Writing the (Gulp!) Love Scene

wedding photoI do not come from an emotive people.

I’m a Midwesterner by birth. The joke goes that there are three standard responses in our conversations.

#1: “That’s not too bad.” This is suitable for any event from neutral to amazingly super awesome.

#2: “That’s not too good.” This choice works for anything from a minor inconvenience to tragedy.

If choices 1 and 2 just won’t do, the fall back is choice #3: “That’s different.”

Take that and apply it to romance…well, an old Ole and Lena joke comes to mind. (Best read in a thick Minnesota accent.)

Ole comes into the house to find Lena crying.

“Lena, what’s da matter?”

“Oh Ole,” she answers, wiping her eyes. “It’s just…”

“Yes?”

“Ole, you never tell me you love me.”

Ole walks over, and pats her on the shoulder. “Aw, Lena. I told you I loved you on our wedding day. If something had changed…I would’ve let you know.”

Ba doom, Ching!

It’s not that my husband and I are not affectionate, and it’s possible that we might be overheard using the “L” word, but we don’t generally gush poetry as we gaze longingly into each other’s eyes.

That much emotion, publicly expressed, is just not comfortable.

In the setting of a novel, I’ll admit it, a bit of romance is “not too bad.” Still, even getting a book out of the library with a cover that clearly indicates that it’s a love story makes me squirmy. Thank goodness for self-checkout…

Unfortunately, the catalyst that gets the murder and mayhem in my novel moving is (you guessed it) a romantic interest. If I wanted to write my book, I had to write convincing romantic-ish scenes. That other people would read.

Riiiiiiiiight.

I steeled myself. It couldn’t be that bad.

The first draft was…ok. I felt like some of it was heavy-handed, but I didn’t know how to make it better, and it sounded kind of like some things I’d read, so I went with it.

After substantial polishing, I entered the novel in a writing contest.

Guess what? I should have followed my instincts. They thought it was heavy-handed too. I got called out on the same bits that I hadn’t been entirely comfortable with in the first place.

Back to the drawing board.

With feedback from the contest and considerable editing, I found a few tricks that helped ease my discomfort, and (hopefully) improved the finished work.

Keep Dialogue Tight

First, I hacked and slashed unnecessary dialogue. Anything that didn’t sound like real life or made me squirm was deleted, and I discovered that the story didn’t lose any clarity for it. Allowing characters emotions etc. to be implied rather than stated strengthened those scenes and helped the story move along.

 

i love you more
“No, I love YOU more!”

 

Pick the Best POV

Second, I changed points of view. Rather than using the ‘love interests’ to narrate, I shifted POV to my antagonist whenever possible. He’s really my most interesting character, and his observations kept things from getting sugary while still letting the reader know the essentials.

spies David Sinclare

It’s All About the Characters

Third, I strengthened the characters. I knew the characters I was writing well enough to know exactly why they would end up together. Based on the contest feedback, I hadn’t conveyed those characteristics clearly.  I believe the phrase was something like “stock characters in main characters’ roles.” Ouch!

Since then, I’ve had a good time getting to know my characters better, developing them, giving them more personality and authentic emotion. It’s been work, but it’s rewarding to see not just the romance but all of the scenes getting stronger.

alejandro-escamilla-10-unsplash

So. Have I mastered the dreaded romantic scene?

Nope.

Plenty of authors handle that much better than I. BUT, I think I can safely say that I’ve come up with a story that fits my voice better than my first attempts, and something that I can hand off for others to read with greater confidence.

What do you like to see in a good love scene? Any tips, writers or readers?

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The Perks of Rejection Letters

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I have twenty more days.

Twenty days until the month ends. Twenty days until I send out my next round of queries in an attempt to induce an agent to represent my novel.

Twenty more days with no rejection letters in my in-box.

So far, I’ve amassed 13 rejections. Some agents simply didn’t respond to my queries. Others sent out polite form letters, or more personalized notes.

My favorite started out with, “Your writing has merit, but…” It felt like receiving that yellow ‘Participation’ ribbon at track-and-field day – nice of them to offer it, but not something that you’re going to hang on your bulletin board. 

In the grand scheme of querying, 13 isn’t a huge number of rejections. Stories abound of famous authors who had to struggle to get their work on shelves- authors like Dr. Seuss, Stephen King, Kate DiCamillo, and J.K. Rowling.

It’s easy to tell myself that this is all a normal part of the process, but diving back in still leaves me with a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. 

Rather than wallow in nerves, today I’m focusing on the positives! The following are five unexpected benefits I’ve gained from the process of querying and rejection. 

1. No more hiding!

Am I the only one who feels a little goofy admitting that I’m writing- seriously writing? (From the comments of other writers online, I’m guessing the answer is no.)

It took me months to admit to anyone that I was attempting to write a novel. It took even longer for me to allow anyone else to see it.

Creativity is personal. Sharing it leaves you vulnerable. I don’t like vulnerable.

It’s hard to admit that I’m going through this process, that I have the gall to call myself a writer. It’s even harder to admit that I might completely fall on my proverbial backside.

I might fail to sell my novel to an agent. And, as I’ve decided to record this online, I can’t even keep it a secret if I do!

Gulp.

However, now that I’ve been querying, now that I’ve had to refine and define my ideas for strangers to judge, I’ve found that I’m much more comfortable sharing with the people who actually care about me.

I suppose it’s better to break through that barrier now, rather than just showing up one day with my finished product.

2. Skin-Thickening

I’ve failed at many, many things. Most of my failures had to do with ‘character building’ through school sports. I’m about as coordinated as an inebriated gerbil. And the gerbil would still probably have a better throwing arm…

As an adult, I have the power to choose to play to my strengths. I can stay in my comfort zone. I can do things where I’m almost guaranteed sucess.

