Is Reading the Genre You're Currently Writing Dangerous?

Photo sent to me by the lovely Stephanie Haefner

There's this thought out there amongst writers that reading something too close to what you're writing poses danger. Why? Because you may lift some idea or concept from a book and incorporate it into your own writing without realizing it--subconscious absorption or something.

So many writers, if they're writing say fantasy YA may stay away from reading any fantasy while they are actively writing and stick to things a little further from home. I get that. It would suck to have someone else's story influence yours too much.

However, here's the thing, if that's the case, then it would be dangerous to read ANY fiction or watch a movie or TV show for that matter. By nature, our stories incorporate ideas we get from things we're exposed to. For instance, if I'm writing my erotic romance, but go see some action film set in Hawaii, it could inspire me to whisk my couple away to the island for a vacation there. There's a difference between inspiration and stealing an idea (whether subconsciously or not). And I think that's where you have to be aware.

 

 

 

But, having said all that, I still read heavily in my genre even when I'm writing it. Why?

 

1. I'm ALWAYS writing.

If you end up doing this for a career, there is very minimal non-writing time, if any. I write every day. I'm under deadlines at least through 2014. If I didn't read romance while I was writing it, I would NEVER get to read my absolute favorite genre. Not acceptable.

 

2. It's important to know what is going on in your genre and what is successful.

This industry is constantly shifting, tastes are perpetually changing. You want to write what you write and stay true to your style, BUT you also don't want to be stagnant or unaware of what is selling. For instance, if you write my genre, you probably should read 50 Shades. Regardless of whether you love/hate/feel indifferent about it, it's important to try to discern what about that book made it such a phenomenon when erotic BDSM romance has been around forever. Keep a thumb on the pulse of your business.

 

3. You learn what is cliche and overdone so you can avoid it.

If you don't read widely in your genre, you may not realize that your SUPER BRILLIANT IDEA has been done a thousand times or that SUPER CREATIVE SCENE is a big fat cliche. 

 

4. You have recommendations to share with your readers.

This is a small thing, but it really does come into play. Many of my readers are new to the genre and they want to know after reading my books, what else is out there that's like this? So if I'm well read in my genre, I can give them some of my favorites, which in turn, helps promote the genre and its authors as a whole.

 

So yes, be aware when you're reading that your mind may try to glom on to something from someone else's book, but don't deprive yourself of the books you love. You're writing this genre for a reason. If someone told me I'd have to give up reading romance if I wanted to write it, I would've found a different job. : )

What do you think? Do you steer clear of reading your own genre when you're writing a new book? Have you ever found yourself accidentally lifting some concept from another book?


Fill-Me-In Friday: Best Writing Links of the Week

  

 Fave photo of the week: My haul from RWA *pets*

How is it the end of the week already? Wow. All right, so those who may new to the blog, on Fridays I do a links round up of the best writing and publishing posts (along with a few fun posts thrown in) of the week. Since I was at RWA last week, I skipped a week, so this list will be a bit chunky. :) 

On Writing/Publishing:

 

On Social Media/Blogging/Promotion:

 

For Gits and Shiggles: 

 

What You May Have Missed Here:

 

All right, that's what I have this week. Now I'm off to hopefully write two winning book proposals. I hope y'all have a great weekend! :)

Fill-Me-In Friday: Best Writing Links of the Week!

 

Did I miss the train?

Photo by Son of Groucho
  

Busy week? Need to catch up? It's time for Fill-Me-In Friday where I share the best links I've come across this week. 


 First a final reminder, my STILL INTO YOU contest is still open! So for a $2.99 purchase of STILL INTO YOU, you get a sexy novella and a chance to win a gift card, a box of awesome ($30 value) or a 20 page critique from me (not sure how much that's worth, but I had a 10pg crit go for almost $400 in a charity auction last year, so this is a deal compared to that, lol.) Contest closes Monday night.

Also, huge thanks to everyone who has already bought STILL. *hugs* I heart you guys. : )


 

All right, enough shameless promotion, on to the links...

On Writing/Publishing: 

 

Special Annoucement:

 

On Social Networking:

 

On Life: 

 

What You May Have Missed Here:

Order STILL INTO YOU This Week and Win a Box of Awesome!

 

 

How To Write Love Scenes That Don't Suck - A Free Class!

