writing this novel

Writing this Novel part VII

By Kathleen Bradean

I’ve been in the tiny universe of
erotica long enough that I understand the niches publishers inhabit, but you
might not. Perhaps you wrote your story with a publisher in mind. If you
didn’t, you’re going to have to do some research. Go to the publisher’s website
and check out their newest offerings. Read their submission guidelines. If
possible, read a couple of their books. Don’t waste their time and don’t waste yours
sending the wrong book to the wrong publisher.

Just as you wouldn’t submit a book
on puppy training to a publisher of cookbooks, you shouldn’t submit your erotic
romance novel to a publisher of (literary) erotica. If you don’t know the
difference between erotic romance and literary erotica, don’t feel bad. It’s
not a simple distinction and the line between the two is blurry at best. As a
generalization, erotic romance is written in the genre style of romance. It absolutely
requires a happy-ever-after or happily-for-now ending, and focuses on the relationship
between two (sometimes three) people. So yes, there’s graphic sex but it’s
about bonding the characters emotionally. 

Literary erotica is written in the
genre style of literary fiction, but it can have a happily-ever-after ending
and it may focus on a relationship. Rather than emotional bonding though, sex
scenes are (normally) used to define or change a character. 

Still don’t know
where your book falls in the spectrum? Erotic romance sells better than
literary erotica, so if you have a novel that dances on the foggy boundary (with requisite
happy ending), and sales matter to you, you might want to call it erotic romance and seek out those publishers.


Before you sign with any publisher,
send emails to several writers with books at that publisher. Ask them if their
publishing experience was good. Ask them if they get paid royalties regularly
and on time. Find someone who used to publish through them who doesn’t anymore
and ask why. Check Predators and Editors. If you’ve hung around writer’s lists
long enough, you’ve seen the horror stories of unpaid royalties, rights being
tied up in court, unprofessional and unscrupulous business practices, and a
host of other problems. Experienced writers place their books with several
different publishers to mitigate exposure to their publisher’s business
problems, but even a good shop can go to hell overnight, especially if it’s
small press and the owner is essentially the entire company. All it takes is a
car accident or sudden illness. I’m not saying be paranoid, but be aware of who
you’re entering into a contract with. It’s called due diligence. Do your
homework. Protect yourself.

Also check the terms of the
contract thoroughly and know what each paragraph means. There are websites that
will warn you about bad contract terms. Things I’ve turned down contracts for:
a clause that said I could never speak ill of the publisher or its employees.
First look rights (this sounds good but it isn’t for YOU). A contract that
meant they had my rights forever. A contract that demanded I prove my gender. Lousy
ebook royalties.  The right to use 100%
of my story for “advertising” with no additional compensation in any
publication or website the conglomerate owned. 
And yes, I tried to negotiate those terms because everyone says you can
negotiate. “Everyone” is either a writer with a lot of pull or a liar because for
the most part you’ll be told to sign it or go away. Only you can decide what’s
right for you and how desperate you are to be published.

Five or six years
ago, a large erotic romance e-publisher bought a novel from me. (Yes, I wrote a book that could pass as erotic romance. It happens.)  Three months after the contract was signed,
they sent an email that they tried to back date telling me that my novel was
rejected. Yeah, you can type a date from months ago in the body of an email,
but the time stamp of when it was received is all that counts, people. For some
reason telling me they changed their mind was out of the question, and so was
being polite or apologetic about it. I still have that SIGNED contract in my
files. Did I try to enforce it? No. I didn’t see the point. I didn’t want to do
business with a company that proved they had no morals. So just be aware that
even a signed contract means nothing unless you have
the means and desire to fight it in court if it is breached.


I had a publisher in mind when I
wrote Night Creatures (still playing with the title, I may make it Night
.)  so I didn’t have to research
them. I did, however, have to ask what they like to see in a submission and how
they wanted it formatted, because part of being a professional writer is taking
the business side seriously. If your writing doesn’t make your story stand out,
don’t for a second believe that comic sans font will. Giving the publisher what
they want, in the format they want it, and only what they want tells the
publisher that you’re a reasonable person who won’t give them trouble over
stupid things. (So if your manuscript is accepted, prove it by not being an ass
over stupid things. Seriously, writer folk, don’t be THAT writer.)  

After I knew what the publisher
wanted, I put together my submission package, which in this case was an email.
They didn’t ask for a synopsis (joy, rapture! I loathe writing a synopsis) so I
sent a simple cover letter (body of the email), formatted like a business email
(my full contact info, date, etc.), with all the usual cover letter info: title
of the work, genre, word count (complete) in the first paragraph. A brief
synopsis of the story (second paragraph). Wind up: thank you for your
consideration… in the third paragraph, and a signature block. The full
manuscript was an attachment.

Sent it off and waited. And waited…
After a couple months I sent a polite inquiry about where I was in the
submission process. Polite. Don’t even type with an attitude. It’s a discreet
cough, not a temper tantrum. And I got a very nice reply back that basically
said “We need a few more weeks.” Not a problem, so I waited.

And here’s where you may expect
that I say “And it’s coming out in October!” Well, no. The publisher wants me
to rewrite the first two chapters and resubmit. Did I collapse onto my fainting
couch? Did I send it off to a different publisher? No. Rejection isn’t
personal. It’s an opportunity to learn something. 

