Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Deep Editing...getting the final draft as perfect as I can make it

Deep Editing is the hardest part of writing for me.

It is when a writer has to examine every phrase...ensure every word progresses the plot, adds emotional tension or moves the story forward.

It's hard work but so worthwhile. It's this final polish that makes a book an effortless and satisfying read...for the reader.

In this endeavour I have found my critique partner is invaluable....she will pull me up... And it's always the silly things. The ending of words that are wrong, Or most recently where in one sequence she said bluntly... this doesn't wash....

And she was so right.
It never ceases to amaze me what a fresh set of eyes picks up.

But with the best will in the world a writer becomes so familiar with their WIP (work in progress) that they just don't see the glaring mistakes that hit an unfamiliar reader smack in the eye.

I've taken the reader comments from the Clendon seriously.... And have added several steamy scenes to lift a compelling love story to the next level.

I've given the cute two year old twins a naughty side....as anyone who has ever lived through the terrible twos well knows they have....I'm sure the first word they learn is no...

And I've cut out one villain.... Three readers said there were one too many...and the heroine's father was a distraction the story didn't need.

As the original deadbeat dad , his influence or rather lack of... is the prime motivation of my heroine...so I am ambivalent about cutting him completely from the story.

I haven't reached the him yet but as I work through this final polish but I already suspect this astute reader has nailed it...and he will have to take a back seat.

So the WIP is fast becoming a final draft...and ready to wing it's way out into the world...


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Emotional Punch or Putting Conflict in Every Scene: Molly O'Keefe's Workshop

Molly O'Keefe's workshop at our RWNZ conference was brilliant.
She gave us her take on creating conflict in every scene.  Something that is particularly relevant to romance writers. 

I'm sure every writer has had one of those form rejections .... this submission lacks emotional punch....  And like every writer I've scratched my head... what is this elusive thing called emotional punch. 

To put it bluntly... your writing doesn't have sufficient conflict to create tension which in turn makes your writing lack emotional punch.  

Molly gave us her take on this tricky aspect of writing.  Here's her definition of conflict.
Conflict needs to come from a hole within a character caused by something that happened in their past (back story) and through which story events mirrors in the present.

Each scene must do three things: 

  • reveal character
  • advance the plot
  • reveal back story or foreshadow the future 
To create tension every scene needs to have these three things of at the very minimum two.   The more tension in every scene, the more conflict. 
And  the more conflict the more readers will want to keep turning every page desperate  to see what happens next.

A writer needs to create conflict going in to a story...from the first page.
To do this make a list of three character traits that describe each character.
For maximum impact make them opposites for each character.

The example she showed us 
Heroine's characteristics  Free spirited:  A Liar:    Compassionate       
Hero's characteristics:   Control freak:  Everything is black and white:  mourning the loss of his lifestyle

Using these characteristics create that elusive item writer's call A Character Arc.                                                                                                                  By the end of the story each character must have grown sufficiently to be able to display the opposite characteristic they went into the story with.

Hence the Control Freak will become more flexible; the liar will become truthful; the compassionate person a little more selfish.
To attach emotion to each scene she uses this sentence   
.....(character) will do anything for .... (character)..... except ......
And sentence needs to change as the story progresses and the characters change.
Every character introduced in a book must have at least 3 scenes.
  • establish the problem 
  • up the stakes in the conflict
  • resolution
She used the example:  A mother dating a man the daughter hates and can't forgive.
  • don't date that man ....establish the problem
  • I said don't date that man ...up the stakes of the conflict
  • Fine. Date that man... resolution 
And she added Bob Mayer's mantra to her workshop. 
The character arc should be such that if you dumped your characters as they were at the beginning of your story into the end scene and they would fail.

Now all I need to do is translate all this wisdom into practical application.
Thank you Molly.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sandra Hyatt...gifted writer cherished wife and mother and a dear friend

It is with great sorrow I post this blog on the loss of a dear friend.   Sandra had such a warm bubbly personality. Nothing was too much trouble and as she moved into the arena of becoming a world famous author she never forgot the friends she'd made along the journey.

She was a gifted writer and it was no surprise to those of us who had the chance to read her early work...the promise was always there.

My heart goes out to her husband and two children...they were the light of her life.

As a member of Romance Writers of New Zealand  Sandra will be sorely missed and I will always be grateful that I had the chance on Friday evening to tell her of the stunning request I'd received from Sue Grimshaw from Ballantine Bantam Dell....she was so very happy for me...and that was pure Sandra.

