Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best of the Best – Romance Writing Resources

P.S. This is my last post for the year. But I’ll be back the first Wednesday in January. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with family and friends.

The Best of the Best series is back, this time focusing on resources for Romance writers. Previous installments looked at Agent Blogs and the Writing Blogosphere’s Major Players.

Writing Romance is harder than it looks. With the requirement of a happy ending, the real trick is how to make your story stand out from scores of others playing with the same boy meets girl tropes. I don’t have any answers for how to do this – asides from writing the best book you are capable of – but I can share with you the resources I’ve collected geared specifically toward Romance writing.

Romance Writers of America - The largest membership organization for published and unpublished authors, with a huge educational focus. Their website also includes scores of info from their annual conference, including valuable handouts and recordings.

eHarlequin - One of the biggest Romance publishers, Harlequin has a Learn to Write section on their webpage to help hopeful writers target specific Harlequin lines. But many resources are general enough to help writers of any genre.

Romance University - Dedicated to helping writers develop their career (Mondays), uncover the male mind (Wednesdays), and perfect their craft (Fridays). The site can be a bit cumbersome to navigate, but there is some good stuff here.

Romance Divas - A great meeting place for writers, including valuable articles on different aspects of the writing and publishing process and a forum – which is currently closed to new members, but should reopen in the New Year.

Romance Writer's Revenge - A group blog capturing the trials and tribulations of romance writer’s life. The pirate talk can be a bit fatiguing at times, but the contributors pose thoughtful questions from the writing trenches.

Author Gabrielle Luthy – Provides a slew of writing resources on a variety of topics, including Agents & Editors, Plotting & Structure, and Revising Your Novel.

Author Jenny Crusie – Website includes a host of essays addressing pop culture, publishing, and romance writing in genre, with the same insightful wit she’s known for in her books.

Brenda Hiatt’s Show Me the Money! - Gives you an idea of the advance you can expect from a variety of Romance imprints. Remember, you shouldn’t be in this for the money. 

Babbles from Scott Egan – The blog provides a nice balance of content, including both industry insights and discussions of craft, from an agent who only reps romance and woman’s fiction.

The Passionate Pen’s Agent List - A great resource for when you are ready to query. The site also has a selection of other resources for writers as well.

All About Romance – Reviewing novels since 1996, AAR has a great search engine for finding titles that may be comparable to your WIP. The AAR blog also provides educational insights and commentary from women who are completely immersed in the genre.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – Another Romance reviewing site, SBTB provides brutally honest assessments of books and their covers. One of the founders recently started writing for the Kirkus Review. The site’s Help a Bitch Out (HaBO) series lets readers ask for help in finding titles they read once upon a time – it’s always fascinating to see what narrative aspects stick out in their minds.

You may find it odd that I didn’t talk about resources for writing historical romance, since that is the subgenre I write in. But believe me, that is a post for another day.

If you’ve come across other valuable resources for romance writing, please include them in the comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Writing Mantras

I fell down today. Hard. I was running with my dog and popped my left ankle. Before I could correct myself, I fell down, sending a spray of dirt and pebbles flying. I ripped up my spandex leggings, bloodied both knees, and scared the dog half to death. A great start to the day.

As I limped home, I kept telling myself to act normal, just put one foot in front of the other. Almost there. Keep going. You got this. These little mantras kept fluttering around my head until I reached my house and tried to pull myself together. (The knees are still oozing as I type this).

When I write, I have little mantras I like to repeat to myself as well. I have them written down on the computer equivalent of a post-it note that hangs out on my desktop. (The freeware is called Stickies and it’s great for virtual to-do lists and other important notes).

Some of these I’ve dug up after reading writing books and blogs and some occurred to me during or after a revision. I’ve tried to note the source where possible, but I can’t remember them all – and some are so oft-repeated, they’ve become common knowledge.


Yeah, this one should be obvious since nearly every literary agent agrees that they want submissions to have a strong, unique, captivating, [insert vague adjective here] voice. I don’t know what my voice is, so right now I just focus on creating different voices for my characters.

Think precise to find the telling detail!

I’m guilty of generalities in a lot of my early writing. They also creep in during my first drafts, where I haven’t thought enough about what I’m trying to portray to find that one detail that encapsulates everything.

Externalize the internal to show not tell!

