Sunday, March 30, 2008

Michael Chabon vs. Battlestar Gallactica

I am so burnt out. I'm burnt out on winter. Writing. Romance. Snow suits. Border Collies. I am burnt out on my own head. The only thing I really love right now are donuts and we all know that road leads to ruin. So, to get my mind off donuts I've stopped writing and to get Sinead off my back I am watching Battlestar Gallactica. And reading one of my very very favorite authors - Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, Wonder Boys, Summerland, The Final Solution and a brilliant book of short stories the title I can't remember because Maureen has had it so long.) I'm reading the Mysteries of Pittsburgh. It's fantastic - of course, because he's a brilliant brilliant writer. And Battlestar is fantastic - because it's written by brilliant brilliant writers. Incredibly different kinds of writers. But, the same in a lot of ways.

Now, a few weeks ago I was having a conversation with some other Superromance authors about what Wanda Ottewell as the new senior editor of the line, wants from us, from our books and from the line in general. My response was "drama." A lot of people disagreed with me, saying that conflict and lots of it was the key and others said it was more action, less slice of life. Anyway there were a lot of opinions and I forgot for a while what my gut reaction was - drama.

Cut to the other night and me watching Battlestar Gallactica. More specifically me watching the scene with Starbuck being held hostage and fed dinner by the creepy cylon dude that loves her. Tense scene. We know something is going to happen. Starbuck says she can't cut her steak and he comes over and cuts it for her with a GIANT KNIFE. Oh! The tension. Oh! The drama. Starbuck with a shank of some kind stabs the guy in the side. Now, Cylons don't die - that version will, but another one will come and take his place. She knows this. And in essence the dialogue is: "Why do you keep doing this? You know I'm going to come back." And her response is "I'm doing this because you keep coming back." So, then, bloody, still prisoner Starbuck sits down and takes a bite of steak and wipes her mouth on a white linen napkin held in her bloody bloody bloody hand.


That's drama. That's character revealing. That's action. And then it hit me -- that's what genre fiction gets to do. It's life and people, dealing with life and people things but in a way that's just slightly better than life. Less boring. More thrilling. More perfect. More DRAMATIC. Genre fiction is about putting stuff on stage, giving it a bright white spotlight - making it sparkle and sizzle in a way that my real life really really doesn't. And then for a few days I thought - that's the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction. Literary fiction has less drama - more real life in a real life kind of way. A little dull, to be honest.

And then I started Chabon. And he's literary - the guy has won a Pulitzer. But I realized reading this book and looking at my bookshelf of "literary"books and I realized what really good literary writers do - and really successful literary writers do - is use their voice as that spotlight. They add the drama - the writer. So, my new theory is this - there is no real difference between good literary fiction (and by good I do mean what I think is good because it's subjective and I have no idea what you're reading and I hate Margaret Atwood) and good genre fiction. In the end. It's about honest, poignant, character-driven, exciting drama.

Man, I love taking breaks.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Other Boleyn Girl did not take my mind off Battlestar

First off, congrats to all the Rita and Golden Heart finalists. Secondly, anyone else excited that Spring is close. Looking out my window, I can see hints of green amongst grey snow. It’s enough to put a smile on my face, and speculate how I’m going to spend all day outdoors the first time the temp gets into the double digits.

Also with Spring comes the new and final season of Battlestar, and to show how pathetic I am when it comes to this show, I’m as excited as a kid the day before Christmas. So much so, Dh and I are watching seasons 1 through 3 to make sure we’re all caught up.

Because of this, I’m thinking about nothing else. It’s pathetic and I’m pretty sure if I create one more post on how much I love this show, Maureen and Molly are going to hunt me down and shoot me like the lame dog I am.

So I won’t.

Saw the Other Boleyn Girl the other day. Interesting movie, and some pretty good performances. Natalie Portman is always good, even Scarlett Johansen, who can be hit or miss for me, was good. But this movie to me was a classic case of the director screwing up. The first half of the movie felt like it was two hours cut into one, by basically taking each scene and shortening it down to three sentences. Very abrupt scene starts and ends and weird to watch. Especially when a lot of it could have been combined into larger, more complete scenes.

