Friday, 28 February 2014

What Do I Blog About? - Overcoming "Epic Post" Syndrome

Funny enough, this post is a result of me banging my head against the wall, saying, "What am I gonna blog about? What am I gonna blog about?"

If you're like me (and if you're a writer, then you almost definitely are), you've probably suffered from Epic Post Syndrome at one point or another.

What, exactly, is Epic Post Syndrome you might ask?

Epic Post Syndrome, or EPS if you will, is the blogger's urge to write a post that is exhaustive. You've picked your topic. You've done your reasearch. You've found your supporting arguments and you've lined up all your sources.

In essence ... it's EPIC! You've written a mini-essay. It's more than 1,500 words long, and it ties in every argument, counter-argument and side argument one could make both for and against your point.

Unfortunately ... not many people are gonna want to read it. And not only have you exhausted yourself in the process, but chances are, when it comes time for your next post you're likely going to start regretting the fact that you started your blog in the first place.

It's Epic Post Syndrome, and I tell you, I tend to fall into its clutches at the outset of almost every post I write.

The one thing we writers and bloggers have to remember is that this is the age of information. It's available at the click of a button. For crying out loud we can surf on our phones no mater where we are. And when we do surf, we find that everyone and their brother is blogging.

Despite what so many how-to blog posts tell you, it's not about finding that thing that makes your blog stand out. I'm sorry to say, but that's a myth. It's about picking one thing to talk about, and then making your post short enough, and succinct enough, that whoever is reading can scan it and get the gist.

Love it or hate it, that's what blogging is today.

So the next time you feel that Epic Post Syndrome creeping up on you, nip it in the bud. You don't need to write that iron-clad essay.

Aim small, write small, and do it often. That's the way to keep your readers reading, and yourself enthusiastic about blogging.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Breaking "The Rules" - Why I Don't Draft

I do a lot of web-surfing for writing tips. It’s part of the job ... or, well, if you can call what I do a “job,” which is debatable ...

One of the most prevalent topics I see (which is discussed forward and backward and every which way) concerns drafts. Here’s what to do after you’ve finished your first draft, and Tips on writing your first draft, and the like.

Now, I fully acknowledge that these tips are helpful ... to most people. But as we all know, each writer is not cut from the same mould, and no one writer writes exactly like the other.

Here’s a secret you may not know about me: I don’t draft. Or not in the traditional sense, anyway. For me, the quintessential “first draft” doesn’t exist. My manuscript is in a constant state of flux, and at the end of it all, there is—and always has been—only one.

Let me explain. I am a write-and-edit kind of girl. I draft in portions—a chapter, a section, what have you—and I go back and do a first edit on that section I’ve just drafted. Then I go back to the previous section which has already received a first edit, and I do a second, semi-final edit. Then I draft another portion.

My whole writing style is based on this oscillating, elliptical rhythm, and quite frankly, I couldn’t write any other way.

But ... what? you might ask. Isn’t one of the fundamental rules of writing that you shouldn’t edit while you’re in the process of writing your first draft?

Yeah. It is. But if you know anything about me you’ll know that I’ve never been one to follow the rules. I don’t like ‘em. It’s my book and I’ll write it the way I darn well want!

Here’s why I do what I do:

I outline in my head. Never will you find a document on my computer which lists a sequence of events that will bring my story from start to finish. It just doesn’t work for me. When I see this sequence on paper, written down like a final, authoritative “must-do,” it stifles my on-the-fly side of my creativity.

The downside to this, however, is that I forget who I’ve introduced, what they look like, what they’ve said, and what they’ve done. A major problem when you’re trying to create a cohesive story, right?

By drafting, then editing, then second-editing, I solidify the progress of my story in my head. I commit to memory all the little details I’ve introduced when my fingers were pounding the poor keys of my laptop, in a frenzy to translate all the errant thoughts and fragmented images that were whizzing through my mind at the time.

This process also gives me a sense of accomplishment. I can see my story coming together even as it’s being written. It gives me purpose. And drive. And keeps me on track.

