Filling the Gaps: Where’s the sex?

"Romance" covers show what readers want

“Romance” covers show what readers want

I’ve been working on Class Act today, hurrah! After too many days lost to sickness (me and the children) it was nice to get back to it, even if I didn’t make as much progress as I’d hoped. I had a pretty rough day yesterday and it is hard to write, for me, when I’m emotionally drained.

So I spent the time I had looking through my current draft of the novel to spot areas that needed expanding. As I’ve mentioned before, I tend to write the highlights in my first rough draft, and then have to go back and fill in the gaps during revision.

One thing I’ve noticed that I leave out a lot is the sex. My books are fairly chaste, particularly by modern standards. There isn’t much nookie, even though Baby Blues starts with a sex scene (which was originally more detailed than the final edit). I find it’s not something that gets added in unless I think of it. Maybe it’s because I grew up reading (and loving) Georgette Heyer novels. (Class Act definitely has elements of a Heyer story). Maybe it’s because I’m a mother of two small children, generally too exhausted to give much thought to nookie in my own life (sorry hubbie!)

It’s certainly unusual. Most of the chick lit books I grew up reading (aside from Heyer) have at least one or two sex scenes, from the sweet, to the implied, to the steamy. I enjoyed reading them in my teens and twenties, although I’m not a fan of erotica or books that have sex as the main focus. But it is generally a natural part of relationships and therefore plays a role in the character and plot development, so why do I leave it out?

My Latest Read - lots of kissing!

My Latest Read – lots of kissing!

I am noticing, as I read Twin Curse, that there’s lots of kissing and physical contact (and I’m sure eventually sex). And I wondered, is that why my books don’t sell well and don’t get reviews? In the days of Fifty Shades of Grey, am I not fulfilling the need for a bit of action? Certainly if you search ‘romance’ books on Amazon, the covers suggest that bedroom action is a key selling point. When I write my novels, my aim is usually to explore characters at life-changing points in their lives: change of career, change of priorities, change of heart. They fall in love, but that’s only part of the story. The demons they battle are in their minds and in their past. But, to make the relationships genuine, there has to be some physical attraction.

I remember watching an episode of Bones once (a TV show about a forensic anthropologist who is also an author). The lead protagonist is proud of her books, particularly the scientific aspects of them, but her fans buy and read them for the sex. She actually has a friend of hers help her with that aspect of the stories and eventually gives her friend a percentage of the book royalties because she realises it is the sex that is selling the books.

I suppose the phrase “sex sells” didn’t come about by accident. But it feels awkward for me to go through the story and inject sex scenes where there are none. Particularly in Class Act, where the physicality of the relationship is a core part of the story. I was shocked to discover I’d got to the climax scene in the first draft without the couple ever ending up in the bedroom – even though it was a core part of the story! (The same happened in Baby Blues but at least she had the excuse of being pregnant / a new mother!)

And then of course there is the issue of how steamy to be. I prefer implied action, because what is a turn on for one maybe a complete turn off for someone else. I remember reading Mills & Boon as a teenager and giggling over the “throbbing member” type descriptions. Focusing on the sensations and the emotions is probably more my style. But there is a danger that it all gets too introspective and unrealistic: people don’t typically have internal dialogue when they’re in the clinch of passion.

Anyway, I don’t really have the answers, but I was intrigued when I realised how unromantic and chaste my romance novel is in its early drafts. Maybe I should stick with writing YA or move into MG fiction. I’m obviously more interested in plot points than pants! But, for now, I need to fill the gaps. I’m sure hubbie will be happy if I do some research and inject some sex back into things! 😉

Revisions and The Raven Boys

My new workstation - the kids' homework desk!

My new workstation – the kids’ homework desk!

I finally managed to get back to some work today, having packed my almost-better children off to school and nursery. I felt guilty about it, because they probably should have been at home, but I needed the space and silence and absence of sick to start feeling human again.

It felt good to work on my manuscript for the first time in ten days, even though I failed at the numbers game. That’s the thing with revision: you write and write and cut and edit and, at the end of several hours, you have 200 words fewer than you started with.

It’s disheartening.

