Happy seventh birthday, Seekervillians (if I may call you that)! I’m delighted to be here to help celebrate the occasion. I was pleased to see one of our Harlequin Heartwarming authors, Roz Denny Fox, here a month or two ago, and she discussed a lot of the specifics about our series. Me, I’m thinking in sevens, so I’ve decided to share my top seven recurring revision notes, which are the same whether I’m editing sweet romances, inspirational or something a little hotter.
Disclaimer: I’m deeply aware that I have never written a novel and I have a huge respect for those of you who can create a story that’s thousands of words long and has a beginning, a middle and an end…let alone obstacle and romantic tension and self-motivated characters who take an unpredictable journey to that predictable happy ending!
|Heartwarming Romance, October Release|
In my 11-plus years at Harlequin, I have some advice I seem to repeat and it relies heavily on seven resources (see how I worked that in again?):
Renni Browne and Dave King, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style (which one of my copy editing colleagues tells me is out of date but I refuse to believe her) Donald Maas, Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey EL James, Fifty Shades of Gray
#1 Resist the Urge to Explain (RUE).
Thank you Renni Browne and Dave King for this invaluable acronym. Trust readers to get the point faster and say what you’re trying to say in much less. It’s more satisfying to get from A to Z without hitting the entire alphabet.
However, I think this is probably a case of not having the time to go back over the books and pare the words and ideas…or to gain objectivity from the work…enough to see the instances where you’ve shown something well and don’t need the accompanying internalization that explains it, or when a scene seems to be active, opening in the middle of something, but then stops to provide the backstory that led to this moment. (I’m big on need-to-know only, please.)
|Credenza Pete, one of Victoria's cats... How much do you love this picture???? How cute is it?
Stephen King wrote in his book On Writingthat it wasn’t until he was finished writing a story that he knew what it was about and then he rewrote it based on the discovery he made by the end of his first draft. At the pace of romance publishing, I’d love to meet the author who has that kind of time!
#2 Never use tummy when stomach will do.
In this Strunk & White rule, the idea is cute word choice can call attention to itself. I am a huge advocate of using words that serve the story rather than pull us out of it to think about the words. (A little brogue goes a long way, as they say in Historicals!) And while we’re at it, I confess I don’t even know what a cliché is anymore. As long as the words and ideas don’t pull me out of the story, they work well.
|Heartwarming Romance October release |#3: Let’s rough your characters up more.
From tracking research our readers have told us: “If you know from the first page the lovers will end up together it spoils the story. There has to be conflict, not too much sweetness…. I hate predictable reads that are flat, lacking in highs and lows.”
Rules #2 and #3 seem to go arm and arm. My authors know I don’t like the term “sweet romance” since, even though it’s recognized in the industry as meaning a romance without sex, in practice it propels writers toward kitten and puppy dog plotting, flowers and sunshine: a polite journey to a predictable happy ending…when we’re looking for stories that make readers wonder how on earth the pair will ever get together. Clean stories need to be as exciting as edgier sexy ones.
I am one of the biggest animal lovers out there, proud caregiver to four cats, but as an editor, I like to see stray kittens or puppies when they have a reason to be in the story beyond their sweet factor.
|Will Feral |
A former Superromance author of mine also wrote for Love Inspired and they were some of the darkest, redemptive romances I’ve ever had the pleasure to edit. Yes, please: go there!
#4 Let’s find ways to eliminate the coincidence.
Find the misunderstandings and coincidences and imposed plotting and turn them around so they’re driven by the leads. For instance:
*What if, instead of the ex-boyfriend entering the story near the end to ratchet up the tension (predictable external device usually because inner obstacle is gone), why not let the heroine call him in? Instead of imposing plot on characters, motivate them to provoke the action.
*Currently the hero’s faced with falling off the wagon, thinks about the heroine and how good she is and how much she has changed him…and doesn’t drink. But the heroine sees him in the bar and thinks he drank. This leads to hero not confronting her but leaving town in a petulant reaction to her misunderstanding. Well, what if the hero did take the drink, and then we cut to the heroine finding him over the empty bottle and him seeing the disappointment in her eyes before she walks out. Then her concerns are real, and the hero must redeem himself in her eyes. Motivation that was surface becomes deeper.
#5 Motivate your characters and then let them act based on those motivations.
Most writers create fresh, interesting characters and an intriguing premise to launch a story…but too often the characters soon cast off the constraints of their motivation and act in ways that are mysterious to them based on their “unexpected” attraction to the other. Well, it may be unexpected to them, but it’s clichéd and predictable to the reader. If a story stays true to the rich characterization, the characters will drive the action and I probably won’t be able to predict each step, which is fantastic!
