Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Character Takes Over My Mind

I can't shake this woman? Why? When she appeared in my last book I didn't like her at all...she is holier than thou and so supercilious, and she thinks she's a cut above everyone else. Her own mother said she's a pretentious snob....

Ah...the higher the climb the harder the fall.

In real life a person like this would barely impinge on my radar and definitely a person I would not regard as a friend.

And yet here she is taking shape in my mind and pushing aside Heath...whose story I have to finish. The last in my Katherine Bay trilogy that an editor is waiting for. So all day yesterday  I alternated between the two working first on one and then on the other. And there is a touch of the supernatural creeping in.

I've never been a fan of the supernatural in my reading and yet when I have a character who blacks out and then wakes up and thinks she's with the Devil....  And then when I switch back to the first book I find she's tainted it and this taint is giving my hero an edge that is edgier than sharp....

Who am I to complain....I'm merely the writer...and it looks like osmosis is working here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Characters that annoy

Sitting at my desk attacking my WIP and I'm getting sidetracked by a really annoying character. She won't let me be...perhaps because she's in danger standing atop of a waterfall debating with herself whether or not to Jump.   

When I sat down to write Heath's story I promised myself I was not going to wander off at a tangent but concentrate on "Finishing the damn Book". 

But Genevieve has other ideas....I keep telling her "Don't Jump". I'm trying to persuade her not to make a permanent solution out of what is a solvable problem.... trouble is I can't quite picture who the hero is who will prevent her taking that fatal leap.  Is this character determined to spoil her sibling's happiness by committing suicide almost on her doorstep. 
I want to tell her to go away but her very real danger keeps calling to me.

Surely writers have to question their mental health....we not only have conversations with imaginary people....we write them down for others to read.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ten Things I love About Writing.

I got to thinking about  this a couple of weeks ago. What is it about writing that keeps me at my keyboard? I'm not a great lover of lists but I'll give it a go.

  • Words....I love words. and when I come across a new one its treasure. I've worn out one dictionary an Oxford Illustrated and have a well thumbed second one.
  • The cadence of the written word...the sound of words. Any parent who's read to a child knows that books that sound great become favourites. Beatrix Potter and Dr Seuss are proof of this.
  • The visual effect of words on a page...its so structural...white paper with squiggly lines people can read and enjoy.
  • Writing give expression to the voices in my head. Not so sure what it says about my mental health  when I not only talk to the imaginary people I write down their conversations!
  • One great pleasure is watching a character grow and mature. I'm always surprised how characters develop quirks and foibles and how often a throwaway line will shape a character.
  •   Writing feeds my curiosity...my mother said it was a failing....but what ifs...are the spice of life.
  • Writing lets me indulge in people watching. People fascinate me. I love sitting in a side walk cafe watching people...coffee optional.   
  • Writing feeds my imagination...fleshing out snatches of overheard conversations...some overheard gems are priceless...it's great fun to continue such conversations through your characters.
  • Writing gives me licence as an armchair psychologist, put characters through hoops, drop them in untenable situations and indulge my dark side.     
  • Last but not least writing give me immense satisfaction. Writing The End knowing you've created something  readers will either love or hate. 
Now I need to know what excites readers... please leave a comment 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Gift of Storytelling ...the elusive X factor

Is it better to plot a book before you start writing or let it evolve as you go?  The answer is as simple as a writer chooses to make it. Both methods are useful and each has its place. Do I plot.....well sort of.  And if that sounds like a half arse answer...it actually is.

Once and once only I wrote a detailed  outline for a book. By the time I got to the end of that outline I'd killed that poor effort....a little like the fish that died of drowning. It was too much of a good thing.

When a writer gets too hung up on plotting it can kill spontaneous creativity.  And creative spark is the heart of storytelling. If writers get too engrossed in craft and technique they can forget they are story tellers.
Writers need craft skills,plot to create memorable well rounded stories. Structure, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary are necessary tools.  But no craft skills can supplant the elusive hard to pin down x-factor that readers and publishers seek.

This x-factor?  The gift of storytelling. How often are writers told to write the book from their heart?
When my first book was published I went its Auckland launch. All the other authors had University Degrees and letters after their names. I a mere country farmer's wife more used to wrangling cows, kids and mud than the glitz and glamour of a book launch.

Feeling a tad inferior I said as much to a well known literary commentator. He looked at me with piercing grey eyes set under beetling brows and said, "Maybe so, my dear. But you have the edge....you are a storyteller."
And that is something I've never forgotten .
Every writer needs to remember....no amount of craft or plotting can replace the spontaneity of storytelling.   

