Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category
~by Pamela Aares
Oh the drum rolls, the eye rolls, the intake of breath when a writer tells an editor they are going to write ‘out of genre’, that they are going to write in a new time period, that they are inspired and gripped by a story set in a new place or with new characters, a story that won’t let go and they simply have to write it.
“But”, the editors say definitively, “readers won’t be able to make that jump, to another genre, or time period, or story concept.” This is often followed by the whispered advice, “You’ll taint your brand.”
Well, I am here to say (along with the voices of my sister writers and readers), that readers are far more sophisticated than they are given credit for by the powers of New York.
The trusted journey of story is far more sacred and powerful than any brand or marketing scheme. The brand at its best can simply point to the trust between reader and writer.
When we readers consider a new book, we peek into the pages, scan the screen, glance through the words to confirm- oh yes, this is the map, this is the voice— I want to go where this writer will take me.
We seek out writers who will take us on a journey so that at the end we will feel just that much better about life, have new clues for living, feel lifted, encouraged, charmed, empowered, and, having had the break that reading the story allowed, be renewed and ready to enter life with more vigor.
Readers want stories that will transport them, entertain them and provide those moments of aha! and oh yes, I have done or felt that or want to do or feel that.
Life takes courage. Going along for the ride on the magic carpet of story blows on the embers of our courage and ignites those precious aha moments that transform us. Those moments light new thoughts within us and often lead to actions that re-enchant life just by the doing of them. Inspired and encouraged by a great story, we find new ways to love the world and ourselves and our lives.
We go on the journey together, readers and writers. Anyone who forgets that breaks the covenant of story.
An author promises not only the words on the page that will wind and turn and weave the fabric of a wonderful story; a trusted author delivers the smile, the laugh, the moments—often days later—when one sees the world and oneself just a wee bit differently, when one feels the gap that has been teased open between what was and what could be and that gap cracks opens a whole new sense of freedom.
We are creatures of story; we are wired for their power.
So when someone, anyone, tells me that a reader (or a listener to audiobooks) cannot cross a gap, cannot read a new time period, will not try a new genre, cannot try something new, I smile. Though I am a writer, I am also a reader. We readers can do far more than marketing departments think possible. Why? Because we, the author and the reader together, are engaged in a sacred journey that is more expansive and reaches deeper than any concept of branding, marketing plan or algorithm can predict.
Stories have a power all their own and it is ours, readers and writers taking the journey together.
Before becoming a romance author, Pamela produced and wrote award winning films and radio shows including Your Water, Your Life featuring actress Susan Sarandon and the NPR series New Voices. After producing The Powers of the Universe and The Earth’s Imagination, she knew without a doubt that romance lives at the heart of the universe and powers the greatest stories of all.
Pamela holds a Master’s Degree from Harvard and lives in the wine country of California with her husband and two curious cats. Her love of nature led to adventures scuba diving the coral reefs of Fiji, exploring the cliffs of Greece, sea kayaking the Rosario Straits and white water rafting the wild and scenic rivers of the west—and romance!
~ By Melina Kantor
When I was 27, I had to leave New York and move back to California.
And back into my mother’s house.
Now, I love my mother. And I love her house. And it would be wrong to complain about living in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area.
But I was 27, and in love with New York. But even with my recent MA from Columbia, I couldn’t get a job with a salary high enough to be able to live there.
The plan was to go home for one year, and save enough money to go back.
I could not have been more miserable, and I was not at all shy about saying so.
One Sunday morning, I came downstairs and tried to make breakfast. There was nothing I wanted. Sure, the kitchen was well stocked, but I wanted take out from one of my favorite restaurants in Manhattan. The kitchen could have been filled with fresh baked pastries straight from Paris, and I wouldn’t have cared.
Cue the tantrum.
I went to the living room and gave my mother an ear full. I was a failure. I would never be 27 again, living the life of a single girl in the city. My opportunity was lost. Even if I went back in a year, which by the way I was absolutely, positively going to no matter what just you watch, I was going to be 28 and it wouldn’t be the same.
