Thursday, February 21, 2008

Read The Spymaster's Lady - An attempt at Reciprocal Pimping by Lacey Kaye

Maven Lacey KayeOh, yeah. That's what my avatar looks like!

Feel like I haven't posted here in ages. Or time flies. At any rate, I'm back, and this time, I have an Epiphany to share with you. Buckle up your seat belts, ladies and gents -- this is going to be bigger, badder, and better than ever.

Note: my office chair at work actually has a seat belt. After the Ergo department evaluated my office space and decided to remove the armrests on my chair, one of the "moonshine" guys came by and decided my seat now posed a safety hazard, so he brought in a seat belt and affixed it to my seat. When Lisa's armrests were removed, she got one, too. See? All the cool kids are doing it. And you thought I was kidding.

Buckled in? OK. Here we go.

This is one of those things you probably read on other people's blogs and go duh. I'm certainly not the first person to realize this, so I'm not claiming to be hiking mountains here. (For the record, I have hiked exactly one mountain in my life. It is an experience sure never to be repeated.) For some reason, even though I'd heard this a million, billion times and it is one of those things that everyone knows, I never truly understood the big deal. Of course your story needs to be the biggest, most awesomest story you can make. Duh, it's a book. We read it to escape things like my slog through 20 consecutive work days. (Seriously? Seriously.) But ask yourself this: Is it?

I have a vision for my Romance with Color label. It's overarching and dark and humorous and sexy and my characters are complicated, tortured souls. But I think my work falls short of that right now. They're not terribly active people, my people. They are afraid of obstacles and you know what? I am, too.

I'm pretty lazy. Dialogue and internal narrative are what I do well. Action...not so much. So I skip it. I write what I write really well, don't get me wrong. But my manuscripts are by no means as big and kickass as I want to believe they are. When I say big, I mean story-scope-wise. The fate of the world isn't on my characters. If my characters decide to crawl into a hole and die, maybe like five people would care. (Besides you readers, of course!) But they're not taking away anything anyone else really needs. The world isn't a better place because they're in it.

I finally had the nerve to plot the story I wanted to write in the first place, and daily I wish I were working on it now. (That would be my third manuscript, If You Asked an Angel to Love.) But I am a finisher, and I need to finish the book I'm writing now. I just don't need to finish If You Asked a Rake to Reform the way I was writing it.

Yesterday, Mavens Erica and Darcy and I talked about ways to make my story bigger. I was excited, and I know they were, too. I feel like this is the right time for me to realize this. (Okay, two years ago might have been better, but I know why I didn't -- that stupid market concept we're all told to be aware of, be wary of, and ignore.)

That's right. I scared myself out of writing what I wanted to write, which was totally stupid. I regret it now with the fire of a thousand Maven Darcy suns. I get a lot of feedback that the concept is good but the story doesn't grab from the partial. Well, of course it doesn't. It gets better as you keep reading because I got more comfortable with exploring outside the box I was writing in. I realized this on Saturday, when I had dinner with MaveFave and fellow Eastsider Keira Soleore. She was telling me about her Regency box and I was telling her that was totally stupid. Except I was doing it, too.

I worried that because I wanted to write multicultural stories I needed to keep everything else equal so I wouldn't blow myself out of a market. *Bashes head against nearest copy of The Spymaster's Lady* Stupid, stupid. There's nothing keeping multicultural from being published. I get requests all the time for it. The only thing keeping my multicultural story from being published is my nice, safe plot.

How safe is your plot?

A few weeks ago, I got a rejection that made me curse the publishing gods and duck the return lightning bolts. I told my friends that the Powers That Be are saying they want "different" but then I get rejected for the molds I do break (and certainly, I did break some molds with my manuscript -- don't let this post fool you. I'm getting to that part of it in like nine words.).

More stupid, stupid. They're not rejecting me because my story is too different or because readers won't read a super-alpha kickass female falling for a reserved wallflower hero. They're rejecting me because I didn't take that concept far enough and say to hell with it, I'm ignoring the boundaries and writing a HUGE story, one that couldn't be contained anywhere but in the pages of my imagination.