Being honest with
myself, I know that the first two chapters were the weakest part of my novel.
So I’m working on those chapters. I told the publisher that I would resubmit it
when I fixed my work, and I will. Now, if it’s turned down after that, I could
turn to another publisher, but because I understand the niche markets
publishers inhabit, I already know that there are few who would touch this edgy
piece. It’s dark and it’s bloody. I could self-publish. I think about those
options but it’s far too early in the process to give up on this publisher just

Writing This Novel part VI

I know you want to submit your
story as soon as you’ve finished it. So do I. 
Writers are under a lot of pressure to churn out work quickly in this
publishing environment. I get that. But this is a little piece of your soul
you’re sending out into the universe, and polish is the only protection it’s
going to have. So please, slow down. Treat your work like a gourmet meal
instead of fast food. Make sure it’s presented in the best possible way. You’re
the only one who will give it such loving attention.

So. Editing.

Suggested reading before editing:
Self Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King)

A line-by-line copy edit helps you
find typos, missing words, and grammar mistakes. Below, I share the way I do
it, but as always, do what works for you. However, I strongly suggest that you
allow the MS to sit a few weeks after you finish your final draft before you
plunge into copy edits.  

If you work in Word, you know all
about the wavy red lines for spelling errors and the wavy green for
grammar.  You probably also know by now
that those are often wrong. There are many online sources to help you with
tricky, specific grammar questions. Plus, you have writer friends, right? Turn
to them. But always verify with a trusted authority on the matter.

I write science fiction so many of
my proper nouns are marked as spelling errors in the Word document. Adding them
to the dictionary gets rid of so many red wavy lines and Word will flag it if I
have a spelling variation (AKA a typo), which happens a lot with odd names. I
have yet to figure out how to get Scrivner to accept my world-specific

Despite the weaknesses of Word’s
grammar and spell check, it can show you interesting statistics such as percent
of passive sentences and reading level. I won’t say that I dumb down my
manuscripts, but if the reading level is over eighth grade, I know to look for
simpler vocabulary replacements as I edit. I usually run at about 2-4% passive
sentences. Despite what you’ve heard, passive sentences aren’t evil, bad
things. They have a place in your writing. No editor wants to see 60% passive
sentences in your MS, but you don’t have to completely eradicate them either.
Another interesting statistic is average words per sentence. If it’s over
twenty-five, you may be guilty of too many complex or run-on sentences. If it’s
under eight, your writing may have the delivery of machine gun fire. Mix it up
to create a pleasant reading cadence.  

After spelling and grammar, I consult
my ‘errors I make all the time so you’d think I’d know better by now’ list. I
often type prefect instead of perfect. I switch the words from and form. I’m addicted to the word just.
Spellcheck won’t catch those errors. Do you have crutch words or phrases?
Are you aware of word substitutions you make often? Use the search function in
your word processor to search for your recurring mistakes.

After I’ve finished those
corrections, I print the MS for the first time. You might be able to see errors
on a computer screen but I see many more on paper. I take a green pen and
circle every error. If the problem is an entire sentence, sometimes I write the
correction on the paper but other times I’ll simply circle it and deal with it
later. POV errors, continuity, and plot holes are also circled but with a short
note about the problem. This is detailed work so I don’t do too many pages at
one sitting.

Next I sit down with the MS and
make my corrections in the computer. This is another time when the search
feature comes in handy. You can type in a three or four word string and it will
find them for you so you don’t have to scroll through the whole MS.

At this point, I print the
corrected MS for what I consider to be the hardest editing task. I read my
entire MS aloud.

What I think I wrote makes sense. What I actually wrote is missing words or other errors I didn’t catch on my first editing run. What I actually
wrote is repetitive either in theme or in word choice. What I actually wrote has weird rhythm. Or it’s
a tongue twister. Or what the heck was that supposed to mean? All those errors
are easily glossed over when I read mentally, but they’re glaringly obvious
when I read aloud.

Reading a sex scene aloud can be embarrassing
even though I wrote it. R has, on occasion, poked his head into my office and
said, “Bragging about your cock again, dear?” Instant mortification.   

While reading an entire novel aloud,
I often get lulled into a mental space where I will start reciting what I
intended to write rather than what’s actually on the page. This happens even
when it’s been weeks since I looked at the MS. That’s one reason why I limit my
reading aloud to about twenty to thirty minutes a day. Another reason is that
reading aloud is hard on the throat.  

After I’ve corrected any problems I
caught that time around, I may send the MS to beta readers or I may submit it
without reader input. That’s your choice. 
Sometimes beta readers are more harm than help. Sometimes they try to
impose their vision on your story. Sometimes they simply don’t get it.
Sometimes everything you do is wonderful and lovely and… no. This is not
helpful. You need critique, not ego strokes. Some beta readers have brilliant
insights and totally call you on your weaknesses. Love that class of beta
readers. Cherish them. They are amazing, wonderful, precious humans.

That’s my method for editing both
short stories and novels. Do you have any tricks for catching errors? Beta
readers – yea or nay?

Next time: submission. Finally.         

