Monday, January 31, 2005


I had the goal of writing five blogs a week, thinking I'd do one each weekday then take the weekend off. Usually real life takes all my time on Saturdays and Sundays. However, yesterday, I had enough in my head to write a long one and I posted it. So today I'm going to do a Quickie and not feel too bad about.

Because today I decided I need to do a website. Yeah, I know. Me and two gagillion other people. But I happened upon Jennifer Crusie's site and was so impressed by how classy it was and how fun to read about her. I know I've got light years to go until I'm any kind of Jenny Crusie. But hey, baby steps, right?

So instead of doing anything truly constructive today, I cruised around the internet picking up fun backgrounds and clip art from the fabulous free-stuff places I found. Can I just thank those wonderful people right now who sit around and goof with Photoshop, designing all kinds of funky stuff I don't have the time to do. You guys are the greatest!

And of course I had to stop to download the Photoshop Elements program my dad handed down to me so I could spend hours doing some goofing of my own. Plus playing with the whole HTML stuff and trying to figure out why my frames wouldn't work...okay, see where this is headed? It's one of those starting of a new project before finishing the old.

In fact, my husband's remark when he called and I told him what I was up to? "Shouldn't you actually have some books published before you worry about a website?"

Hey, I'm proactive.

My big dilemma now is what look I want to go with. My background is in creative design, so this whole web design thing is like my crack. I get addicted at just the idea of all of the possibilities. I can't decide if I want to go light and fun, kind of gimmicky. Or would it be better to go professional and classy? I mean, I like to think that someday some publisher will get my query letter and actually go check out my website like I suggest...

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Writers as Editors

I belong to a group of about fifteen aspiring writers, only one of whom has actually been published. We write across genres and we range widely in our levels of commitment. A couple of us really, really want to get published. Others write only for fun or have even shelved their writing for other “hobbies” and are now just readers. We cover the globe, coming from places as varied as Australia, Scotland, and Italy. It’s a great group, and I’m glad and proud to be a part of it.

Recently we established a place where we can post bits of our various WIPS and offer each other critiques. (Kind of hard to find a Starbucks within driving distance of all of us, not to mention the time differences. *g*) It’s taken a bit of egg-shell walking to determine how this is going to work. Are we all open to honest opinion and suggestion, given constructively, of course? Or were we hoping for some easy support, a bunch of “Great job, keep up the good work!” responses to simply give us inspiration to keep on plugging away?

When the first brave soul posted the first chapter of her current WIP, the initial responses were tentative. No one knew quite what to say – how deep she wanted us to look or how open she was to suggestions – so everyone limited themselves to a lot of “very intriguing, can’t wait to read more” responses. Each post pointed out the good in a broad sense but no-one dug her teeth into it to offer specifics, either good or bad. Finally, another brave soul sat down and wrote up a very thorough and honest critique. Her suggestions were valid, and the writer was pleased to have the input. The flood gates had been opened, and we were officially a real critique group.

Since writing in a vacuum leads to, usually, poorer writing, critique groups such as mine seem to be a critical element on the road to being published. The thing is, exactly what kind of critiques are useful, life-saving tools that help a writer become better versus those that are frustrating at best and downright irritating at worst?

I ask this because I’m afraid I might fall into the latter category when it comes to the types of critiques I offer.

I find it amazing how easy it is for me to see problems in another person’s writing when I myself engage in the same mistakes time and time again. Basic no-nos like using too many adjectives or trying to shove funky dialogue tags into my dialogue. And bigger things too, like including scenes that don’t seem to add anything to the story at hand. These things jump out and grab me by the throat when I wear my editor hat while reading someone else’s story. But when it comes to my own work, that kind of stuff slips by me like oil on Teflon.

I suppose it’s due in large part to distance, and I suppose that’s why having others look at your work is so crucial. Fresh eyes pick up so much, and having several pairs point out the hiccups is a service to be treasured. And because of that, I feel obligated – honored – to return the favor and offer my own unspoiled eyes.

And honestly, other than the time it takes away from my own writing, I don’t find offering critiques a sacrifice. I actually love to edit other peoples’ work because it’s easy. It’s so nice, for a change, to be able to see how something can be fixed to make it better instead of pulling my hair out over my own stuff wondering why I just.can’ In fact, I told my husband the other night that maybe I’ve completely misunderstood my calling. Maybe I’m not meant to be a writer but rather am really a repressed editor at heart. Except I have stories I want to tell, and I want to tell them my way…

Besides, despite my willingness and enthusiasm, I’m not sure I’d make a very good editor.

