Contemporary Romance Writer: My (least) Favorite Word

 

I’ve informed my family they won’t be seeing much of me for the next few months.

Why, you ask?

I’m diving into my second novel. Which is due to my publisher, Howard Books, in May. Yep. Four months from now.

No. I am not panicking.

Much.

My editor approved the synopsis for my next inspirational contemporary romance — but not without asking some questions first.

And so I explained why I changed up a character. Why I inserted a particular subplot — and wanted to keep it. Why a character’s problem was real — in a fictional sort of way, of course — not a ploy to push another character away.

And I also explained why, oh why, I wanted to write this novel.

As you read this post, are you getting a hint of my (least) favorite word?

Why.

Go ahead. Ask me why.

I will be wrestling the word “Why” into submission (and, yes, there’s a pun there) as I write my work-in-progress (WIP). I’ve answered my editor’s first round of whys — but it won’t be the last round of whys.

I’m going to barrage my main characters with whys. It’s the only way to peel back the shallow layer of a hero or heroine and discover their hidden depths.

As one of my mentors, best-selling author Susan May Warren, says in her writing book The Book Buddy: You ask your character who are you? How would you identify yourself? (Keep asking “Why?” until you get to their motivations and values.)

So why is “why” my (least) favorite word? I know the value of asking why. But sometimes I don’t ask why enough. I settle for the surface answer. I dig into my character … sort of.

But I have another mentor. Award-winning authorย Rachel Hauck, aka Madame Mentor. She refuses to let me be a shallow writer. One time she asked me a series of whys about my hero. My answer: Because. Because I need such-and-such to happen in the story.

Not the right answer.

And so I was handed a figurative shovel and told to dig. And the way to do that is with the word why. And, yes, ultimately I was glad I took the time and effort to ask why, why, why. I understood my character much, much better when I was done.

In Your Words: I’ve told you my least favorite word. Do you have one? OK, that may be a loaded question. Why is it your least favorite word? (My husband said to ask that!) And here’s a another just-for-fun question: Read any good books lately?

 

 

 

 

 

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19 Comments

  1. January 12, 2012, 5:06 am   /  Reply

    You have just illustrated a fear of mine. Sometimes I’m not sure if we pre-published authors appreciate not having to answer so many why’s from others. It’s one thing to ask ourselves “why?” as we write, but I get a little antsy at the prospect of answering “why?” to others before I’ve actually written the novel. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m up to the challenge. ๐Ÿ™‚ However, I appreciate this time, too, as I increase my experience with my novel-writing process.)

    • Beth Vogt
      January 12, 2012, 8:47 am   /  Reply

      The learning process is there on either side of the word “published” pre or post, Heather. And I have no doubt you are up to the challenge.

      • January 13, 2012, 10:41 am   /  Reply

        Heather – I think that is a big question every author needs to ask themselves – becaues you’ll need the answer later, like in the dark hours in the middle of a book. Or when faced with bad reviews.

        I posted on this on monday at MBT…I think the post is still on the front page under “conversations and a aspiring novelist.”

        And, btw, you have to keep asking WHY throughout the entire book -it’s the key to making sure your character isn’t too stupid to live! ๐Ÿ™‚ Can’t wait to read book 2, Beth!

  2. January 12, 2012, 6:05 am   /  Reply

    The word “why” makes me think of preschoolers…remember those years when “why?” was their most favorite word?

    As a wanna-be-writer, my current least favorite word is “show”…as in “show don’t tell”. Like you, it’s a word I don’t want to hear, but if I want to improve my writing, it’s a word I NEED to hear.

    I’m currently reading Les Miserables. I’ve avoided it all these years and now that I’m reading it I could kick myself. It’s captivating. I love it.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 12, 2012, 8:46 am   /  Reply

      Patricia,
      I saw Les Miz at the Denver Center last fall — so, so excellent. The voices, the orchestra, the staging. Still haven’t read the book though. Need to do that.

  3. Michelle
    January 12, 2012, 6:13 am   /  Reply

    My least favorite word is LOOKED. I use it WAY too often in my writing. She LOOKED at him and sighed. He LOOKED at the sky hoping he’d find the answers. Looked, looked. Ugh! Every time I use that word I stop, delete, and find a different way to say it, and that’s work.

    Good books–I just read HERETIC’S DAUGHTER. Loved it. Kathleen Kent’s debut novel tells the story of the Salem Witch Trials. I loved her metaphors. What a piece of art!