The second issue was the only person with a clear goal in the entire movie was the Natalie Portman character, Anne Boleyn. A clear goal identified to the audience at least. Everyone knows the base story. The King of England splits with the Catholic church to divorce his wife and marry Anne. But in the movie, the man making a lot of this happen, the king; his goals were really unclear. Sure, he wants Anne in his bed, but maybe he wants a son. We’re not really sure.
Mary, the sister, wants nothing to do with any of this, but one shared glass of wine and a hazy sex scene later and she’s in love with the king and sort of annoyed when he takes up with her sister. It’s all kind of bland.

Frustrating, because in the midst of all of it, there was the potential for a good movie there and from what I’m told, the book is great.

But I don’t care, because in a week, I have Battlestar..

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Techniques are not rules

I read this line recently in another writer’s blog post and while it’s not rocket science and I’ve heard it in other forms before, boy did it strike a chord with me.

I think when we write—especially when we’re beginners or when things aren’t going well—we’re so desperate to hold onto something, anything, as we tumble into the great abyss that is a blank page of a 400 page manuscript, that we’ll grab onto anything that anyone will tell us that makes sense.

Not that listening to advice of the more experienced or successful is bad. It’s good. It’s what we need to do to learn and get better.

But folks. These things other writers tell us in workshops and books are techniques, not rules.

It’s a good technique to avoid adverbs and adjectives and instead choose powerful and descriptive verbs and nouns. Does this mean there’s a rule that says you can’t ever use adverbs? NO! And if I see one more contest entry where the writer has simply left the “ly” off a word thinking it’s not an adverb if they spell it incorrectly, I’ll scream. (If they spell it incorrect. AAAAAH!!!!)

It’s a good technique to use the active voice in fiction. Does this mean you should never use the passive voice? No. It can have a strong impact, if it’s used sparingly.

It’s a good technique to make your point of view character have an identifiable and clear goal in every scene. Does that mean your book will fail if their goal is obscure in a couple of scenes? No.

It’s a good technique in the romance genre to have a very likable and easily relatable heroine. Does this mean you can’t write a great book with a harder to like heroine? No. (Ain’t She Sweet, anyone?)

It’s a good technique to use all five senses to immerse the reader in the world you’re creating for your characters to inhabit. Does this mean there’s a rule that says you need to tell us how everything smells? No. (And please don't... Somethings aren't meant to be smelt.)

It’s a good technique to stick to only two or three points of view in a book and avoid omniscient at all costs. Does this mean you shouldn’t add a scene into a book that’s written in an unexpected point of view—even omniscient—for impact? That you can’t have six or seven points of view in a book? No, it does not.

It is important to know and understand the techniques and devices used by successful writers, to study and learn these techniques and understand why they work and have made the writers who use them successful. And as frequent readers of this blog know, we all LOVE talking about fiction writing techniques and devices. BUT, but, but… one part of understanding techniques is knowing when and why you might not want to use them. And always remembering: they’re techniques – not rules.

PS. Still digging David Cook. Billie Jean? Are you kidding me? Awesome. Who'd a thunk it.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Viggo Mortensen Has No Tush

We saw Eastern Promises this weekend (It was a strange Easter - I had all my Jewish in-laws over for a ham dinner - weird). And man - did I love that movie. I love that all the motivations for all the characters were shown perfectly. Some, depending on the character - the son for instance - were really obvious and blatant - as they should be. The son was not a complicated character - though his homosexual undertones (which were far more subtle) were really interesting and made for some seriously tense moments between him and Viggo. The prostitute scene? Zoinks. I think Viggo loves getting it on on film - he and Cronenberg are like a match made in violent sex scene heaven. But those homosexual motivations - in great plot subplot construction - became the motivations for a lot of what happens in the movie - including the conception of the baby that starts this whole ball running.

