Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Intimate Adventures of a Chick Lit Writer on Cape Cod

Writer's Wednesday

Okay, I know I'm always promising to share a little bit of myself and my own writing process so here goes (and have at it!):

In sixth grade we learned about makjing outlines. I'm not kidding you, my teacher, Mr. Hildebrand, was so thorough about this lesson that we not only made outlines with I., II., III., IV., A., B., C. and D., a., b., c., d. and so on headings but we went as far as to include i., ii., iii., and iv. For anyone who had a similar lesson in the "art" of creating an outline, you know what I mean. At the time, it was tedious, time-consuming, difficult and I couldn't foresee where this was going ot be useful in my life. Well, sure enough, I've come to find out that outline writing has been one of the saving graces of my late adolescent and adult life. I wrote my notes in college in outline form. I take notes at work in outline form and now, I plan to write my stories in outline form. I'm so grateful that I had a teacher that spent so much time, thoroughly explaining the way to compose an outline from start to finish (and everywhere in between) because especially in fiction writing, the outline has become one of my most valued planning tools.

When I first got back into Chick Lit, not that long ago, after being on a “hiatus” from it for a few years (I still can’t believe I left the genre for so long!), I came across a book called, See Jane Write by Sarah Mlynowski and Farrin Jacobs (Referred to from here on out as SJW). Basically an A-Z guide on all things Chick Lit Writing, SJW soon became my bible for character inspiration, lessons in writing, practice exercises, planning guides, self-publishing tips, basic writing how-tos and and a whole lot more. I actually took notes on this book to turn back to whenever I need it. One of the “lessons” I recall, was about writing an outline before you put your idea to paper draft. According to SM and FJ, the outline should include all major events, dialogue with detailed shorthand and any other pertinent information related to plot, character, story pacing and the flow of scenes.

For instance, SJW delineates several important points each main character goes through in any Chick Lit novel, including:
The Drop: She needs something to upset her life so that she can GROW.

The Climb: She needs to move up, whether it’s a true or false high she’s striving for.

The Blips: All the conflict along her path.

The Ultimate Low: Rock bottom – when everything falls apart.

The Final Climb: When she finally figures out how to solve her problem.
The Satisfied Ending: She’s happier than ever before with her life – or at least getting there.

Taking from SJW's suggestions for an outline, events and character interactions and the teachings of my fabulous sixth grade professor, I began to write my own outline (which has since been revised numerous times). I am definitely a prime example that there is no "right" way to write an outline (or any part of your novel for that matter.) I have written an outline for my novel at least three times; sometimes I start from beginning to end; other times, I start in the middle and work my way out and other times, I just fill in what I know at the time and leave the rest blank. I have toyed with the prospect of following the classic, cookie-cutter Chick Lit novel layout. I have played around with the idea of making my Chick Lit novel into a modern-day retelling of Sleeping Beauty. In all my efforts, however, I try to keep at the forefront of my writing a little piece of me (or as much as I can muster the strength to put on paper without feeling totally and utterly humilated - being humbled is good, but being completely mortified? Hmmm....thoughts for another day.

One of the main reasons my outline has changed at least three times is that I often allow myself to get easily distracted and I am prone to procrastination and indecision - all three, of which are very bad influences in my writing habits. In fact I saw two of the best quotes for writers the other day on Twitter from AdvicetoWriters that read:

"Being a good writer is 3% talent and 97% not being distracted by the Internet" by Anonymous" and second,:

"Don't get it right, just get it written" by James Thurber

How true is that? I know procrastination, the Internet and all other non-writing activities are the main things that preclude me from writing. Before I get too far off topic and avoid showing you my writing any longer.....without further ado, as promised, here is the latest sample of the thoughts behind my writing, the basis for my chick lit novel-to be (For the purpose of my blog to esae the reading of my ideas, I have summarized my outline below):

Main character/Leading Heroine: Emmaline (Em) Burgess, 24

Secondary Characters (in relation to Emmaline): Abigail (Abby), sister, 28; Isabella (Izzy), bff, 25; Merilyn (Meri), bff, 27; Chris, guy bff, 26; Ramona, evil co-worker, 27; Karla, boss, 38; Bruce, sister's bf, 46; Frederick, ex-boyfriend, 27; Ethan, love interest, 26 

Setting: Somerville, MA (Outskirts of Cambridge) & Boston, MA

Act I: The Inciting Drama

Frederick breaks up with Emmaline the night before her first business trip with Glass Ceiling, Inc. to Las Vegas, NV. In an unexpected turn of events, Emmaline's dreams of a husband, house (Okay, an apartment that's not even hers), dog and 2.2 kids is dead and gone. Despite her shattered dreams, she's determined not to make a scene in LV - but to no avail, she barely gets through the work week without crying on every shoulder of every poor passerby, including best friends and coworkers, Chris and Izzy. Finally on her last day in Vegas, she's trying to relax by the pool when the most gorgeous man walks right in front of her. Even when he turns out to be gay, he renews Emmaline's hope that like and her mission to marry does not have to end so soon - at least not on Frederick's terms. Emmaline vows to go home and find the man of her dreams.

