Page 2 of 27

Killing My Darlings

This has not been a happy week for me.

I started the rework on an old ms with high hopes. I had a new heroine and planned to turn the old one into the antagonist. In the original story she was a villain and I had hoped to reform her in this novel. Turns out, I couldn’t. Even as the author I could not make her likeable — she is sexy as hell and dangerous–but just too selfish and self-centred and manipulative to have my lovely hero love her again.

The new heroine doesn’t show up in such bright colours but she is loyal and steady and smart and becoming and generous and has a heart for the misused hero. Still, when I write her description beside that of the original, she comes off as bland. I’m afraid readers will think the hero has settled for second best when he chooses her. 

Hence, “killing my darlings.” All the flair and power I put into the description of the now villain has to be tempered and the bland heroine spiced up. The latter is fun, the former is painful. Stephen King wrote: Stephen King wrote, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Well, my egocentric little scribbler’s heart is breaking. Maybe I can just save those words to an outtake file somewhere. 😉

What about you, fellow authors? What do you do when your favourite passage has to go?

Hits: 70

What Makes a Heroine?

 

 

   A lone woman alit from the caboose of an early morning freight train.  She stood, silhouetted against the pale dawn, a tumble of black curls cascading down her back, a shabby valise crumpled at her feet.  She was the kind of woman who drew men to her like foxes to a vixen.  Yet, when they looked into her eyes, they averted their gaze and slunk away.  She saw too much, this ripe, fecund female; saw the hunger in their bellies, the lust in their loins and the evil in their souls.  In her charms were both rapture and damnation.  Few men would risk their souls to claim the promise of her full hips and overflowing breasts.

   Exiting the school house Kirsten Swendsen narrowed her eyes to study the stranger who looked so at home in Glenrose, Saskatchewan. As the truth dawned, animosity shattered her schoolmarm serenity. Runaway, adulteress, unfit mother, indecent, wanton . . . the list of Kathleen Walden’s sins filled many a gossip’s chatter. Kirsten had no doubt the woman at the train station was Kathleen, come back to damage the lives of her children and husband again. Rage jolted along her veins. Without weighing the consequences, she stepped into her gig and turned the horse for Walden farm.  

 

   Here is the question. Which woman should be the heroine of this book? Kathleen has lots of baggage from a previous novel. Can a woman who has abandoned her children and disgraced her husband be convincingly rehabilitated so that the reader believes her wronged husband can love her again? 

  Kirsten is a schoolmarm in every sense of the word. Can an opinionated, rule-ridden, super-achiever be a romantic heroine? Can a man who has loved Kathleen love her antithesis?

  As a reader, which woman would you root for?

  All comments gratefully received.

Hits: 147

Playtime

I start my day with the morning newspaper, then watch a little news commentary on television. Mostly, I enjoy this routine, but sometimes the bad news is overwhelming. Sometimes, a body just needs some playtime. So, today’s blog is dedicated to my cats. I hope readers will enjoy a little downtime with my furry critters.

cat as toddlerPlayful cats make as much mess as a playful toddler!

Not sure about this white stuff!

 

 

 

 

Oh, boy, Christmas!

 

Time for a little music.

                                                                                                                              Aren’t we sweet?

 

I read an article the other day where a woman whose family had contracted COVID remarked that they were lucky they had a yard where they could go outdoors.  As a farm girl I can’t imagine not having a yard, but looking at the high rise buildings in our cities it is clear that many, many people do not have that luxury. It reminded me to be grateful for even the smallest things–like pets. 

I hope all my readers see blessings, find something to smile about and look forward with hope today.

 

Hits: 32

7 Thoughts on Plots

Coming off of six weeks of courses on plotting, I’ve reached a few conclusions for myself. Some may be helpful to other writers.