THAT'S the problem. I was afraid to write big. Afraid no one would want it. But as I said in an email earlier this week, I didn't write big *enough* to push my story over the wall of same-but-different and get into the land of stories like Outlander and The Spymaster's Lady.

We just replotted two threads in my current wip. I'm indescribably excited to start writing it. I want passion; there will be passion. I want danger; there will be danger. I want steamy -- characters as star-crossed as my characters are about to be are always hot.

I've already challenged Mavens Darcy and Erica (I challenged them, they challenged me, we challenged each other) to find a thread in our wips and make it bigger. It went something like this:

Me: Hey, guys, I think I need to write a bigger story.

Mavens: I'm so excited about this! So, whatcha gonna do?

Me: Uh. I dunno. You?

Mavens: (blankly stare at half-finished wips) Crap.

It's a conclusion we've all reached pretty recently in our writing journeys, which I think is cool.

So tell me now: how are you going to make YOUR story bigger?


Darcy Burke said...

I've been so anxious to read this post, let alone Maven Lacey's new scenes. But I do have to say that I didn't exactly stare blankly. As soon as Lacey started down this path, I had an idea of how I could make Her Wicked Ways bigger by going back to an idea I had when I originally conceived the plot. I tossed that idea, however, because it seemed hard to make believable given what would actually happen during the Regency. So today I went back to Google and back to my library and did some more research. Guess what? I'm gonna do it. I've already replotted the last third (which I'm poised to start tomorrow) and it's bigger, better, and I can't wait to write it! Thank you Maven Lacey!!!

Keira Soleore said...

Congratulations, Lacey and Darcy, for figuring out a way to make bigger things bigger. Now, to return to my story--dunno, yet. I'm thinking, though....

Carrie said...

Wow! Amazing post and so much to think about! I'm trying to figure out how to make my plot bigger, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what bigger means. Bigger stakes? Bigger issues? Bigger obstacles?

Any good examples of "bigger"?

lacey kaye said...

I'm not ignoring Keira and Darcy but I am on my way to work, so I will answer the pressing one first:

Carrie, I would say any and all of the above. For me, it means that where I'd originally planned RTR to be about two people who seem completely different finding out they're more alike than they care to think, I have finally accepted that I'm missing a really awesome opportunity to explore the Abolitionist movement in Regency England and its influence on the social and political and economic culture of the time.

In DTD, the manuscript I'm shopping now, I gave my heroine a really kickin' backstory. But her now-story is much more passive, because I assumed I was stretching things with her history. But no agent has ever written back and said she's too over-the-top as she is. They do notice that the hero doesn't seem strong enough for her -- in other words, I needed to make him bigger.

I could have done that by making her EVEN bigger and having him really show how much he has to grow to keep up with it. Instead, I brought her down closer to his level. Stupid, stupid. And I could have done all of that by not ignoring my own subplot of the wicked aunt -- I could have made that bigger.

Another example in a completely different type of story comes from the fabulous Tessa Dare. Tessa has often said she wanted to make an over the top comedy of errors, and the fact that nobody has ever come back and said wow, you used ALL the usual schticks to make this work? ALL of them? has surprised her. Why? Because it's so easy to get caught up in the bigness of her story. It seems perfectly natural to accept what's going on because it comes across as being so true to the characters and their stories.

But Mrs. Dare may feel free to correct or elaborate on that!

I will leave other examples to other Mavens, who might like to talk their own.

Angie Fox said...

Wow. You know, this is exactly what I needed to learn in order to sell. I'd written this fun mystery with a premise everyone liked, but it was a book nobody "fell in love” with.

Then I received a fantastic rejection letter from an agent I really respect. He said the story was good and might sell, but he hoped it didn't because the stakes weren't intense enough. You can have characters that grow and are interesting, but if they're not at high risk (physical or emotional) then the story will suffer.