Act II: Reversal of Tone from Act I

Emmaline goes home to an empty apartment and even though she knows bff, Meri is still at work, and bff, Izzy took a later flight home, wrapping up her share of the LV show, the emptiness is still an uncomfortable reminder of the hole in her broken heart. Soone nough, friends and family keep Em busier than she could ever even want to be as her friends and family set her up with every type of man possible (or so it seems) in Boston. She starts off by doing a Speed Dating game called "Lunch Dates" but come on, who can realistically meet their match in less than 7 minutes? She meets Mr. Holier than Thou Spiritual Guy at a Buddhist temple; Mr. "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere" at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting; Mr. Wii Fit at the Gym; the Gaming Techie at her local bookstore and then finally, Mr. Over-Caffeinated at the local coffee shop. 

One day, after she can't take any more blind dates, fix-ups and disappointments, as she's walking home from work, through the Boston Common greens to the Red line T Stop at Park Street, she's just about to give up she comes up with her own Plan - seeing everyone walking their little dogs through the common, some playing Frisbee, some relaxing on a blanket and others just watching their little pups play, it finally dawns on Emmaline that she doesn't need a guy to be happy. She doesn't need a guy to see through all her plans - and with that, she practically runs home and starts her search online, for the perfect mate - a little mixed breed puppy.

Act III: The MidPoint

Being a dog owner in the City of Boston and Somerville is the best. Em can't believe she didn't think of this a long time ago. She has someone happy to see her when she gets home from work, a buddy to jog through the park with or play Frisbee and she has a warm (and furry) body to curl up next too during scary and sad movies on her couch. She's practically forgotten all about her mission to marry, when one day she's back in the Common walking with her puppy when she gets loose and runs off away from Emmaline. Em sprints after the little puppy, terrified she'll dart off into traffic and be gone forever. With all the walkers, joggers, sightseers and other dog owners in the park, however, it doesn't take long for Em's puppy to get tied up with another fury friend. As she's scolding her puppy for running away, she looks up to see a familiar face almost mocking her as she tries to untangle her puppy from the stranger's dog. Almost instantly, Emmaline recognizes the man and feels her face shift from a flushed pink from her run to a scarlet red from embarrassment. It's the gorgeous man from Las Vegas she'd seen on her last day at the pool. How could this be? What was he doing in Boston?

Emmaline forms a brief and quick bond with the man from the Pool in LV as they finish their dog-walking on the Common and by the end of it all, he asks her out to dinner that coming Thursday night. Unfortunately, Em has another blind date that night and as much as she wants to get out of it, her friend, Chris would kill her if she backed out so last minute. With the fear she will never see him again, she gives him her number, knowing he will probably never call her or see her again. After all, how many chance meetings does a person get in a lifetime? Let alone two months? Em goes home and immedialtely calls Chris to tell him the whole story. She realizes that the guy from the LV poolside is not gay, that Chris must have been pointing to another man in the background that day.

After all the excitment of their chance encounter dies down, Thursday finally comes and of course no phone call from the Poolside mystery man. Emmaline gets herself ready for her dinner date, calls a cab and heads downtown to meet Mr. Blind Date Number Infinity (or so it seems like that many dates have gone by at this point). The hostess seats her at a table for two in one corner of the restaurant and the minutes start ticking away. 20 minutes, 30 minutes....after enough humiliation, Em asks for her check and begins to get up from her seat. As she stands up, she draws the attention of a man at a nearby table, also seated alone - it's the guy from the dog park, the guy from the Pool in LV!! Thinking they've both been stood up, they finally realize they are each other's blind date. Emmaline cannot believe her dream guy is her date tonight, now more nervous than ever. She learns his name is Ethan.

The Black Moment/Climax:

Things start off slow and steady with Ethan. Sure enough, just as she's feeling like can't remember a time in her life when she was happier, Frederick comes waltzing back into her life. He knocks on her door as she and Ethan are cuddling up ont he couch watching a movie and causes a scene, as if he "owns" her - as if they never broke up - as if he never left her. Ethan leaves, saying things must be more complicated than he realized. Emmaline is of course infuriated and kicks Frederick out, not without telling him first that he has no right coming back to her like this, at this time in her life and she makes it very clear where exactly she thinks he can go. Em tries to call Ethan to explain but he won't have it and now Em finds herself in the same spot she was months ago, alone and confused at no doing of her own will.


Will Emmaline work things out with Ethan? Is it over for good between her and Frederick? Find out in this coming-of-age tale of one woman's search for self as she finally figures out what's she's looking for with the help of friends, family and her new little furry best friend.

Please let me know what you think of my summary of my chic lit novel-to-be. I am open and interested in any and all feedback, constructive criticism and honest and genuine opinion. If you hate it, tell me (and tell me why, please). If you love it, tell me that, too. If you think it's too cliche and overdone, tell me. You get the point. Thanks for reading. Look out for more book reviews to be posted shortly for The Big Love by Sarah Dunn and Hollywood Car Wash by Lori Culwell.


  1. Well Cathy it is certainly a good start! I am much like you I take notes in outline form. I suffer from the same distractions. I have found that setting aside a certain amount of time on one day a week has started me in developing my habit of writing. Don't be afraid to stray from the outline. A book that I have been reading about writing says that sometimes the best stories come from straying from a point in the outline. Happy Writing! :)

  2. Thanks! i read that somehwere too about straying from the outline and I definitely hope I do...cause I worry otherwise the writing will sound really drone - too planned you know? Thanks for the input! I love reading your stories so it means a lot!

  3. Thank you so much for the award! I will post my acceptance later this afternoon:)