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Summer’s Over

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Aug 222009

patioYup, Summer’s officially over and the kids are back in school and that means I have more time to myself again. How can they both be in middle school already?

Despite appearances to the contrary on the blog, I have actually been doing some writing related work. You know you’ve neglected the blog for too long when your mother points out the only new posts have been these Excerpt Monday things. So… since the next Excerpt Monday is coming up in about three weeks on September 14th, I figured I better get some posts written between now and then.

I’m part of an accountability group. It really helps to know that others are out there working toward similar goals and will call you on it when you fail to mark yours off the list. Currently, we’re reassessing out Long-Term Goals while the new members create theirs and I still need to finalize mine before this weekend’s over. I can do daily and even weekly goals, but have never had much luck trying to do things much longer than that.

I think the most important questions Bria posed to us last week were these: “What did I do this week to work toward my LTGs?” and “What can I do this week to work toward my LTGs?” I just need to sit down with those in my head as I create my weekly goals list and hopefully I can knock off some of these longer projects.

One of my mid-range goals is to attend a writing workshop in late September. I’ll need a writing sample if I want to fully participate that includes bringing: a one-page synopsis, a query letter, and the polished first 10 pages of a project.

Yup. I have nothing of the sort as a complete package right now. Guess what I’m going to be doing the next month. Scrambling. Sorta. I’ve started working on the synopses for the four projects I’ve been flipping between.

I’ve got one right about where I want it and then three that are just way too long and packed with unnecessary details at this point.
It still surprises to me with as much as I worked on the plot outline for BHT over the last two years, how much of a mess it remains. While the progression of events seems logical, there’s not much coherency between them. Why do certain things matter? Why do I need to show this and not that? So much of it is still this huge jigsaw puzzle where I’m not sure that all the pieces are even from the same puzzle, but they all seem to be painted this hazy grey.

The one for Revealed is in better shape, but it’s got these big huge gaping holes where the picture of Barrington (the hero) should be. He’s merely reflected off the heroine right now, not standing clearly on his own yet.

I know I have no idea where to begin FQD yet, but that story actually seems to be the best delineated of the four. Yes, it helps I started with an established fairy tale, but even with the gaps that synopsis has, they don’t feel as disconnected and jarring as the others.

The sweet story I’d started last year and never finished also seems to be in decent shape. It’s just going to be a matter of focus and effort at this point, but I still want to finish this one. I love the characters and I love the rom-com feel of it with its concealed identities and the role reversals in it. It’s just fun.

I’m hoping to finish those up this weekend and next week work on query letters. Then I’ll work on polishing those first pages. Before too much longer, I suspect I’ll know which one to take with me and that I’ll be working to finish by the end of the year. Yes, you heard me right, finish, by December 31st. So hold me to that, ‘kay? 🙂

Aug 062009

August 10th is Excerpt Monday! Has it REALLY been another whole month?

Bria and Mel are hosting Except Monday again! Once again they’re inviting everyone to play along with Excerpt Monday! You don’t have to write romance or belong to any special group, you just need to write and want to share your stories. If you’d like to join in this meme, visit the Guidelines page for more details.

This is another excerpt from The Flower Queen’s Daughter. As always, any comments or criticisms are welcome.
Continue reading »

May 102009

It’s Excerpt Monday again!

Bria and Mel are at it again. Everyone wants to play along with Excerpt Monday! If you’d like to join in this meme, visit their Guidelines page for more details.

This month’s excerpt is from The Flower Queen’s Daughter. It’s a bit longer than I had intended to post, but I didn’t want to cut the scene in half as neither half felt complete without the other. And I didn’t want people hunting me down and torturing me to find out what happens in the end. I hope you enjoy and, as always, any comments, criticisms are welcome. I’ve already found LOTS to rewrite and redo, but not this month!

Continue reading »

Jul 072008
Compromise isn't easy!

Compromise isn’t easy!

