Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Love Stories: Reluctant Love

Really enjoyed the discussion yesterday! Thanks for all the thoughtful responses. Ah, love. Shall we move on to the next one? It's one of my personal favorites to read.

Reluctant Love
The Formula: Girl and Boy meet—they hate each other. (Or Girl hates Boy and he hides his love...or vice versa.) Series of events force them into awful situations where they have to deal with each other. Their hate either grows or wanes until the moment. At said moment, it comes out that one or both of them actually likes the other. Affection ensues...or doesn't.

Personally, I love the romantic tension in these novels. There's often much witty banter, and I'm left smiling the whole way through because I'm thinking, "Teehee, they're sooo going to eat their words by the end...neener neener." There's something about how they resist each other that makes me want them together. It's like if they can make it past all THAT, then they must really love each other. The natural attraction. The frustration. The awkward situations. So been there. The line between love and hate is precariously thin.

Okay, so a couple examples—there are so many out there. (I'll be doing a movie/play and book for each one, just to follow my previous format.) One of the first movies that comes to mind for me is You've Got Mail. I know, I'm cheesy. But Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks rock the reluctant love. Here they are enemies, so focused on their "book war" they don't realize/admit they're attracted to each other. (And you know they really are with their anon. emails. omg.) You so know they'll end up together, and you're sucked in because you want to see how it happens.

And I can't even think of writing this post without mentioning the quintessential story of reluctant love—Pride & Prejudice. Yes, Miss Austen has like every kind of love story in there, but it's Elizabeth and Darcy's reluctant adventure into matrimony that leaves us all giddy inside. For me, it just doesn't get old. The pride. The prejudice. The undeniable attraction. Teehee.

As much as I love this "formula," I can't seem to carry it through a whole novel. This has always been an "element" in my books. My characters initially resist, but I can't seem to get them to hold out longer than half the novel (or sometimes like a couple chapters, heh). But I think that's okay—that's one way to change this format up because the story usually takes knew twists once they're together (or want to be together). There are so many ways to spin this format: the love triangle, the separation with unexpected pining, the misunderstanding, the revelation, the stubborness, the possible hybrid of a "forbidden love" element, etc. I'm sure you can all think of excellent examples.

Dang reluctant love! I hate you! Wait...maybe I don't. You didn't say I was ugly? You were talking about someone else? Swoon. Okay, I love you.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Love Stories: Forbidden Love

Okay, I'll admit it. I write love stories. Sure, there are a lot of other elements to my books, but there's always some kind of relationship at the center. So I thought I'd try to look all smart and talk a little about what I've learned from all these books I've written.

I know we all want to think our ideas are the most unique things in the entire world, but there's really only a few kinds of "love stories" out there: the Forbidden, the Reluctant, the Blind, the Deception, the "Traditional." (Huh, the five I'll be covering this week, go figure.)

You can have elements of several in your book, but one will usually dominate. And don't get depressed if these sound familiar to something you've written. These "formulas" have been used for centuries. For some reason, they tug at the human heart—just what you want in a sappy dappy love story. (NOTE: I'm focusing primarily on the romantic element, though every love story has more going on around it.)

So, let's get this show on the road:

Forbidden Love
The Formula: Guy meets girl (or vise versa). Guy can't have girl because outside force forbids it. They get together anyway—drama unfolds in the form of guilt/deception/discovery/punishment. In the end, they either die for their love or they figure out how to be together and they are finally able to love each other freely.

What is it about forbidden love that always has us rooting for the thwarted couple? Really, we know they aren't allowed to be together—that they are going against family wishes, nature, society, or whatever it may be in that particular book. They are being irrational and reckless. It's WRONG...then why is it so right? Do we all, on some level, feel like "love" is made stronger when people forsake their very identity for it? Do we want love to triumph over everything because it so very often doesn't?

Let's jump a looong way back—Romeo & Juliet. I know: it's really a tragedy, they're just horny emo teenagers, blah blah blah. BUT. You wish they were able to stay together, don't you? You know you do. Deep in your gut you just can't help it. Save a few people (like, maybe Ebenezer Scrooge), I'm willing to bet no one was yelling in The Globe, "Juliet, you fool! Pick Paris! Pick Paris!" (I can see the "Team Paris" t-shirts now.)

