Bethany & Cody


My writing output seems to drop in direct correlation to any increase in blog reading. That’s a problem, I know β€” but if I don’t take the time to read a few blogs, how can I expect anyone to read mine?

Besides, if I stopped reading, I’d miss out on gems like this one from Janice Hardy’s blog, The Other Side of the Story. She writes:

Choices that don’t cause trouble are wasted opportunity. The whole point of a book is to show someone overcoming adversity to win. If there’s nothing to overcome, there’s no point in the winning.”

What a way to put it!

It’s no secret that I struggle with conflict. (I blame it on being a Libra. Libras strive for fairness and avoid conflict.) Judges’ comments I got on my first completed MS β€” even after several new drafts β€” consistently said “not enough conflict to sustain the story.”

What? You mean a girl falling for one guy when she’s trying to “snag” another one altogether isn’t conflict?

Not according to Hardy. She writes, “A choice between two good things with no consequences for making that choice is probably not going to hold your reader’s interest.”

Well, I already knew Brad and Erin’s story needed help. I tried to remedy it in subsequent drafts by casting suspicion on him … I even hacked out their original “black moment” (such as it was. The “Battle of the Birth Control” was pretty silly when I look back at it with a more experienced eye.)

The key for me is to remember that my hero and heroine have to make choices. And those choices have to mean something. The potential for disaster should loom around every corner.

I think that is the case in my more recent stories. Bethany’s decision to talk Cody into applying for the TV show lands them in a heap of trouble. When Kenny asks Kristi to pretend to be his fiancee, things get out of hand quickly.

Hmm. All my blog reading must be teaching me something about the craft.

The hero in my WIP, Cody, has a tendency to use big words and shrink-speak when he’s upset, angry or flustered. (There’s a reason he has a T-shirt that says “I’m fluent in psychobabble.”)

It turns out Cody and I have that in common. Now that I’m writing fiction fairly regularly, I notice myself trying to flaunt my vocabulary in the articles I write for the newspaper, too.

When I was in journalism school (way back in the dark ages … the early 1990s), we learned the average reading level of the newspaper audience was eighth grade. (I think I’ve heard it’s since dropped to sixth grade, but I might be mistaken there.)

I analyzed my writing style with a computer program once (way back in those same dark ages) and it told me I wrote at a 10th-grade level. That has more than likely changed the farther I’ve gotten from college (where everyone used big words in an attempt to show off what they thought they knew) and the more deeply entrenched I’ve become in journalistic style.

We journalists are trained to use simpler words. A school bus is just plain “yellow,” not “canary” or even “that shade of mustard peculiar to school buses.” Don’t use “growled” or “yelled” when a simple “said” gets the point across without embellishment.

Sometimes I wonder if that training has affected my fiction writing. In first drafts, I often go with the most expedient word. Then I scramble to change it later on.

But now that I’m shifting my focus to making a good impression on agents and editors, I find myself choosing words with a little more razzmatazz … well, like razzmatazz. πŸ˜‰

That’s not a bad thing at all β€” unless I’m writing a story for the newspaper. When I’m in journalist mode, I have to catch myself before I use words like “eschew.”

At least I haven’t tried to throw “bifurcated” into a sentence. I stumbled across that one while editing someone else’s story one night and spent much time complaining to whoever would listen that “bifurcated” was unnecessary when “forked” meant the same darn thing β€” and didn’t send readers scrambling for the nearest dictionary.

How about you? Ever catch yourself using words that make you feel like a big fish in a small pond?

We had a write-in/brainstorming session at Starbucks this afternoon before work, and I lamented the fact that I’ve only written about 600 words since the end of NaNoWriMo.

I’ve had days when I want to write, but the simple fact is this: I’m stuck.

The (finished) NaNo novel has been shelved, and I’m attempting to work on Bethany and Cody’s story, “Trouble in Paradise?” The key word there is “attempting.”

Beth and Cody are on the island, completing the network’s tests as they film their “Temptation Island”-like show … but nothing really awful has happened yet. They’re bumping along as happily as they have been. Nothing’s really settled, but nothing’s bothering them too much.Β Neither one has strayed β€” nor will they, even if Cody does develop some serious doubts about Beth’s faithfulness.

