Yadda, Yadda, Yadda…

blahblahblah

There’s a writer I know who always pens the perfect dialogue. His characters can banter with all the snap and speed of a table tennis tourney, their chatters’ cadence a direct reflection of the intensity of the situation, or in its languor, its lack thereof. Dialogue can paint a vivid portrait of a character’s personality, revealing the level of intimacy between the protagonists, or recreate a historical era with its manner of speech and choice of words. Dialogue, in and of itself, can be your book’s barometer, setting the mood through the characters’ zingers, laments, opines and asides. Prose would be decided dry and lumbering without it, relegating readers to trudge through page upon page of telling not showing, its characters never really coming alive. Knowing this, I think we could all agree attention to dialogue is essential to good writing. But so is too much attention, which is what new writers often can’t see.

There comes a time in every professional writer’s life when the work ceases being written and thus becomes read. From the time it leaves the desk and goes before a beta-reader or an editor, it begins to exist on its own, without the aid of its creator’s vision. What the reader sees is exactly what the writer has put forth, but if what they’re seeing becomes skewed in the transmission, then it’s not the reader’s fault if they don’t “get it.” Dialogue, as stated above, is a wonderfully descriptive vehicle to transport your story along. But if you’re only saying so much outloud then finishing the balance of the information in your head, you’re not getting your character’s message–or your vision–across to your readers.

New writers often have fabulous stories in their heads, but fail when getting them to the page. Often, this mistake shows itself in dialogue, as the characters will say things colored by insider information obvious to the writer, but not so much to the reader. This happens when the writer is so close to the story they unconsciously fill in the missing information. When this happens, try closing your eyes to take a look at the scene, then write what you’re seeing beyond what the characters are saying. When your hero says, “Feeling a bit depressed today?” Don’t wait for the heroine to simply say “Yes,” before the hero rambles on. Imagine the scene from his point of view. Let us see her with her head in her hands. Let us feel her tremble under his touch as she breaks into tears. Do we hear the ocean rumbling below as they stand on the cliff, taste the salt in their mouths? Dialogue’s essential, but if you’re not giving us the complete picture, you’re only getting half your story on the page.

Years ago, ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” after some complaints about all the yak going on during the games, dropped their color commentators from the night’s telecast, simply showing the game with the score on the screen. The experiment was a rousing failure, as the game lost its sense of immediacy, its excitement, its human quality. Dialogue in our writing works the same way, but only when we’re adding the complete picture, by coloring inside the lines. If we don’t, we’re left with just a line drawing, a one-dimensional outline with no substance or depth, a yadda yadda yadda of sound and fury, signifying a lot more work to do!

 

Diagnosis: Writer – Five Sure-Shot Symptoms

vintagetypewriter_93579-758x485No, you’re not crazy, even though your friends and family think you are. Even so, you have to admit that at time, you do seem a bit “off.” Still, how do you measure crazy against what accurately borders on obsession? I was thinking of this last weekend while lunching with some fellow writers, wondering whether they’re afflicted with similarly bizarre affectations, or if I was I suffering in silence. Odd or not, it’s made me realize that dammit, I must be a real writer, because although I’m not cutting off an ear or anything for my art, I sure am suffering some peculiarities. Such as:

1. Post-it Note Addiction - It’s true. I carry them everywhere. I have pads of them on my desk, in my purse, in the pocket of my course binder. I whip them out to jot down lines of dialogue, character descriptions, plot lines–even the premise for this post. They’re all over the place in my office, and when I’m on  the road and inspiration clocks me, I jot down my genius and stick them to the inside of my wallet so I don’t forget. By the way, they’re also good for shopping lists, as you can stick them right in front of you on the inside of the shopping cart.

2. Drinking Hot Liquids Cold – During the winter months I usually have a cuppa something at my elbow while I’m writing, but I have to tell you, I can’t remember the last time I actually sipped it while it was still hot. Usually the cream’s left a sheen on the coffee, or the tea’s soaked down the string to the tag, an “accident” puddling on my desk, whatever’s in the cup long, gone cold. The opposite effect is true in the summer, when I never seem to sip anything cold: the ice just a memory, the glass dripping condensation. I should probably just yank a bottle out of the cabinet and forget about it. Either way, it all ends up the same place: room temperature.

3. Vitamin D Deficiency – My last routine blood screen had everything come back normal except my Vitamin D level. Apparently deficiencies of this vitamin, which is created by sunshine, can cause depression, chronic fatigue, weight loss (I wish), diabetes, heart disease, stroke and osteoporosis. In addition to a disease I thought went out with the nineteenth century–rickets! “It’s not unusual to see decreased Vitamin D levels in the winter,” my doctor had said. “But yours? Don’t you even step out on the porch?” All right, I guessing the LED glow from my laptop isn’t enough, so I suppose it’s supplements until the snow melts and I’m hitting the sidewalk again.

