You’ve got to give a little, take a little,
and let your poor heart break a little,
That’s the story of, that’s the glory of, love.
The song is very relevant to MRWG, a group which is all about giving, its motto being to ‘support, motivate, celebrate’. At its monthly meetings, this amazing group of women writers practises what it preaches. The positive vibe in the room is palpable.
The group offers more than vibe. Every month we are given more help with our craft as romance writers. As a non-fiction writer, I’m absorbing important lessons in how to convey emotions, including how to ‘show not tell’ that a poor heart is breaking a little.
Two members of the group have privately given me specific, helpful feedback about my first completed romance manuscript. In addition, general feedback is available to all meeting attendees. At various sessions this year we’ve all had to complete short writing exercises, such as the first three paragraphs of our story, and a page covering the ‘first meeting’. These efforts have been distributed randomly among the attendees, read aloud to the group, and commented upon by the group - a very useful feedback mechanism for any writer.
As well as absorbing ‘craft’ lessons at MRWG meetings, I’ve also been absorbing ‘industry’ lessons from members, trying to figure out where I might fit and what I might bring to the romance genre. What can I give to a reader? One of my answers is ’structure’, a concept which I think I ‘get’ and is important, as it binds stories into a coherent whole.
This is where I might be able to do more than ‘take’ from MRWG and actually ‘give a little’ back by explaining, briefly, how I develop structure from intermittent opportunities to work on my romance drafts. My simple but powerful tool for structuring uses the often under-utilised ‘Styles’ capabilities of Word.
The use of this tool for imposing structure commences with the first paragraph. When I choose to write about a subject or theme, my rationale is generally clear, but exactly where my story will take me is often unclear and thus, at the start, I have no idea of its final structure. As random thoughts, solid ideas, essential facts and specific scenes are progressively committed to the page, each is allocated a suitable descriptive heading. Then I go to Styles in Word and select Heading 2 as my format for that heading.
Turning points in the sequence of ideas, or breaks in the passage of time, create obvious places to stop for a while. So I write the word Chapter, format it with the Style of Heading 1 and keep writing. I track the relevant internal or external conflicts and categorise them as such, selecting Heading 3. Relevant sections of my text are formatted in red or blue ink to denote the heroine’s or hero’s point of view, and I identify these sections with an additional sub heading, Heading 4.
I always work with a single whole document, with my Navigation pane open, creating a small window on the left hand side of my screen where all the headings show up. They help me to see what’s happening with my story. It’s easy to move around the document by clicking on the relevant heading in the side window. Over time, I may decide to rearrange the order of my scenes by copying slabs of text and pasting them elsewhere, making suitable adjustments to the connecting words, of course.
The Table of Contents facility in Word summarises the various headings into a list. Once my story begins to take shape, I print out my Table of Contents occasionally, to see what the story looks like and plan its future direction. The hierarchy of headings tracks the narrative told in the scenes, helps identify any gaps in addressing the structural ‘rules’ for romance and helps weigh up the overall ‘balance’ of my efforts. At final draft stage, all of the headings except the Chapter headings are deleted.
See how easy it is to create structure within your story of love?