Show Me the Romance

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Archive for the category “Wednesday Writing”

My Quarter-Writing-Life Crisis

When I first started writing, the blank computer screen was like a ginormous bag of dress-up clothes where I could play make-believe every day. I didn’t always write every day–I was fourteen years old and I had all the time in the world. Even when I wasn’t writing, I could daydream about characters I loved in a world I loved, and all the amazing and shocking things that would happen to them. I had my own private movie studio in my head, and the power. Was. Incredible.

Then I finished my first novel.

If you’ve never experienced this high, it’s even more awesome than the private movie studio. Suddenly, you want everyone to know what you’ve done, and you want everyone to read it, and you have mega dreams, so you have your mom read it, and your best friend read it, and your English teacher read it, and of course they are supportive and glowing and they are lying through their teeth BUT THAT’S OKAY because it’s what you need to hear at the time.

And then sooner or later you get to work on the sequel. (There’s always a sequel).

By the time I was neck-deep in my sequel, I was in college, and finding time to write proved more difficult than it was in high school. Also, I was pretty arrogant, and didn’t do much in the way of studying the actual craft of writing fiction. I’ve always had a pretty good grasp on flow and grammar, and I knew how to tell a story (out loud) really well, so I figured I pretty much knew what I was doing. This was the wrong approach.

By the time I was halfway through the sequel’s sequel (that’s the third novel, if you’re keeping track) I discovered AbsoluteWrite’s forums and my writing took an FTL jump ahead. Suddenly, I could see all the things I was doing wrong, and that there are gadzillions of resources for writers on the web. I’m also grateful that I didn’t seriously start my querying journey until I learned about Writer Beware through the AW forums. There are a LOT of predators lurking out there, seeking to scam unsuspecting writers out of their cash and dreams.

About that time, I passed my 10 year anniversary of writing, and it was like a little celebration. I felt like a grizzled veteran. I felt like I was making major progress. I started new novels in completely new worlds that I actually plotted and planned out ahead of time.

I was going somewhere.

And then I passed 12 years. And then 15 years (wow, fifteen years), and then like every other good 30 year old I know, I kind of stopped counting. “I’ve been writing for fifteen years,” I would say, very aware of the hard work it takes to get published. “Fifteen years.”

Finally, I did the math yesterday, and it hit me like a ton of soggy pancakes. I’ve been writing novels for seventeen years.

That isn’t gloating you hear in my voice. It’s panic. I don’t know if it’s the extra syllable in seventeen that makes it sound like an eternity, or the fact that I’ve been writing longer than most of my characters have been alive (ahahahahasob), but coupled with the fact that I’ve heard lots of stories recently about writers who’ve been writing two or three years getting agents and book deals, it made me feel like a failure.

And then I found this incredibly heartfelt and honest blog post about a writer experiencing those same feelings of failure–and at the time she wrote it, she had an agent and some meaty nibbles from a publishing house. Even though both of those things didn’t end up working out, she later got a new agent, and a publishing contract, and her first novel is getting published next year.

I feel better! I feel re-energized! I’m calming down now!

Anyway, I realized that maybe I’m going through a bit of a quarter-life crisis, except that it’s for my life as a writer, not my actual calendar age. I know for a fact that this is what I want, and that I am still learning and growing as a writer. Publishing doesn’t work like school, where you put in x-number of years and come out with your goal in hand. It will happen when it happens, and until then I won’t ever give up.

And if you are a beginning writer, or at a different stage of the journey, I hope this has been helpful. Don’t be like me and waste years of your writing life toiling without learning your craft. Take classes. Read widely. Follow blogs and agents and editors on Twitter. Get a writing partner or three and read the AW forums. Join a writer’s association.

As for me, while I query and pitch my novels, I’m going back to that box of dress-up clothes, where I can put on a big, floppy hat and heels four sizes too big for my feet. I have a new project to write. 🙂

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Wednesday Writing: QueryTracker

Today, I’m going to highlight one of my favorite resources for writers pursuing traditional publication: querytracker.net.

Query Tracker let’s you search an extensive database of Literary Agents and publishers, organize your findings, set up a plan of “attack” and execute it–while tracking the whole thing. 

From the website:

Literary Agents Listed: 1,266
Publishers Listed: 153
Members: 52,720
Success Stories: 785

Those might not look like great odds (785 out of 52,720) but that’s the publishing business for you. If you look at it a different way, that’s seven hundred and eighty-five brand new authors who give QueryTracker credit as a vital cog in their pathway to being agented (and ultimately, published) authors.

The free version of the site is certainly adequate, but if you’re getting serious about publishing, I highly recommends the $25 annual fee for premium membership. It gives you lots more search parameters and let’s you organize multiple projects at once. And I usually choke at the idea of spending money on “membership fees,” so that should tell you something.

