The Romance Stigma

When someone discovers I’m a writer, I find myself  bracing for the inevitable question.

“What do you write?”

If you haven’t realized this by now, I write romance. Is this a bad thing? No, I certainly don’t think so. But I get the feeling sometimes people frown upon my choice of writing stories that slide neatly into the romance genre.

Romance itself isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’m aware of this. I don’t judge those who prefer literary, non-fiction, fantasy, or horror, so why all the negativity toward my preference for romance.

“Oh, it’s unrealistic.”

“You must be so lonely you need to read romance to make up for not having a boyfriend.”

“You like reading all that smut.”

Seriously, we’re going to go down that road?

First of all, I’m happily married. Reading romance does NOT give me a delusional image of what a relationship should be like. It does NOT make me wish for something outside of my marriage. It doesn’t make me love my husband less, in fact, it makes me love my husband MORE.

As an avid reader of romance, I’ve become aware of several things.

1. Communication is the very cornerstone of a healthy relationship.

How many times have I read a romance where the only thing stopping the heroine and hero from finally achieving their goals is communication. I’ll give you a hint. It’s a lot.

Reading romance also gives you insight into things you’d never think to search for in your own relationship, things you should discuss openly with your spouse or partner. There is nothing wrong with being open about your dreams and desires, especially when it’s with someone you are sharing your life, body, and future. It may be the push you need to unleash the sensual self within.

2. Sex is NOT a bad thing, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it.

Whether it’s sweet inspirational romance or hot and steamy erotica, chemistry and sex play a huge role in the story. The same is true with reality and our own personal love stories. So often are we shamed for our enjoyment of sex with the person we love that we find ourselves not enjoying the intimacy that binds us as a couple.

As a writer of what I consider mainstream romance, I often have people call what I write porn or smut. Many of them have never even picked up a romance novel, let alone read one. All they see is that “clincher cover” (you know EXACTLY what cover I’m talking about) and suddenly I’m indulging in my lustful fantasies.

Honestly…most of the books I read only have a love scene if it pushes the story forward. That’s how I write, and that’s what I prefer to read. Does reading romance turn me on? Yes, it does.

I love the idea of love. I’m obsessed with the concept of romance. I’m addicted to sexual tension and the chemistry that pulls two people together. I find it fascinating and beautiful. I am unashamed of my passion for romance novels, both in writing them and reading them. Love and sex are wonderful things, and there should be no shame in exploring them in prose.

I may never write literary prose or the next great American novel. But I don’t care.

I write romance because I adore it, and because the world could always use a little more LOVE.

Feel free to leave your comments below…Thanks for stopping by.

@–/— Kirsten

Writing 101 – Observational Skills

Writing 101

(c) Robyn LaRue 2014

Alright, alright…I’m calm now.

Ladies and gentlemen, fellow readers and writers, thank you for bearing with us following last week’s breakdown…technical difficulties i.e. my rant.

Regular programing will resume shortly….

Writing 101 –Observational Skills

…And welcome back. This week, I thought it would be a great idea to look at a key writing skill that’s often overlooked: observation.

Writers are well known for their ability to live inside their own heads but, in order to create believable worlds and realistic characters, we must learn to venture into the realms of in real-life. I know that for many of us this is a daunting prospect (downright terrifying, if you ask me). Fear not, you don’t have to do it often.

All description comes from observation. Whether we draw from real life, movies, or pictures, our imagination needs input. What do we do when we need a setting? We look up places from the world around us to use as a basis. What about how a character looks? A certain muse (name withheld…ahem…Kirsten) collects celebrities in her basement to use as “inspiration”.

We don’t need to go into great detail with our descriptions. A few choice comments are all we need to build the character in the reader’s mind. Overdoing it is all too easy though and often a problem for beginners. With that in mind (and the fact that I’ve just watched SAW again), I want to play a game…

Exercise

  1. Grab your notebook and take a walk.
  2. Find somewhere public – a coffee shop, busy park, bus station or airport terminal work great for this.
  3. Choose one person and give them a quick once over – take no more than one minute (if they make eye contact, try not to wink. It only makes things awkward).
  4. Write the first three things you noticed about them. Don’t just rely on sight either. Did you notice their smell? Something they said?
  5. Pick someone else and repeat until you get bored or thrown out.
  6. When you are done, bookmark the page in your notebook and go home.
  7. Use your notes to build at least two characters. What do your descriptions tell you about them? Do they give you any insight into how they live? Notice any interesting points that may need looking at further?

