Tag Archives: polishing

How a small community can smother your characters

As a contemporary romance writer, I know that series set in small towns and tight-knit communities are insanely popular.

But there’s also a danger that, as a series grows, those communities can begin to smother the vibrancy of later novels and their characters.

This isn’t just a danger with small-town contemporary romance. It can happen in any series that focuses on a particular community, whether that’s the ton in Regency romance or a fantastical world completely of the author’s creation.

Here are the ways communities can alienate me, the reader, and my thoughts on how to avoid it.

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Filed under Contemporary romance spotlight, Writer's toolbox

Discovering the book you wish you’d written

A few weeks ago, I sat down to read a book by a new-to-me author that’s coming out soon. The premise had sounded intriguing, but to be honest, I’d requested it along with about a dozen others so by the time I started reading it I couldn’t even remember what it was supposed to be about.

So I read. And I read. And soon I started thinking, “Holy crap, why didn’t I write this book!”

Just to be clear, I don’t think I could’ve actually written this book, for many reasons. It doesn’t have a similar plot to any of my stories. The characters are very different from mine. It’s not even the same subgenre I write.

But it’s set in the same sort of world I’ve worked in for years, a world I’ve researched backwards and forwards and spent countless hours writing about for my day job: the world of major disasters.

The book I wish I’d written is Hot Zone by Catherine Mann. And this is how I tried to console myself for not having written it.

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Attack of the overbearing body parts

Woman with a stomach ache

© Juergen Sack/istockphoto

For some reason, my first drafts tend to be dominated by one body part, and it’s probably not one you’d expect, considering I’m a romance writer.

I hadn’t realized I had a bullying body part until one of my beta readers returned her incredibly helpful comments on the novel manuscript I wrote last year. Throughout the manuscript, she wrote “Stomach again” and “Gut again”. My characters experienced all their emotion and tension in their bellies. Their stomachs twisted and ached. Clenched and heaved. Tightened and rolled.

When I told people I wanted to write gut-wrenching emotional romance, that wasn’t quite what I meant.

The odd thing is that last year, when I wrote this manuscript, I was under a hell of a lot of pressure because of family illness and unrealistically big work commitments. I told my husband at the end of the year—when the pressure began to ease—that I’d had a stomach ache for about ten months. The pain hadn’t been debilitating, but a niggling ball of stress had lodged itself below my ribs and refused to shift.

When I saw all the places I’d relied on my characters’ tummies to show their emotions to readers, I had to laugh (a belly laugh, of course). Writing this story was the only way I’d been able to relieve some of my own tension. My writing time was the only peaceful time I had each day.

And apparently I’d achieved that peace by transferring my own stomach ache to my poor characters.

Are there body parts that dominate your early drafts? Do your characters carry most of their emotion in one place? Am I alone in transferring my stress to my characters? (Please say no!)

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The worst thing I’ve ever written didn’t kill me

Revolver

© Brian Lary/sxc.hu

In the months leading up to my college graduation, I panicked. What the hell could you do with an English degree except teach or go to law school – neither of which I was very excited about?

I took the LSAT, but only because I watched a lot of Law & Order and wanted to work with a hot detective like Benjamin Bratt. Fortunately, I got lost on the way to the exam and didn’t have enough time to eat lunch, ensuring I got a mediocre score and gave up the thought of going to law school.

I’d make a terrible lawyer.

My best friend was panicking, too. She majored in world arts and cultures, an even less practical degree (though she does know how to do a traditional Indonesian dance). So she proposed we apply to teach English in Japan through the JET program.

The application required me to write an essay, which I did quickly and without much care. After all, I was an English major so I could write, right?

By the time I had my interview, I’d forgotten what I’d written. I walked into the room where three people sat behind a table. One of them was glaring at me already.

Not a great sign.

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Finished the draft! Need a beta!

Silhouette of a jumping man

Credit: Asif Akbar/sxc.hu

After one year and two weeks, I’ve FINALLY finished the first draft of my novel.

*insert appropriate noises connoting excitement and nervousness here*

I’ve been editing and polishing as I go – which is one reason I’ve only written the last scene this weekend. It’s 343 pages (96,500 glorious words) but there are around 250 pages that only God and I have seen. They need work. Probably a lot of work. But I’ve stuck with this story when I was tired, stressed, and frustrated, so I’m not giving up now.

So here’s the deal. I’m looking for people who’d love to read it and give me feedback. Ideally, I’m looking for people who like somewhat dark, emotional contemporary single title romance. I’d love it if you could give me your feedback by mid-to-late February so I can digest it and rework anything I need to.

I’d like pretty high-level feedback (what works, what’s confusing, what’s unrealistic and makes me sound like I’m pulling things out of my butt, etc), though, if you’re inclined to point out awkward sentences then by all means please do so.

If you’re a writer, I’m happy to do an exchange with you (because of this, I will probably only take a few beta readers, as I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep).

Feel free to leave a comment below (even if you don’t want to beta read for me) or email me at romancingkatrina [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks for celebrating with me!

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When the left side of your brain bullies the right

Earlier this week, I blogged about how I got away from the internet for a week and spent time in the real world. Since I spend roughly 25 hours a day online, that left me with lots of free time.

