My writing process changes and I don’t always do the same thing for each story. But since Gina X. Grant has introduced me to GMC that is the minimum I do for each story.
Last year Debra Dixon came in for a one-day workshop to the Toronto Romance Writers. Debra in an author of fiction and an editor for Bell Bridge Books. But in the romance community she is best known for writing a book called “GMC-Goal, Motivation and Conflict”. It is my bible:). Even if you don’t outline or are a complete pantser, I recommend to at least do the GMC for your heroine, hero and villain. It will keep you much more focused and will answer the all important question: Why?
Since reading the book I always GMC my characters before I do anything else.
In case you are not familiar with GMC, the grid looks something like this:
Wizard of Oz
Dorothy External Internal
Goal Get home (get to emerald city, to find her heart’s desire and a place with no trouble
see wizard, get broomstick)
Motivation Auntie Em is sick (the wizard is there, she’s unhappy and trouble follows her everywhere
he has the power to send her home,
the price for sending her home)
Conflict the witch she doesn’t know what she wants
the balloon lifts off without her
The character can have one overarching goal (get home), but to get there she has to fulfill a number of smaller goals (get to the Emerald City, see the wizard, get the broomstick).
I look at my idea, my characters and what I’m thinking off as the plot and then set out to discover what my heroine’s ultimate goal is, both for the plot of the story and for the internal growth, why she wants to reach these goals and what stands in her way. Every time I do this I gain insight into my character and focus the story.
During the first half of the workshop Debra looked at Vogler’s ‘The Hero’s Journey” (tons of links out there, this is just the first I came across) and how GMC connects to that story structure. I prefer Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat beat sheet, but looking at GMC for each step of the journey was really interesting. It demonstrated in explicit detail how important it is to know your characters and why they behave like they do. You can’t just have them find a dead body in a ditch ‘because you need that to happen’. At the beginning of the session Debra said to make notes if we liked, but, more importantly, to think of our current WIP and how anything she said affected that. She described how she’d done this wokshop at RWA National and chatted to one of the authors there: the author had six bullet points of notes on the talk, but pages of notes on how it affectd the author’s current project.
Last year I realised that I may have started one of my WIPs in the wrong spot. I like opening with action, so started when the first assassin attempts to kill my heroine, but I didn’t ground the reader in her ordinary world. Think of any films you’ve seen or openings in books, usually you get a moment of insight into the character’s life before everything goes to hell, a grounding into why Lily (my heroine) would jump at the chance to take the dirigible to London and get away from her aunt in San Francisco. So I went back and wrote a scene that, once it’s polished, will hopefully show why she takes this rather drastic step.
During the afternoon Debra looked at the Big Black Moment and walked us through one of her novels. It was amazing! From the very fist time hero and heroine meet the BBM is set up. ‘Compare and Contrast’ was Debra’s favourite phrase. Basically in any way the characters could be on opposite sides of the coin, they were. Not in a heavy-handed way, but in a way that made you think ‘OMG, how are they EVER going to get together?!’ The book was a contemporary romace, looking at family and duty. It really showcased to me that you don’t need demons and the end of the world for there to be conflict on every page of the book.
I am a plantser. I outline what will happen, but then pants the individual scenes. The workshop didn’t necessarily tell me anything I hadn’t heard before, but Debra approached it from a different perspective. I definitely took something away from it and it helped me to clarify some of the steps in my head.
If you’re interested, here’s the link to buy GMC. Or you can just google it, loads of info on the web:). I definitely recommend the book and suggest if you do nothing else before you start the story, determine your GMC.
1. Keep the drama on the page.
I first heard this writing advice from a woman in a Writing Marathon Group. Essentially, the lesson here is to not let your life get so bogged down in drama that you don’t have the emotional room or time to write. Don’t lose your days to bullshit concerns like who said what to whom, or get dragged into making poor choices that end up giving you real life consequences that eat into your mind and erode your ability to get words on the page. If you’re going to have drama in your life? Keep it on the page. Write it into a story where it only hurts your poor, hapless characters; don’t let it hurt you or your productivity.
2. Write for only one person.
I heard this advice only two weeks ago from a friend who heard it from her writing coach. Don’t let the voices of your editors, your friends, the crowd, the reviewers, and the polls about what “our readers” want tell you what you can or can’t write. If you do that, you’ll no longer be able to hear your own inner voice and you’ll be paralyzed with fear. You’ll think things like, “I can’t write this story in first person! Everyone hates first person!” or “I can’t have the other love interest be a woman because the main m/m review sites won’t look at a story if there’s a woman in it, too!”
If you think those thoughts, your creativity dies. It shrivels up into a corner and starts to cry, “Everyone hates me, nobody loves me, guess I’ll go eat worms.” Then it will sit there and refuse to move, letting your miserable writerly self stew in panic over how you can’t write anymore!
Yep, that’s what will happen. So! Write for one person and one person only. No matter who it might be. It’s okay for that person to be your best friend, or that one reader you know will love the concept, or perhaps best and most freeing of all, write it for yourself.
3. Don’t get caught up in ideas of what you should be writing. Write whatever the hell you want to write. Write trash, write smut, write hoity-toity literature, write gay romance, write heterosexual romance, write threesomes, fivesomes, westerns, space-cowboys, write about circuses or trash collectors. Don’t cut yourself off from your creative source by deciding what kind of writer you want to be and sticking only to that.