It’s time to talk and think about conflict again. I just noticed the last time I touched on this topic was March. I should have paid more attention to it then and maybe I wouldn’t be such a tight corner now.

The craft books keep hammering on how you need to have conflict to make your characters work for their goals. Nothing can come too easily for them or it’s just not believable. That’s exactly where I’m stuck. I’m in the last third of FQD and everything’s just falling into place and it’s just not interesting. If I’m not interested, there’s no way anyone else is going to be. I was telling Andi, I’ve got all these loose ends to tie up and she asked if it was really necessary. Well, yeah, if it’s a romance, they have to get together. That’s a pretty big loose end to be flopping in the breeze. There’s lots of smaller things too, like why the heroine was off at this house party in the first place. What if she gets home and her father could care less if she brought what she thought was this big prize for him back home with her? Arrrgh.

Methinks something seriously went awry in the planning of this one. I looked back at my early posts and they focus on the hero. Somehow my working outline only brings through the heroine’s story. What’s REALLY annoying is that this is the same thing that happened with Revealed. I started out with the hero in mind and whoosh, everything ended up flipped upside down on the heroine’s side.

I suspect this happens because in both cases I had an idea of the hero in my head and absolutely none of the heroines when I started working on these stories. Thinking I was in good shape with the heroes, I neglected them to concentrate on what made the heroines interesting both to me and the heroes. Yeah, good, but that’s only HALF the equation. In both cases, there’s very little conflict between the main characters. They’re both on the same side. There’s very little tension either and there’s definitely nothing keeping them apart. There’s nothing grand and passionate or filled with sacrifice or even really a question in anyone’s mind as to why these characters have to work through anything in the end.

Andi’s challenge brought up some interesting ideas for the main character in FQD, but I’m going to have to go back and restructure everything again. I guess it’s a good thing that I’m not satisfied with these two as they are and I want to go back and fix them instead of just abandoning them as would have happened by now in the past.

So what I need to do is come up with some good ways to put my heroes and heroines on a chair like the one pictured. Make it so no one is satisfied and on solid ground until the very end. I think I’m going to have to revisit Leigh Michael’s book again. I’m also going to have to take my time building those conflicts and tensions into the story and not just hope a basic situation is enough. The more facets they have that exist in contrast, the more interesting it will be for me (and the reader) to untangle the knot while still getting them to their Happily Ever After.

Thanks for putting up with me thinking out loud again. 🙂

May 122008

Painting by Piet MondrianIt’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been either busy writing, or not writing. Duh, right?

Ok. Lemme explain that a bit more clearly. I’ve been pounding out at least 2k words on the WIP on days I’ve planned to write. I’m doing the May RoDiWriMo (basically the Divas decided to do NaNo four times a year) and I needed that push to get off my tuckus and get writing on The Flower Queen’s Daughter. It’s coming along nicely. I have over 19k in the file now and I’m a bit over half way through my outline. There’s also some holes, where I know I haven’t spent enough time fleshing out a couple of scenes in particular, so I expect the word count for what my outline says I have done to increase by another 3500 words or so.

I’ve also had several planned non-writing days this month. The 3rd and 4th, we were in Hollywood for the dialogue workshop with Julia Quinn while DH took the kids to Universal Studios. I knew I wasn’t going to get anything done that weekend beyond my daily journal entries. I’m up to 22 consecutive days again. Go me! Also, this past weekend was Mother’s Day on Sunday, but it was also our 16th wedding anniversary on Saturday. So I knew nothing was going to be written this past weekend either.

I don’t know why I let Bria talk me into this class by Margie Lawson on Deep Editing when I knew I was going to be focusing on getting down a first draft this month. Ok. I know exactly why I let her talk me into it. I know very little about editing and what all it entails other than fixing basic typos and grammar corrections. I know don’t WHY something works when it does, it just feels right. Jodi says this is okay, but I’ve relied on my instincts too long in constructing sentences. I don’t trust them right now.

