Scene and Sequel


Written on Friday, November 20, 2009 by haleigh

In my previous post, I talked about every scene having a goal and a subsequent conflict in your protagonist achieving that goal. That's true--except for the "reaction" scene, or the sequel. Dwight Swain, in his amazing book, Techniques of a Selling Writer, introduces the idea of a sequel to a scene, a time for the characters to react, face their new delimna, and decide how to act. Their decision to act inherently propells forward another scene, following by another sequel...etc.

In the sequel scenes, then, there isn't a need for a particular conflict for the protagonist character. Instead, the decision they make about the new obstacle they face creates the next conflict they will face.

So while sequel scenes don't protray a conflict, they set up the next conflict, and they can also frame the next conflict and connect it back to your overall story/core conflict.

For more info on Scene and Sequel, check out Dwight Swain's book or this site.

Scene conflicts vs. Story conflicts


Written on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 by haleigh

There are a myriad of different conflicts going on in a story at any given time. Most of my thinking is about core conflicts, or those conflicts that sustain your entire plot. He's a chef, she's a restaurant critics. Conflict in a romance plot. He's a cop, the villian is a serial killer determined to toy with the cop. Conflict in a thriller. These big conflicts are based on your characters goals and needs.

But as I was reading Jenny Crusie's blog this weekend, I was reminded of the importance of scene conflicts as well.

At a smaller level, each scene should portray a conflict. This is what creates pace and tension. In every scene, a character has a goal, and they either achieve that goal or are somehow obstructed.

Take thrillers for example. The DaVinci Code, despite its flaws, has phenomonal pacing. It's a book you can't set down. In every scene, something is at stake. The character has a goal, and in almost every scene, that goal was obstructed. Which (and here's where pacing happens) left the reader wondering how they would ever acheive that goal.

On Jenny's blog (an amazing resource, by the way), she broke down a scene into its base conflict to see where she'd gone wrong. This is a great exercise during revisions, when you know something is off with a scene.

1. Who is the protagonist? Not of the novel, but of this particular scene. Who has something at stake? Who's POV are we in? (hint: the person with the most at stake should usually be your POV character for the scene)

2. What is their goal? What do they want to achieve? This often isn't going to be a huge goal. Sometimes it's a simple as they want to order take out for dinner. Sometimes they want to prove something to another character. But there has to be something at stake. Some reason for the scene.

3. Who is their antagonist? Again, it may not be the same antagonist for the novel. But someone is blocking their goal. A scene where a character is hungry and so orders take out for dinner isn't all that interesting. Who is standing in the way of your POV character achieving their goal? 

3. Do they achieve their goal? What is going to raise tension? What is going to make the reader flip the next page?

Check out Jenny's blog post for a wonderful break down of exactly how she used this to completely revise a scene.

Goals in Conflict


Written on Sunday, November 15, 2009 by haleigh

Debra Dixon is perhaps best well-known for her book, Goals, Motivation and Conflict. Each character has all three: something they want, a reason for wanting it, and an obstacle to getting it.

While Dixon uses conflict to refer only to the obstacles, the whole GMC concept refers to the overall conflict of the novel. In every conflict between characters (i.e., in every plot), there is a goal. Your protagonist wants something, and your antagonist has his own goals.

In conflict theory, the goals, those things we fight over, are divided into three groups: interests, values, and needs. Interests are tangible things, and the things we make clear we want (I want a raise; I want custody in the divorce). Values are beliefs held over right and wrong or ethics which lead to conflicts (the abortion debate, Republicans vs. Democrats). Needs are core, non-negotiable needs, such as survival needs (food, water, shelter), and basic psychological needs (acceptance, love).

In fiction, the conflicts must be intense enough to sustain the entire plot. Just from looking at the three types of goals, it's obvious that conflicts over needs are more intense than conflicts over interests. People generally do not compromise over what they need to survive, or what they believe to be right and wrong. They will compromise on interests.

When developing a conflict for your project, look for conflicts that combine all three: interests, values, and needs. These conflicts become difficult to solve, giving you more room for charactrization and plot development.

Launch of the Conflict in Fiction blog!


Written on Sunday, November 15, 2009 by haleigh

I have an unhealthy addiction to how-to books. My favorites are on an easy-to-reach shelf, full of dog-eared pages and notes jotted in margins. But one topic which doesn't get much attention in how-to books is conflict.

All fiction must have conflict. It's the foundation upon which our characters are built and our plot rests.

But not much study has been done on how to most effectively use conflicts in fiction. The academic study of conflict, referred to sometimes as peace studies, peace and justice, or conflict resolution, can teach writers how to create conflicts which not only support the characters, but drive the plot forward.

I'm back -- and the rule of 20


Written on Tuesday, June 30, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday June 30, 2009

I'm back from a very long week of traveling and school, and am soooo happy to be home. But I also learned a ton, most of which will hopefully make it's way onto my blog over the next couple weeks.

So today's great little tidbit - the rule of 20. This is from an article Debbie Macomber wrote, which was generously passed on to me by a very awesome class-mate.

The rule of 20:

If you're stuck (and this works for anything -- for motivations, conflicts, plots, etc), list 20 possible options.

The first five will be ones we've all seen over and over again in novels

The last five will be too absurd to put in a novel

The middle ten, however, will be bursting with possibilities. And chances are, one of them will set your imagination off and point you in the right direction.

So I gave this a shot. I'm a at a point in my WIP where I knew what had to come next, but not how to get there. So I took a blank sheet of note paper and wrote across the top, "How do Kersey and Naomi get back to the castle." And I numbered it 1-20 down the side of the page (and felt a bit like I was back in school, taking a pop quiz ;)

So I started jotting down options. And you know what? It worked. The first few were plain and boring, and the things that had been floating around in my head that I knew just weren't quite right. The next few were a bit better. But then the ideas started getting more and more creative until BINGO! I got it.

This is my new "How-to-get-unstuck" trick. Hope it helps!



Written on Friday, June 19, 2009 by haleigh

Friday, June 19

I will be MIA for the next two weeks -- off to start my second semester in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University. This semester, I'm taking classes on marketing trends in romance, synopsis writing, showing vs. telling, and conflict & plot.

So I'll have lots of fun stuff to share upon my return!

news from the contest front


Written on Thursday, June 11, 2009 by haleigh

Thursday, June 11, 2009

So I'm finished judging my first ever contest. And you know what? I found myself writing the exact same comments over and over again.

And before you ask, no, it wasn't because I was lazy and just copied and pasted my comments. It was because I kept seeing the same problems over and over again.

I'll bet you can guess what my most-used comment was. Yep, that's right: "Can you show this, instead of telling us?" I can't even explain how many times I wrote that. That was problem number one. Of the five MS I judged, 3 had big-time problems in the "show don't tell" front. The second-most common problem: a shallow POV.

