Saturday, April 28, 2012

Writing the Romantic Moments of the Romance

Everyone who has ever read a romance novel or any novel involving intimacy between characters wonders how the writer creates these moments.  Are they based on something that they have done?  Are the characters based on real people?  What is real and what is made up?  This is yet another question that my husband asked me.  "How do you come up with the kissing stuff?"

Okay, so before I answer the question about the intimacy, I will address the character question.  (Always keep them waiting for more.)  Do I base my characters on real people?  For the most part no, though there are certainly times when I draw from different people whether it's a phrase they use, or a personality quirk, or something that I enjoy about them.  Though it's still a representation of them, not the real person. 

All of the men in my stories, angels or mortals, are based on a type of person that I want to write about.  Some are heroes, some are bad guys, but they are all characters that I personally find interesting.  I try to make my bad guys truly mean and crazed, while my heroes are flawed yet redeemable.  That's just what I enjoy.  Each angel has their own personality and quirks, the same with the mortals.  All of the angels are weighed down by darkness which gives me a broader canvas to use.  My mortals have had rough lives that adds an extra layer to them.  I love all of my characters for different reasons.  My bad boys are funny or sarcastic, yet can pull a gut wrenching moment out of nowhere.  My mortals struggle to get beyond their past experiences and make serious choices about their future.

Once I know who my characters are and what their personalities are, then I can decide how they will deal with intimacy.  I want my characters to be intimate in ways that their personalities would allow.  That's not to say that the quiet guy is the sweet and sensitive type, it means that they will approach a woman in the way they have always wanted to.  If they are timid, they may express themselves more fully with someone that they love while behind closed doors.  I try and define their intimate encounters based on what I know about them.

Writing a romance that is heavy on storyline and character motivation sometimes causes problems when it comes to finding time for intimacy.  There is so much going on that you have to find a way to isolate the characters from the action and the people who want to kill them to give them time to express their desire for each other.  You try and make it plausible, but sometimes you have to bite the bullet and pull them out of the story even though they should be running for their lives or fighting back.  Given that it's a romance, you have to find time to add that aspect to your story and let me tell you, it's not always easy.

Okay, now the good stuff.  How do I come up with the kissing and hugging parts?  As I have said, I try to let those moments be defined by the characters.  I imagine what it would take for a character to satisfy their wants and needs.  Sometimes they prefer being tender and meaningful, other times they fully intend on rocking someone's world.  I also have to figure out where they are most comfortable being intimate with someone.  I have one character who prefers to be out in the open for anyone to to see him.  I have another who starts off tender and shy, but embraced his darker side as the excitement builds.  Another was abused and had no control over the situation so he enjoys being in control. 

Have I drawn on my personal experiences to create the intimate sections?  Sure.  I have used moments that I have experienced, good and bad, but mostly I try to figure out what the character would enjoy.  For example, my Angel of Death relies on his eyes to focus his power and see into a person's soul to figure out how best to tempt them to commit murder or suicide.  No one likes looking him in the eyes.  When my characters finally get together, they lock eyes the entire time which brings a level of intimacy for both characters.  She can look death in the eye without flinching and Death can look at someone in a positive way. 

As a romance writer I also get to explore things that I have never experienced.  Instead of trying to be intimate while the kids are screaming, the dogs are jumping on the bed and worrying about getting up on time, I can imagine a place and setting where the characters are alone and have enough time to do everything they want to do, without distraction.  I am also allowed to do things I would never do for a variety of reasons.  Characters in romance novels don't tire out as easily, don't get cold in the shower when the water isn't hitting them and don't have to worry about certain times of the month.  It's a fantasy world where people shrug off the reality of the world and do what the have always dreamed of doing.  Do I really want to stand in a freezing castle and be intimate?  No, not without a space heater, but my characters find it thrilling to be caught.  So as you can see, I try and let my imagination go to the places that I'm not will or able to go.

While I enjoy writing about the "good stuff", I spend more time writing about the story, the plot, the characters, and the character motivations.  Truth be known, I only spend about 5-10% of my time writing about the "good stuff" because I'm busy filling in the space between the intimate parts.  I  want to be able to create an interesting story where people happen to fall in love with each other and can express their feelings for each other. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Romance vs. Smut

So I asked <3 to give my a topic for my blog and after much deliberation he came up with this question.  What is the different between writing romance and pure smut?  Okay before I go any further know that I everyone loves reading something completely down and dirty once in while, so I'm not knocking it, I'm merely talking about the difference and why I, for the most part, write romance.  Of course I'm sure there are times when things get carried away and go over the line, overall the intent is to write romance.  Having said that, let's continue on.

