Fireworks

One of my favorite things about the Fourth of July is fireworks.   I’ve been to my share of sporting events with Big Bang shows after and theme parks aplenty. I’ve seen the various fireworks shows at Disneyland often enough that I know them by heart.  Fireworks, quite frankly, are awesome.

 

Which brings me to romance.  ‘Cause it’s all about the fireworks. That’s one of the main reasons we read romance, we’ve bought our tickets and we want to see stuff explode in a myriad of pretty colors.  When writing romance there are lessons we can learn from the real gunpowder-based fireworks about how our fictional fireworks show should go off.

Here are my top four:

(Please note that when I’m talking about fictional fireworks I am not necessarily talking about sex, or even kissing, but the way characters react to each other when they’re in like/love.  There can (and should be) fireworks in the tamest romance about two Amish characters.  This disclaimer brought to you by me.)

Anticipation.  We all know the fireworks are coming.  We’ve amassed in front of Sleeping Beauty’s (or Cinderella’s) castle for a reason.  The lights have gone down and we are waiting with baited breath.  I mean, yeah it’s fun to be driving down the freeway and see some random yahoo launching fireworks into the sky…but it’s more of a “oh hey, look at that,” moment as opposed to an “I can’t wait for this!” moment.  Just the fact that we’ve put our book in the “romance” genre means that we’ve promised our readers some kind of fireworks (please see above disclaimer).  And the whole first part of our story capitalizes on that same anticipation.  This is why some erotica is different from romance in my mind.  It’s more like driving by the side-of-the-freeway-fireworks.  I’m not saying, it can’t be entertaining, there’s just less anticipation.  And anticipation is a good thing!

The Right Mix.  You need to have the right mix of elements that will react to create dazzling fireworks.  In the case of actual fireworks that’s gunpowder, oxidizer, and colorants…and even more gunpowder in the first stage to launch it up into the sky.  (If you’re nerdy like me, check out this article and this article to read about how fireworks work.  It’s cool.)  In the case of romance, you need characters, plot, and tension.  Very few people want to read a story that consists of “two people met, went on a few dates, fell in love, the end.”  You need characters that readers care about, a realistic plot, and the tension to provide the spark that sets it all off.  My favorite line from the chemistry.about.com article says about gunpowder: “The materials will react with each other when enough heat is applied.”

Yes.  Yes, they will.

Now, I’m not saying this is easy – and notice I’m giving you no writing tips to help you along, because I’m helpful like that.  I just want you to know that if you’re feeling like this is a hard task, you’re right.  If you’re feeling like it could blow up in your face or fizzle out at any moment, you’re right.  Wow. Not only am I super helpful, I’m also super uplifting.  My point is: this isn’t easy.  I feel your pain.  Don’t throw your computer out the window.  We’ve all been there.  Solidarity.

Timing.  It’s all about timing.  If the firework exploded before it got launched into the air it would not be cool. People might even die.  Luckily, you’re not gonna kill anyone if your timing sucks! Yay!  But with the right timing, fireworks are awe-inducing.  And if you’re super fancy you can coordinate with music and inspire patriotism and sometimes (if you’re lucky) tears and kids holding their hands over their ears and screaming in terror.  Good times.  Here again is where the line between romance and erotica gets drawn in my mind – erotica is all about the bang (yes, I did), and romance is more about the artfully choreographed show.

In romance the timing is about giving your readers time enough to care about the characters and the characters time enough to care about (or at least be attracted to) each other…and then…

Boom.

Construction.  This is quite possibly the most important element of fireworks.  Much like with the timing issue, a poorly constructed firework can also lead to death…and maiming.  Or it can just refuse to go off and no matter how hard you hit it with a hammer it will continue to lay impotently in the middle of the street (side note: this is an actual story from my childhood during which we had family friends that constructed their own fireworks.  I do not condone hitting unexploded fireworks with a hammer.)  Aerial fireworks are shells that are packed with black powder, a bursting charge, and “stars” which are like their own little sparklers.  There are even multibreak shells which are more complicated and break in several phases.  They way the stars are packed determine what kind of visual display you will get.  Here’s a tip: most romances should consist of a multibreak shell – sometimes it’s that breath between explosions that make them even more awesome – and the stars should be really bright, colorful, and fizzy.

I’d like to tell you there’s a magic formula for creating fictional fireworks, that you can follow instructions and get it right every time.  Unfortunately, that’s not true.  And that’s part of the reason why I haven’t included helpful tips for achieving the right levels of anticipation, or told you just the right way to mix the proper elements…there’s no right way.  Every author is going to find a different way to do it – and probably a different way to approach it with every story.  No two stories are the same and each deserves it’s very own fireworks show!

What are your favorite kind of fireworks (fictional or otherwise)?

