Monthly Archives: July 2015

Believable Romance: No Random Sex Scenes, Please


When reading a story, one aspect that always sticks out for me is bad romance. Done well, a romantic plot/subplot can add to a story. Done poorly, romance can destroy what could have been a great novel.

Romance is often based on emotion rather than logic. There’s the sense of intuition and imagination, the mysterious and subjective, rather than reason and rules. This can make romance chaotic and rebellious. It can create conflict, which, in fiction, is extremely important.

Conflict is what motivates readers to keep reading. It’s what causes them to care about the characters and what happens next.

In romance novels, there are usually outside forces keeping the protagonists apart. This can be done in novels where romance is a subplot as well. However, in novels whose main focus isn’t romance, the characters’ personalities can also make a romance difficult.

The important thing to remember is to create enough buildup to make the romance believable. If it’s not, then the romance is awkward and, many times, laughable.

The Guardian gives a Bad Sex Award to one author every year, along with a shortlist of other authors. This link includes sexually explicit details, so be forewarned.

One of the great aspects of fiction is that the stakes are usually raised very high. There’s a ton of tension. Think of novels dealing with revolutions. When there’s so much tension and threat of death, failure, etc. emotions are ramped up too. This makes it easier for two characters to fall in love. Now, after all the tension is gone, their relationship might fall apart, but novels typically end before that happens, and the emotions the characters are feeling in the present feel real to them.

In most novels dealing with romance, whether as the main plot or a subplot, there’s a typical progression:

  1. The two characters meet and dislike each other. Yet, there’s an unspoken attraction. I.e. – The Mortal Instruments, Darkfever
  2. An external event forces the two characters together and they fall in love.
  3. External events try to keep them apart (or, in some cases, one of the characters believes it’s better for them to be apart, but can’t resist the other. I.e. – Twilight). Their love grows as they bond over these events and fight to for each other.

(For a more in depth version of this progression, see How to Write Romance.)

What do you think of romance in novels?

(Photo courtesy of ALhanouf AL- abdollah.)


What Makes a Novel a Bestseller?


When you ask a writer how successful they want their novel to be, most will answer they want it to be a bestseller. But what makes a book a bestseller? Are there rules that can be followed to increase a book’s chance of becoming a hit?

Not all bestsellers are well written. Not all bestsellers are recommendable.

Many fantastic stories are forgotten, never heard of, or flop when they hit the shelves.

So what makes a bestseller?

The truth is we really don’t know. We can try to identify commonalities between bestsellers, but at the end of the day Paper Towns is very different from The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, and both those novels are nothing like Fifty Shades of Grey.

But, aren’t there at least a few rules we can glean from bestsellers, even if they are unalike?

“There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are.” – Somerset Maugham

If no one can agree what the rules are, then what can writers do to work toward a bestseller?

Just write. Writing isn’t about perfection. It’s about working hard and having your writing grow with you. When you get an idea, work with it. Flesh it out. People don’t know what will make a bestseller, despite many believing they do.

It would be great if every book published was a bestseller, but thousands of books are published every year. And, guess what? The vast majority of them aren’t bestsellers.

So, besides writing, what can you do?

Write your way. Many times bestsellers are books that offer something new to the literary world, or if the concept isn’t completely new, the view on it is.

Don’t let others tell you that you’re incapable of writing a bestseller. As stated above, no one knows which books will be bestsellers. They can guess, and sometimes they’re right, but they can’t know with one hundred percent certainty.

Work hard. It’s not just about writing. It’s about editing, marketing, and connecting with the literary world and potential readers.

At the end of the day, write the best that you can. Don’t focus on creating a bestseller. Take your idea, expand on it, write your first draft, edit and revise, get others to read and critique it, edit and revise until your work is the best it can be, and then work on the synopsis and query letter if you’re going the traditional publishing route, or if you’re self-publishing, publish and market your novel as if you’re not already working a full-time job.

How do you improve your work?

(Photo courtesy of Maurice.)

How Appropriate is Sexual Violence in YA literature?


Recently, I was told to be more aware of the audience I was writing for. Further, I was told to be very careful of what I write because my intended audience is young adult. The content in question dealt with implied sexual threat, and one individual’s critique was that it may be too adult for young adults. That because I included a few implied lines within my writing that something unsavory might happen, an editor may not buy my novel.