I also can feel when something is slightly off, but can’t really put my finger on why it drags or speeds by so fast my head spins. Anyway, this is where the EDITS system that I mentioned last post has come in handy. I may have two ms that resemble Mondrian paintings, but I can see where the problems are and where I’ll need to go back and work things in to make it more readable in the long run. BIG chunks of yellow and blue permeate my pages (that’s internalization and dialogue).

More info on The Spymaster's Lady
Also thanks to the Julia Quinn workshop, I’ve discovered another writer that’s new to me. Joanna Bourne. Ms Quinn recommended her book, The Spymaster’s Lady, when we were talking about accents. The book is amazingly done. The heroine is French and the hero is British. The depth and texture of the speech patterns changes with each POV shift. When you’re with the heroine, you don’t feel as if she’s thinking in English. Rich details all over the place. And boy am I glad to hear there are others forthcoming!

Imagine my delight when I discovered all the tidbits on craft and thinking about craft that Ms. Bourne has on her website! The best thing is the illustrative examples. Do this NOTthat. I can tell I’ll be a frequent visitor to read and reread her archives. Another happy thinking crafty writer. Just reading through her examples makes it easy to see why I’m not happy with my own rough drafts thus far.

The other thing I’m learning from the online-class is the pitfall of overwriting. If I want to make DH cringe, I just read him some examples. Although, today’s lesson has me interested… necessary backstory and befriending your internal editor. Shhh! Mine’s staying in the box until May 31st! Sorry, I need to finish this draft first, but I’m open to renegotiating our relationship in the future. 😉

So, what do you all do in first drafts? Do you dash down conversations as you hear them in your head and go back and fill in details around them? Do you write pages and pages of scene setting or do your characters waltz through white rooms that require you to go back and give them the decorating makeover your characters deserve? Do you find you write the emotionally charged lines the first time, or do you have to go back and find where your characters are feeling the rocks you throw at them?

Have you found that over time, this has changed for you and your first drafts become richer?

Apr 292008

 Edward Tufte, Spring Arcs, 2002-2004, installed 2004. 4 stainless steel arcs, tilted 12 degrees from the vertical, 6 feet high, base parallelogram 12 by 67 feet, solid stainless steel, weight 12,800 pounds.

Jodi of “Will Work for Noodles” fame posted the other day about one of her papparazzi moments similar to the one I had when I read Leigh Michael’s book On Writing Romance and how the conflict/force thing has to work in order for this arc to occur. Jodi’s post completed the circuit for me. I’ll wait while you click here to go read it.

No really, I’ll wait.

Ok. So she was talking about Virginia Kantra was explaining how the meeting, initial conflict, vulnerability, honesty, and acceptance that your hero and heroine (H/h) go through the story to reach their Happily Ever After (HEA).

This idea combined with MIchael’s take on how you have to have complementary problems for your H/h and a force that’s compelling enough to keep them from just walking away from the frustration that you’re putting them through really made a whole lot of sense to me.

I’ve had this bouncing around my head as I’m writing up the basic scene descriptions that I find it easier to work from as I go through a first draft for the Flower Queen’s Daughter story I’ve been talking about, but haven’t shown much progress on. I’ve been trying to look past it and let it settle in the background of my thoughts, but it’s helped pull out some significant moments in my outline. And yes, they seem to fall where Dunne refers to as points of no return. It’s exciting when things fall into place! Or at least feel like it.

The other thing that’s been running through my mind today was Andi, the unhinged one’s question to Jodi and me if it was possible to stuff too much craft into one’s head or at least too many different styles of approach. I think I’ve decided that since we’re fairly visually oriented people, that I want to describe the different approaches as different lenses. I’m easily distracted, ooh, shiny? Niiice…

Oh yes. Sorry, back now. Different lenses. My brain bounces around a lot. Focus is frequently an issue for me, so all this craft stuff bounces in and out of focus on me as well. This means I don’t always realize what needs to happen just because Dunne says around this point you should be thinking about having New Dangers Defeat Old Weapons and Emotional Defeat or Vogler says you have to show Tests, Allies, & Enemies and others just call the Mid Point. BUT, if I have them lined up in my handy spreadsheet and can see them all side by side, I can flip through the available lenses and use the one that makes the most sense at the moment.