My problem is I don’t know how to offer advice the right way – the way that gently steers a writer into making changes that will improve her story.

What I do when I see something I think could be written better? I rewrite the sentence/dialogue/paragraph/scene. From scratch. I pull in stuff that the writer has written and convey the same information. But I do it in a way that makes sense to me or that I think reads better.

How annoying is that?

I suppose some writers might not mind it. After all, there is nothing more frustrating than someone telling you something is wrong and that you need to fix it but then giving you no idea how to go about doing just that. If you knew how to fix it, you wouldn’t have done it wrong in the first place.

But there’s a big difference in saying “You’ve used six adjectives in this sentence. You might want to choose one or two and get rid of the rest.” to actually lining out all the superfluous adjectives.

Or telling a writer that paragraphs A and B are too wordy and could be combined into one tighter paragraph instead of just taking it upon yourself to write the new and improved paragraph C.

I just can’t resist. Yes, I admit to being a borderline control freak. And I imagine that I have to confess to a shameful amount of arrogance to even assume that my way is even remotely better. My human flaws contribute to this need to take over. That along with the fact that I’m a writer – I write – and my poor friends are doomed to suffer critiques that propose to erase their unique voices and style and replace them with…well, mine.

Maybe it’s laziness. Instead of taking the time to explain what I think is wrong – which quite often is very hard to do because maybe I don’t exactly know what it is I have a problem with, just that it could be better – it’s a lot easier to show what I mean. Kind of takes that showing instead of telling thing to a whole different level.

One benefit in doing it my way – the obnoxious rewriting way – is that I get practice. In seeing problems in another person’s work and attempting to fix them, it opens my eyes to where I’ve committed the same sins. If you recognize an adverb habit from twenty paces in another person’s story, then surely seeing the same problem in your own work becomes easier. And after working the kinks out on someone else’s story, you can roll up your sleeves and perfect your own like a seasoned pro. Sounds good in theory, anyway.

But I don’t have the time for that kind of practice, right? Instead of spending three hours rewriting my friend’s Great American/UK/European/Australian Novel, I should spend the time working on my own. I just have to keep telling myself that when my fingers itch to open a new Word document.

I suppose I need to practice keeping my fingers shut. Just like writing is a craft that can be improved with practice, practice, practice, critiquing is an art. I want to offer my friends something they can really use.

I also want to avoid earning the reputation of being the Overbearing One in the group.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Who You Callin' a Ho?

Exactly when does a heroine go from being a respectable woman with a reasonable sexual history to the village bike? I ask this question because 1) it is the opposite side of the coin from my entry two days ago and 2) I’m currently writing a heroine who…ahem…shall we say, feels very comfortable with her sexuality.

But I don’t want my lovely heroine to slide off the scale of acceptance by the general romance reading population. I’m not ready to write erotica (might never be), so I see that there has to be some generally accepted stopping point.

Not that I want to pander to the uber-conservatives. In fact, I was very encouraged by the opinions offered by Mrs. Giggles and Màili in which it seems that maybe, just maybe, the readership for non-virginal and un-repressed heroines is actually growing.

However, I’m an un-published non-entity who hasn’t earned her wings yet and so therefore can’t fly too far above or below the radar. I’m very aware there is some invisible line that shouldn’t be crossed if I hope to have readers (note the plural) and a career that extends past one book. I just don’t know exactly where that line is.

If we were to apply the same standards of behavior that we allow our heroes – all of those rogues and rakes and ladies’ men – to our heroines, I wouldn’t even be asking this question. If the romance genre didn’t support the old double standard as strongly as it does, I’d write her just as she wants to be. But alas, despite the fact that it’s now the twenty-first century, even the most contemporary of modern heroines face the dreaded whore/Madonna syndrome.

Okay, in order to draw this line, I’m going to throw out some parameters and see where we start to get uncomfortable.

Clearly it is all right for a contemporary heroine to be a non-virgin. With all of those divorcees and widows out there and the fact that a healthy majority of the girls are not even really girls but women in their late-twenties and upwards, seems reasonable to expect that they’d have crossed that milestone before meeting their hero.

