Monday, October 31, 2011

Using Your Words

A couple of books back, my editor was just thrilled with a proposal I'd turned in. Being a curious person, I went over that proposal with a fine-tooth comb, trying to figure out what had set it apart from other things I'd done.

In the final analysis, I decided it was words.

Don't laugh. I know I've been using words all along to write my books, but the word choices in those first three chapters for that book were ... well, magnificent. Not because I'd reached beyond myself and used a fantastic vocabulary. But because my word choices painted real pictures. Spontaneous, subtle pictures of my hero and heroine's worlds.

My heroine's dad eased back on a sofa that sighed under his weight. There was a gentle splash when the tires of a passing taxi ran through a shiny puddle on a dark street. The air was crisp and carried the scent of fall, as the hero lit a cigar that sort of ruined it. LOL!

We work to get the exact snapshot or sound or scent that represents each of our scenes. There's nothing like a sighing sofa under a fat lawyer to remind you that he's affluent. So affluent he eats well and his sofa is forced to hold his weight. :)

Match crisp air with the scent of fall and we're all right with your characters on that page.

And what about the tire running through the glistening puddle on the city street? It's a sound of a city that instantly leads most of us where the writer wants us to be.

When I realized how well I'd eased setting into my scenes, and a little bit of character, I knew why my editor had been so in love with that proposal. I'd put her there, with those characters, feeling the cold, sniffing the air, hearing the light splash, watching fat daddy move. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

I know those examples are simplistic and I know a lot of you are saying, I do that! I do that!

Because that's who we are. As writers we are in love with words. We're in love with images. The trick is blending them in and getting them to oh, so subtly do the job of putting our readers smack dab into that scene with our characters.

I'm not a fan of over-reaching with vocabulary. (I can tell when someone's used a word she doesn't really know the meaning of!) I also not a fan of long, laborious settings or analogies. But, oh, man, I'm a fan of subtle...of being drawn in. Not brow beat in. Lured. Tempted.

So tempt somebody today. Remember you are in the entertainment industry and lure somebody into your special world for a great story. Not just a story that works. Not just something you know is good enough...lure them to something great.

Use your words.

Happy Monday!


Monday, October 24, 2011

Ordinary World

We talked last week about writing a strong proposal. I mentioned that you need to wow your editor because ultimately the first chapters of your book, typically submitted in the proposal, also need to wow READERS.
Last weekend, I attended the New Jersey RWA chapter's conference (and had a great time) and in my workshop JOURNEY STEPS, A NO-FRILLS GUIDE TO PLOTTING, we talked a lot about the first scene/first chapter of your book and how important it is.

Your first scene/first chapter, has to introduce characters (establishing who they are because they have to grow and we need a reference point of how they grow). It has to start a chain of events that will roll through the entire book and that chain of events is typically started by an inciting incident, terrible trouble, or day/moment everything changed.

One of the questions I've frequently gotten when giving this workshop is "What about Vogler's Ordinary World?"

Well, you've gotta get that in you're wowing readers!

Actually, I like to USE ordinary world to wow readers. But I don't use an entire scene or chapter to demonstrate who the character is and how he or she lives to orient readers. I get all that stuff into the scene I'm writing as the inciting incident scene.

Take THE BABY PROJECT. The heroine is a lawyer who is named co-guardian in a will with the hero. I set the first scene at the reading of the will. Her dad is her boss and also the lawyer who wrote the will that named her co-guardian. So what better way to open this book than in the scene right before the will is read (before the hero and his brothers come in) when her dad warns her that she was named co-guardian.

She says, Oh, no. I can't do it.
Dad says, It's been 2 years since your baby's death. It's time you moved on. If you can't, your mom and I think you need to start seeing Dr. Miller (her therapist) again.

Two lines of dialogue tell us a great deal about the heroine and her internal struggle.

We're also "in" her regular environment. We establish her "ordinary" world very easily just by having her sit down on a leather sofa and talk with her dad as both a boss and a father.

But what about the hero?

