One of the big things I struggle with when starting a story is likeability. The general premise is that a reader needs to be able to connect with a character, that the character should have redeemable qualities so that the reader can like him or her.

I have two issues with this. First of all, I’ve written nice alphas and I’ve written jerky alphas–no one cares. These guys don’t have to be likable. They need to be heroic. They can be jerks and still live by their own code of ethics. I have zero problems pulling this off, but it bugs that heroes are given so much more latitude than heroines.

Second, I have a hard time making likable heroines. I’ve written everything from the wilting flower (who everyone loved, right off the bat–not my typical heroine) to, shall we say, more abrasive heroines (these are the ones I usually start out with). I prefer to think of them as complex.

Because, here’s the thing. My characters are not happy when the story starts. Their lives are usually in shambles or, they think they have everything under control, but it’s all just a house of cards waiting to fall. And people with difficult lives are not happy, likable people.

It really annoys me that I have to try to make my heroine conform to being “likable” in order for her to be identifiable. Um, look… I’m a likable person. But sometimes, I’m a wreck. Sometimes, I’m a handful. And, you know what? I think more people can identify with me than can not.

Starting right now, I’m going to fight this stereotype–that women only like to read about sweet, light, giving creatures. The Snow White, whistling while she works as birds light upon her finger. I never even liked Snow White. Or Cinderella. They were both basically doormats for their antagonists. Why would I want to write that?

Please, give me your opinion on heroines at the beginning of a story. What do you love and hate to see? Call it research, because I really need to know.

This month has been spent in revision hell. I’m revising two novels and trying very hard to get them ready for a March 31 submission. One is a hard deadline; the other is self-imposed (important if we ever want to get our stories out there–there’s always a reason to not be writing if we let there be).

But there is no hell for the writer like Revision Hell.

I currently reside on the seventh level, the ‘this book sucks’ level where plot points and dialogue I thought were so cool in the first draft now strike me as vapid globs of desperation. Oh lord, deliver me from my woe!

–Writer Unboxed

Here’s this excellent post by Holly Lisle (my personal hero) on revising in one shot.

Here’s what she says on revision hell:

And let’s debunk one bit of writer myth while we’re here: Doing a seventeenth revision on a project does not make a writer an artist or move him above the writer hoi polloi any more than dressing entirely in black or wearing tweed jackets with leather elbow patches or big, black drover coats. These are all affectations, and smack of dilettantism. Real writers, and real artists, finish books and move on to the next project.

Because this is isn’t a real post, other than to gather resources I need (and you may need), here you go.

I hate revising more than anything in the universe. More than cleaning up cat puke. I am done with this book and do NOT want to work on it anymore.

This is where I’m at, y’all.

Once I do a first draft I, naturally, put the story away for a number of weeks to allow it to grow unfamiliar and, thus, fresh in my brain when I reread it. Then, I read it, taking notes on big picture problems. My last project, I ended up with sixty-five different notes and the list was about six pages long.

I’m preparing to go in this week and begin what I think of as deep revision. It’s a lot of editing, some rewriting, and a little adding whole new scenes. I’ll come out the other side with a new story on my hands; a deeper, more complete, richer story.

I wanted to give an example of what deep revision can do. I once wrote a post about the important elements of a sex scene. In it, I wrote:

Could you make the scene stronger by making them emotionally naked as opposed to physically naked?

If you go back to that previous post, you’ll see I included a first draft sex scene, but then ended up taking it out and replacing it with one that did just that (I’ll include a sample of it at the end; it’s from my book Infamous). Here’s why:

What I ended up replacing this scene with is one of connection, but the emotional sort. I finally realized that it’s too easy for my hero to make a sexual connection, but he never makes emotional connections. He pushed himself out of his comfort zone, he took a tiny step toward change. And she distinguished herself, in yet another way, as different from any other woman.

The reasons I made the change are described above, but it was also to increase the tension between these two characters, provide a richer understanding of their characters, and improve my story’s pacing.

Deep Revision can increase tension, characterization, and pacing--just for starters. Click To Tweet

For comparison purposes, I’m going to include a sample of that new scene below the signature. You can read it in its original form in the post about sex scenes. (It would make this post unnecessarily long to include both here.) I loved the new scene so much, it’s the main sample I used for marketing purposes. That is why deep revision is so important.

A sample from Infamous:

“Crap, now you’re going to be sweet? Now?” She tangled her fingers through the hair that covered her face and pushed it away. Next thing he knew, she’d wrapped her arms around his waist.