However, is how they lost their virginity a factor at all? It’s okay if it was part of a marriage and probably okay if the woman was in college or older. Or okay if it was in a loving, long-term relationship. These all seem to be no-brainers. But what if she lost her virginity in the backseat of her boyfriend's car at age fifteen? Is she now a victim? Is she saddled with regrets over her irresponsibility?

What if her friends got her a gigolo on her twenty-first birthday, telling her it was high time she gave up those stuffy old morals? I mean, how many heroes (okay, mostly ones in historicals) lost their virginity at age 14 to some borderline-pedophile woman-of-the-night?

Seems reasonable to expect our heroine – especially if she’s older – to maybe have had a couple of lovers. Men she’s spent time with as a serial monogamist who just hasn’t met the right guy yet. You know, The One. Of course, with all of these past lovers there was some level of commitment and some emotion that came at least a little close to love. She wasn’t just trying these guys on for size – she took them all for extended test drives before returning them to the dealership for a different model.

How about one-night stands? Is it all right if our lady picks up a hunky guy she meets at a bar, feeling the need to relieve a little work-week stress? Maybe she finds out his first name but has no intention of calling him in the morning. And how frequently can she do this? Is it okay if it’s a Friday night after-work habit, like stopping by for a few beers with the guys? Or maybe only after she’s been through a particularly difficult time in her life – like after finding out her college sweetheart, the guy she put through medical school, is engaged to her best friend.

Does it matter what she wears? If she prefers short skirts and tank tops that compliment her curves, is she a different sort than the woman who stands at the bar dressed in her Anne Klein work-wear while she scans the smoky room?

What if she views men as a challenge? What if she spots a guy and her competitive nature drives her to see if she can score? I mean, heck, men do that a lot in novels. Sometimes with the added incentive of goading from their friends or even a money bet to make things interesting. No plans for much after the waving of the panties-as-trophy. Can our heroine engage in that kind of game-playing?

And here’s the biggie. I know that it is generally good form in a romance novel that once the hero and heroine have met, usually the hero and almost always the heroine refrain from making love to any other woman/man from that point onward. After having met The One, all others pale by comparison. So what happens if our hero and heroine meet but then part and a lot of time passes? What if they revert back to their previous sexual habits until they meet again?

Seems it’s these last four scenarios that get our heroine into trouble. It’s when she views sex as something casual, something that's just another recreational activity, she starts to risk her reputation and the readers’ good graces.

Why is that?

Our heroine is a good person. She works hard at her job. She loves and cares for her family and friends. She pays her taxes and returns her library books on time. She always practices safe sex and isn’t stupid when it comes to her own safety. She’s the kind of woman we all would want to call a friend because she’s warm and funny and a good listener.

She simply enjoys making love. She finds release in it, much the way some people take a long jog or go fishing in order to unwind. She’s proud of her body and revels in the pleasures it gives her.

Men do it. Why can’t women? Especially in a genre that is written by women mostly to be read by women. In the world created by a nearly all-woman task force, why does the double standard still apply?

Of course, I don’t expect an answer. Just asking.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Extra Hero, Hold the Heroine

Today I had planned to talk about the (evil?) step-sister of the virginal virgin, the sexually experienced non-ho. But last night I finished a book that got me to thinking about something else. And since the joy of having your own blog is that you get to decide what to write about and when, I’m going to exercise my right to change my mind. I will be back to visit the ho, though. I have some questions to raise.

I just finished The Damsel in This Dress by new author Marianne Stillings. I enjoyed the book – I’m going to post a review at Amazon – and while I don’t consider it a keeper, it is a great start to what promises to be a wonderful career for Ms. Stillings.

The reason this book isn’t a keeper for me is the problem I myself seem to have with nearly every book I’ve started to write (and will someday finish, of course!). While the hero of TDITD – J. Soldier McKennitt – was very well formed and three-dimensional, I found the heroine, Betsy Tremaine, to be a little too flat and, well, boring. I just didn't see what Soldier saw in her.

Too often while reading I asked the troubling question, “Tell me again, why did this guy fall in love with this woman?”

The hero seemed to know why he was falling in love with her even if I didn't. On several occasions he listed to himself all of her wonderful qualities. She was sweet and nurturing and spunky and big-hearted. However, I never really saw Betsy do anything that led me to believe she was any more sweet or nurturing or big-hearted than the average polite stranger on the street. Sure, she cuddled her mother’s dog a time or two and felt upset when two different characters were murdered. But every time I’d come across a paragraph where Soldier would express how amazing this woman was, I’d furrow my brow in confusion, wondering if my copy of the book was missing a few telling scenes.

