Writing Romance: Getting to Midpoint

Hello Campers! Are we back from holiday vacation yet? No, are we REALLY back from holiday vacation? Big confession – I forgot my deadline last week for this column. Rude awakening, that. Many thanks to Rachel for not beating me! Now I’m REALLY back.

Remember at the beginning of this series, we talked about the very basis of the three-act structure: Get your hero up a tree, throw rocks at him, and get him out of the tree. Now that we’ve crossed over into Act 2, it’s rock throwing time. But recall, last month we also said: until the Midpoint, the hero and heroine are confronted by “tests, allies, and enemies.” And up until that Midpoint, the hero and heroine are still trying to live their lives with their old pre-romance ways. So, going back to our rock throwing: up until Midpoint, our hero and heroine are dodging rocks individually. At Midpoint, they’ll team up and work together to dodge rocks.

We also pointed out that Act 1 = first quarter of the book; Act 2 = second and third quarters of the book; and Act 3 = last quarter of the book. In a 300-page book, Act 2 takes 150 pages. And getting to the Midpoint takes 75 pages. It’s the time when, according to Jami Gold, “the protagonists react to the new desire, but suffer from one step forward and two steps back.”

Susan May Warren, in her book How to Write a Brilliant Romance, says that Act 2 is made up of wooing, sparks, and sexual tension. Of course, the devil is in the details of the three of those, depending on your subgenre. Wooing looks different in a historical romance than it does in a contemporary suspense romance. And wooing may not mean what you think it means. It could mean small compliments, small gestures, or flowers and dating. But remember, H&H are still operating as separate individuals and maybe still thinking they can get back to the status quo they left.

Along with the wooing, there’s the sizzle. By this, Susan doesn’t mean sexual sizzle. She means conflict. During this time, the hero and heroine have goals that are at odds, and that causes conflict. Or, they have similar goals but their approach is at odds. At odds is key during this phase of the romance. Susan writes about having them fight and fight some more. I’m not sure I agree. Fights are fine, but I don’t see arguments as being a way to fill these pages. But you do some homework – read through the second quarter of your favorite books and see what goes on there.

Then there’s sexual tension. This is a critical ingredient, and how you do it depends, again, on the subgenre and how much sex you want in the book. But remember that sexual tension doesn’t automatically mean sex. Susan further states that this is the building of awareness and desire and the realization that they are definitely not repulsed by each other – even though they may want to be.

Next month, we’re going to chase a rabbit before we return to the second half of Act 2 – we’re going to discuss sex.

Until then, keep studying romance books and movies, taking notes, and sharing your aha moments. And don’t forget BiC-HoK – Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.

You Can’t Win

Starting out a new year always seems like "Woo! A fresh beginning! A chance to start over!" with the implication that "This time, I'll do it right!"

Yeah.

I've got a couple of nits to pick with that.

First, the same applies to every morning. I prefer to look at each new day as a chance to start again. Every day is a New Year's Day, even if it's a Wednesday in the middle of April. Don't get me wrong. Year end is a year beginning and that's cool. It's like a door into the future - as soon as we enter, we can pretend everything gets reset. But if I get off on the wrong foot on January 15th, I'm screwed on an annual framework. When I only have to get through today? Well, Ground Hog Day. I can get up tomorrow and do something different.

Second, I'm not convinced "do it right" is a meaningful construct. The difficulty for me is figuring out what "right" is. Most times, I don't know until after I've done it whether it was right or not - 20/20 hindsight and all that. What's been more interesting to me is that I seem to learn the most from doing it "wrong" -  what I thought was "wrong" turned out to be pretty darn good. I'm not saying "Go break a window," but maybe you keep using that word "wrong" and I do not think it means what you think it means. At least not always.

Which brings me to looking at outlook, looking forward, and an aphorism that is more canard than value. You've probably heard it:

Writing isn't a sprint. It's a marathon.

Here's the thing.

It's half right. Writing isn't a sprint.

It's half wrong. Writing isn't a marathon.

By trying to treat it as a race of any kind, it sounds like there should be a finish line. A tape you can break with your chest as you cross that line or a trophy you can collect on the way out of the stadium.