He and his half-brothers are called into the office for the official will reading. As they walk in, the heroine's observations about him tell us a great deal about his "ordinary" world.

First, he's beyond good looking. (LOL! Aren't they all?) But he's walks into the room first. His half-brothers follow. He's the one who speaks. Proving he's the leader. His half-brothers also dislike him. That's clearly displayed in their body language.

But...what's his ordinary world? How do we get HIS ordinary world in when they aren't in his office?

He's an international businessman. Technically anywhere he has his iPhone is his office. But ordinary world isn't so much about how many lamps he has and who his secretary is. It's more about who HE IS at the moment of the inciting incident...the reading of the will.

So we have this tall, good looking, clearly a leader, neat and clean and careful with his appearance and his words hero...who's about to get a spitting up, crying, peeing, screaming baby.

Do we need to see his office to have a good idea of what it looks like?

Do we need to see his "estate" to know that's how he lives?

Do we needs to see him in his quiet house to know a baby is going to upset the balance?

Nope. Most times you can get ordinary world into a scene through character more easily than showing us the sunrise over the Atlantic.

And...think this through...doesn't that opening with him strutting his stuff more effectively "wow" readers and editors than two pages describing his shiny desk, efficient secretary and black limo?

Yes and no. (LOL...nothing like comparison!)

Sometimes showing us his sleek office, efficient secretary and black limo can be used to tell us as much about his character as character can be used to describe ordinary world.

The trick is playing with what you have ... figuring out which format...using ordinary world to show us your character or using your character to show us his ordinary best for your story. Which one will drop them into the story at the best possible point and most effectively introduce character?

Because in the end it's all about entertaining readers. Find the best thing that works for your story, then run with it!

Happy Monday!


Monday, October 17, 2011

Dear Writers Writing a Proposal

Yikes! It's Monday and I forgot to post! But, considering we're in the middle of a total kitchen re-do...yep, even the walls and ceiling came down...I'm going to forgive myself.
I also have a proposal due today. So I thought maybe we'd chat about what makes a proposal great.

First of all, my current editor defines proposal as three chapters and a long synopsis. After a few books of working with a short synopsis, we discovered that we spent less time with questions and in revisions if I wrote a longer synopsis.

Actually, I do something that's more like an outline. I go chapter by chapter, stating exactly what will happen and why...It's more like me talking than straight facts. But it's very concise.

Why do we do this?

Well, first off, there's less margin for error...or misunderstanding. In a short synopsis you can say...After thirty days of trying to get along, the hero and heroine finally have a heart-to-heart talk after their canoe tips over and each blames the other. That looks really cool. Interesting. But you editor could read your short synopsis and think all that happens in 30 pages, but you've made it 100 pages. And if those pages are repetitive or boring...ouch. You're going to be doing some rewriting.

So I specify EVERYTHING that's going to be in my book. Then, my editor's comments are also very specific. So that when I write the book, I know exactly what needs to be in and what needs to stay out...and I can write it quickly. Usually in a month.

But this doesn't really work for all editors. Some editors don't want to be bothered with the "details" of your story until they read the book. So what do you send to them?

A nice, concise 2-page, single-spaced synopsis that hits the highlights (turning points/plot points) of the story and also shows the characters' growth so that when you write the happy ending paragraph, the editor will say, "Oh, yeah. He can commit now (solve the crime now/save the world now) because he's grown.

I actually have a six-point synopsis thing that makes it really easy to get all the important "stuff" into your synopsis. Maybe I'll post that next week?

Anyway, the pages are actually more important than a synopsis when you submit a proposal.

Why? A couple of reasons.

In those first three chapters (or that one chapter if you're with an editor who only likes one chapter) you have an opportunity to not just show you can write and show your story starts off with a bang, but also to create characters who leap off the page and shake your editor's hand.

That's not to say your character needs to be an overwhelming butt head in the first chapters. But it IS to say that your character needs to be special. Not necessarily unique. Just someone you editor (and ultimately readers) will want to spend 50-100,000 words with.

