Writing Realistic Romantic Relationships

There are a couple of hard and fast rules for writing romance genre that you need to keep in mind if you want to write category Romance.

  • Anything market as Romance must have a Happily Ever After/Happy For Now ending. Anything less than that, and you will eaten alive by romance readers.
  • Unless you are using the Fated Mate trope you need to build a realistic relationship.

Realistic relationships are built on a couple of things: shared interests, trust, reliability, loyalty, compatibility, physical interest, chemistry, and enhancement (in which being together makes each person stronger).

Shared Interest: What do we have in common?
Trust: Do I trust you with my secrets, my life, and my body?
Reliability: If I trust you, will you be there when I need you?
Loyalty: If we run into trouble, will you side with me or them?
Compatibility: Are we on the same page, working towards the same goals, and do we have the same values?
Physical Interest: Do we find each other attractive?
Chemistry: Are we happy together? 
Enhancement: Do we make each other better people when we are together?

A lot of authors try to get by with physical interest (He’s so sexy I can’t keep my hands off him!) and it tends to fall flat. One, “I can’t stop myself!” is a self-control issue and, two, no one wants to finish a book and think to themself, “They’re not going to survive the first flu together let alone stay married happily ever after.”

Shared interests get a couple to pay attention to each other. Trust, loyalty, and reliability develop with friendship.

Compatibility covers religion, ideologies, future goals, ect… you need these to make a couple look like they’ll work out.

Physical interest and chemistry change a platonic bond into a romantic one.

Enhancement is what sells the romance. It’s the idea that being in this relationship makes everyone involved better & happier. If you want to write an abusive relationship, enhancement is the thing that’s missing. The characters may trust each other and be attracted, but they are worse being in the relationship than they would be alone.

 

The trope you’re writing determines how these stages develop…

In Enemies-To-Lovers the characters start with chemistry or physical interest, then common ground, and trust is last.

In Friend-to-Lovers you start with common interests and trust, and then wind up at physical attraction.

In Fake Engagement you start with Shared Interest, move to Reliability and Loyalty, Trust, then Physical Interest, Chemistry, and Enhancement.

And so on…

Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)

 

 

 

Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After

 

Welcome to the beautiful, danger fraught world of Commitment.

The Basics
Commitment is a place few authors dare to tread. Committed couples? Where’s the romance in that? (Confession: I totally think you can write a great romance with married characters and this is why EVEN VILLAINS FALL IN LOVE exists.)

Traditionally life after the wedding is summed up in one of two ways: They Lived Happily Ever After -or- The End.

One sounds like life was all roses and wedding cakes for eternity, and the other sounds just a little like I Married An Axe Murderer. Neither of those are very promising for story writing. Luckily, science hasn’t been as cynical of the committed life as fiction writers. I would go so far as to suggest that happy married life is one of those well kept secrets that only the locals know about.

So why aren’t happy faces making the headlines? First, good news doesn’t sell, second, Commitment is a very difficult stage to explain. There are so many variables that people can (and have) devote a lifetime to explaining why some couples stay together, and others fall apart.

 

The Science Behind Commitment

The euphoria of early Lust is gone. The feel-good rush of oxytocin from phenomenal sex wears off. Here is another victim of Cupid’s arrow, in love. And now the fore brain steps in, crushing the screaming hind brain with the sharp stiletto heel and makes a choice.

Do I love this person?

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
– Mr. Darcy answering when he fell in love

Like so many, Darcy confused love with Lust. He was well in Lust with Elizabeth Bennett within moments of meeting her. The true love came later when he acknowledged that there was more than a physical desire. The moment of acknowledgment, when you make a conscious decision to be in love, is when the Commitment phase starts.

This can overlap the other stages. Scientific evidence suggests that love isn’t even a matter of sequential stages, but a cycle [reference].

We are familiar with the daily light cycle: sunrise, sunset, darkness, sunrise again.

Think of love in the same way: initial Lust and desire, Attraction and fulfillment of Lust, conscious decision to protect the object of Lust that becomes a self-less design in the form of Commitment, True Love incites feelings of Lust.

The Variables
If you really want to drive a scientist crazy start an experiment with too many variables (things that could vary). For instance, ask them to find out what makes a person age 30 fall in love. The age and gender can be controlled. You might be able to narrow down the data but asking only women of a certain nationality, religion, or region, but after that? Variables! How were they raised? What books do they read? What food do they eat? It all plays a part.