Fast forward to the ultimate forbidden love on the shelves right now—Twilight. Um, holy crap, it's Romeo and Juliet with a pretty bow ending! I know: it's really a tragedy, they're just horny emo teenagers (okay, one of them is ninety...but work with me here), blah blah blah. BUT. You still want Bella and Edward together—against all your good sense you STILL WANT IT. Ack!

What? The formula STILL works? You bet it does. Whether you like this kind of love story or not—this story sells. A lot, apparently. Everyone likes a good "WHY CAN'T THEY JUST BE TOGETHER?" book. (Alright, that might just be girls.) And if you write love stories, you better bet you'll be using this one at some point.

I did—Allure was my forbidden love story. Keira Connelly falls for a dragon outside of her Clan. They want to be together; they can't. She tries to accept her betrothed; she can't. She finally gives up and picks Rune—abandons her whole life at the risk of death. Things work out after a while. It totally works. I love that story and so did the people who read it (despite it not being polished enough).

So, welcome to the formula. What can you do as a writer to make this not sound like half the books on the shelves? It's all about the characters and world—that "fresh spin" thing. A forbidden love can unravel in so many ways based on the unique characters that fall in love and the world around them. Um, hence the overwhelming success of a vamp falling for his "prey."

Is your MC looking for the forbidden aspect to rebel? Or is your MC a rule abider taken off guard? Does the love interest feel guilty for making your MC risk so much? Or is the love interest reckless and flauting his or her affection? The answers to those question swing the story in vastly different directions, as do all the other things you can bring to a book. Time, place, society, etc. It's about what you can bring to the formula—the new life you can breathe into it.

Sigh, those poor forbidden couples. Oh, the million-dollar angst.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Worst Ending Contest: The Winner Is...

There were A LOT of bad endings here, but I think one clear winner:


Yay! Adam, let's talk about your totally awesome prize and such. You definitely earned it.

Let me take a moment to explain my choice, since I think it sheds a light on what readers might expect from an ending. In reading all the entries (which were pretty dang horrible), certain themes came up that made an ending bad:

1. Too unexpected
Kiersten's Star Wars one is not only unexpected, but nasty. No one would ever buy that as the end (hopefully). Carrie's devastating end for Little Women is also pretty freaking ridiculous, hehe. When something comes out of left field, people just aren't satisfied. That's not to say twists are bad, but that they at least have to be LOGICAL.

2. Negates the entire purpose of the story
Jen had a great example here with Harry Potter waking up from a dream—lame! Getting invested in 700 pages to find out the whole thing was a trippy dream sucks. Nick also had a classic one with Gandalf making Frodo and Sam go to Mordor for nothing. Can you imagine? We got invested for what?

3. No actual resolution
Carrie's Rumplestiltsken falls here—he changes his name to Michael Jackson! Ah! That opens up a whole new can of worms. And H-Duck brought up that terrible scenario where the poor dwarf is flung into a portal never to be heard from again. What the crap? That's it?

4. Goes against "the genre"
Like it or not, genres have formulas. Uh, that's what makes them genres. If you're reading romance, you're expecting somewhat of a happy ending where the couple gets together. Renee's devastating end to Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy would have enraged women everywhere! And as completely hilarious as Jessie's ending to Twlight is, talk about a downer! Carrie's violent end to a children's book also kinda breaks that genre expectation.

Well, Adam's awful ending had it all. It was completely unexpected, it negated the entire purpose of the book, it didn't provide an actual resolution since three dudes were now fighting over the ring, AND it went against the genre (in fantasy usually the good guys prevail, bad guys win here). To add on top of all that, he introduced NEW characters in the last scene! The horror! AND he swore in a book I'm pretty sure has none of the sort. Talk about BAD. So congrats, Adam. You can write one terrible ending.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Revision Reference

I'm calling my last year "The Year of First Drafts" (or TYFD), since I wrote 6.5 books...half of which are still pretty much first drafts. I wrote furiously, too many ideas crowding my itty bitty brain. There are still too many ideas up there, but the pressure has been relieved. For the most part, I feel like I can breathe/think again. Except now I have all these first drafts to review...plus the four or five ideas still floating around...