Writing this Novel Part V

by Kathleen Bradean

Now that you’ve let your first
draft sit for a while it’s time to turn it into a second draft. Some writers
produce such a clean first draft that the second draft goes quickly then all
they have to do is copy edit and submit. I am not one of those writers. I wish
I were, but it isn’t meant to be. Night Creatures took five drafts, but I had
some unique problems that I’ll discuss later. The first draft is the time to
throw everything onto the page. The second draft is when you cut excess or add
depth and bring the story arc into its final shape. If you see copy edit level problems,
of course fix them, but don’t get bogged down in that yet. 

In each scene, if your characters
have moved to a different location, have you described where they are early on to anchor your reader? Good! But are you giving me too much detail?
Not good. Your imagination might have constructed an amazing coffee house with
the quirkiest baristas on the planet and fascinating regulars, but confession
time – as a reader, I scan over this kind of stuff if it goes on too long. Give
the reader a quick impression, not a blueprint. It’s an amazing trick of the
human mind that with only a few details our imaginations can fill in the rest
of the scene. Make your words count. Load them with atmosphere. Blonde wood and steel evoke not just décor but also a soundtrack and
vibe, and it’s different than what you’d imagine if I’d called the place dark and cozy.

Have you used at least three
senses to make a scene come alive? Think about the coffee shop. Since your
characters are probably talking you already have hearing, but add little
touches such as an ambulance going by outside or the clatter of dishes as a
table is cleared or that weird swooshy sound the milk steamer makes. If you’ve described the setting, you’ve already evoked seeing. Give it
dimension by letting your characters react to what they see. Maybe they feel
self-conscious when the teenagers two tables over whisper and giggle, or
your characters are self-conscious teenagers who whisper and giggle.
Since it’s a coffee shop it probably smells like coffee, but what else? If it’s raining outside, coats are probably giving off that damp wool smell. If you’re out on a patio, you could smell traffic fumes or the herbal scent of a planter or even the doggy smell of the Golden Lab at the feet of the woman two tables away.    

Read through your draft to make sure your characters are consistent. Yes,
they change over the course of the story, but there has to be a progression. In
the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is comfortable
with slavery at the beginning of the story. His entire world tells him is right
and he doesn’t question it. By the end of the story, he’s decided that even if
it means he’ll go to hell, he’s not okay with slavery and he believes,
strongly, that Jim is a man, a full human being, the same as him. That is a
huge change. But from the opening lines to the end of the story, Huck Finn is a
consistent character. Every action he takes and bit of dialog is absolutely
believable as something Huck Finn would say or do.

Everyone comes from somewhere. They
don’t spring to life as full grown adults when your story begins. (Well, yes,
they do, since you created them, but to make them seem real, you have to
pretend they existed before you started recording their story) They have a past
that made them who they are and that’s probably important info to share with
your reader. However, beware the dreaded info dump! Cramming all the backstory
into the first chapter is a sure way to bore your reader. Insert clues to your
character’s past along the path of the story and reveal those things only at
the point where they matter. Occasionally this will call for a longer passage,
but if you can keep it to a line or two you’re better off, because long
passages can drag your story to a standstill and it’s harder to overcome
inertia than it is to maintain forward momentum. (Law of physics as applied to

Foreplay. I don’t mean with your characters (although that’s fun stuff to read) I mean your readers. Don’t just toss them into a sex scene. Seduce them first. Use your sensory writing to evoke a mood then mercilessly push buttons to get them hot and bothered. Tease them. Manipulate them. Make them feel the warmth of a lover’s breath just under their ear so they’ll shiver. Make them want a lingering touch next. Take your time. Do a thorough job of it. It will leave them with the impression of a great sex scene even if you never describe a sexual act.

While you were writing your first
draft, your subconscious was lurking in the background. Occasionally, while you
were distracted, it slipped ideas into your work. Sneaky. By the time you
finished your first draft, you may have become aware of those ideas. Many works
in erotica are voyages of personal discovery. The protagonist chooses to find
what they want and seizes control of their sexuality and life. That’s an
empowering message. I’ve also read stories that are about forgiveness, loss,
faith, love, and despair. You name an aspect of the human condition and it can
be addressed in erotica. Think about your work from the high-level view. A
literary viewpoint. Do you detect an idea or theme? Think about ways to enhance
it in the second draft (if it interests you).

Reflecting on your work will give
you a lot to tackle in your second draft, and expanding on the ideas your
subconscious seeded in the first draft will add depth to your story.


I knew before I finished the first
draft of Night Creatures that I had
to move a key scene. Talk about painful. If only it were as simple as
cut and paste. But no, of course not. Events happen in sequence. One flows into
another. By changing the timeline, I had to go through each scene and ask ‘do
they know this yet?’ If not, I had to eliminate the reference. In the
first draft, things can be wrong. Typically in the second draft, errors are
fixed, but in my second draft, I was creating potential errors all over
the place.

As if I hadn’t made things hard
enough, I also decided to delete two characters from the story. A cast of thousands
may be impressive on a big movie screen but too many characters are confusing as hell on the page. Although
I already had a limited cast, by eliminating the additional characters I tightened the focus on the main two. A reader once commented that my stories sometimes make her feel like she’d been shoved into a wardrobe with two people and the air is running out. I take that claustrophobia as a compliment.