It’s been a little hard to throw my heart-felt words out to someone I don’t know. (Ha! ‘A little hard’- that’s my Minnesota background talking. Like, when it gets down to 0 degrees, it’s ‘a little chilly.’)

If I wanted to give professional publishing a go, I had to get over it. Deal with rejection. Prepare myself for bring raked over the coals of critique.

It’s time to toughen up- better now than at the first bad review.

3. Confidence in my work

Here’s my process.

-I send out a query.

-I check e-mail compulsively.

-When the rejection comes, either in written form or in echoing silence, I attack my manuscript.

I’ve gone over and over the thing until my eyes blur, and I’ve come to one conclusion.

I like my book.

In spite of rejections, I still want this book to become. Reviewing and editing it so many times has made my confidence grow.

Growing confidence pushes me to put in the time and effort to make it happen.

4. Professionalism

I haven’t had to go to a job interview since…college? I had my degree to prove that I was a professional teacher, and I knew the rules of that profession.

The rules of the publishing world- not so much.

The querying proecess forced me to read up on publishing, on agents, on writing, oh, on so many things. Many of the agents I’ve approached include tips on their sites, cluing in prospective clients on common writing and querying mistakes.

I’ve had to learn what it takes to be a professional in this industry, in hopes of convincing professionals that they want to work with me.

Whether traditional publishing works out for me or not, I’ve got a better grasp of what I’m in for when I finally get that novel in a (fabulous looking!) cover.

5. This blog happened.

“What’s your platform?” “Who will read your book?” “What’s your sphere of influence?” (Does that last one make anyone else think Cold War? No?)

I probably wouldn’t have started consitently blogging without having to answer questions like these on query forms.

No, I didn’t start this blog thinking, “I need to find people who will read my book!” It did seem like agents expected me to be doing something on social media, though, and of the options, blogging seemed the most interesting.

I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I have! Connecting with other writers and learning from them, reading about other people’s insights on history, enjoying stories and poems and fantastic cat pictures- all of these things have changed blogging from something “I guess I should do,” to a pleasure. (Thanks to all of you fellow bloggers and kind commenters!)

As I edit my query letter for the hundreth time (I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole anymore!) and recheck my lists of agents, I’ll try to keep it positive. If you’re in the same boat, I hope you can too!

Maybe this round will include an e-mail that isn’t a rejection. 

Whew, that would be a whole NEW level of scary…

 

 

What benefits have you recieved from rejections and delays?

Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Tips for Surviving the ‘Query Crazies’

cat waiting
If I just…stare…hard enough…

I am excellent at encouraging my children to be patient.

I am less than excellent at following my own advice.

When I submitted my first round of query letters to literary agents a couple of weeks ago, I knew that waiting for a response was just part of the game.

Ok, they all say to wait four to six weeks for a response. No problem. I’ll just keep busy and not even think about it until then.

Riiiiight.

I kept that resolve for about….half a day?

Throwing that query letter out into the world where I have no control over it, and waiting, waiting to get a request for more… or a rejection… or (THE WORST) no response at all, has left me a bit nervous.

SO, in case any of you are in the same boat, (or just want to share in my misery- thanks!) I’ve written the following handy guide to surviving the ‘query crazy.’

  1. Don’t obsess over your e-mail Inbox. After all, if an agent is going to write back, they’re going to do it on their own time. It’s not as if you’re going to get a manuscript request withdrawn by not responding immediately. (But just in case you will, maybe check just one more time.)
  2. Remind yourself that everything is a process. Whether you get picked up at this time or not doesn’t eliminate the hours…and hours…and hours you put into your manuscript. (And if you DO get picked up, you’ll likely be spending more hours on it. So really, this is like a mini-vacation!)
  3. Catch up on housework. If you are like me, during the crazy writing and researching and submission processes, something in your cluttered sink has begun smelling like death. It’s as good a time to mend this as any.
  4. Stop! I said don’t obsess over your e-mail. But, if you need to check if your mom has responded to your last and you just happen to check the rest of your inbox, who can blame you?
  5. Bake. You’re cleaning the kitchen anyway. It’s always more fun to clean when something is baking in the oven, and then when you have the urge to stress-snack you have something homemade.  So far in this process we’ve made it through two chocolate zucchini cakes. (Hey, it has zucchini in it after all- it’s practically a salad.)
  6. Remind yourself that rejection is typical. After all, Kate DiCamillo was rejected 47(?) times before Because of Winn Dixie was picked up, and then she won the Newberry.*
  7. Ride out the mood swings. “I hate my story now! It’s awful and they won’t like it either!” is not productive. You liked it before, remember? You will again. Be confident!
  8. Let it go. Yes, you just realized you missed a typo in the first query you sent out. Don’t panic. Improve your proofreading, and hope that she won’t hold that ‘who’ rather than ‘whom’ against you
  9. Try not to drive your friends crazy. You may get urges to pester sweetly ask your spouse/friend/beta reader/random facebook acquaintance for reassurance. “You like my story, right? Right? What about this bit? What about this character? What about…?” Settle down, friend.
  10. Don’t check that e-mail again! It’s after working hours now- they won’t be writing you. (Unless they picked up your pages at the end of the day and just couldn’t put them down…maybe one more check…)

Hang in there, writers! And to the rest of you, thanks for your patience!

Anyone else have tips to make waiting (whatever your current wait is 🙂 ) more bearable?

 

* This is based off of my memories of a wonderful presentation she gave while I was in college. Knowing my memory… well, I’m reasonably sure the number is correct, but feel free to prove me wrong!