Writing Short Stories

April 17, 2013

An opportunity arose for me to participate in an anthology, which meant writing a short story (5K-10K words). I realized I’d never written a romantic story so short, and I wasn’t sure where to begin. I did a little research on writing short stories in general, and ideas formed. But before I start writing, I want to read similar works. Can anyone recommend a romantic (non-erotic) short story that falls in the 5K-10K range? I’d very much appreciate any leads you can give. 🙂

After promoting other people’s debuts here, it feels weird to be promoting my own, but here I am. Save My Soul: Book One in the Kemmons Brothers Baseball Series was released March 25. What I like most about this book is it’s not what normally passes as category-length, contemporary romance for me. When I wrote it years ago, I was heavily influenced by paranormal’s popularity, and honestly, I was in a confusing space in my life.

Rather than prolong this self-promotion, I’ll leave with this. Nicole said it best: “If you like vivid writing, sparkling sexual tension, and emotional reads check out Save My Soul.”

Save My Soul by Elley Arden

Buy it now at: Amazon and iTunes (BN.com to come)

For more about Elley and her books, visit her website.

When I wrote and edited non-fiction, writing romantic fiction in my spare time was a release. My stories were made-up and barely plausible, and I loved them. My reading tastes were similar—the grander and more far-fetched the better (as long as the stories were set in present times and had a happy ending). My writing and my reading were an extension of my imagination—convoluted and lofty. *grins*

But then I quit my non-fiction job and started writing fiction fulltime. And the longer I wrote fiction and learned about the publishing industry, the more my writing “calmed down.” I strove for stories that would resonate with readers, paint a truer picture of interpersonal relationships, not alienate with too much wealth, power or beauty, and seem plausible. And damn, I struggled, because my brain doesn’t naturally work like that. Crazy things happen in there. 🙂

I’m reading a book right now that I suspect a few people will brush off because it’s a real stretch in the plausibility department. There’s no major angst and little heavy backstory and emotional scars. What’s there is handled without melodrama. And while there’s sexual tension, so far, deep into the 80,000-word book, there is no rush to hit the sheets. It’s a funny, flirty, far-fetched love story, and I ADORE it. I’ve missed books like this. Why aren’t we writing fiction anymore? (I say that tongue-in-cheek of course.) Why is everyone so broken and realistic?

Now, that’s not to say I don’t like a good meaty read with darker characters. I do from time to time. I understand the arguments for realism in fiction, but I happen to be one of those people who prefers to read about the impossible happening. (Maybe that’s because I don’t believe anything is impossible—but I’ll save that for another post.) And I don’t know…maybe this isn’t an issue in other genres. The bottom line is I worry the pressure on writers, especially new writers, to follow the trends and write to specific publishers and even people (editors, agents, other writers, friends) will sanitize the fiction pot. It sure as heck takes the joy out of writing for me.

It comes down to personal preference. It ALWAYS does. That’s why they say write the book you want to read. You won’t please everyone with it, but when it hits the hands of a likeminded person, you’ll make their day.

Elley

When I was doing revisions for Seven-Night Stand with my first editor, she asked if the hero’s brother had a story. (Answer: duh). But it wasn’t finished, so she asked I finish and submit it to her.

Cue: DOUBT.

I had never written anything for a specific editor before. Before, everything I wrote was mainly for me. Sure, I wrote to get published, but mainly I wrote characters I liked in places I liked with conflict I liked and didn’t think much of fitting a mold.

Writing a second book meant fitting a mold. It meant trying to avoid any of the mistakes I’d made in that first manuscript. It meant trying to impress this editor with my dazzling writing skills. I so badly wanted her to like it, to want to acquire it, that I kind of lost sight of something very important.

No manuscript is ever perfect. There will still be revisions and mistakes. That’s kind of what editors are for.

That’s not to say I could phone it in, but agonizing over every plot choice, every comma, every thing wasn’t very productive to getting the job done. At some point you have to trust yourself to write a good story, and trust your editor to see that good story beyond whatever mistakes you might want.