As I said, everyone writes differently, and based on the number of blog posts and articles that extol the virtues of the “first draft” and how to write it, it would seem that most writers rely heavily on this established practice.

What I want to do in this post, though, is point out that we’re not all the same. My writing style goes against tradition. It flies in the face of what structured writing courses would tell you. And it works just fine for me.

So if you’re scouring the net for writing tips, take them with a grain of salt. If you think it’s something that will work for you, then great. Implement it, by all means. But don’t feel bad if something isn’t going to work for you. Don’t think you have to change how you do things to comply with how “they” tell you to do things.

That’s the brilliance of writing, after all: it shines with each author’s individuality—in every facet and in every step!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

What Makes or Breaks a Historical Romance

Hello dear readers,

I'm thrilled to share my latest guest post on 4Covert2Overt - A Day in the Spotlight. Read What Makes or Breaks a Historical Romance here.

Cheers, and talk soon,


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Love Your Villain

I love Twitter. It's full of tips and tidbits for writers. Even if I already knew some of the things my fellow Tweeps are tweeting about, you can never have too many reminders.

Like this little gem from ThEditors:

Characters are everything. Your readers won't care about your plot if they don't care about your characters.

Obvious, right? .... Errrr, maybe less so than you'd think.

The mistake I've seen made time and again is that writers only apply this invaluable piece of advice to the protagonists, and to the ancillary, protagonist-like characters. To their own disservice, however, they forget about one of the most important characters in their story: the villain.

Wait a minute - you need to care about the villain? But s/he's evil. S/he's dastardly. S/he's not the one we want to win. Right?

Well, yes. And no.

How many times have you picked up a book and discovered a villain that is so evil, so one-dimentionally bad that you lose interest in him (or her)? After all, with an antagonist that gruesome, you know the hero and heroine are going to come out on top. It's the unbreakable rule of the romance paradigm: good must conquer evil.

Unfortunately, in writing such a hands-down bad girl (or guy), you turn your villain into a caricature, someone that your readers can't relate to. And if you introduce a caricature, your story becomes formulaic.

That may have worked 50 years ago in the days of Disney's Snow White, but it's not going to cut it in this day and age. Readers are far too savvy.

Snow White is a perfect example, actually. In the original Disney film, did we really care that the queen was brought down in the end? I don't know about you, but I didn't. She's rotten. She's horrid. Of course she has to be brought down. 

Snow White lives, marries the prince, happily ever after, yada yada yada, the end.

Now consider the most recent interpretation of the classic fairytale: Snow White and the Huntsman. In this rendition, the evil queen, Ravenna, is not quite the caricature her animated predecessor was.

Have you seen Snow White and the Huntsman? Do you remember the scene where Ravenna, played by the ravishing Charlize Theron (the fairest in the land if ever there was such a person), remembers how her mother died? Do you remember the hurt, the scars, the single tear?

Yeah, she's evil. We know that. But by introducing that scene, the director makes us do something ... he makes us care about her. Even if it's only for a moment, we don't all-out hate her.

And that gives Snow White and the Huntsman the depth that the savvy reader of today demands. Not only do we care about Ravenna, but we care about Snow White. We care about her huntsman. We are that much more invested, more emotionally bonded, when Ravenna finally does bite the dust.

There are so many examples I could bring up. But in the interest of time, I'll skip that, and say this: loving your villain does not mean s/he has to be redeemed. It just means you need to give your readers insight into why s/he is bad. 

And if that's not in the cards for your story (it's perfectly alright if it's not, by the way - maybe someone is just plain bad like Lord Reginald D'Aubrey in my Highland Loyalties series), then at least don't make your readers hate your villain on every page. Let them see the side of your villain which makes him or her human. Flawed. Frail. 

Despise the villain, sure. Just not all the time.

Everybody knows you have to write characters people care about. But you need to remember that should extend to all of your characters. That is how you make your story truly memorable.