Deleting characters can cause huge plot problems. Let me restate that. Deleting characters should cause huge plot problems. Everyone on the page should be there for a specific purpose, like cogs in a machine. If you can remove one and nothing changes, they shouldn’t have been there in the first palce. (I’m talking about main and secondary characters here, not the extras in the background)  When I removed the two from mine, a key part of the plot suddenly didn’t happen, so I had to transfer their actions to one of the remaining characters. Different characters have different motivations
even if they do the same thing. (For example: I eat sashimi because I like it.
R will only eat it when it’s served to him and it would be rude to refuse it.)  That meant, yes, exploring the motivations of the character and making sure they made sense. That was a lot of work, and typically the kind of stuff you do as you’re writing the first draft. Maybe instead of calling this one my second I should have called it First Draft version B.

Between changing the sequence of events and eliminating characters, the second draft left me with a lot of work to do. (Thus the five drafts.) I wouldn’t have made those changes
if I hadn’t strongly felt they were necessary. Unfortunately, I can’t explain
to you why I felt they had to be made or how you might sense that your story
arc needs that kind of revision. (I hope for your sake that it never does. This is why I often say “This is what I do, but I don’t recommend it to anyone.”) Readers might feel that the way a story was
told was the only way it could have unfolded, but writers know that there were
many possibilities. More than one path can lead to the same destination. Part of
choosing the path is talent, part of it is craftsmanship, all of it is the
mysterious (wonderful) process of creativity.         

What are the areas you concentrate
on in a second draft? Do you have bad habits you try to catch?

Next time: editing 


This series has been reposted on my personal blog, as well as a few additional entries.

Writing This Novel IV

by Kathleen Bradean

The end is near! 

The last two chapters took longer
to write than the rest of my novel. Usually, writing the ending is easier than the
beginning because as you near the final chapters the story should be converging on the event
horizon, collapsing on itself like a black hole, and the ending should be
inevitable. Right? It will seem that way to the reader. It isn’t that simple
for the writer.

What if you didn’t end up telling
the story you meant to tell? That isn’t always a bad thing, but that means there
are choices to make. You can follow through with the ending that seems to flow
naturally from what you’ve written or you can force the story back on track in
the final chapters. I’m not a big fan of forcing for the sake of plot, but if
you feel strongly about it, do it. (because later you’re going to rewrite the novel in such a way that the forced ending seems to flow naturally, but more about that next month.)

For Night Creatures, I chickened
out and wrote a weaker, albeit happier, ending. My beta reader wasn’t
impressed. He felt cheated that everything pointed to a darker conclusion. I
should have known better. Considering the extremes of the rest of the story,
the end was no place to play it safe. I promised to fix that in the next draft.

If you’re a complete pantser, you
might not have any idea how your story should end. But as a storyteller, I’m
sure you have an instinct for the natural conclusion. Quest completed? Goal
achieved? Character transformation complete? Congratulations, you’ve reached
the end of this tale. Don’t linger too long after the big climax but do give
the reader a sense of closure.

Please, don’t wrap up all your
loose ends in the final two paragraphs. Those should have been woven into the
story as you were nearing the ending. Twist endings take a deft hand so be
cautious with them. Have you ever seen the play/movie Murder By Death? At the climax,
the protagonist yells at the assembled detectives, “You’ve tricked and fooled
your readers for years. You’ve tortured us all with surprise endings that made
no sense. You’ve introduced characters in the last five pages that were never
in the book before. You’ve withheld clues and information that made it
impossible for us to guess who did it.” Don’t be that writer. (On second
thought, since he was accusing parodies of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple,
maybe you should. Even the Doctor carries an Agatha Christie book with him in
the TARDIS.)  

So… Now you have a completed first
draft. Congratulations! That’s a huge accomplishment. Be proud of yourself.
What’s next, you might be wondering. Send it off to a publisher?

Don’t. Don’t even think about that

I used to think that if I were any
good at writing my first draft would be perfect. *rueful chuckle* Then I read a
quote that changed my mind. I wish I knew who to attribute it to. “Even F.
Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald in the first draft.” Wait! What?
Stories didn’t just flow from his fingers perfect and wonderful? He didn’t type
The End at the bottom of his first
draft then drop the manuscript on his publisher’s desk?  Holy smokes! So the work of writing isn’t simply
the physical act of typing the words? Who knew? 

Apparently everyone knew except me. Ernest Hemingway stated, “The first draft
of anything is shit.”  That might be a bit harsh, but I’m not about to argue that succinct comment with
him. (I’m aware that he couldn’t win a debate with a flower at this point, but
I meant hypothetical him. You knew that.)

You’re going to have to write a
second draft. Even if you didn’t force the ending. Even if you never made a
typo. Even if you ruthlessly polished every word before you finished your first
draft, you’re going to have to do a second one. I can hear you groaning from
here. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. And I sympathize. I truly do. I’ve
always hated reading my work once I finished writing it. Telling the story is
fun. (Let me dream here that the first draft wasn’t a pain in the butt.) Fixing
the first draft is the same work without the creative fun. This is
the craftsmanship level of writing. This is where you put in your time.  

BTW – here’s an excellent discussion of rewrites and if they’re necessary.

So – onward to the second draft,

Sorry. No. I have some advice that
I hope you’re ready to hear. This is one of the biggest secrets of writing.
It’s probably the most important trick up a writer’s sleeve. Are you ready for
the big reveal?


