Show Me the Romance

No cherubs. No doilies. No crap.

Archive for the month “February, 2012”

Wednesday Writing: The Grammar Nazi Copes With Facebook

Usually, the Grammar Nazi logs onto Facebook with a severe case of apprehension. She knows there will be capitalization issues and misspellings galore. She steels herself against posts that show a complete lack of comprehension on the concept of sentences.

Even prepared, it is always a traumatic experience.

For everyone on Facebook who now wonders if this is about them—please don’t worry. Unless you have to write in a professional capacity (or are working toward that goal) there’s no logical reason grammar and spelling errors in a Facebook post should produce stroke-like side effects in the Grammar Nazi. Neither she, nor her grammar is perfect, and Facebook amounts to casual speech—like typing in gchat or an email. It doesn’t matter.

But she still gets worked up!

It’s a problem. A failing, even. So, keep that in mind when she shares this one.

The Ur-Grammar Nazi posted the following comic on the Grammar Nazi’s wall (click on the image to visit what I think is the original context):

Only a few days later, the following post appeared on the Grammar Nazi’s news feed:

its to cold and windy todo anything got along day tomorrow

And the Grammar Nazi laughed! Actually laughed instead of choking, or developing a nosebleed or something to that effect.

Hey, it’s progress.

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TV Show Review: You’re Beautiful (2009)

You’re Beautiful
TV Show (16 episodes, complete and available free on Hulu.com)
Korean romantic comedy starring Jang Geun Suk and Park Shin Hye.

You know you’ve always wanted to see a show about a nun-in-training who has to impersonate her twin brother and join a Korean boy band. Man, I love these shows.

The Premise

Go Mi Nyo (family name Go, personal name Mi Nyo) is a sister-in-training at the convent that’s been her home for most of her life. She hasn’t seen her twin brother Go Mi Nam in years when a spastic talent manager bursts into her life, saying her brother has finally achieved his dream of joining a boy band. Unfortunately, for (spectacularly) contrived reasons, he can’t perform in their concert and is about to forfeit his contract unless Mi Nyo pretends to be him. This eventually entails living with three guys for the better part of two months. You see where this is going.

The Pain

Okay, more obvious problems notwithstanding (like how the actress who plays Mi Nyo/Mi Nam is adorable and no one would ever mistake her for a boy) I wish Korean dramas wouldn’t rely so heavily on the scheming hell-bitch motif to draw out the romantic tension between the hero and heroine. And why…why do they always use the “oh no, I might have to go Somewhere Impossibly Far Away for Years” plot device?” I’m on a mission now to find a k-drama without it.

The Payoff

Park Shin Hye is (as I said above) adorable, which is really saying something when you consider she’s playing the idiot/klutz heroine type, a.k.a. Too Stupid To Live. At least Mi Nyo’s convent background explains her naivety, and she has such a big warm heart, I couldn’t hate her. As for Jang Geun Suk, his Tae Kyung is a master class in combining unappealing quirks to make an irresistible hero. He’s a moody rockstar germaphobe with night blindness, bad hair, and the lonely soul of a poet. His first smile is worth the wait.

And their romance makes me a grinning fool.

Rating: 

4 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: Blood Drive Threats?

My workplace does regular blood drives here in the building, which is great because I can take an hour out of the workday to open my veins and do something good for someone. Yeah, I faint every time, but oh well, it’s only about a half hours’ discomfort (and embarrassment!) and there are so many people out there who need the blood more than I do.

Anyway, apart from encouraging people to give blood, I’m bringing this up because the posters in our building make me chuckle.

MARCH IS RED CROSS MONTH.
JOIN US . . .

I’m sure no one else will find this as funny as I do—UNLESS you’ve seen Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves the approximately thirty times I have.

If you have seen it that many times, then your mind just might complete that poster the same way mine does.

MARCH IS RED CROSS MONTH.
JOIN US . . . JOIN US, OR DIE.

Now for any Star Wars fans wishing to claim this as Vader’s line, he’s speaking to the emperor about the problem of Luke Skywalker (“he will join us or die”). Alan Rickman’s brilliant Sheriff of Nottingham fits the poster much better, drawling “join us” (complete with ellipsis) and then finishing “join us, or die.” See for yourself:

Now, who wants to give blood?

Wednesday Writing: Written Word Time Machine

Tee-hee . . . I have a new nickname for Tom, the nice, serial-dating heartbreaker in Broadway High. This nickname is low-brow and simple—so 7th grade and exactly what I needed, since my heroine coins the phrase after Tom dumped her best friend back when they’re all seventh graders. When it occurred to me, I felt like I was back on the green vinyl seats of the school bus, snickering with my best friend Becky. Ready for it?