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Feeding Your Creativity

I blogged earlier this month on my author site about declaring 2014 the Year of the Girlfriend – making a serious effort to spend time with my friends even though most of them live far away from me.  Not only am I making it a goal to interact with my friends in person but to make sure I spend time each day filling up the “social void” that consumes extroverts like myself.

 

Carving out time to spend with my friends is about more than just having fun, it’s about helping to replenish my well of creativity…I am a very social person and a social writer.  I love talking through ideas and plots with other people.  I love hearing other people’s creative ideas and what they’re working on – even if it has nothing to do with writing.  These are the kinds of things that inspire me to be a better writer.

 

This is how I feel after I spend time recharging with friends. Also, I wish I looked this cute in short overalls. But really, nobody looks this cute in short overalls.

 

 

Spending time with friends will affect my writing for much longer (and much more reliably and healthily) than holing up by myself with my laptop and gallons of coffee and trying to pound out the words.  I’ve known this about myself for a long time but I haven’t yet made it a priority – to nourish and feed the source of creativity instead of just demanding production from myself.

 

Everyone’s creativity gets fed in different ways.  For some the thought of of big social type events is more scary than relaxing…I’m an extrovert who was raised by introverts, so I understand differing levels of social needs!  The important thing is to discover what replenishes you creatively and then make it a priority.   I encourage you to do that this year.

 

What helps feed your creativity? Let me know in the comments!

Developing Your Writing Process: Free Association

Here at Indie Jane, we’ve talked a lot about writing process, and usually, the words “planning” and “pantsing” (flying by the seat of your pants) come into the conversation.

But what are we really talking when we use these terms? What does all this signify when it comes to personality and the creative process? And what is the best way to create a novel?

What we are really talking about when we compare planners and pantsers is when the writer feels most comfortable free associating. In the context of novel writing, free association is just thinking whatever thoughts come to mind—without self-censorship or shame—and connecting them to form a plot or develop a character. You could call it brainstorming, letting the story tell itself, letting the characters introduce themselves, or letting the muse speak. Whatever. But it all comes down to this question: Do you prefer to free associate during the planning stages or during the writing of the novel?

Where do you fall on the planning continuum?

On the writing process spectrum, planning and pantsing are the two extremes. Some writers prefer to create a thorough outline before they put the first words on the page. They may also fill out worksheets or use other tools to create characters, themes, symbols, you name it. Maybe they fill out job applications for their characters, do their taxes, collect inspiration photographs, etc. They enjoy worksheets and charts and use them to plan every aspect of the novel, most of the time before they start the actual writing. But what they are really doing is free associating during the planning stage. Once they have completed the free association process, they begin writing with a concrete plan for how the story and characters should develop.

Other writers don’t do any of those things. In fact, pre-writing exercises have the opposite effect on them. Whereas a planner needs to have most of the blanks filled in before writing, creating a thorough outline and having a defined plan can literally stop a pantser in their tracks. These writers feel most comfortable when they begin with the bare necessities and allow ideas to form as they write. Trying to write a defined plan before they being the writing process actually stops the free flow of ideas. Pantsers prefer to free associate as they write.

Both planners and pantsers are actually doing the same thing—free associating—but they do it at different times in the writing process.

Is one better than the other? Will one extreme make a wrtier’s life easier?

There are pros and cons to each. Planners may feel bound to their outlines, even if a better idea comes along in the writing process. They may not want to let go of the hours of hard work in the planning stages in order to jump on a better idea. They may feel as if they have wasted a lot of time and effort if they change the path of the novel later in the game. If they do scrap the old plan for the new one, they may have to stop writing and redo the entire outline and plan from the beginning. Planners may also enjoy planning so much that they never get around to writing or they may have put so much pressure on themselves with an incredible plan that they fear the novel will never live up to their expectations.

Pantsers are always willing to change, and that results in a lot of extra writing and “wasted” text. Because they free associate while writing, they may not have defined their characters fully or fleshed out the plot completely until they have gotten quite far into the book. Pantsers usually do more rewrites for this reason. Pantsers also risk becoming distracted by research in the midst of the writing process, and their plots may meander if they do not have a good understanding of story structure.

Both types of writers are again in the same predicament. As the story develops and new ideas occur, sometimes our efforts seem “wasted.” But in my view, nothing is wasted. You can always use rejected scenes as short stories or move them to other books. Same with outlines and other research. You can use it all in the future. Nothing is wasted.

Many writers naturally fall more toward one end of the spectrum or the other, but the middle is probably where we ought to strive to be. We ought to plan just enough to avoid extensive rewrites, and pants just enough so that we are ALWAYS comfortable making a big change for the improvement of the book.

Next month, we’ll talk about some ways to move to the middle of the spectrum. I think I’ll call that article “Planning While You Pants.”