Everything was ruined. I was a complete and total failure.
Okay, so I was being dramatic. Forgive me. Being around my mother causes me to act like a teenager.
My mother waited for me to finish, and looked up from the couch. Her response? “You’ve been reading too many of those books with pink covers.”
In other words, too much chick lit.
Now, I think we’d all agree that there’s no such thing as too much chick lit. Her point was that I was reading about too many 27 year old single girls in New York, living the life I wanted, and having their happily ever afters, and that none of it was real.
I still thought I could have made the “chick lit style life” my reality if I’d just tried a little harder.
But my mom was right. I was reading about too many protagonists who had great shoes, cute apartments, cute pets, good jobs, great social lives, and a love interest.
Yes, of course there are plenty of 27 year old women who do have those things. But many of us, especially in big cities, don’t. I know many readers read chick lit to live vicariously and escape. But honestly, there are some books that used to make me feel awful.
I still refer to the protagonists in those books as “shiny happy characters.”
I’m not saying that characters can’t be happy and successful. I’m not even saying a character has to be likable. I just think that even in the lightest and happiest of stories, it’s important that the protagonist have her fair share of struggles and challenges, and not just guy related.
Otherwise, it can be hard to relate. Especially for those of us who live in real New York apartments where we keep our blow dryers on the bedroom floor because our bathrooms have no outlets and our socks in a drawer under the television because we don’t have an inch of space to spare.
I did move back to New York after a year. I got a decent apartment. And a job, and a cute dog. I made friends and built a life.
But still, life’s not shiny. Not at all. And my friends’ lives aren’t shiny either.
My characters all live in New York, are in their late twenties, and single. But I do my best to keep it real. In fact, my tantrum in my mother’s kitchen inspired a scene in my first book.
What to you think? Do you enjoy living vicariously through “shiny happy characters” or do you prefer a protagonist with some real challenges?
Leave a comment and let us know!
Melina writes contemporary women’s fiction with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. You can visit her at http://melinakantor.com.
~ By Nan Reinhardt
Not long ago, Husband and I were driving up to the lake and I was telling him about the event I’d attended the previous day. My chapter of Romance Writers of America sponsored a mini-conference with Bob Mayer, who presented hisWrite It Forward workshop. I still couldn’t find the words to describe all that I’d learned, but what came through loud and clear was how inspired I was by what Mayer had to say about writing and the process of writing.
As I was sharing, Husband asked me about my process, how do I start a new book? All books begin with an idea, as Mayer told us. That’s “the heart of your story.” For me, sometimes it’s an event in my life. That was the case with my most recent book. The fun we had in a pub in Cork, Ireland when Son got to pull his own pint of Guinness inspired a scene that became my hero and heroine’s love story.
Sometimes it’s a film I’ve seen that sparks an idea that turns into a story. The seeds of my first novel were sown with one scene from a movie that I saw over thirty years ago. That one scene stayed with me and eventually ignited the creative process that became the novel that my agent signed me on.
The third novel came from one of my secondary characters who cried out for her own story, and the fourth started as a simple romance between two colleagues, but then turned into a story of suspense when a walk along the shores of Lake Michigan made me think about shipwrecks and lost treasure.
So as I was telling Husband about my process, I tried to think of an example and suddenly, here was the kernel of my next book. “What if…?” I said and proceeded to set up a situation. He immediately got into it, making suggestions, offering different paths to take, “Or how about if the heroine is…” and “What if she…?” By the time we arrived at the cottage, I had the rough outline of my next story.
The creative embers that I’d deliberately banked for the last month and a half to work on the paying gigs flared into a small fire that is already filling my mind so quickly I’m overwhelmed with ideas. All through the weekend, I scratched notes on scraps of paper—words, characters, scenes, choices, movies or programs that I might want to check out, things I need to research—what Lani and Alastair at StoryWonk call discovery. Late Monday night, I sat down at my little netbook and at least got everything put into a Word doc instead of carrying around the bits of paper.
