Monday, January 31, 2011

Romance title generator

The Billionaire's Fake Engagement
The Sheik and the Virgin Secretary
Crown Prince, Pregnant Bride!
The Italian's Passionate Revenge

What do these titles share in common? They belong to real books. Series romance publishers seem to use a simple title matrix for their books. In column one, there is a list of hero  descriptors--billionaire, sheik, prince, Italian, Texan, etc. Column two would be heroine descriptors; such as virgin, secretary, bride, pregnant, or captive. Add an adjective (fake, passionate) and one other element (revenge, secret, lovechild), and stir gently. Voila! One romance title!

Well, if they can do it, why can't we? This morning on Twitter we were giggling over the repetitive nature of these titles and we decided to create a Romance Title Generator. Each day this week I'll post a category, and you can list suggestions in the comments. Here's the schedule--start thinking!

Monday: Exotic location
Tuesday: Hero
Wednesday: Heroine
Thursday: Adjective
Friday: Verb
Saturday: Extra element

I'll post the list in its entirety on Sunday, and we can amuse ourselves by creating fake romance titles from the possibilities.

ETA: Several people asked why I didn't start today, so I added a location. These novels are generally set in exotic locations, oftentimes European countries that exist on no real maps. Create a Greek isle, or a small Italian principality, or an emirate hidden deep in the Arabian desert.

My offering is Castronia, a small Italian speaking principality in the Adriatic sea. Where is your novel set?

 Disclaimer: The point of this is not to make fun of the actual books. Though they are certainly brain candy, I've read a fair share of series romance novels. However, even an avid reader of the books must admit that the titles are formulaic to the point of ridiculousness at times.

Writing tools

Before I post, I want to point out the lovely new header at the top of the page. My friend Kristin made it for me, and I'm absolutely delighted by it. She is definitely my hero.

When I was in high school, the one piece of furniture I wanted was a writing desk. I planned to be an author; how could I do that without the "proper equipment"? I even contemplated quill and ink for a time, but reluctantly decided that a ballpoint pen was much more practical, especially given my messy handwriting. Fifteen years later, I still think the "proper equipment" is important to my writing career, though the definition of the term has changed slightly.

I bought a Kindle in November. No matter where you stand on the e-book debate, an e-reader is a powerful tool for a writer. When I started revising His Good Opinion, I emailed the file to my Kindle email account. Minutes later I was reading my own novel in crisp e-ink. I noted weak character elements and research questions, as well as the moments that really worked. Since the Kindle keeps track of what percentage of a book you've read, I know that I need to tighten up the first half of the story and add more detail to the back half if I want the pacing to feel right.

I could have done all this by printing out the document, but the Kindle saved paper and (frankly) was less intimidating. It's much easier to curl up with an e-reader than with a stack of loose paper, or worse yet a three ring binder. When I find critique partners and start juggling their manuscripts, the benefits will multiply.

The romantic in me still longs for that writing desk, and if I ever find one sturdy enough and big enough for my laptop and monitor, I'll consider it. For now, I'm curious to know what tools you use to write. Notepad? Scrivener? iPhone? List your favorites in the comments.

Monday, January 24, 2011

You take the good, you take the bad...

The first time I attempted Sense and Sensibility, I threw it down after the first chapter and never picked it up again. Why? Because I positively despised Fanny Dashwood. I hated her so much that I skipped the first fifteen minutes of the film, just to avoid her.

I finally read the book this summer, and while I still detest Fanny, I now see she serves a purpose to the story. Money is a central theme to Sense and Sensibility--Jennifer Becton posted an excellent essay on the subject last week. In Fanny's grasping we see shades of Willoughby, who discarded the woman he loved in favor of one with money; in her snobbish disregard for the Dashwood sisters, her mother's rejection of Miss Steele is foretold.

As an author, Fanny is a reminder that strong characters are not necessarily good. It's easy to paint them black or white, but real people cannot be categorized so conveniently. Even the most virtuous of men will occasionally slip--a point which came home to me this week.

If money is at the center of Sense and Sensibility, honesty is at the center of His Good Opinion. Darcy sets that tone, just as Fanny Dashwood does. "Disguise of every sort is my abhorrence," he tells Elizabeth when she castigates him for his harsh words on her family. I took that quote and built his character around it.

