Romance 101: Tools of a Steamy Trade
This month's workshop was presented by Deborah Schneider, Seattle librarian and author.
I don't read or write romances. But these workshops usually provide general writing information in addition to advice regarding a specific genre. Such was the case with Ms. Schneider.
Developing the Story Idea: The Blurb
Know your "hook" or high concept for the story (Wagon Train in space, aka Star Trek). Know your main characters, what do they want and why can't they have it? What motivates your characters, and how does this lead to conflict/problems? What is the first "entry point" of the story -- the point of no return? What is your story question?
When you have the answers, develop your "elevator speech" to describe your story. This is a very brief description that will immediately hook the listener -- the hapless literary agent, book editor, or Steven Spielberg (you wish!) trapped in the elevator with you.
From the elevator speech you write a Short Synopsis of 40 words that you will use in your Query Letter to agents and editors. The Short Synopsis leads into the Synopsis (that you hope the agent or editor will request).
And all of these descriptions of your story lead to the back cover copy that will capture the interest of potential readers and send them to the first chapter and, we only hope, the cash register.
The Elements of Writing
* Resolution/Solve Problems
* Physical/Emotional Ending (HEA = happily ever after)
In developing the Plot, Ms Schneider suggests listing 20 events that could happen to your characters, including the Point of No Return. You may not use all of these events in your story, but the exercise will give you ideas to be mean to your protagonist. :-)
Ms Schneider describes the Crisis as the "death" of the world as the protagonist knows it. Her or his world is knocked off its axis.
With regard to Setting, Ms. Schneider suggests writers consider why the story needs to occur in the setting selected, and what the setting contributes to the story.
Archetypal three act structure: Beginning, Middle, and End.
The Beginning introduces the characters, setting, and the problem/situation. Warning: Don't do an information dump on the opening pages!
The Middle is where things keep getting worse for your protagonist.
Know the Ending of your story. Everything you write leads to the Big Moment.
The heroine and hero must be sympathetic. Know their internal conflicts -- the hole in their lives that they want to fill. They are good people, smart, and in trouble of some kind. And things keep getting worse.
As for the antagonist, he or she must be an Alpha Baddie. Know the reason for her or his evil attitude.
As I said, I don't read or write romances, but I got a kick out of Ms Schneider's summary of the men and women of romance. Women = Virgins, Widows, Skanks, and Bitches. Men = Dukes, Rakes, Vampires, and Bastards.
Traditional publishers are being pinched by the recession, too. The print runs are smaller, and retailers are reducing the time that books are on the shelves. Ms. Schneider has observed that publishers seem to be cutting their "mid list" authors. Advances are smaller, and it's taking longer to pay those advances and royalties.
E-books appear to be the future of publishing. Traditional books won't be going the way of the dinosaur any time soon, but typical print runs may be changing. Print-on-demand and digital formats are on the rise. Ms. Schneider indicated book formats may be evolving, but novels are still comprised of interesting characters and compelling stories.
Beginning writers may have more success by approaching small presses and e-book publishers. If you don't already have a web site and blog, get started. At the least, buy your domain name.
She suggests joining Publishers Lunch for free to follow the latest book sales and publishing gossip. Ms. Schneider advises aspiring authors to know your genre and become familiar with the market (who's buying, what and why they're buying). Don't write to the market. Write your story. When you're ready to pitch your novel, upgrade to the paid membership of Publishers Lunch to access more detailed information about editors and agents.
In the brief time allowed, Ms. Schneider did a good job of discussing the basics of writing and getting published, plus the many sub-genres within romance.