Now, the other thing I’ve been thinking about is form vs formula. This is Robert McKee’s fault. I go back and forth on my reliance on my spreadsheet. I think at this point I’m allowed a crutch, though. You see, I haven’t internalized things enough to push the vague formula into organic form yet. I need reminders.

Andi also mentioned that she needed to learn through trial by fire or learning by doing. I agree with this to a point. Things click when I read them, but it seems to take me at least two iterations for them to click on the page.

I was going to ask a pithy and thought-provoking question here at the end, but my brain’s on overload from all I managed to get done today. I’m planning on going into May with a solid plan in hand and just writing all month for RD’s RoDiWriMo. Eep, one more day left and 9 scenes to capture the details on!

Apr 232008

Sleeping on a laptop.Yes, that would be me: the slacker, not the woman in the picture. I don’t know if slacking is the right term though. It’s been a crazy week. I’m consistently short on sleep and that only makes it all worse.

The other night, I made the mistake of making DH read through the first 20 pages of the Flower Queen’s Daughter. I say this was a mistake because he was far too tired. Where I had expected a chuckle or two, there was silence. Doh! He also came up with a lot of questions that I’m now wondering about.

See, I’m trying to be braver and start out the story in the middle of something happening and trying to drizzle in the backstory as garnish instead of the main ingredient like I usually seem to do. I may have been too stingy with what I did put in, because he said it felt a bit disjointed and he kept starting with the “why” word.

I know the answers to these questions, but I don’t want the heroine to know some of them yet. I didn’t really want to jump into another POV just to let the reader know. I don’t know how mystery writers do it. Talk about your juggling acts.

Anyway, so today I finally got back to it and managed to add about a hundred words, but rearranged and changed many more in an attempt to answer those questions or at least make them clearer.

I also did some serious study of the commas I’d used. I hate commas. I think I might have missed that day in elementary school. It’s going to be a hard habit to break when I’ve always just relied on hearing the pauses in my head and plopping one in there.

Off to take the kids to martial arts and see if I can round up 13 things to list for Thursday!

Apr 152008

The resulting sparks, smell and bright light make for a dramatic demonstration of a direct reduction of iron oxide with carbon.My word count for this folktale-based story is currently sitting at 2,914. It’s scary to realize that is 500 more words than my first draft of Revealed, which laid out an entire plot line.

The past couple days felt like I was pulling teeth again for each word. I think I finally figured out why I couldn’t get into the story. The opening pages were very dense. No white space. The words “was” and “had” could have propped the pages up on their own. My characters were isolated in many ways. They might not have always been alone, but there were no conversational openings in their current situations.

This should have been setting off warning bells in my head. Did I notice? No way, I was too busy trying to get any kind of word count in before the timer was up in the challenges. What a painful way to go about it. I spent much of today fiddling with what I’d already written. Tightening up phrasing and looking closely at the pacing. It was still dense and very quiet when I left it to pick up the kids from school.

When I came back, I decided I needed to pick up where I’d left off. Fortunately, that point was the first line of dialogue between the hero and heroine.

“Easy, Miss. Put that away before someone gets hurt. Namely me.”

Yeah. She surprised the hell out of me too, pulling a pistol on him like that. But you know what it provided? Instant chemistry and sparks!

After that point, my word count quickly jumped by another thousand words. Maybe I should go back and reread Nancy Kress’ Beginnings, Middles & Ends. Finding that sweet spot to begin and get rolling is all about experimenting.

What sets off your red flags and warning bells?

