Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Bad boys & the risky business of writing

I never had a thing for bad boys.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire the aesthetic as much as the next woman. I’ll gladly gawk at the tattooed beefcake with the bedroom eyes and the police record.

I just never wanted to date him. Maybe I lack the “rescuer” gene that draws many women to men like that. Maybe I just found more appeal in good boys – or more accurately, in being the one to make good boys do bad things.

I blogged last month about the thrill I get writing many different heroes, but I have to admit, the guy in my current manuscript is throwing me for a loop.

He’s a former bad boy who’s gone to rehab and cleaned up his act. My heroine – who was married to the hero's best friend and knew him well when he was a self-destructive drunk – is doubtful he’s changed.

It’s an interesting dynamic, and I’m having fun with it. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge. Not just the fact that I’m writing a divorced heroine and a recovering alcoholic hero, but that I have to tackle those issues sensitively while still making you laugh hard enough to piddle down your leg.

That’s a handful.

I can find comic relief in secondary characters – the alpaca who likes to head-butt men in the gonads, the pink-haired grandmother who's in a motorcycle gang, the over-amorous parents who never stop groping each other.

I think I’m striking a decent balance, but it’s too soon to tell. I might just be crafting a document my husband will eventually hand over to our family physician as evidence I should be heavily medicated.

Only time – and my critique partners – will tell.

I knew this story was a risk when I proposed it as the third book in my contract. To be honest, I was surprised my editor picked it out of four other ideas I offered. It was the one I most wanted to write, but also the most challenging.

There’s some comfort in knowing it’s already sold, but also some panic. What if they hate it? What if I hate it? What if my mother-in-law reads what I wrote above about making good boys do bad things and decides to backhand me for corrupting her son?

Writing is a risky business no matter where you are in your career. There’s the risk of pouring your heart and soul into a book that agents and editors might not love. There’s a risk in every decision you make – from what genre to pursue, to what kind of car your heroine drives.

But the risks are also the fun part. They’re what keep us from writing the same book over and over until our eyes glaze and we topple unconscious from our chairs and hit our head on the floor and bleed to death and end up being devoured by the cat.

Hypothetically speaking.

What risks are you taking in your writing? Do you enjoy it, or do you just want to hide under the bed? Please share in the comments, I’m curious.

And I’m also braced for that backhand.

23 comments :

Linda G. said...

Well, in my latest WIP the hero/love interest is a 300-pound orangutan, and the heroine is 80-year-old primatologist, remarkably fit for her years. Theirs is a forbidden love, poignant yet oh-so-powerful. Touching, truly.

What do you think? Too risky for the current romance market? Or just daring enough? ;)

Jamie D. said...

Honestly? I feel like I'm taking a risk every time I write a sex scene. My mother does not read sex scenes. Once she buys a book with even a mildly steamy scene in it, she won't buy the author again. Or the line, as it were, if we're talking category. She does not read the line I want to write for with Harlequin.

I was raised to be a good Christian girl. You don't talk about sex, you don't lust after men, and if you're "doing it", you keep it to yourself. Heaven forbid you actually admit to *liking* it, and one should always frown on people sleeping together outside of wedlock. Or doing anything remotely kinky.

Um...all of which goes right out the window in my novels. My mother will want to read at least one thing I've written, as will the rest of her extended family, just to be supportive. I'd be okay if they didn't.

On the upside, once she reads one, she probably won't want to read any more...

Bethany Elizabeth said...

You know what's weird? I love bad boys, and not actually because of how they look. And I don't mean guys who're into drinking/tattoos/motercycles, I mean guys who have world destruction in mind. :D odd...
I guess my recent risk is the subject of my latest WIP - it's YA about the lives of a few high school seniors, but here's the thing: it's centered around marching band. I just don't know if there's any market for it. But I'm writing it anyway, because it's incredibly fun anyway.

Patty Blount said...

