Tag Archives: Writing

Breaking the Norms in Romance Novels

Romance novels are not my first love.

I’ve read some that were written by people I know on Twitter, a few others that I got for free through giveaways, and some that I picked up just for research purposes. There’s always a bit of a romance subplot in my own books, though my primary genre is urban fantasy. I’m always looking to improve every aspect of my writing, including the romances, so I try to look carefully at each romance I read and figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what can be tweaked.

There’s a few things I’ve noticed tend to be trends in almost every romance novel that I’ve read:

  • Super-hot, perfect men with flowing blonde hair, who are also rich, famous, successful, and yet still manage to be sensitive and chivalrous.
  • A female protagonist who is, in stark contrast to the male lead, pretty bland and normal.
  • Love at first sight, or at the very least, intense attraction at first sight. I can always tell from page one who the main character is going to end up with at the end of the book.
  • Everything is very cis/heteronormative, with LGBT characters few and far between.
  • There’s always a “Oh no, they had a fight and might break up!” moment near the end.
  • Then they get together anyway and always, ALWAYS have a happily ever after.

Now, some of these tropes I can understand…as much as a happily ever after gets bland after awhile, it makes sense that readers want a happy and satisfying ending. And I can understand having a near-breakup around the climax, because there has to be conflict in order for a story to remain interesting.

What I don’t like is how every couple seems to be carbon-copies of each other. I’ve never read a romance novel where the male lead is, say, someone like me: overweight, poor, nerdy, and unable to attract women the majority of the time. And I’ve never read a romance novel where the romantic feelings developed slowly over time, the way a lot of real-life relationships do. Instead it’s always a head-first dive into True Love, where you can practically hear the violin music playing in the background.

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot of romance novels for freelance ghostwriting projects (the titles and details of which I cannot share due to NDAs). What I’ve been trying to do, however, is to break out of some of these romance novel tropes. I deliberately decided to make one of the male leads a balding, overweight, middle-aged man. Another was a scruffy, shy man who spent most of his time reading. I made one of the stories have an interracial couple. And another one pairs a lesbian and a bisexual as the main romantic couple.

I’ve found these projects a lot more enjoyable because I can play around with the tropes and try to find ways to keep things fresh. I’m still experimenting and learning, and I’ll still say I’m “still learning” when I’ve written twenty, a hundred, or a thousand of these stories. But the results have been quite good, and my clients have definitely been satisfied.

And I’ll be applying some of what I’m learning here to my own future novels as well. Speaking of which, expect updates soon on revisions of Contamination, since I’m about to dive into some serious work on it this coming week.


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Romancing the Ghostwriter

Getting paid to write is an amazing thing.

I’ve blogged a few times over the last few months about how I haven’t been writing much. I’ve been struggling, due mostly to a combination of life changes (leaving school, starting a new relationship) and work issues (being stuck in a crap job, working long hours, and being exhausted all of the time). It was hard to find the time to work, whether it be on one of my own novels, or on a blog post, or anything else.

To give you an idea how bad things got, here’s my Writer’s Calendar for January:

One lonely sticker
One lonely sticker

I give myself a sticker for every 1000 words I write, or for one blog post, or any equivalent amount of writing or revisions. It’s a great motivational tool to be able to look at a good week of writing progress and see a visual representation of all of the words I’ve written. But obviously, January sucked. I wrote one blog post, and that was it.

But once I started doing paid writing assignments (after leaving my crappy restaurant job once and for all), this is what February looks like:

I'm a superstar!
I’m a superstar!

All kinds of stickers! Every star is from paid writing gigs. The lone sticker on the 23rd is from revisions. And the penguin is for blog posts (I get a penguin today for writing this, too).

It feels pretty good. Not only am I paying the bills with writing, but I’m also doing something productive. It’s nice to be able to look back at the end of the month and see how far I’ve come.