Now, this doesn't surprise me in the least. Mostly because "show don't tell" and "use a deep POV" are probably the hardest pieces of writing advice for new authors to wrap their minds around. It's taken me years to figure them out, and I wouldn't think for a second that I have it "perfected." These are concepts every writer must struggle with and strive for every day. These aren't ones you figure and are suddenly done with.

So no big surprise, that this is where contest entrants fell on my judging scale. I've certainly gotten contest points ripped off for this very thing on numerous occasions.

But the issue I kept running into that really surprised me? Some of these entries were....well...they were boring. I'm not saying this to be mean, I'm really not. But while reading, my mind would wander, I'd skim through page after page of introspection, I'd leave it and come other words, nothing compelled me to keep reading.

There were no questions in my mind I wanted answers to, no suspense to keep me intrigued (and before you say it, I was judging the romantic suspense category, and by 30 pages in, there should be some suspense). You know what I had instead? Pages and pages of each character explained to me. That's right, every single entry used several pages of introspection to introduce each main character. By the time I had finished chapter two, I knew everything about the hero and heroine.

Notice I didn't say I knew the hero or heroine. I knew about them. There's a big difference there, even if the wording is subtle. I could tell you their histories, their past traumas, their desires, their conflict. But you know how in a really good book, you know the characters? You know how they'd react, how they feel, what drives them, etc. I didn't get that feeling.

To be fair, I was only reading 30 pages. But it made me wonder if I do the same thing. If I'm so busy telling my readers about my characters to introduce them, that I forgot to show their characterization. Anybody else have that problem?

paramedic method of revision


Written on Friday, June 05, 2009 by haleigh

Friday, June 5, 2009

On the pirate ship today, Janga mentioned the Paramedic Method of revision, which piqued my interest. And man, oh man, is it good. A simple, easy concept, but one that I think will make a huge impact on my grammar and sentence structure. Check it out!

in the beginning...


Written on Monday, June 01, 2009 by haleigh

Monday, June 1st, 2009

So I offered to judge my very first contest. I thought it would be exciting, but alas, it's giving me the same stomach ache that grading papers gives me. Can't I give everyone an "A for effort?" lol!

But one of the first things on my score sheets is the opening hook. Does the opening make you want to keep reading? Does it draw you into the story?

Now, we all know that opening hooks are important. But I don't think I really got how important until judging this. Because I have to say, of the five entries I received, only one opening actually drew me into the story. But you know what? It really drew me in. I read the first sentence, said "ohhhhhh," leaned back in my chair, put up my feet, and was five pages in before I remembered I was supposed to be scoring the opening.

It wasn't a shocker opening, it wasn't graphic or violent or funny. But you know what that very first sentence did? It raised a question in my mind, and damn it, I wanted to know the answer. And of course, the next sentence raised a new question, and the next, and within the first paragraph, I know this was one of those books I wasn't going to set down any time soon. Because now I was invested. I wanted my questions answered. I wanted to know what happened next.

Isn't that the best thing about hearing (or reading) a story? Finding out what happens next? It reminds me of that Friends episode where people kept starting a story and then walking out of the room mid-sentence. And Monica, with this horrified look on her face, throws up her hands and yells, "People have got to start finishing their stories!"

It's the suspense. It's the "don't torture me by keeping me waiting, just tell me what happens next!" feeling. And if you're not writing a suspense novel full of life and death stakes, how do you get that suspense? That desperation in your readers to keep turning the page and finding out what happens next -- questions. To quote one of my lovely professors, "Before you answer a question, make sure you've raised two more." So by the time you get around to answering one question, you've raised so many more with your readers, that they still have to keep reading.

So how do you do it? How do you hook your readers? What makes you desperate to keep reading a good book? Ever been so desperate to know what happens next that you can't concentrate on anything else?

How they write, take 3 -- Nora Roberts


Written on Friday, May 29, 2009 by haleigh

Friday, May 29, 2009

For our last day of the "How they Write" series, we have the ultimate power house in writing, Ms. Nora Roberts herself. Also from the Crescent Blues e-mag. The whole interview has lots of great info on how romance publishing has changed since she started in the 1980's.

Crescent Blues: Do your characters ever surprise you by turning out very differently from who you thought they would be? Which character (or characters) surprised you the most?

Nora Roberts: My characters always surprise me. Once they've taken on a life in a book, it's wise to let them go their own ways. I can't remember ever having a character turn out precisely as I'd imagined them before I started the book. That's a good thing.

Crescent Blues: What are the differences you find in writing so many different types of books? Do you prepare for them differently? Do they require a different level of research?

Nora Roberts: I don't prepare for the actual writing any differently. Work is work. The research depends on the subject matter, not the type of book. But I have to know if this is a hardcover romantic suspense and craft the idea in that way. If it's a trilogy, what is the common thread, what binds these people together?

Crescent Blues: Where do you start when you write a book or a story? For example, do you start at the beginning and write through? Do you prefer to toy with character or plot?

Nora Roberts: I start at page one chapter one and write straight through, generally a fairly quick and loose first draft. Then I go back and do another draft from the beginning, fixing where I went off, fleshing out the characters (as I'll know them better by this point), seeing if the story holds. It'll take at least one more draft for polishing, maybe two. But I don't edit my work as I go. I like getting the story down first.

Wow, she starts over? I must say, I was surprised by this. As fast as she writes, I just assumed she only did one draft per book. Fascinating! And notice her direct contridiction to Mary Jo Putney's advice yesterday. LOL!

How the write, take 2 -- Mary Jo Putney


Written on Thursday, May 28, 2009 by haleigh

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Up today on our "How they write" series -- Mary Jo Putney. This is from an interview from the website Crescent Blues. The whole interview has tons of good info for anyone who's a fan of her characters!

How she writes:

Crescent Blues: How do you create characters whose strengths and weaknesses complement each other to achieve transformation? (Is it a conscious process, or does one character suggest its own complement?)

Mary Jo Putney: As you suggested, it's usually a matter of developing one character who is the natural complement of the other, so that it will be convincing that these two people are right for each other as no one else could be. Or if I start a book with a plot idea, the characters must be ones who will explore the potentials of that plot as well as suit each other.

Crescent Blues: Which comes first for you: the hero, the heroine or the plot?

Mary Jo Putney: It can be any of the three, though it's more likely to be the hero or the plot than the heroine.

Crescent Blues: How does the story grow from there? (Are you a linear writer, an outliner, a plug-n-play?)

Mary Jo Putney: I'm very linear. I start at the beginning and inch my way through to the end. If I don't know what happens next, I tread water and edit until I figure out how to proceed. I can't even imagine writing in pieces and stringing them together; to me, the writing process is organic, with each section growing out of what happened previously.

Crescent Blues: Do you decide the story's issue in advance or does it develop from your characters?

Mary Jo Putney: It's a combination of both. I suppose that if I start with a plot, I also have a sense of the issue. Whereas if I start with a character, the issue grows out of him.

Crescent Blues: Who's in control, you or your characters?

Mary Jo Putney: Me, without question. I think that anyone who says the characters took over really means that they didn't know them well enough at the beginning. Once you know them inside and out, they don't surprise you.

