21 December 2011

Putting things on hold (Merry Christmas!)

I've finished Nano, but not the novel.
I was going to get it all ready for SYTYCW but this year they wanted the complete book and there was no way I could have my Nano Draft 0 all polished and sent off by 15/12.
But I can still get it ready for The Clendon Award next year.

I was going to work on my draft this week and during my Christmas break, but preparations for my new job, as well as for the uni course (ohmegod, have I really got on to an MBA program??) are taking up a lot of time. All that on top of quite a lot of stress in my old job.
So the Nano Draft 0 is on hold.

I still want to write and I'm going to finish that b***y book in time for The Clendon Award. I need to however put on hold all twittering and blogging etc non-essential activities.
I will keep my Romance Writing Competition calendar updated though, and continue 'publishing' The Romance Writers Daily on Twitter. I also check my emails regularly, if case anyone wanted to get in touch.

Pohutukawa - NZ Christmas tree
by Kate Kyle

Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy Writing Year!!

13 November 2011

Inspiration vs perspiration

So You Think You Can Write is over, but the website with the wealth of information is still there and if you haven't had a chance to look at it, I strongly encourage you.

I love Harlequin/Mills&Boons for being so new-writers friendly. This was one of the reasons I've decided to try my hand at writing for them.  All the published/contracted authors I've encountered at RWNZ conferences spoke highly of H/M&B's editors and how they practically learnt craft from them while revising/rewriting their books.
Those, who like me were still trying, were also very enthusiastic. SYTYCW and New Voices (in which I couldn't participate because according to the contest rules I was deemed published) are perfect examples of how supportive these publishers are.

For those of you, aspiring romance/woman's fiction writers who don;'t know yet I also recommend eHarlequin site - with writing advice, free online reads, and many pitching opportunities (check the For - particularlyThe Write Stuff section). great for inspiration.

I haven't had much time to seek inspiration as I have been heavily perspiring, working on my new NaNoWriMo project and rushing to get my SYTYCW assignments sent off before the deadline. I must admit I'm lagging behind with my NaNo- due to some health issues, and also SYTYCW. But I've managed to complete four out of 5 assignment - the opening page, gripping scene, synopsis and query letter, which will make my 5th assignment - actual submission in December much easier.

Anyway, since I'd managed to plot my novel almost completely prior to Nano, I don't have to wait for inspiration, just sit at my laptop and sweat the words out.
My novel is set in rural Northumberland, which is rather quite far away from where I now live. So I'm using this little space-travelling technique:

Eglingham Moor, Northumberland, England
by Kate Kyle

(this place plays an important role in development of attraction between my hero and heroine)

I've never had any of my SYTYCW assignments picked up for critique, whether last or this year, but I've read the editors' feedback with great interest- great stuff to learn from.
I've learnt bits and pieces from blog post and chats, too. My favorite was the article on synopsis and query letter. I'm still not an expert on any of them, by any means, but I'm feeling just a little bit more confident. And I'm sure I'll come back next year, even if I'll managed to get a contract with M&B by then :)

Have you been picked up for critique? Did you enjoy the event? Did you learn anything new?

30 October 2011

It's nearly November

I've hardly noticed October - been so busy sorting out my next day job. Actually I've ben so busy that I've put writing on hold completely. But now, since I've got a new job (some call it promotion), went through the mill of a Very Important Assessment, sent my application to yet-another-uni-course in and awaiting results, and the spring is finally in the air it's time to go back to writing.

It's November - NaNoWriMo month again and I'm definetely taking part again this year. I'm also going to do SoYouThinkYouCanWrite2 with Harlequin again as I enjoyed SYTYCW1 last year.
I'm writing another medical romance - since the target length of 50-55,000 is ideal for Nano. I also hope I will be able to submit it at the end of SYTYCW2.

I have been neglecting my blog lately and unfortunately this is likely to continue in November because of Nano, but after that I should have more time for writing.
In the meantime, for those of you who are looking for an interesting writing workshop in November - have a look at a fellow romance writer Lacey Devlin's blog for inspiration.
I'm off to get prepared for NaNo - I've got heaps of stuff to do.

Nano preparation checklist for plotters:
1. Story premise - check
2. Title - check
3. Heroine's goals, motivations and conflict - check
4. Heroine's arc - needs some work
5. Hero's goals,  motivations, and conflict - check
6. Hero's arc - needs some work
7. Plot outline - very patchy, several plot holes - needs fixing
8. Minor characters - haven't been conceived yet.
9. Happily Ever After - check!
10. A week off day job - request not submitted yet!
11. Put a new word counting widget on my blog - not done yet!

I haven't included a supply of chocolate as I have to lose weight I've put on during all that work-related stress in October but will have to find something to fuel my during those long early morning hours.

Who else is doing Nano this year? Are you a plotter or a pantser? How are you preparing?

09 October 2011

Take a cliche and twist it... (how to create unpredictability in romantic fiction)

I have just finished reading Emily March Hummingbird Lake novel. Although it starts a little too slow for my liking, I'm pleased I stuck with it, because I've really enjoyed the book, and the main reason for that is the Heroine - Sage. She is an interesting mixture of soft and feisty, full of internal conflict (great way of contrasting her paintings as a metaphor to Sage's own internal contrasts) and carries a heart-wrenching secret. The story (and Sage's secret and internal conflict) unfolds in a way that the reader is bound to empathise with Sage and root for her, even when she's really mean to the Hero.
Great job, Ms March!

Sage's story made me go back to my notes from RWNZ conference in August and Lucy Gilmour's from Mills &Boon presentation on unpredictability in romantic fiction. Sage is a twist on one of romance favourite archetypes - The Wounded Hero. The twist is simple - just the gender swap, but for me it was enough to keep me turning the pages.

Photo by Digitalart
via www.freedigitalphotos.net

Lucy's presentation was in the context of preparations for New Voices competitions, and highlighted unpredictability as one of 6 relevant elements of a good story. Interestingly, unpredictability features also in the newest ebook prepared for New Voices contestants and anyone who wants to write Mills& Boon romance (Secrets uncovered - scroll down to the bottom of the page to download).

Many people reject romance as a genre because of its predictability. It's true - romance readers like their favourite plots and themes, 'dark and broody heros' or feisty heroines. They buy M&B's books because they know they are going to get what they expect and there is a Happily Ever After at the end. And since everything has already been done it's not easy for a writer to come up with new twists and turns.

So how to create unpredictability in romantic fiction?
1. Take a character (an archetype, trope or stereotype) and give them a twist: change the gender (I'm brewing a 'in-love-with- Boss' story with the role reversal), let your Cinderella be a man, make the most suspected person the culprit (a twist on the Dog was the Mastermind trope I'd love to read!), give your sweet, naive Red Riding Hood a few wrinkles and 'I-should-have-known-better', or just make your hero younger and less experienced than your heroine.

2. Take a well known plot and twist it.
Oh, how much I'd love to read a story about a Girl meeting Mr Right and then realising she doesn't really want to get married and have children, at least not before she travels the world (with him)! Or how about a genuinely loving couple who marry for convenience and what is the impact of it on the relationship afterwards (I know of a couple who got married after a few years of living happily together because as a married couple they would pay less tax; unfortunately, I don't know what was the impact of those wedding vows on the romance in their relationship, but just imagine the possibilities...). Or add some infidelity to the mixture (apparently the attitude to infidelity in M&B romance is changing).

