guilty, pleasure read.

Ms Dodd, and undoubtedly other readers, are particular in their preferences for a certain flavor or classic romance. Since I want to write a second Present's story soon I'd love to hear about your favorite Present's plots.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Writing Craft

Still working on characterization. Reading Ms. Wiggs last week pushed me further in that direction. My natural inclination is to develop plot heavy stories. When I revised a first draft, what used to always be missing was emotion and setting. Now I think about setting and generally include enough to cue the reader. Emotions -- I'm still working on.

In Writing the Breakout Novel ,Donald Maass say that emotion and conflict should be on every page. It dawns on me that this means the emotional conflict is the key to every story. Not just romance.

Currently I'm working on a novella. The outer plot is way too complicated for the length. But I've decided that is okay that convoluted, action packed, thrill ride is going to all part of the hero's backstory. Only minute slivers of this is going to make it into the current story which is a tiny slice of his life -- three days, plus a postscript a day later.

One of the aspects of relating character's emotions I struggle with is having them make logical sense. Story people are different from real life people in several important aspects. They are simpler. They have a few distinguishing traits, a flaw or two, and a couple of goals. Actual people are enormously complex. Story people make sense. They have logical reasons for their actions. They also have emotional consistency - their emotional reactions are authentic for their history and their circumstances. Real life people are unpredictable and just plain crazy.

Maybe I'm crazier than average and this is why I have so much trouble getting my characters to act believably.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Reading Report

Lakeside Cottage by Susan Wiggs won the Rita for best contemporary single title last year, which seems odd since it was published the year before. But what do I know of contest technicalities? Literary contest winners are the single most successful recommendation source I have found. Since I had read one of Ms. Wiggs' historical stories without any emotional investment she was on the bleh list. There are lots of fine writers who do not appeal to me. Winning the Rita garnered Ms. Wiggs a second chance to engage me.

She did.

Almost too well. The characters were so vivid that they lingered in my head pushing aside the much raunchier cast of Zara and the Pirate. One of the things I am still pondering is how she managed such believable conflict between equally sympathetic characters. Lovely job.

Ms. Rachel Gibson's I'm In No Mood For Love is the other title from last week. Ms. Gibson's name on the cover is all it takes for me to purchase a book. Fortunately for my purse, she's a moderately productive writer publishing an annual book that I know will make me smile. She continues to do her job.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Writing Life

Writing itself is either wonderful, awful, or something in between. All depending on how it is going at the moment. Despite the mixed results I do it over and over again. Not unlike reading. It is sadly true that not every story I pick up thrills me. Yet, I read again. This is me. I am a creature of habit who regards most change with reluctance.

The idea of writing for publication had crossed my mind before. But until four years ago it was a careless whim sort of thought. Now it occupies as many hours as I can manage. As I grow closer to realising the initial goal of selling a story, new aspects of the publishing business rear their scary looking heads.

Interviews, promotion, books signing, chatting, networking, and who knows what all else. Heck, my idea of marketing is writing a good cover letter. I know there are writers, who are weirdly social and outgoing. Crazy people, who are energized by speaking to strangers. Then there are the quiet, reticent, sane types.

Several years ago I stopped at a local mall to pick up shampoo. This important quest took me past a bookstore, a happy bonus. In front of the national chain's shop was a favorite author seated at a card table with copies of his latest hardcover release piled up around him. He was trying very hard not to look bored and miserable. To my shame, I did not stop.

How do you all feel about promotion? Is it something you look forward to or dread? As readers would you enjoy meeting a favorite author or would you rather keep the veil of fiction firmly in place between you?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Publication Quest

Insanity continues to flourish in my corner of the blogsasphere. The novella is progressing fairly steadily. Meanwhile other story ideas are crowding in so fast I’m considering taking a day to record them in case the swamp grows dry.

At the moment, it sounds sensible to me to have multiples of each type of story. As a reader I’m so disappointed to dive into a promising first book and find it is the author’s only story. Especially if I didn’t discover the debut title for month or years after its initial appearance on the scene. Where as there’s nothing more pleasing than finding a compelling voice with a backlist.

Contructing a production plan based on my reading preferences means I should have multiples of each type of story I want to write. A few classic romances, a couple of romantic suspense titles, and a small collection of erotic shorts. By happy coincidence, that is what I’m doing. Wish me luck!

Current year's goals

1) Study characterization to add depth to the story's cast

2) Three submissions

3) Progress on the TBR shelves

Progress report

Done reading the stack of books related to characterization - Creating Unforgettable Characters deserves a second read, still not reading it. Still suffering from lack of discipline. However, another title possibly relating to characterization was unearth - TBR shelves lack of organization is another problem . . .

Three submissions sent!

Working on number four (see word meter number four)!

Status: still waiting to hear from the publishers


Number One: four months and three weeks - estimated response time from publisher 3 months

Number Two: One month and two weeks - estimated response time from publisher 1 month

Number three: Four weeks - estimated response time from publisher none*

*Publisher did acknowledge the submission, but included a warning not to contact them about this submission. Word is they got lots of submissions (new line) and are sorting them out.

TBR stack grew, ahem a small box of books arrived. One was needed for research, two were irresistible, one . . . such is the life of an addicted reader.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Writing craft

Characterization is what my current craft obsession for me it is the most critical aspect of any story. Browsing around the other day I found a discussion, The Secret to Getting Published, about this very subject by Melanie Melburne on .

My favorite writers are all brilliant at characterization. There are two things I'm sure work to make characters engaging.

1) Detail - there's are a few catches though. They have to be the perfect telling details. And they have to be slivered into the story at exactly the right moment. As if that weren't tricky enough, they have to be repeated, with enough added content not to be annoying, at precisely the right time to drive home the point. The purpose of all these details is character revelation. The reason the details repeat and change is to show character evolution.

2) Emotion - the basic feelings of bad, glad, and mad are universal. The character's inner journey is what makes a story compelling. This is the reason behind the classic advice to open the story with the heroine grappling with a problem. Who among us has never struggled? No one. Therefore struggling protagonist yields instant empathy.

Simple enough - give the reader engaging characters who are believable, admirable, and human. Then place those same story people into situations where they must struggle to overcome conflict. Finally, relate the emotional stakes poignantly and the manuscript is practically sold.

There may be a few other piddling details . . .

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Reading Report

More inroads into the TBR shelves at this rate I'll get to buy a book without guilty twinges in a couple of years. ;)

First up a beloved Presents - Annie West's A Mistress For The Taking . Oooh it's simply yummy. This is Ms. West's debut book at least for this line and it's scrumptious. The only downside to reading this perfect gem of passionate romance is the I'm-not-worthy fog of depression that descends. A feeling that convinces me I am insane to even submit to the same editors who handle Ms. West's manuscripts.

Next Loretta Chase's Mr. Impossible. An entirely different kind of book, but equally perfect in its own unique fashion. Aside from being a regency set in Egypt, the romance reminds me of the movie African Queen. In that classic movie Katherine Hepburn played a missionary's sister who, due to desperate circumstances, winds up traveling up river with an unrepentant sinner played by Humphrey Bogart. They were hopelessly mismatched from the start and in very grim circumstances. Of course they fell madly in love. Mr. Impossible has a similar pairing. The heroine, a missionary's widow and a devoted sister extracts the the hero,a reckless sinner and fourth son of a long suffering Earl, from an infamous Cairo prison. Naturally it follows that they are beset by dire circumstances and fall in love. Good stuff.

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