For the sake of my sanity we are narrowing a very broad and complex topic down to the easy to identify variables :

Expectations

– Personal Prejudice: Freud has a field day with this and while he isn’t used by psychologists today, he didn’t have a point: your brain is hardwired to notice certain things. The fore brain (stilettos and STANDARDS) makes a concious decision about who you will date. This involves looking more than jaw lines and rippling pectorals and moves into the area of noticing social cues, indicators of wealth, past relationships, and expectations of what you want.

No matter how well suited an individual is from an evolutionary stand point your personal prejudices will get in the way. Did you get burned by someone named Chris in high school? The chances of you falling in love with another Chris are low. Did you adore your parents? You’ll probably marry someone like them. Are you looking to move up socially? The chances of you falling in love with someone from a lower social strata are limited.

– Sphere of Influence: Some people divide this into Peer Group and Family, but I don’t. By age 25 most people have either moved past their nuclear family or have become friends with them. If you are writing YA or historical fiction you can use the Peer Group vs Family influence as conflict, but for our purposes here they are the same.

The Sphere of Influence is what people you care about will say about the relationship. The classic example is Romeo and Juliet. They were falling in love, definitely in Lust, but the disapproving family killed their chances of Commitment and brought about a tragic end.

A more modern example might be a college student posting a picture of someone they met on FaceBook and asking all their friends if they should go for it.

How much the Sphere of Influence affects a relationship depends on how much each individual involved relies on other people’s opinions to make choices and establish their sense of self-worth. The weaker an individual’s sense of self is, the more they rely on the judgments of the Sphere of Influence.

– Social Conjecture: This aspect of expectations has the least influence on whether or not a couple form a Commitment. This is what you think other people you don’t know think you should do. If you think society is pushing you to have a career before marriage but none of your friends actually say so, the idea falls here. You think society wants you to work more than marry, but there is no proof or weight to the idea.

This can also include taboos or laws that prevent a relationship from developing.

Availability
– Physical: Repeat after me: I cannot love someone I have not met.

I know this breaks the hearts of all the Fangrrlz out there, but Justin Bieber does not love you. No. He doesn’t. You may lust after him, and Edward Cullen, and Harry Potter but it doesn’t change a thing. If the person doesn’t know you exist, they can’t love you.

You can’t love someone who doesn’t know you. You can Lust after them all you like, but it isn’t love.

Please note: Physical ability to fall in love does not mean physical proximity. Many happy couples maintain faithful, long-distance relationships. For all those long-distance relationships to work there has to be a moment where you meet physically, catch the persons scent, and let the hind brain do its job of assessing genetic compatibility.

– Emotional: I think the biggest symbol of this is the wedding ring. In Western society the wedding band is a clear indicator that the person with the ring is Off Limits. Body language and behavior will also signal whether a person is willing to engage in a relationship of some kind.

Emotional indicators are often confusing, and this is great source of conflict for a writer. It is a great source of doubt and confusion for anyone dating.

A person can Lust after anyone they want, but there needs to be a positive emotional response from the Lustee if the relationship is going to have a happy ending. Even in asexual or aromantin individuals there is some level of emotion, it may not lead to a sexual relationship, but sex isn’t required for romantic relationships of any kind.

– Reciprocation: You cannot love someone who doesn’t know you exist, and you can’t establish a Committed relationship of the romantic kind with someone who doesn’t reciprocate. When someone says, “I’m so in love! Why won’t he notice me?” the answer is, “You are in Lust. That’s the norepinephrine talking. Get a life.”

The chemicals from the first stage of Lust make you obsess over someone. The cuddly feel-good chemicals of Attraction come when the person begins to pay attention. The Commitment stage of love is a mutual choice. Unless they make the same choice as you, it isn’t Love, it’s infatuation.

If you are writing a romance of any kind please print that sentence out and tape it above your monitor. One sided affection is creepy-stalker-love. Not romantic!

Spiritual Persuasion
Most researchers would put religion under Sphere of Influence, and yet again I disagree. Spiritual or religious belief is a amalgamation of personal prejudice, sphere of influence, and social conjecture and I think it needs it’s own space.

What religion does that social mores don’t is offer a long-term consequence to your actions. It’s more than getting snubbed at dinner parties because you married the wrong person, it’s the personal belief that your choices in love will have eternal/immortal consequences. And then it adds another layer of social expectation on top of that.

