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Stuck and What Comes After

Like most writers, my first thought of being stuck is always in relation to my work, though I seldom get writers’ block. While I do have a lot of unfinished stories, most have been tucked away because I had other more pressing projects, or the energy just wasn’t there for them at the time. Some get finished, some don’t. Others have evolved into something else entirely or have been cannibalized by still other stories. Even if I am stuck in some part of a story with a plot logjam, almost always a good long walk will help me figure out what to do to move forward.

 

But being stuck in story is another animal entirely. Stuck is the starting place for a lot of great novels. When I got to thinking about it, it seems to me that stuck is the starting place for most archetypal stories. It certainly is the starting place of the hero’s journey, which is the ultimate story plot, because stuck is quite possibly the scariest place of all — standing on a cliff with toes curled over the edge oblivious to the peril.

 

Stuck often takes the form of the perfect life, the ideal happy-ever-after being lived out day to day. While in the real world, that may be what we dream of and hope for, in fiction, there’s the reason why the happy ending is, in fact, the end of the story. What comes after the happy ending, from a reader’s perspective, is boring.

 

The subtext of happy ever after beginnings is “hold on to your hats, shit’s about to get real.” Our hero or heroine is stuck, and they are about to get unstuck in a really brutal, horrible way. In happy at the beginning stories, spouses die, are murdered, run off with someone else, kids are kidnapped or killed, great wealth is suddenly lost, in fact everything that matters is lost. That shattering point of becoming unstuck is where the story really begins. It is the being kicked out of Eden that we readers have been waiting for. Living the good life does not make for interesting reading unless maybe in a how-to book.

 

The second kind of stuck in story happens when the main character is truly stuck in a rut, same old same old, bored now, want out. This kind of stuck involves the hero or heroine of the story wishing something would change, wishing they were anywhere or anyone else. They are waiting, desperately waiting, for their life to begin. The story starts when they get their wish, and it turns out to be way more of a challenge than they bargained for. They are well on the path to discovery and adventure that will change them forever, if it doesn’t kill them first. It’s only at that point we readers have a story worth reading. And that’s the point at which we writers strive to make readers willing and happy to take that leap with our characters.

 

Whether the character is happy with his life and then loses everything or is bored with his life and then has change thrust upon him, the story can now begin. Enter chaos!

 

While stuck is the jumping-off place from which the real story begins, once that happens, it’s chaos that rules the day. Nothing is easy, nothing is orderly, nothing is safe. The driving force of the story is the mess that keeps getting messier and messier until the hero or heroine muddles their way through and out on the other side to their happy ever after, or at least their happy for now. At that point, there are two choices for the writer. Either consider the tale finished and write THE END, or make a sequel that tears away the stuckness of a happy ever after and cast the poor hapless character back into chaos for round two.

I wonder sometimes if, for the “bored now” characters, stuck is hard to endure because stuck isn’t the natural state of things.  For those characters basking in their happy lives, there’s always a neurotic dose of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Either way, stuck doesn’t last because life is in flux, and everything about it is in
motion. Nothing stands still for very long. The journey is cyclical, not static, and moving from stillness into chaos and back again is as much the shape of our natural journey as it is the shape of an interesting story. That being the case, it’s not surprising that readers love to live that journey vicariously, magnified, larger than life. And we writers love to write it for the very same reason. We see ourselves in that cycle, and on some level, even from the safe distance of story, we feel right at home.

 

Reading to Each Other

While I was in Oregon at my sisters on holiday, I rediscovered the joy of reading to
each other. I’ve been recommending Naomi Novik’sfantastic alternate history, Temeraireseries, to her for ages. It’s my favorite series of all time. While I was there and we were fighting the hundred degree plus heat and trying to stay cool, she downloaded the first novel, and one evening while sitting on her deck catching what little breeze there was, I asked her if she’d like me to read to her, knowing that if I could only read a little bit, she’d be totally hooked. To my surprised she said, “oh, I love to be read to.” That was all it took. I was off.

 

I LOVE the Temeraire series with a passion, and I never miss a chance to recommend it. Confession of a fan girl here: I’ve read the entire nine book three times and am reading them again. But I’ve never read any of them out loud before. Wow! Have I been missing out! First let me say that the series is set during the Napoleonic War, and the main character of the novels is a dragon. If that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will.