First chapters are like a gift from God to a writer to give him or her the chance to demonstrate their talent as well as the real potential of their book.

So whether you write a looooonnnnng synopsis as I do or a two-pager that cuts right to the heart of the story, it's your chapters that will make your editor stutter with delight that she gets to work on this book with you or write you a rejection.

So when you're thinking about your proposal and those first three chapters...start thinking, "How am I going to wow this editor?"

And then use the lovely gift of that chapter or those chapters to do just that!

Happy Monday


Monday, October 10, 2011

It's Monday and I have to think of something writerly...

to tell you!

But what?

What happened to me last week that I can turn into a lesson for you?

Hum...let's see...

Last week I got the first book of a duet approved. For those of you don't know, Harlequin will frequently let us write connected books. Last year I did a 3-book series. This year I'm doing a duet about brothers who hate each other.

And why not? Brothers who like each other would be boring.

So does writing a duet differ from writing a series? Only in the fact that you have to tell your overarching story in two books instead of three, or four, or five.

I still have a story that encompasses two books. I solve the hero and heroine's problems in book one, get them together and sufficiently solve the "bigger, broader" story in book one -- enough that it appears resolved. But I always leave a little thread of doubt at the end of book 1, too. So that readers aren't surprised when book 1 isn't the end of things. That book 2 picks up with that whispy doubt and turns it into a story.

The most important thing to remember about connected books, though, is that primarily at their cores they are still standalone romances.

And what is a romance? It's the story of a hero and heroine who overcome a serious internal conflict to commit to each other for life at the happy ending.

So each of my stories, as it tells the story of these brother reuniting, has to tell a compelling story of a hero and heroine overcoming a serious internal conflict to commit for life at the happy ending.

The story of the hero and heroine has to take center stage. The story of the brothers reuniting has to impact the hero and heroine's story somehow, but never upstage the romance.

All elementary stuff, right?

You'd be surprised how many people "accidentally" work it the wrong way because the bigger, broader story seems more interesting to them. Or the bigger, broader story more or less takes over.

Resist the urge to let your bigger, broader story do that. LOL

Even if you're writing single title romances, at their cores they are still romances. Your bigger, broader story will be important, certainly, but don't shortchange the romance...Unless you want your book to be called a book with romantic elements.

If that's case, carry on! LOL

But if you want it to be a romance,  category or single title, make sure the romance gets its appropriate page time!

Happy Monday


Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday again! Dear Writers!

My ezine comes out this week, so the final lesson of THE POWER OF QUESTIONS workshop will be available. But reading over that workshop, while practicing JOURNEY STEPS (to be given live at the NJRWA chapter conference October 22), I'm struck again by how much analysis helps our work.

Still, lots of people don't know how to "analyze" their own story as they are writing it, or even when they give it a read-through for revision purposes.

Tony Robbins, the 30 Days to Personal Power guy, says the way to analyze is to ask questions.
So the best question to ask yourself as you're reading your book is Does this make sense?

Does the story make sense? The chapter? The scene? The paragraph? The sentence?

If you're reading and you experience what I call a "hiccup" or the sense that you're jarred out of your story...go back. Ask yourself, What threw me out of the story? Did something not make sense in terms of the story? Or is it just that this scene is off somehow? Or did I simply read a bad sentence?

Lots of times when we get jarred out of the story we think that there's something horrible wrong and there might be. But most of the time it's a matter of changing or fixing a sentence. Or checking a fact that might be incorrect.

Good writers know how to ask themselves strong questions but they also know how to answer them honestly. Don't tell yourself the sentence was just off...when in fact there's a looming story problem. At the same time, you don't want to panic and say, "Oh, my God! The whole book sucks," just because you have a scene that's not working.

Take a breath. Be honest. Analyze...don't criticize. And there is a difference!

But most of all, don't say, "Oh, it's good enough." Because we all know, in this tight market, with so many wonderful writers out there...Good enough isn't good enough.

Make that your motto!

Happy writing!