Maybe it's different for you, but for me, writing is neither sprint nor marathon. It's not a race. It's a way of life and nobody gets out alive. While that may sound moribund, for me it's an important reminder that, however we look at writing, we each have a finite amount of time to practice our craft. I see that as a challenge worth rising to. I see that as a really good reason to keep getting up every morning and putting on my writing shoes. It's a good reminder at this cusp of a year that whatever happened last year happened. What matters most is what happens today, and I'll see what I can do to make sure I leave as many good stories behind as I can without worrying about whether or not I'm winning.

Because with writing, you can't win. You can only do.

Here's to a productive and prosperous new year to all my friends in RMFW. May you all keep doing.

Image credit: Webweaver's Clipart

Rocky Mountain Writer #111

Wendy Terrien: 2017 Independent Writer of the Year

Last summer, Wendy Terrien was named Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Independent Writer of the Year.

In August, she published two novels on the same day. Both were sequels to her first novel, The Rampart Guards, which just happened to be named one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016.

In December, she was elected president of RMFW.

Today, she’s busy working on a new novel and she's got an agent who is preparing to help her land a traditional publishing deal.

In short, Wendy Terrien has a lot going on.

In addition to her novels, Wendy published a short story, “The Fate Stone,” in the award-winning anthology Tick Tock: Seven Tales of Time (March 2016), and “Light” in the award-winning Off Beat: Nine Spins on Song (April 2017), both from Wicked Ink Books.

Wendy graduated from the University of Utah and transplanted to Colorado where she completed her MBA at the University of Denver. She focused her marketing expertise on the financial and technology industries until a career coach stepped in and reminded Wendy of her passion for writing. Wendy began attending writers’ conferences, workshops, and retreats, and she hasn’t stopped yet.

Wendy Terrien's website

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

Rocky Mountain Writer #110

Jennifer Rose & The Book of Keys (Twins of Orion Series)

Jennifer Rose might have just what you need as you begin to ponder your writing goals and plans for 2018.

On Saturday, Jan. 6 Jennifer is presenting RMFW’s free monthly workshop at the Sam Gary Branch library in Denver.  The workshop will run from 1 to 3 p.m.

It’s called Level Up Your Mindset and Productivity.

On the podcast, Jennifer offers a preview of some of the tools and tips she believes lead to success.

But, wait, there's more.

There's also Jennifer's fairly unusual combination of interests, martial arts and opera, and the publication earlier this year of her first novel, The Book Of Keys.

The book is the first in the Twins of Orion series and it's already drawn rave reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

Jennifer's website.

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

A Writer’s Wishlist

Dear Santa,

I know we writers can be coy about what gifts we want. And I’m sure you’re tired of getting us the same things year after year (books, and the occasional desk accessory). So, I’m just gonna say what we’re all thinking and tell you what I really want for Christmas this year.

  1. Representation from my dream agent. You know, the one I’ve been surreptitiously stalking on social media. If you can’t get her, any agent with at least five bestsellers under their belt will do in a pinch.
  2. An acceptance letter from my dream lit mag or anthology. Preferably both.
  3. A book deal. Doesn’t have to be with my dream publisher—any of the Big 5 will do. Two-book deal, six-figure advance, nothing fancy. Maybe throw in some movie rights if you’re feeling generous.
  4. An international book tour with truckloads of adoring fans. Don’t forget the adoring fans. Have you ever had to sit through a book signing where only your mother and your yoga instructor showed up? It’s scary. (Neither have I, but I have nightmares about it regularly.)
  5. Fame and Fortune. With a capital F. Basically, what you’ve enjoyed for the last few centuries.

Most of these things are large and oddly shaped, so don’t stress about wrapping them. Just wedge them under the tree between the book-shaped packages and the ergonomic desk chair with the big bow on it.

Thanks,

Rachel

P.S. I got at least 35 rejection letters this year, without punching anyone in the face. If that doesn’t put me on the nice list, I don’t know what will.

P.P.S. If you’re still not sure, remember: I can turn you into a fictional character and kill you. Slowly and gruesomely.

 

Happy holidays from RMFW! The blog is going on winter break for the next two weeks, when our writers will be nestled all snug in their beds, visions of book deals dancing in their heads. See you in January!