Boo. That’s no fun. I know. It
sucks. It’s a virtue, fer chrissakes, and I’m not exactly a virtuous person. I
hate it and part of me wants to rebel against it, but I’ve learned how
important it is.

My novel needs all the breathing
room I can give it. Yours does too. A couple months is ideal, but at least give
it a few weeks. The longer the work, the longer the break. Don’t open the file
and don’t touch anything for a while. Time will make you more objective and
you’re going to need that distance.


Do you have problems bringing your
story to a close? Do you know before you start how it will end? Has the ending
ever changed while you were writing your novel? Share your tricks for wrapping
it up.

Next month, we’ll talk about the
second draft.

Writing This Novel Part III

by Kathleen Bradean

However you write is the right way
to do it. Forget The Rules. If you plot out everything ahead of time, good for
you. If you sit down and write with no idea where the story is going, that’s
great too. I’m telling you this because what follows is my weird method and I’d
hate for you to think it’s The Right Way or The Only Way to go about it. 

I’m about thirty thousand words
into The Night Creature. It will
probably be around sixty thousand words when complete, so that’s theoretically
half way through. Now I’m in what writer Jim Grimsley so accurately described
as ‘the murk in the middle of the novel.’ If you’re into the journey through
the woods metaphor, this is the moment when you lose sight of the forest for
the trees. The ending seems unreachable. Maybe by now the story bores you. You
fell out of love with it once you got to know it better. Hey, it happens. I’m
wondering myself if I’m on the right track, if I’ll be able to tell the story I
set out to, and if it’s worth telling even if I can. Yep, I’m stuck in the murk.

Several options here. 1)
procrastinate 2) blunder around until I discover the right path to the end, or
3) give up.

Many writers have procrastination
honed to a fine art. Deadline looming? Wash the dishes and vacuum the spider
webs off the ceiling. Have a cookie. Then decide you need tea with that. Or
scotch. Then go to FaceBook and look at cat memes.  Stuck and floundering? Throw yourself into
research. The internet makes it so easy. You don’t have to head to the library
with focused questions and a limited amount of time and patience. Oh no. You
can look up the price of a Hermes scarf in British pounds. Google Maps with
street view is a fantastic tool. I found out there are no cafés on the same
street as the Hermes store in Paris. I also know there are five Hermes
boutiques in Paris, but I showed some restraint and only looked at one. Eventually, I
had to get quite stern with myself and stop playing around with the wealth of
information out there. As Mary Poppins says, “Enough is as good as a feast.”  

Writing articles about writing a
novel is a great procrastination technique, by the way. But now people are tracking
my progress, so I feel a little pressure to stop screwing around and get it

Too much procrastinating is a bad
habit, but it can be useful. It gives me time to step back from the story for a
while and mull over the story arc and insights into who the characters have
become as the story unfolds. The order of events tightens into focus. It’s a
chance to play around with ideas before I commit them to words, or so I tell
myself. The problem is that I’m stuck and until I can move forward, fooling
around with research seems as useful as staring at that damned blinking cursor.
What comes next? I have no idea! Leave me alone, you nagging black line of

Yeah, yelling the cursor isn’t

One trick to avoid being stuck:
When you finish a writing session, get one or two sentences of the next scene
down before you stop. That way you’re primed to move on when you open the file
the next time. Or stop just short of the natural end of the scene. If you have
an easy writing prompt to start with, you’re more likely to type the next

But what do you do if that doesn’t
work? This is where the ‘this works for me but I don’t recommend it’ part comes
in. The blundering about method. I go over what I’ve already written and
tighten it up. You’re not supposed to start editing until the first draft is
complete. The reason for that ‘rule’ is that some writers futz around with
their first chapters forever and never move on. The reason I break the rule is
that rules are really only guidelines, and guidelines are code for ‘this works
for many people.’ That’s no guarantee it will work for you and I’ve found it
doesn’t for me. That being said, the first novel you write, your major goal
should be to finish it. Millions of people begin novels. Few finish them.
Finish yours. Revel in the accomplishment. Slog through to the end no matter
what. Then go back and edit. (says the woman who admits she doesn’t do it that

 I try to write a linear, meaning that I don’t
tend to write scenes out of order. Every sentence in your story should have
forward momentum toward the end. Jumping ahead or behind disturbs the forward flow
of the narrative. (That can be fixed in the editing process) But just because
that’s what I prefer to do doesn’t mean it’s what I really do. A few days ago I
wrote a wonderfully evocative scene but realized later that it occurred too
early in the emotional arc of the story. Normally, I’d just delete it and write
it again later.

You’re probably screaming right
now. I know, I know. You’re supposed to save all your precious snippets and
tuck them away for later. This is where my view of writing may differ dramatically
from yours. I don’t think of anything I’ve written as a rare gem to be set in a
tiara to make it sparkle. I’m not saying that you do, or that’s it’s wrong to
feel that way. It simply isn’t my approach to my writing. While I write
literary erotica, pretty prose isn’t my aim. So it’s rare that I feel anything
I’ve written is too precious to delete. I care very much about the emotions
evoked in my scenes though, so often the only thing I ‘save’ is an impression
of the emotional impact.

