Monday, February 24, 2014

It Occurred To Me

...that I haven't told you about Lee.

Lee is a character who really excites me. He has virtually begun to write his own story. I pitched it to my 18-year-old daughter and she is quite excited by him as well, so I already have a beta reader when I finish putting him to paper (or to computer, as the case may be).

His story is a coming-of-age, and I had originally planned for it to be teen fiction. Lee grows up with no interest in girls and has thus concluded that he is gay. But the plot thickens, because he begins dating a really cute guy, yet when it gets down to things and despite all his lusty drooling, he's too scared to sleep with him and just "can't perform". He then falls in Love (capital L) with his best friend, a girl, despite the fact that her body does absolutely nothing for him - Lee is not gay but pansexual (attracted to beautiful minds) and the story is his awakening as he grows up. I don't believe it's been done-to-death, and "accepting that I am gay" has already been done in teen fiction. I wanted something not done-to-death, and poor pansexual people are the forgotten race, so to speak, lost in the shadows of all the gay coming-out stories.

However, I'm wavering on the category now (teen), because a key plot point is Lee ending up in bed with that girl, and this is when the real confusion hits and he questions whether he's actually gay. (Stay with me.) Interestingly, the mechanics of that scene have played out in my head many, many times, always really explicit despite not wanting to write porn, and it is the reason for the conundrum - you can't be explicit in teen fiction. So, I'm thinking that I will try to address it by not getting down to mechanics. Which is difficult, because it is Lee's physical reactions (ahem) that lead him to question his orientation, both with the cute boyfriend and with the girl.

My wavering about that one, pivotal scene has caused me to come to a dead stop in my planning. I should just keep writing - put the rest of the bones in place. But I stopped and tried to do that scene in my head a thousand times and then lost momentum. And then went back to writing more of Lisa's story (Mistaken Identity, working title).

I will come back to you, Lee.

It's Oh So Quiet

In here at least. I've been working on new blogs, like this one and this one and this one. But I've also been doing a little bit of writing now and then, so I'm updating this blog to tell you about it.

I sat down in December-ish with a pretty short romance novelette to do some research into how these things are constructed. And as I read this book, I checked off items in "the formula". Yes, we've been through this before - published authors often argue that there isn't a simple formula which holds the secret to being published, but quite frankly, that's a load of rubbish. Take a look at any of the submission guidelines for romance publishers and the formula is spelled out in black and white. For example:
30,000-50,000 words, must have a strong female lead and love interest, story must begin with a conflict, include at least three bedroom scenes featuring safe sex, end with a HEA (happily ever after).
It reads exactly as a formula because that's exactly what it is. It is a tried-and-true method they've used umpteen times in a row to churn out their mass-market offerings month after month. But despite what glowing things might seem to be in store for an author accepted by these publishers, the reality is this: your advance will be three figures, and that's IF your lotto numbers come up and they sign you, and that's probably all you will ever see. For months of your hard work. You will effectively lose the rights on your work forever (read the fine print - you can virtually never regain the rights because they can simply release it digitally in Swahili and that re-starts the waiting period all over again - seriously, they'll do it). The royalties they state will be nothing like what you'll receive because they have sub-companies under sub-companies paying 5c per copy of the book and your 12% royalty will come out of that five cents. Your book will be marketed with a huge chunk of the publisher's branding all over the cover, in text far larger than your name - because let's face it their pretty graphics and their publishing house matters and you, the author, do not. Your book will have a literal shelf life of six weeks. That's how long it will be on supermarket shelves and on the front page of their ebook site before they shove it aside for the next book.

Sound enticing? Dear dog, I sincerely hope not.

There's also the matter of what the works themselves are. It is easy to say that they're trash because a reader with a brain will be able to identify the elbows of the work (the formula). It takes you out of the story when you're thinking to yourself that the girl is only arguing with him because they needed a conflict in the first chapter and that it's all part of the formula. It spoils what could have otherwise been a well-written story. You already know that the two main characters will end up together, happily.

I, personally, do not want to know what happens in the end of a book before I read it - why read it?

And I am not going to bash romance writers here. They are good writers. These, after all, were the ones selected while thousands were rejected. They are by definition the cream of the crop in the romance world, and even if their works conform to the shape of the cookie cutter and can be "seen through" they are still very good, technically, at the craft they do.

Anyway, back to the reason for the post - deconstructing the book. For not-the-first-time I was examining all these aspects and thinking I could write one. I started, by reading and writing in parallel. As things happened in the published book I wrote my versions. Absolutely not plagiarism - I am talking about structure not anything identifiable! -so for example, in the first chapter I introduced the main character and her home life, spelled out why she is single, showed her vulnerabilities (part of the formula).

So I continued. I had written my synopsis and fleshed out the characters. Six thousand words in, so, by now the characters had met and were hell-bent on never getting together.

And then it happened. That worm. Writers will know about that worm. It is the idea that worms its way in and refuses to be put off. In my case, the worm was that the main character has a stalker. An actual, valid reason to be worried about locking doors (which was her vulnerability). I wrote the stalker into the plot so far. I didn't want the reader to know who the stalker was.

I realised that to get my HEA, the stalker had to be someone either benign or arrested and locked up at the end of the book while the hero keeps her safe. How terribly trite. I couldn't bring myself to do it. Not to mention boring - damsel is in distress, hero steps in, she eventually allows him to love her, blah blah blah. No. Not going to do it.

And so the trashy novel has become a thriller. Hero's point-of-view chapters have been obliterated and the entire book will be written from the main character's point-of-view. Which is definitely more difficult. I can no longer have the hero's character shaped by his thoughts - she will need to witness all his "character quirks" so that the reader can understand the sort of person he is. But it has the added bonus that the reader will not know whether he is the bad guy.

I've put the first 1000 words up onto Wattpad, and we shall see if I get any feedback. I hope that readers aren't too bored.