With the holiday of love upon us, we turn our blog over to the good hands of CWC Advisory Board member Kelly Duff, a contemporary romance writer, blogger, performer, and word nerd who’s been raising her game and doing the work ever since she joined us at CWC 2012.
Kelly shared her top romance writing tips with us:
Connect Your Scenes
Whether you plot your novel within an inch of its life, or, like me, start on page one and let it flow out of you without any sort of direction, in the end, you need structure. From the bird’s eye view to inside each scene, the goal should be to move your story and your reader forward.
With some novels at 120,000 words, I find using a spreadsheet helps track my characters, word count, and plotlines; plus, it also lets me break down each scene into smaller pieces. You don’t want each scene to be “this happened and then this happened and then this happened.” That’s boring. Each scene should have a goal, a conflict and a disaster. You want your characters struggling, fighting to reach their goals. There should be consequences and change and forward movement. To put it in simplest terms, one of my favorite lessons on storytelling comes from the creators of South Park. Check out this video that shows how they move their episodes from point A to point B.
Body Part Play-By-Play
It’s romance, and sure, there’s sex, but we really don’t need a play by play of where “her” hand is and what “his” mouth is doing. Body parts don’t need to always be doing something. Sex can be hot, but over-writing it can make it tedious for the reader. Stay away from the cliché and euphemisms. Think about the other senses you can include. What about the psychological aspect of it? Get inside your character’s head and write the experience more than the action. Your readers will fill in the rest.
Your characters can’t just be eye candy. Write a short bio for them. Include what happened before the story. What are their habits, pet peeves, or favorite songs? Do they have a nervous tick, a short fuse, an irrational fear? What makes them a regular person? What makes them unique? I like to create a Pinterest board for my novels. I gather pictures of people my characters resemble, the houses they live in, items of importance throughout the story. Your characters need to be layered. Give them personalities that set them apart and make them interesting. There has to be something beyond the six-pack abs and long flowing hair that brings your characters together at the end of the story.
Attend a conference or two (the Chicago Writers Conference for sure!), take a class, find a critique group, join Romance Writers of America and get to their chapter meetings, listen to a podcast, read books about writing. Whatever you do, don’t stop learning.
Read! Read! And, read some more!
I find this rule the hardest to follow because I look at reading as enjoyment rather than work. Reading is what I do in my downtime (as if I had this mythical downtime to spare, LOL). Plus, the way I figure, if I have time to read, then shouldn’t I be focusing on my work-in-progress? Reading authors in your category (i.e., historical, contemporary, paranormal, etc.) helps you recognize the formula. See if you can dissect out the inciting incident, the complications, the sub-plots, and themes. Discovering how others use that formula can only make you a better writer. Many times, I’ve been engrossed in one of my favorite authors, only to realize where there are pitfalls in my own work-in-progress. So, don’t think of it as a guilty pleasure. Think of it as research!