Thursday, December 31, 2009

Things that I noticed about the Modern Heat winner's first chapter


Well now the dust has settled on the Modern and Modern Heat competition, I have a few things that I noticed about Gill/Jilly's winning chapter that I found very interesting. Firstly, I'd like to congratulate Jilly on a great winning chapter, the characters are gripping and I definitely wanted to read more. Bravo!
The chapter opened with the heroine (Felicity) in the middle of a kiss-a-thon. She kisses one man, then is faced with another, who she thinks is 'pretty damned hot' who rips off his shirt, and kneels before her. She kisses him.
I've spent so much time analysing what I thought Modern Heat needed, and somewhere picked up that the first man to appear in the book should be 'him'. I've even culled earlier appearances of secondary characters because of it. In 'The Boss's Intimate Takeover' the hero (Ross) doesn't appear until 'man 3' and this doesn't take from the story at all.
Later in the chapter Felicity spends time with her 4 best friends. The bond between them is livened up with dialog, and their characters are well defined. Once again, this is an element that I would be nervous of introducing, having been told that the focus must be on the main two.
The editors said there were some main elements they loved about the story:

Gill has a cool, sassy, natural voice that leaped out at us immediately.



The hero and heroine were likable, intriguing, well motivated and had real layers and depth to them.


The sexual tension between the couple was absolutely sizzling!


Emotional conflict is woven in subtly but convincingly to ensure that we have a good sense of what will be keeping these two apart.


There is some great dialogue with a good helping of wittiness that had us laughing out loud at times!
 
To me, Jilly's win was well deserved, she has an excellent voice that I'm looking forward to reading more of. What I've learnt from the competition? That sometimes its right to go with your heart and write the story that's there, rather than limiting your options by thinking 'that's not right for Modern Heat.' Modern Heat is a young line, with more flexibility than Modern, and a line I'm pleased to see is continuing to evolve.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Onwards and upwards

I'm lurking in the no man's land between Christmas and New Year. The time when Christmas is fading into memory, and the family have left, and yet the New Year resolutions have yet to be set in stone. Its a funny time, full of random memories, not all of them pleasant, and lingering regrets. My blue period.
2009 was a good year, writing wise, and in 2010 I intend to focus even more keenly on my writing, and get stuff done.
Here's whats on my to do list for the New Year.


To complete revisions of Bound to Love for an interested publisher, and this time really make them rock so much that they 'win' publication. That's January sorted then and probably half of February.

To finalise book proposal for a factual book I'm working on.

To rewrite and edit my 2009 Nano book, Posthumous, and send it out to a few agents and publishers.

To start my new romance, 'Marrying Cade.' And to submit the partial to Mills and Boon.

And on stuff already out there........
I've got my 'beaming positive thoughts' hat, and I'll be putting it to good use in 2010.


To hear back from the agent who's reading Undercurrents. This is sort of out of my control, but I'm sending positive thoughts out there and willing good news.

To hear back from Mills and Boon on the partial of Catch me a Catch, also out of my control somewhat, but on with the 'beaming positive thoughts' helmet and sending it out there.

My To Do list is now out of my head and on my blog. Now all I have to do is to follow it!

Happy New Year everyone...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sell, sell, sell


Here's my last pre-Christmas post. After this I'm forgetting about my blog and the internet in general, and concentrating on Christmas. Just back from Christmas shopping, where there was the most amazing attempts to sell me stuff I neither want nor need. I've been on the other side of the fence, trying to sell things to passers by, and so am totally unable to escape the clutches of desperate salespeople, once eye contact is made I'm trapped. I found myself so trapped this morning, 3 times.
First, I was trying to find out if they still made Arpege (by Lanvin). My mum's favorite is the dusting powder, which went out of production about ten years ago, so I was browsing in Boots (no luck) when approached by a helpful assistant.
"Arpege" I said when asked. "By Lanvin". A totally blank look. "How about Dior?" she replied, hopefully. "Nope." I replied, "I'm looking for Arpege. I don't know if they still make it."
"I've never heard of it. Who's it for?"
"My mother."
"She'd probably like..." And off she went, pulling bottles off shelves and brandishing them my direction.
"I really only wanted Arpege." Her face fell, and she started looking as though she was going to spray me with something. I got the impression she'd spray me with pepper spray if she got the chance.
"It's probably an old one. You should get her something else." Decidedly aggressive now.
I wriggled away, unsprayed, unsold. Walked down the aisle, and was grabbed by a woman lurking in the moisturiser section with what looked like one of those speed guns that the cops point from the side of the road.
"Your skin, I need to check your skin." She looked desperate, I made the mistake of allowing myself to be dragged to a chair, where she took my shopping off me. "How old are you?"
I told her, as she pushed the gun to my face.
"Your elasticity is great." Not great enough, otherwise I'd be springing away like that guy from the Fantastic Four.  "But your skin is dangerously dehydrated." God, how am I going to get away from this one? "I know, I didn't moisturise this morning."
"And by this evening, the levels will keep falling..." She stared at me earnestly, grabbing my hand and squirting gloop on it. Not my poor parched face, please note, but the back of my hand. "Now, you know Cheryl Cole, she uses this." It's Christmas, so I didn't tell her that in my opinion I could swim in the stuff and it wasn't going to change me into Cheryl. A face lift, tummy tuck, and bucket load of extensions wouldn't even do that.
She smoothed it over my poor parched hand. "There are a thousand litres of water in this jar alone..." One again I internally cursed my propensity for being nice. "How do they do that?" I raised an eyebrow, hearing a crack from my dangerously dehydrated face. No sense of humour then.
"They concentrate it." Spoken patiently as if to a moron. That was it. "Well, thanks and all that, but I'm not going to buy it." She stopped mid stream and stared at me as if I'd broken her heart. "Right." She turned away, leaving me and my dangerously dehydrated face to wander free.
I thought I was away from it all until I got grabbed by a twenty something man outside M&S. "Let me see your nails," he demanded imperiously, grabbing my hand. "I'm just..." I tried, but having grabbed he wasn't for letting go. "So, lazy or busy?"
"Busy being lazy?" I ventured, trying to pull away.
"Let me show you..." he breathed, rubbing at my middle finger with a block of sandpaper. A shiny pink nail emerged. "There!" he said triumphantly. "You're nail is in good condition, it just needs this." He pulled a box down and waved it in front of me. "For 29 euros your nail can be happy again."
For 29 euros I could get a bucketful of chocolate, then I'd be happy again.
"I'm not buying for me today." I waved at the handful of bags. "Christmas presents." He changed tack instantly, gazing into my face and batting long eyelashes. "You have children."
A bit of a no brainer, considering the state of me.
"Do they have the same eyes as you?" Startled at the tangent this was taking, I nodded, feeling decidedly uncomfortable. "That's good." He purred, opening a bottle and making me smell it. "Vanilla, it's delicious, yes?"
"Thanks, but I'm not buying." Once again, I found an opportunity for escape as the light went out of his eyes, and he looked like he was going to cry. "Thanks anyway, David." (He'd told me he was called David, when he thought I was going to spend 29 euros on a nail file.) "Happy Christmas."
I scuttled away, feeling like a mummy with one moisturised hand, and a shiny nail. The badges of being nice during the Christmas selling season.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Really superstitious...


