Three Act Structure: Saving my plot

 

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I’m hard at work editing my second paranormal romance. I’m also on my second developmental edit. Why? Because I realized something fundamental while rewriting certain scenes and deleting overused words. My plot felt iffy, because my sub-plot felt iffy.

*smile* Yeah I know, I’m being as clear as mud right now.

I had a plot worked out that revolved around the hero and heroine—good. But the inciting incident that draws the two together, though believable since I’d taken it straight from current news headlines, seemed to the drag the romance in a direction I didn’t want it to go. For a novella with a maximum word count of 30K, the subject matter was too big and distracted from the romance. In fact, the growing romance between the couple seemed trivial in comparison. Why are you two making goofy eyes at each other when Rome is burning down? (Side note: the novella is not set in Rome 🙂 )

And I wanted them to make goofy eyes at each other. That’s the whole point of a romance book. In order to get myself back on track I went back to the fundamental Three Act Structure of a story. Not only should my story follow this structure but my scenes should too. I needed this refresher again to ground my romantic plot.

At its most basic, a Three Act Structure is simply:

Act I: Beginning

Act II: Middle

Act III: End

So let’s break it down more.

Act I:

The set up. First show your main character’s day to day life (this is necessary to measure the change they undergo through their journey). The inciting incident: the event that sets off a course of action, the reason why your main character goes on a journey.

The point of no return: they are committed to their goal and can’t turn back.

Act II:

The middle: here your main character tries to try to achieve their goals. Here, they can also either achieve it or find a new one.

They can even pursue their goal through the whole second act and face obstacle after obstacle. By the end of act II something should happen to make us think they will never reach their goal. All must seem lost.

Act III:

The resolution. What does your character learn, prove or discover? This is where we begin thinking about themes and what we are really trying to say.

 

This is just a simple, basic break down of the Three Act Structure. It kept me focused on my main plot and helped me to make the right decision for the romance in the story. The story flows now and each scene moves at a good pace.

Hope this helps you too!

#happywriting

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Writing Sizzle (When you’re used to Sweet)

*This was an article I wrote as a guest post on another blog, but thought I’d share it here again 🙂

Falling For Mr. Unexpected-highres

As with all things in life, trying something new does bring its own set of challenges. And going from writing sweet contemporary romance to more spicy paranormal romance wasn’t the exception.

I remember at one point I did a post on my Facebook Author Page on the research I’d done on ‘how to approach writing a love scene’. Don’t worry I won’t do a recount here *smile*

But what is the challenge of writing sizzling instead of sweet? Romance is romance after all. There can’t be much difference between the two. And right there, I would lose my reader. Because a sweet romance reader is looking for something different than a reader who prefers a more sizzling read. As an author with a deep respect for readers (because I’m a reader myself) I sat back and dug deep to understand the complexity of the challenges I’m going to face as I tell the story.

The Wolf’s Choice is my first foray into romance that sizzles. It also forms part of a bigger world, The Black Hills Wolves, created by Heather Long and Rebecca Royce for Decadent Publishing. So I had to keep the requirements of the series in mind and stay true to what the creators had in mind of for it. And since the inspiration for the novella started off in my imagination with these two innocent teens meeting at the local Swimming Hole, I knew that I’m going to have a problem if I kept to my ‘old’ style of sweet romance writing (even though the scene when read on its own is sweet).

The Wolf's Choice_500x750

I think it’s good to note at this point that I don’t just read sweet romance. The romance books I buy range in heat levels, but I usually gravitate towards the stories that contain a happy medium. And that’s the crux for an author who’s going from a ‘clean’ read to a much hotter one. The first challenge you’ll face is to ask yourself, where’s my comfort level with the hotness-factor? Once you’ve established this, you’ll know whether you’ll be able to write a romance that sizzles or have to completely abandon that writing path.

The second challenge, I found, has to do with language, what words to use? Do you want to be graphic? What do your favorite authors use when they tackle a love scene? And most importantly, what type of language is used by the authors contracted for the series/line you want to write for? If the language is an issue for you, then don’t. To force is a crime *smile* and no one likes to be forced to do anything. I’ve read authors who use the words dick, pussy, etc. in such a jarring way that I stopped reading the story. To me, they are out of sync with their characters. If your heroine has never throughout the book even thought of sex or referred to her body parts in her mind or in the dialogue in erotic terms, then goodness why are you now suddenly having her using those terms? The language becomes jarring.

That’s something I had to study in The Wolf’s Choice. A woman with sexual experience wouldn’t necessarily be coy about sex. Though we all know it’s not that cut and dried, characters, like people are complex. (And this you’ll find out about my heroine Rebecca, when you read the story). But there are certain universal things we all accept and don’t about characters in novels.

