Monday, February 28, 2011

How To Make Editing Fun

I've set myself a goal.  I want to be finished editing this book by the end of next month.  So that means I officially have 31 days (not counting today) to redraft, rewrite, re-tweak, rephrase, reword and rework my baby until it's bewdiful.

But there's a small problem.

It's boring. 

The editing, not the book.

Well not so much boring as labour intensive.  It's hard work.  Much harder than just gushing out the first draft.  I'm on a seek and destroy mission for passive sentences.  I'm tracking down speech tags and obliterating them.  I'm hacking off flabby, superfluous parts that don't move the story forward and I've got my two main characters under the harsh, unforgiving spotlight of my interrogating room, firing questions at them and banging my fist on the table when their answers aren't good enough.  Like I said, it's hard work and it's not even burning off any calories!

Being the creative type, I thought to myself: there must be a better way.  An easier way.  A way to make it fun.  Cue Julie Andrews:

Unfortunately I'm a bit like Michael and I just can't seem to click my fingers!

So I came up with a list (in case you've forgotten, I'm big on lists).  I could:

1. Hire someone to do it for me (great idea except I can't afford it)
2. Send it in as is (I mean those hardworking gals at M&B hq deserve a laugh every now and then don't they?)
3. Pull on my Big Girl Pants and just get on with it
4. Pretend I'm editing someone else's work - especially someone famous and then I could scoff at all the silly mistakes and feel better about myself because if Sandra Bullock can make a rookie mistake like including dialogue tags then there's still hope for me.   Isn't there?
5. Pretend the book has already been accepted and I just need to finish these edits before it can go to print
6. Pretend that once it's finished George will turn up on my doorstep and be so utterly impressed by my willpower that he will whisk me away somewhere dreamy to celebrate
7. Ask my Mum to do it for me
8. Ask my dog to do it for me
9. Set up a website like those ones where that woman had all those debts and she asked everyone to donate $1 so she could pay all her bills - except I could ask everyone to just do one correction eg just spot passive sentences and someone else could correct them and someone else could fix my punctuation and so on
10. Continue to find new and outrageous ways to ignore my edits and waste what precious time I have left until my deadline
11. Set a new deadline and then just keep setting a new deadline each time I come close the last one
12. Reward myself with little things each time I finish a chapter (eg shoes, chocolate, champagne, more shoes, a holiday, a massage, more shoes, a Bentley etc)
13. Build a shrine to the patron Saint of writers and pray that all my edits will be mysteriously finished for me
14. Write a computer program that edits books for you.  Then retire on all the money I make from selling the program to Microsoft
15. Start a newspaper column where I publish a chapter each week and ask readers to write in with editing suggestions
16. Start a writer's course called Learn To Edit and give each student a chapter of my book and editing it will be their major assignment
17. Start a new religion where the founding tenet is that editing is a bad, bad thing
18. Bribe some models and celebrity A-listers to start a fashion that editing is a bad, bad thing
19. Visit a hypnotherapist and ask them to brain wash me into believing that editing is the Best Thing Evah!
20. Ask Byonce, Jason Derulo, Bruno Mars and Ne-Yo to write me a theme song to motivate me to get off my big fat dupa and JUST DO IT!!

Obviously some of these are doable and other are well......not so doable.  How do you make your editing process more fun or are you just resigned to the fact that it's like cleaning your oven (you put it off as long as possible but after a while you just can't ignore that smell so you pull on your big a*# gloves and haul out the Mr Muscle and get to it)?

Any additions to the list are most welcome.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Perfect First Chapter

Yep, that's right.  I wrote it. 

And then I woke up.

Alright, what's happening is that I'm trying to write it.  I've got this story that I just love and that I wrote last year and now I'm revising and editing and polishing (and completely rewriting the ending *wrinkles nose in distaste* 'cause it reeks).  Being the clever chicky that I am I thought I would apply all the great tips I've read on various blogs plus all the advice posted by Harlequin editors for the New Voices comp last year AND try and deconstruct a few first chapters from some great authors.  So I ordered, and have received, Nicola Marsh's Deserted Island, Dream Ex, Kelly Hunter's With This Fling (both Rivas - so I can check out the new 'voice' and line) and two of Maisey Yates' books: A Mistake, A Prince and A Pregnancy and The Inherited Bride.

I am limiting myself to the first chapter in each book and just reading it over and over again.  I highly recommend doing this because the results have been amazing.  Each time I read the chapter I learn or see something new.  So I thought I would share why the first chapter from The Inherited Bride (the first book I started to read in my experiment) is perfect.

