May 2010


Bethany and Cody are chattering away in my head and I’m getting more and more antsy to start telling their story. Today, I spent an hour or so sketching out a basic plot.

Since I’m not much of a plotter, that’s already more plotting than I usually do for a book. I’m thinking it might be time to sit down and write.

Of course, if I do more pre-planning, it’ll make the actual writing easier, right? I keep hoping that’s the case. Usually, I just have a vague idea that something has to blow up in my characters’ faces … this time, I already have a great Black Moment in mind.

It’s been a busy weekend: I’m also doing some research on agents, in preparation to send out queries on “Blind Date Bride.” I’m excited about that story — and I believe in it.

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A new heroine and hero have been talking to me lately, and I think their story has to be told.

They’re Bethany and Cody, the best friends of my hero/heroine in “Blind Date Bride” … the ones who enter poor Kari and Damien into the contest they think will ruin their lives. As secondary characters, they’re dating throughout “Blind Date Bride.”

I don’t know a whole lot about them yet. Laid-back, surfer-type Cody works with at-risk teens and is a recreational pilot. Bethany is a flighty, artistic wild-child that Kari has been trying to get to settle down for years. (I think the fact that she’s had more sex partners than he has will be a sore point between them.)

In preparation to start their story, I’m reviewing the element of storytelling that always gives me fits: Conflict.

In my defense, I’m a Libra. We Libras like balance in all things … the struggles throw me. Of course, we can’t have our characters happily bopping from date to date for 300 pages. Even I would get bored with that! 😉

Since I struggle with conflict, I read a lot about it. One tip I read while taking my online synopsis-writing class back in March really helped me put it in perspective:

It’s only conflict if it creates an internal or external war for your character. … Without the push/pull it’s just a situation. Maybe an uncomfortable situation — a situation the character would like to change — but still just situation.

— Sherry Lewis, “The Selling Synopsis,” Lesson 3: Layering Conflicts

When I read that, I realized that I’m the queen of putting my characters in uncomfortable situations (Bree running into Mike at the strip club — while he’s onstage … Dustin sneezing on Cassie on the dance floor …) But these things don’t really create an internal war for anyone.

Well, maybe Bree, the virgin, is a little put off by it. But does it set off a war? Probably not.

Other definitions of conflict, from Debra Dixon’s “GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict:”

  1. Conflict is a struggle against someone or something in which the outcome is in doubt.
  2. Conflict is bad things happening to good people.
  3. Conflict is bad things happening to bad people.
  4. Conflict is friction, tension, opposition.

I guess some of the things I’ve come up with could be “bad things happening to good people.”

Anyway, I’m going to try to come up with some strong conflicts for Bethany and Cody before I even start writing. Usually, I tend to be more of a “pantster,” but maybe I’ll write faster if I plot a little beforehand.

After reading agent Nathan Bransford’s blog post on the importance of having one-sentence, one-paragraph and two-paragraph pitches ready for your novel (you never know when you’ll run into your Dream Agent in an elevator, after all), I decided to take a stab at crafting some of my own.

One sentence: As the reluctant winners of a cable TV network contest, a painfully shy woman and an outgoing man — neither of whom are seeking a spouse — must marry and live together for 90 days, learning true love — not cold, hard cash — is the real prize.

One paragraph: Thanks to her meddling best friend, Kari Parker earns the dubious distinction of becoming the “Blind Date Bride” — sentenced by the judges in Romance TV’s “Get a Love Life” contest to meet and marry a complete stranger for 90 days. Unable to pass up the cash prize that she wants to help her parents’ failing restaurant, she finds herself saddled with a too-big, too-strong and too-friendly husband who reminds her way too much of the ex she’s been running from for years. Then Kari moves from the spare room to Damien’s bedroom to accommodate a camera crew filming a reality show of their “marriage” and realizes she doesn’t have a chance of making it through the 90 days with her heart intact.

Two paragraphs: Thanks to her meddling best friend, Kari Parker earns the dubious distinction of becoming the “Blind Date Bride” — sentenced by the judges in Romance TV’s “Get a Love Life” contest to meet and marry a complete stranger for 90 days. She agrees to do it because the prize money will save her parents’ foundering restaurant. Damien Walker didn’t enter the “Get a Love Life” contest, either — his buddy was hoping he’d win second prize, a trip for two to Club Med. But when a panel of romance experts says he has the worst love life in America, he realizes he has become too wrapped up in his veterinary practice. He sees his beautiful, bogus bride both as a lifeline to pull him out of his dull existence and a puzzle to solve.

The real fun begins when Kari moves from the spare room to his bedroom to accommodate the camera crew they agree to let film a reality show of their “marriage.” As Damien tries to figure out why Kari bolts every time they touch, she quickly realizes she’ll never make it through the 90 days without succumbing to his advances. Worse yet, she finds herself wanting to trust Damien and see if they can make their sham marriage real in every sense of the word.

I was pretty pleased with my efforts, especially when I had a chance today to use my longest pitch on an editor taking pitches on someone’s blog today.

Well, either I did a poor job communicating what I wanted to convey or “Blind Date Bride” isn’t as ready for querying as I thought, because the editor didn’t have a kind word to say. She said my plot was too far-fetched.

