The Creative Writer's Toolbelt discussion

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message 1: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
I want to remind you guys that I'm here to help, and happy to help, with whatever writing project you are working on.

I've got time set aside to give any CWT member some help and advice with their project, maybe looking at a story structure or critiquing a couple of chapters.

If you need some help or want to ask me something, don't wait! Add a comment into this thread or drop me a line, you can reach me by email here

Happy writing!
Andy


message 2: by Kate (new)

Kate Rauner (katerauner) | 26 comments Hi Andy

Your projects must keep you busy - do you have a publication date for Centauri Survivors yet?

I'm working on a trio of novels about colonizing Mars. I'd love to have your comments (and anyone else who wants to chime in) on the three "first-paragraphs":

Book 1: The lush mountains of Slovenia were a strange place to train for a mission to the barren deserts of Mars. But Colony Mars had its tidy headquarters campus on a few acres outside the city of Bled where they trained settlers and gave public tours.

Book 2: The Tharsis Plain stretches interminably between the highest volcano on Mars, Olympus Mons, and a string of three shield volcanoes, smaller but still immensely wide and tall. Kamp Kans settlement was sited beyond the flank of Peacock Mons because the plain's deep rusty dunes offered what human beings needed to survive - traces of water, wisps of nitrogen, and sand that was easily mined and sintered into construction blocks.

Book 3: Bliss stopped in the archway, the train corridor behind her and the largest city on Mars in front. Kamp was home to nearly half the settlers on the planet, six hundred and eighty one people. She stepped through the arch. Six hundred and eighty two. She grinned.

I just put the first chapter of Book 1 into the Critter.org critique queue. I'm hoping to finish the books this summer. Thanks for the Toolbox and all your generous help.

Kate


message 3: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Kate

Good to hear from you, and thanks for asking about Centauri Survivors. The thing is - I've learnt so much myself doing the Toolbox podcasts that I kept finding myself saying: "wow, I need to apply that lesson to Centauri..." so I got to the point where I realised that I could do a lot better with it if I revisited all again. So my intention is to take some time out from other writing projects later this year (I'll still do the podcast, just have a couple of episodes recorded and ready) and just blast through a first draft again of the book, trying to apply the lessons I've been teaching others, and myself.

Meanwhile I do have a short story out that I mentioned in the last episode. It's a 'murder' mystery in a space opera context. I'm going to use it as an occasional source of examples in future. It's called "Traveller's Blues" and it's available on all the ebook platforms and it has a GR page here
Coming to your three books.
Straight off the bat, I read them all just straight through in quick succession and the stand out opening paragraph , for sure, was the one for book 3. I’ve had a think about why this is, and I’d be interested to get other opinion (if you have them). So most of my comments are about this paragraph. But let’s have a look at 1 and 2 first
Book1 – So I like here that you are giving us a setting straight away here, and clearly there is a city of Bled and clearly there are mountains near it. I think I want a bit more ‘show’ rather than tell in this first paragraph. So maybe you don’t tell us this is where they train settlers and give tours, maybe we see someone turning up for one of these activities. Maybe we could sense the environment – smell the mountain air, see the skyline of the city, hear a sound from the HQ so we are more immersed in the story from the start.
Book2 – There was something that threw me slightly when I read this, and I had to read it three times to see it; it’s that you have two tenses (present and past) in there. So the “Tharsis Plain stretches…” present tense, but the “settlement was sited…” past tense. I’d just slightly tweak the first sentence so that the “Tharsis Plain stretched…” so it’s all past tense. Also, purely personal preference this – I’d use the word “where” rather than “because” so that it sounds more descriptive rather than explanatory. The substance of the start of this story is all in the second sentence, and I do like the suggestion of scarcity in words like “traces” and “wisps”, nicely done, makes sure we remember this is an alien planet, not some holiday camp where everyone can just step out onto the beach! You could almost rework this to emphasise that alieness – something like:
“Kamp Kans crouched at the base of Peacock Mons, where the rusty dunes of the Tharsis plain offered what human beings needed to survive - traces of water, wisps of nitrogen, and sand that was easily mined and sintered into construction blocks.”