Now, back to the usual programming. The previous post, although requested and useful to 2 at least, was rather like getting a parcel from Ann Summers and ripping it open to find... a calculator. Not really what I'm about, so here's more of the usual stuff.

As you know, like many of us I'm NTAI as regards the presents competition. Also have one full out there and one partial, which I'm also waiting for a reply about. I wondered, this afternoon, if there was anything I could do to keep things going my way, so to speak. Here's what I've been doing so far:

1. Wearing underwear inside out. My mum told me it was good luck.
2. Spilling salt on the floor then throwing it over my left shoulder. (Sorry for hitting the person lurking behind me).
3. Crossing fingers.
4. Willing good news my way, as per last year's hit, The Secret.
5. Leaving spiders unhoovered. Especially money spiders.
6. Touching wood, stuffed a wooden spoon down my bra.
7. Not walking under ladders.
8. Wrapped the mirror in bubble wrap, makes putting on mascara rather a hit and miss affair though.
9. Turning the horseshoes on the outside of my house so they catch luck, rather than let it fall out.
10. Staying well away from black cats, the dogs helping with this one.

My only worry is that when the call comes, I'll slip on the gritty floor, be unable to pick up phone with crossed fingers, damage my essentials with the spoon and be attacked by a room full of spiders.

What else should I be doing? Any ideas?

Formatting the darn thing - some MS Word powertips...

Some of you  may know that in a previous life I trained people on the use various computer programs. Well, today I had a request from a friend to post about formatting, and although it isn't my sort of thing anymore, I'm being good and putting some stuff out there that may be useful to someone. If not, don't worry, I'll be back blogging about love soon, if you're dying to know more, just comment, and I'll see what I can do...
So, here it is:
Some Microsoft Word powertips for manuscript formatting. Lesson One…

Okay, you’re starting your manuscript, and you want to make sure that it looks the part. The very first thing you need to do is define how your page looks, so with a blank document open, go to page setup and set your margins to 1” all round. Now, before you press the okay button, press that default button. Now every time you start a new document it will have the margins you want!




Next, you need to set a header. Choose Header and Footer from the view menu, Type in your surname/name of book then hit the tab key twice to advance to the right margin, and press the insert page number icon (hover over the little page with # in it, it tells you what it is in a tooltip). Click in the document body to put the header away.

Put on invisible characters from the toolbar by pressing this icon in the toolbar. Now you can see every time you hit the return/enter key, tab key or space.

Choose centre from the toolbar to centre text. Add 8 returns/enters, then type Chapter 1, then add one more enter. Align this last one to the left using the toolbar icon.


Select this last return character and choose double line spacing from this icon on the toolbar,

 the line spacing option. Choose from the drop down arrow on the right.


The first line of each paragraph needs to be indented. So set a first line indent by going to the ruler, and clicking and dragging the top triangle to the ½” mark.






Now you can work away and type your document.
For breaks between scenes, centre and type 5 *’s.

Tip time: Select and copy the eight return characters, chapter 1 and the return after it, and the first letter of the first paragraph. Then choose office clipboard. The office clipboard is a great way to keep a number of items while you’re working that you can apply later in your document by just selecting them from the list. Saves time!

Add in your 5 *’s. Now you can apply them from office clipboard too, quickly and easily.

Practise some selection shortcuts when you have a bit of text. Here are some good ones.

Double click a word to select it.
Treble click to select a paragraph.
Move cursor to the left until it becomes an arrow and click to select a line, drag down to select line by line.
Point at text from left, hold the Ctrl key down and click to select everything.
Or select all from edit menu, selects everything.
Ctrl click to select a sentence.
Select a sentence, hold down Ctrl key, and select a non-contiguous bit of text (useful for italics or formatting)
And my favourite, click at the beginning of a piece of text, hold down shift key, and click at the end. This selects from point to point.


When you’ve finished typing for the day, you can add a tag then search for it using find from the edit menu. Just type it (eg xxx) then you can type xxx into the find box to return you to that position. Using find and its associated box replace, to quickly change all occurrences of a word through your book. Be careful of this one though, finding his and changing it to her could change words like history to herstory, so better do it on a one by one if this is a possibility!