And about that spunkiness? Well, Betsy was kind of a damsel in distress throughout most of the book, dragged from here to there by the protective hero. She really didn’t get much opportunity to be spunky. In fact, the one scene in which she actually did show some serious backbone – during a phone call when she talked back to the stalker who had been harassing her – Soldier was in the bathroom showering and didn’t even hear her.

I have several theories on why this problem occurs for some writers, myself included. The case when the hero is fully formed and demonstrates all of the qualities that make the heroine fall in love with him but the heroine just doesn’t measure up the same way. Since I’m an Amateur with that important capital “A”, I’ll admit right now that I could be way off base.

First of all, Ms. Stillings didn’t help the situation by spending more time in Soldier’s head than in Betsy’s. I didn’t do a tally of scene POVs because, frankly, I don’t feel like taking the time, but I’m pretty sure the score would weigh heavily on Soldier’s side. That being the case, Soldier had more opportunity to become a real person for me, while Betsy’s thoughts remained kind of shadowed. Other than fear and upset over what was happening to her and her growing lust for Soldier (oh, and a healthy dose of self-loathing due to her nasty mother), I didn’t know much about Betsy. Not only did I not get to “see” her being sweet and nurturing, I didn’t even get to hear her think sweet and nurturing thoughts that often.

As a female writer, I engage in a certain amount of falling in love with my heroes. It's only natural. How can I write a story wherein a woman falls in love with a man who I couldn’t see myself loving? This being the case, it makes sense that I would want to spend as much time with this guy as possible, living inside his head and watching him fall in love. I can see how a story could become lopsided, the hero's POV dominating the story as the writer indulges her desire to spend time with such a great guy.

However, pacing issues and story balance aside, spending a lot of time with the hero isn't a problem if he not only thinks why he's falling in love but also sees why he's falling in love. Maybe it's a matter of less introspection and more action or dialogue. Otherwise if this amazing man is falling in love with a woman he claims is equally amazing but who we as readers have never seen demonstrate any qualities which warrant such strong feelings, he becomes kind of stupid. Or a dupe. Or less real, at the very least.

Again being a woman, I admit to spending hours fantasizing about my ideal men. From the time I was old enough to make up stories in my head, always the knight in shining armor was the focus of my internal camera. I know my heroes very, very well. I should. I’ve spent a lot of time with them. I know what things they could do to make me fall head over heels in love with them, and I like to show them doing these things so I can do just that right along side my heroine.

But heroines? Well, I’m not a man, so I can only imagine why a man falls in love with a woman. I take for granted all of the things we women do that apparently men find lovable. Since these things are so intrinsic to my very nature (and when I say “my” I’m speaking of women as a whole), it’s a lot harder to isolate them so that I can show my heroine exhibiting them. It seems only natural to me to rub my husband’s shoulders when he’s had a bad day, so I wouldn’t think to show it as an example of a woman being “nurturing”.

I imagine in any romance where the characters are not larger than life – where they are real people holding down real jobs and leading fairly ordinary lives – it becomes even harder to show a heroine doing the things that appeal to the hero. After all, how hard is it to believe a guy finds a feisty heroine attractive after she has just rescued him from a posse of drug smugglers chasing him down the street? It’s a lot harder to show sweetness and nurturing and spunkiness if your heroine works in an office and spends her lunch hours picking up the drycleaning.

Not to say that many authors don’t do heroines well. I’ve got several books on my keeper shelf that have heroines I just love. In fact, Mary Potter, the heroine in Linda Howard’s wonderful Mackenzie’s Mountain, is such a woman. She’s got a normal job – a school teacher – and is a very normal, unassuming person. But in every instance where she and the hero, Wolf Mackenzie, interact, I’m given evidence of the traits that appeal to Wolf. I completely understand why he falls in love with her; he doesn’t have to tell me. Heck, I don’t blame him!

Perhaps it’s a matter of knowing your heroine as well as you know your hero. Of liking her just as much as you like your hero. My problem arises from the fact that I don't spend nearly the amount of time thinking about women and what makes them attactive as I do thinking about men. (Shhh. Don't tell my husband I said that.) It's the classic Mary Sue complex. In all of my mental fantasy stories, I'm the heroine. I don't have a stock pile of heroines I've already invented. And since Mary Sues are to be avoided like the plague, well, that resorts in kind of a shortage.