Then we’ve got the start of book 3 – which as I said above I really like.
You give us a name, and an interesting name from the start ‘Bliss’. Then I like the slightly off-balance way in which your character is placed between a train corridor in one direction and a city in the other. I think some people will struggle with it, I like it. I like the fact that this person, maybe she’s your protagonist, takes this step – and figuratively it’s a big step, through the arch and in to this community at Kamp. I like the way the population clicks up from 681 to 682. And then you have her grinning, which gives us a bit of insight into her personality and her intent – to be in this community, to make an impact in it.
So I’m reading this paragraph and coming out of the end of it thinking “give me more”, and that’s the critical job of the first sentence / paragraph.

Thanks for sharing this with us.
Anyone else want to comment?

Andy


message 4: by Kate (new)

Kate Rauner (katerauner) | 26 comments Insightful and useful as always! If anyone else would care to comment, I welcome the input. Thanks, Andy, and happy writing on CS.


message 5: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Thanks Kate, you're welcome
Andy


message 6: by Lily (new)

Lily Ribeiro | 2 comments Hi Andrew,

I know I already said it in another section, but I just love your podcasts. They are so 'down to Earth' and I believe that your advice has definitely improved my writing.

I am working on a science fiction novel called Planetary Justice. I have struggled a lot with the first line, and your advice has influenced the current iteration:

"The space platform's floodlights streamed over the metal plating of Zzir's body as he climbed out of the ballast ship and snapped the two automatic assault weapons onto his back."

My goal with this first line is to:
- introduce the protagonist
- show the protagonist in action
- introduce something of the setting and 'feel' of the first scene
- hopefully create a little curiosity about what kind of creature Zzir is.

I would be fascinated to hear any improvements / rewrite ideas. Maybe a better verb than 'climbed'? The book is still in first draft with a lot of ongoing revisions.

Thanks again. You are fantastic.


message 7: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Lily

First, thanks for sharing your opening sentence with us. Reviewing an opening sentence is always difficult I think because you almost have to come to it fresh every time, it’s how we react to a sentence the first time we read it that is important. But having read it a few times I think I can begin to see what I like in it, and there’s a lot to like, and also what I think I might try to improve it.

So, there are a lot of positive things going on with this sentence. It does, as you say, show us the protagonist, and show us him in action, right from the start. It uses some sensory imagery, which is always a big plus from my PoV, and it places us in the setting straight away, which is a very important objective in the early part of a story. There’s also some good active verb stuff going on here – I like “snapped” that gives the movement energy and purpose, it helps us as readers to get a subconscious sense that this guy has a mission, and so that makes us want to know what it is.

In terms of meeting your objectives you scored three out of four when I read the sentence, the one I missed was “what kind of creature is Zzir?” because I thought he was just a human – or at least I didn’t question his species at this point.

How would I try to change this opening sentence? The main think I’d do is try to take the best of what you have – the energy and purpose of the sentence, and crank that up by simplifying what you have, stripping back anything that might limit the energy of the sentence. This is a busy opening line, I think it would be more powerful if you simplify it. Here’s how I’d do that:

First, there are a couple of points where the reader might pause and stumble. So for example “ballast ship” – what is a ballast ship? You might well explain this later, but in line 1 we don’t know, and you don’t want us stopping to try to think about it. Also, I try to avoid two adjectives because again they can slow the reader down, and three is definitely one too many, so “two automatic assault” is three adjectives.– I’d lose one of those, probably “automatic” or even two “two” and “automatic”

Second, I’d do something about “space platform’s floodlights” which is a double adjective. I think I’d be tempted to really go for the radical option here and start your sentence with “Light streamed over…”

So if you do this you will lose the context that “space platform” gives you, so I suggest you get that back by giving your “ballast ship” a name that is a bit more space-like. You might want to spend some time thinking about what you use here, so that it tells us we’re in space and maybe even what Zzir is doing there. So you might go for a variant on:

“Light steamed over the metal plating of Zzir’s body as he climbed out of the ship, and snapped the assault rifles onto his back.”

(Note I’ve slipped in a comma there as well, I think this gives the sentence rhythm and balance.

Third if you aren’t convinced by “climbed” try “clambered” or even “rose”. Imagine your character in action, what is he actually doing? Is he weightless? Is this a lot of effort for him? Use your imagination to help guide you to the verb that best tells the truth of the situation.

