Monday, April 04, 2016

Lesson 2 from my new class at Savvy Authors


I'm running BRAINSTORMING TO REVISION, an online class I teach, at in April, 2016. The class will be conducted in the forums at the site, so you can read the lessons and respond at your leisure.

Registration for the class will be open through Wednesday, April 6, 2016. You'll find information about how to sign up here.

As I've mentioned, this class was born when I decided to document and write 12 lessons around the process of writing an e-book, Chain of Kisses, published by Changeling Press.

Here's Lesson 2,  Brainstorming the Initial Idea

By Angela Knight

When I’m doing something for Changeling or one of the other paranormal e-pub, the first question I ask myself is, “What would be fun (and erotic) to write?”
I already know this piece needs to be pretty short – 50 pages -- because I’m under contract with Berkley, and my editor wouldn’t like it if I did a paranormal novel for anyone else. Plus, I need to slide this in before starting my next novel. If I do ten pages a day, I can have it finished in five days. (I’ve done this recently, so I know it’s possible.)                                   
My Mageverse novels are a bit grueling, so for this short story, I want to do something fun, where I can cut loose and have a good time.
If we’re talking 50 pages, I need a publisher that specializes in short and hot.  Changeling Press fits the bill, so I’ll go take a look at their submission guidelines, here:
According to the guidelines, they want: “Paranormal, Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Futuristic, BDSM, and Action/Adventure romantic love stories. All submissions must be targeted for at least one of these genres.
What's a Love Story? While there should be both highly erotic and romantic elements to the book, relationships and endings should be plot driven. We don't demand your characters trot off to get married at the end of the book, though we do ask for a HEA (Happy Ever After) or, in the case of serials, a HFN (Happy For Now).
Please keep in mind, we've only got one heat level. Over-the-top hot! We can handle anything you send us as long as it meets our guidelines! We do not accept simultaneous submissions. We do accept multiple submissions.
Length: We accept outside submissions from 10 to 28K for single titles. Serials from unsigned authors must be submitted as a completed set.”
Whenever I decide I’m interested in a publisher, the first thing I do is look at their submission guidelines. Then I read a couple of their books to see how well they’re edited and what the quality is like, and whether I’d like to write something similar.
Does their website get a lot of reader traffic? The more readers a site gets, the better the paycheck is. E-mail some of their authors and see whether they like the publisher and are treated well. Check them out with Preditors and Editors to see how they’re rated, here: That site has listings for both agents and editors.
If you’re offered a contract, read it very carefully and make sure they don’t want to keep your pen name or something. If they do, see if you can strike the clause you don’t like; often they will. Check the details of the contract with a lawyer or agent if possible, or other writers if not. You can easily be screwed otherwise. (I have been, and it wasn’t fun.)

Remember that the lawyer who wrote the contract was working for the publisher, not you. He wrote the contract to give the publisher the advantage. You have to look out for you.

Pay particular attention to how quickly the contract says they’ll publish the book, when, and what percentage of sales you get paid and how often, and what happens to your rights if they go out of business before they publish it. Also, which rights do they want? Those details are the kind of thing that can bite you on the ass, so you need to be careful.

I’ve been writing for Changeling for seven years, so I’m comfortable with them. They’re not going to go out of business, and I trust the publisher not to screw me.

Now that we know what market we’re targeting, let’s start brainstorming the book. I like to take a big whiteboard on an easel and just start writing down whatever comes to me, without criticizing the ideas, just letting them come. You can also brainstorm with Post-it notes on corkboard, or software on your computer, or a spiral notebook.  Hell, cocktail napkins. Whatever works.

In my case, I find that writing my ideas on the whiteboard often triggers other ideas, and soon I’m zooming right along. There’s something about those big words and my handy eraser that frees me to play with ideas.

I know I want to do a captor/captive story. I haven’t done one of those in a while, and they’re always fun. The bondage thing Changeling wants is built right in to a C/c, and if you add a big, sexy hero, you’ve got all you need to get my motor running. 