Remember to save your document regularly, and if you are working with multiple versions, remember save as allows you to give your document a different name, effectively making a copy of the document which has a different name.

Needless to say guys, if you know all this just igore this blog post and visit again soon for more ponderings on writing!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bone Melting Attraction


Well now that the excitement of creating a new book during November is behind me, I'm blogging today about my next challenge. I'm going back to an earlier book, which I'll call BTL for short, with new eyes, and have discovered a truth that is, to me, mind blowing.
I found writing this one rather like riding a bike, patting my head and rubbing my stomach all at the same time. Weaving all the elements of story together was a challenge, and one I felt happy about, but with the experience of Nanowrimo over, I had a revelation. This book has a cracking plot, great character conflicts both internal and external and sufficient pace to make a great read. It also ticked the boxes with some great sex scenes and some sparky dialog. Why then, had it been turned down on its second read through by a publisher?
I've blogged about this book before. It was my entry for the Golden Rose Competition where it narrowly failed making it through to the second round. I was lucky enough to get critiques from 3 judges, and have had feedback from the aforementioned publisher too, but their comments, while pertinent didn't give me enough. I couldn't quite see what was lacking. Since Nano, I think I do.
Something Kate Walker wrote about in her book about writing romance was the key, and the answer is intensity. My characters fall in love, but in order to make this the great book I know it can be, it has to be more than that, they need to be completely fascinated with each other, from the moment they meet and this fascination needs to build until they can't even envision ever being in love with anyone else. Desperate, out of control love.
I eagerly printed off the last version and started to read. Yes. I was right. It's missing. There's too much following the plot and not enough following their own dawning realisation that they're obsessed with each other. They get caught up in events, and forget that they're in the grip of passion. For the first time I see it, I know why BTL hasn't caught and held the attention of the publisher, its just not DESPERATE enough.
So when December is over, and Christmas is done, I'm going back. Back to a book I thought I'd finished. And I'm writing about their love from my heart.
Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Romantic Heroines Top Ten Don'ts.


Surprisingly, some of the Romantic Hero's Top Ten Don'ts are Top Ten Do's for a heroine. But we're looking at Don't during this post, so here goes.
1. Don't go to the toilet. Unless to repair face ravaged by weeping.
2. Don't ever think the hero is nice on first meeting. Gorgeous, totally lustworthy, but never nice.
3. No clinging like a limpet to hero. Not until first three quarters of book done anyway.



4. Don't look at another man once Hero has locked lips. Unless in 'what was I thinking?' way.
5. Don't get stuff caught in teeth, never a good look. She may be realistic, but not that realistic.
6. Don't show him the love child that you made together on that chance meeting. Let him track you down.
7. Don't complain about his morning breath. Somehow it's always minty fresh.
8. Don't look disappointed as he reveals all.
9. No farting or burping. Even after mexican meals.
10. Don't give up on him, even when he's being a macho jerk. You love him, remember?

Any others I haven't thought of?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Romantic Hero Top Ten Don'ts.

Well, in the romance writing world, there are plenty of 'Alpha Hero' info blogs, and this is my collection of Don'ts, the things that Romantic Alphas should never be caught in print doing.

1. Go to the toilet. Or even think about going to the toilet. Ever.
2. Use anything other than foreign expletives or Damn It! (unless in Bridget Jones books, in which case go ahead).
3. Run out of money.
4. Dodgy disco dancing - they can dance a wicked tango though, especially in Abbey Green books.
5. Fall over - leave that to the heroine, and make sure always to catch her, preferably in strong, manly way.

6. Get any foodstuffs stuck in teeth (especially lettuce).
7. Wonder if they look good - they always do.
8. Look at another woman once they've met 'the one'.
9. Fall into a lake, and not be able to swim. (breaks two rules, see 5).
10. Snort with laughter while drinking coffee, causing unfortunate coffee through nose spray effect. Not a good look.

What have you had to edit out of your WIP's as showing your hero in a bad light? Comments?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Teen Appeal


Ah, nostalgia. Right in the bottom of your soul, there still lurks that pre-teen with the amazing, all encompassing yearning for five minutes alone with (insert name here,  I'm afraid mine would have to be Donny or David Cassidy). The emotions so strong they were completely overpowering.

Later, of course, would come 'real boys' and then later, 'real men', but in the exuberance of youth it was the fantasy boy who held my attention in thrall, and I was rocketed back there with a vengeance, this week, when I took my two girls to see their heros, The Jonas Brothers, live in concert in Birmingham. I dragged along my unwary sister for support, not really being honest about what was to await her, but desperate for the company.

Well, we had a great time. The seats were perfect, the merchandising booth did an admirable job melting my credit card, and they screamed and jumped up and down for a full hour and a half. We even got to touch the tour bus. Now, five days later, my knees have stopped their arthritic aching (what WAS I thinking? I shouldn't have been jumping up and down, I'll put a hip out!) and my ears have stopped ringing after the frantic screaming that would have put a roomful of banshees to shame. They loved it, my inner grin remains. Now just got to catch up my word count!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Inspiration from the most unlikely of places