Which begs the question, do you have to have both a hero and a heroine to write a good story? If you have a hero you love and a premise which is fresh and exciting, can you find a way to wedge any old heroine into the empty slot? I suppose so, as long as you can convince the hero and the reader to fall in love with her. But I imagine that would be hard to do.

I now see that this is what I've tried to do and what has tripped me up as a writer. I figured a stick woman would work fine as long as my hero was extra-fabulous. He could do the work of telling everyone why he loved Miss Stick - because she's sweet and nurturing and spunky and big-hearted. And of course everyone would believe him.

I have gotten better as I’ve practiced this whole writing craft. I’ve started to meet heroines from my own creative brain that I genuinely like and can imagine a man falling in love with. I’ve started looking forward to writing her scenes as much as I enjoy writing the hero’s scenes. That has to be a step in the right direction.

I suppose the trick is to show why the heroine is lovable. As much as I’d love to take the hero’s word for it, somehow I need more than just his musings on how great she is. I need to agree with him.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Virginal Virgins and Other Improbables of Contemporary Fiction

A confession. As I get the hang of this whole blogging thing, I’m going to be borrowing topics from other sources. Before I sit down to write, I’ve been cruising around the sites and blogs I frequent, and usually some article or entry in one or another has inspired fodder for my own entry. I don’t consider it stealing ideas because I’m using the original entry as a spring board from which to launch my own questions and observations. But I do feel the need to confess to this lack of originality. Then again, at this point if I didn’t borrow, you’d be stuck reading about my kids, the latest exploits of the hamster, or how sick I am of all this bloody snow.

Today I've been intrigued by Màili Ryan's column in Romancing the Blog in which she discusses what she sees as an overabundance of virginal heroines showing up in contemporary romances. These are the heroines of our current time who, for some reason that defies most modern conventions, have managed to remain virgins. Not only are these women virgins, but some are portrayed as almost complete innocents as well, sometimes not even having the most rudimentary understanding about sex and what’s involved. They appear as a reverse-anachronism, some kind of medieval princess brought forward in time after having been sequestered in a nunnery for her entire life.

In this day and age, presenting a thirty-something, or even a twenty-something, virginal heroine requires a whole lot of convincing on the part of the writer as to why such a case might be. With girls losing their virginity as teenagers and the constant bombardment of the media machine telling us to “just do it,” remaining a virgin is actually quite a challenge. I would imagine that the majority of women who remain virgins do so by conscious choice rather than lack of opportunity. Certainly the number of marriage contracts that require a virginal bride have slacked off since the beginning of the twentieth century.

There is a spectrum that ranges from virginal virgin – the woman who not only has never had sex but doesn’t even know about sex – all the way to the slutty femme fatale who needs a man to have only a pulse to make him fair game for a night of sheet dancing. What I’d like to know is where the lines are drawn for readers? How far can the writer push the modern-day heroine’s innocence until the reader loses the ability to relate in any way? Without the distance of time and the differences in social mores to help us suspend our own experiences, exactly how virginal can a contemporary heroine be before she’s pushed into too innocent to be believed?

Assuming that the writer can sell the premise (there are, after all, a lot of legitimate reasons why a woman might choose to remain a virgin) and convince us that the heroine is reasonably virginal, more problems arise when the hero seems more interested in the heroine's sexual status than her person as a whole. Rather than a woman with appeal in her own right because of her wit or intelligence or charm, the heroine by virtue of being a virgin becomes terra incognita for the hero and completely irresistible. You have a PhD in nuclear physics, tutor blind children in your spare time, and have single-handedly launched an initiative to eradicate hunger from all third world countries? Yeah, okay, but didn't you say something about being virgin?

What is it about a virgin that men find so intriguing?

Is it the prospect of having what no other man has ever had? A throwback to the women-as-property mindset where the rate of depreciation on a non-virgin is on par with that of a new car driven half a mile off the lot. I got you first, therefore you are mine.

Is it the appeal of playing teacher to the heroine’s role of student? The big, strong, worldly man taking the trembling heroine under his wing and introducing her to the delights of the flesh. Molding her into a creature designed to meet his every fantasy. No bad habits to unlearn or nasty past experiences that might cause the hero to look poorly by comparison. Don't worry, baby, I'll show you everything you need to know.

