Out of the Story’s Nebula: Structure in the Second Draft

Every manuscript is its own creature. Some stories are upfront, divulging so much information your fingers can’t type fast enough.

The first draft of Pierce My Heart, a meager 15K, was meant to be a concise introduction to the fae and their world. But my crit group pointed out that I could do one of two things: Scale back the conflict and keep it short, or dig into a more complex plot and expand.

I chose to expand. Pierce My Heart weaves together a dark, gritty who-done-it and a love story. Lithe and Garien’s potential romance is fraught with conflicts, namely, Lithe’s status as an outsider. Lithe’s chief conflict is a struggle within herself to face and accept who she is. The murder that she and Garien must solve serves as an external reminder of that conflict and why she can’t give herself to Garien.

When I sat down to write draft two, something strange happened with this story.

It sort of, well, opened up, and blew apart. It went from a tight little story to this nebulous creature I can’t pin down.

And strangest of all, I can’t shake the feeling that my characters—or the story itself—are hiding something from me.

There are several things of which I am sure:

1. This is a good story with plenty of potential. The pieces are there, even if I can’t figure out how they fit together.

2. The issue is one of form and structure.

3. I am overlooking something, and it will drive me crazy until I figure out what.

4. I am capable of figuring out what that something is.

So, fellow writers, have you been there? What do you do when a story enters the nebula, when you feel like you’re missing something but you don’t know what? How do you help the manuscript find or retake its shape?

A few days ago, I mentioned on Twitter that my “creative mojo” appeared to be missing. Debra Krager (@debrakristi) sagely advised: “You need a mojo lifter? Maybe a weekend off. Do something different and fun to find it.” She also blogged about this very subject here. (Timing really is everything.)

Somehow I have to work this weekend (day-job stuff). I’m not thrilled, but deadlines are deadlines, and no one’s going to hold the presses so I can have some fun.

But heck, maybe I’ll squeeze it in anyway. Perhaps a dose of silly creativity will give me the jolt I need to put the pieces together.

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The Kink Factor: Author Shara Lanel dishes on the difference between sweet and erotic romance

**EXPLICIT CONTENT**

Today, I’m turning the blog over to award-winning romance author Shara Lanel. Romance is a complex genre, ranging from the chaste to the downright naughty. Shara’s post helps shed some light on the distinctions between “sweet” and erotic romance.

Shara’a latest book, Blame it on the Night, will be available for purchase on Nov. 15–be sure to check out the link to a free excerpt below!

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Do you want to follow the hero and heroine into the bedroom? Or would you rather stop at the door and give them some privacy? This is generally how I think of the difference between “sweet” romance and most popular romance today. But “sweet” doesn’t mean there’s no sexual tension. Pride and Prejudice is loaded with sexual tension culminating in one sweet kiss. Many romances have incredible sexual tension with very few love scenes.

However, I would say most popular romance today ventures inside the bedroom. This ranges from somewhat flowery, rather vague, one-page love scenes—which I tend to skip—to the several-paged, we’re-right-in-the-bedroom-with-you love scenes. To me, the line between these romances, generally not labeled erotic, and those that are labeled erotic comes down to word choice. One particular word that my mom disapproved of when she read my first novel, ENLIGHTENED LOVE. In erotic romance the sex needs to be descriptive (fuck, cock, pussy, etc.—can you guess which word Mom didn’t approve of?), raw, maybe some kink, frequent, and each scene should last several pages. And you still need to have that sexual tension.

My erotic romance books TELEKINETIC KISSES and FINDING MR. RIGHT IS MURDER aren’t really structured different than “traditional” romances, but the sex scenes take it up a notch.

Then there are the stories my mom hasn’t read. For these the sexual premise becomes very important. If your hero/heroine just met and don’t particularly like each other (conflict), why would they have sex in the first couple of chapters? Even if they have the classic “mistake” of a one-night-stand, what’s going to make them have sex in chapter three and so on? You can’t just throw a sex scene in there if your plot doesn’t call for it.

