How Killers & Servants Fall in Love

I really hope you noticed this by now, but in case you didn’t…I posted chapter 17 two weeks ago. Due to in-chapter wrestlings with concepts of love and killing, I ended up naming it “On the Kill Side of Love.”

This chapter was both very therapeutic and very difficult to write. I heard Akiyume when they reviewed:

“I’m glad she didn’t unrealistically greet him with open arms. It was time Bre needed to actually see for herself what the ‘beast’ is and decide whether to accept Rome or not.”

standoff_backtoback_shadowplayBut I also heard the cries of:

“Why can’t they just see each other’s love for one another!”

And,

“With love comes trust, and he doesn’t trust Bre at all.”

Some of these are old comments, but they make solid points. Rome is distrusting, since he feels he’s already been betrayed. Both Rome and Bre are new to the idea of love, as unloved orphans, and are naive to the pitfalls of defining love against obsession and fascination, adult lust and childhood crushes. It’s part of what defines this story as less a “coming of age” tale, and more a tale of growing into oneself, of wrestling with those past experiences and hardships that make you who you are now, to choose who you will be. It’s in favor of making the hard choice, when the hard choice is the heart choice, knowing the consequences could be dire.

Through writing this series, I’ve come to realize why people usually don’t write romances with so many conflicts of interest—where both characters are virgin, let alone have a virgin antihero, or start off with the romantic love interests not just estranged but actually at odds. I’m also understanding why things like bondage and abuse are taboos. For those of you who haven’t muddled through writing these things in conjunction with one another, let me help shed some light: Every single one of the aforementioned conflicts propagate endless writing fuel, yet is long and difficult to resolve. If you’re a “pantser” (writing “by the seat of your pants”), like me, it means you have this many scenarios you’re waiting to pan out, without knowing the outcome—almost without knowing whether they will help the plotline progress or not. Maybe one of these conflicts is going to stunt the resolution of the other, and you won’t know it until 30 pages in. Maybe it’ll speed you into the next resolution so fast, the two “aha” moments blend into one.

The truth of the matter is, my story surprises other people because it surprises me. I lay down the ground rules, and the characters write the story. Then one character does something naughty, which the other character may or may not like.

That being said, I somehow ended up with a bastard half-noble child who was taught by his esteemed, deceased father how to break servants to preserve household order. And, well, you can see how that might be a problem, considering years (of antisocialness) later what he wants most in the world is to bed a servant—a servant who previously suffered from bullying, abuse and being broken.

At this point in the story, you probably see why Bre was so tame at the beginning of the story, at the opening of Book 1. Why she let the bullies kick her. Why she didn’t want to be noticed. How attractive it might have been to run wild with Rome before she re-entered what she perceived to be a tomb—a temple she only saw as a tomb after she met Rome, and saw what it meant to be wild and free.

love_kills_by_lmd93-d4bt1ss

Artwork by LMD93

Bre’s perception of Rome’s wildness is getting turned on its head now. She saw the freedoms of wildness, but not its hard edge, not its restrictions, not its narrowed perspective. In chapter 17, she’s faced with the question that’s been before her all along: Can she accept both sides of Rome’s wildness? Can she bed the killer with the boy? After judging him to be more dangerous than her greatest foe, does she even still want to be with him?

This chapter was hard to construct, because how do you get a temple servant to embrace a creature denounced by her religion? How do you get a second-guessing virgin to give herself up to an unruly man who admits to getting outside advice to make up for his lack of knowledge/experience? How do you get an abused girl to not cower before a torturer? How do you get a punished servant not to fear her chains? How do you get a self-conscious girl to let the guy she’s crushed on for a score of years see her naked imperfections? How do you get a lifelong servant to play like she’s worthy of a noble’s utmost attention?

And how do you get the torturing bastard not to look like a jerk?

A large portion of this chapter was a sequence of highly sexual scenes. And whenever I write scenes like that, I wonder how many people I’ll turn away, based on their principles alone. It would have turned me away, once. But, as I’ve read several erotica authors say, The sex isn’t why I write it. And in every sexual scene that I write, I’ve got to hope somebody sees more than pornography.

So, “thank you” to my reviewers, because I can tell not only that you’re enjoying reading my story, but that you’re seeing my characters as people with real struggles and failures and misgivings, in need of growth. I could ask for nothing more.

