Writing From Experience…

I had an idea on my way to the Central Florida Romance Writers meeting on Saturday, February 2nd for a story in the Always series, and I wanted to try and share a bit of the process of how I come up with ideas. The only problem with this is that I came up with this idea a bit differently than usual. Luckily the past week also yielded a  completely new idea, so I can give you two different ways I come up with them. On my way to the CFRW meeting, I realized that over a year has passed since my car accident. That accident was one of the most terrifying incidents of my life and effects the way I drive to this day. Traffic was semi-heavy and there was some rain on the road, not at all the conditions when I had my accident. As I began to reflect on my accident and the surrounding events and remember other bad accidents involving family members and drunk drivers that didn’t end as well (yes, the other driver was drunk at the time), I began shifting my experience around and around in my brain, playing a game of “What if?” with  the accidents. What if I hadn’t survived that accident? What if it was a family member of mine that received those frustrating notices of continuance, dragging out the trial of the drunk driver that had killed their loved one? Drunk driving convictions are far too lenient, even in cases of vehicular manslaughter; what if the person responsible for the accident was released and my family member saw them somewhere? What if they asked for forgiveness? As Christians, my family would have to forgive them; but how?

I had the framework for the concept of the story before this trip: a young woman who holds a man responsible for her sister’s death and runs into him. He sees it as divine intervention, as an opportunity to make amends and to ask her forgiveness. But as I was on my way to the meeting, it finally entered my head to use my personal experience, split among a few characters, to convey it this way. I know that car accidents have been used in movies and books frequently, but by using details of my own accident, I can make it both more realistic and more unique.

The brand new idea started out when I was reading about one of my favorite romantic tropes: the marriage of convenience. I love this trope, but it’s been done to death by far better writers than me. I thought about writing one of my own, but I knew if I did, I would have to come up with a fresh take on the idea somehow. So as I sat doing sums at work, I let my mind wonder across all the reasons that a person could be looking to get into a marriage of convenience that I’d ever read about, and my main male character began listing them to my heroine as reasons he thought she was proposing a marriage of convenience to him. My heroine refuted every reason he came up with, exclaiming that he read too many romance novels. “Actually, I watch too many soap operas and Lifetime movies with my mother,” he retorted, nonplussed, and continued to name reasons until she spilled why she wanted a marriage of convenience, illiciting an argument from him that she wasn’t going to be happy with the results if she went forward with her plans. I wrote out the scene and put it away to mull over where I could go with the story. Once I knew what my heroine was after, a slightly different take on the trope began to come together for me. Even though I have never extended anyone a marriage of convenience, my heroine’s motivation for offering one to the hero, and the  reason he tries to refute her notions, are both my own sentiments, sentiments I have been wrestling with for some time.

Those are two examples of how I come up with stories. How do you come up with your ideas?

In other writing related news: I joined RWA and the local affiliate chapter, Central Florida Romance Writers, this weekend! I’ve sent in two reviews over at Harlequin Junkie, and I’ll post links when the are up. I’ve also extended one of the three scenes that I identified as needing extensions for Delivering Justice. I am still plugging away and trying to make the manuscript sing. I should know this week if I was selected as an entry into the Blind Speed Dating agents round, and if not, I’ll be submitting DJ around on my birthday. There’s a lot to do either way.

Off to a busy day at the office, but I’m looking forward to sharing more reviews here, as well as more about my writing and writing related news.

XOXO,

Erica

The Ten Commandments of Editing Self-Help, Relationship Books

During the course of time that it took me to edit my father’s book, I developed many different “rules” for the editing process. Here, I attempt to share these insights and techniques with you. These are all my opinion and should not be taken as gospel. It is written specifically about the self-help genre, as this is the type of book I edited.

X. Thou shalt remove/correct typical grammar mistakes. This is a commandment of editing any type of fiction, with the exception of dialect/vernacular passages in fiction written to emulate a pattern of speech.

IX. Thou shalt be ambivalent to statistics. The interpretation of statistics, as put forward by the author, will be allowed to stand unless there is a gross error in logic or feasibility. It is not the editor’s job to posit their opinion of the spin the author puts on the data unless they are specifically asked to do so.

VIII. Thou shalt handle humor with care. Written humor can be tricky to navigate. It can be hard to convey without vocal inflection or visual clues. Therefore, it’s important to make sure that any humor present in the work is as humorous read as it is said.

VII. Thou shalt competently execute tie-ins/tie-backs to other chapters. Be sure to refer to the chapter by name when referencing it. Also, be sure to indicate whether you are reminding the reader of a concept from a previous chapter (ex. “As previously stated in “Heartbreak Hotel…”) or are introducing a concept to be expounded upon later ( ex. “This concept will be discussed in depth in “Conversations and Conversions”).

VI. Thous shalt fina a way to say the same thing a thousand different ways. Self-help jargon can get repetitive, especially as the same characteristics may be  highlighted in different chapters for different reasons. Make sure that you find effective synonyms and similar phrases to avoid using the same words over and over again.

V. Thou shalt strengthen wishy washy propositions with assertive language. No one likes to take advice from someone who sounds unsure of their own message. Wherever only one solution is offered, avoid using soft language. For example, instead of saying, “It is quite probable that all men are dogs,” say “All men are dogs.” (Of course, this is a rough example, but hopefully you get what I mean) The point is to present your solutions and ideas with conviction, support the argument, and move on as if everyone can agree with your conclusion.