I think I’d even be tempted to remove the problem of the word “climbed” by stripping the sentence back even further, how about this:

“Light steamed over the metal plating of Zzir’s body as he snapped the assault rifles onto his back.”

Or even

“Zzir climbed out of the ship and snapped the assault rifles onto his back.”

Either would work.

So now you’ve slimmed this sentence down, you are introducing your character, you are giving him energy and purpose, and crucially you’ve removed anything that will slow the pace. Yes there are questions still in the readers mind. What light? From where? Who is this guy Zzir? Why the guns? Lots of questions. Good! This is only the first sentence, and if they are asking questions then they’ll go on and read to find out the answers.

So I think I’d settle on this as a way to kick start your story and grab your readers:

“Light steamed over the metal plating of Zzir’s body as he snapped the assault rifles onto his back.”

And off you go!

Hope this helps
Regards
Andy


message 8: by Kate (new)

Kate Rauner (katerauner) | 26 comments Hi Andrew

I just read a post at http://bit.ly/1c5kGAT that says
"The fact is, attention spans are shrinking... Paragraph perpetuity is out. Short sentences are in. Snappy. Sassy. And sometimes salty."

She is writing mostly for non-fiction authors, but says "for all authors, the mere nudge that one-third of listeners space out within 15 seconds has got to be the magic goose to be able to say clearly what you and your book are about in 15 seconds or less."

What do you think? Especially about short sentences? Is "and" obsolete in sentence structure? (Can't think of an appropriate salty word to end on.)


message 9: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Kate

I read the article, and I think Judith Briles has a point when she says that attention spans are shrinking, but I don't think our response as writers should simply be to write something that is "snappy, sassy, salty."

If you read what I say to Lily in answer to her question in this thread above, you might think that I am a champion of the 'shorter sentences are better' school. But I'm not What I am a big fan of is brevity and clarity, and that's not the same thing.

Brevity is defined in the dictionary as the "concise and exact use of words". That's what I am aiming for in my writing,to use the words that clearly express what I want to say, and then say no more. That can look like shorter sentences, but what I am really after is clearer sentences.

So, I have no doubt that attention spans have shortened, but I don't think we should deal with that by making shorter sentences, we should deal with it by being concise, compelling, and clear.

I suspect there's a podcast episode in this somewhere!

Thanks
Andy


message 10: by Kate (new)

Kate Rauner (katerauner) | 26 comments I appreciate your definition of brevity. Stephen King wrote that narration moves the story, dialogue brings characters to life, and description creates a sense of reality. I'd hate to think we have to give up any of those aspects of a novel.

Thanks. :)


message 11: by Meaghan (new)

Meaghan | 16 comments Hi Andy,
I'm having a difficult time getting through my first draft. I keep feeling like I am missing something and have difficulty writing out scenes with all the necessary components. And once my scene is written I find it hard to figure out what is missing and if I need to revise/add it now or if I should leave that for later.
Can you give me some direction on this? For each scene, what parts need to be there in the first draft (the dialogue, the setting, the characterizations/description, etc) and what can I leave for later? How do I know what is integral to each scene and needs to be part of my first draft? As a whole, what parts of the first draft need to be present? I assume each stage of the story structure should be represented in at least one scene with a few for the momentum phase but what other aspects do I need to have in place to give me something to work with for editing/revising? When does it become useful/necessary to send it to beta readers?
I find I'm getting stuck between the planning and writing stages and even once I've gotten some writing done, often find myself going back to the outline to revise or regroup to make sure I'm still on track (and then once again have difficulty gaining the traction to write).
Thank you for your help,
Meaghan


message 12: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Meaghan

Certainly, I (and others here) might be able to help you.

Do you have a synopsis of your story so that we can understand broadly what it's about? Something of a few hundred words? Could you add this to the thread here?

It would also be useful to see your story summmarised in 15-20 words. That will give us a sense of what the story is really all about. From there we can start to look at the challenges you are having and work through some solutions with you.

Thanks for sharing this, I look forward to reading your work

regards
Andy


message 13: by Meaghan (new)

Meaghan | 16 comments I definitely can give you a synopsis if its necessary but I feel like its more of a logistical issue.

