Friday, May 28, 2010

100 Words About: Chores

It's day two of my vacation, and I'm staring at the pile of check card slips that I need to enter into Quicken. (Damn you, Microsoft, for discontinuing Money!) I have dishes that need doing, and laundry that's been sitting in the basement for three days, and all I can think is "Well, I took care of the animals and walked the dog, that's enough work for one day, isn't it? I'm on vacation!"

Except on workdays I can only think about the fact I just worked all day, and weekends are like vacations, right?

Why can't chores just do themselves? (Oh, right, because I decided not to invest in children…although I comfort myself with the thought that by the time you get them trained to do it the way you want, they're old enough to move out and you have to start doing it yourself again anyway.)

Image: Suat Eman /

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Romance Arc Versus Plot Arc

My romance writing group had an interesting discussion this weekend. We'd all read Victoria Dahl's Talk Me Down and were critiquing it. One of the things that came up was the idea of the romance story arc versus the plot story arc.

Romances are very character-driven, of course, and so the relationship storyline is as important, and usually more important, than the more standard plot line.

In this example, one could say that the plot arc involves a woman moving back to her hometown and having to deal with a stalker, while the romance arc involves a woman with a secret and trust issues who wants to seduce a man, and said man has several issues with the woman but is also incredibly attracted to her. More or less.

In a genre other than romance, the romance arc would be a subplot, but since this is a romance it's more the other way around. The emphasis in this story is on the romance arc.

Now, I've read plenty of romances where the emphasis is more even, and those are still perfectly good romances. But if you are writing a story with romantic interest, one thing you'll need to decide is just how important the romance arc is versus the plot arc. A story that is heavy on the romance side of things will probably involve a lot more reflection, a lot of internal emotion, and a lack of one of the three C's early on to provide romantic conflict.

(And, by the by, I found the book to be quite entertaining. I'd definitely recommend it to those who want a very hot, lightweight, funny read.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

100 Words About: Dreaming

Dreams are a subject I've long had interest in, and I imagine they interest a lot of other people too. I always like to listen to other people talk about their dreams, because it fascinates me to hear how they dream differently than I do.

For example, my husband is always himself in his dreams, and he dreams from his own perspective, whereas when I dream sometimes I'm me, and sometimes I'm not, and sometimes I dream first-person, and sometimes cinematic, and sometimes my perspective changes from one person to another's mid-dream. Maybe that's because I'm a writer? I'd love to know if other writers have this experience.

Image: Danilo Rizzuti /

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Find the Right Frame

A story is more than a string of events. Yes, plot is crucial, but another crucial aspect of good story-telling is how you frame the story.

The frame involves a lot of things, but to me the three most important are point-of-view, voice, and starting point. You may have an idea of what the plot is, but without the right frame the story will not take. Sometimes finding the right frame is the hardest part of getting started.

As an example, take my story "The Power That Dreams Have." This is the sequel to my story "Empusa," which was written specifically for Torquere Press's Bite Me anthology (m/m/f ménage with biting). Torquere already had the lesbian anthology Vamps on the schedule, and I wrote "Empusa" with a lead-in to a lesbian story between her and another character, Sophia. When Torquere agreed to publish "Empusa" (my first sale!), I started work on the sequel.

Now, Empusa is one of my favorite characters to write. She's just tons of fun for me. "Empusa" was written in first person from Empusa's point of view, and I had assumed that the sequel would work the same way. I'd set the first story a few years before Xerxes invaded Greece so that I could use the invasion in the sequel. Here, I thought, would be a fairly simple but hot story of abduction and rescue.

I'd been playing around with several angles. First I figured Sophia would be kidnapped or captured. Then, as I was reading some books on ancient Athens and the various cults, I had ideas of it being Sophia's daughter instead. Sophia gets Empusa to help rescue the girl, but at a price (of course!). I liked this idea. It had more meat than my original simple plot.

To my surprise, when I sat down to try and write it, I couldn't get the story to work. It stalled out before I'd finished the second page. I took a break and mulled over what had gone wrong.

