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Monday, September 29, 2008

Brainstorming with Other Writers

Have you ever brainstormed ideas with other writers? I just spent a weekend devoted to brainstorming and was it ever fun! In a roundtable discussion, we took turns giving a brief outline of the book idea we were working on, and everyone pitched in to add to it. We set rules, naturally, such as the ideas for each novel are the property of the writer, and there was a rule about being respectful of everyone's ideas.


In the right atmosphere, brainstorming can be insightful, entertaining, and downright fun. Even when someone throws out an idea that you don't necessarily see as being right for your book, someone else may jump on that idea and tweak it to make it perfect. It happened again and again.


Some books plotted pretty quickly. Other books proved more difficult; we all scratched our heads and threw thoughts out until something clicked. It's amazing how fast problems can get solved between six or seven authors compared to one person banging her head against the wall for three days straight!


Other benefits of group brainstorming: being around people with different thought processes than your own, trusting other writers to help you with your work, finding out insider tips you may not have known about, and bonding with other writers. For the extremely sensitive person, it can help develop a thicker skin. At no point did anyone say "this idea is ridiculous," but, because we are a tongue-in-cheek bunch, we all poked fun of each other when appropriate. No one's feelings were hurt, and no one went away empty handed.



I will always treasure the brainstorming weekend I just had. It wasn't my first dip in group brainstorming, but it was my first weekend devoted to it. If you ever have a chance to participate in one, I would suggest you sign right up!


Enjoy your week.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Stereotypical characters

After wrapping up my heroine's conflict with her former best friend, it hit me: is her so-called best friend a stereotype? Are all characters, deep down, stereotypes?


Look at the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The first chapters draw you in with an unjust situation. A wicked aunt, bratty cousins, and no way out for the quiet, yet spirited Jane. The aunt could easily be considered a stereotype, but her character didn't turn me off to reading further. I understood why she acted the way she did. She seemed real to me--mean and nasty--but real. However, I wasn't reading the Aunt's story; I was reading Jane's. Jane's reaction to her was what kept me reading.


Pick up any fiction book. Why do you keep reading past the first page? What is it that draws you into this alternative universe? The characters are completely undeveloped until you read further, so why do you care about their world? I can't answer for you, but I know I read because the main character intrigues me.


I think the main characters cannot be stereotypes. Secondary characters can have stereotypical qualities, but only if the hero or heroine interacts with them realistically. If a character is drawn to be evil incarnate, well, then there needs to be a compelling reason for the main characters to be dealing with such all-encompassing evil.


Main characters can fit in a mold, but should be written as unique individuals. No one wants to read about a character with no flaws, or on the flip side, with no redeeming qualities. Especially in romance! Readers have to believe the hero and heroine are falling in love. I constantly ask myself if I would fall in love with this person. The answer has to be yes every time.



Since I'm still working on the first draft, I will not worry too much about the best friend being a stereotype. In a few weeks, when I begin revising, I'll be studying and analyzing the character in depth.


Lesson to self: just get it down in the first draft; you can always fix it later.


Enjoy your week!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Football

Ah. Football. The season has just started, yet, it seems to take over the airwaves. Saturdays are devoted to college football (in our house, University of Michigan--go blue!), while Sundays and Mondays feature NFL football.


I didn't always love football. Oh, I loved going to games in high school, but that was because all my friends were there and there was a concession stand--not to mention cute boys in football uniforms. Now, I watch football with my husband, and I can honestly say I love it!


Last night, while we were watching an NFL game, I was struck at how intense these guys play. It fascinated me. Maybe it's because I dreaded team sports as a kid, or because I am in awe of the sheer force of will that permeates the players, but I couldn't help analyzing what prompts men to want to play football for a living.


The obvious reasons: fame, money, talent, love of the game, entered my head immediately. But why are some people drawn to a team work atmosphere, while others crave the self-employed solitary road? The lifestyle of a football player differs immensely from the lifestyle of a romance novelist.

I know what you're thinking. Duh. Playing football is different than writing romance novels? Gee, brilliant observation!

Smarty pants.


Back to my train of thought. Football players rely on other people to meet their goals. Each player is assigned a certain position on the team and, for the most part, that is the only position that person will play. One player might be the best player in history, but if his teammate fumbles the ball and subsequently loses the game, the whole team loses. Sure, individuals shine in the sport, but individuals can't go to the Superbowl--only teams can. Because of this, players feel pressure to not let their teammates down. They train together every day. Travel together every week. Share the wins, share the losses.


