Tag Archives: book writing

How Not to Write a Romance as Cheesy as a Strong Limburger

To start, I should say that the Book that Amanda and I are writing is not a romance. What is it? I’m not tellin’! But it’s not a romance. That said, at some point, the plot does touch on the theme.

Julie Campbell writer - Romance writingI happen to like a good romance. But that’s just it: I like a good romance. Those are rare. So much of the romance that occurs in fiction is cheesy and rather nauseating to me. It frustrates me when I find myself trapped in a story with sappy, schmaltzy goo oozing from the page in front of me.

But, like everything else in writing – or any other art form for that matter – there is no specific structure or template that can be followed to ensure that the romance that is woven into a story will be beautiful, touching, and/or passionate and not single-dimensional, frustrating, out of character, and cheesy enough to cause the bile to rise.

I love the romantic points in the Book. But I love the Book and I love its characters.  How bias am I? I know how badly I wanted some of them to discover one another. I know that Amanda finds certain pairs to be more than a little appealing, too. How do we know that we didn’t force the characters together?  How strong is that bias and how much is it influencing the story’s development?

My hope is that because this story has two writers, not just one, then at least one of us will have been able to cling to reality (or at least the reality we established within our fictitious world) enough at any given time to make sure that the romantic elements of the story actually work. I don’t want to avoid romance in the story for the sake of avoiding it, but I don’t want to make it happen just so that there is a romantic element to the story, either.

The next issue that I’m facing in terms of romance in the story is timing. It is easy to become swept away in a case of “love at first sight”, but there’s also something to be said about allowing a love to build between two people before they really realize it or admit it to themselves, others, or each other.  Which works best within the plot of the Book and for the individual characters?  It’s more difficult to figure out than I thought.

I find that some authors deliberately place barriers in the way of romances. This can to contribute to a story in a way that it makes me antsy to find out if the couple (or potential couple) will find their way back to one another. I wonder if they’ll ever be able to get together. While this can be a fantastic technique, it must be done delicately. Otherwise, it’s easy to see right through the author’s deliberate efforts to keep me, the reader, interested, and I am drawn out of the story and into frustration toward the author for putting me through it all in the first place (naturally, all authors are writing directly to me, so I take it personally when they do this ;)).

Equally, when two characters are thrown together too soon, I don’t tend to feel as deeply about their relationship. I may still like the characters, but I don’t connect with the romance between them because it was handed to them too easily (characters need to work as hard as authors for my approval ;)).

After all of this – and mountains of other – analysis and research to try to make sure that the romantic moments are expressed properly within the Book, I’ve come to a very important decision. Love isn’t something that can be decided upon. If I want it to be “real”, among the characters in the Book, then they will just need to go with it as it happens, just like the rest of us! Those elements of the story are going to have to stay as they were when they were originally written. That’s how the romance “really” happened and I can’t do any more about it than I could to change the way a romance has occurred within my own life.  The heart wants what it wants! ♥

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Baking a Cake of Lies

Last week, I had a conversation with Amanda in which I proudly declared that I had successfully cut many of the unnecessary sugary treats out of my diet. I’m not on a weight loss diet, but I am quite health conscious and I struggle with the havoc that a sweet tooth plays in the efforts to live a health-conscious lifestyle. I don’t know anybody who loves cake donuts more than I do.

Julie Campbell writer - cake of liesHowever, after eliminating the excess sugar from what I have been eating (no, I’m not trying to live a sugar-free life and no, I don’t use artificial sweeteners – don’t get me started on that), I have been discovering that I have a lot more control over my hunger levels and I find that I don’t crave sweets nearly as much as I once did. In fact, other than wanting a little yogurt cup after dinner, I don’t crave sweets at all anymore.

On the evening of that conversation, as I was taking ingredients out of the cupboard to make dinner, I discovered a mix for a spice cake that was riding the line of its expiration date. Since I loathe wasting food, I had a mixing bowl out on the counter and was cracking two eggs into the cake mix before I could realize that what I was effectively doing was whipping up a cake of lies. I was doing exactly the opposite of what I’d just finished telling Amanda!