Apr 082008

Work In Progress

My WIP saw actual progress over the last two days. It’s Spring Break here for the kids and they were already crying they were bored by lunchtime yesterday. Today, I further taxed their powers of self-entertainment by taking them with me to get the tires on the van looked at. The guy told me, “I don’t usually say this to customers, but that’s a really dangerous tire to be driving on. Good thing you came in when you did.” Yeah, duly chastised and a thousand bucks poorer thanks to extended warranties, new shocks & struts and there better be some gold plating under there too! Noted. I’ll be back every 3-5 months to get them rotated and aligned now. Aye-aye.

Anyway, I managed to fill out my outline spreadsheet based on Dunne’s Emotional Structure and Vogler’s take on the Hero’s Journey, as well as a few other things I’ve tossed in by now. I finished Act I and Act II’s outline yesterday and finished up Act III today at the tire place. If they’d had a decent table to work on and I hadn’t had the kids, I might have been REALLY productive during the three hours we were there.

I also worked a bit brainstorming on names for characters and the like that I’ll need before I can really sit down and write this thing, but I’m so close that I’m starting to feel annoyed when I can’t take a chunk of time and devote to it and get it out of my system. This is a good thing. There’s a sense of urgency that I need to work on this and get the story told. I’d missed that feeling lately.

All I have to do now is strap myself into my chair and get writing! I’m sure I’ll become a regular feature in the RD chat room again. (Sorry Bria, no nifty anaolgies today. I’m too braindead from smelling the rubber in the showroom/waiting room and a FOXNEWS overload.)

Apr 042008

FirstShabu Shabu set, link to wikipedia article off, I want to thank everyone for their birthday wishes yesterday!

I had a great day and we went out for Japanese for dinner for something different that the kids and I’d never had before: Shabu Shabu, which is named for the “swish” sound the meat makes when you drag it through the boiling water.

So what’s this have to do with a breakthrough? Not much, really. Except that I’ve been looking at this story as a single big chunk of meat plopped down on the counter. Wrong. It needs to be sliced thinly to bring out the marbling, the texture and flavor. It needs a variety of veggies on the side to season it. And most importantly, it needs that pot of boiling water to steep in, to meld everything together into something tasty and new.

Dare I hope that by forcing myself to face this story head-on this week (see boiling pot reference), I’ve managed to push through past the stale synopsis on Wikipedia to something interesting, fun, and that will qualify as a romance (see the something tasty and new reference)?

What I realized is that everything I’ve done so far has been solely for my benefit. The majority of what I’ve cluttered up my brain, blog and hard drive with regarding this story so far will never see the page in the final story. I don’t consider it wasted time at all because I had to know it and work through it to find the story that was hiding underneath.

Unfortunately, what I did realize is that I’ve mostly abandoned the approach I was trying to take. I still think it’s very puzzle-like in trying to determine what goes where, what A means for B, and why C has to happen before D can. But thinking about the “layout” and who and what need to populate the story have been pushed aside in my quest to find the story I want to write itself.

Now that I have an overview of what I want to do (and it might not look like it contains all the same plot points as before, but they’re still bouncing around my head and woven in and around what is there. The original folktale seems to be mostly backstory and supporting details for the hero’s storyline, but the heroine is taking over the show and what the story is about has changed because of the decisions I’ve forced the characters to make and the histories I’ve given them.

So, back to swishing these poor characters around. Mmm… it’s starting to look like soup… I mean a story! What do you think?

Alexander can’t help helping others and when he learns a woman has been kidnapped from the old gypsy woman he rescued from a ditch, things start to go wrong. He finds the woman, but Anthea refuses to leave before she can recover the key to her father’s breeding program that was stolen by her “captives”. Meanwhile, the matriarch plans to force Anthea into marriage with her eldest son because of her own impeccable bloodline. Eventually, Alex figures out that he needs a little outside help in order to help solve Anthea’s problems and that he likes her as she is. Alex and Anthea manage to escape with the key but the family pursues them. Will society’s notions of propriety trap her forever or will true love free her to be her self.

Oh, and you can expect to hear a lot more about a couple of my presents in the future: DH got me Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and The Principles of Screenwriting and my mom got me a copy of Nancy Kress’s Beginnings, Middles & Ends.