Picture this scene some 3000 odd years ago:

Boy: Father, I’m in love!

Dad: Great, what’s his name son?

Boy: I fell in love with a woman, Father.

Dad: What? NOOO!!! What in the name of Zeus do you think you’re doing? This is a conservative Hellenistic household and I won’t have you shaming the family name by bringing your liberal Jewish smut in here!

Boy: But, Father! I love her!

Dad: Oh, no you don’t! You can’t love a woman! They’re barely smarter than cattle! Now, put on your toga like a good boy and we’ll go to church.You’ll go to the orgy and you’ll like it!

Despite the hind brain kicking you and insisting that two of one gender to not evolutionary sense make, society has often pushed away from evolutionary tendencies to secure homosexual, incestuous, or caste -based relationships as the norm.

Society is very fond of forcing the naturally slutty human being into monogamous, or infertile, relationships. And religion with the threat of eternal damnation and/or the end of the world for not marrying your sibling is often the mechanism of enforcement.

What makes these spiritual beliefs different from Sphere of Influence is that the beliefs learned in childhood are so firmly ingrained in the Personal Prejudice that a person may not even look outside the walls of their spiritual belief when considering love or a long-term relationship. It becomes a block to ideal evolution on multiple levels.

Procreating with a sibling is a Bad Idea (looking at you House Lannister), but other things (only marrying in a tribe, race, religion, or caste) can be equally limiting the dispersal of genes. And nobody but a geneticist will care about this in real time, which makes this a fun fact to remember when writing societies that tightly control the movement of genetic material.

Last Thoughts
Romantic love and sex are always consensual. Everyone involved should be happy and enthusiastically willing. There are many opinions on what is right or wrong, or what makes the ideal relationship/couple/parenting group, but that is always a personal choice. Don’t judge someone else’s happiness. If it’s working for them, and it’s a consensual relationship between adults, you smile and let live.

There is too much hate in the world, and if you take on the mantle and title of Romance Author than your job is to bring a little more happiness and love to the world. So make sure it’s an inclusive happiness.

 

Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)

 

 

Stages of Love – Attraction

Yesterday we talked about the science behind Lust. The mad, crazy, passionate time when you are truly obsessed with another sentient being, or at least obsessed with getting in their pants and scoring a DNA exchange.

After a short period of time the original chemical lust wears off. Reality sets in and you start to really see the person. Yes, the genetics and pheromones might be enough for the hind brain (the crazy bit with the spear – remember?), but the fore brain has STANDARDS.

The Basics
Actually, a lot of attachment has to do with the hind brain screaming, “Ahh! There’s a parasite in my uterus somebody find me ice cream!!!”

While the hind brain stuffs ice cream in it’s mouth to drown the obscenities the logic centers perk up and go: Hot tamale! I ain’t raising this kiddo alone!

The brain works overtime, hustling the chemicals to produce permanent bonds that will make sure someone else is around to change the baby’s diaper at 3am. The conscious mind may tell you that you are madly in love, that this is fate, you are truly soulmates… and that’s sweet. Really, I’ve been with my husband over a decade and I applaud you (or your character) for thinking that.

It’s a lie, but it’s such a pretty lie.

The Science Behind Attachment
Let’s go back to one of the examples we addressed yesterday. Pride and Prejudice: The Worst Proposal Ever!

What do we see here?

Mr. Darcy is running on mad Lust at this point.

The first time I heard this part of P&P (I listened to the audio before reading) I nearly died laughing. By the standards of the time Darcy was acting on what he understood to be love. But the attachment portion of the relationship wasn’t there. Yes, Lizzy Bennett was a wonderful choice from a genetic stand point, the chances of her being in-bred with the same line as Darcy’s in-breeding was fairly low, but from the view of science this was a no-go.

Why?

Obviously because the Dracy’s weren’t in the habit of doping their guests drinks with Oxytocin at dinner, and Darcy had overlooked the key ingredient of staring into Lizzy’s eyes for prolonged periods of time [reference].

Lust is all about sex, all those hormones, the testosterone in the saliva, the dopamine pinging the brain’s reward center are all aimed at getting naked as fast as possible. Norepinephrine, the chemical responsible for obsessive focus in the early stage of Lust is the bridge between the wild monkey sex and the point where you start picking out baby names [reference].

