Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Conflict -- An Editor's Dream

One of the things that I see a lot of is conflict without substance. It's become my new little catch-phrase, actually. And I think the concept of conflict is maybe a little vague. Or more precisely "Strong conflict"

Strong conflict is something that takes more than a conversation to work out. It's not just having two divergent character types banging heads and being beligerent or alpha. A strong conflict involves the following set up:

External conflict influences the hero and heroine internally, by targetting their internal beliefs (that are founded on their backstory experiences) and impacts their goals to the point that it makes them resist leaping into a solution.

A person cannot resolve their internal beliefs by having one conversation and everything's good. It takes working through those beliefs, and the events the hero/heroine encounter must contribute to that resolution. The events are either related to the external conflict, or related to the emotional relationship.

Let's look at a somewhat stereotypical example:

Hero is a wealthy businessman whose wife died and left him with a young child. Heroine is the woman he loved as a teen, who was from a poor family and "the wrong side of the tracks". They were involved as teens, but he left her suddenly. Ten years later, after his wife's death, they are reunited through professional endeavors.

Non-existant conflict:
They meet, there's a conversation along the lines of:

Hero: Susie, my parents forced me to. I never wanted to leave, and while I cared for my wife, I was in a loveless marriage. Please be mine again.
Heroine: Oh George, I've loved you too! Yes, that's all I've ever wanted.

Weak Conflict:
They meet, there's a bit of animosity between them. A bit of snide remarks on her part, his banging his head mentally, accusing himself of being a fool, since it's a Champagne title, they hit the sheets, sparks fly, and no one discusses what happened in the past. Eventually after a few chapters of a happy resolution being present in the writing (but not through character's actions or writings) they consent to forgive, forget, and move forward. Afterall, they've been working on this joint professional venture famously, they share core beliefs, and what happened in the past was out of youthful ignorance and the domination of powerful parents.

In this example, the author has made an attempt at keeping them apart. But the grounding isn't present. Both characters love each other from first meeting, always have, and their conflict is on the surface level. Actions portray it, but it isn't internally grounded. One conversation can resolve it between them. And while the conversation may not be as weak as the example in no conflict, it's still a situation that can be resolved by a conversation.

Strong Conflict:
They meet, there's a whole lot of animosity between them because the reason he is on the job conflicts with the reason she is on the job. Both have strong beliefs in their position and their work. They are at polar opposites, so it appears, within their moral compass. Adding into this the heroine feels intense betrayal, that she wasn't good enough for him because of financial positioning or her lineage. The hero, is anguished over what he did, but his reasons for leaving her had nothing to do with his parental domination, (although on the surface that's how it appeared), were in attempts to forge a path for them to be together.

When he came back to get her, she was gone no forwarding address and her parents wouldn't speak to him. Lo and behold, HER parents are the reason they were forced apart.

Yes, they can discuss this. Yes, he can swear to the truth of it. But although that conversation resolves why their teenage love came to an end, it does not address the larger issue of now that they are adults they are at odds with their core beliefs in relation to this professional set up. But before they can resolve it conversationally, they have to have their misconceptions proved wrong. Not just stated as wrong proved wrong.

The external plot -- the professional endeavor -- triggers them to act in ways that force them to grow and evaluate their individual standings. One of them must grow and change internally after doing something (the wrong something) that puts a divide between them, that seems insurmountable.

So if you have an environmental engineer opposing an oil mogul, the oil mogul must go ahead with the plan that damages the environment, despite feelings for the environmental engineers stance on the situation. External factors trigger something that points the oil mogul to the environmental engineer's motivation, and the oil mogul must scramble to right the situation. If the oil mogul doesn't right the situation, the love is forever lost.

These actions are what leave the reader on the edge of their seat, turning pages, wondering "How in the world is this mess ever going to get resolved?"

Conflict is a complicated entity. But if an author keeps in mind STRONG conflict, grounded in personal beliefs that are triggered by internal circumstances, and far deeper than one conversation can resolve, the odds of mastering conflict is significantly increased.

Good luck and keep on writing!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Editor's Creed

As an editor, it is never our intention to shoot down your dreams. It is our intention to offer the tools you need and guide you to your goal--Publication.

It is not our intention to be cold and critical but to teach and inform, to show you how to better your stories, perfect your words. Make your projects shine.

I believe I can speak for any of The Wild Rose Press editors and say that our least favorite thing in the world is to write a rejection to an aspiring writer. However, it does offer us the chance to aid you in your pursuit to contract your work with us or another publisher if you choose to heed the explanation so carefully woven into your repectfully written letter detailing "why" your story or book was rejected.

Rejection is never comfortable, but taken constructively only helps to make you a much stronger, more vivid writer. Pay attention to every detail, every explanation your editor gives you. She is trying to mold you into a publishable author. One who stands out. One who doesn't land in the proverbial slush pile after the first paragraph.

I've listed some hints we drop so often I know you are more than sick of hearing them, but we continuously see these problems with submissions:

  • First and formost, please follow guideline requests. That is why we put them up. Time after time we receive submissions that are not formatted properly. We are not interested in your fancy fonts and a pretty manuscript. All that does is make it more difficult when it comes time to format for galley. Always use .rtf formatting. Nothing else--ever!