First, the plot was more complex than it needed to be. I realized half the reason I wanted to use the daughter plot device was to use the research I'd been doing. Bad motive. That research could be part of a future story, certainly, but it had no place in this story.

Second, I needed a reason for Empusa to get involved. She really had little interest in Sophia's daughter, and getting summoned kinda made her cranky and disinclined to be helpful. This had to be a somewhat romantic story, and Empusa is not a romantic character. She actually has very little attachment to Sophia or Kleon or Bennu, although it's certainly more attachment than she has to any other humans at that point. They're sort of a novelty, but at most she is playfully possessive of them, and maybe distantly fond of them.

I realized if I needed an emotional tie for this story--which I did--the emotions were going to have to come from Sophia. Sophia needed to be the point of view character. And since the action was going to be centered on the abduction/rescue, I needed to scrap the daughter storyline and go back to my original idea.

Great! So I had the point of view. I knew I wanted the story to start at the point where Xerxes had already started the invasion of Attica and the residents of Athens were getting ready to abandon the city. But how to introduce the characters and the backstory without going into a huge infodump? Just what was Sophia and Empusa's relationship at this point? Had they had any contact in the two years between the first story and the second? It was in answering those questions that the rest of the frame fell into place. I started off with an encounter between the two women, but one that left more questions than answers. The answers got sprinkled in amongst the action. It was the relationship, extremely unhealthy as it was, that was the real story, not the abduction/rescue; and with the relationship being so unhealthy (obsession versus predation, really) using first person would give the most intimacy, allow it to make the most sense.

With the new frame the piece came together quite nicely. Since I love writing and reading about just those kinds of relationships, it's still one of my favorites.

You can read the beginning of the first draft with the original frame over at my website.

Have any of you run into this problem in your writing? How did you solve it? Have you read stories that would have benefited from different framing? Leave a comment and discuss!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Long Week, New Car, and Cream Puffs

It's been a heckuva week. We bought a new car on Tuesday, but had to drive nearly to Chicago to get the price we wanted. Got to the dealership around 7pm, and didn't get to leave until about 11pm, which meant not getting home until almost 1am and still having to work the next day. Ugh. But it's an awesome car, a 2009 Subaru Impreza with the premium package. Not that we were looking for the premium package, but wow, we are totally loving the moon roof. And the fact that we didn't have to swap out the stereo so we could play MP3 discs was definitely a bonus.

The dog has decided that darting out the kitchen door when we leave is a fun activity. Sigh. She's done it twice so far this week. Time to revisit the "wait" command. We've been slacking, truthfully--haven't been making her sit before going outside, haven't been making sure we go through doorways before she does. At least she comes when we call her now. Mostly.

And then I was sick on Friday. I have some food intolerances, but I've been good, dammit. Mostly because I was planning on being bad this weekend. It's cream puff time, OMG! But no, my insides decide to punish me before I eat the cream puff, so I spent half of Friday feeling like someone had kicked me in the stomach. Grrr! And worst of all, I now have very little urge to eat said cream puff, so my stomach is winning. If I don't eat the cream puff, am I reinforcing my stomach's proactive reaction? Or do I eat the cream puff and just suffer for it twice? (And if so, does anyone win?)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Character Relationships

Almost any story you write will involve character relationships. These relationships can be familial, between friends, romantic, business-related, etc. Often character relationships are a good source of conflict for your story, even if only as a subplot.

I've had a theory for a long time about personal relationships, which I call the Three C's. In order for a relationship to be functional and healthy, you need Communication, Cooperation, and Compromise. Note that in order for the Three C's to benefit a relationship, all participants in the relationship have to reciprocate, or at least try to. As an author, you can create conflict by choosing to have your characters neglect one or more of these important principles.

Communication is about, well, talking to each other. Keeping in touch. You can't have a healthy relationship if you can't tell each other what's going on. (Yes, this also involves listening.) A character who, for whatever reason, can't or won't talk about their feelings or situation, who doesn't listen, or only hears what they want to hear, invites misunderstandings which can lead to conflict.

Cooperation involves working together toward a shared goal. How many movie heroes have gruffly muttered "I work alone," only to end up needing someone's help later in the show? A character who stubbornly refuses to be a team player can work against their own self-interest in all sorts of fun ways.