Stay tuned, because there’s about to be a whole lot of growth.


To my beloved reviewers, who always thrill me with their comments:

I’m so glad you both thought the chapter was “amazing,” and felt there was relational progress! Considering the height of the challenge to keep the characters’ reactions within their personality and development ranges thus far, I’m truly relieved to read your positive responses—particularly after my lengthy absence. So much enthusiasm! I was concerned that I was spending too much time on Rome and Bre, in the bedroom, but maybe that was a much-needed tension release?

trueBibliophiliac, I was genuinely surprised that you found the chapter “sweet.” It was a pleasant surprise. With Rome’s gruffness, and without switching to his perspective, I was worried he might come across too hard or too soft, and I wasn’t sure how much I could put the initiative into Bre’s hands without raising questions of why Rome wasn’t taking back control. If Rome came across as sweet, then his emotions came through to Bre’s perspective after all, and accurately. More on that at the beginning of next chapter. 🙂

You are right to fear for Rome. So if the chapter reveal about the nature of the beast is putting you on edge…good! Now you and Bre (and you other readers) have a better idea of what’s really going on here. And in the next chapter, some of the more antagonistic characters are going to begin to discover that as well. Bet ya can’t guess who just got themselves invited to the party!

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Worst Romance Reader Ever

It’s official: I must be the WORST Romance reader EVER!!!

I love Romance. I even welcome some of the nitty-gritty TMI stuff. So why is it that the last e-book sample I read, written by a respected Romance author, prompted me to make gagging noises and chuck my Nook across the room?

In the writing community, everybody is always talking about HEAs (Happily Ever Afters). And when I come across samples like I just read, it all sounds so suave—even when it’s the detached prodigal son watching a prostitute leave his bed. Bad Boy, okay yeah, I can dig that. But don’t romanticize him. Give me all his rough edges. Let his roughness come across in the writing. Let me feel him. Not feel what “good girls” want him to be underneath from the get-go. I want him to be raw. I want him to be work to get through to.

The last thing I want to do is bash on fellow writers. Indeed, these people have massive followings, so they must be doing something right.

Or everybody is just used to their favorites.

I, for one, have been spoiled off the cultured, individualized character perspectives of Fantasy novels (Teen/YA and otherwise) and manga, down to the things certain characters notice and the language they use—language which often grows and changes through the course of the book, as the character himself grows and changes. So when I start in on a stereotypical Romance novel, and everything reads across in the same smooth monotone, I start to skim. And skim. Until I realize: I’m going to be skimming through this whole book. And then I grunt and groan and flail and flop, because I thought I finally had that book that I was going to read all the way through, and enjoy—that one I’d stay up all night to finish. And instead, I got one I would have set back on the bookstore shelf.

Somehow, I’ve gone from my childhood habit of reading every book that I can get my hands on in my subject of interest, to garage-selling books I don’t like and rarely finishing any books at all.

They say that writers should read widely in their genre of choice. And that’s a nice idea. BUT what happens when you throw those “wide reads” across the room—repeatedly? What happens when that becomes the reason why you keep writing the unpublished manuscript you cart around from coffee shop to coffee shop?

At this point, I just want a good read. A good Romance read, with Fantasy elements, if at all possible. Something I wouldn’t push “snooze” through. It doesn’t have to be spectacular…just, not uniform. Not post-apocalyptic. Not exclusively sci-fi. With realistic, non-sappy, non-bratty, non-stereotypical fictional characters. I mean, come on, this is the Romance section, people! It shouldn’t be this hard to sell me on the male character. He doesn’t have to be a werewolf or a vampire. In fact, I’d prefer if he’s not. He just has to be special.

If you’ve read an adult Romance-Fantasy story that you absolutely fell in love with, feel free to leave a comment below and give it a shout-out! I don’t care if it has mature content, but I DO care if the sex is pointless; character development through sex is an art form. The story doesn’t have to have sex though, just decent Romance with Fantasy. So GO! List away! PLEASE! I’m dying of suaveness overdose and bad storytelling styles.

