Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Typing "The End"

by Sharon Lathan

I am thinking we would all agree that one of the high points in writing our stories is to type "The End" in bold print at the bottom of that final page. Maybe it is just me, but I always flash onto the scene in Romancing the Stone when Joan Wilder types those words - on a real typewriter no less - and is dissolving into tears while searching high and low for a tissue. I love that scene! Of course, until recently it was just a humorous moment in a movie with no relationship to my life. Now I have typed those words a few times, most recently two days ago. And let me tell you, it is a fabulous feeling!

Of course, we know that just because we type "The End" it really isn't the end. We will read it over a few more times before we click the attach and send buttons. We will add a little bit here, take away something there, find some typo or misspelled word, all before we are satisfied enough to turn it over to our editor. And then it will be picked over by a series of editors (praise God!) who will find more sentences and paragraphs or - heaven help us - whole sections or chapters that need to be rehashed. Hopefully it will not be too agonizing and the finished, published product will not vary too much from what we submitted.

Yet for all the work that is ahead of us before that shiny bound novel is in our hot little hands, the real challenge is going from a vague concept in our head that starts with some "It was a dark and stormy night" catchy beginning sentence to typing "The End." When we get there we aren't fretting over the work to come. Rather we are leaping for joy at the incredible sense of accomplishment. Like Joan Wilder we are overcome with emotions.

I have typed "The End" after four novels with surging emotions each time. Relief, happiness, satisfaction, giddiness, touches of fear and doubt, and a whole lot more that I am not sure there are names for. The journeys from inception to completion differed and the challenges varied along the way, making each process special. But for me the prior undertakings were similar in many respects whereas this recent “The End” came after a totally unique experience in several fundamental ways.

First off, I was writing a novella. Early in my writing endeavors I wrote two short stories that have now been incorporated into the whole of my saga. I suppose that gave me some experience. However, this time I had a specific word count to keep in mind and that was a very new phenomenon for me. It is one thing to dream up a great story and jot down a hazy outline, and another thing entirely to pull it off within an allotted boundary! “Anywhere from 20-30,000 words” sounds like loads of wiggle room until you get down to those final few thousand and realize you have so much left to say. Yikes!

Secondly, I was given a particular theme to write about. Actually, this was the easiest part for me. My wonderful editor, Deb Werksman, approached me for a Darcy Christmas themed novella that is to be part of an anthology released next year. She was receptive to any direction I wanted to take as long as Christmas and the Darcys were in there somewhere. Oh my! The possibilities are endless when one thinks about it! Yet at the same time for me this was a first: Being asked to write within a specific topic. But since Christmas is my favorite holiday and I had already written of the Darcys celebrating Christmas twice, it was easy for me to come up with ideas. Perhaps too easy! I needed to rein in the numerous thoughts and keep it cohesive with its own plotline.

Third, I was writing under a deadline for the first time. I know, I know.... Many of my writer friends are going to heave rotten tomatoes smack on my head for that one! Sorry!! But for me this was a unique experience. And one I am not sure I liked! Yes, it was good to have that discipline, I have discovered. When Deb broached the subject way back in June, getting a mere 30,000-word novella done by the end of the year (or Nov. 19 as it ended up) sounded like AGES away. No problemo! Heck, I had nearly half of it written before Nationals in July! So what happened? Well, there were vacations to take, conferences to attend, family crisis to deal with, blogs to write, a book to launch, and that pesky RL job to show up for. Oh, and family! Yep, they require some attention! Suddenly that looming date circled in bright red on my calendar was creeping closer and closer. The upside is that I learned to buckle down and get serious, even if that meant turning off the email alert and Facebook chat!

Fourth, my novella was the first undertaking after the release of my debut novel. Somehow the expectations felt different. Maybe most of that was in my head, but with what I hope is a long career stretching out ahead of me and with readers potentially waiting anxiously for the next Sharon Lathan written story (Hey, I can dream!), I felt a keen sense of pressure to perform. Ha, performance anxiety! Something none of my male characters will ever suffer from, but I was occasionally flustered by this annoying voice in the back of my head yammering at me. Sometimes that voice sounded like the critics, sometimes it was my editor, sometimes it was my praising fans, and sometimes it was my own doubt and indecision. Valid or not, like it or not, gone are the days of writing blithely only for my pleasure. I do have others to consider beside myself. *sigh

Yet, as I stare at the typed “The End” to my 29,957-word novella that I have titled, “Reflections of Christmas at Pemberley,” I am satisfied. I really love it! I am confident that Deb will love it and feel it fits perfectly into the themes for this anthology. I know my faithful fans will adore it. I have hope that new readers will smile at the glimpses of Christmas with Jane Austen’s beloved characters that I have given them. And I no longer fret over the critics! LOL! Whatever hair-ripping work may be ahead of me, I have accomplished something remarkable in reaching The End.

Tell me how it felt for you! Your best experience in writing or most celebratory The End you typed.

**On a side note:
This Thursday, Oct. 22, I will be at the Hanford library for the Friends of the Library Author's Chat. Naturally I shall be talking about The Darcy Saga and my journey as a writer. Plus, I will be signing books. If in the area, stop by for fun and refreshments at 7pm.

And, if anyone is in the Sacramento area over this coming up weekend, be sure to swing by the Citrus Heights Barnes & Noble on 6111 Sunrise Blvd. between 11am to 3pm on Saturday, Oct. 24 to see Loucinda McGary and me, along with several other fabulous Valley Rose romance novelists, at our joint book signing. Not only will it be tremendous fun, but it is a fund raiser for area public schools so also a worthy cause. Loucinda and I hope to see you there!