Ps. If you are following my Southern Fraud Thriller series, Moral Hazard will be out on ebook by Monday, March 24. Or sooner!

After that, I’ll be working on my new Austenesque novella Mary Bennet!

Let It Go

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to look at my writing process differently.  I am a huge perfectionist and this can cause serious problems especially in the early stages of a new project.  How can I make it as perfect as it is in my head? There is always a brain/fingers disconnect – the gorgeous movie reel I see in my mind never quite translates correctly into typed words.

Fellow Indie Janeite Kimberly Truesdale wrote an amazing post called Precious Prose in which she talks about trying to make her words less “precious” to her.  This quote really spoke to me:

 

As writers, we get attached to our words. We often get caught up in word count and in getting things just right. We can linger over one word for a long time, wondering if it truly expresses all that we mean to say, and terrified that there’s another word out there that might do the job better than the one we have. We can linger the same way over sentences, paragraphs, chapters, worrying them until they are unrecognizable

 

Kim then goes onto talk about the value of the finish – of getting things DONE.  So much goodness in this post, make sure to go read it.  I want to use Kim’s point about making our prose less precious to us because this is something she and I are trying to hold each other accountable for.

 

It’s hard to put into words what my actual goal for the year is.  I joke that it is “writing ALL THE WORDS” but it is more than that.  It’s more than just substantially increasing my output or writing books at a quicker pace…I have so many stories living in my head, but sometimes the sheer amount of potential story scares me…The actual goal, I think, is letting go.  That letting go is twofold – one part is prying the claws of perfectionism out of my own mind, and the other is giving up the overly emotional attachment I have to those words.

 

What I am NOT advocating is putting out unedited work (I’ve been super clear about this in the past, but I feel it has to be said again).  I have actual nightmares about finding typos in published books.  I am, however, advocating thinking differently about the writing and editing process – and possibly truncating both.  I know my own potential and limits and I want to push through those limits and expand the boundaries of my potential.

 

I’m starting with limiting the amount of time I spend on a rough draft.  You cannot know the true potential of a story until it’s down on paper (or in a word processing document).  The story is what is important here; not what words are perfect, not poetry, not a lovely turn of phrase – the story.

 

I’m also going to shorten my rewriting and editing phases.  Again, this doesn’t mean I skip any of those phases, it doesn’t mean I put out unedited work, it means I put story ahead of pretty words. I can edit forever.  Literally forever.  I would love to pull Awake off sale right now and slash about 20 thousand words out of it.  It’s true!  It was my first novel and I’ve learned so much more about story-telling since I wrote it.  But it’s out there and I have to accept that – and not just accept it but embrace it and build on it.

 

You never get better if you never move on.

 

Whatever project I’m working on right now doesn’t have to end up being perfect, just as good as I can get it right now. And then I need to let it go.  Let it live its own life out in the world and not stress about how it could have been slightly more awesome if only I’d done a, b, or c.

 

And now for a video clip.

 

 

File under: Jess is looking for ways to tie Frozen into EVERYTHING she talks about…and this song is perfect.

 

One thing I love about Elsa’s character development in Frozen is that she’s not really sure what she’s capable of until she starts really using her power.  When she spends too much time about controlling it the power fights her, consumes her.  When she finally embraces it and puts it out there for the world to see she realizes she’s capable of so much more than she ever dreamed.

 

So that’s my goal for they year: embrace the fact that I have a million stories clamoring for attention in my head, don’t be afraid of writing ALL the words, don’t expect them to be perfect but don’t be afraid of the work of making them the best they can be, and then finally of letting go of the story.

 

What say you? Do you struggle with perfectionism?  What are your writing process goals for this year?

Writer: Know, Like, and Be Thyself

Embracing the unique aspects of your personality–from one extreme to the other–will help you write with your authentic voice.

I debated how to start off this series. Do I begin with a-nuts-and-bolts planning-your-novel post? Or do I begin with a voice post?

I’ve decided to begin with voice because voice involves self-awareness. And planning your novel is personal and individual. If you don’t know who you are, you won’t be able to plan your novel to suit your personality. Make sense?

So, when it comes to writing a novel your way, we’re really talking about that difficult-to-define idea of “voice.”

What is voice?

There are tons of definitions out there, but in my mind, voice is the author being herself. It’s you being you. It’s picking the subjects, settings, and characters that thrive in your imagination. It’s using words the way you use words.

People struggle to find their unique voice, but your voice is already inside you. What holds you back from sharing your unique ideas with the world?

Fear.

What will people say when they find out that you secretly fantasize about delicious men or that you sometimes plot the perfect murder in your mind? What if you’re not creative enough? Or funny enough? That is fear talking, and fear will rob you of your voice.

In order to write a novel with your authentic voice, three things are required. First, you must know who you are. Second, you must like who you are. Third, you must show who you are.