Everything I read is finished product after many revisions and edits. I've written lots of essays throughout school but not much creatively until my current project. I also tend to be a planner and perfectionist. So I'm having difficulty writing out a first draft with obvious holes in it and just skipping past them to finish the necessary parts. I keep getting stuck feeling like EVERYTHING is a necessary part which I know is not true.

I also have difficulty writing out a scene start to finish. I find it hard to switch back and forth between dialogue, description, exposition, etc. How do you write out the first draft of a scene? Do you write everything at once? Do you write dialogue first, description last?

What about the whole first draft? What aspects of a story are necessary to give you enough to work with without bogging you down in the details that can come later?

I am writing a modern fiction story about two people in their early twenties who meet and build a connection, influencing each other to grow as people and find their place in life. I'm loosely using the romance genre structure. Its about 50% about the two people building a connection and 25% about each of their individual stories.

Thanks for the help,
Meaghan


message 14: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Meaghan

Thanks for giving me some further information. I'm going to give you some observations and suggestions here that you can have a think about, take whatever seems useful and apply it, forget the rest!

I think some of this is frame of mind, and some of it is planning.

If we take 'frame of mind' first. Perhaps the most important thing to say about your first draft is that you have nothing to prove with it, other than you need to get it done. The quality of that draft is not the most important issue here, not at all. Getting he scene done broadly in line with the planning you've done is the most important thing, not how 'good' it is.

You mention that there are obvious holes in some of the chapters, that doesn't matter very much at all at this stage so long as you are doing what you say you are doing which is to "finish the necessary parts". The art of writing a scene is largely working out what the necessary parts are, writing them, not writing anything else, and then moving on.

I appreciate that this might mean that your 3k word scene suddenly has about 800 words in it. Fine, let it be born at 800 words, and move on. When you return to the scene for the second draft, your 800 words will be the foundation on which you turn this scene into 3k words again, or change it, or amalgamate it with something else. But in the second draft you will have a much better perspective on the whole story from which to make those authorial decisions.

Every scene must move the story on in some way, it should be more than characters standing around talking, or the description of a scenic view. It needs to progress the story, if you achieve that then you've achieved the main objective. You say that you worry that you are missing something when you write a scene - good thing too! So long as you've got the essential core of the scene, what it's there for, it's best if you don't try to put much more in.

You asked me what dimensions of story (character, setting, theme, dialogue...) need to be in the first draft and what could come later. My answer is - don't even worry about it. Write the stuff that the scene needs, what seems necessary at the time. If you think the characters need to talk, let them, if your writing seems to be going into description and setting, go there. Unless the critical objective of the scene requires a very particular dimension - for example two characters must have a conversation to reveal and react to information - don't worry about how much of each dimension you put in.

The fact is, all of the stuff I (and others) talk about regarding the six stage story process, and writing dimensions, and all of the advice you get, IS very useful but it really only comes into its own if you absorb it, understand it, and believe it to the point that it just comes automatically to you, and the first draft really is the place where you can just write what comes to you.

The same is true of that most essential dimension - voice. Refining your voice as a writer is essential, and only comes with practice. Once you have your voice you can write without really thinking about it; it will be second nature to you.

So your frame of mind should be one that recognizes that you are free to simply write your draft. Suspend your critical faculties for now and just enjoy some writing. Write what you think you need to write, and then stop and move on. Each scene should move the story on in some significant way, i.e. if the scene wasn't there something important in the story would be missing. Other than that, just write and enjoy yourself.

Now let's talk about planning. I'm assuming you have a chapter plan done, and your version of the planning stages I've talked about. I'd recommend that you go through a version of the four stage planning process that I've talked about in various places on Goodreads and in the podcast. It doesn't have to be exactly like my one, but it should give you a clear idea of the basic premise of your story, and the stages (scenes) you'll go through. For me the (evolving ) process is:

Stage one - write a 15 word / 50 word / 300(ish) words synopsis of your story.

Stage two - Try to translate your story into the six stage model that I use for stories. i) Start ii) Inciting incident iii)Momentum iv)Crisis v) Climax vi) Resolution. Just pinpoint these in your story as best you can

Stage three - get yourself a packet of decent sized post it notes, some felt tip pens, different colours, and a clear vertical space - ideally a wall. And then write headings on the postit notes and put them up on the wall: character, setting, plot, theme, 'other'. Write brief descriptions of events in your story on the post it notes and start to put them on the wall. Try to start with the first and last event in your story.