Monday, October 19, 2009

To Be Subtle Or Not To be Subtle

Subtle has it's advantages, especially when you are trying to make a point to the reader. This character is flighty, this character hates their job, this character *insert what you want to convey here.* You can do this by the words you choose, or how a character reacts in a given situation. But sometimes the subtlety can get lost in the other noise of the novel. Readers come to stories with their own luggage and they see what they want to see.

Case in point: I read this Women's Fiction novel. The heroine hated this one character. He rubbed her in the wrong way and she gave her reasons to why she hated him. On the surface those reasons made sense. Also the fact I was reading a Women's Fiction I wasn't on the look out for "Oh, here's the hero" like I do in romance. So by the time I got to the Big Reveal, I was shocked. OMG!!!!!

Now when I go back to read the story I can see where the author put in the clues. A sentence here and there. The heroine completely evading. It was subtle and it was meant to be that way. Even if you caught on earlier in the novel you still somehow felt vindicated that you were right.

Loosely connected--when it comes to a readers own luggage and seeing what they want to see--I was reading The Grand Sophy and I knew it was a romance. So every man that came on the scene I was looking for the hero qualities. It wasn't until half-way through the book that I settled on one character. But the author kept beating me on the head THESE TWO ARE NOT TO BE. I was mildly disappointed, because I couldn't figure out who the hero was and why would the author wait until the very end of the book to introduce the hero. And then Sophy had the long, steady glance, (that we use in romance novels) the one that says YOU'RE THE ONE...with her cousin!

I was reading The Grand Sophy blind. I had never read a review. I had just heard how incredible this book was. So I was coming to this novel with my 2009 way of thinking, you don't marry your cousins. (It's ALMOST acceptable when you start hitting 5th, 6th lineage. Not your 1st cousin.) I brought my own luggage and I saw what I wanted to see whenever Sophy and Charles would make a scene crackle from their conflict. (I totally needed to buy a Romance Clue when I read this novel.)

Now if those scenes didn't crackle and when I got to the point where they had their "glance" I would have needed to take a serious shower. If those sentences and evading hadn't been placed early on in the Women's Fiction my head would have whipped around and I would not have bought as easily that the heroine really had the hots for the hero.

But in both instances I can see what wasn't subtle. Charles did not like how Sophy was turning his world upside down. Sophy (and myself included) did not care for Charles's betrothed. The heroine in the Women's Fiction needed to grow up and stop living in denial. And after a certain point she just needed to peel the hero's clothes off with her teeth already.

And while I'm going through my second round of edits I'm keeping this lesson in mind. What to place in with a whisper (also taking into consideration how many times I'll have to do it) and what to pump up so that the reader can see it no matter what luggage they bring to the story.

What subjects do you introduce to the reader in a subtle manner? What do you choose to put out there for the reader to see and see clearly?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A Difference A Year Can Make

I'm in editing mode at the moment so I'm a little introspective. I'm also a little wild-eyed because the story I'm working on is a year old. Remember when I said look at older works? I do practice what I preach.

So in the past 365 days I've learned how to show instead of tell. I'm still not perfect at this, but as I said, I've gotten better. I would like to think my stories are more tangible now that I try to breathe more life into the passages.

For example:

Original Sentence:

She smiled again, more from the warm feeling the alcohol gave her than because of his appearance—at least that’s what she told herself.

Edited Sentence:

She smiled again, more from the warmth flooding through her body, filled at the moment with alcohol, than his appearance—at least that’s what she told herself.

I'm not going to win a Pulitzer Prize for this sentence, and though the change is subtle it has a better impact. I'm describing exactly how the alcohol is skewing her perspective. When I read the original I noted I'd used the word "feel" a dead ringer for when you are telling instead of showing. I should mention I went over this story at least three times last year. I never saw this sentence as a problem. Funny, even now I'm looking at it to see if I can re-word for clarity.

Here's another example.

Original Paragraphs (sentences really):

She got up and made her way to Janice’s office. Janice was shuffling some papers when Hazel entered.

Edited Paragraphs:

Hazel stepped out of her office to find the hub of the company in it's usual state of chaos. The room curved in a semi-circle and the view from the second floor always made her dizzy, not from the height, but of the constant movement below.

The people who made this company work didn't get a moments rest. Phones were always ringing, someone was usually running in or out, and the big boss could step out of her office at any moment to watch. The tension in her neck spread down to her shoulders. She closed her eyes a moment to calm down, but couldn't, not with the constant noise.

She gave up and turned into Janice's office. Her boss was shuffling some papers on her desk when Hazel entered.

Now these passages involve more than describing to the reader where she works. Since I'm fond of lists...

1. The obvious, I'm showing the reader where she works. Instead of an disembodied trek to the Janice's office.

2. It's a busy place and not what someone would call a peaceful place to work.

3. For some reason just standing there puts tension in the heroine's neck.

4. Word choice is an amazing thing. You can create a certain feeling with just the words you use to describe something. "constant movement below" vs. "busy"; "a moment's rest" vs. "full work schedule"; and the one I wanted to convey the most since the heroine is about to go into Janice's office "big boss" vs "the boss, nice boss, Janice."

Going through this book has helped me reevaluate my editing process. I've been looking for any spots in this ms to see when I've missed an opportunity to make it better.

So, the moral of this posts: Watch out for missed opportunities for description, character develop, awkward sentences and telling cues *the five sense: see, feel, hear, touch, smell*. The most important moral is to never stop learning how to write better. If this old dog can learn new tricks and have them stick, then there is hope for everyone. (Trust me, I'm a sssslllllooooowwwww learner.)