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Writing Your Perfect Man- Lessons from a Chick Lit Writer

I’ve written some dreamboats in my books, and the reason I started in the first place was because no man really seemed to be like the ones you read about in books. Which is fine, we live in reality, we don’t expect Prince Charming. But here’s a few things I’ve noticed about the dreamy male characters in books, and maybe they’ll give our real life counterparts some ideas.

 

 

  • They’re capable of explaining how they feel.

 

It’s usually way after something silly has happened, but these guys have enough self knowledge to explain why they’ve done something. That’s always nice, instead of sitting there in confusion, like a real person.

 

  • Some shit happened, but they’re over it.

 

There was a crazy ex, a business deal gone wrong, parental issues. We always meet our leading men at the right time, when they’re done with all that stuff and can move on. In real life, we meet people when we meet them, and we’re usually dealing with our own stuff too. Which is where the understanding that real people aren’t perfect comes in.

 

  • Organisation

 

I think people often mistake what power means. I personally didn’t find Christian Gray a decent male character, he didn’t make me swoon. Neither did that soppy vampire. People were attracted to their power over their women, and in Gray’s case, his money. It’s easy enough to say ‘Oh, he flew her about in a private jet’ or whatever, but the truth of power is the ability to arrange things. To book dinner, to make plans. Whether that’s a private jet, or a private booth at Burger King.

 

  • Surprises

 

Even control freaks like myself want a little surprise every now and then! My male leads are able to make sweet gestures that aren’t so over the top you want to vomit, but make a difference. Who doesn’t love a surprise?

 

  1. Understanding their girl.

 

Your dreamboat male knows what’s going on in his love’s head. Not always, that would be boring and unbelievable. But he knows enough about her history, her quirks, her story to figure out why she’s suddenly freaking out, or why she’s not happy. Understanding goes a long way.

 

  • They Give and Receive.

 

No, I’m not being dirty. A working relationship with a fictional dreamboat involves give and take. Your main man can’t come in and solve all her problems. Why, you ask? Because then she has no purpose. If she can’t offer something, if she’s not what he needs back, then there’s no point. Again, back to Fifty Shades of Shit, she’s poor, he’s rich, she’s innocent, he’s experienced. She likes nice things, and he likes beating the shit out of a willing sex partner. 

Also, I refuse to let my leading man sweep in to solve my leading lady’s problems- I write strong, kickass women who can save themselves. They sometimes need some help figuring out how to be vulnerable, but they don’t need a man on a white horse.

 

  • Faults

 

That leads me nicely to number seven- they have to have something wrong with them! You know how boring it is to be with someone perfect? Tends to give your self esteem a bit of a knock too. Whether he leaves biscuit crumbs in the bed, or has a tendency to flirt, he has to be human.

 

  • He sees her.

 

This is a really simple trope that real life men could learn from. Notice something about your partner and identify that you are paying attention. It could be as simple as Julia Stile’s ‘hey, your eyes have a little green in them’ in Ten Things I Hate About You. It could be Harry’s list of things he knows and loves about Sally in When Harry Met Sally (‘The little crinkle in your forehead when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts!’ Aw) but noticing goes a long way. It shows your male is smitten and your leading lady is worth watching.

 

 

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Writing London: Romance and Sarcasm in the City

I am a proper Londoner. I don’t make eye contact with people, march through crowds of tourists like it’s a Mario Kart race course, and whilst I will get up on the tube to let someone have my seat, I’ll do some with a terrible English awkwardness, in fear of the older/pregnant person being offended.

 

London is home, and it’s been home for all my novels. There’s nothing quite like the conversations you have on the nightbus, rambling along listening to drunk teenagers talk to tourists, everyone so drunkenly sincere. I love 2am kebab shops, and shabby chic coffee shops where everything is overpriced, but you pay because the environment is so lovely.

 

I love Hampstead Heath on sunny mornings, and the shops in Highgate village. I love the nostalgia of passed out punks in Camden market on Sunday mornings, and having lazy conversations on Primrose Hill as it starts to get dark.

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People set romcoms in London for a reason, but it’s usually peppered with shots of Big Ben and the London Eye, people all somehow affording to live in these flats in the centre of town. It’s the same with New York. People love a city, they love the possibility it affords: today you might meet someone who changes your life. That’s not really how it happens in the countryside, unless an alluring new stranger comes to town.

