The Naughty Heart

Louise Redmann - Unpenned

Have you ever looked at the heart shape properly? I mean, really looked at it?

It’s naughty.

It’s sexy.

It’s romantic.

It’s everything it’s supposed to be for representing love.

Look at it this way:

heart photo

We can imagine the female anatomy – breasts leading down to the vulva – the bottom is even in a V shape, and if you turn the heart on its side, the top looks like a B!

Yet if we turn it the other way up:

– lo and behold we have a pair of testicles, and the suggestion of a man’s love member (since it’s February, I’m not going to use the word ‘penis’ because it’s not a particularly lovely word…).

So what’s the history of the heart-shape as we know it?

Some scholars argue that the shape originates from artists trying to depict the heart with three chambers, according to ancient medical texts…

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Balancing Characters

table-1718523_640

I’m making soup, tonight. Pumpkin soup with some other veg, turmeric and cayenne. I’ve made this soup several times over the past two months because I like it of an evening and it’s healthy. Why am I waffling about soup? Because the other day I changed my recipe – I left out parsnip and it changed the balance of flavours in a way I didn’t like. So today I’ve added it back in, with a bit more for good measure 😀

I think writing a story is about balance. We can add too much internal thought, or too little internal thought, and the flavour of the story will change. We can add a dollop of spice, or too much spice, and the flavour will change. So the questions must be asked: What kind of story is it? And do we want the story to fit genre, or not?

We need a balance of characters to represent different aspects of the story. Maybe we have a character who always sees the humour in a situation and maybe we need a pessimist to balance out the humours. Maybe we have someone who thinks they know it all only to find out they don’t, and someone who thinks they know nothing when, in fact, they know more than they think they do.  Maybe we have a protagonist and antagonist, but do our other characters balance each other? Each character should bring a different flavour to the story, and, depending on how strong we want that flavour to be, we can enhance that quality or dilute it a little.

So, with balancing characters in mind, let’s play a game of word association. I’ll begin by putting a characteristic down, and let’s see where we go in the comments!

My word: ‘Know-it-all’

What comes into your mind? Or if you want to change characteristic, write a new one and we can all say what comes into our heads. This is a useful tool for adding depth to characters, too:)

Who Are You Writing For?

Who are you writing for?

This is a question that gets asked a great deal on a writers’ site I frequent. I have always answered, rather flippantly, ‘for myself’. Yet I am now beginning to wonder if, by writing for myself, I am missing a trick.

After receiving multiple rejections from literary agents both in the UK and the US, I’m having to rethink my whole writing process. My novel is historical, it is romance, yet the two main characters do not get together at the end – and there will be a sequel. My novel is also long, at almost 100k words, and that doesn’t fit a romance publishing model either. It is not your regular, expected story for an historical romance and although I like the story and I wrote it for me, I wonder if I should now focus on writing genre fiction for the sake of publishing and earning a crust or two. Publishers seem to want only sure-fire bets since they are looking for the next big thing, and therefore unwilling to take chances on a lowly newbie. I don’t know why they are so intent on having books in nice, neat little boxes; I’ve always hated being put in a box, and now my novels can’t be either! Oh well.

I started writing years ago because I couldn’t find a romance novel that related to me and the life I have. I wanted to write about women who have precious few choices in their lives and the consequences of the choices they do make. I wanted to write about women who struggle with issues I struggle with (relationship issues where I have little choice, dreams and desires versus reality, e.g.) and see if they found an answer I could adapt for my life.

Should I keep writing the stories I want to read, or should I adapt my work to fit a genre in the hope I can make some money and increase the options I, and my children, have? It’s a dilemma I know that faces many an author, including Ottessa Moshfegh, and I don’t know what to do. Ottessa decided to write a genre novel, albeit one that turned out to be nominated for a Man-Booker prize…I’m a slow writer, so anything I do will take a while. Any ideas?

My Dad asked me what, as an author, I want to be known for.

What do you want to be known for in life?

 

Why I Love Books by Louise Redmann

kindle photo

Last year my hubs bought me a kindle for my birthday – a fab gift since I can’t access an English library or find English books at a decent price in Switzerland. So I merrily downloaded a load of classics because they are free, and I haven’t read Dickens in a while. Then I toured the freebie kindle downloads, and generally explored the world of reading on a small screen. Continue reading

Setting a Scene

scenes photo

I discovered the other day that I set some of my scenes in the same places My characters seem to eat a lot. Well, that’s not too bad, is it? I mean, we all eat several times a day, right?

But this means I have several scenes set in the dining hall. Two or three scattered through the novel might be ok, four, five, six or seven? Um.