4. Plot-related Memory Loss – Has this happened to you? You’re driving along, trying to work out what exactly Protagonist A is going to leave on Protagonist B’s doorstep, and the next thing you know you’re sitting in the parking lot at work, with no idea how you got there. Or you’re in the shower and you’ve just thought of the perfect setting for your heroine’s vacation. But there’s this bottle of conditioner in your hand, and you can’t remember if you washed your hair first. Whether you’re staring at blank walls or losing threads of conversations, it’s not early dementia–it’s Plot On the Brain. And trying not to think about it only makes it worse. Better to lock yourself in the closet and get it down and over with.

5. You Do It Anyway – This I have found the most telling. You’ve written a bunch of novels, a dozen short stories, more than a few essays, innumerable blog posts, even kept a journal for more years than you’d care to own up to. And although you’ve had some limited success, though nowhere near where you’d like to see yourself, you keep doing it. You finish one piece then start another, because you know if you don’t your axis will tilt and forget the Vitamin D–you’ll feel a deficiency worse than if all the chocolate in the world suddenly disappeared. You can’t help yourself, even on the days when that rejection shows up in your inbox, you still want to do it. You’ll cry and curse and hate the world for stopping you from doing what you can’t seem to give up. But then all of a sudden that perfect line plants itself in your head, and you’re back to doing it anyway. You’re so pathetic. Maybe. Maybe not. But oh man, sometimes it’s such a bitch being us.

Okay, enough whining. Back to work.

 

When a Kiss is not just a Kiss

romantic_vintage_kiss___happy_valentine_s_day__by_thubakabra-d76ft2bThis Valentine’s weekend I’m going to put on my romance writer’s hat and dwell a bit on one of the three most important occurrences in a romance Novel – a) the first meeting between the two lovers, b) their first kiss and c) the first time they make love. Now, being of a perspicacious sort, I’m venturing a guess you’re hoping I’m going to jump all over c but sweetie, you’re wrong, mainly because that’s just too darn easy. Instead I’m going to focus on what is infinitely more monumental – the first kiss.

Yes, monumental. Are you kidding? you say. What can be more earth-shaking to a relationship than the lovers’ consummation? Think about it this way: if consummation is the inaugural flight, then the first kiss is the trial balloon. If it doesn’t fly, if it isn’t convincing enough, then chances are this trip’s going nowhere.  Consider this from one of my earlier (yet unpublished) masterpieces:

“You make me crazy, Jane,” he said softly, brushing his hand against my cheek, “but you’re in my head, and you won’t go away.”

I could feel the tenseness of his body against mine, and that dizziness returned, my legs wavering. He must have felt it, too, as he held me tighter, my hands finding their way to the small of his back. Then I looked into his eyes, the lightning drawing the gold from them, and then to his lips, slightly parted and ready to fall onto mine.

I had never wanted anyone more.

“Jane,” he said, and the sky exploded.

I fell into the all of him, his mouth warm and delicious on mine, my mind as fuzzy as drugged. He wrapped his arms tighter and lifted me from the ground, his lips tracing tiny charges across my collarbone. I reached down and gathered his head against me, kissing the windy sweetness of his hair. Then he whirled around, setting me to the picnic table.

“Well, hallelujah,” he said, smiling at me.

It would have been easy to simply write that he kissed her, she welcomed it, then they moved on to whatever ultimately transpired in the scene. But that would’ve been larcenous to the readers. They’re expecting more. In a romance, just as in a real life relationship, a first kiss is so much more intimate than even the sex. In actuality, it’s the first act of trust between the couple, and either’s reaction will determine the course their relationship will take. Was it mutual? Was it welcomed? Was it reciprocated? Does it lead to more? Does it change the relationship for better or for worse? Consider this from an even earlier tour de force:

She moved closer to him, so close she could see the slight tremble on his face, feel his breath on her cheek, hear nothing but the sound of her flaring pulse. She raised her eyes to his as he took her hand and pulled her into his arms.

“And it scares the hell out of me,” he said as his mouth fell to hers.

Brett’s world went black for a moment, though its spin remarkably advanced. He tasted warm, soft and vaguely of whiskey, and wonderfully, wonderfully like more.

She lost her head for the duration, found it acting of its own accord. She saw its mouth opening wider and wider still, saw it drawing its breath from its share with his. Saw its eyes flutter in an almost-swoon, thinking that a distinct possibility if she hadn’t been so securely in his arms.