IV. Thou shalt learn the basic chapter structure and flow and ensure adherence to it. For example, in my dad’s book every chapter started with a brief story that introduces the central relationship issue(s) dealth with in this chapter. He goes on to expound on the issues presenting by this brief story before giving a solution or a strategy to deal with them. One or two chapters did not offer any solutions or strategies, and I brought this to his attention. Did he want to offer solutions? Should the person seek professional help? If the purpose is to address problems in relationships, you should offer ways to address them in each chapter.

III. Thou shalt keep the voice of the author despite changes. Each author has a unique style and voice in which they write. While you are editing, it is important to do so working within the author’s unique style and voice. Otherwise, the sections you have corrected will seem out of place with the rest of the manuscript. Even if you have to tell the author what’s not working and have him or her correct it, it’s preferable to an inconsistent voice.

II. Thous shalt read at least once for enjoyment. We can get so caught up in trying to make sure that things are said clearly and the grammar is correct, we can lose sight of the story that’s being told and the advice that is being given. Make sure you read the work at least once with no aim other than to enjoy the work and try to see the author’s point of view. This helped me greatly in the editing process.

I. Thoul shalt remember this is not your book. No one should be able to see where you’ve changed and tweaked things except the author. Your job as an editor is not to write the book as you see fit, but to display the author’s work in the best light possible. You are cleaning it up, mending a few frayed edges, but it’s not your handiwork.

Do you agree with this list? Would you add anything to it?

Potato Chip Writing

Pringles chips (sour cream and onion flavor)

Since I couldn't find Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar, these will do... Image via Wikipedia

I used to love Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar potato chips. They were just so good–greasy, cheesy, salty goodness on a thin little chip. I couldn’t wipe my hands on my clothes for the grease (and the cheese), nor did I want to. No, you had to lick a finger covered in cheesy powder.When it came to chips, I am was one of those people the advertisers talked about. I couldn’t eat just one potato chip; in fact, I might have been known to shove eat more multiple chips at the same time.

I have the same problem with writing. I have so many pieces I’ve started and stopped over the years, pieces that still have life left in them, pieces that are just so good. I know I should really be focused on one particular thing at a time, but like potato chips, I can’t decide on just one project. I don’t want one story to whither on the vine while I’m working on another. When I’m right in the thick of a rough spot on one, I get inspiration on the rough spot of another. I can’t let that inspiration pass.

Just the other day, I was thining about something or other I’d read somewhere, when an insight into one of my characters struck me like a bolt from the blue. I suddenly knew her motivation. I still don’t know what she’s hiding (at least, not all of it), but I know why she’s giving another character the runaround. While this insight opens up a whole world of possibilities for the Southern Gothic Novel, I’m supposed to be finalizing the finalizing of Candy Apples. I was supposed to have it sent out for publication already, supposed to be embroiled in the long submissions process while working on the other pieces in that series. Yet, just when I get to a rough patch, this happens.

I’m not fooled though. I know that this is just an attempt to get off track. I get these “ideas” all the time while I’m editing my dad’s book, researching, working. These ideas are my brains way of escaping a tough or mundane task. The truth is, if I take this one potatoe chip at a time, I can still savor the taste and fulfill the craving. I can take my time and investigate each chip for the dreaded burned parts, or the bits with potato skin still left on them. I can decide whether or not it’s bad before I’ve bit into it. The great thing about doing things this way is if it’s a good idea, it’ll keep until I get to it, just like the really cheesy, bright orange chip in the bag will still be in the bag until I eat it.

How do you cope with errant ideas belonging to other works? Do you follow it down the rabbit hole, or do you stick out that rough spot in your current work? What techniques do you find useful to combat this lesser known form of procrastination?

The Chicken or the Egg?

A-Character

Image via Wikipedia

What part of a story do you “get” first? What do you choose to develop first? Is it a character, the plot, a setting? How do you begin getting creative?

If you’re like me, there’s no set answer to this question. My first novel attempt, with the working title Colorblind (no, this is not my NaNoWriMo novel), did not begin in my head with any characters or a plot, but with a house. I described the house, then in popped a character. Why was she going to the house? What’s so important about this house?

For my NaNoWriMo Novel, the idea came first. What if someone lied about their lives for years and were about to be found out? Would they just give up and admit it? Once I had my MC, I knew that she might fold and not do it. But then in came her best friend, and I knew I had something to work with.

What comes first, the name or the noun? Do you have in mind a specific type of character or place, then name it, or do you name it first and build around things associated with the name? Again, with me this is far from a concrete process. Sometimes I hear a name and build a character around it; sometimes I develop a character and find a name to suit. Neither way seems to work better or worse for me.

It all depends on the story. There are some stories that I’ve written that I wouldn’t have written had I known at the beginning what they would be about; I have to be eased into the weighty topics. Sometimes, I get ideas and I think to myself, I don’t have the talent/skill set/time to do justice to this. But then I’ll have a character or setting and start writing, and the same idea will work its way in. Now the idea can be worked with a bit. Now maybe I can do it.

Tell me about your writing process. Where do you begin? What do you find works best when developing a story? Do you have a different process for novels than you do for short stories? What about poetry?