The thing is, it not only gets repetitive, it gets boring and samey for the reader. They feel like they’ve already read this scene, so I took my characters out of the dining hall and into a market place instead. With a few tweaks and extra description added, the scene improved vastly. I have a scene set in the buttery (not the place for churning butter:

store photo

, a place where the ‘butts’ of ale were stored), one in a barn and another in a hayloft. I even have one (okay, two) in a graveyard.

The trick is in thinking about your character’s daily lives and where they have to go. Anywhere can make an interesting scene – front doorstep of a house, library, beach, bathroom, skilift, lighthouse – and if it’s somewhere the main character shouldn’t be, so much the better!

Some scenes need to take place in an enclosed space; this builds tension between the characters because they can’t easily get away from each other.

Other scenes are better suited to wider spaces. This can build pace and tension. Have the scene in the opposite setting your characters need. So, for example, if you have your hero desperately trying to find your heroine and they need to be together – then choose a wide open setting. They need to be together, and if they are far apart it creates tension.

If your heroine needs to escape a killer, have the scene in a tight space, thus building tension.

If a couple are have a fullblown argument, confine them to a

ski lift photo

and see what happens.

What’s in a Name? by Louise Redmann

What’s in a name?

What's in a Name?

Apparently, as I’ve been finding out, a lot.

As authors, we often like to use a pen name. And this requires a lot of thought, since the name is, or will become, part of your identity, part of who other people think you are and can say a lot about not only where you come from, but also the kind of person you are. Continue reading

Backstory – What is it? Where do we put it?

In the beginning photo

I’ve been musing over this recently, and I think a lot of confusion comes with knowing what’s backstory, and where our stories actually should begin. It’s something I am constantly struggling with – where is the start of my story?

I think I found a clue!

Our characters are people, first and foremost. Therefore they will, like all of us, have a history. But whereas we live the whole of our lives, we do not necessarily write the whole of our characters’ lives, and our readers certainly don’t. We write only a portion.

Which portion?

In the beginning photo

Usually that which sees the character go on a journey. The journey may be a literal journey – such as in The Lord of the Rings, where Frodo must travel to Mordor (by going on a literal journey he also goes on an emotional journey). The journey maybe simply an emotional journey – like the death of a loved one; or a change in the character’s status – single to married, eg.

Whatever the journey is, the start of the story is not where the journey begins but just before. We need to show the character in their normal environment, in their status quo emotional state. We need to build empathy in the reader, curiosity, and hook them into wanting to find out what happens to change their state, and whether they survive. Normal, everyday situations that show their character as it is, and hint at the changes that must come, or even an unusual situation that nudges the main character (mc) in the direction of the journey they must take.

Some people go on a life-changing journey, or trip around the world. It is vital that we know who they were, so we can understand who they have become.

airport photo

If the mc is at the airport, about to go on a life-changing holiday, then we can show an event that reveals that character as they are, before they need to change. So, if our character is reserved, sometimes gets pushed around, we can show that by having someone bump into her and not apologise. How does she react? Does she ignore what happened? If she is reserved, she may well do. As a reader we want to see her come out if that and stand up for herself and that’s what piques our curiosity. However, you can see that how she reacts now is key in understanding both who she is now, and who she must become.

Why is she reserved? Why does she not stand up for herself? These are questions then raised in the reader’s mind and they read on to find the answers. Does the reader need to know the answers now? No. And, they don’t necessarily want the answers immediately.

Having shown the mc as he/she is, we can then say that backstory is everything that has shaped the character to be who he/she is today, when the story begins.

So when will the reader want the answers?

That is the question, and it’s not easy to answer. There will be times when the character’s actions will need explaining.

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Darcy acts cold and arrogant – particularly towards Wickham, which angers Lizzy and cause her to resent Darcy, but we don’t find out why Darcy is cold until much later in the book. We have hints at what happened and these come from Mr Wickham himself. By this time, the reader suspects Wickham is not what he seems, but Lizzy does not. The reader wants Darcy to be the hero, Lizzy wants Wickham.

We don’t discover the true history between him and Mr Wickham until the letter which explains much of why Darcy behaves the way he does towards Wickham.

So, we see that the reader goes on the journey with the mc, but at some point, we can see more than they can, and then comes the tension of when will the mc find out…

Darcy and Wickham’s backstories are only revealed at certain times in the book, and we certainly do not know everything about them, only the important events that have shaped them into the characters they are today.

Your important event that shaped your character might be an almighty one, like the murder of their spouse. Sometimes people choose to show these in a prologue, since they are huge and interesting and ‘hooky’, yet are still a part of the backstory to show who the character is before they must change. Perhaps the murder of their spouse sends them into a spiral of gambling and other issues. Perhaps it’s depression. What the reader wants to see is how the character gets out of this, how he conquers his demons.

The mc might be in a completely ordinary situation – like Bilbo Baggins celebrating his birthday in The Hobbit.

So what is backstory?

