Tag Archives: writing process

How to Write Romantic Fiction.

Study a romance screenplay to find out its secrets.

The 1990 romantic comedy Green Card has it all: premise, plot, pacing; a setting that’s integral to the story; unique, developed characters who experience personality and/or motivation change; tension, conflict and a satisfactory conclusion, although considering what’s deemed traditional for romance writing, it’s not strictly “happily ever after,” or even “happy for now.”

Rom-coms are generally too lightweight for my taste, but this one is unusual, in that it exhibits the kind of intense storytelling that seems to be missing from much modern fiction. Novelists are creators of Written Art, but there’s a crossover into the realm of Visual Art, because the way an author uses words must be able to paint pictures inside readers’ heads.

A writing exercise.

If it’s been a while since you watched Green Card, buy it, borrow it, or dig it out of your video collection. Watch it through once, just to experience the story. Then watch it again, several times, concentrating attention on a different aspect of the story, as listed above. Take notes, using as much sensory detail as possible. Then answer the following questions:

  • How would you describe the street scenes and interior scenes, from a narrator’s point-of-view?
  • What details would you include about the characters’ bodies, behavior, expressions and tones of voice?
  • In Green Card, the two main characters are forced to focus on one another. How would you describe the way the main characters feel as they experience change in their perceptions of the other person?
  • How would you describe the way the main characters experience change in their perceptions of themselves?
  • How would you communicate in words the rising tension between the characters? (The background music in the soundtrack contributes to this, so you might turn off the volume, the better to catch the visible cues.)

You don’t have to re-write the whole script, just the parts that impressed you the most. If you know where your writing has trouble with constructing convincing scenes, you can focus on the film’s scenes that illustrate solutions to similar problems.

It’s an exercise in people-watching, which is really the way fiction should be written: as if the writer was observing some inhabitants of the Parallel Universe, and reporting on what is seen and heard, and how those things make the writer feel.

Finally, look at your own work-in-progress, especially if it’s a love story or has a romance sub-plot. What can you do to make your novel’s interpersonal scenes appears as vividly in a reader’s imagination, as the actors brought Peter Weir’s script to life on the screen?

 

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Reconsidering Editing.

Proofreading? Line Editing? Structural Editing? Copyediting? Developmental Editing? 

Editing seems to be a mysterious, fearsome process that many Indies cannot afford to hire out, yet they recoil from doing it themselves. This would not be as big a problem as it has become (as evidenced by the mass of disappointing dreck that’s been published) if there was not a dictum out there (possibly traceable to NaNoWriMo) of “ignore your internal critic.” For that is what editing really is: a critique of a product of written art. And who likes criticism, even if self-inflicted?

There’s also a lot of confusion about what constitute the steps and process of editing. Even persons who do editing for a living admit that the lines here are blurred. In addition, the “rules” for editing fiction differ from those of non-fiction, and there are a multitude of “style” guides to consider, as well.

To demystify and draw the teeth of this monster, I propose an alternative paradigm for editing fiction: the Iceberg Approach.

If we can write, we can edit.

As Indie Authors, we’ve had a lot of practice with writing. In childhood and youth, we were gradually guided through the steps of recognizing words (spelling), understanding their meaning (vocabulary and context), and stringing them into sentences that made sense (grammar and punctuation). We learned how to combine sentences into paragraphs which supplied more detailed meaning (usually in the form of essays), and by young adulthood, we had been instructed in the organization of multiple paragraphs into coherent arguments, primarily in informational (research) papers, but also in persuasive articles (opinion pieces) or brief entertaining stories (creative writing). If we attended university, by that time we were expected to be capable of carrying on accurate research reporting accompanied by extensive nuanced analytical arguments, as well as producing plausibly plotted short fiction (each being different forms and lengths of manuscripts). At almost any point in the process, we were taught the principles of outlining, probably first in the context of learning to read, and later as a preliminary to writing pieces longer than one paragraph. (I disagree with the practice of outlining in preparation for writing, and find it more useful as a tool to analyze a completed work.)