The great thing about this exercise is that you can do it almost anywhere. You can even adapt it to places, taking time to observe places and using notes to recreate them at later dates.


 Do you have problems with observation? Have you devised any games of your own?

6 Reason Writers Need Writer Friends

6 Reasons Writers Need Writer FriendsIf you had asked me “Why do you need writer friends?” five years ago, I would have looked at you funny. I didn’t actually know any fiction writers, and therefore couldn’t even begin to tell you what I was missing. All that changed a year and a half ago when I met my current writer friends, and subsequently, after having produced a shadow of an online presence, I have gotten to know some other amazing people in the meantime. Now I can’t imagine not having writer friends.

So what are the reasons for befriending other writers?

1.) They’ll challenge you to improve.

Nothing’s better than friendly competition. Why, just the other day, Chris challenged me to a flash fiction write-off (winner undecided). I’m not very good about finishing my work, but I did it, simply because I couldn’t bear the idea of letting him win.

Besides, if their work is good, they’ll inspire you to work harder. At least, I know mine inspire me.

2.) Good drinking buddies.

As I’m writing this now, with drink in hand, talking to my writer friends via Skype, I can assure you that this was not a biased thought at all.

3.) They know what you’re going through.

I can’t talk to my “normal” friends about the voices in my head. Well, I can, but they give me funny looks. Writer friends know that writing is not always fun, not always easy. They know how much of your own blood you had to spill to write your latest draft. They know the way inspiration is fickle and the way words sometimes leave you feeling exhausted. It’s good to have someone who understands.

4.) Diversity is a good thing.

Not only do my writer friends write in different genres, they have different strengths, weaknesses, and styles of craft. There’s always something new for me to learn.

5.) Ass-kickery.

I don’t know about you guys, but my writer friends are always after me to keep writing. I can’t even begin to count how many times Robyn has threatened to glue me to my chair if I don’t buckle down and get words on the page. Good writer friends will kick your ass when you’re slacking.

6.) Weird inspirational conversations.

Spend one day in The Sarcastic Muse channel and you’ll find a range of topics—from Amanda’s suspicious jars to Jen’s not-so-secret men stashed away in the closet. It’s nice to know I’m not the only crazy one.

In conclusion, if you don’t have writer friends, you should kidnap find some as soon as possible. It’ll be the best decision you ever made.


Tell me about your writer friends. Have they made a difference in your writing life? Where did you meet yours?

How to Get the Most from Writing Sessions

How to Get the Most from Writing SessionsWith finite hours in the day, our writing sessions need to be productive to help us meet our writing goals. Writers write, and sometimes we need to use a few tricks to get it done. It never hurts, either, to experiment with what works for others, try different methods and tricks. You might find some don’t work at all for you, but you might find a few that do.

 Preparation

Plan your work. Think about your scene beforehand. Start writing it in your head before you sit down. By the time you get to the page, you won’t have to stare at it waiting for the words to come.

Think about your schedule. Is it possible to schedule writing time during your daily creative peak? (We all have one. It helps to know. Mine, for example, is about two hours after I get up and again after dark). If your schedule dictates that you write on the weekends, that will look far different from someone who gets up an hour early every morning to get the words down. Know your personal flow and schedule writing sessions for peak times when possible.

Intention also matters. Having enough of a road map to know what  you intend to accomplish during your next session is helpful, even for extreme pantsers.

 Routine

Don’t underestimate the power of routine for helping you focus. While it can shake up  your creative flow in a good way to deviate from routine, there’s also a lot to be said for setting expectations for your writer mind.

If you listen to music, start each session with the same song (and only listen to it then). If you prefer ambient noise (I use a thunderstorm), don’t listen to it outside of writing sessions. That helps your brain know it’s time to produce.

Use a separate work space for writing if you work from home or spend a lot of time on line. In the same way psychology helps insomniacs, it can help creatives. Use that space only for writing and your brain will adjust, slipping into writing mode when you sit there.

Try to write at the same time each day as another way to slip into writer mode.

 Distractions

This should go without saying, but if you struggle with it at all, turn off the internet (or use a system without it) and turn off your phone. Don’t worry, they will be there when  you’re done.

If you need silence to write, get your family or housemates on board and put a sign on the door so they know to leave you be.

Writing to music is great for those who can. If not, find some audible white noise that works for you and helps block distractions.

Turn off your spelling and grammar checkers. Red and green squiggles can be terribly distracting and your job is to write, not edit.

