Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Came First, the Market or the Story?

It's finals time for me in my return to college journey.  I thought I'd replay an older post written two years ago that is still ringing true today.   It's a post that feels like deja vu, because, with a bit of surprise, I realize I've started a story with many of the elements I ignored in this idea brainstorm.   You never know what the muse may be trying to tell you!

Two years ago...

Ideas are cheap, or so I thought. That is, until I tried to come up with an idea for a specific market and found the experience similar to trying to force a jigsaw puzzle piece into a slot that it just doesn't belong in. As I've discovered, aiming for a market and then coming up with the idea is a whole different thought process. It takes a discipline my poor mind rebels against at every turn.

The market I'm talking about is was Harlequin Presents. And I'm tempted...oh, so tempted. That, in itself, isn't such an odd thing, but for a writer who has never written a story without someone time traveling, using magic or being a, you get the picture. Something's gotta go!

And then there's the "doubts" and the "don'ts." The doubts are writing what I don't know; sheiks and exotic, foreign locales coming to mind. And I'm still nervous when it comes to steamy, knock your socks off love scenes. I'm getting better, but it doesn't come easy. And the "don'ts." My ideas have a lot of "don'ts" for a Presents. Don't let the plot overtake the relationship. Don't let the secondary characters take over, and, of course, don't insert paranormal or suspense elements.

With all these doubts and don'ts, where is the appeal?

Simply that I love to read Presents novels! I gobble them up and, while it's a 50/50 gamble to find one memorable story, it's pure emotional escapism. The hero is an alpha male, through and through, and the heroine has a certain vulnerability. In many ways, it's a Cinderella story. So, out of pure stubbornness perhaps, I'm tempted to dive into this world, but I have no "idea" of the story. I figure it wouldn't hurt to brain storm, and I jot down all I can think of that makes a Presents novel. Maybe an idea will come...

I tell myself, let's look at this objectively. I need a rich, powerful alpha hero. He's typically older than the heroine, say, mid to late thirties to her early to mid twenties. She's often his secretary or a friend to his sister. Hmm, some previous connection and below his station. Again, it's a bit of a Cinderella theme. I'm drawn to that.

I can do that. What else? Oh, often she gets pregnant after a one night stand with the sexy hero. And often she is a virgin or inexperienced. Hmm. That seems a bit implausible these days, but okay, the authors do seem to come up with some creative ways to get around these things. So, it's still a bit of the compromising situation that is found in my love of historicals, but in a modern setting. Another draw.

But where's the idea? Hmm. They have to be thrown together somehow. Maybe he's a neighbor. Maybe she inherited the house next door. I jot down just the two of them stranded in a storm. In a big, scary Victorian mansion with no power. With a ghost.

Stop. Obviously, I'm getting off track.  (Added thought:  But it's obviously my track.  I think my muse was trying to tell me something here.)

At every attempt, I run into the same problem. Now I've got her on the run. Abusive husband? Did she witness a crime? Suspense is creeping in, which is another market.  Oh boy, this is not going as planned.  (Or is it?)

I'd love to hear if you've had a similar challenge. Is there a genre you love to read but can't seem to mold a story to write?  New question: Have you found the story you want to write coming through and find it's a different market than what you started writing for?


  1. Melissa, I love that your brain put together a story from all the discarded items. :) I think we can be drawn to certain stories but still not be able to write them. I love angsty tales, but am not really able to write something for very long that doesn't turn to hilarity. LOL I have an opening scene for a romantic suspense that starts out serious. . .but I haven't gotten very far with it. It doesn't pull at me very strongly either. However, if somebody ELSE wrote it, I'd be the first one to read it! LOL

  2. Donna, that's exactly how it happened. The discarded items were the right parts. And it only took me 2 years to figure it out. LOL

    Maybe that's the way it should go with your angsty scene turning humorous. Or it might have both since comedy and tragedy have a lot in common. :)

  3. There is a difference between tuning your writing for a specific, and yet new-to-you market, or just starting out at something? It sounds as though you were very scientific about it all.

    My writing is normally a rambling start, that within a few pages knows where it is going. Letting the wandering happen is part of the joy if it all (unless you have a publisher to please, of course). I've got many such first chapters, or sections of a story, or even outlines, that never went anywhere at the time. But later, they may suit your mood, and need.

    Regarding the physical love scenes, I've found that reading some light erotica can help. I am not an 'experienced' person in such a field, so thought that might be a method of research I could handle. And it worked. My confidence in those scenes has been commented on, which still amuses me! I guess if you are writing romance in the 21st century, it's hard to avoid it- so your Market expects it, and it's better to practice than to ignore it!

    Love your blog!

  4. Thanks for stopping in and commenting hestia_s_rebellion!

    You know, I think you are right that my approach was "scientific" in my mind for seeing a difference between letting a story arrive or be crafted with a market in mind. It seemed logical that you'd need to consider specific elements for a specific market. But I did discover in this process that creativity and logic don't always work on the same timeline. I love what you say about story ideas suiting your mood and need. :)

    Currently I'm working on a story that has one of those rambling starts and I'm following along as best I can.

    Thanks also for your suggestions about the physical love scenes. I would be amused too if I received comments on my confidence in those scenes, but I'd love that. Practice writing them is the only way to make them better and I keep working at making them a natural extension of the story.


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