Whatever adult stage of life you’re at now, if you’re reading this, you’ve created a full-length work of written art, and need to prepare it for publication. You may have been editing throughout the process of writing your book, or you may have saved that effort until the first draft was finished. (I think editing is easier and more effectively performed in the creation phase, during which it serves to prevent “writer’s block” and lightens the editing load at the end, but those are topics for other blog posts.) Either way, you’re now in a prime position to apply everything you already know about words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters and manuscripts to polishing your opus.

This doesn’t mean that you have to do it all yourself. Many Beta readers will report issues at the Word level (commonly known as basic proofreading), and others will provide feedback at the Chapter and Manuscript levels (things that may be considered structural and developmental editing). If you can get it, this information is more valuable than the gushing praise, “I loved it!” without any reason given as to why.

The composition of a written work of art may founder at the Word level, but Iceberg editing doesn’t necessarily start at the tip and plod in lockstep downwards, into the deep. Problems with the basic stuff in a published book can be a cover-closer for a reader, but like the iceberg that wrecked the Titanic, even worse trouble for a novel can lurk below the waterline.

Before active editing occurs is the best time to do an outline, which will reveal where your story needs help, and that will probably be at every level. Once you know where the trouble spots are, you can start editing wherever you like, to fix them. You’ll ascend and descend the Iceberg throughout the process, and eventually all the zones will be completely edited. You’ll have fixed more than 90 percent of the problems, and will likely be ready to progress to publishing. That formerly formidable Iceberg will have melted away.

I’ll be examining this concept in more detail in later blog posts, but don’t let that stop you from implementing it right now. If you have a novel to edit, by all means try the Iceberg paradigm, and weigh in with comments about your experience with it, pros and cons.

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Inspiration for Authors: Ancestral Names.

A Character Name Database at Your Fingertips.

There are between 7,000 and 8,000 names in my genealogical database (not really very many), most of which are French, and some of which are on lines going back 14 generations (the French are prodigious genealogists). When I told the computer to extract all of my direct ancestors on the French side, it came up with 353 people.

I marked all the unique given names (most are forenames; a few are second names), and sorted them into the following table:

A partial list of my ancestors. (I was feeling decorative, so I embellished them by using French Script font).

On this list, there are more than 100 possible names for characters in a historical novel set in France any time between 1500 and 1930.

When I was writing Irish Firebrands, my sister asked me, “Why Ireland? Why don’t you write about France?” (Our family has no direct connection with Ireland; it was simply where the Muse had told me to go, but I did use a few forenames derived from my family for secondary characters.) My current works-in-progress include a prelude novel and a sequel to Irish Firebrands, but along with focusing on my French ancestry for this blog post, the Muse has slipped into the back of my head an idea for that French novel my sister suggested.

People in every culture have been recording their ancestry for many centuries. Asian clan books follow formats adapted to their languages, but most Western-culture genealogies are organized according to some variation of the Ahnentafel.

 

The first Ahnentafel, printed in 1590.

If you don’t have access to your own ancestral names, you can look elsewhere for character name inspiration. Persons who compile their genealogies often place copies of them in family history libraries; the largest is in Salt Lake City, Utah, and it has branches (called Family History Centers) around the world. The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has the second largest genealogy collection and research facility, and smaller public libraries in that state also maintain “Indiana Rooms,” where local library patrons can deposit their published family records and conduct research. The US Social Security Administration maintains a database of names sorted according to their popularity by year or decade in the states and territories. “Baby name” lists abound on the internet.

Wherever you look for character names, just be sure that the ones you choose correspond with the time and location in which your novel is set. Anachronistic or culturally inappropriate character names can destroy a reader’s suspension of disbelief.

But if your own genealogy has been compiled, do consider taking a walk with your ancestors. Their names may to guide you to find the characters and story for your next novel.

 

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