Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Essence of Attraction – Part One

When you write a romance novel, the attraction between the hero and heroine needs to crackle off the pages. It’s this romantic tension between the two main characters which drives the story forward and makes you want to continue reading.

An important aspect of attraction is mystery… the hero and the heroine need to spend time wondering about each other. A good way to create mystery in a novel is to have short, sparkling scenes of dialogue between the hero and heroine, interspersed with scenes where the main characters reflect about their interactions with the other person. The more they wonder about each other and try and figure each other out, the more they will become attracted to each other.

Another important aspect of attraction is desire… in order to keep the desire building between the hero and heroine, you should create obstacles between them that need to be overcome. This applies particularly to the hero of a novel, because the more he has to work for the heroine, the more he will appreciate her. Heroes in romance novels tend to be Alpha Males, who have the world (and most women) at their feet. That’s why it’s so important for men of this ilk to work hard for the heroine, because heroes who have it all need to be shaken out of their complacency if they’re ever to fall properly in love.

The third important aspect of attraction is confidence… even if you’ve created a shy, retiring female character she needs to have some element of confidence in herself, if she is ever to be a believable romantic heroine. If a heroine has no self-belief, it will be hard for the reader to believe in her and her love for the hero – it’ll appear to be a wishy-washy kind of thing without form or substance. The hero also needs to portray confidence in a romantic relationship so that the heroine (and the reader!) will fall in love with him. Just as a man leads a woman when they are dancing, in the same way a man’s confidence will either sweep a woman off her feet if it is present, or cause her (and the romance) to stumble if it is not.

In my next post, I will elaborate on other important elements of attraction, which are vital for a romance to be believable.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Historical vs Contemporary Fiction

Writing modern day fiction vs. writing historical fiction… which is easier? I’ve been pondering this question recently, especially as I have published two Regency novels as well as a modern/chick lit novel. Writing historical novels is far less hazardous than writing modern stories, I believe. Hazardous might be an odd choice of word, but for me writing a modern day story is a dangerous enterprise. You see - I cannot resist putting real people into my stories. When I write an historical novel, it’s easy to for me to disguise my characters. Great Aunt Sue is far less likely to recognise herself if she is dressed in a dramatic floor length gown with her hair swept off her face in my historical novel than if she is dressed in a skirt and blouse, and her rather scuffed brown shoes in my chick lit novel.

It’s not that I consciously look for real people to base my characters on - it’s just that when I’m writing a book, more often than not, someone I know - usually someone with an idiosyncrasy of some kind or other pops in to my head, and I think, “Oh - she’ll be PERFECT for the role of Jane or Sarah or Angela” and I promptly put them into my story. Usually a character who has been inspired by a real life person will take on a life of his or her own, once they’re within the pages of one of my novels, and often they change in quite noticeable ways, sometimes beyond recognition. But the fact remains that when you base a character on one of your friends or acquaintances, there’s always the chance that the person you’ve based the character on will find you out…

However, I’ve noticed that some people are quite pleased at the idea of being a character in a book - particularly if that character is the hero or heroine. It’s the secondary characters that I worry about more i.e. the best friend of the heroine, who wears too much makeup, for instance, and is always in trouble with men, or the heroine’s goofy male friend who complains to her about his lack-lustre love life, or alternatively, the charming bad boy who breaks hearts wherever he goes, or the bossy colleague who’s always telling everyone what to do. We all recognise these people, and it’s the most natural thing in the world that they should flavour the pages of a modern day story. And so I walk through a minefield when I write my chick lit stories, hoping that my characters (based on real people) are not too recognisable.

When I spoke to my editor about this, she set my mind at rest. In my chick lit novel, Send and Receive, I have based a number of the characters on people I know. When my editor commented that a certain character in the book reminded her of an acquaintance of hers, I explained to her that the character she was referring to was actually based on someone I know (I even wondered if my editor and I might have a friend in common). And when she commented on how another character bore a striking resemblance to one of her friends, I explained that that character was based on a friend of mine.

Finally my editor said to me, “Alissa - the characters in your books are people we all know,” and that is when I realised that my guilty secret wasn’t so bad after all. All fiction writing should try and capture the universal in the particular to some extent, and if you succeed in doing that, then it’s possible to reach a point where you realise that writing about individuals isn’t so individual after all. The common thread of humanity that binds us to together is universal in its reach, and the girl who lives next door to you might very well resemble the girl who lives next door to someone who lives thousands of miles away.