 

Secondly, you all know I love to do readings from my novels for an audience, and a huge part of the fun is making whatever I read, even if it’s only five minutes worth, almost like a small radio play. You see, like all writers, I want people to love my novels and the stories I tell as much as I do. I want my characters to be as alive to them as they are to me. I want them to be as much gripped by the plot as I was when I wrote it. I discovered, as I sat on the deck breathing in the lovely high desert air, that I absolutely loved being able to bring Temeraire and Lawrence to life for my sister’s entertainment. And, as I totally expected, she was gripped.

 

For the next week, we giggled about sneaking some quality time with the dragon. When we weren’t reading, we often discussed the plot as it unfolded and I gave her little teasers about what was to come. Our afternoon coffee time quickly became afternoon reading time, and I discovered I was just as enthralled with the novel as I had been when I first read it. If anything, knowing what was coming, as I did, only excited me more – especially when I couldn’t wait to see my sister’s response to the plot as it unfolded. By day three, she got bold enough to take her turn at reading to me. We were halfway through the second novel before I left.

 

The pleasure of reading out loud to each other shouldn’t come as any real surprise to me. My husband and I used to do it all the time when we were first married. We just got out of the habit. We’ll have to change that for sure. Even more than that, I never send anything off to a publisher that hasn’t been read out loud repeatedly. I always know a passage is right when I enjoy reading it out loud.

 

For centuries people who could read read out loud. Up until the 17thcentury, reading was not the introverted occupation it is since reading silently has become the norm. While I’m the first to say I could curl up with a good book and never leave my cave, I’m also the first to say that I have loved being read to since I was a child. The art of reading to others came much later for me when I began doing readings from my books for an audience. You see, even I can be social when I have to.

 

What I had forgotten that I knew as a child and that I knew when Raymond and I read to each other, is how delightful reading to each other on a more intimate scale is. I’ve been home for two weeks now, and my sister and I are still emailing about missing our time together with the dragon. It does make me wonder how much of the meat of the story, the true life of the story, we miss by reading silently, by not sharing
a story with someone else. Plus, I have to say, it was a total delight to take on the
character of the dragon and of the people and other dragons who were a part of his story. I felt transported in a very different way than I do when I read silently. A part of that, I’m sure, was seeing the novel fresh through my sister’s eyes. Through her enjoyment, I got to enjoy the story twice-over.

 

Hubby is enthusiastic about adding reading to each other back into our free time. In fact, he’s enthusiastic enough to suggest we tackle Roger Zelazny’sentire Chronicles of Amber. I’m up for the challenge.

 

AXP is Celebrating the Series with a Fab Giveaway

I just finished reading a nine book series and nearly cried when I came to the end, because it was THE END. It was like saying good-bye to an old friend. Who doesn’t love a good series? Don’t get me wrong, stand-alone novels are great for a quick fix, but I like a story I can sink my teeth into, a story that demands at least three books, and I totally LOVE a story that demands even more. I love to read series and I love to write them. I’m having a blast with Magda and the gang in the Medusa’s Consortium series. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I think in terms of series where story telling is concerned these days. After all, one good tale almost always has a dozen other ones barely hidden below the surface and begging to be told.

 

 

If you love series as much as I do, then you won’t want to miss out. Right now Author Cross Promotion is celebrating the series with a fabulous giveaway, in which Magda and the gang are participating. Follow the link below and check it out.

 

Win a Kindle Paperwhite or up to 90+ Top Series eBooks!

AND gain access to the AXP Book Fair featuring FREE and 99c Books!


(1) Kindle Paperwhite


(2) Grand Prize “Gift Baskets” of ALL eBooks!

(90+) Winners of Individual eBooks (randomly selected titles)

 

It’s a series lover’s dream come true, so make sure to follow the link and sign up.

 

 

Reading Like a Writer

When I read as a writer, especially when I read fiction, the process takes on a whole different purpose. I realized this after reading a particularly fabulous short story that completely enthralled me for the course of several thousand words. And when I came back to the real world, I found myself not only analyzing what made the story so amazing, but analyzing how I as a writer read it differently than I would if I weren’t a writer.

