Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Writers, WIPs, Wrangling & Work

I'm back from my workshop in Atlanta, but I am not jumping back into my writing. Why? Because the answers I sought only led to more questions about my story. I am glad I went to the all day workshop, but now I must examine my story a bit more closely and make sure that my plot is strong enough.

Intuitively I already knew my story has plotting issues. This is what happens when you don't shore up all the lovely scenes in your head with solid structure points. And every time I go back into the story to fix a major plot point, it affects the entire story. As one writer friend said, it's like pushing down a domino and then a whole row tumbles.

I know my beginning, my set up, my ending and my pinch points. But the middle is a bit iffy. I believe it's a decent midpoint, but I brought the middle to the workshop to make sure it was decent. And the leaders said I needed more. A bigger reason for why my heroine wants to do what she does. I need a very compelling reason for her decision to stay in the area she is living in. But I balk now at the idea of adding a HUGE plot element to fix the story. Why? Because another author who critiqued my work said to "keep it simple." And there will be "more than enough conflict" to compel the reader to read.

I've brainstormed fun ideas to shore up the story with one CP. Suddenly I am on the Internet researching Burlesque dancing (don't ask--long story). Another CP said "if the writing is compelling, the reader will read it anyway and why does anyone read the books they read?" Back to keeping it simple, right?

Repeat after me: writing isn't for sissies or the faint of heart.

In the meantime, I got contest entries back for my opening. I scored well. My "writing voice" was strong and they scored me high in that regard. Whew. One problem solved. I didn't final, but I didn't expect to as the story was still in major revision at the time I entered. I sent in the first 10 pages to see if I was going in the right direction before I was told by the author I had a two tone story. I've worked my little writer fingers to the bone to fix the tone, but that was before the entry flew to the coordinator.  So I was pleased that the comments and scores were pretty decent. Lots of perfect scores from two judges, one of the judges (a published author in romance so gotta heed that one) marked me low on my characterization and the other two marked me high. Two loved the original plot, but the author was iffy on the originality (there are only 12 stories in the world, the trick is to tell them in unique ways). Well, the plot is different now, but that's okay. I believe the issues with characterization are cleared up by fixing the tone.

Right, so now I have even MORE information to digest and deal with before I trudge onward. And I eagerly (not) await my other contest scores (I know I didn't final because they called the finalists on Sunday and I didn't get a call). That entry was the same entry I sent to the critique author and has been changed already. I'm sure that one will not do well--I am praying for decent and constructive feedback.

Repeat after me: not all contest judges strive to be constructive and some of them are soul crushing critics who may not realize the pain they inflict isn't necessary. I try to be constructive when I critique. I usually succeed.

Ironically, I judged another category in that contest. I hope my entrants receive my critique with spirit it was given. I want to build people up, not tear them apart. Why pi**on somebody's parade? I sincerely hope I have judges who judge like me: with kindness in their intent.

On the way home from the workshop, my writing friend and I chatted about what we had learned. We had a four hour drive so we chatted a lot. We clarified her plot points (Larry Brooks' book continues to help me understand plot and I wish I had read it BEFORE I wrote this MS).

But mine? Hmm, not so much. I did decide that I am not writing a thriller or RS (why are nearly all the examples for writing taken from thrillers and suspense movies?) and that the main conflict is, as always BOY MEETS GIRL, BOY AND GIRL WANT EACH OTHER, BOY AND GIRL CAN'T HAVE EACH OTHER, BOY AND GIRL FIND WAY TO BE TOGETHER. THE END. All the other plot stuff is just that, plot stuff. Romance readers want to be entertained, and they want a credible plot, but most of all they want to fall in love with our hero and they want our heroine to deserve him. They want the LOVE to be compelling.

Romance is MORE about characters than it is about plot.

So here I sit, at my computer with a lot of questions. And a lot of ideas and a lot of information. I sit here and wait for contest results to come back so I can digest them and think some more.

Repeat after me: writing doesn't always mean writing words and counting them. Writing takes a lot of thinking, daydreaming, wondering and mulling.

And today I will do a bit more wondering and mulling. I've also decided to talk to my hero and heroine. I'm going to sit down with my Main Characters and ask them a lot of questions. Why? Because I have realized that I have played Goddess of their lives too many times and it is not working for me. I've tried to direct their lives with plots and schemes and ideas. And they aren't cooperating. Therefore I will step aside and let them take charge. I need them to tell me why I should write their story.

Stay tuned. I'll let you know if they reveal their story to me later. I hope they do because I entered this MS in the MAGGIES and the contest deadline is June 1, 2010. There's nothing like putting all our proverbial derrieres into the fire to get the job done.