Here was the man she once thought a killer, who would have killed to save her son’s life, who could have lost his own for doing it. At once who he was didn’t seem so essential anymore, as long as he was who he was now.

“Brett, Brett…” he whispered, burying his face in her neck. She arched it back as his kisses trailed electric charges against her skin, her eyes opening and closing with the force of her breath coming hard. She raked her fingers into his hair and dragged his mouth back to hers, his kisses desperate and greedy, her heart pounding against his own wildly-beating chest.

He laid his cheek against hers, gathering her so closely she could feel herself melting into the folds of his body. Then upon his cheek she felt a startling moistness as he suddenly drew apart from her.

He held her out, her breath catching at the sight of him staring. No longer did she question the evening light when his sudden pallor was so apparent.

“Forgive me,” he said.

Oh yes, things have definitely changed, but is that good? Is either lover coming away from this encounter exhilarated with the romantic discovery of each other, or has their bussing made things more muddled than ever? (Maybe if I ever get this epic published, I’ll be able to tell you!)

The thing is, a kiss, at least in the world of romance, is never a simple thing. It’s probably more complex than a Newtonian theorem. To do it right, at least in this writer’s opinion, it must be electric, life-altering, physically shattering and ultimately axis-tilting. It should be one of the most descriptive pieces of writing in the book, and neither participant should come out the same as before they entered into it. It may crash them together or force them apart, but it should always leave them longing for more. But most of all, it should open them to a world neither of them ever experienced or expected, and one they couldn’t ever imagine living in without each other again.

All Excerpts © Gwen Jones 2015 – All Rights Reserved.

Of Writers’ Conferences and other peccadilloes of being out in daylight

CreateSomethingMagicalConAd_FINAL_webThis year I have a chance to go to three assemblages of a literary nature, and they are as varied as the wounds inflicted by so many cats in a sack. If you’re a fan of these things, whether a beginning or seasoned writer or any stage in between, it always helps to crawl out of your cave and go hone your skills a bit, not to mention mingle with your peers at the hotel bar (or perhaps schmooze an agent/editor or two with a “hey! it’s on me!” Always appreciated.) At the top of my list is the Liberty States Fiction Writers “Create Something Magical” Conference, coming up March 21-22 in Iselin, NJ. It is by far a stellar collection of panels, workshops, editor/agent appointments, and all around fun. I go every year (five years running), and it’s open to anyone who writes fiction–mystery, sci-fi, horror, romance, YA, children, or just general fiction-types. I’m also a member of this fantastic group and we’ll take you whether you’re an NYT bestseller or you’ve just started scrawling dark-and-stormy-nights on Post-Its. Come on over, we’ll love you all.

Next on the agenda would be Book Expo America on May 27-29 in New York City. And since it’s a book-expo-americatrade fair held in the publishing capital of the work, anyone who’s anyone in the book biz, from writers to publishers to editors and agents, usually show up. (Although I hear that next year it will be moving out of NYC, boo-hoo, so if you’re in the Northeast, you may want to try to make this year.) I try to get to BEA every year, too, as I can connect with the latest trend out there in publishing, see some great authors speak and sign, as well as generally soak of the milieu of being around the book industry. (Plus it feeds my thirst for $5  bottles of water.) Not all events are open to the general public, but there is a readers’ track, and a special one for librarians, so take a look at he site and see where you fit in. I get all sparkly-eyed every year when I go, as it’s pretty much Disneyland for Writers, as far as I’m concerned.

RWA 2015 NYCThe next one is a definite biggie because of the 35th anniversary of the Romance Writers of America annual conference, also held this year in NYC July 22-25. Last year I did a book signing for RWA at their BEA booth, and they’re a wonderful and gracious group of people and very supportive of writers of all stages in romance. But since this would be my first time to a conference of this magnitude. I must say I’m a little terrified. Not of the conferenceno!-but of the prospect of spending four days buying food at NY prices. Now I know there are lots of fabulous places to eat on the cheap in New York, but to find them, I’d need to bring my sister who lived there for twenty years. But she writes sci-fi/spec fiction, so I suppose I’ll be on my own. Still, if you write romance, this is the Real Deal.

There are more conferences out there, of course, and a great source to look for them, no matter what you write, is agentquery.com, for listings all over the country. Writers, as a whole, live in their heads far too much, and need to get out there once in a while, at least to see that they’re not alone in all their weirdness. And we are weird, you know, and it’s high time you accept that, and celebrate it within the bosom of other like-minded weirdos. Come on–you know you deserve it!