3. Twist the setting.
Since I moved to New Zealand and have all those 'exotic' pacific islands within a couple of hours flight at most, the word 'exotic' has got a new meaning. I've spoken to a Kiwi woman once who told me that the dream of her life is to travel to Austria - the country where her favourite film, The Sound of Music was made. Quite an eye opener for someone like me, who spend the majority of her life in central Europe.
Twist the meaning behind a setting. Tired of sweet little towns? Show your H/h struggling with not-so-positive aspects of those close-knitted communities. Or how about a glam chick story set in a little town? Or a boy coming home to a modern, fragmented family in a big city?

4. A fresh POV
Give your Heroine a unique ability or disability that will affect the way she perceives the world (not a romance, but a great way of introducing unpredictability The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time ); introduce different formats (diary entry, txt mssgs, emails); or even EVEN (yes, Lucy DID say it) use the 1st person narration.

I love twisting and turning cliches and reading stories that turn out to be not what they appear to be. I'm currently writing a story, which was originally 'conceived' as a chick-lit story, but chick-lit has fallen out of fashion since (I'm way too slow for those trends!) so I'm setting it in a small town instead! As I said, I'm also brewing a reverse 'in-love-with-Boss' story.

Have you twisted any cliches? What is your favourite way of creating unpredictability in romance? Which cliches would you like to twist?

26 September 2011

Romance writing competitions

Looking for romance or women's fiction writing competition?
Check my calendar - just updated it with more upcoming contests. Every note contains a web link to the contest site - check it for more details.

Good luck!

Ps. After much deliberation and asking around, I've decided that I wasn't eligible for New Voices, so I'm not entering (but reading entries). Instead, I've entered Strictly single competition (RWNZ) again this year. This year I've entered a completely new story, something I've thought out a couple of years ago as a chick-lit, but since chick-lit is no longer hot (or even worse: editors are not buying new authors any more), and since my story was never conceived as a bit city story I've changed some elements. Now, it's a (single title) contemporary romance, set in a small town (apparently this is HOT!). The characters' arcs have changed, too and becuase I haven't had much time to smooth it out, they're not as goo as they could be.
It was a bit of a touch-and-go with the deadline, as I completely forgoten about it. But I've managed to churn out 6,500 words and a synopsis.
Fingers crossed.
Now, back to my current WIP, which I've been writing for... let me think... 7 years now.

Have any of you entered or is going to enter any contest now? Any of you doing New Voices?

21 September 2011

Artist abuser

I am currently reading Picture perfect by Jodi Picoult and although I'm nowhere near as captivated as by My sister's keeper, but I keep reading, even if it was to see how Ms Picolut will deal with some cliches and character stereotypes/archetypes. And while I'm at characters' stereotypes etc, I thought I'd use one of Picolut's characters for my next, a little overdue, post in Believable Characters series.

Cassie, the main female character is married to Alex  - a drop-dead gorgeous, charming man, who is an actor admired and desired by milions of women. Cass loses her cool, scientific head and falls for him, they have a perfect wedding with a dres flown from PAris (or maybe Milan, doesn't quite matter), and then he whisks her away to his world. And here starts her married life - full of surprises.
I haven't actually finished the book, because I got a little bored somewhere half way through. It's a bit obvious what would happen, but to be fair to Picoult Alex is a picture perfect portray of an Artist Abuser.

I have tried to come up with a better, more evocative name for this stereotype/trope, but couldn't. So in the end I've decided to use V.L. Schmidt's term with a little twist - Artist and Abuser is actually an artist abuser, becuase the abuse is usually well hidden and often these couple would appear 'picture perfect' to outsiders.

Key characteristis
Artist abuser is a man of emotions, or rather - emotional storms: from exalted love to angry rage, he switches within seconds. Whatever the emotion, it's passionate, it's full-on. He's good at expressing emiotions, but rubbish at mastering him, which often leads to emotional and even physical abuse, even if he doesn't want to harm the person he's with he can't keep his anger under control. Many AA are genuinely loving men, who really suffer seeing the extend of the damage their rage have produced. That's why in the attempt to make up for the damage, they want to sweep their partners off their feet and shower them with their love.
Some of  AAs however are more sinister and use their abilities to manipulate people, particularly in close relationship, mingling his abuse between acts of generosity and display of love and passion. Whatever the motivation, AA is the master of 'double bind'
AAs attract women because of their passion and ability to access and express emotions, and channel them into creative acts. They are also often artists - painters, writers or actors- just like Picoult's Alex Rivers.

Relationships: AA attracts women who admire his talents and fall for the intensity of his emotions. Their love story is usually short, intense, full of romantic moments and acts of 'crazy in love with you' (e.g. Alex's impromptu trip from Arfica to USA to bring Cassie snow she happened to mention she was missing). If he says 'You are the only person who could understand me/I could ever talk to..' on your Heroine's first date, wants to move in with her on the second and proposes on the third beware! He may be an Emotional Abuser! Their dedication and infatuation with the Heroine can often turn into jealousy and posessiveness.
Obviously, AA's relationships are full of passion, fantastic sex and romantic moments - what makes him different from any other romantic hero is the darker side of his emotions - anger and violence.
They also often emotionally dependent on their partners, like Alex on Cassie, but deny it. They may substitute drama and excitement for emotional intimacy.
To the external world AA often look 'picture perfect' - madly in love, passionate, fun-loving, that's because the abuse happens at home.

Typical back story:Usually Artist Abuse has been a victim of emotional, or even physical abuse in his childhood. Often he has a father, who is an AA himself, or a Femme Fatal as a mother. Sometimes he would have withdrawn paretns, uninterested in him at all, almost unloving, like Alex Rivers in Picture perfect. They grow up in emotional storms, whetehr external (e.g. parents' arguments), or internal (own emotions - hate, anger, unmet needs to be loved and appreciated), and since they never learn how to contol these forces, they just let it happen. They have to fight for the attention of their parents, prove their worth (Alex' father wanted a tough boy, not a softy Alex grew up into), gain their accceptance. Their self esteem and confidence suffers and they often have to resort to 'crutches' like threats, violence, or put a front on to appear stronger than they are.

Typical jobs: any artistic profession: actor, writers, painter, singer, you name it.

Vincent van Gogh - Self-portrait in front of an easel
Photo from Wikipedia, Creative Commons

This hero wants to be someone important and achieving his goal is it's to-be-or-not-to-be. For him every little argument or a minor cough is a fight for life. He's full of passion and thirves on extremes and he does not want to miss any opportunity to experience it.
He's in the spotlight all the time, playing the role of his life, and one not-so-favourite remark or a dry smile can in his opinion destroy his career. He does not trust others, and often has a need to control them.

Biggest fears:
He fears himself - his angry outbusrsts and potential for hurting the loved ones; he does not want to hurt people. he does not like criticism and perceives it as rejection - if one person doesn't like his artwork, he may see it as his own artistic death and destroy what he's created. As an artist he is scared of loosing his creativity and a minor 'writers block' can cause a major emotional breakdown.

Potential for growth:
Having an Artis Abuser as your hero gives you an instanenous internal and extarnal conflict between his and your heroine -his passionate and violent nature create intense push-pull in their relationship. But on the other hand, if you want your Heroine to have HEA with AA, you have to make sure he changes, and changes for good. The growth would usually have to happen around his ability to control his emotionas, particularly anger. But this may create furtehr complications, as he may fear if he harnesses his passionate anger, he may lose his muse compeltely.
You may also need to make him find other ways of improving self esteem than being violent or manipulative.