Friday, 14 February 2014

The Value of the Underdog

I've noticed a disturbing trend in my own reading lately. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve found that the last several romances in a row that I’ve picked up I’ve promptly put down.

At first, I began to panic. Was I becoming jaded? Immune to the wonders of falling in love that romance novels offer?

That is not a good state of mind for a romance writer to be in, let me tell you!

After much thought, however, I’ve figured out the problem: in all those novels I abandoned, the fact that the hero and heroine were going to fall in love was obvious. Of course you’re probably saying, “Well duh. It’s a romance.” Yes, it’s a romance, and I certainly had an expectation going into them that the love was going to happen.

But I don’t want to know it within the first chapter.

You see, in each of these books, the hero was the most handsome, the most rugged, the most virile. And the heroine was – you guessed it – the most beautiful, the most feminine, the most ravishing. And even worse, each one was immediately taken with the other’s otherworldly beauty.

Alright ... SNORE!

In situations like these it’s so obvious that the hero and heroine are going to fall in love that (to me, anyway), it’s not even worth bothering to read. There are no hurdles for them to overcome. There are no unexpected moments of tenderness. There’s nothing but lust.

What I like in either a hero or a heroine is the underdog quality. That there is an element of having to surmount some inherent obstacle – whether internal (looks, popularity, etc.) or external (conflict, social status, etc.) doesn’t matter. There just has to be some kind of roadblock there.

Take Lisa Kleypas, for example. In Blue Eyed Devil she writes a damaged heroine. Not only has she been physically and emotionally abused by her estranged husband, she’s also not a run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter bombshell. Our hero, rugged, handsome, built like a brick ... well, you know ... definitely does not normally go for this kind of girl.

Yet it’s our heroine whom he can’t live without ... sigh ... giggle. That makes for great falling-in-love!

Here’s the thing about romances: we, as readers, expect the characters to fall in love. That’s the whole point of the genre, isn’t it? What makes the difference between the really memorable, giggle-inducing novels and the obvious snore-fests is that the characters themselves don’t expect to fall in love.

You’d think that’s obvious. Yet as evidenced by my last several failed attempts at getting through romances – it’s not.

Take another example. Love it or hate it, you can’t deny that the Twilight series is extremely successful. And I know I’m not the only one that was glued to my copy of the novel, obsessed with Bella and Edward’s love for one another – or, more accurately, Edward’s love for Bella.

That is where the underdog quality comes in. Bella is clearly not the most beautiful creature ever to walk the planet. And with a hero like Edward, of course Bella’s not going to expect him to fall in love with her.

But he does. And he falls hard. And we all giggled and sighed and hyperventilated along with her precisely because she did not expect it.

It’s a lesson we romance writers (published or aspiring) can all take: don’t make both your characters the best-looking. They should not both be rich or from similar social standings. There has to be some kind of flaw in one of them. Some reason that would surprise either one or both of them when they do fall in love. As we readers expect them to.

Make your story memorable. Make one of your characters an underdog.

Just don’t make both of them underdogs, because then you’re back to square one.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Being Confident in Your 3rd Person Omniscient Voice

Whether this is a well-known fact or not, I don’t know. But if you didn’t know this already, then here it is: writing from the perspective of third-person omniscient is the easiest way to write. It is the most versatile, the most flexible. And it is the most widely used. 

This is the perspective of the disembodied, all-knowing narrator. The third-person omniscient, or the 3PO, can jump from character to character. The 3PO is neither a he, nor a she, and yet is both. And most importantly, the 3PO does not need to justify how he/she/it knows what a character is thinking.

Why, then, do many authors writing from the 3PO point of view – or the 3PO POV, if you will (ha ha, gotta love those abbreviations; don't worry, that's the end of that!) – fail to take advantage of this inherent leniency by justifying their characters' thoughts?

What do I mean by that? Well, take for example the following passage written by a well-known, well-loved author of romantic suspense (who I won't disrespect by naming):

He smiled. It was the kind of smile that made her want to take a couple of steps back, turn and run for her life. But that would be the worst thing she could do, she told herself. She knew enough about animal behaviour to know that predators only got more excited by fleeing prey.