Expiration Date: Four Years
The second stage of love, Attachment, is dictated by two primary hormones.

Oxytocin – is responsible for you wanting to cuddle, and is usually released during sex. The hind brain (Mr. Rough-Hewn Spear) wants sex for sex’s sake. It feels good! It spreads the genes around! Yay! Oxytocin is the rest of the brain’s sneaky way of making you stay with someone long enough to raise the kids.

Interestingly enough, oxytocin is also released just after birth and when a woman nurses. In the laboratory scientists have messed with block oxytocin (thus making a rat reject it’s young) and doping subjects with oxytocin (making a rat fawn over other young) [reference]. I’m waiting for the perfume industry to come out with a perfume that has oxytocin in it. Just think of the results!

Vasopressin – which controls your kidneys as well as your fidelity index. Low levels of vasopressin are associated with infidelity in mammals. Scientists are still working on the why behind this.

All of this feel-good chemical love does not add up to a wonderful marriage, Happily Ever After, or anything else a writer can put to work. This explains why you want to cuddle, and why relationships cool down after a certain period of time. Evolution set the child raising alarm clock for four years, at that point, the hormones wear off and other things kick in [reference].

Yesterday I eviscerated Scarlet (and the GI Joe script writers) for her portrayal of smart girls. Everyone falls in love. This is a normal biological function the same as breathing. Short of a malfunction in the hormone producing centers of your body this is not something you can control.

I love the paranormal books that try.

Pheromones are one of those tidbits of science that have become almost cliche. I groan when I see an ill-advised author whip out pheremones as a reason why the characters can’t keep their hands off each other. Yes, the smell works. But you can’t build Happily Ever After out of smells and Lust.

The oxytocin and vasopressin in the Attachment phase are what glue Lust to Love.

Poor Mr. Darcy needed Elizabeth’s brain to flood with a healthy dose of oxytocin before she would think of saying yes. Yes, they had a physical attraction, Lust was working fine. Yes, all the factors for an ideal Commitment (Stage 3 Love) were there in the forms of wealth and approving families (at least on her end). What Darcy and Elizabeth lacked here was the Attachment in the middle.

Remember how I said the fore brain has STANDARDS? Eventually those prejudices and conscious desires kick in and you realize the person you’re raising the kids with isn’t what you wanted in life. Evolution doesn’t care about a persons socio-economic status, religious views, or sexual orientation. All evolution and the hind brain care about is making more Homo sapiens sapiens.

The oxytocin makes you cuddle, the vasopressin makes you hang around, but what keeps the relationship going is a new a stage of love altogether.

Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)

 

Stages of Love – Lust and Rough-Hewn Spears

Love is a many-facted thing. We pine for it. We write about it. We dream of it. We mourn the loss and yet somehow always seem to wind up with our hearts broken again… Love is rough.

And as much as people claim to know about love we often forget that it’s actually complex, chemical multi-step process. Between Lust and Love there are a lot of steps, and a lot of little glands producing chemicals that make you go DERP! This is a break down for writers who want to know the building blocks of falling in love so they can play with it, tweak it, and use it to their own fictional ends.

The Basics
There is more to life than love or hate. Love comes in many stages, as few as three, and as many as eighteen (if my research is correct). Between those stages are a whole host of variables, outside influences, inner doubts, but the basics of love come down to some pretty simple things. And, really, it’s all chemically induced.

The Science of Lust
The first stage of any relationship is categorized as lust. As writers, this is where you usually start. There are entire genres devoted to the Lust stage of a relationship.

I’d like to say here that the whole, “…eyes meeting across a crowded room and she knew that he was the perfect man…” is a lie, but it isn’t. You won’t get real love from a smoldering gaze, but you can do the basic check for Lust in under 30 seconds.

What happens in the lust stage is that you are identifying the physical markers for an ideal mate. This has nothing to do with sonnets and everything to do with wild monkey sex. In the first thirty seconds your hind brain (the little uncivilized part that wants to throw rough-hewn spears at the cars on the freeway) sums up every new acquaintance as: potential mate, help, rival, useless.

The hind brain is seeking phenotypes (physical markers) that signal a healthy genetic compliment. Both genders look for a balanced and symmetrical face (unbalanced faces are associated with genetic defects).

