Four Thoughts on Writing


Throughout June I offered weekly writing advice through the Romance Writers of America newsletter, The End: Writing Wisdom. I'm not entirely certain that it was "wisdom" per se, but I was happy to share four ideas that I keep in mind as I work. While the newsletter was only available to RWA subscribers, I'm happy to share those four ideas here, for anyone to find. 

I have all of these thoughts on post-it-notes on my office wall, just to remind myself of them. Every page. All the time. And I still blow it a lot more than I get it right on any given day. So, keep writing. That's the best advice anyone could ever give you. Don't believe me? Listen to Nora.  

Here they are, my far less profound thoughts:

Torture Builds Character.

We've all heard it: if you're bored writing, the reader will likely be bored reading. While I don't necessarily ascribe to this theory (writing is a job, and sometimes you wish you were playing, not working), I do ascribe to the idea that exciting books come from exciting characters—and nothing builds character faster than torture.

As you're thinking about your characters, try to get deep into their psyche—think about what many call a character's 'deepest wound.' What is their greatest fear? What is the worst thing that could happen to them over the course of the book? Force them to face it. If you have a crusty duke terrified of scandal, make him the center of an unbearable scandal. If you have a heroine who has hired a hero to be her fake boyfriend, have it all fall apart at the exact worst time. If you have a character who thinks of himself as a protector, put him in the position of not being able to save the day.

All of these things will spur your character to action, enhance the conflict in your book, and keep the pages turning!

Why Can’t They be Together?

At the heart of every romance novel is the breathlessness that comes with the question of whether or not these two characters will ever, finally, get together. The most satisfying books keep readers on their toes until the very very end of the book.

What makes romance writing so difficult is keeping the hero and heroine on the page together while keeping them from their happily ever after. As writers, we have to be careful not to resolve one conflict without introducing a new one, ensuring that readers (and our characters) will be put through the wringer, uncertain of the final resolution of the story.

Try asking yourself after every scene, 'Why can’t these two be together right now?' If the answer isn’t clear, or (worse), if the answer is that they can be together—consider the possibility that something is off, and take a moment to go back and fix it.

The Heroine Is Always Proactive

We hear it all the time: 'I couldn’t finish the book because the heroine was too stupid to live.' Well, the truth is, too stupid to live is often in the purview of inactive heroines. Life just happens to them. They are recluses who open the door to discover that a man has arrived on their front porch, and he just happens to be the man of their dreams. They are sleeping beauties, clever and witty (we hope), but basically just lying around until their Prince Charmings show up to kiss them awake.

The best books are the active ones, where things are constantly changing, wrenches are always appearing in plans, and heroines (and heroes!) are taking action. They’re doing what they think is best, they’re acting in the moment to change their circumstances and their world. And that action is the best way of ensuring that readers love them. And their story.

Who Stands to Lose the Most?

We’ve all been there, happily writing away, surprised and a little giddy that this book is moving so well! So easily! Finally, finally, we have mastered this writing thing! And then—BAM. We hit a wall. For me, this usually happens partway through a scene, when I’m writing dialogue and thinking: Nothing is happening here. Why isn’t anything happening? Is it getting boring? Oh my gosh. It’s getting boring. I can’t write anymore. I’m terrible at writing. This whole book is terrible.

And then I look at the little post it note on my computer that says, 'Who stands to lose the most?' And, invariably, the answer is 'Crud. The other character.' Meaning, I’m writing the scene in my hero’s deep POV, and it should be in my heroine’s. Or vice-versa. There’s a classic writing adage that says something like, 'Every character should want something in every scene. Even if it’s just a glass of water.' So, think about what the characters in your scene want, and choose your POV based on who wants the most important thing. We want to be inside the head of the character who stands to lose the most in the scene. We want to know everything they’re thinking about, everything they’re hiding from the other character, every move in the game they’re playing. And we want to know why it’s so important that they win the scene.

If you can work this out before you write each scene, you’ll get stuck a lot less than I do!