That last bit is really crucial to writing an erotic story. You can’t write something that doesn’t turn you on. For example, I’d never try to do a ponygirl story. Women playing at being horses just doesn’t do a damned thing for me. Not that there’s anything wrong with that -- it just doesn’t hit my buttons.

You need to identify what’s really hot to you, because that’s what you’re going to write best.

You also need to be honest with yourself about whether you can write erotic romance. Some people just don’t want to reveal their deepest sexual desires to utter freaking strangers. Like me telling this list I like bondage. Hey, Angela Knight is KINKY!  (Like you didn’t know that just from reading Jane’s Warlord.)

If writing hot sex makes you squirm and imagine the reaction of your preacher, priest or rabbi, don’t do it. You won’t be able to pull it off. You’ll be happier writing more traditional romances, and you’ll do it more effectively and believably.

Once you have the basic subgenre, start with the obvious questions. WHY is she a captive? Why would a hero TAKE her captive? He’s got to have a good, heroic reason, or he’s not going to be sympathetic. And if he’s not sympathetic, the story won’t work. In 50 pages, you don’t have a lot of time to set up the characters. They’ve got to be instantly likeable as well as hot. You don’t have time to do a big growth arc from asshole to good guy. That might work in a novel, but not in 12,000 words.
This is what I wrote down as I brainstormed the book last week. The italics are my commentary for this lesson.
Why is she a captive?
Hostage against someone’s behavior?
War prize? He won and demanded her as his payment for not destroying her people?
Why HER? Maybe she is an enemy general/princess.
He is from a culture where men and women take sexual captives and practice dominance. (Note that it’s not just MEN practicing dominance. I wouldn’t want to live in a completely male dominated society, because it would drive me nuts. I just want to play submissive games in the bedroom, so I need to set up a more-or-less believable reason for the hero and heroine to do that. This is, after all, fantasy.)
As the story opens, she is bound and waiting for him to approach. She is aroused but pissed. (I can really FEEL the potential in that scene. Imagine being all tied up as a big, sexy guy strides across the bedroom, his schlong leading the way…. YUM!)
Is this TMI?  Ah, deal with it.
Futuristic.  I like writing futuristics for Changeling, because Berkley limits me to straight contemporary paranormal (at least when I was writing CoK). When I get to play, I want to do something different. Besides, when you’re doing something like bondage, which has so many explosive political implications, you’re better off setting the story on another planet. Then you can just enjoy the fantasy without worrying about your NOW membership.
He is hyper masculine. His people are very aggressive. They want mates who have proven their intelligence and skill in battle. He became fascinated by her when he fought her, which is why he decided to go after her.
How did he fight her? Hand to hand wouldn’t work; he would have kicked her ass, unless she’s got super powers. He’s a big guy, and he knows how to fight.
Maybe she’s a ship’s captain, and their ships battled in space. Female Captain Kirk type, swashbuckling, has had a string of lovers. (I don’t like virgin heroines when I’m writing a guy that dominant. A meek little virgin just wouldn’t be a proper opponent for him. They have to be equals, at least mentally, for a romantic conflict to work. Otherwise he just runs all over her, which means he’ll come off as a bully. A romance between a bully and a rag doll is just no damned fun at all.)
Thing is, I have already done a captor/captive with two ship’s captains before. (“Roarke’s Prisoner” in Secrets 2 for Red Sage, which was my very first published romance.) So I have to find a way to give it a twist.
Maybe they’re royalty. She’s the youngest daughter of the empress on a matriarchal planet. He’s the king of a neighboring empire. At one time, they were engaged, but she called it off because she was unnerved by her strong reaction to his dominance. He was aware of her reaction, and swore to have her anyway. She threatened to leave the empire and become a pirate if they forced her to wed him.
Ehhhh. Not sure that works. He sounds like an asshole, and she’s no better.
Continuing to brainstorm…