I’m editing and expanding with this novel, so there are still thousands of words to write to fill the gaps. It’s not uncommon for me. When I write my first drafts I tend to write the highlights; something like an extended synopsis. I write for the romantic ending, the big scenes, the turning points. Then, fifty thousand words later, I look through what I have written and think what?! How did I get from there to there? How did she go from hating to loving him? Why have I given all the secrets away in the first chapter? How much backstory? Then I have to go through and unpick the mess. Fill in the motivations, flesh out the hundred-word paragraphs that really should be two-thousand word chapters. It’s tiresome work, because I write to discover the ending. Once I’ve reached the end, I’m not that interested in filling in the spaces.

I read that way, too. I usually have to read a book twice because, the first time through, (if the book’s any good at story pace or suspense) I skim-read whole chapters to get to the essence, the plot point, the drama. I miss all the great language, the unfolding of characters and personalities, the subplots, the themes. I devour the book, barely tasting it, and then have to go back through and vacuum up the crumbs.

Revision leaves me feeling like this

Revision leaves me feeling like this

I’m reading the sequel to The Raven Boys – The Dream Thieves – at the moment (despite my rant about the abrupt and unsatisfying ending of the first one) and I’m utterly hooked. Now that I know it’s a four-parter, I’m not worrying too much about story resolution (although I’m still skimming ahead for the drama, of which there is plenty). I feel that I’m reading the book in a language other than my native tongue, as if it’s in Old English or something, because the writing is dense and complex and poetically beautiful, but for some reason that’s okay.

But it hasn’t helped my revision. Because, when I put the book down and reluctantly get back to work, I read through my oh-so-obvious story line, with my two-dimensional, unintriguing characters, and I want to chuck the lot in the bin. My Alex and Rebecca are pale imitations (not imitations, because I wrote them before I read Maggie Stiefvater, but you know what I mean), pale shadows of Gansey and Ronan, Adam and Blue. And I want them to shine and live, like Maggie’s characters do. It’s exhausting.

No one says writing a novel is easy. Actually, writing it is the easy part. Making it make sense, making it shine: that’s the impossible task. Reading the words of a master is at once both inspiring and crushing. Never mind. I shall slog on, ignoring the expert sprinting past to the finish, and climb my own climb, one step at a time. It’s worked before. I have faith. I’ll see you at the summit!

A Pantser Plans

Using Beat Sheets to plan my revisions

Using Beat Sheets to plan my revisions

The unthinkable happened today. I did planning. With beat sheets and notecards and everything. I’m a Pantser to the core: analysing a scene down to the tiny details paralyses me. Especially if I do it before I write, as I have done for the extra third of a novel I’m putting at the front of Class Act. But actually, do you know what, it wasn’t so bad.

I’m still working on some of the terminology, for example pinch points and black moments, although instinctively I have a shrewd idea what they are. I have done it before, actually, for all my seat-of-the-pants writing preference, and I’m always relieved at how much of the necessary detail I already have. Sometimes it just needs writing down to reassure myself I do know something (although a VERY VERY long way from everything) about this novel writing lark.

I had gathered much of the required information during my last craft session (the sporadic times when I read through a load of blogs and books to refresh or learn elements of writing craft.). My favourite resource is Jami Gold: as a Pantser and a romance writer, I feel she understands my pain. In fact her Beat Sheet for Romance Writers formed a large part of my morning’s work. She explains that if, like me, you can’t pkan in detail for fear of frightening off the Muse, you can use beats – points in the story – to make sure things are developing as they should.

I also used her posts based on a Michael Hauge workshop she attended to put more thought into my characters’ development, flaws and ultimate romance. The key ones I used were Are These Characters the Perfect Match and An Antidote to “Love at First Sight”. Both of these look at two elements of characterisation – a character’s Mask (the role they play, based on their longings, fears, wounds and beliefs: their emotional armour) and a character’s Essence (who they are inside, behind the masks, or who they have the potential to be). In a good romance, attraction will be based on Essence rather than Mask.

Planning Elements of a Scene

Planning Elements of a Scene

So, in Baby Blues, Helen was attracted to Daniel because his businessman forceful character Mask played to her career orientated Mask. But Marcio was her right love interest, because they both had the same essence underneath: a love of creativity and interpreting the world through their art, and a desire for home and family.