When we got ready to head back home yesterday, we stopped by the neighbors to say goodbye and one of the guys asked if I was writing this week. I mentioned briefly that I’d had a new idea and was playing around with it, making notes, and figuring it out. He grinned and said, “See? That’s the difference between a writer and the rest of us. When you daydream, you write it down. I daydream all the time, but I never think to write it down.”
Well, maybe that’s not the whole difference, but it’s probably the beginning…
* How do your story ideas come to you? What starts your creative process? Leave a comment and let us know! *
Nan Reinhardt is a romance writer and an incurable romantic. She’s also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last fifteen years, has earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. But writing is her first and most enduring passion. Rule Number One is her debut novel. Two other novels are currently with her agent, Maureen Walters, of Curtis Brown Literary Agency in New York. Like Jo March, she writes at night, after the work is done and her household is asleep. Talk to her at www.nanreinhardt.com.
So, if you haven’t heard, the movie version of Rock of Ages flopped at the box office over Father’s Day Weekend. Apparently, it came as a shock to everyone involved, and I’m guessing some studio execs are currently out of some jobs due to the financial disaster the failure inflicted on Warner Bros.
I’m a huge fan of the original Broadway show, so when I bought my ticket on opening day, I was excited to see how the fast-paced, totally rocking, nothing-but-a-good-time theater experience would translate to the big screen. Short story: it didn’t. And as the two hours unfolded, I sat back and realized that what Justin Theroux, Chris D’Arienzo, and Allan Loeb did to D’Arienzo’s original Broadway book is exactly how so many authors manage to ruin their manuscripts during the editing phase.
Editing, the moment between the end of the first draft and turning the book in for publication, can make or break the novel in question. If you’re conservative, a few minor tweaks or a well-planned plot change can make the book sparkle like the lights in the Hollywood hills. All too-often, though, editing quickly descends into a maddening phase called “book-licking.” Like a cat moving from spot to spot, grooming her body with no apparent rhyme or reason, book licking involves the author jumping around in the editing phase fixing “just one more thing.” Eventually, the cat (and the book) is left with bald patches, and everyone agrees that it’s time for a cone of shame.
Nobody likes the cone of shame.
It’s too late for Rock of Ages, but it’s not too late for your next first draft to escape the same, cruel fate. In just five easy steps, you too can ensure that you can absolutely hit your novel with your best shot…
From here on out, I’ll be referring to the two versions as “Broadway” and “Film.” Warning, there be spoilers ahead.
1) Keep the best stuff intact – Let’s start with the positive. There were some good scenes in Film. They also happened to be the two scenes lifted nearly word for word from Broadway. Your first draft probably has some scenes that everyone who has seen it loved. Keep those scenes intact. Seriously, don’t change a word. Those are your anchors, and they’ll keep you honest in the editing process. After all, if you can’t change the scene that everyone loved, you’re limited in the changes that you can make to the scenes leading up to it.
2) Always remember the story you set out to tell – Broadway is the story of two small town kids living and dreaming in Los Angeles, and Stacee Jaxx (the character played by Tom Cruise) is a relatively minor character who basically comes in and screws it all up for them. In Film, Stacee is brought to the forefront of the action, and he becomes critical to the central conflict. To be fair, I’d probably do the same if I had Tom Cruise in the cast, but beefing up Stacee’s role so significantly means that he can’t be the one note character he is on Broadway. No, see Film now has to redeem him, explain him, and give him a backstory. And with only two hours to devote overall, something has to be dropped. Guess what that was….
3) Know your conflict – Overall, the central conflict of Broadway and Film are the same. The Bourbon Room is in financial trouble, they need Stacee Jaxx to put on one hell of a show to bail them out, and there’s a third party who’s convinced the mayor to tear down the Sunset Strip (where the Bourbon Room is located). The difference between the two is that in Film, the conflict gets personal. The Mayor’s wife (a new character to Film) hates “hateful” music and Stacee Jaxx especially, and she’s out to get The Bourbon Room because of it. There’s also a “big twist” related to this that 1) I had figured out thirty seconds in and 2) I really couldn’t have cared less about. In Broadway, there’s nothing personal about it: the developer wants to tear down the strip to put in a shopping mall. People who love the strip are opposed to the idea and begin protesting. It’s pure, it’s simple, and it keeps the focus on Drew and Sherri.