However, this time I really liked
the way the scene turned out. Plus it took me a long time to write. So I cut
and pasted it to the end of my MS (manuscript). It’s lurking out there, waiting
for me. Once I reach the right place in the story to incorporate it, I may have
to entirely rewrite it to make it fit into the flow of the story. Or cut it if
it never fits. I’m sort of brutal that way.

I knew that scene didn’t come next,
but what did? Cut to me pacing in the backyard and thinking quite a bit about
the story. For days.

Truly stuck at this point, this is
when I daydream about being one of those writers who creates an outline before
they begin writing. How lovely it would be to see that my next scene is ____.
It’s written in stone. It’s meant to be. Yeah. No. The problem with outlines is
that I discover the story while I’m writing it. An outline I wrote in advance
would be worthless after the first major deviation from it, so why bother? Or
worse, I’d try to force the story back to the outline and just… *full body
shudder* Not going to happen.

Rather than give up on the novel
now that I’m mired down in indecision, this is time to dig into my bag of
writer’s tricks to get moving again. The first thing I did was make myself stay
away from FaceBook and all other temptations. Then I deliberately wrote a scene
I knew was wrong. I used a POV (point of view) character who had no business
narrating any part of the story. I explored how she saw the major characters,
what changes she noticed in them, and let her ramble on about things that
mattered only to her. When I’m not sure what to do next, doing the most wrong
thing helps me focus on the right thing. Sure, I wrote a thousand words that I
deleted the next time I sat down to write, but I was writing, which beats
glaring at the blinking cursor.

When even that trick failed, I
broke another one of my rules. I wrote part of the closing scene of the story.
I’ll probably have to rewrite it entirely, but it reminded me where I was
headed, what was at stake for the characters, and all the events that must
happen before they get to that moment. That got me moving forward again, but I
also realized something that was wrong way at the beginning of the novel. When
you have an option, write new stuff and move forward. Even though it’s killing
me to leave the error, I’m working toward the end. I can fix the errors in the
editing process. I keep telling myself that. I will avoid temptation!

Is it ever the right decision to
give up? I hate to say yes, but the answer is yes. I know some writers who
start off strong and know the ending but simply can’t write the middle of the
novel. Part of it may be a loss of faith. Sometimes it’s something outside the
book such as fear of failure, fear of success, or one of the other evil mind
games we play on ourselves.

What if you can’t write more
because the story reached a point where it bores you? News flash – if it bores
he writer it will bore the reader, so save us all the grief and figure out how
to make it interesting. Do you just want to get to the exciting stuff? Then
deal with the dull stuff in a sentence or two and get on to the fun part.

But what if that doesn’t work? If you
have a bad habit of quitting at this point, force yourself to slog through it.
Forcing yourself to finish might not help you produce a publishable novel but
you’ll have broken your streak of unfinished work. Then move on to another
novel and force yourself to finish it. However, if it isn’t a habit and you
just can’t write any more on this story and more urgent ones are hammering at
your brain trying to get out, then your best option might be to set this one
aside for a while, maybe forever. Give up. Making yourself miserable isn’t
worth it. Do you have a contract for the novel? No? Then let it go. Yes? Oh
man. You’re in a spot, aren’t you? Put on your professional writer hat (or panties)
and try anything, everything, to get it done.

Whatever you do, no matter how uninspired
you feel, force yourself to write. That’s my best advice to escape the murk in
the middle.

Let me know if you have tricks that
help you write when you’re not feeling it. I’m always interested in what other
writers do.

Next time, I expect to have
finished my novel. I’ll tell you how I brought it on home.

Writing This Novel part II

by Kathleen Bradean

In Part I, I told you about how I
came up with the idea for my WIP (work in progress) and the title. This article
will focus on the beginning of the novel.

Word One. Or, where to start.

You might be thinking “Hey, you
told us about your vision of the story in Part I, why don’t you open with
that?” That’s a great question. Many times your first impression might be your
natural opening scene, but not always. I found this out the hard way with
another novel I wrote. I had this wonderfully compelling first vision. However,
after writing two drafts of the novel that didn’t work, I realized my vision
scene was part of the problem. It set the tone for the main characters’
relationship, but it took place a year before the rest of the story. When I
very reluctantly gave it up as something I’d know about but it wouldn’t make it into the novel, the third draft fell into place. Moral of that story: you can
only try to make something work for so long before you have to drag your writing down to the cellar and shove it into a shallow grave with all your other
darlings. I’m not going to open The Night
with the train station scene I mentioned in part I and I’m not
sure it will make it into the novel at all, which means I have to come up with
a different way to start my story.

The common advice writers hear is to start a
story in medias res (In the middle of
affairs). The definition of in medias res
is that an important catalyst for the plot has already taken place before the
story opens, a scene that will often be shown in flashbacks. Some writers take it to
mean they should open the work in the middle of an action sequence. While opening
your story with your main character busting a chair over someone’s head is
action, without context a fight means nothing to readers. If you add context,
the action is broken up by a lot of back story that muddles the scene and kills
the forward momentum of the fight. Not a good choice. But going the opposite
direction is also a problem.