The concept really helps when a character moves from one relationship to another (as mine often do.) You don’t want the protagonist to look like an idiot because the previous relationship was flawed, and also you don’t want the previous partner to be a stereotype or a villain (although Daniel, in Baby Blues, is a bit of both!)

The other thing I’ve been trying to use is an Elements of a Good Scene checklist, which I also found on Jami’s Blog, the idea for which came from Janice Hardy’s blog. I feel exposed, using something like this, as I feel I don’t know the difference between “Plot point” and “action to advance the plot” or “how the stakes are raised” versus “reinforcement of the stakes”. I suspect that might be why I find it hard to write tense page turners! In my head, though, I’ve summarised it as “plot development”, “character development”, “conflict” and “backstory/theme/tone/foreshadowing”. As long as the scene has some of those that’s good. Well, it’s a start!

Of course, I was right – at the beginning when I said planning paralyses me. I need to start writing, before I spend so long on planning I’m fed up with the story or too scared to start. But it was a useful day’s work and hopefully, when I sit at my desk on Monday, I’ll be able to write some of the additional 45,000 words the story needs to get to a full length novel!

Anyway, hopefully now I have a plan this will be the last of the ‘I’ve forgotten how to do manuscript revision’ posts and I’ll get on to writing something more interesting for the non-writers who follow my blog! Thank you for your patience.

Relentless Revision: 2013 365 Challenge #74

This is me when faced with revision...

This is me when faced with revision…

I’ve been revising Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes all day today.

Well, no, let’s be honest. I’ve been farting about on Twitter and WordPress and getting my head around Hotmail switching to Outlook, while thinking to myself I should be doing revision.

I’ve watched Homes Under the Hammer, dozed on the sofa and walked the dog. I’ve stacked the dishwasher, although I haven’t hoovered or cleaned the floor like I should have (just delegated the hoovering to hubbie but now I feel guilty because domestic chores are my job).

Have I mentioned before I hate doing revision on my novels? Probably once or twice. I’m fine for a page or two but then the sheer scale of the job overwhelms me, or I come across a scene that really stinks, and that’s it. Poof. All motivation evaporates. I really really want to stop working on Baby Blues (it will never be ‘finished’!) but if I release it into the world before it’s ready it will die and maybe take my (currently non-existent) reputation as an author with it.

On a happier note my wandering through the world of WordPress has introduced me to some great new blogs. I thought I should have a look wider than the parenting/writing blogs I tend to follow, and I’ve found some lovely photography sites and other more general ones. When I have time (i.e. when I’m meant to be revising again) I’ll pick out one or two to share.

Anyway, I think it’s time to have something different happen to Claire. I have an idea or two floating around so going to open my Word doc and see what falls on the page.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Claire pulled her coat tighter and tucked her chin into the collar. After the heat of the pub the night air was bitter. She had stayed longer than intended, enjoying the open fire and the good wine, and now the sky had settled into a dusky shade of blue.

What a stupid idea to walk. I must stop listening to advice. Who cares if it’s only fifteen minutes, I got enough exercise this morning with those horrible brats and the oh-so-charming Pete.

The sun had set behind her and she knew the sky was laced with red and orange. Ahead it was dark, with only a faint glow highlighting the hills beyond the village.

I hope there are streetlamps up the lane. I didn’t think to bring a torch. Claire dug in her bag for her iPhone and used it to light the road ahead. I don’t want to step in anything nasty.

She walked on, concentrating on the pavement directly in front of her in case some careless dog owner had left something behind. These are the only shoes I’ve got that aren’t already crusted with mud. I’d like to keep them that way.

Ideas for her blog post drifted through her mind, floating on a glass of wine and settling into the rhythm of her stride. How am I going to write about this morning in a funny way without getting Pete into trouble? I guess I don’t have to name him. She thought about the weaseling trip and laughed, the sound echoing in the still night air. Too many pies. Cheeky bastard. Patting her tummy Claire thought that maybe her jeans were a little tighter than they had been a few weeks ago. It’s all these pub dinners. Why do they have to make the Fish and Chips look so yummy on the menu? Mind you, it was yummy. But it’s not exactly sushi or noodles. If there was any justice I’d be burning the calories doing stupid things like walking back to the hostel in the dark.