Before QueryTracker, this was what the inside of my brain looked like:

Okay, going to make a list of agents to query…okay she looks right, what are her submission requirements? [search search] Okay, found the requirements, now, I need to find her pet peeves and make sure I don’t do those [search search] oh, he looks like he might be a possibility, too, let me dig further [search search] wait. What did I decide about the first agent? Where did I start? Did I actually query her? What did I SEND?

I’ll spare you the panicked thrashing. It suffices to say I had the hardest time organizing my research and tracking who I queried on what day, how long it had been, if I should wonder if I got lost in spam, etc.

After QueryTracker, my head looks like this:

First small batch sent out: check. Next batch lined up: check. Oh, did I just get a rejection? Oh well–let’s close that out…and okay, who’s up on the next batch?

You see how being organized and tracking your queries actually helps you deal with rejection? And bonus: there are lots of people posting comments on each agent listing, and that gives you a vibe for the kinds of projects an agent is accepting, the kind she/he tends to reject, and makes the entire writers-querying-agents process a lot less lonely.

Romance is about the journey, not the ending

I think people who love romance novels, and who seek out romantic movies (even though so many Hollywood rom-coms are cold, formulaic crap from beginning to end) are wired a little differently from the rest of the population.

“The ending was so predictable!” critics say. “You know who’s going to end up together from the beginning,” others complain.

Well, yeah. That’s the point.

Reading a romance isn’t like reading a mystery or a thriller. In a mystery, readers are on guard for clues from the very first page, trying to outguess the characters and, by extension, the author. That’s the fun of it all. If a reader has guessed the culprit halfway through the book, the author hasn’t done his or her job, and most mystery readers will roast the book accordingly.

In a romance, the fun is not in trying to predict the ending. Please. The fun is in seeing how it all plays out. There are sacrifices to be made, there’s growing up to do, there are adventures and daring rescues (by heroines just as often as by heroes), there are mysteries to solve, and all the while there’s a delicious emotional journey playing out on the page. If the author has done his or her job, we get a front row seat rooting for two people we care about while they work through ALL that stuff before finding their way to a happy ending.

So yeah those characters had better actually wind up together. If I got emotionally invested in two characters being together, and then I reach the end of their story only to find that they’ve decided to “see other people” I’mthrowingthebookacrosstheroom.

But a romance novel would never end that way, so I’m in good hands.

Movies and TV shows are a little bit more of a romance crapshoot (which is why I try to point out the ones that deliver and the ones that don’t on this blog).

Take this thought-provoking review of The Five Year Engagement by a colleague of mine over at Media Matters. Jerry Holsopple has good questions about the clues romantic movies give readers to identify which characters are meant for each other. By my definition of romances, it ought to be head-slappingly obvious who the Hero and Heroine are (hint: it’s a romance, so they’re both pictured on the movie poster), but all snarking aside, his questions are valid.  And one sentence inspired me to write this blog post:

Five-Year has a predictable ending but the creative way it accomplishes it is satisfying.

Then that means it’s probably a good romance. Predictable ending? Good. Satisfyingly creative way it’s accomplished? EVEN BETTER. That’s where romances are made and broken, not in the ending.

And one final thing about predictable endings to romances: I don’t want to waste my time and emotional investment rooting for the heroine to choose one guy only to find out she winds up leaving him for a different man. Team Edward and Team Jacob might be fun for lots of people, but love triangles only work for me when it’s pretty darn clear which side is going to come out in the wash.

It’s about the journey. Not the ending.

Wednesday Writing: Where Do I Begin?

Knowing if you’ve started your novel in the right place has got to be one of the most difficult things to master for a writer. Fortunately, there are professionals who read books and manuscripts for a living, so they have a finely honed sense of what makes a great jumping off point.

Unfortunately–for those of use who have yet to land an agent or an editor at a publishing house–we have to muddle along with help from fellow amateurs, trusting our instincts as readers to guide us to finding that magical point where a character’s story is ready to have a reader join the journey.

My writing partner has an excellent novel she’s been polishing for awhile. It has garnered contest wins and accolades from peers, and I certainly enjoyed reading it when we first became writing partners. However, the opening pages were hard to get through, and I thought it was something to do with presentation. I worked with her for some time trying to fix a problem I couldn’t quite put my finger on–was it the main character? The setting? The mix of dialogue to prose?

She recently got feedback from an agent and another professional who told her she wasn’t starting the novel in the right place. Instead of starting the novel with a magical duel between the main character and a rival, they suggested she start with the MC limping home from a fight.

My writing partner was worried I would be disappointed that she was essentially scrapping pages of stuff we’d worked on over a period of weeks, but I was excited! That sounded like the perfect place to start the story, and I looked forward to reading the new beginning.