The universe clearly knew what I was up to, because it decided to punish me for my dishonesty. Since it was a very small spice cake of lies (it fit into the loaf pan for my toaster oven), I decided to be environmentally friendly (and to keep my electricity bill down) and I baked my cake of lies in the toaster oven, instead of the full-sized oven. Like most lies, this cake grew and grew and grew, until it touched the top heating elements. This caused copious amounts of black smoke to billow out of the small appliance as I threw open the windows to stop the smoke detectors from going off.

Still determined not to waste food (clearly, I have a problem), I popped the cake out of its pan and set it on a plate, finishing the cooking in the microwave (after having sliced the blackened layer off the top). A quick nuking is, apparently, all it takes to finish the baking of a cake of lies. How was it? Honestly? It was the best spice cake I’ve ever made. I don’t know if it was the fire, the microwaves, or the lies, but it was the perfect texture and flavour. Once the clouds of black smoke were out of my home, I could tell that the cake smelled great, too.

What lesson did I learn from this adventure? It wasn’t that I shouldn’t be ridiculous about trying to save food. It wasn’t that I should remember that cakes rise a lot in the oven. It wasn’t even that I shouldn’t tell friends that I’m off baked sugar treats when I have cake mix in the cupboard.

The lesson I took from it was that people will do things that seem to be quite out of character and bizarre, provided they have the right motivation. Without knowing that I was trying not to waste food, it would have looked like I’d completely lost my mind (it may still seem that way to you, though not to the same degree as it would if I didn’t have the justification behind my behaviours).

This has given me some important perspective when it comes to judging the actions of my characters. I’m always afraid that they will do things that are “out of character” and that I won’t notice because I’m so used to the story I’ve written. However, even real people do things that are out of character. A character isn’t something that is set in stone. Circumstances can easily change the way we react. Also, fictional characters,  like real people, can’t always have days in which we’re at our very best. Sometimes, we find ourselves nuking a burnt cake of lies.

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How’s My Driving…Er…Posting?

Three whole weeks!  How time has flown.

Julie Campbell writer surveyI know that my co-author, Amanda, and I are both enjoying sharing our thoughts with you as we struggle through the battles and celebrate the victories of turning our Book’s rough draft into something worth publishing (and turning us into bajillionaires), but I’m also wondering what you think of the experience.

Fortunately, I just found out how to use the “add poll” feature on this blog.  What does that mean?  We just got interactive!

Please let us know what you think about the experience so far.  If you have additional thoughts that aren’t covered by the little survey, below, please add them to the “Comments” for this post.

That was fun, wasn’t it?  Alright, you twisted my arm, here’s another one:

Addictive, aren’t they?  Okay, one more, since you insisted:

Thanks so much for reading, following, sharing, and overall sticking around.  More blog posts are on their way from both me and Amanda.

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What is that “effing” word!

Don’t you hate it when you are trying to remember that perfect word you want to use, only to be incredibly disappointed to discover that none of the words you come up with feel like the right one?  How many times have you wondered – “Am I imagining a word exists that never did?”

On the other hand, it’s so gratifying when you do remember or find the word you want. I can’t count the number of times I’ve asked Julie (using actual words and not this weird example), “what’s that word that is like such and such and is sort-of like this, but not exactly that?” and she responds with, “ You mean, blah” and I’m, like, “YES! Blah! That’s it!”

A confused panda who just can't find the right word!Sadly, for as many times as I have found the treasured “blah” word I sought, I have been equally dissatisfied in having to settle for alternatives that are not exactly what I wanted. Here’s a great example:

When writing the rough draft of our book together, Julie and I have come to refer to a certain type of smile our characters make on occasion as an “effing smile” (and yes, we actually use the word “effing” I’m not going out of my way to make this a G-rated blog). Why do we do this? Not because we’re being witty or even because it’s an inside joke, it’s literally because we don’t know what is the best word that would accurately describe the type of smile we mean.

In vain, both of us have tirelessly wracked our brains and turned to the thesaurus for any clues to find out what the perfect word could be. Naturally, we didn’t find it and just used the made-up term “effing smile”, so we would understand what the other person was describing.

In case anyone happens to know the word we’re looking for, I’ll do my best to describe the “effing smile” to you.

In my opinion, this is the smile that you give to someone when you understand, know, and/or realize that nothing more can really be said or done about a certain sucky/unfortunate situation or topic of discussion. In essence, the person giving the smile would like to give comfort, but they know that the situation is what it is, what’s done is done, and there is no fairytale ending. It’s like a combination of a half-hearted smile, an understanding smile, an empathetic smile, a wry smile, a comforting smile, and an “oh well, waddaya gonna do?” smile. See, it’s not so easy to come up with one word that encompasses all of that!