And I realized I had been holding back. Like you, I'd been keeping my characters too safe. But it's so *hard* to push them out there. I think that's what so many people don't realize. It's a risky place for a writer.

But, like you, I determined to ignore my inner critic and jump out there. In fact, I had to start an entirely new story to do it. I’d been noodling with this idea for a paranormal and decided to go for it. I made my characters take big chances, and pushed them with high stakes. Instead of ending my writing sessions thinking, "I hope that's good enough to impress an editor." I ended them thinking, "No. I did not just write that. My heroine did not just do that."

That's when I know my stakes are out there - when I'm a little on edge. But it works. That book, The Accidental Demon Slayer, was the one that sold.

Thank you Maven Lacey for reminding us to buckle our seatbelts and take those characters on the ride of their lives. :)

Delilah Marvelle said...

What a great post, Lacey! I agree. Every writer should be demanding more of their writing. Regardless of the market. And if readers continue to snatch up the "big sweeping" stories, like Spymaster's Lady (which I started reading yesterday and am SO loving it!), then there will definately be room for more. Bigger IS better. How does it relate to me? I'm trying. Right now I'm working on my series (Book 2 of 5). I really wanted a bigger concept for my series and was inspired by...Hollywood. Ever see the movies Blue, White, Red? Wonderful, wonderful movies. All are connected. Each movie represents a mood and you watch in the order of the French Flag. Blue for meloncholy, White for innocence (VERY funny movie), and Red for anger/passion. All three are connected, showing glimpses of the other characters throughout each one. I loved how they would flip the same scene in one movie and show us a different side of that scene in a different movie. And I wanted that! So all 5 books takes place at the same time. Needless to say, I have calenders for every day and on each day of those calenders I write what happened to who, when and where. I just hope I can pull it off... Thinking big is awesome, because it leads us down unexpected paths, but it sure as heck ain't easy I'm finding....

Jackie Barbosa said...

Jackie: Stares blankly at the screen and wonders how she will follow this post.

I have to be honest and say I don't know what "bigger" means except to say that I believe it happens when we stop writing the story we think THE MARKET (whatever it is) wants and write the story that pushes our own boundaries in every way: emotionally, intellectually, and technically.

Am I there yet? Nope. But I do know that with each story I write, I push my boundaries a little more and grow a little more.

And I think we're all getting there!

Tessa Dare said...


Okay, my first thought when I read this post was, well gee. You would have to ask this question a matter of days before my second manuscript is due! Because I am the queen of the tiny story. As in, get out your microscopes, girls.

And now I am ROFL to read through these comments and see myself held up as some example of bigness.

I don't know. I have a love/hate relationship with that description, the "bigger" story. Although I applaud Maven Lacey's decision to uh, enlarge her plot and up the stakes! To me, it's all about the stakes. The emotional stakes, to be specific. In every book I write, I want the reader to viscerally feel - at least three or four times, to pick a random number - that the entire future happiness of the character rests on what happens in the next five minutes. Whether s/he is defusing a bomb dodging bullets or seducing a lover or pouring a cup of tea. But because I so rarely defuse bombs or dodge bullets in my own life, I have a preference for those moments where "big" meaning is forced into small actions.

I guess I'm saying, it's not the size of the plot - it's what you do with it. ;)

lacey kaye said...

Tessa, I would have to say creating big emotion is the place I really do it right. It is certainly something *you* do right! There are so many ways to make a story bigger, though, that I believe it's one of those things 99% of us could be doing better at than we are.

And I think no matter what you make bigger - plot, character, whatever - the opportunity to make that bigness affect emotion is always there. After all, if it doesn't matter to anyone whether the plot is bigger or not, then by (my) definition, you haven't made the plot bigger...You've just made it more complicated.

lacey kaye said...

OK, back up at the beginning!

Darcy, I am *thrilled* you found research to support your subplot! And I am deeply sorry I've been so slow in reading your plot revision that I'm holding up production.