The intent in writing a romance is creating characters that have some kind of obstacle or difficulty that they must overcome to find love.  There are a thousand different reasons why people are lonely and haven't found the right person.  In the supernatural world it goes beyond simply having bad luck with men/women or not being able to find the right person.  Typically there is a larger problem at hand, sometimes it's a curse, or a power that keeps them from someone, but usually our character is so lost in darkness that they don't think they are worthy of love.  They need to find someone who can look beyond their flaws and past deeds and find the good in them.  There are also times when there is one person made for them that they have to find them, coupled with the darkness problem.  My characters fall into either categories, depending on if I'm dealing with the humans or bad guy angels.

The characters that are mired in darkness need to find a reason to believe in themselves and either stop doing evil or realize that what their doing isn't technically evil, but perhaps a necessary evil.  The emotional baggage for an awesome romance character is enough to push the best therapist to their limit.  The men/women who are supposed to dig deeper into our bad characters needs compassion, understand, patience and above all, an open mind.  Once our bad character sees themselves through the good person's eyes and starts to believe that maybe they aren't crazed psychos, then they can open their hearts and learn to love.  That's a good paranormal romance.

Throughout the exploration of the characters and their redemption there is always teasing and tempting where they want to love the other person but can't for a ton of reasons.  The "good parts" start when there is a physical connection that can't be denied by the characters, but they don't go all the way until they get past their baggage.  The characters attempt intimacy but there is something that stops them from giving their heart away completely, all the while making the other character, and you wanting more.  There is a build up between characters emotionally and physically until you finally get to the end and the problems have been addressed and the characters have had their true intimate moments.

Smut on the other hand will create scenarios whereby not much else is going except frivolous hook ups and physical pleasure devoid of any real emotion and intimacy.  Again, not knocking it, but showing the difference.  Of course there are plenty of times where the write, myself included, can get carried away with the characters and indulge themselves with pure smut to satisfy all the emotional heaviness that it took to finally get to the end.  Everyone is guilty of loving their characters a little too much and pouring everything they have into their intimate encounters.  After all, the readers want to escape from the real world and enter the places where steamy jungles and cool mountain top retreats exist.  (Personally most of mine take place in fairly normal locations, normal being Hell and motel rooms, but when you are dealing with dark characters like the Fallen Angels in Hell you dont' exactly expect the Ritz.)

Hopefully, if the romance writer has done their job, the reader will want to read the parts in between the intimate moments to follow the characters journey to love.  And yes, we have all jumped ahead to read the more interesting parts, but hopefully we go back to engage ourselves in the story line.  Personally, I want my readers to connect to my characters emotionally while waiting to get to the good stuff.  As long as I feel that there as been a journey whereby someone had been redeemed, then I will stand by my writing as romance rather than smut.  (Of course I'm not done writing my series yet ;)  )

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Write What You Like

It may seem silly to tell someone to write about something that they like yet there are people out there who will write about something because they think it will sell or make money even though it's not something they are really interested in.  To write a good story and have it be convincing and well done, you need to at least enjoy the subject matter.  Personally I could never write a novel about politics since I have little interest in politics and I don't understand it very well.  It's like writing about Shakespeare when you don't get what it's trying to say.

Once you know what you find interesting, you have to stop and think about the subject and whether or not you can write about it.  Just because I find biographies of famous people interesting, I would never be able to write about it.  I'm personally better at fiction than fact.  Writing a biography would entail a lot of research and examination of the person and what they did in their lives.  I like reading about them but have no patience to explore their lives and then detail and chronicle it in a book. 

It can be frustrating for someone who thinks that they want to write because it sounds interesting and fun and then decide on a whim to write the next great American novel.  You really have to understand who you are and what kind of personality and imagination you have.  Are you a serious person?  Are you a sarcastic person?  Can you picture things in your mind with great detail?  Can you create interesting dialogue between characters?  Odds are if you are a very serious person, you aren't going to write a satire or a comedy, unless it's a dry humor.  You need to play to your strengths and talents.

Personally I like to see how characters relate to each other and the world around them.  I enjoy writing fiction because I have total control over the environment.  I also tend to fall into the horror/fantasy category because that's the way my mind works.  I have a dark humor and use sarcasm to get through my day so when I combine all of these things I end up writing about characters who are dark and mean and sometimes hurt each other, yet I also have a softer side that ultimately wants a happy resolution, at least until they get into the next situation.  I like taking a character and watch them progress throughout the story and see what happens to them in the end.  I want to see if they rise to the occasion and become a better person or if they take the dark path and end up evil.  That is what I find interesting, so I write about it.