  1. I truly am a pantser. I always thought I just didn’t know how to plot. Now, following the steps of these courses, I have created a complete plot. The problem is, when I tried to write a few scenes I found I’d lost interest.
  2. We pantsers find joy in uncovering the story as it goes along. I know a mystery writer who is half way through the book before she figures out “whodunnit.” If we know the ending and all the turning points in advance, there is no more excitement.
  3. All is not lost. As a pantser I’m often staring at the screen wondering what happens next. I’ve learned a better question is, what do they “do” next. My characters spend too much time drinking tea and thinking.
  4. “Why” is an excellent question at all stages of story-writing. Even when I get my characters into fist-fights or prairie fires, the action may seem random. “Why” they do something is always good to know and will keep the story from wandering.
  5. Time is my friend. I am useless at brainstorming sessions where people fire off ideas like a shotgun. I may take a day to give my character a name, let alone a story. These courses have been deliberately step-by-step. I can use that, even as a pantser.
  6. Romance stories are not formulaic. Any teacher who gives me a formula like — Name —must ———–because ———–, but————–gets in the way, so he———– but then————  Writing to a formula like this freezes my creativity. Fortunately, the courses I just took don’t use that approach.
  7. Even though I’m a committed pantser there are elements of plotting that I can use to improve my process and maybe save myself the frustration of deleting thousands of words.

All in all, I’ve found these six weeks of learning from Laurie Schnebly Campbell most enjoyable and useful. Even putting to bed the notion that if I could only plot in advance I’d be a better writer is worthwhile. Instead of doubting my process, I can use what I’ve learned to refine it. 

I’m constantly uplifted by the generosity of romance writers — their willingness to teach, to share business knowledge, and to encourage and support each other is truly remarkable. In a world that more often turns to cynicism and anger and hate, the example of romance writers offering hope and friendship and a helping hand is something to celebrate.  

Please use the comments section of this post to add your own thoughts on plot.

Hits: 441

The World Needs Romance Authors

holding up the worldI think the world, particularly journalists and politicians, needs to take a lesson from romance writers on how to critique.

Now that the COVID-19 crisis is moving into a new, and hopefully, end stage, all the pundits are out assessing who did what when, and complaining it wasn’t enough, was too much, was too late, missed the mark, etc. etc. Maclean’s, which bills itself as Canada’s magazine, published its latest issue with a black cover and the headline, “report on Canada’s mishandling of the crisis of the century.” In a time when we’re all struggling to maintain our mental health, this cover felt like a slap in the face.

As romance writers we’re taught that the critique is meant to be helpful to the author. It is not meant to destroy her writing dream. It is not a place for the critiquer to promote herself or her ideas. We learn to sandwich our criticism between layers of praise. The end result is to encourage the newbie writer to keep trying, to keep learning and to get better. If a critique results in the would-be-author giving up, the person writing the critique has failed.

To be fair,  Maclean’s did highlight bright spots in Canada’s response to COVID-19, most notably the response of individuals who found ways of helping out whether it was turning distilleries into makers of hand sanitizer, car manufacturers retooling to make PPE, or the compassion and dedication of health workers. Still, the overall tone of the magazine was negative.

Governments and their actions need to be scrutinized, I’m not denying that. But if the scrutiny is based on 20/20 hindsight without any recognition of the moment when decisions were made, it is unfair. If the analysis is intended to push a political agenda, that serves only one party, it is suspect. As with any great event in history, our response to COVID-19 should be examined. We should look for ways to do better. We should recognize that another pandemic can occur. We need critical thinking. But we also need people willing to take on the enormity of government. Given the level of personal attack and smear campaigns that are becoming standard practice, I wonder anyone even wants to run for office.

Politicians, agencies and public administrators will make mistakes. Pundits make mistakes too, but they are never headline news. If a journalist predicts a disaster and the disaster does not happen, that “expert” is not vilified in the press. There will be barely a mention of the miscalculation. Yet public figures are excoriated on everything from their policy statements to their hairstyles.  

