Friday, November 18, 2011
Seekerville Welcomes Guest Blogger Harlequin Romance and Presents Author Kate Walker
Can you hear your own voice?
It’s been contest/competition time in the romance writing world. The winner of Mills & Boon New Voices has just been announced. Over on eHarlequin they are running a second time of So You Think You Can Write. And it’s November so all over the place people are signing up for and setting their sights on National Novel Writing Month and writing up a storm to do so.
All this activity and commitment is great – I love seeing new voices appear on the romance writing scene – on any writing scene! It doesn’t matter what the genre is. And I love the enthusiasm with which people set to and start writing, hoping to create something, build their dreams – maybe even achieve something very special. I remember how it felt to be at this same stage myself – and I can’t quite believe how I ever came to be in the position I am now, 60 titles later, working on my 61st romance novel and still loving this job – and, even more important, still finding new stories to write every year. But as many of the New Voices contest entries, many of the novels I read to critique for the courses I teach, show, some people are trying too hard to write ‘a romance’ – or even ’A Mills and Boon’ – or Harlequin romance.’
I’ve looked at so many of the entries and it seems that people are writing the sort of thing they think the editors are looking for - the sort of stories that are published in Presents or Romance . . . or any other sort of genre. They are, if not copying, then certainly echoing so much that has gone before. And they’re the ones that have read anything recently published – because it’s obvious that some people haven’t read anything new at all.
So many people tell me that they could easily write a romance because writing romance is no problem at all, that they know all about romances and what they’re like- everyone knows that. But if I ask for the title of the last romance they read – or the author – they are suddenly struck dumb, unable to think of anything. They don’t know if they want to write for Romance or Presents, or Medicals. And they have no idea what makes a ‘RIVA’ (in the UK) or what makes a Silhouette Special Edition different from a Silhouette Desire. They don’t even seem to know what they prefer, because they haven’t read enough. Romance publishing today is divided into so many lines, each with its own individual tone and style, so you need to know not just that you want to write romance but what type so that you can find that individual ‘voice’ that is truly yours. So the problem is that so many of these entries in to the competition – or submissions to the editorial department, all end up reading like pale copies of each other. Is it any wonder that the buzzword editors say they are really looking for is unpredictability.
So this seems like a good point to pause, think, and take stock. Take stock of yourself as an individual and as an individual writer. What are your aims (other than getting published) what resources can you bring to the books you want to write – life experiences, studies, job experiences . ..
Why do you want to write? This may seem like an obvious question, but the truth is that publishing – in any area at all – is such a competitive field that there is no way I or any other tutor can promise you that you will be published, no matter how hard you try, how many classes you attend or books you read. So before we start out, you have to accept that if you’re only doing this to be published worldwide, make lots of money and become incredibly famous, then you’re not likely to find much happiness in your writing. But if you want to write because you have stories burning in your head, characters who talk to you at the most inappropriate moments – if you want to set out on this journey to enjoy the trip, rather than simply to get to the destination, then you’ll get a lot out of writing and learning to write the best way you can, no matter what the end result might be.
The other reason for taking stock of yourself is that no publisher, whether of romance or not, is looking for a copy of anything that has gone before. The romance world is not looking for a new Betty Neels, or another Penny Jordan, or Lynne Graham – they have those already. What they are looking for are not pale copies but fresh new individuals. In romance writing it is very difficult to be original – most plots have been done before - but you can be authentic. You can write in a way that is unique to you. That’s what they are looking for when they talk about your writer’s voice.
So take a look at the best asset you have – yourself. What do you bring to your writing? What are the experiences you’ve had – the jobs you know about, the places you’ve live, the people you’ve known. Even if you’ve lived in the smallest town in the most rural part of the country you will have met thousands of people already in real life - and many thousands more in fiction.
That’s another thing you need to consider. What are you like as a reader? What books have you read and loved – maybe read again and again, over and over? What books have lived in your memory long after you’ve finished them? Because the books you read, the ones you pick instinctively, and enjoy the most, tell you what sort of stories you most relate to – the ones you’ll probably be most likely to tell well. For example, if you can’t handle strong emotions and intense passions, then you’re unlikely to be able to write the intensity that a Presents novel needs. And if you have no experience of the world beyond a small country town then the sophisticated, worldly settings these books use are not likely to come easily to you. But those same characteristics that could be a problem for one line could be much more of an asset for a writer who’s aiming for the Romance line.