Because whether you agonize or don’t. Whether you stress or are completely zen about it, nothing can really control that outcome. Chances are, the second book will get accepted. And if it doesn’t? You’ve always got more books in you. Rejection isn’t the end of the world (or your career) no matter where in the publishing journey you are.

But that’s another post for another time.

Nicole

What makes a good romance? As a reader, what are you looking for?

Obviously, we need a happily ever after. A hero and heroine we don’t hate, but beyond that, what are your “This Makes a Book Awesome” keys?

For me, I need the following things:

*A hero that does not patronize the heroine. I like heroes in all shapes and sizes, but if they start thinking the heroine can’t walk down the street without help or what she wants isn’t REALLY what she wants because HE knows best, BLECH.

*A heroine with a backbone. Whether it’s developing through the story or she’s always had one, I need a heroine who’s going to stand up to the hero and not say swoon or faint if he looks at her wrong.

*Sizzling sexual tension. I don’t care if there’s a fully described sex scene or not, I want to feel the attraction between hero and heroine crackle.

*A believable conflict. This is why I have a hard time getting into secret baby or amnesia or contractually obligated marriage stories. I want to believe the story is possible. (Please note that POSSIBLE and PROBABLE are different. It needs to be possible, not probable).

Now, I want to know what YOU think? What are your must haves in a good romance? What makes you fling a romance across the room (or mark it DNF on your ereader)?

Nicole

I have two pairs of my favorite shoes. They aren’t my cutest shoes, they’re just the most comfortable…I wish I’d purchased five pairs. Hunky Hubby told me to go back and buy more, but I only bought the two. One pink and one purple, the only colors they had in my size. They’re sandals…sort of, almost tennis shoes, but a sandal, and I could walk in them for hours…maybe days. I’ll be wearing them all day each day at the RWA 2012 Conference in about a week in a half, so hopefully I can walk in them for at least four days.

Is that right? Is it just a week and a half until the conference? Wait…yes, ten days. JUST TEN DAYS, and the only thing I’ve picked out to take is my shoes! Okay, my netbook is going, my cell phone too, the business cards middle son made for my birthday…that are oh so cool, and believe me they are cool…are already packed. But I don’t know what I’m wearing besides my shoes.

I’ll take my black strappy sandals that I love, but they aren’t as comfortable. They may just stay in my suitcase the whole time…they do make me a little taller though, so maybe I’ll wear them anyway. I’ll take a nice pair of heels for Saturday night’s RITA awards, although I’m still not sure what dress I’m wearing. I hope I don’t have to stand too much…I’m really not very good at heels. I do know what suit Hunky Hubby is wearing, and I’ve picked his shirt and tie…just not my dress.

My manuscript is almost ready. I’m working on my pitches for editors and agents, but right now I’m going to go try on all of the dresses that I own, then I may end up at The Mall looking for something new, who knows. Oh, and I need a new sweater too, it can get cold in those hotel conference rooms.

Ah, well, I don’t want to think about what I’m wearing anymore. I’m going to get back to work on my manuscript…and my pitches. I’ve been practicing when I walk on the beach, grocery shop or clean the kitchen. So if you see me talking to myself around town…I’m not some crazy person talking to the voices in my head…oh wait, scratch that, I could be talking to the voices in my head, but if you’re a writer, you’ll understand that. And if you’re not…well, just smile and wave. I’m harmless. No really, I am.

So I’m taking my two pairs of comfortable shoes to the conference. When I ask veteran attendees what I should bring, that’s the one thing they all say. Comfortable shoes. Mine are packed. What are you taking? And if you’re not going, don’t worry; when I get back I’ll share it all. No really, I’m taking lots of notes!

My only currently-writing, truly auto-buy author is Susan Elizabeth Phillips. This woman—I know I’ve said it before, many times—is my romance rock star. She writes stories that make my heart sing. When I grow up—and no, people, I am not grown up. I’m not even 40 yet!—I want to be just like SEP.