There's a time in every novelists day when the dust at the bottom of the cornflake packet has been devoured by his/her hungry family, and the plaintive cries of children, husband, and dogs gets too much. Yes, its off to the supermarket.
As we all know, the dedicated novelist writes all the time. Even when not sitting down in front of the computer, there's the one sided conversations, trying out dialogue in the car, and the endless thinking about the next scene. There is for me, anyway. Right. Mini trolley tokened, and off I go, pushing around the shelves, searching for bread, milk, ham, cheese and the National Enquirer. The basic staples of life.
It started innocently enough, pushing past the end of the aisle a large sign caught my eye which gave me an idea for a new romance. There it was, proclaiming Millionaire Tarts. More a title than an idea really. I paused, wipped out the trusty notebook, and jotted it down.
Next, the cheese aisle. Strong and Mature, a package promised. Hmm, perfect hero material, although perhaps not so mature might be better. In to the notebook, and on I went. I had a bit of a revalation in front of the marmalade. Was my heroine Thin and Bitter or Thick cut? Maybe Strong and dark.
Scan it quick and get out of here, ignoring packets proclaiming Crispy Treats. There's only so much shopping one gal can take!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

No time off for good behaviour


I'm feeling contrained. Although this is perhaps not the best image to describe it. Mentally handcuffed rather than literally. After all, being handcuffed while trying to bash out the words is completely wrong.
First week down, lots of action, altogether too many characters, who have a tendency to waffle on (but no drinking or eating, apparently my previous works have suffered from an over indulgence of drinking and eating, so this lot, as well as not going to the toilet, aren't scoffing). They're drinking though, although for some reason I've yet to discover, drinking booze. The story is morphing at the moment, I guess thats the way it goes while writing from the seat of your pants. I've had a good five chapters building everything, and now have the unenviable task of getting them through the next bit. This is the time (just over 14,000) where I find it difficult, and want to give up.
But I'm not going to. I know that if I can get through this section I've loads of stuff to get to. Its a first draft, which in my case means there's lots of action, and suspense, but little in the way of descriptive passages. I never finish the first draft and have to cut stuff, I always have to go back over and add details, make it more descriptive. It's tempting to just go back over what I've got and build up the wordcount this way, but I'm not going to do that, November is for moving onwards, not editing.
So, more coffee. My playlist from November 1st worked for a while, but now I'm back to another, older playlist, and I'm amazed at how blasting Abba into both ears is really working on the more psychotic scenes. My villain especially comes to life to the old favorites, becoming more evil with every pass of 'Take a chance on me.' Who would have thunk it?
Missing blogging. Missing twitter, Wishing November was over. Just have to keep going, dying for week three!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Starting


I think I love this moment more than any other. A new story, new characters, blank page. A new start. For the first time ever the lure of Nano has me so tightly in its grip that I cannot wait for the morning, cannot wait for the cold brightness of day, but instead sit at my computer with mere minutes to go, waiting.

In the moments before the first of November, I let my muse guide me. Compiling a new playlist - starting with Sting, the shape of my heart, then on to Bono and Clannad - In a lifetime, and then off into Sheryl Crowe country, with James Taylor's Fire and Rain making an entry in there somewhere.
Then setting up the page, making it all perfect as the clock counts down, before I type the title - Posthumous, at exactly one minute past midnight.
So, now an hour later I've passed my first thousand words, and feel free to go off to bed. Just a quick blogpost, an update of my word count, and off to work on the next thousand in my sleep.
What a month.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

An alternative approach to Nanowrimo


Well, its almost November, the month my family dread more than any other because it means lots of takeaways and a distracted mother who is strangely preoccupied with odd research for the entire month as she works away (8th time) on a new novel.
Many of my co-writers are put off by the idea of writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, and I know how that can be, so this morning I decided to post some alternative ideas about Nano, which I hope you'll find interesting.
The one thing to remember, is that different to contests, Nano is not about beautiful sentence structure, great characters and tight plotting, but instead about volume. Nobody except you gets to read your 50,000 words, so there is no criticism involved, and this, on its own, can be a powerful incentive to write, and unlock creativity. It struck me that there are as many different types of writers as there are cars, or chocolate for that matter. Perhaps you like to write short stories? In that case, perhaps your 'novel' could be a collection of short stories rather than a novel. The target is just over 1,600 words per day. If you decided to write a collection of 2,000 word short stories during November, you would have 25 by months end, or you could take the pick and mix approach, and still end up with a collection worth something at the end of the month.
Nano gives you the freedom to do this, not all chapters of your magnus opus need to be perfect, or even good, you can let your mind wander and see what comes out of it, and if you get stuck, as Chris Baty (Nano head) advises, why not have a spaceship land? Great if you write science fiction, and somewhat dubious if you write Regency romance, but it will get you out of a hole, and once you've written that bit, you may find that your earlier story re-emerges, in spades.
The first week is always easy, a new story, new characters, and lots of inspiration. Week two is more difficult, working on those threads and building the characters, and by the time you get to week three, you're pulling your hair out, wondering why you started, and wishing you were anywhere else but in the middle of a dog of a story. If you can get through week 3 everything changes, inspiration is back, and writing is pure joy again. I don't have a problem with having bizarre writing in week 3, worse case scenario is that you have 11,000 words of dodgy material in there which can be rewritten (or cut), but still almost 40,000 words completed that you can work with in 2010.
NaNoWriMo is a different way of writing, a way your brain adapts to. It's challenging, inspiring, and great fun, so for those who haven't considered it I'd say join the party - I bet you'll enjoy it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Golden Rose Contest


Back in early July I entered Bound to Love in the Golden Rose Contest, which is run by Rose City Romance Writers, in Portland, Oregon. I heard about this contest through Trish Wylie's blog, and upon investigation decided it would be a great thing to enter, because all entrants are judged by 3 judges, and a score sheet and detailed summary is provided to everyone.

Yesterday, I received my scores back, and although not a winner or even a finalist, I must admit that the process has been a good one. Each judge provided a score sheet and a marked up version of my submission, which was the first 50 pages.

