I knew there was a reason I watched so much Reality TV. It’s to learn how to improve my writing.
I’ve always been a bit of a surface writer. It usually takes an additional draft to get deeper into the plot and characters. And I’ve tried to wrap my head around what it actually means to have a layered novel, because that’s really the difference between a cute but forgettable read and a keeper book. Emotional depth. Characters with hidden agendas. Etcetera. Even in a humorous book, there still needs to be depth to it.
It clicked for me the other day (which doesn’t mean it will be magically easy for me to do) when I was watching American Idol. This show is very popular. And it’s not simply because it’s a show about kids trying to be voted the best singer. It’s about real people. What does the show do with the contestants they want us to focus on? The ones they want viewers to root for?
They give us more information about them. One’s a single mother working two jobs to keep food on the table. Another looks after his ailing mother. Another lost his voice and was told he’d never speak again (I’m making these up mostly, but you get the gist).
What do these stories have to do with the ‘surface’ of being a singer? Not a heck of a lot. But it gives us insight into their characters. And it makes us want them to be the one who takes home the prize.
This works for almost every Reality show on TV.
Does Extreme Home Makeover just spruce up a house for some generic American family? Nope. They pick families with tragic, heartbreaking, and ultimately inspiring stories. And then they give them a fabulous new house. Layers!
Does LA Ink just tattoo pretty pictures on people? Nope. They tell the story of the person, and thus the reason they want this particular tattoo. A picture tells a thousand words, and so do the stories of the tattoo recipients. Layers!
The layers of your character help make the book more interesting. We don’t just want the boy to fall in love with girl. We want the boy to fall in love with this girl because of who she is and what’s happened to her to make her the person she is today and we’re emotionally invested in having them find their happily ever after.
BTW, I saw an early cover for Tall, Dark & Fangsome today (a book in which I had to add more layers to the final draft and it’s much better for it) and I luuurvve it! Can’t wait to post it to my website.
I am so almost finished LIVING IN EDEN. I’ve worked through my beta-reader comments. I only have one scene I need to rewrite, which is the love scene. Sigh. Don’t know why this one is giving me fits. I don’t want to go Blaze explicit with it, but I want it to be, well, fleshed out and, um, satisfying. There’s no way I can fade to black on this one since it’s kinda vital to the plot. So I’m going to take some time and work through it. I’d drink some wine if I wasn’t on a freaking diet.
(A diet on which I only lost 1.5 lbs the first week, despite sticking to it, since my metabolism is totally shot. Week 2 prescription: more exercise!!).
But after that — I’m all done! I gave this book everything I’ve got and really hope my editor likes it.
I love Eden and Darrak (characters you’ll probably hear a lot about in the next couple of years), but I’m really ready to move on to something new. Like, really.
I seem to be snowbound today. Outside is a blanket of white and I’m not venturing out because I’m a chicken driver.
Tonight is Lost! I can’t even tell you how much I love this show. I still have hope for Kate and Sawyer getting together. I’ve never felt the chemistry between her and Jack.
Other than that, I think I’m going to finish reading Shadow Kiss by Richelle Mead today. It’s the third book in the Vampire Academy series. Have you read this series yet? I have a little trouble with it — mostly because it’s so awesome! It fills me with an unhealthy jealousy of her writing and plotting skillz. And her characters are so vivid. Especially Dimitri. I’m a sucker for sexy Russian guys, I guess. And stories about forbidden love. And, you know, vampires.
I’m feeling oddly perky. Which is very unlike me, mostly because I hate the word perky.
I’ve been eating healthier for a week now and I think that has a lot to do with it. Full disclosure, I’m on Jenny Craig right now. I’ve done it before, and while I love the food, I find I lose weight very slowly on this program so I usually get discouraged. But this time I’m going to stick with it if only for the perky feelings of healthy eating. And since I don’t know how to cook (or, really, want to learn) the prepackaged food is absolutely ideal for me. I’ll keep you posted on my progress. I’d tell you how much I want to lose but then I’d have to kill you.
