Monday, April 30, 2012

Let's Do the Twist


I think we can all agree that the only rule writers must follow is never bore your readers or encourage them to put down your book. In other words, keep it compelling.

The advice how to make sure this happens skews from there. Some say it’s character; some say it’s plot; some say it’s tension—name a writing glossary word and that’s the key to keeping it compelling.

Plot, character, tension—these are basics, but not exactly the story itself. You need them all; we all have our expertise of them that we do better than others, but the thing that keeps readers from putting down the book is the story. (I heard the “duh”—let me finish.) And the story is about people, doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way. They’re like us, but better. They’re familiar, but special.

I think this is why publisher and agent advice can be so confusing. They seem to want a writer to produce something that’s like everything else on the market, but it has to be different. But not too different. But definitely fresh, yes, yes, but perhaps like that book that came out last month—you know, the one with the kidnapping?

So we learn how to twist the convention. How do we make our familiar, beloved story of beauty and the beast fresh and compelling? Or our story of Romeo and Juliet different—other than by not killing them off in the end? We know that there are no new stories, only new voices and our abilities to twist the knot a little differently.

When I wanted to write a story about redemption, I wanted to redeem the most impossible person possible? So I chose Lucifer. (Theologically I’m aware I’m not able to redeem Lucifer, but I did want to debate the possibility it could happen.) When I wanted to write about infidelity, I wonder if it was ever understandable—or forgivable? What about marriage? How do you save even the most perfect marriage? And now, I’m pursuing the idea of heroes. Is it possible to have a hero who is more ordinary? Is it ever preferable for the heroine to pick the man who isn’t perfect on paper?

I tend to pick extremes in my twists. I’m a dramatic and extreme kind of hellion. I think it comes from my black-and-white past. I want the biggest, most thematic and dramatic outcome to make my readers think as well as escape and laugh.

But not everyone is as much of an attention hog as I can be. Some writers want to push the convention of the perfect, virginal young heroine; some writers want heroines who aren’t Lara Croft or some kick-ass zombie killer. Can ordinary women find an extraordinary kind of love? That can be a powerful twist to convention that has fallen to having strong, fierce heroines be almost commonplace. Some want to push the convention of the bluestocking Regency heroine who is compromised and instead have a heroine who doesn’t fit the proper virginal Georgette Heyer mode. These can all be dramatic and thematic in their own ways, pushing the envelope of who can be a true heroine and how black of a black moment can one rise again?

Where do you find or come up with your twists on convention? Do they come from your core story themes or from playing “what if”? What books have you read lately that have had a twist on convention you noticed and admired? Have you read any advice lately about how to make convention twists more unique or interesting?

40 comments:

Maureen said...

Well, I just finished a sort-of mystery story, set on the Caribbean island of St. John. I almost put it down several times, but the details of life on this island - a contemporary era - kept me reading. But this author twisted and turned the POV and timeline so much...at the end I realized she'd started minutes before this end and then jumped backward and backward and then some forward...and... ARGH!

But it was unconventional and did keep my attention. I was aware the whole time of all the 'rules' she was breaking. Jumping from 1st person POV to third, to another third, to another third, to another third... I got dizzy.

I would not do this, but I can remember doing this...makes me question what editors were looking for...

As for my twists on convention? Uh...what's convention? ;-) (I suppose that is my convention...) No, really...I seldom write people in ordinary situation, but I have written ordinary people. Or pirates. Or aliens. Or both. That may be part of my core store...I've never met an ordinary I can't twist. People or situation. Or alien.

MsHellion said...

I've read those kinds of books, Mo--where you're frustrated and would like to quit, but at the same time, you're sorta intrigued and you've already committed this time...

I don't know if I mind the jumping backwards, but the POV stuff might frustrate me. :)

Convention is in the eye of the beholder. *LOL* But I think it's what's popular now in the market. But I'd agree that's your twist. :)

Marnee Bailey said...

Ugh, just hit backspace and lost my comment. Ugh.

Anyway, I think I get my twists from playing What If. Or thinking of something I find stale in a classic trope or a classic story.

I think that must be what others do too. Like the writer from 50 Shades must have been like, "What if Edward wasn't a mythological creature?"

