Random Thoughts on Writing Romance

Exactly what it says on the tin. :)

Romance plots come in three types:

  • Major plotline (sometimes only plotline)—the conflict generated by this romance, as well as the scene time dedicated to resolving the conflict, makes up a major portion of the book
  • Subplot—the conflict and resolution of this romance consists of a handful of scenes (or scene parts), but is a minority portion of the story
    • Sometimes could be removed without the major plotline changing
    • Although if it plays into or adds to a minor element that affects the main plotline, this may not be the case
  • Background—the romance has no conflict (or none lasting longer than a scene) and is simply a part of a character’s daily life/background
    • If there is running conflict (such as a wife waiting at home), it is either played as an obstacle of a different plotline (and thus conflict in that plotline) or so minor it is never resolved (it may play as a joke)

Romance scenes come in two types:

  • Romance scenes—these are scenes dedicated entirely to the romance/couple; usually both are involved, but if only one, they are actively thinking about or acting for/against the primary romance; the majority of the scene and its entire purpose is the advancement or conflict of a romance
  • Romantic scene part—the main purpose of the scene is something else (fighting a bad guy, arguing a court case, a lavish party, etc.), but a few lines of dialogue, a single action, even a glance indicates some level of romance—it could contain romantic conflict, it could advance the romance, or it could simply indicate the romance exists; the key difference is that if you took the romantic element out of the scene, the scene would still have a purpose and exist

Both romance scenes and romantic scene parts can play into a romance plotline (either advancing or conflicting with the romance).

Romance scenes come in several flavors:

  • A purely happy romance scene is rare:
    • As a short establishing element prior to the introduction of the conflict (they meet and date and are happy—until her ex comes to town, etc.)
    • As a relief scene between plot scenes (most common in a romantic subplot or background)
    • As a release at the resolution of a conflict but before the introduction of another (they think they’ve solved all their problems, but…)
    • Or as a release at the very end of the story, when the conflict truly is resolved
  • A scene which advances the romance may seem happy, but still have conflict:
    • Perhaps only one partner is aware of the conflict (is hiding it, etc.)
    • Perhaps the conflict is external (on the run, unhappy families, etc.) but the lovers have found a short solace for this scene—or are deliberately ignoring/avoiding the conflict for the moment
    • Perhaps one or both partners is unwilling to commit to a full romance but is spending time together happily (perhaps surprisingly?)—thus the conflict of not committing remains in place (common in romance novels, or early on in stories before commitment is expected/desired)
      • This is actually really common—for example, early in Twilight, Edward is still resistant but spends time with Bella (thus advancing the romance)
    • Perhaps only the reader is aware of the conflict, thus tense that this happiness is only temporary (bad guy approaching, ex still alive, etc.)
  • A scene with direct romantic conflict is one which threatens the romance itself:
    • External conflict may not threaten the romance so much as the individual partners themselves (though this is more common with romance subplots, as the resolution of this external conflict is not romantic in itself)
    • External conflict which would end if the romance ended is part of a direct romance plotline, in which continuing to pursue the romance in spite of this external conflict is the plot (the resolution is often external, but is still a part of the romance since they’re doing it purely because of that)
    • Internal conflict is when one or both partners directly attempts to end the romance because of personal conflict between them (it can be more subtle, such as small fights that suggest larger issues to come; or as is often the case in romance novels, when only one partner has a strong reason to end the romance but isn’t fully sure, thus the other partner persists)
    • Seemingly external conflicts can play on internal conflicts to thus become more dramatic—someone with a trust issue will react more strongly (hence more conflict) to a suggestion of cheating
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How Being a Pack Rat Can Kill Your Writing

There’s a myth out there—perpetuated by images of lightbulbs popping overhead and final pages being set upon tidy piles beside typewriters—that books arrive fully formed, like babies delivered already cute and bundled by the stork. Oh, sure, it may not come all at once; but if you do have to find it, it will be like uncovering something from the ground, or finding your way through a labyrinth to the center—everything already there, the map already written for you to follow, just waiting to be discovered.

But excepting those rare gods of story who walk among us, this is a myth. Stories are not found, they are made. Every single part of a story is a choice—every name, every place, every plot twist. I will admit there can be a bit of mysticism as to where the options come from sometimes, when they appear suddenly in your mind, but you still choose to use them or not.