“Justine? Um… what are you doing?”

“I’m hugging you. Taking emotional comfort.”

“Like a leech.”

“Haven’t you ever hugged before?”

“I’ve never hugged anyone I wasn’t going to have sex with.”

“We’re not having sex.” She squeezed him tighter and rested her head on his shoulder. “Hug me back.”

Sawyer lifted his arms and wrapped them around her, his hands cupping her shoulders, pulling her closer. He dropped his head to rest on hers, and parts of him, so deep he couldn’t name them, pulled free and demanded his attention. Her hair smelled like fruit, the kind kids eat in the summer, juice dripping down their chins. “I’m fine with the hugging, but, just saying, I’m not responsible for any physical reaction hugging may induce.”

“Okay.” The word drifted out of her on a sigh.

He wasn’t equipped for this. There hadn’t been a lot of touching growing up, at least not the kind that didn’t end in a busted lip or a cracked rib. As an adult, there’d been lots of touching. But, not like this. The tighter he held her, the closer he wanted to be.

After a couple of minutes, he couldn’t take anymore. It seemed bigger than him, bigger and growing fast. He pulled back to look at her, hands still gripping her shoulders. “You look tired.”

“I haven’t slept since…” She tilted her head back, thinking. “I don’t remember. Couple of days.”

“So get some sleep.”

“I don’t know if I can.” She settled on the edge of the bed and looked down at her hands. “I have so many things running through my head right now.”

“I know what to do.” He slipped off the denim jacket he’d been wearing since some time last night. “Go find the least attractive thing you sleep in.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Why?”

“Because I said so. And because you need some sleep. You’ve got bags under your eyes big enough to hold your whole wardrobe.”

She lifted the lid of her luggage to pick through her clothes, grabbed something white she balled up in her hands, and dutifully went into the bathroom to change.

Sawyer looked at the closed door and then turned to the bed. He turned down the covers on one side and turned out the lights, except for the lamp beside the bed.

When she came out and flipped the bathroom light off behind her, Sawyer wanted to tell her to try again. Her choice was anything but unattractive. She’d slipped into a gown that settled halfway between her knees and…well, places he had no business concerning himself with. The gown flounced around her, touching her nowhere except under the arms and across her chest with a black ribbon gathering the material.

She lifted one foot and slid it behind the other. “Poppies.”

He dragged his gaze to her face. “What?”

“The flowers on the gown are poppies. They make you drowsy.” She slid her gaze to the side. “I found that amusing when I bought it.”

He held up his hands. “It’s fine. Get in the bed.”

“I don’t do pajamas. I have a thing against sleeping in pants. I like the way the sheets feel, cool and slippery, on my legs.” She looked past him to a corner of the room. “I talk a lot when I’m uncomfortable.”

“It’s fine.” He shifted toward the bed and then paused as her words sunk in. “Wait, you have panties on, though, right?”

“Of course.”

He tilted his head to glance at her with a frown, trying not to look at her bare legs. “Are they hot?”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Right, no. Doesn’t matter. Lay down.” She stopped beside him at the foot of the bed and they stared at the down-turned blankets. “I want to make sure you get some sleep. You get under the covers, and I’ll lie on top so I don’t invade your not-pants-wearing space.”

“You’re volunteering to give me emotional comfort.”

“Shut up, Justine.”

She hopped into bed, twisting to pull the covers to the top of her shoulders, and lay on her side. He climbed on top of the blanket, scooted close. “Do people send you designer nightgowns, too?”

“Trying to sleep here.”

Her body moved in the rhythm of breath, slowed down, as her muscles softened and relaxed. He wanted to kiss her shoulder, to press his lips against it, to find out if it was as soft as it looked. And what was that scent? Her hair fanned across her pillow and it smelled like… watermelon? Strawberries? Apples?

She interrupted his fruity thoughts, her voice soft and blurry. “Thank you.”

“I’m an ass.”

“You’re okay right now, though.”

“I’m using you, right now, because I like how you smell. I’m an ass.”

She didn’t speak again, and he realized she was out. He should get up. Go to his own room. Get away from the bare legs, under the covers, and the shoulder, and the hair. Try to put whatever had awoken during that hug back to rest. In a minute, he’d get his jacket and go.

revisit toolsSeveral years ago, I was working on my second manuscript and I wrote about what tools I used to get the job done. (It was a terrible story that I never did finish, but that’s irrelevant. I did mine secondary characters from it and gave them their own story, so it was useful, at least.)