Warm, genuine and caring.

Rest In Peace Sandra.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Home again...exhausted but exhilarated

Receiving Highly Commended Certificate For Clendon Award 2011 
Left to right Diana Holmes, Nicola Davidson, Sandii Manning, Shirley Wine, Maria Snyder

Conference is over for another year...a full on learning experience... a gab fest with friends...a catch up on industry trends.  If there was one thing I took out of conference this year it is that the publishing industry itself is not sure in which direction it is headed.

It is going to be interesting to watch and see how the industry shakes down and which way it will emerge from its current crisis.

In my last blog I admitted my nervousness at submitting a query letter for Bob Mayer's critique. It was with fear and trembling that I watched my one come up on the screen. To my delight he said he would only change one word...
The query launched straight into the tag line and pitch. followed by word length, target market followed by a brief bio of writing credits. So apart from that minor change I received a pass mark... oh the relief.  And the validation that I was right to trust my instincts.

It was also a very productive weekend. I received my Clendon award rosettes to add to my now very colourful wall. On a very positive note to end with, I have two requests for full manuscripts another request for a partial so I am cautiously optimistic. As others have commented...watch this space.

I cannot finish this post without mentioning my friend and writing compatriot...Sandra Hyatt who, during the conference, was rushed to hospital gravely ill.... our love and prayers are with Sandra and her family at this difficult time.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Conference Time

The countdown is well and truly on....one more sleep!!!
My bag is packed...my clothes sorted although I have to confess to struggling with anything that would make me look regal... a bag of books to put on the table...items to add to the raffle table....a stock of $2 coins... was there anything else....

Darn it... I almost forgot my pitches.

This year I have three pitches...my editor and agent hunt is well underway.

My first Pitch is with the lovely Lucy Gilmore from Harelquin Mills and Boon London office. Lucy is taking pitches across all of Harlequin's lines and as I aim my writing at Special Edition and Super Romance  lines I am very excited about this one.

My second pitch is with Jessica Faust.
At the last minute I managed to secure a pitch with Jessica when someone else pulled out. From Bookend Literary Agency, Jessica has a wealth of information  on the publishing industry....I have been a longtime follower of her blog. If I have a query a scroll through her posts will almost always provide an answer.
I would love to secure her as an agent.... finger's and toes crossed.

And my third pitch is with  Angela James from Carina Press the digital arm of Harlequin. And if the way forward is with digital publishing this could be a very good place to be.

So it will be a busy weekend what with all the talking laughing catching up with writing buddies and attending so many wonderful workshops it will be a full on weekend.

And the reason for all the $2 coins...Sony have donated an e-reader to be raffled..... sigh....I'm dreaming....

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What I Can I Learn From Yet Another Rejection

Well shucks another rejection. This time for my partial that was with Harlequin Desire.  I know! I know! I hear what you're saying. Every writer has rejections.  But does that mean they don't suck?   No way Jose!

So what can I learn from this latest rejection.  And that's something else every writer also has to do. After I came down from the boughs and stopped stomping around the house and sat down and analysed  the rejection it did make sense.

"While I found much to like about this project...it's not suitable for Desire...."  Well that was pretty well stating the obvious....why else would I be receiving a rejection letter?
It was the second comment that really got me thinking.... "The initial premise that was so intriguing....isn't really what's delivered...."
 And the third comment reinforced the second.... "added to that there are a number of problematic plot elements that are ultimately too distracting from the main romance and conflict...."

Now this third comment did make immediate sense. Desire is a simple straight forward plot to the HEA. And I don't and never have written simple....so it was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

As luck would have it on the same day this letter came so did an email from RWNZ with an attachment with  the notes for Bob Mayer's workshop to give us  time to study them prior to the workshop.  This is a superb idea...it allows us to take in more without information overload.  And there on page one of these notes was the answers to the questions raised by the comments in the rejection letter.

The importance of your original idea.   Can you write this original idea in 25 words or less? Now for anyone who had never tried to do this....believe me it is hard!   It is probably the hardest task a writer is asked to do.  Distill the essence of a book into 25 words or less. It's not impossible. It can be done.

The next gem on the work sheet:  Remembering this original idea keeps you focused.

And this was why my Desire submission  bombed....I hadn't kept focused on my original idea.
So for my next submission...which is already sent by the way... I've done just that....and as I revise the manuscript in expectation of being asked for a partial.... One never gives up hope in this business...you keep plodding on hoping that one day and editor will punch the air and say.....YES.