For me, story is a process of trial and error. It’s like a Rubik’s cube that I pick up, turn around, twist here and shift there, trying again and again to inch towards the right picture. Every new twist opens up a new version of the cube, a new side of the puzzle, which may either lead to the solution or may only open up ideas for more twists. Along the way, I am shaping a story.

But I realized the other day that this slow, painstaking process can produce an unintended result—I tend to get a bit sentimental about my ideas along the way. Sometimes an idea isn’t working but pieces of it are so great that I don’t want to let it go. And, more heartbreaking, sometimes an idea looks wonderful and perfect… but I don’t want to write it, simply because it’s not me.

Unwritten ideas can look beautiful, like pieces of art to place upon the mental shelf. But I find myself filling my mental galleries with more and more cold and lifeless art, and bringing nothing out to show to the world. Instead, even if it kills me, I have to throw the art onto the ground and let it shatter—and use whatever shards I can to build something new, something that has a chance of becoming real.

For someone with a pack rat mentality (like me), it’s far too easy to argue that the idea needs to stay there, pristine and preserved, waiting for its time. That even if I do manage to recycle parts of it into something real, I will always mourn the perfect “perhaps.” And there’s really no way to know for sure that a certain idea in this particular form will never work…

Yet I find days and weeks and months slipping away from me, and no work to show for it. I’ve examined the idea from every side, I’ve imagined its success, I’ve admired every piece of its beauty—but for whatever reason, I’m not taking it out of the mental gallery. So I have to break it, mine the pieces for the few fragments of gold, and start again.

The simplest way to argue against the pack rat is to remind yourself that even if only a tiny sliver of your original (beautiful) idea remains, it was still worth it. That creative energy helped lead you to where you are now, so it was not a waste, even if everything has changed.

And remember that, ultimately, it’s about what you write, not what you think. If you just love to think about things and keep them to yourself, that’s fine—but if you don’t want to take your thoughts with you into the void, if you want even the slightest chance of your flawed but beautiful mind being seen by the world—you have to bring those thoughts out of the mental gallery and into reality, one painstaking choice at a time.

And sometimes, the first choice in creation is destruction.

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Blog Update

Anyone who actually tries to follow this blog regularly (bless you) may wonder where I’ve been and if I’ve abandoned this blog. The answer to the latter is definitively no, I have not and will not abandon this blog. The answer to the former is also quite simple: I’ve been in the same place, doing nothing–and therefore, blogging nothing.

Is a bad and repetitive blog post better than no post at all? I don’t know enough about site traffic or regular readership to answer that question, nor is high readership my primary goal (it would be a cool perk, but I’m not holding my breath). My main goal here is to discuss, explore, and ultimately someday promote my writing, and express myself along the way.

But lately… there hasn’t been much new to express. On the “official” front, I’ve sent out my query letters and am waiting to hear back (or rather, waiting not to hear). And I’ve come to peace with that, with the idea that publication may not happen right now or in the way that I’d always imagined for this project, and that’s okay. I still have to just wait, though.

In the meantime, I’ve been attempting to start a second project, though as I’ve mentioned ominously before on this blog, with little success. It’s the same old crap as always–multiple version of ideas competing, uncertainty about plot or character, doubt and false starts and abandoned outlines. And to blog about that process of trial and error again–and again, and again–I think that would probably be worse than not blogging at all.

Yet I do not want to let this blog sit idle and blank for too long, and so I will work to try and post something as regularly as possible–I can’t promise I’ll get back to three times a week right now, but at the very least once a week. In the meantime, feel free to explore my archives–some of my earlier posts (when I was still a fresh wee blogger) remain some of my best.

My current slump could change any day now, and I’ll have tons of fun new drafting posts to write! (Ah, delusion, my old friend.) So for anyone willing to stick around–I appreciate you. And for anyone new poking around, you don’t want to miss this train wreck! :)

Thanks for reading!

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Resolutions

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the same New Year’s Resolution: This year, I’ll write my book.

Last year, I made a new one (seeing as how that one had never worked): Next year, I will not have the same resolution.