I am interested to hear other people's views on this subject.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

How To Write Gripping Sex Scenes

Sex scenes are something a lot of writers struggle with, especially novice writers. A lot of this can be traced back to personal hang ups about sex in general.  For older writers who grew up thinking that sex was regarded as "dirty" there was good reason for stumbling over writing such scenes.

The days of the romance novel not venturing past the bedroom door has well and truly gone.

Current generations don't have the same hang ups over sex. And modern readers expect satisfying sizzle alongside their romance. And a writer needs to become more than just competent they need to ensure their sex scenes dazzle. 

So how does a writer put the sizzle in their sex scenes.  
At our recent RWNZ conference Bob Mayer gave us pearl of wisdom.  He said go to the experts....study how they've done it .... you don't copy you study, read and learn.  Stephanie Laurens is a current writer who does love scenes extraordinarily well. Any one of her books is a sizzling read....she is an excellent author to study how she pulls it off.  And if you read one of her scenes and clinically don't let yourself be drawn in...you'll see it's all in her choice of words and how she engages the senses.
Natalie Anderson who writes for M&B Sexy, is another modern writer whose sex scenes sizzle on the page.

A writer needs to get out of a character's head and into his or her character's body. 
Writing love scenes is all about utilising and engaging the five senses. Touch. Taste. Smell. Sound. Sight.  Every paragraph should utilize at least two and preferably three of these five senses.

What is you character seeing... their partner's excitement..the rise and fall of a chest...sculptured muscles...a soft breast....a tattoo alive and flexing on a bulging muscle...all of these are arousing sights.
What is your character feeling... skin texture calloused hand, rock hard muscles rippling beneath a hand.
What do they smell... woodsy cologne honest sweat 
Same with hearing...ragged breath...groan...a shout of completion... 
And finally taste....what is it they taste...the salt of sweat on skin...the flavour of a kiss...
You are only limited by your imagination. 
One other essential is your choice of words... forget the euphemisms ...you can be direct and straightforward and yet keep within terminology that you feel comfortable with and won't make a reader cringe.... My personal hates are manhood and maidenhead....terms guaranteed to turn me OFF reading any more.   

The other essential component is utilising the action - reaction... sequence. Every action creates a reaction...this is incredibly important in intimate scenes.  And most important of all....keep your scene in the present tense and don't let your characters...waffle off in their heads at the pivotal exciting point of the scene.

A good lover keeps his partner male or female totally engaged in the moment....and a writer must keep the reader totally engaged.  

I have posted an excerpt showing how to engage the senses.  

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New Project...an a new lease on life

Today is a special day on two fronts....

I've started on a new project writing the third book in my Katherine Bay trilogy...and the ideas are flowing thick and fast...among the characters that we are going  to meet again are Dave Scanlan the elderly proprietor of The Clam Shack and his affable but eccentric ginger tomcat Tom. I can't get the pesky creature out of my mind since I was pulled up on a POV change in Shadow Dance had to cut him out of that book.  And the irascible Mrs Wilson who Jace Mullein infamously accused of being "weaned on a lemon" an expression gleaned from my late twins....in reference to an aunt who shall remain nameless.

I do love this first creative rush when the words flow. And yes Bob Mayer I have the idea in twenty five words front and foremost in my mind.  I don't worry too much about editing at this stage.... I've taken Susan Mallory's words of wisdom to heart... "You can edit a page of words. It's very difficult  to edit a blank page."

The other reason today is special....I spent all day yesterday at the Cardiac Clinic at Waikato hospital and was given a heart health tick. It has been a worry for over a month now after visiting my GP with a heavy cold and ended up having an ECG.  
The nurse doing the procedure came around the corner of the screen and said to quite worried...."You have a pacemaker?"  More than a little startled my response was instantaneous..."Not unless the aliens have been at me, I haven't. I'm almost certain I would know if I had a pacemaker!"
Back came the response. "Well the machine says you have one."
A second nurse entered the clinic and redid the ECG the results of which  indicated part of my heart was not working.... well I was a little concerned after all people don't live long without a heart...it is kind of vital.
After having a workout on the treadmill and apart from being a tad puffed the cardiologist said my heart and arteries were in good shape.
Which leaves one very big question mark over the health of the machine that did the first test!
Looks like I'll live to "finish another damn book."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Launching My Baby Into the World...A Writer's Doubts

Well I've done it.

