Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two Tone Writing

Last weekend I was fortunate to attend the GEORGIA ROMANCE WRITERS OF AMERICA's Author Critique Workshop held for members only. I sent in the first 25 pages of my MS and the synopsis. My work was assigned to a published author (turns out she is someone I admire a lot and she is a prolific writer with sage advice). Prior to the workshop in Atlanta, she returned my pages to me and said she enjoyed the story and the writing, but I had two problems:

1) The "through line" or  "log line" was a bit muddy. In my attempt to grow my category romance into a single title romance, I had two stories going on: one is a fun, lighthearted romantic comedy with super sizzle while the other is deep, serious, woman in jeopardy romantic suspense. Yikes! And she's right. Totally right. I've recognized this issue all along but decided to ignore it till I got to THE END for the zillionth time.

2) The tone of my story is directly affected by the muddy through line. Tone A is funny and light humorous writing. Tone B is definitely serious and deep. Yikes again! My story is bipolar. Again, I expanded this book into what I hope will be a single title, but in doing so I wrote two stories.

There are other problems: too many elements, the backstory is too complicated, I have enough conflict without the history, and so on. The thing is, my writing was not heavily edited. She liked it. She just wants me to fine tune my story line.

And that means I have to make a very hard decision: do I keep it light or do I go dark? I can do either. But one thing is for sure: I cannot do both in the same book. Another issue I have is the backstory. I can't really eliminate the characters' history without literally destroying my ending. Seriously! And many minor plot points will have to be cut or revised heavily or ... or ... I am in a dither about what to do. Why? Because I just cut over 20,000 words. I added 28,000 new words. And now I must face the same nightmare again.

And I am avoiding it like one avoids catching a stomach virus. I hate throwing up. I think I hate cutting my words even more. So I am taking another week off. What am I doing while I let my WIP in revision percolate? I'm reading. My reading has two purposes: pleasure and genre research.

I've inhaled two Berkeley Sensations, one HQN single title and a Suzanne Brockmann romantic suspense this week. I've already been confused by the Sensations line. One book bordered on porn with a plot and I'm not sure the porn was used properly given the plot (and I am not a squeamish reader or writer). The other book read like a category super romance with zero sex other than references to it at the end of the book. I loved the story and read it with great pleasure, but where was the "sensation?"

The HQN Single Title I read was nicely written and a sweet story with some beautifully written sensual scenes. I plan to reread this author's work as well as more for that alone. However, the motivation and inner turmoil seemed to be repeated to the point of saturation. By the end of the story, I was frustrated by the MC's and merely wanted them to get together. Seriously. It was like a stretched out category with none of the pep.

If you've read my blog, you know how I feel about Suzanne Brockmann's writing. She is a master and if I could be half the writer she is, I'd be thrilled. I did notice one thing. Back in 1996, she wrote a lovely contemporary romance with a single plot thread. Even then you could see her future would be great: she knows her characters and their emotions. That's what I'm trying to take away from my reading her books. Of course, I plan to read more! Although I don't plan to write only romantic suspense, if I can write emotion and character better because I read her work, I'll be rewarded as a writer with a better book.

Can you see which direction I am headed? Am I making the right decision? Those of you who read my blog know the duality of my tone already. I can be funny or serious. And that's okay for my blog. But it's not okay for my future writing and revision. I need to step off the precipice. As my critique author said, "You need to take a risk."

Why am I afraid? Because what I am naturally buoyed by as a writer, what gives me pleasure and makes it fun for me has been rejected for the very fact that it is fun, light writing. But maybe that's because I muddied the waters with too many elements. I've also been told that they like my writing, but they haven't connected with it. Maybe I wasn't serious or emotional enough? In trying to fix the rejections by weaving my response into my writing I may have tried too hard and tossed the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

I don't know. I do know I am going to work this out. Snippets of plot revision and character solutions are popping into my head. I'm realizing that I have confused plot events with emotional lives. I need to weave in the emotions while being true to the story line. And keeping it simple is a good thing to do as I expand the book.

On my to-do list? I plan to hit the bookstore today and pick up more books, single title, that reflect the future tone of my own story. Then I will read more. I've got Larry Brooks structure book downloaded and will read that as well.

And next week? Oh yeah. Let the work begin again.


KarenG said...

Cool! You've got two books when you thought you only had one! Split them up and work on them both, one at a time. Once you separate your Siamese twins, you will be able to get your focus back. IMHO.

Christine said...

That's what the author and other writers suggested as well, Karen. The thing I'm concerned about is the whole "Branding" of the author. So if this were by some miracle published in the tone I choose, then would I always have to work in that tone? Or could I flip around a bit as long as I stay in my chosen genre. It's such a mystery to me.

But yeah, I got two books. Ha ha... At least the writing is good LOL.

Gwen Hernandez said...

Really, I see it more as one book with split personality. You have one main plot, but with two different tones, depending on where you are. You'll work it out.

Enjoy your week of reading and let your subconscious do the hard work while you play.

Check out some of SBs old books that weren't RS. She still captures the emotion that you're used to but with a different feel. She's amazing.

Christine said...

You're right, Gwen. Most of the plot can be salvaged. And I have a lot of cool ideas--will bounce them your way sometime this week.

Tomorrow I hide.

MaryC said...

Hi Christine,

This was an interesting post. I know for myself I like reading stories that have some heft to them - some plot beyond the romance. I think that's why I've been frustrated with the story I'm working on. It needs something more to happen than just the romance. I get easily frustrated with the MCs if the romantic conflict is all that's going on in the book. I think it's a rare author who can maintain an interesting story without more external conflict.

You raise an interesting point when you said

"I'm realizing that I have confused plot events with emotional lives."

I recently read a blog post by Stacy Monson about that topic. She linked back to a post Rachelle Gardner did about confusing emotional journey with story. I'll post the link in case you're interested in reading it.

MaryC said...

Also - meant to say that I agree with Gwen. I love looking back at early books by established authors because you can begin to see their journey. It's encouraging but it can also help you identify their strengths.

Christine said...

Hi Mary: Thanks for sharing your insights and the link. I will check it out. I know what you mean about reading the earlier books. I loved the 1996 book I read by Brockmann--it had all the elements there pointing toward her tremendous writing future. I am literally inhaling as many books as I can this week to see what is working for ME as a reader. That way when I sit down to write, I'll have a better idea about my own direction. I want to write something that I will enjoy reading. I love a great romance with a lot of depth. And I love humor and family elements woven into the story. My current MS is a hodge podge, but it might lead me to writing better books in the future.

Christine said...

Mary: just read the blog. Thanks! At least I have a PLOT and a story line. I just need to make sure the tone is consistent throughout the book and that I don't use plot devices as short cuts. I know their internal lives and need to layer that in earlier. Oh, the joy of revision! And I'm still mulling over a big change.

MaryC said...

You're welcome, Christine. I know what you mean about seeing what works for you as a reader. I'm reading Lisa Scottoline's Look Again right now and she has me so hooked that I was reading it at 5am before work. Part of me is just enjoying it, but a part of my brain is busy analyzing what it is that drew me in enough to forgo sleep.

Good luck with the decision making.