And for the first time, my resolution actually came true. I did write my book, and no matter what happens (or doesn’t happen) as a result of that, I finally achieved my life’s goal. So I don’t need to have the same resolution I’ve had for my entire life…

Except that I want to say: This year, I’ll write another book. As much as things change, they stay the same.

I thought that once I wrote that first book, once I proved that I could actually do this, everything would fall into place and I would just write and write and never stop. That did not happen. Either because I feel pressure to “follow up” on my first project (in either tone, genre, or quality) or because whatever anomaly that first project struck, I can’t find it again… I’ve been as stuck as ever. Circling multiple ideas, unable to land on any of them.

I don’t want this year to be another year of whining and struggle. I want this year to be triumphant and successful, whatever those words ultimately mean. For me, it would mean getting up every day and writing with the same passion and joy I felt writing my first project. I refuse to believe that was a one-time fluke.

So, as always, in one form or another, my resolution is to write. I guess I’ve got a one-note life. :)

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Holiday Break

Hi all,

In honor of a combination of holiday chaos, my continued state of creative limbo, and laziness, I’ve decided to take a break for the holiday season. My plan is to return around New Year’s, though I may post something earlier if it strikes my fancy. :)

I want to thank everyone who viewed, liked, and commented on any of my posts this year. Anyone taking the time to validate, in however small a way, my ramblings is amazing, and I appreciate it so much.

This year has been a roller coaster, and it looks like next year is going to be even more challenging and exciting and terrifying. So stick around, and watch me flail! (That can be read as either “flail” or a combination of “fly” and “fail.”)

I hope those who celebrate have a wonderful holiday, and that everyone has a fantastic end to 2014–here’s to the future! :)

– J

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Random Recommendation Time!

Hi all,

Just in time for winter breaks that might lend themselves to some leisure time, I thought I’d recommend a time-suck that is both entertaining and enlightening!

The media critic videos of Chez Apocalypse offer a myriad of fascinating discussions about pop culture–movies, TV shows, and books. I started with “Folding Ideas,” a series of really interesting critical analyses, and found my way to the joys of “Stuff You Like” and “Nostalgia Chick,” which offer a more personal review-style look at various works of media.

The videos range in length and style, and there’s no need to watch them in any sort of order. My recommendation is to find a video about something you’ve seen or are interested in, and give it a try! If you’re like me, you’ll quickly find yourself addicted.

Enjoying media as shallow entertainment is important, and I certainly indulge. But examining it in depth, questioning its choices and construction, and learning how to experience media in a more three-dimensional way can be a powerful tool for any creator–and for consumers as well. And in this age of the internet, access to interesting analysis of pop culture has never been more attainable.

So enjoy! :)

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Keeping a Development Journal

A lot of writing advice suggests keeping some kind of journal. I’ve always romanticized the idea of keeping a diary… and never been able to stick with it for more than a day. And while I do keep a small notebook around me for strikes of inspiration, I don’t often need it.

But I do keep what I call a “development journal,” a collection of notes as I work on a project or just on writing in general.

In the past, I’ve always kept a series of messy documents, with unfortunately bland names like “Story Notes [Date]” which is horribly unhelpful when it comes time to go back for them. For the last couple months, I’ve kept all my notes in a single long document, just adding to it each day. It helps that I’ve more or less been circling a single idea, but even when I’m considering other things, I still keep it in this same document. So instead of “notes” I’ve got a “journal.”

What sort of stuff goes into this journal? Well, it’s generally a loose collection of bullet points—about me, about writing, and about stories. It might be an idea for a character, or suggestions for possible plot events, or thoughts on genre. Early sketches of an outline that are quickly abandoned or retouched. Proposed theories on my own writing process and how I might improve it.

My current journal, kept since mid-August, is nearly 50,000 words. In my more narcissistic moments, I imagine being a famous writer whose journal is pored over by scholars or writers-to-be (what I would give to see a detailed process journal for J.K. Rowling!). But in reality it’s a chaotic clash of nothing, useful and interesting only to me, just an excellent way to keep track of my meandering thoughts and process. All of my notes, my random flashes of inspiration, my doubts and hopes—all in one place.

I’ve always kind of shrugged at the advice to keep a journal (or tried for a day and failed). But focusing less on me, and more on writing, has finally taught me the wisdom of such advice. And so I’m passing it on. :)

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