I remember a conversation with an optimist once who complained that even the weather report listed 40% chance of showers. “That’s 60% chance of sunshine,” he grumbled. “Why not say it that way?”

As an optimist, I’m on his side. As a citizen I expect my leaders to put every ounce of effort into keeping me safe. I expect them to use science, technology, tradition and research to develop plans to make my country a place where every citizen is cared for and valued. As Maclean’s points out, there are many areas where we could have done better. But to imply that it was all a disaster is incorrect and serves only to fuel cynicism and distrust at a time when we need confidence and team spirit. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” and all that.

Magazine’s like Maclean’s give no space to romance writers but they could certainly learn something about collegiality and encouragement from us.

Hits: 270

On Being a Student – Again

doing homeworkMoving along in Laurie Schnebly’s “Plotting via Motivation” course. . .I’ve learned that taking a workshop on-line instead of in person has some surprising benefits. The most important one for me is thinking time. I’m no good at those brainstorming sessions where everyone in the room calls out possibilities and questions. My ideas need time to brew. They grow from a glimmer to a beacon when they can swirl around in my brain for a while, so when I complete my homework assignment, I’m satisfied that I’ve answered the right questions. 

Another surprise is my pleasure in doing homework. I shouldn’t be. I liked school and homework was part of the package.  The best part of homework is getting it back with the teacher’s comments. An in-person class doesn’t allow the presenter enough time to do that. With the on-line course I get a personal response from Laurie on each assignment. That is so helpful because it deals with the particulars of my story, not just the generalities of plotting.

There is one aspect of the course that is no surprise. I’m terrible at plotting! The beginning comes together fairly well and I know how it should end, but that dratted middle sags in an exercise as much as it does in a full-length novel. Hence, one of the reasons I took this class.  

And that brings me to another reason I’m taking this class. Laurie Schnebly is a terrific teacher. She infuses her lectures with clear examples from various genres so whether  students write horror or romance, adventure or shape-shifters, they can feel at home in the class. 

Finally, I’m becoming intrigued with this character I made up just for practice. Who knows I may find a full-fledged novel here, or at least a short story. 

As the garden work picks up I find myself doing a lot of math. I need to know how much fertilizer to apply per square foot. So I need to determine the square footage. I need to convert tablespoons to cups. How many cubic meters in my wheelbarrow? How many litres in a gallon? When I left school I had hoped to be done with arithmetic forever but it is essential to modern life. Similarly with this writing homework. I hope the lessons learned here will prove useful for the rest of my writing career.

Over the years I’ve taken many workshops from some of the best in the business. I like the personal contact. I enjoy meeting other writers. It’s fun to get a day away from home with lunch laid on. I have a whole file drawer full of the notes and handouts from those workshops. When I read the notes I’m convinced I should be able to write a novel just by following the pattern set out for me. Yet, somewhere along the way, I just can’t get my thoughts to fit into the pattern presented. Having Laurie’s personal feedback makes this workshop special. I highly recommend it. You can see her upcoming classes offered through writeruniv.

This sounds like a total fan-girl article because it is. Feel free to add the names of your own favourite teachers in the comments below.

Hits: 319

Motivation

old fashioned classroomThis week I’ve started an on-line course with Laurie Schnebly Campbell, Plotting via Motivation. We’re at the stage of introducing ourselves. Turns out, we’re a mixed bag of day job writers, homemaker writers, retired from the day job writers, empty-nest writers and writers juggling it all! 

What, I wondered, is the motivation for these various types to take a writing course? From the introduction letters I found

  • Repeaters–those who’ve taken one of Laurie’s courses before and loved it.
  • Those stuck on a wip and looking for guidance.
  • Those looking for a change after being under COVID rules for a year.
  • Newbies wondering what it’s all about.
  • Experienced authors wanting to improve their craft

I could put myself into any of those categories or all of them. I’m bored after a year of mostly staying home. I’ve been to Laurie’s in-person classes and loved them. I’m stuck on a wip but want to try a brand new idea for this exercise. Mostly though, I want to shake myself up. I feel my writing and my motivation have gotten stale.

