Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Intuition and Commercial Fiction

No clue where this post is going, so don't expect any profound hypotheses.

After wrapping some major edits and other responsibilities, it's time to tackle the task of revising my latest Blaze proposal. I've had a couple of weeks to ruminate on it since talking to my editor, which is good. Those weeks dampened the blow of hearing the submission wasn't quite hitting the mark as is, so that fact is no longer stinging, disappointing news, but merely a large item on my to-do list. What I really took away from both this proposal and the previous one (which was simply rejected) is that I'm trying a bit too hard.

Conversely, another supposed Blaze I wrote before I'd sold Caught on Camera didn't feel that way at all. I wrote it quite quickly and pleasurably, thinking it was a Blaze, and really loving it. Then I was told it's not a Blaze and the multiple reasons why were spelled out, making that fact rather obvious in hindsight (mainly, it was too dark). But happily I did sell it to Samhain (it's called Trespass, out in late July), and thank goodness, as I really like that book, even though it's not a Blaze as I'd intended. Bonus, I got to add in all the swear words I'd softened per category romance etiquette.

So I can try too hard and miss the mark, and end up with a proposal that feels so forced and not-me-ish that I don't even care to finish it in the hopes another publisher will want it. Or I can write intuitively (as with Trespass) with not enough objective thought given to the tone and conventions of my targeted line, and end up with a book I love but that doesn't wind up where I'd initially intended. I need to find some middle ground.

Caught on Camera may have been that middle ground. I was pretty naive about everything when I wrote it, plus when the opportunity presented itself I wrote so fast I didn't give myself much time to overthink anything. I flung myself at the dart board and managed to hit close enough to the bulls eye to get invited to revise. With these other proposals I'm way over-aiming, psyching myself out, body clenched tight from the pressure, breath held, and my darts are hitting the wall and floor as a result.

But it's hard to will one's self to be calm when approaching a book. I want to write intuitively, but my 100% natural writing style is not very marketable. But when I work very hard to make a book commercially viable, I don't sound like myself quite as much. I'm determined to be a professional writer, though, so I need to figure out a way to make my own voice soar within the conventions and constraints of an established line. I need to accept that I simply don't enjoy or excel at writing plot-driven books, but also stop assuming that precludes me from being marketable. Character-driven stories can be as dynamic as plot-driven ones, right? I just need enough external plot to hold the story together while my characters live out the drama I much prefer to explore—the intimate human-to-human kind. I need to quit trying to cram my characters into what I think the "right" sort of plot should be.

For example, I do not enjoy writing stories with villains, and avoid it whenever possible. I like the animosity to come from the protagonists, especially since I enjoy writing lead characters who are themselves a bit despicable, if only in the odd moment or situation. I mean, we're all a bit despicable now and then. And that's so much more interesting to me than an external bad guy getting in the way. In fact I rather like it when the two leads view one another as the villain, at least to start.

Well, I have to go do some actual plotting now instead of just yammering about it, so I better leave this here. If I stumble upon any insights into the trying-really-hard versus flying-by-the-seat-of-my-intuitive-pants balance I'll be sure to share them.


  1. The stuff I like to read the most usually only has enough plot to give the protagonists something to wrap their internal struggles around. I don't care who dunnit as much as I care that the hero realizes that it isn't his fault (or whatever, you get my meaning, I hope).
    BTW, I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED Caught on Camera, and clearly someone else does too, because I scored the last copy in my Kroger book aisle!

  2. Hey, Teri Anne! Sounds like you and I have similar taste in books. I admire authors who enjoy creating intricate plots and can execute them well, but it's what I look for first in a book (or indeed what I'm any good at writing). And I will admit that I glowed a bit to hear I sold out somewhere! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Interesting post! I'm actually trying to find a balance when I write too after butchering my last mss with edits and revisions. Good luck with finding your spot. How do you like Samhain by the way?

  4. Hi, Rachel! I love Samhain, especially my editor, Anne Scott. So far they seem really open to giving my slightly off-kilter brand of romance a shot. (I write sort of moody, steamy, somewhat awkward, relatively quiet contemporaries with them, which isn't exactly a niche that readers are screaming themselves hoarse with demand over.) I've only just had my first release with them (ditto Blaze) so I don't have much post-release experience to go by for either pub. But so far, so great! I recommend them.