I find this interesting, especially the last part. My characters seem to come alive and take over part way through the book. I'm not sure if it's because I don't know them well enough before I start, or if I just need them on paper to really get a sense of them. What do you think?

How they write, take 1 -- JoAnn Ross


Written on Wednesday, May 27, 2009 by haleigh

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Up first this week on our "How they write" series, is JoAnn Ross, who writes romance and romantic suspense. See her whole interview on her website, which includes great info on publishing.

Her writing process:

Since I love writing, while it’s not always easy, it never feels like work. (It’s hard to complain about a job I get to do in my jammies.) I’ve written nearly every day since 1982, approximately eight hours during the week, usually less on weekends. I used to set goals of twenty pages a day for category, ten pages a day for single title. These days, because I tend to keep rewriting as I go along, it can get too demoralizing to set specific goals, so I just keep an eye on the calendar. Also, because I spend all that early time revising, by the last third of a book I pretty much have events set up and have a better idea of where I’m going, so the writing goes much faster.

I did character studies for a couple early books because I read in Writers Digest I was supposed to. They may work for other people, but they didn’t do a thing for me except waste time. I tend to think about my characters for a long time, sometimes years, so by the time I write their stories, I know them well enough to trust them to carry my story for me. Because I’ve often thought it would be nice to have a roadmap, I’ve tried, but simply cannot do outlines, although I usually have an idea of a pivotal scene somewhere toward the middle of a book, and a vague plan for the ending, which can, and usually does change.

I don’t necessarily recommend this method; as with everything else about writing, process is a very unique thing and we all have to find what works for us. My process has changed a lot since I began writing, and can often change during the course of writing a book.

Yesterday revealed a wide range of writing processes. Anybody write like this?

How they write


Written on Tuesday, May 26, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

There are probably as many ways to write as there are ways to clean a house. Some people like to vacuum every day, some people iron their sheets, some are lucky if the dust balls don't eat them in their sleep. It's all a matter of comfort, preference, skills, ability, time etc.

Writing is the same way. How you write -- what system works best for you -- depends on your goals, your genre/sub-genre, your time constraints, and your financial constraints (contests bills add up, not to mention the maid and personal chef so I have more time to write. A girl can dream, right?). It also depends on your skills and abilities. The more we write, the better we get at spotting what's not working and knowing how to fix it.

Some people like to edit as they go, some need to vomit out the first draft and fix it later. Some plot, plot, plot, some fly by the seat of their pants. Some try to get it all down in one go, others write in layers.

So a short series this week: how to do they write? Lots of published authors talk about their system for writing and what works for them. So this week, I'll post some great interviews from romance authors.

But for today, how do you write? What's your system?

I'm a plotter, and a fairly fanatical one at that. If I don't know exactly where I'm going with each scene, and what the goals are for that scene, I freeze up. I've tried to pants it -- it always backfires for me.

So my system is to plot, plot, plot. Then I forget all about all of that and just write. I don't re-read it, don't fiddle with it, just write. The next day, I'll start my day by reading over yesterday's work, and fiddling with it then. I compare it to my plot - did I go where I meant to go, or just go off on a tangent. Did I show the necessary characterization? Did I show evocative emotions? I'll layer in more emotions, more plot, or a deeper POV. Then I start fresh on the next scene, forget all the rules and plotting, and just write. Tomorrow, I'll go over the stuff I wrote this morning.

But that's just me. Nicole Jordan, in an interview in April's Romance Writer's Report, said "There’s no point in doing scads of plotting or characterization prep unless it actually helps you write the story better and faster. For some writers, too much prep work is actually detrimental."

So what do you do? Are you a plotter or pantster? Do you write every day, or when inspiration strikes? Do you edit as you go, or come back later? Write in layers, or try to get it all down at once?

researching from fiction


Written on Friday, May 22, 2009 by haleigh

So I managed to pick several ambitious topics for my current WIP, which are going to require a lot of research. International gun running, cooperation between British and US intelligence agencies, the inner workings of terrorist organizations, etc.

I've got tons of books from the library. I have books on illicit smuggling rings, memoirs of CIA agents, books on intelligence gathering. But what I can not find, for the life of me, is good non-fiction books on the IRA, a Northern Irish terrorist organization. I found one book, but it was written in the 1960's. Good for background info, but not so current.

What I did find is three well-written suspense novels revolving around the IRA. So what do you think? In the absence of good info, go for fiction info? One of the authors is actually from N. Ireland, so he seems like he might know what he's talking about. And I'm working off my basic memory of Belfast and Derry from those two weeks I spent in N. Ireland five years ago.

Ever used other fiction novels for research? Do you think it's okay to go with the fiction cannon of something, if no good research exists? I think this happens a lot with historical fiction. Things become commonly accepted in fiction, so we go with it even if it's not quite historically accurate. After all, you don't want readers being pulled out of a story to go double check your facts, even if they are true.

So what do you do for research when you can't find the truth?

has everybody seen this?


Written on Thursday, May 21, 2009 by haleigh

Thursday, May 21, 2009

I'm a bit behind, after being buried in school work for so long (on a side note - I passed my first term! My prof said "Rarely have I seen characters so conflicted in every aspect of their lives" - which I'm pretty sure is a good thing. LOL!).

Brenda Novak is running her 5th annual auction to benefit diabetes research. As I was looking through the items up for auction, I stumbled upon TONS of critiques up for auction.

Here's critiques/readings being offered by acquiring editors. And here's critiques/readings being offered by agents. And finally, critiques/readings being offered by published authors. Also up for auction are writing craft books and classes (and of course, less writerly things like big screen TV's, laptops, etc.).

All very fun, and for a good cause!

whether to use the weather...


Written on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 by haleigh

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Ever used the weather to create a scene? I think most of us have, or will. I wrote a scene last week that was going fine until I realized it had no real setting, no mood. It was my hero and heroine taking a hike through a forest.

Uh, boring.

And I realized that I was missing this HUGE opportunity. Here they were, in the middle of a night, in an N. Irish forest, full of spooky noises and obstacles. There would have been drops of water falling from the canopy above them from an earlier rain storm. There'd be some stray, rolling thunder from the storm that had moved out over the ocean. Scurrying noises from little forest-dwelling creatures.

Now, I realize that's not all weather. But my point is that my characters wandering through the woods was boring. My characters picking their way through a spooky forest as thunder rolled above them rain splattered down is much more interesting. All because of the weather.

Ever seen a picture of weather that just put you there?
I stumbled across this picture when researching what kind of storms they get in N. Ireland. And it instantly put me in Belfast. The rain, the lone streetlight, the fence. There's undertones of something sinister in this picture, much like the city itself and (hopefully) my WIP.

