Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Five Tips for Fine-Tuning Your Romantic Voice

17SCANDAL-superJumboAdmit it, you were expecting my Barry White impersonation. No such luck! Instead, after reading a whole pile of submissions, I’ve put together pointers for you as you write that proposal/manuscript/and even that Powerpoint presentation. I swear, I follow these tips when I have to talk to a group. Be thankful that I’m not singing. Others aren’t so fortunate.

Here we go:

1. Create intimacy with your reader. I love it when a writer’s voice invites me into the story, like I’m about to get some juicy insight into a character’s plight. This is the reason why I watch reality TV, as if I’m learning about a secret world–though I don’t always like what I see! Scandal is very good at showing us the scandalous behind-the-scene world of politicians. The more a writer does this–creates a connection, reveals–the more I want to read her book. I want that intimacy with your story. Show me what the characters are hiding.

2. Start in the right place. This is a tip I repeat over and over. Part of what stops me from reading is that the set-up can seem so ordinary. Boy meets girl. They hate each other on sight. Or, girl is intrigued by boy as they are assigned together. Boy goes to destination, meets girl, conflict ensues. Some of these set-ups are necessary, but to lessen the editor yawns, there must be excitement and tension. Take a chance and start your romance in a riskier place. Those too-easy set-ups are sometimes not the most effective.

3. Take time to flesh out a moment. I may be contradicting myself here. As you create the above mentioned excitement, be sure to expand upon those mundane moments. They can please an editor’s senses. I am a big fan of routine, descriptions of a person’s process (code for: food preparation; colorful portraits of nature, which are lacking in NYC; interesting wardrobe choices), and how one lives in everyday life. Show us how the heroine decorates her cupcakes (mmmm, cake!), how a cowboy/girl takes care of a horse, how a spy may agonize over what to pack. These tiny details reveal character. If you loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you must have enjoyed passages about their daily chores. They are the reason I cleaned my room, joyfully did laundry, and enhanced my work ethic. I could have read those chapters on baking, sweeping, and walking to school forever. Don’t deprive the editor of those details! Also, don’t go overboard.

4. End chapters with a bang. One of the reasons why everyone read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code–aside from scintillating content–was because every chapter ended with a bang. You don’t need to give your reader whiplash, but the opening three chapters–and many chapters afterwards–should end with a crucial moment/question that leads the reader to the next page. I like the whole “this is the last thing I wanted” or “do you dare to take on this horrendous yet provocative assignment” type of situation. Also ask, what does your character want to avoid–then, make it unavoidable.

5. Stay focused on the purpose of your story (romance). As I read submissions, I can usually tell when even the writer gets tired of her story and just wants to get it done. It’s important to¬† find ways to revive your story, invest in it, keep those central themes in mind, believe in your characters. When I devour thrillers, which is often (hello, Harlan Coben), I love how the writers have at least four subplots going to augment the “Oh no” factor. Always remember the reason why you have to write this story.

There, I’ve solved everyone’s problems. Now it’s time to get back to it. I realize many of you are sad that I didn’t sing. I’ll make up for this here.

Uncategorized

Shelving Self-Help (Temporarily)

trainingThe minute I feel a twinge of discomfort, I enroll in a class, delve into a new topic (the Battle of Actium, circa 31 BC) or buy a self-help book. A few weeks ago, I felt exceedingly middle-aged, so I signed up for a few personal training sessions. As I went through painful exercises–painful, in that they took me away from my couch–I knew that the sessions were a temporary fix, that I will never be Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 70s. And yet, I can’t fault that impulse to improve.

This is why I love self-help! My stack of self-improvement books takes up most of my bookshelf, lines the walls and makes for a healing tower on my bedstand. I’ve become obsessed with audiobooks for my walks home, especially ones about mindfulness, habit-changing, and meditation. On Facebook, I subscribe to key self-helpful authors and devour, write down, and try to remember their bullet points of advice and wisdom. Several times a day, I scroll down for a nugget and write it in my mostly empty “gratitude journal” (even though I’m very, very grateful for all I have). I’m addicted to that five-second boost, and vow to use the guidance in all future behavior or interaction with others. The skip in my step might last for a day, maybe a week. But then I’m back to who I’ll always be, which ain’t half bad.

Though I adore an engaging read that will educate me, I wonder if I really need another pep talk…or long list of steps to achieve wellness, cure insomnia, ease anxiety? It’s time to have more fun with that twinge of discomfort, develop a sense of humor about it, don’t think I can fix it by wearing a clown nose around the house and recite my self-love in front of a mirror (though that wouldn’t hurt).

For right now, I want to see what it would be like not to listen to experts on how to improve myself. As I try to resist Oprah’s Soul Sunday, Elizabeth Gilbert’s motivational Facebook page, or Eckhart Tolle’s distinct voice in my ear–it won’t be for long–I will try to lift weights to ensure better health and try to be where I am as much as possible. I might also listen to other stories. With current events such as they are, fiction is starting to sound much better. For now, in my spare time, I’m back to thrillers, even more romance, and okay, maybe one book on self-coaching…But to all these affirmations, I maintain this.

(Ps. If you have a great self-help recommendation, let me know!)