The motivations for Naomi Watts, got more intricate and complicated the more the Russian uncle kept blabbering on. And Viggo. Oh, Viggo. Tushy or no. Naked fight scene or no. Nobody does bad ass with a heart of gold like Viggo. What an amazing romance hero. Perfectly constructed - perfectly revealed. The movie ended and I had so many questions about the character and then as I spent a few days thinking about it I realized all the answers were in the film. The answers were right there in the scene with the prostitute that he urges to live a little longer - even after totally defiling her. And the scene when he gets his stars. WOW. Great storytelling. Great storytelling.

I want to be more subtle, more careful and nuanced, but I just don't think I'm smart enough yet. And considering how I spent ten minutes yesterday looking for the aluminum foil that was literally on the counter top RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME - I'm not getting any smarter. And I don't know where learning to be nuanced comes from - I know it's in part trusting your reader and knowing your story. But the rest must be magic. Maybe I can borrow Viggo and his non-existent bum for inspiration...

Friday, March 21, 2008

How to deal with a tough market?

I just read an article that Borders is in serious trouble and is considering selling itself. Which is really sad, because as a Canadian, the two major US book chains I know of are Borders and Barnes and Noble.

In the discussion in the article, and I’m paraphrasing here, a retail consultant basically said, the average US citizen’s discretionary income has dropped and funds for non-essential goods have decreased. And sadly, and even though I may disagree, books are considered non-essentials.

As much as I would like to keep my head in the sand box, I can’t ignore the recessionary climate in the States.

I’ve heard a couple of theories, that in a recession, people do cut their spending, but they need more of an escape, and so they buy more romance, because the cost of a book is small. So instead of buying a purse, or a pair of jeans, women buy a book.
I like that theory a lot, but I’m not sure I agree.
I think if discretionary income drops, discretionary spending drops across the board.

Booksales will drop. And publishers will buy fewer authors, and the market will get tougher, and hell, the market was already pretty tough.

So as an author trying to break into the market, it means I have to write a really amazing book and do more publicity to sell that book once it’s published.

I no longer think I can just write the book and see what happens.

Which, frankly, gives me shudders. I’m a social person with people I know, but the idea of a book signing gives me the heebie jeebies, and I don’t have any creative publicity ideas.

Not a single one.

Not that I’ve sold a book yet, so this is all speculation, but I’ve been thinking what the current economic environment will do for us writers, and I think it might get harder before it gets better.

Which is a little depressing.

But I just bought season three of Battlestar which has raised my spirits. Frak, that show is amazing.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More on why I'm loving urban fantasy right now

During my post last week about alpha males, I started a digression but decided to listen to the editor inside me and sliced it out to save for another post...
And reading both Sinead's post about Cinderella in a modern world and Molly's post about baby poop, dog poop and people pooping on category romance, made me think about my digression again.

The topic is really back to my often touched upon subject of why I'm not writing category romance at the moment. And while my reason is certainly not disdain -- I have huge admiration for writers who can write good category romance -- there probably is at least an element of ambivalence. It's not what I read. In fact, romance full stop isn't what I typically read, and as we all know trying to write something you don't love just doesn't work.

I really loved writing the women's fiction books I've written, but alas, they have yet to sell and so digging up the motivation to finish another was proving hard.

So, imagine my delight on discovering a sub-genre of romance that I actually love -- urban fantasy. Writers like J.R. Ward and Kelley Armstrong and Eve Kenin have really opened my eyes to what's possible in that genre. That it's possible to combine suspense and mythology and world building and whatever the hell you want, within a romance. (Eve's DRIVEN is futuristic... but I think it has more--or at least as much--in common with urban fantasy as with science fiction.)

I could go on for ages about why I like urban fantasy when it's done well (and hate it when it's not done well), but what I was thinking about, during my edited out digression on the alpha-male post, was why I personally struggled with category romance -- or contemporary romances full stop -- when I tried to write them. Now, some of it was certainly the aforementioned ambivalence, (not to mention my real-life preference for beta-type men) and some was just learning curve. I'm less ambivalent now, having seen how great these books can be when done well, and having improved my writing and storytelling skills, I expect if I tried again I might have more success.