Keira, you never came back...?

Carrie, I hope I got yours with my other response. If not, just holla.

Lacey, great examples!


Angie, I am getting this in a fortune cookie: Instead of ending my writing sessions thinking, "I hope that's good enough to impress an editor." I ended them thinking, "No. I did not just write that. My heroine did not just do that."

I think if our readers take just one thing away from this post, THIS should be it.

Delilah, my head exploded reading your comment. I must say, you had me at 5-book series. Your agent must be cookin'!

Jackie, I don't know if I would necessarily agree that bigger has to push the market per se, or that it has to be the story we want to write and damn the market. In other words, I don't find those two or three concepts to be mutually exclusive. If that confuses everyone, uh, can't you see inside my head? But I absolutely agree that we need to write the story that pushes our own boundaries in every way: emotionally, intellectually, and technically. I think what I was getting at more was that we can't let our inner fears stop us from making our stories bigger than life (while at the same time, keeping them true to our characters and our readers' expectations).

Does that make sense?

Keira Soleore said...

I came back often, Lacey, but didn't comment. My heroine has a biggie in her life other than the hero. It's her mother--and not in terms of just the usual mother-daughter thing, though that's certainly there, hard to right a M-D duo without it in there--and her mental ill-health.

For me, big is when your story contains universal themes that cross borders, cultures, age, etc. Mental illness and how that is dealt is one of them.

Tessa, I liked how you talked about having even the small and the ordinary packing a wallop. I must remember that.

Tessa Dare said...

I think you make a great point, Lacey, that there are lots of ways to make a story "bigger", or just plain "better". It's all about finding the method that plays to your own strengths, that meshes well with your voice. And as Jackie says, continuing to push yourself. I know I tried a lot of things in my second book that I did not try in the first...with how much success, I can't say!

Jackie Barbosa said...

I just want to clarify what I mean when I say it's important to ignore "the market." I mean that if you worry too much about the marketability of a project, it blunts your creativity. This isn't to say that what you set out to write something that is deliberately unmarketable, of course, but that if you've always got your eye on that "will this sell" question, you may stop yourself from taking the story to that very place that would make it sell.

Does that make any sense or am I just delusional from sinus pressure and medication?

Lenora Bell said...

Oh, Lacey, I'm so sorry I came in late on this one because it's like you crawled inside my brain and wrote everything I've been obsessing about for the last few weeks.

I've been trying to think of ways to make my current book bigger because I had that exact same Doh! moment after reading TSML. Obviously it's too late for me to slap some physical disabilities and hot spy action into a book that's halfway finished. So how to up the stakes?

What I've been trying to do is make the emotional stakes much, much, higher. Here's an example:

My book opened with the hero duking it out in a prize fight ring in an illegal gaming establishment (yes there's a good reason for him to be there, I won't go into it now). The heroine shows up to convince her father to come home and stop gambling.

Even though the h/h first meeting was in an exciting location, it felt static. So to up the stakes I decided that her father had stolen her life savings and gambled it on the hero's opponent. So that way, from the first moment, she is praying that the hero will lose. Voila, bigger!

I'm hoping it's possible to go through the whole book in this way and make the emotional conflict bigger.

I'll never forget Debra Dixon telling us during that workshop to hurt our characters, kick them around, make them bleed. She must have repeated variations on that idea at least ten times. I never understood that hurting your characters makes the reader care about them more. Look what Bourne does to poor Annique.

Anyway, maybe you won't even read this since I'm so late. Just wanted to let you know you'd struck a chord.


Lenora Bell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lacey kaye said...

I wish you wouldn't have been late, too! It's like YOU crawled into MY head and took the post right out of my keyboard. Great, great example in your WIP. I'm jealous! Wow, way to apply, woman!

Must go think about this now...

Lenora Bell said...

Thanks for answering my late comment, Lacey! You're the best. I'm envious of your group storyboarding sessions. I'm going to have to find some mavenettes to play with.

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