On Writing & Publishing by Robin D. Owens

Personal notes on writing techniques, writing a novel, my writing career and threading your way through publishing a book.

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Location: Denver, United States

RITA Award Winning Author -- that's like the Oscar, folks! Futuristic/Fantasy Romance and Fantasy with Romantic Subplots.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Writing An Online Serial

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI wrote this originally for myself as a journal entry. It was published more or less as you see it in the online newsletter of Science Fiction Romance, now known as Speculative Romance.http://www.specromonline.com/index.cfm?pg=1

Deb Hale (The Wizard's Ward) was the first Luna author to do an online read, and at that time I emailed the senior editor and told them I'd be interested in doing the same. Their response was not encouraging, so I put it completely out of my mind until my agent called in November 2004 and said they wanted me to do it. I was thrilled, but daunted, too, by several things.

First, the formula is very specific, eight chapters of about 1300 words each. I, of course, am used to writing about 125,000 word stories. My shortest is my July 2005 novella Road of Adventure in the Berkley anthology What Dreams May Come, and that went over wordcount...Secondly, the story had to be turned in by Decmember 15. That was just a month by the time we agreed on the contract. And they wanted a Lladrana (Luna world) story.

I immediately thought about what stories I could do that would be "short" yet tie into the book. I had a story I was thinking about with characters in the same world but not referenced in Guardian of Honor at all, then I had the older couple in Guardian and I could have gone back in time and done their story.

Or I could work with a young couple who get engaged in Guardian. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the last idea. It could be short, the heroine (Marwey) shows up in Chapter 2 of Guardian, and I could set it up to take place close to the beginning of Guardian of Honor and get a good hook from the story to the book (I hope). In fact, one of the first things I wrote in the story was the final line (now the third final line), which I think is an excellent lead in to Guardian of Honor. After that the story began to take shape in my mind.

There were problems, mostly because as I was writing the story, Guardian of Honor was being printed, so there was no way I could "fix" the book to match the story, if need be. Ah, the problems, first, the couple are youngsters -- Marwey is actually a teenager -- in the book. So both the characters sound more mature in the story than the book, and I deliberately don't mention their age in the story.

Next, I went through my ms. of Guardian of Honor and read every scene where Marwey and Pascal appeared or were mentioned (by this time I'd written about 1/2 the story) and realized a horrible thing. The last time we see Pascal, the hero of the eharlequin story, he is flying (winged horse) off to battle. I never tied this up in the book, because it wasn't important (all right, I figured that if I didn't show people lying dead in a pool of blood, the reader would realize they hadn't fallen in battle). What was I going to do? What about those readers who love the story and buy Guardian of Honor waiting to see Marwey and Pascal? Aren't they going to be a little upset if he flies off to battle and we don't know what happened? Oh, yeah.

This was turn-your-stomach what-am-I-going-to-do time for a few hours. Then I realized that I had a character in Guardian of Honor that had a minor gift of prophecy. What if I made THAT guy integral to the story and had him go into a little trance and tell Marwey that she and Pascal will live long and have a lot of children. Worked for me.

The last problem was Marwey's name. Not exactly a pretty name and one I wouldn't usually give to a heroine. Worst of all, it began with "M." I had just finished writing Heart Choice, whose heroine's name is Mitchella. I was working on Sorceress of Faith, the second Luna book, where my editor requested I change my heroine's name from Brandy. We agreed last year that her name would be Marian. So I'd sit down to write the eharlequin story, hit the M key for my heroine and have to STOP and THINK which name it was. ;) The heroines are not at all alike, especially Marwey, but the "M" problem continued.

So I wrote the story, got it back from critique buddies and revised twice, counted every word to make sure each chapter was under 1300, wrote it single-spaced in Arial 12 in loathed Word and turned it in early, telling myself I could continue with my plans for the holidays, and knowing I was brilliant.

Then I got the email from my online editor -- she really knows how to stroke an author, she was so excited to have a Luna story, my story was wonderful, I was brilliant -- but there were a few minor problems and could I call? I did. One of the minor problems was "sexual tension." That is AN AWFUL problem, it means the whole story doesn't work, and usually it is up to the
author to figure it out. Good news, I'm not limited to 1300 words -- which mangled the flow of the story a bit. (And which you can still see).

I fretted, I paced, I drastically rewrote two-thirds of the story. The hero and heroine no longer almost make love in chapter two and DO make love in chapter 3 (these are TEENAGERS I had to find good reasons, huh!) Finally I turned it in (a couple of days early again) and hear on Friday, December 30 5pm Eastern that it is ok. Great Relief, of course my holidays had been
a frenzy of family and writing, and not what I planned at all.

Some interesting things about the eharlequin story. It is work for hire. I don't own it. It is not mine. It's like an original painting. I sold it and it is gone.

Eight chapters of approximately 1300 words (okay, I didn't go over 1500), each chapter must be as "stand-alone" as possible so a reader can enter the story, know what's going on, be intrigued, read past chapters and pant to read new chapters. That means in the opening paragraphs of each chapter there must be some sort of little summary, and the ending must have a good emotional or plot hook.

So it's done, and I'm proud of it (though I didn't get to see any editing after I turned it in and they made a few word choice changes that I could have done better), but it is one of those stories, like my first Heart books, that I don't care if I ever see again, because I worked so hard on it.

Meanwhile, I got excellent feedback and some discussion back and forth as to who was stronger/more right in every chapter, the hero and the heroine. DISCUSSION HERE:


Throughout the eight weeks, for seconds at a time I thought I was brilliant once more...BTW, there is a minor discrepancy between the book and the story I was unable to fix.


Robin (and may you NOT worry about short or long wordcount today!)


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