When I was younger I used to write stories because I was told to.  They would give us a starting sentence and we had to complete the story.  Example....Peter's father gave him a new red ball which made Peter very happy...complete the story.  While most kids would write about how much Peter loved the ball and how grateful he was that his father bought it for him. I would have taken a different route.  I would have said that Peter's father bought him the ball as a way to bribe his son into forgiving him for not showing up the week before when he promised that he would come.  Instead of showing up to play with Peter, he spent the day with his other family and other children and didn't have time to pick Peter up.  So the ball was met as a tool for forgiveness which Peter bought hook, line and sinker since he seemed to love the ball and it made him happy.  Later Peter would grow to hate the ball since it represented his father's love for his other family and it would because a means for Peter to forgive his father without having ever received a true apology from him.  Peter would spend a lot of time and money in therapy because of it.

As you can see my interpretation of the story would be very different given who I am and my experiences.  I would have also felt better writing the story.  It appealed to me to write it that way and I would have felt a kinship with Peter for his struggles.  I took a simple character, created an emotional response to something banal and put thought and feeling into the story.  People may not like the story, or they may relate to it, but either way I was passionate about the story because I allowed what I think, feel and know to temper the story.  I could have said that Peter loved his father and learned to play baseball because of it, but I would have found nothing fascinating about the story and it would have been boring since I care little for baseball. 

When you write about something, you need to express something beyond the words and sentences written on the page.  You need to breathe life into your stories and characters by relating to them, or liking them, or even hating them strongly.  If you care nothing for your characters or your stories, then neither will your reader and you will end up with a happy boy with a red ball.  Personally I prefer the angst ridden little boy who desperately wants his father to choose him over his other family.  That is a little boy that I can relate to and a story that would interest me because it's filled with emotion and you know the writer felt something when he wrote it.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Write, Read, Rewrite, Repeat

I have heard about writers that write an entire story in one day and publish it/post it immediately.  This concept baffles me.  It's one thing to sit in English class and be asked to write a short story or an essay and hand it in at the end of class.  No one expects it be a masterpiece.  You make your points and support them as best you can given the time limitation, but it will never be War and Peace.  Granted, I have no interested in writing War and Peace, but I also want to write something that took time and effort to think through and compose. 

Every book starts with an idea and when we think the idea is good enough, we write it down.  One idea leads to another and suddenly you have a story.  That doesn't mean you have a good story, it just means that you have words strung together that hopefully make sense.  It doesn't mean that it's interesting, well though out or entertaining.  The problem is, sometime we think our idea is amazing and the best thing ever.  Then we leave the idea alone and come back to it only to realize it wasn't all that great.  I am reminded of Brave New World where they took hallucinogenic drugs and thought they had the most inspired and fantastic ideas while under the influence.  The speaker in the story decides to write down all his mind blowing thoughts to record them for posterity.  Once he is clear headed again he goes and reads the notes he made.  It turns out that it was complete nonsense and sounded more like a rhyming jumble of words, most of which weren't real worlds.  So, as you can see, it's important to leave the idea to rest for a little while and go back to it with a clear head and new perspective.

There have been many times when I'm on a roll and I'm furiously writing because I have so many thoughts in my head.  I think that it's the most brilliant writing to date and I am proud of it when I'm done.  I will walk away for a day, a week, a month and work on other sections or books.  When I return to my brilliant work I often find mistakes or sentences that are unclear.  That is why editing it paramount.  An idea can always be improved and expanded.  So many times I have a simple frame work that originally seemed epic, so I have to go back and add detail or descriptive words.  Other times I will have come up with an even better idea and have to make changes along the way.  The more that you put into your story the better it will be.

I love examples, so here we go.  My main heroine has a hall within the castle in the underworld, the Hall of Mirrors.  I never questioned why she had it, she simply did.  I decided that it was given to her along the way.  It was an abandoned hall before her.  I went back to the idea and wondered why it existed.  Did someone own it before?  Yes, one of Lucifer's previous lovers had it, though sadly she was absolutely insane.  Well why the mirrors?  Oh, well she was a punisher and used them to punish people.  Well, the hall wasn't built for her, so who was the original owner.  Tabbris.  There were three angels who fell from Heaven to reign over the underworld.  The hall in the tower was created for him but he hated being in the underworld and wanted to go back home.  No one liked him and he didn't trust anyone, so he installed the mirrors so that he could thwart the attacks on him and see his enemies coming for his back.  My simple thought of my heroine residing in the Hall of Mirrors turned into a much more interesting and elaborate story after many rewrites and additional ideas.  Mind you, that's only a fraction of the story, more of a side note, but it I had published my story after my original thought, it would have been very two dimensional.  I managed to create two entirely new characters because I had a simple thought of, who owned a hall.  Both characters have become full blown leads and are heavily featured throughout the series...oh and one of them is dead.