Changes in the central conflict are the most devastating changes to the editing process because in order to change the central conflict, you have to change practically everything about the original piece. Now, if your feedback thus far has been conflict-related, yes, you’re going to have to change. If it hasn’t, put the pen down and ask yourself why….why is it important that I change the central conflict? And if the answer is not “I’m paying Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Cruise, and I have to make sure they have stuff to do…” there’s probably no real justification for doing it. Remember, trust your gut; your gut is never wrong. If the conflict was important, it would have manifested this way during the first draft. It didn’t. Leave it alone.
4) Know your characters – You wrote these people in the first draft. You know them, you (probably) love them, they have been living with you for months. They are fictional to the rest of the world, but they are real to you. And when you’re writing “real” people, you can’t fictionalize what they do that’s completely out of the character that you created for them in your mind and heart. As you can probably imagine, Film did that to the characters created on Broadway. You know what, let’s not dwell on examples. There are too many, and it makes me sad to discuss it. Instead, I’ll just point you to this letter (http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/04/forget-your-personal-tragedy.html) that Ernest Hemingway wrote to F. Scott Fitzgerald after Fitzgerald asked for feedback on Tender Is the Night. As someone who is often inspired by her friends (sorry, guys!) while writing characters, reading this letter was a real eye-opener. Read it, love it, post it on your writing wall. You’ll be glad you did.
5) Remember the joy – or whatever theme you were trying to go with here. If you’re writing serious, don’t toss in an LOL moment unless you’re using it smartly. You can be funny in a serious novel or serious in a funny one…the key is that you’re transitioning it back to the original mood of whatever it is you set out to do without making it sound like you’ve forced it into the manuscript.
Broadway is a fun, fast-paced experience that leaves you singing in the seats after the show is over. Film is not. Why? Because Film took itself too seriously. For example, “Don’t Stop Believin’” is used as a semi-significant plot device in Film. In Broadway, it’s a joyously fun way to wrap up everyone’s stories and bring the night to a rip-roaring end. In Film…it’s not. If you make significant changes, read through one more time to ensure that everything feels natural. Yes, you can have funny scenes in a serious book or serious scenes in a funny one, but their use should flow in and out of the piece without a jarring disruption. If it feels out of place (like a rocker fronting a boy band) it needs to go.
No method is perfect, but keeping these five steps in mind will help keep the original magic alive the next time you sit down with that red pen of yours. Above all, the novel-writing process should be nothing but a good time, so don’t stop believing that it can be.
By day, Elle Filz is an IT geek in Baltimore, MD. By night, you can either find her singing karaoke or jotting down notes for her next women’s fiction story. She is also an aspiring Betty Crocker-type who thanks God every day that a fireman lives next door.
~ By Chris Bailey
Critique partners say I write chick lit, and I hope they’re right, because I love romantic comedy. But I read across a wide range of genres, even delving into literature now and then, and it’s through reading promiscuously that I’ve identified favorite elements that cross the boundaries of genre to make novels memorable for me.
1) A protagonist whose yearning drives him beyond reason.
In Ken Follett’s epic historical, Pillars of the Earth, Tom’s longing is a mystery to his wife, Agnes. “Tom had been offered the post of builder to the Exeter castellan, repairing and improving the city’s fortifications. It would have been a lifetime job, barring accidents But Tom had turned it down, for he wanted to build another cathedral.”
2) Dialogue—or inner monologue—that’s so honest it’s scary. Or maybe so revealing that it offers healing.
In Chris Cleave’s Little Bee, the main character, a refugee, speaks directly to the reader: “I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying A scar means, I survived.”
3) Characters and situations that make me laugh. Even better, snort.
In this excerpt from Thursday Next: First Among Sequels: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde, Jurisfiction Agent Thursday Next is describing the current (future) state of political affairs in Great Britain.
