Wednesday, June 22, 2005

12 Steps To Plotting The Perfect Romance

All right, I admit, this isn't new...if you've been to the Gonnabeez....a LOOOONG time ago. I was looking for something marginally interesting in my files--that didn't include writing something new--and I found my old 12 Step Programs. I started them what feels like eons ago, to laugh at what I was learning, and also, believe it or not, because I found you could still teach while you're laughing. So, I've dusted them off and polished them up and here they are. I'll try to post them all, one a week. Hopefully, you'll get a laugh and a touch of inspiration!

Hope so,

Twelve Steps to Plotting the Perfect Romance

Okay, Gals, as you well know, there are a million and one books on how to write romance. There are a billion and one rules on what you shouldn't do as a newbie. And there are a trillion and three things to better your chances of getting published. Personally, I can't count higher than that, so I decided that I'm going to poke a little fun at US. Yup, me too. After all, this is my dream as well. I just want us to remember that this is--way deep down beneath our ambitions and fears--the thing we love to do. So, lean back and don't be a Russell Crowe who can't laugh at himself!

Step One: Buy a book on plotting.
(What, you thought I was going to do EVERYTHING for you?)

Step Two: Dig deep for a couple of characters.
(Or, just use "Bob" and "Elaine" like everyone else.)

Step Three: Open the book to the Table of Contents. This should read as follows:

(Now stackable as Legos, mix and match at will!)

1) CHARACTERIZATION: "Bob and Elaine: Making characters who connect!"

2) INTERNAL CONFLICT: "Like, what is Bob's problem, anyway?"

3) EXTERNAL CONFLICT: "Elaine: How to make a hot, gutsy, fearless heroine-on-the-run out of a sexless librarian with no friends"

4) SUPPORTING CAST: "Beyond Bob and Elaine: Making secondary characters we don't care about, but can still be milked for a sequel"

5) PLOT: "Why are they running?"
(otherwise known as "why not?")

6) EMOTION: "Making Bob sensitive: Why it's okay to make a strong man cry"

7) SEX: "Love scenes: Reinventing sex until it's so good YOU can't get it."
(Includes a list of reasons why a hot chick who has been clutching her virginity like a magic cloak for thirty years would suddenly give it up in ten seconds to a hot guy with dimples and a roguish smile!!!)

8) BLACK MOMENT: "Bob and Elaine--Is this the end?: Why no one in romance can tell the truth until it's too late to do anything but break up"

9) EPILOGUE: "Happy Endings: Making Bob and Elaine last forever!"

Step Four: These are all you will need to plot the perfect romance. That and the following roman numerals: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X. If you need more than that, you aren't writing romance, you're writing the Odyssey.

Step Five: Write the names of your characters.

A truly perfect plotter will already have character cards, complete with photographs of the cover models, age, weight, blood type, height, worst pet peeve, favorite veggie, and any possible allergies for the writer to avoid. Then start on the below:

I: Characterization
a) (yes, we will be using the occasional english letter, just to mix things up) Bob
I) Where does he live?
II) What does he do?
III) Why do we like him?

b) Elaine
I) Where is she?
II) Why is she in trouble?
III) Why does she need Bob?

c) Introductions
I) How do they meet?
II) Do they like each other?
(This is particularly important because it defines whether they will argue with sexual tension or if this is a buddy story that evolves into a romance)


Most romances have women in trouble and a big, strong, silent type to get her back out of it. Thus, the strongest internal conflict (Technically defined as the thing that holds the character back mentally. Casually defined as the reason he can't/won't commit) is generally given to the man. What with him being strong and silent, it works well. Especially as it gives the heroine the opourtunity to "accidentally" trample over his insecurities. (ie-- Julia Quinn's "The Viscount Who Loved Me" --AMAZING BOOK!!!--has the Hero's father die as a result of an allergic reaction to a bee sting. So what happens? You BETCHA!! The heroine is stung before his horrified eyes. Trample, trample, trample.)

There are cases of the Heroine with the stronger internal conflict (She is hiding his secret child beneath his nose; she took money from his father to disappear and to support his secret child; his mother sent her away in shame when as a teen she came for help about his secret child. Oh, and the occasional, she lost his secret child years ago, and can't bear to tell him) but if she gets a stronger conflict, plot in more space for the male to recover from the massive blow to his ego because...well, ever seen a man with a cold? Now imagine that whining, complaining slob trying to recover from anything more difficult. I rest my case.