The events, upbringing, family issues, etc, that have shaped that character to be who they are at the start of the story. Who they are at the start of their emotional upheaval. To know where we are going, we must know where we have come from.

Also bear in mind that a novel may not start with the status quo of the mc, but of the antagonist – a murderer, for example. In Lisa Jackson’s Cold Blooded, she begins with a prologue showing the murderer hunting. This raises questions – who is he hunting and why, and why is he a murderer?

Backstory isn’t just the prerogative of the mc, either …

Who is your character at the start of the journey? What shaped their characters?

Also, if we know all of this, our characters will be far more rounded as people. It’s worth putting the time in to discover backstory, even if we don’t use it in the novel.

Just some thoughts,

Louise

Plotting…What’s that?

Always thought planning a novel looked like this?

planning photo

I did too.

I’ve always been a pantser, starting with a character, a line of dialogue or a scene and continuing from there, and dreaded the thought of plotting. The trouble with pantsing, I’ve found, is that when I’m near the end I have no idea how the sucker should end because I have so many threads I could pull on.

tangled photo

Oh dear, what a mess.

sad face photo

Time for something different. Having pantsed two novels, and spent hours editing and plotting out afterwards, (and seen many people publish and write a ton more than me in the meantime) I decided to have a go at plotting my next project, a series of romances set in Montana. Who doesn’t love cowboys?

cowboys photo

I knew if I wanted to actually achieve this, I needed to think about structure.

scaffolding photo

For me, structure sounds as exciting as that picture above looks, so I set about discovering what plotting actually is, whilst being terrified that it would stifle all creativity (a common fear for pantsers). What I did discover opened up a whole new world.

I didn’t have to plot out my entire novel!

I didn’t have to know what happened when, to whom, and why.

I could start with a character, as I always do.

And then I found something else that helped:

Annie Neugebauer

On her page she has downloadable worksheets designed to stimulate the beginnings of a plot. These focus on character and ask questions such as:

What happens to the protagonist to put her unavoidably in the path of the antagonist?

What stands in the way of your protagonist’s goals? What will happen to her if she fails?

And more, besides. Obvious questions, you’re thinking. Well, yes … and no. Sometimes we do this naturally, but then we get to a certain point and our brains need to take over from our subconscious.

For me, these worksheets are great. I can take my character and use these questions to think about motives and problems, which I had never really done before, it had all grown organically. I’m not saying I’m going to plan it all out using these, what I’m going to do is keep these questions in mind. I’m also using Storyweaver to help, but don’t want to get too bogged down in that at the moment.

Of course, the biggest question we must keep in mind as we write: Who cares? So what?

Got any tips for Planning a Novel you’d care to share?

Louise

On Medieval Speech Patterns and How Much is Too Much

Medieval language

I’ve been reading an interesting book lately on the fourteenth century and learning a huge amount – the kind of details you cannot find on the ‘net. So, since I am in the middle of my historical romance, I thought to apply some of what I’ve learned. Well, good, you might be thinking, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to do. Except.

Now I have my characters saying things like:

“Sire, God give you good day.” Or

“Dame, good day give you our Lord.”

O-O
Not just this, but I learned that when meeting a superior, they would kneel on one knee, including the ladies. So I had my fmc kneeling to my mmc, which is totally not right for her character in this story, especially since they have known each other for years. The more I wrote like this (trying to be realistic) the more I lost my characters. I lost my mmc, Egon, and he’s a vital character. Once I realised what was happening, I stopped writing, succoured myself with chocolate (for those who read my Lent blog post, ahem, forget I mentioned the word ‘chocolate’) and ranted at myself for a bit.

I’ve been trying to increase my attention to details, real historical ones that bring the prose alive (that’s the intention, anyway), and forgetting one extremely important detail. Too much salt obliterates the flavour. Over-salting the prose overwhelms the reader. I’m not talking about general historical details to do with weather or clothes; I’m talking about realistic speech patterns, manners and behaviour that might come across as alien to the casual reader. Either I need to reduce these details, or I need to completely re-write my ms.

Having been thinking about this for a few days, and trying to write another chapter, I’ve decided to include those details which currently feel natural for the characters, then when I edit, to add in a few more here and there. Build it up, so to speak, until I feel the speech has attained a natural balance. The problem with this is that it’s all so subjective and you can’t please everybody. I’ve decided I’ll please myself, since if I’m happy, the writing flows much easier. I think that is key. If I force the dialogue it will be unnatural. I need to familiarise myself with all of these tidbits that I’ve learned and incorporate them as and when I can do it in a way that feels totally natural.

Am I alone in getting bogged down with these details to the detriment of character and plot?

The good thing is – I find the more I write, the more I research, the more I learn, the better my first drafts are. Just, why does this whole process take so looooong:D Now I’m very glad I haven’t published my first historical. I would cringe deeply at the errors. It will be edited. Sometime…