Is it the challenge of ultimate conquest and victory? Nothing is more appealing than something that is unattainable. The ultimate ego-stroke when at long last, the goal is reached. She’s held out this long, but she won’t be able to resist me, for I am God's gift to women.

Maybe a bit of all of the above.

For that matter, what is it about a virginal heroine that romance writers – who are largely women – find so intriguing?

I mean, from the perspective of a woman, being a virgin when my heroine at long last meets her one-true-love and soulmate is kind of a risky undertaking. What if – gasp – Mr. Charming is not so good in bed? What if he’s equally inexperienced or even bad? I’d be sentencing her to a mediocre sex life for the rest of all time. Of course, she’d never know the difference.

Which leads me to ask…how does a virginal heroine even know that her new lover is any good? She has no basis of comparison.

Which leads me to ask...would readers accept a trend of virginal heroes? How would we feel if our virile, manly men weren't quite sure exactly what to do with this virile manliness?

But I digress…and since we don’t have to deal in realities when reading romance novels, I guess the heroine won’t have to worry about the possibility of getting a dud of a partner her first time out of the gate. Lucky girl.

So why else would a writer chose to make her heroine a virgin? I guess the question has to be asked: what role does the heroine’s virginity play in the story? Does it make her different than the rest of the women the hero has known, and therefore more intriguing? Are there reasons she has chosen this path that are significant to her personality as a whole, like some event in her past that has made her afraid or reluctant? Is it simply a matter that she has taken a moral stance to wait and just hasn’t met the right man yet (until, of course, the hero comes along) in which case her virginity is really nothing more than a tiny part of her entire package?

I can accept any of the above reasons. And I’ll even go so far as to suggest another reason. The heroine is a virgin because she needs to be for plot reasons. Not a very common theme of modern stories, but I’m talking a sacrificial-virgin-to-be-thrown-into-the-volcano reason. Or a the-prince-must-marry-a-virgin story. (It happens – Charles and Di, anyone?)

What I think most of us believe – and perhaps what Màili is putting forth –is that the only really unacceptable reason for a heroine to be a virgin is to make her more appealing to the hero. If that’s the only reason he likes her, I’m not sure he’s the kind of man I’d call a hero.

I mentioned that sexual experience exists along a spectrum, from virgin through...well, not a virgin. It's on this end of the range - the not a virgin end - I'll discuss tomorrow. When does the experienced heroine become too experienced to be liked or respected? Is it still a double standard when it comes to acceptable experience on the part of the hero versus the heroine?

Funnily enough, I have story ideas for both types.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Plotting Tools

One of the most exciting things about discovering the blogging community is how much good advice and tips-of-the-trade I've come across. I know I'm no Amerigo Vespucci - this terriroty has long been discovered by those way smarter than I am - but I feel like I've found a whole untapped source of information and tools to use to help me become a better writer.

Problem is, I now spend too much time learning and not nearly enough time doing.

Anyway, I found something very intriguing yesterday on Alison Kent's message boards. It's a tool to help with plotting. Not only does Alison explain how she uses the Plotting Board to manage her stories, she has posted a picture of what one actually looks like.

To sum up, this Plotting Board method involves assigning different colored post-it notes to different characters' POVs. Information is jotted on the notes as appropriate and placed on a large board that indicates chapters. The whole thing allows for a quick visual of who is seeing what when, and imbalances make themselves pretty clear. Also, this method allows a writer to check pacing and adjust/move scenes as necessary.

It looks very cool and the logic makes good sense to me. In fact, I started to do one last night and was both thrilled by how excited it got me about my current story and horrified as I realized what I had thought to be a fairly well developed plot is really not much of anything at all. As they say, back to the drawing board.

Since I have smallish children and no room in my house designated as completely off-limits, I'm going to translate the large poster-board and post-it note Plotting Board into a spreadsheet on my laptop. It'll probably be more cumbersome to create and manipulate - no easy post-its to just jot down notes and toss when not needed. But I can carry it with me along with my work to have at my fingertips whenever I need it.

If you have any problems with plotting or even just want a good way to organize your story visually so you can see the big picture, I highly recommend you check it out. And I thank Alison Kent for sharing.

Since I've mentioned plotting, another good resource for plotting tips I found on PBW's blog. Some of the methods on the list I found more helpful than others, but every person has to develop what works best for him or her.