The trick to Internal Conflict is making sure that no matter how reasonable or likely or even important it might be, the Hero or Heroine can NEVER reveal it until he or she has made an utter disaster covering it up (You know, like when your kids have broken the priceless vase and have hidden the pieces while sweating profusely and hoping you aren't noticing the big gaping empty place on the mantle?) or someone's life depends on the revelation (and do hold out as long as possible. They'll want to make sure the person is REALLY dying before trying to save them).


Every H/h need confidants. Someone they can turn to for help or for advice. These can be matchmakers and are often comedy relief. Just make sure not to plot them better-looking or on more pages than H/h.

Step Eight: PLOT

This is optional.

By that, I mean you can have a GOOD plot: H/h have a "sensible" reason to interact. (She's a federal witness, he's protecting her, bad guys abound and attack, H/h find hidden evidence and put bad guys away forever. Sprinkle with attraction, interrupted revelations, stolen kisses, sex and occasional loss of secondary character life.)

OR, you can have a LAME plot: otherwise translated as "leave your believablity shoes behind". (She's his neighbor, but they don't know it until after they have a one-night stand which occurred because they were "feeling an irresistable lightening bolt of attraction". They realize their unusual situation later, then procede to ignore each other and the uncomfortable living quarters--not to mention the still irresistable attraction that causes them to speak when they shouldn't (as well as other things)--until they realize she's pregnant. Now he knows he loves her, and must marry her--but for SOME reason, she's reluctant to believe he wants to marry her for her, and not cause it's the right thing to do. Liberally dose with unfinished sentences, rampant love scenes, awkward moments illogically leading to sex and finish with a near miscarriage where Heroine overhears Hero claim he will love her, baby or not. Save Baby, happy ending at wedding with baby in the procession.)
(Note to self, write this next week!)

Step Nine: EMOTION

Plan lots of emotions. If you like, also add it to III: a), II: b), I: c), and all of IV. It should fit nicely there. OOOOOH, and VII: c), III: b), VI: d)!!! I mean, if it's not there, you might as well hang up the feather pen, baby!

Step Ten: SEX

Very important part of Romance. It's the culmination of all the emotions you made sure to plot in the outline. Now, you can have as many love scenes as you want, provided you follow these rules:

1) Their first time should be detailed more than any other in the story. It's the first emotional climax for the reader (If you're REALLY good, you'll get MULIPLE ones!) They've been building up to it, and they deserve it. Let the reader enjoy it.

2) Emotions should be detailed, even more than the actions, throughout the scene, no matter how short it is. If the reader only wanted sex, I'm sure there's a video store with a porn section in the back for far cheaper than your five dollar book. MAKE IT MEANINGFUL!!!


It always happens, and the reader always knows it won't be black forever. How? 'Cause, silly, you plotted it with a whole chapter or more before the end. The usual catalyst for this bleak moment in every romancer's book is the TRUTH.

In reality, the TRUTH will set you free.

In Romance, the TRUTH will break your heart and wreck your contraception. That might not be the golden rule, but it's certainly the guilded one.

Step Twelve: EPILOGUE

Some books don't technically have these. They have "Happy Endings", basically resolving everything as neatly as possible. (Bob doesn't REALLY have an illegitmate child. It's his dead brother's child, whom he's raising. Elaine already loves it and can make room for it in her life with no problem at all, as long as she and Bob can be together; Bob's ex-fiancee has finally realized big boobs and dropping necklines will not triumph over true love, so she goes to find herself a man with REAL money--quickly done--and feels she owes it to Elaine to tell the truth--that Bob loves only her.) Happy Endings don't require a large number of pages.

If you really want to leave the reader glowing, add a pregnancy or a newly hatched kidling to the happy family. 'Cause, like, EVERYONE knows waking up at godforsaken hours to nasty diapers, projectile vomitting and colic make you deliriously happy.

And VOILA! You've got yourself a best seller, gals.

Well, as soon as you actually write it.

Toodles, Dee

Monday, June 20, 2005

ePublishing and Eating Words

I admit it. I was a snob. My nose was so far in the air, I'm sure it was slated to be listed as having an antennae that rivaled that of the Empire State Building. Thankfully--I think--that condition has had some altering. Having your nose put out of joint takes on new meaning.

