May 26, 2010

Molding the Manuscript

I wanted to talk a little bit about the construction and shaping of a manuscript. Why? Because I can honestly tell you that when I started writing, I had no clue what I was doing. I knew I had to get from point A to point B in a certain amount of words. But that isn’t all there is to it. There’s so much more.

Ultimately, it’s about character, and the character journey. (yep, character again) But really, with romance, that’s what it comes down to. If I’m going to enjoy a book and get really involved, really care about what’s going to happen, I have to care about the characters.

Which means that when I’m writing, I have to try and remember that!

I’ve talked about this before. About not letting the plot steer the characters, and all that jazz. But, I’m going to throw in some things I learned while writing The Sheikh. (that isn’t the title, BTW, I just don’t have one yet, but it releases in the UK in Feb!)

I was really letting my characters down in a few ways in the initial draft of that MS. In the first three chapters especially, I was sacrificing character development for action. (Again) I was moving them through the plot at breakneck  speed so that I could let this wild, crazy storyline with all its external elements unfold. But I wasn’t letting the reader get to know the characters. I had too many scenes that went by too quickly, the old, telling not showing thing. ;p

An example of that would be a scene I had in an elevator. My hero had just kissed the heroine and she was upset. They were going from the alley by his penthouse back into the apartment and I had put ‘they didn’t speak the whole time they were in the lift.’

When my editor and I spoke on the phone, she was talking about how I was moving through scenes too quickly and how I needed to make sure I was putting the reader there with the characters, staying in scenes longer so we can really feel what they’re feeling. So that one line became:

When they were back in the building he propelled her into the lift, the doors shutting behind them. She couldn’t believe he had done that. Kissed her as though he had every right to touch her, as though he…he had some claim on her. And only to shut her up. Her first kiss had been a diversion.

Worse than all of that, she couldn’t believe the restless ache that was building in her body. The curiosity. The need to know what it would be like to kiss him again. Only gentle, and slow this time longer so she had time to process it, to learn the texture of his lips, the rhythm of his movements.

She shut that traitorous part of her brain down. He’d had no right to do that. She wore another man’s ring. Even in her wildest fantasies of escape she had never imagined betraying her fiancé in that way. She didn’t know the man. She certainly didn’t love him. But they had a signed agreement, and she had no intention of violating it.

He’d done it to shut her up. That stung her pride. Much more than it should.

“I can’t believe you did that,” she said icily.

It’s not a lot of added words, but it gives you something of the character. Something seriously big has just happened to the heroine and she’s angry and confused and a little bit intrigued. And the reader should know that.

Another thing I got dinged on: Sexual tension. It was there. It was there from page one, in full force and in all its glory. And that was wrong. It’s not wrong for every book, but it was wrong for this one. But I was so focused on showing ‘hey! Teh lovemakings, they wants it!’ that I wasn’t paying attention to the characters and how they would really react in a situation. I was just doing everything I could to show attraction, and not an attraction that was truly unique and authentic to these characters. And as a result, as my editor said, the tension was the same in chapter one as it was in chapter six. And that is not good. It needs to build. Everything needs to build.

Way back (haha) when I was working on the revisions for HIS VIRGIN ACQUISITION, my editor said that a successful MS has that give and take, ebb and flow, pursuit and retreat. That’s not to say they kiss, she pulls away, they kiss she pulls away. It’s more than that. It’s physical and emotional.

When I first started writing I was more concerned with what scene I would write, what my characters would DO next. But what really matters is how each scene helps them in their journey, how it pushes their internal conflict to the crisis point, then, ultimately, to a resolution.

Finally, (and my dear buddy Lisa Hendrix was just helping me with this the other day) there are some really good questions to ask yourself when you’re writing a scene, especially if it’s not going like you want it to! What are you trying to accomplish? Which character is risking the most? Whose POV should it be in? (sometimes a POV switch is the best fix for a scene that wasn’t quite right) and most importantly, How would your characters react to what’s happened? Are they responding in their character, or are they just doing what people in a romance do. (like I did, having my characters be wildly attracted just cause.)

Approaching the MS from that standpoint (at least for me) makes it much easier to keep the characters…in character, which is going to make a much stronger MS that a reader can really connect with.


16 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. Thanks so much for this post Maisey! It’s such a huge help 🙂 “Hey! The lovemakings, they wants it!” is hilarious!

  2. Ooh thanks for sharing this Maisey! Very insightful and particularly helpful as I just start my new mss.

  3. Glad to help, Lacey. When I was first starting I really wasn’t connected with the online community, and I knew less than nothing. I knew what I’d read, but not really anything about how to craft a book. So it’s been a huge learning process for me, and if I can make it less painful for others, I’d love to.

    Rach, thanks! Ah…new story love! You haz it!