The Self-Entitled Villain

brainstorm_character_bAs I’ve been writing chapter 16, I’ve realized I don’t know Alonza as well as I think I do. As an author, I expect to know most of the important things about my characters. But Alonza’s personality is so close and yet so estranged from my own, that it’s easy to overlook his motivations. Through diagramming a brainstorming web, and listing off what Alonza wants from Bre, I realized that Alonza’s flaws are mostly entitlement and self-importance. He places his own worth above that of others, and fails to see why other people shouldn’t do the same. Why they shouldn’t give themselves over to his whims. Why they shouldn’t subject themselves to him. Therefore he feels justified in using nefarious means to get whatever he wants—because, of course, he deserves it, simply because he is who he is, and everyone should recognize that.

entitlementUnfortunately, because entitlement and self-importance run so rampant throughout our culture (in real life), they have become almost the norm of treating other people. Meaning, Alonza’s villainy doesn’t stand out as obviously as I assumed it would. This is actually quite sad, as a statement about our culture.

So, my challenge in writing chapter 16 is to make Lord Alonza stand out, as a villain easily distinguishable from the other nobles, from Pandora, from the temple, and from Rome.

You may be surprised that I just included Rome in that list. So was I, when my scene between Alonza and Bre in private turned out to look like a Rome-gone-wrong.

Through this, I discovered that the line between Rome’s self-confidence (in his abilities, and in his place in the food chain) and Lord Alonza’s arrogance (born of his self-entitlement) is very thin. The difference, in case you were wondering, is that Rome has a conscimaster-servant_dummiesence. In other words, if he hurts someone (like Bre, or the “wheat girl”), he feels it. There is something in him that condemns the action, even if he tries to convince himself it was necessary or that it’s just “what he does.” Alonza, on the other hand, would not interpret what he feels when he hurts someone as “condemning.” In fact, he would interpret the internal pressure as pushing him to continue, like he’s going to feel that twinge inside until he experiences the pleasure of finally getting what he wants.

An article I recently read said that one way to make a villain more villainous is actually to not only make the villain more relatable (so readers can understand and almost sympathize with why they’re doing wrong), but also to make the villain the flipside of the hero. To make them like the hero, if the hero had had a different experience, or gone a different route. I’ve read this about minor characters (in general) too.

sketch by Shady95

[sketch by Shady95]

A reader of my story once told me that I should never write something I don’t feel comfortable with. That may sound straightforward, to your ears. But what makes a villain truly villainous? Is it not the heinous crimes they commit? Don’t authors showcase the evil misdeeds of their villains—things they don’t agree with—in order to make a point? Doesn’t the protagonist have to defeat said villain to make a point about the evilness of their deeds? Therefore shouldn’t the misdeeds, and the villain themself, make readers (and author) uncomfortable?

That’s where I get hung up. I can’t stop every time I get uncomfortable writing a villain, can I? And yet, I don’t get uncomfortable very often while writing (unless I think someone is reading [or trying to read] over my shoulder as I’m writing).

The more villainous I try to make Alonza, the more uncomfortable it makes me. But if I’m honest with myself, part of that discomfort comes from Alonza not doing what he’s supposed to—or other characters not responding to him how they’re supposed to. I have a story track in my head, which is great…but my characters have taken on lives of their own. Just like real people, my characters’ responses to news or provocation depend largely upon the right wording, the right tone and volume of voice, the right accompanying gestures or body language, and the right timing.

For instance, if Rome calls Bre a “good bitch” in a seductively affectionate tone, Bre’s probably going to realize that’s not meant as the traditional insult. Whereas a more hotheaded, reactionary character like Kitiora might throw a fit, pull away, and even slap him.

If Alonza drags Bre into his personal chambers and does things that ride the line between cruelty and the promise of pleasure, she’s definitely not going to enjoy it. Because no matter what, her heart is already set on Rome. BUT, if she is given something that tampers with her normal rational state…she might be more receptive (despite her will), and he will look like less of a villain. Even though taking away her ability to contest him is definitely villainous.

See my dilemma?

Realigning with Characters’ Feelings

I’ve been trying to jump back into writing my story, and in so doing, I’ve had to come back to a method that I’ve employed time and time again. I thought maybe, for the sake of other writers who are in the same sort of situation, I should share some advice:

If you think you can jump back into your story after a length of absence, and pick it up right where you left off, don’t. You may be able to. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that you think you remember all that your characters have been through, but you don’t. You remember the facts, the events, the flat progression.