1. Get the Hero and Heroine together as quickly as possible:  Isabella and Adham meet in the very first sentence.  You can't get much faster than that.  And it's a non-cliched meeting so it feels real.
2. Introducing the characters to the reader:  In the third sentence on the second line of the page we are given both Isabella's name and her title so already we know a little bit about her but not too much; it's a teaser making us want to know more.  The first two paragraphs are a description of the very tall, dark and handsome stranger so we're in the same situation as Isabella - impressed with what we've 'seen' but we don't know who he is or what he wants or why he's here (more teasing).  In fact Adham's name isn't used until almost the very end of the chapter but before that we find out he's the brother of the man Isabella is engaged to and he tells us some very important things about himself - all of which serve to build a picture of him.  Most of this is achieved via dialogue, in conversation with Isabella and it's cleverly done.  No "Well I'm a man of mystery with a dark past and no room for love in my life because ....well I can't tell you because I'm a man of mystery" sort of thing.  It's what he says and how he says it that we come to know these things about him.  Isabella on the other hand is so easy to relate to because what she wants is simple but by going after it she's potentially caused so many problems and we feel for her.  I'm trying to isolate the words, phrases and tools that Maisey uses to make the reader so empathetic towards Isabella (excellent skill to have).  Again through dialogue we see that Isabella's a woman who understands about honor and duty and we respect that but at the same time she's a human being, not just a pawn and the unfairness of her situation really pulls you in and onto her side.  So by the end of the chapter, although I'm intrigued by Adham, I'm totally with Isabella when she tells him she wants him to go away.  Maisey's written a character I can relate to even though I'm a million miles away from Isabella character-wise.
3. The attraction: It's there, simmering under the surface but complicated by the fact that Isabella doesn't know what it is or what to do with it.  Adham is attracted but she's totally off-limits plus a clumsy attempt at flirting/wheedling by Isabella makes Adham believe she's not a nice girl.  We know why Isabella's feeling what she's feeling even if she doesn't and it made me feel a bit protective of her.  And I know what she's in for once she does know what to do with those feelings.......ooooh the anticipation!!!
4. The back story:  Obviously each of these characters has an entire lifetime of experiences and have made decisions that have led them to being in this place at this time and we want to know about them.  Maisey has offered just a few hints of the past - instead of dumping great paragraphs of back story in the first chapter, they are sprinkled cleverly across the chapter: a line here, a small paragraph there, just enough for us to start to fill in some blanks and also to tantalise us.  We know a little more and as a result we have more questions.  Instead of just asking "who are these two people?" we are now asking "why is she doing this?" and "why is he here?" and "why does he look like that?" and "what happened in his past to make him react like that?" and "what kind of life has she led that she would think that?"  All questions we want answered which means we want to read on.
5. Dialogue: There's a goodly amount of dialogue in the first chapter mixed with descriptions and thoughts and reactions.  Via the dialogue we learn so much about the two characters but more importantly we see how they interact with each other.  His verbal, and non-verbal responses to her and hers to him effectively demonstrate showing and not telling.  He may say "The sky is blue blah blah blah" but he's interrupted her to say it, cutting her off showing us he has little patience, and that he's not happy about why he's there. 
6. Pace: The first chapter moves at quite a clip because Maisey has made us feel how Adham is rushing Isabella.  The theme of time is evident in the chapter.  The amount of time left until the wedding.  The time she wants to take for herself.  The time he is prepared to give her to get out of the room.  The time she needs to convince him to let her stay and so on.  While I never felt rushed, I did feel Isabella's desperation that she wasn't being given the time she wanted as well as the time she needed to make the decisions Adham was demanding of her.
7. A strong likeable Heroine: I do like Isabella.  She is in a position of weakness but she shows us she has backbone and in her situation I'm not sure I could be as self sacrificing so I find her admirable as well.  You've got limited time to ensure your readers relate to your heroine.   If they don't relate few of them will read past the first chapter so there needs to be a balance.  If she's smart mouthed then the back story or the situation needs to give hints as to why; if she's shy we need glimpses of the ballsy chick she hides inside; if she's doing something wrong then we need a few hints as to why she's doing it for the right reasons.  Maisey has done this with Isabella, she's dutiful and honor bound but the feisty girl inside her peeps out for just a moment, long enough to take back her polite greeting and tell him what she really thinks.
8. Conflict:  In this first chapter we see two major conflicts and one minor one.  Major conflict #1: Isabella's internal conflict - what she wants versus what she knows is the 'right' thing to do.  This conflict is set up very neatly: when is it right to do the wrong thing and vice versa beautifully illustrated by Isabella's situation.  Major conflict #2:  Isabella wants to stay and Adham is intent on taking her away - they each have their reasons and each believe they are in the right.  This places them in opposition but they are both able to see things from the other's point of view (if somewhat limited).  Minor conflict: Adham's attraction to Isabella.  It's only minor at the moment but it's there and he knows it's wrong and so do we.  He's determined to do the right thing too so it sets up that whole I-know-what-you're-going-to-do anticipation for the reader.  It's delicious because we suspect it's going to get a whole lot messier very soon - yet another reason to keep turning those pages!
9. The Hook: If you only knew the willpower I have had to exert not to keep going after chapter one!  I think it's a sign of a good book that when you're reading the chapter for "research purposes" and trying to deconstruct what the author has done to make it work so well, that you keep forgetting that's why you're reading it and repeatedly get caught up in the story.  There's a promise made in the first chapter (both literally in this case and metaphorically speaking in other stories).  The literal promise in this case is one that sets up the hook - the thing that makes you want to keep reading.  Will Isabella keep her promise and get what she wants and will Adham keep the promise he made to his brother and the one he made to Isabella?  I need to I will keep reading.  The metaphorical promise the author makes to the reader in the first chapter is this: I promise it will be worth your while to keep reading, it only gets better and better and you will enjoy reading this book.