The first catagory scored was Characterization, with a total score possible of 20 points. To give you an idea, they rated each question 1-5, five being publication ready, 4 being extremely minor revisions, 3 being some revisions, 2 being many revisions, and 1 being major revisions required.
The questions under characterization were:
Are the character's physical descriptions vivid? Can you picture them?
Are main characters sympathetic despite flaws/faults? Would you root for them as the story progresses?
Are secondary characters necessary and non-intrusive? Do they add interest and issues to the story?
Are character's actions/reactions appropriate and consistent?

They have sections on Conflict/Motivation, Dialogue/Narrative, Pacing/Plotting, Description/Setting, Craft/Mechanics, Style/Voice, Romantic Tone and a Bonus question.

Now its always difficult to hold up your creation for analysis, but I really believe it can be worth it. Especially if you grit your teeth and take the comments not as criticism, but as the help that they actually are.  The total available points are 190, and if you receive 80% of the total (e.g.152) as your lowest grade, you are on to the next round. The top 10% of those are wittled away until they come out with a winner.

I did an editing course (previously mentioned on this blog) in August, a month after sending my first 50 pages, and after submitting an entire of it to a publisher. It was declined by the publisher, but they agreed to re-read an edited version, and with the knowledge I gained from the course I hope I did a good enough job, time will tell! (It's back out there, fighting for its life!). The Golden Rose results and detailed breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of the book backed up the comments I got from the publisher, so I know that the areas that were weak have been addressed, and also know that all 3 judges said that they would like to read the rest of it, so that's consolation at least.

My weaknesses are my weaknesses, but something I should have seen coming and could have done a lot to mitigate against was what the judges took to be spelling mistakes. It's worth remembering that submitting to the USA we need to check the spelling for UK English and change to US English. I was docked points for this.

Finally, for those who are wondering, I scored 127, 147 and 163 from my judges, and would have needed lowest of 152 to get through.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A contract!

This week has been a good one, from an unexpected source. I currently have two fulls out for evaluation, a partial out to M&B as well as 2 competition entries and have been checking (rather obsessively, I admit it!) my email and having all sorts of "We love it" fantasies.
Imagine, then, my surprise to receive a contract via email for a short story that I sent off hopefully 14 months ago and had completely forgotten about. After a stunned silence (rare, those) for a couple of minutes, I signed on the dotted line and sent it back. Not what I was expecting, but publication nonetheless! So here's to me, I'm off to buy some chocolate to celebrate... and will post more when I get a publication date. So far its just enough to say I'll be featuring in New Love Stories Magazine (a New York Magazine) some time in 2010.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Jeffery Deaver's masterful dialog run

This week I'm re-reading Jeffery Deaver's great book, The Broken Window, and decided to blog about his masterful dialog. I've loved his Lincoln Rhyme books since the first one, The Bone Collector, and would say to anyone who's seen the film (Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in starring roles), read the book, its a completely different experience, and I really found the film disappointing after knowing the characters so well. Also, rather like Felix Leiter who has been played by a variety of actors, black and white, in the James Bond films, I was surprised at the casting, as I always envisioned Linc as white.

Anyway, for the uninitiated, Lincoln Rhyme is a quadriplegic criminalist who is incredibly clever, and a wonderfully abrasive personality. For those of us who finds it difficult to differentiate between characters within dialog, I think this is a great excerpt to show just how a master does it! Here goes....

Rhyme spoke into his stalk mike. "Command, call Sellitto." He was excited now. He could feel that unique buzz-the thrill of a budding hunt. Answer the damn phone, he thought angrily, and for once he wasn't thinking about England.
"Hey, Linc." Sellitto's Brooklyn-inflected voice filled the room. "What's--"
"Listen. There's a problem."
"I'm kinda busy here." Rhyme's former partner, Lieutenant Dectective Lon Sellitto, hadn't been in the best of moods himself lately. A big task force case he'd worked on had just tanked. Vladimir Dienko, the thug of a Russian mob boss from Brighton Beach, had bee indicted last year for racketeering and murder. Rhyme had assisted with some of the forensics. To everyone's shock the case against Dienko and three of his associates had been dismissed, just last Friday, after witnesses had stonewalled or vanished. Sellitto and agents from the Bureau had been working all weekend, trying to track down new witnesses and informants.
"I'll make it fast." He explained what he and Sachs had found about his cousin and the rape and coin-theft cases.
"Two other cases? Friggin' weird. What's your cousin say?"
"Haven't talked to him yet. But he denies everything. I want to have this looked into."
"'Looked into.' The fuck's that mean?"
"I don't think Arthur did it."
"He's your cousin. Of course you don't think he did it. But whatta you have concrete?"
"Nothing yet. That's why I want your help. I need some people."
"I'm up to my ass in the Dienko situation in Brighton Beach. Which, I gotta say, you'd be helping on except, no, you're too busy sipping fucking tea with the Brits."
"This could be big, Lon. Two other cases that stink of planted evidence? I'll bet there are more. I'll bet there are more. I know how much you love your cliches, Lon. Doesn't 'getting away with murder' move you?"
"You can throw all the clauses you want at me, Linc, I'm busy."
"That's a phrase, Lon. A clause has a subject and predicate."
"What-fucking-ever. I'm truing to salvage the Russian Connection. Nobody at City Hall or the Federal Building's happy about what happened."
"And they have my deepest sympathies. Get reassigned."
"It's homicide. I'm Major Cases."
****
In my opinion, this is a wonderful example of a dialog run. It's fast, the reader flies through it, not slowed by narrative at all. There are no modifiers (he said's or stuff like that) because they're not needed. Also as both of the people speaking are male, they would be difficult to use. Not only does the dialog flow so beautifully, they have such different voices that there is no possibility of getting confused about who's speaking. I'm in awe of how much he manages to convey about these two character's relationship without spelling it out, I can just hear these two going at it in my head!