 Tricks

Set a goal. Quit groaning, it’s a good thing. Don’t set a time goal. You can decide to write for an hour and spend most of it staring at the screen or picking apart one sentence. Better to set a word count goal or a page goal. Start with a reasonable goal and continue to increase it every month or two until you have stretched your capacity and are comfortable with your production level. For some of us, that’s two pages or 500 words a day. For others, 5000 words is not out of reach given their available time, experience, and level of practice. Find what works for you.

No editing! If editing as you write is a problem and turning off your squiggles isn’t enough, try ilys.com or Write or Die. If working on a browser is a problem due to internet availability, here’s a little trick I use. Open your word processing program, choose a small script font, set the font to 6 or 8 point, turn off squiggles, and type away. You can’t read what you’re writing at all, but it’s easy to translate after your writing session. If this is a problem for you, address it. Again, your job is to get words down, not edit.

 

13 Characters

The many faces of characters (c) melschmitz

Within literature, there can be hundreds of character archetypes.  For the sanity of your brain, this post will only focus on 13 types of characters.  Why? Because 13 is my favorite number.

A character archetype is the basic definition of who the character is and how they function.  Placing your character within an archetype sets up a character for a predetermined plot and fate.  Now, all of these characters can intermingle with each other and may take on facets from other character archetypes, but the basic premise is that once your character is set in his or her defined archetype, they should not break from it.

Without further ado, here is a list of my 13  character archetypes:

1. The Hero – This character is basically the one who is born to fulfill a necessary task to achieve and advance the plot of the story.  The Hero restores harmony and justice to a conflict or community.  The Hero is typically a young person, can be male or female, who embodies innate wisdom and is a pupil of a mentor.  The Hero’s path within a book almost always follow the Hero’s Journey archetype.  Examples: Aeneas, Beowulf

2. The Adopted – This character is a Hero archetype in disguise.  The Adopted is usually removed from his or her birth home and raised by a stranger (or strangers).  Eventually the Adopted returns to his or her birth home as a stranger and uncovers new problems and adventures, coming up with new solutions for any issues.  The Adopted character evolves into a Hero and is usually lionized at the end of the story.  Examples: King Arthur, Hercules

3. The Initiated – This character is a young hero archetype that is innocent and naive to the world.  The Initiated character is forced to experience harsh trials, tribulations, and rituals in order to reach the relegated Hero status.  The Initiated usually has a Hero’s Journey that is broken up into more acts and facets than what the typical Hero or Adopted character experiences.  Examples: Frodo Baggins, Philip Pirrip (Pip)

6. The Loyal Retainers – This is actually a group of characters who are the “sidekicks” of the protagonist and their sworn duty is to protect the their leader.  Sometimes these characters reflect the protagonist’s nobility, if the protagonist be of noble blood.  Examples: Robin Hood’s Merry Men, King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table

4. The Mentor – This character can be of any age or sex.  The Mentor serve as a teacher to the protagonist.  The Mentor, whether male or female, can play a role of a mother and / or father figure.  The mentor teaches the rules, tricks, and tools to survive the journey and achieve the quest.  The Mentor’s main initiative is to get the protagonist to triumph over his or her flaws and conflicts.  Examples: Merlin, Virgil

5. The Hunters - This is another group of characters, not an individual, who are loyal companions that band together to face a number of perils that threaten the sanity of the group or their world.  Examples: The Fellowship of the Ring

7. The Friendly Beast – This character assists the protagonist on his or her journey.  The Friendly Beast may sometimes reflect the protagonist’s nature.  The Friendly Beast may sometimes sacrifice himself or herself for the protagonist to succeed on the journey or quest.  Examples: Falkor, Eragon

8. The Creatures of the Night – This character is an abstract or physical monster who threatens the life of the protagonist.  The Creature’s form is usually a distortion of a human body.  This character may have a journey of his or her own as a side story to the protagonist.  If the Creature is a villain to the protagonist, the journey will reflect one that is opposite of the protagonist.  The Creature usually dies or disappears into the unknown at the end of a story.    Examples: Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula

9. The Temptress - This character is typically a woman when the protagonist is a male (and vice versa).  The Temptress uses her looks (or other various abilities) to lure in the protagonist in an attempt to bring about his or her downfall.  Example: Sirens, Lady Macbeth

10. The Unfaithful Wife – This character is a woman who is flawed because she views her husband as unattractive or dull.  Her attention and attractions turn to another man who in her eyes is more gallant and virile.  Examples: Emma Bovary, Queen Guinevere