Ever had to go back and add more description? More weather? Any types of weather that just put you in a certain mood or take you somewhere?

craft tip of the week


Written on Saturday, May 16, 2009 by haleigh

Saturday, May 16, 2009

So as most of you know, I have an unhealthy obsession with craft books. So I thought I'd start posting tips that have been helpful for me on here, in the hope they become helpful for someone else. If they're straight out of a book, I'll list the info so you can get the book for yourself (if you also have this obsession :)

This week's tip........showing vs. telling

Shocker, I know. Something none of you have ever heard of :) Clearly, we all know that it's important to show things instead of telling our readers. It creates more investment in the story, more empathy for the character, and overall, that brings that elusive dream of hearing a reader say "I just couldn't put it down."

And there are tricks galore for how to do this. But I inadvertently stumbled across a way that seems to be working well for me, so I thought I'd pass it along.

I have a secondary character named Josephine. I love this character, and adore writing her. It's become such a love that I'm toying with the idea of writing her story as a sequel. But because she's a secondary character, very few of my scenes are in her POV. Only one, so far, in 120 pages. And there will only be a couple more, I think.

So because I am never in her head, I don't really have the option to telling my readers anything about her. I'm forced into showing it. I have no thoughts, no internal emotions, nothing. Only her outward dialogue, facial expressions, and actions.

And those reading the MS got it. I was really surprised, but I kept getting comments about how much Josephine loved the main character, or how hardened she is, or how dedicated she is. All these little insights to her character, without me ever telling any of it. And frankly, I'm surprised just how well I've gotten to know Josephine, without ever going into her head.

So this has turned in to a trick for me. If you're having trouble getting to know your character, or showing things about them instead of telling, try writing a few of their scenes from another character's POV. How do they react, what do they say. What are those little, tiny micro-expressions and actions that give away what they're feeling deep down. What are the little things they do when they're trying to hide something?

For instance, I have this scene in my MC's POV. And he says something truly asinine to someone else. Josephine doesn't react, doesn't say anything. But she drops the box of cigars she's holding. And the cigars are rolling across the floor in this moment of sudden quiet after the crash of the box.

And that was it - there was no dialog, no frantic thoughts on Jo's part. Just the cigars. And those reading got it. If I'd been in Jo's POV, I would have been tempted to over explain it, to beat it to death to make sure reader's understood why she reacted the way she did. But because I didn't have that option, I was forced to leave it at just showing, and it worked.

Now clearly, I don't think we should stop writing in deep POV, but if you're struggling, this has been a way that's helped me really force myself to only show. One caveat thought - I will say that reader's interpreted Jo's reason for dropping the cigars very differently. Their view and understanding of Jo influenced what they took from that scene. But you know, those little nuances can be part of the fun of writing.

Anybody ever tried this to work on showing instead of telling? What other tips do you have for forcing yourself not to tell your readers what's happening?

action and reaction


Written on Thursday, May 07, 2009 by haleigh

Thursday, May 7, 2009

In continuing to look at Carolyn Wheat's How to write Killer Fiction, there was one other spot that stood out at me. Action and reaction.

This is a concept I've been thinking about a lot recently, on a kind of scene-by-scene macro scale (as in, who is doing the acting, and who is doing the reacting in this scene).

That doesn't make any sense, so let me explain. In suspense, someone is doing something. Acting. There's a plan, a plot, a conspiracy - someone is actively doing something. In False Move, my current WIP, there's a bad guy who is desperately trying to get his hands on a cache of weapons.

So my bad guy, he's acting, right? He set this whole chain of events into motion with the goal of getting these weapons. Which means my hero is reacting. He's caught in this sucky web of the bad guy. He needs to save himself and his daughter. He does not have the option of sitting by and watching this happen. He must react. So for the beginning, the bad guy is acting and the good guy is reacting.

But that can't sustain a whole novel, right? I mean, we don't want our hero's just signing to the tune of the bad guy. At some point, my hero has to get one step ahead of the bad guy. He needs to become the actor. Which means, at that point, my bad guy needs to react. His plan has been foiled by the hero. He has to salvage things -- react. But then he has to come up with a new plan, and destroy the hero. Once again, he becomes the actor and the hero is forced to react.

This concept has been exceedingly helpful to me in my plotting. Especially in this MS, where I have five characters, all with their own goals and plans and plots. At any given point, someone is acting, which forces others to react. Who's taking over next? Who starts acting? How are the others forced to react? Thinking through it this way makes sure that no one is relegated to the back stage, always reacting. And it keeps the stakes high.

So in Wheat's book (yes, I'm slowly getting back there), she talks about acting and reacting on a micro scale. As in each and every little tiny thing. There's a new show I adore, called Lie to Me, where they talk about micro-expressions. Tiny, half-second expressions that, given the right person noticing and paying attention, reveal what we really feel.

So this is like micro action/reaction. Hero says something. Heroine clenches her fist. Action -- reaction. Heroine refuses to answer or engage, hero gets pissy. Action -- reaction. Again, it goes back and forth. Something always follows from something else. Nothing comes out of the blue -- everything is the result of everything that came before it (karma lesson, anyone? :)

This is also a great way to cut out unnecesary scenes. Is this a reaction? Did it come out of nowhere? Are the right people acting and reacting? If not, chop it. Already, I can think off the top of my head in my last MS where I threw in scenes that weren't really a reaction to anything that came before, mostly because I didn't know what else to write (give me a break, it was my first try at a full novel). Those are the ones I'll be going back to cut.

the suspense genre....


Written on Wednesday, May 06, 2009 by haleigh

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

My craft/how-to book for this semester is "How to Write Killer Fiction" by Carolyn Wheat. The book is focused on mystery and suspense novels - the first half focuses on mystery, the second half on suspense.

I found the history of the suspense genre interesting, because it was new information to me. Did anyone else know that Jane Eyre is essentially the first romantic suspense novel? I put Pride and Prejudice on my reading list for this semester; Jane Eyre is definitely going on my list for this coming semester. And if Georgette Heyer's Fredericka brought romance into the modern age, then Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca did the same for romantic suspense. Another book which will be on my reading list next semester.

In looking at the suspense genre as a whole (because I've never looked at it outside the "romantic suspense" sub-genre), the theme I'm seeing is characterization. Wheat's book goes into detail on all the different sub-genres of suspense, and the common thing that stands out to me between all these sub-genres is character (not really a huge surprise there, but still interesting).

"Woman in jeopardy" (or child or man or alien in jeopardy, etc) is a common theme in romantic suspense. According to Wheat, the protagonist is a normal person, required by circumstances outside their control to become somehow stronger, braver, and more heroic then they were at the beginning. It's David and Goliath. As readers, we identify with that, because we want to think that in the same set of circumstances, we would be just as brave, heroic, and strong.

In Spy fiction (what I write - I guess it's more "romantic spy fiction"), Wheat advises being careful of the big, international stakes. It's great the the fate of the free world rests on the hero's shoulders. But as readers, we still need someone to identify with, someone to root for, and someone to blame. Without knowing those characters, it's hard to get invested in the big save-the-world stakes, even if we all, at an intellectual level, want the world to be saved. It's hard to get impassioned about the world - it's easy to get impassioned about a well-drawn character.

