My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

So, when I mentioned that I’m working on a romance novel, or several of them, I also said that editing them consumes much of my writing time.

64514455
Editing is about like this for me.

Beth Turnage had a question on what I do to revise my novels, but it’s so integral to how I write, that I thought I’d share my process.

I’m not saying this is good or bad as every writer is different. As with most creative endeavors, what works for one artist won’t work for another. But here’s my:

My Eleven Steps to Writing a Romance Novel

1. Spend Some Time Thinking about the Characters

You’ll notice I didn’t say plotting. And I don’t. I wish I did, oh, how I wish I did! You may have noticed that I tend to be an organized person with a spreadsheet for most things. But I can’t do it with writing. Yet.

CharactersPlot
But the plot will resolve itself if I’m mean enough to the characters.

But I didn’t say plotting, I said thinking about the characters. Who are they? What motivates them? Why do I care about them? If I’m really lucky, I can toss the characters around with my husband. Talk about them, about what they’d do in different situations. This is my sandbox time with them. Nothing is off the table. Sometimes, I’ll come up with characters and situations that lead to two stories. Sometimes, they bore me and I table them until later.

Honestly? This is one of the most fun parts of writing.

2. Write the Skeletal First Draft

I’m not kidding about it being skeletal. My first draft of the romance novel is very bare bones. Usually around 40k-45k words for a book that will end up being around 70k-80k words. I’m not sure why I write this way, but I’m not one of the authors that needs to cut a lot. Usually, I need to add more. A whole lot more. But that’s for the second draft. This first draft gets down the characters and what’s happening in the story. Mostly.

skeleton-1522620_640
Yeah, my first draft looks about like this

3. Take 6 Weeks Away from the First Draft

Yep. I now spend at least six weeks away from the first draft. I have plenty of other editing to do, or another first draft to write.

4. Go Back and Make the First Draft Coherent

At this stage, I read the first draft again so I have a clue what I’m facing. Then, I try to weave any themes I see later in the book into the earlier sections as I focus on adding all the stuff I skipped in the first draft. This tends to include, but is not limited to:

  • Writing better transitions
  • Adding details such as taste, sounds and smell
  • Giving a better insight into characters’ thoughts and feelings.

Many times, this draft will include adding entirely new scenes. In one story I wrote, it involved moving when the hero and heroine are married from the end of the book to the beginning. Yeah, huge change. But as I was reading the draft, I realized there was a huge plot hole, and to fix it, the hero and heroine required an earlier wedding. It meant using other things to “keep them apart”, but the novel was much better for the change. It was still a lot of rewriting.

5. Tidy Up the Second Draft

At this point, most of the stuff is in the right places. This revision has me looking more at are characters being true to themselves in dialogue tags and mannerisms. Tidying up word choices, particularly word repetition. I add more description, and I smooth over as many rough edges as I can find.

6. Send It to My Alpha Reader

I then send the romance novel to my Alpha reader. They are not a detailed reviewer. Rather, they tell me if they liked the story. If they liked the characters. If they wanted to see the hero and heroine get together in the end, and if the obstacles in the story were believable. They also tell me if there is anything unclear. If I have to explain a part to my alpha reader, then I need to go in and fix it to make it clear as I won’t have that option with a final reader.

7. Alpha Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my alpha reader recommended (usually all). I do another clean-up revision while doing this.

8. Send it to My Beta Reader

At this point, I feel like the story is pretty clean, so I send it to my beta reader. I only have one at this point, but she’s awesome. She gives me constructive criticism where I need it, but she also points out what I’m doing well. She does a much more detailed review, marking areas that feel rushed, transitions that need work, or spots that aren’t clear. She also makes sure my characters stay in character. If I get cheesy or whiny (which, I’ve gotten MUCH better about), she’ll tell me that, too.

beta-reader
And she’ll tell me those doubts, too.

9. Beta Reader Revision

I go through the story again and make most of the changes my beta reader recommended. This sometimes has a few larger things to address, and as I do them, I do another revision of my own.

10. Detail Revision

This is the revision where I go through the work and look for word choice, punctuation, grammar, all the important things so that the writing itself is understandable and errors don’t pull you out of the work. I purchase Pro Writing Aid this year, and I am going to try that as well.

11. Final Polishing Edit

One last look through before I release my book baby into the wild.