How did this miracle happen? What changed my mind on being a fool when I was so good at it?

Well, believe it or not, it started because my CP has little to no compunction about telling me where to stick it.

You see, it began long ago when I started writing for publication and ePubs were more like ePups. The only ePubs out at the time were embryonic at best--and, well, porn, at worst. So, while I never want to say that prejudice of any kind is justified, well, I thought I had reason. But that was nearly eight years ago and things have changed. Drastically.

People I knew--and many I didn't--were suddenly selling left and right to ePubs. Some I knew and had some serious doubts concerning the readiness of their writing for publication (hey, I'm not that much of a bitch, honest, but the gratiutous use of "Deep sapphire orbs, glowing in the misty, suffocating blackness of night" in a contemporary can't help but leave one to wonder what the hell is going on.), so I didn't give their pubs a whole lot of mental creedence.

I hold the very strong belief that if a person is happy, then I'm happy for them, be it relationships, jobs or personal choices. You want a ham and cheese when you can get a hot pastrami dip? Well, good for you, I'm glad you're happy. I applied this form of thinking to ePubs, especially when people of a higher calibre started selling to them. I didn't begrudge them another route to the gold hoop of publishing--hell, they were getting paid while I, sadly, was not. (I have not yet decided if a person can laugh all the way to the bank if the person with the dubious thinking of their job was not displeased for them.)

As more friends and acquaintances found their way to ePubs, I wondered a bit, but only loosened my brain's stronghold on my "standards" enough to say, "Well, if I ever need the money, I'll give it a go." I really should have considered the fact that I always need money--and still, did not submit or even consider approaching an ePub.

So, there I walk in my haze, when yet another rejection lands in my mailbox. I lament said form letter ("Oh woe is me, my first form letter in years! I have been WRONGED!", in case you were wondering how it went.) to earlier mentioned CP, who innocently mentioned I could send it to an ePub. This should have been a clue that she'd been sharpening her pointy-toed high heels for just this opportunity, as my CP is the least innocent person I know (which is why I like her so much.).

I began with my standard, "Uh, no, thanks."

She parried with, "What could you lose?"

Dignity came to mind. Pride followed quickly thereafter. There was also the fact that I work for a paper publisher...isn't that like...treason? I rationally mentioned all of this.

She had three direct responses. "Since when have you had dignity? Girl, I've seen you walk around a party with your nips out like peperoni on fresh delivery because you didn't have your dress on right. And have you never heard of a pen name?"

Obviously, the discussion was getting out of my neurotic control. Very long story made only moderately shorter, she talked me into submitting. I admit, I was suprised to find there were stories of strong interest there and so I submitted my rejected proposal and as fate would have it, am still waiting semi-impatiently for them to let me know what they think. (And hoping they let me change my name--word to the wise, don't let your hubby help you with your pen name unless he's familliar with reading in general because as sweet and helpful as he was...I still like my first idea better, lol).

But that wasn't what made me change my mind. No, that was only the first step toward admitting ePubs might have something to offer. Then came the recent RWA fluffup. I honestly don't care who reads this, but sorry, that whole thing was censorship, and worse, required others to be censors themselves. I'm sure there's an exponential equation for how wrong that is, but since I suck at math, I'll leave that to the extremely bored. I'm just glad that for that time being, I neither pay dues to RWA or have to worry about that particular law because it's been temporarily repealed (at my last informal check).

My CP--extremely busy woman, as you can probably tell by now--is very good at research and began a long journey of blogs and articles that led with itty bitty bread crumbs to the attitude toward ePubs within the writing community. Basically, that of golden elders toward the red headed stepchild that looks rather like your Uncle Peety's acne'd ass. It also led to some really good ePubs providing quality reading. I was shocked. I was appalled. I was even shamed. (Please note the pepperoni comment up there, because that didn't inspire shame.) I had been making uneducated generalizations.

The ePubs have definitely grown out of overeager puppy stage. Sure, a few of them will still try to hump your leg if you don't hop away fast enough, but I'm sure that's true of paper publishing too. The facts simply are that they aren't going any where and if you're a smart writer, you'll find a way to be part of both worlds.

Don't worry folks, though, because even my little pride falling ode to ePubs does have a happy ending. Remember my brilliant CP? Well, not a few nights later, she got the same innocent discussion from her hubby. So, while it's not pepperoni for all, lol, it's not a bad sense of revenge, either.