Popular opinions that say men are only interested in butts and boobs has a grounding in science. Men are hard-wired to look for mates with good childbearing hips and adequate curves on top, a sign that the female in question is physically developed enough to carry a child. Western men also prefer smaller jaws and noses, and larger eyes [reference].

Women are a little trickier. A woman who is ovulating, that is to say a woman who is in prime baby-making condition, will look for a man who is overtly masculine: strong jaw, large muscles, someone that reeks of testosterone. When a woman isn’t ovulating she is more likely to prefer a more feminine man, because the softer individual is regarded to be a better long-term care-giver. Men with more testosterone are considered to be flight risks. [reference].

There’s also pheromones at work here. The smell a person gives off will tell other people two things 1) if they are at a reproductive peak and 2) if the person has a complimentary immune system [reference]. Not an identical set, your siblings should never smell attractive because their immune system is too similar to yours. What your hind brain is searching for is an immune system that is radically different, thus allowing your subsequent child to have a better chance at life.

And that’s in the first thirty seconds!

Remember, this isn’t about love or logic, it’s about getting your gametes into the next generation with the best chance of survival. Your hind brain is all about world domination through gene sharing.

Within the next minute the rest of the brain will kick in and start looking for the social markers we are trained from birth to recognize as being ideal in a mate. Much of what you look for will depend on how your parents raised you. If your father was a loving Daddy who spoiled you rotten the chances are good you’ll find men with similar features very attractive. If Daddy was a drunk cuss who ran out on you, men that remind you of Daddy will get an instant black mark on their record.

Even if they aren’t actively looking for a mate the average person will make a mental note of perceived social status, wealth, and ability to provide within the first few minutes of meeting a new person. While you may never do anything with this information, and despite the fact that your logical mind will probably over-rule much of what you initially think, your first impressions about a person are going to have ties to the evolutionary need to survive and procreate.

Limerence
Now we’re in Lust Part II. This is where your brain settles after the intial introduction has taken place but before any real emotional bonds have formed.

Limerence – a term coined by Dorthy Tennov in 1977 – is defined as:

“‘an involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction for another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated”

I.E. Madly in Love

This is the stage so many writers ground their plots in. This is the stuff of conflict and romance and desire and passion. This is what drove Romeo and Juliet. This is what makes Pride and Prejudice so funny!

If Mr. Darcy had never entered the dangerous waters of limerence poor Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters would have faded into obscurity. Lydia never would have been rescued. Charles Bingley never would have returned to propose to Jane.

And like all good things that are too good too last limerence has an expiration date. Three months.

On average mad lust will get you through three months of heady love [reference]. Then the feelings fade.

What’s going on in the background is pure chemistry (cue Marlon Brando on the set of Guys and Dolls)…

The poor misguided Scarlett in our video clip was quite wrong about proving love. We can. If you really want to find out if someone is in Lust you just need to check for four little chemicals: adrenaline, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin [reference].

Adrenaline is what makes your heart race.

Norepinephrine is similar to adrenaline and gives you an energy boost while improving your focus. This chemical is also responsible for prompting goal-oriented behavior and obsession.

Dopamine lights up the pleasure and reward center of the brain. This chemical is associated with cravings and addictions. That doesn’t even sound like a good thing, but it’s all part of falling in love.

Serotonin that gives you a happy feeling.

Your body actually rewards you for seeing this person that the hind brain as picked out as an ideal genetic candidate for its plans for world domination. Sneaky brain!

When you see the object of your chemically-driven obsession your pupils widen, making everything look brighter and better. Regular dopamine dumps combined with physical or emotional rewards from the relationship will determine what happens after the first three months.

In most cases the relationship falls apart at three months. As the body becomes accustomed to the chemical dump the rose-tinted glasses fall away and you start to see the flaws. The original spark from the dopamine fades and unless you move to the next stage (attraction) the relationship fails [reference].

But not always. An estimated ten percent of married or committed couples are still in the limerence stage [reference]. Even after decades of monogamous relationship.

Couples that stay in the first stages of love and lust are deeply committed, intense, sexually active (This is not permission to go have sex! Think before you strip!), and involved with each others lives.

Researchers have already proven what all good authors know: Couples that work together fall in love and stay in love [reference].

Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)

The Ultimate NaNo Prep Post (good for the rest of the year too)

nanowrimo2012-tuaw

This is the master post for everything I recommend to get you prepped for NaNoWriMo or a Fast Draft.