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But that’s not why I write about London. Sure, I love the prettiness of it, chic fashion and historic architecture, but my characters love London like I do- because it’s home. They don’t talk about wandering down to the Millenium wheel, because that’s not what Londoners do. My characters visit the places that I have been, the little secrets of the city that I’ve made my favourites. In The Last Word, Tabby and Rhi live in Tufnell Park, because that’s what I’d love to do. They alternate between snazzy cocktail bars in Covent Garden, and backstreet old man pubs that just appear out of nowhere, hidden away and perfect in their dim light and beer-drizzled carpets. The Type offices are set just off Regent Street, in the offices where I interned for Vogue. 

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London is this massive sprawling living thing, beating and breathing, and I hope that my books will always give a little of the ‘real’ London, the London of Londoners. At least until I can find an excuse to set a book in Italy, and then I’ll see you later, London!

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On Developing a Thick Skin: The Writer’s Task

 

You’ve slogged away at a book, you’ve received a publishing deal, or have put the effort into self publishing. You’ve written blog posts, updates, tweeted, talked everyone’s ears off about it, and you want people to buy it.

 

But what about when people do actually read it? What about when they review it? I hadn’t really thought about this part up until now, so focused on trying to drum up interest, secure reviewers and bloggers, that I didn’t think about what would happen when I get my first (inevitable) bad review.

 

How can you respond to the idea that someone doesn’t like what you’ve made? Well, in an ideal, rational world you understand that not everyone likes the same things, and you try to ignore it and remain proud of your work. But much as the internet has given us so much, reviews are fast and thick and from everyone. You don’t have to wait for the papers to give you a write up, instead you’re almost overhearing the conversations people are having about your work. 

 

Having looked at other author’s responses to bad reviews, seeing how they’ve almost felt personally attacked, and then had to shake it off, and try and continue, is powerful and admirable. I’m really nervous that a bad review will knock me down from what I’m writing now.

 

Writers (like all artists) are a strange mix of ego and self-doubt. We want to forge forward, secure in the knowledge that we’re making something we like, that has had some good response. That we are justified in doing what we’re doing. But half of us knows that we’re terrible, we’re no good, nothing we create will stand up to judgement, and what’s the bloody point anyway?

 

In these times, it’s good to remember two things: 

 

You’re doing this for you. You wrote your book for you. The process, the outcome, all of that was to make you feel something. Or simply because it was something you needed to do.

 

Also, Fifty Shades of Gray and Twilight are bestsellers. So bollocks to all of it, really.

 

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Regardless of my own personal fear, reviews are welcome (and necessary!) if you want to get a review copy from netgalley- click HERE and if you want to pre-order from Amazon.co.uk, then go ahead. It’s released in ONE WEEK!

 

 

 

 

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My Mum Might Read This…and Other Issues With Writing a Sex Scene

In theory, I have no problem writing sex scenes. The first story I wrote that got any recognition was about a girl having sex with a guy she just met, in a disabled toilet, at her aunt’s funeral. I am not squeamish. But that’s literary fiction. That’s when sex serves a purpose, to show the breaking down of walls, or the attempted escape from reality. Sometimes it’s symbolic of trying to feel alive. I can write sex scenes when they’re symbolic.

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But when I first started writing The Last Word, I had to consider what level I wanted to write at, in terms of sexuality. I’ve read a lot of really explicit stuff, and I’ve read things that fade to black. I tried for somewhere in between. The truth is, sex is weird. It’s a lot of strange mechanics and actions that are difficult to write about, because you have to imbue some sort of passion and emotion. If you’re just writing ‘then her hand goes here’, that gets to the point, but doesn’t make the reader care. Some of the best sex scenes I’ve read come from really old novels, where the build up is the most important thing. And I think that’s true of chick lit too- sex is the pay-off for many chapters’ worth of sexual tension. If you write a book where your love interests are at it before they’ve even interacted at all, well, I’m not really interested. 

