Killing Your Babies

I loved the opening scene of the new romance novel I’m working on, Anywhere’s Better Than Here. It was funny, with great dialogue, intriguing characters, and page-turning thrills. Best of all, I’d given it what I thought was an interesting twist. We first see our heroine, Julina Trevers, through the eyes of her caddish ex-boyfriend. I was so proud of myself.

There was just one problem.

My first-round readers hated the scene.

If this was a Kindle sample, one wrote, I would never download itI was confused, wrote another. Who’s the protagonist? They went on: Too long. The boyfriend never reappears. Why focus so much on a dislikable character?

I wanted to rail, to tell them they didn’t know what they were talking about. They couldn’t see clever writing if it hit them over the head. But these were all experienced writers and readers, and it wasn’t just two or three of them who didn’t like the scene, as is usually the case. They all hated it equally.

I had invested so much time and energy into this opening. I couldn’t bare to throw it out. Instead, I put aside the manuscript and spent several weeks working on my other book-in-progress. Now I’ve returned to it, and it’s still painful to change, but I’m doing it.

Killing your babies (or darlings for the more sensitive among you) is such an apt metaphor for what a writer has to go through. We’ve birthed these characters, scenes, plot lines, and sometimes, whole books. It’s agony to have to take a butcher knife to them, to slash them apart and resemble them. Sometimes they end up in the compost heap like yesterday’s dinner.

But as writers, we have to remember, compost isn’t trash. It breaks down and becomes something lovely and new that will eventually nourish our creative garden. Those lines of dialogue or the great character we created may someday end up in another book, right where they belonged all the time.

Writers, feel the pain and agony of killing your babies, but remember, they will live again.

Happy writing,

Kelee

So You Think Your Book is Ready? It Isn’t.

After all the years I’ve spent writing, you’d think I would learned my lesson. But no, I managed to make the same mistake again a few weeks ago. I’d finished a draft of my new novel, Anywhere’s Better Than Here. I felt like it was strong, really strong. After all, it had already gone through many drafts as a screenplay, and this was the second draft of the novel version. I was really just adding to it, making it better; tighter in some place, looser in others. I was sure my beta readers were going to tell me how wonderful it was, how it was just a few short tweaks away from being ready to send out.

Boy, was I wrong.

My beta readers are kind, but they’re tough too. They pointed out all the obvious weaknesses in the draft, things I couldn’t see because I was too close to it. The opening scene that I thought was killer? They hated it. “It’s good for a first draft,” one of them said. Ugh.

What to do? My first reaction when I get criticism is to tell myself I’m a terrible writer and I really should be doing something easier, like brain surgery or running for president. Once I get that out of my system, I give myself more rational messages: At least they’re telling me what my book needs. I wouldn’t get that from an agent. I’ve been through this many times before. I’ll get through it again. I have too many skeletons in my closet to run for president.

The next thing I need to do is step away from the book for a while to give everything a chance to digest. Right now I’m working on the first draft of Goddess, Book 2. In a few weeks, I’ll reread all the notes I’ve been given, re-outline the book, and return to battle. I know I’ll get through this and come out the other side with a better book and as a better writer. I will survive.

Otherwise, vote Kelee Morris in 2020.

Best wishes and happy writing,

Kelee

How Long Should My Book Be?

When I was a screenwriter, I knew hitting the right page count was an essential part of the writing process. No agent or producer was going to read your 200-page epic movie script, no matter how good you thought it was. (And any unproduced screenwriter naive enough to submit a 200-page script probably doesn’t have the experience to make it good.) Most new screenwriters continue to believe conventional wisdom that a script should be about 120 pages, but even that is inaccurate. In today’s market, 100-110 pages is the rule, unless you’re Christopher Nolan.

When I became a romance writer, I knew that word count was probably important to literary agents and publishers too. It turns out I was right. Few agents will even consider a very long manuscript. (Sci-fi being the exception.) Unless you’re already a best selling author, a fat book is risky because it’s more expensive to print. But a thin novel can get lost on bookshelves and readers might think it’s not worth the money.

