Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Common Threads

I'm still doing a lot of self-assessment as part of the Ongoing Quest for World Domination, and there's a thing going around in the writing world that really has me thinking. Writers are to find the things that are true about everything they've written. I guess the idea is to see what really seems to speak to you, what core story it is you want to tell, and maybe what your strengths are.

It's a difficult exercise for me to do because the books I wrote earlier in my career aren't the kind of books I'd even want to read now. Then there's the fact that in addition to my published novels, I have even more novels in various stages that are either unfinished, rejected, on submission or some combination (I've written a lot of proposals, and I have a number of books where I started writing them and then lost interest). I could just analyze the published books, but that's only nine, and four of those are in a series, so that's not a lot of data points. It also could be interesting to compare the characteristics of the published vs. unsuccessful and see what works. I can't even use the easy way out and say that all of them have my name on them, since two were written under a pen name. I guess I could say they're all copyrighted under my name.

One odd little trend in the published works is that in all of them, the main female character primarily goes by a name ending in ie or y. I have written books with characters who don't fit that, but none of them have been published. I'm getting a little superstitious about that, but I don't know if it's meaningful. I do tend to do best when I write the "spunky kid" kind of heroine, and those names fit that kind of character, but beyond that, I have no idea what to make of it. On the other hand, a lot of my unpublished works have heroines with ie or y names, so it's not a guarantee of success.

The main thing that seems to be true of everything I write is that there's humor. I just can't help myself. Even when I try to write something more serious, my main viewpoint characters have a sense of humor and use humor as a coping mechanism. I'm just not very interested in humorless people. I don't mind angst and darkness, as long as there's some wry awareness of how ridiculous all that angst can be. That's one of the things I like most about Joss Whedon's TV shows, the way he can really go to the edge with the angst and darkness while still bringing the funny. Unfortunately, I haven't had as much success with that because publishers seem to want either dark or funny, and I've had rejections because editors thought that because of the humorous voice of the viewpoint character it would be a comedy chick-litty type book, but then it turned out to be about serious stuff but just told in a snarky, funny way. Maybe I'm not taking it to the full extreme or not pulling it off. I love writing comedy, but sometimes it's difficult being funny all the time or thinking of some big comic set piece type scenes, and I'd like to just write a book that still has humor in it (because I can't help myself) without worrying about whether it's funny enough to be a comedy.

There's also a romantic thread in everything I write, in part because I spent the first half of my career writing or trying to write romance novels, but in part because I think that helps escalate all the conflict. Even now, I find myself thinking of the right romantic interest once I think of the main character, even if it's not going to be a very romantic book. The romantic arc is usually what I focus on in plotting, mostly because I struggle with fitting the emotions in, and if I get that worked out, that tends to develop the characters and then the external events are easy to build around that emotional spine, even if the romance is a hinted-at sub-sub plot that won't be very evident in the finished book. Unfortunately, that tends to make my synopses read like they're for romance novels, and now that I'm trying to sell a fantasy novel, it gets me rejections for the book being too much of a romance, while it's not enough of a romance for a romance. As a result, I've decided to write a whole manuscript instead of a proposal.

I think most of my heroes tend to be nice guys -- the "beta" males -- and even my attempts at writing macho end up just being the best friend/boy next door type. I like to think that my most successful heroes, like Owen, are actually so alpha that they come back around to beta -- so powerful and so aware of their power and strength that they don't feel the need to act like an alpha. My inability to write alpha men is part of what doomed me as a romance author. I find that I don't like most romance heroes in the books that are published, so I'm clearly not going to be able to write a guy I like and still sell the book in the current market. Fortunately, in fantasy the men can show their strength in different ways, so it's possible to have a nice guy who's still formidable.

I can't think of a real common thread of all my heroines, other than that they're all smart and capable and probably a little too independent for their own good. When I've tried to write something a little different, I lose interest in the story and it doesn't go anywhere. I don't write good dingbats or bitches as main characters.

I do find, when I look at the books I've worked on more recently, that I have a lot of things that come up a lot, though not necessarily in absolutely everything. I seem to be fascinated with the idea of sisters, even though I don't have one, both positive relationships and negative ones with lots of rivalry. I like heroes with a mystery in their past who have been separated from their birth families in some way. A lot of the same songs keep coming up on my "soundtracks."

I can't find a huge difference between what's been published and what hasn't, but as I said, that's hard to tell because all my recent publications have been in the same series.

And I don't know what all this means, other than realizing what I seem to like so I can do it again, but if I like it, I'll probably do it without planning to.

1 comment:

Carradee said...

"I've had rejections because editors thought that because of the humorous voice of the viewpoint character it would be a comedy chick-litty type book, but then it turned out to be about serious stuff but just told in a snarky, funny way."

...Why do I suspect that would also apply to my creepy vampire who likes hydroplaning?

I've found comparison of what I've what I've written useful because it helps me avoid repeating myself. For example, comparison made me realize my best friend/helper characters were ALWAYS blondes. It also made me reconsider when I had two ladies from two completely different story "worlds" who had the same odd ability (with different justifications for it, so it's staying, with a few tweaks).