Midweek Technique – what does your character want?

wouldn’t mind this house, too…

Everyone wants something.  I want a new pair of winter boots, a hot tangerine computer bag, a holiday in Hawaii and a summer house in the Gold Coast.  Materialistic, sure.  But hey, they’re my genuine wants!

Your characters, however, are not just average people.  ‘More money’ isn’t a justifiable want for a billionaire unless there’s a reason behind it.  That reason will keep the reader turning the page, wondering if they will actually achieve their goal of getting that want.

So what is a want?  The online dictionary offers up these choices: need, desire, wish, goal, crave, demand.  So, realistically, let’s take a few examples.  In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker wants to get off Tatooine and have an adventure.  Simple.  Princess Leia wants to blow up the Death Star.  Indiana Jones wants to find the Ark of the Covenant.  Ben Gates (National Treasure) wants to find the Templar treasure.  Lightning McQueen (Cars) wants to win the Piston Cup. The Beast (Beauty and the Beast) wants to break the witch’s spell.

Whatever the want, your character must be actively pursuing it.  And the desire for that want will be formed and shaped by their past, what they had and didn’t have growing up.  A want is as individual as your characters and their past.  Did they have a lot of money growing up?  Or none at all?  Do they come from single parent family? Were they adopted? Did one parent leave? Did they have an idyllic childhood or was it abusive?  If, for example, you want to write a hero who is distrustful of people, think about the ways in which a person logically comes to distrust.  Was he betrayed at some stage in his life?  Lied to? What situations was he in to form his distrust?

I had that same issue with the hero in my latest book, A Precious Inheritance (Desire, October 2012).  Chase Harrington has major issues of trust and I had to create a traumatic background to realistically reflect that.  I put that poor guy through hell, actually 😀 But it worked because the more you uncover about him, the more sympathetic you become.

Now, from your character’s want comes your Story Question,  a major question which is posed at the beginning  (in Act 1)  and which carries through to the end, forming the driving force of your story. So if we use the above examples, the story questions will be:

  • Star Wars – will the rebels blow up the Death Star?
  • National Treasure – will Ben Gates find the missing Templar Treasure?
  • Cars – Will Lightning McQueen win the Piston Cup?
  • Beauty and the Beast – will the Beast break the witch’s spell?

yeah, cool skyline but I’d want off this planet too…

Now, at some stage in your story, the answer to this Story Question will look like a big, fat NO.   It will be a black moment (sometimes The Black Moment) were all seems to be lost, where the bad guys look like triumphing, the treasure will stay hidden, the race will not be won or your hero has lost the heroine’s love forever.  For those of you familiar with the Three Act Structure method, this generally comes at the transition between Act 2 and 3.

So here’s some homework.  Have a think about what your character wants, then form your Story Question.  A physical want will often reflect an internal need, for example your heroine may want a promotion (external) because it will gain the love and respect of her father (internal).

Cue the thinking music….. aaaaand….  done?

Midweek Technique – From No to Yes: The Six Stages of Change for your Characters

if only this came standard…

I recently read an interesting article about the decision making process of people suffering from addiction problems and how they are motivated to change.  It’s not such a  gloomy piece as you may think: it gave me a fabulous idea for a brand-new article.  What I’ve done is taken those headings and descriptions and expanded on them, just for you.  So, here we go!

The Six Stages of Change are:

  • precontemplation
  • contemplation
  • determination
  • action
  • maintenance trials and failures – I’ve used artistic license to rename this!
  • termination – a new person – ditto

Precontemplation



This is the stage where your character is oblivious for any need to change.  They may think they are perfectly happy in their ordinary world,  or if they’re not, don’t see the issues as any major problem.

There’s four reasons to be in precontemplation, and they are “the Four Rs” —reluctance, rebellion, resignation and rationalization:

  • Reluctant precontemplators – lack knowledge or inertia to consider change. The impact of the problem has not become fully conscious.
  • Rebellious precontemplators – have a heavy investment in making their own decisions and are resistant to being told what to do.
  • Resigned precontemplators – have given up hope about the possibility of change and seem overwhelmed by the problem. Many have made many attempts to change or gain control of their situation before
  • Rationalizing precontemplators – have plenty of reasons why they don’t have a problem or why others have the problem and not them

Contemplation

Characters at this stage of change are willing to consider the possibility that all is not right in their world.  However, they are highly ambivalent to changing.  This stage is not a commitment for them, and many may be interested in seeking out scenarios to their ‘problem’.  For example, a heroine unhappy with her career may check out study opportunities or read the employment section, or discuss her situation with a friend or colleague.  But even with all the negatives, they still cannot make a decision to change.