Who Am I? The answers to questions like those listed below will set you apart from other writers in your genre and will give you clues about how you will prefer to organize your writing process.

As a person?

  • Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
  • Do you prefer to plan in advance or wing it?
  • Do you require quiet to work, or do you listen to music?
  • What are your favorite hobbies?
  • Favorite vacation spot?
  • What is your oddest interest?
  • If you could be doing anything right now, what would it be?

 

As a reader and a writer?

  • What types of books do you like to read? (Not what books do you feel you ought to read, but what books do you love to read.)
  • What are your most and least favorite types of plots?
  • What themes do you enjoy and which do you detest?
  • Favorite and least favorite characters?

Seriously, sit down and make a list of what you love and hate in books because if you begin to feel insecure about your voice, the first thing that will happen is that you will begin to write what you hate. Stop it immediately!

Do I Like Who I Am?

At the risk of turning this into a ra-ra blog, let me just say that most people have struggled with self-esteem at some point. Embrace who you are, fix what you want to fix, but use your unique qualities to your advantage! Everyone has something unique and different to bring to the book world. But you cannot bring this special something if you dislike those aspects of yourself that are different.

Before you can write a novel in your own unique voice, you have to accept your quirks and foibles. You have to like what sets you apart. Your oddities, flaws, and wacky humor are exactly what will set you apart from other writers and help display your true voice.

What if you don’t like yourself so much? You will be tempted to adopt the voices of other writers you admire, and your voice will disappear from the page. And really, why bother writing a whole book if it mimics somebody else? Be yourself.

Do I Flaunt It?

If you know who you are and like who you are, then be who you are. Everywhere. In public, in private, on paper. When starting a novel, new writers (and not so new ones too) become afflicted by “Great American Novel syndrome.” This is their dream! It’s serious business. As a result, they put so much pressure on themselves to write an “important” book that they freeze up and write the most inauthentic, boring text ever. Or worse, they never finish.

As you begin planning your first novel, pretend that no one will ever read it. Write your novel to please yourself. Make it wacky, ridiculous, sexy, audacious…whatever you want. If you write only for yourself, your voice will be real. So I’m putting on my tiara and Jayne t-shirt, and I’m going to get writing.

What are you going to wear?

PS. The ebook version of Charlotte Collins is on sale for $.99 at Amazon, BN, and Kobo.

PPS. My next project is a novella in the Personages of Pride and Prejudice Collection: Mary Bennet. Why did I choose her? Because I love Austen’s minor characters!

It’s All About Collaboration

The internet is awesome. With it you can meet people that you may have never met due to distance…and sometimes you meet people you’re surprised you never managed to meet in real life.  Such is the case with me and my good friend Melissa Buell.  We have lived right near each other (like within 15 minutes) for most of our adult lives, are close in age, have similar interests, and are both writers.  And yet we didn’t meet on Twitter until I’d moved 1,100 miles away from Southern California.

 

 

We’ve become great friends and have actually met in real life…and now we are collaborating together!  I’m excited to announce that I’ve teamed up with Melissa to write a modern Pride and Prejudice adaptation this year.

 

 

The retelling is as of yet untitled (we call it P&P 2.0 for fun) but you can follow along with us on our pinterest inspiration board as we bring the Bennet clan to life in modern day Orange County, CA.

 

Have you ever co-written a book? Do you have any tips for us?

Feeding Your Creativity

I blogged earlier this month on my author site about declaring 2014 the Year of the Girlfriend – making a serious effort to spend time with my friends even though most of them live far away from me.  This coming weekend marks the first of my girlfriend travel events as I go to Portland to hang out with my Indie Jane partners in crime Nancy and Patty.

 

Carving out time to spend with my friends is about more than just having fun, it’s about helping to replenish my well of creativity…I am a very social person and a social writer.  I love talking through ideas and plots with other people.  I love hearing other people’s creative ideas and what they’re working on – even if it has nothing to do with writing.  These are the kinds of things that inspire me to be a better writer.

 

This is how I feel after I spend time recharging with friends. Also, I wish I looked this cute in short overalls. But really, nobody looks this cute in short overalls.

 

 

A weekend of spending time with friends will affect my writing for much longer (and much more reliably and healthily) than holing up by myself with my laptop and gallons of coffee and trying to pound out the words.  I’ve known this about myself for a long time but I haven’t yet made it a priority – to nourish and feed the source of creativity instead of just demanding production from myself.

 

Everyone’s creativity gets fed in different ways.  For some the thought of of big social type events is more scary than relaxing…I’m an extrovert who was raised by introverts, so I understand differing levels of social needs!  The important thing is to discover what replenishes you creatively and then make it a priority!   I encourage you to do that this year!

 

What helps feed your creativity? Let me know in the comments!