The Morning this Writer had the Whole House to Herself

Cutie Pie

I’ll have the house to myself all day, so I’ll get up at the crack of dawn and hit my desk by 6:00 AM. I’ll mute my phone, ignore my email, and do nothing but write. Oooh! I love it when I can work in my jammies.

5:30 – Alarm rings. Roll over, hit snooze.

5:31 – Cat finds ball. Ignore tinkly bell and fall back asleep.

5:40 – Alarm rings again. Cat jumps on face. Swat at cat. Miss cat. Knock over alarm. Alarm stops by default. Pull pillow over head. Fall back to sleep.

5:44 – Dream of jingle bells.

5:49:58 – Cat pulls curtain and curtain rod from window, knocks alarm from night table.

5:50 – Alarm rings. Give up, get up and go to bathroom. Tinkly sound emanates from bedroom.

5:55 – Feed cat.

5:58 – Bowl of Cheerios and sliced banana. Get newspaper while cereal soggies.

6:03 – 6:14 – Front page, editorials, comics, horoscope. Take vitamins.

6:15 – 6:19 – “Morning Joe.”

6:20 – 6:47 – Switch to TCM while “Joe” is on a commercial break and become embroiled in pre-code Jean Harlow/Clark Gable rom-com until cat leaps into window at neighbor’s cat reminding you to look toward wall clock.

6:48 – Make cup of tea; visit bathroom while waiting for water to boil, turning on laptop en route. Brush teeth. Spy book on dresser on the way out. Finish reading chapter started the night before.

6: 54 – Return book to dresser.

6:55 – Retrieve tea and head toward office.

6:56 – Visit several email accounts and return email, re: 3 student crises, web course designer, critique partner. Email agent. Sneak peek at Facebook, Twitter, tweet, favorite. Check website.

7: 18 – Bring up work-in-progress. Shrink work-in-progress. Bring up FreeCell. One therapeutic game to get brain functioning. Or two. Three. Four at the most.

7:39 – Bring up work-in-progress. Remember need to look up legal term first. Shrink WIP; go online, homepage, CNN. Check if world blew up the night before. Switch to Google. Find term. Tweet. Check email. Answer email. One more FreeCell. Return to WIP.

8:07 – Emergency email from critique partner. Forestall imminent artistic self-thrashing and proceed to email buck-up. Email is replied to in less than a minute. Send another buck-up complete with happy emoticons. Check Twitter.

8:47 – Return to WIP. Stomach growls. Go to kitchen and make toast, toss cat teeth crunchy treats. Stare out window at trash truck across the lake as toast toasts. Remember forgot to put out trash. Run out door in robe. Return to smoke alarm blaring from toast stuck in toaster. Open windows. Toss toast. Fan.

9:05 – Return to office. Email from agent. Needs immediate proposal for prospective editor. Panic but produce passable proposal in less than ten minutes. Return to WIP, but first retreat to kitchen for cube of 72% cacao dark chocolate while entertaining visions of NYT Bestseller Glory. Return to office and WIP. See cat had jumped on keyboard and now there’s kmsadslvy]e0-vn’aey9-3 rya2932f all over page 78. 79. 80. 81———————

9:16 – 9:19 – Clean up WIP. Phone rings. Seems forgot to mute phone.

9:20 – 9:51 – Chat and play solitaire.

9:52 – Return to WIP. Take sip of tea, notice it’s cold. Go to kitchen to reheat tea. While heating eat forkful of cold spaghetti from fridge. One more. Another. Mmmm….

9:58 – Return to office. Pick up hand weights. Lift. Throw out back. Lay on floor to stretch. Cat jumps on stomach. Yelp. Swat at cat. Miss. Cat circles head, purring. Melt.

10:10 – Remember forgot tea in microwave. Go to kitchen to retrieve. Spy calendar and see it’s wrong day for trash on my street. Go to street to retrieve trash can so don’t look like an idiot. Return to kitchen and retrieve tea. Cold again. Check MSNBC on TV as tea reheats. Go to HBO during commercial break.

Noon – Get up to retrieve tea as credits roll for “Get Him to the Greek.” Dump tea; go to fridge and retrieve pot of spaghetti from fridge. Take to office, shrink WIP and go to Slate.com and read “Dear Prudence” while eating cold pasta with fingers. Phone rings. Still forgot to mute. Chat while licking fingers.

12:49 – Find Lindt Dark Chocolate Truffle from old Christmas stash in desk while rearranging desk tray while still on the phone. Eat, toss wrapper at trash. Miss.

12:50 – Cat finds missed wrapper. Grabs in mouth. Runs from room.

