I’m so pleased to have Julie Tetel Andresen on the blog today. I’ve known Julie for over a year, and she is an amazing individual with tremendous insight. Julie is a linguistics professor at Duke University, and she has written over twenty romance novels and novellas. She’s here today to share thoughts on her writing process. Enjoy, this is a great read with a lot of valuable information, and I love any opportunity to have Julie guest post! Julie, welcome. It’s always a pleasure to have you.
Lord Blackwell’s Rude Awakening: My Process
Julie Tetel Andresen
March 24, 2018
For more than a year I’ve been on a tear writing historical short stories: John Carter’s Conundrum, Georgian London, 32,000 words; A Most Curious Courtship, Regency London, 31,000 words; The Red Palace, Victorian-era India, 28,500 words; and Lord Blackwell’s Rude Awakening, Regency London, 26,000 words.
My wonderful editor, the talented Selina McLemore, had a few suggestions for the first three stories, all of which were easy to execute … and then we come to Lord Blackwell’s Rude Awakening. In her editorial letter she wrote the dread words: “I don’t think this story is currently realizing its full potential” and then outlined over the next seven pages all that was wrong with it.
My first reaction: What’s wrong with her? I really liked that story! Next: Hm, everything Selina has ever told me has always been spot on. Finally, I remembered the words we writers live by: You never learn anything from success.
Straight up: I’d written a dud.
Time for a deep breath. Also time to dig into the criticism.
After Selina sends her editorial letter she schedules a one-hour telephone conversation to discuss the story. I always take copious notes on our conversations, and I scribble them on the editorial letter I print out. Sometimes I just need paper.
Here is page 2 from her letter with my hand-written notes from our conversation. There is no correct orientation:
I jotted on at least three of the seven pages. These notes may not seem like much, but they were enormously helpful, and I referred to them constantly while I was revising.
What I did wrong: Between Selina’s letter and our conversation I came to understand that I had written half a story. The difference between the first three stories mentioned above and the Lord Blackwell fiasco was characterization.
In the first three stories the two main characters were evenly matched personality-wise, meaning that they could find their path to each other more quickly, thereby making the pace appropriate for a short story. The first three stories were also sexy historicals where I played with various scenarios foregrounding nudity.
In Lord Blackwell I threw the main characters into a marriage of convenience and established them on their wedding night in a light BDSM relationship, which made for a lot of nudity and hot bedroom scenes. Because I was still in the mind-set of the first three stories, I thought I was done.
The problem was, I had paired a seemingly plain heroine who was comfortable in the country with a sophisticated man-about-town hero, and I didn’t sufficiently develop their relationship outside of the bedroom. In short-changing the emotional development I forced myself into a somewhat nonsensical, which is to say, histrionic ending, where the heroine had to over-emote (out of character) in order for me to achieve the ending (I thought) I needed – and that was only one of the problems.
The lesson I keep on learning: It’s never the sex alone that makes for a good romance, even when the emphasis is on eroticism. It’s fundamentally about the emotional bond that forms, even if a good sexual relationship is established first.
How I fixed the problem: I came to understand that the first version of my story was like the negative of a photo (remember those?). I wanted to keep my characters the way they were, because I liked them, and they were sexually well matched. So good for me, their dark physical chemistry was already on the page. I now needed to create lots of white spaces to allow for the trajectory of their respective emotional journeys. Thus I had to add a lot more scenes outside the bedroom and more opportunities for dialogue inside the bedroom.
Here is how I kept track of my chapter-by-chapter revisions. The single squares represent expansions of already existing scenes. The double squares (plus orange marker) represent whole new chapters.
In other words, I added completely new Chapters 2, 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17 and extended material in Chapters 1, 3, 4, 8, 11, 14, 18, 19 and 20. Only Chapters 5, 6, 7, 12 and 13 were relatively untouched, although I did have to make minor adjustments in all of them.
As you see, I work messy. My process itself is ragged with lots of disorder on my desk and lots of dishes in the sink. It’s through the mess (so I tell myself) that I find a way to make my finished product as shapely and as seamless as possible.
More to the point, I added about 80% more story, bringing the final word count to 45,000, thus making Lord Blackwell a novella. My scribbling on the margins of p. 2, above, indicates my initial predictions for my final word count. I circled 55,000. Although I didn’t go as long as I thought I might, I’m satisfied I now have a whole story.
Once I overcame the hit to my ego I really enjoyed doing the revisions.
- Make sure you have a really good editor.
- Make sure you understand the emotional distance your characters need to cover in order to reach a satisfying body and soul connection.
- Let your story dictate its length. Don’t determine in advance “This is a short story.” Yes, you have to have some sense of what you’re writing, and a short story won’t have multiple subplots and a cast of thousands. However, in a romance, you have to give the love relationship the space to grow, and different relationships require different spaces, that is, lengths.
- In case you don’t have a good sense of #2 and/or #3, make sure you have #1.
To read Lord Blackwell’s Rue Awakening, visit: https://julietetelandresen.com/jtabooks/lord-blackwells-rude-awakening/.
About the Author
Julie Tetel Andresen has been writing romance stories for over 25 years. She started her career as an author being published by Harlequin Books in the 80s writing historical romance tiles like My Lord Roland and Simon’s Lady.
With the rise of self-publishing, she found more creative freedom to publish her books on her own. Julie is a “romance generalist” who loves all romance subgenres and has written books in many of them, from contemporary romance to paranormal romance to BDSM and dark romance books with seedy undergrounds and a hard edge.