Most of the ghostwriting I’ve been doing has been for romance novellas (I can’t divulge the details due to NDAs, as they’re being published on Amazon under the client’s pen name). It’s a different sort of writing than I’m used to, but it’s fun and productive. And I’m getting my creative juices flowing on a daily basis. I didn’t miss one single day since February 7th. Some of the earliest stuff I wrote was what I had to do in order to actually get the jobs, but by February 21st I was officially hired and bringing in the paychecks full time.

There’s no guarantees that I’ll get nonstop work, since freelancing is on a case-by-case basis. But I’ve got two steady clients so far who are very pleased with my work and are continuing to hire me for ongoing projects. So I’m going to be ghostwriting up a storm. And hopefully finding some time for my own projects as well. After all, I’ve got a sequel to finish revising.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Freelancing Like A Boss

I’ve been in a bit of a writing funk for awhile now. The combination of leaving college, working a crap hourly job to pay the bills, and going through some major changes in my life has left me a bit out of my usual rhythm. I’ve been struggling to get back into a regular writing schedule, including blogging, but I’ve only been averaging one blog post per month and barely doing any other writing or revising in a long time.

This past week, however, I’ve been working some freelance writing projects. This has been a great experience for me. I’ve done freelance work before, but because of life circumstances, it had been about a year and a half since I’d done it. Now, I’m on my second paid writing (!!!) project of the week, with more opportunities on the horizon. It’s feeling pretty good, and I’m getting back into a “writing every day” habit.

Having a deadline is great for that.

Hopefully, this will not just help me pay the bills, but also help me get back into a regular rhythm. I’ve got the creative juices flowing on a daily basis, and I’ve got an external pressure forcing me to turn off Netflix, close the DS, and open up OpenOffice to get some writing done every single day. It’s just a matter of time before this leads to spillover into my personal projects, like getting back into a regular blogging schedule, and working on revisions of Contamination.

So here’s hoping these changes work out for the best, and I finally get my writing career moving on the path I’ve been striving for over the last several years.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Post-NaNo Failure Funk, Revisions Funkadelic?

It’s been 25 days since I last wrote a blog post, 41 days since I worked on revisions for Arcana Revived, and 16 days since I last did any writing for my #NaNoWriMo project. I ended NaNo with only about 35,000 words, my worst performance yet. To say I’m in a funk is, frankly, an understatement.

There’s plenty of reasons for it. Compared to this time last year I’m at a new job, in a new relationship, and no longer in college. Things have been rather topsy-turvy for awhile now, and it’s taken awhile to get settled into a new routine. One where I’m no longer fretting about whether the rent will be paid next month, and where I know for sure that there will be food on the table. That sort of thing makes a big difference.

I’ve missed a number of self-imposed deadlines. I do a lot better when someone else is imposing a deadline on me, like when I was in college. Part of the reason that I’ve written six first drafts of Arcana Revived books already is because I was writing a lot of them as class projects, such as my master’s thesis project. After I lost that structure and got out of the academic routine, it became a lot harder to keep focused.

Hopefully I can make some changes soon and get back into a groove again. I was doing a good job writing almost every day during NaNoWriMo. I earned a lot of stickers (one for every 1000 words). I haven’t earned any stickers all month so far, though this blog post counts as one (one blog post = 1 sticker). So hopefully I can fill my calendar with stickery goodness and get back into the groove. We’ll see how it goes.

If it goes well, expect more regular blog posts again. I enjoy blogging about my writing and revision progress, and the feedback I get on these posts tends to help keep me in the zone.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Vampires and Magic: Your World’s Rules

I’ve given a lot of thought lately to the way different worlds have different rules for things that don’t exist in our reality. I talked about this awhile ago when I did my posts on magic and how to make your own rules. The basic idea is that if you’re writing about things that don’t have established rules in the real world, you can make up any rules you like, as long as you’re consistent and your world makes sense. That’s why you can have wizards in the Harry Potter universe who need wands to cast their spells, and wizards in the Harry Dresden universe who use magic circles to contain the energies of their spells. Each rule system is different, and they contradict each other at points, but it works as long as you make it believable within the context of your own novels.