 

I suppose that’s a female thing, that we want sex to mean something. That’s a generalisation, but in terms of readers of chick lit, I’d say it’s a safe assumption. Sex should be passionate and engaging and emotional. I couldn’t resist it in this book, that it should become symbolic again. All of my female characters seem to have trust issues, and sex is a form of trust. Letting someone in, being vulnerable, all that character development comes from sex scenes. Plus, I think we have a duty as writers to show what sex is really like. I remember as a teenager watching that Britney Spears movie, Crossroads, when they fade to a sunset after she kisses this topless guy, and thinking: this is clearly not what a first time is like. Doesn’t mean there can’t be love or passion, but awkward and uncomfortable are two big contenders there. And it can be funny, and strange and you can sound different to how you do normally.

 

One of my biggest peeves with Fifty Shades of Gray (of which I have bazillions) was that Christian Gray went from being all stiff upper lip, very ‘proper’ dialogue, to all ‘yeah baby’ in the bedroom. Your characters are still your characters in the sack. Don’t revert to stereotypes just because they’re boinking. Which is clearly not the biggest problem with that book, but was something that jumped out at me.

 

So, I did have trouble, writing the first few sex scenes, and as I got more confident in them,  I explored different situations. Some of them worked, and some of them had to go. One in particular involved such an awful play on words and a reference to oral sex that I actually shouted ‘oh gross’ when I read it through in edits, and scratched it through in red pen five times.

 

Who are your favourite writers who deal with sex scenes, what do you expect from them, and how do you find writing them?

 

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The Last Word- Review Copies Available!

Incase it wasn’t clear how excited I am that my first Carina UK novel is coming out this month, let me express that clearly. EEEEEEP!

The Last Word is available for review on Netgalley, if you follow THIS link. Let me know what you think, and be sure to tweet at @almichael_ and @carinauk

 

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Tabby Riley’s online life was a roaring success. Her blog had hundreds of followers, and legions of young fans ardently awaited her every Tweet. Her real life was a bit more of a disappointment. Living in a shared flat in North London, scratching a living writing magazine articles on ‘How To Please Your Man in Bed’ wasn’t where she thought she’d be at twenty-six – especially when there was a serious lack of action in her own bedroom.

Until she was offered the job of her dreams on online paper The Type – and gained a sexy new editor, Harry Shulman, to bounce her ideas off. Tabby had previous bad form when it came to falling for well-dressed, smooth-talking editors, so no way was she going there again…ever! But had she got a little too used to hiding behind her laptop screen? Perhaps it was time for the real Tabby Riley to come out and have some fun!

 

You can also pre-order on Amazon HERE

 

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Authentic Storytelling: Writing the message or telling the story?

 

Writers have quite a responsibility when it comes to the stories they spin. We are constantly looking for the message, the bigger picture. If the good little girl gets rewarded in love, we feel like we must be good to get what we want. If bad characters are punished, we feel we must believe in that punishment.

 

But what happens when fear of the message takes over your storyline? What if you have an ethnic minority character who happens to be the bad guy? Are you a racist? What if your gay character doesn’t end up with a partner but your straight character does- are you prioritising who gets happiness in society?

 

Every web we create sends out vibrations, saying that our belief system sits within these words. And that’s not always true. Sometimes I don’t give another character a love interest because I don’t have time, or I don’t want to end it in a triple wedding like a Jane Austen tie up. Sometimes, the bad guy is just the bad guy, because you want to make it more interesting, and give them a backstory. Not because you’ve decided all people of a certain race are evil.

 

But people will call you on this. They will expect absolute answers for every decision you’ve made, when really, some of them are just based on the fact that they felt right. A friend of mine is currently trying to write a villain who happens to be gay. Now, is there a way to do this without demonising gay people? Yes, of course. But is there always going to be one person with a foghorn standing there and judging her for the choice? Probably.

 

People are complex creatures with endless facets, constantly changing and evolving. To represent one of those on the page clearly is pretty much impossible. But in writing (as in life) reverting to labels never helps anyone. My friend’s character is not evil because he is gay, or gay because he is evil. He is an evil character that serves a purpose of evilness in the story, and also happens to be gay because…well, because he is. Just like how people are, because they are.

 

And what if you don’t have a message? Or worse, if the message doesn’t fit the genre you write in? When coming up with concepts for my new novel, I’d just watched two awful movies ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ and ‘Made of Honor’, both of which deal with the bullshit ‘We’ve been friends for years but now you’re getting married and I’ve realised I love you’ storyline. So I wanted to write a story where a girl and a guy live together, and are friends, and other people don’t get it, and keep waiting for them to get together. But they don’t. Because they’re friends. The message was there. Men and women can be friends, stop demonising it and making it all about romance because we all know that’s not true.