When asked what is the best advice I can give to a new writer – someone who is just starting out with the aim of writing their first novel – of any sort – my answer is always the same – READ. Read, read, read – and then read some more. Read a variety of stories, from a variety of lines, genres, styles. See which ones appeal to you, not just as a story but because of the characters they contain, the places they’re set in, the tone of the story , the type of conflict there is between the hero and heroine. Read to see the differences between all the lines, to see which one seems the best ‘fit’ for you. If you’re aiming at a single title, learn the different ways and tones in which a story can be told – it’s not just ‘this happened and then that happened and then that happened. . .’ Make notes, and analyze, to see which line/genre feels like ‘home’. That way, you’re creating a sort of writing map for yourself, so that when you set out on your own journey to create a fictional world and the characters who people it you’ll have a much better idea of what you can bring to your story as a writer and how you should think about writing it. These are the things that contribute to that indefinable but vital thing – your ‘voice’. And that voice is what will lift your book from the pale echo level to the interesting tale with PTQ - page turning quality – that gets the reader hooked and involved.
For some of you this will be easy. Others will have a more difficult time deciding just where their voices belong. I know this from experience – in my 60 + titles, I have 12 that were published in Harlequin Romance, the others in Presents. But I’m not naturally a Romance writer. I’ve been much happier and much more successful since I focused on where my voice really belonged – where I was writing my most authentic books.
The truth is that in most fiction writing – and very definitely in writing romance - that you have little chance of being truly original. Someone once said that there were only seven plots in the whole of the history of writing – and every book has some variation on that plot or other. But if you can be original, you can be authentic – you can write your book, tell the story your way – create the sort of characters who appeal to you. Take some time to take stock of yourself as a person, as a reader and as a writer. You are your own best resource as a writer so get to know that resource really well. Start creating that ‘writing map’ that will show you where best to begin – and where you really should be heading. Avoiding false starts and wrong directions will save you a lot of time and heartache from rejections. And hopefully you’ll have scope for a long writing career ahead of you. I may have written 60 books but I’m not bored yet – and I’m definitely not running out of ideas. I’m happily working on book #61 – and planning #62 . . . I’m creating the books I want to write and I’m not copying or even echoing anyone
– I’m writing from the authentic me.
Kate Walker has been writing for Harlequin Presents since 1986. In that time she has written over 60 novels. Her books have been published in over thirty-five countries worldwide.
Her January release 2010 THE KONSTANTOS MARRIAGE DEMAND was recently awarded the Reviewers’ Choice Best Presents Extra 2010 by Romantic Times magazine, and her 2011 title, THE PROUD WIFE (March 2011) has just been nominated for the award this year. Her latest romance THE RETURN OF THE STRANGER was published in Harlequin Presents Extra in October. Coming up is THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES in March 2012.
Kate Walker is also the author of the 12 POINT GUIDE TO WRITING ROMANCE (Aber Publishing). A third edition is now in print which is also available on KINDLE..
Kate Walker has an MA in English from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth and worked as a Children’s Librarian before concentrating on writing full-time. She runs writing days and weekend workshops on fiction and in 2012 she will be teaching a week-long residential course on writing romantic fiction at The Watermill in Posara, Tuscany. She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Romance Writers of America, has taught several times at the RNA Conference and reads and critiques for their New Writers’ Scheme. She is married with one grown up son.
Readers can find Kate here:
Website Blog Facebook
Author Page created by Romance Book Paradise Promotions.
Today Kate will be giving away a copy of KATE WALKER’S 12 POINT GUIDE TO WRITING ROMANCE to one lucky commenter! Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Kate's latest release, The Return of the Stranger
Standing high on the windswept moors, the lone figure of Heath Montanha vows vengeance on the woman who destroyed the last fragments of his heart...Lady Katherine Charlton has never forgotten the stable hand with dangerous fists and a troubled heart from her childhood. Now the rebel is back, his powerful anger concealed under a polished and commanding veneer. When ten years of scandal and secrets are unleashed, with a passionate, furious kiss, Heath's deepest, darkest wish crystallizes...Revenge - and Kat - will be his!
You can purchase The Return of the Stranger here:
Mills & Boon
Ebook at Harlequin