It may be time to up the ante here. (At least that’s what my romantic-suspense writing friend suggested. She said there’s a saying among suspense writers that when you’re stuck it’s time to boost the body count.)

I don’t have anyone to kill off … but I guess I could boot one of the couples off the island. (Any couple who fails three tests gets sent home.) I’d prefer it to be the contestants no one likes very much, but I suppose it would make for a better read if it’s someone I like. Bumping off the creep is too easy, right?

Alas, I think that means Jack and Jill must exit. They’re young and enthusiastic Β β€” friendly, likable characters who want to win the prize money so they can pay for their own wedding, thus putting a stop to parental interference.Β Cody has recruited Jack as a running partner.

I just hate to see Jack and Jill go down in flames β€” but better them than Beth and Cody. πŸ˜‰

Besides, their exit might make both Beth and Cody wonder : If Jack and Jill, young and seemingly madly in love, can’t avoid succumbing to temptation, perhaps no one can.

Uh-oh. I think I’m suffering from a case of the “post-novel depression” my friend Mallory writes about.

That’s right. I went to my local Starbucks this morning when the Boyfriend headed off to tennis. I was all psyched to get back to writing. After taking a week off post-NaNo, I needed to write again.

Or so I thought.

I sat at the Bux for about two hours and managed to write … all of 200 words.

Aargh.

I could blame it on the fact that I stopped work on Beth & Cody’s story in the middle of a scene. I had a hard time picking it back up, having absolutely no idea where I’d originally intended it to go. (And I’m not sure I much like the new direction.)

Oh well. That’s 200 words I didn’t have this morning … and tomorrow is another day. Maybe I’ll eke out another 200 words (especially if I finish this scene and move on).

I took a short break from editing Golden Heart entries today to let Bethany and Cody out to play.

Their conversation took a turn (for the better or worse?) to that age-old question that has plagued the males of our species since the debut of “Gilligan’s Island”: Ginger or Mary Ann?

Cody, being the kind of guy he is, says he’d rather have a wholesome girl like Mary Ann. Then he proceeds to tell Beth she’s the best of both β€” wholesome looking like Mary Ann but with Ginger’s sensual nature (though he thinks to himself he’d get a lot more rest if Beth were less Ginger-esque).

My question for you (should you choose to answer): Would your hero pick Ginger or Mary Ann?

With all the re-reading of my old stuff I’ve been doing, I have way too many characters running around in my head. Suddenly, they’re all jockeying for attention.

As a result, I’m getting a lot of nothing accomplished. Why is it that more ideas does not equal more productivity?

I’m still editing my Golden Β Heart entries, and yesterday (my birthday) I got a little new work done on Beth and Cody’s story. It’s probably not the best scene I’ve ever written, but it offers Cody a chance to shine a little.

Next up (on my next payday) is to actually send in my Golden Heart entry fees. The deadline is creeping nearer.

After months of writing like gangbusters and ignoring the healthier lifestyle I’m supposed to be living, I feel the pendulum swinging back in the other direction.

My weight loss blog has been getting all the attention (and is already closing in on 400 hits for the month), but I haven’t been doing a whole lot of writing on my novel.

I need to strike a balance between the two, I know. Of course, if I knew how to do that, I’d both be at my goal weight and have a novel or two actually published. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

Today, I tried. I whipped up a healthy lunch, then packed some snacks and headed off to the Barnes & Noble Cafe to write before work.

It worked: I actually wrote more than 600 words today. Add that to the 600+ I wrote on Wednesday and my week’s total is upwards of 1,2oo.

It might not be much, but at least it’s something. Even if they’re not quality words, they’re on the page. I can go back and edit later.

Perhaps the problem is I’ve reached “the sagging middle.” Or maybe it’s because I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent. Bethany’s mother called after 13 years of silence, and now instead of getting ready for the trip, she and Cody are dealing with her mother issues. That’s not much fun to write.