I’d love to afford a real editor, but at $2 per page, I’d be looking at almost $700 to have a book edited. and that’s on the cheaper side. I’m sure they’d make my work better, but I just can’t afford them yet.

So, there it is. I will say that this is my most recent pattern. The first book I wrote after taking up the keyboard again is sitting mothballed, and that doesn’t include all the other ones I wrote ages ago that are also forgotten electrons.

The first romance novel I wrote that I actually plan to publish took a far more circuitous route to finish. But as I now have six novels in progress, not including the ones I started and kicked aside along the way, I’m starting to find my rhythm. It might not be perfect, but it’s mostly working for me.

If you’re a writer, what’s your process? Even if you’re not a writer, any tips or pointers on editing? Maybe you do something else creative? If so, what’s your process?

Book Review: North of Need

Book: North of Need

Author: Laura Kaye

Status: Did Not Finish (DNF)

NorthofNeed

I normally wouldn’t post this, but as Ms. Kaye is already a NYT bestselling author, I’m not really hurting her any by not liking a book. I found the book from a very popular romance blog, and they liked it, so it could just be me that didn’t care for it.

I was looking for a nice Christmas romance to distract me from a rough patch at work. I so wanted to love this book as the premise sounded cool. I got to the 40% mark on my Kindle and decided I was done.

The premise is cool, but the author didn’t do it justice.

I figured it would be worth discussing what made me stop reading. Perhaps it won’t bother you, and you’ll love the book.

There were really three things that made me stop:

1.  Unrealistic Characters – The characters, frankly, were unrealistic. The heroine was a widow, and her grief was real and raw. I bought that. At no point did I really buy her connection to the hero. This is a romance novel, and that’s a must for me.

I gotta tell you, the heroine got over her fear and terror of a strange man far too quickly.  The author needed to work for this and didn’t. Seriously, if I give a stranger sanctuary in my house from a snow storm, then find him sleeping on my bedroom floor, holding my hand when I wake up, my response is not going to be to find it comforting.

The hero was already in love with the heroine before they met. Sure, the author has reasons for this, but I’d way have rather he fell in love with her on his own. Especially as I found those reasons a little creepy.

 

2. Where’s the Plot? – At the 40% point, there is absolutely no reason for the characters not to be together. The author has already given away all of the cool mystery surrounding the plot. Which was cool, but the execution of explaining it to us the reader was awful. Rather than dumping it on our laps through exposition, this could’ve been unfolded slowly through the story, used to add tension and drama as the characters come together.

Instead, we’re literally told why the hero loves her and why he agreed to this “mission”. We know the heroine lusts for the hero. Only thing keeping them apart is maybe her grief for her lost husband, but as we get direct permission from the great beyond by the 40% mark that the dead husband is okay with it, things seem resolved to me.

 

3. Weak Writing – After unbelievable characters and a missing plot, the prose itself follows suit. We have abrupt transitions, no real scene setting, and no real pacing. Not surprising, I suppose, as there isn’t much of plot.

 

All in, the only thing that might recommend this book is if you are actually a widow or widower. Perhaps then things will mean more to you. While the story is definitely a tear-jerker around the heroine being widowed and all she’s going through, I just can’t get through the rest of it to finish. As far as I’m concerned, we already have a happily-ever-after at the 40% mark, and that saves me from having to read the rest of it.

Sounds of Silence

Be careful what you wish for because sometimes the sounds of silence are deafening.

Silence1.png

 

I have mentioned it a couple of times in the past how my oldest child corners me in the car and peppers me with questions. Some of them very difficult. Sometimes I dreaded the ride.

Since she started kindergarten this year, that car ride has been reduced from approximately 10 minutes to less than one. I now drop her off with a woman very near us who watches kids in the morning before they head off to school.

At first, I thought this would give me some time with my youngest. A few minutes in the morning for us to bond. She’s more reserved than her sister, and sometimes this can mean her sister overshadows her. However, my youngest daughter is NOT a morning person.

mornings1
Yeah, about like this.

 

So, while the occasional squirrel gathering nuts, dog being walked, or goose parade gets a comment, most mornings it’s just quiet. I’ll ask her questions, try to sing to her, and all I get is either a grumpy grunt or, “Walk away, momma!” That is her general response for leave me the heck alone, and is said in an angry, crabby toddler voice.

So, I let her have her quiet time.