But one of the core problems I had would still exist, and that's how hard it is to create believable romantic conflict in a contemporary setting that's strong enough to carry the core plot of a book (and doesn't repulse my feminist ideals***). (The recent popularity of romantic suspense backs up my theory here, I think... Readers are obviously enjoying having a big slice of suspense along with their romance plot.)

Why is creating a strong romance conflict in contemporaries so hard? I've thought about this a lot and this is part of what I've come up with:
I think in our modern, everyone's-in-touch-with-their-inner-child and way-too-familiar-with-psychobabble world, it's really hard to build an internal conflict between a man and a woman, who are obviously into and right for each other, where readers don't want to shake the characters and say, "get over it", or "get some therapy" or "freaking talk to him/her about it already." Without the help of society's rules or other taboos (that you have in historicals) or race and family obstacles that have become antiquated in today's society, it's hard to come up with believable and fresh new devices to keep a man and a woman who love each other apart.

Now, some writers of contemporary romance handle this brilliantly. Molly O'Keefe, for example, solves this conundrum, (based on my analysis anyway), by having great external conflicts between the couple, and/or by making a lot of the hero's and heroine's internal conflicts relate to someone other than the other half of the couple -- a parent, a child, a sibling, themselves... Yes, those internal conflicts complicate the developing relationship, but their conflicts deeper than the weak I've-been-hurt-before-so-I'll-never-love-again-type conflicts all to common in so many contest entries I read (and even in way too many published books I've read).

I can't tell you how much I admire writers who can make me believe in a couple and their problems in a contemporary setting. But so far, I've been unable to do it.

But add a fantasy element? some suspense? some danger? and let me make up some rules and even new religions to keep my hero and heroine apart? -- and it's fun, fun, fun. For me, anyway.

Time will tell whether or not an editor and readers will ever love what I'm working on as much as I'm enjoying writing it. But what a feeling to find something to write that you truly, truly enjoy in a genre that's actually popular. I felt that way when I started my first women's fiction, too.. but the market had fallen apart by the time I finished it and landed an agent. Fingers crossed that doesn't happen to me again. At least I can skip the find an agent step this time.

Am I alone in my recent urban fantasy obsession? Who else should I be reading?

*** I'm now regretting adding the line about feminist ideals... I did it on my final edit of the post and wish I hadn't. I was thinking about Sinead's Cinderella woes... but did not in any way mean to imply that contemp romance these days is about men saving women or the books put women in down or back in time. That's an antiquated stereotype about the romance genre that I know isn't true. I'd edit my post, but then Kristin's comment wouldn't make sense... So, I'll just say. Ooops. Didn't mean it the way it came out. And I fear it takes away from what I wanted to say with this post... That it's way easier (for me) to write romance when you (I) include elements other than just romance... That it's really hard to carry an entire book with just a romance plot and I admire writers who can do it.

Monday, March 17, 2008

What I am Looking Forward To...

Spring, obviously. Not wrestling my son into a snow suit will actually improve my quality of living by about 3000%. I am looking forward to my first sunburn of the season - save your speeches Sinead. Since, I don't tan and only burn it is inevitable that I get one doozey a year and it's a weird genetic thing passed down from my mother that I actually like it. My brother is the same way but so much so that I've never ever seen him use sunblock. My brother actually turns purple. Sinead, I use sunblock. I swear.

I am looking forward to watermelon. I can't wait for it. Last summer I had that watermelon and feta salad that sounds like it should be the most disgusting thing ever but is so delicious I've been thinking about it all winter.

I am looking forward to my son wiping his own butt. And my dog - miraculously - learning to bag his own poop. Some days, I swear I just handle waste.

I'm looking forward to a day of reading the new JR Ward book. I'm planning a day off from my life that day - I'm going to Maureen's house and maybe getting that sunburn. Maybe all three of us will do that - Sinead can sit in the shade.

I am looking forward to the day when new writers stop coming up to me and telling me that they're writing a book targeted for category romance and then - within moments - unknowingly confess their scorn for the genre. "I mean you just have the hero act like a jerk and everyone will love him! " You throw in some sex scene and a secret baby and you're done!" "It's 60,000 words - how hard can it be?"