As if the words formed an image in her mind Claire became aware of just how dark it was. The pool of orange light cast by each streetlamp only seemed to highlight the darkness in between. Killing the light on the iPhone she tried to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. Her heart thudded loudly and she twitched at the sound of something scurrying in the hedgerow behind her.

What’s with all these looming walls and rustling trees? It’s spookier than a cemetery at Halloween. Come on girl, you’re not one to be afraid of a bit of black. Sheesh don’t add fear of the dark to your newly found phobias. Josh will piss himself laughing.

Claire opened her shoulders and raised her neck as if she was back in Madame Émile’s ballet class imagining a line pulling her head to the ceiling. It was as she was about to release the inhaled breath that she heard the footsteps. They were steady, unhurried, coming up behind her. She resisted the urge to walk faster. City life had taught her to ignore the approach of others, to remember that not every stranger on the street was out to kill you.

She strode the length of a long wall and saw the turning to the hostel driveway up ahead, past some houses set back from the road. The footsteps behind her seemed to be drawing nearer although their pace matched her own. It made her think it must be someone with a long stride. Or someone intent on catching me up.

Her heartbeat came faster now and the battered fish sat heavy in her stomach. She lengthened her own stride and glanced up and down the road ready to cross and turn up the drive. She deliberated whether to abandon the walk home and return to the safety of village. It was unlikely that the driveway had any lighting and she didn’t remember there being houses between the main road and the hostel.

Silly girl. Why didn’t I drive down for dinner? Or leave earlier. Somewhere between the thump thump of her footsteps and their unwanted echo and the timpani-pounding of her heart Claire knew why she hadn’t bothered. This is Hope Valley. People don’t get attacked out here. People get attacked in cities like Manchester. She thought about all the news stories she had seen with some poor soul sobbing, explaining that that sort of thing just didn’t happen round here. Claire felt the blood drain from her face at the thought that it has to happen somewhere.

The attack came from her right, not from behind. She had been so concerned with the footsteps she had failed to see the shadowy figure lurking on a park bench beneath the trees. Claire felt someone grab at her bag, trying to pull it from her shoulder. She swung out an elbow and let the bag slip free, knowing her phone was in her hand and her wallet in her back pocket. She’d at least learned that much. As soon as the bag was free she ran, hoping the man had what he wanted. She had forgotten about the footsteps, the fact that anyone following her would have seen her phone in her hand.

The first pursuer caught up with her as she crossed the road. Self-defence classes came to her aid and she jabbed the heel of her hand into his solar plexus before he could get a good grip. He crumpled, winded, and Claire span back to the driveway, wondering if her trembling legs would carry her the full distance before the second person arrived.

Her mind screamed at her to do something and without stopping to consider she yelled “Call Michael”. She heard her phone ringing in the pitch black of the lane. The screen lit up as the call connected.

Oh stupid girl.

The light shone bright in the darkness and the running footsteps came straight for her. Something sped through the air and she felt the impact against her temple, as a piercing pain stabbed through her head and blurred her vision.

A familiar voice rang in the darkness. “Hello? Michael speaking.”

Claire felt someone wrench the phone from her hand and then nothing.

***

Happy Birthday WriterMummy! 2013 365 Challenge #64

It's my Birthday (well, WriterMummy's anyway)

It’s my Birthday (well, WriterMummy’s anyway)

WordPress has informed me that my blog is officially a year old today! And what a year it has been. I have journeyed from trying to promote writing tips, through realising I am not qualified to offer writing advice, to writing a daily novel and chatting about my family life.

Twelve months ago this point seemed impossibly distant and yet, little by little, here I am. I have 81 blog followers, I’ve posted 121 times and have had 3267 views. I’ve had as many views so far this year (4th March) as I had for the whole of March 2012. In my former life as a Data Analyst I would call that a good result with clear evidence of growth.

Of course I’m a long way from achieving the holy grail of 1000 True Fans but then I’m also a long way from producing a book worthy of them! I dug out Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes today, to see how far from finished it truly is. The first section is okay – I always start at the beginning when I do revision. I don’t always make it to the end. By the third and final section I was wincing in pain at the clumsiness and sheer awfulness of the prose. I’m embarrassed I asked friends to read it or thought it was ready for querying.