Compromise means that sometimes you don't get your own way, and the same for the other person. Compromise can be anything from finding agreeable third options—"You hate Italian, I hate French, so let's have Mexican for dinner!"—to splitting up distasteful chores—"you sweep this week and I'll sweep next week"—to agreeing to disagree—"I really hate that band, so why don't you go with Bob? You and I can go to a movie tomorrow." Of course, to create conflict your characters must insist on doing things their way, getting what they want when they want it with little or no regard for other people's wants or needs.

By keeping the Three C's in mind, you can create simple and believable relationship conflicts that can be easily controlled and shaped into important, relevant, and satisfying resolutions.

Friday, May 7, 2010

100(+) Words About: Cats and Dog

As you long-time readers might recall, I have a dog. I also have two cats.

I love my cats. They've been with us for 13 years, longer than my husband and I have been married. When we got a dog we swore that the dog would have to get along with the cats.

But the rescue folks lied to us when they said the dog was cat-tested. As we were finishing up the paperwork to take her home, one said, "Well, she's been past the cat house and she's always been fine."

My dog has a very high prey drive. It's likely that she’ll never be safe around small animals. But our contract with the rescue says she has to go back to them and them alone if we decide to give her up. Back to a no-kill rescue that's so over crowded and over burdened that they recently sent out a newsletter relating that the vets have stopped offering services until they catch up on their bills. Back to a shelter where our dog was only getting a walk once a week at best.

I can't do that to her. Her previous owner put her in a cage and left her to starve. I can't put her back in a cage.

But it's not fair to keep my cats locked in the upstairs either. They have a room and a half to themselves and very little contact with us anymore.

We finally found a friend willing to take them in. On a trial basis, yes, but it's real. I'm looking at giving up my fuzzy loves.

I didn't want to be in this position. We tried really hard to make it so we wouldn't be. But here we are, and the decision has to be made. I really do think they'll be happier, or I wouldn't even consider it.

But damn, it sucks.

Sometimes I hate being a responsible adult.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Give Feedback

Giving feedback to your critique partners is obvious, but do you ever give feedback to authors you don't know?

Trust me, there is nothing so cool as to have some random person send you an email or leave a comment remarking on your work. To me, it's more motivating than a sale or even a compliment from my editor.

For example, I've been feeling unmotivated lately. This is mostly due to my own lack of discipline, but I've also been wondering if the short stories have served their purpose for now and maybe I will leave off those and make myself work on something longer. Or several somethings.

Then this weekend I was doing my occasional trolling of the Interwebs, looking for new reviews. (I found some too, will post links soon!) And I found over a a nice little review of Taste Test: Rainy Days and Mondays. And there, at the bottom of that short review, was a message to me! "Mercy Loomis - more D/s Rockstars, Derrick and Nate please!"

That made my week. Hell, it made my month!

Here was someone who had read the anthology and been kind enough to post their thoughts, but not only that, been interested enough by my work to ask for more! I don't know if I can describe to a non-artist (because writing is an art form as much as it is a business or a science) just how much that means. So often we writers work in a vacuum. Yes, there is usually some form of feedback with an editor's acceptance, and yes, many of us have critique groups or beta readers to help, but other than that, all we have are sales numbers. And sales numbers (when we can get them, which isn't always as often as you think) only tell you so much. They say that people have bought the work, but did those people actually read it? Did they like it, or hate it, or were they completely untouched by it? Did my words and my hard work actually accomplish anything of what I hoped they would?

For someone you don't know, who you've never met or exchanged words with, to say in effect "I liked this enough that I want more of it and I would spend my hard-earned money to buy it"--wow, that's powerful. So much so that I'm now considering trying to expand on that story, when I never had any intention of working with those characters again. (Not that I don't enjoy Derrick and Nate, because I do; I just didn't have more story for them.) I can't promise anything, because muse definitely has a part to play in any story, but you can bet I'm gonna try real hard.

So if you read something you like, and you can find a way to leave feedback, do it. Not only will you likely bring a huge smile to someone's face, you may just get a story that would otherwise never have been written.