I used to be polite when writers would do this - or I'd try to give them advice and I think now I'm just going to say -- you will never EVER sell a book that you are writing from a place of scorn. There are a lot of strange conventions and hooks in this genre and I'm not saying you have to love them all - but I'm saying you have to love the ones you write in order to write them successfully.

A lot of us got into this game because we thought it would be easy - we learned the hard way that it wasn't. And as easy as I might have thought it was - I always always loved romance. I think a lot of new writers write to try and be better than the worst romance they've ever read and to be successful you've got to try and be better than the BEST romance you've ever read.

Tall order, but it keeps us honest.

Oh, and I'm looking forward to coming back in my second life as a professional beach volleyball player. That will be fun.

Friday, March 14, 2008

My problems with Cinderella.

Cinderella is top of mind these days, because it is, by a long shot, my daughter’s favourite movie.
I’ve been subjected to it at least eighteen times, possibly more. The first two times I enjoyed it, the rest, well, not so much.
And now my kid is re-enacting scenes, wants a Cinderella dress, and is trying to get our two cats to sew and wear cute hats.

And while the overall story is sort of nice and uplifting, downtrodden, sweet orphan finds love and happiness with a prince, overcoming her mean stepmother, this is 1950’s Disney.

Cinderella is sweet, demure, saves mice, won’t say anything bad about anyone, and won’t stand up for herself.
Not exactly our ideal of the modern woman.

And for many of us, and now my daughter, it was our first romance.

And while the idea of the demure, endlessly sweet, quietly suffering heroine has stuck around. It’s changing.
Paranormals and urban fantasy have brought a new breed of heroine, one who can be as kick ass as the hero, and as ruthless, but I still find the heroine has far more restrictions than the hero.
The hero can have a terrible backstory, serious angst, and can behave like a jack ass, but I don’t see the same in the heroines from the books I’ve read lately.
It’s changing, but I think a lot of readers out there still want elements of Cinderella in their heroine.
Why not, hell, it’s a great fantasy. A prince is going to sweep us away from our miserable lives.
But right now I want to read a romance about a woman who stands up for herself and in the end saves herself.

I’m all Cinderella’d out right now.

I’m waiting for Mulan to be the hit of the day. Kickass girl saves herself, the army and gets the man of her dreams.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Alpha Males and Setting

Okay, so I've probably angered a few people over the years by spouting theories about things I know very little about. So I'm going to do it again.

Drum roll... Here is my romance genre theory of the century of the week. ;-)

Well, I'm probably flattering myself in calling it a theory, because I doubt I'm the first person to think these things -- it's just that a few big light bulbs have turned on for me about the romance genre, alpha males in particular, in the past few months. Since when? Since I started reading JR Ward, that's when...

One small "problem" I had when I first tried writing romance was that I wasn't in love with the genre. Well, that was big problem. But a subset of that problem was that, in real life, I HATE alpha males. Nothing makes me more crazy or turns me off more than arrogant, patronizing, self-aggrandizing men. I go for the more sensitive types. I don't mean a wimp, he just can't think he's god's gift to the rest of us. (Okay, now this it turning into a personal ad. Single, sensitive non-wimp? Call me.)

And I think I'm not alone in this day and age in my alpha male distaste. Ever since women got the vote and were declared people and other groundbreaking things that only happened in the past 80 or so years -- not to mention being told they had career choices beyond teacher, secretary or nurse, which really only happened in the last 30 years... I think most women prefer their mates to treat them as equal human beings. And by definition, an alpha male would never do that. He thinks he's top dog -- superior to everyone including his mate. He might worship the woman of his dreams, but even if she "tames" him to an extent, his love for her won't be a "we're equals" kind of thing. More like a "you're mine" kind of thing.

So... where I'm getting to with this in my typical roundabout way, is that I think it's hard to write an alpha male hero in a contemporary, real world setting. At least a hero that many women wouldn't rather kill, than sleep with. (You don't want him to be a big dick, just have one.)