So language is a definite challenge when writing a sizzling romance.

Don’t lose the plot. No seriously, don’t. Essentially you’re telling the story of two people falling in love and the obstacles that keep them from doing that. As a romance writer that’s your first priority. Don’t get bogged down by how hot your book’s supposed to be. Or by what page number your characters should have, at least, kissed. Or made love.  And don’t write love scenes as fillers.

Some publishers might compromise story because sex is the subject of that imprint. But you have to keep in mind that at the heart of every romance is the emotional bond between the hero and heroine. The emotional bond adds layers to theDance-of-Love300x450 sizzle and the sizzle in your story should advance the plot.

The important thing to acknowledge is that you’ll face challenges as you go along, but to not allow them to keep you from telling your story.

 

*What challenges have you faced writing a love scene?

 

The Power of the Sub-Plot

I wrote the novella The Wolf’s Choice at the end of last year and my main character Rebecca Ferguson (celeb lookalike Natalie Emanuel aka interpreter chick in Game of Thrones *smile*) has some issues with her parents, though more so with her father since he’s the one who’s still alive out of the two.

 

Celebrity lookalike for Rebecca

And I have to say I loved writing the dynamic between the two. Their struggle are the sub-plot in the story and ties in well with the romantic plot. And that’s what today’s post is about, sub-plots and why I love them *smile*

 
Growing up reading Barbara Cartland I can appreciate a good romance plot that focuses solely on the romance between the heroine and hero, but because I also read Afrikaans novels I fell in love with the strength a sub-plot provides a story. I liked how it showed that the main character formed part of a bigger world, rather than this microscopic isolated glimpse into their lives. Because who lives like that?

 
Of course every romance writer knows that you shouldn’t distract from the main characters and their story, but boy does it add a meatiness to them when you throw in a dash of family slash friends slash boss slash life issues *grin*

 
One Afrikaans novel I grew up reading showcased the heroine’s relationship with her family very strongly and those stories always made me go back to them. I loved the view I got from reliable sources (family members, friends & colleagues), as opposed to only the character.

 

Twilight DVDsThis ‘sells’ the character more to me and also makes the story less superficial. I think this was the biggest problem I had with Twilight (even though I love the series and have seen all the movies #TwiHard for life! *peace sign*), Bella tells us how mature she is. She tells us how she takes care of her mother. She tells us how helpful and responsible she is around the house. She tells us how scatterbrained her mother is. She basically tells us how she views herself…and in first person no less *smiles* And as she was telling me all of this, I didn’t believe her *shrug* She’s fallen for a hundred year old vampire who wants to drain her of her blood. Seriously, how responsible and smart can you be if you disregard a basic thing all humans had‒self-preservation.
I can say these things because I’m a fan of the series and Stephanie Meyer, I’m not dissing the book because I think it’s okay to talk down about the things teenage girls/women love, inadvertently telling them that their voices, ideas and choices doesn’t matter.

 
*takes deep breath*

 
Back to sub-plot *smile* I would’ve believed Bella more if those observations actually came from her parents or another relative. Because I didn’t see how doing house chores made you more mature than your parents, because than since age…goodness I can’t even remember, my siblings and I should’ve been considered mature. My mother would then tell you, ‘no they were not.’

 
As a romance writer we have a sense of who and what we want our characters to be, what issues we want them to deal with. I was told by someone in a romance writing group the romance plot was fairly straightforward. And they’re right. You’re writing a love story; the struggle to go from like to love is the plot. There’s no trick. Though what gives it substance is delving into the characters psyche and lives, and that’s where your sub-plot should shine.

 

This struggle will make the overall conflict of the story so much richer. I’m thinking of my current release Dance of Love (http://amzn.to/1AaLcDS) where Ashley has to fight her inner fear of failing, of not being a good a world-class ballet dancer as her father was. This heightened the tension in the book, these were human fears any person would have, not just someone in a romantic plot. This wasn’t only about a fear of getting your heart broken because you’ve been burned by past relationships (though there’s nothing wrong with that), this was something achingly universal. We’ve all felt that need to prove ourselves to our families and ourselves.

 

The story’s secondary characters created hues to her life in Rome. It showed that she could exist apart from the hero; if he’s not on the page she still had a life. It didn’t start and end with him. And yes, as a modern female living in the twenty-first century that’s a powerful message in romance to convey between the lines.

 
In a novella this is difficult to achieve because you only have so many words to write a sub-plot in and in The Wolf’s Choice I lucked out because Rebecca’s romance relied on her overcoming her issues with her father. In fact he’s the antagonist of the story. He stands in the way of her happily ever after.

 
I believe sub-plot works best when it does this, when it ties in neatly with the main struggle of the story. What do you think? And do you also enjoy sub-plots in love stories?