I’ve been working on my YA website. Soon my homepage will give visitors a choice between YA and paranormal romance (aka: adult books). I’m very happy with it. I’m using the iWeb program that came with my Mac and the templates are adorable. Not a lot of flexibility for changes, but I can work with it. Yesterday I retouched the headshot I’m going to be using. I tell you, if you want a decent photo of yourself, just have your make-up artist sister do your face and hair and then proceed to take 250 photos of you. Guaranteed that + a knowledge of photoshop will net you at least two shiny pics.
My goal this week is to blog daily. About whatever, it doesn’t matter.
Today I’ll blog about my plans for the week. Uh… writing. Mainly. It is my life.
My deadline for LIVING IN EDEN is February 1st. I’m going to hand it in on Friday. I’m working through some of my beta reader suggestions right now.
It’s funny, because everything else in my life I”m so incredibly tardy for — I’m not sure that I was early for my day job once in my life (and believe me, I heard about this bad habit of mine on a regular basis from my employers — heh). When I was a kid, the school bus would make a special unscheduled stop for me on the corner, because I’d be late and running to catch it every morning. In high school I was always scurrying down the hall when the announcements and National anthem was played over the speakers. Friends know that when I say I’m going to be somewhere sometime they should add on fifteen minutes. One friend thinks she’s got me beat by telling me to be at her place fifteen minutes early. But I’m on to her games.
But writing deadlines? Totally different situation. I keep hearing about authors who kvetch about their deadlines and how they’re going to be late. Or how they’ll hand in a sloppy first draft just to make deadline. I don’t understand this at all. Not to sound like a brown-noser — heh heh — but my first draft deadline is always a month before the book is actually due. This gives me enough time to polish and enough leeway in case something goes awry. I usually hand in my book a few days or a few weeks early.
Is it because I take my writing career more seriously than anything else I should be on time for in my life?
To some extent, yes. But then I think about a situation where I had to cut out a stack of brochures once. Someone else was cutting them out one by one. I stacked about a dozen on top of each other and sliced right through the sheets all at the same time. Efficiency is born from laziness. I didn’t want to stand there for twelve times as long cutting stuff out.
The same applies to writing. I don’t want to go insane from stress a couple of days from my deadline and stay up all night long writing. This, to me, is not a happy thing.
Are you late for things? Deadlines? How do you get around this? Inquiring minds want to know.
So excited that Lost is back for the new season! Loved the premiere. That show doesn’t pull any punches or give us generic, filler episodes. However, I think a prerequisite for the fifth season is to have watched the previous four religiously. There’s a lot of backstory and characters that are hard to keep up with even for an avid viewer.
Can’t say the same for Supernatural. For such a long wait, the return episode last week (haven’t watched this week’s yet) was a bit of a generic disappointment. But I have faith that the boys will come through with more angel/demon goodness in the coming weeks.
Other that the above two fave shows of mine I’ve been giving “The Bachelor” a shot this season. This show, man. It’s not stellar. But it’s so entertaining. Ditto “True Beauty.” Had to watch that one as well. I think it’s kind of obvious who’s going to win. The only guy who thinks about more than his muscles.
And American Idol… not sure what I think of the new judge yet. She’s kind of a Paula/Simon hybrid, isn’t she? It’s like Paula and Simon had a daughter and they rapidly soap opera aged her. A couple singers have really stood out to me, enough so that I’m looking forward to when the season really gets started.
I’ve started my 2009 by trying to take better care of myself — which includes not indulging in nachos and McChickens — and I also had my eyes checked for the first time in a decade. I’ve been getting a lot of headaches lately, and my vision is a tad blurrier than it was ten years ago (normal aging process for someone my age? Shut your mouth!). Anyhoo, the dude prescribed a pair of reading glasses for me when I’m on the computer, which is basically nine-tenths of my day. Not sure if I’m going to fill it yet. But I probably will. As long as the frames are cool.
In writing news, I’ve been pecking away at this contemporary romance proposal that was actually a whole lot of fun to write. There is a touch of paranormal in it, but none of the characters are vampires, werewolves, or otherworldly creatures. Just humans dealing with a big of magic. I knew what plot point I wanted the sample chapters to end at, so I ended up with 15K of writing instead of a normal proposal length of about 10K. Which is fine, I think. I’m going to read though it today and hopefully get it to my agent for his thoughts this afternoon. I think it’s a good idea to get some standalones out there to balance off my series work. There are readers who don’t like to read series. Can you believe it?? This book seems to have a heroine who’s a size 12, too. I never thought I’d do a larger heroine due to my own weight hang-ups, but it seems to work for this book. Of course, the hero is utterly gorgeous and ripped.