Examples from literature and film: Vincent Van Gogh, Tristan from Arthurian lenegds, Othello

04 September 2011

Online writing workshops in September

A selection of writing online workshops that may be of interest to romance writers

Colorado Romance Writers:
5- 30 Sept:  Corsets, goggles, airships - Researching and writing steampunk by Beth Daniels
5- 30 Sept: Body talk - Loving, lying, and the real language of the body by Kit Frazier

Yosemite Romance Writers:
5-30 Sept: Whose story is it? The nuts and bolts of POV by Susan Palmquist
5-30 Sept: A cop's life from A to Z by Kathy Bennett

Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter of RWA
5 Sept - 3 Oct: It's showtime! Show, don't tell by Flo Fitzpatrick

5 - 30 Sept: Creating your hero fatal flow by Laurie Schnebly Campbell

5 - 30 Sept: Microsoft for writers by Catherine Chant

6 Sept - 3 Oct: The purpose driven scene by Lynn Kerstan

6 -13 Sept: Conflict - How to build it, sustain it, resolve it by Jaye Roycraft

6 Sept - 2 Oct: Conflicts of myth - using classical myths to deepen your contemporary novel by Susan Sipal

6 Sept - 3 Oct: Advance dialogue class by Devon Ellington

12 Sept - 3 Oct: Secrets to writing (and pitching) The Big Hook, High Concept, Same but Different Novel by Virna DePaul

Again, I have problems choosing from such a wide range of interesting workshops, but I think I'm going to take the course on writing high concept novel and/or the purpose driven scene (as I have problems writing scenes).

Are you interested in any of these classes? Any recommendations?

26 August 2011

Being an aspiring writer...

for me it means that I should focus my efforts and time to finish the unfinished (it's been 7 years now...), polish the finished and start sending it out whether as a query or for feedback (contests - see my Calendar for upcoming contests, are perfect opportunity for getting feedback on your work from other writers, also published, if not agents and editors themselves!).

Unfortunately, recently instead of writing I've been spending my time
- trying to get a new day job with - surprise, surprise! - more responsibilities and a steep learning curve
- polishing my CV so it matches the requirements for the potential new job
- learning new stuff so I can perform at interviews for the new job
- making sure that I've got the look for the job (cue new hairstyle, advice from a stylist and a few rather painful shopping trips - have you ever tried to radically change your style?)
- going to conferences (well, at least one was to do with writing - another great RWNZ conference, where I met in person my fab online romance writing friend Serenity Woods)
- enjoying time spent with friends (waving at Serenity and other lovely people I've met recently)
- trying to come up with not-so-social-animals-friendly promoting strategies for my book on OCD, which is just out
- thinking about a new post on my blog (long overdue, I humbly admit)
- learning at an online workshop how to manage day job, family, life, have some sleep AND still write more than one book in a year (by fabulous Kerri Nelson)
- feeling overwhelmed with all the above and the guilt that I'm not writing that I often end up playing stupid flash games
A lot of procrastinating, isn't it?

I feel being an aspiring writer is so much about fighting your urge to procrastinate.
Fiona Maddock wrote a brilliant post on being unknown and unpublished writer once. And what does being an unpublished/aspiring writer means to you?

But hopefully it's about to change.
At the conference Lucy Gilmour, Mills&Boon's medical romance editor, suggested that I sent the first 3 chapters and a synopsis of my novel to her (it's not a proper request as I didn't quite pitched to her - she just told me to send it to her as they look at all submissions anyway), so at the moment I'm polishing these while sneaking out from some boring conference sessions (this is not a writing conference though!). I have to have it ready by Friday.
In the meantime I'm spreading the word about The Liebster Blog Award, which goal is to showcase up and coming bloggers with fewer than 200 followers, like me :)
I have got the award from Sara Furlong-Burr - one of my favourite bloggers (thanks Sara!).

The rules are simple:
  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who bestowed the award on you 
  2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog 
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog 
  4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love 
  5. Have bloggity-blog fun!
It's taken me a while to choose my top 5 bloggers for this award, but finally I've gone through the (long) list of blogs I follow and was really surprised to find out that some of my favourite blogs have fewer than 100 followers! Here's my list of  bloggers worth following- they're all writers (some write romance, some not), and their blogs burst with superuseful writing advice:

1. Nan Cormague - a romance writer, who has gone quiet a little but I hope she's back soon to continue posting

2. A.J. Humpage - a fiction (short and long) and non-fiction writer with many years of experience and excellent posts on story mechanics and the use of language.

3. Morton S. Gray - a fellow romance writer and The Mutual Admiration Society member

4. Liz Fielding - another romance writer, a very experienced one, who is always happy to share her knowledge and at the moment is giving advice on New Voices competition.

5. Jodi Henley - discovered only recently organic writer and the master of subconscious writing process which is ... (check her blog!)

I hope you all enjoy reading these blogs.
Now I have to send off that manuscript and go to another (boring) conference session.

02 August 2011

Online courses and workshops for romance writers (August 2011)

I've been keeping an eye on online writing courses for a while now and it seems this has become a very popular way of learning craft and boosting inspiration for writers. I didn't realise there is such an aboundance of workshops out there! I suscribe to only a couple of mailing lists, and it's still hard to keep up, let alone choose.
Onlike courses are cheep, convenient and can be informative if you do it properly.

Here is a list of a few August workshops I think may be of interest to fellow romance writers.

1 - 31 August The Book Factory: Producing Multiple Novels in One Year with Kerri Nelson
to enrol go to Red River Romance Writers
I'm doing this one!

Three of many interesting workshops organised by Low Country RWA
5 - 26 August Writing Regency Set Novels with Shannon Donnelly
5 - 26 August What Does Nora Roberts Know That You Don’t? with Carol Hughes
5 - 26 August Body Talk: Lying, Loving and the Real Language of the Body with Kit Fraizer
To enrol go to Low Country RWA website
1 - 28 August Ebook and digital publishing - is it for me? with Suzanne Rock

15 - 28 August Creating better heroes with Sasha Illyvich

15 - 29 August From Slow Burn to Fast Sizzle: Making Sexual Tension Work For You with Kira Sinclair and Lynn Raye Harris

Two of the many interesting workshops at Savvy Authors
1 - 6 August Patchworking the perfect plot (even when you're a pantser) with Suzanne Johnson
1 - 28 August - Dirty little secrets of character development with Keena Kincaid

My main sources of info about online workshops are Savvy Authors website and RWA Newsletters.
What are yours? Where do you find information about interesting workshops? Share your tips below.

photo credit: Photostock at www.freedigitalphotos.net.

17 July 2011

How to pitch a romance novel

I know it's after RWA Nationals and many of romance writers have this step behind them, but since I couldn't go to NY this year and I'm going to our local RWNZ conference next month, I've decided to give pitching a go.

I have never pitched in person before, but I'm no longer a pitching virgin - at the end of an e-course on pitching I did last month we had an opportunity to pitch to an agent. My pitch didn't get me any requests, but I got very valuable feedback.

From what I have learnt from different sources, although a pitch should always contain the essence of your book, what is that essence varies according to the genre. This is a summary of how to pitch a romance novel.

1. Finish the b***y book. Finish and polish. And polish more.
It has to be ready for submission at the time of query/pitch.