Since I started reading an Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel, I’ve been thinking about how this concept applies to the well-known and sometimes overused genre of vampire stories. There’s a million ways to depict vampires, from the classic evil nobleman to the dark suave seducer to the suffering anti-hero to the deformed monster that preys on humans like a feral beast. And within all of these variations, the rules always change. Consider the usual vampire strengths and weaknesses:

Sunlight: Vampires are either weakened by it (Bram Stoker), instantly killed (Dungeons & Dragons), set on fire (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), slowly cooked (True Blood), or . . . well, we won’t talk about the other possibilities.

Holy water and crosses: Vampires are either repelled by them (D&D), physically hurt by touching them (Buffy), or unaffected by them at all (True Blood).

Silver: Some stories never mention silver at all, and sometimes it harms, weakens, or debilitates vampires. People are never quite sure.

Turning into a vampire: Sometimes you just get bitten and become a vampire, sometimes they need to feed you their own blood. Sometimes the vampire that made you can control you, sometimes you’re on your own.

Then there’s garlic, mirrors, whether or not they can enter a home uninvited, and plenty of other variables. No two vampire stories ever depict a vampire quite the same way, and yet the reader or viewer accepts the rules as they’re presented to them. If you’re reading a book where the author says inviting a vampire into your home makes them immune to crosses and garlic, then you accept that. If you’re reading one that says a vampire can force its way into a bachelor’s apartment but not a family home (because there’s more strong positive energy from a loving family), you accept it. The important thing is that the writer is consistent within their own rules and that everything makes sense.

Which makes me curious about other classics that can be modified and updated with new rules. There’s already plenty of examples. Maybe your werewolf built up an immunity to silver (like with iocane powder). Maybe Dr. Frankenstein the Third made his monster out of parts from aliens that crash landed at Area 51. Maybe trolls get more powerful the bigger their bridge is, so the Troll of the Golden Gate Bridge becomes an unstoppable beast. You never know.

I like it when writers keep things interesting. I like to see unique rules. And it’s always fun when something unexpected pops up and it really makes me think.


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Past Conflicts as Backstory

A common thing in book series is when there was some kind of serious conflict in the past which is affecting present-day events. Sometimes this conflict is only ever revealed as backstory: the reader is given some basic details of what happened, but never actually sees it on the page. Other times it might be revealed via a flashback: cutting to a scene in the past that shows the reader exactly what happened. But then there’s times that the backstory was revealed in the main narrative, but in a previous book.

How this works out depends a lot on the type of series you’re reading. I’ve read a lot of book series where there is an overarching plotline that spans the entire series. The Wheel of Time is a good example of this; while each book has its own beginning and end point, there’s no complete resolution until the very end. If you picked up a random book in the middle, you’d be lost about a lot of what is going on. Whereas a series like The Dresden Files has a different style, and every book is more self-contained. Events from one book can influence events in a later book, but the stories are able to stand alone. I haven’t yet read a book in the Dresden series that wouldn’t have made sense without the other books.

Sometimes, the difference between these styles can get a bit blurred. For example, I’m currently reading Guilty Pleasures, an Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter novel by Laurell K. Hamilton. I picked it up mostly at random without knowing where it fell in the series. While reading it, I’ve learned that there is a lot of backstory for Anita, from the cross-shaped burn scar on her arm, to her past missions slaying vampires with a flamethrower-wielding mercenary, to the hints of a romantic past between her and the vampire Jean-Claude. Not having read any other books in the series, I just assumed that some of these events were things from a previous book. Except that I found out this is Book #1 of the series. Meaning that the backstory in this case had enough depth and detail to it that I believed it was something that actually happened. It’s definitely a good compliment to the author, and I’m sure she had worked a lot of Anita’s background out in advance before writing the first book.

A good example of this is also when a new villain is introduced. In the case of Guilty Pleasures, a vampire named Valentine is introduced early in the book, and we find out he tried to kill Anita several years earlier. She threw holy water in his face, leaving him permanently scarred. The author went into a bit of detail about those events, not quite giving a full flashback, but painting enough of a picture that the animosity between the two characters is quite clear. It worked well, and the story of that past conflict is interesting enough that I almost hope it gets revealed in a prequel story one day.