They may also consider the pros and cons of their behavior, and the pros and cons of change. They may think about the previous attempts they have made to change, and what has caused failure in the past.

Determination (Commitment to Action
)

This is also what I refer to as “the Call to Action”.  Something happens that forces your character to want to change.  Changing may not be their choice, but to do nothing would be more painful, uncomfortable or unacceptable than changing.  Whatever forces your character to change is rooted in their back story – what do they want most out of life?  What do they fear the most?  What are they not willing to concede?

Whatever happens to change their minds, they are now fully commitment to doing something.

Action (Implementing the Plan)

Your character will put their an action plan into motion, whether it be a formal contract, a to-do list, a verbal agreement with another character, physical move or just a mental commitment to themselves.  This may also require help and/or encouragement from others – a mentor, friends, relatives, work colleague.  Even the memory of a person close to their heart may be the encouragement they need to get moving.

For those of you using the Three Act Structure, this is your turning point from Act 1 to 2 – the ‘opening of the door to a different world’.

Trials and failures ( learning from their mistakes and getting better)

Change requires building a new pattern of behaviour over time, and with that will come tests, challenges and obstacles for your character.  Of course, in order for them to succeed and deserve their reward, they will have to fail and learn from those failures.

This is also where the character gets to the “I hate this/I can’t do this, I want to go back to the way things were.” stage.  A very powerful pull indeed.  But of course, things have changed so much (or they have changed!) that they cannot.

The experience of failing, then regrouping, then trying again, often strengthens a person’s determination to stay on the path they have chosen.  They may get encouragement from others (a mentor, or an enemy who believes they will fail) and will think about why they originally chose this path, which in turn makes them stronger.

A new person 



The original article referred to this stage as the sufferer ‘terminating’ their addiction need.  Not so good when talking about the triumph of a character 😀

In romantic fiction, the ultimate goal in the change process is happiness for your character, whether it be a new job, gaining freedom, respect, finding the love of their life or simply being happy that they succeeded at an insurmountable  task.  The journey they took has had an impact on them, teaching them a valuable life lesson.  They will be a different person with a new life outlook, have gained greater understanding or simply achieved peace within themselves.

Midweek Technique – writing a novel (or series) for the busy writer

I was actually going to call this post “writing for the shark brain” (on account of sharks having a three-second retentive memory) but I think  ‘busy writer’ is nicer and implies that we’re all doing other, just-as- important things, right? 🙂

Here’s the thing.  I am hopelessly disorganized and tend to forget stuff that goes on in my stories.  So what I’m going to do for this post is share with you a method I’ve been using that will (hopefully!) keep you organized so you can devote more time to the actual writing.

For the past :ahem!: few years, I’ve been steadily working on an epic medieval fantasy novel that will most likely end up as a series. The first thing I did – after writing down a heap of notes and the first 40 pages, then getting confused as all hell because I hadn’t properly organized everything – was to set up a bible.  I had some experience a few years back with our Diamonds Down Under mini series for Desire, so I knew what needed to be done.  Here’s what I started with:

  • A ring binder for each book.  I love color, so this binder must be appealing.  I sought out some bendy, A4 two-ring binders because they weren’t huge (I could carry them around) and felt really nice
  • a bunch of page indexes.  I got see-thru colored ones slightly larger than an A4 page, because sometimes I need to add pictures and magazine snippets in plastic sleeves, and those would normally block out the tabs.  I also have a labeller, which again makes the tabs more visually pleasing than my scrawly writing

Of course, you could just as easily organize your filing system on your computer.  Scrivener for Mac is apparently great, and I have a cute iPod app called aNote too, which has tabbed folders.  But I like physical pages, like flicking through them and grabbing a pen and writing down stuff.