  • More on guidelines. Pay attention to individual line content needs. For instance: you are submitting to Black Rose. Did you read the guidelines carefully? If so, why am I receiving a story about Faeries and time travel when my line handles vampire, wereshifters, demons, and all the darker less whimsical creatures of the paranormal genre? If your stories have witches/warlocks/gargoyles, whatever--be sure the story elements are dark and include one of the above mentioned entities, otherwise it is more likely a Faery fit. Study the needs of each line thoroughly BEFORE you submit. If in doubt at any time, we are always happy to guide you.

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread... We can't stress this enough. When a manuscript comes in that is filled with typos, spelling errors, wrong words and clearly not proof read, YOU WILL BE REJECTED. This is just plain lazy. NEVER allow your work to go out the door without a thorough going over. Always have two or more people proof you work. As editors, we have to have a cold read(copyedit) done(someone to go over a manuscript to be sure WE didn't miss something!) So rest assured YOU need to do this as well. Don't skip important steps. Critique partners are excellent for this. They will also be able to pick up plot problems, redundancy, inconsistencies, etc. All of which WILL get you a rejection or a revision request at the very least. TWRP does offer a critique group. I've encoded the link for you to follow, why not check it out?

  • A word about copyrights, brand names and trademarks. Be aware when mentioning products, music, people(actors, authors, singers etc.) there are issues that may arise including copyright and trademark infringements. It is best NOT to go there at all. As editors, we flag these and WILL insist that you change such items.

The above are a few things that are constant headaches for us as editors. I want to mention another thing I have recently come across in closing. Please beware of the thin line between a story idea and plagerism!

I recently had a submission that was titled similar to a blockbuster series and even took place in the same locale! This is a definite no, no. You can not write a spinoff of another author's works nor use their story ideas in any fashion that is close to the original.

Something else you must be diligent about is not referencing characters from other works in your stories. Seems innocent enough especially in a postive light but not a good idea. The best way to handle any potential problems of this sort is to NOT do it at all. I can't stress this enough.

I would now like to share with you, the author, our MISSION STATEMENT as editors:

To endeavor to make your writing the very best it can be, whether we enter into contract or not. Know that we are only trying to help you. Never to discourage only encourage and teach. Polish your story and make your writing shine!

Thank you.

Callie Lynn Wolfe, SE Black Rose

Monday, May 9, 2011

Don’t forget the simple things…

That’s a good lesson in life as well as writing. Don’t forget to take a moment to raise your chin, close your eyes and glory in the warmth of the sun on your face. Don’t forget that sometimes a good grilled cheese sandwich and bowl of soup can be just as special a supper as a full chicken dinner with all the trimmings. Don’t forget to appreciate a few small, simple miracles like a close parking spot opening up on a miserable, rainy day or a song on the radio that brings a happy memory and smile to your face just when you need it. And don’t forget that if your hero has a goatee in the first chapter, unless you mention somewhere that he shaved it off, your heroine’s hand shouldn’t slide over a smooth, chiselled jaw during their first love scene LOL.

Sometimes it’s these simple details that trip up an editor’s read of your manuscript—Wearing a jacket, then on the next page, rubbing a hand up her bare arm, the friend of a heroine who came to the bar with her but was never heard from again, having a minor emergency come up and the heroine—who say, is an artist in the story—suddenly states she’s a nurse and can help, or an ex-boyfriend showing up out of the blue at the exact moment you need him to for the conflict point, but the hero and heroine are on a Caribbean island three thousand miles away from where she had ever dated the guy in the first place.

I’m sure my authors will tell you one of my favourite words during edits is VALIDATE. Yes, I can see them nodding their heads vigorously, laughing and rolling their eyes at the same time *wink*.

These simple details can be catagorized in two ways: Oopsies and Drop Ins:

1) Oopsies: These are details that are mentioned, and then never mentioned again—perhaps they were an idea in the first draft, but as the storyline and panster writing played through, that thread and/or idea was dismissed for a better one, but, upon the second or third drafts of the story, a detail or two were missed when cleaning those sections up. This could be as simple as a mention of a purple shirt, but then in the next scene on the same day it’s a pink skirt instead. These details could also transform into a person, like an overlooked secondary character who came with your heroine to the bar—if you forget to mention she either left or reference your heroine saying goodbye at least (ie: VALIDATING the secondary character’s existence), then it looks like your heroine just ditched her friend, and readers may not take too well to that LOL. Another example could be a description detail like the goatee one earlier, or perhaps she had a scar on her cheek or a secondary character wore glasses.

If those character details aren’t carried through--VALIDATED--throughout the story by both the physical reactions (ie: the scrape of the scar beneath his fingers when he brushes a finger down her cheek) or shown (as in perhaps the habit of pushing her glasses back up her nose when agitated), then the characterization and writing is weakened and thus so would be the faith of the reader also. So keep an eye out for these details before an editor finds them, because, thankfully, they are an easy fix--simply delete or VALIDATE with a simple phrase or two of explanation.