11. The Star-crossed Lovers - These two characters are doomed from the beginning of their relationship.  They engage in a love affair that will spell tragedy for both.  The relationship of the Star-crossed Lovers is not accepted by the lover’s families, friends, or the rest of society.  Examples: Romeo and Juliet, Catherine and Heathcliff

12. The Evil Figure with a Heart of Gold – This character originally begins as evil, but is redeemed through an action of good (a good heart) or is saved by the protagonist. Examples: The Grinch (sorry, just had to list something Seussian), Boo Radley

13. The Devil Figure - This character is the heart of evil, evil incarnate as itself.  The Devil Figure will tempt the protagonist with worldly goods, intelligence, or fame in exchange for their soul.  The Devil Figure is the true antagonist and opposite of the protagonist throughout his or her journey.  The Devil Figure will experience his or her own journey opposite of the protagonist’s.  Example: Moriarty, Grendel’s Mother

 

Please feel free to comment if you have a favorite character archetype that is not listed in this post.

Tune in next Wednesday as we discuss Plot Archetypes.

I Feel a Sin Coming On…

Hello there…

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Terribly sorry about that. You see I was traveling the globe trying to uncover the secrets of the boudoir. Alright, so that’s a crock of bull, but I have returned wiser than I was before.

Before I bestow my vast knowledge upon you please rest easy in the knowledge that I haven’t killed Kirsten, nor has she been taken captive by Loki. Which I’d be extremely jealous of and may have to kill her if she ever escapes him…but I digress. She and I will be alternating Tuesday posts since we are both extremely busy working on our top secret WIPs. This week is my week to bore you. She shall return, this I promise you.

Anyway, since I’ve last posted, I’ve had a boom in productivity. On Valentine’s day I had a short story titled “Dangerous Desires” published in the My Bloody Valentine Anthology available through Breathless Press. It’s a series of short stories dedicated to the darker side of love. I’m sure Amanda and Chris would both approve, considering my hero is a cross between the Phantom and Jack the Ripper.

Jen's stuff

My latest piece is a short story published through Breathless Press as what they call a Flirt. It’s a perfect lunchtime read. It is part of a collection of short stories based on elements taken from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass written to honor Breathless Press’ Fifth Birthday. My contribution is called “A Cat Without a Grin”. This story would not be written had it not been for the disturbing ideas planted by our demented horror muses, Amanda and Chris.

I plan on writing a few posts exploring this interesting and disturbing relationship I have with the horror muses. One would think a romance writer would shy away from the dark and macabre. I find the mind of a horror writer to be the perfect compliment to my own mind. I intend to explore this at a later time.

I also intend to explore the dark and shaded world of BDSM. I will not be discussing “Fifty Shades” here…in fact that has become “The Book That Shall Not Be Named”. My desire is to shed some light on the misinformation about BDSM and kink. Am I in the lifestyle? No. But I know people who are and their insight has set my imagination ablaze. It is my intention to use some of these elements in my own writing. I will share some tidbits with the group if I’m feeling generous. *wink and a kiss*

For some fun news…I have had two short stories accepted for publication in Breathless Press’ Secret Identities Anthology (a super hero/super villain collection). One is a Victorian steampunk-ish tale with references to some prominent historical figures and a super villain whom you’ll not soon forget. The other is a contemporary story featuring a woman who can manipulate adipose and a bar owner who also shares a super secret.  I am hoping these stories will be released early next year.

Then there’s Crispin…my Prince of Whispers. He’s in a league all his own. I’ll save his story for another day, but if you’re curiosity needs sated, please stop by my personal blog. I Feel a Sin Coming On (click here for blog.)

So if there’s anything you’d like me to discuss or a topic you’d like me to blog about specifically, please leave me a comment. I’m not sure what curiosities you have, but I’m more than willing to broach anything in my posts. Thanks for the support, and I look forward to sharing my time with you.

<3 Jen

Am I A Writer?

Am I A Writer?

Makes me want to scream! (c) xenia

I’m take a short break from Writing 101 to address an important question. No really, I’m being serious…Kirsten stop giggling. Do you want another bucket of ice water?

I’m sure that each and every one of us has had the same moment of doubt in our careers. I know I have it on an almost nightly basis, especially when a muse sends me one of their stories to beta (how can they all be so good? Send me crap once in a while…please.). When I read back over my work, I can’t bear it. Every word feels forced, every sentence clichéd. I sit at the screen, hands poised on the keyboard and think, what am I doing?