JustineDell said...

"Repeat after me: not all contest judges strive to be constructive and some of them are soul crushing critics who may not realize the pain they inflict isn't necessary."

This is so true, and hurtful. It doesn't help anyone in the long wrong.

And the point about a romance being more about the characters than the plot? TRUE! There's where I have issues. I tend to make the plot more complicated than it needs to be and then I have a mess by the time we reach the end. Well, not a mess, but more "Mainstream with strong romantic elements" instead of just straight romance. I don't even mean to do that! Grrr...

Good post!


Ellen Brickley said...

Amen on the importance of characters in romance. Amen!

I've read romance novels where, by the end, I'm no longer 100% sure what the original obstacle was. But once the reactions to the obstacle are compelling, I don't care if it gets a little lost in the fallout. That's life, isn't it? I know the 'but that's how it happens in real life!' logic doesn't usualy apply to writing, but in this case, I think it does.

Onwards and upwards Christine, you're obviously working really hard right now and I hope it continues to go well - and congrats on the positive comments!

Christine said...

Hi Justine: Yes, it's so true that hurtful comments, however unintentional, aren't helpful. I like to recommend books that helped me along the way if I see a writer struggling with a craft element. Even the pros have weak spots. Setting is not Diana Love's strong point, so she crafted a new segment to her and Mary Buckham's Break into Fiction series of workshops to cover that element. We're all growing. It takes baby steps.

As far as the romance is concerned, I think the author that I had the one on one critique session with in March hit the nail on the head for me. I may have to tweak the plot a bit to make it stronger and more compelling, but FIRST the characters are the ones who have to drive it. I think that's been my problem, too.

Interviews with my characters will happen this week. Not formal ones, just a chat where one question will lead to an answer which will lead to another question. The story is in their heads. It's time to let them talk.

Christine said...

Hi Ellen: thanks for the kudos re: the work. I am working hard tho' to look at my "production" one wouldn't believe it. My brain is bursting to the brim with thoughts. I'm clearing up the to-do list for the house and then I'm sitting down somewhere far away from this computer and chatting with my characters.

I can't wait. I promised them face time yesterday.

Wendy Marcus said...

Welcome back, Christine! Glad you had a productive contest. You made a comment....(Larry Brooks' book continues to help me understand plot and I wish I had read it BEFORE I wrote this MS.) Consider this...maybe you should sit down. Are you sitting? What about ditching what you have and starting fresh?

Take a breath. Now another. It's just a thought. If fixing your manuscript section by section is not working, start over. After working on your manuscript for so long you have the story down in your head. The problem is fixing what you've already written. Now...armed with the story in your head and all the knowledge you've picked up since you've started the story, consider starting over.

Sounds daunting, I know. But I'm guessing the words will flow right out of you. Maybe you don't need to re-write the entire story, just weak/saggy parts. Just something to consider. Please don't ban me from your blog!!!!

KarenG said...

Sounds like a wonderful conference, and I really liked your report. I felt like I was there! Hate those mean judges-- eewww! Good luck with all your revisions after this. Are you going to take a break first or just jump right in?

Jean said...

Having questions is good. The more you know, the more questions you have. A contest score is only as good as the judge. As with all things, there are good ones and bad ones. Listen to yourself and your characters. You'll get there!

Ann said...

Sounds like a great workshop. Good luck with the revisions. I agree with you harsh critiques are unnecessary. Constructive is the key. Congratulations on your good results.

Christine said...

Hi Wendy: I won't ban you from my blog. I love your comments and your suggestion is pretty close to what I am planning to do with the story. I'm not ditching it completely, but I am taking a lot of time to rediscover my hero and heroine from the inside out. A different, better story is brewing in this head of mine. But oh, the words--a new story is there. I am going to get all the Plot Points worked out in my head and on my notebook.

I don't think I have to start over, but I do have to start fresh in my head. That's why I am not diving into the MS just yet. That's why I decided to bring that stuff to the workshop before I started revising this puppy.

Now if my hero would just tell me the truth about why he is taking the job, I will be a happy camper. He's a cagey one, for sure. After I catch up on my blog, I am washing my hair. He usually tells me a lot when I am washing my hair.


Christine said...

KarenG: thanks for your supportive words. I was lucky with this contest. I had very good judges with great feedback. And the tough one was asking the same questions I am asking today. I answered a lot of them already, but not all of them. Isn't it funny how our stories evolve?

Christine said...