What you should end up with is a bunch of post it notes which mark out the points in your story, plus a bunch of other ideas that crept in.

Finally, stage four. Take a photo of your post it notes so you have a recording, before someone makes you take them down! Then use this to create a chapter and scene structure. So you are noting down the chapters and the scenes within them and writing maybe three or four lines on what happens at each scene. Again this will require some reshuffling, some bits you thought were chapters will shrink to a scene or nothing, other bits that you thought were minor might grow to two or three scenes, this is okay.

What you should be left with is a chapter and scene plan for your story.

So I think in summary, I'd recommend you spend time on the planning, so you have your route mapped out. Then you get into the draft and disengage your inner planner a bit, you aren't proving anything with that first draft other than the fact that you can finish it. All of the stuff you think you might forget - forget it, put in the essentials, write your really brilliant ideas in a note book next to you and keep working on that draft. Don't worry about your notebook at the end of a scene, move on to the next one. Only go back when the whole thing is done.

Hope this helps!
Andy


message 15: by Meaghan (new)

Meaghan | 16 comments Thank you for all the advice!

Frame of mind is definitely a big part of it. I only recently started grasping that the planning and first draft writing perspectives are very different. I will definitely be saving some of your advice on this topic to remind myself when I start wanting to make it perfect and complete the first time through.

In trying to figure this out I found an article describing the first draft as swiss cheese. There are lots of holes but it ultimately holds together and still tastes like cheese! When you hit a section that you know is going to have to be a hole, mark it somehow so you can come back later and move on (just as you said). This 'swiss cheese' image is hopefully going to give me something solid to hold on to when I feel like I don't want to leave holes.

In terms of the planning steps that you suggested I have done most of them, but, funnily enough, I think I skipped the first one. So I will definitely go back and do that. I also think I will use it for each chapter or scene, especially the ones I'm stuck on. Might help me get started on a scene and slowly expand. It will also give me a good snapshot to look back at when I'm going on to the next scene so I don't have to re-read the whole thing and run the risk of starting to edit instead.

So, thanks again. As always, lots of helpful advice.
I'll let you know how its going.
Meaghan


message 16: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Meaghan

I love the Swiss cheese analogy! That works for me.

From my planning suggestions, the first one about writing 15/50/300 word synopses is (I think) critical, and possibly the hardest of all the planning tasks if you do it properly.

So for example in the case of your work the nearest I have to this is "I am writing a modern fiction story about two people in their early twenties who meet and build a connection, influencing each other to grow as people and find their place in life" is a start but it doesn't really tell me what your story is about.

I recommend you have a go at this exercise to help you really get to grips with what your story is about, this will help you focus on what's important in each scene.

Let us know how you get on

Regards
Andy


message 17: by Meaghan (new)

Meaghan | 16 comments Hi Andy.
I've made considerable progress since my last discussion with you here and now have about 50% of my first draft written with the rest well laid out. I am planning on switching from writing to editing mode soon to do just the major edits I'm already aware need doing for that first half to give me a bit of a break from the pure writing, develop some editing skills, and hopefully decrease the number of edits that need doing in the second half.
At the moment I'm struggling with the last few scenes in this first section. There are a few different scenes that I could tell in different ways: I could describe the characters going through the experience, I could have the two main characters discussing the experience that one of them had afterwords, or I could have that character discuss the experience with someone else (a minor character). I think I know the goal of each of these scenes that I'm struggling with (what info needs to be included for the reader, what the characters need to learn, the character motives) but I'm not sure how to figure out which option would be the best.
Do you have any guidelines I could use or questions I could ask myself to clarify this issue? Is it a matter of how much intensity I want at that point in the story? Or the pace I want that scene to move at?
As an example, one of these scenes involves a main character going to his first class to learn the language that his love interest speaks. I could describe his experience of the class as it is happening with a short message to the other character at the end, I could have a longer message that he writes to the other character as though the class just ended and he's really excited about how it went, or I could have him excitedly describe it to his roommate as if he just walked in the door with a short message to the other character at the end (or the other character's response to him later with the assumption that it is a response to his excited description of the class).
Any suggestions on this particular scene and how to go through this decision making process for the other ones with similar problems?
Thanks for your continued support and great writing advice!
Meaghan


message 18: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Meaghan

Thanks for getting in touch again. I am going to assume that the story you are referring to is the one about Kari and Michael, and that the plot hasn’t changed too much from the description you gave us in your post of May 24th last year. I appreciate that these are big assumptions (!) but I am hoping that my advice will hold true anyway.