Here’s the latest Twilight funny I’ve found (thanks to Twilighters Anonymous, my source for Twilight-related news!). It’s Bunny Theatre does Twilight.
Thought I’d post a picture of my boys here on this snowy day. These are my writing companions. Usually the moment I really want to get working, they plop themselves next to me and demand attention. Or try to get on my lap. Or lay on my manuscript.
This is Spike, named for the blond Buffyverse vampire. However, my Spike is a big, awkward wimp with no bite who likes to whine, literally whine when I’m not giving him attention. Well, I guess he is a bit like the real Spike in that regards. But he’s just so lovable even when he’s being annoying. Just like vampire Spike.
This is Sammy, named for the serious younger brother in Supernatural. Even though he’s the youngest, my Sammy is the alpha of this house, and usually gets what he wants by being equally demanding and adorable. He always stretches one of his legs out like this. It’s very posh. Sammy is all grown up now, but he was the cutest kitten I’d ever seen in real life. Which is how he conned me into getting him in the first place.
I used to do something called Hot Guy Fridays on my old blog but stopped because it was screwing with my stat numbers for the site. I don’t have a stat counter anymore — just one more thing to obsess about — so I’m reinstating it. It’ll be on Wednesdays now, because I think that’s a good day to feature someone who’s caught my eye for the week. I’m going to call it Hump Day Hottie, but after googling it I realized I hadn’t coined the phrase so I won’t pretend I did. But I’m still calling it that. So there.
Here are my inaugural hottie(s) of the week.
This is actor Kevin Zegers, who was my actor inspiration for Michael, the mysterious hottie in my YA Demon Princess series. Since I just wrote the outline for book #2, I am newly inspired. And this new pic of him certainly doesn’t hurt. Love the eyeliner.
And Ryan Reynolds who ended up being the perfect mix of humor and danger for Darrak, the demon, in LIVING IN EDEN.
I’ve been lucky enough to get a couple of fabulous quotes from fabulous authors for DEMON PRINCESS: REIGN OR SHINE.
Here. Let me show you them.
“Michelle Rowen has created a smart and funny heroine and put her in a world of demons, magic, and sexy guys! This is a series I definitely want to keep reading.” –Richelle Mead, New York Times bestselling author of Shadow Kiss
“Sassy and smart, engrossing and exhilarating! Rowen’s take of forbidden love and staying true to one’s self (even if you have horns) will have readers screaming for more.” –Heather Brewer, author of The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod
I’ve been doing some mild brainstorming for a new book I want to outline while I’m in between contracted books (I never want to be completely out of contract again if I can help it, and planning ahead is the only way to go). But I hit a major creative wall during the last week and took some time to analyze why that was. I realized I was on the wrong path. I have since adjusted. I have to learn to trust my gut — that is a major theme in my books, after all. Trust your gut. If an idea sounds good but feels wrong, it probably isn’t something I want to spend months of my life on. And if an idea or a genre fills me with happiness at the idea of writing it, then that’s a good sign that it’s the right path. So there ya go. Darkness and mega angst tabled. Humor and entertaining lightness on board. So be it.
In 2009: Fun is in. Misery is out.
And I’ve received 3/4 of my beta reads back on LIVING IN EDEN and the general consensus is that it doesn’t suck. Which is a relief. Other than a few surface changes, this puppy is good to go.
Heard from my lovely Harlequin Blaze editor today. She approves of my book, now titled HOT SPELL, and wonders why I never wrote for Blaze before! LOL! I will take that as a wonderful compliment from her. And I’m also happy to report that my pub date has moved up for this and is now November 2009. Still a ways off, but it’s another 2009 release for me! Woot! I’m going to get my editorial revisions on this book early next week.