2. Find an agent/editor. Search Writers and Artists  Yearbook, Writers' Handbook etc, browse the Internet (check Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents website), check your favourite authors, writing communities; go to a library or a bookshop; possibilities are endless. You need to end up with a list of agents (editors) who accept books in your genre, preferably with some similar (not necessarily exactly the same) novels published or accepted recently.
If you can compare your writing/your novel to one of the authors/books represented by the agent you're approaching, mention it in your pitch/query. If the agent was recommended to you by your writing friend - mention it.

3. Write your pitch. The length of your pitch depends on the circumstances (see great post by Nathan Bransford), but the one I'm after is so called 'elevator pitch'.
Christine Withhohn at Pitch University suggests that you ask yourself what your book really is about (the hook), while keeping your audience in mind (genre). Write it down in 1-3 sentences. Check if every piece of information is necessary (i.e. the story wouldn't be the same if this element was changed or deleted).
Tidy it up, e.g.
1st sentence - enticing incident, story premise
2nd sentence  - internal conflict of your main character (characters)
3rd sentence - end with a hook; don't tell how the book ends- the pitch is a teaser, designed to whet the agent/editor's appetite for more.

Don't abuse semicolons, don't try to cram too much info into your pitch.
Don't forget to include the genre and word count in your pitch and whether or not the novel is finished (it better be finished - see p 1).

4. Polish. Polish. Polish.

5. Practice - in the shower, with a friend, ask your critique partner or someone form your writing group for feedback.

6. Get ready for the day. Perfect your style.

photo by Ambro

7. Follow through. If you're lucky and the agent is interested in your book, they usually ask for a partial (usually synopsis with the first 3 chapters, or the first 50 pages) or a full manuscript. Usually it should be send within 2-3 business days after the pitch was requested. So there is enough time to check the agent website to tweak details like font type and size, margins etc, but NO TIME for finishing the book (see p. 1).

Include a brief letter, reminding the agent where and when you've met; how you enjoyed the meeting; it's a good idea to include your original pitch to refresh the Agent's memory.
Include a short paragraph with some details about you - your previous publishing successes, professional affiliation (e.g. RWA, RWNZ), any other credits (e.g. writing contests won).
Thank the Agent for their time.

8. Wait.

In the meantime, you can practice pitching and pitch online to a variety of agents and editors - there is a number of websites where you can do it, e.g. Savvy Authors and Pitch University

Have you got any tips for pitching virgins and second timers? Share them!

05 July 2011

The wounded hero

I've just started reading a novel and from the moment the Hero first appeared I've a feeling he's one of those quiet introverts who seem withdrawn if not cold - a lonely wolf, if you like. I've already put my bet on a troubled past - a deeply wounded heart or a lost soul, or at least a few scars.

I admit, I have a soft spot for The Wounded Hero, also known as The Lost Soul or The Recluse. In her 45 Master Characters VL Schmidt links this type of character to the archetype of Hades - the god of the underworld.

photo by smokedsalmon

I've tried to find a good definition of who Wounded Hero is and found a number of references to physical disabilities, but also emotional scars. Love Romance Passion website listed 5 different subtypes of this type of hero, using Damaged Hero as the 'common denominator':
  • scarred hero - has physical scars on his body or face and is usually a man who struggles to get over the loss of his looks
  • wounded hero - is a man who has more than scars - a disability, has lost a limb, a sense (blind heroes seems to be particularly popular)
  • tragic hero - is damaged emotionally; it's someone who has lost everyone and everything that have mattered to him; became a recluse and avoids getting attached to anyone or anything anymore in case he may lose them again
  • tortured hero - is a damage hero 'at the end of his rope'; he's someone who has been abused physically, mentally or emotionally and developed very low self esteem
  • burdened hero acts alone; he doesn't trust anyone as he has learnt over the years not to; he often lives with a horrible secret, is seeking revenge or absolution

Key characteristics: WH has chosen a solitary life - whether physically (e.g. living on a desert island or in a middle of a forest) or emotionally (single, with no or very few friends, doing a solitary job). He has rejected society or society has rejected him. he may also be not much in touch with reality (living in a middle of a forest, leading self-sufficient life with no broadband and no phones). he prefers his own company and often has good reasons for that - has been betrayed or abused in the past. This is a man with secrets, or even a dark and troubled past...

Relationships: as a rule WH is a loner and has been for a long time, if not for the most of his life. He doesn't know how to be close with other people, he doesn't trust anyone.
It's all obviously only until our Heroine comes on the scene and helps him heal the wounds.

Typical backstory: human beings are typically sociable and loneliness is usually a choice made more from push than pull factor. If you want a recluse - think of what could have pushed him aside, on the fringe of society; and the hint is in the name  - a wound :)
The wound(s) are either physical, or (more often) emotional, but these have to be deep enough to make this man choose solitude over human company. A broken heart? Yes, but you need to throw in other more powerful issues, e.g. betrayal of trust, violation of your hero's values.
My WH has a broken heart not because his ex has left him, but because she made him open up and show his 'soft side' for her, and then she ridiculed him; and then she got the job he dreamed off and destroy a team he loved.
Often WH's wound would go really really deep, back into his childhood - to that dark and troubled past.

Typical jobs: since WH is typically a recluse, any job that allows or requires working on his own - from being a monk, a writer/artist, through a being boss ('being a CEO is a lonely business', same for being a king), to such favourites like cops/private detectives, or special agents. WH's job would often foster his reflective nature and rich inner life.

Motivation: WH loves being on his own, usually because he's afraid of other people and being hurt  again. He often also enjoys his solitary lifestyle because he enjoys his own company and his rich inner life. His main motivation is often the urge to know and understand; or need to heal/lick his wounds away from people.

Biggest fears: Obviously, his biggest fear is being hurt again. Often WH would also be afraid of his own emotions, particularly powerful ones, like love or hatred. he may be not only scared of the power of his own, but also of others' emotions - yet another reason to keep away from people and don;t get too close to anyone. Those WH who tend to think a lot may also be scared of loosing their mind, their solitude, their inner world. 

Potential for growth: since we're talking about romance fiction, WH is up for a tough time - by the end of the book he has to be able to be in a lasting (HEA) relationship, and this is what he often fears most. Potential for growth therefore needs to be focused on learning to trust people, getting in touch with his own emotions and 'soft side' if not weaknesses, being able to give and receive, being capable to be intimate, not only physically but mostly emotionally. In a nutshell - a lot!
Think carefully what back story (baggage) you give them so he has enough time to change and his character's arc is believable, e.g. serious, repeated abandonment early on in his life cannot be fixed with even the biggest love of his life.

Examples from literature and film: Beast in Beauty and The Best, Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, James Bond in Quantum of Solace (did you also have a moment of 'Ah! Now I understand why he's never committed to any of these girls...'?), Agent Mulder from X-files (more secrets anyone?), Harry Potter and quite a few more characters from HP series.

I like reading and writing WH. probably because first of all we have a great source of internal conflict for Hero - he has good reasons for not falling in love with Heroine, and even when he falls he'd rather keep away from the power of his emotions and her closeness.
I also like WH because I like creating caring female characters with inner healing powers - who is better equip to help WH heal than another of my favourites - The Perfect Nurse? I enjoy the journey of the hero who learns to open up and heals.
And last but not least I like WH because I have a soft spot for man with layers and secrets....

Do you like Wounded Heroes? Why? or why not? Do you prefer physical or emotional wounds?