When I was first published the only option was traditional publishers. So the goal was to get your ms in front of an acquiring editor, followed by the goal of getting her to buy your work. The motivation for that effort varied from personal achievement to making some money to validating the hours I spent at the computer, putting my ideas out into the world.

With the legitimization of self-publishing, a lot has changed. Now, if the goal is to get words in front of readers, there are many avenues. If the goal is to make money, the self-published author has much more responsibility for managing her publishing business. As for validation, does that mean ten people read my work? 100? 10,000? 100,000? Does traditional publishing or self-publishing hold out the most promise for achieving the goal? Am I suited to the “go it alone” technique or would I be better off working with a publishing house? Knowing my own motivation will help answer some of these questions. I think a month devoted to working out character motivation might help me get a handle on my own.

Apart from all of the above, I enjoy mingling with other writers. I find creative people interesting and full of surprises. Like this one, shared by a classmate. It’s called the plot generator.  https://writingexercises.co.uk/plotgenerator.php   

The site gives you six elements of a story, main character, secondary characters, setting, theme, situation and character action. You click on the buttons and up pops an answer in each of the elements. If you don’t like the first suggestion, click it again for a second suggestion. The ideas are totally random. It reminds me of a present I got at Christmas when I was about ten.  A box containing about 30 text covered 5×7 inch cards in different colours offered an endless variety of stories. Any pink card combined with a yellow, blue, green, purple and gold card yielded a cohesive story. Change any of the cards for another of the same colour and you got a different story. It was very clever. I have no idea now what it was called or who was the genius who figured out how to write a story with so many interchangeable segments but the plot generator seems similar to me.

Laurie wants us to work on a new idea. I have a file labelled “story ideas” that never got developed. If I can’t find something in there that appeals, I may go to the plot generator. After all, the class is an exercise in motivation, not the “story of my heart.”

Questions: Does anyone remember that story box idea from long, long ago? Do you know what it was called? Please e-mail me writersstudio@shaw.ca or leave a comment below if you can fill in the blanks of my memory.

Hits: 124

How I Chose a Timely Book

One of my Christmas gift books was a repeat so I had the pleasure of returning it to the bookstore and browsing the shelves for a replacement. I settled on The Company We Keep, by Frances Itani.

Of course, the cover was the first thing I noticed, uncluttered with a picture of a small table and a single chair with a parrot on the back. I picked it up and read the back blurb. The story is set in Canada. I find a book extra enjoyable when the references are one’s I am familiar with. A book set in the UK may refer to the High Street. One taking place in the US may refer to Applebee’s. I know the High Street is the main shopping avenue of a town or village. I know Applebee’s is a restaurant chain , but I haven’t experienced those places the way I have Tim Horton’s or Loblaw’s.

The subject of the story also intrigued me. A group of strangers meet in response to a notice on a bulletin board (the physical kind not on facebook) to talk about grief. Since I’m missing casual connections just now, I thought a story about strangers getting to know one another would be entertaining. The topic of grief seems apropos as well since our whole world is grieving. Perhaps we haven’t lost a loved one, but we’ve all lost the life we used to know.

Finally, Ms Itani has won several literary awards, that sealed the deal for me. I carried the book to the cashier.

I was not disappointed.  Each of these strangers has a unique story of loss, a spouse (good or bad), a parent, a friend . . . Yet grief doesn’t figure much in their discussions. Having lost the person closest to them, they mostly, want to talk and they want someone to listen. The stories aren’t so much about grieving as they are about living. There are also secrets. The lost relationships had a public face and a private face. It’s that private aspect of the lost relative that colours the way the bereaved live the rest of their lives. As a bonus, the woman who placed the notice is a word aficionado. Her thoughts are sprinkled with the etymology of the words she uses. A quirk that enlivens her character and amuses me as the reader.