For anyone who hasn't discovered Deaver yet, I can't recommend his writing enough. The above is an excerpt from The Broken Window.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

He's at it again....

Just when I was all ready to put all thoughts of Alessandro behind me, having been reassured that he had settled down in Sydney, and wasn't going to be straying, I clicked on to I heart Presents (to remind myself when they're judging the competition, so as I know when to stay in next to the phone, AS IF!) and discovered the awful truth.
So soon, Sandro, so soon! Couldn't you have given it a chance? Why oh why are you so gorgeous and yet so horribly fickle? Alessandro, I hate to do this but I've got to tell the world.
You're a playa. Your poor latest author has obviously been taken in by your dark, brooding charms and believed every word you've whispered in her shell like ear in your honeyed mutterings.Shame on you.
Alessandro returns - so soon its almost indecent in the latest book by Christina Hollis - The Tuscan Tycoon’s Pregnant Housekeeper (Harlequin Presents Extra, Sept. 2009)

He's calling himself Alessandro Castiglione, but it's him all right. He arrives at in the South of France and pretty much immediately seduces the housekeeper. 
I haven't read this one, but Christina says that 'past pain has made Alessandro allergic to commitment.' If his previous ladies catch up with him his pain, I suspect, will be of a considerably more physical nature.
I have a hero naming problem, all of mine seem to like names that begin with J. I've Jude in 'Bound to Love' and Jack in 'Catch me a Catch." In my competition entry I've got a gorgeous Irishman called Ryan. Perhaps this is part of my problem... what do you think, guys? Will I have a better chance of joining the published if I 'go Alessandro?'

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Alessandro overload!

This week I'm suffering from an overload of Alessandro's. Just like the next girl I love a good Alessandro, but this Italian is getting around. Okay, he's not always Italian, in Penny Jordan's book he's Sicilian (The Sicilian Boss's Mistress) and pictured on the cover with his hand sliding seductively up a lady he has prone on the bed, but its him alright, this time going under the surname Leopardi. I'd recognise Alessandro anywhere.
His eyes were so dark it was impossible to see their colour, and they were unreadable.

He's wooing Leonora, and it seems a love that would last forever. Until that is, he meets Megan in Cathy William's (The Multi-Millionaire's Virgin Mistress). He has a bit of a sense of humour failure when Megan bursts out of a birthday cake, but then again Alphas tend to be a bit like that, all brooding and storming everywhere.

The beautiful, angular lines of his face were tight with anger. Yup, Alessandro. And this time he's steaming up the pages before we're even half way through chapter one. I guess he just can't help himself. He says so himself, after all..

I am, he thought with a strange feeling of helplessness, only a man, dammit!

I don't want to spoil any of the surprises in this one, it's beautifully written and Alessandro is as gorgeous as ever. I really thought he was settling down, that was until I opened Anna Cleary's (At the Boss's Beck and Call) and found he'd moved on from Megan, and had set his sights on the lovely Lara. He's calling himself Alessandro Vincenti here, claiming he's from Venice, pretending to be Marquis of the Minor Ventian Isles, but I know its him, I recognise him from his description.

his lean, tanned body still glistening from the surf, his black hair gleaming, those deep, dark eyes, so sensual, so intent on her and her alone.

At the end of Anna's book (another great read, but how could it fail to be?) he's settling down in Sydney. Or so he says, after following his exploits I'm not sure I can believe him anymore.

I hope so, he really sounds like he's in love this time. As he did the time before, and the time before that. Worry not, the next time he undulates through the surf, or smoothes back a lock of his midnight black hair with a tanned hand I'll be reading, and I'll let you know who he's set his sights on.

As for me, the name Bill is beginning to grow on me. Initially turned off by Bills, (think flowerpot men, and WeeeeeeD), then that Bill Uma spent a couple of movies trying to kill, I'm being slowly seduced by the Southern Vampire from True Blood. How about the adventures of Bill, ladies? Any takers?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Killing the narrator

This week I've got my gun, and I'm out for blood. The thick, oozing blood of my inner narrator. Every book I write I'm finding out what I'm doing wrong. Hopefully, I will eventually learn enough to make a book perfect, but at this rate I could be old and grey before that happens. I've just finished an online editing course by Don McNair http://www.mcnairedits.com/ and managed to identify another one of my writing bugbears, author intrusions.

Writing in third-person, limited viewpoint, there are loads of traps for the unwary, and I have nothing but praise and admiration for those excellent authors who avoid them. I guess really realising what the problems are is the first step to avoiding them, so here goes.

I used to be a terrible one for this type of thing:

"Why don't you leave me alone!" she shouted, casting a glance behind her as she walked away from him.

Okay, so I realise we don't need me telling the reader that she's shouting, so it would be better as:

"Why don't you leave me alone!" She strode across the room.

So there's one character filter removed but I'm still telling what my character is doing, and it still lacks punch, we've no idea what's going on inside, and I'd be tempted to add in some further info, but I'd use one of the forbidden ways to do it, by adding felt, think, thought, wondered or watched in there somewhere, eg.

"Why don't you leave me alone!" She strode across the room, then turned and looked at him, wondering why he was such a pain in the ass.

No. No. No. There it is, me telling what she's thinking, rather than letting my poor reader work it out for themselves. (Sigh).

Okay, now someone like Trish Wylie wouldn't have this problem, but I sure do.

Try again.

"Why don't you leave me alone!" She had to get out, away from his cold stare. If he wasn't even interested enough to hear her side of the story, she could do without him. One word, he only had to say one word to take away the numbing pain, but he stood silent. She turned the handle. It was over then. Time to move on.

