Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Writer's Wednesday -- The Learning Curve

Today Pink Heart Society editor Jeannie Watt talks about the learning curve in her early writing attempts.

I have a binder on my bookshelf called “Early Stuff”. I never touch it; however, I can’t bring myself to toss it. I don’t want to destroy the evidence of the long and sometimes painful process that made me an author. I don’t really want to read it either. Too cringe-worthy.

The thing about writing is that you hear all this advice and you think you have a grasp on it, when often you don’t. Or at least that’s how it was for me. Conflict was the most difficult thing for me to conquer.

Let’s use one of my very early stories as an example. And just so you know, I don’t beat myself up for missing a few subtle points—such as kidnapping is bad—because I was doing my best at the time using what I knew.  But I might blush a little.

So in this early story, which I plotted after several years of reading all the Harlequin Presents I could get my hands on,  I have this set up that I think is brilliant. My heroine is a paparazzi-like photographer who specializes in photographing this one particular sports hunk. She’s driving him crazy. So crazy that when he catches her photographing him when he’s about to helicopter in to his remote family cabin, he stalks up to her, grabs her and hauls her into the helicopter with him. (Hullo…kidnapping…) 

They fly to his remote cabin (the pilot was apparently unconcerned about being an accessory to kidnapping) and then there they are. I have to come up with some kind of stuff for them to do, so I have the heroine accidentally burn down the cabin. Now they’re really in trouble, stranded in the wilderness together. They’re sniping at each other while kind of noticing that the other one is hot and then….

And then….

I had no idea.

I thought about lightning storms and broken legs, but ultimately I had nothing for them to do except to dodge disaster. They had external conflict, but they  didn’t have any personal goals, motivations or faulty emotional survival strategies. I’d never heard of these things because this was pre-internet days. I knew what I loved about romance, but I couldn’t yet replicate it, because I hadn’t completely deconstructed it.

I hadn’t yet figured out  that I not only had to give my characters a reason to be at each other’s throat, but that they both had to learn and grow from their experiences together. 

They had to examine their current emotional survival strategies and realize they weren’t working any longer. They had to face down a fear in order to live a more emotionally satisfying life. They not only had to deal with serious external conflicts—they had to change enough to do something that was really, really tough for them emotionally. Something they couldn’t have done at the beginning of the book. Something that they would have scoffed at.  “Oh, yeah. I’m going to bare my soul in public to win a woman. Uh huh…”

Once I finally figured out that I had to torture my characters internally more than externally, my writing took off.  I still love a good cabin-burning and helicopter kidnapping, but now the real meat of the story is the heroine finding the strength to stop holding herself aloof as a way of protecting herself, or the hero accepting that he’s never going to undo damage he once did, but that he still deserves a chance at happiness.

And if I get to have one of them burn down a cabin to get to that point—hurray! 

What aspect of the writing process has been most difficult for you to master?

Jeannie Watt writes fast paced, character driven stories set in the American West. To find out more about Jeannie and her books, please visit her website or her Facebook page. Her next book, To Tempt a Cowgirl, will be released in July 2015.

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