But, I carry on. Every night, I’m back at my desk and I’m writing.

When I write, while my hands dance across the keys and the words flow across the page, I forget all the doubt. I lose myself completely in the story — my story. That idea I can’t get out of my head, the one that keeps me up at night, needs to be exorcised and the only way I know to do it is to write.

Does that make me a writer? Of course it does. Anyone who puts pen to paper, or fingers to a keyboard, is a writer: it’s not that hard. What is hard is what comes after: the months and months of rewrites, the knowledge that the scene you loved so much just doesn’t work and has to go, and the constant need to produce the greatest thing you’ve ever written.

Sure, there are writers out there who will do the absolute minimum. They write, they edit, sometimes they even spellcheck and then they release their creation into the world to wrought carnage. These are the writers that give us all cause for concern, the ones that belittle everything we work so hard for. Their disregard for basic standards doesn’t matter so long as their books sell. And, as much as it pains me to say it, these people are writers.

What WE are are perfectionists, uncompromising of quality. We are people of insatiable curiosity, possessors of an unbridled love of the written word, of the poetry of language — WE ARE WRITERS.

Planning, Plotting, Pre-writing, Oh my!

There’s been a lot of talk about story ideas here at SM lately, from generating story ideas to developing and organizing them. It’s a given that we aren’t going to expand or use every idea we come up with. But what happens to those ideas that are worth keeping? Time to start the plotting process.

I seem to treat my story ideas the same way I do deadlines: I keep everything in my head. At the very least, it’s an exercise in remembering things (except when I forget and remember after the fact — or don’t remember at all — but we’ll pretend that doesn’t usually happen). My process is something like this:

Idea strikes. Character hits me over the head with a sledgehammer. Write down what he or she is saying (or nothing at all) in a notebook. Go through various scenarios in my mind. Headache ensues. Go to computer. Stare blankly at screen. Check Twitter. Do dishes. Ask myself a few questions about the story. Start drinking. Write a few cryptic notes: “What’s the point of this story?” “What’s the meaning of life?” Don’t bother answering those questions. Ask Robyn to write the story for me. She refuses. Run simulations of possible scenarios in my head. Talk to Robyn about my ideas. She advises that I pre-write. Ignore her. Chris threatens me with violence. Think of and do other non-writing things. Wait (6 months, 2 weeks, a year) until the plot connects with a ding (microwave friendly ideas are best).

Planning, Plotting, Pre-writing, oh My!My story planning isn’t really planning at all. It’s more like solving a Rubik’s Cube. I shift things around in my head until something clicks. I hang out with the characters every so often, flip through the plot channels, and then I let my subconscious work out the kinks. Much to the dismay of the Muses, I’m slow to start writing, and even slower to finish. I take a lot of breaks-that-aren’t-really-breaks in order to get some distance, even after I’ve started drafting. But that’s okay. Because for me, distance is key. Distance means I see the whole thing laid out before me. Distance means that once I start to close it, I’m going to swoop in quickly. I’m always thinking, even when I’m not.

But if my way of plotting sounds totally ridiculous, here are a few other suggestions:

  • You can outline. There are numerous programs to help you organize. Scrivener comes to mind. MS Word suffices, too.
  • If you like note cards, use those.
  • You can run with ideas for a while to see where they take you. Run as fast and as far as you can. (Don’t run away, though, as that’s counterproductive.)
  • I know Robyn asks her characters questions or asks them to write a letter, and they answer back. (It’s okay, she’s not crazy — we had her tested.)
  • Do some research on the setting to help generate possibilities for conflict or characterization.
  • The snowflake method may work if you like logical things.
  • For the more visually inclined, mind mapping is a good way to collect and organize concepts. (Warning: excessive use of arrows, circles, and notes may cause brain malfunctioning in the less capable.)
  • Discuss it out loud with someone willing to listen. Auditory types can make quick connections between what they’re saying and what they’re thinking.

If you get stuck, create some space between you and the plot. Work on other projects. Read a book. Go for a walk. Your brain will do a lot of the work for you when you aren’t trying to make it think.

Lastly, trust your process. There’s no right or wrong way. It’s easy to get discouraged when you sink into a plot hole or hit a bump where things aren’t fitting together. But a little patience can go a long way. The answers will probably find you when you quit looking for them.


Any other suggestions? How do you plot your stories? Is it the same each time? Is there anyone out there with a process like mine? (The answering silence echoes, echoes, echoes . . .)