12:51 – Hear a crashing sound from bedroom. Ring off phone. Go to bedroom. Jewelry box and entire contents is now on floor, truffle wrapper on top. Scoop contents, return to box, return box to dresser. Toss wrapper. Cat missing. Eye bed, still unmade.

12:52 – Call day a wash. Return to bed. Bed never so comfortable…

12: 59 – Cat finds ball.

Why Strong Women Need Alpha Males

Alpha you bet!

One of the basic tenets of romance concerns the hero and heroine overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to fall in love. It doesn’t matter if he is a detective, a duke or a ditchdigger—or if she’s a countess or a country bumpkin or a feminist attorney. Their problems can be of class differences or underlying neuroses or even as simple as she hates men who wear Panama hats. Whatever the bone of contention, it has to forceful enough to cause night sweats and rashes, yet still won’t stop them from crossing mighty rivers or hacking through buffalo grass to get to each other. And nine times out of ten, it’ll be the hero doing the hacking because as sexist as that sounds, most romance readers still like their men physically stronger than they are.

All right…don’t get your knickers in a twist. There are reasons for that, and if you’ll just calm down a second I’ll tell you what they are. First off, romance heroines are strong women. That’s right–tough, inside and out. They’re also smart enough to spot a sniveler a hundred yards off. So of course – and here’s the logic – a strong and smart woman is not going to be looking for a man weaker than her. It just wouldn’t make sense, because if he was, she’d barely give him the time of day. She’d be looking for her equal at least, but more often than not, she’d be looking for someone to knock her off her feet. He can’t be anything less than an Alpha Male, someone powerful, smoldering, unrepentant. And looks alone aren’t enough, because our savvy heroine can get anyone she wants with a crook of her little finger. Her man, in any form he takes, has to be everything she’s looking for plus. Plus equaling that inimitable quality only she can define, and recognizable the moment she meets him.  Because when she collides with someone who can actually best her, it’s such mind-blower she’s instantly intrigued, whether for good or for bad, for love or for hate. And from there, the chase begins.

I can hear you saying, but that’s not realistic. Most men have foibles, shortcomings, are far from perfect. But this isn’t the real world, my dears–this is fantasy. Yet in so many ways, it isn’t. Fact or fiction, real life or not, don’t we all realize something in our object of affection that no one else can? Aren’t we privy to insider info maintained for our eyes only? Of course we are. Because only when we’re in love do we open up our hearts, to share the things no one else can see, to an enraptured audience of one. Who would want it any other way?

Why we love those bad, bad boys

marlon7We’ve all read about them. Those incorrigible, gorgeous rakes who don’t give a damn about stealing your company, raiding your trust fund, double-crossing the best friend or breaking your heart. He’s the one with the best lines even though they slice to the quick, telegraphed from a mouth crooking sardonic and eyes that flash and burn. He’s always the snappiest dresser with the shiniest shoes and the most expensive jewelry, more often bought with your line of credit. If he gets in a fight he wins without mussing a hair, and that slight nick high on his cheekbone only makes him more dashing. His voice is smooth as silk and it rumbles through you like an electric charge, as he’s talking you out of your clothes and everything in your wallet. He’s on everyone’s A List, is invited to all the best parties, frequents the finest restaurants and clubs, and is only seen with the most beautiful woman. He has the tightest abs and the broadest shoulders, is tall and lean and impossibly gorgeous. He’s the consummate lover but he’ll never fall in love, yet he’s what every woman wants and what every man wants to be. In film he’s Gordon Gekko the ruthless arbitrageur of Wall Street, in romance, he’s the pitiless rake, Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, in Lisa Kleypas’ wonderful novel, The Devil In Winter. And for all their cunningly manipulative ways, we are unabashedly drawn to them like magnets to metal filings. We worship them, adore them, envy them, lust after them. Only to be cut down and debased and betrayed over and over again. So why in the world are we continually drawn to this bad, bad boys?

Because oh…how we love to see them fall!

And when they do, it’s usually spectacular, a crash and burn of epic proportions. But then we get to witness the most marvelous thing– their redemption–and what a fascinating thing that is, watching these fascinating creatures evolve, scrabbling their way back to the top–and to us. It’s a precipitous climb, full of switchbacks and reversals, but when they finally learn their lesson, we get to wallow in their devotion, their bad, bad ways making them oh-so-good exactly where we need them.

Romance writing is all about the resolution of conflict between two protagonists so love can bloom, and there’s nothing like a rake whose odds are so out of favor, it almost seems impossible he’ll ever end up redeemed. But it also  makes the most compelling reading. Give me a good old bad boy any day, as they’re the most challenging and certainly the most fun. Because as everyone knows, that’s all we girls really wanna have anyway.