F**KING OWN IT
I have a favourite fanfic series, actually I have several, but there is one in particular that warms my heart and I end up reading at least once a year in spite of its massive word count. I’m not going to name it here because it is, frankly, kinda bad. And yet not. The stories are epic. All love is true love, either love at first sight or love that is pined after for years (centuries). No one dies, everyone lives happily ever after, and babies don’t seem to ever need changing. It’s ridiculous. Then there is the dialogue
“Oh, what havoc you wreak within my breast.”
The characters talk like that all the time, which is about a lightyear away from any canon dialog. The prose is about as purple as Grape Kool Aid with paragraphs dedicated to the twinkle in a character’s eyes. The stories are the worst stereotype of what is considered a ‘romance novel’.
Other writers might throw a wink to the reader. A sort of ‘yeah, I know I’m writing like this, isn’t it funny’. Still others might start this way and evolve into a more natural voice over the course of a million words.
Not these stories.
There is an unbroken consistency and possibly more importantly an honesty in the bad dialogue, purple prose, and sprawling plots. This author found her written voice and over the course of a million words has never wavered. She owned it and I respect that. I respect that in a lot of my favourite authors, Hunter Thompson, Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury. They found a way of telling a story and made it theirs.
One of my dear writing friends is Cooper West. She knew me back when I was writing fanfic and has put up with a lot of my whining over the years. She is my cheerleader, ass kicker, and evil enabler.
Recently I attempted to write my first Category Romance for a big publisher.
For those not up on the lingo Category Romances are 50,000 words (though I hear Harlequin has recently dropped it down to 48,000) and usually published in numbered series. They are the bread and butter of Harlequin and Mills & Boon. And despite being regularly dismissed as being formulaic and their readers looked down upon, like any heavily structured writing format they can actually be fiendishly difficult. You can’t put anything into those 50k. Like writing an hour of broadcast television you have exactly 42 minutes to get in five acts and two plot lines. Good luck.
Like my first attempt to write for television this first attempt at a category romance failed miserably. The story is good (I think) and they characters are there but I got 20k in, went back and read what I had written and hated it. I wanted to cry. It felt like it had been written by someone else who didn’t get the characters, the story, or what I was trying to say. Except I was the one who wrote the travesty on my screen.
Cue me whining to Cooper West about how much I hate what I’ve written and how people are going to hate the story even if I rewrite it. That the story isn’t what is in right now. It’s technically a BDSM story but it also has spoiled cats, meddling matchmaking friends, and married couples who tell dorky jokes, complain about the crap energy drinks kids these day drink, and shoot rubber bands at each other. Stuff that made Cooper West comment, when I let her read a bit of what I had.
This is just….adorable!
Yep. Apparently I write adorable BDSM. This I whined about. It wasn’t supposed to be adorable. It was supposed to be hot and sexy and fly off the shelves. I was told to ‘fucking OWN IT’. The all caps were hers not mine.
Fucking own it.
So I’m rewriting now, what else can I do, and I’m trying to own it. I’m not writing for the publisher or the agent I pitched the story to. I’m not writing for what I think is in right now or what I think my previous readers might want or what the review blogs will say. I’m just sitting down and trying to tell the story the way I tell stories.
My therapist once told me he likes me because I make him laugh. Half the reviews for Empty Nests commented on how funny it was. I still get comments on my decade old BDSM fanfic about how warm, fluffy, and cuddly the stories are. So I guess there’s nothing left to do but fucking own it.