You don’t remember your characters’ feelings.

If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do is go back and reread all of your work thus far to give yourself a clue. It’s too time-consuming. You’ll be tempted to go back and do revisions instead of writing new material. Your writing style has changed since then, and you can’t match it.

My solution?

Take a piece of paper and a pen, and start jotting down the key points of what your characters have been through recently, in chronological order. If you’re totally clueless, you could try starting at the beginning. But if you were in the middle of writing a building-block scene or a significant event, start with the beginning of that event. For instance, I left off 4-5 days into a weeklong party in my story—a party which will have a rather drastic culmination. So I glanced over my chapter titles, and skim-scrolled down my story document from the first party chapter, and began writing bullet points of emotion-driving moments that stuck out as changes from the characters’ previous thoughts or actions.

In other words, I’m tracking character development through the most recent progression of events.

You don’t have to write down things like “he was angry” or “she was jealous,” but your bullet points should bring such things to mind when you see them. Like, “she saw him kissing another girl” brings to mind a bunch of emotions the character should be feeling (i.e. jealousy, loss, a sense of urgency to fix it, etc.).

The purpose of the bullet points is to bring your own emotional scale into line with that of your characters. You felt with them once. You need to feel with them again. If you saw your love interest kissing a girl who was a complete stranger at a party, you would feel ___. If someone offered a pleasant distraction from your girlfriend making out with another guy, you would be ___ if she condemned you for accepting it.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

It’s not enough to jump back into the plotline events. You have to realign yourself so you can breathe in sync with your characters. Only then can you feel out what needs to happen next to move things along.

Hope that helps you as much as it helped me.

Plotting a Runaway

The latest lecture in my workshop has shed significant light on my plotting problems. Such problems are difficult to put words to, and until now, I have only been able to come up with the words “too slow”—as pertaining to pacing. Another writer (or two) said my first book had no plot, but the romance was the point. As a reader primarily of Fantasy novels, in which there is a hero (or background hero, or antihero) that I fall indirectly in love with, the notion of my own fantasy-set novel not having a plot was shocking.

Lately, another reader’s long-ago comment has been rolling around in my head. They said Labriella’s unsanctioned break from the temple had lost its sense of pressing danger. Sure, she was worried about being tracked down by hunting dogs, but as of yet, nothing had ever come of it. How strange for her to be looking out at the lavender-eyed noble’s dogs with nervousness, when thus far she appeared to be in the clear from everything but nobles and wolves (and maybe Rome’s less-than-charming self).

Then today, after fumbling through my online class’s jam-packed lesson, it dawned on me: That’s what is missing from volume 1. That is how to get the plot moving, rather than just having a slow-paced, anticlimactic (IMO) Romance. Labriella can’t tell the reader about Rome, get locked out of the temple, run into Rome, and lay low somewhere until Alonza comes a-calling. It’s not enough for Labriella to be chased in the first chapter. She has to be chased repeatedly, by multiple people. The temple should be actively hunting her down, right off the bat. And there’s no way Labriella wouldn’t try every day to return to the only place she could call home, unless she got notice not to.

So there you have the first part of the new Book 1, which I am of a mind to call “Runaway” (though the overuse of that title in the book market, according to a GoodReads search, looks troublesome). The first few chapters must consist of Labriella actually running away, not just hiding out. The idea must be that every time she thinks she has found a safe place to settle for the time being, somebody else finds her. That makes it plausible that the only safe place to be is potentially with Rome.

The question that then arises, is what to do with Rome’s perspective. If Labriella is running for three chapters, that’s all in her P.O.V. Is it really okay to switch to Rome’s P.O.V. in chapter 4? Maybe, if I continually mention Rome and compare others to Rome in her thoughts? That’s setting her up for quite the heartbreak when Rome debuts his beastliness to save her. If he does that, can I really play the “she doesn’t know it’s him” card, if she is expected to go with him? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean she has to know he still has affection for her…yet. That sounds like a job for a few well-placed keepsakes Bre shouldn’t be snooping around.