Then I caught Darcy in a lie.

I'll be honest, my world tilted a bit. He may be proud, overbearing, and taciturn, but Darcy is honest. He prides himself on it; I count on it. I was caught in the classic battle between the personality and basic nature of the character and what the plot demanded.

This blog post on characterization reminded me that people are a mass of contradictions. We want to label our characters as smart, sweet, dull, or honest, but the truth is that even the smartest person will occasionally do something very dumb, sweet people can surprise you with a cutting remark, and those pillars of honesty sometimes lie. If we want our characters to be memorable, they have to be real. They have to make mistakes.

But I still hate Fanny Dashwood.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Style and the Austenesque novel

Writing a novel in another author's world, using her characters, presents a special set of difficulties. As I read through His Good Opinion, one comes up more than others: How important is it that I emulate Austen's writing style?

Jane favored indirect dialogue. She did it in such a way that you might not even realize it; did you know Mr. Darcy's proposal contains only four sentences of real dialogue? We are then told what he said regarding her family and her background, but not given the words he actually used. In contrast, I love dialogue. My rough drafts are often little more than conversations strung together with a few actions. Description follows in later revisions.

However, I faltered when it came to the internal monologue. Here again Jane used a deft hand to indirectly tell us what the character was thinking. My usual technique is to italicize the private thoughts of the character, but for some reason, I tried to follow her pattern here. Instead of sounding clever, my observations were little more than thinly disguised exposition. I see some serious rewriting in these areas.

The other stylistic question is trickier. How much of the older spelling should I use? Whenever I pulled over dialogue from Pride and Prejudice, I kept the original spelling. However, when I use the same word later, will the modern spelling jar the readers? It seems inconsistent to me, and yet I do not wish to change the spelling in the quote. "Chuses" was the word that caught my eye this afternoon, and it is certainly a common enough word to warrant consideration.

So what say you, readers? Do I follow Jane's patterns, or forge my own road? Should I do as I... chuse?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Finding time to read

The first piece of advice aspiring writers receive is, "Read." Steven King said it, agents have said it, and it is (I believe) the seventh habit in 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists. Everyone knows this; I want to talk about the execution.

Every writer I know struggles to keep their schedule balanced. Most of us have full time jobs or families that require the lion's share of our time. Writing is something we squeeze into those precious few minutes we call our own. We know we should read; we want to read; it is finding the time that is difficult.

Yesterday I created a writing schedule--fifteen hours blocked out each week are dedicated to my own story. On Tuesday and Thursday I'll write before work, which means those evenings can be filled with reading. I don't know if it's enough, but it's a start.

To stay on track, I've also joined a reading challenge. Laurel Ann of Austenprose is hosting the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge 2011. My participation level is Disciple, with 5-8 selections. I will read  Eliza's Daughter by Joan Aiken, Colonel Brandon's Diary by Amanda Grange, The Three Weissmans of Westport by Cathleen Schine, and Reason and Romance by Debra White-Smith; I will watch Sense and Sensibility (1995) and Sense and Sensibility (2008).

 Even with a schedule and a reading list, finding time to read will not be easy. How do you, as writers, deal with this? What sort of balance do you strive for? Do you read an hour for every hour you write? Every two hours? Do you spend your lunches and breaks reading, and write when you get home? Any tips you can offer would be most appreciated.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Beginnings

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. ~Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

I have a great deal of pleasure in novels, both in the writing and the reading of them. For several years, I have been entranced by the genre known as "Austenesque novels" or "Austen sequels." The characters Jane Austen created are so richly drawn that we feel there must be more to their lives than what she showed us in her works. Who doesn't want to know more about Mr. Darcy or Captain Wentworth?

As I read the novels available, a story of my own slowly formed in my mind. Why was Darcy so reticent to give his good opinion to anyone he met, and why did Elizabeth gain it without even trying? I read Pride and Prejudice once again, seeking an answer to that question, and when I found it I started to write.

That novel is now in its first round of rewrites, and I have other Austen stories germinating in my imagination, waiting for a chance to grow. Writing can be a solitary pursuit, and this blog gives me a place to share my struggles and my Austen insights with you, and to grow and learn from you in the process.

Moving from the world of hobbyist into that of a professional writer is a scary step, and I'm glad I won't be taking it alone.