In the end, no matter how brilliant our idea is, there is always room to make it exceptional.  I find that it helps me to read and reread and read again so that I can fill in the spaces within the story and build something that is more interesting and detailed.  I also find it helpful to talk through some of my ideas with people I know so that I can get their perspective and see if it makes sense.  Often one of them will find a problem with my logic or train of thought and I will have to made adjustments.  If you don't go back and read what you have written, you will never go forward and finish your amazing story.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Killing off a Favorite Character

When creating a book series you want to make sure that you keep the story moving and progressing and headed in some sort of direction.  In every book you create new characters, good and bad, otherwise the story doesn't always have room to grow and develop.  Many times we have to sacrifice characters along the way to progress the story.  Killing a character is fairly simple.  There are thousands of interesting ways to kill a character.  You can create a grand battle where the villain falls in an epic fight scene or tragic accident.  We love to kill off the bad guys.  Everyone roots for the villain to get his teeth kicked in and get whomped at the end of the story, as long as the bad guy warrants the death.  He has to be so evil that people want to see him destroyed.  There are plenty of amazing ways to kill a bad guy and satisfy your reader.  The problem comes when you have to kill off a beloved character.

When I speak of "beloved" characters, I mean characters that we have gotten to know over time and have an emotional connection to.  They could be someone who you are romantically attracted to. It could be the knight in shining armor who stays with the girl and helps her pay her mortgage, or someone who is likable and you could be friends with, though you are not in love with them.  There are times when the story needs a catalyst for something larger to happen or you need to emotionally shake up the reader.  There are of course dangers that come along with killing off a favorite character.  You have to make sure the death is justified and not just for shock value. You also have to make sure that it isn't a character that will cause riots by your readers if they die, yet they have to be characters that are likable enough that people will care that they are missing.

Killing for the sake of killing is fun but it's shallow.  The high wears off quickly and people will shrug once they think about it.  You want your reader to be upset that the character is dead, but know that there was a good reason, or a greater purpose to the death.  Take for example Beaches, I cry my eyes out every time I see it.  I'm a sucker for it!  While one of the main characters dies it was, I hope, for a good reason.  In Beaches, we see the friendship that developed between two characters over the years.  They had good times and bad times just like every relationship.  When Selia dies in the end it's to put an emphasis on how short life is especially when you care so much for someone.  It brings the two characters closer in the end and makes them realize that they should spend time together and appreciate each other before their friendship ends.  It also gives CC a reason to get past her selfishness and grow up since she is entrusted to raise Selia's daughter.  We cry because we care about these women and can relate to them and their relationship.  It shows us that it's important to connect with people and share our lives and experiences with them.  

The same goes for your character.  If your reader can take time from their busy lives to read your book, hopefully you will not abuse that relationship by building up a wonderful story and amazing characters only to kill off the main character just for shock value.  It cheapens the relationship and makes the reader not want to trust you.  Personally, I wanted to throw Bridge to Terabithia at the wall.  If you me that the story is about how short young life is and how we need to reach out to the strange and interesting girl next door to broaden our minds, I will still tell you it was crap.  I fell in love with the girl and I am still pissed that she died.  Don't even get me started on the movie My Girl.  It was crap that Macaulay Culkin's character died. 

When you decide that a main character has to be killed off, you have to decide if it will cause readers to be turned off completely because they can't imagine the series without the character.  For example, good luck killing off Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series or god forbid Jacob, you will have girls crying in the streets.  Yet, if Stephanie Meyers had decided to kill off Seth or Leah, for example, the death would have been tragic but we would have moved on.  Granted Harry Clearwater died, but we didn't know him as a character except in the movie, but we all knew that it was coming.  His death at least served a purpose.  You want to carefully chose who takes the dirt nap so that the story and the reader are satisfied.  

When I told my son that I had to get rid of a character for a number of reasons, he told me to choose my personal favorite.  I told him heck no, I don't think I would write the series without him, yet I could pick someone that I care enough about to mourn the loss of.  It's up to me to make sure the character is likable enough for the reader to agree with his popularity.