Both sites are definitely worth checking out if plotting is in any way at all an issue for you.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Seed Planting or Relationship Building?

BTW...before I forget. I'm pretty sure there is a "comments" option on my Blog, and I'd love to read any comments anyone would care to leave. You know, agree, disagree, don't care, go away. That kind of stuff. Right now, since at this point I'm still speaking to the wind, I don't imagine I'll get any. But maybe someday, down the road?

Anyway, topic at hand. I've been working on a book. Yeah, duh. But I've run into a major decision stumbling block. In the book I - naturally - have a main hero and heroine. I also have a subplot that involves a sub-hero and sub-heroine. I love these sub characters, and I really want to carry them (and their evolving relationship) through not only this book - let's call it Book A - but through Book B as well, culmintating in Book C wherin they become the main hero and heroine.

Now, the problem arises when I read articles like this at Mrs. Giggle's website and also when I read discussions about readers' responses to subplots. It seems there is a general aversion to what people perceive as sequel baiting. This is the inclusion of characters who are clearly being set up to be main characters in future books. Things like giving the hero a few brothers and the heroine a couple of roommates simply so that entire lines of books can be written all with a common thread and, presumably, a sure-bet, will-buy readership.

I can understand why such a practice might annoy readers. It fairly screams "you must buy my next book to see what happens to Joe X and Susie Q." Frustrating? Very much.

Too, there is the problem when the sub-characters overshadow the main characters. Suzanne Brockmann has been accused of doing this. Often her secondary characters and their story are more intriguing than the main characters. In her latest release, "Hot Target," nearly every reader review on seems to say the same thing: the story of sub-hero Jules far outshone the main storyline/romance between lead characters Cosmo and Jane. And I have to agree that there is much validity in this claim.

And as a reader, I can see how that might come off as a very bad thing. It often seems that maybe the writer was either so much more interested by the subs or even that she (he) actually wrote the main characters' story simply to have a medium in which to deliver the sub-story. Therefore why make me buy two books to read about these sub-characters rather than just coming out straight away and writing their story in the first place? Skip the extraneous "main plot".

My problem is this. What if the relationship between the sub-hero and heroine is something that you want to develop over the course of time? What if you want them to meet first in Book 1, spend a few months apart, then meet again in Book 2? Their relationship changes upon this second meeting - perhaps deepens or becomes more complex, so there is reason for it. But it's not until even more time passes (a year or two) that they find themselves ready to take the final leap - to become the main characters in Book 3 wherein they work out their issues and find their HEA.

That's the position I'm in. In my Book 1, the sub-characters meet and have a brief encounter. The brevity of that encounter is key in their story. And I need some time to pass before they see each other again. Upon meeting a second time, they start to wonder if there is more to this than they originally thought, but neither character is in a place where they are ready to take the plunge. Thus they drift apart, only to re-connect in Book 3.

I don't want to write a book that is simply about these two people and their three encounters. Because of who they are and what they do, it makes more sense that they encounter each other with the space of time between each episode. And this cannot be accomplished in one novel within one story.

To give you a simplified example: Two strangers meet at a convention and have a torrid, one night fling (shown in Book 1). They go their own ways and live their own lives. Two years later, they meet again while both are vacationing in Bermuda (shown in Book 2). Their fling expands to a week, but both have lives they must return to. They part ways. Finally, they see each other again a year later when the hero unknowingly moves to the heroine's hometown (Book 3). Now they work things out and voila, an HEA.

Too, the sub-hero and heroine do play key parts in the main plots of Book 1 and Book 2, and each encounter happens within the scope of an independent plot as opposed to one long ongoing plot. Confused yet? Really, it makes sense in my head.

How in the world would you ever put that into one book unless there are literally paragraphs that say "Time passed. Two years later..."

Anyway, if I write Book 1 the way I want to, I will look very much as if I'm Seed Planting. Enough time will be devoted to the sub-hero and heroine that expectations for their future will be set. For those of you who've read Suzanne Brockmann, these two will be the Sam and Alyssa of the Troubleshooter series.

Now, I love Suzanne Brockmann's work. I love the way she introduces multiple characters and storylines - she's a master. And enough people buy her books and love them that it is clear there are those who accept sub-heroes and heroines. Perhaps the challenge isn't in deciding whether or not to do it at all, but more in being able to do it well.

