Monday, September 18, 2023

Time Traveling

Some people call it insta-love.  It’s a criticism of books and movies where the audience is expected to believe the main characters are truly in love way too soon, within days if not hours of meeting the beloved.

As a romance fan, I’ve rolled my eyes at many examples of this.  I’ve read that a heroine knew she was madly in love because of a light-headed feeling.  I wanted someone in the book to ask her if she was sure she hadn’t just stood up too fast.  That can happen.  I’ve been told characters were in love when they’d barely had a conversation because of all the things their eyes had communicated.  That is called infatuation.  A gaze across a room doesn’t say if he’ll mock her religious beliefs or if she’ll want him to quit his job to raise donkeys in the desert.

And I can’t say how many times I’ve watched that movie where a young woman has to return home to the family [ranch, B&B, vineyard, farm, flower shop, etc.] for some big event.  (I can’t say partly because I’ve lost count and partly because it’s an embarrassing admission.)  She meets a guy who is either the competition or trying to shut down the business.  No matter what contrived conflicts or ridiculous misunderstandings arise in the two or three days before the event, she is madly in love with him at the end because, well, because she said so. 

Let’s not analyze that any further.  I’m not trying to sharpen my knives here.  These examples are brought up in fun to illustrate something I try to avoid in my work.  Yes, my books are fluffy and light-hearted.  But they still need to hold to the truth that real love takes time to develop.  Superficial relationships aren’t funny.  You need to know someone before you know what makes him laugh and before you know how to push her buttons.

There are two ways to avoid insta-love.  The first is to establish that the main characters knew each other before the story started.  Maybe they’ve been friends for a while, maybe they have shared history.  When there is already some sort of relationship, I can use a short timeline to create a romantic shift.  Pop quiz: Name the books in which I’ve used this strategy.

The other, and in my opinion more difficult, option is to stretch out the timeline.  I can’t do that by simply including a sentence that begins with “six months later.”  Readers will want to know what happened in those six months.  I will want to know what happened in those six months.  The rest of the book is going to be weird when I make references readers don’t understand or have characters who don’t seem to have said or done anything in all that time.

Another terrible way to jump ahead is to pick random days to illustrate.  Here’s what happened on this day, and two weeks later there was this other event.  Then I’ll show you what happened on a day with snow so you’ll know it’s later in the year.  My couple will be getting along great and readers will be happy to see them holding hands.  No one will care that we missed the first time he reached for her or how they resolved that issue that caused an argument on the warmer day.  Right?

Even worse would be a complete summary of events.  I could simply inform readers that she agreed to spend a lot of time with him, that he said some sweet words at some point, and now it’s time to believe they’re headed for happily ever after.  It doesn’t work to say it isn’t insta-love.

So if those are some of the wrong ways to move the timeline ahead, what is a right way?  It’s all of the above.  I mix up the wrong ways – a bit of skipping, a bit of summarizing, and even a bit of randomness – and hopefully end up with a plot that gives the characters enough time to start to love each other without missing any of the highlights.  This is why it’s difficult.  I have to squeeze all these lemon ideas into sweet lemonade.  If I squeeze too hard, I’ll end up with seeds and pulp in the story.  Or I’ll just ruin the metaphor.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Do I need to like everything I write?

This is a question I’ve been pondering lately.  Notice that it is a yes or no question.  I cannot answer it without first breaking it down and clarifying exactly what I mean and basically making it more complicated.  Otherwise, this would be a very short post.

As a whole, I need to like every book I write.  They can’t all be my favorite; I do like some more than others.  But I won’t publish something I don’t like.  That’s not really what I mean by this question at all.

It isn’t about the opinions of the characters either.  I want my main characters to be different and variety insists they can’t all sound just like me.  Sometimes they deliberately express opinions I don’t share.  Sometimes they do things I can’t picture myself ever doing.  I have to imagine the character with different influences and experiences, even in little things.  In the book I’m currently writing, for just one example, the heroine spots a guy carrying a floor tom.  (No, I’m not going to explain why right now.)  She does not have a son who plays the drums, nor have I imagined a particularly musical background.  It seemed more appropriate for her to describe the drum than to throw out the name.

And now we’re finally coming to what sparked the title question.  In the same book, there is a pizza restaurant.  I do not like the name I’ve given to this restaurant.  I can’t say what this name is because I haven’t decided if I’m going to change it.  If I think of an awesome name tomorrow, no one needs to know what the bad name was.  And if someone eventually sees that awesome name in the book and thinks it’s really not that awesome, no one needs to know I changed it.  For now, let’s imagine I called the pizza place something super creative like Pizza Place.

Whenever a character refers to Pizza Place, I have something like a mental spasm where I’m trying not to be terribly annoyed with a character I otherwise like for calling his restaurant something ridiculous.  I didn’t think of this name, he did.  Except that we all know I’m really behind his thoughts.  I want to blame him for the dumb name.  It was his bad idea.  But I gave him that idea. 

There are only two possibilities.  I’m either entertaining myself with a paradox that isn’t, or I hurt my brain a little when it sputtered out that awful name.  Writing is fun.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Break Time is Over

At times, there is so much going on around me that it’s difficult to concentrate on whatever book I’m currently writing.  I have found that it’s better to step away than fight for focus.  If a break is only a few days, it’s easy to get back into my story.  If it stretches into several weeks – as it did recently – I need to spend some time looking at notes and reading what I’ve written to re-immerse myself.  I’m surprised at the variety of reactions.

I am not surprised that I like some parts of my work better than others.  This is a rough draft after all.  I find sections that make me think I might have talent, and then I find other sections that make me wonder if I even know what talent is.

What surprises me is how well I do or do not remember the pages.  Some words trigger a memory of exactly how long I stared at them before I could think of a good next line.  Some make me remember what I almost wrote instead.  I usually find anywhere from a paragraph to a few pages that I remember writing so clearly that I know where I was, why I was there and the question someone interrupted me to ask.  The associations are so embedded in the text I can picture myself writing those words. 

I also find equally long sections that I do not remember writing.  The words aren’t even familiar.  I could believe someone else borrowed the notebook and continued my story without me if I didn’t recognize the handwriting.  It’s weird because I’m not that old.

One thing that is never a surprise is the length of what I’ve written.  I may have forgotten some details, and I may need to check which plot points I’ve hit, but I always remember how much work I still need to do on that book.  Now I need to get back to it.