Saturday, December 31, 2011

Romance: HEA & HFN vs. Unhappiness

(Image: © Alexfancy |
I'm an unapologetic romance reader - sure, I dabble with reading the occasional bit of suspense, fantasy, mystery, non-genre literature, and, recently, erotica - but my true love is romance.  It doesn't matter if it is historical, contemporary, regency, or paranormal - if it is romance, I'm game. 

I've read a lot this year. Well, a lot for me, anyway - and a third more than I did last year.  That's good, right? (And, yes, it was almost exclusively romance.) 

So, I figure I have a good understanding of what it means for a book to be classified as "romance."  For me, romance is a happy ending.  It could be a happily ever after (HEA) or a happy for now (HFN), but happy is mandatory.  If I wanted unhappy, I'd chose my books from a different part of the bookstore.  Yes, I know there are love stories that don't have happy endings... and that is why I'm calling them love stories and not romances
Most books I read follow this "happy" rule, but every once in a while I find a book in the romance section, which has been tagged as a romance, but it lacks the "happy."  Of course, I don't know that until I reach the end of the book - and what a cruel surprise that is!  (After re-reading the last page in disbelief and flipping through the pages in a desperate attempt to locate that happy ending, I have to suppress the urge to rip the book in half with frustration.)

Sometimes the author has written / is planning to write a follow-up to the book - presumably something that will resolve that mess of unhappiness they created in the first book - but, as a reader, how can I trust the author again?  What if I get to the end of the second book and it too is brimming with unhappiness and angst? 

My trust has been broken.

Generally, I will buy the next book when it is available (I can't stand loose ends, and it drives me crazy that there hasn't been closure).  In that instance, then, the author gets one more book sale.  But after that?  No way.  I avoid the author.  How can I trust them to deliver what I want and expect?  They've tricked me once and I would be foolish to set myself up for another disappointment. 

So, I would encourage writers to be aware of reader's expectations - particularly if you write genre fiction.  Treat those expectations with care and be mindful of them.  If you break the "rules" of that genre, you may lose more readers than you gain.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Starting a New Project

I am nearing the end of my current work-in-progress.  (Yay!)

Getting to “The End” has gone more slowly then I would have anticipated.  In the past, I haven't taken this long to get my draft out.  Why is this different?  I have been working with a critique group on it – maybe that’s the reason.  Instead of getting my messy typo-ridden draft in place and then starting to edit, I have been adjusting pages before I submit and after we meet.  I think, overall, that has been helpful.  It has allowed my critique group to see the story develop and me to adjust pieces as needed.  However, we have a cap on our submissions length, so rather than send what I've completed I usually submit to the maximum allowable, which means I have surplus pages that wait until the next submission date.  Instead of being continually pushed on, I've had a leisurely stroll to "The End."    

This leisurely stroll has been, well, a long one, but that isn't what has been worrying me.  The other day I realized that it has been a long time since I started a new project.  I used to be inundated with new ideas, but somewhere along the line that changed.  Was I done?  Sure, I could go back and dust off an idea I had from a year ago, but if it didn't inspire me to write it then, should I invest time in it now? 

I have a lot to do before starting a new project - at least three stories to edit and actually submit to someone - but then what?  Did I have any stories left in me?  Were they all finished?  Was I finished? 

(Image: © Mariusz Prusaczyk |

Then, I woke up on Friday morning and I knew.  My next story skidded into my head sometime while I was sleeping and it hasn't stopped badgering me since.  I asked for this, I suppose.  I should have just accepted that I didn't need to worry; instead, it appears I have just given myself one more distraction.

Now, I'm trying to figure out how to wrap up this new idea in bubble wrap and stick it away until I'm ready to pull it out and play with it.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Critique Groups: 5 Lessons Learned

(Image: © Photoroller
Four of us from my writing, group, ARWA, created a critique group earlier this year.  We are on a temporary hiatus for December, so I thought this might be a good time to consider how things have gone so far. 

Quick Background: Our critique group has a fairly structured process and meeting.  We submit our pages via email on a particular date, usually a week before we meet.  Then, we read and mark up copies of the submissions.  The night of the meeting, we focus on one person's writing at a time.  Reviewers get the opportunity to say what they think.  Then we give the pages to the writer and move to the next person. 

Five Lessons I Have Learned
  1. Some people will like what I write.  Others will not.  Both sides can be vocal.  The positive comments are easy to accept, but learning how to deal with harsh criticism is probably a more valuable skill.  Sometimes the negative criticisms can expose a weak spot I need to address.  Other times I realize that the comment won't work for me and my vision, in which case I always have to remind myself that I can't please everyone.
  2. I always try to let my fellow writers know what I enjoyed about the writing and where I see their successes.  I don't just focus on where I think they need to improve. 
  3. Our group discusses opinions.  The writer can ask questions.  We didn't intend to do this, especially when some of the "how to do critique groups" articles specifically say not to talk, but we discovered it works for us.  If a couple of people have noted a particular passage as being awkward or difficult, we brainstorm ideas on how it could be adjusted.  We are flexible.  So, regardless of what someone else says are the "rules" - we do what makes sense for our group.
  4. In our group, we each seem to have a bit of a niche.  I like looking at the "big picture."  I need to know how this scene fits in with the other scenes (past and future).  Other people notice the nuances of language, character actions and reactions, or how moving one sentence from here to there makes the passage stronger.  We have found that our critiques are best when all of us can attend the meeting.  Now, we re-schedule if someone can't attend. 
  5. After our formal critique group meeting, some of us go for drinks and snacks in a different location.  We are more relaxed and can talk about ideas for future scenes and discuss some of our concerns.  It is a more fluid discussion. It helps us synthesize and explore the ideas.