Remember, each author is unique and so is each book, so be sure to play with this and make it work for you. The way I think and the steps I follow might work for you, but it’s okay if they don’t.

ALL ABOUT FAST DRAFTING
How to Write 10k A Day by Rachel Bach
Magical Cookies Scenes by Susan Dennard
25 Ways To **** With Your Characters by Chuck Wendig (language is PG-13)
25 Ways To Write A Real Page Turner by Chuck Wendig
How To Write a Book In Three Days by Michael Morecock (a short book but still…)
The Master Fiction Plot by Lester Dent
5 Things Your Book Needs by Joss Whedon
A Deep POV by Wendy Sparrow
Can We Be Honest (Why do a fast draft at all?) by Liana Brooks

BEFORE YOU WRITE
Plotting Beat Sheet (get your villains and twists first!)
Finding A Blockbuster Plot by Graeme Shimmin

NaNoWriMo BOOT CAMP
Day 1: Establish a Baseline
Day 2: Finding a Plot
3: The Antagonist
Day 4: The Protagonist
Day 5: Motivation and Inspiration
Day 6: Set The Stage

THE EPIC PLOTTING SESSIONS (for fixing lost or broken plots and not letting them break in the first place)
Plotting Session 1: Structure
Plotting Session 2: Beat Sheets
Plotting Session 3: The Epic Plotting Video

THE DOWN AND DIRTY DETAILS
Write a First Chapter That Gets Read
Subplots And How To Write Them
How To Write Endings by C.S. Lakin

GENRE TIPS AND TRICKS (Romance)
Stages of Love: Lost and Rough-Hewn Spears
Stages of Love: Attraction and Rejection
Stages of Love: Commitment and Happily Ever After
Writing Realistic Relationships (the basics)


WHEN YOU FINALLY FINISH
Grande Finales by C.S. Lakin
Writing a Killer Logline by Graeme Shimmin
Query Examples
What To Do Before You Hire An Editor Or Write A Query

*I will add to the list as time goes by because just looking at this I can see what’s missing: world building, high concept pitches, queries… this barely scratches the surface! But it’s enough to get you started!

Impulse Buy Book of the Week: THE SLAVE PLANET by Seven Steps

 

tspcoverAmazon Exclusive 99¢

Love is the ultimate crime. 
On a planet where women are born to rule, Empress Nadira’s secret affair with her slave threatens to rip her family apart. When she joins the highest council in the land, her secret is revealed. Will Nadira go against everything she believes in to protect her family, or will she choose her heart and doom everyone she loves to death?
The Slave Planet is a, science fiction, interracial (black woman white man) romance. It is a thrilling journey into an alternate history where women rule the world.

 

author-photo-photoshopped“Let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.”
–William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. One of my mentors (you know who you are) often reminds me of my first foray into the world of literary fiction. It was a lively story about a bee’s journey to find a pot of missing honey. He says that I have improved since then. I think that he’s right.

I am a working wife and mother, as well as a devoted owner of a beautiful cat named Rosie. I enjoy hanging out with my friends and family, thrifting, and anything that reminds me of my childhood.

Facebook | Website  | Twitter

Plotting Beat Sheet

Plotting Session 1: Structure
Plotting Session 2: Beat Sheets
Plotting Session 3: The Epic Plotting Video

During the epic plotting video where Amy Laurens and I fixed her Very Broken Novel™ I showed you the beat sheet I made Amy fill out before we replotted her book. This isn’t a full outline, but it’s what I consider the basics you need to know before writing a book (or editing it if you forgot this step in the beginning). Even if you’re pantsing a novel, you need to have some idea of what you want the final form of the book to look like.

And then, after the video was posted, I realized it would be super helpful if you had the beat sheet available so you could copy/paste to your computer and use it for yourself. So, here’s my plotting and editing beat sheet just in time for NaNoWriMo.

Protagonist: This is your main character and the person whose choices influence the book the most.
Goal 1: Want does the character want in the opening sentence?

Antagonist 1: The Page 1 trouble maker who is preventing the protagonist from getting what they want.
Antagonist 2: The person the protagonist thinks is the evil villain of the piece.
Antagonist 3: The Big Bad Boss at the end who is pulling the strings all along.

Ticking Time Bomb: A time limit that means the protagonist can’t ignore the plot for 60 years. The time will suddenly shorten in the middle of the book.