There were other sub-genres, which I won't get into. I will say that Wheat's description of romantic suspense was nowhere near accurate. In her description, there is a heroine and two men -- one good, one mean. The good one turns out to be the one trying to kill her and the mean one turns out to the be the hero. I think I have read a Mary Higgins Clark book like that, but it's certainly not indicative of the entire genre. Of course, there are as many types of romantic suspense novels as there are romance and suspense novels, so no one could accurately sum it up in two paragraphs.

I realize that my new and exciting revelation that characterization is important isn't really new information. Every writer knows that. But there are some genres where it's more important than others - for instance, in straight mystery, the plot is often more important than the characters. It's the puzzle the readers invest in (not always, but it can be the case). The Da Vinci Code, as well, had very little characterization. It was about solving the clues.

But Da Vinci Code aside, for suspense, the stakes have to be constantly going up (see my little chart in last week's post :). For that to resonate with the reader, the stakes for the reader have to be going up too. Which brings us back full circle to characterization - that's the reader's stakes.

I'm going in circles here, I realize. But I have a point. Usually, when I write, I think of the romance side as the characterization and the suspense side as the plot. I think of them as almost two separate story arcs. I concentrate on one, then the other. But this is making me realize that characterization is just as important on the suspense side. Maybe they go more hand in hand than I thought.

Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare


Written on Tuesday, May 05, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

This week, continuing on an analysis of novels, I’m looking at Pamela Clare’s Unlawful Contact, her most recent in the I-Team romantic suspense series. I’ll try not to leave any spoilers, for anyone who hasn’t read it (and if you haven’t, track it down, seriously).

There are two things which stood out to me while reading Unlawful Contact the first time, which I think bear closer examination: POV depth, and external conflict.

Because I don’t know how she achieved that amazing POV depth, I’m going to focus on the external conflict. In most romance novels, we talk about external conflict vs. internal conflict. I only recently realized this was exclusive to romance novels (when I was blabbing to a mystery author and her face got all scrunched up and she looked at me sideways).

But for romance, there are two things holding apart our hero and heroine – the external conflict (jobs, suspense, bad guys, etc) and the internal conflict (fear of intimacy, past trauma, trust issues, etc). And these often (or hopefully) collide all at the same time for the ultimate black moment/conclusion.

And now and then, you stumble upon a novel which breaks the rules. Now, I’m a sucker for internal conflict, as I love angst. I recently read Anna Campbell’s Tempt the Devil, which has almost all internal conflict and little external conflict. Because the focus was entirely internal, the emotional depth and angst was awesome.

In Unlawful Contact, Pamela Clare takes the opposite direction. The external conflict, rather than the internal conflict, is the primary thing holding Marc (our hero) and Sophie (our heroine) apart. Rather than having Sophie not trusting Marc, or Marc being scared of commitment, or any of the other internal issues that keep us all from having perfect relationships, they’re passionately in love.

I found this interesting, because it was the first time I’d seen it. There’s nothing internal holding them apart. They want to be together, they love each other, and they’re desperate to stay together. And yet they know, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that they won’t be together beyond the few days they’ve stolen from real life.

The external conflict is so powerful that the readers, as well, are thinking “they’re never going to get out of this. Either Marc dies or goes to prison.” Marc himself says to Sophie, “There’s not going to be a happy ending for us.” There’s no lifetime of bliss in the future, no home and family, no happily ever after. Which makes their love and devotion to each other – that lack of internal conflict – all the sweeter (and of course, since this is romance, and there’s always a happy ending, it just makes the happy ending itself so much sweeter, since I for one, never saw it coming).

This also has interesting implications for the black moment. Usually the best black moments are the collision of the internal and external conflicts, especially in romantic suspense. The hero thinks he’s unworthy of love, so walks away from the heroine, only to have her kidnapped by the bad guy (yes, I’ve used that one – stop laughing now!). Or the heroine, can’t risk another failed relationship, so calls the paramedics to help the injured hero and slips out into the darkness.

But in Unlawful Contact, because there’s not the internal keeping them apart, the black moment is entirely external. And because you *know* how much Sophie loves Marc, you feel her anguish. She’s not holding anything back – and that comes across the reader. She loves him, she knows she’s losing him, and it’s devastating.

Now, I’m not trying to advocate dropping internal conflicts from romance novels. In fact, another book in the I-Team series, Hard Evidence, has phenomenal internal conflict between the hero/heroine.

But for Marc and Sophie, the primarily external plot worked, and worked brilliantly. I think it’s important, as writers, to examine our characters, and really think through conflicts – do these particular characters have primarily an external or internal conflict? Even split? What’s going to make the plot stronger (and the happily-ever-after sweeter)? It won’t be the same with every set of characters.

Any thoughts on the conflicts in Unlawful Contact? Any other books which use primarily internal or external rather than a mix? What do you tend to focus on in your own writing?

The Da Vinci Code - take 2


Written on Thursday, April 30, 2009 by haleigh

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Earlier in the week, I rambled on about the alternating chapter hooks in The Da Vinci Code and how I felt that really made a huge difference in the pace of the novel, and contributed to the suspense.

But besides the hooks (or perhaps leading directly to the amazing ability to create 105 chapter hooks), is the raising stakes in almost every chapter. Every single time I thought things were coming together or falling into place, another wrench was thrown in. On numerous occasions, I thought there was no way they were getting out of this. And of course, they managed it, but over and over again, the stakes went up, the danger got worse, or their chances got slimmer. The characters never had a chance to take a deep breath, and neither did the reader.

Now, I’ve read other books like that before, but I didn’t have the same reaction, and it’s taken me a while, but I think I’ve figured out the difference. Before, when reading books so fast paced, I just set it down and felt exhausted. Every time things got better for the characters, something new happened, and the suspense/fast pace started all over again. My reaction was along the lines of, really? Again? With The Da Vinci Code, there was no pause. There was no moment of relaxation, no thought that everything was finally working.

I’m a visual person, so charts work best for me:

My point is, in The Da Vinci Code, there was no up and down. There was just a steep climb up, and then a hold at uber-suspense while all the seemingly loose pieces came together.

Now, in romance, we usually want that up and down motion. Or at least, I think we do. In a straight romance, we want lulls, times when the relationship seems to be going right, where you can have love scenes and sweet intimate moments to show them falling in love. If the conflict line just went straight up, at a steep angle, you’d miss all the falling in love moments (somebody correct me if you think of romances where the conflict had no lulls).

But I think in suspense, or at least what seemed to work in this book, was the straight, steep climb. Every single scene built on the scene before it. Every piece of new information added to the suspense. And when one question was finally answered, there were already two new ones introduced, so even the answering of questions didn’t create that lull.