There will be no more writing tonight. I need to get busy reading our book club’s next book, “A Soft Place to Land.” Since I recommended it and am hosting Wednesday’s meeting, I can’t very well NOT finish the book.

But I know I need to get back into writing/editing mode soon. The Golden Heart contest deadline will be here before I know itΒ  β€” and this year, I want to enter in TWO categories.

I’d better get back to work. πŸ˜‰

I’ve been having lots of family fun on vacation. Driving around the country, exploring Mall of America, playing games with the kids …

But I’ve had next to no time to write. One day when I fired up the computer, the Boyfriend interrupted me about 10 minutes later. I’d just finished re-reading the last scene written to refresh my memory. No new writing got done.

Guess that’s why “they” say you shouldn’t stop to reread what you’ve written. (Who “they” are, I’m not certain. But I have heard that particular piece of advice before.)

Oh well. I’ll be back home and back to the old grind of my day job soon enough, and then I’ll get back into my writing routine. It shouldn’t be too hard, because Bethany and Cody are still chattering away in my head.

When I get back, it’ll also be time to get started on the next NARWA newsletter … and work on my goals for our next meeting. I believe I said, “revise BDB to incorporate judges’ comments” and “send out at least 2 queries on Meg & Matt.”

Busy, busy, busy. And I’ll only get busier when I head home at the end of the week.

That’s approximately how much I’ve written on Bethany and Cody’s story … and I have yet to get them to the island so their adventure can begin. They’ve been taking a side trip, with Beth’s mom attempting a reconciliation.

I guess since I have a total of at least 90K words, I’m still OK. I know they need to make it to the island soon, though.

I’m headed off on vacation in a few short hours β€” to Texas, then Oklahoma and Minnesota β€” with the Boyfriend, his mother and his kids. (It’ll be the first time I meet them.)

Still, I’m taking the laptop and hope to find plenty of time to write while I’m gone. Maybe I’ll even manage to get Beth and Cody to Bora Bora!

I sure hope so.

It always amazes me how attending my RWA chapter meeting recharges my creative battery.

Sure, it means a long day for me. I usually don’t get to bed until at least 2 a.m., and I’m up before 8 on meeting day. We meet from 10:30-ish to 2 p.m. and drive an hour and a half back home. Then I usually have to head into work and put in a full day there.

But I wouldn’t miss it. The chats while we’re carpooling are a great way to get new insights. And the meetings themselves always serve up something useful.

This time, we had a group critique: Several members submitted the first three pages of their WIP. Entries were read aloud, anonymously, then everyone shared their thoughts.

There wasn’t a single one that didn’t intrigue us enough to want to read more. That, of course, begs the question: Why haven’t any of us wannabes made a sale yet? But that’s probably a question best left for another post (in which I’ll rail against the publishing industry that depends so much on sheer luck. You have to be in the right place at the right time and know all the right people. Your MS could sparkle like the Hope Diamond, but if it crosses the desk when the editor’s having a bad day, too bad for you.).

Sure, a few of them had issues: Too much backstory, head-hopping. But the only way to improve is to have someone point out where you need improvement.

Our members are great at offering the right mix of encouragement and advice. I think (hope) we all left with a warm, fuzzy feeling β€” and some tips to take us another step closer to the ultimate goal of publication.

For my part, I realized (with feedback) the new beginning works really well. It was also pointed out I need a solid description of my hero in those opening pages.

As a side note, I had no idea Matt sounded so arrogant. But when you read it aloud, he sure does. He doesn’t remain arrogant throughout the novel, though, so I’m not sure what to do about that.

Since those first pages are in Meg’s POV, maybe we can chalk it up to her perception? He’s not really all that arrogant, she’s just in a bad mood, so she sees him as more arrogant than he really is?

I spent most of today working on a couple of scenes from Bethany and Cody’s story … 3,115 words written. I was surprised again, though: Beth’s mother sounds like a guest on “Jerry Springer.” She must be from Southern Illinois! πŸ˜‰

It’s time for me to start polishing next year’s Golden Heart entries, though. My Orange Rose scores came back Friday. With those and Saturday’s feedback on the contemporary series story I want to enter, I’m ready to put the comments to good use.

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