Opening Scene: What happens on pages 1-5?
Twist 1 (25%): The protagonist realizes things aren’t what they seem.
Twist 2 (50%): The protagonist loses something/the ticking time bomb speeds up/a new player arrives
Twist 3 (75%): The protagonist takes a major loss and their goals seem impossible.
Climax/Big Battle: The protagonist fights against all odds.
End Scene: Emotional conclusion that leaves the readers satisfied.
Twist 4: On the last page make the reader see the book in a brand new way.

Emotional Statement of the Book: Every book is a thesis on something you believe, this is your thesis statement. Examples: The love of friends is stronger than the love of lovers. Good defeats evil. Crime doesn’t pay. Ordinary people can be amazing heroes.

Thematic Concepts (themes): Tied to the emotional statement of the book, what concepts are you exploring? Your thematic concepts will probably be similar throughout your body of work.

Visual Concepts: Colors, shapes, or images that repeat throughout the book. You can highlight how a person or thing doesn’t belong by giving them something outside this set of imagery.

 

Plotting with Amy Laurens and Liana Brooks – Part 3 The Plot Session

FROM LIANA: Grab some popcorn, a really big glass of water, and something to take notes with. This is not a quick plotting session, mostly because this was Amy’s original NaNo novel and a lot of scenes existed just to make word count. There were beats missing, motivations missing, villains missing. And we could have done this on any of my novels too, we just happened to have Amy’s nearby and it made a handy sacrifice to the cruelty of the world.

FROM AMY:
Today, the climax this has all been building towards. A couple of weeks ago I was super excited to able to visit Liana in Alaska (!!!!), and while I was there, Much Plotting Occurred. We plotted 6 novel/las that week, I think, mostly mine, and plotting so many stories in such a short space of time was *really* beneficial for my plotting skills. As well as the simple repetition of skills, it was also amazing to stick everything up on post-it notes on the wall and conceptualise the whole plot at once. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a handy door/wall/vertical space to stick post-it notes on for extended periods of time (since my writing time is extremely sporadic during the school term) and so I’d fallen out of the habit.

Anyway, we were fifteenÊminutes into replotting How Not To Take Over The World (officially abbreviated to HNOT) when we realised that we were actually covering A LOT of stuff that would be really useful to other writers – so we stopped, set up the computer, and filmed the whole session for you 😀 It’s totally uncut (except the brief pause in the middle where we stopped to get water and snacks) and live and messy and glorious and we’re both in our pyjamas looking TOTALLY UNGLAMOROUS, but if you can deal with that, there is some really useful plotting information here. Plus, weird accents. Yay! 😀

Have fun!

Plotting Session 1: Structure
Plotting Session 2: Beat Sheets
Plotting Session 3: The Epic Plotting Video
A Beat Sheet of Your Own

Do You Need An Editor?

editing-ad-winter-1

Every book is unique, and to keep the unique voice and dream of the book alive, you need a content editor who can catch the vision. A line editor is perfect for finding typos, but before that can happen, you need a content editor. You need someone who can fix the pacing, repair the plot holes, and do it all while keeping your dream alive.

Between now and November 1st I’m booking new editing clients for the months of November, December, and January. I edit sci-fi, urban fantasy, fantasy, crime fiction, and romance (all genres except erotica). For a dollar per page you get not just feedback, but an editing letter that will help your writing skills grow so you can build the career you want.

Spaces are limited, so reserve your editing spot today! liana.brooks1 @ gmail

Submission Packet Critique (synopsis, query, and first 5 pages) $25
First Chapter (up to 20 pages)  $50.00
First Three Chapters (up to 50 pages) $100.00
Entire Manuscript Critique $1.00 a page minimum of 200 pages.
Emergency Fee to Jump the Queue  $50
* all page counts are double-spaced, Times New Roman, size 12 font, formatted for Microsoft Word *

Plotting with Amy Laurens and Liana Brooks – Part 2 Beat Sheets

dust-it-off-white-swanFROM LIANA:
The instinct of a new writer is push back against the tried-and-true, and this is especially true with beats. I think there’s something hardwired into new authors that makes us want to try and break a genre by doing something new and radical. What we forget (or don’t know yet) is that each genre has their own music.

The readers are coming to the genre looking for a familiar melody, a familiar rhythm, and if you don’t hit the beats in the story right, the music is ruined.

