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Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
Saving Kitties and Full Grown Cats

It’s crunch time.  My deadline for The Desire of a Duke is Friday, and I’m on track to make it–which feels great.

Last week,  a few friends joined me in twitter-based rehash of my “Save the Kitties” writeathon from last year to motivate me to push through to the end of the draft.  The idea is to challenge yourself to write a certain amount over the course of a few days – if you meet the goal, you get to donate $ to a good cause (like Kitten Rescue, for me).  If you fail, you have to donate that money to a cause with which you, ahem, strenuously disagree (not telling which).  Add in public accountability, and I find this method extremely motivating for short bursts.  I’m proud to say I powered through to finish my manuscript in the wee, wee hours last Wednesday.   Now the book’s been out for some reads with CPs and friends, and the feedback coming back is frighteningly unanimous in pointing out the book’s major issue, so I have a very clear direction for revisions.  All of that is good.  :)

So once I turn in my book on Friday (and I will!  I will!), I get to reward myself with a weekend CP retreat!  My main goal for the weekend will be to read, relax, and start plotting my next book, tentatively titled The Passion of a Warrior.  (Doesn’t quite have the same ring, does it?  Again, I’m open to suggestions.)

A few weeks ago, my local RWA chapter invited screenwriter Blake Snyder to speak.  He’s a very amusing guy, and his book, amusingly named Save the Cat! The Last Book You’l Ever Need on Screenwriting, contains a plotting structure based on the 15 “beats” of every good screenplay.  I’ve heard it compared to The Hero’s Journey, but I personally found the “beats” a bit simpler to grasp and more intuitive.  Alyson Noel, our chapter’s newest NYT Bestseller, swears by Blake’s method.

I am not usually one for plotting schemes (allergic to squares, remember?), but linear story progressions resonate with me.  Plus, you know I’m all about the saving of kitties.  :) I bought Blake’s book, and I’m going to take it with me on my retreat to share with my CPs and see if it can’t help me as I do my rough plotting of the next book.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Do you use Save the Cat!, “The Hero’s Journey”, or any similar method for plotting?  Do you have title ideas that are better than The Passion of a Warrior?  Ones with alliteration?  The third book is supposed to be The Secrets of a Scoundrel, and it’s killing me that the middle one has no alliteration.

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
Capital-R Romance

Happy National Poetry Month!
(And thank you Janga, for the lovely reminder!)

In THE DESIRE OF A DUKE (you all convinced me not to mess with the title just yet), I’ve given my heroine a much-cherished family home on the banks of the River Wye, not far from Tintern Abbey. And I’ve been reading and re-reading Wordsworth’s famed description of the area for inspiration:

The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!

(From Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey)

Of course, Tintern Abbey itself never appears in the poem, but this 1794 watercolor by Turner captures the ruins as they might have looked to my heroine, in her youthful rambles.

One thing I love about writing romance set in the Regency period is that the period overlaps with the beginnings of true Romanticism, as an artistic, literary, and musical era. I don’t know that it’s especially historically probable, but I love imagining my characters to be influenced, subtly or overtly, by the capital-R Romantics of the day, Wordsworth and Turner among them. In the case of this book, my two main characters (though different in so many respects) share Wordsworth’s affinity for Nature, and in particular this setting. Though sadly, since I’m the one writing their dialog, they won’t express that affinity in such beautiful language.

I shall do my best. Or when in doubt, just quote:

O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!


Are you a romantic? A Romantic? Both?

Monday, March 23rd, 2009
False Starts; My process, parts 6-8

It’s been ages since I added an entry to this “How I Write a Book” series. I really have been writing a book in the meantime. I just started to get a little superstitious about blogging about it before the book was actually sold. But now that it is (yay again!), I’m gonna back up a few steps and pick up where I left off.

Which was with outlining. I write a long, rambling narrative outline that will not fit into squares.

The next step would be (drumroll, please)….to start writing the book.

By the time I sit down to write chapter one, I’ve been thinking about it for months. I have this elaborate vision of the setting and set-up, and whole chunks of dialogue planned. I sit down to my keyboard, knowing that this opening scene is just going to flow onto the page, and it will be perfect.

Two pages in, I know I’m screwed. It’s not coming out the way I’d thought it would. Characters are saying things on the page they never said before, in all our many pre-writing conversations. Or they may refuse to behave in ways we’ve worked out well in advance. When I express my irritation with them, and tell them that they are being uncooperative and ruining my Perfect Opening Scene, they give me a diffident shrug and say, “Not my problem.”

Thanks, guys. I thought we were friends.

And then there’s the backstory. It’s like a mammoth logic pretzel, figuring out how to craft a scene, or a series of scenes, that will allow me to introduce all the main characters, communicate the protagonists’ motivations, set up the conflict, fold in details from their pasts that inform the current action… it makes my brain hurt.

So once it’s clear that Plan A just isn’t going to work, I start tweaking it. And the more I tweak it, the more I realize the problem is not just in my envisioning of my Perfect Opening Scene, it is in my whole concept of the book. This is where I quietly freak out. Or not so quietly. And then I take several deep, cleansing breaths, eat something bad for me, and come back to basically reevaluate everything I’ve planned for the book.

With the book I’m currently writing, tentatively called The Desire of a Duke (Stud Club book one, dontcha know), I had I don’t know how many false starts. Writing the beginning of this book was excruciating, because it is not just the beginning of one story, it is the beginning of three. There are six characters introduced in the first three chapters–no, wait. Seven. All three heroes for the series, two of the heroines, and two important secondary characters. If you count a very important horse, we’re up to eight. Some of them are strangers before that night, some are related by blood. Some have a history of love, some have a history of hate. Some are grieving, some are desperate, some are by nature uncommunicative, and one is dead. AND, to make matters trickier, I’m one of those writers who prefers to limit the POVs (points of view) to two. So whatever I need to tell you about six of the eight people, I have to get the point across through one of the remaining two.

Okay, long story short – I find this hard. I typically have to take several cracks at it. (That’s before my editor has her say, which usually necessitates yet more cracking.) Even though I’m pretty happy with the opening chapters of DOAD right now, I know I may still need to change them once the whole book is complete.

For me, the beginning’s never right until the ending’s in the bank. But then, in writing – at least we get as many do-overs as we want. Or as many as we can squeeze in before our deadlines. ;)

What do you think? Are unlimited do-overs a bright side? Or a curse?

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008
A picture is worth a thousand words (My process, part 4)

So, moving right along with the writing process…

I’ve got characters, a vague plot built around these “moments”, and I’ve started my research.  As part of the research, I collect pictures.  I find it helpful to imagine my settings and characters’ physical traits from the foundation of a painting or photograph of an actual place or person.  Or horse.

For example, for the book I’m working on right now (working title The Desire of a Duke, since it includes the essential Tessa Dare titling element: the word “of”, LOL), I’m loosely basing the hero’s estate on an actual estate in Cambridgeshire: Wimpole Hall.  Pretty impressive, no?

And there’s a very important racehorse in the book, who I am making the fictional “great-grandchild” of the famous stallion Eclipse.

Lastly, I also pick celebrity models for my hero and heroine.  I know different authors have mixed feelings about this – I don’t know why I find it so helpful, but I do.  It’s important that it not be just a photo of a model, but someone I can watch in action, on TV or in movies.  Somehow this helps me develop a visual image of how my character moves, reacts, stands, sits, relaxes, and so forth.  Seldom does the character in my mind match up exactly with his/her inspiration, but it’s just a helpful starting place.

If you’re one of those readers who prefers her own imagination, I’ll put the pictures of my Spencer and Amelia inspirations below the fold:

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