I’ve got a couple of things to say, one is an answer to your question, the other is general advice and opinion on what you do next.

First, I think the answer to your question might lie in sharpening the objectives for your scenes. You say that you have the goal of these scenes figured out, and I am sure you do, but I wonder whether, as well as the aspects you mention - what info needs to be included for the reader? What do the characters need to learn, what are their motives? – you should also ask some harder, more objective questions, like:
- What does the scene actually achieve? Is there an event that happens? Does the character make a decision? Is the reader given some new insight?
- Is this what I actually wanted from this scene? What do you want it to achieve?
- How does the scene link to your bigger narrative? How does this scene move the story along? In short, how does this scene earn its keep!

A good way to do this (and I’m sure you’ve come across this advice) is to ask ‘what would the story lose if I take this scene out?’ It’s a scary question because if the honest answer is ‘not much if anything’ then maybe it needs to go!

Taking the language class scene as an example, let’s split the scene into two parts.
In the first part I think you are showing us some of your protagonist’s experiences in the class first, and how you handle this part of the scene depends on what your objectives are.

Are you building up his feelings for her, and developing that part of the narrative? If so this part of the scene might be all about how he finds the language hard but he is motivated by his love, and that makes the class interesting and makes him try hard. If this scene however is the start of some crisis he’s having (for example) and you want to show him having doubts about the relationship, then we could see him struggling a bit and wondering if it’s all worth it.
The second half of the scene is even more reliant on a precise understanding of your goals. Does he talk to the roommate? Message his lover? Or her message back?

Again this decision hinges on what you want to achieve in the scene. If you want the scene to be about the protagonist and his reactions only, go for the roommate and use that person as a foil for his thoughts and feelings, if you want it to be more about your lovers, maybe he could send her a message or have a brief chat with her? As I said this depends on your objectives for the scene, especially in terms of whether you are developing his feelings about her only (use the roommate) or their feelings about each other (use the short message, or quick chat).


The other thing I wanted to say from your message was this – I think you would be better to press on and finish your first draft before you go back and do any editing. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, I am saying this from my own experience. When I was working on something once I did about a third of it, and then went back and edited what I had and got bogged down in the edits, and lost my momentum for the whole draft. I should have kept going and finished the draft first.

Second, I remember you saying that you are a perfectionist. I think for people who are perfectionists by instinct the 1st draft is an alien and unnerving beast. It grows as you write it, into an unruly and wobbly thing and ends up offending your desire for a perfect MSS. The time to edit it will come, and as I said in my reply to you back in August -all a first draft needs to do is get written 

Third, because you have your remaining chapters well planned, I think you should trust that planning and just write. It’s going to be counter intuitive because you will want to fix the bits that seem wrong, but I’d encourage you to think about what you are writing next, not what you’ve already done.

In summary – trust your planning, and give yourself permission to write all of that first draft in one go. Resist the siren call to edit it, and get to the end first.

I hope all this is helpful, thanks for coming back with questions.

Get back to me here if I can help further

Best wishes

Andy


message 19: by Meaghan (new)

Meaghan | 16 comments Hi Andy (and others)!

I'm back once again with questions about what to do next (though I have been keeping up with the podcast).

I'm still working on the same project (see previous discussions above) but have made significant progress and am now building up to my crisis and climax. After I finished writing the most recent sequence I realised I had pretty much resolved the major relationship conflict. So I took a step back and revisited my synopsis and overall outline. I couldn't quite figure out what wasn't working so I took to the internet for help. I discovered the recommendation that for romance novels to work, the goals of the two protagonists need to be in direct conflict. I find this slightly contrived and thus the goals of my protagonists are realistic but unrelated:

Kari needs to forgive her parents and resolve her childhood conflicts.

