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.

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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.

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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.

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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: Queen of Swords

Book: Queen of Swords

Author: Katee Roberts

Recommendation: Worth a Read

QueenofSwords

Not sure I’m any more qualified than the next person to leave a review, but I’ll try to give it a shot with a book I recently finished.

No-Spoilers

All in, this sci-fi romance was a decent read.

World-Building

The world-building is spectacular. Seriously, this is by far the best part of the book. The world, the religions, the people. The aliens are truly alien. For example, I love how you can tell one alien’s feelings from how his fur shifts. These are not humans with pointed ears.

The author uses a Tarot deck throughout, and she seems to have really studied up on it. I also love how the force acting through the cars is simply the Lady. You decide if she’s a goddess or Lady Luck.

Sanctify makes a fabulous villain, and the torture techniques they use to “purify” are truly gruesome. Seriously bad villain.

 

Hero and Heroine

The hero and heroine have chemistry. The steamy scenes aren’t memorable, but they’re pretty good.

He’s been through hell and back, though he’s still clearly your protective alpha male. I liked him much more than I thought I would.

The heroine is not a damsel in distress. She is strong, competent, and feisty. Hellcat is used to describe her. More than this, I like the fact she’s comfortable with her sexuality, knows what she wants, and takes it.

 

Story

The plot intrigued me once we got over some plot holes large enough to drive car through trying to get the characters in a situation where they’re stuck together, but I was ready for the author to get on with it around the three-quarter mark. I felt like some of the middle was go-nowhere-filler as we ramped up for the climactic showdown between the hero and his half-brother.

The writing is a bit clumsy at points, particularly in the beginning as the author sets up the entire story line and gets the hero and heroine stuck being together. Sadly, this extends to the smack-upside-the-head way that the author introduces that the heroine is pregnant. Other parts, such as the heroine being able to hack a com terminal, should have been discussed before she actually hacks it.

This is all the more strange as other times the author makes a big deal out of things like sharp sticks being used in the heroine’s hair that never have any purpose.

I was disappointed with the end. I was expecting so much more. The big climactic ending. The heroine and hero standing up and defeating impossible odds together. While we got a happily-ever-after, I didn’t feel that fist pump moment when the hero and heroine win.

As a matter-of-fact, I was really disappointed with how easy the whole ending was and how little the heroine figured into it. I still don’t understand why the hero didn’t do what he did years ago and end the threat his brother posed back then.

The ending also left certain things unresolved. Either the author didn’t tie up loose ends, or she left them loose for the next book in the series. That seriously irritates me. Still, this is a romance, so the hero and heroine do get together.

 

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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.

 

 

 

Book Review: Nothing Like a Duke

BookNothing Like a Duke

Author: Jane Ashford

Status: Don’t bother.

This book was one in a series. It may have been better if I’d read the rest of the series, but I doubt it.

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Premise: I’m sure there is a premise… Woman goes to a house party and the man she loves happens to be there, but she didn’t know he’d be there, and he didn’t know she’d be there. Yeah, I’m still not sure what the story was supposed to be about, and I read the book.

Plot: I couldn’t find one. The hero goes to a house party to forget the heroine for reasons. Didn’t read the other books, so I don’t know why. Heroine goes to the same house party for reasons. I never really figured out why she went. It’s not clear other than she wanted to see the ton, but why she does must’ve been in another book.

While nothing in this book was deep, the part that was very disturbing to me was the way the author treated PTSD. I don’t think she did any research on it, or if she did, it was very superficial.

  • The heroine was apparently captured, tied up, and helpless at one point in an earlier book.
  • We’re told this is a big deal toward the end of the book. We’re never shown her nightmares, her fear of men, her fear of being in tight places (which happens). Even her being caught in a brier bush is told to us from the hero rather than a very deep and dramatic scene for the heroine.
  • The “cure” for this was for her to be attempted to be raped by another man and for the heroine to escape on her own.

I know very little about PTSD. Maybe this would work, or maybe it would deepen her fears. I don’t know. But the way it was handled was not believable to me.

Romance: The hero, Robert, already loves the heroine, Flora, from another book. Flora also loves Robert and has no real reason not to want the romance to happen. I’m not sure why this book wasn’t over in less than 50 pages rather than the 352 it took.

Steamy Scenes: There were none. Not one. So this isn’t where the filler came from to get to the 352 pages.

Imagery: Nothing was ever really brought alive for me. Nothing felt sumptuous or beautiful. So, this isn’t what filled the 352 pages, either.

Characters: There is no character development. Robert starts out as Robert and ends as Robert. We’re told he’s celebrated by the ton, what all gentleman aspire to be. Perhaps we were *shown* that in previous books, but not this one.

Flora learns all people in the ton are people rather than caricatures, but that’s really not a lot of growth, either. We’re told Flora is smart so freaking many times I was ready to scream. And she’s beautiful. And she’s smart. And she’s charitable. And she’s smart.

One of the things I hated most about this book is that so much of it focused on a rivalry between the heroine and another female character over the hero. It started to boarder on the absurd, and frankly, I am tired of the trope. I prefer to see female friendships rather than competition over a man. It was such a blatant competition, the one woman literally called the other her competitor. Yuck.

 

All in, I’d rather do the dishes or vacuum than read this novel a second time.