The other question is, how much do you (the reader) need to know off the bat? In other words, how much of Labriella’s temple life should I be showing you in the first chapter? Should I give you a one-day walk in her shoes before I shake everything up? Some people would say that means “starting too early.”

Also, because of this new running-away progression, it would probably be best to take the near-rape, Rome-saves-the-day situation out of the would-be first chapter. That’s better left for jealous romantic times.


 

In other news, I am largely done writing Day 2 of Alonza’s party. That’s always a dangerous kind of pronouncement to put in writing—especially since I’ve been lagging for 2-3 days on writing the ending, and am almost out of my groove now. It’s because I would rather be writing the next exciting scene, then following up the scene I just wrote with dialogue. Bitching and moaning, I know. Maybe that means the talking part will be super brief, so I can just get on with it. I want Day 3, damnit!

Ending dialogue: Tomorrow’s project.

And no, that is not a procrastination statement.

New Chapter, New Workshops, New Member

For those of you who haven’t dropped by FictionPress in the last couple days, I have (FINALLY) posted chapter 12.

Bre_showcaseLabriella and Rome reunite in time for Lord Alonza’s party, and there is definitely still chemistry between them. But when Lord Alonza makes it clear he plans to use Labriella to provoke Rome, can Rome trust Labriella’s loyalty enough to play it cool?

Go look up “Showcase” to read about how Rome and Labriella fare on Day 1 of Lord Alonza’s party!

Just so you know, I’m thinking of all of the chapters dedicated to Alonza’s party as falling under the banner of “Showcase.” I’m just dividing them up into parts by length. I’d love to have each chapter/part be a separate day, but I think Day 2 will be a little short for that, and Day 3 might be a bit lengthy.

Thank you so much to my 12 readers who have responded to my end-of-chapter request! Your support has inspired visions of what the next few chapters need to be. I welcome any additional suggestions or constructive opinions/feelings my other readers have yet to voice. 🙂

◊     ◊     ◊

My workshop frenzy has slowed, but not ended.

Last month I attended a YRW (Yosemite Romance Writers) seminar presented by Margie Lawson, called “Empowering Characters’ Emotions.” I admit that, based on the title and the bullet-point description, I went into the event expecting a prolonged lecture about how important it is to communicate characters’ emotions through speech, body language, and portrayal of settings. I can honestly say that I am glad that is not what I got. Margie Lawson has created a color-coding system for self-editing your mach_highlight_EDITSnuscript. And considering she is both an editor and a psychotherapist, you can expect her home-crafted EDITS system to be analytically in-depth. If you’re on the verge of your next major revision, and you want to take your editing to the next level, I highly suggest you look into this. I won’t be ready to employ half of the techniques I’ve learned from her until I complete my next step of revisions, but that doesn’t mean I’m shelving them. This EDITS system is a MUST for self-publishing authors, and a “should have” for authors aiming for traditional publishing. I’ve read too many indie books on my Nook that could have benefited from this.

The members of the RWAOLKiller Openings” workshop by Alexa Bourne provided some extremely helpful feedback for me on which opening for the BeastKing Chronicles would be most gripping. It would seem now that which opening I start with depends upon whether my series is considered Romance with fantasy elements, or Fantasy with romantic elements. At this point, Book 1 almost solely Romance, with Book 2 leading that way as well. But I have buried the original plot. If I bring that plot back to the forefront in the next revision, as I plan to, then my instructor for this month’s workshop believes that my story will be Fantasy.

claws1This month’s online writing workshop is called “Balancing the Paranormal and the Romance,” taught on Yahoo Groups by Shannon Donnelly through FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic, & Paranormal Romance Writers—an offshoot of RWA). I realize my novels are High Fantasy, and “Paranormal” usually connotes Urban Fantasy. However, seeing as Rome’s beast nature is very much a paranormal anomaly within the High Fantasy world that I have created, I hope this workshop will inspire me with ways to subtly introduce, mix in, and play off of the supernatural elements in my story.

ch-network_RWATo give a little perspective to the workshops I’ve been attending (thinking they were separate entities)…RWA is a big non-profit, international organization, and each RWA offshoot is called a “chapter.” I stumbled onto this Chapters network by accident, by following an author’s blog links to a master listing of RWA workshops. You don’t have to be a member to attend the workshops, although membership does afford you discounts. You do, however, have to be a member of the larger organization in order to become a member of a Chapter.