    • Beth Vogt
      January 12, 2012, 8:45 am   /  Reply

      Sigh.
      Michelle, my characters tend to glance. I have to weed that word out.
      And now, I have another book for my To Be Read (TBR) pile. Thank you.

  4. January 12, 2012, 6:28 am   /  Reply

    Great (and useful) post. Plus lessons learned from your (our) mentors still help us go deeper. I still need to ask why some more. Thanks for reminder. Meanwhile, reading Fireflies in December finally helped me learn when a plot is episodic rather than rolling steadily foreward gaining momentum like a giant snowball rolling downhill. (You’ll read more about that in a future MBT Ezine article.) Thanks, Beth, and happy productive writing.

    • Beth Vogt
      January 12, 2012, 8:44 am   /  Reply

      Dee,
      Looking forward to your ezine article. I love sharing what we learn with other writers. We’re on this journey together. Oh, the places you’ll go …

  5. January 12, 2012, 7:57 am   /  Reply

    I hate the word “can’t”. I refuse to give in to its power when it is tempting me to give up. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Beth Vogt
      January 12, 2012, 8:41 am   /  Reply

      Another reason to hang with you, Lindsay. I like your attitude. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. January 12, 2012, 9:38 am   /  Reply

    Great questions, Beth. I belong to Randy Ingermanson’s local critique group (Columbia River Christian Writers) and I have to say there’s a question from Randy I’ve learned to dread anticipate: “What changes in this scene, Camille?” It’s become a joke in the group. It’s not just me who gets the question, but of course I’m the one making the most noise. It’s a great question (if you tend to write a scene just because, as Beth said, you need such & such to happen in the story) because that Randy voice is in my head while I write a new scene, reminding me to make sure there is some growth, some change, some needed forward motion to the character or storyline. Yes. Writers hear voices. Readers: this is the real reason we write novels. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Books: I recently read & loved The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, The Captive Heart by W. Dale Cramer (I recently reviewed the book & interviewed the author HERE), and am currently reading & loving There You’ll Find Me by Jenny B. Jones. Makes the little word-well in my writer brain happy to read great writing & storytelling. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Beth Vogt
      January 12, 2012, 3:56 pm   /  Reply

      Ah, great question, Camille: What changes in this scene?
      I mean, in real life we want change, even as we dread it at times. And readers what change in a novel — and change that makes sense, not just change for change sake.

      I thoroughly enjoyed There You’ll Find Me. It’s categorized as YA, but I ignored that and read it in less than 2 days.

  7. Jeanne T
    January 12, 2012, 10:20 am   /  Reply

    Loved this post, Beth. I’m learning to like the word, “Why,” because it’s making me a better writer. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m with Lindsay, I do not like the word, “Can’t.” My kids use it, and I make them change it. ๐Ÿ™‚ At times, I have to change my thinking and remember that with God, I can.

    I loved Susie’s Baby, It’s Cold Outside. I’m also rotating between Bringing Up Boys and other fiction. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Beth Vogt
      January 12, 2012, 3:57 pm   /  Reply

      You’re like me, Jeanne, and a lot of other people I know — reading multiple books at one time. I tend to lose track of how many I’m reading and I also tend to mix and match fiction and non-fiction.

  8. January 12, 2012, 10:55 am   /  Reply

    I hate the word “cheesy.” I have no idea why. Maybe because I’m afraid that’s exactly what I am. Or, maybe because I like actual cheese enough to twist the word into meaning something not cool. ๐Ÿ™‚

    As for good books, I finished “The Shadow of Your Smile” over the weekend. Superb! I love the way Susie writes emotion. Just last night I started reading “Love Lifted Me.” So, I’ve got your mentors’ material covered. ๐Ÿ™‚ Next in queue: Denise Hunter’s “The Accidental Bride.”

  9. January 12, 2012, 10:56 am   /  Reply

    Wait, typo up there…I meant I like actual cheese enough NOT to twist the word… ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Beth Vogt
      January 12, 2012, 3:59 pm   /  Reply

      Thanks for clarifying, Melissa, but I knew what you meant.
      ๐Ÿ™‚
      And I think Denise Hunter’s an excellent writer. Have you read The Convenient Groom? Loved it! And I’m also reading Loved Lifted Me — terrific from the get-go!

  10. Patti Mallett
    January 15, 2012, 11:31 am   /  Reply

    Okay. Susie and Rachael just told us to ask “Why??” and now you are, Beth. I’m getting the message and will spend the week ahead asking that question of my characters (until they want to punch me in the face-or at least that’s my goal). heheheh

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