From our tracking research: “Characters with strong identities/personalities save a story from cliché every time… I prefer it when characters grow through action and reaction rather than too much deep soul searching… “
#6 Is this scene really about what it appears to be about or is there something else going on here?
As McKee tells us, “‘If the scene is about what the scene is about, you’re in deep [trouble].’"…
Writing this, for example: Two attractive people sit opposite each other at the candlelit table, the light glinting off the crystal wineglasses and the dewy eyes of the lovers. Soft breezes billow the curtain. A Chopin nocturne plays in the background. The lovers reach across the table, touch hands, look longingly in each others’ eyes, say, ‘I love you, I love you,”…and actually mean it. This scene…will die like a rat in the road.”
There’s a section in Donald Maas’s book about the tea scene and how, if it’s only there for BFF support and for the heroine to rehash the romance, cut it. But if there’s something else going on between the two characters in that scene, really flesh out what each wants from the other. Because even the BFF needs to want something.
#7 How can we raise the stakes in the romance?
The highest stakes, according to McKee is that by choosing love the hero and heroine stand to lose that one thing they want more than life itself.
I can usually tell what the hero and heroine have to gain in choosing love. It’s much less often I see a strong obstacle to love that takes the entire book to get past. And that’s sometimes when the villain steps in to mess with the hero and heroine, providing the tension and stakes. That’s traditional storytelling. But contemporary romance readers want the tension and stakes to come from between the hero and heroine as much as from the external plotting. They want love to cost the leads and for them to have to struggle to earn the happy ending.
I can’t resist quoting McKee: “Pressure is essential. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little. If a character chooses to tell the truth in a situation where telling a lie would gain him nothing, the choice is trivial, the moment expresses nothing. But if the same character insists on telling the truth when a lie would save his life, then we sense that honesty is at the core of his nature.”
We all know this, right? But that’s where Fifty Shades of Grey taught me a lesson in stakes. In choosing love, the heroine risked death at the hands of a man who warned her he would hurt her, and she has no idea how far he’ll carry that threat. How much harder is it for a contemporary clean romance writer to achieve that level of high stakes!
I’d love to find out from the authors on this blog if you have any advice on how to ratchet up the romantic tension when sex is not an option. And to readers checking in, please tell me if you agree with my editing advice or whether I should read some more how-to-edit books because you want those kitten and puppy dog tummies!
Victoria, thank you for this gold mine of straightforward information... I love it!
Folks, feel free to pepper Victoria with questions and/or toss your ideas out there! She's cute, funny and very approachable! This is your chance to explore a fun, different, fresh form of fiction for today's reader... and even though I'm excising KITTENS from all stories, (that's totally untrue, I just wrote some barn kittens into a book... SIGH...)
I think you'd love working with this woman!
Coffee's inside, maple cakes and apple fritters, too, and we've got BOOKS
to tempt you into examining Heartwarming more closely!
Victoria has brought 2 4-packs of Heartwarming Romance's October releases....
and we're offering SEVEN FREE HEARTWARMING E-BOOKS of your choice! Leave a comment (and yes, ask questions!) to have your name thrown into the very clean cat dish!!! :)
And Victoria, thanks so much for being with us today, and giving us a great look at "Heartwarming" and one of the wonderful editors behind it!
Janet here. Since Seekerville's inception seven years ago, one by one all the Seekers set sail from Unpubbed Island to the Mainland of Published Fiction. Our goal for Seekerville was to help others do the same by emphasizing the value of contests and sharing craft and inspiring posts. In those early days, 30 comments delighted us, and most of those were ours. LOL Now the blog has over 11,000 followers and almost a million and a half page reviews. God has grown Seekerville and all of us as we share the ups and downs of the writers’ journey.
To celebrate Seekerville’s 7th Birthday, I asked seven + Villagers, if they'd like to share how Seekerville helped them achieve their dream of publication. I got a resounding yes! So grab a cup of Helen's coffee and let's party with these lovely ladies!
When I dusted off my four-decade-long dream of being a writer, I had no idea what I was doing. I sat holed up in my office cranking out five lackluster stories in two years. Although my joy was abundant, my knowledge of craft was abysmal. All that changed when I finaled in the 2008 Golden Heart®. A wonderful woman named Tina Radcliffe found me and asked me to be a blog guest at Seekerville. Because I was a florescent green newbie writer and a technophobe, I had several questions for Tina. The first was, "what is a blog?" She answered that question and has answered many more since. I was warmly welcomed by all the Seekers and Seekervillagers and have learned oodles from you talented people. Ruthy was my Lighten Up 101 instructor and taught me how to make this writing gig a lot more fun. Missy, one of my contest judges, gave me a great idea on how to improve the story that became my debut novel. I won a critique from Julie, and she gave me awesome pointers on that same story's opening. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. Seekerville rocks! Happy seventh birthday! Here's to another great year to come.