I don't know if it's better - I think its pretty awful. Maybe I'll have to try poison instead.

Here's some good examples by good writers.
First from Claimed by the Billionaire Bad Boy - Trish Wylie

"How the hell would I know? It's a dress." And noticing one dress entirely too much as it was, not to mention everything beneath it, had translated into an irritated tone in his voice and he knew it.

From Robyn Grady from Naughty Nights in the Millionaire's Mansion

"What's that, Garret? A threat? You're going to hold that miserable clause in my father's will over my head now?"
He was conscientious like Garret, honourable like Garret, but hell, he deserved a life. He made decisions for everyone else. Surely he could make his own.

And finally from Nicola Marsh in Hot Nights with a Playboy...

"Friends, schmiends." Stabbing a hanger through an armhole with particular viciousness, she knew it was time for a little honesty.

Editing hat back on, gun loaded, poison in handy concealed vial, WIP here I come.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Show, Don't Tell ain't the only show in town

When I started writing, I did exactly that, wrote. I had a story to tell, and as I wrote my story grew and developed, and my characters started to assert themselves and write their own dialogue, it was a wonderful experience for me, and I can honestly say that some good writing resulted.

The more I wrote, the more I learnt the rules. Now, I'm not published, and maybe I don't know enough of them to be, but it seems to me that not all these rules should be set in stone, after all they're just defining what the publishing world is used to seeing, not necessarily what is best. (I'm expecting comments, people!) The first rule I learnt was 'no headhopping' or using POV (point of view). This one makes perfect sense to me. The idea is that you are writing a scene through the eyes of one character. That means that you can't magically know what is in someone else's mind (although you can guess!) and you have to work within the parameters of what a character knows at that particular moment of the story. Writing romance, I write in third person and give both the hero and heroine's POV. Trish Wylie speaks about action and reaction, and this is a valid and powerful way to develop the story.

I'm plot heavy, I know it, and so does anyone who's ever read any of my work. This means that the next thing I had to learn about was characters, and giving them a starting point (including flaws) and a finishing point where they learn more about themselves, and hopefully overcome some of their flaws. There's a ton of really well written information about this, Blake Snyder wrote about it very well in his book Save the Cat when he advised that we should all remember the covenant of the arc, which is that every character within a screenplay should arc, that is to say, develop through the story, except villians, who's inability to learn is their eventual undoing.

Okay, plot, pov and characters, I'm getting there. My next speed bump was pacing. Now I'll be honest, I haven't got this worked out yet, I'm editing and struggling and trying to make it better, and this is where Show, Don't Tell comes in. I read somewhere that Mills and Boon should be 60% dialogue, 40% other. I think it was in Kate Walker's excellent How to write romance. This means that you should have the story unfold through dialogue and the inner thoughts of your characters, rather than allowing the writer's narration intrude. I do this a lot. I have to go through and edit it, which means that my first draft is full of RUE written in the borders, short for Resist the Urge to Explain. But lately I'm coming to a realisation that there is something I've been missing.

Sometimes you have to tell, and in this post I'm bravely going out on a limb and shouting from the rooftops, I like narrative summary, and I reckon that by religiously sticking to the dictat show, don't tell, we're in danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. As well as dialogue and the tags that identify the speakers, descriptions of body language to heighten the writing experience, inner reflection to show what each character is thinking, we all use exquisite writing to build the world that our character's live in, to set the scene, as it were.

Sometimes you need to speed up a scene, by fast forwarding through the action. There's nothing more boring than spelling out every step to tea making, so I'm use little patches of narrative summary to tighten things up and progress it along. I'm using Show, AND Tell. A mix between showing what a character is feeling, and occasionally explaining it, and I think it's working.

My aim is to make my writing better, so, for me, I'm writing, reading it out loud, editing it, and reading it again, until it resonates with me, and I like it. Because, when it comes down to it, I read what other people write, and make a judgement call on whether I think its good or not, and my writing deserves the same consideration, by me anyway!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Your story – In a nutshell.

When it comes right down to it, you can have written a beautiful, lyrical story that you are completely unable to describe to anyone foolish enough to ask. At the moment I’m working on my synopsis for my soon to be finished WIP, Catch me a catch, and in order to do this successfully, I’ve been looking at some of the basic skills used by scriptwriters to sell their stories to us – the public.

I was introduced to these ideas by Blake Snyder, wonderful author of Save the Cat, and have found the examples below on the Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/.
There are so many options out there when it comes to picking a film to go see, and the methods used to catch our attention I believe can also be applied to sell a book. (Although it should be noted that I haven't sold one, yet!) First, you have a poster, which combines a picture and a title, and somewhere there you should find a one line summary, the tagline which draws you in. Wikipedia defines taglines like this: The idea behind the concept is to create a memorable phrase that will sum up the tone and premise of a brand or product (like a film).

My current favourite is for The Proposal. This picture is great, it tells us so much about the movie, and the tagline is a classic in the making –

Here comes the bribe…

In the writing world, we’re used to thinking about the story, the synopsis and the query letter, but I think that in searching for an agent or publisher I can also learn a lot from the world of film packaging, so defining a tagline for my books is something I always strive to do, it helps me to keep focused on my story’s core.

The next step is the logline, a max 3 sentence description of the story.
Trusty Wikipedia says : The log line first came into use and was recognized as a separate form during the old studio days of Hollywood. The studios had script vaults in which they stored screenplays. Readers wrote a concise one line summary of what the script was about either on the cover of the script, on the spine of the script, or both. The log line on the spine of the script allowed people to read the log lines of scripts that were stacked without having to unstack them.

One of my favorite films is Working Girl, I love the script, and its succinct logline captures the film’s essence perfectly: For anyone who’s ever won, For anyone who’s ever lost, and for everyone who’s still in there trying.