So I think you will agree that Maisey has ticked all the boxes for a perfect first chapter.  I'm going to read the first chapter a few more times just to see if I pick up even more gems and then I am going to treat myself and read the rest of this book all the way through.  And knowing Maisey and the standard of book she writes, it will be exactly that: a treat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What's Romantic?

It's Valentine's Day.  Big deal.  Sorry but it just leaves me cold to think that we've come to this point where we have to designate one day a year to be all lovey-dovey with our partner (be they long or short term).  I like my romance like I like my chocolate: intensely delicious, sweet, a little naughty (perhaps even inspiring a little bit of guilt) and generously on offer every day of the year. 

I'll ignore the fact that I have to buy it and console myself with that saying "There's no such thing as a free chocolate".  Yes, I know.  I took a little poetic licence with the whole swapping "lunch" and "chocolate" thing but hey, it's my blog!

But then I got to thinking, romance is kinda like beauty: it's all in the eye of the beholder (or chocolate consumer as the case may be).  What constitutes romance for me may be dead boring, or tacky, or immoral to you.  So I thought I would go through some of the most common romantic things I've heard of/read about/experienced and give you my thoughts (take 'em or leave 'em).

Flowers: Can't say they do it for me.  I mean I love the gesture but then I have to remember where I put the vases and then I have to remember to change the water and then they die and I have to remember to throw them out ......get the picture?  But the rose petals sprinkled on the bed sheets - mmmm now that's appealing!
Chocolates: Oh yeah baby.  The darker the better.  This scores VERY highly on my romance-o-metre.  But chocolate body paint is an instant turn off.  Sorry, but the chocolate's for me, right?  And the easiest, cleanest way to eat it would not involve smearing it all over my body first.  So if someone else wants to lick my shoulder while I gorge myself on Valrhona - fine.  Just don't ask me to share!
Champagne:  Please.  Do you even have to ask?  Just keep pouring the bubs, babe.
Dinner In/Dinner Out:  Happy with both but baked beans on toast does not a romantic meal make.  It should be a special restaurant or an equally special dinner at home.
Sharing a bath: Ick!  I mean ICK.  Two people sitting in a puddle of their own dirt - still sound romantic?  Pass.
Jewellery: How could it not be romantic?  Unless it's an engagement ring from someone you've only dated twice before.  Then it's scary.  But if he's a multi-millionaire Italian whose fallen for you hard, then bring on the sparklies Mr Signore.
Whisked away to Paris for the weekend:  Sadly no, it hasn't happened yet but while there's life there's hope I say.  But I'd swoon almost as much for a whisk away to Melbourne or Sydney as long as there was a plush pad and a bit of faux-promenading thrown in.

My current WIP (the one I'm rewriting for submission) has a Frenchman as the Hero and of course the french co-wrote the bible on romance (with the Italians) so my guy knows all the right moves.  But I love reading (and swooning) over all the things that Heroes do in other people's books.

So what does it for you and what's the best romantic thing a Hero's done in a book you've read/written?

                                                             Photo courtesy of

Monday, February 7, 2011

I've Met Someone........

The room was dimly lit and the first time I noticed him was when he walked past to join his mates and then he turned around and smiled.

Alright it was at another woman but I saw that smile and something just clicked.

He spent the next few hours smiling and laughing, drinking and falling in love.  Yeah, okay again it was with another woman but by now the damage had been done.  I'd fallen.

Afterwards I spent some time thinking about him.  And how perfect he was.  Not perfect as in had no faults.  But perfect as in just the right guy for me.  Well for my new WIP anyway.


The other night I watched The Holiday and saw this fabulously sexy beast:
Jude Law.  Apparently The Holiday was his first RomCom and I think he did rather well in it.  I like to think of it as his audition for the Hero in my new WIP.  I wanted an Englishman and had sort of settled on another muse but it wasn't a great fit, but then Jude smiled and, well the rest is history.  So that's Evan all mused up.

