Earlier this year, I joined a contemporary romance writing class mentored by a popular local author Mina V. Esguerra (check out her works like Fairy Tale Fail and Interim Goddess of Love, among others). On Twitter, it’s addressed as #romanceclass, thus the title of this entry. (And it also makes my friends double-take whenever I say I’m taking a ‘romance class.’ Yes, they made that leap.)
While the platform for the class is primarily online via a Facebook group, there were monthly meetups for those who are in Manila for discussions. There were about a hundred of us in the class, something that really amused me. A group of writers (or those who want to be, at least). I personally only know about three or four people who like to write as a pasttime, so this is a revelation to me.
Anyway, the goal: come up with a contemporary romance novella in about six months. If you’re into definition of terms, that is a work of about 30,000 words (not exceeding 50,000), set in the present time. Characters should be real people—no vampires or werewolves involved—with the primary plot being love.
A couple of days ago, I submitted my complete manuscript to my beta reader (so that’s what they’re called!) and to Ms. Mina. A bit ahead in submission (looking to be a rather busy May, and there’s this thing called… ‘flow’ or Muse or plain inspiration).
Let’s recap this writing experience, shall we?
The first thing Ms. Mina asked us to submit was this “summary” of what your story is about, who your main character and love interest are, and how your story ends. To be honest, I’m one of those go-with-the-flow writers—I seldom go beyond knowing who my main characters are, their backstory, and what the main plot would be. In some of my stories, I don’t even know how they end before I start them, which I now learned is something ‘bad’ to do. You should know how your story ends so you can plant the seeds early on in the story, and so that your story also doesn’t stray far from where you want it to go.
The next thing we submitted was an outline of your story. The outline requires you to think of your story in three parts:
- Act One: where you establish the characters, plant the conflict
- Act Two: where your characters fall in love, where revelation takes place, where you introduce your supporting characters, and where the conflict happens
- Act Three: where your main character is at his/her lowest, where an ‘epiphany’ takes place (in the form of a supporting character or an event), and where grand gestures take place (it could be your MC or your LI doing the grand gesture). Your MC, depending on how you want it to end, would either succeed in his/her battle or lose the war.
Each act should contain a kilig moment, which should ‘progress’ as your story continues.
So this was where a couple of issues came to light for me. First, as mentioned earlier, I was a flow type of writer, so I do not do outlines. Well, rarely, only in the cases where I already know what I want to happen in the next chapters and I jot them down so I won’t forget them. But not complete, start-to-finish outlines. I do not do acts (or I don’t know that I already am doing that) either.
(Just to clarify: you’re not required to follow the outline to the letter; it’s there to guide you and serve as a skeleton of your story. I deviated from my outline a couple of times when I wrote my manuscript, but I tried to keep it close.)
Lesson #1: Structure. While I’m still a flow writer, it doesn’t hurt at all to have a structure of what I wanted to write. It made writing easier. :)
My next problem at this stage was that I made the mistake of choosing a story that I only liked. It wasn’t something I was particularly excited about. I just submitted just for the heck of having something to pass. Since this was the case, I had trouble coming up with the outline. I managed to submit it, but I wasn’t happy about it.
The issue about not liking my story that much only became a really big problem by the time the writing started. I couldn’t come up with anything. I stared at the screen and couldn’t think of where to properly start. Eventually I asked Ms. Mina if I can restart, choosing a topic that I was excited about, something I loved. And then it got easy.
Lesson #2: Passion. Go with something you know you can fuel and keep burning.
Writing all 20,000++ words of Act One and Two only happened in roughly a week: during Holy week. (also managed to finish Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Princess at this time too!) During this stage, I stocked up on the following:
- Music–and tons of it. For Act One, I have One Direction to thank (as my friend says, being a Directioner knows no age, haha). Act Two was a combination of McFly and A Rocket to the Moon. For Act Three, it was Paramore and Fall Out Boy. Also, I’m not sure if someone would notice, the chapter titles in my story were songs made popular during the year the story was happening, so it also helped me writing it while I was listening to those songs.
- Research, research, research… especially when I haven’t personally experienced the event I was describing in the story, or I haven’t been to the place my MC and LI are going to. Google is a big help.
I also laid a couple of ground rules:
- Write at least 1,000 words a day. – I ended up writing the story so much that I broke this, inching close to 1,500 words a day. The writing goal helped me not to slack off, and also to get the story—bit by bit—done.
- Do a writing sprint every once in a while. – Unplug. No internet, no Twitter, no TV, no distractions… Just writing, for a full hour.
- When stuck, do any of the following: eat, take a walk, take a bath, or ‘call a friend.’ The last one, I don’t use too much, but I know it helps too. A friend can help figure out how to get you out of the rut you’re stuck in, or make leaps that you wouldn’t. (Or make you see the options that your MC isn’t choosing)
- Do not edit… at least not yet. – I only started to revise after I finished writing an act. I think if you constantly try to edit and edit, your story won’t go anywhere. Let it flow first, and then go back to review. I also tried to avoid looking at the word count at this stage. I think later on, when the story’s complete, that’s when you can check which scenes you can delete, combine or add.
- Have fun. – Remember that at the end of the day, you’re doing this because you enjoy doing it.
Act Two was a bit tougher to write than Act One, because it is where the characters fall in love. And it’s harder to come up with romantic, kilig scenes that are not cliché. I got some help here by looking at the list of kilig scenes my co-members in the writing class had enumerated during a meetup. See? Brainstorming works sometimes :)
Act Three was where the hellish part of writing started for me. I think it came with the time jump in my story–each act is two years apart, and I ended Act Two with a cliffhanger (LI and MC aren’t okay), and I couldn’t justify by the start of the Act Three why they are still talking / in communication. Also, while writing Act Two, I kept on thinking: why does it feel like all the scenes are in my Act Two? So I had to go back and review the outline (it actually does wonders). I made some adjustments, and then writing became easier again.
Another difficulty: I wanted to quote some songs in the story, but since there are some copyright concerns (especially if you want to sell the book in the future), I had to make do with mentioning the titles of some. I think cases like this force you to be a bit more creative, like coming up with your own song / lyrics because you couldn’t quote another song (which I tried to do, so forgive me if the lyrics in the story are horrid).
And then there’s the beta reader. It’s someone outside of yourself who’s reading the story and commenting on it. Ideally he/she is part of your ‘market,’ so the beta reader would feel what would work or what wouldn’t work. He or she is the one who’d say: maybe your characters lack chemistry. Maybe this part is a bit confusing. Maybe there should be more sass to your character, because you said she should be like this… It’s not necessary that you follow or revise based on your beta reader’s comments—you are the writer, after all—but a little input helps. :)
And then Lesson #3, which is possibly the biggest one: this is already something much, much bigger than me, my laptop, and my crazy thoughts. This writing class gave me insight to the entire writing process, from start to finish, including what’s next. Initially I just wanted to get a real, published book out there, to finally see that hey, I’m a writer, and hey, I can (hopefully) earn from this.
But this class gave me a reality kick, about things I never really thought about before. How even if what you wrote is pure fiction, your writings would reflect you to your (potential) readers. How even if you’re the writer, you still have readers to think about. It’s trying to mix and match both worlds: writing for yourself and for your readers. The entire publishing world and your options when you’ve finished the manuscript. And how maybe it’s not the end of the world when publisher after publisher ‘rejects’ you. There’s still self-publishing as an option, haha :)
Either way, your story will get out there—you just have to work hard. :)
So… while I sit here, hoping that my manuscript gets to be an actual book, I know I’m already a winner… because I learned a helluva lot from this writing class. Ms. Mina, you’re a life-changer :)