Naturally, this year is turning out to be "The Year of Revision" (TYR). I've been revising one project or another since January: spit shining Allure, putting Void in first person, paper editing Relax, I'm a Ninja, and I just finished a light edit of what I had on my WIP Hammered. TYR has been a lot of work so far...not nearly as fun as TYFD. But I have learned a lot.

I thought I'd share some of the more subtle things I've picked up in editing. The little ticks that bog down my own writing, and maybe bog down yours too. I've addressed some of these before, but I thought a comprehensive post was in order.

Force your characters to commit to their actions. Unless it is truly a halfway action, let those verbs speak. This happens when I use quantifiers in unnecessary places. Common offenders: almost, nearly, about, just, only

Example: She almost ran to the door. => She ran to the door.
Example of necessary quantifier: He almost spat in her face, but decided against it.

I'm still trying to break my love affair with dialogue tags, especially those that describe exactly how my character said what they said. I think these are my own writer notes in first draft—reminding myself how the character is reacting as I get to know them. Revision has removed 70% of them.

Example: "Thanks a lot," she said vehemently as she placed her hands on her hips. => "Thanks a lot." She put her hands on her hips.

This is another way I don't let my characters fully commit to their actions. I throw them into weird, unnecessary progressive setups. These can be eliminated for the most part.

Example: I started writing the number. => I wrote the number.
Example of Necessary: I started writing the number, but he interrupted.

Mostly a first person issue, but still something to be wary of in third, especially if you have a more casual style. My "chattiness" usually comes out in rampant interjections, but it can also be found in fragments, slang, and unconventional punctuation/formatting. None of this is "bad;" it just needs to be kept in balance. Otherwise the prose will be too choppy.

Example: Sure, I was about to go all postal on her, but it wasn't my fault, ya know? => I was about to go postal on her, but it wasn't my fault!

I've found most of my repetitiveness to be in "explaining" what my characters just said. This is one of the newest quirks I've discovered; I really didn't know I did this. Let the characters talk; trust that the reader will get it. People who read are smart.

Example: "He won't be bloody still, right?" Stu asked. The guy was squeamish about blood to say the least. Ketchup made him woozy...even fruit punch. => "He won't be bloody, right?" Stu asked. Ketchup made him woozy...even fruit punch.

Stating Observations
Sometimes I stay so firmly in my character's head that I overuse their POV, if that makes any sense. Some of these can be removed. Common offenders: looked, seemed, knew, thought, wondered.

Example: The nurse looked like she was about to laugh. => The nurse was about to laugh.
Example: I knew I didn't have to sing, but I wanted to. => I didn't have to sing, but I wanted to.

When I'm writing, I picture the scene unfolding in a certain way and usually over explain what people are doing while they talk. Common offenders: to, from, away, at (+me/her/him/etc.)

Example: "Did you get dropped on your head as a baby?" He stared at me, right through me it seemed.
I glared right back at him, though he couldn't see. "Actually, yes. I almost died. Thanks for bringing it up."
"Oh." He turned away from me, looking at the black board in front of him.

=> "Did you get dropped on your head as a baby?" He stared through me.
I glared right back, though he couldn't see. "Actually, yes. I almost died. Thanks for bringing it up."
"Oh." He turned back to the black board.

Personal Ticks
We all have them: favorite words and phrases, descriptors we use as a crutch when we blank, common interjections, typical sentence structures, etc. They differ with each writer, but it's important to know your own so you can even them out in revisions. I'll share a few of mine that I'm always on the lookout for:

a little, just, even, dude, okay, cool, incredible, suddenly, awesome, totally, "started+verb," compound sentences, em dashes, and italics/caps for emphasis.

Happy editing, everyone.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Contest: Worst Way to End a Book

That's right, friends, I want the worst endings you can come up with. You can rewrite the ending of an existing book or make up your own. Whatever. I just want to see some pathetic, disappointing, illogical, ridiculous, and hilarious ways to end stories.

Entries due Wednesday at midnight MST. Multiple submissions are welcome.

And since it's a contest, I guess there needs to be a prize. The person with the terrible ending I love most will receive a full color drawing (an example) of their choice. Your MC, a ninja, a diamond encrusted unicorn—you name it and I will draw it (as long as it's PG-13), post it for this Saturday's Sketch, and MAIL it to you so you can frame it and hug it every night before bed.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Purge Writing: Invisible Girl

This chick is driving me nuts. She's floating in my head tempting me to ignore revisions and play in firstdraftland again. She doesn't even have a NAME yet, and she's super strong. This means there will be a book at some point. Because I am crazy enough to write this.