 

I don’t think any writer can approach a story without viewing it, at least to some degree, on the level of the writing. As I analyzed my story reading style, I realized two things. First of all, I always think back over the story after the fact and try to figure out what made it work for me or not. That process within itself can’t keep from changing the story. In a way it becomes a story of multiple plots and constructs the writer never intended, but my mind can’t keep from creating. If in my analysis there are lots of changes I would make, things I would have done differently as the author, at some point it becomes my story, the one I’m writing in my head, and no longer the story the author intended.

 

For me, the big clue to how I esteem the story is the point at which I begin to analyze. If I’m analyzing the story as I read it, then it’s clearly not going to get five stars on the K D story critique scale. The sooner I begin my analysis while I’m reading, the fewer stars the story or novel rates from me, until at some point it becomes an exercise in editing and recreating it as my own story rather than reading for pleasure. When that happens, the whole process becomes a different experience than the one the writer intended.

 

If, however, I get totally lost in the story, then my whole internal landscape changes. The writer in me is temporarily replaced by the fascinated little girl who simply loves a good story. When I am pulled in, rough and tumble, to the world the writer has created for me, the story becomes multi-dimensional and experienced twice, sometimes thrice over, sometimes even more. When I’m in the queue at the supermarket, or in bed waiting to fall asleep, when I’m waiting for the bus, I can have the secret pleasure of reliving that story over and over.

 

Being pulled in is the first part of experiencing a great story. The second part, the analysis part, happens after the fact. When the story moves me, excites me, changes me, then my analysis of it is a different process. Because I don’t feel I can improve on it, analysis then becomes taking the story into myself from a write’s point of view. In other words, what is it that makes this story so fantastic, and how can I incorporate some of that fantastic -ness into my own writing?

 

A perfect story, a story that pulls me in and devours me whole is a lingering experience. I’m a firm believer that a good story should somehow change the reader. But a good story should also change the writer. A good story should be like discovering a view from a mountaintop that we didn’t know was there before, a view that changes everything, the waterfall we didn’t see, the storm we never expected, the castle that dominates the landscape. A really great story has the potential to make me a better writer, a better weaver of story, a better seer of nuance, a better wielder of my craft.

 

But a good story should change more than just my views of my writing world. It should touch and stimulate in ways I would not have expected. It should open up the landscapes in my unconscious and my imagination. In some ways, a good story acts as a Muse, and that is the pinnacle of what a writer can glean from a story. I won’t say that doesn’t happen with badly written stories as well, after all the Muse chooses her own time and place. But with a good story, somehow the appearance of the Muse seems more numinous, more dressed for the occasion.

 

For me, the most powerful element of any story is the key relationship and how it expresses itself. That expression is often sexual, and a well-written sex scene carries with it the weight of human emotion. It carries with it the drive to reach that magical point where two become one, where we are as close to being in the skin of ‘the other’ as it is possible
to be. The power of sex and relationship in story can hardly be overstated. Even in mediocre stories, the power of love and relationship can still pull me outside of the editor-me and into the roil of the archetypal story of human need. To me, that means we erotica writers wield one of the most powerful tools in the writing craft; sex in story. Use it poorly and it just sounds stupid and crass. But use it well and it will be the moment in the story that the reader remembers while in the queue at the grocery store, while drifting off to sleep, while waiting for the bus. And it will be remembered with that ache of commonality of all humanity, the driving force within us all. Keeping that in mind, I don’t think it’s any wonder that so many writers fear writing sex.

 

Happy Masturbation Month! In Praise of the One-Handed Read

I’m a bit like a kid at Christmas when May rolls around. Why’s that, you ask. It’s National Masturbation month, that’s Sex toy incentiveMG00625-20140322-1049

why! I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see something as healthy, life-affirming, and down-right fun as masturbation get a little much-needed positive press. So I decided that, as National Masturbation month draws to a close (not that the fun is ending, just the month) that I’d write a few words in praise of the much-maligned one-handed read.