In BLAME IT ON THE MOON, Kitty can read minds. Therefore, she’s immersed in Haden’s erotic thoughts before they even speak to each other. In THE MEN ON MARS, Nate walks in on Helena in a threesome, and Helena is highly motivated to do whatever it takes to get a ride to Earth. Other examples: maybe your hero’s a stripper or a voyeur or your heroine’s an FBI agent undercover in a BDSM club. Maybe your heroine’s curious about the BDSM lifestyle and your hero is very happy to teach her. In other words, there are other sexual forces at work, not just random hopping-into-bed-together. In one story I’m working on, the hero finds out about the heroine’s very sexy backstory.

When I entered PRIMITIVE PASSION into contests or pitched it to agents before published, there were drastic differences in opinion (scores) because some people didn’t see Heath as heroic. Sylvia needs his help to get out of the jungle, but he has a price: three days of obeying his carnal demands. But without Heath’s demands, Sylvia wouldn’t have discovered new things about herself and the story wouldn’t have been erotic.

As a writer, you learn to target different publishers by researching books similar to yours and seeing who published them. Then you may cater a story toward the requirements of that specific publisher. This is the same when it comes to erotic romance. A publisher may want male/male, interracial, or ménage-a-many. A certain amount of kink may be expected or a certain familiarity with the lifestyle. The nice thing about the publishers I’ve worked with is that they’ve helped me up the heat level if I didn’t quite hit it in my manuscript.

So what’s the difference between erotic romance and erotica and porn? Well, first and foremost, we always have a happy ending, but the erotica I’ve read seemed literary or thought-provoking rather than sensual. Many movies labeled “erotic” do nothing for me. Meanwhile, porn seems to me male-centric and based on plot-less fantasy. “A sexy woman comes up to me in a bar, says she wants to do me in the bathroom, and then calls her friend to join us…” A lot more explicit, of course, but totally lacking in motivation.

Feel free to post questions or comments!

Here’s an erotic romance excerpt from my upcoming release, BLAME IT ON THE NIGHT, coming to www.Loose-Id.com Nov. 15!

About Shara:

At age 10, research to Shara Lanel meant hopping aboard the local steam engine and writing the equivalent of The Great Train Robbery.  Nowadays, she gets hands-on research at the Writers’ Police Academy. Give her a gun and she might hit the target…or a pedestrian. She swears her characters are much better shots, hitting the bulls-eye with the villains and the heart.

BLAME IT ON THE MOON, winner of the HOLT Medallion, delves into the life of a werewolf wanted for murder, while FINDING MR. RIGHT IS MURDER introduces you to the girl-next-door who, in the middle of an adult slumber party, finds a body in the freezer. Shara’s novels are always full of suspense and hot romance, whether set on the moon or in a Mexican jungle.

Shara resides in Richmond, Va., with a clingy dog, an action-oriented son, and a handsome hubby. Don’t put her in the kitchen, unless you want to burn it down, and her green-thumb is hit-or-miss, but she excels as a bibliophile, hoping she never has to pack up and move, since her hubby might see just how many volumes she really has.

Yet another confession from a lifelong paranormal junkie: I used to be a vampire slayer.

This is how much of a dork I am: When my brother, cousin, and I were younger (I’d so, oh, about ages 10-11), we started our own vampire-slaying business.

Buffy

Okay, so I was no Buffy...

The trouble had started long before then. It started as an innocent interest in fireside ghost stories and Are You Afraid of the Dark? and progressed to an addiction to R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books. In the years to come, I’d discover his Fear Street series and the works of L.J. Smith, and my obsession would be solidified for life. But once my brother and I started buying up books about vampires, zombies, and other bump-in-the-night phantasms and creatures, we knew that there was only one solution. Vampires couldn’t just roam the streets of our town, preying on unsuspecting old ladies who mistook them for encyclopedia salesmen or on giggling teenagers completely unaware of the dangers that lurked in the dark recesses of the high school gymnasium. Did I mention we were Buffy fans? (The movie, that is. My addiction to Joss Whedon’s works for television came later.)