The second I was born, I almost died. Doctor dropped me. It's not his fault though. When I smacked the floor and let out a screeching cry, all anyone could see was the semi-transparent umbilical cord, taut and bloody. Poor guy scooped me up, grasping at my invisible body in shock. They guessed I came out breech, because my spine was fractured and the bruising to my head wasn't enough to kill me.

I spent a year in the hospital—not because of injuries. They had to study me; Mom and Dad wanted a cure. They wanted a normal baby. You know, one that flies or can read minds. Instead they got the first invisible child ever. I was famous. The faceless baby.

There was no curing to be had; the supernatural specialists tried everything. The only contraption in the whole place that could capture an image was the x-ray machine. So they had a lot of pictures of my bones and a few face molds. When they gave up trying to bring pigment to my body, my parents took me home. They still got mobbed by paparazzi. Yes, they took pictures of an "empty" car seat, a blanket covering the girl who would never be seen.

Sixteen years later, all I know about myself is that I am five foot eight, a hundred and forty pounds, and the owner of one rocking wardrobe (when all people see is your clothing, it's important, trust me). The most recent mold of my face suggests a nose it's a shame no one can see. The button kind people pay for. My lips are lacking, but I can't know for sure. I took in a mouthful of plaster once and have clamped my lips shut since. Eye color? No clue. Skin? I try to keep it soft, at least. Sometimes I pretend I have freckles, but I could be purple for all I know. Hair? Wavy, wiry. Possibly curly if I had any clue how to style it.

It's not so bad, right? That's what people say if I complain. Brady Mitchell can't see me blush every time he passes me in the halls. And no one can ever say I'm ugly...though no one will ever tell me I'm pretty either. I can literally disappear when I don't feel like dealing with Mom. It's easy to be comfortable naked when no one can see. And I don't have to shave my legs. I hear that sucks.

And yet sometimes I dream about someone who can see me. Someone who could tell me what my eyes look like open. Someone who could describe the tint of my skin. Just so I could know. It's hard enough figuring out who I am on the inside. Maybe it would be easier if I knew who I was on the outside.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Alright, it's time to just say it. Maybe owning up to my current problems, however embarrassing they may be, will help me get over it. Because I've tried just about everything else.

I'm not nearly as strong as I act. My inner editor, the insidious AAC, has commandeered my brain. I can't bring myself to think my writing is more than crap, let alone good. (Michelle calls this Isuckitis...well named.)

Take this sentence: "I couldn't think of anything to say to her."

Translated in my head: "Crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap crap."

I've edited my brains out. Cut 10k from my MS. I look back, and it still isn't there, and then I start to think it's NEVER going to be there. And why am I doing this again? Why do I want this? It's just a silly childhood dream to be published. I don't need all this frustration—this is why I was afraid to try in the first place! This sucks. It's NOT fun anymore. Not even close.

And yet I'm sitting here with my MS pages cradled in my lap, tearing up because I love this story so much and I can't seem to do it justice. I jot down another word change, cross out a sentence, combine a paragraph, write a "better" description...I just keep going...why am I going? Why am I editing when even the changes don't quite make it what it deserves to be? How in the world can I keep putting myself through this?

I am inadequate; it's the truth. Always will be (bear with me here, I have a point). I'm sure every writer has felt that way at one point—probably more than once. My fingers can't type the perfect words to represent the people and worlds in my head. I try so very hard, knowing I'll never quite get there. Oh, I know I'll get better, but that unreachable perfection, those exact words I want, will never grace my pages without a considerable amount of pain, fear, work, and error. And even after blood red pages, it still won't be "perfect."

I could give up...hell, I should give up, shouldn't I? I'm grasping for an unattainable ideal. Because let's face it, even if I work my whole life I will never, ever write the "perfect" book. I will always see a flaw—there will always be a flaw. Crap. I'm human. (Even if I pretend to be a cyborg.)