 

 

Spice It Up Thursday: Music Is For More Than Dancing

 

And thanks to the following reviewers for posting reviews this week... 

  • "All I can say is I was blown away. A very true look into marriage, how it develops, fantasies being met and the depth each is willing to go to only to save their love and marriage. A must read!" - Delighted Reader 
  • "Still Into You was a great emotional and sexy read. Once they arrived at The Ranch, the sizzle factor went through the roof. Besides the smoking hot sex scenes, there was a great story about two people who love each other trying to find their way back." -Love To Read For Fun
  • "Realistic, sweet and adorable romance!  Recommended!"- Books Are Magic
  • "Roni Loren writes unconventional love stories that are hot enough to make the pages spontaneously combust, yet also emotionally complex and beautifully told.  You don’t find that combination very often...at least I don’t.  I think she is a must read for erotic romance lovers." - Seductive Musings
  • "I loved the story.  Seth and Leila's marriage was perfectly written and their struggles with juggling family, responsibilities and still keeping the "spark" in a marriage alive was dead on.  Roni Loren is quickly becoming a must buy for me.  Can't wait for Melt Into You."Cocktails and Books
  • "Roni was able to convey not only the pain they felt but the passion. Oh my goodness, but do these two have some serious passion together. Seth and Leila are way hot together, and I enjoyed watching them reconnect with one another. After finishing this novella, I definitely can't wait to get my hands on more from Roni Loren." - Ramblings from This Chick
  • And if you want to see who I used for visual inspiration, check out my mancandy post at Romancing Rakes For The Love of Romance: Guest Post with Roni Loren + Giveaway

 

All right, that's all I've got this week. Hope you all have a fabulous weekend!

Before Fingers Touch Keyboard: My 6 Pre-Writing Steps

Photo by -stamina- (click photo for link)Right now I'm writing a brand new novella, and as soon as I finish that, I'll be jumping right into book 4, CAUGHT UP IN YOU (which, for those of you reading the series, will be Kelsey's book.) This means I've been in the phase of story planning. 

Now I'm a pantser, so even that word "planning" kind of makes my writing muscles quiver. But I've learned over the course of writing...six books--whoa, when did that happen--that jumping in like a blindfolded monkey isn't the way to go. At least for me.

With each completed novel, I've learned a lot and am constantly honing and refining my process. It's not perfect. I still hit a big, fat wall of writer's block with my last book and ended up being over deadline. But that was less about my writing process and more about me going through  The 5 Emotional Stages of a Book Launch  for the first time and not knowing any better.

But I figured I'd share with y'all what I do as of right now when that seed of an idea blooms in my head and I decide if it's going to be a story.

 

My 6 Pre-Writing Steps


1. I spend days of "thinking" time. Running the story in my head, getting a feel for who the characters will be, how it will connect with my series, etc.

These usually feel like unproductive days because I'm just sitting and staring, discarding ideas left and right, shifting things around in my brain. But this step is, of course, crucial. It's story birth--messy and primal.

 

2. I find my hook.

What is going to be the hook of this story? What's that quick logline? If I can't find one, then maybe this isn't a story idea to pursue. There has to be something that makes someone go--oh, I want to read that. For instance, my novella coming out next month, STILL INTO YOU, my hook was "A husband who loves his wife but knows his marriage has lost its fire hears his wife call into a relationship radio show and admit she almost cheated on him. Knowing that they may be on the verge of divorce, he comes up with a dramatic plan and brings her to The Ranch where any fantasy can be had. Three days. No rings." See, it's a little long and clunky. If I had to pitch it to an agent, I'd have to refine it but the hook is there.

 

3. Fill out the Beat Sheet from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat.

As I've mentioned before , Save The Cat! totally converted me from my full pantsing ways. I don't think I'll ever be an outliner or someone who writes thirty pages of synopsis. But this simple one sheet way of plotting using screenwriting techniques speaks to me. I can roughly plan the story on one piece of paper and it doesn't take much time at all. You can see the Beat Sheet on Blake's site but you'll need to read the book to understand what those beats mean.