My YA outline is done and waiting for approval. I’m excited about this book, which I’m planning on starting to write on February 1st (deadline is July 1st but I plan to finish early). I took some time to really think about where this series is headed. I don’t have everything planned out completely, since I find that with each book comes new character revelations, but I feel good about my current direction. I can’t wait till REIGN OR SHINE comes out!! Although, I don’t want to wish my time away. The more time goes by the older I get. And there’s a nasty number that’s not so far into the future. It’s got a four and a zero in it. But it’s not for a couple of years yet. Ugh.
Let’s just live each day as it comes. I’m going to get all zen. Live in the moment and crap like that. I do try. It doesn’t always work out.
I am having a heck of a time getting motivated after finishing the second draft of LIE. My goal today is to start sussing (it’s a word) out a rough outline for a new proposal I want to write. This is my favorite part of the writing process, actually. Everything’s so fresh and shiny. I love my new idea and just need to get moving on it. I’m giving myself this proposal holiday until the 10th which is when I want to shift over to “real work” which is sussing (again, good word) out my next YA plot.
The idea of pantsing any of this does not even enter my mind. I’ve learned my lesson when it comes to pantsing (aka: writing by the seat of your pants with no outline) and that lesson is don’t do it. My mind, while creative, needs structure in order to function. My chaos must be organized. And organized it shall be.
So…writing a new proposal — this is how I do it…
1) Spark up my copy of Dramatica, then decide that’s too much work and it hurts my brain.
2) Close Dramatica.
3) Grab notepad and jot down main idea and characters.
4) Spend a few hours figuring out names for characters and who would play them if this was a movie because that’s totally important.
5) Jot down what I know is definitely going to happen in the plot in bullet points.
6) Feel overwhelmed by how much work writing a book actually will take.
7) Spark up Dramatica again looking for an easy answer. Play with it for a half an hour finding there is no easy answer. Close it. Wonder if money spent on program would have been better spent on buying an ebook reader instead. Section bullet points into three acts of novel. Fill in any details missing by adding more plot points.
9) Force self to sit down and write an eight page synopsis, usually in one sitting to get the flow right.
10) Spend several days coming up with the perfect first line.
11) Write three chapters, turning off inner editor and try to get into character.
12) Rejoice that it turned out wonderfully or cry that it turned out crappy.
13) Drink heavily either way.
Since I see this as a trilogy, I also need to think about what will happen in books 2 and 3. I already have my themes. Book one is Change. Book 2 is Growth. And Book 3 is Control. Vague, yes, but it gives a general idea of what I need to focus on with my main character.
I know it’s going to be first person. In writing EDEN, which is in third, I realized how much more natural it is for me to write first. When I got stuck I would shift over and then revise the stuff I’d written to be third. But I needed it in third so I would have more viewpoint options in the future should I need them since I know that at least two books will be about these characters. Hopefully more.
Waiting for betas’ thoughts on this book. Not obsessing about it at all. No. That would be wrong.
Anyhow, it’s 2:00 pm. I want to at least finish my initial brainstorming today and overviews of the new trilogy done. Tomorrow I want to write the synopsis. And, with the muse’s help (911-MUSE) I can start the chapters on Thursday. It could happen. But not if I don’t get moving.
Happy New Year! I’ve updated my News page with some current happenings including a new German translation sale for Stakes & Stilettos. Hooray!
I finished the second draft of Living in Eden the other day. It’s now out with my beta-readers and agent for their impressions. I’m hoping that they like it and don’t find anything horribly wrong about it (this is a vast understatement to my true feelings on the subject, of course). I’m feeling pretty good about how it turned out. At 93K it’s the longest book I’ve written to date. I usually end up at about 85K.
I turned that second draft around in about two weeks. The second half seemed to take forever because the first draft was really, well, less than great. But now I’m happy with it, although I’m feeling a bit burned out creatively at the moment.
However, I want to roll right into brainstorming both a new proposal that’s been nibbling my ankles as well as the second book in my Demon Princess YA series. The outline for that is due asap and I’m going to start writing it on February 1st. Ideally I’d love to go somewhere with palm trees for a week starting tomorrow but that’s not on the schedule. At least not until April when I’m going to the RT Convention (still have to book that).