“Instead of drifting from one crisis to the next and appeasing the nation with a steady stream of knee-jerk legislation and headline-grabbing but arguably pointless initiatives, they had been resolutely building a raft of considered long-term plans that concentrated on unity, fairness and tolerance. It was a state of affairs deplored by Mr. Alfredo Trafficcone, leader of the opposition Prevailing Wind Party, who wanted to lead the nation back onto the safer grounds of uninformed stupidity.”
Will the government manage to safely eliminate a dangerous stupidity surplus before something awful happens? Anything by Jasper Fforde makes me interrupt my husband to read aloud, but it’s way funnier if you read the whole thing.
4) The promise of growth and happiness for the characters.
“I think of how each person in a marriage owes it to the other to find individual happiness, even in a shared life,” Tessa declares through internal monologue as The Heart of the Matter winds down to its hopeful conclusion.
5) Moments of recognition that connect fiction and reality.
Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees is a mystic tapestry woven with threads of insight. After May’s funeral, Lily remembers the sound of the bees. “That night, in my bed in the honey house, when I closed my eyes, bee hum ran through my body. Ran through the whole earth. It was the oldest sound there was. Souls flying away.”
Oddly enough, the parts I remember pull me out of the story, which is considered a negative. But there’s a difference between a moment of startling clarity and an episode of glaring error.
What makes a story memorable to you?
Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.
~ By Melina Kantor
A few months ago, I was at a NaNoWriMo write-in, chatting with the author across from me about the king in her fantasy novel. As she described the rules of her story’s complicated world, complete with magic spells and mythical creatures, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe.
“Wow,” I said. “I can’t tell you how much I admire people who can write stories like that. I could never.” I found myself more than a little jealous that my instinct is to write realistic, contemporary worlds rather than the “fun” more imaginative worlds she creates.
Yet her response surprised me and immediately made me feel better:
“And I admire people who can write stories based in a realistic world. I could never do that.”
Huh. I’d never looked at it that way. I guess the grass truly is greener on the other side.
As chick lit writers, our job is to write realistic stories that women will relate to. Which means that most of the time, our stories are set in worlds without magic, kings or mythical beings. Our job is to add our own magic by injecting quirkiness, attitude and the strength of our own voices wherever we can.
And no matter now “simple” our worlds may be, our worlds have rules.
This got me thinking about my own personal world – Park Slope, Brooklyn.
I live in a brownstone that looks like every other brownstone in the neighborhood. I buy my coffee at the same place at the same time every day. I walk to the Q train every morning. I go to the park with my dog on Saturday afternoons.
Pretty boring, right?
Definitely. Until you get the details.
My brownstone? It’s old and possibly haunted. Sometimes, the ancient lace curtain on the front door moves by itself, even if there’s no breeze. Last December, the lock right next to the curtain broke and I was stuck outside until about 2 a.m. when the fire department and a hot, very sweet locksmith came to rescue me. Long story short, I got to see members of the FDNY in their boxers and t-shirts.
See, not boring.
The place where I get my coffee? The people there know I love iced coffee, only they won’t give it to me if the temperature is under 50 degrees or if they happen to feel cold. I accept it now.
But believe me. That kind of conflict? That quirkiness? Not boring.
The Q train, oh how I wish it were boring. There’s been track work going on for almost two years now. The Q is always, without fail, running late. And when it comes, it moves painfully slowly.
During the month of November alone, I had a homeless guy fall onto my lap and smash my bag of groceries, my wallet was stolen, and I had the train break down on my way to work.
That kind of torture? Not boring. And I haven’t even mentioned my fellow passengers or the double-wide luxury strollers I have to dodge just to get to the station.
My world also includes a mailman who knows my name and gets annoyed with me if I forget to collect my mail (try explaining to him that I get nothing interesting and I pay my bills online), a neighbor who has record sales on his stoop every weekend and is trying to find the album with the original cast of Annie because he knows I need it for a book, and the vet I visit more often than I’d like because my dog is severely allergic to just about everything, including (get this!) human hair.