Fortunately, I also have a nearly-finished first draft to work on, and I decided to spend my time away from technology getting hands-on with my manuscript. *baum chicky baum baum*

Don’t worry, I didn’t get too fruity. I’d hate to think of how much those paper cuts would sting.

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Dealing with negative feedback

In my day job, I write for and edit a large website. I’m fortunate enough to have a manager who’s taught me a lot about both disciplines. Since Charles is a former journalist and an experienced editor, I asked if he could write some tips on how to deal with negative feedback on your writing. (And if you think any feedback you’ve received is harsh, check out these rejection letters.)

Keep in mind that this is the man who regularly covers my stories in red ink, and who has to deal with my demands for gold-star stickers when he hands back a flawless story.

Here’s his advice:

If you want to publish your work, you need to accept you aren’t writing purely for yourself anymore. You’re writing for your readers, which means you’re automatically making other people’s opinions about your work important. If you don’t or can’t accept that early on, you’re going to find it all very upsetting.

But it’s not a free-for-all. Some feedback is unhelpful. It can be vague (“I just didn’t like it”), irrelevant (“This historical fiction would be better with lasers”) or from someone who isn’t your target audience anyway (“I ain’t much for book-larnin'”). I’d also tend to distrust feedback that feels like it’s rewriting your work for you (“it would be better here if, instead of proposing to Juliet, Romeo shacked up with Rosaline, and had a falling out with Benvolio”). You might not like getting feedback like this, but instead of worrying that it’s negative, you should probably just ignore it because it isn’t useful.

Useful feedback can be prosaic and mechanical (“I don’t understand this sentence”, “I don’t think you intend this paragraph to mean what it does”) or about how someone feels about what you’ve written (“I hated the character of Steve, but it felt like I was supposed to like him”, “I didn’t believe it when the ghost turned out to be the old caretaker wearing a mask”). With that second kind of feedback, you need to probe further and find out *why* a reader feels that way so you know what needs fixing.

Criticism helps you tell the story you want, in the way you want to tell it. You need other people to give you that feedback, because it’s really hard, and sometimes impossible, to know how other people will read and respond to something you’ve written.

It might be upsetting and demoralising to hear that someone doesn’t get from your writing what you want them to get from it, but it probably isn’t personal. Your writing is not you. It’s not even your story, your setting or your characters – it’s how well you’ve communicated them. And that can be fixed, by taking on board feedback and communicating them better.

What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned about how to deal with negative feedback on your writing?

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Save the words!

Here’s a little language quiz for you.

1) How many words do you think the English language has?

KexyI lost count at 157, so fortunately I was able to put my Googling skills to the test and discovered the Oxford English Dictionary has full entries for 171,476 words in current use, and 47,156 obsolete words.

But if you add derivitive words and words that have multiple uses (like words that can be a noun and a verb), then they estimate English has at least a quarter of a million distinct words (find out more about how they counted).

2) How many of those words do we actually use?

Being from southern California, there are three words that form the bulk of my communication: awesome, cool, and brill.

According to my new absolute favoritest website EVER, (savethewords.org), we only use 7,000 words to communicate 90% of everything we write.

What tragedy! How boring! And repetitive!

Save the Words says:

Each year hundreds of words are dropped from the English language.

Old words, wise words, hard-working words. Words that once led meaningful lives but now lie unused, unloved and unwanted.

Today, 90% of everything we write is communicated by only 7,000 words.

You can change all that. Help save the words!

So I’m helping spread the word. The word for today is pregnatress (n.): female power that generates or gives birth to something

I want to be the pregnatress of language, so I urge you to learn a new word today. Their website is chock-a-block with words – some gorgeous, some silky-smooth, and some so repugnant you’ll feel nauseous (mingent and gleimous, I’m looking at you).

Here are some I’ll be able to slip into my everyday speech:

crassulent – very fat, overweight, grossly obese
viliorate – to become less good; to deteriorate
boreism – behaviour of a boring person
snollygoster – shrewd, unprincipled person
lubency – willingness; pleasure

Go visit their site and then come back here to tell me your favorite new words.

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Filed under Love your language

Prune your prose

Speaking of being overly wordy, here’s an online workshop that my RWA chapter is running soon.

It’s as if they’ve been reading my blog and came up with the class just for me. Thanks, guys.

***** Permission to Forward Granted *****

RWA® Online Chapter presents:

PRUNE YOUR PROSE! Ten Tips to Tighten Your Fiction Writing
Instructor: Linnea Sinclair
August 16th – 29th, 2010
Registration Period: August 2-15, 2010
Fee: $15 Non-Chapter members. RWAOL Chapter #136 members; free.
Payment method: PAYPAL is recommended!

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I’m not repetitive, but…

You know those people who start a sentence with “I’m not racist, but…” and then go on to say something so horrific it leaves you lost for words?

Well, I’m not repetitive, but…

Last week I became a member of Savvy Authors and they’ve got a tool called the Auto Critter. It’s like Microsoft Word’s ‘find’ function but shedloads better. You paste in a passage (or even a full manuscript) and it counts how many times you use certain words that are often overused.

One of my worst offenders is ‘just’. It’s on just about every page, and it’s just so hard to stop using it. I pasted in my first chapter, and Auto Critter told me I’ve used ‘just’ 13 times…in eight pages. Ouch.

What’s better, it highlights all these overused words so you can see whether your use of the word is just…ified.

Sorry. I just couldn’t help myself.

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