TerriOsburn said...

I don't think I twist anything. Which is probably really bad, but I can't think of anything. When I first started writing, having the main characters be ordinary people instead of filthy rich and powerful was a twist. Not so anymore.

I'm thinking I could probably untwist and make ordinary all of Chance's out-of-this-world extraordinary stuff. :)

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

HA Terri - My first thought was that I don't twist anything either, but then I started to think about it and I think most of the story ideas I've had so far play on twisting 2 people together who've lost someone almost directly because of the other person.

Can't fully flesh that out now, but I'll think on it.

An author who blew me away with her twist was Kristin Higgins. You think she's straight up contemp without twist, but you tell me if the story of a widow who loved her husband and then ends up falling in love with his brother is normal. Nope. And she does it marvelously well. It's The Next Best Thing - a little book that rocked my reading world. :)

TerriOsburn said...

Well, I have the heroine fall in love with her fiance's brother, only fiance is still alive. :) Is that considered a twist? LOL!

Sabrina Shields (Scapegoat) said...

LOL Terri - that is a twist :)

I do need to put more thought into this, but there's something to my h/h always being on opposite sides of losing someone. Not sure it's the kind of twist Hellie is talking about.

MsHellion said...

Marn, good one! Looking for what you find stale about the trope and how you would make it different. :)

50 Shades is a good example--a classic combo of making something new out of something familiar. :)

MsHellion said...

Terri--I think I would do the same thing with Mo's stuff, if I had my hands on it.

I think you are great at creating ordinary heroines but making their love extraordinary. And you definitely switch things up with the gorgeous heroine hiding in the garage. :) That heroine is definitely a twist.

MsHellion said...

Sabrina--exactly! See, I think your discovery is what I was thinking about with the core story. I think you find the hope in the tragedy, while giving your characters the biggest conflict possible! Great twist!!

MsHellion said...

I concur that Terri's heroine falling in love with the brother of her undead fiance is a twist...and I definitely think Sabrina's example of her own work is a TWIST.

MsHellion said...

Okay, I'm sorry to post and bolt again, but "I'm out of the office" so to speak for the rest of the day and won't be near the computer. I'll get back to comments when I get home tonight.

Have a great Monday!

Maureen said...

You'd both untwist my twist? I'd sorta like to see you try... Especially the current WIP...

Scape, it sounds like you start with a massive knot, with your characters at opposite ends, each trying to undo it and only making it tighter.

I like rope/line anaologies!

And Terri gives her characters two ropes to chose from, changing in mid air, dangling over the deck...

See? I can turn anything into an adventure! ;-)

P. Kirby said...

I think that must be what others do too. Like the writer from 50 Shades must have been like, "What if Edward wasn't a mythological creature?"

Well, yeah, literally. 50 Shades is an AU Fan Fic called Master of the Universe. The author just did a search/replace, swapped out Edward for Christian, and put it on sale at Amazon. I'm amazed (and admittedly jealous) that she got people to fork over $10 for something that is still available free on the Internet (with little Googling).

Current WIP has a hero who is essentially a kind of super-villain from another universe. Redemption story because I like the idea of the baddie getting the girl.

Lately, I flout convention by writing what I want to write and not worrying about what agents/editors claim they want. Particularly since I've read loads of novels that were repped by agents who wanted "original," and thought afterwards, "That was the most unoriginal, trite 300-pages I've ever read. Bleh."

Now, with e-presses and self-publishing, there are other venues for stuff that doesn't sell to traditional markets. It's rather freeing. Not that I don't want to score a contract with a NY pub. But it's nice to know that barring that, there are other options. :)

Maureen said...

It's just spooky that Pat and I share a brain...

TerriOsburn said...

Leave it to Chance to put it perfectly. I do push the choices. I rarely have real antagonists and H/H aren't diametrically opposed, but to me life is all about choices. And my characters have to make tough ones. Not sure that's a twist, but that's what I do.

Pat - From where I'm sitting, they may not want original and out-of-the-box, but they don't want the same old either. (That would be me.)

Are you saying 50 Shades is plagiarized??