Today, after years of not finding the word (seriously, I’m not kidding, it’s been like 5 years), we are pretty much convinced that the word we’re looking for doesn’t exist. Therefore, until we can both agree on an actual word from the English language that will satisfy us, we’ve just used our term, because it’s what works for us.

When it comes to writing, whether it is creative or otherwise, it is important to not get stuck or hung up on finding the perfect word. That’s what editing is for. If after a few minutes you can’t call to mind the accurate word you want, use the best substitute (and even make a note to your future self about wanting to change the word), but keep on writing. If you obsess too much about making everything perfect in the first draft, you risk hindering your creativity and limiting your imagination. Believe me, I know. Editing while I’m creating remains one of my biggest setbacks as a writer.

Anyway, the good news is that before we introduce our book to the world, Julie and I still have time to find a suitable replacement for “effing smile”. While we won’t settle for something that isn’t satisfactory, I now understand that we may have to settle for less than perfect. I can live with that.  After all, writing a good story requires focus on the story as a whole, not obsessing over a single word.

And, who knows, maybe if we can’t find what we want, we’ll just make up words and provide a glossary of terms in the book 😉 Ah, the power of creative writing and imagination – I adolve* it!

Thanks for reading!

*Adolve – A newly made up word, which here means that the writer absolutely adores and loves the control she has when writing creatively.

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I’ve Been Doing This All Wrong!

As you can tell by my continual posting (a.k.a. rambling) on this blog, I am learning a great deal from the entire process of going back over the Book with Amanda and revisiting our old work. It is teaching me a surprising amount about writing, as well as about myself. The problem is, after all this thinking, I’ve come to discover that I’ve been looking at this step of the process from the wrong angle!

Julie Campbell writer editing processI have always been told to pay attention, think before I act or speak, and that learning is one of the most important parts of life. I live by these rules (most of the time…), but what I am finding in the writing and editing process is that thinking too hard – unless done strategically – won’t accomplish anything except to cause cartoon-like clouds of smoke to billow from my ears.

Thinking the wrong way can hurt both my writing and my editing, and here’s why:

• Writing – if I think too hard, it inhibits the creative flow. Fiction writing takes a huge amount of imagination. When I write too deliberately, it holds back my ability to simply open my mind and let a story pour out (that sounds disturbingly gory to me, now that I’ve said it). Therefore, when it comes to writing, I’d rather just write as fast as my fingers can type and deal with the “details” later.

• Editing – if I think the wrong way, I lose my perspective. I become overly focused on all of the little details so that I can’t see the bigger picture anymore. I’ve only edited a few pages of the Book, so far, and I have already caught myself obsessing over insignificant details when I should be working out the larger issues and then narrowing my focus.

What have I learned? To stop thinking too hard and to think smart, instead. Not very original, I know, but we all learn at our own pace, and this was my time for discovery.

I’ve taken something important from it, though, and that’s all that matters to me. It is as follows: I write from start to finish, but I need to edit from big picture to small picture.

Writing is a process in which I start the story, build it, and bring it to a conclusion (or, in the case of the Book, bring it to a soft-ending since it’s going to be the first of a series).

When I’m editing, I can’t work in the same straight line. First, I need to read it over and remember what I created in the first place. Once I’m very familiar with it, I need to make sure that the main plot line makes sense, develops as it should, and accomplishes all of its goals. Then, I need to work out the sub-plots to ensure that they also make sense and align properly. Once that’s under control, I can start the proofing, to begin my obsession over phrasing, word selection and the dreaded grammar check. See?  It’s not a straight line!

If there are any book editors out there – really great ones who know all this already (and then some, I should hope) – I’d just like to take this opportunity to tell you that you have one tough job and you don’t receive nearly enough credit for what you do.

Although I will certainly not be the last editor’s eyes to see the Book before it is published – especially because I’m co-authoring it, so it will need to pass Amanda’s tests, as well – I’m doing my best to make this work as flawless as possible, right from the start. I gotta say, writing is, by far, the easy part…

Note – I found a smiley from my original set that works here.  Is it odd that I already feel nostalgic after a few weeks?

