Thursday, 21 October 2010

Cheryl and me

Cheryl Cole ... see the resemblance???

Very exciting news on Tuesday that two members of Team Jessica are through to the last round of Mills & Boon’s New Voices competition.  When I tried to explain my mentoring role in New Voices to non-writing friends, they all said, ‘Oh, you mean, you’re like Cheryl Cole in The X Factor?’  This may be the only time in my life that I will be compared to Cheryl (gorgeous, slim, with what seems like an exciting celebrity life that’s often splashed over the gossip mags) so I am encouraging the association, although the sad fact is that in my case mentoring doesn’t involve looking glamorous on television, but sitting here at my computer in comfy leggings. 

I may not have got to wear a sparkly dress, but I’ve enjoyed being a mentor anyway. I could see exactly why all ten chapters had made it through to the second round.  All had that indefinable voice that makes the words jump from the page, the elusive PTQ that makes you forget about inconsistencies in the characters or gaping holes in the plot.  Luckily, all three of the first chapters in Team Jessica were quite different in style - The Secret Duchess was intriguing and atmospheric, Secrets & Speed Dating had a lovely contemporary tone, and The Surgeon and the Cowgirl had great dialogue and a punchy style – and it was so interesting to see how the stories developed. 

Editor Meg Lewis and I had long chats on the phone about our team’s chapters.  In the second chapters, we wanted to see the emotional conflict developing, and to have a real sense of what the problem between the hero and heroine in each case was going to be.  This is a difficult trick to pull off when you’ve only got one chapter, and you don’t want to slow the pace by dumping in all the back story that would explain why the characters are behaving as they do.  Meg and I wanted to know about goals and motivations and conflict … and that was a lot to fit in. The more I thought about it, the harder I thought the task was, but Sharon, Leah and Heidi all did a brilliant job of responding to our comments.

I was so disappointed Sharon didn’t get through to the last round, as I loved the dark, edgy style of her Regency, but of course am thrilled for Leah and Heidi.  Now they’re writing their ‘pivotal moments’.  We’ve had some discussion about what those moments should be.  Every scene should show some change (hey, we all know that, don’t we?), so it’s about finding a really intense, emotional moment that shifts the relationship between the hero and heroine fundamentally – which is easy to say in theory, but a lot trickier to pull off in practice, especially when you’re trying to do it out of context. 

The whole experience has made me think a lot more about what I actually do when I write.  It’s usually a subconscious process, so I never sit down and think, “today I’m going to write a pivotal scene”, or “now I need to intensify the tension”.   When I get to the end of my first draft (the one I’m writing at the moment) I should be able to see where things are getting baggy – often in the middle where I tend to get bogged down in scenes where there hero and heroine are acting and communicating but somehow the story’s not going anywhere.  It’s always painful to cut whole scenes that have taken hours to write, but it has to be done.  Then comes the tightening/rewriting stage, but that’s another story … 

I’m off to Scotland again at the weekend for a few days of walking and talking and drinking red wine in front of the fire, so I’ll be AWOL for a while, but back to blogging next weekend.  Have a great week, whatever you’re doing.


  1. It's nice to know that accomplished authors find it painful to cut whole scenes and that their heroine and hero play up in the middle. If you ever find a way to stop them from doing that... :)

    Have a fabulous time in Scotland! Safe travels!

  2. The moment I find a surefire way to keep my hero and heroine under control, I'll be sure to let you know, Lacey! I tell myself it's a good thing, because it means they're real enough characters to misbehave, but it can sure throw out your timetables ...

  3. Interesting, your comment about 'dumping' all the back story. That trickle in of information is such a difficult thing to do. I take my hat off to all you M&B authors for doing it so well!

  4. The great thing about characters that aren't under your thumb, doing what you want, Lacey, is that they're not just cardboard cut outs walking through a story you've created. They're the ones making it up. But Jessica is right - it can surely mess up your working life!

  5. I like that! I'll stop cursing my writing technique and blame the characters instead :)