When I began writing GoddessI read on a blog that the average romance novel is 76,031 words. I’m not sure where that figure came from, but it turned out to be pretty accurate. Romance novels can be somewhat shorter (perhaps 60,000 words) or longer (90,000), but you shouldn’t get too far out of that range or most agents won’t request the manuscript.

I didn’t have much of an issue with Goddess. I always try to cut unnecessary words and sentences as I write each draft, and when all was said and done, I ended up with a submission-ready manuscript of about 77,500 words. Perfect.

Of course, I ended up self-publishing Goddess, where page count isn’t as much of an issue. (Though I personally wouldn’t buy or agree to review a 100,000 word romance novel. They are rarely good enough to invest that much of my time.)

However, when I finished the first draft of my new comedic romance novel, Anywhere’s Better Than Here,  I discovered I had a word count problem. It came in at about 53,000 words. Much of this had to do with its origin as a screenplay, where brevity and tight pacing in a romantic comedy was a necessity. I liked what I had written, but I knew marketing such a short book to agents would be even more of a challenge than usual.

The first draft was a breeze, but the second draft has been painful. I’ve found places where I need more character development, and my b-story needed a little more beefing up. I’ve also found spots where transitional scenes would make the story feel not quite so rushed. (Though I do want it to be fast paced.) But overall, I’m surprised at how difficult it is for me to add to a story, rather than take away from it.

“Kill your babies” was the maxim I learned as a screenwriter. Don’t be afraid to cut favorite scenes or lines of dialogue if it’s necessary for pacing. But now, it seems, I need to birth a few more children. It’s challenging, but if writing isn’t difficult at times, then it’s usually because it isn’t very good.

So I return to my manuscript, redoubling my efforts, on a quest to make it as perfect as I can before it goes out to beta readers. Wish me luck!

Best wishes,

Kelee

How Many Books Can One Writer Juggle?

I’m generally a goal oriented person. When I’m working on a book, I try to stay on task, whether it’s the first draft or tenth. I want to get to the end, cross the finish line, put a checkmark on my to-do list.

But sometimes moving a book forward makes me feel like Sisyphus, with my damned rock stuck in a crevice. I try to stay focused, but all I’m producing is uninspired crap. It’s not long before I realize I’ve spent the last hour of my writing time looking at cute cat videos on Facebook.

While I was trying to interest an agent in my first novel Goddess, and when I subsequently prepared to publish it myself, I felt very disconnected from my creative side. My writing time was spent sending out query letters, working with a designer on a cover, and asking (i.e. begging) advance reviewers to take a look at my book. I know being a writer is at least 80% marketing, but it didn’t feel very satisfying.

To make myself feel better, I read through a screenplay that I wrote a decade or so before called Anywhere’s Better Than Here. It’s about an ambitious television reporter stuck in the most nowhere town in America. Her only hope of making it back to a major television market is by landing a big story with the help of a local yokel cameraman.

The script never quite worked as a straight comedy, but if I emphasized the two characters’ love/hate relationship more, I thought it would make a great romance novel. I worked on the script-to-book translation in my spare time. It was relatively easy – mostly fleshing out the characters and scenes. More importantly, it felt creatively satisfying. I almost finished the first draft of the book by the time Goddess’s publication date arrived.

But then I felt like I needed to start on book 2 of the Goddess trilogy. After all, I didn’t want to leave readers hanging, especially since I’d written a cliff hanger. I wrote an outline and the first few chapters, but I just couldn’t get inspired to go further. After beating my head against the wall for almost a month, I decided I needed another break. Anywhere was calling to me. I was still excited by the characters and the story. I was itching to keep writing. It felt right.

Now I’m part way through the second draft. It needs work, but I’m very pleased with most of what I’ve written. I feel a little guilty that I’m not working on Goddess, but being inspired is too great a high to let go.

Who else likes to have more than one iron in the fire? I’d love to hear how it works for you.

Best Wishes,

Kelee