The Gifts of Writing

Everything in the city was clammy, doorknobs and train handrails slick with other people’s sweat, the air heavy with the smell of yesterday’s lunch.

If that isn’t enough from page one of Sara Novic’s debut novel, Girl at War, perhaps sentences from page two will prick your writer self:

We took cold showers and walked around the flat in our underwear. Under the run of cool water, I imagined my skin sizzling, steam rising from it. At night we lay atop our sheets, awaiting fitful and fever dreams.

There are many wonderfully written books on the market today, including those from RMFW members, both PAL and IPAL. However, I chose Novic’s work to illustrate two important gifts writers need:

  1. Descriptions that arouse the senses.
  2. Not everyone will like, let alone enjoy, your work.

Following are excerpts from a review of Girl at War:

“Girl at War draws loosely and unconvincingly on the war in Croatia…”

“Dialogue is not a strong point.”

“Of course, the war is what gives the novel its relevance, yet many readers will be bewildered by the author’s apparent confusion of Croatia with Bosnia. The war-torn version of Zagreb that appears here never existed…”

Read the full review here.

Gifts writers give:

  1. Characters who converse naturally and with era-appropriate clarity.
  2. A story that starts strong, stays strong, and ends stronger. These books can’t be forgotten, nor can penetrating characters and stunning descriptions.
  3. Well-utilized research—especially for historical fiction.
  4. Willingness to help others.

This holiday season, give yourself and your readers your best. (I’ve sent a list to Santa which contains many works of RMFW members.)

Rocky Mountain Writer #109

Denitta Ward & Somewhere Still

Denitta Ward will tell you that she did it all backwards.

But she got on the path to publication earlier this year when took RMFW’s online course about self-publishing, taught by Lisa Price Manifold.

The result? The publication of her first novel, Somewhere Still, in November.

Denitta is a member of the Women's Fiction Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and (of course) Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She is delighted to be the 100th member of IPAL.

After decades of writing legal briefs and contracts, Denitta picked up her pen and decided she'd write the stories she really wanted to tell, about young women discovering their own resilience in times of societal transition.

In fact Somewhere Still is set in the Roaring Twenties era in Kansas City and the follow-up jumps ahead three decades to Cuba.

In both cases, however, Denitta is exploring a topic that remains relevant today about the “power dynamic” between men and women. Even writing in a clean style, Denitta explores an age-old question: who is writing that paycheck and what are women willing to do for that money?

Denitta Ward's website

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

It’s December again, and the world needs your novel

Wow. It is December, 2017. Another year ends.
Time for reflection!

I could do the standard New Year's resolutions thing, or I could do the standard reflect on all the good in your life thing, too. I’m not sure I want to do that. What to talk about? OK, let’s talk about my favorite virtue!

If you know me, you know that I am really big on courage. I think most of the world’s ills stem from people not exercising their courage.
It takes courage to be kind.
It takes courage to live your truth.
It takes courage to forgive people – especially yourself.
It takes courage to be honest.
It takes courage to change your mind.
It takes courage to write a book.

So ask yourself, were you courageous in 2017?

RMFW is a writer’s organization. It is filled with people who believe they have a story to tell. Did you tell your story? Did you go to our monthly programs to learn craft, or take an online class? Did you go to one of the announced book signings, or to the Writer of the Year panel? (I’ve always found those fascinating.) Did you listen to the RMFW podcast or join a critique group? Did you go to the Colorado Gold Conference? Did you finish your book? Did you start it? Why?

Did you do everything in your power to tell your story?

Writing a book is a courageous act, in and of itself. It’s a daunting task filled with self-doubt and fear. There are people who will question your passion, question your reasoning, and question your resolve to be an author. In spite of them, you still have this dream. You, gentle reader, should be praised for even attempting it.

But I don’t want you to stop with the attempt. I want you to celebrate the end of your journey. I want you to write that book!

I know you’re super busy with work and young children. I know you’ve got relatives to worry about. I know you’ve got a thousand different things on your plate that should get done before you write your story. I get it. But listen, if you don’t make your story a priority in your life, who will?

