Wonder Boi Writes

Four Weeks Until Does She Love You

Over the past two weeks I’ve talked about the inspiration behind the plot of Does She Love You as well as my reasoning behind writing three main characters instead of two.  I had my plot and the people who drive it, but now I had to actually sit down and write it.   This is, of course, the hard part, and it was made especially hard because of the complexity of this story. I’ve always considered myself a storyteller more than anything else, but in order to do this novel justice, I had to focus on the craft of writing an unconventional romance.  Thankfully, at the time I began writing the book, I was also teaching my first college level class in romance writing.

A professor once told me that when she’d asked a fellow professor if he’d read a book, he replied by saying “Read it?  I haven’t even taught it yet.”  Funny, but sadly true in too many cases for me. I’d never formally studied romance writing. I had to go back and read classic romance standards, many of them for the first time, in order to discuss what makes them work with my class.  I had to learn to articulate the conventions of a genre I’d called my own for five years. I had to examine not only the core of what makes a romance, but also explore the outer boundaries of what a romance could include, and what it didn’t have to be if it didn’t want to.  I wanted my students to see that much of the “classic literature” they read in the English classes were actually romances, and I wanted them to understand that the genre offered much more freedom to them as writers than they would expect if all I knew about romance was the grocery store bodice rippers.   This process hopefully showed them the breadth and depth of the romance genre, but in reading, teaching, and talking with them, it also gave me the freedom to press the boundaries in my own work.

You see, a story about infidelity, broken trust, and double lives is not always happy.  It’s not always sexy.  Sometimes the characters are happy and sexy when they had no right to be, sometimes the story turns sad and painful while also inspiring a sense of hope and joy. Does She Love You is very much a romance novel. It more than meets the minimum requirements and ultimately serves as a very powerful argument for love’s ability to overcome anything, but it took me to some dark and decidedly unromantic places along the way, and I had to learn to accept that. This story was hard.  Hard to quantify, hard to live, and hard to write, but thanks to my students I didn’t write it alone.

On the first day of class I made a promise to the young writers before me.  I swore I would never assign anything for their writing that I wouldn’t do for my own.  When they did character studies, I did character studies. When they workshopped dialogues, I workshopped my dialogue with them.  When they wrote a sex scene, I wrote a sex scene, and always, always my work was published in our class folders alongside theirs.  They read this book as I wrote, and each one of them commented on my story the same way I did theirs.  As the semester progressed, I had to articulate not only how to do each assignment but also why it was important to the writing process, which was only fair to them but not always natural to me. Sometimes it meant examining habits I’d previously taken for granted.

One such previously unexamined area was setting. I’ve set romances in familiar places, foreign counties, dramatic landscapes, and in some cases really rooted my characters’ emotions to those locations.  It’s something I’ve generally done without thinking too much about it.  But simply telling students to write up a vivid setting and make your characters interact with it didn’t make for a very good lesson plan.  I researched setting worksheets and gimmicks, but I’d promised I wouldn’t make them do anything I wouldn’t do for my own story, and I wasn’t about to waste time filling out busy work. So, together we worked out the idea of a setting mock-up which combined not only visuals of the setting and the characters, but one that actually moved through the story with them, a cross between a collage and a storyboard.  These projects ended up becoming one of my favorite assignments to review with the students, and my own mock up became a valuable tool that I referred to at almost every step in my own writing process.  Like so many parts of our craft, we worked together to take a weakness and turn it into a strength.

No part of this process was easy, none of the planning or the writing or the explaining, but then again, I wasn’t writing an easy book.  I’m not sure I could have tackled such an emotionally heavy and technically challenging novel without having to teach my students to do the same. Learning to teach writing taught me to be a better writer. Suddenly, writing wasn’t just something I did anymore. It became something I knew, something I could share.

So, in the interest of sharing that connection between my career and my classroom, here is the setting mock-up for Does She Love You.  If you click through the Prezi, it will zoom in on the various quadrants that offer a snapshot of various stages in the novel.

http://prezi.com/gyqnms_w0hoo/does-she-love-you-setting/#share_email

I’ll leave the interpretation of those photos to you as you read the book. 🙂

And finally, no Does She Love You blog would be complete without some Reba

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June 5, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Although…”And Still” just….well….it just does

    Comment by Melissa Reed Huettner | June 14, 2013 | Reply


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