2) Drop Ins: These are my favourites—or should I say my, "Are you serious?" moments. An example of these details would be the minor emergency where the artist is suddenly now a nurse and can help. Are you serious? How convenient! Or the ex-boyfriend popping into the scene on a tropical island thousands of miles away from where the heroine had dated him. Are you serious? How convenient! LOL, yes, they sound simple and are way too easy to write in because they are convenient--the easy way out so to speak--but in reality, it is contriving the plot—making the conflicts work for you rather than in a natural, believable way.

The good news is that these can also be a very simple fix--simple, but important--most often with a well placed sentence or even just a phrase of VALIDATION earlier in the story. A small mention of a nursing school, or a griped comment about her ex and how he used to travel south a lot, again, placed earlier in the story can smooth the flow and enhance the believability factor rather than damage it. Basically, VALIDATING your backstory before you need it, so when the more important events occur, you’ve already set up the base of belief for the reader.

Now, just to be clear, I’m not talking info dumps of backstory to back yourself up (that would only open a whole other can of technical problems LOL). I’m simply saying a well placed comment or sentence earlier in the story can do the trick, VALIDATING your character and making you as the author look clever for the streamlined thread.

Sometimes in the excitement and deep concentration of getting your plot and romantic thread just right, simple details get overlooked like a paper coffee cup gusted down the middle of the road by the speeding traffic. But simple little details can sometimes make or break a story for an editor—make them hand you a contract, or send you a polite, no thank you.

Yes, reading through your manuscript with an eye for anything that doesn't fit will help, but this is also where a critique partner can come in very handy—a second set of eyes not so deeply involved in the story yet, and who will be able to pinpoint details that were missed or overlooked BEFORE you submit. They can truly be invaluable to a writer. (If you would like to find a critique partner and don’t know where to start, we do have a link on our website: http://thewildrosepress.com/publisher/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1388&Itemid=127)

So, don’t forget to remember the simple things in life and in your manuscript….because sometimes the simple things can be the biggest part of your day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Happy Anniversary

So what do those words bring to your mind? Romantic candlelit dinners with the most incredible person in your life? Cake and ice cream surrounded by balloons? Trips to exotic ports? Buying yourself the perfect outfit which, of course, makes you look fabulous? Going off for a weekend cabin getaway?

The great thing is that any of these (and so many more) is wonderful ways to celebrate an anniversary.

But may I suggest another – reflection extraordinaire.

I was sitting here tonight thinking about Wild Rose approaching our fifth anniversary. What an incredible mile marker. But it got me wondering how each of us looks upon our own lives.

As you develop your writing career and need some encouragement, may I make a suggestion? Pick a date as your “start” date. For many writers, they don’t remember a time in their life when they didn’t write. I don’t doubt that is absolutely true. But given that, pick a date that makes you happy. Use that date as your anniversary each year. Put it on the calendar and circle it in red.

Then each year on that date, plan some time for yourself. Take the time to look at the path you’ve chosen. Do you have half-written manuscripts lying around? Pull them out. Read them through thoroughly. If they strike a chord, maybe it is time to take them out of mothballs and use those creative juices. If not, why? Be honest with yourself. Why? Some (sorry to say) are just bad and should be put to rest. Others just aren’t quite ready for this time and place but can be put away properly for that event. Then there’s the idea that gets your creative juices flowing and the words seem to jump right on the page.

So, you’ve looked at the written word. Now what? Take some time to evaluate your skill package. Make a list (yes, I am the queen of lists). First, list the attributes. Given that you are the only person who will see this list, it is really important to be honest with yourself. Once you have gone through that, now list those areas where you feel weak. Review them carefully and brain storm about how you can overcome or prop up those areas. For example, if you struggle with staying in the proper point of view, maybe a critique partner is the way to go. Check out our website and get hooked up with that person. Or maybe there is a book on setting up dialogue that you can read. Of course, there are blogs everywhere that you could join, as well as the various loops that TWRP hosts.

Next, spend some time reflecting on the overall events that have helped you get where you are. It is important to keep track of contests won, books published, letters of appreciation or good reviews that you’ve received, and so on. Yes, we have all received rejections and the information gleaned from them is important. No, that doesn’t mean you have to do everything contained within the rejection. Sad to say, editors are human and we do have personal opinions. So, something that I reject might be accepted by another editor. However, if you take the time to really review the rejection, you are sure to find something you can use to improve your skill package.

That being said, though, reflect on the positive things. Pat yourself on the back for wherever you are in your career.

Finally, take a look at where you want to be in five years. Feeling adventuresome, where do you want to be in ten years? As you look at all of the work you have already done, what will it take to get you where you want to be in that timeline? One very critical part of this last step…well, every step actually, is to write it all down. After all, that is your chosen career path, right? If you can muse for the characters playing in your mind, why can’t you put that same muse to work for you?

So Happy Anniversary Wild Rose Press. It has been quite the ride and one that I am glad to be a part of. And beyond that…Happy Anniversary, Dear Author. Celebrate where you are and where you are going.

Once your homework is over, let’s revisit that first paragraph. How will you celebrate your next anniversary?

Senior Editor, Crimson Rose