I’ve always felt that just because a writer strives to give the reader a well-rounded literary experience with a story that’s gripping (no pun intended), pacey, thought-provoking and satisfying on some level; just because a writer tries to offer the reader a well-written, stonking good story doesn’t mean that  stonking good story can’t involve a little one-handed pleasure mixed in. Why the hell shouldn’t it?

Doesn’t it seem strange and more than a little sad that some of the world’s best, most celebrated writers find themselves on the not-so-coveted short-list for the Bad Sex Awards? Is there some misguided, unwritten rule that states a story is only ‘worthy’ if it doesn’t make the reader squirm deliciously in her seat, if it doesn’t makes her need to engage one hand in areas far south of the novel in her grip? And where the hell did we get the idea that just that one act, in fact the most crucial act of the human condition, sex, should not be treated with the same weight, or the same tongue-in cheek irreverence or the same heart pounding delight or wonder or horror as any other part of the human condition?

If a writer gets the sex right, I mean gets it really right, then what other response should there be but for our bodies to books_xl_4571699tingle and our hands to stray?

Which leads me to another reason why a one-handed read should be praised and sought after by readers and writers alike. A well-written one-handed read engages the reader on a physical level that no other type of read can. A one-handed read takes the reader a level deeper than the voyeuristic experience that reading tends to be. A one-handed read allows and demands reader participation in solidarity with the characters, and, indeed, with the writer. The story suddenly becomes interactive in a literal sense. And even more than that, the story suddenly becomes a sexy ménage between the reader, the characters and the writer.

Okay, maybe it’s that feeling of exposure; maybe it’s that fear of being caught in the act, so to speak, that frightens writers away from making the sex hot and squirmy. But it’s a lesson straight from the pages of creative writing 101 that the place we most fear, the place we feel the most vulnerable is the place where the most powerful writing happens. Embrace the wank!

Those of us who love to read love a story we can be pulled into. I love a good adrenalin rush, a good heart stopper, a good brain teaser, a good tear jerker, a good happy ending, so why wouldn’t I like a good wank all in the spirit of a sexy story? Why do we think that good writing is negated if our stories make people want to go rub one out?

I’ve been involved in the world of erotica for enough years now to have seen the quality of writing go through the roof, enough years to have been gripped by heart-stopping, tear jerking, brain-teasing stories that STILL have fabulous, seamlessly-written, deliciously sensual one-handed scenes. Why can’t a good book be both a page turner and a one-handed read? We now connect with story on so many more levels than ever before. We read eBooks, we listen to audio books, we curl up with a good old fashion trade paper-back and a glass of wine. But really, was there ever a time when reading a good book wasn’t intended to be a sensual experience, wasn’t meant to make us FEEL things in our body that we wouldn’t otherwise feel, wasn’t meant to scratch an itch that nothing else could quite scratch? So why, oh why, should we exclude that best of, most intimate of — that even better than a nice glass of wine sensual experience of the one-handed read?

Oh no doubt there’ll always be a need for sexy snippets just long enough and hot enough to get the rocks off, and I like
those just fine too. But why should one-handed reads be reserved for just such works? Why shouldn’t the sex scenes in any type of novel or story be well-written enough, steamy enough, raunchy enough to send one hand straying? It seems to me that if a sex scene is well written, then we should at least feel something down in the genital direction. I’m not saying that everything written about sex should be a turn-on, but I am saying it should affect us in some way because sex affects us. It affects us powerfully, uncomfortably, sometimes disturbingly, and it often affects us the most because we don’t want it to and we don’t understand why it does, nor do we understand its power over us. But it most definitely DOES have power over us. It’s supposed to have, so to try to write sex that excludes and banishes the one-handed read seems absurd.america-artist-art-paintings-prints-note-cards-by-howard-chandler-christy-nude-women-reading-approximate-original-size-18x16

Without getting all mystical and goose-pimply and bringing on the sex magic; doing my best to keep it real and genuine, I have to ask; when is there a time that a writer doesn’t want a reader to feel her work, to experience her story as so much more than words on a page? Why should our sexual responses not be fully included in the experience of story? So I’ll say it again: let’s hear it for the one-handed read!

Happy Masturbation Month! I wish you all gripping, touching, deliciously squirmy reading. And writing!

(Parts of this post excerpted from my ERWA post May 2013)

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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