|Keli Gwyn and Janet|
I've always loved Seekerville for introducing me to great new authors, but as someone who just started writing, every day seems like an intensive writing course. I've learned so much in Seekerville! As for tangible help, I won a fancy printer during The New Year’s party one year. This was back when it seemed like most agents still wanted paper submissions. I had a terrible old printer that mostly ate paper and never printed anything legibly, so I was THRILLED to win. I sent out hundreds of queries and lots of partials with that printer! Then, I finaled in the Seekerville Query Contest with Melissa Endlich, and she requested full manuscripts from all of us winners. She called to say they wanted to acquire it in Nov 2011. I signed my first contract through Seekerville!
Sue Mason, Healing the Widower’s Heart, Love Inspired, February 2015
I most definitely credit the fabulous ladies of Seekerville with my success as a writer! It all started when I became a Golden Heart finalist in 2008. Tina Radcliffe tracked me down and invited me to share a little about my story on her blog. I had no idea who she was or even what a blog was, but I jumped on board. From then on, I became a faithful follower of Seekerville. Not only do they provide fantastic information about the craft of writing, they often feature agents and editors, and host contests. This was the case back in October 2012 when Love Inspired editor, Elizabeth Mazer, was featured in a post which included a First Page contest. I didn't plan to participate since my contemporary trilogy was on submission at White Rose Publishing, and my other stand-alone romance, Wyndermere House, (ironically my 2008 GH entry) had already been rejected by a different LI editor. Then Tina sent me an email pretty much ordering me to get something in to the contest! So I took another look at Wyndermere House, made a few adjustments, and sent it in! To make a long story short, I received a request from Elizabeth, and now 2 years later, my manuscript is being released as Healing the Widower’s Heart (February 2015). Without Tina (as well as all the encouragement and prayers from the wonderful women at Seekerville), I wouldn't be able to call myself a Love Inspired author! Thank you SO MUCH Seekerville!
|Ruth Tredway, Helen Gray, Sue Mason, Janet|
In 2007 I started my first manuscript with the intent of publication. As soon as I waded into the cyberworld of writers, I discovered Seekerville. A blog dedicated to helping writers on the path and a home for those who didn't know what they were doing (me!), the Seekers' posts on craft, contests, submission etiquette and encouragement soon had me hooked! Many of the Seekers still resided on Unpubbed Island. Thanks to their intelligent posts and loving personalities, I gained confidence in my ability to seek publication and to actually achieve it. They made traditional publication seem possible when many others said it was impossible.
I am so thankful I stumbled across the Seekerville years ago. Long Live the Seekers!
What can I say about Seekerville? Four years ago, my journey to publication started with a vague idea of a story, a thirty-year-old bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing, and twenty-some years of homeschooling and raising children under my belt. Then I stumbled upon Seekerville while looking for tips on how to write. Well, I say I “stumbled upon” this blog, but I know God led me here. From the beginning I knew I was facing a huge learning curve, but the gracious ladies on Unpubbed Island made gentle suggestions and offered enthusiastic encouragement. I entered contests, developed writing goals and discipline, and watched my word count grow. I entered more contests – including the great ones here on Seekerville that led to my first book landing on a Love Inspired editor’s desk and led to signing with an agent. And the Seekers cheered every step of the way. I listened to their advice, learned from their blog posts, and kept working. I signed my first contract with Love Inspired in April, 2012, and this summer signed a three book contract with Revell. My publication journey may have been possible without the Seekers, but I can’t imagine how long I would have struggled in my writing cave without their wisdom and encouragement opening doors I didn’t even know existed. I look forward to many, many more years of being a Seekervillager. Happy Birthday, Seekerville!
Helen Gray, OzarkWedding, Heartsong Presents, September, 2014
My profile says I've been hanging around Seekerville since November, 2009, but I was “Anonymous” for a few months before that, until I learned how to set up an account. During those years I have printed and utilized a lot of How-To craft tips, and I've never been allowed to feel lonely at ACFW conferences. I've also benefited from Seeker critiques. Of the series I had release this year, Mary critiqued the first chapter of book one, Tina critiqued the first chapter of book two, and Grammar Queen edited the first chapter of book three. And I lived to tell about it! In addition to all that, they drink my virtual coffee, even though I have no idea how to make the stuff in reality.
SEEKERVILLE, first, happy birthday!
Second, I wouldn't be where I am today without you. It was during your birthday in 2011 I received a request from Emily Rodmell at Love Inspired. In 2012 I received the call! I can't say thank you enough for the continued support and encouragement as I travel beyond the island.