In writing, you can never fall in love with your pages or become so invested in a partner’s work that you’re resistant to starting fresh.

Now, if only I could tell the best place to start my novels… 🙂

Wednesday Writing: Think Before You Name

As writers, we name a whole lotta stuff. Characters. Towns. Fantasy and science fiction writers name entire worlds. But a name isn’t just an arbitrary placeholder meant to differentiate people and places in your book.

In unillustrated works, the name is the face.

Think about that. You get a character’s physical description a handful of times in a book. Maybe you get clues to his personality a handful of other times. But how many times do you see his name? In a 300 page novel, the number is probably close to a thousand times. If your name sounds weak, the character will seem weak. If your name sounds brawny, the character will sound brawny. If your name is an unpronounceable mouthful, readers will skip right over it and probably not connect with your character very well.

I really want to know what Suzanne Collins was thinking when she named Peeta in The Hunger Games.

  • Katniss–sounds feminine but fierce because of the “Kate/Kat” element. It also makes sense in District 12 because it’s the name of a wild plant. A good, solid name for her.
  • Haymitch–great name for this character. He’s crotchety, older, a real scoundrel.
  • Peeta–wha? Is it male? Is it female? Is it concerned with the ethical treatment of animals? Is it a type of bread (seriously, I hope this isn’t the reason)? Whatever it is, Peeta certainly doesn’t sound like an attractive male lead. Maybe that’s the point, but Peeta’s name still bugs me.
And we’re not even going to talk about Renesmee. (shudder)

J.R.R. Tolkien used the power of connotation and our linguistic heritage to give Middle Earth its intense depth of history. This article in the New Yorker explores the power of brand naming and linguistic connotations. Naming isn’t the most important thing we do as writers, but we can’t afford to overlook it.

Wednesday Writing: Starting your story with ‘Want’

Today’s Wednesday Writing is a short one since I’m only expanding on a tip I gleaned from a literary agent I follow on Twitter.

YES. RT @AdviceToWriters: Make your characters want something right away even if it’s only a glass of water. KURT VONNEGUT

I really like that idea. It’s so simple, and like Vonnegut says, it doesn’t have to be a big thing—maybe your character just wants to punish her little brother for quoting her diary at the dinner table—but just the simple desire and attempt to get something draws the reader in: will he/she get what he wants?

BUT (and this is a big caveat) it’s probably a good idea to make the wanting relevant to your overall plot.

  • Maybe your MC succeeds in punishing her little brother, but that rash act sets the plot in motion.
  • Maybe getting up for a simple glass of water means he’s awake at the right hour of the night to witnesses  a murder in his driveway.
  • Maybe the thing your MC wants is his big goal for the entire story.

Tie it together, and the reader’s interest won’t wane after a few pages in. You got them reading, don’t let them drop now!

Wednesday Writing: Blogging for the User

Yay new blog layout! See it’s romantical old page-looky top and bottom? See the interesting texture of the background that in no way interferes with the nice new, readable font? See how it’s still RED? 🙂

I changed the look of my blog over the weekend in part because I felt the old format was difficult to read. The fonts in the sidebars were microscopic, and some of the formatting had weird spacing and often didn’t co-operate when I wanted to make a heading larger.

I made the switch after reading this article on ProBlogger: The 5 Keys to Blog Useability. Some of the points are a little advanced for my current blog ability, but I took one look at my category headings and realized they were organized for MY convenience—not for a user’s convenience.

In public (rather than diary) blogging, the user is key. So in addition to changing my blog theme, I streamlined the categories, eliminating ones serving no useful purpose for a reader.

It’s a small step, but I think a good one. 🙂

Wednesday Writing: Broadway High Update

A few wonderful people have read Broadway High and given me some helpful feedback, including one person who recommended I try condensing the last three chapters into the story’s climax, leaving only a little bit of falling action instead of two chapters’ worth.

For any writer friends reading this, yes, I know better than to take forever to finish the story after the high point . . . the problem is, I didn’t realize what the high point was! With my focus on resolving the romance between the hero and heroine, I didn’t identify the musical’s opening night as the big finish—the point to which the whole novel is driving (the “final battle” in archetype lingo).

Maybe other readers will disagree about opening night being the climax, but now that I’ve spent the last two weeks trying to implement her suggestions, one thing is abundantly clear: I indulged myself a little too much with resolving the romance. So it’s being trimmed a bit (but I don’t think it’s losing anything . . . there was plenty of room to cut).

Once I’m happy with this revision to the ending, and I’ve done a few more tweaks to the rest of the story, I’ll be looking for another round of beta readers. Who’s in?

P.S. Why are there no pictures online of the BHS auditorium? Instead, you’ll have to settle for Tom and Natalie: 

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.

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.

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