25 June 2011

Romance Writing Competitions calendar

For those of my readers who haven't noticed I've added a new, hopefully helpful feature to my blog - a calendar with competitions related to romance and women's fiction genres. You can find it on the side bar.

It's just a Google calendar with the name of the contest, deadline (sometimes also date when the comp opens), and very basic info re who can enter (published/unpublished writers) and what is judged (e.g. first chapter, first 50 pages+ synopsis etc).

Every entry contains a link ('Where' line) to the contest website, where you can find all the details, including fees, whether the contest is open only to members or wider public, who the judges are etc. Unfortunately since the box is intended for physical address the link is not 'clickable' and needs to be copy&pasted into your browser.
Although I do check the links before adding an event to my Calendar I am cannot guarantee all information is accurate. Please, check the competition websites for details and update information.

Remember, always read the contest rules, regulations, eligibility, entry formatting requirements etc before entering.

If you know of any Romance/Women's Fiction writing competitions do let me know by either posting a link or emailing me. I look froward to hearing from you.

Good luck!

15 June 2011

How to create internal conflict in romance

Conflict is the blood of romantic fiction. Readers don't read romance novels because they want to know what happens to the characters - they know it already. They read to know how the characters overcome the conflict and end up together. It's conflict keeps your hero and heroine apart and makes the reader turn the page.
So there's no romance without conflict.

photo by Ambro

Conflict in romance can be external or internal. External conflict comes from the outside and affect your characters; it's the plot. Internal conflict on the other hand comes from within the character. It's an internal battle, an obstacle they have to overcome, a choice between love/lasting relationship and ... this other thing. Internal conflict arises form an unmet need - something that happened in the past and left a hole in the character, the character will struggle to fill (as Molly O'Keefe said in her great article on Conflict from Character in 'Heart to Heart' - RWNZ Newsletter, May 2011).
How do you find these unmet needs? How do you create internal conflict in romance?

There are a number of ways you can 'source' your characters' internal conflict:

1. Your character's goals , plans, ambitions- look at what he/she's always wanted to achieve, their desires. Whether it's a life-long ambition to become a great scientist, a dream of round the world trip, or peace of mind, need for financial security, or revenge. Whatever drives them, the goal is to get somewhere which is away from love.

Risk: this type of internal conflict, if not supported by 'added layers' (see below) and rooted deeper in the character's past risks being too shallow to carry the entire novel. If she wants to go on a round the world trip why can't she go with him? Or why doesn't she go, keep in touch with him while travelling (we have technology), and get back together on return?

This is a good first layer of conflict, because our goals and decisions we make are often based on our previous experiences and even deeper desires or fears, so just the moment the reader think the character can easily overcome this obstacle, you just peel the layer and show another one.

2. Your character's past experience - whether one-off or repeated as an adult; or something that has been haunting your character from her/his childhood. the deeper (the more back in time and the stronger) you can go, the better - the hole will be bigger and more difficult to heal - would certainly not be sorted out with a plaster. Conflict arising from this kind of experience will often be an obstacle to being in a lasting relationship, e.g. inability to trust another person, fear of being abandoned or hurt again.
Look for previous relationship problems and failures; inner fears, doubts. When creating a problem, make sure it's not an opinion formed on a one-off experience, unless the experience is of traumatic size. Again, to build up conflict that could carry a novel, look for experiences which create strong, lasting emotions -

I've recently read a novel where the heroine was reluctant to get back with her miraculously 'returned from dead' husband, because he'd walked away from her life 2 years before and never bothered to communicate with her. When he finally turns up at her wedding (to someone else) he explains that he has been hurt badly at a war, nearly lost his life and certainly ability to contact her. She loves him but feels she can't trust him, because of this one-off event; she had no previous experience of being 'dumped' or 'stood up'. Not enough of a internal conflict for me to make me believe this situation, so I put the book away having read about 2/3.

When you use a recent relationship issue, whether in current relationship, or previous one, make sure the problem actually goes deeper still - to another relationship, or even better - back to childhood experience and fears. See my post on building believable characters for more suggestions.

In another recently read novel, The heroine breaks up with her partner who she is madly in love with because he doesn't want to change his very dangerous job. He's late for dinner or date with her, comes back unharmed but just... She realises that he loves his job and will never give it up; and she does not want him to give up the job he loves, so she walks away.
This novel shows the layers very well, because the reader is soon informed that the heroine's father who was a rescuer himself died while on duty. The heroine knows exactly what it means to loose the most important man in her life to work.
But this does not end here. As the story progresses, we learn the heroine's biggest secret - that her mother committed suicide shortly after her husband's death because she couldn't cope with the death of her beloved father. And the heroine still feels guilty for not being able to prevent it. Do you want your child to feel like that? or do you believe your children deserve a better future?

3. Your characters beliefs and values are great source of internal conflict. I actually think it's the best way to (seemingly) insurmountable problems at your heroine/hero. Because people invest a lot in maintaining values and beliefs, they will hold onto them for much longer than to plans or decision made without this weight. People don't change their beliefs very often, there has to be a special reason for doing so and this one-in-the-lifetime love, this special relationship may be just the agent of the change.

I like books where the source of internal conflict is in the character's belief system - not only because you go really deep, reaching to the core of your character. Also because beliefs are formed throughout life, and are combination of our upbringing, past experience and own decisions, so they rise from all the layers. In fact, you can build the conflict through all the layers.
One of the favourites in romantic fiction is the issue of single parenting - I've read a number of books where the heroine (often due to her own upbringing without or with absent father) finds herself pregnant but doesn't want to bring up the child on her own, or stays in an abusive relationship because she believes children should have both parents. Another favourite includes men who believe that women should stay at home until children are bigger, or give in their careers completely to be mothers and/or homemakers; and they would not marry/be in a serious relationship with a career girl. This belief can stem from happy childhood with mummy at home, or the other way round - the trauma of being shifted from one nursery/childminder to another and never seeing their mother.
There is a layer of goals, then there is a layer of own experience, and there is a layer of beliefs.

Risk: you have to be careful when challenging people's beliefs and values, because values are actually what makes your characters unforgettable and heroic; values can also be saving grace, so be mindful not to challenge a belief or a value that your character absolutely needs to maintain integrity.

4. The other character's goals, past experience and beliefs - to create tension between your characters give them conflicting goals, different past experience or opposing sets of beliefs. If you combine a man raised by a single, working mother yearning for a homemaker and an independent career women who needs to prove her intellectual worth to the world because she's always been 'sois belle and tais-toi!', you should have enough to keep them apart for 200 pages.

Once you have conflict and inevitable choice to make (love or...?)
- put your characters in situation where they have to make this choice
- don't let them act out of character
- peel the layers like an onion; adding depth and drama (more tears, anyone?) as you go.

Read more about internal vs external conflict in Jennifer Holbrook-Talty's great postHere Terry Odell shows how to build conflict and tension into your romance. And here's more about conflict and tension in general.
As a reader I enjoy multi-layered conflict, deeply rooted in the character's beliefs, because I think it reaches to the core of a character and require true growing to get to Happily Ever After. However much I like it, I also think it's difficult to pull off and the more I admire authors who can do it.
As a writer, I try to source internal conflict from my character's beliefs or values.  Do you have a favourite way of creating internal conflict? How do you do it?