This comment intrigued me on many levels. One, violence is often a large and widely accepted, and expected, part of YA literature. Look at The Hunger Games and Divergent, two more recent examples of extremely violent trilogies. Now, in these novels most of the violence is non-sexual, however Divergent includes a scene where, while the protagonist is being beaten up, she is molested, and that sexual attack is described, not glossed over.

In Days of Blood & Starlight, the second novel in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, the protagonist is almost raped. The scene’s most tense point is when the would-be rapist is naked and on top of the protagonist. In Speak, the protagonist is raped. The story is about her recovering from that incident, and the hypocritical nature of society’s perceptions of rape culture.

There are many more examples of sexual violence within YA literature, so I was curious as to why this individual had been so adamant about the implied threat within my writing, and that some others within this particular critique group had seemed to agree with her.

Do individuals believe that teenagers and young adults should be sheltered from the darker topics of life? (Violence, cursing, mental illness, rape, suicide, drug abuse, and eating disorders are all examples of topics typically considered “darker.”) Do these individuals think that young people aren’t already exposed to these topics?

Novels have been and are a great, and safe, way to help younger individuals navigate the “darker” sides of life. They enable young adults to process topics they’re already ruminating on, and help them to think of ways to overcome complex obstacles.

I realize there are limits to what can be put into a YA novel. I doubt that topics such as bestiality, incest, or an explicit sex scene would do well in YA, nor am I advocating to discuss such topics within YA literature. But, a YA story shouldn’t be so childish that older readers, and I’m talking about readers sixteen/seventeen and up (many adults read YA), would roll their eyes and close the book.

YA encompasses a wide range of readers. If you only focus on what the publishing world has established as the YA age range (twelve to eighteen year olds), you still get a varying range of readers. Those twelve to fourteen/fifteen may be too young to read what sixteen to eighteen year olds are reading (though when I was fourteen, I was reading Jodi Picoult, as were many other girls at my school). Therefore, it would make sense to have varying YA books, some for younger teenagers (i.e. – The Iron King) and some for older (i.e. – The Immortal Rules).

One of the most important things to remember is that young adults aren’t stupid. They can tell when an author sanitized a novel in such a way that it’s unbelievable. Teenagers are aware of and/or have experienced “darker” sides of life. They flirt, they make out, they get harassed; some of them have sex, some drink, some experiment with drugs, some experience depression, etc. Keeping realistic threads, even in YA science fiction and fantasy, connects readers to a novel, and will make them want to read either the next book in the series or more novels by that author.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Viewminder.)

How to Deal with People Who Hate Your Writing

2124282684_81ecf64191_mAs great as it would be for everyone to love your writing, it’s not going to happen. It’s like recess in elementary school, when you want to play with anyone that’s doing something you enjoy. Just because you want to play with them, and maybe most of them want to play with you, there’s usually someone who wouldn’t rather not.

This can be harsh. Anytime you get rejected it stings, and when it comes to comments on writing, people can be brutal. They’ll tell you exactly what they think, especially now that social media is so popular. All they have to do is fill out a comment box or write a review. They don’t have to face you, or see that you’re human and have feelings that can be hurt.

Granted, this comes with writing. Negative feedback comes anytime you put yourself out there. I see it a lot on online articles. An article might be on a kid who survived cancer, but most of the comments focus on typos within the article. Or, recently, I read an article about E.L. James’ Twitter Q&A (E.L. James wrote Fifty Shades of Grey), where she was vilified. I’m not a fan of her writing, but the comments and questions some individuals presented to her were beyond rude.

One thing to remember is that writers aren’t the only ones getting negative feedback. Their writing isn’t the only type of work getting bashed. Think of restaurant servers, lawyers, store clerks, doctors, etc. There is always going to be someone who complains, someone who can’t stand what you do.

It’s important to keep in mind that getting upset over someone bashing you isn’t going to help. Nor is firing nasty comments back at them. The best thing to do is to ignore the negative comments, which is very difficult because writing is personal. You pour part of yourself into each piece you write. But, like bullies, the haters will eventually move on if you don’t react.

Since ignoring negative comments is difficult, an alternative is to complain to your family or close friends. Get your aggression out of your system with people you trust. That way, if you do respond to the reader, you’ll be more prepared to respond in a manner that defuses the situation rather than aggravates it.

As a writer, your goal isn’t to make everyone happy. It’s to write the story you envision and to make that story the best it can be.

How do you respond to negative feedback?

(Photo courtesy of Stefan Powell.)