Tom-Ass.

Heh-heh. (Shut up, Beavis.)

This is one of the things I loved about writing a YA book, especially one set in my own personal version of the real world. I had to claw back through my memories, force my 30-year-old brain into the thinking patterns and concerns a 17-year-old (or in this nickname’s case, a 13-year-old) would have. It was like stretching an old muscle, an adventure that often turned up things I had completely forgotten.

Even if you don’t try write much, or you aren’t aiming to write a novel or publish, try to write down a childhood or teenage memory in detail. Maybe it’s a funny story, or a difficult time, or just something that has always stuck with you. Whatever you choose, the act of writing it down somehow makes that memory come alive in a new way. Maybe you’ll realize you learned something from that experience. Or maybe it’ll just make you laugh (and make for a good facebook post). But either way, it won’t be a waste of time.

Heh-heh.

Movie Review: Possession (2002)

Possession
Movie (102 minutes, PG-13)
Based on the A. S. Byatt novel of the same name.
Starring Gwyneth Paltrow, Aaron Eckhart,
Jeremy Northam, and Jennifer Ehle

So I waded into the wilds of Netflix last night, intent on finding a good romance to share on this blog. Unfortunately, I failed miserably. Possession isn’t a bad movie per se, it’s just a bad romance.

The Premise

American research assistant Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart) toils in the dusty backrooms of British libraries and museums until he finds a never-before-discovered love letter from a famous (fictional) Victorian poet named Randolph Henry Ash (Jeremy Northam). He soon discovers that Ash—famed for his fidelity to his wife—was actually having an affair with another poet, Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle, of 1995’s Pride & Prejudice). He enlists the help of fellow scholar Maud Bailey (Gwyenth Paltrow) to uncover the whole story of their affair. The movie flows seamlessly between the modern world and 1850’s England.

The Pain

Notice how I don’t mention much of a romance between Paltrow and Eckhart’s characters. That’s because there isn’t really one. They look at each other with awkward attraction, their kiss is kind of out of the blue, and nothing between the two leads me to believe that this attraction between them will last much beyond the inevitable publication of their findings. The scenes of passion and longing between the two Victorian poets resonates with far more authenticity, but again, since I don’t find affairs romantic, that didn’t really float for me either.

The Payoff

The poets’ words—shared while the modern characters read their letters and the poets think them—are quite beautiful and sound authentic to the era. I’m enough of a literary nerd that I enjoyed the process of tracking down these lost letters and the way the characters extrapolate clues from the diaries of people around Ash & LaMotte. Calling this a romantic thriller is a stretch on both fronts, but it’s my understanding that the book succeeds better on both counts.

Rating:

2 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: And Now I Tweet

So I joined Twitter at long last–mostly because I finally figured out how to read and follow conversations on there. I don’t have a lot going on that I think would be interesting to the world at large (strong mental filter?) so it’s a bit of a stretch to figure out what to tweet regularly, but I love it for researching agents and keeping up with the ebbs and flows in publishing.

Follow me @MDSinclair, and if you send me a tweet saying you saw me on my blog, I’ll follow you right back 🙂

I’ve been binging on what I consider “real romance novels” (not books simply with strong romantic elements) lately, and I try not to review those on this blog because Dear Author and Smart Bitches, Trashy Books do that so much better. In case I haven’t clarified my theme in awhile, this blog is all about finding romance in unexpected (or less obvious) places, and as much as I love you Connie Brockway, Eloisa James, Loretta Chase, and Julia Quinn, you guys are about as go-to romance sources as it gets.

 

Wednesday Writing: A Synopsis is What?

Okay, anyone who’s ever attempted professional publication has probably experienced the synopsis panic. I have to condense my 100,000 word story into four double-spaced pages, and make it interesting to read, and retain my writing “voice”? Where do you even start with that?

Recently, I attended a synopsis writing workshop sponsored by the Washington Romance Writers and lead by the fabulous Mindy Klasky. As one of the lucky people who got real critiques on my synopsis for Veiled Iron, I couldn’t wait to get revising once the workshop was over.