I'm with Jamie on this one... the sex scenes in my work are always the most fun but always the one most likely to make me break out in rash.

Um. Not that kind of rash. I'm just always afraid someone will pick up what I've written and assume it's an instruction manual (which I write in my day job).

Current WIP is a YA romance where there is sex. Teenagers have sex, right? I'm old, but not THAT old. The question is, how much of it do I show "on screen" or leave "behind closed doors"?

The other risky thing is writing in the first person POV as an 18-year-old male. Fortunately, I'm the mom of an 18-year-old male and can run all work past him for verification.

Danica Avet said...

I don't know if what I'm writing is risky or not. To me it feels normal, but I do wonder if I should be writing a paranormal romance with an Amazon and a minotaur. I mean...a bull man? Seriously? But I'm having fun with it because do you know how many sayings that can be used for insults, sex scenes, and whatever else I can think of? Er, probably not, but still!! I'm having a blast with it and I think that's all that really matters in the end.

Have fun with your risky business and it'll show to the readers.

Elizabeth Ryann said...

Haha, this is the very issue I've been tormenting myself with lately! I kind of hate time-traveling novels, so obviously I have included a time travel element. I dislike paranormal activity set in the past, but I'm cool with it in the present and future. There's lots of paranormal going on throughout time here, including the past. Dreams and letters are boring for me to read. I have, of course, included both in my current WIP. I have also created a number of challenges for myself by orphaning my underage MC, as though making the previous elements interesting wasn't challenge enough. And of course they move around a lot (and also through time), so I have to research every other sentence I want to write, essentially.

And as much as I'm driving myself crazy by incorporating all of these challenges (b/c why am I doing this to myself again??), I'm actually really really enjoying it.

My heroine's still not fiery, though. Apparently that's the one line I won't cross.

Posey said...

Wit... I haz none. It's a risk to attempt it myself, much less trying to make a character have some.

Tawna Fenske said...

Linda G, I would totally read that book. You must write it now!

Jamie D, LOL, maybe you should do it like ripping off a band-aid? Just show her your smuttiest scene and hope she never asks to see anything ever again? My mom will actually catch typos in my sex scenes :)

Bethany Elizabeth, that sounds like a really interesting YA concept!

Patty, interesting question on sex in YA. I don't know a lot about that genre, but I know there's a Twitter hashtag where YA writers get together on scheduled nights and discuss things like that. I want to say it's #YALITCHAT or #KIDLITCHAT or something like that?

Danica, if you're having fun with it, that's all that really matters!

Elizabeth, I'm so tempted to describe my current heroine as "fiery" just once for you!

Posey, surely you have wit! Maybe you just don't recognize it in yourself?

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Janie Bill said...

Great insight to the complexities of dealing with bad boy characters. My writing risk is to incorporate the good and bad of my main characters. It places the writer in a vulnerable position of having the reader resent you for failing to meet their idealic fantasies of mankind.

Jeannie said...

I'm a teacher, so the sex scenes are a big risk for me, even though I'm writing under my maiden name. Someone's going to out me and one day there will be students roaming the halls of the school where I work with my novel and all the pages with "good" parts will be tagged with post-its. I anticipate some crazy Board of Education meetings with crazy parents and calls for my head when I do get published.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I can see the complexity of you problem there. Good post.

My challenge is writing a noir that's light, but of course being "noir," also dark. Dark light, it's a balance.

Jen J. said...

Risks? Well, I know that science is my strength (20-year bench scientist here) but taking that science and trying to make it interesting to the non-science geeks all while keeping it real and relevant is both a risk and a challenge. Handling the male and female protagonists and their interactions is the safe and easy part.

And frankly, I have no problems with the sex scenes at all! ;)

Kathryn said...

Very interesting topic, Tawna! I happen to be a fan of the bad boy, but I always knew that I would never marry one (nor did I!).