But it’s hard to hit the beats of a story correctly, especially for new writers, and especially if you are a new writer who is pantsing a story. Trust me. That’s where I was in 2005 when I started writing fiction seriously. I was not born with a gift for hitting beats. Even after years of writing I make mis-steps. That’s why authors edit.

And it’s also why I took up plotting the basics of a story before writing.

FROM AMY:
Okay, so, yesterday I confessed to you my secret nightmare as a writer: structure. Not because I resent being constrained by arbitrary rules or whatever, but because actually, after reading a crap-tonne of new-writer stories in the last ten years, I have a healthy appreciation for a well-structured story and I’m *just* *not* *GOOD* at it myself. Which, URGH. I’m an English teacher and a writer and I have *experience* with these things and I read a lot and I know what good structure looks like, so why, why, WHY is this whole structure/plotting/pacing thing not more intuitive for me? Seriously?! Gnurgh.

Anyway. The turning point for me was the discovery of beat sheets. Beats are nothing more or less than those points you have to hit in a structure – like, there’s a call to action at the end of act one, a turning point in the middle, a climax at the end – that sort of thing. But those three or five or eight or twelve beats never seemed to be enough for me to keep up the pacing in between times, and not meander around in a way that left the conflict dragging. Oh, the scenes are FUN and PRETTY and SHINY and often also even WITTY, but they still… meander.

And look: I’ve nothing against meandery books. I like lit. fic., or at least as much of it as I do most genres. I appreciate character-driven, wandery sorts of stories. But I also know that you have to be a really good writer to pull them off in a way that makes them accessible for public consumption, and I’m not ashamed to admit that my primary goal here is to write stories that people actually want to *buy*. I write for myself, because if I didn’t I’d get so twisted up in anxiety that I wouldn’t write at all (why hello there, 2012-2013). But I want the end results to be accessible for other people to *enjoy*. There’s that saying, right: I write for myself and revise for my readers. Yup, good idea right there. Except thus far my revisions have always been nightmarish slogs of retrofitting structures and proper character arcs to Really Broken Drafts, and quite frankly, that process sucks. If I can learn to do my structure/pacing/plotting/character arc right the first time, I’ll save hundreds of hours in revision – and once you know the rules, THEN you can choose to break them at will.

Hence, beat sheets.

First came Save The Cat by Blake Snyder, a book on writing screenplays that delves into structure and the different ‘genres’ that movies actually fall into. I highly recommend the book, if only for the reconsideration of how genre applies to stories, and how knowing what genre you’re actually writing can change the way you look at the book – and you’ll be surprised by the genres and their definitions, too, because it’s not about the trappings and cosmetics and setting of the story, but rather the plot/character arc and the beats that the story needs to hit.

Secondly, Jami Gold’s amazing free beat sheets, based on the information in Save The Cat and another book I haven’t read, Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. I’d tried to make something like this for myself years ago and failed, so when I found these I was super excited.

And finally, something I wrote up myself based entirely on Jami’s beat sheets just recently – while I was visiting Liana, in fact. I got sick of using the calculator in Jami’s sheets to calculate when things were supposed to happen, and on the basis that I was pretty much aiming for a 40-scene, 80k novel or a 20-scene, 40k novella each time, I wrote up this beat list, which tells me which scene number each thing is supposed to happen in. As you’ll note, nearly every scene has a specific job, and knowing that has made a HUGE difference to my ability to keep the pacing of the story on track.

By way of experiment, I also used the novella sheet to plot out a novella while I was with Liana. It made the whole plotting process just like putting together a jigsaw, and while I’m sure there will still be things to fix and tweak, it’s the first time I’ve delivered Liana a plot and had the tick of approval with only a minor tweak or two. YAY ME I AM LEARNING THINGS WATCH ME LEARN. You can evaluate the success of this process yourself hopefully next year – this novella is one in my Puricorn (Age of Unicorns) universe (see short stories here and here) and I have a cover for it ready to go… I just need to write and edit it >.< 😀

Anyway. I hope that some of these resources are useful for you! Feel free to share some of your favourite plotting resources in return, and tune in tomorrow for an epic case study: How Not To Take Over The World!

Plotting Session 1: Structure
Plotting Session 2: Beat Sheets
Plotting Session 3: The Epic Plotting Video
A Beat Sheet of Your Own