So on the index page for the first book went the following headings:

  • Planet – this includes geographic history, maps/layout, oceans, cities, land and where it lies within the solar system.  How long is a day, month, year?  Does it have a sun and how long does it take to orbit it?  A moon?  Also who and what live on the planet, including flora and fauna.
  • History – this is all about the planet’s history and its ruling classes, invasions, wars, decrees and monarchy
  • The Exiles – the original natives of my planet, now oppressed and in hiding.  What special powers do they possess, what can they/can’t they do, how does their society function?
  • The Court – the current rulers of the planet.  How does their society run, what are their rules and customs, is there a seedy underbelly to this society (oh, yeah, there is 😀  )
  • Myths/Legends – who the natives pray to, who is the God of what and what powers (if any) they were said to possess
  • The Book of Truth – an ancient text handed down from the first living native, chronicling the planet’s history. Basically their bible

You could also go into greater detail and separate the “planet” tab into subcategories like flora, fauna etc.  But for now, this works for me.

My Short Category Novels

Of course, this procedure works perfectly well with category too, but because I’ve had so much practice at those, I don’t need to prepare to this extent (a backstory timeline, GMC, synopsis and I’m ready to go).   For these, one tab in a folder is sufficient, and in that tab I have separate pages:

  • Photos of the hero and heroine – face shots, different poses, suggestions for cover art
  • Home – where each of them live, their house/apartment, location and scenery
  • Their stuff – what means the most to them?  Do they have a fancy car?  A piece of treasured jewellery?  A pet or favourite food?  Pictures of shoes/dresses are also included here

I also do a collage of sorts – my characters’ faces, a photo of something significant, and a home interior – that stays pinned above my desk until the story is complete, then gets filed into the folder.  I also have a back story timeline that keeps me on track with their history, too.

So over to you.  What have you found works for you when you’re writing?  Do you use a bible?  Sticky notes?  A notebook? Or a whizz-bang computer program?

Midweek Technique – Nine Points of Trust

Welcome to my brand-new column!  I’ve decided to devote Wednesdays to writing-related issues, articles or links I’ve found that will (hopefully!) help all you writers (ALL writers, not just romance!) out there.

So here we go – my first topic.  I actually came across this issue as I was writing my seventh book (A Precious Inheritance, part of Desire’s exciting Highest Bidder continuity), and after I handed it in, wondered if other writers had the same issue.  Mainly, the two main characters (in my case, my hero and heroine) start off at the beginning of the story disliking and mistrusting each other, and over the course of the book, they end up trusting, then loving, to reach their happy-ever-after.  But just how do you practically write about that?  How do you show that gradual change of mind – in actual words on the page – that will be convincing to your reader?

This analysis warranted going to the movies, plus my trusty index cards, and I think I managed to pin down Nine Points of Trust.  For ease of writing, I have made the heroine the distrustful one, but this can go both ways.  Plus, for a point of reference, I’ll use one of my favorite movies – I, Robot  (featuring the fabbo Will Smith) – as an example.  So here we go.

1. MISTRUST (internal emotion)

Mistrust is formed either through direct deeds of your character or via others’ deeds.  This creates conflict within your character and arouses strong emotions.  Reasons for this mistrust can include:

  • opposites from different walks of life
  • he stands for something she hates (and vice versa)
  • opposing goals (she wants something and he stands in her way)
  • bad deeds done (e.g. he’s destroyed her father’s livelihood)
  • bad family (tainted by association)
  • tainted past
  • different beliefs

At this stage, there can be attraction or not, and your character can either acknowledge that or not. e .g. “Sure, he was gorgeous, but he also represented ten years of oppression and ridicule.”

2. REITERATING MISTRUST (external/internal)

  • This can happen through observation, an event or dialogue.  Your character observes, or is told/reads about events that seem to reiterate their mistrust.

3. 1ST SEED PLANTED LEADING TO FIRST DOUBT (external/internal)

  • Something happens that the character either witnesses or experiences first hand that plants the first seed of doubt
  • The hero may be compared to another character in a scene, and the other character comes off worse.  For e.g. the way your hero treats servants, waiters, colleagues and the less fortunate will say a lot about his character.  If you have a scene where your heroine can see him interacting with others in a positive light, this will cast that shadow of doubt. Chivalry, politeness, courtesy are all good qualities in a hero.
  • Your character knows there’s something ‘not right’, but cannot put their finger on it.  The ‘not rightness’ can be acknowledged as attraction.  The body thinks ‘attraction’, but the head can think ‘just another reason not to trust him.’
  • At this point, if your heroine’s mistrust is founded, she can walk away from the situation with no qualms.  She is not emotionally invested.