Writers, not just romance novelists, have a very different working environment. Writers can write whatever they want. They aren't pigeonholed into one position, but, like football players, it can be in their best interests to concentrate on one position, one genre. Writers rely on themselves to produce good work. Yes, other people are important to their job, namely agents, and editors, but writers only have themselves to blame if their book falls flat. A writer gets all the glory when published, but also feels all of the pain when rejected.

Can you imagine if 12 people wrote a book? It would be a gibberish mess! But 12 football players work smoothly to produce the goal. I can't speak for other writers, but the thought of handing over my manuscript to let 11 other people write it to completion makes me feel slightly nauseous. I have the luxury of being in complete control of my books; football players cannot be control freaks--they have to rely on other people.

And physically, football and writing are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but mentally, they are similar. Just as football players do everything in their power to get that first down, so writers push themselves to write another chapter. Grit and determination prevail in both.


I'm sure most football players have no desire to sit and write books everyday, just as I have no desire to physically push myself to the limits and get tackled on a daily basis. But I'll continue to watch them and be in awe of what they do. After all, we're both in the entertainment business--hey, we're more similar than I thought.


Enjoy your week!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Random Acts of Romance

Last week, I went to the beach on a most gorgeous, sunshine-filled day. The waves leapt with joy as children frolicked in them. Up and down the beach, couples reclined on blankets and lawn chairs with coolers nearby. The smell of barbecue mingled with the fresh sea air. Seagulls circled above, lurking for that stray potato chip which might suddenly appear.


The atmosphere simultaneously felt laid-back and festive. As I scanned the faces of strangers, I detected no tension, only happiness. Sunshine will do that to you.


A couple lie facing each other on a blanket about 20 feet away from me. Maybe it's not polite to stare at strangers, but in this instance, I couldn't help myself. They were just too cute. I'd guess they were in their late sixties, and they seemed so much in love.


The man kept carressing the woman's shoulder. They talked the entire time I watched them, and I couldn't help but notice the love shining in the woman's eyes. Everything he said lit up her eyes bringing crinkles into the corners. They seemed genuinely happy and content on their small blanket, touching each other, talking to each other.


And I have to say, my heart always sings at romance and I can't really relate to the Grinch, but even I understood how the Grinch felt when his heart grew. When you see people so obviously in love, you're hard pressed not to feel your own heart expand.


If I had to define romance, I would say it's the connection between two people who deeply care about each other. It isn't flowers, candy, a backrub, a special dinner--all of these things are great--but the desire to make your loved one's day a little better. The enjoyment of sharing special moments is what romance is all about.


Because I can tell you right now, there is nothing more romantic than sharing a blanket on the beach, looking in each other's eyes, and listening to each other. What a lovely example to follow.

Enjoy your week.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Labor Day Recovery

Why did I decide to start writing my book the week before Labor Day weekend? I'll plead temporary insanity. Just when I got in my groove and was reveling in my awesome characters, the busy weekend--make that three day weekend--jumped up and caught me in its web.

I struggled to get the chores necessary for survival finished Tuesday morning so I could get back into writing. Sounds easy, right? Wrong.

The empty refrigerator and pantry signalled a massive grocery shopping adventure. And to bundle chores together, I threw the many boxes earmarked for Goodwill in the back of my van. (I'd like to claim I did this to help the environment, but I can't lie. I'm lazy. The thought of making a separate trip made me want to vomit.) Then I remembered I needed to return an item to another store. Three hours later, I forced myself home and could only think of chocolate, coffee, and a soft blanket to wrap up in (never mind the ninety degrees heat!).

Afterwards, the laptop stood open, staring at me. But instead of the excitement I'd expected to feel, I felt pressure. Would I be able to get any pages written before the next appointment of the day? Would my characters still be as awesome as I remembered?

Luckily for me, the dryer chose that moment to stop. Saved! I threw in another load of laundry and delayed the inevitable. But first I brewed a pot of coffee, broke out the Hershey's Miniatures, and lounged on my couch for fifteen minutes. I called it Labor Day recovery and was sorry I didn't think of it sooner. Note to self: next Labor Day, plan a Labor Day recovery period.

Enjoy your week!