People will tell you that diversification is bad because your following only wants to read what you’ve fed them in the past. Well, creativity doesn’t thrive on reproducing the same book again and again, and readers will either follow you into something new or or they won’t. Your creativity, though, won’t stick around while you batter it against the same wall again and again. If you do that, what you once loved–writing–will become a dreadful chore.
4. That’s right. It’s okay for your book to not be okay. It’s okay for it to not be perfect or even really good. It’s okay if people don’t like it. It’s okay if it only sells four copies. It’s okay.
Do you know why it’s okay? Because you wrote a motherfucking book! And not everyone does that. You know that quote, right? The one about perfection being the enemy of good? At some point just be done with your book. There’s a ‘good enough’ point that must be reached in order to let your book live in the hands of readers. Bow to that and submit fully to it. Be okay with the outcome. After all….
You wrote a motherfucking book!
5. Make peace with the fact that you’re not Jonathan Lethem or Catherynne Valente or Ernest Hemingway or any writer other than yourself. Make peace with the fact that you’re not going to be in TIME or win a prize. Make peace with that reality and write your books to the very best of your ability–and it might turn out that you were wrong. But even if you weren’t wrong, you wrote a damn book. Good on you!
5. Yep, that’s right. Every book is a new creature and you’re going to have to face that fact. Don’t let the new and daunting stop you from going forward. Every writer struggles at times, some books are easier than others, and you just have to keep on keeping on.
6. What’s the most important thing to do as a writer? We all know the answer. The single most important thing you can do to become a successful writer is…*drum roll*…
FINISH YOUR WORK!!!!!
That’s right. That’s the single most important thing you can do to become a successful writer. Why’s that? Because if you finish nothing then you’ll never sell anything either. You have to start somewhere and that means you’ve got to have a finished product. Embrace “good enough” and finish your book. Don’t get overly distracted by the pretty, shiny of a new idea, or let yourself quit when the going gets tough. If you get bored, come at it from a new angle, introduce a new point of view, or throw away part of it. Embrace the rewrites. Just don’t quit and don’t stop. Finish. Your. Work.
Keira Andrews and Leta Blake write fairy tale inspired m/m erotica and romantica with Ellora’s Cave. Check out Ascending Hearts, available through Ellora’s Cave, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and others! And also remember to look for Earthly Desires, the first book in the Tempting Tales series, available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Ellora’s Cave.
As a published author, two questions I regularly receive are, “What’s the best writing advice you can give me?” and “What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?” There are three pieces of advice that have stuck with me through thick and thin, and they’re the ones I’m going to share with you today.
1. Rhino Hide: This is like Thick Skin, Safari Style. If you ever want a sincere critique from a crit partner or agent, you’re going to need thick skin. No one wants to hear her manuscript, her beloved baby, isn’t as ridiculously beautiful as she thought. Reading comments about cliches, overused words, trite lines and more can truly rattle self-esteem, but these things are absolutely critical to truly hear if your goal is to improve. But if you sell? You’re going to need rhino hide. Period. See, editors are there to make your manuscript the best it can be. Feelings can be bruised very easily if a writer doesn’t learn to take in critique/editorial comments with objectivity and turn those comments into productive revisions. This was, honestly, a difficult thing to master. Now? Not even professional moisturizers can help. I’m like leather, baby!
2. Little Darlings: Stephen King wrote a book titled On Writing. If you haven’t read it? Do. Now. Abandon this blog post and go. It’s absolutely the most helpful book on writing I’ve ever read. Did it give me hardline craft notes and methods and fundamental outlines to follow? What it takes to be a guaranteed success? Recipes for lemon poundcake? Nope. None of that. What it taught me was much more valuable: sometimes you have to kill your darlings. This means that sometimes, when you find a line you’re head over heels in love with but your crit partner(s) advice is to ditch it, your agent says the humor is misplaced or your editor says to strike it, you do. Yes, you read that right. You kill it. Hold a memorial service if you must, but let that bastard go. It’s unwise to become so wedded to a word, sentence, phrase or section that you can’t accept feedback regarding changes, or deletions, that make your story better.
3. Time: This is a two-fold tidbit. First, make time to write. If you want it bad enough, the time will be available. I’ve known people who get up two hours early each day in order to get their words in before the day job. I also know people who have given up things that came second to their desire to write (sports, TV time, clubs, etc.). You can carve out time, even if it’s only 30 minutes a day, if it’s what you really, truly want.
The second have of this is to advise you to make time to read. Yes, read. So torturous, my suggestions! Seriously, though, reading is critical. Read across any genre in which you want to write. Read outside your preferred genres. Read books your friends recommend. I guarantee you won’t like everything you read, but two things will happen. First, you’re going to find authors whose voices you admire. They will help shape your own sound. Second, your vocabulary is going to improve. Neither of these things are bad things. So make the investment in your local bookstore or favorite online retailer and stock up on reading material.
4. Best Advice: This came from my agent very recently. She said, “Get out of your own way and write.” It’s hard to do because my internal editor is loud, obnoxious and rather bitchy. But Super Agent was right. Sometimes it’s a matter of setting all the advice and others’ best intentions aside and doing what you do.
So there you have it. My three little tidbits and the best advice I’ve ever received. What’s the best advice you’ve been given? And what questions would you like to ask that I might be able to answer? Feel free to drop me a comment here or shout out on my website or Twitter.