Monday, April 8, 2013

Lessons in romance writing, courtesy of a 7yo

“Do you want me to draw you a picture, write a poem, or write a story?”

This was the question posed to me by my gentleman friend’s seven-year-old daughter Saturday evening. Her dad and brother were on a quick run to the store, leaving me to glance around frantically at intervals in search of the responsible, supervising adult, only to realize that’s me.

Since we’d all spent our afternoon at an alpaca ranch, I had her draw an alpaca, followed by writing a poem about an alpaca. Then I suggested she write a story.

“What should I write a story about?” she asked.

I considered suggesting an alpaca, but decided we’d already beaten that theme to death. “I write stories for a living,” I told her. “You’d think I could come up with a good subject, but I’m drawing a blank.”

I half expected her to grab her pen and request instructions for drawing a blank, but she’s smarter than the average bear.

“What kind of stories do you write?” she asked.

I hesitated, deciding it was best to keep things simple instead of explaining the concept of romantic comedy and the fact that the last scene I wrote involved a passionate encounter with the characters covered in pureed beet.

“Well, I write romance novels,” I told her. “They’re pretty much like love stories.”

“Love stories,” she repeated, testing out the phrase.

“Sure,” I said. “Usually about a boy and a girl who love each other.”

I opted not to confuse the issue by explaining the current popularity of male/male romance or BDSM erotica—a responsibly adult decision, if I do say so myself.

“I’m going to write a love story,” she announced, and bent to the task with pen in hand. She wrote an introductory line, then looked up. “How did you and daddy meet?”

I weighed my words carefully, not sure how much to share. She’s heard snippets of the tale before, and we included both kids in the celebration two weeks ago when my gentleman friend and I commemorated the two-year anniversary of our first date.

But the details are a bit more complex. I imagined myself launching into the story. Well you see, you were a newborn when your parents moved here, and your dad got a job in the education department of a medical center where I served on the marketing team. But we really didn’t know each other at all—maybe just enough to say hello in the hallway—and we would have lost touch completely after we both moved on to other jobs. But your dad ended up working in an office where he became best friends with one of my close girlfriends, which is how I heard about your parents’ divorce and your dad’s eventual rebound to become the strong, confident, sexy guy he evolved into over the following few years. That’s why I called him for advice and moral support when I went through my own divorce several years later. Well, that, and the fact that I thought your daddy was hot, and I kinda wanted to make out with him.

I didn’t say any of that, of course.

“We both worked at the hospital,” I told her, aiming for simplicity. “A long, long, time ago.”

That was enough for her. She asked for help spelling a few words, including her father’s first name (which she recently discovered is not daddy).

At last, she presented me with the story:

It was lovely and simple and sweet, and a very good reminder to me of my own habit of over-thinking plot-lines for my romantic comedies. I’m not a plotter by nature, but recently had to craft a detailed synopsis for the editor handling a new book deal I haven’t formally announced yet.

When the editor presented me with constructive feedback on the synopsis, I laughed when I got to this line.

Tawna might be over-thinking this just a wee bit.

It’s a phrase I’ve considered having tattooed on my arm more than once, and a good reminder to me that sometimes less is more, particularly when it comes to love stories.

Luckily, the notes came at a point where it was easy for me to course-correct and head in a more simplified direction with the story. I’m now about two-thirds of the way through, and feeling good about things.

When my gentleman friend returned from the store, the seven-year-old presented him with the story, complete with a hand-drawn cover. “Do you like it?” she asked him.

He smiled at her, then at me. “Very much.”

Are you a fan of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) or do you struggle like I do with the habit of over-thinking things? Please share!

I’m going to go read that story again. There might be a line or two to help me out with this next scene.


Teri Anne Stanley said...


Kids do have a way of cutting through the crap we add to everything, don't they?

I over-think things, over-talk things, over-do's a wonder I ever get to that last one, the part where when I actually do something, it's too much.

miaohdeux said...

I am a chronic overthinker. I often precede my first drafts with pages and pages of notes - plot is not my strong point, so I get self conscious and think I have to overcompensate.

This is such a nice reminder to keep it simple - and what a sweet "how we met" story!

Raley Blue said...

If I'm not overthinking, I'm not thinking at all... check my pulse! I might be dead!

You are becoming a wonderfully responsible adult, btw, Tawna. I am very proud of you. :)

Larissa said...

Aw! Cutest story EVER!

I am totally a KISSer (ha!). Sometimes too much. My drafts are so short they hardly qualify as novels. *sigh* The grass is always greener... ;)

Matthew MacNish said...

Someday ... she is going to find all of your blog posts.

Skye said...

Hell, I overthink EVERYTHING. For the three months preceding my move back to Seattle, I had second thoughts and third thoughts and for the move itself I had a spreadsheet and constantly worried that I wouldn't get everything done in time, even tho' I've moved a couple of dozen times. It almost surprised me when we arrived on time and unscathed on Friday. Of course (ominous music here), the moving truck hasn't yet arrived, so that still has time to fall apart. :)

lora96 said...

I overthink and then I analyze it and decide I was on the wrong track and REthink it.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

That's a sweet story; maybe she'll grow up to a writer like you. Like you, I have a habit of over-thinking things; that's one of the reasons I'm neurotic. :) But I wasn't always like that, because I remember writing stories when I was close to your gentleman friend's daughter's age. I just wrote down what I wanted to say and what I thought would be interesting, and it seemed like it was much easier back then.

Unknown said...

Well, looks like I'm guilty of tossing that KISS principal out the window and watching it get driven over by several unsuspecting vehicles ...

I can't seem to be able to create simple characters! Each one has a complex back story and a million different twists and turns. and each character I name has a pretty good chance of showing up later on in my stories ...

Anyways, I was feeling a little down and out, but the heart in your blog post helped warm me up.

For that I thank you very much :-)

Time to write! :D