What did I use then?

Paper. Fancy journal, legal pad, graph paper, steno notebook–whatever makes you feel good.  We’re writers, and if you want to be a smart writer, you will write everything down somewhere.  Might as well make it a central place.  And believe me when I tell you, when that paper is full of your story, of your imagination, your muse at work… you’ll know why you write, if only for a moment.

I’m still a paper fanatic. And I still use a plain old spiral notebook. I write down character sketches, outlines, scene notes–you name it. It nearly always starts on paper before making its way onto the computer.

A binder, preferably one-and-a-half inch, sheet protectors, and a hole punch.

I don’t really use a binder anymore. I’m more likely to keep things in Evernote or, as I’m going to discuss later on, Scrivener.

An All-in-One Printer.  First of all, they’re just not that expensive anymore.

I definitely still use a printer. I print pages multiple times for edits. I just edit better on paper (no surprise there).

So what tool do I use the most now?

Scrivener. Although I still make use of paper, I keep my entire outline in Scrivener. I didn’t for the story I wrote before my current one. I kept them on index cards. Then I got sick and didn’t write for a month. And misplaced my cards. Scariest week of my life, thinking I was going to have to recreate that outline.

I also keep all my research in Scrivener, as you can just drop entire web pages in there and access them from the program.

Further, all those character sketches and pictures of what my characters look like? All in the research binder.

It’s basically my go-to for everything.

What do you use to keep your writing organized or to get more accomplished?

I’m fascinated by other people’s process, so please share in the comments!

sig2015

What tools I use now to get the most bang for my writing buck. How about you? Click To Tweet

(I say in theory because I’m sure I’ve read and loved a few. I’m definitely not putting down anyone else’s writing. I think the right person can tell any story and make it great. But, back to the subject.)

ducklingPygmalion. My Fair Lady. Pretty Woman. You can call them transformation stories, but at their heart, it’s ugly duckling syndrome. And they just get under my skin. Here’s why:

There’s something ‘not enough’ about the hero/ine.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that protagonists need to have flaws. There’s no character growth without imperfection.

What I take issue with is the unlovableness (I made that word up) of a woman until she is made prettier, or shinier, or softer around the edges.

It’s so shallow.

Which leads me to this problem. When we’re talking flaw, we’re discussing a deep issue. It’s not something a haircut is going to help the heroine change.

A person shouldn’t have to change to be acceptable.

Did Julia Roberts need to not be a prostitute to be in a relationship? Sure, that’s fair. But didn’t he like her realness, the parts that made her different from the society women he had already discarded? Yes. Yes, he did.

A change doesn’t need to make a person lovable.

It needs to make them able to love as a fully-developed, healthy human being.

Do you have any books or movies that you think did this well? Or, conversely, did it badly?

sig2015

Four reasons ugly-duckling syndrome makes me want to wall-bang a book. #romance #blog Click To Tweet

 

My Process-I’m not literally on crack, I feel compelled to share with you. It’s just that my writing process is so super-organized, its on crack. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

When I first started writing, I wanted someone to tell me how to go about the process of doing so. Turns out, those posts are fairly rare because process is as personal as fingerprints. Nonetheless, I’m going to begin sharing mine with you. I’m beginning here because there are so many freaking stages.

Let me list them:

  1. Idea, aka writer euphoria. Birds sing, angels weep because they’re so touched by this incredible idea that you have.
  2. Plotting, aka this could happen, then that, and also….oooh, yes. That.
  3. Plotting turning points, aka my story seemed more fully formed in step one. So, um, this goes here, and then… shit. Let me call my critique partner.
  4. Plotting scenes, aka you know what’s going to happen, and when, and now you need to let these people do their thing while also accomplishing plot goals, theme, emotional arcs, etc. etc.
  5. Pre-writing plotted scenes, aka let’s get this dialogue down while it’s fresh and hot. Sizzle!
  6. Typing pre-written scenes, aka get those nuances in there.

So, you see the on crack part. I actually plan to write more about each phase, if you care to read the insanity.

For now, what’s your process like?

I’ve noticed in the several years I’ve been on twitter, and followed many writerly folk, that interactions have changed. Instead of us all sharing our experiences, new behaviors have taken shape.

The only interaction you have with anyone is, “Hey, I have a book. Buy it now!”

I don’t mind if you tell me you have a book. I’ve gotten some cool books from people I already liked on Twitter. What I mind is when you only try to sell me a book.