What I need is a plan.

The Crowden YHA - Photo by John Fielding

The Crowden YHA – Photo by John Fielding

When faced with a 116k manuscript the thought of detailed revision cripples me. Also I worry about story arc, character arc and all that stuff. However, if I assume the story is mostly okay (the friends that read it didn’t highlight anything terrible, they just didn’t enthuse, if you know what I mean?) and concentrate on tightening the prose then maybe that will be more manageable. I’m going to treat each scene (there are about 200) as a ‘Claire’ instalment and edit them as such, making sure they have a clear opening and a neat close. It feels a mammoth task but if I am methodical I might actually get to the end this time. So what if it takes another year, at least it won’t be awful. Guess I’ll be putting my self-publish cover away for a little while yet.

On the blog front my little boy has chicken pox, despite being vaccinated, so the posts might be a little bit sparse or rough this week. Today’s post is about grounding Claire back in the YHA hostels and introducing her to Derbyshire. She has about ten days before the Easter holidays (and Sky) so I might have her wander round the Dales for a while. We’ll see.

_________________________________________________________________________________________

“Just yerself is it?”

Claire nodded without raising her head.

“Dorm or private room luv? We’ve got a single room as it happens. Some lass rang in a cancellation this morning.”

Claire paused, pen hovering over the form, then resumed writing. “Dorm is fine, assuming you have single-sex?” I think I’ve had my fill of men this month.

The man behind the counter tapped at his computer and assured her they did. “Staying long in Glossop?”

“Oh no, just tonight thanks.”

The man nodded knowledgeably. “Pennine Way?”

His words drew a reluctant smile. “No, I managed one leg, up at the finish. That was enough for me. I’m heading south to collect my niece.”

She didn’t add that she intended to pick off as many Derbyshire hostels as possible en-route or that her primary concern was to get away from Manchester. After leaving the Airport she hadn’t returned to the city, despite having several hours to kill before she could check into the Crowden Hostel. Instead she’d taken a detour to a hotel outside Hyde that her iPhone informed her boasted a Starbucks. It turned out the hotel also had full leisure facilities and empty rooms. It was only by imagining the look of smug satisfaction on Carl’s face if he ever found out that she stopped herself checking in for the night.

“We’re the first leg, you could always do that and say you’d started and finished. No need to talk of the middle.” The receptionist gave Claire a wink and a grin. She frowned while she tried to remember what they were talking about, then grinned back. A cheater’s version of the Pennine Way. That’s my kind of thinking.

“I might just do that, if I can get it done tomorrow and still move on Edale.”

“Yer heading to Edale? Well that’s the start right enough. Walk from here to there and you’ll be done.”

“Walk with my pack? And what about the car? No thanks. Maybe I’ll wait until I’m in Edale and stroll up the first few miles. That should be plenty.”

“You’ll be spoilt for choice at Edale: Kinder Scout, Mam Tor. You won’t want to leave.”

“Believe me, one night and I’ll be off. I need to be in Cambridgeshire by next week.”

If the receptionist thought Claire’s plans strange he didn’t let on. She was about to leave for her room when he stopped her.

“Make sure you pop by Holmfirth while you’re with us. It’s where they filmed Last of the Summer Wine. Though I suppose you’re too young to remember it?”

Blimey, that takes me back. Uncle Jim must have watched every episode and rerun. Perhaps I will take a look, put something on the blog. It might make Uncle Jim smile wherever he is.

“I will. Thank you.” Claire dug out her brightest smile for the helpful man and pulled her rucksack up onto her back. She felt a decade older than she had twenty-four hours earlier. As she bent over to counter-balance the heavy bag, Claire thought she must look at least ninety.

Nora Batty eat your heart out. All I’m missing is the wrinkly stockings. She shuddered at the thought. At least it hasn’t come to that.

Dragging her lead-filled shoes towards the stairs, Claire tried not to pine for the Leisure Hotel with the Starbucks on-site.

It’s just the hangover wiping me out. I need to feed it carbs and water, that’s all. And then sleep.

***