It’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my own writing. How to manage a series is an issue I’ve been studying for some time, and I’ve blogged about it before. There’s always a question of how much backstory to reveal, and how much turns into long-winded exposition. The balance between the two seems to vary, based on how important the details are and how much you can “show” them instead of “telling” them.

I’m going to keep this in mind as I continue reading this novel, so I can see how the past conflict influences the events to come. I expect Anita is about to get into a lot of trouble with this vampire from her past, and it’ll be interesting to see if the current conflicts are stronger and more compelling based on what I’ve learned of their history together.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Time and Combat

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way combat is depicted in some books. It’s a common thing to see in most of the books I read. From the huge, epic-scale wars in books like The Wheel of Time, to the wizard-vs-wizard slugfests I’ve been reading recently in The Dresden Files, there’s a lot of battles, big and small. Some of them are dramatic and tense. Some are long and drawn out. Some make me worry about the fate of the protagonist, while other times I’m confident that things will turn out okay. But regardless of the circumstances, the depiction of time during battles can be a tricky thing.

Sometimes I’ll be reading a book when an enemy starts charging forward, then it takes a couple of pages before they actually swing their sword or cast their spell, while the narrator describes every motion in great detail. Other times someone will fire off several gunshots or fireballs in a single sentence, dropping multiple foes at once. It’s almost as if the writing can sometimes move into bullet time, allowing the narrator to paint a detailed picture of the danger that is coming or the style and deadly grace of an opponent. When it’s well-done, it makes me appreciate the precision, speed, and skill of the combatants, whether it be their skill with weapons or their powerful magic. Other times, however, I find myself wondering, “How long does it take someone to pull the trigger?”

This gets more complicated when there’s multiple combatants involved, and each one needs some time in the spotlight. Though Jim Butcher handles that pretty effectively in The Dresden Files. When he writes a battle scene from Harry Dresden’s point of view, Harry usually starts off throwing spells around and kicking some serious magical ass. But then he either runs out of juice (draining his magical energies for his spells), or he gets injured, or in some other way he is briefly sidelined. This allows Harry to observe the action and the carnage, narrating it to the reader, with a reasonable excuse about why he’s taking so long to get up and help his allies. Though it does get to be a little predictable after I’ve seen the same storytelling tactic used multiple times across multiple books.

Another factor that seems to affect how time is portrayed and perceived in a book is how “close” the narration is. In a series like The Dresden Files, everything is being told in the main character’s voice, so the action is told from where he’s standing (or sometimes, where he’s lying on the ground, bleeding). In other stories, however, it’s easier to “zoom out” and narrate a battled from the third person perspective, telling the reader what’s happening across the battlefield all at once. Then, the story can “zoom in” and focus on a specific character and the blow-by-blow duel they’re having with an individual opponent. This seems to be a more effective technique if you want to describe things going on in multiple places at the same time, since the narration could describe events on one side of the battlefield, then the other, even though they’re taking place simultaneously. The reader can innately understand that the narration shifted a few moments back in time to catch us up on what’s happening elsewhere.

This is something I’ll definitely be studying more closely as I continue reading more urban fantasy books. There’s not a lot of “battles” so-to-speak in Manifestation (there’s some fights and action, but nothing on the scale of a massive armed conflict). The later books I’m working on in the series, however, step up the game quite a bit. And the more I read about how fantasy battles are depicted, the more action-packed and intense I can make those future battles. And hopefully, the passage of time during the fights won’t get confusing.

Unless I start writing romance novels, then I don’t have to worry about it.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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Schedule Funk

All of my writing projects have been suffering lately. I’ve only been writing blog posts about twice a month (this is number two). I’ve only managed to work on revisions a couple of times, maybe once a week. I haven’t written any new stories or anything in awhile. And in general, I’m struggling to get back into some kind of regular routine.