P. Kirby said...

Terri: No. Unless an author can plagiarize themselves. The author wrote an Alternate Universe (AU) fan fic called Master of the Universe, where Edward wasn't a vampire, but still a control freak who was into kinky sex; Bella, a virginal twenty-something. It was very popular and somewhere along the line the author got the idea: "I bet I can make money off this thing." She took it off the fan fic server, scraped off the identifying serial numbers (the names Bella, Edward, Jacob) and sold it as original fiction. The only controversy, is whether the Twilight camp will ever bother to try to sue her for copyright infringement. My guess is, "No," because it is "transformational" enough to be an original work, and no just fan fic.

But the point is, it's still the same FF; and you can find it free.

P. Kirby said...

Pat - From where I'm sitting, they may not want original and out-of-the-box, but they don't want the same old either. (That would be me.)

They want what they think can sell, which, nine times out of ten, is the same old thing...that sold well last week. I know that sounds cynical, but when I look at what is popular, what gets the marketing in books and movies, it's rarely anything new. And, for the most part, the public, including me, eat it up with a spoon.

I don't think you are the same old. I just think you haven't gotten a story in front of the right agent or editor. Certainly, there is a measure of skill required, but at some point, it just comes down to the serendipity of stumbling on the right person who loves your manuscript and is willing to put in the effort to sell it.

TerriOsburn said...

Oh, she changed up her OWN previous work. I see. I missed that she'd written the original story to begin with. Well, the original fanfiction story.

Man, this is like remixing a remix with a sample of a remix. Sheesh.

I too like to think I simply haven't found the right agent yet. Two fulls still out and three new queries sent this weekend. Plus, I'm pitching to two top agents this weekend. Never say never!

I can't blame them for being scared shitless in this current industry environment, but the lack of any risk taking at all is still kind of annoying.

Maureen said...

I do think a massive amount of it is luck. But no one ever wants to talk about how much that is a factor. The serendipity, as Pat puts it, the mesh of connecting with the right person at the right time, who hits the industry at the right time.

I don't find this discouraging, on the contrary. Because luck changes all the time and what is shrugged at today may be snatched tomorrow.

And I'm banking on my ability to sell myself as part of the package. Whenever I can get my feet on the ground with something that will really work. (I swear, I'm like a cartoon character, feet speeding like a demon but going nowhere because they aren't on the ground.)

Maureen said...

Everything I've read about 50 Shades of Grey and how it went from FF to bestseller...part of me wants to vomit and part of me wants to cheer...

I find myself wondering what the real BDSM crowd thinks of the whole hysteria...

TerriOsburn said...

No one would have heard of that book if Dr. Dru hadn't dubbed it porn on national television. That's a fluke. One in a million chance.

Maureen said...

I sat next to an author at RT's e-expo who sold book after book after book of her self-pubbed title...with the word 'dom' in the title. She said it was barely selling until the 50 Shades phenom hit...

TerriOsburn said...

The luck thing is talked about all the time. I've heard it since I started writing. There are plenty of stories of writers being in the right place at the right time. Cathy Maxwell tells a story of how she was part of a group pitch session and the time for the session was gone before they got to her.

She told the editor her MS was called XX and it was currently on her desk. That editor found it as soon as she got back to her office and the rest is history. That's luck, timing, and preparation all coming together. Which is exactly what you need to get published.

Marnee Bailey said...

Mo, I think that they're torn, like any group of people. I think some are excited that the subgenre is getting some exposure. But I've heard that parts of it aren't written well. I've also heard grumblings of offense over the whole "mommy porn" label. It's not porn. Porn is porn. I personally find "mommy porn" a patronizing.

I am only speculating here, though, because I haven't read it. And I mostly haven't read it because from what I hear the heroine tries to "cure" the hero from being into the kink. And I think people should be allowed to be whatever they are without someone trying to "fix" them. I think it goes the vice versa too. If someone isn't into wilder stuff or doesn't want to do a D/s relationship, someone shouldn't try to "cure" them of that either. Sure people expand their horizons and sure people will try things in trusting, loving relationships. But no one is broken just because they like certain stuff. Everyone needs to stay out of each other's preferences. (Of course, as long as everyone's old enough and consenting.)

/gets down off soapbox.