I've kept that 25 word original premise front and foremost  in my mind. Every scene has to build on this premise in some way. If it doesn't it gets the chop.

So thank you  Bob Mayer your workshop notes have already helped me and I'm so looking forward to the workshop.   And I've been very brave....I've put my latest query letter up for Bob to pull apart in his workshop....

Now I'm in fear and trembling.... Should I have waited until he'd dissected it before I sent it.....

No.  I have faith in my own judgement..... I just hope this very experienced novelist's judgement concurs with mine..... Check back after the conference and I will reveal all.

Warts and all.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Critique Partners and Life Skills

A writer's life can often be lonely.... sure we have the company of the imaginary people who live in your heads....but what do you do when they don't or won't talk back to you?

It's no use calling up your friends or your relatives and saying to them "Gregori" is acting up...he's not doing what I want him too... they're as likely to contact the funny farm as they are to laugh outright and point the finger.

Yet you know as you beaver away at your computer that your hero should be doing something extra or what he is doing, doesn't sit quite right.... so what can you do?

For me when characters are misbehaving my favourite pastime is to play a game or two of Spider Solitaire...it never ceases to amaze me how playing a few games frees up your creative process...if that doesn't work then I cruise my favourite blogs....Rachelle Gardener or Jessica Faust at Bookends always have some article that will stir the creative juices.

But recently I've found myself a critique partner...and I've lucked out and struck gold... Within a few days she's pointed out flaws a writer glosses over because they are too familiar with the work.... Such closeness  doesn't allow an author to stand back and take an objective look at their writing.

One legal issue, the backbone of the whole work, bugged me ... we tossed ideas back and forth... then I came up with a brainwave and went back a generation in my story....she asked her lawyer husband.... he said it would work....go for it.

And although it means rewriting and reshaping the overall effect takes the story to a new level and I've found the words literally flowing off my fingertips.

To test my hypothesis it would work I asked my young relatives the same age as my heroine what they knew about the issues my heroine was facing and the result was sobering....even the ones with young children had only the vaguest notions about wills...trusts...or where to go for such advice.....The only one who had any clues about legal issues was the young man who'd had a few run ins with the law.

So much for life skills taught to our young ones.

My critique partner sent me her first three chapters and I took to them with a red pen....and worried I'd been too harsh.... But the response was so reassuring.... "I think I've won the lottery. But I don't want our partnership to be one sided."  

She has a great story with one of the most fantastic opening lines I've ever read.... and believe me I've read a lot of opening lines. I was in absolute awe...but her writing was bogged down in repetition and excess verbiage....hence the red pen.  

Our relationship is in it's infancy but already for me it's worked miracles.  And don't worry my friend about it being one sided....it's not...you've given me the jab in the rear I've needed.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Choosing an agent and a publisher

With Romance Writer's of New Zealand conference very close on the horizon this is a subject that is very much on most writers' minds. Those among our ranks lucky enough to be with a publishing house or have an agent have been through the nerve wracking process.

Despite dozens of queries I have yet to snare either. And my foray into publishing has been far from successful. With my first book I was admittedly as green as grass. The book was published in NZ and the firm promptly went belly up...and with it a lot of my blood sweat and tears.  It still burns me to see copies of that book being sold on online sites and I've never received a cent in royalties....

This has made me doubly cautious but when my second book was accepted by a e-book publisher in America in the first flush of excitement I overlooked a few very necessary details...  Research....research and yes you guessed it research.
And the results were depressingly predictable.
I can't deny the experience has somewhat shaken my confidence but I'm not from stubborn Irish stock for nothing..... you know the old motto...if at first you don't succeed try and try again.

It is often said third time lucky..... and one thing is certain...I'm done with walking into anything blind with trust.  This time around I've spent hours online researching agents.... reading different lines put out by different publishers trying my best to gauge where I think my work would comfortably sit.

And at our upcoming conference have secured pitches with both  an editor and an agent. I have my toes and pinkies crossed that the third time will prove to be the magic charm.

And as I stand outside the door hyperventilating I will repeat to myself..... editors and agents are people just like me.

So if anyone hears me looking worried and talking to myself .... don't take fright and call the men in white coats. But then that could be a life saver if I get in that room and my mind goes blank.

I hope it doesn't happen....I've already got my flash cards done and learned off by heart.