So are you polishing your Golden Heart entries? Great! Last week I talked about Story—making sure yours was big enough, had the right elements to be a romance, and how friends can help you to see those big-picture things.
Today I want to focus on the Writing.
At the end of this blog post are some resources I used that I’ve found to be very helpful. Three articles were written by Ruby Sisters, members the Golden Heart class of 2009, now published authors, who contribute to the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood blog which is always chock full of great writing and career advice. (see www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com).
Scene Level. First off, every scene in your story should have a structure. I had absolutely no clue what this was until two years ago despite taking many workshops, reading craft books, etc. But I can tell you that a huge amount of writers don’t get this and to write to get published, you have to! This is the reason I have four manuscripts under my bed which will stay there forever. I’m telling you, this is really important!
Every scene starts out with your character having a tangible goal. The scene must end with yes, she/he got that goal but life gets worse anyway, or no, she/he did not achieve the goal and furthermore, life gets worse anyway. This is a complicated topic but well worth learning about. If you’re interested, I did a whole blog post for Romance University on that topic here.
Cut the Backstory. Read through your first pages and highlight any explaining. Then, as Hope Ramsay suggests, go back and cut all of it. Find ways to disseminate this information in dialogue or show it with action instead of telling it. It’s like Margie Lawson says: backstory is like taking a piece of paper and ripping it up into tiny pieces and placing tiny pieces of it throughout the story. Ask youself—what are the ONLY things my reader needs to know RIGHT NOW and CUT the rest.
Start at the right place. Don’t describe the beauteous scenery. Don’t have your heroine walking and thinking. Find the point in your story where, as Hope Ramsay says, two people are fighting something or about something and cut everything before this point. Open with a situation, a problem, with action. People want a dilemma, a struggle—but they want it from your character’s deep point of view.
Make sure your character has a goal and make it clear from page one. (Hope Ramsay)
A point to remember about all this action: no one will care about action if they don’t care about your character. Some say you only have one paragraph to get the reader to like your character. As Jeannie Lin says, readers want to recognize your heroine/hero as someone “unique, admirable, sympathetic, or likable.” The action has to be tied to this character’s deep point ov view, i.e.—we must experience the conflict through that characters eyes, ears, skin, taste, smell, etc.--oh--and most important of all, through their HEART.
Your hero or heroine must be well motivated and likeable or at least redeemable. If they are arrogant, gruff and distasteful—no! No one is going to want to keep reading. Remember, in a romance, you want your reader to fall in love with your hero. (I am not an expert at this. But even if you have a character with real issues, there has got to be something in their makeup that makes people want to cheer for them.)
Characters have to be: wounded, unpredictable, yearning, passionate, complex, resourceful, and gutsy when challenged (James Scott Bell workshop). They must confront their worst flaws, challenge their beliefs, and face their biggest fears (Lori Wilde workshop).
Characters must be unique—they have personality and this comes out when they speak. For your own benefit, give them traits (sassy, shy, fearful, argumentative when pushed, etc.) and make sure every time they open their mouths to speak, they are exhibiting one of those traits.
Start with a great first line. (Usually not a description of scenery). Really work on this line. It will draw your readers in. Don’t initially refer to your main character as “he” or “she,” leaving the reader to wonder for paragraphs who they are—give them a name. Should we know where they are, what time of day, what season? Set the stage appropriately to orient your reader.
Are high stakes apparent from the get-go? Do your reveal a secret, ask an intriguing question, create high stakes (Alexandra Sokoloff workshop)?
Read your work out loud—you’ll catch all kinds of problems with flow, rhythm, etc. Check for white space—long paragraphs cause people to fall asleep. Watch for overwriting—too many adjectives or adverbs (Jeannie Lin) that may make it seem you are in love with your prose.
Golden Heart Checklist (not inclusive—I’m sure there’s more!)
- Does your scene have a goal and structure and end on a “disaster”?
- Have you begun with action/conflict/some tension between people, people and a monster, etc.
- Great first line
- Identify the characters, setting, time, season if important
- Emotion, conflict, likeability—make these things evident up front
- Character with a great desire, passion, a yearning, gutsy, resourceful, likable?
- Deep Point of View—the POV character experiencing life through her/his senses. Don’t forget smell and touch if appropriate.
- Show not tell
- Axe the backstory.
- Don’t describe things unless relevant (slows pacing) (Katie Graykowski has a really funny line that will never let you forget this here)
- Watch your dialogue tags. Replace some with body language, e.g., “”You bet,” he said, vs. “You bet. He took a long, slow pull of beer.
- Watch for too much blow by blow body language: “He grabbed the beer bottle and sat down, turning away from her. He picked up his book and walked to the kitchen She took a sip of beer then set her bottle down.”
- End your entry on a significant hook. Again, action without emotion doesn't cut it but be sure to adjust your pages so that you've ended on a hook that will keep your readers wanting more!
Final Word—Don’t Forget the Romance! Checklist
- Chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. Important, important, important.
- Romance permeates all aspects of the story in one way or another.
- Be clear who the hero and heroine are from the beginning! This sounds ridiculous but don’t let the heroine’s best friend overshadow her or a platonic male friend of the heroine be mistaken for the hero!
- In category romance, if the hero and heroine are not together, they are apart and thinking about each other.
- The hero must have a heart of gold and act heroically even if he has issues.
- Heroine must not be petulant, self indulgent, or merely be acted upon—she must act!
I hope these accumulated tips that have been so helpful to me are helpful for your work in progress even if you're not aiming for the GH this year. Now go forth and polish!
If you have any more tips that can be added to the checklist, please comment and I'll add them and republish the complete list next week.
The First Five Pages…and the Red Line of Death by Jeannie Lin
Tips for Improving Your First Fifty Pages by Hope Ramsay http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/tips50pages/
Five Things Every Contest Newbie Should Know by Katie Graykowski
Make a Scene! Or, Why Scenes Should Be Seen and not Heard by Miranda Liasson
|"If she'd only listen to my ideas…"|