A few months ago, I won a critique from a RITA award-winning author. The book I submitted takes place mostly in a small Greek village. That world, I built with tremendous effort and care. But the critiquer correctly pointed out that I hadn’t put as much effort into describing the ordinary world in which my protagonist starts out. Both worlds were equally important.
Just adding a few details to the opening, like the tough jazz musician downstairs who loves his huge orange cat and keeps his eye on the building, helped tremendously.
After that conversation at the write-in, I realized what an important job world-building is, and that writing chick lit isn’t an excuse to take it lightly.
So, chick lit writers. How do you build convincing, realistic worlds that torture your protagonist and delight your readers? Do you go about it consciously, or does it just happen naturally? Do you notice the world-building (or lack thereof) in the chick lit books you read?
Leave a comment and let us know!
Melina writes contemporary women’s fiction with a pinch of oregano and a dash of chutzpah. You can learn more about her neighborhood, allergy-prone dog, and her affinity for locksmiths at http://melinakantor.com.
~ By Nan Reinhardt
I’m bugged. It seems that romance novels are the bailiwick of characters who are younger than 50. If 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40, then how come romance after 50 isn’t sexy anymore? Well, folks, I’ve got big news–sexy is timeless. Excuse me, but two words, Pierce Brosnan. Sean Connery? Jeff Bridges? Denzel Washington, anyone? Richard Gere? And as far as sexy women are concerned–want to talk about Susan Sarandon? Sophia Loren? Goldie Hawn? Helen Mirren? Tina Turner? Me? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
Hollywood is beginning to get it. I thoroughly enjoyed the film Something”s Gotta Give—a love story between two people well over age 50. Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson totally rocked that delightful movie. It’s Complicated showed us Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin as grown-ups in a love story that was fun and sexy. Streep and Stanley Tucci recreated the romance between Julia and Paul Child—an older couple madly in love—in Julie and Julia.
So what’s up with the world of romance novels? Why is it that if you’re a woman of a certain age, then nobody wants to read about your love life? All of us “oldsters” are still falling in love, rediscovering love, renewing love, and by God, we’re still having sex and probably doing it with way more panache. So why are most romance novels about girls in their twenties and thirties?
A few years ago, Harlequin nailed it with their NEXT imprint, but it didn’t make it, and I’m not sure why. Maybe we weren’t ready then, but I believe we’re ready now. I’m ready for romance with a dash of maturity, two people involved in a relationship without all the nonsense of youth. I want conversations between grown-ups who are over the drama of coming-of-age and meet on the level playing field of self-knowledge. I’m looking for sensual sexy love scenes written with that irresistible combination of humor, passion, and life experience.
Baby Boomers, as writers and readers, let’s put the romance world on notice—we’re here, we’re in love, we’re making love, and our stories are worth telling. Who’s in?
Readers, what’s your take on this? Can you recommend any books with heroines who are 40 or older? Leave a comment and let us know!
Nan Reinhardt is a romance writer and an incurable romantic. She’s also a wife, a mom, a mother-in-law, and almost a grandmother. She’s been an antiques dealer, a bank teller, a stay-at-home mom, a secretary, and for the last fifteen years, has earned her living as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader. But writing is her first and most enduring passion. Rule Number One is her debut novel. Two other novels are currently with her agent, Maureen Walters, of Curtis Brown Literary Agency in New York. Like Jo March, she writes at night, after the work is done and her household is asleep. Talk to her at www.nanreinhardt.com.
~ By Kimberly Llewellyn
Ah, yes, Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. The time when couples profess their love with tokens of chocolates, flowers, and romantic dinners. It’s also a time when hearts turn hopeful to the promise of love.
The realm of romantic possibility in one’s life can be achingly thrilling. It can fill one with a crushing anxiety over the question of, “will he or won’t he?”
Will he look at me the way I look at him? Will the brush of his skin against mine send him into a sensual tailspin the way it does me? Won’t he just send me a sole devilish look that offers a promise of something more? Because if he did cast that solitary glance my way, my insides would burn and my very soul would collapse. The glint in his eye alone would send me venturing into physically exciting, but emotionally dangerous, territory. But am I really willing to risk losing my very heart and soul to him?