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Learning About Myself Through Editing

I’ve experienced a number of insights as I’ve been going over the Book that I have neglected for three years. Technically speaking, the story I’m now tackling is more than a decade old. It’s been edited, poked, and prodded, but it’s old work.

Julie Campbell writer self learningAs I read over what is there, I’m discovering a lot about myself. My thought patterns for telling a story aren’t exactly the same. I do love what I have, and the story is still very strong, but the way that I was expressing it had a “deliberate” feel. By reading it, I could see exactly what I was trying to accomplish – not a great experience from the reader’s perspective.

I can spot the words that I selected through the use of a thesaurus instead of choosing something out of my own vocabulary. I can identify all of the “set ups” that I chose to lead a reader in a certain direction. Those are only powerful elements in a story when they are seamless, not when they stand out.

What I’m discovering is that what I wrote ten years ago and picked at for a while was a story. Now, it’s time to make it into a book. I may not have been able to do it then, but I feel confident that I can do it now.

There is something to be said about spending a tremendous amount of time on a written project. In school, I was always told not to write a paper at the last minute because one of the most important steps was to be able to sleep after having completed a piece, and then edit it after having had some time to forget about it for a while. Like most students, I finished most of my papers at 3am or 4am on the day that it was due, but it doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the lesson.

As I read over the Book, I can now see the true value that my teachers were trying to express. Certainly, ten years is a bit on the long side, but it has given me time to learn, grow, practice, and improve, so that I can view my work with a fresh (albeit moderately crazy) mind.

It has been frustrating me that I hadn’t gone back to the Book earlier so that I could have had it published, sooner. But now that I am actually working on it, I can genuinely say that I’m glad that I waited until this point. I’m feeling much more confident about it, and I know that I have the skill to be able to lift my words from being a decent story to being a very good book.

We’ve all read stories that were exceptionally enjoyable but that were poorly told. That is just what the story I am writing used to be. Soon enough, it will be an enjoyable story, but it will be told in a book that is worth reading. I can’t wait to see how that looks.

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Who am I? (No, Not 24601)

While re-reading and editing the Book, I have come to a discovery that I have found to be rather amusing. As was the case when I was writing these pieces for the first time, I am – once again – allowing myself to become lost in the characters that make up their fictional world.

Julie Campbell author character developmentI’ve always considered this ability to be a very positive one, as it helps me to remain truer to who the characters are, and better gauge what they would think about various circumstances and how they would react to the situations that they must face.  It’s like a form of “method acting” as a writer. It is important, because it stops me from forcing my own personal reactions onto the character.

This practice, as useful as it may be, also appears to have quite an unexpected side. I have found it rather entertaining to note that when I’ve been disturbed from writing a cute character or a kind one, my reaction to the interruption is often similar to the one that the character would have, while in his or her “current” mental state (in the place that I am editing in the “Book”). What isn’t quite as fun are the times in which I am writing and editing someone unpleasant or downright villainous. Those reactions to the distraction aren’t quite as warm – to say the least.

It has made me think back to the early days of the Book, over a decade ago, when Amanda and I were originally talking on the phone and writing the first pages together. I can quite distinctly remember snapping at my sister on more than one occasion, just because she came to my bedroom door to tell me that dinner was ready or to ask me if I’d like anything.  It wasn’t her fault, but she interrupted the wrong character!

The influence that writing characters can have on one’s own behaviours is quite a shocking one, if you’re anything like me. While it is an experience that I thoroughly enjoy, it makes me think about the nature of a real individual’s personality. As much as we may form strong characters for ourselves throughout our lives, it really doesn’t take much to change our reactions and behaviours to ones that are completely outside of what we believe our nature to be.

For me, simply imagining what it is like to be someone else is enough for me to temporarily behave as they would. Naturally, it isn’t a lasting impact, and I don’t suffer from a multiple personality disorder (nor do I).  At the same time, even though this change in myself is one that continues for only a split second, it is still quite notable that who I am can be that fragile under the right circumstances.

I’m not exactly sure what to make all of this, quite yet, but it is something that I will be mulling over for a while. After all, this may be an important thing to understand when it comes to making certain that my characters in the Book are reacting in a genuine and realistic way. A person’s actions aren’t always a matter of doing what a list of character traits prescribes. Sometimes, they can surprise you.

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