Maybe once I get used to this, I can use the time to think through plots, characters, and story arcs. Or maybe I’ll use it as time to plan my day. Or maybe I’ll follow her lead and just use it as time to wake up.

Life so seldom works out the way you think it will. Who knew I’d miss questions about how big the earth is, why is the south pole colder than the north pole, and why boys don’t say excuse me when they fart?

boyfarts

But I do.

Kids are amazing, wonderful, horrible creatures that consume your writing time and make you worry. They are expensive and infuriating. And they’ll make your heart melt when they give you a card out of the blue telling you how much they love you.

It’s a wild ride, tumultuous and full of the unexpected. Like missing fifty questions in the morning.

 

How about you? Ever gotten an unexpected break from something and found you missed it more than you thought you would? Or maybe you think I’m crazy, and you were totally relieved to get a few minutes of peace?

Book Review: Her Viken Mates

Book: Her Viken Mates

Author: Grace Goodwin

Viken

This is not my normal reading fare, as you may have noticed from my other book reviews. I am not entirely sure why I picked it up.

Okay, that’s not true. I do know. It was curiosity, plain and simple. It appeared in my Amazon feed, and while I was intrigued, but didn’t buy it. The book then intruded on my consciousnesses during my drive home, and as I had some digital credit with Amazon, I decided to give in to temptation and see what it was all about.

 

Characters

These are flat, one dimensional characters. Expect no growth because you’re not going to get any.

 

Plot

There was one. Somewhere. But it’s even less important than most other romance novels I’ve read. The plot is as one dimensional as the characters, and I’m actually somewhat surprised how contrived it was. I was shocked how quickly characters believed a heroine from another planet who was there as an interstellar bride. There is no real reason for them to do that. Nor is there a reason that the villain would do what they did or give their hand away as they did. But, you know, plot wasn’t what this book was about.

 

Steamy Scenes

This is why you’re reading the book. The novel opens with steamy scenes, and the steamy bits probably take up at least 50% of the story, maybe more. It does include multiple lovers simultaneously, and I have never read anything like it, though I know this is not uncommon in romance. Just uncommon to me. As far as I can tell, the author handled it well.

 

Writing Style

While the writing was just okay, it was relatively free of grammatical and punctuation errors. It was also properly formatted to the Kindle. When she did a jump in PoV, which she did often, she used a new chapter and labeled the chapter with the person whose eyes you were now seeing through.

 

Themes

Despite the fact that this was really just an excuse for steamy scenes, there were some pretty interesting themes running through a book that was mostly steamy scenes. Issues of trust came up time and again, but more than just trust, it was also about consent. This played throughout the book. I was pleasantly surprised by this. There was never even a hint of rape culture in the book, and while rushed, it did let the heroine explore her sexuality without guilt. Rather, her mates encouraged her to explore it.

 

 

 

I Hate Trilogies and Here’s Why

I hate trilogies. I know, many of you will disagree with me and point me to epics like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.

eagles
But I digress.

Well, Tolkien actually intended that to be a single book that publishers thought was too long for the audience of the time. So, they chopped it into three. Which, explains a lot, especially for those of us that saw the movies before we read the books and were quite angry at the end of the first movie when Frodo still had the blasted ring. After how ever many hours. With no bathroom break.

But that’s a story for another time.

No, my hatred of trilogies goes back to my childhood. I’d read a book called The Dark Angel.  Yeah, this story sticks in my head so much I remember the name even many decades later.

Darkangel
Art didn’t look anything like this back in the 80s when I read it.

I was so in love with this book, that I got my mom to take me to the library and snapped up the second book in the series, A Gathering of Gargoyles. What I didn’t know or understand at the time is what a trilogy was. But I was about to find out.

After devouring the second book as well, and I was totally rooting for the heroine and the hero to finally get together. To get their happily-ever-after. Yeah, I was a romance reader from the beginning. I’d been raised on Disney, and I had certain expectations even though I read these long before the Little Mermaid made its debut.

adulting4
I had no idea why Ariel wanted to be human when I so desperately wanted to be a mermaid.

So, I got to the end of the second book, and I wanted the third book. I begged my mom to take me to the library. After a bit of wrangling, she finally agreed. But the library didn’t have the third book. I lived in a small town with a small library. So I begged, whined and wheedled to get my parents to take me to the big library in the city that allowed me to borrow from them through a library exchange program. This was long before Amazon, and my family had to be frugal. No point buying what we could borrow.