As the group gathers, they begin to think of themselves as a company. A place where judgement is withheld and trust is formed. Shameful secrets are exposed and forgiven. Hurtful relationships are explored without censure. Sympathy is free and abundant. Help with practical things like moving furniture is readily offered.

A book with grief at its core  sounds sad, but it is not. It is hopeful. The characters clear out the troubles from their old lives then prepare to live again. They turn to a clean page for the last chapters of their lives.

I wonder if we can look a 2020 that way. The year that was mostly a void in our lives can be viewed as a resetting point. When society opens up, when we’re ready to hold hands with our friends and high-five a stranger can we take the lessons of isolation into a hopeful future? Having cast off so many activities, can we re-engage in a thoughtful way? Do all those clubs nurture us or are some a waste of time? Are all our previous relationships healthy or were some toxic?

We’re not out of the woods yet. Billions of people still need to be vaccinated. We may need to get a booster shot every year. We may need to keep our groups small for a while longer. But light glimmers on the horizon. As we prepare to pick up the dropped threads of life we might like to consider “the company we keep.”

Hits: 616

What I miss the most

waiting for the rain to end.

The weather where I live has been grey and gloomy for weeks. The Covid-19 restrictions from Public Health get tighter and tighter and our case numbers hover in the dangerously high numbers. The vaccine supply is shorted.  I’m at home nearly all of the time. I have my husband and my cats for company. They have already heard all of my opinions and complaints and tend to wander off when I start preaching.

While staring out the window and pining for the day when life returns to “normal” I recalled something I posted here, some time ago about a book called The Book that Matters Most. It was a fun read and sparked great discussion among my book reading friends. Thinking of that book, I started a list of What I Miss Most. Sounds dreary, I know, but sometimes it helps to “define the problem.” So here’s my list.

  1. Casual friendships. Seems like an odd item to put in the number one position but there it is. I keep in touch with my close friends via e-mail or telephone or zoom. But the lady who sits beside me at Bible Study, or the woman with the hair appointment just before mine, or the vet, or the letter carrier–these are people I know only in one specific instance but I miss them. I like to hear their views on events of the day because they are outside my close circle of friends. They connect me with the world in different ways. They make me part of something bigger. I need these casual acquaintances to give perspectives that may not align with my own.
  2. The library. At present my library is available for pick-up and very limited browsing. I miss the freedom to peruse the shelves in my own time. To pick up a volume and read a few pages before deciding whether to check it out. I miss seeing the community notice board in the lobby. I really miss inspecting the “returns” trolley. I am convinced that all the best books have been checked out by someone else and I’m eager to scan those favourites. It’s a way to connect with other library patrons.
  3. Line-ups. What?  I can hear you all shouting that we line-up all the time. Yes we do. Outside stores to get in and inside stores to get out, we’re all in line six feet apart. Not many casual conversations at that distance. No playing peek-a-boo with a baby when parents are terrified of exposing their children to disease. No tips from a smart shopper on a bargain I overlooked. No connection!
  4. Exercise class. I know, there are endless exercise videos on the internet and I’ve got enough room to work out with one of them by myself. But that’s the point. Exercise by myself is a drag. Exercise with a bunch of other reluctant trainees keeps me at it and usually provides a laugh or two. We connect over a mutual dislike of exercise.
  5. Choirs –– both as a singer and a listener. There is something soul refreshing about making music in a group. Again, I can participate in on-line versions of rehearsals and concerts but they lack that vital element — connection. And with music, the connection is heart to heart without any interference from the mind.

I could make a longer list, but it seems I have defined the problem — lack of connection. On Sunday our minister preached a virtual sermon warning of the consequences of an  “us vs them” mentality. Without the kind of connections I mentioned, that us/them attitude flourishes. Such a mindset makes for an unhealthy society. 

As a writer, how can I use this insight to my advantage? 