02 June 2011

How to make the most of e-writing courses

E-writing courses are getting more and more popular these days. They are easy accessible for anyone with a computer and Internet access. They are cheap, can be run irrespective of geographical location, time zone, and day schedules. You don't have to take a day off to attend one - you can just do it in the comfort of your own home at any time that suits you. They also much cheaper - a typical e-course would cost around 10-30 USD, and you don't have to travel to the place, there is no hotel to book, no snacks to buy etc.
Not quite.
Having tried a number of e-courses recently (4 to be precise) I must admit I struggle with this format. I don't really want to say that I haven't learnt much form the ones I've 'attended', but I can't say I've learnt much either.
With this reflection in mind I hesitated over enrolling to yet another one recently, but I know I really need to learn how to pitch like a pro, since I've decided to attend a pitching session at RWNZ conference in August. So I've enrolled but then sat down to brainstorm ideas how to make the best of e-learning writing courses.

photo by photostock
Free Digital Photos

1. Familiarise yourself with the format. If you're joining an online group/loop or forum, have a look around the forum - how the posts are displayed; are they grouped or displayed chronologically? Can you change the setting to have it displayed the way that suits you? The courses I've done were all based on Yahoo Groups - a format I'm familiar, but not necessarily happy with. For a reason unknown to me, even when I have 'group by topic' on, I keep getting messages all over the place.
The main upside of reading the posts on the forum is that you can group messages by topic and see how a topic progresses
If you prefer to read the messages in a digest - I'd suggest you opt for a daily one (see point 2). On one hand digests are good because they remind you about the course and prompt to read every day. But on the other hand there is no way you can group messages, and since it brings only what's new today, you may not remember what was written/discussed before. Often the replies would have the original post at the bottom, which is good for refreshing your memory, but I find it the most annoying aspect of e-learning courses: scrolling down the kilometers of old messages, displayed in the most annoying format with all these "<"  and   ">", which make it much harder to scan.
If you find this as frustrating as I do, see point 3 for some suggestions.

2. Make a commitment to read posts every day. This will not only allow you to stay up to date with what's on the group and keep up to speed with new information provided, but also take part in exercises, try out new skills or put the newly acquired knowledge into practice, which reinforces the learning process!

3. Make your own notes. I have tried to copy&paste relevant bits and pieces of posts into a Word document, but realised I've been missing the possibility of scribbling all over pages. I am a rather non-linear thinker and learner, so tools focused on linear approaches don't work for me. I suspect many writers are non-linear, so I would suggest you make your own written notes - not only this will reinforce the learning process but also allow you to make notes in whatever way you find beneficial, and go back to add stuff as you go along.

4. Participate in tasks/homework. Get your stuff out there, don't be scared or shy to get feedback on your writing. Practice the skills taught and get feedback on your progress. Also read what other participants have done and the feedback they've got - learn from other people's experience. The whole point of taking the course is to learn.

5. Don't undermine the power of community that builds around the course. On these rare instances I took part in homework tasks I got great feedback and helpful tips not only from the tutor but also from other participants. One of the most amazing things was that many writes were happy to chip in and brainstorm ideas for my (your, hers, his) book or story - completely free! Great bunch of people!

6. Enjoy :)

You can find interesting writing and publishing related e-courses here and here or here or here and in many other places.

Have you taken any e-courses? What is you experience? Did you enjoy this way of learning, or did you find it challenging? How do you make sure you make the most of this experience?

22 May 2011

Damsel in distress - believable characters and emotional balance

My writing drought unfortunately hasn't finished yet but I'm fighting it. I was going to write about learning on e-courses and online conferences but I was braindead for a several days and even looking at my keyboard made my eyelids go heavy and droop. I hoped someone would come and wave their magic wand and dispel the horrible thing, but I waited and waited and...nothing happened.

Then I read a very interesting post on Too Stupid To Live heroine on Heroes and Heartbreakers blog and thought Why don't I write about another post in Believable Characters series? It shouldn't be hard. I like writing about people I know. And who would I know better than a Damsel in Distress, since (clears her throat, embarrassed) I am a bit of one.

Key characteristic: Damsel in Distress usually lives a charmed, playful life, where there is no place for mundane problems. She has a strong sense of being special, and above and beyond rules and laws. She dances on meadows, picking flowers and chasing butterflies. She doesn't worry about paying bills, or what's for dinner. Whatever her age, she is always a little girl, who loves fun and have no sense of danger. She gets herself into trouble because she looks at the world through rose-tinted glasses or because she doesn't feel vulnerable, just like Sleeping Beauty who goes to a tower she's never known existed, speaks to an old woman she's never met before and tries something she doesn't even knows the name of (spindle).
DiD always looks young and her clothes usually emphasise this. Long, floating, flowery dresses, hats, long hair, a bunch of flowers in her hand - yes, you've got it right! DiD loves her freedom and being special. She's proud of being different.

On the other hand her youth, energy, enthusiasm for what's new, genuine curiosity for people and the world make her an attractive person. She makes friends easily and has many of them. She is a great listener, can 'read people' and is gentle. Since she needs people to support her, she avoids conflicts, keeps her opinions to herself and is a great peace keeper.
She doesn't care about the future, often she would not have a concept of future beyond the next week. She doesn't plan her life beyond the weekend. Forget marriage, children, commitments. Some Damsels in Distress forever remain damsels fading into spinsterhood with a wilted daisy chain on their head.

The black side of a DiD is a Troubled Teen (again: whatever her age) - out-of-control, ignorant, angry young woman who would get into trouble with the police, gangs, or unwanted pregnancy and expect her parents to turn up and rescue her. This type is even more selfish and manipulative than her more innocent sister. With her lack of sense of danger, feeling of being special, invincible and entitled she wastes her life away on proving (or rather not proving) her point.

Relationships: The key word is dependence. Damsel in Distress can't make decisions for herself and needs other people to lean on, feed her, entertain her, organise the life for her. She has trouble committing to one relationship and will happily jump from one to another. And since she can't live by herself, she goes from one relationship to the next straightaway, without reflecting on what went wrong with the previous one. She comes across as being innocent and vulnerable, and attracts men who want to take care of her, or who feel she's easy to domineer.

Typical backstory: Damsels I've met in real life were of two types. First one- with overprotective (or even controlling) parents, never had to grow up and take responsibility for her life - there was always someone to rescue them (usually Daddy, hence Damsels are often Daddy's Princesses). They grew up being special, for whatever reasons - be it being the only child (daughter), the youngest one, or maybe the sick one? Although they may (intellectually) know the world is a scary place, they never had a sense of it since they have always been protected.
Be mindful, there may be a serious child abuse lurking behind these lovely pictures of caring parents. The worse the abuse, the stronger the connection between the abuser and the child, and 'coming to her rescue' may be part of the game.

The other type is a child who experienced abandonment at an early stage (usually in the first 2 years); the abandonment didn't have to be of the scale of abuse or even purposeful. A typical scenario is a single full time working mother, a mother who became sick for a longer period (e.g. had to go to hospital, or was depressed) and couldn't take care of the child. The girl then had to 'fend for herself' - she's mastered how to make people look after her, but hasn't learnt the sense of real danger, or worse - since she knew how to make people do things for her she's gained a (absolutely false) sense of omnipotence, just like toddlers have.

Typical jobs: DiD loves their freedom and would hate mundane 'nine to five' jobs. She has short attention span and needs constant stimulation. DiD loves variety and hates making decisions. She is often an Eternal Student, moving from one course to another and collecting certificates, diplomas and other academic trophies. If you want to add external conflict, give your DiD a boring, repetitive office job, leaving which would require far too many decisions to make and a few people to upset.