Recently, I beta read a friend’s
fantasy novel. It was good once I got into it, but it took a long time to finish
the first chapter because he used what I call the Sound of Music opening. If you’ve seen the movie The Sound of Music, you probably don’t
remember the very long opening sequence that flies you over the alps forever, swings toward
Salzburg (are we there yet?) picks an alpine meadow to focus on (are we there
yet?) slowly brings your eye down to a young woman sauntering through the lush
grass, gets closer and closer until you can see her face, then she twirls,
opens her mouth, and begins to sing. You probably only remember the twirl and
the singing. And do you know why? Because it’s action. It’s interesting. That’s the place
where the networks tend to begin the movie broadcast because they don’t want
you to flip channels after two minutes of snowcapped peaks. Similarly, my
friend’s opening chapter started with the long shot view of the mountains,
slowly bringing the focus down to a little village as it talked about the
weather, the economy, the political structure of the area and the geography. That
kind of opening sequence is bound to lose readers. The TV networks figured this
out, so should writers. My friend fixed that in his rewrite and it made a huge

Instead of jumping into action without
context or using a Sound of Music
style opening, a better idea is to show the main character doing something
(action rather than simply sitting around thinking) that will bring him/her/hir
to the inciting incident rather quickly.

The inciting incident is what
causes the story to happen. In Frank Herbert’s Dune, the inciting incident is when the Emperor orders the Duke to
take over management of the planet commonly known as Dune. You never see that
scene. That happens before the opening chapter, a good example of in medias res. As the story opens, you
see the Duke’s household in the midst of preparations to leave their home
planet for Dune. From word one, the story is in forward motion. Another good
technique is to ease the reader into the setting and characters by starting a
short time before the inciting incident occurs. Margaret Mitchell’s approach
for Gone With the Wind gave the
reader a chapter or two of normal life on the plantation, but still with forward
momentum leading to the two inciting incidents– Ashley announcing his engagement
to his cousin Melanie (effectively dumping Scarlett), and news reaching the
party that the war has been declared.

In my novel The Night Creature, I open the story at a party. The female and
male lead characters see each other across the room. She wants to hook up with
him and he wants her, but they remain on opposite ends of the room no matter where they move in the crowd. They’re chasing and evading each other
simultaneously. This foreshadows the plot. It’s also in medias res because you find out later that he’s been pursuing
her for a while and she’s been purposefully evasive. By
the end of the evening, she lets him catch her. During sex, he bites her. This
is the inciting incident. The bite transfers their roles. Now she pursues him
and he runs away. As they find themselves trapped in a game without end, they
struggle with all-consuming desire, obsession, and madness. I did mention that
this story is gothic horror, didn’t I?

The opening of a novel doesn’t just
introduce the character and their world. It should also give the reader a taste
of what’s at stake for the main character. In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett wants Ashley, to flirt and be admired,
and to get her way. She wants life to continue as it has up until now for her,
only better. In Dune, the Duke
Atreides, his consort Jessica, and heir Paul want to survive the political
intrigues of the Emperor and eventually get off Dune with their fortune, power,
and lives intact. My characters want the game to end. Yeah. Not going to
happen. But that’s not the point. Show what your character wants, briefly. Then
yank it from their grasp with the inciting incident. That’s where your story
starts. Every book is different, so you could get to the inciting incident
within a thousand words or it could take you a couple chapters, but get to it
as soon as possible.

For an erotic novel, you might go
with a sexual the inciting incident. Desire, lust, attraction, a gang bang,
whatever is right for your story should be the catalyst to get the story
moving. Sometimes the inciting incident is a situation that makes sexual
discovery, seduction, submission, etc. possible. However, be wary of literary
tropes. This is an excellent article describing them:   http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10360
I review erotica and have judged both erotica and erotic romance for contests,
and I’ve seen a few tropes so many times that, as this article suggests, they
make me want to hurl a book across the room. It’s a good thing I like my Kindle
too much to fling it. So please, do not make the inciting incident be a bad
break up. Don’t have your heroine take a bubble bath as she thinks (what did I
say about sitting around thinking?) about making a radical change in her life.
Don’t have her buy a fabulous house out in the middle of nowhere with only a
mysterious Byronic hero alpha male for a neighbor. Just. Don’t. For me. Please.

How do you decide where to start?
Do you go with your first vision? Is starting the novel the hardest part for

Next time, I’ll talk about whymaybe I should learn to outline (but it
won’t happen) and what to do when you feel like you’re up to your knees in muck
that’s sucking you down into a writerly funk and you don’t think you can slog through
it to the next chapter.

Writing This Novel, part I

     This is my first post for ERWA blog. Although I see that
Lucy Felthouse is also talking about her experience writing a novel, I thought
I’d write about the process as I’m working on one. Anyone who has ever tried to
write a novel knows this is tricky. I might not finish. I might get bogged down
in the middle and have no clue what to do next. And you’ll get to see me fail in
real time! Oh, wait…

     Several years ago at a writer’s conference, Poppy Z Brite
commented that you don’t learn how to write a novel. You learn how to write this novel (as you’re writing it). I’ve written a couple novels since then and agree with her comment.

   Where do you begin? With the idea of a story. That sounds
logical but I’ve seen people claim they sit down and ‘just write.’ I have no
clue how that works. It probably doesn’t. Have an idea of the overall story you
want to tell even if you don’t have the specifics, who the main characters are
(I suggest you have a solid fix on them), and where you want the story to end
so you have a goal to aim for. Sure, there are people who claim to be pantsers
–- seat of the pants storytellers who don’t outline—but I’m sure they have an
idea of what they want to do when they start. Otherwise it’s like entering a
forest without a path, walking for several hours in whatever direction your
feet lead, then the sun starts to set and you ask yourself where the hell you
are and how to get out. That’s how people end up writing two hundred thousand
word novels with no end in sight. That’s not the best use of your precious
writing time.