I don’t know what this means for romantic suspense. It’s almost as if you need to two charts above in the same novel: suspense that grows and escalates without lulls, but romance that offers just enough lulls in the conflict to develop the relationship. Is that possible?

the Da Vinci Code - take 1


Written on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We choose The Da Vinci Code for my reading this semester for its suspense and pacing. I read a lot of romantic suspense, but hadn’t read any straight suspense, and I was intrigued to see suspense after the romance has been stripped out.

And boy did the Da Vinci Code fulfill that. I had been warned, on multiple occasions, that I wouldn’t be able to set it down. No shocker, they were right. I gobbled this book down, and even after I finished it as fast as possible, couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even had creepy dreams about monks in brown robes and the Mona Lisa. And of course, I read it on vacation, where I don’t have internet access, so I’m still thinking about all the paintings described and desperate to look them up and see if I can spot the symbolism.

My first reaction, when I started reading, was that I hated the writing. I still do. The POV, while limited 3rd person, was shallow to the point of feeling more like omniscient. There were enough flashbacks to give some character depth, but the shallow POV killed me. And I don’t think there was any showing. At all. Everything was told to me. After finishing it, I was trying to determine if it was more Langdon or Sophie’s story. And I realized that the reason I couldn’t decide was because it was Dan Brown’s story – the one he told me, not the one the characters told me.

So when I first started reading I was dreading to have to read an entire novel told to me and full of things like “What should I do next?” he thought. But within 50 pages, I forgot all my complaints about the writing and just kept reading.

I was reading for suspense and pacing, but the more I read and thought about it, the more I think they go hand in hand. The pace is what created the suspense. And wow, was there some phenomenal pacing going on.

The book is 105 chapters long. And every chapter ended on a hook. Every single one of them. But not only did each chapter end on a hook, but probably about 70-80% of the time, the next chapter was a different POV or setting. So when chapter 42 ends in a hook in Character A’s POV, chapter 43 jumps to Character B’s POV, and their situation/setting. It might be chapter 45 before you get back to the hook that had you gasping at the end of chapter 42. (Clearly, these are mostly 2-5 pg chapters).

So often, with a good chapter hook, whatever questions raised are answered on the facing page, in the first paragraph of the next chapter. I think part of what makes the pacing here so good is that you don’t have that option. You’ve got to read 2 or 3 more chapters, and each of those have a good hook. So now, you finally have the questions at the end of chapter 42 answered, but you’ve got ten more questions burning in your head, so you have to read a few more chapters, and then you’ve got those new questions….you get the idea. There’s nowhere to stop.

At an intellectual level, you always hear how important chapter hooks are. But The Da Vinci Code takes chapter hooks to a whole new level. And really, they could be called scene hooks just as easily as chapter hooks, as the chapters were short. There were very few traditional scene breaks, as almost every new scene was its own chapter. But I think really, the amazing pace came from not only the chapter hooks, but the alternating hooks, if I can make that up as a new phrase.

Tomorrow - my thoughts on how the raising of the stakes created additional suspense.

P&P encore - character flaws


Written on Tuesday, March 03, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

So today, in continuing my examination of Pride and Prejudice, I'm shamelessly piggy-backing Santa and Janga's comments this morning about character flaws.

I talked last week about the major character changes/arcs that Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy go through. But Santa's post got me thinking about the exact opposite - those characters who did not change over the course of the novel.

With the possible exception of Jane, whose perfection showcased Elizabeth's impulsiveness, all of Austen's characters were flawed. Elder Mrs. Bennett was comical in her small-minded desperation to marry off her daughters; Mr. Bennett had given up caring about anyone except Elizabeth and Jane decades ago.

And then we have Lydia. Oh, Lydia. Has anyone else seen "Fool's Gold"? I think Lydia, if living today, would be a lot like Gemma on "Fool's Gold." I love when Kate Hudson points to all the idiot guys chasing after her and says to Gemma, "You see how dumb they are? They can't help it. You can. The end." Perhaps Lydia would have fared better if someone had said the same to her. Then again, perhaps not.

Opposite Lydia is Mr. Wickham, who starts out nice enough, and quickly takes a down-hill turn. Wickham's flaws seem numerous - deceit, gambling, lies, pretension, vein flattery.... But I think Janga was able to sum it up in one word: weak. Wickham had a weak character - he cared nothing for the other people in his life, yet tried desperately to look good in the eyes of others.

So the question on the ship today was about honor and redeeming our heroes. Could Wickham been redeemed? Could he have changed and become Lydia's hero? Austen purposely does not redeem either Wickham or Lydia, and they're doomed to a marriage much like Mr. and Mrs. Bennett's.

I think I'm going to have to go with Janga here that weakness is difficult, if not impossible, to redeem. Wickham had no honor - there was nothing beneath his flaws. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, had plenty of flaws himself, yet the cornerstone of his character was his honor and his willingness to do anything for his loved ones.

Even our most flawed heroes (our wonderful "bad boys") must have some moral code of their one, some sense of honor. It's there in the way they treat a stranger, or they're mother, or any other host of places, but you always have that glimmer that something better is deep inside and waiting to come out. Wickham didn't have that glimmer :)

For example, and to piggy back on the next book I'll analyze for this reading journal - Pamela Clare's Unlawful Contact - Marc Hunter is a definite bad boy. The man is serving life without parole for murder and drug trafficking for goodness' sake! So we have plenty of flaws (the whole killing people thing), yet we root for him through the whole book. I kept coming up with justifications for him, to gloss over the fact that he'd committed first-degree murder. Because it all came back to his honor - he did what he felt he had to do to protect someone he loved. For him, that was the end of it. If that meant he had to spend the rest of his life in prison, than that's what it mean.

There are heroes with strong characters (Mr. Darcy, Marc Hunter), and there are men with weak characters (Wickham). For me, those with weak characters, those who manipulate and use those around them and have not even a glimmer of honor beneath, will never become Mr. Darcy or Marc Hunter.

So, can anyone prove me wrong? Do you have heroes who start out as Wickham and turn into Mr. Darcy? A character with no glimmer of honor who is redeemed by the end? Or do you think it's impossible?

Pride and Predjudice


Written on Sunday, February 22, 2009 by haleigh

Sunday, February 22, 2009

As part of my requirements for school, I must read selected texts within the genre, and critically examine them. One of the texts I chose for this semester is Pride and Prejudice because (gasp!) I haven't read it before and I thought the whole "requirement" thing might give me the necessary motivation.

In fact, it did, and of course, I loved every word. Though I must say, by the time Mr. Darcy got around to proposing (again) to Elizabeth, it was subtly buried in a paragraph, and I missed it. When she announced to Jane she was engaged, I had to go back and figure out when that had happened. lol.

So P&P is, of course, classic literature, and reads like classic literature. There was the omniscient narrator, a ton of telling, and adverbs everything. Fortunately, unlike Frederica there was no one ejaculating their words. Thank god.