Guess what? She has a new book out. *SQUEE!*

You’re probably thinking, “So the frick what. Big deal.” After all, in the digital world, authors have new books out every few months. Read it. Get over it. Move on.

But wait. It can take this woman, this paragon of the single-title romance, years to write a book. So this book, my friends, is a treat of epic proportion for lovers of SEP’s work.

Of course, when it takes years to write a book, sometimes your staunchest supporters forget about you—sorry, SEP!—but not for long. For instance, The Great Escape released yesterday, and I found out TODAY on Twitter. (Thank you, Twitter.) I pulled out my Kindle and hit the purchase button despite the $12.99 price tag. I can hear the chatter now. “That book is overpriced for the e-market.” Maybe, but I could care less. I’d pay twice that, because this woman delivers like no other writer of romance today.

I am fully aware that this is a subjective gush, and many of you will have a different opinion. Like the other day when I told my CP that dirty men don’t turn me on (and she gave a little virtual gasp), to each her own, right? 🙂

Anyhow, I’d planned to write today, BUT now that I have something precious downloaded to my Kindle, I’ll be reading. It’s been a long time since a book has excited me like this. Maybe there is something to the adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Maybe three and four books a year isn’t something every writer should ascribe to. Maybe quicker isn’t always better.

Now, if the elusive Judith McNaught would publish something new, I’d be in my glory!

How about you? Who’s your ultimate auto-buy, the author whose e-book price point could be stratospheric and still get your dough?

E

I learned to write non-fiction in a nine-week junior high speech class. I had signed up for a creative writing class, but it was full, and so was my second choice, music of poetry. Some cruel administrator typed my name on the roll sheet for Public Speaking 101…a class that I never would have willing enrolled in. No one who knows me now will believe this, but I was a very quiet kid. I didn’t talk in class, hated giving oral reports, wouldn’t even raise my hand when I knew an answer. But there I was, an honor roll student who didn’t want to get up and speak, and couldn’t afford to sit there and fail.

I learned a lot of things that improved my writing in those few weeks; how to format my speech, which transferred to formatting reports, papers, and eventually magazine articles and newspaper columns, that reading my writing out loud made it better (I practiced my speeches out loud for hours, but somehow still threw-up before every presentation), and the importance of a good opening and closing hook.

So what does this have to do with writing fiction?

Here I am in full panic over pitching to editors and agents at the Romance Writers of America (RWA) 2012 Conference, and then it was Saturday, not just any Saturday, but my favorite Saturday of the month SECOND Saturday. Yes, that’s right, the OCC RWA meeting.

New York Times Bestselling Author Susan Squires hosted the June “Ask an Author.” Susan shared her writing story, fabulous advice on writing, industry changes and e-publishing, and on how to get the most out of RWA12. This, of course, leads me back to pitching? Preparation is important, and the number one thing to prepare? According to Susan…your hook! Let me say that louder…WHAT’S YOUR HOOK? Yes, you need a complete manuscript with great characters and a solid plot, but to sell your story to readers you need to have a hook…and to sell it to an editor or agent you must know your hook.

Susan gave so much great advice on pitching, on learning craft, on becoming a good writer. If you ever have the chance to meet her and hear her speak, grab it. In the meantime, I’m feeling more confident about pitching. I’m working on a hook that I hope will capture an editor’s imagination…or at least make them ask for more… and I’m packing some barf bags in my suitcase for RWA12, just in case.

So thank you to Susan Squires. I can promise to be better prepared before my pitch, but I won’t promise not to throw-up.

What about you? Do you have a good pitch? What’s your hook? Do you have any good advice on giving a pitch? Please share it with us! We’d love to know.