     Stephen King, in his fantastic book On Writing, admits he doesn’t know where his stories come from. In
the ‘writing is a talent’ versus ‘writing is a craft’ debate, I’m firmly in both
camps.  However, I believe that the
ability to imagine a story is a talent. You either have it or you don’t. If you
have it, you understand why Stephen King can’t tell you where stories come
from. He can’t, and I can’t. But I can tell you how this novel began for me.

     I had a vision. It’s sort of like daydreaming, like a
snippet of a movie, but so vivid that I swear I can smell and feel things.
These scenes hit me while my mind is wandering. I’ve never sat down and said,
‘I will now imagine something.’  This
particular story idea came to me after reading comments by Remittance Girl on
the ERWA Writer’s list as the group discussed what defined the erotica genre.
She (I’m paraphrasing) said that the central question of erotica is how we (the
characters) deal with desire. I mulled over that for a few days and this vision
came to me:

(I’m not going to record this in any attempt at pretty prose
since this would never go into a story raw. This is the way I would have jotted
it down on paper.)

    Fog hangs heavily in the air. It condenses on the bare limbs
of winter trees and splatters on cobblestones. It’s just before dawn, and even
though my vision is in color, it feels like a black and white photograph, like
the movie poster from the Exorcist with the priest under the gas lamp in the
fog. Street lamps cast cold light on a small train station. A young woman in ratty
punkish clothing paces the station platform and stomps her feet to keep warm.
She wraps her arms around her waist and mutters to herself. I can’t hear what
she says, but she repeats it over and over, so I know she’s losing her mind. At
the far end of the station platform, a man appears. He’s been there all along,
but she (and I) just noticed him. The young woman is suddenly ravenous and
aroused. Her gaze lingers on the groin of the man’s jeans. He’s cold too, with
his nose buried in a thick scarf and his hands shoved into the pockets of his
thick coat. Just a guy, going to work on the early train. She walks over to him
and asks in German, “Want to fuck?” (although I’m convinced that she’s

    That’s it. That was all I had to go on. It takes five
minutes to write down, but in my mind, it was only a ten or twenty second
movie. As I do with most of these visions, I immediately asked all the
pertinent questions. Who was she? Clearly the main character. Where and when was
she? The train station’s architecture said Eastern Europe. The gas lamps, black
and white tones, and train travel suggested the past, but her clothes said
1990s to 2000s, so I knew that the story would be set in current times but have
a timeless feel. I also knew from the lighting and the fog that the story’s tone
would tend gothic and share genre elements with either horror or noir (a term
which technically only applies to movies, but you know what I mean) Why is she
at the train station? She’s chasing someone. Why was she losing her mind?
Hunger. What was she hungry for? Sex.

    Where do those answers come from? Imagination. As I’m asking
myself these questions I’m filling in details. They may change as I’m writing
the story, but these are my characterization, setting and tone starting points.
This is also where I ask myself: What is the story about? The answer is one
sentence, hopefully under twenty words. I write it on a piece of paper and tape
it to the wall above my computer so it’s always there to remind me as I write. I
also get a summary idea of the story (which can and will change). This isn’t
the same as plot, but it’s similar.

   I let my mind run with those answers for a couple days. I
sensed a novel in it, but was so caught up in the intensity of the story that I
wanted to get something down. Plus, I worried that a story about someone
chasing a lover (or lunch, depending on where I went with it) wasn’t a big
enough idea for a novel. So I threw myself into writing a short story which
ended up on ERWA’s blog in October under the title It’s Lovely. It’s Horrible.  (If
you missed it, the story has already been picked up by an editor for a vampire
anthology even though it’s not what I’d call a vampire story.) Almost every
critique on ERWA’s Storytime list stated that the idea was too big for a short
story and I needed to expand it to a novel. So that’s what I’m doing.

    A note about titles. I either get a great idea for a title off
the bat or I struggle. Orbiting in
– flash of inspiration. She
Comes Stars
– came from a line in the story. It’s Lovely. It’s Horrible – I settled on only after I mentally
shoved bamboo slivers under my fingernails. And believe me, that was the best I
could do after some truly awful ideas.  That wasn’t the title I wanted to use for a
novel so it was back to the bamboo. Desire
was my initial title idea since a discussion about desire sparked the story idea,
but what the hell does Desire tell
the reader? Not much. It could be a great title for another work, but not this
one. I flirted with the idea of Consumed
for a while but I recognize a yuck title when I see one. I think I was taunting
myself with that one. “Pick a better title or you’ll be stuck with this one!” At
that point I gave up trying to find a title and forged ahead with the story.
You don’t have to have a title. It’s nice to have one, but you can work without

A couple chapters into the first draft I stumbled into a
title. I’m still trying to decide if it’s The
Night Creature
or The Night Creatures,
and if I’ll drop The, but it strikes me as a good fit. The Night Creature warns you that the work will be dark. It hints
at horror. That’s the tone I want to set from the beginning.

Next time I’ll talk about how I decided where to begin the

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