One new year’s resolution is for me to set up my office area better. I have a desk and a computer on it, but I always do my writing and revising on the couch with my laptop. While comfortable, I don’t think it’s doing wonders for my spine. These are things I think about now that I’m old. So…new desk is in the works. Somewhere. Some time.
Anyhow, as I’m summoning my muse to do some work today, I’ve come up with another Ten Things list.
Ten Things I look for in second drafts and beta-reads
One of the dangers of fast drafting is this little problem. I usually latch onto a word or phrase and use it a million times during my first draft. My characters frown and gaze and shrug and cock their heads. “Obviously,” or “seriously” also is overused. The characters narrow or widen their eyes to show anger or surprise. For some reason everybody is sucking in breaths now in my books. I could go on. Oh yes, I could. But I won’t.
Some of these fifteen page conversations to get one character trait or story point across are just not necessary. My characters like to talk, and that’s okay, since dialogue is my favorite thing to write and I think it’s one of my strong points…but there’s a limit. When my mind wanders reading my own stuff, then it’s a sign that a lot of it can be cut.
This is similar to cutting the boring parts, but it works on more of a story whole than scene by scene. My agent told me that my pacing felt a bit off for a novel I wrote once apon a time. And I had no idea what that meant. So I had to look it up. And yes, it was only last year so I really should have known. I fixed the pacing and the book sold. Rah.
4.Pathetic attempts at writing the sexy stuff
I’m very happy with the Blaze I wrote a few months ago (still waiting to see if my editor agrees on that, though). I didn’t have any problems putting sexy scenes in it. Ditto my Shomi book. Why? Because I crafted the story around those scenes to make them integral to the plot and character development (at least, I’d like to think so). However, as a writer I am not naturally, nor are my storylines, sexually driven. I keep forgetting that. Heaps of sexual tension? Yes. Explicit writing? Not so much. Then I come across a line in my first draft like, “she was swept away by another wave of pleasure.” Ugh. Gag me. It’s so not my voice and it reads as if I’m trying to hard to write “romance” the way I think it should be rather than what my story needs. Sometimes less is more. Much, much, much less.
5.Humor that falls flat
Humor is subjective. Absolutely. But since I write “light and quirky” paranormals, I need at least some laughs along the way. Depending on my mood when I write the first draft, this may need to be added at a later date. And some of the humor I write when I’m not feeling humorous is pretty bad, even by my low standards. And my standards are very low. But in a good way.
6.“La, la, la, I like cheese”
This is what I (and one of my beta-readers) call it when a character is faced with horrific trials and tribulations, her life is exploding all around her, and she’s all “so what’s for dinner tonight?” Realistic reactions are important. I’m getting better at this. In Fanged & Fabulous I actually worked in the la, la, la, I like cheese character reaction by having Sarah state that she was so worried about everything that she was forgetting to worry. Uh, yeah.
7.White room writing
Remember that scene in the Matrix when Neo and Morpheus are standing in the white space waiting for the program to be loaded to give them the background and place they’re supposed to be in? I have long stretches where it seems as if my characters are standing in just such a location. No description. No bodily movement (so to speak), just flat dialogue. I hate writing description. So I usually need to add this in, sparingly, since some scenes with fast moving conversations don’t need it
8.Telling vs. showing
I must admit, I don’t spend too much time worrying about this during my first draft. Ditto adverbs and passive voice. But when I’m doing a read-through, the parts that really need work usually stand up and wave at me by being boring and ugly and I know I need to fix them.
9.Passage of time during story
If you have one scene in the morning and the next scene at night, you’re going to have to account for the hours in between somehow unless your characters have a time machine (sometimes knocking them unconscious for hours at a time is one way I deal with this. My characters really hate me). Also, if the story takes place on a Sunday night and your characters are hanging out at a mall, it’s good to keep in mind that malls aren’t open on Sunday nights. At least not around here. This is mostly directed at myself.
10.Shifting character descriptions
If your hero has ice blue eyes on page 18, he shouldn’t have amber eyes on page 75. Unless the paranormally shift for a good reason. And being inspired by Edward Cullen is not a good enough reason. Mmm… Edward.