And therein lies the problem. While most modern women wouldn't want an uber-alpha male as her life partner... many women (me included) have sexual fantasies involving alpha males. (Did I just confess a sexual fantasy in public? Egads.) My point is, many women would like to take a man like that to bed at least once -- a man who's strong, insatiable and takes control -- they just wouldn't want to live with a man like that. But romance (vs erotica) is about both fantasy and happily ever after... So, what to do? It's tough.

My conclusion is that alpha-male, hunky-man-specimen heros work better in a different setting. Put him in a historical time setting, or in a fantasy or futuristic world and he works, because the setting can create an excuse for what many women would consider appalling behavior in real life. "It's not his fault. It's society, or his social class, or his upbringing, or his biological make up...." That's why I'm loving the whole paranormal/urban fantasy thing right now. In that genre you can make biology an excuse for man-whores. (Ever notice there isn't a male word for nymphomaniac? Man-whore. My new favorite word.)

In contemporary settings it's harder to do the alpha male, but not impossible. Writers use the military as a setting a lot... (Navy Seals anyone?) I've never read a Harlequin Presents, but from what I know of that series, they play with settings, too. They put the heros in places or situations unfamiliar to most readers, a foreign country, or a royal family, or the world of the filthy rich. So, even though those books are contemporary -- they are fantasy-world settings at the same time.

Another observation I've had reading JR Ward's Black Dagger series is: if you make alpha male heros big enough, and strong enough, and masculine enough, and sexually insatiable enough -- not to mention good-looking enough -- you can give him some crazy baggage and/or hang-ups. Crazy, crazy hang-ups that break every so-called taboo in the romance genre. Fun, fun, fun.

In conclusion... am I the only one who fell in love with David Cook on Idol last night? So not an alpha male, but so sexy...

Monday, March 10, 2008


Sunday, March 16th at 1 pm Michele Ann Young and I will be signing books at the Indigo in Richmond Hill. Michele will be signing copies of her fabulous No Regrets and her new Western Anthology - Brides of the West (fantastic cover!) I will be signing Baby Makes Three - which JUST WON THE ROMANTIC TIMES BEST SUPERROMANCE OF THE YEAR!!!!

Michele and I put together a mean raffle basket with lots of goodies and no doubt there will be chocolate - so please, if you're around and looking for some good books and free chocolate stop on by!!

Sunday March 16
1 pm
Indigo - Richmond Hill
8705 Yonge Street Richmond Hill, Ontario L4C 6Z1 Canada (905)731-8771
It is right next to silver city, just north of the 407 on Yonge

Friday, March 07, 2008

Why torturing my characters isn’t as much fun as I thought it should be….

Creating tense, exciting fiction often means putting our characters in situations that are usually uncomfortable, if not at times, downright agonizing.

Torturing them isn’t always the wham, bam, I’m running for my life situations, it can be a family dinner, a business meeting, anything where the stakes are high for the character and they stand to lose something vitally important to them.

So as writers it’s our job to put them in these types of situations throughout our books, constantly upping the stakes, making their predicament worse for every victory we give them.

Essentially torturing them. But my first instinct when I sit to write a scene is to give my characters a break. Not twist the screws, and it usually takes me three or four ideas before I really come up with a really terrible thing for my hero and heroine.

Now I’m not sure if this is because I’m by my nature, not antagonistic, or because I’m a mommy and used to smoothing out arguments.

But its something I’m working on, because truthfully, once I get past my initial reserve, I really love torturing my characters. Because my favourite scenes to write are the really dramatic, tense scenes where at least one of my characters are terrified.

And on a completely different note. Damages and the wonderful Glen Close. Patty, the character she plays is one of the most amazing characters on TV right now. A heinous bitch willing to use and abuse anyone to win a case, a case where it seems she is on the side of a hundred employees who were cheated our of their pensions. Normally the lawyer trying such a case would be a noble archetype, but Patty is no where near noble. She’s harsh and manipulative and at the same time, appears to really love her husband and has this underlying vulnerability that as a viewer I never know whether to believe. And Glen Close makes this all believable.

Love it..

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

All about the flow...

Okay, so why do I keep missing my DWT blog post days? Not drinking enough, obviously.