I work best when I’m in a set routine. Getting up at a certain time. Writing blog posts certain days of the week. Setting goals on my writing or revisions and not going to bed until they’ve been achieved. Those sorts of habits work well for me . . . when I’m not in a funk. Finishing school, changing jobs, and struggling through “life” has led to quite a funk, and not the psychedelic kind. I have to figure out a way out of this funk and back into a regular schedule.

I can try to get some outside influences to keep me in line (read: friends to nag me until I work), but a lot of my friends are in their own funks, so that seems to be counter-productive. So for starters, I’m going to focus on a small goal. Getting back to three blog posts a week, like I used to do. Blogging about writing is a good way to get me thinking about writing, which in turn can get me in the mood to write. So this could be a good solution to getting through my current funk.

Though a little regular nagging certainly helps too.

Writing Routines

I’ve blogged from time to time about my writing schedule, the routines I try to set for myself, and my attempts at self-imposed deadlines. I try to get myself into a regular habit, where I work on my writing every day, making continuous progress. The problem is, my schedule with work, school, and life in general lately has been very erratic. It makes it hard to get settled into a regular writing routine.

Most of the time, I don’t even realize how much time has passed until I look at my calendar. I use a system I adopted from other writers online, where I earn a sticker every day that I write. According to my calendar, I’ve only written five blog posts and only revised four chapters of Contamination during the month of June. That’s only nine stickers. This is unacceptable. But every time I try to get myself into a more regular schedule, something falls apart.

It’s possible that I need to try some new habit-forming techniques. My daily to-do lists and my calendar aren’t quite cutting it. But one way or the other, I need to get myself into a regular routine. One where I make steady progress at getting these revisions done. I’ve got what I think is a pretty good story here, but none of you get to read it until I finish the revisions.

If anyone has any suggestions on ways to develop a more regular writing habit, please let me know. What works for you?


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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Self-Imposed Deadlines

I just graduated from Rowan University with my Master of Arts degree in Writing. I’ve been in school since Spring of 2012, after going back finally after a long leave of absence. Being in school for so long meant that I always had deadlines and structure imposed upon me by the school. This was especially handy when working on the sequels to Manifestation, two of which were written as part of my school projects (I got A’s on both).

I’ve been trying for awhile to work on revisions for Contamination, the second volume of Arcana Revived. Since this one wasn’t something I was working on for school, there have been times that I had to find the balance between working on revisions on my own time and working on school work. Since the school work had deadlines imposed upon me by my teachers, it usually got the higher priority. Now that school is over, I’m putting Contamination above everything else.

The problem is, now I’m the only one creating my deadlines.

I just missed a self-imposed deadline last week. I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through my third draft of Contamination. I have some notes and feedback from critique partners, and I’m going to be getting more feedback from my Rowan classmates, since we’re keeping in touch and we will be continuing to work together on our writing projects as time goes on. But none of them can force me to stick to a deadline. I’ve got to handle that on my own.

Working through depression makes meeting a deadline a lot harder. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time, and it’s been particularly bad over the last few weeks. Part of the problem is that I’ve left school and as a result I’ve left the structure of my class schedule. I’m also only employed part time at the moment while I look for a more permanent position somewhere in the publishing field. As a result, I’m spending a lot of time at home, alone, with nothing but my thoughts, my writing, a stack of books, and the Metroid Prime Trilogy.

All in all, it’s been a struggle to meet my personal goals. I’m pretty sure it’ll improve once I’m back in a regular work schedule. When I’m home alone everyday, there’s an extreme lack of structure to my daily routine. This makes it easy to lose track of time and end up spending twelve hours straight trying to restore the Light of Aether to the Luminoth homeworld.But when I have a regular work schedule, it’s a lot easier to work my writing and revising schedule around it, such as by setting aside a couple of hours after I get home from work each night. I need that routine, and once I get into the groove again, my writing and revising process will improve greatly (and hopefully so will my blogging schedule, since I really need to get back into a three day a week blogging routine).

In the meantime, I’m going to keep plugging away as best I can. And if you’re a fan of my first book, I promise I’ll have the second one on its way before long.


mani_promoManifestation is available in paperback format through:

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and in ebook format through:

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