Try to sell me a book. every. 5. seconds.

When does slamming someone with advertising ever work? If someone asks you to do something over and over, and never says anything else, does that work on you? Me, either.

Hop on to hash tags, like #amwriting, with their book or blog posts not about writing.

Hash tags are not a secret meeting that if you could get into, everyone would notice your thing and ooh and ahh. Hash tags serve a purpose and providing you with a ready-made audience isn’t it.

Retweet 17 random things in a row.

By in a row,I mean your random retweets are all I see in a very fast moving feed. It means you’re just pointing-and-clicking, boom, boom, boom. And I know why. You’re hoping people will retweet your ‘on sale now’ tweet.

Don’t give social media advice when you clearly don’t get how to do social media as an author.

I once had to unfollow someone who wrote a book on how to be on social media and sell your book. They were guilty of all the above. I shudder to think what their book was about.

Instead, just be genuine.

All the research shows that being genuine and interacting with people on social media will go much further than harassing or ignoring them will.Check out Kristen Lamb’s web site and books for better info on how to use social media in your favor. By the way, notice I said use social media. Everything I mentioned up there just smacks of using people.

siglori

Being genuine and interacting on Twitter will always work in your favor. Click To Tweet

I wanted to share my post from the HSG blog this month because it’s about writing accountability. I have quazillioned my output this year and if you want to do the same, go read my post!

Starting Your Story Too LateI’ve recently been puzzling over a story that seemed to have everything going for it… and it just faltered. I’d written a hundred pages and blah, boring, and the heroine was just bitchy. It wasn’t working. Then I realized I started the story too late. We’ve all heard the warnings about starting a story too soon, but this was different. All the good, clicky stuff happened before the story started. And I just figured, hey, great backstory. Except it should’ve been story.

I kept playing with it in my mind, turning it around, and I would always come back to what if I wrote about the before? And then I decided that’s how you make a story dull, because the story starts when the action starts. Except, obviously, actions happen in a backstory, right? I felt like the serpent eating its tail.

I sort of wondered, is this a common problem? Do other people make this mistake?

If you open the window too early, your readers have to drum their mental fingers waiting for the action to start. Open the window too late, and you’ll find yourself desperately filling in with flashbacks and infodumps.

caroclarke.com

Trust me--I hate flashbacks almost as much as infodumps. Click To Tweet But dumping is what I did–what I had to do. The story didn’t make sense without that info. I mean, a tried to dole it out slowly and hide it in conversation, but a dump is a dump.

That story has gone from a benched story to a to-be-written one. At least, once I figure out how to change those first 100 pages. Anyone else got battle scars like these? Have you ever started too soon or too late?

siglori

More Reading:

Then

12.19.08
The Importance of Pre-Writing

I tried looking at pictures. Incidentally, Apartment Therapy is an awesome site.  So I bought a graph paper pad and I just drew the dance studio/apartment in no time.  I then described the way the rooms looked.  I included whoever’s viewpoint popped into my head, because different people see different things.  This helps me in two ways: 1) I can visualize these important places and the events that took place there easier and 2) I’ve got ready made description when I write scenes in those places.

I was amazed at how much such simple pre-writing work actually ignited my imagination.


Now

I still pre-write like it’s a lifeline to storytelling.  I call that creative time when you’re first planning a story, and the ideas are flowing like Niagara Falls, creative crack. It’s amazing and fun. And so much of writing isn’t all fun–it’s hard, hard work.

Using Pre-Writing as a Tool for WritingIn that post, I talked about planning out spaces to make our fictional places more real. Since then, an incredible tool has taken over the internet. You can look on the right and see it’s become a passion of mine: Pinterest. Obviously, I don’t just use it for writing.

But, with Pinterest, I can see my characters, interiors & exterior places, and even crucial items. And it’s “in the cloud,” accessible to me from any device, anywhere I can use the internet (which, let’s admit, in this age, is everywhere). In the novella I just finished writing, I used Pinterest for character placeholders, info about Vegas in the fifties (the setting), and clothing trends of the time. I deeply needed my research to make that story happen.

I’ve also noticed a trend: other writer’s are using it, too. I went to an online book release party, and all the authors shared their Pinterest story boards. Are readers interested in these? I was. I loved seeing the historical clothing, the shipwrecks, the cool clubs.

siglori

Pinterest has become the author's new best friend, letting us pile up valuable research. Click To Tweet