What, I ask you, is so far-fetched about a TV network coming up with a crazy, intrusive premise for a show and changing people’s lives? 😉

Maybe I just need to explain their motivations a little better … but this is the short version — even shorter than my one-page query. Hmm. What to do, what to do?

Saturday’s NARWA meeting went great, and — as usual — I came away inspired. Our guest speaker, Harlequin American author Cathy McDavid, presented talks on characterization and that bane of many writers’ existence (or at least mine), the synopsis.

I came away with some great tips, along with some worksheets that will likely prove very helpful. Among them:

  • One size synopsis does not fit all. Some publishers want a two-page one, others want a five-pager. To meet varying requirements, think of the synopsis as an accordion, expanding and contracting your description of the action.
  • When describing the action, you don’t want a chapter-by-chapter play-by-play. Pick six to eight turning points (such as their first kiss, first time to make love) and focus on those.
  • Mention more than once why they can’t be together and explain why they fall in love. Don’t forget to include how the hero and heroine have grown and/or changed.
  • Make every word count. Use power words (like scarlet instead of red) to evoke a stronger vision. For every sentence, ask, “Can I make this better? Shorter?”
  • Try to infuse your synopsis with the same tone as your book.

That last one I struggle with. (Oh, who am I kidding? I struggle with the synopsis from start to finish. If I could get by without ever writing one, I would.)  My synopses aren’t even half  as funny as the stories themselves.

Well, time to take another look at my synopsis for “Blind Date Bride.” One of the goals I set to finish before our July meeting is to submit at least two queries on “Blind Date Bride.”

The other is to write a query letter/synopsis for “Beauty and the Ballplayer.” I must be a glutton for punishment. 😉

After reading my last blog entry, one of my friends from college messaged me with this bit of inspiration about giving characters reasons to love one another:

Love isn’t only about the hot sex – it’s about friendship. Cuz when the hot sex goes away (old age, car accident, ED), there must still be something there between them.”

Thanks to the part about ED, it cracked me up … but it also rang true.

I think, for the most part, my characters ARE friends first (well, except for Cassie and Dustin. They hate — and annoy — each other at first sight … and even when they’re totally in love, they still want to kill each other).

Brad and Erin start (before my book begins) as reporter-source; Bree and Mike are friends/coworkers (even though she’s supremely hot for his supremely HOT bod).

As for Kari and Damien, they start out as strangers who are trying to become friends (and lovers) despite the fact that they find themselves hitched.

I’m looking forward to my NARWA meeting Saturday (really later today, I guess — I really need to get some sleep). We’re doing synopsis-writing and characterization. The timing couldn’t be better, since I’m at a point where I’m thinking about the synopsis for “Blind Date Bride.”

Over at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood, my writing blog home away from home, I read a fantastic post the other day. It was all about what editors want from a category romance.

After reading it, I wonder if Brad and Erin’s story is as ready as I thought. I break nearly all of the guidelines:

  1. Stir internal conflict on EVERY page.
  2. Minimize secondary characters.
  3. Let your main characters be active.
  4. Get them together.
  5. Keep them together.
  6. Give them reasons to love each other.

Hmm. I already know the story is a little thin on conflict. For the first several chapters, the main one is Erin thinks she wants Mike to notice her but she’s starting to like Brad, too.

My secondary characters, including Mike, all play what may be too large a role. Not surprising, considering they each have their own story. Brad and Erin’s is the first in a series.

Are they active? I don’t even know how to start thinking about that. That means the answer is probably a big, fat “NO.”

As for getting them together, Brad and Erin don’t have a scene together until page 12 — and that’s after Erin has her first scene with Mike. And keeping them together? Well, they go out on several dates (including an ill-fated trip to Chicago for a concert), but there are plenty of scenes in between with one or the other talking to someone else.

Do I give them reasons to love one another? Well, they’re both good people, and fine upstanding citizens of these United States. And it goes without saying that they’re beautiful (most heroes and heroines are, after all). He likes her sense of humor and honesty; she’s attracted to his body and soul.

Hmm. That may also be a little on the thin side. I’m beginning to wonder if this book will ever sell without yet another overhaul … Ugh. That’s a horrible thought, not least of all because I’m way too invested in these characters. Of all my characters, Erin is most like me (education reporter with no luck in love — all me when I wrote the thing).

On the plus side, I thought of a way to make Meg & Matt’s story, “Beauty and the Ballplayer” more closely adhere to the guidelines I just discovered. I’m going to lop off the first several pages (which I’ve decided are all backstory, despite the fact that I love the first line:

Meg looked at the pregnancy test stick in her hand, hoping like hell she misinterpreted it.

The rest of the first few pages have her thinking about how, at 32, she’s too  old to be pregnant and alone, and about how her ex ran off to Vegas to become a professional poker player.

I think I’ll start with her and Matt meeting at the bar instead.

I’ve been trying to catch up on my blog reading, and found Nathan Bransford’s great post on “voice.”

The post and the comments afterward are full of great stuff … but all of it combines to make me wonder if I have a developed “voice.” I’ve always thought I did, but I just might be wrong.

Interesting thought, I guess. Too bad I don’t have time to explore it right now. It’s time to get ready for the “day job” (really an afternoon/evening job).

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