Michael needs to find his direction/purpose in life.

At the moment, my crisis is caused by Michael's family loyalty/responsibility causing Kari to feel neglected/jealous. They go their separate ways, achieve their individual goals using what they've learned from each other during their relationship thus far, discover that their goals aren't worth achieving without someone to share their life with, and seek each other out to reconcile. Does this seem strong enough?

I've read that romance novels are supposed to have a 'proof of love' scene or a time when either one or both of the characters have to sacrifice something in order to make the relationship work. Initially they aren't willing to make this sacrifice, causing the crisis and breakup, and eventually they change with their internal arc and choose the relationship. I don't really have this scene. As it stands, the only thing they're sacrificing is their idyllic view that if they can only achieve their goals they'll feel satisfied and life will be awesome. They have to give up this notion when they realise their goals aren't enough and really they want to share their successes (and life) with the other person. Will this work? Any suggestions on how I can figure out a way to improve it if it's not strong enough without having to rework the whole thing?

I've also read that there should be strong/obvious consequences if the characters don't achieve their goals. Both start out somewhat dissatisfied with life so at the moment the consequences are that they will remain/return to the status quo.
Again, is this strong enough?

I feel like I was trucking along nicely until I got to a certain point and lost all confidence that I was heading to a strong and satisfying ending.

Thanks for any help/advice/resources/strategies I can use to sort this out.
Meaghan


message 20: by Kate (new)

Kate Rauner (katerauner) | 26 comments I'm not a romance fan myself, so take this with a grain of salt. I, too, have read that popular romances are written to a formula - but that seems restrictive. Perhaps at this point you could use a beta reader? Someone who loves the genre and could read your outline or the story to this point and give you a reaction (not burdened with all the editing stuff) to say where/if the story starts to lose them or drag.
If you don't already have such a reader (and friends and relatives may not be the best choice - they may want to tell you what you want to hear), perhaps an online workshop is a source. The one I know of is http://www.critters.org/c/join.ht but you'd have to provide critiques for others before you'd be able to post your story (as I understand it) so that could take some time.
Sorry I don't have better input - you've got your story well underway - don't lose heart.


message 21: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Chamberlain (andychamberlain) | 272 comments Mod
Hi Meaghan

Like Kate I am not a big romance fan, although in the next few weeks as a part of the series I am doing with the podcast on different scenes, I am going to do something on 'writing a romance scene' for which I am going to get some opinion and advice from writers and editors.

So, again like Kate, I'd advise that you take my advice with a pinch of salt.

First, I think I'd agree that having your two love interests have directly conflicting goals doesn't sound like the only way forward. I think they can have goals that might be mutually exclusive, or there might be another force that is pulling them apart. So for example person A and person B are in love but A has to go off to war for a year before he gets married. Or maybe person B has to look after an elderly relative, or is betrothed against her will to someone else.

Alternatively A and B want to be together but someone else stands in their way, maybe person C will cut B out of their inheritance if A and B marry.

So I think there is a lot more subtlety and a lot more options to this than just A and B have conflicting interests.

In the case of your story you can have Kari and Michael genuinely wanting to be together, genuinely in love but Michael's loyalty to his family pulls him away from her. There are things he must do, commitments he must fulfill - that is the good basis for the story because of all of the built in tension and conflict in that situation. Maybe Kari has learnt from Michael that it's important to be on good terms with your family, so she goes off to do that.

Then we come to your moment of crisis and then climax. I think your overall idea is sound, but when Michael and Kari decided to come back to each other, I'd put something else in the way, not a conflict of interest this time but a third force that might pull them apart. This would be the final challenge that leads to the climax of the story.

For me the climax must pit the love of the characters against something that fundamentally strikes at the heart of that love, something that will undermine it. It focuses on what is really at stake here. So for your story this is the point where for example:

- One of your characters discovers they might have an incurable disease / cancer
- One of your characters is falsely accused of a crime that might get them locked up

Or some other impact that will pull them apart. The resolution of this 'crisis' is the climax of the story.

So, I think you can make their goals realistic and unrelated, and I'd recommend in the climax you give them one more challenge to face before they are finally together.

A


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