The 50 Shades of Grisaille School of Writing

This is how to write a successful romance novel that will make you as rich as Nora Roberts and as admired as Cheri Adair! Just follow all these rules and the dream is yours! Or so it seems reading writers writing about writing or listening to writers talking about writing.

I like cats. I like dogs. Hell, I like all creatures and most animals, plants and minerals. But, what I love most is variety. I like a twist in the plot and a wiggle in the threat room. I am not going to save the cat. It’s been my experience that cats rarely need any help from us. They always land on their feet and have nine lives anyway. I will save the dog, they are in need of saving because domestication has made them stupid.

Since returning from RWA13, I’ve been listening to the flash drive I purchased full of lectures. Some are unbearably motivating. Many, many authors offer advice while some simply share their process. A few believe they have found the holy grail and  offer free sips from the chalice to those wise enough to drink or buy the book. Maybe, it’s being the daughter of an angry abusive drunk that makes me look a gift drink in the mouth with a skeptical eye. Or maybe it’s just that I was raised as an artist from an early age in the age of aquarius that makes me see artistic rules as guidelines. I was raised to learn the rules, follow the rules and then see which ones work for me and finally to make my own.

An article in Slate magazine explained why all the movies seem to look like the same movie wearing different clothes. It’s because they all Saved the Cat. The article explored the process and I wondered whether audiences have embraced the lemming school of entertainment because the world is so scary or because they are so tired of thinking. I admit, to purchasing the Cedar Grove series on iTunes based on Debbie Macomber’s books and after a grueling day, snuggling up with it and not having to wonder about the plot line or look for clues. I haven’t read the books yet, but I suspect they have more meat than the screenwriter’s gave the story. But, I need that escape, a light, soft on the brain escape. The negative comments on Goodreads on her books come from people who don’t like soap operas, okay I understand their perspective but I have had times when I did like soap operas, in fact, I needed them. I know brilliant scientists who need a soap to unwind, it is safer on the brain than Paxil.

I can also see that Saving the Cat is a valid tool to teach writing and would never advise anyone not to use it… if it works for you then by all means… after all it’s your books not mine. And there is the rub. I resent being asked where my Save the Cat vital scene is, assuming that I am following someone else’s rules.  To me, it’s not all so black and white, not that I don’t enjoy reading the occasional black and white, in a followed-all-the-rules novel, because in the hands of a truly gifted exceptional writer, it is still a powerful tool.

While walking home from work one evening in a heavy snow storm back when I was living in Boston. I stopped several times and simply absorbed the grisaille landscape. My eye caught a stubborn late season rose standing tall in a garden frosted in white with deep blood-red lips poking out in stark contrast to the many shades of gray. It looked like a perfect murder. Sadly, in those days photos meant camera, film and too many rules about f-stop and field of vision -even worse, it meant actually bringing the film to a developer and then picking it up. I think I still have a few rolls, black and yellow tins reminding me that not everything gets developed in life. So, that red rose was logged into memory. But, that image of a stubborn rose’s cold death led to one published poem, an encaustic painting, several scenes in short stories and it birthed a gruesome scene in a book.

It’s all about process to me. There are many wonderful metaphors describing finding your process but my favorites are tossing the spaghetti against the wall and see if it sticks, which was coincidentally how an Italian friend taught me to cook al dente. Or my Grandfather’s laconic Algonquin advice:

“Learn to play golf, follow everyone’s advice and if it doesn’t work for you, stop -don’t be like your Grandmother who keeps doing things, even though they won’t work for her. You can also, try this with life. Try many things but only keep the things that are good and make you happy, toss away the others but be grateful that they taught you something that doesn’t work for you. That is as valuable.”

I never learned to play golf but I lugged the golf clubs he gave me around for ten years until some college students stole them from my condo’s storage area and sold them for drugs. So, they taught me the final and best lesson. Keep your darlings safe, if they are the ones you aren’t going to kill.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Sandy Bruney
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 14:22:13

    This is exactly what I needed to hear! Trying to follow everyone’s advice simply ends up paralyzing me.


  2. CristineGzr
    Sep 17, 2013 @ 16:40:44

    Sandy, I’ll try something if it sounds good but I agree, it can overwhelm. I also, thinks it’s the nature of social media, trying to get followers by sounding like an expert. Especially, if you are already doing what works, why upset the applecart? Also, that image of Nora Roberts with her white board sums it up perfectly!


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