The sexual tension in any novel is both physical and emotional. This heightens the senses. It stimulates the body inside and out. It tortures the heart with emotions in so many glorious ways.
This is the emotion of sex.
The emotion of sex is a powerful one. This combination of both the physical and emotional serves as a muse for artists and writers alike. It is responsible for the winning streaks of sports heroes. At the very least, the emotion of sex compels one to get out of bed every morning…just to see that certain someone. It provides the emotional and physical fuel to fight the good fight. It makes one want to be a better person; do better, perform better, feel better.
Sex as emotion? Yes.
This internal drive is why men build skyscrapers. It’s why the corporate executive comes into the office early just to see the beautiful secretary he’s secretly ga-ga over. It’s why a woman makes sure she looks her best when she knows she is going to run into the man of her dreams that day.
It’s why the heroes of our books find themselves doing the darnest of things that they’d never do for anyone, except for that one crazy, beautiful woman he can’t get out of his mind, the heroine.
This innate drive is in our very nature. We simply can’t help ourselves.
Think of the aggressive bull in a bull pen. His territorial instincts tell him to keep the best female(s) for himself. He’s driven to fight off all the other males. He instinctively works hard to be powerful, strong, and mighty to be the best and keep interested the female he desires most.
Sounds like the male love interest in many books, doesn’t it?
While this emotion might be difficult to grasp at first, just think of what life would be like without the emotion of sex.
Let’s say, that aggressive, randy bull is castrated. What happens then? He becomes disinterested and docile as a lamb. He’s lost his fight. He’s lost the emotion of sex.
For the male love interest in our stories, this internal fight goes beyond hormones, beyond just the physical. It’s profoundly emotional. Our hero needs the love of a good woman to keep him going, or at least, the promise of love, even if it’s a woman he believes he can never have.
In our stories, we writers never make it easy for the hero to have the object of his desire. It’s more delicious when he believes in his heart he can truly never have her. Just think of the lengths he’ll go to claim her. Think of all those skyscrapers! Oh sure, our spunky leading lady may occasionally give him the time of day, and maybe even tumble into bed with our hero from time to time, but can he truly have her heart?
His desire for her heart can be maddening. If she ultimately rejected him, his own heart surely would fracture. The emotion of sex has deepened and the hero makes it his mission to claim this woman as his own. He can’t live without her. He longs to be one with her. He is obsessed with her and is ultimately driven to do whatever it takes to make her happy and have her as his own.
The emotion of sex also reminds women that we are desirable. We are wanted. And we are loved.
Yes, it’s primal.
Yes, it’s passionate.
Yes, it’s the emotion of sex.
The emotion of sex is played out in the pages of Kimberly Llewellyn’s recent indie Amazon Best Seller, Almost a Bride. Known as, “the Wedding Writer,” she is the award-winning author of two chick lit novels by Berkley Books and several published romance novels (Avalon and Kensington). In March, she will be teaching an online course, Cracking the Romance the Code, Unlocking Storytelling Secrets for Writing the Quintessential Romance Novel at SavvyAuthors.com.
Savvy Authors Course
~ By Lois Winston
1. What constitutes a chick lit voice?
For me, a chick lit voice is about attitude. The chick lit voice is when an author imbues her characters with a certain way of looking at life, responding to situations, and interacting with the other characters who populate the book. The main character usually has an edge about her. She’s often snarky and has a habit of speaking her mind, which can even make her somewhat politically incorrect.
This is why you generally see the chick lit voice in books that take place in cosmopolitan settings. Unless the author is writing a “fish out of water” plot, a chick lit voice generally doesn’t work all that well in a small town setting. Let’s face it, unless we’re talking Stephen King type small towns, reader expectation is that the people who populate small towns are generally of a decidedly un-chick lit disposition.
2. I thought it was interesting that you chose a YA finalist. Would you say that a chick lit voice drifts toward YA? Or cozy?