Some things I learned:

  • Start your synopsis with a “hook.” Maybe you can borrow phrases from the hook in your query letter, but the main job of the hook is not to tell the whole story, but to set the tone for your story. If your novel is romantic suspense, then make it sound like it in your hook.
  • The synopsis isn’t just for getting an agent. If you have a great synopsis, your agent can turn around and use it to sell your book to an editor–but the business of selling your book doesn’t stop there. The editor has to sell your book to his or her colleagues (synopsis is useful there). AND after all that is said and done, the marketing department reads your synopsis to know how to market your novel. The art department reads your synopsis to portray the right tone for your novel (but don’t put physical descriptions in the synopsis…Mindy says that if and when you get to that stage of the process, attach a separate sheet with blow-by-blow descriptions of your character’s physical appearance). Knowing the synopsis is needed for all these things renewed my energy for working on it.
  • Focus on the emotional journey of your characters. Mindy especially stressed this point. The emotional rollercoaster your characters experience over the course of the novel will resonate with a reader far more than “He does this. Then he does this. And then they realize they have to do this.”

I’ve run across a few other helpful synopsis-writing blog posts, especially this one by Diana Peterfreund. That woman loves writing synopses, and anyone that crazy is bound to have great advice.

Edit: Ooh! I just found another great method and tip. Tia Nevitt’s Six-Paragraph Synopsis Method.

Movie Review: Jab We Met

Jab We Met
Movie (142  minutes)
Starring Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor (no relation)

Feeling like getting your romance fix with colorful scenery, bright clothes, and the occasional bout of energetic dancing? Give Bollywood a shot. The crossover hit Bride and Prejudice (2004) introduced many of us to Indian movies, so if you saw that, and didn’t mind the occasional song or impulsive block-party dance breaking out mid-scene, try Jab We Met (available on Netflix’s online streaming service through May of this year).

The Premise

A dejected businessman (Shahid Kapoor) meets a whirlwind of a girl (Kareena Kapoor) on a train. She draws him into her life, exasperating him, teasing him, goading him into a better understanding of himself—until she discovers that her version of reality is not exactly the same as the real world.  Think Forces of Nature, but funny. And with actual chemistry between the leads.

The Pain

Subtitles aren’t for everyone (the film is in Hindi, with the actors slipping English phrases in and out of their speech). The only real pain I can remember is some occasionally draggy pacing. Some of the special effects are—unintentionally—laugh out loud funny. Also, prepare yourself for some maudlin singing sequences. To all these . . . just go with it. You’ll enjoy yourself more.

The Payoff

The leads are so much fun. Geet (the heroine) is a true force of nature. Who can  blame Aditya (the hero) for getting sucked into her orbit. He treks with Geet through the Indian countryside, confronts her hilarious bear of a grandfather, and navigates the wilds of her family all while rediscovering his spirit and his own charming smile. Of course he’s going to fall in love—and with a smile like that, it’s no wonder that she does, too.

Rating:

4 out of 5 arrows

Friday Frivolity: Title Inflation in Regency Romances

What is up with the proliferation of dukes in the Regency romance genre?

This is a terribly unscientific observation, but it seems like the last few novels I’ve read in the genre have all featured dukes as heroes. I’m currently reading The Last Hellion by one of my favorite authors, Loretta Chase (hero: the Duke of Ainswood). I’m also halfway through YA Regency The Season by Sarah MacLean, which features the daughter of a duke. The count for other ducal characters in The Season is up to five, and I may yet find more. I just read another novel by Loretta Chase featuring a ducal hero, and another one of my favorite authors, Eloisa James, seems to make a good 75% of her heroes and heroines dukes, or duchesses, or both.

Okay, I get it. The power is attractive. But it’s horribly unrealistic when the rest of the aforementioned novels boast brilliant characters and bear the hallmarks of painstaking research.

Jane Austen knew that world better than any of us could. Mr. Darcy doesn’t need to be the Duke of Darcy to exude wealth and power. The highest ranking character mentioned in any of her novels is the Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple in Persuasion—and in the hierarchy of English ranks, a viscountess is a good three steps lower than a duke.

Dukes are supposed to be rare. That’s part of the reason people fawn all over them. Besides, isn’t a “Mr.” who is powerful and influential without an inflated title far more interesting?

Wednesday Writing: Cut, Baby Cut

*Note: This blog title does not actually refer to cutting babies. Thank you.

So, last week I promised tips for tightening your manuscript. Notice—I say “tightening,” rather than “taking a dull machete to your precious words.” This process can be a positive experience or a painful one depending on your perspective. If you have to cut a significant amount of wordage from your book, don’t think of it as deleting months of your blood, bitten fingernails, and tears. Instead, see this as a process that will make your story more exciting, and give your writing a punch it might not have had before.

Step 1) Take a good, hard look at your beginning. 