Here’s the poster for The Family Stone – the tagline, Feel the love, is wonderfully sarcastic, and blends so well with the picture.
The logline was: An uptight, conservative, businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family's annual Christmas celebration and finds that she's a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life.
Which sums it up perfectly, and lets the buyer know what sort of a story they're in for!
I also like this one, for Sweet Home Alabama – one one side is Reece Witherspoon's new life, represented by the fancy suitcases of her Melanie Carmichael persona, and on the left, the coon dog she
left behind when she relocated from Alabama. Rather than get into a long, complicated story about old husbands and new fiancee's the tagline simply states:
sometimes what you’re looking for, is right where
you left it.

Here are some more taglines and loglines that I hope you'll enjoy, I applaud the writers who managed to convey, in so few words, the heart of their stories - I'm striving for excellence with mine, if only so I can answer that question - So, what's your book about?
Independence Day - Aliens try to invade earth on Independence Day.
Dead Calm - A married couple, trying to recover from the death of their only child, are terrorized at sea by a handsome maniac.
The Hunt for Red October - A Soviet submarine captain uses Russia's ultimate underwater weapon as a means to defect to the west.
The Last Boy Scout - A private detective must team up with an ex-football star to catch the killer of a topless dancer.
The Notebook – Behind every great love is a great story.
The Lake House – How do you hold on to someone you’ve never met?
Blind Date – She’s the perfect woman, until she has a drink.
Meet the Fockers – and you thought your family were embarrassing
Love actually – Love actually is all around.
Four weddings and a funeral – he’s quite engaging, she’s otherwise engaged.
The Bourne Identity – He was the perfect weapon, until he became the target.
Romancing the Stone - She's a girl from the big city. He's a reckless soldier of fortune. For a fabulous treasure, they share an adventure no one could imagine... or survive.
PS I love you – sometimes there’s only one thing left to say
The Da Vinci Code – Seek the truth.
My best friend’s wedding - Julianne fell in love with her best friend the day he decided to marry someone else.
The Matchmaker - A comedy for the incurably unromantic.
Tin cup - Golf pro. Love amateur.
The Thomas Crown Affair - How do you get the man who has everything?
The Abyss - A place on earth more awesome than anywhere in space.
Alien - In space no one can hear you scream
X men - Evolution Begins.
Big – have you ever had a really big secret?
He’s just not that into you - Are you the exception...or the rule?
Twilight - When you can live forever what do you live for?
Confessions of a shopaholic - All she ever wanted was a little credit...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Things I've learnt along the way

Trish Wylie's doing this great thing over at her blog, its a sort of Virtual Nationals for those of us who haven't managed to escape - and it blends in perfectly with my Virtual Holiday week, starting tomorrow where I'm doing all things French, and pretending that soggy Ireland is in fact, blazing Provence.

Now, Trish suggested a blog entry about writing, and I've been doing plenty of that! When I started writing, about ten years ago, I decided that I was a great writer. Sure, I didn't know about grammar, how to get things to look right, but I could write a story, and that's all that matters, right?
Wrong. I started with Nanowrimo, an online, challenging competition to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. This proved to me that I could do it, I could write the quantity, and when I read through it a lot of it was good, but what it didn't give me was STRUCTURE. Being a natural pantster, when my heroine on my third nano outing (who even I didn't like very much) walked past a window and was shot dead (and nothing I could do would revive her) I realised that there was something missing, and that something was structure. When I finally got serious about my writing and started to look at it with a critical eye about three years ago I decided that I needed to learn, and set off into the great wide yonder to investigate.

I did a course on starting to write. The most useful things I learnt from this was that you need to make sure you have a notebook with you all the time for jotting down ideas, and sticking in cuttings. Now I'd never be without an ideas book. It also opened up my vistas a bit, the teacher suggested we try writing a short story or two, something I'd never contemplated, and I discovered it was both fun and challenging.


Next, I found a writers group, but reading my stuff aloud to a group of people I didn't know who seemed to be best friends with each other (but not with me!) was daunting in the extreme, I'm naturally an introvert, and needless to say, I didn't go back. I enrolled in a teaching correspondence course, and went into instant shock, the challenges were useful, but the comments by my teacher were wounding. Too wimpy and delicate for straight talking, I limped back into the cave, to lick my wounds.

My next excellent find wasday long courses by Inkwell Writers Group, here in Ireland http://www.inkwellwriters.ie/ finally, tailored courses with like minded individuals who 'got it'! I'd always wanted to write for Mills and Boon, and when Inkwell announced that they were running a workshop with Trish Wylie, Abby Green and bringing over editor Jenny Hutton from Mills and Boon, I was one of the first to sign up. I'll never forget sitting in the room with Trish as she introduced us to her hero and heroine (she brought pictures) and talked about internal and external conflict. It was an eye opener. Now, my daily writing life is liberally peppered with as much reading and researching as I can get, there's always something new to learn.

I've done online courses with http://www.writersuniv.com/, especially many wonderful ones with Romance writer Laurie Schnebley Campbell (http://www.booklaurie.com/), and have joined the Romantic Novelists Association. Last year I sent them my manuscript, Bound to Love to critique under the New Writers Scheme, and its currently being looked at (I hope!) in Richmond. This year I'm in the NWS again, and in the process of finishing Catch me a catch, a modern heat set in a west of Ireland village, where a stand-in matchmaker tangles with a transatlantic Hugh Jackmanesque sailor. Trish and Abby have given me great support, Trish has some fabulous resources spread between blog and boards, and I did a great course with Ally Blake in Australia in March, so get out there and learn. learn, learn! As for publication, that's something to blog about another day!