The thing that really stood out to me the most in the novel is the character arcs. Both characters went through major changes from over the course of the book. Mr. Darcy was as proud and haughty as Elizabeth was accusing him of being, and by the end of the book, he had seen the error of his ways. He told Elizabeth about his change of heart, but even more importantly, it was shown through his subsequent actions. He put up with her mother, who he had previously dismissed as a liability, he spoke to her "trade class" aunt and uncle with the utmost manners. And most importantly for Elizabeth, he ended his interference between Jane and Mr. Bingly.

And Elizabeth changes as well, though it wasn't quite the complete reversal of Mr. Darcy's change. Elizabeth made snap judgments, and believed Mr. Wickham's account of Mr. Darcy's behavior, all of which she was forced to read after Mr. Darcy explained all in his letter. Not only did she have to change her own mind, she then had to admit her bad judgment to Jane, whom Elizabeth had previously convinced of Mr. Darcy's wicked ways.

Even though there were other characters in and out of the story - Lydia with Mr. Wickham; Jane and Mr. Bingly - but it's Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy who have such wonderful changes throughout the story.

Tips for writng fast


Written on Tuesday, February 10, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

So at Barnes and Noble last week, I came across the Book in a Month guide. I'm not sure I could - or would want to - write a book in a month, but this had some great tips for writing fast. (It also had some great charts and workshops downloadable from the author's website without buying the book.)

Two great tips have really stuck out to me. The first is writing "as-if." I often find myself making fairly significant changes to character or plot, esp at the beginning, which forces me to go back and change everything coming before it. The author's tip: jot a note as to the change, and continue writing "as-if" you did make that change already. Mark down the page # where you started writing with the change, so that you can easily go back and fix it.

Another idea was about research. This is the one that's really saved me time. Instead of researching things as you go, jot a note as to what you need to research, and keep writing. So as I was writing along last week and realized I needed a Palestinian name for a character. So I googled "common Palestinian male names" and then spent an hour on Wikipedia learning how Arabic names are structured, all the different types of names they have (no easy first, middle, last in Arabic!), and which names are religious vs. secular.

Instead, had I been following these tips, I could have just jotted down, "Check Palestinian names, chapter 2, scene 1" and spent that hour writing another page or two. But then again, I wouldn't know that the Ism usually has a religious prefix, and comes before the Kunya name, which you only receive after the birth of your first-born. Wow.

"he grinned at her...."


Written on Friday, February 06, 2009 by haleigh

Saturday, February 7th

So in one of my critiques at school, I received a very interesting remark I didn't expect. A very contentious reader wrote on my page: "You use the words 'smile' and 'grin' a lot. Those are lazy words and you write better than that."

This had never occurred to me before, how often I use the phrase "he smiled" or "she grinned," and how little such a phrase actually conveys. There are a gazillion different smiles. Happy smiles and fake smiles and sexy smiles and nervous smiles....big grins that light up your face and little ones that show sheer, unadulterated amusement.

I've recently started watching a TV show. This is a big deal for me, as there are only two shoes on television I'll watch regularly. I now have a third, and I have (in two episodes) fallen deeply, deeply, in love. "Lie to Me' on Fox on Wednesday nights (or even better, here). The show is about a man who has spent his career researching facial expressions, and can spot any lie. A human lie detector. His firm is contracted by the FBI, various law enforcement agencies, politicians, etc, to find out if people are lying or telling the truth.

The nuances they can spot are phenomenal. What the slightest furrow in the eyebrows might mean. The slightest tilt of the lips. A change in breathing. A change in speech patterns (apparently, if you stop using contractions mid-way through a conversation, it's a big red flag).

So this has gotten me thinking more about what you can do with facial expressions, and all the nuances you can use. The small little subtitles that can show emotion in a way that "He grinned at her" cannot.

So, any words or phrases you use lazily without thinking about it? Anybody else overuse smile or grin? Anybody else hooked on this show?

Frederica and the twenty first century


Written on Sunday, January 25, 2009 by haleigh

Monday, January 26th

So one part of my upcoming classes is to critically examine other books within the genre. Last week I read Frederica, and while it wasn't technically on my list of books to examine, there were bits which intrigued me.

So Frederica was published by Gerogette Heyer in 1965, and kicked off the modern romance genre. It reads much like classical literature, rather than books which are published by today's standards. For instance, every instance of dialog was followed by an exclamation point.

Don't pick on the dog, Felix! I won't, Frederica!

And then there were the dialog tags. Oh, the dialog tags. Not only were there explanations and adverbs, Heyer didn't follow the "said and said only" rule. Not even close.

"You don't say!" exclaimed the Duke. "Oh yes!" shouted Frederica.

And then it got worse. On four occasions - four! - the dialog tag was......wait for it......ejaculated. That's right, the Duke ejaculated his praise. "My Lord!" ejaculated the Duke. Seriously. He ejaculated.

So there were things about this book which clearly, would not be acceptable by today's standards. And Heyer broke other cardinal rules too. She wrote entirely in omniscient pov, and switched between people's heads as fast as she changed paragraphs. Hell, she even dipped into the dog's pov once!

And there was no showing going on in this novel - only telling.

So here's the weird thing. There was no pov depth, and I was told everything instead of shown. And there was a lot of words being ejaculated. But still, I could not put down this book. I loved it. The agnst was phenomonal, and my heart broke over and over for these characters, only to be perfectly taped back together.

I have no idea how Heyer accomplished this, as it's been drilled into my head that they only way to convey emotion is to show it, with the necessary deep pov. But she accomplished it. I guess it goes to show that in the hands of a very talented author, any rule can be broken. And telling, while not as strong or effective as showing, can work if used correctly.

Anybody else have a book that broke all the rules, but you loved it anyway?

I'm back!


Written on Thursday, January 15, 2009 by haleigh

Thursday, January 15th

I'm back, from an amazing week of learning all about writing and more writing and more writing, and frankly, I'm freakin exhausted. But I learned a lot, much of which I will hopefully be sharing in the months to come.

So for now, the story of my return trip home from Pittsburgh:

I'd planned to leave Wednesday, after the end of our last class, but with winter storm advisories, inches of slushy, dirty snow, and ice everywhere, I decided that perhaps, a six hour drive home in the dark, through the mountains, might not be my brightest plan.

So I stayed overnight, and decided to attempt my journey during daylight hours. And thank every deity I could possibly get myself prone enough to bow to that I did!

My windshield wiper fluid decided it wasn't necessary, and stopped working. Which meant that every truck on the interstate (and there were a lot!) sprayed slush, salt, and ice on my windshield. Which I couldn't clear off. Or see though. You know, the little things. So every half mile or so, I had to role down my window (it was 7 degrees, by the way), reach as far out the window as I could, and pour bottled water on my windshield so I could run the wipers. Of course, half the water sprayed back into the car, as I was going 60 mph, which instantly iced over.

So it takes me an hour and a half to go twenty miles, I have ice all over my arm, and I'm on the freakin Pennsylvania Turnpike (for those of you not from PA, it's often a good 20 or 30 miles before they bother to give you another exit).

Not fun.