And so Vampires Inc. was born. Armed with freshly gathered stakes, cloves of garlic, and jars of “holy water,” we were at your service, ready to meet any and all of your vampire-slaying needs. We even wrote a manifesto including tips for how to protect oneself against the pale-skinned, smooth-talking undead. (In my defense, we didn’t have cable, and this was in the days before Internet. We had to do something to keep ourselves entertained.)

Eventually, our mother made us take down the “vampires not invited” sign from the front door, our dog chewed up all of our stakes, and we moved on to less lofty endeavors. But I can’t help but think that somehow, it’s all my brother and cousin’s fault that I became an incurable geek with an insatiable interest in the strange and unusual. Thanks, guys.

Are you a writer or fan of the paranormal or fantastic? When did this interest take hold for you? Please share your story below.

Side note: Free stuff! Something about autumn makes me feel generous. Must be all the candied apples. 🙂 I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card. Click here to enter. And my crit partner Kathleen Foucart is offering two chances to win a free first-chapter critique. Click here to find out how to enter.

Magic and the word: Why I write paranormal and fantasy

Every day that I sit down to write, I find myself swept up in the magic. The sheer act of writing is magic in itself; the same energy that flows through me when I read tarot cards or weave a spell also takes over when I conjure a story.

And every word that I write, every character I meet, every story I tell, I know that the magic belongs. I am meant to write paranormal and fantasy fiction. Whether it’s faeries or ghosts, urban or earthy, I know that the magic that weaves itself into my stories is a part of me. It belongs in my life and in the lives of my characters.

I’ve always believe in possibilities. As a child, I was fascinated by witches and wizards, ghosts and goblins, wee folk and nature spirits. Nature hummed with more songs than the birds could tell, more energy than a swollen spring creek could carry. That was the first magic I ever knew. Soon, that magic would find its way to my stories—whether they were the stories of warrior princesses, lost unicorns, or witches who’d newly discovered their powers. In my childhood, everything from a dusty book or painting found in the attic to the spiritual energy of the forest to an old abandoned building in the city seemed full of potential stories. And that hasn’t changed. Stories continue to pop out of the woodwork. And every time, magic plays a role.

As a kid, I was fascinated by witches. Not the Wicked Witch of the West cackling kind, but the wise woman, oracle in the woods sort of witches—wise women who heard the earth, who lived close to nature and listened to its sorrows and songs, who understood the ways of plants, animals, and stars.

In college, I found my way to a nature-based spiritual path and realized that my fascination with those cottage-dwelling wise women wasn’t solely reserved for my fiction. Understanding the sacred symbolism of plants, trees, crystals, and animals can be a part of our everyday lives. Today, I surround myself with items that bring to mind the beauty of nature and of spirit and the potential of magic in our lives.

My stories don’t necessarily reflect my own magical practice. My characters can read thoughts, teleport, or have visions of the past or future. Their magic is part of the story, of the worlds I’ve created and discovered in my fiction. I have several friends who write magical realism and incorporate subtle elements of the fantastic into their characters’ stories without entering realms that echo the medieval-esque fantasy of Tolkien, Le Guin, or World of Warcraft, or the urban/paranormal bent of Kelley Armstrong or Yasmine Galenorn.

In each story I write, every word is wrapped up in magic. The fairy tales and folk tales I soaked up in my youth infuse my fiction. The magic of my real life inspires and is inspired by the magic of my worlds.

My soul is fed by the magic I believed in and discovered as a child and by the magic I discover each day—whether outside my window in the rain, birdsongs, or mystery of the trees; or in the windows to other worlds my stories open…

The curtains dance madly, thrashing in the wind. Outside the window, rain pours and storm howls. A wild witch with knowledge of stars and shadows awaits us, stirring her cauldron, ready to share secrets and inspiration if only we’re willing to drink her dark brew. Like the brew of Cerridwen’s cauldron, each drop is pure, undiluted poetry, the gift of the bard.

Writers venture into the stormy night on a quest for stories. Every story, paranormal or not, hums with Cerridwen’s magic. If you write about magic, what inspires you? Why do you write about the paranormal or the fantastic?

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Upcoming contest: I’m celebrating the magic of the fall season with my upcoming “Autumn Reads” contest. Join me on my WordPress blog starting on Friday, Sept. 23, to kick off the season and enter the contest for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card.