Did you see it? The justification?

At the least, that little she told herself is unnecessary. We already know we’re reading this character’s thoughts. We already know she’s thinking: that would be the worst thing I could do! That’s the beauty of the 3PO point-of-view. You don’t have to remind us that your thoughts are really your characters' thoughts.

Unfortunately, the she told herself is also distracting. One minute the reader is snuggled up comfortably in the character's head, and the next they're ripped away by that small, seemingly innocuous justification.

Worse still, it suggests a lack of confidence by the writer. It may be unintentional, but it’s there: the need to justify omniscient words by adding to it the context of a character’s relative position.

The she told herself is entirely redundant. The paragraph would exist nicely without it:

He smiled. It was the kind of smile that made her want to take a couple of steps back, turn and run for her life. But that would be the worst thing she could do. She knew enough about animal behaviour to know that predators only got more excited by fleeing prey.

If you’re writing from the third-person omniscient viewpoint – and it’s likely that you are, or will at some point in your career – have confidence that your omniscient knowledge, your omniscient words and your omniscient thoughts can stand on their own. 

You don’t need to remind readers that what you’re thinking is really what the character is thinking. We already know it. And if we’ve read more than ten pages into your book (the general make-or-break point for any novel), then chances are we trust your insider information and your judgment. We know you’ll translate your characters’ thoughts and feelings faithfully, and that you’ll bring us through to the story’s end.

We trust you to speak for your characters. You just need to trust yourself.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Historical Accuracy: Is it Okay to Bend the Truth?

Last night one of my favourite movies was playing on TV: Braveheart.

I know, surprise, surprise, huh? A romance novelist who writes Highland historicals loves Braveheart. Shocking!

Every time I watch this film, though, it gets me thinking about the topic of historical accuracy and, more specifically, when it's okay to disregard.

I'm not going to be a purist and pick apart the entire directorial interpretation. But what I am going to make mention of is the fact that in the movie, the Scots are wearing the belted plaid.

Kilts and plaids such as this were not worn in Scotland (or anywhere, really), at this time.

I read somewhere (exactly where escapes me, and isn't important anyway), that Mel Gibson and his colleagues decided to incorporate the plaid into the film to distinguish Wallace's Scots from the English soldiers during the busy and dramatic fight scenes. I am sure also that audience expectation played into that decision somewhat. After all, what is a good, Scottish movie without a dose of some good, Scottish plaid?

I face the same problem when I write my novels: I create stories in time periods where kilts were unknown. Yet I've put them in anyway. I am not alone. In fact, the entire genre of Highland historical romance relies heavily on this inaccuracy. Look at any book cover and you'll find plaid. And chances are the book you've picked up is set sometime before the last half of the 16th century, when kilts were known to have been worn.

I write my heroes in those sexy skirts because my readers expect it. I write my heroes in those sexy skirts because, heck, I expect it!

Of course the perfectionist in me worries that I'm doing a disservice to my readers. Am I selling out? Am I lying to them?

The rational part of me soothes my conscience, however. Here's the way I see it: for those of us who know the joys of historical romance, reading offers escape. It offers a chance to slip into a fantasy and get lost there. And whether it's historically accurate or not, our Scottie hunks are tartained to the waist (a shirt above that is optional).

It is known well enough that kilts were not a part of Highland dress until the late 1700s. The literature is out there. Highland historical romance novels have never been, and will never be, considered academia.

Therefore I don't need to feel bad that I'm indulging in a fantasy (read: pure lie). So the Scots of ages past didn't actually wear kilts. The Scots of ages past probably weren't as smooth and clean as most of the models on our covers.

But the Scots of our history-obsessed, hopelessly romantic imaginations are. And I don't think any of us Highland-loving lassies care one whit about what was historically accurate and what wasn't.

So I say: bring on the kilts!