Starting your story in the right place might seem like a no-brainer, but it isn’t—especially when this is your first, or even second novel. Look at your first few chapters. Could you lose the first chapter and still tell your story? Forget about things like “but I mention my main character’s age, her hair color, her evil twin brother.” Details can be moved.

Example: The 220,000 Word Behemoth had a solid sixty pages of my MC’s childhood—her birth, her toddlerhood, her teenage years. Those events formed issues for her later in life, but here’s the kicker: my reader didn’t need to read about them. Writing those pages wasn’t a waste of time (as the author, I needed to know my MC’s backstory in detail) but the pages were a waste of manuscript space. I cut her backstory and dropped my wordcount by about 15,000 words, just like that. After that, I realized my next five chapters ALSO meandered before getting around to the real “Inciting Incident” that set the plot’s wheels in motion. I cut those chapters, too, wrote about ten pages of new beginning, and by then I was down to about 150,000 words. Only 50,000 to go to my target, but now the cutting got harder.

**Quick tip!** Save everything you cut in a “cut fragments” file. It makes cutting easier, and if you decide you really want those words back, you have them.

Step 2) Make a list of all the plots and subplots in your novel.

Subplots make a story meatier, and when done right, they enrich the main storyline. Other subplots . . . just make a story longer. This one is harder than the “Find the Right Beginning” step, because it can mean taking a scalpel to a third of your chapters. What’s worse, this sometimes involves deleting characters. You hear about this all the time in the movies—someone’s character not making it past the editing room. If you cut out a subplot, that doesn’t mean the story was bad, or that it was poorly written—it just didn’t add anything to the forward momentum of your main plot, featuring your main characters. You know, the ones readers actually care about?

Example: I turned the long-lost father of one of my main characters into a major character with his own subplot. He was one of my favorite characters (with his political machinations, troop movements, and complicated relationships) but if I cut his scenes, and just put references to the more important political and military events into my main character’s POV, the novel still worked. In fact, the plot got tighter, the tension between my MCs grew stronger . . . the novel was just better. Sorry, Larothan.

**Full Disclosure!** I did not see the superfluousness of this subplot without the help of my writing partner, Thelma Mariano. You may need an honest friend or critique partner to help you examine your manuscript for extraneous plot threads.

Step 3) Now, look at that ending.

Are you so relieved to have your characters finally happy and together (if you write romance, like me) that you spend pages showing how in love they are? Do you write funny scenes where they tease family, reminisce about their trials together, maybe even meander by other characters to tie up random subplots (that maybe shouldn’t be there anymore since they weren’t tied up by the plot’s climax)? I’m not talking about a short epilogue. I’m talking about going on for pages after the big reveal, or the villain’s defeat, or the pledge of undying love (PoUL), etc.

Example: Let’s see, after my MC’s had their PoUL, my hero had to fix everything he’d screwed up (he was also the villain . . . I love this book and I wish agents/the publishing industry were more interested in fantasy romance for the non-YA set, but that’s another blog post). Then, there were some travel logistics to work out, and the hero had to ask the heroine’s father for permission to marry her. During that time the heroine hung out with her family a bit, and there was even a cameo by the emperor for some Big Name warm fuzzies all-around . . . ALL CUT. Instead, I tied up the lose ends before the climax, and wrote a brand-new (brief!) epilogue with some funny family stuff. Down to 110,000 words! But where was I going to get the last 10,000?

Step 4) Tighten your writing.

Edit your entire book. This is really the most important step of all—which is why I have it last. You don’t want to waste your time tightening entire chapters you’ll never use. Examine each sentence and see if you could say it tighter, shorter, with better words. Here are some more tips:

  • Look for constructions like “the vicar of the village” and change it to “the village vicar” — from five words to three, wee!
  • Do a “Find” search (Ctrl + F in MS Word) for “that” and read each sentence containing a “that” out loud to see if it works without “that” or needs it. I had more than 1,600 “that’s” in The Behemoth (that’s not really its title, just an affectionate name) and a good thousand were unnecessary.
  • Look for piled adjectives and see if you can cut one without losing your point.
  • Cut LOTS of adverbs.
  • Is your character doing something quickly but you take a long time to say it? Make your sentence match your character’s actions.

You may only have 20,000 words to cut total, but one or more of these steps and tips can really help you reach your goal. Remember, it isn’t really the number agents and publishers care about—they want to read a good story well told.

By cutting 120,000 words out of my novel, I pushed my Good Story Poorly Told into the Well Told realm, and that is a huge difference.

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