Tari

So I finished reading my manuscript…again, and in addition to the head hopping and a few transitions that I want to work on, there is something else I’d like to add, a little more humor. When I write my blogs I write the way I think. I just let things fall out of my brain and onto the page. Sometimes I find myself humorous. Sometimes I’m more serious. My favorite blogs are the ones that make me smile while I’m writing them, and even better…the ones that other people tell me made them laugh. It makes my day when I get an e-mail or a message from someone saying, “I read your post this morning, and I was laughing so hard my co-workers had to come over and see what was so funny.” (Thank you, Gayle.) Or, “I look forward to reading more of your hilarious adventures with Hunky Hubby.”

Those who know me, friends and family who are always so great about reading my blogs, are sometimes surprised when they read my blogs. For some reason many of them see me as a serious person…but that’s only because they see the serious, sometimes paranoid, occasionally nervous, and often scatterbrained mom of three sons. They can’t hear the narrative that is running through my head as life is happening to me. Of course if they could, they might be laughing at me instead of with me. (Some of them do this anyway.)

Back to my current WIP…well first, let’s talk about my years of writing non-fiction. Most of the magazine articles and newspaper columns I wrote were informative and factual, not a lot of humor in them. Maybe that’s because I was writing about parenting, cooking, and business communication. Or maybe it’s because I was in the middle of raising children, cooking and life’s general business, and I took it all so seriously. I’m not sure, but if I wrote the same things now, I’d definitely write them with a lot more humor. I’ll admit that when I read the parenting columns I wrote all those years ago, I laugh out loud. Oh don’t get me wrong, they weren’t meant to be funny, it’s just that I thought I knew so much about parenting, and wanted to do it “just right”…I am after all a perfectionist. (This may be news to some of you, but it’s true.) And now that my boys are young adults, well, I don’t think I need to say anymore.

So…really…anyway, my WIP…here and there throughout my manuscript I just let things fall out of my brain and onto the page, and I think it’s funny, but it’s not consistent with the style of the rest of my book. I see places where I’m holding back, where I almost went there, but stopped just short. I don’t know if that’s because most of the books I read have drama, romance, energy and lust, but few are funny, or because that’s the way I was taught to write, seriously. One of the comments that I’ve received several times from the people who have read parts of my manuscript is, “It reads like a romantic comedy,” and yet I keep trying to write it in a style more serious. Kind of like my life with Hunky Hubby, I keep trying to be serious about life, but the truth is, that even with the drama that happens (lay-offs, teen angst & crazy relatives—not that I have any),  the horror scenes that can come up (okay more serious here, blood gushing from a preschooler’s head, rolling a car with all three kids in it), the newsworthy events (the births of our sons, Hunky Hubby’s amazing test score, our moves across the west), well, somehow, I would still classify our life as a romantic comedy.

What do you think? Do you read women’s fiction and romance with humor? Do you write women’s fiction and romance with humor?  Do you wish there was more humor in women’s fiction and romance? Or do you think there is no place for humor in the books you read and write? Tell me, I’d love to know…

Tari

Silly Passion

January 19, 2012

“Anyone can be passionate, but it takes true lovers to be silly.” Rose Franken

I came across this quote on Pinterest, and I love it. I don’t know where the idea came from, or why I felt that way, but long before I started dating I knew that my perfect match wouldn’t necessarily be someone who would sweep me off my feet with grand romantic gestures. Instead I was interested in someone who could make me laugh and someone who could appreciate my own silliness.

Which is why my favorite romance novels, the ones that truly stick with me, are the ones that show the heroine and hero tease each other or have silly moments. In Nora Roberts’ Birthright, the heroine plays the Jaws theme because she knows it freaks the hero out. Makes me giggle every time. In Shannon Stacey’s Yours to Keep, a game of scrabble turns far more steamy, but it starts off in a fun, silly place.

When I think of happily ever after, when you as a writer want me to believe the main characters are in love and will remain that way, when you want me to believe they are companions for life, I need to know they can laugh together, be silly together, as much as I need to know they can get through the hard stuff together.

Nicole