Today, because I have no topic again, I'm dumping what's on my mind, and that's flow. Flow in terms of having it, losing it, keeping it, and how to keep the momentum going forward in a manuscript. (Not momentum in terms of story pacing... I mean momentum in terms of getting that hopefully fast-paced story in my head down on the page.)

I've made so many declarations about "what works for me" over the past few years it's not funny. Maybe it's funny to some people, (stop laughing at me, Molly and Sinead) but not to me. I wrote the bulk of my first women's fiction ms in a six-week-burst of energy, writing an average of over 2000 words a day. The key was not stopping. Not looking back. Not thinking too much. It took me about the same length of time, six weeks, to edit and revise what I'd written... some very long days. But it worked.

After that, I thought I had it all figured out. That I'd found my "process", that all future books would pour out of me in the same way. Was I ever wrong.

I'm not even sure how many projects I've started since finishing that one. I've only completed one more, but I think I worked on at least four others that still languish in WIP-land. Really more like WFIP-land. (Work formerly in progress.)

But I finally have a project I think is a keeper and so does my agent and so I want to finish it quickly. I wrote the first 27,000 words in about 4 weeks. 4 weeks that included me having major surgery, so kind of an impressive writing speed for me. I took nearly 2 weeks to revise those pages... but still, not bad.

But then I stopped working on it for about 10 days and my flow has gone, deserted me, left the building. I'm having trouble getting kick started again. My daily word count the past 5 days has been respectively: 137, 490, 420, 28, and 757 so far today. I need to get that back up to over 2000 a day to finish this first draft when I want to. I was only targeting 1200 a day when I set the schedule. Damn. (Okay, my SIL was in hospital and gave birth over those five days... but still... I had enough time to get some writing done.)

My real problem is letting things f*ck with my head. Letting other things happening in my life screw with my ability to concentrate and get my pages done.

Must get the juices flowing again. Must keep my butt in the chair. Must keep off e-mails and blogs. ;-)

Back to work!

Monday, March 03, 2008

How To Write A Chapter...

When I first started writing, like most of us I would guess, I really thought there were rules regarding how to write a chapter. I listened to what my favorite authors said about writing and it was all so vague -- "write to a cliff hanger" or "make sure your chapter breaks are in the middle of the action' or "don't have your characters falling asleep at the end of a chapter."

What? Huh? That seemed possible to do maybe twice in a book - but write to a cliffhanger every time? I couldn't do it. And what I really needed to know was how long should a chapter be? What should be in a chapter?

So, I collected all the things other people told me or that I noticed other writers doing and I made my little rule book. Because without some kind of concrete guidance -- I was lost. Actually, more than lost I was stuck at the beginning. So, I am grateful to these little rules for at least getting me moving. Here it is, best as I can remember -

All Chapters are 15 pages, no longer than 20.
You should have a pov switch about halfway through the chapter.
Three things need to happen in every chapter - one big thing, two small things.

Of course, looking at that list I am a little embarrassed. It's so arbitrary and has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with good storytelling or keeping the reader turning pages, or pacing (which is really what chapter breaks are about - the pace of your book). And I wrote a lot of books with ho hum chapter breaks. Even some with my characters going to bed for the night, sure that "tomorrow would be better." Ugh. The learning process sure isn't pretty.

But the things we believe in when we start out - we are supposed to outgrow. We are supposed to get better than, otherwise we're not learning. And ridiculously, here I am looking at what those favorite writers of mine were saying about chapters and realizing - those are the only rules. End your chapters with cliffhangers. More than that - write your chapters to cliffhangers. That's just good pacing. Organizing every scene and every chapter so that you end your chapter at a point that the reader has to keep reading and wouldn't dream of putting the book down - is hard. Hard. Really really hard. But, it's key.

Thinking about chapters this way is making writing so much more fun for me right now. Things just keep happening. My characters have very little time for a breath and I think it's working. Well, it's working for me and that's all that matters right now.

Hey, anyone out there reading the Elizabeth Vaughn Warprize, Warsworn, Warlord books? WOW. WOW. WOW. I pretended to be sick last night so I could finish the last one. Don't tell my husband.
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