Now for Leila.  I'm not big on the stick-insect figure (and not just because I don't have one myself) I just think they're an unhealthy goal for young (and some not so young) girls to set themselves.  So I decided that none of my heroines would ever be thin.  Slim? Yes but in a healthy-still-with-curves type slim.  With that in mind, please ignore this young lady's bod and just focus on the face - especially the eyes (and the hair - god what I wouldn't give for her hair!).
Photo by Lester Cohen courtesy
Emmy Rossum - seriously beautiful.  Don't they make a gorgeous couple?  They will, after he gets over himself and she reaches down deep and finds that little bit of naughty she never knew she had!

Wish them (and me) luck.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

5 Things I Will Never Do

In my skipping about in Blogland I'm still finding people chatting about New Year Resolutions and while I'm quite happy with mine, I thought it would be interesting to explore things I will not do.  As in Never.  Under No Circumstances sort of things.  I know it's customary to write lists like these in groups of ten but I know how much I ramble on so five will be plenty.  Trust me.

I Will Never.........

1. Appear on a reality TV show.  Most of them are just plain stoopid.  You want to watch starving people, sweat and generally look ridiculous - visit a gym.  And as for those family based reality shows?  Oh.  My.  God.  If they put my family on one we'd all be hauled off to the loony bin before the end of episode one and you'd hear people muttering "It was all fake.  No one could possibly be THAT strange!".  What about a Writer's Reality Show?  Could be interesting.  Not watching me write because that's about as exciting as bat poo but seeing the lengths I will go to in order to avoid writing.....that could be amusing.  Ah but cooking shows?  I lurves ma cookin' shows.  First it was Ready Steady Cook and then Masterchef and now My Kitchen Rules.  I saw last year's MKRs and I was hooked.  The food.  The infighting.  The planning and conniving.  The judges.  Ooo la la Mr Feildel's hairy face and Mr Evans' hairy chest, Mr Feildel's accent and Mr Evans' eyes.  I'd like to tip them both into a giant (gentle) blender and have one uber chef emerge.  I thought about calling him Penu but that just made me giggle every time I said it.  So it will have to be Mate.  He could be My Mate.  All mine yer hear?  I won't share a whisker or chest hair.

2. Release a CD.  I sound fabulous in the shower.  When there's no one else around.  As soon as another human being comes within hearing my voice remarkably and inexplicably goes from having a vocal range of Celine Dion to sounding like a duck with a cold.  Doesn't stop me from hoping one day the Voice Fairy will take pity on me (or just not be able to take listening to one more rendition of I Have Nothing) and grant me the voice I've always dreamed of having.

3. Eat offal.  My mother tried when I was young to feed me what she called Lamb's Fry.  It was her attempt at calling it something less hideous.  She could have called it chocolate and I still wouldn't have eaten it.  I can distinctly remember opening the fridge as a young child and spying a set of sheep's brains sitting cheerily on a little tray waiting for my mother to cook them in a white sauce which she still says is lovely.  Pardon me while I puke!  I have an Aunty who used to like eating chicken's feet.   Please.  There is plenty of meat available on the rest of the bird without having to resort to eating it's feet!  And my father delighted in telling me it was possible to buy cow's tongue in a tin.  Now I'm no fool and of course I didn't believe him.  Until he brought me home a tin.  Pass me the bucket again will you?  No, I will not eat anything that someone else has walked on, thought or licked with.

4. Appear naked in public.  I love little furry animals.  Very much.  But I feel that my personal appearance unclothed would do nothing to further their cause.  In fact it could possibly do a lot to harm it.  Same goes for Art (note I spelled it with a capital).  All those artistes who throw a bunch of naked people together and then take a photo and call it Art - it's not Art.  It's just a bunch of naked bodies and most of them aren't worth looking at.  It would be so easy to pick me out - I'd be the one amongst all the free-spirited, open-minded, unselfconscious naked people trying to cover myself up or hide behind someone else.  So I'm afraid naked skydiving, skinny dipping and risque sex in public places are all off the menu.  Bet you're happy about this one, aren't you?!

5. Camp.  As a society we have worked very hard to raise ourselves above the level of our fellow animals - namely the invention of the toilet. The idea of abandoning all those advances is ludicrous.  I refuse to disrobe in public (see point 4) and expose my nether regions to all the dangers inherent in offering it to a bug, insect and rabid animal infested wilderness.  The closest I will come is staying in a less than four star hotel.  I've done it in the past and trust me there were bugs and wild animals enough to satisfy any boy scout. 

It's amazing really when you sit down and think about it - all the things you were sure you would put on your list of 'Never Evers' but when it comes down to it, there may not be that many.  I can probably stretch myself to another five but I'll save them for another time when the mood needs lightening - or like today when I'm at a loss for helpful advice and/or observations.