The plot of the book I chose as the winner was such that it lent itself to a chick lit voice. There are YA books where a chick lit voice wouldn’t work at all. The voice an author chooses to write in should correspond to the story she wants to tell. The story and the voice go hand in hand, or they should. It’s kind of the square peg/round hole conundrum. You can’t force a writer’s voice into a story not suited for that voice. It doesn’t work.
The thing about the chick lit voice, though, is that it transcends the stereotypical chick lit plot. A chick lit voice isn’t relegated to stories about a twenty-something in a dead-end job, with a shoe addiction and a string of loser boyfriends. Those plots won’t be coming back to publishing any time soon. So if you have a chick lit voice, you need to find other plots that work with your voice.
Voice is something an author either has or doesn’t have. If you’re lucky, you can developed voice over time, but voice can’t be taught. It’s like me and the violin. I took lessons for years. I could play all the right notes. But no matter how many hours I practiced, I was never going to get to Carnegie Hall other than to sit in the audience.
I can’t give you a list of rules to follow that will develop a voice if you don’t yet have one. No one can. Some authors are lucky enough to be able to write in several different voices, but most only have one voice. To be successful, the author has to tell the type of stories that work for her voice.
Getting back to the Louboutin winner, my choice was not only based on her voice but on the originality of her plot and her skill as a writer.
As for cozies, I don’t think a chick lit voice would ever work well in the traditional cozy mystery. A true cozy takes place in a small town or village and never uses foul language. Think Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher. Would readers want either of them to have a chick lit voice? No. Readers have certain expectations when they pick up a cozy mystery, and a chick lit voice isn’t one of those expectations.
Where the chick lit voice does work, though, is in the amateur sleuth mystery, and that’s what I write. Even though my publisher categorizes the books as cozies (explaining to me that cozy is becoming more of an umbrella term,) my books really aren’t cozies. For one thing, my characters use language appropriate to who they are. The loan shark in Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun isn’t going to say, “Oh gosh darn!” He’s Mafia; he’s going to drop the occasional F-bomb.
3. How did you know when you’d found your voice?
I started out writing angst-ridden romantic suspense. When I discovered chick lit, I decided to try writing one. The voice that emerged was completely different from the voice I’d been writing in for my romantic suspense books. It felt more natural to me, much more comfortable. I also discovered that I enjoyed writing in first person, something I never would have tried in a romantic suspense.
When, at my agent’s urging, I tried my hand at writing a mystery, this new voice I’d discovered I had meshed perfectly with the amateur sleuth mystery I chose to write. In this case, though, my protagonist is forty-two years old, so the book contains more of a mom lit/hen lit voice than a chick lit voice. But you know what they say: forty is the new twenty, and fifty is the new thirty. Besides, chick lit is all about attitude, not age.
Lois Winston is both an agent with the Ashley Grayson Literary Agency and the author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist and was recently nominated for a Readers Choice Award by the Salt Lake City Library System. The new year brings with it the release of Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series. Visit Lois at her website: http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. You can also follow Lois and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth.
Lois is currently on a month-long blog tour where she’s giving away five signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll. To enter the drawing, post a comment to this blog or any of the others on the tour. You can find the complete schedule at her website and Anastasia’s blog. In addition, she’s giving away 3 copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll on Goodreads, http://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/15173-death-by-killer-mop-doll
I like my writing lessons suited to my attention span.
Creating a memorable character whose heartache a reader can share is a real challenge. While on my porch near one version of Margaritaville, drinking same, I realized Jimmy Buffett offers us a clear pattern.
In the first refrain of his hit, Margaritaville, he sings, “Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame, but I know it’s nobody’s fault.”
After the second verse, he wavers. “It could be my fault.”
And by the final chorus, he admits the truth. “It’s my own damn fault.”
I’ve started work on a new novel, and I’m working hard to discover the character arcs–that is, how the experiences through the course of the story cause the character to grow. Thanks, Jimmy Buffett, for a simple model in three acts.
Chris Bailey’s writing for hire has appeared online, in numerous U.S. newspapers and in mailboxes across the U.S. and Canada.