So finally I get home, throw my bags in the house, greet the puppy who missed me terribly, and see a beautiful bouquet of flowers the hubby got me. So I think, "Oh, I'll run over to work and say thank you!."

Not a good plan.

I race out of the house, without necessary things like my wallet or my phone. But hell, it's only two miles, what could go wrong?

The car breaks down.

And I mean, this POS breaks down. It's making a horrible thunking noise, I can smell burning oil, lights are coming on all over the dashboard, alarms bells are clanging - this car is done. So I crank the wheel and land in a pharmacy parking lot. I have no phone, no money. I scrounge for nickles and dimes, feed them into a payphone (I could barely remember how!) and called work.

Of course, Rob had just left. Ironically, as he was calling my phone over and over, trying to find me, and getting horribly pissed off, he drove past me. Just didn't see me stranded in the pharmacy parking lot.

It took another dollar worth of scrounged up nickles, two phone calls, multiple incidents of screaming and cursing, and me hanging up on him twice (hence the extra necessary nickles - I should have thought that part through), for us to get on the same page about what I needed (i.e., a freakin ride!).

So the moral of the story is.....okay, I can't think of one. But the car's now at the shop, I don't even what to know what went wrong, and I definitely don't want to know what it's going to cost to fix it. But at least it happened a mile from home and not on the PA turnpike.



Written on Thursday, January 08, 2009 by haleigh

So tomorrow morning, I'm making the drive to Pittsburgh, where I will begin an intensive week of course work and critique groups. I'm filled with a mix of excitement and dread. Excitement for all the cool things I'm going to learn, dread that Marn will pass me up in our JanNaNo while I'm gone.

Oh, wait. She already passed me? Well then....

But really, I'm a bit nervous. Mostly about the critique groups. What if I'm too harsh? What if people hate mine? And I'm nervous about meeting new people - I don't generally do well in situations where I have to meet new people. I stutter and stammer and look down at my shoes. So to boost my confidence, I bought these amazing new shoes. That way, when I duck my head to hide, I'll see the phenomenal shoes, be bolstered with confidence, and suddenly start making spell-binding small talk. (true story - I actually spent weeks searching for the perfect shoes to bolster my confidence).

But on a better note to bolster my confidence levels, I just got handed a book, part of which I wrote!! It's scholarly, not fiction, so not quite as exciting, but still! It's an edited book, and I co-wrote one chapter. So I excitedly flipped to our chapter (not missing the wonderful new-book smell and crisp, bound pages) and found the four pages of the chapter that I wrote all by myself. Hot damn! It's hideously boring, about how post-WWII mathematical research was used to study the feasibility of global peace, but still - I wrote it!!

Okay, so between those two things, I should have my confidence up, right? I'm ready to go. And when I get back next Thursday, hopefully I will have tons of materials for blog posts about writing and craft and will blow your socks off.


(oh, and in the mean time, check out Jessica Faust's blog today - I liked to it on your right, called "Agent's tastes." Excellent info on the agent-editor-author relationship)

countertransference and schizophrenia


Written on Sunday, January 04, 2009 by haleigh

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

Countertransference is the dirty word of therapy. Professors during undergrad would throw it around as a threat. According to Wikipedia (dear god I'm quoting wikipedia), it can include a therapist transferring their emotions to the patient, or worse, "cases where the therapist literally takes on the suffering of his/her patient. In the most extreme of cases, it can result in the therapist taking on the neurosis or psychosis of the patient, such as bouts of paranoia or psychotic intervals, illustrated by Jung in the case of schizophrenia."

I think we need a word in writing for countertransference. Or maybe there is one and I just don't know it yet.

The reason I've come to this conclusion? Because over the course of one week working on my new MS, I've become desperate to become a pilot.

That's right, I, who gets ill every time I'm in a plane that lands (so, all planes....thank god), have decided that in my "spare time," I should take flying lessons and buy myself a Cessna 172 Skyhawk.

I was a bit startled by this revelation (I mean, wow, I've uncovered a secret, deep-set desire to defy the laws of gravity and soar into the sunset) until I remembered that while writing my last MS, I was tempted to throw it all away to become an investigative journalist.

Anyone else noticing a theme here? It seems that I like to take on the characteristics of my heroine. I mean, I know we all inadvertanly transfer our own emotions, values, nuerosis, etc. onto our characters, but I'm managing to take on their characteristics?? They're not real!! I made them up!

So far it's only my heroines, and only their career options, so maybe I'm safe from becoming a scizhophrenic like poor Jung up there. And I wonder if it's only the heroine's because I can relate better to women, or because all of my hero's so far have obscure job titles like "super-secret uber bad-ass," the likes of which, I am clearly not. Though I will admit to making plans with a friend to go to a firing range and take "learn all about handguns" class. But that's just good research. Right?

I even went so far in my "countertransference" to check how much, exactly, flying lessons would cost me. Not as much, actually, as you might think. I might even be able to swing a lesson or two.

Oh god, somebody stop me now. In my next book, the heroine's going to be a secretary.

Anybody else have this problem? Or am I clearly on the road to schizophrenia and still in denail? Any tips for picking normal jobs for your characters? Anybody else walking the fine line between research and crazy?

happy new year!


Written on Thursday, January 01, 2009 by haleigh

I love New Year's. It's a clean, fresh start. I feel like I have a fresh start writing too. My first MS behind me, and I'm ready to start again, with everything I've learned. Hopefully I won't make all the same mistakes this time around (like ending up with so many plot holes I have to rewrite 60% of the darn thing).

So in the vein of fresh starts, I have been researching, researching, researching. To admit to my geekiness, I love this stage. I love scrounging for little known facts and being able to throw out at a party, "You know, the per barrel cost of Brazilian deep-sea oil from the Tupi field is $33."

So in my plotting, I got all excited yesterday about an idea - campaign financing! The plot all comes back to scandalous campaign donations. So I googled "campaign finance" and in about five minutes, I realized this is not, in fact, the direction I want to go. Yikes! Could I have picked a more convoluted subject?

So, I'm still trying to figure out what the big final conspiracy is. I'd like to get the suspense side of the book plotted before I start writing. The relationships/emotional side I try to just let happen. But it's much easier to write when you know who the bad guy is and what they want!

But for this particular story, I have one topic to research which is turning out to be really fun. My heroine is a pilot. I'm pretty sure this says a lot about her -- her attention to detail, her independence, her love for routine.

But the cool part - she crashes her plane (on purpose). So I have to figure out how exactly one goes about crashing a plane and surviving it. So my first thought: taking flying lessons! Uh, a bit out of my price range. Second idea: flight simulator!

So with my little flight simulator computer game, I am learning to fly -- and crash -- a plane. I've so far learned to take off, make turns, and climb and descend. Next, I need to figure out how to land the sucker. Then, I'll crash it :)

So my goals for the new year are, in no particular order:
-- learn how to crash a plane
-- write another MS
-- query for an agent

And today starts Marn and I's mini-nano! I'm at 3,211 right now, and my goal is 28,211 by January 31st. Anybody else in?