And this boils down to the ultimate question, I guess. Do you write the book/story you want to tell, or do you write the book you think will be best accepted?

I've always gone with writing what I want regardless of how it might upset readers. In fact, in one story I wrote and shared with friends, I introduced a new character who became very well liked by the readers and then I killed her off. There was outrage from my friends. But that's the story I had in my head, and it's the story I told. Eventually my friends overcame their anger that this new character had died and saw that this end was the end that had to be.

But writing what you want is a luxury afforded to a published writer with some history of success behind her. Will publishers even give you a chance if you walk on the edge of the envelope? Wish I knew the answer to that.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Wednesday Night Binge

As part of my proctastination efforts, there are a few TV shows that I consider do-not-misses. Three of those air, oddly enough, on Wednesday night, so I go the whole week watching basically no television only to run into a glut. We have TiVo, so any sane person would ask why I don't ration my watching and thus eat up only one hour a day with my tv habit. Ah...but would be the fun in that? Nope. Wednesday nights are glom nights.

Last night, though, two of my shows really let me down. I jumped on the Lost bandwagon after they reaired the pilot during those first weeks and have been riding shotgun ever since. But last night I was, dare I say it...bored. It bored me. Walt and Michael (who was a bonehead throughout most of the epi) bored me. Except for the last two minutes, which were enough, of course, to keep me panting for next week's episode, I wasted a good 59 minutes of my life. Too, every week my curiosity about how JJ Abrams and his crew are going to deliver up the goods even close to the anticipation they've created is pushed further than I could have imagined. There is no conceivable way they are going to give me the payoff I'm expecting. It's just not humanly possible.

The other disappointment was in The West Wing. I love this show. L-O-V-E it. But last night not only was the show 100% Josh-less (unforgivable!) but it magnified the biggest issue I've had since Day 1. The dialogue was horrible. It wasn't the words that were horrible or the way the actors delivered the words necessarily. It was the unnaturaleness of it. I mean, I could actually picture a script in my head as the characters blithely delivered line after line. There was no fluidity to it other than the fact that they were quick on the uptake. People just don't talk that way.

Now, before you can jump on my head and say that no one is as witty and clever in real life as the writing on TV, let me say that there's a difference between believable artificial dialogue and completely impossible artificial dialogue. The impossible comes IMO when character B whips out a line of dialogue in reaction to what character A has just said without even pausing to compose it. Are these people clairvoyant? That must be the reason they always have the right comeback no matter what. And not just right, but intelligent and clever and so nicely leading into whatever character C needs to say next.

I've noticed it before on TWW, most often during exchanges between Abby and Jed. I'd always chalked that up to Stockard Channing's acting style. But last night all of the characters were doing it. Bugged the heck out of me because I couldn't focus on what they were saying, just on how unreal it was that they were saying it that way in the first place. I've heard people complaining that TWW jumped the shark a while back and ever since Aaron Sorkin left it's been down hill. I haven't noticed and have enjoyed the show all the same. Last night? Not so much.

I won't divulge the other show I watch on Wednesday nights because it clearly falls under the category of Guilty Pleasure. Suffice it to say, next week will be the first new episode aired in nearly two months, and I'm waiting impatiently. If I'd have been smart, I would have used that two-month hiatus to break myself of the habit altogether.

But then what type of procrastinator would I be?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Is It Official?

Is it official? Testing? Testing? Am I official?

The other day my husband told me, "You are not a closer."

And I couldn't even argue. I couldn't even admonish him for not using the kinder description of procrastinator. He's right. I'm not a closer.

Can I tell you how many projects I have in some stage or another, how many rooms in my house that are 80% decorated and how many stacks of important papers I need to sort and file? Heck, I've lived in my house for four years now and still have at least a dozen boxes still to unpack. I left my last job two years ago and haven't yet managed to tie up the loose ends with my 401K. And I won't even go into how many stories I have started - how many characters I know so well they could be kin - that are now languishing on my hard drive.

I have no excuses. I have time. I have resources galore at my fingertips and a spouse who actually supports my hobby. (Despite the fact that I keep telling him he's not going to be able to retire even if I ever do someday get published. JK Rowling I'm not.)

So, today I stop being a non-closer. By starting this blog, I'm sentencing myself to accountability. No one may ever read this, but I'll know that the great vast space of the internet is watching and monitoring my progress.

Let's see how it goes.

Lynn M