Motivations: safety and security, but also freedom to be herself and lead whatever lifestyle she likes. She enjoys being different and would go to great lengths to emphasise it.

Biggest fears: being abandoned (yet again), left to fend and make decisions for herself ; loosing her freedom; not being special; boredom

Potential for growth: Although Damsel in Distress seems to be a little passe these days, I believe that she can be an interesting character to have in your romance novel. Not only she can be likable (unless it's the Troubled Teen you have) but there is great potential for growth!  Just imagine this sweet, helpless, spineless flower girl meeting a man who hates damsels in distress. Imagine that journey she embarks on to become a strong, assertive, independent woman and win her man's heart. All you need to do is to help her realise the world isn't as safe place as she thinks, get off her backside and start taking responsibility for her own life and future. So much room to grow.

More about Damsel in Distress in media here.

Examples from film and literature: Persefone, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Jane Austen's Emma, Jane in Tarzan, many of Bond girls or my favourite DiD - Abby Harper from My Family comedy series.

Do you think there is still place for Damsels in Distress in contemporary romantic fiction? Do you like them? Or rather feel like teaching them a lesson on danger and independence?

07 May 2011

Writing drought and other misterous conditions

Since the beginning of April I have been struggling to write. At first, I though I was just tired - there were good reasons to feel so - February and March were very intensive with revisions and rewritings for my OCD book, research and attempts to get a first chapter and a synopsis finished on time for Great Beginnings contest, Alzheimer blogging competition, an online course to learn to write better synopsis, writing for this and the other blog, tweeting, and on the top of that big decisions to be made in my day job.

I thought: I need holidays. So I went to South Island. I had nice time, but came back disappointed with Fiordland. It was well below what I expected to see. Maybe except for Queenstown, which pleasantly surprised my with its autumn colours and almost European feel. This is the best photo out of 115 I took while visiting Queenstown, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound.
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, NZ
copyright by Kate Kyle

So I came back, well rested, shortlisted in Alzheimer's Blogging comp, did not submit my entry to RWNZ contest, never wrote that synopsis for the e-course, still unable to write.
I keep calling it 'writing drought' but it's not really a drought  - I have lots of ideas for novels, non-fiction books, articles and even a textbook! It's not a writer's block, because I know that if I sit for long enough I would just got it out on paper.

It may be something to do with not being able to commit myself to writing. I keep thinking: 'It's a brilliant idea I need to write that book proposal, but which publisher I send it to?' But there are so many publishers that I could submit my book proposal to, I don't know which one to chose. So I then think that I need a agent first. But I need a book proposal to submit a query about. But how do I write a book proposal if I don't have a publisher in mind. And da capo al fine.
I just can't be decide, and so I spend another evening watching one of my favourite sitcoms on DVD and pottering about, feeling like I still have time, while I don't.

Has any of you ever had a similar problem? How did you overcome it? Any ideas how to break that blimmin' vicious cycle?

01 May 2011

The Charmer - believable characters and emotional baggage

Apologies for not posting for over 2 weeks but I've been through a bit of a writing&blogging drought recently. Today it's time for another romance archetype/stereotype, but a male one for a change - The Charmer. It's the type of character closest to Victoria L. Schmidt's archetype of The Woman's Man and Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, wine, madness and ecstasy.
I have come across many charmers in romance novels. It's a prefect hero for your story because in order to stay in a relationship (for the Happily Ever After) he has to grow.

Photo by Federico Stevanin

Key characteristics: The Charmer loves women and women love him. He is a free spirit, cheeky, cocky, simply likable. He can also be kind and loyal and knows his limits. He understands women, can be their best friend, support them and encourage to become stronger and more aware of their beauty, inner strenghts or charm.
In romance novels, and certainly in those medical one I've read, The Charmer is often a lover of life and fun, and teaches the heroine how to (re)-discover simple pleasures of life, spontaneity, fun and sensuality. he is the one who embarks on crazy adventures and is keen to try new things.
If you have a heroine who has dedicated her life to her career (would work well with The Perfect Nurse), who forgotten how to or is unable to celebrate sensual pleasures or fun, a heroine who would benefit from a self-esteem boost, The Charmer is your man. He will help her change.

Relationships: Although The Charmer would do a good, loyal friend, he is unable to commit to one relationship. He loves his freedom far too much and is scared of commitment and responsibility that comes with being in a relationship. Fortunately, this is exactly who you may need for your story, because with carefully set up conflict and character's arch you can help transform The Charmer into Mr Right. Interestingly, he forms strong friendships with women, but not with men and he is often rejected by other men and society for being different, or not manly enough (which is not true).

The Charmer is a dreamer, but he often doesn't have what it takes to achieve his dreams. He doesn't worry about money and often doesn't have them. He can be moody, loves sex and can make it fun and ecstatic. He has had many women and has broken (not on purpose!) many hearts. To him, all women are beautiful. He can see their inner beauty and can help bring it up to the surface (sometimes in Pygmalion's way), but no one will ever be as good as the ideal he is looking for. The ideal has a lot to do with his mother, and The Charmer may even be aware that his ideal Miss Right is a woman who could be both - a mother and a wife to him.

Typical backstory: Typically, The Charmer had a strong and close (too strong and too close) relationship with his mother. It was her who taught him how to understand women, how to be gentle to them and how to make them happy. His father is often an absent or distant figure, with little if any influence over the boy. Often, his mother taught him that men are bad and harm women (like his father harmed his mother) - that's why The Charmer doesn't like other men.
The Charmers I've met in real life often had Femmes Fatale for mothers - there is no woman more beautiful, sexier and more charming than her. Sometimes, the mother is idealised because she died in his early life and the young man has been searching for that perfect wife who would also be a mother to him (It sounds like one of your characters, Fiona, doesn't it?).

Typical jobs: As a free spirit, The Charmer will often hover on the fringe of society. He's a dreamer without the power of commitment so you won't find him among local businessmen, or on a list of high achievers. He rarely cares about his career, so despite talents, intelligence and potential, he will rarely have a powerful job, or he may even have no proper job at all. He's more likely to live like a hippie, or some other counterculture believer. He can work in other realms and dimensions - as a Shaman, a spiritual teacher, or be a pirate, a rock star or James Bond.

Motivations: the unconditional love (or his mother/wife), the total freedom (and other dreams), the thrill of having fun; also the fear of commitment.

Biggest fears: loosing his female friends, his freedom (hence fear of commitment and jobs with lots of rules, regulations and structure) and being exposed as a weak, unambitious dreamer (hence the choice of careers where ambitions don't count); also being prosecuted by the society as not being 'man enough' (I can see a potential source for internal conflict here).

Potential for growth: in order to remain in one relationship, The Charmer needs to learn to commit and be responsible. As he has not had a good male role model, he also needs to learn to be a grown-up man in the society, whether it's related to having a family or a 'proper' career. He may also need to learn how to interact with men (and that not all men wants 'one thing' and want to harm women).

Examples from film and literature: James Bond, Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates from the Caribbean, Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing.

I admit, I like having a Charmer as a hero, because there is a lot of potential for internal and external conflict with my typical, overly committed, serious, all-work-no-joy heroine. Do you like The Charmer? Why?
What is your favourite type of hero?