Mary Curry, writing as Cate Nolan, will debut her Christmas book in October, 2015,
identified seven reasons she’s thankful for having the Seekers in my life.
Friends - Some of my dearest writing friends are people I've met through Seekerville. We all know how lonely a writer's life can be, but the Seekers bring a light of friendship into that loneliness. I thank them for their friendship.
Faith - Through word, deed and prayer, the Seekers live their faith and inspire us to be the best we can be. Through prayers I've requested and prayers I didn't know about until afterward, I've been lifted so often by these lovely women. I thank them for their shared faith.
Craft - Seekerville is like one endless graduate course on how to write a book. It's the university from which we never want to graduate. The shared wisdom of the Seekers and their friends helps us strive and never settle for average. I thank them for sharing their knowledge.
Fun - It's not all serious! The one thing you know you can count on is that a day spent in Seekerville will be a day of happiness. From the New Year's Eve bash to the month long birthday party, Seekerville is a cheerful refuge. I thank the Seekers for the joy they bring each day.
Family or Community - I remember the first time I visited Seekerville. I feared it was some "in club" that I would forever watch from the outskirts. Little did I know that Seekerville is chock full of warmth and legendary hospitality. There are no strangers in Seekerville, only the friends we haven't gotten to know yet. I thank the Seekers for inviting us in and making us feel welcome.
|Lynette Eason, Patty Smith Hall, Debby, Missy, Jessica Nelson|
Prizes - Not to seem mercenary, ;) but seriously! The Seekers are so generous with prizes offering so many free books, gift cards, and treats. I still drink my tea from the mug Tina sent as my very first newbie villager prize. I thank you for your generosity.
Hope and Support - "And the greatest of these is love." Through their love for God, each other, and the villagers, the Seekers show by example how to be a love-driven, faith-based community. They never stint on time or effort, advice or prizes ;) Whether it's brandishing a whip or offering candy, the Seekers have our backs and I hope they know we have theirs. They make this journey seem possible and when you reach your goal, there's no better place to celebrate than Seekerville! I thank the Seekers for years of support and celebration and for being the best kind of community a writer could yearn for.
Years ago, before all the Seekers had made it off unpubbed island, I'd written this "book" and had no idea what I was supposed to do next. Praise the Lord for Google and Seekerville. From the first post I read there, I felt like I'd come home to a place I'd never been before. I jumped in right away and soaked up information like a Persian rug does spilled wine. There was so much to learn but when I began commenting, these "real authors" took an interest in the "new person" and were so welcoming. Encouraging. That sense of home and belonging deepened as I continued to make my daily Seekerville stop for the next two years. I say with honesty Seekerville is where I learned about half of what I know about the craft of fiction and marketing. I made so many friends there and am blessed to have maintained those friendships even though life as a published author no longer affords me the time to spend in Seekerville I once did. I will always be grateful for the Seekers, and their continuing mission to support and encourage the up and coming author as much as the multi-published. I am published today with a very successful Indie debut, and mentoring an up-and-coming author, thanks largely to that early learning and shared community here in Seekerville. Thank you Seekers, for seven years and counting.
Patty Smith Hall, "Christmas Lessons," Christmas Traditions, October, 2014.
Many will talk about how Seekerville has helped them to realize their dream of being a published writer, and they'd be correct. Cheryl Wyatt's post on scene development back in 2008 changed the way I wrote, and gave me the push I needed to finish my first published novel, Hearts in Flight.
But it is the kindness of the Seekers that has touched my heart and made Seekerville feel like a second home. In early 2012, the doctors told me my spine could no longer support me and I would need surgery. The recovery period was anywhere from six months to a year, most which would be spent in a brace and on my back. Within days of my hospital release, I received my first card from one of the Seekers, then another and another. Every couple of days for the next few months, there would be a card or two waiting in my mailbox, encouraging me, letting know they were praying for my recovery. Those cards, and the notes written within, helped me through those first hard days of my recovery, and encouraged me to lean on God and to keep writing. A small kindness that still touches me today.
Thank you, ladies--and Happy Birthday, Seekerville!
Janet again. Thanks, ladies! Your sweet words bless and encourage us. Your success is such fun to celebrate! And offers hope to those working hard, who haven't yet received The Call.
For breakfast I brought orange juice, crisp bacon and crunchy French toast dusted with powdered sugar and warm maple syrup. And of course there's birthday cakes with layers of chocolate, strawberry and yellow to nibble on all day. Leave a comment for a chance to win one of these author's books in either eBook or hard copy, author’s choice (we'll discuss your options) and a $10 Amazon gift card.