4. OUTSIDE INFLUENCES CREATE STRONGER DOUBT (external/internal)

  • Your heroine is getting a stronger impression of who your hero really is, which clashes with her beliefs
  • Other people/events occur to create a stronger comparison.  This can happen via family, friends, work, exes and/or events in which they’re thrown together
  • Remember, others may also have a stake in the heroine’s mistrust of your hero, too

5. 2ND SEED PLANTED – EMPATHY AND TENTATIVE TRUST (internal/external)

  • This is a coming together of goals – familiar traits/past/events are shared and a sort of ‘kindred spirit’ is formed
  • The hero could inadvertently help the heroine with a problem here, or stick up for someone who is close to her
  • At this stage, it would create emotional impact if her trust was misplaced now

6. OPENING OF THE MIND (internal)

  • Big step forward, where the heroine must make a choice of opening her mind to the possibility that her impression is wrong
  • She may take stock of past events to ensure she’s doing the right thing

7. 3RD SEED PLANTED – MAJOR EVENT (external event)

  • Heroine is now committed.  If mistrust is founded now, she will be emotionally affected
  • She realizes the hero is not a bad guy, she may even rationalize and think through some of the prior ‘bad deeds’ and come up with a healthier scenario
  • At this stage, she can also sway either way ==> there can be another event where she places even more trust in the hero OR something could happen that makes it impossible for her to reconcile the guy she’s come to know with the guy she thought she knew.  She knows in her heart that he’s a good guy

8. BLACK MOMENT AND REVELATION ***

  • Major point where all trust appears to be unfounded – it’s her worst fear realized
  • This is plot driven, and goes back to your initial story question that sets up the plot of the book – e.g. will they solve the mystery/fall in love/find the killer?

*** Depending on your story, Point 8 may not be needed.  Why not?  Well, sometimes (in short category, especially) it could be a bit of overkill: you’ve spent all those pages getting from distrust to trust, taking your readers on that journey and now something happens to seemingly blow it all out of the water.  I’m not saying it never works, but it could throw the story prior to that point into disarray.  For e.g. if the heroine can believe the hero is still the awful person she thought at the start of the book from one action/misunderstanding/revelation, then what was the point of the journey?

Of course it’s up to you, the writer, to make the point 🙂  I do have one moment in  book # 7 where the hero thinks the heroine is behind something illegal but after he thinks it through, realizes that’s a stupid thing to think.  Then he consequently beats himself up about it, believing he doesn’t deserve her if he can automatically doubt her integrity.  It’s not a chapter or a long scene, rather a few paragraphs, but it was a logical thought for this character, so I kept this step.

9. TRUST

  • Your character is now totally convinced of the others’ integrity.  This doesn’t mean they are blind to flaws
  • She knows the hero is a good person – this may involve some verbal communication, an apology or talking over their previous mistrust
  • They can see behind the mask to accept them, flaws and all

At this total point of trust, it doesn’t mean that’s the end of your story.  You will also have to tie up loose ends in your plot/secondary characters/backstory/character goals etc.  But it does mean that your characters will be working together for a common goal.

Now, on to the practical application of I, Robot.  The interesting thing here is that some points are actually grouped together and are in a different order.  Lemme show you:

gratuitous shirtless shot of Will Smith

I, ROBOT

Susan Calvin is a driven scientist dedicating her entire career to building and integrating robots into human society.  She is logical, clever and literal, and also appears to be lacking in humor.

Detective Del Spooner is a cocky charmer, hates robots and suspects one of killing the co-founder of United States Robotics, Dr Lanning, even though his death was deemed a suicide.

TOTAL DISTRUST

  • Dr Calvin is assigned to show Spooner around the USR building to complete his investigation.  His charm and flippancy clashes with her literal, scientific mind right away.  Then Spooner suspects a USR robot of killing Dr Lanning but Calvin is convinced the Three Laws (that govern all robots and protect all humans) are perfect ergo, a robot killing a human is impossible.  When Spooner shoots Sonny (the robot hiding in Dr Lanning’s office) Calvin’s mistrust is reiterated.  Then when Spooner starts shooting other robots to draw out Sonny (“they’re just lights and clockwork”), it just cements her mistrust
  • Spooner is determined to prove Sonny is the killer.  Calvin is adamant a robot cannot kill and believes Spooner to be irrational

REINFORCING DISTRUST

  • After a malfunction with a demolition bot at Lanning’s house, Spooner goes to see Calvin, but she refuses to believe his ‘killer robot’ theory, rather she says he has a ‘vendetta’.  They argue and Spooner says she likes robots because they’re cold and emotional.  She says it’s because they are safe and can’t hurt you.

SEED OF DOUBT PLANTED

  • When Spooner leaves, he hands her a photo of Calvin and the Doctor that he recovered in Dr Lanning’s house, and says “the problem is, I care.”  She chokes back tears and realizes Lanning meant something to him, too.

OUTSIDE INFLUENCES (leads to) ==> OPENING OF THE MIND

  • Calvin discovers Sonny is a completely new version of robot, one that has no USR uplink and can override the Three Laws if he so chooses.  He is unique.  He appears to have feelings and dreams, which throws doubt on everything she believes.

2ND SEED PLANTED – EMPATHY AND TENTATIVE TRUST and 3RD SEED – MAJOR EVENT

  • She hears Spooner has been in a car accident and goes to him to tell him about Sonny
  • When Calvin notices Spooner’s scars he finally tells her Dr Lanning gave him a robotic arm and lung after a horrific car accident, and also reveals a robot saved his life but not the girl’s in the next car.  The robot had analysed the survival probability and deemed his life to be the logical choice.  Spooner says a human would have saved her, thereby revealing his deep emotional mistrust of robots.
  • Calvin and Spooner go to the lab to talk to Sonny, where more clues are revealed.  Spooner calls Sonny “someone” instead of “something”, thereby increasing Calvin’s trust.

BETRAYAL

  • When they’re both discovered in the lab, Calvin’s boss tells her Spooner was suspended from duty, which shocks her.  Then her boss plays on her commitment and passion for robotics and convinces her Sonny must be terminated for the good of the robotics program and USR’s reputation.  Spooner believes she’s betrayed Sonny and is not interested in getting to the truth: “Somebody gets out of line around here and you just kill them.”

TOTAL TRUST

  • Spooner follows the clues on his own.  He leaves a message on Calvin’s phone, saying the old robots (who would have protected humans) are being destroyed by the new ones, but her personal robot intercepts the call.  Calvin witnesses her robot’s deception and suddenly realizes a) Spooner was right all along and b) she’s trapped in her apartment with a possible killer robot.
  • Spooner rescues Calvin.  She tells him she couldn’t kill Sonny – he is too unique – and they both sneak into USR to get to the bottom of who’s controlling the robots

Now, I realize these points are not gospel 😀  There could possibly be flaws and things I’ve omitted, but hey, that’s the beauty of discovering a different writing method, right?   Love to hear your thoughts!

May news

Reading: Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones
Listening to: What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction
Watching:  Simpsons Movie

Hi everyone!  Some fabulous news to share with you all this week.  First, the news that Harlequin Australia are reprinting the fabbo Diamonds Down Under!  Squeee!  I loved this series and loved being a part of something with my fellow Aussie and Kiwi friends.  Book one (featuring Bronwyn Jameson, Tessa Radley and Maxine Sullivan) is out this month, and book two (with Jan Colley, moi and Yvonne Lindsay) is out in June, coincidentally my birthday month 😀 Happy birthday to me!  Aren’t the covers gorgeous?  If you missed the series the first time around, you can read all about it at our Diamonds Down Under website (and blog).

The Australian Romance Readers Association is hosting a massive book signing at the QT Hotel, Surfers Paradise on 17 August from 4.30 pm to 6.00 pm.  With over 60 authors attending, it’s your chance to meet your favourite.  To register or for more info, check out the ARRA website.

I’m very excited to see Desire’s newest series, The Highest Bidder coming to fruition.  This six-book series is set in the world of a famous auction house and revolves around movies stars, scandal and intrigue of the rich and famous.  The line up is:

  • Gilded Secrets by Maureen Child  (you can see the cover here)
  • Exquisite Acquisitions by Charlene Sands
  • A Silken Seduction by Yvonne Lindsay
  • A Precious Inheritance by Paula Roe
  • The Rogue’s Fortune by Cat Schield
  • Golden Betrayals by Barbara Dunlop

And bonus, some of the books will contain an extra mini story!

Lastly, some more cool covers to show off – the French Kindle bundle, which includes my Billionaires and Babies book, Billionaire Baby Bombshell,  and the German translation of Promoted to Wife? For more cover goodness, you can check out my website.