If you wrote 500 words a day, five days a week, in 32 weeks you would have an 80,000-word book! That’s eight months of writing. If you wrote 600 words a day, you could cut a month off of that time.

Does it sound daunting? Does it sound scary? Well, good. Now I’ve got your attention. All you have to do is write. Everything will fall into place once you begin to write. Don’t worry about that shady character in chapter three. Don’t worry about how the star-crossed lovers are going to get together. Don’t worry about the sea of zombies, beavers, or zombie-beavers that are the standing in the way of your protagonist. Find a solution, even if you don’t like it. Go with it. Let go of your desire for perfection. I don’t remember who said it, but perfection is the ally of procrastination. There will never be a perfect time to write your book. The washing machine will break. You will lose your job. The kids will get sick. In spite of all of that, write your book.

Write your book with its run-on sentences and misspelled words. Write your book with its flawed premise and its lack of scientific or historical accuracy. Write your book with its bad dialogue. All of that can be edited. A flawed written book is much easier to fix than a flawed unwritten book. Put your butt in a seat with your favorite beverage and computer and write. You don’t need a lot of courage. Just enough to begin.

Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, is fond of saying “The world needs your novel.” I agree. The world does need your novel.

So write your book.

Writing Romance: Crossing into Act Two

Welcome, Campers.
Last month we approached the turning point that launches our duo into Act Two.

By the end of Act One, your characters will likely have stated - either in their heads or actually out loud - that they want nothing to do with the other, nothing to do with a relationship with the other. No way, no how. But the final plot point of this act will not give them that choice. It will make it impossible for them to walk away. Not until. . . So at the end of this piece, your hero and heroine are completely “up a tree” with no way of escape.

In Hero’s Journey language, we’ve established the ordinary world of our hero and heroine. We’ve sent them a call to adventure when they meet each other. They’ve said NO NO NO - the Refusal. And sometimes they’ve met with a mentor or friend that has nudged them into the adventure.

And, at the end of Act One, they’ve begrudgingly Crossed the Threshold.

According to Jami Gold's Beat Sheet - which we’ve been following as a loose outline - in Act Two, “the protagonists react to the new desire, but suffer from one step forward and two steps back.”

As you can see in this beat sheet, Act Two is sandwiched between Pinch Point 1 and Pinch Point 2. Act Two is usually half the book and divided in half itself with an important Midpoint.

Up until that Midpoint, the hero and heroine are confronted by “tests, allies, and enemies.”  And up until that Midpoint, the hero and heroine are still trying to live their lives with their old pre-romance ways. They may give lip-service to working together, might even try to work together. But when the rubber meets the road, they’re working alone. In a way, they’re trying to get back to their ordinary world unscathed. Have they got a surprise coming.

An Ordeal at the Midpoint will force them to admit that the road they’re on doesn’t go back to that ordinary world. Something big has changed and they move forward through more challenges, learning to approach life differently: together. Sometimes this moment is capped with The Kiss.

At the end of Act Two comes another turning point. This one will drive a huge obstacle right through their relationship. Often, it leads to a breakup. And then it’s on to the last quarter of the book in Act Three.

Next month, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of getting your couple to that Midpoint.

Your homework: get out those romance movies. See if you can map the story with the information you have right now.

Oh, and BiC-HoK - Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard.  (And Merry Christmas)

Sharing is Caring this Holiday Season: SO SHARE WITH ME!

Since the blog will be going on vacation over the holidays, from Dec 23rd to Jan 8th, I’d like to use my post today to thank you all. Our RMFW blog readers are a special group. Along with those bloggers. You all are the BEST of what RMFW has to offer. Good friends who understand why I constantly mutter to myself, occasionally shouting: “EUREKA” (Since I’m not a 1800’s inventor, I don’t actually shout that, but something unprintable brought to you by the letter F).

That being said, I’d love to hear your good writing news over the last year. Did you finish a manuscript? Get an agent? Publish a book? Write something you’re proud of? Give me all of it.

My good writerly news list:

  • Finished 4 manuscripts (a personal record)
  • Wrote my first YA, as well as my first collaboration project
  • Sold a project written years ago

Now let’s hear yours. I want gory details too!