Maureen said...

*Applause!

Well, said, Marn. I'm totally with you on the whole 'not broke' idea. Gods, it's like the women who fall for a guy who likes to sit around in his BVDs and she thinks, "I can change him with my love!"

No, she can't. Learn to love his BVDs, no matter how saggy assed they are.

Gods, I've dabbled in BDSM writing and doubt I'll ever put it forward for publication because I know I didn' get it 'right' and I don't want to do the community any dis-service by putting something out there that could perpetuate the wrong impressions.

And mommy-porn is patronizing. The sexism in that statement is enough to set my blood boiling...

TerriOsburn said...

The porn thing doesn't bother me. The "mommy porn" does, but not calling a work of hard-core Erotica porn. Pornography is a film, book, etc with the intent to stimulate sexually. I'm sorry but if you think Erotica is not written to create sexual stimulation, you're reading the wrong books.

Marnee Bailey said...

In my mind, porn isn't about romance or creating a relationship. Erotica and erotic romance focus on the relationship, I thought. But maybe the lines aren't as drawn in reality as they are in my head.

And Mommy Porn? I won't even start.

TerriOsburn said...

There's no required HEA in Erotica. They'll take a HFN and I think some will take no happy ending at all. There are levels of Erotica just like anything else, but the hard-core stuff is pretty much about the sex and nothing else. Though a good will be engaging, well-written, and have lots of emotion as well.

quantum said...

I like historical romance and especially the delightful twists that some authors can generate.

Mary Jo Putney for example in 'Nowhere Near Respectable' has a wonderful twist on the gunpowder plot where the villain tries to blow up the houses of parliament!

In general the twists are part of an authors creativity and no-one really understands this yet, though the neuroscientists with their brain scans are making progress.

Only Helli would attempt to redeem Lucifer ..... That's a real test for the theory that the love of a good woman can reform the most awful of villains!

Did you succeed? LOL

quantum said...

What's mommy porn?

The only erotic romance I've read is Bella Andre's football books. I liked the first but after that it got very repetitive and I didn't finish the second.

It needs a very good plot to sustain the emotional surge of fictional sex! LOL

Maureen said...

Yeah, the genre of erotica can run from romantic erotica, with a HEA to weeeeee! Let's just romp through encounter after encounter, loosely bound in a plot...

The two I wrote...well, they imply a HEA...

Yeah, Q...you are so right. Only Hellie would look to redeem Lucifer. Then again, I remember Taylor Caldwell's book...Dialogues with the Devil...which presented a vivid discussion about Lucifer's motives...

TerriOsburn said...

Actually, I saw Anne Stuart say last week she's eventually going to redeem Lucifer in her fallen angels series. So Hellie isn't the only one, but I know she finished the MS and I do believe she succeeded.

And then she sent it to contests and got hateful judges who wrote Bible passages in the margins. *sigh*

P. Kirby said...

I'd totally read a book about Lucifer's redemption!

Maureen said...

I know, Pat...we've all heard so much about this book, we all want it. I even chatted about it to editors I met a few years ago and their eyes all lit up... We need to gang up on Hellie about it...

TerriOsburn said...

Good luck with that? I'll just sit over here and watch. Behind this bullet proof glass.

Maureen said...

I swear, I could sell this book...

MsHellion said...

Pat, I agree: I love baddies getting the girls. :) I figure a lot of them were dealt such sucky hands in life that it's nice that things work out for them for a change. :)

I heard that about 50 Shades of Gray--that it was fan fic first--that's some major word of mouth marketing, I guess. Wow. Whatever works.

MsHellion said...

Q, yes, I did finish a manuscript where I did redeem him. I liked it, but my heroine was so completely unlikable. At the very least it was a matter of not giving the heroine a goal--and I do run a very thin line of making my heroines bitchy as hell to the heroes.

Pat, I'd let you read it if I thought it was remotely good...which I no longer do.

Terri, I'm totally demoralized that Anne Stuart is writing a series where she'll redeem Lucifer. I might as well give up now. *LOL*

Mo, I appreciate the support. It just needs to be so completely revamped...

MsHellion said...

And I'm so sorry to have missed this conversation today...this was so cool!