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.

Photo by photostock
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.