Launched my baby out into the hostile world...and now it has to sink or swim on it's own merit...

Pangs of guilt are hard to ignore ...it's a hostile and uncertain world out there.

Will my baby make it or will it be sent back to me bleeding and wounded... Or will it be snatched up and run with the crowd... buffeted and trumpeted from the rooftops....only to be shredded by critics...

With the best will in the world my baby is no longer safely on my computer hard drive...sheltered and protected from criticism and an editor's red pen.

And now after I've hit the send button the doubts creep in...

What makes you think your baby is anything special....
What makes you think your baby is special...deserving of consideration...what makes you think the editor won't just hit the delete button... and so the doubts gnaw and grow.

At least in the old days of snail mail...editors opened letters....maybe it took them six months to reply but hey the trusty mail always got through....and we learned to fear the fat envelope. Now with cyber post we sit and wait just as long as we ever did in the days of snail mail.

Did the e-mail arrive? did it get lost in cyberspace was that why we never received and acknowledgement?

Then when you do get a response...."I have it and will get to it soon"

Three years later?.... well I guess everyone's definition of soon does differ a little.

But with this latest submission....what do you know...a friendly personalised response by return email....giving me a specified time frame within which I should receive a reply.

And thanking me soooooooooo much... for all my effort.

Now I realise this is an automated response but it did leave me, disillusioned trouper that I am, with a warm and fuzzy feeling.  Long may it continue.

And it is the spur I need to work to get my next baby ready to meet the world.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Sex Scenes my bete noir

I can't  believe it.

I've finished the damn book...to quote Barbara Clendon.

Mind you I thought it was finished before I did this last lot of revisions.... then I got the feedback from Readers in the Clendon award took a hard critical look.

But I've worked it over and it's as polished as I can make it.
I've cut out anything that didn't work...I've given every minor character their day on the page.

One comment from the Clendon really hit home... there was not enough intimacy between the hero and heroine.

I must confess writing sex scenes give me the heebies.

One part of me says no way....it's voyeurism.  Another part says....people will think that's what my sex life is like....and yet another part says....at least my mother won't read it.

Then today for a break from my work I picked up a book from my conference goodie bag and started to read that...and my goodness....it was not hot.... it was enough to leave scorched earth in its wake...
A far cry from the early M&B where one never ventured past the bedroom door.

And I really enjoyed it...so what does that make me? A prude.  Worried I went back and re-read the sex scenes in my WIP.  And they aren't exactly tame...

Then I had a duh moment....by the time I've laboured over every word those scenes don't have the same zing as the ones in a book I'm reading for the first time.

My critique partner said my first kiss scene was one of the best she's ever read.

Now I await her verdict on the  the full blown sex scenes. And then I sincerely hope Sue Grimshaw  likes it too.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tying Up Loose Ends

In every workshop we are bombarded by the the importance of the beginning.

It has to be crisp...it has to immediately engage the reader...it has to introduce the characters...set up the  conflict....delineate the plot...

And yet we have very few workshops and pointers on how to finish the damn book.
It is the part of writing that I find the most difficult. It's where I have to go back and ensure I've tied up every loose end....and make sure that every person mentioned had their own little cameo scenes and that the readers are not left hanging.

If you bring into your story the old guy who runs thecorner dairy you, as the writer, must ensure he has at least three scenes within the book's canvas so the reader is satisfied the old guy has played his role to the full and he's not just a bit player used to fill in a few pages to achieve a given word count.

I can hear some people asking why. Why is it so important to give these bit players this much consideration?

The reason I give these bit players so much importance is that they are a critical component in fleshing out your canvas...and every book is as much a canvas as an art board is to an artists.  Where artists use paint....writers use words.

And the bit players add a new and critical dimension to a story and breathe life into your main characters... they provide a background against which a writer can round out the principal characters.
All characters in even the greatest classical works start out as cardboard cut outs....It is the writer's skill that weaves them into a three dimensional character....and it the small bit players that form the rich backdrop that allow your main characters to becomes real... so real a reader not only can relate to that character they want to keep that character and your book on their keeper shelf.

As a reader there's nothing that annoys me more than reading about a character early in a book and then never meeting them again...and I'm left wondering what is their story? Why were they there?

And it is the way you deal with these bit characters and weave them throughout your book and ensure their  cameo scenes create a complete vignette that leaves a reader satisfied.... And as writers it's our to ensure every loose end is tied up in an ending that satisfies our readers and leaves them closing the book with that aahh feeling.