  4. Yeah, right on, Maisey. So true about the ST too. And the ebb and flow of a relationship. It’s not all argue, argue, argue. There are some moments when they grow together then pull apart. But each ebb and flow makes the stakes higher and the fundamental tensions tighter.
    Hard stuff to learn but necessary.

  5. Thank you for the reminder, Maisey!

    After my MS was rejected from Silhouette (WHINE!) and I received it back, in its big yellow envelope with nary a red mark on it… (WAHH!), I wasn’t sure what to do. Finally after a week of self-loathing and borrowed library books (Writing for Idiots… 😉 no, j/k!) I pressed on.

    My rejection was so generic I don’t know what my manuscript’s problem(s) is/are. It’s the plotting! The pacing! Not enough conflict! Maybe it’s my characters!

    Halfway thorugh writing a *new* manuscript (I think my rejected MS and I need to see other people for a while…) your article is very timely. I am allowing the plot to dictate what they are doing and I need to infuse the scenes with more character development.

    Which brings us back to that blog you wrote about confidence… how do you not re-read every little thing possible without second guessing? Or, conversely, how do you write whilst silencing that pesky inner-editor?

    Whew! The journey continues…

  6. Jackie, that’s it exactly! I love how you put that. The moments where they grow together and start building a relationship (one beyond attraction) then something sort of undermines it, then there’s more building. Yeah, I find that very important.

    Jessica, I’m so sorry to hear about the R (Do you blog? You should blog. I like the way you wrote this comment.)And yeah, I get that re you and your wip needing some time apart. But I’m really glad anything I said might help.

    As for confidence…sometimes it’s a matter of just forcing yourself not to question. But there’s a line, because there are times when our internal editor is right…(I don’t just throw anything down in a first draft. Would irritate my OCD horribly…LOL)

    After I wrote my first MS and I realized the beginning sounded like…gibberish to me because of how many times I’d read it. I stopped rereading things that much. And I was really struggling with confidence on this WIP since my last book got such big revisions, but I realized, and you should too: The eds see something in you, in your voice, and you have to be free enough to let your voice shine. And have some confidence in that voice. Your MS may have had issues, but I guarantee that it’s the WAY you write that got you noticed.

    Keep the faith, Jessica! 😉

  7. I haven’t blogged in a while but I wouldn’t mind dusting off the old blogspot and giving it a go. Thank you for the encouragement and feedback. I feedback(are all of us writers such needy feedback getters? …or shall I call it “needback?”)

    I appreciate you mentioning the “voice” I often forget about that – maybe you’re right and there is something there. Perhaps once I match that with technique, I’ll be print-worthy. 😀


  8. It’s a learning process. And it can be a rough one. But just keep going, and I have faith that you’ll get there! (you have the right attitude, and the voice apparently)

  9. Great post Maisey

    Thank you for sharing the journey through the learning process. It certainly helps smooth out the path, encourage our tenacity and believe in ourselves and our voice.


  10. Thank you, Christine! Writing can be such a solitary endeavor, I think we all need as much encouragement as we can get!

  11. Hi, Maisey. First I’d like to congratulate you on your success as a writer. By nature it is a solitary existence but writer’s groups and blogs help bridge the gap, making you aware that other writers share the same angst and struggle with showing vs. telling, point of view, character arcs and conflicts.

    It’s amazing how a simple one liner, ‘they didn’t speak the whole time they were in the lift,’ can be expanded to five paragraphs and give a clearer picture to the reader. That’s where a critique partner or editor comes in handy. A fresh pair of eyes can see what you have in your head but is missing on paper. We get to know our characters so well, we sometimes forget to ‘verbalise’ their thoughts and emotions on paper.

    Writing, crafting a saleable manuscript, is a lot of work. There’s always something to learn with each foray into a new wip. My struggles have mainly been with POV but I am learning to overcome. lol

    Thank you for taking the time to do write-ups like this one. I find it informative and interesting. Keep up the good work!

  12. POV can be tough, Lorraine. In fact, my CP from the sassy sisters site, Chelsea, is a major POV nazi, and she’s helped me immensely. I’m a head hopper, but she’s helped me tone that down TONS. (I should ask her to do a post on it!!)

    And yay for fresh eyes! It’s so huge, having CPs you know are honest and who can help you see things in a new way.

    That’s one reason I like revisions. They force me to look at my work from a totally new angle and that stretches my brain and makes me better. I know The Sheikh is better for them. And so am I. 🙂

  13. THANKS MAISEY for the encouragement! I dusted off my blog and posted today.

  14. LOL, now I’m a POV Nazi?? And here I thought I was being all sweet and helpful 🙂 Loved your post on charcter though!

    • hehe…fancy meeting you here. 🙂 You’re the sweetest, lovingest POV nazi around.

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