Stop knockin’ the romance novel

So I just read this post by contemporary romance writer Jeannie Moon, which, of course, made me feel all twitchy. Why, tell me why, are people always knocking romance novels? Tell me how a romance novel is “not a real book.”

What makes a “real” book? Plot, character, description, tone? Because romance novels have all of those things. And have the people who say such things actually read a romance novel? (Or, if they have, do they just skip to the dirty parts? Tsk tsk tsk.)

I just realized I’m preaching to the choir. *steps away from pulpit*

I was already feeling mildly irate because, in a writers loop I belong to, a fellow writer said that her boss called her books “silly romance novels.” Silly? Romance novels are silly? They’re not real?

Oh, wait, excuse me while…

Sorry. I’m back.

Jeannie, who managed not to turn into the Incredible Hulk, raised some valid points to put her particular naysayer/book snob in her place:

“I set out to bury Harpy with the facts. Facts about romance’s incredible reach, profitability and the most basic of all: that if the genre were to become extinct, 1.3 billion dollars in book sales would be lost. It would decimate publishing and all those “real books” wouldn’t have anyplace to go. I talked about academic work being done at major universities studying the genre as literature and I talked about how it made people happy. And in the end, that’s all that mattered.”

So here’s my piece. Why do I think romance novels are most certainly REAL books, and not at all SILLY? Because…

Books change us; all art does. Books help us understand the human experience. The last time I checked, romance, yummy parts included, is a vital part of that experience. And we’re never more alive than when we’re in love.

I could go on. And on. And on. But I think I’ve said enough.

And this whole thing has inspired me to blog about why I chose to write romance novels. But that’s a separate post for another day.

Why do you love romance novels? Why do you think people feel this way? And how can we help them see the light? Or, if you’re a hater, why?

Welcome to my new WP blog:

Post No. 1: I’m opening my new WordPress blog with an introduction to myself and my work. Upcoming posts will discuss paranormal romance novels, publishing, and writing, and contain periodic updates on my work.

What I’m doing:

I’m currently an aspiring paranormal romance and fantasy author. I’m especially interested in the fae, magic, witches, and world mythologies, but there’s no telling what rabbit holes I’ll follow my characters down. My fiction runs the gamut from short stories to novellas to full-length novels.

Why I’m doing it:

My goal is to write stories that engage people, books you can’t put down because you love the characters too much to walk away from them. If you miss the characters when you close the book, I’ll know I’ve done justice to both the readers and the characters. I spend a lot of time revising and revising and revising and–well you get the drift–because I believe that a well-written novel comes with dedication to the story, the craft, and the characters. I have a sometimes unhealthy relationship with commas (i.e., I think about them way more than I should.)

I currently have a full-length novel, a novella, and a couple of shorter works in progress.

In the coming weeks, this blog will fill up with more information, more features, and more design elements, so please stop by periodically and see what new stuff I’ve added. And if you have a blog or can recommend one you like, please post a comment.

I love modern technology’s ability to connect us, and I’m absolutely excited when anyone takes a moment in their busy schedule to pause and read my work. I love meeting and talking with people who are as passionate about books as I am.

Other stuff:

I formerly blogged over at LJ (http://janellemadigan.livejournal.com). I will keep people updated if I will continue that journal in addition to this one, but my WP blog will be my primary one now. I hope to continue cross-posting because there are some really awesome people on LJ I want to keep in touch with. In any event, I’ll continue reading their blogs! (So never fear LJ peeps!)

So that’s my intro. What’s yours? Do you write? Do you read? What books do you love? What makes you tick?

Recap of my “write-cation”:

Okay, so write-cation is my awkward-looking little word for vacation. It’s sorta like a staycation, but with a twist.

See, the whole idea behind a staycation is that you take a vacation but stay at home. Now, personally, I find it challenging. I don’t exactly live in a big city, and living in a small town means that you run out of things to do fairly quickly, and there isn’t much within driving distance. Add to that my restless tendencies and, you know, staycation is not exactly in my nature.