Ugg. I always need reminders to show, not tell. One thing I’ve noticed in my writing is that I can do more to show how my character is feeling by projecting their thoughts and emotions into actions. This isn’t merely saying “Their heart thudded in their chest” in lieu of saying “They were scared.” This is a challenge for me to find some action that illustrates both character and emotion. Say your character is an emotional eater. When she gets stressed, don’t say how her stomach’s in knots – describe her measuring out the flour, sugar, cocoa as she makes a batch of cookies to eat.

Let yourself linger to fully realize scenes!

I write short, sparse first drafts. When I start fleshing out my story on second and third passes, I need to remind myself to take the time to ensure the scene is fully rendered – just because I can visualize everything that’s supposed to be happening, doesn’t mean my reader can.

Metaphors must not sound false!

Depending on what I’m writing, I struggle to incorporate figurative language that doesn’t come off as trite. I don’t want to risk pulling people out of the story with a simile or metaphor that’s clichéd or just plain bad, but at the same time, a metaphor or simile that’s a natural outgrowth of character can be writing gold.

Remember compression, omission!

Sometimes you don’t need all that filler to go from Point A to Point B. A skillful sentence or two can make the transition a snap – emphasis on skillful. Similarly, leaving something out can be powerful as well and builds suspense. At an emotionally pivotal scene, not having a character do or say something can be more powerful than if they reacted. Remember, less is more.

To learn what's wrong with a story, write two new ones and go back to the first one.

This is so true it’s painful. At the end of a revision pass, it’s so tempting for me to say I’m done. Once I’ve moved on to another story and go back to that first one, I sometimes cringe at the way I handled some of the story elements.You just can’t rush things.

It's not what your story says but the questions it raises.

Don’t preach. Don’t tell your readers what to think. Instead, present them with thought-provoking scenarios and characters who must make choices.

Reveal description deliberately to demonstrate pov character and relationships around them.

I tend to write in 3rd person, and sometimes I just don’t go deep enough to engage my readers. So this helps me to remember that everything in a scene must come from a particular character’s filter of the world. Easier to say than to implement.

Remember Microtension in each scene.

I read this post from Donald Maas at Writer Unboxed and had a bit of an a-ha moment. You don’t need high action or drama in every scene to ratchet up the tension in your novel. The quiet moments should be just as powerful

Emotion must be present, believable, motivating...

When I write, I have the description, the stage directions, and the dialogue down, but I often gloss over the emotional intensity in my scenes. So I need to remind myself to include it and push the story forward.

Intentional writing, all the time.

Just what it says. Every word must have a purpose. When I revise, I must question every choice. It’s exhausting, and all too easy to say “It’s good enough.” But it’s usually not.

What is your story's emotional destination?

I picked this up after listing to the Writing Show’s Short Story Endings podcast. Since I struggle sometimes with how to end pieces, this is one way to figure out just what I want readers to feel at the end of a story, and my answer often informs what I need to do to accomplish that.

What do you need to remember when writing?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge 2011

Magemanda from the blog Floor to Ceiling Books is spearheading a Speculative Fiction Reading Challenge, where participants read and review at least 12 speculative fiction books over the course of 2011. To learn more about the challenge, go here. I first heard about the challenge from follower KB Lawrence *waves*.

I have a bunch of spec fic books on my Christmas list and some still hanging out in my TBR pile like:
If anyone has any female spec fic writers (besides Atwood and LeGuin) they can recommend, please do so in the comments.

Want to join in but not sure where to get started? Check out iO9’s 10 Recent Science Fiction Novels Which Make Great Gifts.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

End-of-the-year Assessment

I can’t believe it’s December already. Lame, I know, since we’re all feeling that way. But I thought it would be a good time to stop lamenting how time flies and try to determine just what I’ve accomplished this year so far.

What follows may be of limited utility to you, but I encourage you to evaluate your own writing efforts in a similar manner – you may discover you’ve achieved more than you think!

Novel-length Projects

Medieval Historical Romance – Complete at 93k. I’m still tinkering with it. I sent out two queries to two agents this summer. Although both rejected it based on partials, I did get a personalized rejection from one agent. I learned the oh-so-important lesson: don’t query too soon. Since then, I’ve strengthened the beginning thanks to critiques I received through Miss Snark’s First Victim and Sharon Mayhew’s blog Random Thoughts. I got some constructive criticism and encouraging feedback through the Golden Rose Contest. And thanks to a posting on Adventures in Children’s Publishing, I found a critique partner who is helping me assess the novel with fresh eyes. It’s amazing what story elements, sentences, even words you take for granted when you’re reading something for the gazillionth time! I also took a chance and submitted my first chapter to Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest after they picked my scene for the SYTYCW scene challenge.