I recently became a RWA member so I could join the Online Chapter…Or so I thought. What I didn’t realize when I signed up was that I wasn’t just paying for Chapter access, discounts, a magazine subscription, and getting my name out. There are all kinds of opportunities and programs built into a RWA membership, even for an Associate Writer (which I became)—not the least of which is a Critique Partner Matching Program. And, as an Associate member, Romance doesn’t have to be my primary genre. Perfect fit. If you don’t mind throwing down 100 bucks, plus a startup fee. I admit, that was a little painful for me. I consoled myself by realizing the price of membership is equivalent to the difference between the annual conference cost for members vs. non-members, if I attend.

Feel free to comment with any questions you may have about workshops, etc. I know what it’s like to try to navigate and figure it all out on your own. I’ll be honest if I don’t know the answer to your question, but then again, I might be able to point you in the right direction.

Story Progress: Mixed Basket

Woohoo! I just finished writing chapter 11! Alright, so it’s not completely typed up yet; that’s the next stage. But it’s written! Yay!

I’m also partway into my rewrite of chapter 2 in volume 1. I admit I’m still moving parts around on my rewrite of chapter 1; I can never seem to get the opening just right. But I think I’ve finally found my opening lines:

No ward shall leave the temple, unless expressly instructed by their superior.

Most wards probably thought this rule was meant to encourage new maidens to settle into their new home—to leave behind their noble families and embrace their new role.

They were wrong. This rule was made for people like me.

This way, I have a hook in my first line, and it’s the catalyst for everything that is to come. I cite the rule, and all that follows is what happened this one time when the rule was broken—or rather, when the stipulation at the end of the rule got in the way. This will keep the opening in Labriella’s perspective. After these lines, the question is how much to show of a normal day in the temple, or whether I should just start with the bullying and lead straight into Mistress Healer’s errand.

The other current question in my rewrite of chapter 2 is what to do after Rome saves Labriella from the men who try to rape her. Rome kills all the men, and disappears back into the forest. Labriella doesn’t know her savior is Rome; it’s too dark, and his appearance is altered. Should she run after him, like she did when she got lost in the forest all those years ago? If so, then should he scare her away, or turn her away? Allow her to hide out in the forest, or take her back to his house? Should he have been living in his house all this time, or does he only return to give her a safe place to stay?

Or should Labriella stumble away from the carnage, back to the village? There she can get taken in for the night by a common family, and then make her way to the inn in the morning—the condensed version of some things I already wrote.

I kind of like the idea of her running after Rome better. But if she follows him home, how does Rome’s noble heritage come into play?

If I dealt solely with the temple runaway issue and the lovebirds’ reunion in the first book, and left the noble heritage dealings until the second book…would the first book have a plot?

Uggh, so many questions. >_<

In the meantime, I’m attending an online workshop called “New Kid on the Block: A Guide to Writing New Adult,” put on through Maryland Romance Writers with Chanel Cleeton as the instructor. There are precious few of such New Adult (NA) resources available (at least that I have been able to find), so I jumped on this opportunity to receive feedback on whether or not my story is actually NA–even though it meant joining the group late.

I signed up for another online writing workshop this week, called “Inside the Male Mind.” It’s through Colorado Romance Writers, and it’s about writing from a male character’s perspective. I look forward to the insight on how to make Rome’s P.O.V.  more authentically masculine.

I also joined a Critique Connection group, organized by Janice Hardy over at Fiction University. But after joining the Fantasy Faction, I realized that although I would absolutely love to critique other fantasy writers’ works, my manuscript might not fall enough under the Fantasy umbrella for it to qualify. What I probably need is a Paranormal Romance group. It ruffles my feathers a little, because my story does not take place in the real world, as so many other paranormal romances do. But the reality is that my plot is strongly romance-based, and I feel a bit timid about asking fantasy writers to critique my romance. They’re awesome, but fantasy writing comes at plot orchestration from a different angle.

I feel like such a mixed basket right now.

Ah well. The good news that I hope you take out of all this is that I am actively taking steps to better my story (including all the endless hours of outlining attempts that I have not yet mentioned), and I should have my next chapter out in the next couple days if all goes well with typing.