Then I realize that my writing is just like me: a living, breathing thing that grows everyday. Sometimes I can be beautiful, sweet, kind—near perfect. Other times I'm ugly, rude, hateful. My writing is the same way. I'm a literal work in progress, and my Creator hasn't given up on me. I shouldn't give up on what I've created either. If he can accept my "best effort," then surely I can accept that of my own flawed writing.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Revisions: A Visual

I've been deep in revisions this week, which is a trying yet rewarding process. I'm a little less than half way through, but I'm so pleased with the way Relax, I'm a Ninja is looking. So to sum up: It REALLY sucks to get fulls rejected, but it can have beneficial effects to your writing. And wonderful life lessons to boot. I'm feeling a lot better now, thanks to fatty food, wonderful family and friends, some hilarious blogs, and a cathartic drawing session.

Now I'm going to take you on a visual trip of the lessons I learned this week, one that should demonstrate how important revisions really are. I know most writers hate revising (I'm right there), but the result is incredible.

1. The First Draft.

It's pretty, isn't it? I mean, it's way more than the rough sketch I started with. It's clean and finished and awesome. I always get excited when I finish a picture—such an accomplishment. But as lovely as it is, I know it can be so much more if I want it to be. I could take this sketch further...I could add some color.

2. Revision Round One

I've added color! Isn't it great? I spent a lot of time making what I thought was great that much better. Oh so pretty—I'm done right? I'm going to send it to some friends and see what they think. They are going to LOVE it.

*sends awesome colored picture to friends*

Hmm, they liked it, but they said I should have added some background or something. I guess they're right. It could be even better if I do full color. Yeah, that would ROCK! I'm going to put my ninja self up against the universe in all her glowing glory. Sweet!

3. Revision Round Two (or fifteen, whatever)

Boy, I hate drawing backgrounds. They take SO LONG! Does it really need a background? It looks good enough right now—I don't have to do the whole thing do I? Nah, it's fine. I'll just stop. It looks GREAT. I'm going to send it to some people, see if I can get it in an art magazine or something. They'll love it for sure.

*sends it out*

Hmm, they TOTALLY called me on that half-crap background, but they sure like the figure. They can tell I have some kind of talent if I'd just finish what I started. Dang it, why didn't I realize that my little minuscule copout would be such a big deal. Fine fine, I'll finish that stupid background.

4. The FINAL Product

Wow, I didn't realize my simple sketch could be this good. I was happy with the black and white...the colored figure...the copout background. Who would have guessed I was capable of this? I sure didn't know. I honestly thought I was doing my best, turns out all I needed was someone to show me how much better I could be.

So the universe may have broken my bo staff, but at least it gave me these shiny twin swords in return. Now I just have to figure out how to use them—then I'll be kicking Fate's butt again. Rawr!

Monday, March 2, 2009

When I Go Hardcore

The gloves are off, people. Now that I have all the feedback from my betas (and a certain wonderful agent), Relax, I'm A Ninja is getting the spit shine of its life. I did actually train and work as an editor in college. Sometimes I forget my editing abilities when I get in creative mode, but the shrewd editor is out now. I thought you might like a peek into her process.

1. Chapter Outline
First, I organize the MS into chapter groups and file them in sections. Then I skim through the MS and write out what happens in each chapter. Not anything in depth, just enough for me to see the story arc and any repetitive elements. Then I write notes about what can be shortened, chapters that may need combing/splitting/refocusing, thing to cut, sections to move, etc. Anything that an overall look will accomplish before getting to the nitty gritty. Because if I am going to chop a whole chapter, I don't want to waste time editing it first.

2. Hardcore Editing
I'm about 200% better at editing on paper. I don't know, I'm just one of those people. Everything is clearer when I have a red pen in my hand. I prune, cut, move, change, add, organize, and punctuate properly until the papers bleed. During this time, I only let myself do a couple chapters a day because it takes up so much time. I'll admit right now I haven't done this for every single one of my books. I've done it for those I've submitted to agents (Sevene, zombies, dragons, ninjas).

3. Entering Changes
After I edit my two or three chapters, I enter the changes into the computer that day (or the next). I don't like to leave them all for when I finish because it feels too overwhelming. If I can focus on one section at a time, I can handle the enormity of process. When I enter a change, I highlight it in the paper MS to confirm it's been put in. That way I don't lose track or have to reread to make sure I got them all.

After I'm done, I usually send it to one or two more readers to make sure the changes are cohesive and I didn't leave out anything important. After I revise from those comments, I'll do one more read to catch any other small ticks and typos.