Some scenes are definitely more of a challenge than others. For me, it's writing chit chat. It was by far the most challenging aspect of my most recent ms: I had to think about what people talk about, what they chat about, how, and so on. It was lots of fun, but I definitely went out of my comfort zone for that! :)

No comment on writing sex scenes. ;)

Jason said...

To me, POV changes always represent a risk. I've seen multiple books that view various scenes from the view of different characters, but if one of the characters is "I" it somehow feels off. For what I'm setting out to write It's going to be a multi-POV novel, but I don't know if I can pull of one of them being "I" - I don't know if I've seen anyone manage it successfully, even in published novels by successful authors (yes, they are published, but did it really work?).

Katt said...

Great Post Question

My big risk is my current wip in first person and third person(the hero). All the feedback on the KOD loop was encouraging, so I went with it and it feels right. Fingers crossed that it is.

And then there's the sex. I'm afraid there's a whole group of people who will soon look at me with crossed eyes wondering how the heck I could know that stuff!

And my dad at 81 read my first book, steamy but not explicite... his comment was, thank heavens you didnt'feel the need to draw the picture! (may he rest in peace, happy that he didn't get to read the next ones)!

cheers!

Elizabeth Ryann said...

You know, I'm pretty okay with not being honored in that way. Thanks. For the record. Though I'd probably crack up if I actually ran across it in print.

Tawna Fenske said...

Janie, love this: "It places the writer in a vulnerable position of having the reader resent you for failing to meet their idealic fantasies of mankind." No small task! Good luck with that!

Jeannie, can I just say that I love how you said "when I get published" and not "if"?

Terry, that sounds like an excellent formula for a good mocha. Or beer. Or noir, whatever.

Jen J, I love how you throw that out there so proudly about the sex scenes :)

Kathryn, interesting about the chit-chat. I tend to slap down dialogue just to get something on the page, and then go back later and make it actually mean something.

Jason, I love books with multiple POVs. Judy Blume's SUMMER SISTERS is one of my favorites and it has maybe a dozen. In my romantic comedies, I flip back and forth between the hero & heroine's POV in third person, but I tend to write my mysteries from a first-person POV.

Katt, love your story about your father (and my condolences on your loss). I sometimes ask my parents to beta read for me, and I always tell my mom, "could you tell Dad not to read those 15 pages there toward the end?"

Elizabeth, fiery, fiery, fiery, FIERY!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Christi Goddard said...

I guess I'm taking a bit of a risk with writing a story from two POV, written in first person. One is a teenager and the other is the person who is making his life intentionally difficult to see how he reacts.

Amie Boudreau said...

When my first novel Reckless was published I found it amusing and interesting the various reactions I got from women on my main male character and his bad boy persona. They either loved him or hated him. There was no in between. Mostly they loved him despite his total badness.

And it's fun to write!

Jeannie said...

Tawna, if I don't believe I've got it going on, nobody will. I used to say "if" when talking about selling my books, now I try to be positive and say "when." And when I do publish, the sex scenes will create scandal and I will love every minute of it.

Claire Dawn said...

"while still making you laugh hard enough to piddle down your leg."

Let me just say that phrase right there almost made me piddle down my leg. :)

I have a thing for moderate bad boys. The guy who didn't do his homework in school, but always pays his taxes. I don't get the whole tattoed biker thing either.

Totally agree that writing is a risk. Since I'm not from North America or England or Australia, or anywhere else where a publishing (as in printing something other than textbooks) industry actually exists, I've written two novels which have settings and cultures which are generic enough to be anywhere. But why would anyone be interested in generics?

Yesterday I started my first novel set in Barbados. Scary!!!

As for what people will think. I think I'm going to start wearing a shirt, "I'm a writer. Anything you say or do can and will be used against you in the court of novel."

Jennifer X said...

Could you write something about how to corrupt good boys without making them run away? ;-P

prashant said...

What do you think? Too risky for the current romance market?
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