They have known each other since childhood, when they visited one another’s palaces during various events. As a child, she had a crush on him. He was older, handsome, dashing. They were engaged when she was two and he was fifteen – one of those royal treaty things. (When you’re doing a story this short, you have to have the characters in love to start with. It’s very hard to get strangers to love in 12,000 words. Giving them a romantic past solves the problem. The story’s conflict is how they overcome whatever has been keeping them apart all these years.)
At 17, he went into his empire’s military, where he got a reputation as a fierce warrior while fighting off an attempted invasion by reptilian invaders.
When she was 17 and he was 30, they were supposed to get married. But she found him so intimidating and dominant, she broke it off and ran. The result caused a rift between their empires. Ten years have gone by. He is now 40 and she’s 27. She’s a mercenary ship’s captain. (I do a lot of mercs, because it’s a good way to involve a hero/heroine in someone else’s war.)
He attacked her ship and defeated her in combat. He then demanded her surrender in return for the safety of her ship’s crew. Under the treaty between their people, he feels he’s still entitled to have her.
Ehhhh. I’m Not Happy. He’s still an asshole, and I don’t like the idea of marrying a 30-year-old to a kid. He ought to understand why someone that young would get unnerved and run, given the kind of Alpha Male he is. What would give him a good reason to take her sexual captive ten years later?
When she was five and he was fifteen (Reducing the age difference age difference ), her mother, the planetary empress, engaged the heroine to the hero, who is the son of the emperor of a neighboring planet. The mother’s planet was being menaced by an alien race of reptilian warriors who were on the verge of invading and killing everybody. The treaty gave her planet protection against the invaders; the hero’s father, the emperor, declared war on the lizards and drove them back out of his empire. The hero went to war and fought the aliens. He became a war hero and conquered several planets during the next twelve years.
Now it’s a little more understandable. A lot of his people (maybe his best friend?) died protecting hers over that treaty, and she spat on it by chickening out and running away. No wonder he’s pissed. But now she’s the asshole; I have to work on that.
When it’s time for her to get married to him at 17, (which makes him 27, which sounds a little better), her sister, the heiress to the throne, tells the heroine the elder sister wants him. The sister is a bit older and a little slutty. The hero does something (I have to figure out what; maybe the heroine saw him having really dominant sex with someone. Her sister? No, that would be kinda asshole on his part. Somebody else. He doesn’t know she saw them.)
This incident freaked her out. She ran, rationalizing that her sister would marry him and everybody would be happy. But he wanted nothing to do with the sister; he wanted HER. The treaty was salvaged when the sister married his younger brother, but it was a great scandal, and the hero was PISSED.
The heroine assumed a false identity as a spacer, then later became a mercenary captain. He has been hunting her ever since; it’s a matter of honor now.  Too many warriors died for her world and SHE OWES HIM, DAMMIT.
I’m still not happy about her. Running away was cowardly.
The fact that she ran away from him has been eating at her for years. In retrospect, she bitterly wishes she’d married him as she was supposed to. Her cowardice almost resulted in the destruction of her people. Besides, he’s been a subject of her secret fantasies for years. So when he captures her, she’s secretly delighted, though she’s also outraged by his gall and a little frightened about what he intends to do.
Now this is a little more understandable. Most of us have done something when we were kids that we regret, so I think readers will be more inclined to cut her some slack. This is also why I need to keep the age difference. If she were 20 when they were first supposed to marry, it wouldn’t work at all.
So that’s my initial process. I come up with a rough idea, and then start brainstorming reasons for the characters’ actions that the reader can understand and sympathize with. I also rough in the idea for the paranormal world, but not in great detail. I figure out just enough to go on to the next step.
Now I need to nail down the characterization for the hero and heroine before I can brainstorm the plot. So Wednesday’s lesson will be on creating the hero.
Any questions?
Oh, and I’ll do a crit for the first two people to submit rough plot ideas. First come, first served. 
Angela Knight

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