Once you have decided how to create the perfect death, there has to be an equal reaction whether it's strictly mourning by the other characters or a full out retaliation and war.  If you are going to spend the time and energy in making an awesome character only to kill them off, the other characters in the story should acknowledge the passing.  There is nothing worse that an epic death and no one else seems to care.  You know you cried when Kirk's father died in the new New Star Trek movie when his wife realized that he would never see his son.  His death sparked James T Kirk to make his father proud, after getting his butt whomped a few times in his youth.  (And yes I'm old enough to have seen the original series and movies, so don't go there.  Just making a point here.)  The point is, make the death worth while.

In short, once you have decided to travel the slippery slope of eliminating a character that is well liked and received, make sure that you are doing the right thing for the story and the reader.  And for the love of all that is holy, make sure he stays dead unless the point is for him to come back.  If you are truly going to commit to killing the character, don't wus out three bookes later and bring the character back because you have run out of ideas or because of reader backlash.  If there is that much reader backlash then you didn't think it through well enough.  Trust me, no one wants to see Macaulay Culkin's character return from the dead as a zombie bee sting kid.  (Don't even get my started on why there was a sequel to that movie.)  And no one wants to feel emotionally cheated that they mourned a character that spontaneously returns with little or no explanation.  If the character will return at some point, at least give the reader a teaser to let them know that "maybe" the end really isn't the end, otherwise they might not buy the next book that will clear up mysterious death.  

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Writing Characters That You Connect With

It's sometimes hard to create an entire cast of characters from scratch.  It may seem daunting but if you want your book to be interesting, then you need to have a great plot, descriptive landscapes, imaginative worlds and above all, interesting characters.  If the characters are two dimensional and bland then people won't want to read past the first chapter.  So how does someone write a character that is interesting?  I find that the more I can connect to a character the more emotional I am and the more realistic the character becomes.  Once I have the idea for a character and have some kind of connection, (i.e. I like them, hate them, want to kill them, or want to love them) I have an easier time describing them and coming up with their dialogue.  When a character is fully realized, they can practically write themselves.

Let's say, for example, you have a guy, dressed in a suit, holding a gun.  It's clique in our violence saturated movie and TV worlds but it's still someone people like to see or read about.  So we take our simple guy in suit, holding a gun, and we decide, is he a good guy or a bad guy?  Well go with the choose your own adventure method and go with good guy.  (Well like good guys when they are armed.)  So we have a good guy with a gun.  Why is he wearing a suit?  Businessman...presuming it's a normal work suit, bodyguard...presuming he looks like Jason Statham, FBI...we'll assume it's off the rack, former gangster...if it's seriously pinstriped.  Let's go with former gangster.  Having once been a gangster gives him an edge over most of the other suits.  So we have a former gangster with a gun.  Why is he holding the gun?  He's facing off against his former associates?  Someone is trying to rob him?  The FBI doesn't believe that he has really left the mob?  Let's go with that.  So our former gangster is being hunted by the FBI because they believe he is still the bad guy.  Well go with gun stand off with the FBI as the reason for the gun.  Next, will he shoot?  Probably not since he is now the good guy, though he could shoot at something harmless like the tires of the cop car or avoid the fatal shot and wing someone to delay the FBI's pursuit. 

Okay, so our former gangster turned good guy has a shoot out with the FBI who are hunting him down for his involvement with the mobsters.  He grazes someone with a bullet and blows out the tires of the car.  Now, why did he leave the mob?  He was tired of the drugs, the backdoor deals, killing?  Did they threaten his family?  Did he simply take the money and run so that he could start a better life?  Let's go with threaten his family and being tired...we can mix and match.  So his mob boss questions his loyalty and kidnaps his young daughter to scare him and prove to him that they can get to him through her.  This now gives our character a wealth of emotions to play off of.  His daughter is being held hostage and instead of giving into the demands of the mobsters, our hero decides he is tired of the lifestyle and wants a better live for his family.  Now he can play off of fear...losing daughter because the mobster could easily kill her...anger...that's easy shows he loves his daughter during a tear jerking moment when the mobster puts a gun to her head....vengeance...he swears that he will hunt them down for killing her.  Not exactly noble..but he has that edge to him since he was once a bad guy, it makes him unpredictable.  Will he kill everyone in the end, or will he lead the FBI right to the doorstep of the mob?  You decide.

As you can see, we took a simple two dimensional idea of a guy in a suit, with a gun and gave him a reason, motivation, emotion and detail.  We could give a whole background of having a terrible childhood which caused him to become involved with the mob.  He could find an amazing woman who shows him how to love and gives him the strength to leave his life of crime behind.  Now it becomes a romance.  The more you put into your characters, without flooding them, the more your readers will find a reason to like them and cheer for them.