In a dystopian novel, us-and-them makes a perfect excuse for war.  In a tragedy us/them is the driver behind the Romeo and Juliet story. In a comedy personal quirks, e.g. neatnik vs slob, can lead to funny situations. I write historical romance so feuds, immigrant vs native, rancher vs farmer provide plenty of scope for conflict. What’s needed is ways and means for connections if I want to lead my characters to a happily ever after ending. How to make those connections?

  1. Proximity. That’s probably the easiest one. Make the feuding families share a fence line, or a water source. No matter how much the clans dislike each other, they cannot avoid meeting.
  2. Common goals. In my present wip the two lead characters work in a frontier hospital. Despite their differences, they work together to cure disease and ease pain.
  3. Children. In a frontier town children all attend the same school. The grandfathers may hate each other, but the children play together. As time goes by they may fall in love with the “enemy.”
  4. Outside agency. Again, sticking with historical, feuding families may have to pull together against fire or drought or flood. Who is to say the patriarch’s won’t see the good in one another then?
  5. Mutual friend. Make them both friends with a third party. If A spends time with the librarian and B is a book lover, chances are A and B will run into each other frequently. This device even lets the librarian act as cupid when she sees two people who would be perfect together, feuding.

Most philosophies hold that hardship is opportunity. It is up to the individual to find that opportunity and make something of it. The disconnect between all of us during this pandemic is not fun. I don’t like it. I wish it would go away. But, if I look for opportunity, perhaps this time of physical distance can lead me to better insights into my characters and their journey to HEA.

What about you? What do you miss most? Will you use it in your writing?

Hits: 361

The Lessons of History

Today is presidential inauguration day in the USA. Given the events of the past few months, especially the storming of the Capitol two weeks ago, the inauguration is being watched around the world with intense scrutiny.

It is part of the human condition to view important events in our lives through the lens of “now.” Nothing could be more significant than this moment. The moment that matters most to us, now. For some reason, we really do not care to remember our history.  Why else did George Santayana warn “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it“, or Churchill embroider the phrase to say “those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”  Note the word condemned. Repeating history is seen as a bad choice.

Perhaps that’s because our record of history concentrates on wars and revolutions and disasters and bad choices by men in power. Of course, we don’t want to repeat those times. 

But, on looking through an “on this day” chart I discovered some good news for January 20 in our past.

  • For example, in 1265 First English Parliament summoned other than by royal command (in this instance by Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester) met in Westminster Hall. This was the beginning of parliamentary democracy. An institution we hold dear to this day.
  • 1613  Peace of Knarod ends War of Kalmar between Denmark & Sweden.
  • 1788 Pioneer African Baptist church organizes in Savannah, Georgia
  • 1809  1st US geology book published by William Maclure
  • 1885 – The roller coaster was patented by L.A. Thompson. (Squeals of delight!)
  • 1886 – The Mersey Railway Tunnel was officially opened by the Prince of Wales.
  • 1920 – The American Civil Liberties Union is founded.
  • 1896 – George Burns, was born. American actor, comedian, and producer (d. 1996) and much laughter entered our world.

These are only a few events that happened in the Western world in modern history on January 20.  Let us not forget that all our modern institutions, church, libraries, museums, art galleries, orchestras, and hospitals were founded hundreds of years in the past. Our cultural imperatives of democracy, citizenship, compassion, hospitality, protection of the weak; these philosophies developed over centuries from the minds of dreamers.

I have no wish to repeat history — too many wars, plagues, natural disasters, brutal rulers–but I like to remind myself that we did not arrive in the 21st century out of a vacuum. I salute the dreamers and builders of history. I am grateful to the women who marched to ensure my right to vote. I am grateful to the scientists, like Sir Frederick Banting who discovered life-saving medicines. I am eternally indebted to Johannes Gutenberg and his press.

I wish the 46th President of the United States of America health and happiness. May his term in office bring peace and prosperity to his country. May he remember the lessons of history and use them to the benefit of all.

Hits: 568

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2021 Alice Valdal

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