Goals for the upcoming year – Armed with a newly polished manuscript, I plan to query agents in earnest after the holidays. I had hoped I would be at this point this fall, but obviously that didn’t happen. If the agent search is unsuccessful, I fear I’ll have to set this project aside. *sniffle* 

Speculative Fiction 1 – This is the project at the center of the kerfuffle with my critique group last month. I’m proud of this WIP because I’ve completed two drafts this year (considering how many years it took me to finish my historical romance, this is quite an achievement). After completing the first draft, I was able to identify some issues with the story, and took steps to make some big changes, including adding a third POV character. With the second draft now complete, all the major plot points are in place. 

Goals for the upcoming year – It’s time to take this story to the next level. I’ll be revising this story mercilessly to ensure all the new elements I’ve incorporated gel. I’m still hopeful my critique group will help me strengthen the manuscript. If not, I’ll need to hunt up some beta readers. *gulp* 

Speculative Fiction 2 – I actually started this story before the one above and was 25k into it but then ran into some considerable plot roadblocks. However, after working through the other spec fic story and mulling things over in my subconscious, I now know what I need to do in order to proceed. 

Goals for the upcoming year – Finish the draft. That’s all there is to it. I’m going to have to rework some of what I already wrote and add a whole lot more. *groan* 

YA Contemporary – This was my NaNoWriMo project this year. I had wanted to write this one for awhile but my writing plate’s been pretty full. So I though NaNo would be the perfect time to jumpstart a new story. Thing is, I only got 13k words down during the month of November. But I have a rough outline for the story and look forward to working on the rest of it. Unlike my historical and speculative works, the voice was one of the first things that came together for this project. It’s also nice to be able to write something without doing a whole bunch of research first, since I’m drawing on my direct experiences growing up. 

Goals for the upcoming year – Finish the draft. I’m a little concerned at how easy this story is developing. Maybe I’m getting better or maybe I’m not pushing this story far enough. We’ll see once I have a complete draft. *sigh*

Short Story Projects

Speculative Fiction Short – I was so excited about this story. I got good feedback from my writing group and started submitting it bigtime – Asimov’s, Analog, Clarkesworld. And got rejections for my efforts – though one editor did say: “The story is very nicely done, but I’m afraid it's not quite right for me.” What can I say? That made me feel a teensy bit better. But I decided to hit the submission breaks, and I have been mulling over story revisions ever since. 

Goals for the upcoming year – Rework story, workshop it with my critique group, and start submitting again. *bracing for the worst* 

Speculative Fiction Flash – This originated as a prompt from my writing group. I fleshed it out and then shared it with my critique group. Everyone really liked it but thought it needed to be expanded. I didn’t agree with that. I liked it’s length and wasn’t up for creating an elaborate world to go with it. So I tinkered with it a bit and sent it off just last week. 

Goals for the upcoming year – See if I get any sort of feedback on the story from the magazine I submitted it to and identify other outlets for the piece. If nothing works out, reevaluate. *crossing fingers* 

Literary Flash – This also originated as a prompt from my writing group that I revised and shared with my critique group. I submitted it to a few places and got form rejections. Then I read it at an open-mic night, which forced me to evaluate each and every word. I made a few changes and sent it out again. This time I received a very nice personalized rejection, telling me what worked and what didn’t. And he was totally right. 

Goals for the upcoming year – Wait a few weeks, then revise with an eye to what this particular editor pointed out. Then start submitting again. *deep breath*

The Writing Life

I’ve taken ownership of my dream to write:
I started blogging on February 23, 2010. 64 posts and 64 followers later, I’m still going strong. I've had to make some changes, but I’m pleased with my slow but steady progress. I’ve had 18,000+ pageviews since I started (a big difference from the total on the nav bar, which only counts since May 2010).

I started tweeting (@bluemaven) in mid-March. Twitter keeps losing my old tweets but I think it’s almost 300. I have 120 followers, which is pretty good considering how picky I am in who I follow. I also don’t chat a whole bunch on twitter – just sharing links and sometimes day-to-day commentary.

140,000 – approximate word count Jan-Nov 2010 (including new WIP content, prompts with writing group, and blog posts - but not revisions). 

Goals for the Coming Year – Keep on keeping on. I want to maintain my blogging and twitter regimen. I’d also like to find a good writing conference to go to. I’m thinking RWA Nationals, but that scares the crap out of me. *shivers*

What have you accomplished this year? What are you proud of? How are you going to take your work to the next level?
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