Welcome Jean! I agree with you. I am taking time to listen and ask questions this week. Getting my head cleared up and ready to roll with the new characterizations I'm discovering. I guess that labyrinth we went on did teach me something. I am a hurry up and finish girl, but then I always have to get to the heart of the matter and revisit the center.

An Aha! moment for me just occurred. But if this is my writing process, I'm in for years of fork poking in my eye and my CPs are going to have to get whine blockers LOL.

Christine said...

Hi Ann: the workshop was amazing. Diana Love and Mary Buckham make you really THINK hard about your story and all the key elements. They are excellent mentors and so generous as well as patient. This is the second workshop I've taken with them and each one as been equally as beneficial.

If you ever get a chance to take one of their workshops, go!

Wendy Marcus said...


So much of what you say is true for me, too!!! I do some of my best brainstorming in the shower. If only the hot water held out!!!

Martha W. said...

Ooo-kay. So, I'll be the one to say this. lol. Repeat after me: there is such a thing as too much advice.

If you are entering in contest after contest, and then submitting to CP after CP... no wonder your head is spinning! Yikes. All those opinions and directions. Whew.

In the beginning (not so long ago), I didn't mind having five or six - or ten - people look at and comment on my work. But once I realized I was running in circles (and as a result... am now completely rewriting my ms), I wiggled myself down to three CPs that I trust who all have different strengths.

I love LB's structure but I'm getting ready to add Dwight Swain's thinking to it as well. I think one fits inside the other and I can work well like that. Sit down and evaluate all the sources you have and choose the couple that really work for you, then run with them.

Less confusion (or competition for space in your mind) will free up room for your characters to talk to you freely.

*laughing* Just my piece of advice. :)

Good luck, no matter what you do.

P.S. - I am of the same mind as Wendy. If you're ms is running you in circles and you have to make fundamental plot changes - sometimes it is WAY better to just start over.

M.V.Freeman said...

This can be such a painful process and so rewarding.

Its like taking a machete to a bunch of rich growth, there is a path there some where, you just have to find it. (Ha, easy for me to say, I know)

You will find it. You really will, you are one of the most motivated and gifted writers I know!

And I'd brainstorm any time with you! :0)

Christine said...

Martha: Yes, you're absolutely right. I need to see the forest and listen to my heart. But I am not submitting to too many people -- the workshop was amazing and I am glad I brought what I intuitively knew was not working with me. I needed that fork in my eyeball. I live for pain to force me to accept reality.

The truth is, I wrote number four in a vacuum. I was a CP orphan. I only enter 4 contests a year. One is the GOLDEN LOTTERY, the other is the MAGGIE which gives amazing and educated feedback. The other two are for early MS feedback to see if I am on the right track. And if I final, heck the editors and agents that read the entry are pretty top notch, too.

Then I sort through the weeds to get find the flowers and kernels of truth. I think a lot gelled for me this year. A lot is making sense. I know my internal theme for my stories, my voice is solid, I know my "tone" direction and I know what I want to write in the future. I tend to need to talk out my issues with my peeps--I missed that last year. I am glad I have it again.

Today. I managed to iron out some issues because I chatted with my main characters. I realized what the true Mid Point of revelation was and I ran the solution by two trusted people and got affirmation. I'm not going to write--yet.

First on my list will be: open, middle and close. Then I'll flesh out the rest. But the story is emerging. Finally.

At the end of the day, the most important thing is to trust oneself. And that's where I'm at right now. You're so right Martha--but such an ongoing learning process!

Christine said...

MV: you are a great writer, too. You're such an intuitive writer. I love your take on the process.

And yes, you're a great brainstormer. Talk about machete to the trees and weeds!

I have a solution! I am so happy with it, I could jump for joy (except for the slashing of old words part).

Christine said...

WendyG: Shower didn't work this time. Silly hero told me to focus on a form for my daughter and be a mom. He's such a by the book guy. And that in and of itself was a bit of a revelation. Oh he's a mystery. We're chatting later--after wine and cheese LOL--and maybe some chocolate.

Martha hit the nail on the head: I am having chat sessions now and it's hilarious when one of my new characters kicks in with her pearls of wisdom and insights.

Martha W. said...


You know what is really ironic? I can put a short story out there for God and everyone to see... but when it comes to my ms - no way. CPs only. I entered two contests last year and have vowed to enter none this year. lol.

And here you are -- won't post a short but have no problem with CPs or contests! :)

*shaking head*

I'm sooo glad your characters are chatting it up with you again and giving up some love! Now, give them lots of chocolate and wine so they stay all happy, happy! *grin*