 

Except…well, no-one wants to read a story like that. Firstly, because it’s a story where nothing changes, and people want change, but also because people WANT the main characters to get together. They don’t care about the moral, or the message or what it means for society if we think our friends secretly want to shag us. If there’s a nice guy and a nice girl, and they get along, movies and novels tell us that they’re a possibility. And no amount of talking about the message will make that a satisfying read for people who have become used to the pattern of existing friendships in romcoms. I’m pretty sure we don’t do this in real life. We don’t look at a best friend of the opposite sex we’ve never been attracted to before, and suddenly decide they’ll do. And if we do, it’s more interesting to write about what takes that person to that point, where they are emotionally and how that affects the friendship.

 

My point being, we often feel like a story can’t exist without a message, but a message without a working story just feels like being hit over the head with someone else’s morality. Not fun. My chick lit books tend to work on the same theme, which is taking a chance and trusting someone. Do I do this deliberately? No, but I like writing emotionally distant and strongly sarcastic female characters, so the message comes naturally from how I enjoy writing. The message tends to reveal itself along the way, and if you’re already absolutely sure about what you’re trying to tell the world, well, just try and be careful you’re not hitting people over the head with it. Being able to enjoy a story, even if you don’t agree with it’s view of the world, is one sign of great writing.

 

Don’t forget my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop on 26th April, where we explore things like where our personal inbuilt narratives meet our characters on the page. If you want to explore how and why you write a little better, it’s the perfect opportunity! Plus, if you Quote: WORDPRESSCODE in an email to andrealmichael@aol.com when ordering, you get 10% off the ticket price! Bargain!

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On Dealing with Not Being a Special Snowflake: How the desire for originality can get us down.

I’m on my third novel at the moment, and it’s the first one I’ve ever written under a contract, with a deadline, and expectations and all that jazz. Usually, I write because I fall in love with these crazy people I’ve been having conversations with in my head, but this time round, it’s a bit like walking into a room of people and thinking ‘I have to fall in love with one of you tonight, or I’m screwed.’ A bit like starting a relationship before getting to know the other person. Suddenly we’re curled up watching TV on Sunday nights, and I don’t even know what their favourite colour is.

I’m into character driven stories, incase you couldn’t tell. I want to know about people, how they tick, why they act crazy in certain situations. And usually, the situations arise out of the crazy character. Now, I find myself desperately searching for places to put these characters, searching for drama, making issues where there are none.

 Issues always come from your character. The way they act, or how they think, inevitably causes problems for them. That’s what’s satisfying. Taking your average joe and sticking them on a runaway train, well, that’s not appealing to me. Not unless Joe used to be a train driver, and hasn’t ventured onto public transport in thirty years, because his wife died after being hit by a bus. I don’t care if Joe’s a big damn hero, I want his actions to have effects.

 

And here’s where we get stuck: There are an unlimited combination of people, problems and situations. However, after a while, they all seem to become the same. And I find myself accidentally using names other people have used, or having parts of a similar backstory. Is it that I’m reading more of the genre, and accidentally picking stuff up? Or is it that we’ve adapted to finding formulaic texts comforting, because we secretly know how it’s all going to turn out?

A writer friend of mine always used to have this issue. He’d get halfway through a truly brilliant project, and then find out someone had already done something really similar. My response was always ‘but YOU haven’t done it, your voice has value, it might bring something different to the table’, but now I get how he was feeling. When you’re passionate about what you do, and it starts to look fake, it’s hard to be enthusiastic. So what do I do? Throw away this book and start again? Remove any traces of anything that’s been mentioned in previous books? No. Impossible. Our influences define us, even if they’re unconscious.

 

All I can do is continue to explore my characters, hope that within them, in their histories and quirks, lies the answer to the originality of my story. Yes, boy meets girl, some stuff happens, everything’s fine, there’s drama, they’re together. There’s a reason it’s a cliche. But hopefully, at times like these, we trust that our voice really does have something new to say, even if we’re not sure how to do it.