But write-cation, that I can do. So I took a week off from the day job to focus on finishing my current WIP. The target word count was 95,000 words. Now, I’m at 96,000 words. (I wrote about 4,000 words/day Tuesday-Friday, 1,500 on Monday.) But, alas, Blake and Zoe’s story is not done. I figure the draft I’m working on (2.4) will be slightly over 100,000 words. So, a little longer than expected, but not bad for a second draft.

So I’m considering my write-cation a success. Hopefully Saturday and Sunday I can finish up the remaining scenes. I also have some scenes earlier in the story that I need to revise to reflect some world changes that I made as I was writing. And then a big chunk of the story is going to my awesome-o critique partners, Kathleen Foucart and Amelia Ross.

Next week, I’m back to my regular work schedule, but I’m excited to start the revision process. Yeah, I can’t help it. I like revising. It’s the editor in me.

I have a few smaller works in progress that have been on hold and a couple of ideas for novellas that are begging to be written. Well, not so much begging as demanding. My fall teaching schedule will make it tough to pump out any large chunks of writing, but I see a lot of revision work in my future.

Books that surprise you:

What is the last book that you read that really, really surprised you?

Maybe it ended differently than you expected. Maybe it went down a path you didn’t even notice was there. Perhaps it startled you with its intensity or its strangeness. Or maybe it humbled you.

When we experience these kinds of stories, whether told in music, dance, words, or brushstrokes, the air seems to hum with energy, charged with thoughts and feelings that we can’t quite name. Even critical analysis can only go so far toward capturing what it is that makes a story speak to us in this way. Freudian or Jungian, Marxist or feminist, formalist or reader-response, whatever it is that rises up from those pages, talking about that ethereal beauty is like trying to capture mist in a jar.

I have favorite writers whose works do this to me all of the time: Melissa Marr, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Alice Hoffman easily come to mind. Good writing, like a good kiss, can sweep you off your feet and make you weak in the knees. It can hurt you and heal you at the same time. Wow, what a feeling.

But think about a book that you picked up not expecting to feel this way. Perhaps it wasn’t quite your normal reading taste but you decided to give it a whirl, or it had been given or recommended to you by someone else, but you were skeptical. Or maybe, for reasons you didn’t understand, you picked it up at the bookstore, certain you had to read it, but not sure why. And then, suddenly, the story transported you and left you shaken.

I remember when I read Wicked Magic by Cheyenne McCray. I was going through all of this crazy crap in my life and I just wanted a feel-good book, packed with action and steamy romance. And McCray’s book definitely delivered. I’d read some other books in the Witches series. But Rhiannon’s story was different. And following Rhiannon’s struggle to understand her path and her past while grappling with her shadows (metaphorical and literal) was helpful in learning to turn my own shadows into a source of personal power. It wasn’t a metaphor I expected to find in those pages, and it resonated strongly with my own life. And it helped me realize that your shadows can hurt, but they can also empower you. When you embrace them, it helps you to heal. Yeah, it seems simple now, but at the time, the revelation was huge for me. Guess it just proves that when you open a book, you never know what you’re getting into.

Can you think of any recent books you’ve read that did this for you?

interesting link:

Hey all,

Author Tessa Dawn just did an interesting post on her blog about the distinction between Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal Romance. I think it’s interesting for those of us writing in those genres–especially if you’re on the edge between two of them or writing in more than one. Thought I’d share if anyone was interested.

Read her post here.

Something about Tessa’s post got me thinking about writing in multiple genres. I work on manuscripts in different genres. I’ve written YA and am currently working on a paranormal romance. I know some writers use different pen names for both, but it’s hard enough to keep up with one blog/ fb&twitter account/ website. Based on what I’ve read, the common path is to have a different name for different genres (thinking Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb).

Still, there are writers who use the same name and have written for both teens and adults. Melissa Marr, who’s written YA up to this point, is coming out with an adult novel (Graveminder–comes out in May and looks like a delicious read). A number of writers of adult fiction have come out with YA novels. So my inclination (for the moment) is to write under the same name.

At this point, I figure I’m a long way off from having to worry about that, so I’m just plugging away, word by word. Have any of you had similar musings? Have you come to any conclusions?