Finally, my parents agreed to take me to the big the library the next day. I wasn’t happy, but if we went early enough, I’d have the book and still be able to finish it before school on Monday.

We got to the library when thy first opened the next day, but I couldn’t find the third book. I searched and searched. I couldn’t even find it in the card catalog. Yeah, I’m old. I not only know what one of these is, but I knew how to use them.

earlygoogle
Yup, like this.

Finally, I ask the librarian. She says if they don’t have the book, they could probably get it from the even bigger library system in the city of Milwaukee. It would only take a week or so.

A week!!

To my elementary school brain, that was forever. But I really wanted the book. So, she went to look it up and see if Milwaukee had it.

She comes back, but she isn’t holding the library hold slip. My heart thumps. Then she asks if I’m sure the book exists.

With the indignation of a elementary school child, I show her the three titles on the back of the current book. She checks again, and after some time (during which my parents and little sister are getting antsier and antsier), the librarian comes back to tell me the book hasn’t been published yet. There’s no release date on it, so it’s at least a year or two off.

 

I was devastated. How could I leave these characters not know what happened to them? I loved them, I wanted them to get together and be happy.

I cried on the way home, further angering my parents.

child-sitting-1816400_640
About like this.

While I didn’t get it then, as a parent now, I totally understand their frustration. They did something to make me happy, something that was a pain for them, and it backfired. I was the exact opposite of happy.

Eventually, my tears dried, and being the precocious child I was, I wrote the author. I told her I loved her books and was wondering when the next one in the trilogy would be out as I had to know what happened next.

Kindly enough, she wrote me back and said she was still writing it. She also sent me an autographed hardcover(!) copy of another of her books, Birth of the Firebringer.

firebringer
It was the 80s. Don’t judge.

We were very frugal, and hardcover books were not in the budget. I was beyond excited to actually have a hardcover book, all my own, signed by the author.

But I only read it once.

See, I’d already suffered the pain of not being able to complete a trilogy. So, the very first thing I did was check and see if there were more books in this series. There were. Not all of them were out.

So, I put it in the cupboard above my bed. And there is sat for years. Every once in a while I’d check to see if all of the books in the series were out. See if it was time to read them. I continued to look for the third book in the Dark Angel series.

Eventually, all of the Firebringer books were out. So was the Dark Angel book. But I was five years older. Five years for a kid is a really long time. I was now in junior high. Reading Terry Brooks, Shakespeare, and Victoria Holt. I’d outgrown these books.

I did finally read the last Dark Angel book and hated it. This is a spoiler, but it came out almost three decades ago, so I’m going to let slip that the trilogy didn’t have a happy ending. Victoria Holt had already spoiled me. I expected more.

I did read Firebringer, but I never bothered to even look for the other two books in the trilogy. I had already moved on.

But these lessons stuck with me. To this day, I will not read a series until it’s complete. I want to know I’m going to get an ending.

 

How about you? Do you love trilogies? Hate them? What was your first experience with one?

 

Where Did You Come From?

A bit of a story snippet that came to me when I was on my way to work. I didn’t stop to write it down, but I did remember it all the way home where I did write it down. Wondering if this is the beginning of a new story.

 

Alex rocked back in his expensive leather chair, the scatter of papers across his desk not enough to hold his attention. Numbers scrawled across the sheets, thousands of them, but Alex knew what they said. Already knew how to turn a profit for himself and his investors on this venture.

Boredom nipped the edges of his thoughts.

He pushed himself out of his chair and stomped toward the door. He knew where boredom led, had followed it there before, and it never brought anything good.

Who is Alex? What are his hopes and fears? More importantly, what trouble has boredom gotten him into in the past? How is he going to escape it?

Is he the hero or the antagonist?

So many more questions than answers!

If this inspires a story for you, please drop me a link to it in the comments.

This popped into my head while I was in the car, and it had enough importance to my brain that I actually remembered it all the way home so I could write it down. Car time and shower time are the two places my brain does most of its thinking. Helping me resolve plot holes in a story, giving me new ideas, or helping me solve world hunger.

Most of them I forget by the time I get to a place that I could write them down.

Looks like this story really wants to be written. Or at least considered.

Have you ever had thoughts come to you in the car? Or maybe the shower? Maybe they were the solutions to problems at work or home? New characters? A new story? Maybe you’re reading something and you suddenly solve the central mystery?