 

4. I flesh out my characters using a technique I learned in a Michael Hauge workshop (another screenwriter).

This is another one page deal. Each main character gets one sheet--so usually hero, heroine, and antagonist. And then I write out the following things--Need/Longing, Wound, Belief, Fear, Identity (their face to the world), Essence (who they really are). This gives me the main building blocks and makes me think more deeply about who this character is and what their arc will look like. What their hair color is or what kind of movies they like isn't all that important until you know these underlying things first. Everything will grow out of these roots.

 

5. I write out a brief one page synopsis for my editor.

I used to freak out at the thought of writing a synopsis after I finished a book. And I would've had a panic attack if you'd told me I'd have to write one BEFORE I wrote the book. But now it's part of the deal. Your editor wants to see your idea before they pay you to write it. And let me tell you, writing it beforehand is SO much easier, especially once you get the hang of the Beat Sheet or 3-act structure. I now can whip out a synopsis in an hour or two because the pre-work is there. (That's not to say things in the synopsis won't change once I'm writing the story, but if you keep the story strokes general enough, it usually still fits within the original idea.)

 

6. I come up with a hooky opening scene and spend some time visualizing it.

Usually the opening scene or ideas for it come to me early on in step one of this process. Often, my story ideas are born from first getting an idea for an opening. And almost always, that first chapter is one of the few that never change, even in revisions. There may be a tweaked sentence here or there, but I've never changed major content or cut my original first chapter in any book so far. That's my mental anchor for the whole story.

Then after all those things are done, I start writing. The stuff in between the story beats, I pants my way through and inevitably discover new directions. And things shift along the way--a change in character motivation means I rework the character worksheet, a change in plot means I tweak the beat sheet. It's all very organic.

So that's my whackadoodle process, what's yours like? Do we share any steps? Are there things I do that would totally freak your writer brain out?

Like Me! - How to Create Sympathetic Characters #atozchallenge

Picture via George Eastman House (The Commons on Flickr)Have you ever read a book that had a protagonist you just didn't like? Did you keep reading? 

For me this is a tough one to answer. I read books for characters. Sure, there are the occasional situations where a story is all plot and still hooks me in (these are usually blockbuster action movies, for the record), but for the most part, I want to connect with the people. So when I start reading a book and don't really like the characters, it can be a challenge for me to stick with it. 

Which got me to thinking, what makes a character sympathetic? And do we necessarily have to like a character in order to enjoy the book? Scarlett O'Hara, Anne Rice's Lestat, Severus Snape in Harry Potter, Eric in the Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood books, Damon in Vampire Diaries, and Sue in Glee aren't very nice people usually, yet somehow stand out as great characters that are hard not to be drawn to. Why?

Because somewhere along the way we find ourselves sympathizing or understanding them. In Glee, Sue is ruthless, vindictive, bigoted, and mean to children. Yet, in one episode we see her fall for a co-worker then get her heart broken, showing that she is capable of love and is probably extremely lonely. It isn't enough to completely redeem her, but it gives the viewer a sign that there are reasons why she is the way she is--her motivation.

And therein lies the key. If your character is going to act in a way that isn't very likable, you have to eventually clue the reader in as to why they act that way. 

Along with creating proper motivation, there are some things you want to avoid in creating sympathetic characters...

Do not make your character perfect

--A character who is totally pure of heart, volunteers with children, donates all her money to charity, wakes up looking beautiful, and is always kind to animals does not a sympathetic character make. Readers can't connect to perfect.


Keep whining to a mimimum

--A protagonist who complains and whines and constantly plays victim is just plain annoying. Readers will root for her execution instead of her success.

 

A do-nothing

--A hero/heroine no matter how flawed must take action. If the character lets everything happen and doesn't try to do something, then the reader will not be very sympathetic. We like to read about those who are willing to help themselves.

 

Tread carefully with snobbery or bitchiness

--You can have a bitchy character (i.e. Scarlett O'Hara) but it has to be worked carefully. There has to be that motivation of why they are so abrasive. And no matter what the motivation, if you MC is a shrew all the time, the reader will be turned off.

 

Beware the cliched sympathy tricks

--Showing your tough as nails hero being kind to children, elderly, and small animals is not adequate. And don't have other characters talk about how wonderful your character is to develop sympathy. Your readers will see through those tired ploys.