17 April 2011

Building believeble relationships between characters in fiction

Conflict between your characters is the essence of every romance story. It drives the story forward and characters apart. Although it doesn't stop your hero and heroine from failing in love with each other, it stops them from falling into each other's arms in Chapter one.

Conflict comes from your characters' character. It's about what they care about, strive for, what they're scared of. What is at stake in the conflict, as Kate Walker in her '12 point guide to writing romance' writes, has to be important enough for your characters to be worth arguing over and even taking the risk to lose the love of their life. And when, in attempts to create really powerful tension (conflict), you give your characters opposing goals and strong motivation to achieve them, after all that effort to keep your hero and heroine apart, it may be hard to make them fall into each other's arms in the last Chapter.

Happily ever after is as much the essence of romantic fiction as conflict. And although nowadays a romantic novel does not have to end with wedding bells ringing, we, as romance writers, need to give our readers enough to believe that hero and heroine's relationship will last until their golden anniversary, or at least as long as we can think of. To achieve a satisfying ending, there has to be enough attraction between your characters throughout the story. There needs to be a balance the push of conflict with the pull of love.

So how can we build a relationship that will last, at least on paper? What are the keys to a successful relationship, beside the most obvious sexual attraction?

Photo by graur razvan ionut
at www.freedigitalphotos.net

1. Good communication - happy couples exchange ideas, feelings, news, beliefs, problems in a polite, respectful and appreciative manner. Even when you have to have your H/H arguing and or misunderstanding  each other show that they listen, communicate, understand and be understood in other areas. E.g. in medical romance H&H can have problems in communicating on private level, but they do it much better when they work together.

2. Constructive resolution of conflict - when criticising, happy couples don't generalise ('You always do this', or 'You never say that'); they attack the problem not the person, they don't withdraw from the interaction. even when you characters disagree over something, show them being able to see solutions in a constructive manner.

3. Shared values and beliefs- happy couples share values and spiritual beliefs. Show your H&H being passionate about the same issues, e.g. greener living, civil rights, their faith. Successful couples agree that they want to pursue the same life paths, values and goals and mutually commit to it, whether it's about having or not children, saving or spending money, travelling or settling down.
4. Sharing and similarities - maybe opposites attract but it's similarites that keep people together. Give your hero and heroine things to do together - a shared hobby, a passions for dancing or love of early swim in the sea, and let them spend quality time together, outside the daily routine of household chores and work

5. Ability to understand each other motives. Give them opportunities and skills to understand each other's motives. When your hero or heroine is feeling angry, hurt or betrayed because of something the other one has said or done, at some point show them taking a moment for quiet reflection to try to understand why the other one has said or done what they did. This way, you make sure that when they finally fall in each other arms, their understanding of the other person and their forgiveness is genuine.

6. Humour. Let them share a sense of humour - it's not only one of things they share, but also a fantastic tool to deal with difficult moments in life.

7. Mutual admiration and respect. Let them admire and respect each other - again to use medical romance as an example, even when they are still not able to see enough qualities on the personal level, H&H often admire and respect each other for who they are professionally.

8. Give them ability to deal with crisis, stress and frustration - it will come handy in the future (after the Happily Ever After)

9. Show that each of them is capable of being empathic, sensitive, selfless and honest; equip them with fidelity, adaptability and tolerance- in other words: give them what it takes to live with another person in such intimate closeness for a long time.

More about qualities of successful couple here and here.

And what do you do to make sure that the Happily Ever After is possible despite all the differences, personality clashes and arguments you have thrown at you hero and heroine throughtout your story?

01 April 2011

The Perfect Nurse - believeble characters and emotional baggage

First of all, apologies for taking so long to write the next post in the Believable Characters and emotional baggage series. Since I promised to write about The Good Wife stereotype/archetype I've been waiting for my copy of 45 Master Characters to arrive. It arrived today (after many problems), but there is no Good Wife in there. Well, not in the sense I understand this type.
I don't want to confuse anyone by sticking a wrong label on a character, so I decided to put this one off until I'm sure what Elizabeth (Currie) meant by the Good Wife. BTW, dear Elizabeth can you please, give a couple of examples of Good Wives from fiction or film?

In the meantime another character you are likely to come across while reading women's fiction and romance - The Perfect Nurse. As you can imagine - this type often populate medical romance and in fact, heroines in two novels I've read recently, as well as my heroines (Ann and a new one - Stephanie) have many features of The Perfect Nurse.

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via www.freedigitalimages.net

Key characteristics: The Perfect Nurse is often a strong woman, putting others before herself, helpful, caring, committed to (her family, job, whatever she is involved into), dedicated, would go out of her way to help, generous, altruistic, prone to sacrifice; also tends to forfeit  her own identity and dreams for the sake of the person she's caring for; lacking assertiveness, often struggles to look after herself. PN rarely cares about her looks, she's often not aware of her sex appeal or external beauty.

She needs to be needed, exists through her giving, often can't take or even ask for help. Giving, caring, nurturing are her raisons d'etre; if this is taken away from her - she falls to pieces. She identifies herself through her role as a carer, nurturer (e.g. I'm Josh's mother; if in a caring profession, her job would become her hobby and whatever else she needs in life). If she can't look after other people she doesn't know what to do with herself. Sometimes a PN would realise herself through motherhood and may even have one child after another to feel fulfilled.
Her caring can be stifling and in the extreme she becomes The Overcontrolling Mother or even The Evil Matriarch.

Relationships: PN have lots of friends - people love being around her; she loves being among people she can help, so when it comes to relationships she would tend to fall for men she can care for: single dads, wounded heroes (physically or emotionally), or disadvantage men. In the extreme, PN is likely to be in relationships with alcoholics, compulsive adulterers, liars and other types of helpless cases, believing that her love will cure them. If PN happens to be in a relationship with a strong, sound and perfectly happy hero, it's probably because she thinks he has some secret flaw she can uncover and heal (I'm going to write more about creating realistic and lasting relationships soon).

Typical backstory: PN has always been looking after someone from a very young age. It's usually a woman who had to look after her younger siblings, sick parents or elderly and frail people. Often there is a history of abandonment in their life, but later rather than early - at the time when a little girl can decided to be strong and look after others (8-12 y.o) - this may be in a context of parents divorcing, mother becoming ill/dying.
She's usually gone through life caring for other people, being a home and a peacemaker, a specialist in making other people happy and rubbish at being assertive and looking after herself.

Typical jobs: of course - a nurse, but also other caring professions, like doctors, vets, social workers, nannies, professional carers, teachers. PN would often work/volunteer for a charity. She is likely to work more than necessary, stay after hours to do duties she doesn't have to do because she cares so much for her patients. She also tends to get overinvolved and loose professional boundaries (e.g. Ann, a psychologist form my first novel goes on a private search to find a missing patient). If working in health care system, she is likely to be in conflict with people who perceive health care as business

Motivation: PN needs to be needed. She also strives for love, acceptance and belonging. She would love to be looked after but she can't do it. She often can't even ask for help - asking for help is perceived by her as a sign of weakness. After all, she's the helper!

Biggest fears: not being needed anymore, so loosing the person she looks after (child has grown up, hero is healed), loosing job, retiring; also being forced to ask for help.

Potential for growth: PN may need to learn to let go of her need to look after other people and redefine her identity not through other people. As she isn't good at looking after herself, she may need to learn it, or learn to let others take care of her, and even learn to ask for help.

Examples form film and literature: Demeter, Beauty in Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins.