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.
- 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:
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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!