 

Don't throw in some "aren't I awesomely good?" scene that isn't related to the story

--Don't put your MC volunteering at the homeless shelter to show their soft side unless something is going to happen at that shelter to forward the plot

 

Make the backstory believable

--Don't tack on a whole bunch of awful events just to create sympathy. The backstory, like everything else, needs to be an organic, integrated part of the book. In my opinion, you should not be able to write the book without already knowing your character's backstory upfront. Their history is who they are and will affect every aspect of how they interact in the book. If you write the whole book, then go back and throw in a child abuse backstory to help explain the character's shortcomings, it will show.

 

Be careful waiting until page 150 to start developing the sympathetic side of your character.

--If you don't offer some morsel for your reader to hold onto, many will give up the book before they get to the "good part". Like I mentioned above, the current book I'm reading has me hanging on because of some foreshadowing and few redeeming moments, but without those ,I probably would have moved on to another book.

 

So how about you? Have you ever read a book that you just couldn't sympathize with the protagonist? Did you keep reading? Who are some of your favorite anti-heroes (can't help but like them even though they are far from great people)?

*This is a Fiction Groupie repost from 2010. This week I am re-posting because I am at the RT Convention. The normal Friday links round up will return next week. :)

Don't Be THAT Writer #atozchallenge

D is for...Don't Be THAT Writer

Photo by RyanmotoNSB (click photo for link)This weekend I had the privilege of both attending and speaking at my local TX Two Step Writer's conference. And one of the speakers was the lovely Candace Havens, who I always seem to learn something from no matter what she's giving a workshop on.

This time her workshop was on writer karma. I won't list out her rules because, well, it's her workshop, but the gist is basically the definition of karma--what you do for others will come back to you. And one of the things I walked away with from her talk was: Don't be that writer.

People respond to positivity (spellcheck says that's not a word, but I bet the New Kids on the Block would disagree.) Our own lives are stressful enough, we aren't going to seek out negative people to add to it.

So don't be that negative Nancy in the room. You know the one. The one who bitches about everything, who places blame on outside forces instead of looking inward, who thinks they can lift themselves up by putting other writers down ("I can't believe that dreck got published when my book is so much better."<--come on, you know we have all thought that about some book at some point. Just don't say it out loud.)

That attitude is damaging to you and will alienate you from others. You think if I'm chatting with a group at a conference and someone says how they thought (insert book name) was crap and that the writer is a hack that I'm going to be endeared? What if said writer is a friend of mine or with my agent or my publisher? Do you think that's going to make me want to be buddies with this person? Do you think it's going to make me want to go out of my way to help them? Probably not.

I know this may be controversial, but the same goes for writers posting scathing reviews online. Candace outright said that if she sees an author tearing down another author in a review, she moves the author reviewing off her "to buy" list. And even if you don't consciously do that, don't you think that's going to stick in your brain when it comes to deciding which book to buy--negative Nancy's or someone else's? (Imagine at a corporate job if you went into an interview for a promotion and spent your time talking about how much your co-workers suck and how much better you are. How do you think that would go over?)

Now, before I get hate mail, I'm NOT saying someone shouldn't be allowed to post negative or even scathing reviews. That's everyone's right. It's definitely a reader's right. Honest reviews are needed for every book, and I know I count on them to help me making my buying decisions.

However, once you put on the writer hat, you're in a different place whether you like it or not. You're not simply a reader anymore. People are watching you. And karma may bite you in the butt. So you need to make a personal decision on what's right for you. (My personal yardstick is that if you wouldn't say whatever it is to the writer face to face, you probably shouldn't put it on the internet.)

And instead of focusing on the negative stuff, look for ways you can uplift others. If you truly loved a book, take the time to go write a review on the big sites. If you're further along on the publishing track, offer to crit or help out a friend who may still be in the beginner stages. If someone writes a fabulous blog post, retweet it for them. Encourage and cheer on those around you when they hit a milestone or accomplish something they've been working at.

Spread that love and it will inevitably come back to you. And then if you do have days where things aren't going well and you need to vent or bitch, people will rally around you instead of going, "Ah, hell, there she goes again."

So I challenge you today to go out and do something to pay it forward or pass along the love. Write a review, give someone a pat on the back or a retweet, or cheer someone up who may be having a downer day.

Have you experienced a Negative Nancy (or Ned) in your world? How do you feel when you see a writer talking badly about another writer or their book?